Saturday, December 29, 2007

Around the World

Now that I have a bit of down time I am applying for summer law internships. As a first year law student with no previous legal experience they tell you to pretty much forget paid work. The name of the game is work experience, you are trying to get experience that will help you get a paid job next summer and hopefully then a job with that firm or organization.

Since I am going to have to shell out for whatever I do this summer I am trying to do something I would really enjoy. There are a few things I am applying for in the US or have already applied for, like the UN, State Department, and a couple of federal agencies dealing with space law and law of the sea, but most of the stuff I am looking at is abroad.

Clearly, that is entirely intentional I like Europe. I have no interest in going to Ireland or the UK because if I do that then I can't use or improve a foreign language (ok, my British is rusty but functional and rarely requested). So I am applying for positions in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan (ok, Kazakhstan isn't in Europe). Basically they all have at least one thing in common: I speak the local language. In any of those places I have a certain level of comfortability that just makes things so much easier.

Still, the whole business is rather disconcerting. Should I try and hone my French and get some legal terminology? Work on my business Russian vocabulary? Start going to second semester Ukrainian? I don't know. That isn't too big of a problem, really I plan on doing at least a little bit of all of that anyway, but not knowing keeps me from being able to dedicate myself 110% to one thing (perhaps a good thing).

The funny thing is that even though I do really like Western/Central Europe, my heart keeps tugging me east. I would love to spend some time in Lyons or in one of the many beautiful Belgian cities, but for some reason the thought of spending the summer in sort of crappy nouveau riche Kiev excited me so much more. I love the former Soviet Union, I suppose because there is just so much energy, you never know what is going to happen from one day to the next in politics or business and then compared to Western Europe the population is quite young and there is an very active youth culture (something I found very lacking in Vienna). So I suppose if the opportunity comes through I will very happily spend my summer there.

Still it has become almost a constant in my life for the past three years or so that I have no idea where I will be six months from now. It is exciting if daunting, and again it is something I do to myself because I do love to be between things, experiencing new things, challenging my understanding, though it has drawbacks as well. Sometimes I worry that I don't really put down roots because of it. Certainly it can be hard because with my diversity of interests it means I have to leave things for a while.

One example of that is improv. I love improv. I have taken a lot of classes, directed a good number of shows, and performed more. I know a good number of people on the better teams at the New York improv teams. But I am not on a team. Now, had I stayed in New York and kept pushing improv I still might not be on one. I am a good improver and I've had great moments. Improv has influenced me tremendously both in terms of how I tell stories and how I think about people (much like in a scene, many people don't bring much to a conversation).

At the moment I am rusty as all hell which is a bit tough for someone who is randomly a perfectionist with certain things. I haven't had the time over the past five months to do anything performance related, and the few times I've had it has been more about expression and getting some frustration out than good clear cut funny improv. I need to work on that.

The funny thing is that although I periodically wish I was better areas that perhaps suffer a bit because I do so much, I wouldn't change it. I really thrive on diversity of interests and passions and different people. I am happiest when I am on the verge of having too much to do (a dangerous place to be) love the stimulation and cross pollination of doing many different things.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

This Will Not Be Linear

So I have been home on Long Island for the holidays. It has all been very pleasant. Lots of eating good food, play board games, and seeing old friends. Already seems like ages since exams, which is exactly what I needed.

I got some very nice Christmas presents (gave some good ones too). Since I do not read non-legal texts for law school I am trying to become a more avid reader, both in English and Russian (I can read for pleasure now and not just torture!). For the moment I am working on rereading Faust II, reading the Whispers by Orlando Figes (personal stories about the Stalinist repression from my favorite academic writer), and Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (he's my kind of cynical sceptical American).

Also I am trying to catch up on my movies. Seriously. I feel like I haven't seen anything since I went to Vienna last years. So far I manages to see Super Bad (a great stupid movie) and the Simpsons Movie (good, but I need to rewatch it). Still on the list: Stranger than Fiction, the Departed, Hairspray (the original was descent), and Knocked Up (which I keep calling "a little bit pregnant" since that is what it was titled in Russian).

