of smoke shops and Nepali names

Since I have about ten days more left in this part of the country, I thought I'd do daily posts about things I've been noticing. Or, stuff that's been happening.

Today was the last day of a 3-day break before the start of my final session of teaching. I wandered off to San Francisco (a 30-min train trip) and set out to explore Haight-Ashbury. H-A, for those of yous who are interested, is like a large (but seedier) Thamel. Or, for the non-Nepali reader(s), H-A is where the Grateful Dead used to live (or had a house). It's where the "summer of love" (apparently) happened so loads of folks flock down there to check it out (or so it seemed). I'm still unsure what the "summer of love" was about.*

During the course of the afternoon, I was sat at a park when a bloke wandered up (blokes tend to wander up fairly often in Berkeley/SF I've noticed). Bloke had a fairly ripe smell about him (SF is seriously lacking in public showers, it seems).
Said bloke started talking (most folks are v chatty here):

Bloke (waving what looked like a lit ciggie): want a smoke?
Me: No
Bloke: why?
Me: I don't smoke
Bloke: You have an accent. Where're you from?
Me: Nepal
Bloke: Oh, that's why you don't smoke then. I hear you eat ganja over there--ganja cakes?
Me: silence

So, it's nice that people know about Nepal. It's nice that half the shops seem to sell stuff from Nepal. It's nice that there are loads of Nepali restaurants about. But, it's not that nice that a lot of this association is to do with ganja**. We do have non potheads about as well--not that yous would know it if you were here. Most smoke (head) shops even have Nepali names, including one called Annapurna in Berkeley. Yes, well, from Goddess to one of the highest mountains in the world to a head shop. Oh why didn't some enterprising Nepali trademark the bloody name? An excellent money-making opportunity lost right there.

* I suppose I should Google it at some point or I'll just wait to get back to TUWSNBN and ask one of my fellow Americans there.

** Though perhaps ganja can't be much worse than being known as the royal familiy-murdering, politically-unstable, anachronistic country that the Northern Danes seemed to think we were.

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oh, where do they all go to?

Reason no. 853 for rather liking Berkeley.

The map of the park I was hiking to today had, in bold letters, this:

"South Park Drive is Closed from November 1 to March 1 to protect migrating newts".

I wonder where they migrate to?

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of men (but not of mice)

This is a post I've been meaning to write since I finished my Women in International Security Conference at Georgetown Uni (Washington, DC) in June (just before I left Washington for California). I think it has suffered in not being posted when the thoughts were still fresh in my head (mainly because I can't be bothered to actually care much about it now that some time has passed) but I reckoned I'd put it up anyway.

One of the running themes of the WIIS Summer Symposium, which I attended in early June 2007, was ongoing discussion about balancing one's career with personal life. Two things should probably be made clear before I write more:

- "work" was equated with (mostly) non-academic but executive-style (most women who were talking to us about it were policymakers or consultants) jobs and "personal life" was equated with (non gay) marriage. In other words, we were talking of work and men.

- And, yet, men were absent from much of this discussion. It was a discussion by women for women (both young and older) about men. It was a discussion about "compromise" and "being lucky to have had an understanding husband"* and how the chap was "supportive" of the speaker's job and career. It was a discussion about having given up a promising career (at least two of the women had this trajectory) to look after her children but "not having any regrets" and about how bosses and "mentors" (almost always men) were "supportive" in letting her (them) work part-time. It was a discussion about "not being guilty" to hire a nanny in order to get back to work.

Questions about it being the norm to have an "understanding" husband (in the sense of the woman continuing to work and the man sharing in the childcare/housework) and, if there was finances, hiring a nanny to make life easier all around (after all, why not get someone trained for looking after a kid?) were sidestepped as easily as was the fact that, really, there was no bloke speaking out in favour of (or not) men.

During the course of the Symposium, there was a lot of talk about how brilliant we all were. How brilliant women were. How supportive and encouraging of each other women were. And, there was also frequent mention of "not like men". Or, "we applaud each other (unlike men)". But, as I wrote above, there were no men to agree or disagree with this stereotyping.

