I'm not sure I have anything to add to that particular discussion.

When white, upper middle class, American guys start talking about how privilege is a meaningless term because everyone has problems?

And that it's really all about where you want to go and getting up and working hard?

I'm not sure I have anything at all to add to the discussion. Because really, there's no good way to explain the concept to them. They aren't going to get it.

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another blasted syllabus

After a summer full of writing and amending all sorts of syllabi, mostly on subjects I have little or no interest in teaching but decided to turn them all into "international development/environment/climate change" aka "how we make sense of stuff" classes, I really didn't need to see or write up another syllabus again.

But, guess what? I did. So, I'm at here, in someone else's house (I'm homeless, in case yous have forgotten), writing a syllabus for TUWSNBN's World Politics class and trying not to weep at the sheer amount of work there is to be done. That's before I even get to class.

Yes, I nicked syllabi off various people again. Yes, I think the "International Security" section is fantastic (I'm making them read about war on film). The other sections? Well, they're getting there. I'm still trying to decide whether I should call the final week's classes "silences and margins" (as a previous professor apparently did) or just "What you missed out in the previous weeks".

There're also debates and international terrorism simulations and discussions about the "North-South Gap".

Just to recap: This semester, I have my own class (World Politics), am TA-ing two postgraduate classes (and attending both) and ostensibly writing more of my dissertation.

Life? Who needs a life, really?

ETA: I just finished a draft of my syllabus--for the final class, I'm getting them to debate "The 21st Century is when everything changes". I wonder if some of them will get it?

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Site of the Month Featured Site: Space and Culture

One of the fun bits about teaching Engineering this summer was the section on "green design" and "green engineering" (the focus of the class). An interesting thing was how similar some of the concerns of engineers--at least those I was reading about--were to those of us who are IR specialists. Questions of space, power and culture and intersections among those were key.

For our irregular "site of the month" section*, I've added Space and Culture, a weblog that talks about innovative ways in which space/culture intertwine. It's got lovely pictures too--go check it out.

* Obviously I should pay more attention to what I'm writing before I post it--for the "Featured Site" section, I should have said.

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when real life imitates virtual life

As yous are well aware, engineering or global public health are not among my top 3 subjects to teach. So, this summer, I had fun trying to figure out ways to make these subjects interesting and fun for students when I myself had little or no interest in them. I used videos (do yous realise how many public health and "green living" videos are narrated by celebrities? A lot), we did simulation exercises, and argued about what would happen in hypothetical situations.

One of the things we did, in my opening 3-hour class for the Global Public Health course, was to talk about this--how virtual worlds can (and have) responded to epidemics.

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making assumptions about the people around us

First of all, yay E's back (sort of)!

So am I, unfortunately--back in Washington DC, headed to TUWSNBN today to sort out my class (which supposedly starts next week), homeless and missing the weather (and the used bookstores...and the eating places) of Northern California.

But, enough of that. Today's post is one about identities...and assumptions...and the usage of words.

I went to see Allah Made Me Funny on Friday at the Riot Act Comedy Club on 14th St, NW. It was actually very funny--Allah'd done his job well.

A couple of rough bits though:

One of the comedians, when setting up a joke about Bollywood films, pointed to an audience member and commented along the lines of "Oh, look at the white guy laughing--he's probably never seen a Bollywood film!"

Another made frequent use of the "N-word" and seemed to wait for reaction. It all seemed a bit juvenile, especially as the show had started off excellently, tapered off a bit and then picked up but went slightly off the rails towards the end when the most famous comedian took over the stage (more "preaching" less comedy; plenty of talk about how Black/African-American people are oppressed but do not recognise their own oppression, etc).

So, what's my point here? Well, about assumptions. Who doesn't know of and hasn't watched Bollywood films these days? I'd have thought most people, especially those showing up at a local comedy place in Washington, would have definitely seen a B'wood film. Or at least been aware enough to realise its main points--boy meets girl, conflict, running around trees and/or chandeliers while singing (it is often raining too), conflict resolved, all ends well.