I managed to see Sweeney Todd before heading home. I liked it a lot. It is sort of amazing how it manages to be a cross between a slasher and a musical, though I suppose that is what it always was. Still, it is much more than opera than in musical with no dance numbers and tremendous intensity. The lyrics are wonderfully cynical.

On Friday I am hoping to make it to see War and Peace at the Met. I don't know the opera, but Prokofiev composed the score and it is War and Piece so it has to be a healthy serving of Russian Nationalism. For whatever reason, I tend to go for the grander more Wagnerian operas (not that I can take Wagner on any sort of regular basis), which so far has kept my mother and I from being able to see an opera together (she likes the lighter Italian ones).

Well, that is it for now. Before New Year's I'll be back with some sort of year in review entry. I'll have to come up with some observation by then.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Barbarossa!

i.e. just me

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hell yes!

Okay this is a horrible graphic for this post, but it was the closest thing I could find to the way I feel right now (think: fuck yes!).

I think I found a way to go to Kiev this summer, do a law internship, receive one on one Ukrainian language instruction, stay with a host family, and not have to pay anything.

It would be amazing if I could do that. Being in Kiev would mean I would get to use both Russian and Ukrainian, living with a host family would solve my housing problem and introduce me to more people, and I would get work experience for the field I want to go into.

I'll go more into the details later (need to get back to studying), but I am so excited this is even a possibility! It would make for an absolutely amazing summer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I'm too lazy to explain why right now, but this is a really brilliant cartoon (by Бандура) about the announcement that Medvedev would be president and Putin would be his PM. It's brilliant. No really. Eh, at least enjoy the bunny.

Actually this one is too brilliant for me not to include:

"What's not European about us?"

Remember Medvedev means bear. The style of the script is great too because it is in old peasant/fairytale style.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Greatest Show on Earth

Amazing video on P.T. Barnum's New York (yes the circus guy) and all the crazy stuff he did in it. Wow. Sounds more exciting than today's New York. Things seemed to burn down a lot though. Guess the mafia was still gainfully employed.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I have wanted to write about this for a while now.

A few weeks back Ian Smith (voting above) died. He was a huge racist. Smith was the prime minister of Rhodesia from 1964-1979 (when Rhodesia ceased to exist in and Zimbabwe took its place). Smith spearheaded Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of independence from Britain, which was done in order to keep Britain from establishing a government including the other non-white 95% of the population. Pretty much from there on out Rhodesia struggled with the resistance movement and once Mozambique became independent and supported the resistance the jig was up. Ironically, even the Afrikaners couldn't stand the Rhodesians, they reminded them too much of Rhodes himself (for the Afrikaners Rhodes' coup attempt in the Transvaal, best/most horrible example Rhodes choice of burial spot for himself on a sacred mountain in Zimbabwe in an attempt to develop a religious following for himself; who wants a Rhodes Scholarship now?)

For a really description of life in Rhodesia for a man who has experienced both Smith and Mugabe click here.

What really interests me about Smith's life though is what he did after he lost power. For one he stayed in Zimbabwe, but he received remarkably good treatment from the man he had fought to keep white rule in Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe. I say this because unlike South Africa, Zimbabwe did not follow the line of forgive and forget as much. They don't teach 20th century history in school in Zimbabwe because it would be to damaging to the current regeme, the press is strictly controlled, and pretty much all of the white farmers were driven out over the past decade or so. Criticism of president Mugabe is certainly not permitted.

And yet until he left the country, Smith was allowed to keeping living on his farm and call Mugabe "mentally deranged." At one point when Smith was in South Africa for medical treatment, Mugabe threatened to have him arrested and prosecuted for genocide if he returned to Zimbabwe. He did, and was greeted warmly by immigration officers. I don't think Mugabe really meant it, he just wanted to make some noise.

What fascinates me is that Mugabe seemed to respect Smith. They had nothing in common, and though Smith was once an important political figure for Zimbabwe's white community there isn't much of one left and they certainly weren't a threat to Mugabe's power. Instead, Mugabe seemed to respect Smith as another dictator, perhaps treating him as he would want to be treated (would Mugabe really want to set a precedent for a undemocratic Zimbabwean leader to be held liable for all the death he caused? I don't think so). The dictator to dictator bond seems almost literary.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The New Guy

And law school exams continue to take up most of my time and sanity, but in other news....