All in all, for a non-American person, it was a rather depressing discussion. None of the (main) panellists in the formal discussion or in the many informal discussions which followed seemed to have had a partner (husband or whatnot) who participated equally in childcare. They all seemed to think they were fortunate to have a husband who "supported" them going back to work! That, to me, seems incredibly daft. I look around now at the people I know--the few who read PTSD and the many who don't--and, in most cases, the bloke** is as equally involved in parenting and "supporting" his partner as the woman is. Midnight feedings and changing nappies are not just the woman's job, despite what we heard in WIIS.

Maybe it is a generational thing. All the women who talked to us of balancing work and family were of (my) parents' generation. But, then, my father fed, changed and carried me (and my siblings at various points in time) about (and this was the 1980's). As did his mates. My Mum (sensibly) produced us and decided it was time for a bit of a rest. Husbands (and nannies, if they could be afforded) were part of the child-rearing process. I'm not saying this wasn't a challenge--Asian blokes are not really supposed to become part of child-rearing than those here in the West. But, in my family and in other families I know, people did what they must. After all, most couples aren't too keen on having one of them be the one looking after a crying, messy, hungry child all the time. Sharing the duties then becomes a matter of consideration, of partnership and that's how it was.

I'm also not saying that balancing work and a personal life is not a challenge. Not that I'd know since I don't actually have a personal life but I know most people do! But, I reckon it's important to keep in mind that it's not just a challenge to women. It's a challenge for everyone. And, having discussions about what "women" do and what "women" can expect from men, without actually having any man involved in said discussions doesn't help in learning about and from each other's experiences (since that was, ostensibly, the point of the discussions).***

* The word "partner" was rarely mentioned.

** Substitute whatever gender you want, as necessary. I'll stay with "bloke" since that was the focus of the WIIS discussions.

*** This was actually part of my comments for the overall programme. I also added that perhaps having an academic and also someone from overseas (all the panellists were older policymakers based in the United States) might help in clarifying that "women's experiences" in balancing work and a personal life were more varied than we heard of. Especially as the participants themselves were from 16 countries.


taking the long road back

Since I have nothing academic to write for yous and since E's disappeared (meaning this space is mine, I reckon), I thought I'd write about what I've been doing for the past two hours.

Planning my trip back to Washington.

Why is it taking so long, yous ask?

Well, do I go to Yosemite for two days, then to Sacramento for a day (for the gold-mining history) and then East Glacier National Park for 3 days and then DC? This would mean travelling back on the Empire Builder, a trip I did on my way here (but without the stop at the National Park and the Park seemed magnificent)


Do I avoid Yosemite (why join the hordes or people and it's bound to be more expensive) and go to Tahoe (hopefully few people in the summer and yet good for hiking and biking about) and then DC through the Rockies (and Denver)?


Do I just go directly to DC and see if I can last 55 hours on a train? (the answer's Yes. I can amuse myself endlessly by staring out the window and making notes on things seen)

And, how do I coordinat all this (well, except the last route) when the public transport system is such a bloody hassle to maneuvre?

Well, there yous have it. Nothing academic. I did mean to write about the final Harry Potter/Simpsons' film (which I just saw) and how they both benefit by having what went before go before.

Or, how Homer and Harry are rather similar, actually.

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of technologies and magic

My engineering class here at Berkeley, almost all nicked from the wonderful notes (and syllabus) of a fellow PhD-er at TUWSNBN,* is about the social, political and cultural effects of engineering. I talk of how we can decide (or even if we can decide) to use technologies in a way that benefits the world we live in, rather than increase social, political and economic divides.

With that in mind, we have discussed green design ("eco-effectiveness" rather than "eco-efficiency"), wandered through (and discussed) what made the Cal cafetaria "green"** and checked out the top 10 "green" skyscrapers in the world.

Tomorrow's lecture is on a slightly different topic--a "post-human future".

This, unsurprisingly to most PTSD readers, seemed to be to be a wonderful time to bring up science fiction (or "future fiction") novels. However, I have managed (with difficulty it has to be said) to avoid doing anything of the sort. Instead, in tomorrow's lecture, I shall talk about (what else?) Harry Potter. Yes, Harry Potter.

