the ways of the force are mysterious indeed

Today, at the Book Festival, I ran into three of my students. We ended up talking about being in America (they are all from overseas and just arrived here this semester), finding things to do, having to always talk in a different language (I told them they'd get used to it) and so on. I almost had my picture taken with Clifford (the big red dog) and saw a singing and dancing sloth. Oh and, of course, Terry Pratchett (who didn't sing or dance but was good fun all the same).

Then, I went to watch the rugby World Cup and ran into a couple of graduate students whom I know from the class I'm TA-ing. We sat around and talked about rugby--how we all got interested (they are both American and I, as I'm sure yous know by now, am Nepali), what's the point of watching it (when "our" teams don't play or play terribly) and, as graduate students tend to, we discussed sports and politics--identity-formation and nationalism. All the while the All Blacks were running in over 80 points against the Romanians.

Finally, I walked home and ran into an ex-student. By this time, I was expecting to run into students--current or former--so, apart from not being able to recall his name (nothing new there), I was prepared. We discussed what he's been doing (this is his final semester, he's trying to decide between postgraduate studies, law school or travelling/working overseas).

Then, I got home. Home is thankfully empty of students. For now.

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those crazy academics

Yes, I'm finally catching up with my non-university readings so that's why you are getting all this. I did save the best for last.

Check out the "Academics: Still Totally Lame" post over at Cosmic Variance, which discusses a Chronicle article on what "guilty pleasures" academics have.

Then, read the comments which include:

There are plenty of professors who like dressing up in gender-inappropriate undergarments, using cocaine, kabbalah, shooting assault rifles, etc. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that on balance, academics have an above-average level of perversity and general weirdness. (Proof: they’re fairly imaginative people with loads of time on their hands.) But their continued employment rests on their seeming to be respectable.

Or, something to look forward to:

Ah, but once you have tenure it's all edible panties, firearms and blow.

and dodgy-behaviour:

Has NO ONE here ever gotten drunk/stoned with one of his/her professors?

Good grief, what is the world coming to?

Oh, and the comments at the original Chronicle article include this by "Musclememor":

Skipping my classes to cruise for young gay dudes
Strip clubs and gun running, snorting crushed quaaludes
Stealing department chairs' gold wedding rings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the urge strikes
When the day's long
When I'm feeling caged
I simply skip off to my favorite things
And leave my TA's

Ditching a conference to drink with a minor
Poison-tipped arrows I'll fire at a shriner
Undergrads — they're all just fodder for flings
These are a few of my favorite things

Grading by chance, to make students' lives tragic
Sorcery, witchcraft, and vampire blood magic
Parking on homeless folk, plucking off wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Thank you Cosmic Variance, the Chronicle and random academics. I've been born again. Really.

ETA: And from the Guardian, via Crooked Timber, the utterly (un)predictable guilty pastime of Anthony Giddens is....wrestling.

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book festival on the Mall

For those of yous here in Washington, head down to the Mall and enjoy the National Book Fest on Saturday.

Drop by the Fiction and Fantasy section to hear Mr. Pratchett at high noon. He sums up World Politics in one short paragraph with:

"It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things."

Oh and apparently there is a real Miss Manners who is (allegedly) going to be there in person. I can't wait.

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just bloody tired of it all

After today's class, I am tired. Tired of teaching students. Tired of trying to find examples that make sense to students who don't remember a world in which terrorism was not the major organising feature of society. Tired of trying to talk of other parts of the world that aren't the United States and Europe and having students stare blankly back at me. Tired of dealing with a textbook with a strong normative bias towards "what is best for/the concern of the United States" masquerading as a book on world politics.

I remember my International Politics class. It was, as is this one I'm teaching, the first class I had to take as an undergrad. We read writings (on dealing with colonisation) from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Burma, and Philippines. We read diaries of explorers who went to China and PNG. We discussed whether Australia would ever have an "Asian" identity. We talked about if multiculturalism could "work" and how this beast might look like. We talked about trade and how to make the trading system inclusive. We talked about the effect of trading patterns on small farmers and how trade had changed since the colonial days. Colonisation informed much of the dicussions--as did human (indigenous peoples') rights and trade.

I dug out a photograph (the only one I have) from my first year--it's a picture of students from Nepal, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Botswana, Vanuatu, Nauru, Fiji, PNG, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden and, of course, Australia sitting around a table at the student union, sheepishly looking at the camera. It's a picture where teenagers are sat with grandmothers. It's a picture of a class I would like to teach.