Putin named who he will back to be Russia's next president: Dmitry Medvedev (guy on the left).

The picture is old, but I like it because it captures some of the dynamic.

The whole situation is a bit odd. Firs there is the fact that considering democracy's recent passing (she was suffering, it was her time) people the world over (who care about Russia) have realized that it really isn't the election campaign that matters, it is everything before. So in that light, Putin's backing of Medvedev has been treated as the election of the next Russian president. Okay, fair enough, nothing more wrong with that than with anything else that has been going on. So you would think with Russia's recent side stepping towards authoritarianism, they would try and set Medvedev up as a serious intimidating leader right? Not so much.

At least to me the whole thing had been a bit more like Putin introducing his long time girlfriend to mother Russia. In most of the press conferences Medvedev has sat there next to Putin nodding along, as Putin basically said "oh you are going to like him so much, he's such a nice boy."
The most significant quote I have seen from Medvedev was that he would appoint Putin prime minister, which just seemed a bit like "oh, I don't have opinions, I'll just do whatever he tells me to."
But who knows what will happen. My Russian politics teacher from last year in Austria thinks it is all a red haring so Putin can deal with all the wannabe presidents and people pressuring him to stay in office now so he can pull a switcheroo later with another guy. He hasn't stated his reasons yet though. I don't know, sounds crazy enough for Russian politics.

Apparently in the Russian blogosphere they have been making fun of Medvedev a lot. Ironically, for the same sort of petty thing I would: his last name means bear. The word for bear in Russian is pretty to begin with as it is a combination of the words med (honey) and ved (an old verb for to know), i.e. the creature that knows where the honey is (if you were wondering 'ev' is just a standard ending for surnames). Anywho, Mr. Bear being the president of Russian is a amusing tantalizing notion...even for Russians apparently.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Life sucks at the moment as law school kicks into high gear and I lose the ability to relate to humanity, but lets focus on more positive things like:


If only I had know earlier! Apparently Santacon is a global phenomenon involving people dressed up as santa doing a day long pub crawl. The one New York was this past Saturday and involved hundreds of santas moving from bar to bar and going to a park to play reindeer games (drunken relays and such, such as in other activities they are all drunken). I am sorry, but I really don't have words to explain how awesome find this. Oh, there are also reindeer, elves, and various attempts at iconic Hanukkah figures (the link about has a great Hanukkah chicken).

I had really never heard of this before, and even though the timing will probably be equally bad for me next year, but I really want to do this. Anyone else want to be Santa with with me next year?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Life Imitating Art

Piece by anonymous English grafiti artist Bansky. Banksy, besides just being brilliant, is known for his graffiti both parodying society and pop culture, and more specifically criticizing authority (he has done a fantastic seriois on the barrier being built between the West Bank and Israel). Here, besides, just being inredibly funny, I would say it is also a commentary on authority's love of power.
Moving on to this earlier piece of graffiti on the Berlin wall . Soviet leader Brezhnev is shown passionately kissing East German leader (and bastard) Erick Honecker. The caption is both German and Russian reads: God! Help me survive this deadly love! A commentary on the close political relationship between the Soviet Union and East Germany (i.e. we say jump and you say how high or we send the tanks in...again) which made any sort of reform or change impossible. Brezhnev is certainly the driving party (the dominant Soviet partner), but Honecker isn't doing too badly himself.
Fast forward to this year when this piece by a Russian photographer, called "the Era of Mercy" was pulled by the Russian government from an exhibition in Paris ahead of the recent parliamentary election. I really like the piece. Here you have two symbols of post-Soviet Russian authority passionately embracing each other in a birch forest: the symbol of Russian peasant culture and Romantic nationalism. So where is the mercy? It seems to be telling the story of power's love of power. it definitely alludes to the two pieces above, but while making the two figures less distinguishable and without the power relationship so integral to the Berlin wall piece. These aren't high ranking officials, but ordinary young police officers passionately embracing each other. Police in Russia are not known for the mercy or diligence, here though we see mercy: mercy towards itself and others with power.
And now fast forward to this week with a celebratory event for the successful election campaign of a member of Putin's majority in parliament. Little similar, no? Good thing that picture was banned.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I suppose I should say something about the Russian election though I have said most of what I had to say already. It happened, there was intimidation, voting inconsistencies, and a wholly biased media. Putin's party won, the communist party was the only other party to make it into parliament.