It seemed to me, while writing up the lecture, that some of the themes from the books--how we deal with changes in our lives in view of increasing powers we acquire--are similar to what I want my students to discuss. Yes, technologies are changing rapidly. Yes, these kids will grow up in a world that I (or other kids in "my" part of the world) will never know or understand. But, the concerns they share--how to use technology and do little harm as possible -- are similar to that of the students and teachers of Hogwarts. And so I shall start the discussion.

After writing my lecture, I found I wasn't the only person who thought of this. Joel Garreau, whose book Radical Evolution forms the guideline of this section of my course expressed a similar view, much more eloquently than I ever would.

* With his permission, of course.
** It was apparently the first "green" building on the Uni of California Berkeley campus. It also has a fully organic kitchen.

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a quick thought on you-know-what

Like the many, many people who have finished reading HP7, I'm rather sleep-deprived but not so much as to write:

What? When did a brilliant, witty, sarcastic and yet strangely fascinating bloke turn into a Disney hero? When? I wouldn't be surprised if Snape secretly listened to the Smiths and had discussions about how no one really understood him.

Oh, JKR.

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chasing cars along the california coastline

I figured, since I'd disappeared, that E would keep yous company. I guess not and it behooves me (always wanted to write that) to update yous on what I've been up to:

- Taught a Global Public Health course for the first time ever. Realised that, in the end, my international law and GPH courses are quite similar (all about complex emergencies, international actors, social responsibility, access and equity issues and so on).

- Was quite sick for the ONE day I had to teach 3 classs. Typical.

- Started and finished indexing a book on Northern Ireland and realised I can now distinguish between the many different paramilitary organisations' acronyms with ease. A tough task that.

- And, best of all (and the reason this is short for now), met up with a (Swedish) friend from grad school days, rented a car (first time ever) and drove on Highway 1* along the California coastline for the past 3 days. Just got back and am now in the process of letting yous know about it.

Highlights: Massive redwoods (well, duh!), magnificent coastlines, seals, sea otters and sea lions, lots and lots of birds, hiking in the forests and sleeping on the beaches and just the general good fun of actually going on such an American thing like a road trip. Oh yes, and the car we were given had Texas plates (which was amusing in itself for no particular reason except that "OH, there was a Nepali and a Swede who went on a road trip along the California coast in a car with a Texas plate" sounds like the start of a particularly bad joke).

There were also two nights in a proper, actual American motel. A seedy-ish one right by the entrance to the highway.

* Without a road map, by the way. We both decided that "there'll be signs" and just went with that. Surprisingly enough, we only got lost once.

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brief moments of frivolity on a friday

If anyone had told me, two months ago, that I'd be spending a Friday evening in mid-July in the Western USA walking around in 50-some degree weather (Fahrenheit, thank you), dressed in all the "cool weather"* clothes I brought (a cotton hoodie, a short-sleeved t-shirt, jeans and slippers) while trying not to get blown off track by the 20 mph winds, I'd not have believed them.

If they'd said I'd actually be enjoying this experience**, I'd have laughed in their faces.

* Seriously--I thought California was all about beaches and sand and sea and more beaches. Now, people tell me, "oh, right, but that's Southern California!".

** Well, maybe not the 8am classes.

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How to learn everything in 3.5 hours

Today's class session notes, if I were to write them up, would probably amuse ProfP, Weberman and E. At times, I was sat there thinking "this would make an excellent reality TV show" and fighting a strong urge to look back and see Nemesis (of the Machiavellian kind) shadowing me about.

So, what happened? Well, the session itself went off okay. This was one of those sessions where my two classes--Global Public Health and International Law and Human Rights--were at the same time and each was 3.5 hours long. We started off with introductions, I emphasised their general good luck in acquiring (if they finished all assignments and I liked said assignments) one university-level credit for doing far less work than "normal" university-level students usually do, introduced them to the wonders of Blackboard and the wondrous site that is TUWSNBN's library and got on with the business of actually getting them to learn.