The other example was more interesting in describing how words and terms are used in daily life. Well, in this case, the N-word was used, by an African-American Muslim bloke to refer to African-Americans. But, from what I remember, in each use the chap was talking about White people using it to refer to African-Americans (not Black people in general but African-Americans). This performs an act of distancing--look, I'm not the one using this (bad) word, I'm talking about someone else using it. And this isn't quite fair because white people (or Asian people) aren't allowed to use that word in public. At the same time, it calls upon past usage to establish that oppression is still going on. Rather clever, that. But, not clever in the sense that it doesn't provide alternative scenarios for the "oppressed" to imagine life differently. It disrespects the majority of African-Americans as they are constituted as being unable to recognise their own oppression (until this chap points it out to them). It doesn't provide spaces for engagement* or "face-to-face interaction despite differences" as Tocqueville would say, but distances these two identities--African-American and Others (Whites, in this example)--from each other and posits an ongoing hierarchy, one that is difficult to change.

This brings me to an article I wanted to discuss some time back but never got around to. It was written by an African-American chap in one of the local San Francisco area newspapers and it was along the lines of "Am I Black Enough?". In the article, he wrote that because he lived in the suburbs, liked opera, belonged to a wine club, etc he got asked quite often if he was "Black". His response? How is it that when reports about the local young criminal, the teenager who's doped up and preggers, the unemployed show up, no one asks if these identities are "Black" enough?

The point this chap made and one that I wish the Comedian had talked more of is that the way we conceptualise identities is limiting. We are talking about fixed identities--one that is oppressed and another that is oppressing. The media, songs and so on and even the people themselves work towards perpetuating notions of a fixed, single identity rather than less stable, multiple identities.

Let me give some more examples from the past few days:

- Being told by some of the people I was working with over the summer that the reason they didn't like San Francisco and Berkeley was because the places were "too Asian". Especially Berkeley, I was told.*

- Going to a new place to watch football (Liverpool were playing Chelsea. We were robbed of victory. Robbed) and having random people ask "So, why are you here alone then?" in the midst of an extremely-exciting match**.

- Having a potential housemate tell me that she was "impressed by your command of English" (seriously).

- The (Portuguese) manager of Chelsea, Jose Mourinho, slagging off Liverpool because "some" Liverpool players were "from a different [Spanish] culture" (and hence diving to get penalties).

The last one was especially interesting--Mourinho was pissed off because two new Liverpool signings--both recently arrived in Britain from Spain--were not English enough!

Allah Made Me Funny could be an excellent forum to discuss these issues of multiple identity-formation. Not that they'd have to but instead of using the same old tropes of "oh oh we're being oppressed", maybe a step further--okay, we're being oppressed, so what are we doing about it/can we do about it? It's not like all of us aren't getting oppressed in one way or another. Pointing out the oppression (however defined) may be useful, using it as a crutch when talking about selves and others as single-identity groups, not so much.

* This was actually a bit of a shock because I was convinced everyone had liked the area as much as I had. Then, thinking about it later, I realised that the bits of both cities that made them worth liking to me (e.g. being able to buy packets of dried squid in Walgreens!) might not have been to everyone's tastes.

** Lesson here: Don't go watch footy at bigger pubs/restaurants. Stick to smallish ones, where people ignore you or give you sidelong glances but ignore you anyway.

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And by fathers' rights we mean, we hate women

Let's hear it once again for my home state,* Ohio, and its progressive approach to gender equality.**

H.B. 287

Give it a rest, guys. You're making the rest of us look bad.

* One more reason not to ever, ever move back? You betcha.

** And by progressive, I mean dumbass.


Huh. So this is what a blog looks like.

Right, yes, I know. I go off for months at a time, I never call, I never write, would it kill me to think about someone else for a change? Also, when was the last time I washed my curtains?

Blogging and my mother have a lot in common, it seems.

I have been, when not standing in a classroom (sometimes sans shoes, for several very good reasons) traveling a lot this summer.

So much so that now I can't find the time or money to go to the next BNC in Chicago, but I'm resigned to that now.

The short version of this summer:

1. Niagara Falls is touristy. So touristy that I suspect the Canadians are mocking us. Politely, of course.

2. North-central PA has many twisty roads, not all of which are safe to drive on.

3. Gas stations in NY are hard to find.

4. Hamilton, ON looks suspiciously like my hometown. Only with one-way streets. And French signs.

5. "Frozen Puck to the Head" is funnier than it ought to be.

6. Clove cigarettes may be my downfall. Or possibly real Canadian beer.

7. When your automobile begins to act strangely, it's a good idea to pay attention.

8. Backwards at 65 mph on the turnpike? Not as much fun as it sounds. Also, the smell of gasoline is much more unnerving when you're not actually at a gas station.

9. Ohio may not be exciting, but the mechanics, tow truck drivers, highway patrolmen, and tire salesmen are good people. Expensive, but helpful.