Germany said there is no democracy in Russia.

I tend to agree. Once more, this time around Russia's leaders really didn't care what anyone else had to say about that. The propaganda is all about the West having taken advantage of Russia and Russia's need to stand strong on its own (Russians ability to view themselves as victims while continuing to ignore all the people they have victimized continues to amaze me).

Democracy dies and the crowd just cheers louder. Somehow I am glad I am not in Russia without any resonance for my own disquietude while simultaneously having any dissent in the Russian people being blamed on me and the US.

The picture about is from Nashi's post-presidential victory rally. I want to call them a post-Soviet Russian version of the Hitler youth. I say this because of their tendency towards violence, intimidation, dogmatism, while claiming to fight fascism (ah the Soviet bogeyman, so nice he is still around). There is a short but informative video about them here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Quick post-studying, pre-bed fantasy break.

I really want to travel. This is nothing new, but certain places attract me more at certain times that others. So anyway here is a list:

1. Antwerp - I really like Belgium. Amazing chocolate beer, chocolate, mussels (yes I know have gone off about this before). I also really want to work on my French and learn Dutch/Flemish. I have been to Brussels and a few other beautiful places in Belgium, but never to Antwerp and that is the allure. Could visit for a weekend sometime could apply for a scholarship to study there through the embassy.

2. Willemstad, Dutch Antilles - I am a city person. I travel places for the cities. I like the concentration of people, history, and culture. Anyway, rare for North America and the Caribbean in particular, Willemstad has a UNESCO recognized colonial center, which is beatiful. Amazing sounding city, potpourris of languages, amazing weather, and beautiful water. What is not to love?

3. Morocco - Almost all of it. Fes, Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, they all excite me and have amazing and different architecture. Beautiful mosques.

4. Mariupol - Historic Greek cityin Ukraine that still has a fairly large Greek-speaking minority, just sounds cool.

5. Genoa - Part of my family is from there. Ideally I'd like to do some sort of greater Genoa tour: Genoa-Monaco-Nice-St. Tropez.

6. Algiers - Sounds pretty amazing and I am fascinated by the hisotry of the city.

7. Tiblissi - Post-Soviet and the potential to live up to my orientalist expectations, what's not to love?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quick Russia

Parliamentary elections are coming up this weekend this Sunday in Russia. It is widely predicted to essentially be the death of the Russian opposition with only Putin party and the Communists making it into parliament (it is hard to really call the communists an opposition party, not because they are so supportive of Putin, but because they are so far from an alternative being a mainly populist party supported by a dwindling population of pensioners). I will get to that in a second, but first...

Why it's time for the annual millionaire faire in Moscow. Need a new private jet? How about a diamond studded cellphone? No? Well maybe you you'd be more interested in a new luxury sedan with ostrich leather tires to make your thirty car garage a little more interesting?

Yes, Russian had 53 billionaires worth a total of $282 billion and 103,000 millionaires who are worth $670 billion. Th evast majority of which live in Moscow. Yes, the oil and gas businesses are booming and times are good...for sum. Any sort of ridiculous luxury items make me angry (makes watching tv or anything about Sourthern California difficult), but these sorts of showing of wealth when so much of Russia's population lives in poverty. It is sad not only because so much wealth is concentrated in the hands of so few, but because the extreme concentration of wealth in once city detracts from the development of infrastructure in other cities. Moscow is quite pleasant, and yet with few exceptions the difference between the infrastructure in Moscow and any other Russian city is shocking (as the saying goes, Moscow isn't Russia, yet oh so many Westerners take it to be).*

As mentioned above Sunday is the parliamentary election day in Russia. Though Putin isn't up for re-election the campaign is being run as if he was. To be fair, even Russians know that the Duma is little more than a rubber stamp, so in that sense I suppose it is natural that Putin takes central stage, since people know he is pulling the strings anyway. The slogans have been things like "Putin's plan - Russia's victory" (Putin's never mentioned having a plan), [place the name of you city here] is voting for Putin, and "I believe in Russia, I believe in myself."