Yes, I'm romanticising. Yes, it was a different, pre-9/11 world. Yes, it was (is!) Northern Australia so the chances of a terrorist attack occurring there are minimal (leaving time for other concerns). But the time spent thinking about world politics--the time spent discussing how all of us--different in our own ways and histories--had ended up there at that time and place has been as useful as learning about Realism and Liberalism.

I just wish my kids now had that chance--to gather around and talk. To put themselves in other people's shoes. To not write statements like "I have travelled a lot in Europe and I realised they hate me as soon as I say I am American". To learn that being American is fantastic but, to people elsewhere, so is being whatever they are.

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on the road to mandalay...

...there are apparently quite a few monks. A lot of whom, tonight (US time), may well be dead. As may be the current protests there. In Burma, that is.

My first holiday, as a grown-up (I was 21 at that time), was to the borders of Thailand and Burma. As I trudged my way through the forests where the Thailand-Burma railway (or the Death Railway, as it is oh-so-poetically called) ran, it was fairly easy to believe nothing much had changed in the 50 or so years since the end of World War Two. The forests were quiet, not many people could be seen and the horror stories of wartime, which we'd had to read during my world politics class, were still fresh in memory. I went all the way up to the Three Pagodas Pass*, found out that the border guards were willing to let a fairly innocuous looking person through and had to haggle for a motorbike ride to the nearest (Burmese) town. Unsurprisingly, probably, it was not much different to the small Thai border towns and the people even understood my dodgy Thai as I bargained for a jade elephant (which I still have).

Later, I found out this border was different--other border areas between Thailand and Burma were teeming with people who had escaped from Burma, many of whom had been living there for decades. New people arrived every day. People were sold from the refugee camps (and ended up in dodgy parts of Bangkok) every day. There was tension among the local Thais and the refugee Burmese. But, at that time, it was my first holiday. I was seeing and walking through areas I'd read about in my classes. I was following the trail where over 120,000 people had died during the War, just making these train tracks. It was, as most things are for 21-year olds, a grand old adventure.

Why the detour into memory lane? Well, when I had to pick a case for my in-class exercise** for the kids I'm teaching, I thought of and rejected quite a few. The way the textbook for the class is organised, it focuses on cases which are "of interest" to the United States so you are likely to read about Israel, Palestine, NATO, the GWOT and so on. Smaller countries do not get much of a mention. Then, I thought of Burma--the BBC had been reporting about the few protests going on (at that time) and I thought it was an excellent case to see what different actors do (or would do) and to discuss issues of alliance, sovereignty, democracy-promotion and so on. I could (as I did) change the names of the actors and make my students guess the country.

One student did. Then, on Tuesday, I used Burma again as an example of how identities matter in world politics.*** We talked about whether assisting the pro-democracy forces in Burma was in the United States' national interest (and why or why not). We talked about social movements and the status of religious leaders in society. We talked about what would happen, in Burma, if one of them were killed. As they are all from the United States or Japan, the likelihood of their death being in the news would be high. Then, we went through what would happen if I was killed. As a Nepali, I'd hardly rate a mention.**** A rather cheery class, you might say. We also discussed allliances and why the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) admitted Burma as a member and maintained ties with it despite its non-democratic government. We talked about China and its policies. We talked about US interests and how "we" never hear about Burma (or hadn't until very recently). So, yes, Burma's featured a lot in my world politics class this past week.

This means the kids are keen to see what is going on there now. As am I. On a cynical level, I have a feeling that the end will somehow be similar to 1988. Or, even if the pro-democracy forces somehow overthrow the government, that will not change the lot of the people much. On a level that still remembers my walk through the woods at a time when I still thought the world could be a world of my (our?) making, I do hope the Burmese people get the changes they want. Or, at the very least, cheaper fuel prices.

* Not hiking all the way though--I took public transport partway there!

** See post on democracy: a social experiment.

*** This week is "constructivism week".

**** Unless I was killed in a rather spectacular fashion. And, of course, numbers matter.

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democracy: a social experiment, part II

Well, it went okay. I think they had more fun trying to guess the various actors (one kid guessed them all) rather than proposing options and I didn't have much time at the end to discuss some of the concepts I wanted to talk to them about. But it wasn't too bad and it got them interacting with each other rather than listening to me talk.