10. "Well, it could have been worse," is only a useful observation the first dozen times you hear it. After that, it starts to get annoying.

11. It is better to have people actually do what you ask than have them try to figure out what you really want. Helpful hint: I want you to do what I asked. Please.

12. Some houseguests are easier to deal with than others. The easy ones are rarely family.

13. There are good parties and there are bad parties. The good ones generally involve mocking of some sort.

14. Places which are good for a happy hour are probably not good for a writing meeting. Especially not if there's a jazz band.

15. DC is often unbearably hot, and yet you still need to venture outside and do things. This seems unfair, somehow.

So. That's 15 posts I won't be writing.

And while I'm catching up on things, here's a meme/quiz/time-wasting thing that I snagged from Learning to Live with It:

You Are The Hanging Man

You represent the seeking of enlightenment and spiritual clarity.
You tend to confuse others, but your oddities seem deeply satisfying.
Self sacrifice is easy for you, especially if it makes you a better person in the end.
You are the type of person who is very in touch with your soul and inner spirit.

Your fortune:

Right now is a good time for reflection and meditation.
You should stop resisting the problems in your life, and let yourself be vulnerable to them.
You may need to sacrifice something important to you to move ahead in your life.
Accept your destiny with courage, and learn to let go of what you think you need.
What Tarot Card Are You?

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farewell to california

Today's post combines a lot of things that I thought I'd have had more time to write longer posts on but didn't.

- The "Papers with the Prof" programme at the dining hall. Local and national newspapers are placed on a table. The resident facult, the "Prof", reads them and marks and comments on certain articles. Students and other staff are encouraged to do the same. For solitary eaters (like me!) or for generating conversations about news stories, it's a fantastic project and, as far as I could tell, it seemed to be going well. When I grow up, I want to be the "Prof".

- The used book stores. Of which many words have already been written so I won't write more here.

- The weather--once you get used to wearing jackets during daytime (in August!), you realise that the cooler weather facilitates walking about, bludging in the sunshine and is good for energy conservation (no need for air conditioners). I did read there's a heat advisory for Washington for the upcoming week. Fun.

- The students. I guess it goes without saying that engineering, global public health and law and human rights are not my preferred topics of choice to teach. It did help that the syllabi were developed by people who know what they were doing (more than I do) so all I had to do was tweak them. Still. The final two sessions--engineering and GPH with most classes being one after another--were fairly tough especially as the engineering kids seemed to expect, you know, actual engineering, not a class on the "let's talk about the social and environmental effects of engineering and technologies". Ah well.

It didn't help that, for almost all the kids, TUWSNBN was an unknown creature. I believe I have mentioned that more than one student asked if it was an online university. PR people, take note.

Overall, though, I think they all went remarkably well. The classes were well-structured, the students were keen to discuss issues raised (especially the global public health students, who were articulate and cheerful even at extremely early hours of the morning) and some even found me during "off times" to discuss topics raised in class.

- The homeless. Rather surprisingly, even for me who grew up in various "developing" countries, San Francisco and Berkeley have remarkably large numbers of homeless/street people. Many of them, especially in Berkeley, are not especially nice (though I do get the point that nice is probably not what I'd be if I were homeless either). Many have been fairly agressive, rather rude at times and seem to have psychological issues and not just a lack of a place to live.

Is the state doing something about this? Well, there was a recent article in the local newspaper about how the state was making plans to ensure homeless people got aid (including psychological assistance) but local people (well, the few that I've actually talked to) seem to think this is all part of the Mayor's campaign for re-election.

- This is the first time in my life that I've lived in a context where all my fellow employees are American. Not just American but young, undergrad-aged, Americans. It's been interesting, to say the least.

- Living in a dorm once again, ten years after I did so the first time around. See above re: interesting.

I think that's about it for now. I am headed back the same way I came over but will be spending a week at the Glacier National Park in Montana.

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seeing things i'd only read of before

Today's entry: the University itself. UC Berkeley (or "Cal" as the locals seem to call it) has a lovely campus, numerous sports fields, swimming pools and an excellent location with buildings meandering up on the hills overlooking the city.

It also has this. Sproul Plaza, was apparently "ground zero for '60's era campus activism", anti-war protests during the Vietnam era and a site where people were gassed by the National Guard*.