Ironically the election ads have been very similar to the opening sequence a Russian remake of Little Britain, contrasting text of Russia's greatness with images of quite the opposite. The election rhetoric, however, places a strong emphasis on fate, Russia's re-emerging greatness, and the importance on unity above all else. Sadly, it is all very Soviet rhetoric and whether intentionally or not says quite about Russia and many Russians insecurity, and Russian culture's intolerance towards any sort of difference (intellectual, political, ethnic).

I'm including this picture because Putin looks like a pimp

Also, remember when I said Georgia was acting like Russia by trying to blame someone else for all its problems? Well perhaps concerned that Georgia was going to take away it title of "most likely to blame whoever they are mad at for whatever is pissing them off" (my favorite is still by far Russia saying Georgia fired the missile into a Gerogia village, not Russia), Putin blamed the US for discrediting the upcoming Russian election by discouraging election monitors to go to Russia...though Russia denied the OSCE's election observers visas.

So who is the Russian opposition? There are a number of parties. The more experienced opposition politicians have by and large grown jaded and are not making as big as push as in the past. Key figures from the Soviet past have reemerged to fight what they see as Russia's sliding back into its old Soviet ways. One of those is Garry Kasparov, a famous Soviet chess player, who says he will campaign for the presidency and has been arrested multiple times trying opposing the government's refusal to allow his peaceful protests (sadly, in Russia neo-nazis are oftne allowed to march where democratic paty's demanding more freedom having their protests violently broken up). Gorbachev too has returned to politics albeit with less outward conflict with Putin.

The figure who interests me the most is, partially because I have been reading his work, is Vladimir Bukovsky. One of the most famous Soviet dissident, Bukovsky (pictured above) spent decades in prison, Siberian exile, and solitary confinement for his activism in demanding multi-party democracy and greater individual freedom. A remarkable individual from a society that tended to produce few of them and tried to break those it did. Bukovksy returned to Russia seeing in current events the restoration of much of the Soviet Union's political culture. He will also be running for the president.

Bukovsky is an impressive figure, but in today Russia he is all but irrelevant. No one care's about the past. The sad thing is that it wasn't people like Bukovsky who led Russia right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. You had that in Czech Republic with Václav Havel. These were people who wanted a different Russia and believed democracy did not just mean more than one lkind of sausage in the supermarket. Instead, since the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia has been led by people not only by individuals who were deeply ingrained in the Soviet system ( Yeltsin), but who saw little fault in it (Putin). Is it any wonder then that there has been a turn back to unity coercing culture of the Soviet Union? Is it even surprising the party the will win an absolute majority on Sunday is called "United" Russia?

* On a slightly tangential note it is interesting to compare with New York. Modern Russia is often compared with the Robber Baron days of the US. In those days too you had an obscene juxtaposition of wealth of poverty, on the head the super rich came from across the country to build their supper mansions (it's a bit later but think about the Midwestern millionaires in the Great Gatsby), and on the other you had the slums of recently arrived immigrant with absolutelyu nothing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Plan B

The Reckoning is Upon Us.

Not really, but law school exams are on the horizon, which are the stress equivalent of the horn of plenty. I had a good exchange with another law student about how these first year courses are probably the most important despite being classes you are the least interested in. I did some legal reading a few weeks ago on topic that really interested me (the stuff my international law post was based on) and was amazed how much easier and enjoyable it was to read (i.e. I had forgotten it can actually be fun doing work when it interests you.

Anyway, it is times like these that I like to have a plan B. I stumbled upon my current one over the weekend. As you may or may not know/care about a masters in Eastern European/Russian Studies is something I would very much like to acquire at some point. It isn't a degree terribly helpful to employment unless you already have a relevant work experience or a more career oriented degree. It's a factor making the taking on the $80,000 worth of debt a little hard to swallow.