I still am not sure what this World Politics business is all about--I think most of them get issues of balance of power; role of the hegemon; alliances and regimes and so on but if you were to wander into my class and ask them to recite "the three strands of feminism" (don't ask--this was one of the topics in the study guide handed out to me a couple of days ago), then they'd probably turn blank faces at you. But (hopefully), they would be able to tell you what feminism offers to the study of world politics and how it is a critique of other ways of analysing world politics.

Is that enough? I don't know. Do they need to know what deterrence is (definition of), the three types of "decision-making models" and so on? I don't think so. I mean, I taught the higher-level research course for the past two semesters--I know that by the time they get to that class, these kids are not going to remember much of anything they will be learning in my World Politics class. But, just maybe, they will remember some of the exercises, arguments and debates we are having.

I do live in hope.

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democracy: a social experiment, part I

Tomorrow's class is on "democracy". The kids are reading Michael Doyle's 1986 article on "Liberalism and World Politics" and a couple of short pieces on democracy promotion and such.

But, instead of drilling into their heads whatever "democracy" is, I'm planning on doing a "Conference" in which I'm dividing them into 7 actors, giving them an issue and telling them to figure out what they would do about it. Since I've not actually done this sort of thing before, I'm laying it all out here for your entertainment.

I should probably mention that I want them to (hopefully) discuss the Democratic Peace Theory (we already talked about this in the previous class), figure out ways to balance/challenge the hegemon, talk about what "rationality" would entail and get into issues of hard and soft power, levels of analysis and get into how they would deal with each other. In other words, I'd like to get us to discuss concepts without making it obvious. Am I likely to be successful? Tune in tomorrow and find out.

In the meantime, have a read through and email me or comment on any additions/amendments yous can think of. As I said, this is the first time I'm even attempting this. Who knows what chaos it will lead to.

On Democracy:

The Issue

Country Y is currently experiencing political turmoil. For the past decade, it has been under strict military control and is considered to be very repressive. It is a “one party, military-led state”. Dissent is disallowed, press freedom is nonexistent and protesters are arrested and jailed. Many previous demonstrations have been ruthlessly quelled and people are “disappeared” yearly. The military has controlled political and economic activities of the country. The country itself is one of the poorest in its region. Inter-ethnic tensions are high. In addition, the trafficking of women and children from Y to neighbouring countries and across continents is high as is transport of drugs. It is believed the military junta is finding it difficult to quell the protests.

In the past week or so, there has been widespread protests over the rising costs of essential items. At the same time, the government has announced it has the means to acquire WMD's from a state not friendly with the Hegemon. Surprisingly, just yesterday, news filtered out of a find of Xacon in the country. Xacon is a mineral which can be used as an alternative energy source instead of fossil fuels. It is also inexhaustible—every time you remove a ton of Xacon from the earth, another ton takes its place. So far, Y is the only country in the world with a sustainable amount of Xacon.

Different actors are meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark next month to discuss what to do about this situation. You, as the representative, have to decide what to do. Keep in mind your goal is to maintain order and promote peace and plan accordingly.

The Actors:


You are the Hegemon. You do not border Y but Y occupies a strategic position in a region in which you are increasingly losing your foothold and you need allies there. You have also promised the other actors in the region that you will provide military assistance, if they are threatened. In addition, this new find of Xacon could allow you to change energy sources and increase your position of power in the global arena. So far, you have criticised policies within Country Y and have banned all investment in there but your main goal is to promote democracy.

You are Together, a regional economic and political organisation. Y is part of your organisation and you have been pursuing an “engagement” policy with it in the hopes that things will change. You do not have any sanctions or embargoes on Country Y. Should you keep up with this policy? What are the benefits (and drawbacks) of alliance? You are thinking about these issues as TogetherElsewhere, another more powerful regional organisation, has announced plans for an arms embargo against Country Y.

Mr. White: You are the leader of country Y. You have been invited to the conference in Copenhagen and need to have a plan ready to propose to the other actors. You have just received information about the Xacon find in your country.

Regional Power State: You are the regional power. Your relations with the Hegemon are good in terms of trade relations and yet you are considered to be a potential rival or threat in geopolitical terms. You also border Country Y and have been a supporter of Y's regime. You recently vetoed a UN resolution criticising Y's government's treatment of its ethnic groups.

Help All: You are an international nongovernmental organisation which campaigns for human rights. While other countries were ignoring Country Y, you have always tried to bring its issues to the region's, if not the world's attention. However, many of your representatives have been arrested and forbidden from entering country Y. The current situation could be an opportunity...or not.

You are two of Y's neighbours—X and Q.