I should probably digress at this point by adding that I had acquired, for the purposes of this first class, two Teaching Assistants. One, about to enter Medical School in the Fall, was for the Health class and the other, about to enter Law School next year, was for the Law class. Their jobs was to facilitate each of the classes since, despite my wishes, I couldn't be in two places at one time.

So, the introductory lecture: I have a bit in the beginning where I talk about how Global Health and International Law are related. Some of the challenges they face are similar--we go on to discuss things like "public goods", transboundary issues, sovereignty of the state and social justice and equity (my themes for all my courses--might as well stick with things I know). We watch a film on Climate Change and how that will affect global health and also how it's a challenge to international law. It (seems to) go okay.

Then, we separate out and I have to hand over my Health class to HealthTA. HealthTA is fantastic and she's supposed to be leading an in-class exercise on "Neglected Tropical Diseases". They watch a video on Guinea Worms (pretty gruesome and available on YouTube if yous are interested), read a NYT article about tropical diseases and start a discussion. We were trying to get them to think about "health" and "global health" from a perspective which they (usually) wouldn't have thought of.

While this was going on, LawTA had the Law class and was conducting a Negotiations Exercise on Climate Change. Each student had a reading packet and was one of the major actors in the International Climate Change regime. They were supposed to discuss what the main goals and interests of each actor was and how the interests could be (and whether they could be) accommodated through the international regime.

Where's the amusing part you ask? Well, after having been a "veteran" of these gigs by now, I knew that we had to explain basic concepts like the United Nations,* The G-8, the Kyoto Protocol and so on. I forgot to tell this to LawTA who, understandably, thought they knew all this and was surprised when they didn't. The conversation we had very much resembled numerous conversations I've had with the people mentioned above:

LawTA: I can't believe they didn't know the UN! Or, "developing countries"
Me: Yes, well, these are not terms that come up often in high schools, presumably.
LawTA then explains how, in her high school, they had Model United Nations and Amnesty International and such. Pretty much what I tend to do when talking to the people mentioned earlier. Role reversal--this time around, I was explaining that concepts seemingly-obvious to us aren't to the students we are working with. There's not much point in whingeing about it but, instead, get them to understand these things.

My learning experience here? LawTA's easy acknowledgment of "we Americans can agree that human rights should be gender-neutral and encompass the whole world, right?" when discussing Universal vs. Culturally-specific rights. It's a statement that, as a non-American, I wouldn't be able to make. I can't say: Look, we don't do X in our country since the "us"--the students and I sharing an experience of having lived and having been from here-- is missing. For me, it's always, "you", which then distances me from the students I'm interacting with. Something that I hadn't thought about much until I watched LawTA in action.

On the HealthTA side, the learning experience was a practical one. It's been a hot day here in Berkeley (hot, being about 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and the room we were sat in was humid. The students, some of whom had travelled across the country, were falling asleep. So, HealthTA made each of them read from the PowerPoint slides we had--slides about how Global Public Health is about issues such as equity, access, affordability and not just about being free from diseases. She then made each student explain what they thought the slide meant and come up with examples. This actually generated a fair amount of interest and discussion and is definitely a tip I shall pick up on, I reckon!

So, there yous have it. Tomorrow morning, my Global Public Health class continues at 8am. Hopefully, we've not yet scared off the kids.

* Really. I had a student define the United Nations as "all the rich countries". I know people despair of the high school system all the time but, really! However, I guess they're still kids and it's our task to get them to think on such issues. Have I become all Berkeley-ian and Zen?

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biting the hand(s) that feed(s) them: the Transformers

Happy Independence Day, all you Americans!

I spent the eve watching the Transformers. For a film that probably cost massive amounts of money and was called "military porn" by one of the film reviewers (in one of the local 'papers), it was actually rather subversive and critical of the current imperial government/military*. I'm rather knackered for much discussion but here are a few examples to argue my point:

- The President, when on Air Force One, is shown asking for "ding dongs"** and wearing bright red socks (in bed).