Well the Free University of Berlin has an Eastern European Studies Masters program. With the former Russian presence in Berlin the Russian course offering are quite good, in addition to courses on law in various Eastern European countries, Russian political history and cultural history, and Georgian language classes! Perhaps the best elements are that I could write the masters thesis in English (fine with the classes being in German and doing classwork in German, but if I need to try and say something new in a long-ass thesis I have a better chance of doing it English), and it would only cost 260 euro a year!

I am not saying I am going to do it, but it nice to have a fallback plan you really like. I liked Berlin, it is pretty comfortable for me and I have studied at the university before /know a lot of the faculty. It isn't the same quality of an American program, but I wouldn't have to stack up any debt. Huzzah for alternatives!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Subway Gymnastics

I had a bit of a bizarre subway moment today. I was heading back to Brooklyn from my Russian class in the Bronx (second to last stop on the 4!) doing my constitutional law reading when to street performers got on.

They had their stuff way too together to be beggars: they pried the subway doors back open for a woman (pretty much guaranteeing she would give them money) and had their own boom box.

Then one of them starts doing some break dance moves on the subway floor.

This is where is started to become a bit like a Felini dream sequence as I was running on fourish hours of sleep.

The two of them took terms doing front handsprings down the length of the subway car, dodging polls and people's belongings. They then formed a human ring and rolled back across the the subway car. It was by far the most amazing subway act I have seen.

Then they collected money and sat down and one of them talked about what he was taking for his back pain.

Friday, November 23, 2007

On Coming Home

Oz was probably more fun

Home for Thanksgiving for the first time in three year. It is a bit of an odd time as I have to study like crazy for law school exams and randomly clear out of the house for showings (parents selling the house so probably the last Thanksgiving here as well).

Coming home is always rather strange, a big part of it are the elements of stepping back into the past. That can both be figurative, living under the same roof and my parents and bother, and more literal: staying in my room with the posters that haven't changed since 1998 (when is the next No Doubt album is coming out?) and wearning sweaters and t-shirts dating back to high school, but were never popular enough to become worn and be thrown out.

It's like a personal time warp.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Russian Ramblings

Pictured above is the Solovetsky monastery in Russia. The monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site and is located on its own island in northern Russia (think very isolate and extremely cool). Perfect place for a gulag right? Yes, yes it was. Once of the most famous and terrible as well.
Above is Lubyanka Square on October 30th, the memorial day for victims of the gulag. The building in the background is the KGB headquarters and the monument for the victims is a stone brought from the Solovetsky monastery.
Same day. Outside of Moscow in Butovo. Thousands were taken there and short during the purges. Putin taking part of the memorial service. He looks bored doesn't he?

I was sort of amazed Putin even attended considering how he glorifies the Soviet Union. It is one of the great oddities Russian politics that the Russian president can be mourning the brutally murdered victims of the Soviet machine, and presiding over soldiers dresses in Soviet uniforms the next.

Perhaps it is naive to think either one genuine. Still it amazes me that even with so many reminders even the most brutal figures of the Soviet period. About half of Russians think Stalin did more good than harm (in the words of my Russian teaches this past summer "he kept order and life was good") and the figure has been growing over the past decade. The really peculiar element is that almost all Russian families were touched by the purges (another teacher bragged about her father having died in a famous prison and then later about her own party membership).

Still it seems to me that the treatment of the past seems an important indication of a country's future. The Kremlin recently released an approved history text glorifying the Soviet Union and playing down its short comings. I am hesitant to get on the bad wagon that Russia is turning back into what it was as I think it is a dangerous over simplification. Still, I think there is dangerous trend of playing down the importance of the individual whether it was the sacrifice of the individual in the gulag for the supposed common good, or further stigmatization of political opposition and any distinguishing elements of the individual (ethniciy, religion sexuality).

Anyway, if you are still interested this video is quite enlightening especially if you are American.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stupid Post

Emperor tamarin (above). The BBC taught me it was named after German Emperor Wilhelm II (below).

It's because they both wear suits.

On International Law

I am exhausted, but finally finished my memo and finally have time to bring up what I wanted to yesterday.

In constitutional law we had probably the most stimulating class of the semester, which was too bad because I think most people were so busy with their memos they never go to do the reading.