Q: You border Y and the Hegemon has bases on your territory. If you are threatened, the Hegemon has promised to come to your help. However, Q itself had a recent coup in which the military took control. Many refugees from Country Y also live along your shared borders and you are likely to find it difficult to accommodate more refugees if the situation within Y declines. You have strong economic ties with Y and have built industries and hydroelectric projects there.

X is one of the most prosperous countries in the region. It has advocated engagement with Y and is also in favour of non-intervention. It argues for a local, regional variation on democracy and says the “Western” version of democracy is not suited for all places.

Mr Orange: you are the leader of the opposition in Country Y. For the past decade, you have had limited power but the current protests are giving you hope. You belong to a minority group that has been repeatedly persecuted by the military government. However, do you want to invite the Hegemon into your country? Your grandparents were killed during WWII and your parents fought for freedom from Colonial rule. You are not sure what to do now.

Well, there you have it. I'll let yous know how it goes tomorrow. This whole "teaching kids about World Politics" gig is far more time-consuming than I thought!

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a pre-class dialogue, recreated

Yesterday, the class that is held before mine ran over its allotted time. For those of you not at TUWSNBN, let me explain. My class starts at 2.10pm. The previous class is (in my understanding) supposed to end at 1.50pm. It was 2.05 pm and the lecturer was still in the classroom. Now, I like to have a few minutes before my starting time to set up my lecture and just make sure I've got pen and paper(s) on hand. As a fairly new lecturer, I take comfort in setting things up, in the routine. This is difficult when 40 kids are walking out of the room right when I am supposed to be in there, starting my preparation.

I finally got into the room and the professor was still there--getting ready to talk to a few students who had questions for him. As he was talking, I started setting up my lecture, opening up my notebook case and doing things that showed that his time was over.

He finally looked at me and went: Oh, hello young lady. Can you give me a minute? (there still was a line of four or five students waiting)

Me (in totally put on posh accent): Of course old chap. But shouldn't you be on your way--you seem to be running rather late.

He left right after that. No, I don't feel proud of myself but since this was the third week his class has run late, I don't feel too bad.

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a brief comment on private security contractors

I'm shocked. That's all I have to say (write) really. Shocked. Who would have thought private security contractors would ever be involved in something like this?

After all, they are well known for being defenders of children and the oppressed worldwide. They help those-who-cannot-speak make their voices heard in places as far flung as Papua New Guinea. They protect the weak and innocent from death and destruction in places like Iraq. They don't have to go through all that bureaucratic hassle that regular troops do--they have the flexibility to do things their way.

Obviously, the Iraqi government has gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick in expelling them. Now, who will safeguard the many civilians who depended on Blackwater for their safety? Who will "open fire randomly at [Iraqi] citizens" to make sure they knew they should always be ready and alert (in case of deadly gunfire)? No one, that's who. Then, more Iraqis will die.

So, yes, Bring back the Blackwater boys!*

* Nope, not being sexist. This lot's usually made up of blokes.

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and now for something definitely not academic (but with song included)

The "Primetime Emmys" were on tonight. I caught the opening monologue by the guy who's in American Idol. It was not funny and nor did it make the rest of the show sound the least bit watchable. But, hey, I think he made a Flight of the Conchords*-related joke. You judge:

Host (talking about past Emmy hosts): They were brilliant, if you're into it.
(emphasis mine)

FOTC...well, just see for yourself.

* This is important because FoTC are the fourth most popular folk rock due in New Zealand and, as such, the fourth most popular folk rock duo in the world.

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students are multiplying like rabbits or something

Going home on the bus at midnight and having a student pop up and say "Oh, hello Professor!" in a rather cheery voice is not what I wanted for Saturday night.

Do they have to be everywhere?

The rest of Saturday though: rather good. Went down to "spectate" (as one of my other students called it, in class) at the anti-war gig earlier. It's rather difficult to actually participate when I don't think "our troops" should be brought back home right now.

Talking of "our troops", it's surprising how difficult teaching World Politics without using a pronoun is. I have been doing my best to say "the United States" or "Southeast Asia" but, at times, I find myself slipping into "well, we would have done X". This often happens when I am talking about US foreign policy. I'm not quite sure why I don't use "it"--"we" just slips out, often when I'm making a controversial statement (so the kids can disagree--which they often do with great gusto*)

The kids all use "we" (except the few East Asian kids I have and they use--"the US" or "Japan". They've not said "we" when referring to their own countries) when talking about the United States. What this says about identity, I don't have space (nor time) to get into now but isn't it interesting that citizens of the most powerful state in the world use "we" when talking about their country's policies while others seem less inclined to do so?

