who's a danger, then?

In view of the reports about car bombs being found in London and the explosion at Glasgow airport, where "two Asian men" have been arrested, I reckoned this is as good a time as any to write about the security of public transport here in the USA.

No, I'm not going to provide a long-winded analysis of what can/should/cannot be done but just a few sketches from my trip from Washington DC to Berkeley CA:

ID checks are few and far between. I got my ticket (DC to Chicago) off a machine and, later, when the conductor checked it, he didn't ask for ID. This, however, seemed random selection as he did ask other people for ID.

For the Chicago-Portland (Empire Builder) part of the trip, we were made to line up as a conductor went along the line, checking our IDs and tickets. A few people (including one lady with her son. The son had a school ID card but apparently this was "not proper government-issued ID". Also, a couple of Spanish backpackers who appeared not to speak English very well but had, what seemed to me to be, proper EU identification) were pulled out of the line and told to stand aside. They were, later, allowed to join the line (no one else from Amtrak approached them when they had their own separate line. It just looked odd).

While all this was happening, a group of (older) people were exclaiming that there was a lounge for First-class ("Sleeping Car" though the terms were used interchangeably) passengers and how they hadn't known about it. There were about 10 of them, chatting and making jokes and suchlike. As the ticket and ID check progressed down the line, one of them--an elderly woman dressed rather like Queen Elizabeth in a pink skirt set and a hat--realised she didn't have her ID with her. She made loud exclamations about her forgetfulness, mentioned repeatedly her ID was in her "checked luggage" and was (it seemed to me) told that she could get on the train this time but not to do it again.*

As a few of my fellow terrorism scholars (ex-practitioners) would tell yous--terrorists can come in all shapes and sizes and colours. Just because someone's a little old lady more suited to play Miss Marple on BBC than your non-English speaking dodgy type, doesn't mean they should be allowed to flout the rules.

For the Portland-Sacramento part of the journey, we also had two lines but both just checked our tickets rather than tickets and ID's. There were no ticket checks on the train itself. So, theoretically, we could have had our tickets checked within the station and someone else could have taken our place during the distance from the station to the train.

Again, for the Sacramento-Berkeley trip, there was no ID check either. I presented my ticket, the conductor tore off a strip and handed the rest of it back to me. Done.

Contrast this with my (one and only, I have to admit) air journey within the USA--I flew from Washington to San Diego last year. During the "take shoes off and put your belongings into the machine" part, I was pulled aside and asked for ID. I showed my (Virginia-issued, caused no trouble anywhere) Drivers' ID. The woman asked me for my passport. Thankfully (since, as I wasn't planning on leaving the country, there was no reason for me to actually have my passport with me) I had my passport with me. After a few more minutes of questioning, I was allowed to go through.

Compare this, too, with stories of (most of) the women who flew in for the Workshop I attended just before I came to Berkeley--almost all of them, including one who had a United States "Green card"** mentioned they were pulled aside and questioned about their reasons for visiting, how long they were staying and what they planned to do when they left the United States. The longer questionings were reserved for people flying in from Britain (compared to the rest of Western Europe--there was no one from Eastern Europe at the Workshop) and Australia. Apparently these countries are U.S. allies in the Global War on Terror but that doesn't mean they aren't suspected of potentially nefarious deeds.

* I would like to point out that I was sat on a chair by the line, in hearing and seeing distance of what was going on but, really, there may be alternative interpretations of any/all of this. But, I saw what I saw (as the phrase goes).

** I think this confers Permanent Residence status on its holders. There's a separate line, at airports, for United States citizens and those holding green cards (those two groups being linked together)

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and then there were...the undead!

I spent almost 10 hours today, walking up and down the streets of San Francisco and pretty much covering (some streets more than once) the entire downtown area. More on that later.

I also came across this: "The Vampire Tour of San Francisco".

I'm not sure whether I should sign up or whether I'd just find it funny (and thus offend the well-meaning vampires-in-training).

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High plains driftin': on the trail(s) of race and history

Well, PTSD-ers remain silent for nearly a week or so and then write two posts in a day . E's previous post got me thinking that I'd not written to regale yous with my adventures in the Northern reaches of this great country as I made my way across it. I should probably mention that none of what follows here is likely to have anything to do with academia but, then, as yous may have gathered by now, little of what I seem to write does.*

First, the name of the train itself. The way the Amtrak system works is that I had three choices for my cross-country trip: Washington to Chicago and then 1) across the Northern reaches of the country 2) across to Denver and Salt Lake City and 3) down South to New Orleans and through Texas. Well, when I found that one of the trains was called "Empire Builder", there really was no choice to be made. I had to take that across.** The Empire Builder made its way across Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Oregon. In the process, we passed through towns which, apart from their tarred roads, seemed little changed from the days in which Mr. L'Amour wrote about them. Having grown up with a steady diet of "Westerns"--both books and films--actually passing through countryside that resembled this mental image I had of America was pretty "cool".