For whatever reason con law starts to put most people to sleep about half through. Probably because I am a big picture kind of guy I stay pretty engaged the whole time (not true for all of my classes admittedly).

This time were talking about the legal battles involving the detainees at Guantanamo bay and the relevant legal precedent from the Civil War and World War II. Very relevant stuff.

One of the cases cited the Geneva Conventions. This really interested me as the direct application of international law in US courts is something I have been wondering about for a long time. I had asked professors about it before, but they always became very uncomfortable and didn't really want to talk about it.

In one of the cases plaintiff directly cited a breech in US obligations under the Geneva conventions as grounds for releasing an "enemy combatant." It was quick to reinforce it with US legislation, but the point is the same. On appeal, the Supreme Court avoided the question of whether US citizens could sue the US government for violations of the Geneva Conventions like it was the plague (just like my professors had). The lower court said a citizen could not, but the Supreme Court refused to deal with the issue.

All of this made me realize two things: 1. The really doesn't like to US international law in it s courts, if it uses it at all it uses elements worked into later US legislation 2. Most of my professors feel very out of their element when it comes to international law. Just made me realize why I am not always on the same page with my profs.

Personally, I think international law the US has owned up to should be grounds for suit in US court. I don't see things like the Geneva Conventions being much more than symbolic otherwise. If the US signs a treaty giving individual rights they should be able to sue if they think those rights are being violated.

Also, I liked this cartoon:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Going Slightly Mad

To this tune.

I am writing a memo, and it is sort of like hell. For every previous memo I have had nearly as many comments on my memo as text and now it should at least theoretically be done properly. It won't be. It just means I spend loads of time worrying I haven't been thorough enough in one section and haven't realized the complexity of another. It should be sharp analysis, but it is also legal writing so despite some interesting material so it is fairly dull.

I would like to say I have big hopes for this one, but I don't. Don't get me wrong, I am trying to do the best I can and I am sure I will get it all at some point, but for now I know I don't have the knack for it and though I have some specific things to work on, I sadly know I cannot trust myself. Sadly no one else has stepped up to take over. So it will be a long cumbersome process with little reward expected (yeah?). Still almost everyone from my class was int he library so that was comforting.

Aside from that it was a lovely weekend. Thursday night bad the Kilmer bad poetry competition up a Columbia and I got to go and read one of Edward's poems, which went over quite well, and see people I haven't seen in over a year. It was like going back to all the good parts of college.

Then on Friday I got to see my host parents from England. Very pleasant conversation, though it was strange to think my time in England was almost six years ago. Also the people at Columbia looked really young which was another bout of old-fellingness.

Doesn't bother me much though.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Just a bit of Art

Really can't put any thought into words today, so let's try something with a bit of art.

Above is Potsdamer Platz by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Not sure if I remember all of the details, but I am going to tell them the way I remember them since that is how I like them best.

It's an expressionist painting. Love expressionism, always felt like impressionism was trying to develop a new technique for depicting reality to break away from the stiltedness of realism. Expressionism, was trying to come up with a way to depict emotions, both what was going on within people and the way places felt. Much more interesting I think.

Potsdamer Platz is a square in Berlin. A big center of commotion and nightlife before WWII it was bombed into oblivion and left a field until the late 90s when it was made into Berlin's equivalent of Time Square (granted on a smaller scale, but hey, it is Europe!).

In the early 1900s prostitutes gathered there wearing war widow's black veils to identify themselves. And that is what is going on here, with the would-be patrons encircling them. Still captures a lot of the night time feel the now prostitute-less Potsdamer Plotz today actually.

I suppose what I like about it is that it is trying to depict the moment without being bound by reality. Streets, limbs, and buildings are bent to provide all the desired angles. Really none of the characters seems to be sympathetic. The women seem to not even with their rigid stances, and the men look like emerging wolves.

I have a large print of it, but it didn't seem quit right for the kitchen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Deep Down, We all Just Want a Man Like Putin

This morning I was watching a video on the New York Times about the Baltic Republic. The people interviewed were saying that the Wes needs to fear Russia more. It reminded me of a song I wanted to find a while ago. It is called "I want a man like Putin," it is an actual Russian pop song from a few years ago. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I know I tend to be pissy to begin with, but...