Which sort of brings me back where I started--I know I have 37 students in my current class. So how is it that they seem to pop up everywhere around town? A bus at midnight, for ____ 's sake! And, maybe even more disturbing, why are they so cheery?

* I wrote gusto in a post!

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realising realism rocks my canoe

As I sit in front of my computer at 1am on a Friday, after having read quite a few articles about Realism and Hegemony (It's "Realism week" here at World Politics Central), I am reminded of just how much I actually agree with Realists. Also, how much they are slagged off in the world of International Relations, often for things they would never have agreed with.

Read this: "Realists are often accused of disliking democracy and even of being anti-democratic. This is a bogus charge. Every realist I know would be thrilled to see Iraq turned into a thriving democracy. Realists, however, are well aware of the difficulty of spreading democracy, especially by military means. They also understand that even if the enterprise is successful, that is no guarantee that peace will break out. Democracies as well as non-democracies like having nuclear deterrents, and both kinds of states support terrorism when it suits their interests." (Mearsheimer, at a talk in Germany in 2005)

Reminds me that I need to write up on his and Walt's performance a couple of weeks ago.

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A long, long, long review of my current favorite album.

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, 2007.

This is a long review, because I love the album a bit more than I really want to admit. Given how much I admit to loving it (iTunes says 15 plays since Sunday on a weekend when I also heard the new tracks from The Weakerthans and took the time to watch the VMAs and all of the Fall Out Boy clips that weren’t aired that night) that’s a lot.

Josh Ritter can write lyrics. He’s been writing fantastic songs for years, and it’s great that people love him for that. But he’s coming out of a long tradition of popular music, a tradition that he respects and admires. Josh Ritter loves that music.

And he’s been doing his homework.

This is the album where Ritter makes it clear that he’s grown up, that he’s as much a musician as a lyricist, and that he’s ready to experiment with whatever catches his eye, whether it be classical harmony or The Clash. This is the one you’ll remember as a wonderful folk singer standing up and claiming that he’s more than that.

I’m not sure what the result is, but I can’t stop listening to it.

It’s impressive, the best album I’ve heard this year, and I can’t wait to see him live when he comes back to town in October.

And, because I can, you're going to get a track-by-track explanation of why.

To The Dogs Or Whoever

was it casey jones or casey at the bat
who died out of pride and got famous for that
killed by a swerve laid low by the curve
did you ever think they ever thought
they got what they deserved

My favorite image of the entire album is in this opening track, but it’s not the one I just quoted. Anybody who knows me will be able to figure it out. Just remember that I'm not a subtle person.

One of my favorite things about Josh Ritter is the way he plays with language. In this song, and the album as a whole, he’s playing with language and story and history. It’s no surprise that I’m smitten.

Mind's Eye

and when you come for me some night
you’d better bring a shovel be expecting the worst
cause i’ve got you in my mind’s eye

Listen to the piano in this. Really listen. And then listen to the lyrics, because this is the track where you’ll hear for the first time that this album is a challenge, a gunfight, a standoff between Josh Ritter and his critics. It’s an old-fashioned duel that he’s going to win.

Josh Ritter, gunslinger and guitar player.

Right Moves

all those lovers circling round their love
sling and arrows dogs and lions
rivers separating touch from touch
the comedy of distance the tragedy of separation

I am a sucker for a good tune. And for the sort of music that can’t be classified, that used instruments and mythology and echoes of beach music and rap and big band. I want this song tattooed on my skin, echoes of it in my head.

The Temptation Of Adam

if this was a cold war we could keep each other warm
i said on the first occasion that i met marie
we were crawling through the hedge that was the missile silo door
and i don’t think that she really thought that much of me

Some of you may remember my unreasoning adoration of the S60 version of “O Holy Night.” That reaction has got nothing on my love for the opening bars of this song and the mix of—if I’m hearing it correctly—trumpet, bassoon, and acoustic guitar. And, because he’s still Josh Ritter, we also get to think about war and love songs and personal history and language games and the ways that they’re the same.

Open Doors

i’m saving nickels and i’m saving dimes
i’m gonna kiss you where the sun don’t shine
and all those shadows gonna kiss them too
just so long as they come in with you

I’m not sure if I enjoy this because it sounds like Josh Ritter, only with a stronger rhythm, or because I would dearly, dearly love to hear it covered by Fall Out Boy. Possibly both. Probably both.


there’s some bells in the belfry
hey what the hell if it helps me
i put a whip to the kick drum
but the music’s never loud enough

This starts with an unabashed reference to one of my favorite songs ever, and from there keeps a solid beat and a fantastic hook that I absolutely adore. It’s darker than a lot of his previous stuff, a tango instead of a ballad. I firmly believe that everyone should love this song as much as I do.