Of course, there were differences--the ubiquitous utes; the communication towers; the sign advertising "free wireless internet" on a wooden shack near Malta, MT; the paved roads (I think I mentioned this already?)-- but the image of small frontier towns in America with their (one) main street and shoddy train stations, with their shops with names like "Jed's saloon" and "Burt's tack shop" and with people who waved at us as the train passed by, fitted in well with my (imagined) reality of going out West in America.

And then there were the oddities and marvels--the "Torture Museum" at Wisconsin Dells, the nightlong thunderstorms (during which the skies did turn red and streaks of lightning bisected the dark), the town of Fargo (in the midst of a blinding rainstorm--just what I would have hoped for), the "recreated" trading post of Fort Union (with its oh-so-fake wigwams situated stiffly in front of the post), seeing buffaloes run across the plain (oh-so-"Western")and crossing the continental divide.

The scenes of natural beauty which were pretty breathtaking as well--dry, dusty towns shifted to rocky mountains and evergreen trees with West Glacier National Park as a highlight, especially when the train went through tall mountain ranges with the river far down below. Except for the differences in the types of trees, it was almost like being back home in Nepal. Empire-building was actually an experience of homesickness, as the mountains, rivers and the high waterfalls were rather similar to the physical geography of home.

At this time, I would like to do a bit of advertising for Amtrak and highly recommend their "Trails and Rails" programme. This programme, where wildlife rangers rode on the train and explained about historical and natural heritage of the part of the country we passed through, was an excellent source of information and entertainment. However, as is usual in modern retellings of history, the stories about "Empire-building" that were actually told were heavily "sanitised"--not much mention was made of diseases, deaths and dodgy dealings with difference.

Then, after nearly 2 days of passing through the Northern Part of the United States, the train was just leaving the mountains, the rain stopped and there appeared a rainbow.*** It was a time to glory in the successful trip out West, in having survived a gruelling trek and it was a time to be thankful for the Empire Builder. Yes, I do see the irony in typing that but I shall do so anyway.

Next post--teaching and eating (in the main mess) and living with the students I am teaching. Seeing them at mealtimes, chatting to them on the buses as we go on trips and then teaching them "in class". Blurring of boundaries, as it were. An example: today's discussion in class, in between talking about international law and genocide, was about which of the TA's was the "hottest". How to draw lines when, on the one hand you are "hanging out" with them (eating and going on trips) and, on the other, are teaching them? Stay tuned for my reflections.

* This is a convoluted way of telling yous that you can follow my (train)trek across the United States by checking out this map. I went from Washington DC to Chicago to Glacier National Park to Portland to Berkeley. I shall remain in Berkeley until mid-August and then will make my way back across the country. I've not yet decided that route but I shall be taking the train...again.

** LilSis1 would probably tell you this is because of "reading far too many Louis L'Amour books when younger". Also, all Nepalis are frustrated Empire builders at heart. If only we had but world enough and time, we say as we pine for our (non) Empire-building pasts (though Berkeley, California folks' views of Nepal (and Nepalis) seem to be more along the "free love" version of Marvell than the Empire-building version Nepalis usually go for).

*** I kid you not. I couldn't make this up if I tried. There was a proper, shiny rainbow. If I'd seen this scene in a film, I'd have groaned at its utter cheesiness. But, it did happen. This is not to say I shan't groan at similar scenes in future films.

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Testing the waters: fanvids as artistic expression

Perhaps foolishly, I promised Priya that I'd start posting more often. So. The posts may be shorter than usual, but I'll try and link to some interesting stuff that has some relationship to academia.

First up: a link to an introduction to fanvids.

Ephemeral Traces

You may have noticed, Loyal Reader, that Priya and I have more than a passing interest in popular culture. For me, at least, this extends into an interest in how popular culture is reworked by audiences and the public (including a recent paper on the creation and posting of fanvids for the First World War) and fanvids as a genre are a big part of that.

Kristina's post is both a decent introduction to the concept and development of fanvidding and a way to start exploring the limitations that vidders and fandom put on the popularity of their works.

She's limited her recommendations to pieces available on imeem, a hosting platform similar to youtube, and thereby excluded any number of influential and iconic vids posted elsewhere. This was mainly a question of access--many vids are available only through password-protected sites because of copyright questions--but it does tend to skew the choices to newer vids in particular fandoms with a strong imeem presence.