- The (Australian) computer chick tells off the (American) defence people for not paying her attention by saying something along the lines of "we need to figure out who's doing this [jamming defence signals. We the viewers, of course, know it's the evil Decepticons] so we can save you from going to war with the wrong country"

- The credits at the end: "Our government doesn't keep secrets. It doesn't lie".

- The "good" guys in the government use Macs. 'nuff said.

- The Australian computer chick--she gets quite a few lines emphasising it's you [Americans] doing dodgy things without having all the info.

- The Secret Secret Agency guy (yes, it's double secret since not even the DoD knows of its existence) saying something about his "ridiculous salary that the government pays me".

- The good Autobots turn into sturdy, run of the mill, land-based vehicles (including a Hummer, I think and some sort of large truck). The evil Decepticons turn into military hardware, including a stealth bomber-type aircraft and a tank.

That's it folks. If American, do enjoy your Indpendence Day. If not American, do whatever yous usually do on a Wednesday. I am working all day and then headed down to "the Mission" to watch fireworks across San Francisco bay. Hopefully, public transport back to Berkeley will still be running after that(or else yous will hear of my night out in the open air, warding off chill and nutters).

Oh, and if yous are wondering, the Transformers is well worth the $8 yous will pay for the ticket. It surpassed my (well, fairly low) expectations--the CGI is fantastic, the action sequences are well-done and the acting and the dialogue are both suprisingly good. Add a geeky audience which cheered at all the rights spots (with a HUGE cheer for "My name is Optimus Prime"), it was a movie-going experience which has increased my liking for Berkeley.

* Is that irony? I mean, on the one hand, you have adverts for General Motors, discussions (by the "good" Transformers) about "everyone should be allowed a choice" and "all sentient beings deserve freedom" and, on the other, you are criticising the government.

** No, I've no idea what these are--must be an American thing.

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in-between teaching sessions

Highlights from the first session of my International Law and Human Rights course:

- Being asked "so, did they kill children too?" when discussing the Rwandan genocide and realising that things I think of as being obvious aren't really.

- "Why didn't you do anything?" (again, when discussing Rwanda and Darfur--and realising that, during the Rwandan events, I was the age my students are now).

I didn't have an answer to this except the rather weak "I didn't even know what was going on", which led to a discussion about news sources, globalisation and living in a fairly remote part of the world. When I was 14-15, I was busy studying for my School Leaving Certificate (Grade 10), we didn't have cable/international television and my reading consisted (mostly) of old Agatha Christie mysteries, Charles Dickens and suchlike.

- Their surprised looks (and "oh, now I feel terrible--greedy, you see") after the Tragedy of the Commons exercise.*

- Being told by the TA's that four of my students now wanted to "learn more about international law" and maybe even "join the United Nations". Bit worrying, that.

- Having one of the students bring up female genital mutiliation (when talking of women's rights) and another ask what that entailed.

- Realising that my flunkie gig provided valuable experience in talking of American law school systems (and first year classes). There's probably some moral in that story about how all painful experiences are ultimately useful but I refuse to believe it.

- Going out to eat with the TA's and project managers (all Juniors or Seniors in undergrad with a couple of recent graduates) and falling back into "Professor" mode while talking about post-undergraduate options.**

The next sessions--law again and also global public health--start on 5 July. I'm sure I'll have more to say on those in upcoming days. Now, it's the first "over 75 degrees" day here in Berkeley so I'm off for a long walk--one which will, hopefully, avoid the (many wonderful) used bookstores. There's a hill behind the university that I want to climb up on.

* This actually went off rather well--no one waited for the second round (where they would have received more money for their fish) as they all grabbed their fish during the first round of fishing. As an exercise in how the Commons are destroyed, it went off perfectly and set up the stage for discussing options of managing such issues.

** I suppose it comes as no surprise to those who know me in that our discussions were mostly about travelling and working overseas.

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what is the world coming to?

Remember how I said I'd talk about the boundaries between my students and the professor (aka Me) here?

Well, tonight there was an awards ceremony/farewell gig. During it, two of my students hugged me. Seriously.*

* For those who know me, I'm not a huggable-type of person. Or a hugger. Not by any means.

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