Edge Of The World

The change in pacing and sound between this and “Rumors” is a little jarring at first, but it grew on me. It’s like the Intermission on A Fever You Can't Sweat Out--a chance to come down from the harder tracks and get ready for the slower, smoother track that leads off the back half of the album. It’s pretty, and I can see why it’s necessary given the rest of the (fantastic, but tougher) tracks around it.

Wait For Love

This is the closest song on the album to the sound of The Animal Years, with that same minimal instrumentation. It showcases the way that Ritter is stretching his range, though, with a few harmonies and a melody that I’m not sure he’d have attempted before. Still really good, but not quite single material the way almost everything else here is. I’m a little disappointed with the lyrics, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever been with one of his songs before.

Ultimately, I’d prefer that this be switched out with one of the bonus tracks. It’s the weak point on the album, and that’s a shame because from anyone else it would be a lovely, if quiet, song.

Real Long Distance

telephone ringin’ mama
please don’t you leave it alone
don’t leave no breaks in the line
it’s the only thing that’s tied to home

The solid beats are back with a vengeance, and the sort of instrumentation that makes it clear (as if we didn’t already know) that Ritter means business with the music this time. The bridge, which is half jazz riff and half guitar rock, is something I didn’t expect and have grown to love despite my usual dislike of cacophony. (This dislike is a bit excessive, I’ll admit. There was an experimental overture I had to learn once, it was painful to play, I don’t want to talk about it.)

Next To The Last Romantic

there’s always whiskey and women
and women and whiskey around
and he can’t tell which is worse
to be dying of thirst or to drown

Josh Ritter can also do old-fashioned honky tonk. He just wants us all to know that. And while he’s at it, he can combine operatic background vocals with country rock and make you enjoy it. Everyone who said he was the next Dylan? Can, apparently, just fuck off.


Another break, this time with enough vocals that it’s obvious Ritter is still writing his usual thoughtful lyrics and playing with expectations; he hasn’t lost anything, he’s just gained a love of genre mixing. And, as with “Edge of the World,” it’s a cue that it’s time to slow down for a moment.

Still Beating

seems like everybody up and left
and they’re not coming back
the shadow that you’re standing on’s still here
sometimes that’s all that you can ask

I am a sucker for mournful brass interludes in weird places. I always have been and, after spending half my life playing horn, I probably always will be. I love this song for so much more than the lyrics (which manage to combine horror and hope in a way that I love) and it’s possibly my favorite track, if I had to choose one.

Or then again, maybe not. Because at the end of it comes “Empty Hearts.”

Empty Hearts

oh save all of your light
for those who can’t sleep at night
and they can’t even sing to their shadows

It’s the flow of all this that really gets me. Without being a gimmick, there’s a clear relationship between the pieces, the individual tracks. Both within the entire album and between individual tracks the music and the lyrics mesh well. Each track is an experiment, and as an album they add up to something that simply doesn’t fit the categories we use for music.

There are echoes of the first track in this, and of several others. And while I enjoy “Wait for Love (You Know You Will),” I’d have been just as happy for the album to end on this note.

Wait For Love (You Know You Will)

i got someone on my mind
and she don’t make me wait
the way you do

I can’t decide if this is really meant to end the album, or to serve as a bridge to the bonus tracks. I suspect it’s the latter, because “Empty Hearts” is stronger lyrically. And the things that I didn’t necessarily like about it the first time still apply.

So that’s the album proper. Now let’s talk about the bonus tracks.

Bonus Tracks:


you must be living on wildfires
that’s why your eyes are smoke and ash

A quiet, driving beat overlaid with a slow, painful lyric that is, quite honestly, heartstopping at times. It’s the sort of thing that I can’t even explain, because it has to be heard to be understood.

It’s also got echoes of the history and metaphors that underpin “The Temptation of Adam,” which serve as a beautiful link to the main album.

Spot In My Heart

This is…I feel like I ought to get this, to know why it’s here. I don’t. I’ll probably kick myself when I figure it out.