She's also attempting to create an introduction that requires little deep knowledge of particular canon sources or fan history, which means that some videos (those requiring additional knowledge of dominant pairings, the dynamics of slash fandoms, foundational fanfic tropes, and fandom histories) are excluded. This isn't a problem, so much as an example of an internal fandom mechanism for limiting the audience for the vids. Many of the pieces left out require a particular level of commitment from the viewer that makes them especially successful in fannish circles but potentially incomprehensible outside the confines of a given fandom.

Even so, her choices (especially regarding multifandom vids) offer a strong selection of the varieties of vids and the popular fandoms for them.* In addition, she spends some time deconstructing the choices, creating a way in for viewers who are new to the concept of reworking texts in this manner.

It's a post that ought to be read by anyone interested in popular culture or fandom studies.**

* I do quibble with her inclusion of here's luck's "In the Mirror" as a stand-alone video. It's really best understood as one half of a duet, and makes much more sense when viewed along with "Out Here," another piece by the same vidder.

Not that such arguments couldn't be made for most of these vids (it's a conversational medium, after all) but that omission is especially glaring, given that "Out Here" is iconic in the fandom in question.

It's available on imeem, here. I'd suggest watching "Out Here" first, and then viewing "In the Mirror."

[ETA: To be fair, she does point out that "In the Mirror" is a sequel. And I suspect that her decision not to use "Out Here" may be related to the limitations of imeem, which doesn't allow the particular editing style of "Out Here" to come through.]

** Fair warning: imeem vids begin playing as soon as the window opens. As with youtube, it's a good idea to pause the videos while they load in order to get the full effect.

[ETA: Note that Ephemeral Traces has a sidelink to "An Archive of Our Own," about which I will have more to say later.]

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A brief moment of political relevance.

H.R. 1592 passed in the House last May and its Senate counterpart, S. 1105, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now might be a good time to contact your Senators and ask them to support it.

Senate Sponsors

PTSD of course believes you should support only things you agree with. This particular member of PTSD, however, isn't sure she wants to hear about it if you don't.

Seriously. The idea of opposing this bill (which is in fact a much-needed expansion of existing hate crimes legislation) completely baffles me and makes me very cross.

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if only i didn't have to work...

Yes, well, apologise for cheesy title. I only have 30 mins of 'net access so can't afford to actually think about these things. So, onwards to another list:

- Living in a Residence Hall--a branch of the same one I used to live in when in Sydney, Australia--at the U of Chicago is an absolutely marvellous experience. Having to actually do work (mainly because the Symposium at BigNameUni took up most of every day, leaving no time for my own uni stuff) is not as much fun. But, doable.

- Said Residence Hall is beautiful. U of Chicago is beautiful. Stone buildings, ivy growing on the walls, lovely people and did I mention a great place to live?

- Chicago itself is a lot more interesting in the summer. Free concerts, the "beach" (yes, well, I did have a few days to spend here), the Pier, the museums (Art Institute free on Fridays).

- Speaking of museums, I've found my two favourites--the Oriental Institute museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. The latter was a brilliant example of the "modern" type of museums--lots of interactive displays, multimedia, different types of exhibits. The former? A "classic" museum--shards of pottery and statues along with one of King Tut himself. Quiet, cool and perfect for the end of the day.

- The best bit though? Bookstores. U of Chicago appears to be set amongst some of the best bookstores in town. I managed to spend most of the evenings browing among them (and buying quite a few). Why don't any of Washington's unis have such places around them?

- Food--based on my earlier visit during BigNameConference, I couldn't say Chicago and food went together (for me, anyway). This time around--great neighbourhoods and foods. I had Polish "traditional" cuisine (seemingly lots of meat and onions).

Off now to worry about whether the train, on which I'm spending nearly two days on my way across the country to Portland, will have outlets so I can actually do the work that is due on Monday. But, before that, I have to lug my stuff (including the additional books I bought here!) to the train station.

Hopefully, E will entertain yous in the time I'm slaving away on the train.

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so much to write on, so little time

Being lazy, yous get another list:

- The rest of the BigNameUniversity Symposium turned out to be rather excellent, in fact. Managed to get into contact with a lot of younger people doing similar types of stuff, realised the "divide" between how we here in the United States do this and how (most of) the other parts of the world do it is immense and it's not much to do with gender but with geographical spaces.

- The amusing (and yet disturbing because I thought we'd done away with this quite a while ago) equation of "gender" with "women". This was actually one of the issues brought up during the evaluation session at the end of the Symposium.