One of the best parts of this summer has been seeing places I'd read of in actual life, so to spreak. The Beat Generation's hangouts, Steinbeck's Cannery Row, the dodgy pub where Jack London used to drink, the rocks and crags where Chinese seamen used to live (before it became "cool" to immigrate to San Francisco), the gold rush towns that have now all disappeared (except as tourist sites) and the overall enjoyment of wandering through a university with a history of doing stuff.**

* Not on a regular basis, mind yous. Just once, I believe, sometime in the (when else?) '60's.

** I believe it has been frequently mentioned that I'm not the more articulate one of PTSD.

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i was feeling lazy today, oh boy

So, today's post is about watching a film and buying a t-shirt. F

The film was The Bourne Ultimatum. It's (isn't everything, really?) all about being under surveillance by (y)our own government, lines being blurred about good/bad people and shaky camerawork.

Also, nifty little sequences in Waterloo station in London and in a neighbourhood in Tangiers (the rooftop scene).

The t-shirt was this one. The chap (English guy who'd been to Nepal "four times" and "was too lazy to hike but went rafting" -- including once right near where my dad used to live) pointed out he'd gotten the definition from the OED.

Well, that's all right then. Why am I bothering to write dissertation on contested claims of definition when I can just buy a t-shirt instead?

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from the outside, looking in

I forgot to write one up yesterday. Apologies. Assuming you were keeping count, that is.

Today's entry is from Berkeley. On the corner of Durant Avenue (the street where the dorm that I've been living in over the summer is located) and Shattuck Avenue (which is one of the main streets of Berkeley), there is a bookstore called Pegagus. Not being content to be named after a mythical winged creature, it is one of those places where the staff leaves you alone and you can usually find one book that you've just been looking for (but not yet found). But, today's entry is not about Pegasus.

Next door to Pegasus, there is a yellowish-orange-walled building. It is sat between Pegasus and has an automobile dealership on its other side. There is no sign for this building. Nor is there an entrance--well, none that I have seen yet anyway. Instead, there are a few tall windows through which the insides of the building can be seen.

The inside is a large, dark room. The room is filled with 30 or so pool tables. Every evening I've walked past this building (and I walk past it 4-5 times a week), the tables are surrounded by people intent on the coloured balls in front of them. This being Berkeley, the crowd is ethnically-diverse though their ages appear to be in the younger side of 40 and they are mostly men.

Standing outside one of the windows, you realise that there's not much conversation going on. No one seems there to impress people. People don't even look up from their games. Instead, they wait. And, when it's their turn, they play.

It's not a bar. It doesn't look flash. It's always been busy, even on weekdays. And it's one of the (many) oddities of Berkeley that I've grown used to over the summer.

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dreams of robots

Today's entry is not about things or people but about shops. Well, two shops to be precise.


A shop ful of incredibly detailed, colourful little robots (well, mostly little). If only it were bigger, I'd have managed to spend most of my afternoon there.

Then, the equally fun but unrelated to the above Giant Robot. Both a shop (in material as well as online forms) and a magazine. Described as "covering cool aspects of Asian and Asian-American pop culture". Has an excellent (and funny) review section.

Makes me feel right at home, all this.

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concerns of today's youth

Today's entry into the "This is Berkeley (for me)" category: two scenes from two days.

Yesterday (on the train to San Francisco):

Boy and Girl are sitting together, on a seat facing me. Boy moves closer to put his arm around the girl. Girl moves away.

Boy: Hey, no one's going to see.
Girl: doesn't matter.
Boy: You make it difficult to flirt with you.
Girl: We should look out for your sister
Boy: She's (something that sounds like) wacked (whacked?).
Girl: No, she just likes black.
Boy: Yes, that's what I mean. Wack.
Girl: My brother and his girlfriend work on Powell (street. Busy shopping area)
Boy (firmly): They are not going to see us. You're not letting me do anything anyway.

Today (at the cafetaria at uni):

Two girls are sat facing each other, fairly close to where I'm eating my supper.

GirlA: Is that all you're eating?
GirlB (who has a bowl with leaves in it. Just leaves): Yes
GirlA: Why? you not feeling good?
GirlB: No, I'm on a diet. Mom says if I lose ten pounds when I come back, she'll give
me $200 to buy clothes.
GirlA: I couldn't do that. I can't diet.
GirlB: I tried last year. Had anorexia (like saying "I had a cough"). Giggles I got over it. But, I still need to lose weight. (she wasn't overweight by the way. Slightly chubby--maybe a size 12 in US size)
GirlA: Well, if it makes you feel better, I have depression. It's genetic in my family.

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