Naked As A Window

you know you’re asking too much
to be held and not touched
but somehow that’s just what you do

Old-school Josh Ritter, and much, much too short, although it’s lovely. The best thing about it is that it isn’t polished, and sounds like the sort of thing that makes his concerts a joy to hear. I'd like to see this as the closing track of the album, I think.

Labelship Down

we just pressed record
started singing like we’d sung before
we got enough so who needs more
of what we never really had

Josh Ritter has a sense of humor. QED.

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An author and a monkey

Following E's liveblogging of the VMA's, I thought I'd sneak this in "under the radar" so to speak:

First, Neil Gaiman asks: "I wondered if anyone knew whether there was a good on-line map of the actual journey from China to India made by the Monkey and his traveling companions in the Wu Cheng'en book Journey to the West?"

Then, his readers respond with this (among others, Mr. G says)

And, I'll just remind PTSD-ers that you can still watch the TV show (at odd hours, rather like Doctor Who here in the United States) at my part(s) of the world or you can read all about it here.

But just think: Neil Gaiman may be writing about Monkey. It'd be magic*

* Well, apologies and all that but who could resist?

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VMA Liveblogging. It's a long story.

Preshow (FBR related):

1. Patrick Stump interrupting! He's going to judge which of Pete's favorite tracks is better! They're so cute and pocket-sized that I don't see how anyone could dislike them.

Also, their music doesn't suck. Which is something of a rarity this year.

2. Aww. Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith weren't allowed into the parties this weekend. And...okay. There is an upper age limit for the whole emopunk look. And the MTV vj whose name escapes me at the moment? [ETA: John Norris.] Definitely well beyond it. Dude looks like a trailer park blond after a long night out at the dog track.

The Show (music and snarking):

1. Didn't Britney used to be better at lip syncing? And I love that she's still brave enough to get up on stage in tiny glittering hotpants. But she looks really uncomfortable in her costume, and that's not sexy.

2. Holy shit. Sarah Silverman is going to get her ass kicked in the parking lot of The Palms tonight after the VMAs.

Seriously. Paris and Britney are going to be out there waiting with stilettos and a tire iron or something.

3. Pete Wentz throwing his bass. And the speakers flying at the windows. And Patrick Stump's voice. Three things I'm glad I didn't miss out on tonight. Plus its nice to know that not everyone is using prerecorded music.

4. Beyonce and Shakira beating out U2 and Green Day for collaboration? They have GOT to be kidding me. That's just wrong, people. Wrong. I don't care if Shakira's in Canada. I wanted to see Green Day and U@ on the same award plaque.

4. Yeah. Still hate Justin Timberlake. A lot. Perhaps even more now than I used to.

But Rosario Dawson is hot.

5. Okay, I'm sorry. But Chris Brown acting like the evil puppet offspring of Charlie Chaplin? MTV, why must you torment me like this? This is just...creepy and bad. Which is a shame, because the song is better than the routine.

6. Yeah. I hate the artist announcements. The faux computer information voices are irritating, not edgy. I gave them an hour, but they keep getting more annoying every time.

Also, Justin Timberlake is a giant dork. The not-fun kind of dork. The kind who does not, in fact, rock his shiny little watch fob. Also, white boys? Should not pronounce damn with multiple syllables.

I will grant that I agree with him on the whole "Play more videos" thing.

7. I am very nervous about what they've done to Beowulf. I don't want to live in a world where Angelina Jolie plays Grendel's mother. Really, I don't.

8. So this is two, three appearances for Foo Fighters and Timberlake. Each. I'm feeling a bit deprived of music moments from bands I actually enjoy hearing.*

9. Shia LaBeouf looks like he drew his mustache on with an eye pencil. And he doesn't know his lines. And he's...talking about Indiana Jones? Well, if it makes him happy, I guess.

10. Wow. Somebody stepped on the cue, there. Was it Pamela Anderson, or the sound guys? That was just awkward.

11. I have no idea what's going on in the Fall Out Boy suite. But holy shit, I want to be at that party. Gym Class Heroes, Brendon Urie singing backup, Patrick Stump playing the keyboard (and fucking up his vocals, but whatever), Halloween masks.

It's like a kegger with Decaydance.

If MTV's smart, they'll stream the suite concerts after the show.

12. Lasers are ALWAYS cool.

13. Fall Out Boy is up against Gym Class Heroes. *snickers* Sorry, it's not funny. I'm sure it's very stressful. But honestly. It's not like they aren't the only two bands really in the running for this.

Pete Wentz has a little SIGN!!! A sign, people. He made a sign.

Come on. That's so goofy it's back around to brilliant.