- The intensity--we had sessions from 8am to 9pm, full-on, including people talking at us during our meals. Yup. No spare time to do anything at all, including email.

- The strange unfamiliarity of being in a place I know quite well (BigNameUniversity) and yet feeling rather like a stranger but, also, the familiarity of having people from South-east Asia, Australia (yes, peeps, I missed yous!) to chat with. During BigNameConference, I always feel rather lost when colleagues start bandying names about. For once, I had my own (places, not people--not many famous people in Oz or Southeast Asia!) names to bandy about and argue over.

- Another amusing (yet disturbing) observation that, in a 200-people reception for "women in government", "women in security" and "women in defence", our Symposium members (5 of us) were the only Asian folks about. So, the security field is not much diverse after all.

- Discussing subject positioning and power politics with a colleague who was giving the Thank You speech at this reception (said colleague being dressed in a sari during this occasion).

- Realising that I can't restrain myself from being cheeky as, when asked to provide a "two minute summary of policy prescriptions from your research", pointing out that I plan to teach kids to think about assumptions underlying and constructing their views of security (and our views of security) and that's that. This, needless to say, did not go down well at all.*

- The sheer good fun of having lunch at the Canadian embassy, seeing people hang about in the House of Reps and the Senate (we saw the No Confidence Motion for the Chief Justice thingy--the Senate is actually a rather small space) and going to the American Academy of the Sciences to talk about science and security "nexus".

- SO, now, I'm sat in a coffee shop in Chicago, taking a break before I go to find my lodging. I just got here after a 17 hour train trip in which I was sat next to this kid, who wants to join the marines. We had a great chat about music, films and gaming as well as relationships with blokes. She kept on telling people she was on the phone to that she'd met someone who was "almost 30--isn't that insane?"** She was almost the same age as one of my sisters, she knew what she wanted to do ("go to the Marines because they will pay for me to go to school. Also, I can travel the world"). Coming from a Symposium which discussed ways to get more women into decision-making positions, it was interesting (and yet sad) to see how her choices were fairly limited despite being from one of the richest countries in the world. She worked 12-hour days at the local mall and planned to join the marines so she could get "stationed somewhere cool". Compared to the kids I teach at TUWSNBN (all the kids in my last class had travelled overseas, spoke another language apart from English and were planning on living abroad), this girl was the same age but her position was such that her options for doing what my kids take for granted, were very limited.

All right, off my Speakers' Box for now. I should head off to find my lodging (a dorm room--another one!--at the University of Chicago). For those interested, I'm here till Saturday, then I leave for Wyoming and then Portland (Oregon) and finally Berkeley on the 21st. I don't have a camera but yous will be forced to read about my trip (assuming it goes well).

* The "feedback" I received from my discussant said that I had not thought through the policy implications of my research and that this was a "strong drawback". It also said I should ditch discussion of methodology and just "let the example (a case from Nepal) speak for itself".

** Yes--her Mum, "nana", two friends and boyfriend all got to hear about me. And my advanced age. And how I was still single "but she doesn't seem to care". I think the entire train carriage knew all that about me by the end of the journey!


things i did today

Yous might have wondered where I've been. Or not. Let's pretend yous did. In the past couple of weeks, I've become (once again) homeless, faced numerous (and ongoing) crises and, after living off various friends for two weeks, I'm now safely set up in a dorm room in one of our nation's most prestigious universities. As we were told repeatedly at today's "Dinner reception", it's got the top-ranked programmes in most fields--both graduate and undergrad--and especially in security studies.*

Since I'm supposed to be preparing my presentation (tomorrow--yes, this is how us folks spend our weekends) right now, let me procrastinate and give you a few high (low?) lights:

The Good:

- Talking about Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and even England/Wales with people who are from there or going to university there.

- The admittance by BigNameTerrorismScholar (who happens to head this uni's security studies programme) that he has no idea what goes on in Malaysia and him turning out to be a rather nice, friendly bloke.

- The Dean of said department turning out to be this elderly man who was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt and then apologised for his gear.

- Actually having a place to stay in for a week. Really, not enough can be said about this. Said place is a dorm room, with internet access and opposite the loo. Perfect.

It's rather amusing though that this seems to be the blokes' only floor (apparently such things are common here--we used to have co-ed floors and bathrooms) so most of us (who weren't told this) spent a lot of minutes yesterday trying to find the "women's" toilets. Unsurprisingly, they didn't exist. A few of my fellow participants actually apparently didn't go to the loo or went to the lobby's toilet since they weren't sure if they could go into the men's.

- Listening to a speaker detail her job which involved staying in IDP camps in Northern Uganda and trying to persuade a "fanatical rebel leader" that, really, he should give up his arms and, ideally, stop raping women and recruiting children.