I am picky about my languages. I don't like it when I am abroad and people who have just discovered I am American then say I have a strong American accent. I don't I have a strong American accent. No one would think I am English (though I could pass for a while after my year in Brighton), and I have an American accent, but it is not a strong one and it is not a regional one (neither Midwestern, New York or Long Guyland).

Since studying in Austria I have had a few Germans try and convince me I have an Austrian accent. This requires some back story. When I was in Austria my classmates would laugh at me for pronouncing Austrian colloquialisms in too German a fashion. My Austrian German teacher told me I was in Austria and needed to speak more like an Austrian. Austrians thought I was German. Germans thought I was German. No one thought I was Austrian and as Austrians are none too fond of Germans, I often got the cold shoulder because of this. Fine, whatever. Really don't care. Fast forward to recent events when Germans have been trying to convince me I have an Austrian accent (granted one person only said it after I mentioned I had lived in Vienna, but other people have really meant it). Basically these events make me understand why the Austrians hate the Germans so much(besides World War II). Austrians find Germans to be pretentious.

When I was in Moscow a German said to a good Austrian friend of mine "wow, you speak pretty good German." This is along the lines of an English person telling an American "wow, you speak pretty good English." Anyway, my Austrian friend did not take to kindly to it especially as the implication was that the German did not expect Austrians to speak anything but hick German. Germans can also found Austrian German to be cute, which is why a few people have told me I should keep my "Austrian accent." But I am not cute. I do not do cute.

I should close with some parallel for French or Russian, but I don't really have one. After having an African French teacher and listening to a lot of Congolese rap I thought I might have picked up a bit of an African accent, but I am pretty sure my existing American accent was strong enough to overpower that.In terms of Russian, I had teachers who tried to blame mistakes I made on the Russian they speak in Central Asia, which was mainly just racist. Though in Kazakh my accent was apparently perfect which is probably a reason why I don't want to continue with it (so I can just go on thinking I could always speak my few Kazakh phrases without an accent).

All of this is pretty much a moot point though as my language are going to shit. I don't speak any of them long enough these days to get back into the linguistic rhythm.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Georgia, what the hell man?

Okay, so I that that suffices as an introduction. Pictured are events from the the past two days in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

About four years ago the peaceful Rose Revolution kicked out the party in power that had been cooking the votes to stay there. Those protests were on these streets. Mikheil Saakashvili, a Columbia Law educated politician, led on the protesters as they occupied state building. The then president agreed to leave office and Saakashvili was then elected president.

I found it all pretty moving, all the more so because there was the unity of political will afterwards to enact real change; not the case in Ukraine. Fast forward to today. There are popular protests against the president, about 50,000 people on the streets. They are not really a unified front, but represent frustration with the current government from across the political spectrum (yes there are a good number of crazies). What does Saakashvili do? After talking about how Georgia is a democracy now and how there is the right to protest, he says the protests are all Russia's doing, and after declaring a state of emergency has water cannons turned on the protesters and has tear gas fired into the crowds. He also has government special forces raid the state run television network, taking it off the air, holding guns to journalists heads, and smashing their phones. Saakashvili basically used the force that was not used on him. I don't know that I am so hopeful for Georgia anymore.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Happy October Revolution!

So today marks the anniversary of the October Revolution, and where do they still celebrate it you ask? Why in Belarus of course. Somehow it seems appropriate that there is that much snow in Minsk already.

I don't really have much to say about the October Revolution, on the whole not such a big fan, but then again as much as I like the architecture I am not sure how much of a fan I would have been in living in Imperial Russia either.

Still it is definitely this sort of stuff that make people think of Belarus as a living museum of the Soviet Union.

But then again they were marching for it in Moscow too:

Russia is so very strange. It is odd for me that the same soldiers can be marching in Imperial Russian uniforms (based on the Prussian ones) one day and then in Bolshevik uniforms the next. The coats look warm though (this is the sort of perceptive analysis you would expect from Eastern European Regional Studies Major after all).