The odd:

- Having designated tables at the first night's dinner. The tables turned out to be arranged according to (or so we were told) "region". I ended up in a table with students from Malaysia (going to uni in Australia), Indonesia (going to uni in Malaysia), Pakistan (going to uni in London), and India (going to Aberystwyth in Wales!) and the US (studying "South Asia"). The logic of selection was quite weird since none of us were doing anything similar but we all happened to be from (or, in the case of the only non-Asian girl there, studying) "Asia".

Worked out quite well I guess since I've spent most of today hanging out with these same people.

- Realising that the people who have name cards and ask questions during the sessions are usually a) American and b) from American universities.

- Being told, repeatedly, that "as women" we shouldn't "play the boys' game". Also, that "when walking into a room, walk as though you're the boss even if you may not be all that sure about what you're doing or saying."

- Realising the utterly American-centric and policy-oriented nature of the programme so far (and wondering what this says about "women in security"). Talks about jobs invariably become talks about how to get a job in an American think tank or the government (not so much academia), examples about foreign policy and democracy invariably lead to discussions about America** and talks about "leadership" were about "believing in oneself" and being aware that "what I do is right and good"***. I did point out that belief was a fat lot of good if one didn't have opportunities and choices to actually work on making that belief work out (yes, I usually don't make sense).

- One speaker equating "progressive" with "being Western in outlook" as in "We have been working with women in the Afghani parliament. Some are very conservative but others are very progressive, Western in outlook". Said speaker was from a RatherFamous Think Tank here in Washington.

- The experience of being in the city where I've lived for the past four years and, yet, feeling like a stranger as I'm living off a backpack and sat in a dorm room, with people from other parts of the country/world and being involved in sessions from 8am (yes, we have people talking at us during breakfast and lunch!) to 9pm.

- Oh, yes, and the (eerie?) similarities between the biographies of many of the speakers here (Army/Air Force experience, counterterrorism, think tanks, especially RAND Corporation) and at the Summer Workshop on Teaching about Terrorism that I was at least year.

* My fellow diners, from England, Indonesia and Australia, were all miffed at the "America-centric" nature of the rankings.

** The Australian participant pointed this out and added "no one else is as arsed about the US as the US". I defended the US (well, I felt I had to) by pointing out that a) this was a VeryPrestigiousUniversity which provided a lot of foreign service folks and b) we are in the capital of the free world, after all.

*** Is it ever?

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A snippet of conversation

"Guess that's it, then."


"There they go."

"Are they jumping on each other?"

"Just the goalie."


"Aww. Ottawa's *sad.*"

"Great. Emo!hockey."


Not much of an apology.

Priya's right, I haven't been around for the last few weeks. That could change this month, but I can't promise anything.

Some reasons that blogging is very far down on my list of things to do right now:

1. My mother's broken arm and subsequent titanium implant, which required me to spend two weeks in Ohio throwing a party for my grandfather and taking care of her and the house.

2. Various conference proposals and papers and other academic commitments that aren't finished, were going to be skipped for this year, and then received CFP extensions.

3. Both cars having mechanical difficulties at the same time. Totally different, but equally expensive, difficulties.

4. Our external media hard drive going kablooey and (potentially--fingers crossed that we can recover the data somehow without emptying the checking account) taking five years of photos, home movies, music, and my laptop backup files with it.

Related issue: S has been having trouble with his ipod, which won't accept a return to factory settings and sync with my laptop's music collection. His collection was run through the external HD (whirr-whirr-click, which can't be good) and is, therefore, MIA.

5. Preparing for this summer's teaching, which involves finding all the assignments from last year (see #4) and rerecording lectures and powerpoint files from scratch.

6. Scheduling vacation time only to have my teaching schedule change to the dates that we had reserved for said vacation. The reservations can't be changed, so this is going to be interesting.

7. Finding out that my student loan company doesn't know I'm still enrolled, a week before my grace period expires.

8. My sister's custody hearing.

9. Trying very hard not to think about my 30th birthday, which is rapidly approaching.

10. Non-academic commitments for posts and pieces of writing on my personal blog, which aren't any more important than this one but do involve people being annoyed if they aren't finished.

11. Finding out that my personal blog has perhaps been 'discovered' by an academic crush. By way of a non-academic interest. And trying to decide what to do with that bit of potentially problematic information.

An assortment of posts about the recent livejournal fracas, FanLib as a threat to fandom, interactions between real life and online life, and the temptations of moving somewhere with reasonable rents and maybe even the potential of a decent job may, if things start going back to normal, show up here soon.

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