14. Kid Rock. Oh, honey. I'm so sorry you ended up the sort of person who eats breakfast. That's got to be painful. (I remember him playing clubs in Toledo to, like, 60 people. I'm trying not to think about how old that makes me.)

15. You think Ryan Ross knows Alicia Keys stole his headband?

She gets points for the George Michael remake, though. Nicely done.

16. Oh look. MTV has figured out that the people in the Fall Out Boy suite are having the most fun, too. You can tell by the way they're suddenly showing clips from that party.

Dammit. I really wish I'd recorded this.

17. Gym Class Heroes for best new artist means it's a good night for FBR, really. I'm happy for them, even if they aren't my favorite band in the mix. At least they aren't Justin Timberlake.

[This is the point where my mother called. My grandfather had a party for his 79th birthday, and ate chili, onion rings, and ice cream. He washed it down with beer.

Short version: people in my family are strange.]

18. I actually missed the name of whoever won video of the year. She seemed pleased, though. So that's good?

19. Oh, look. The Foo Fighters are just as drunk as the kids in the Fall Out Boy suite now. Turns out they were just off to a slow start.

20. Lasers? Still awesome. Justin Timberlake? Still the unfortunate kind of dork. What's with the giant handkerchief in his pocket? Is it to wipe the last of his credibility up off the stage at the end of the song?

21. Oh, kids. If you can't hear the audience say, "Ye-a-uh," don't ask them again.

*Okay, that's not quite fair. There are Foo Fighters songs that don't suck.

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if only my dissertation where a film (or Naomi Klein's got a good thing going here)

Naomi Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine doesn't just have blurbs from academic-types recommending its wonderfulness but comes with a film preview.

The director of the film? Alfonso Cuaron (of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban fame. Well, he also made something else called The Children of Men starring that personification of magnification Mr. Clive Owen. Mr. Owen by the way is currently filling up our big screens as Mr. Smith in Shoot 'em Up. I shall be discussing that anon. But, as usual, I digress). Cuaron's film is disturbing despite being less than seven minutes long. The "Design and animation by Foreign Office" is cheeky, the images and the sentiments are not.

Check it out for yourselves:

Maybe I can persuade Mr. Cuaron to make a film about my dissertation. After all, terrorists. Fits right in with PoA (escaped Terrorist storyline) and CoM (Terrorists everywhere).

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and on my way home...

I run into a former student on my way to my new home from TUWSNBN. I don't recognise him. The conversation goes like this:

Student: Hello Priya.
Me (who the bloody hell is this?): Hello! How are you?*
Him: Fine. Starting off Friday night partying as you see (he's carrying a large carton of beer)
Me: Great. Good. Have fun.
Him: I live just up here (points to apt building next to my new abode). What about you?
Me: Oh, I live nearby (Still attempting to remember who this is). Well, enjoy your Friday.
Him: Thanks. I had a good time in your class.
Me (yay, he's a student! I think I even remember his name): I'm glad to hear that, [name]**
Him: Have a good weekend.

It's a bit weird having a student, even a former one, live right next door.

* Like many people, I become effusively friendly when I have no idea who it is I'm talking to, especially when it's clear they know me.

** Nope, I was wrong. I called him the wrong name. He didn't correct me. I think I can't be blamed for not being corrected when I say the wrong name. I'd correct people who called me [not]Priya.

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meditations on (of) a sovereign power

Today, I finished the second of my two classes on "sovereignty" for my World Politics course. A few highlights:

- The in-class exercise where I divided them into groups* and had them list characteristics of sovereignty worked rather well. The bit where I told them that our class was like a (domestic) sovereign with me as the sovereign power worked well too, especially as one of the students pointed out that I was not autonomous but had to answer to a higher authority--that of the department of SIS. So, the example (of the class as a sovereign state) wouldn't really work.

- After listing characteristics of sovereignty, we discussed Iraq and how domestic sovereignty was being "compromised" (their term). We also talked about how the invasion/occupation of Iraq was undertaken and the consequences to international sovereignty. Both these discussions went quite well with students ranging in their views to "War was a good idea" to "Well, we're there, we need to figure out what to do next" to "We are the United States, we can do whatever we want".

- Being told, "I want to write a paper on my mancrush, Henry Kissinger". Seriously.**

- Being given a paper with an elaborate drawing of "the Sovereign State of Petoria" by one of the students who then told me he'd like to found and run his own state and if I had any tips for such an endeavour.

- And a related story: One of my students was on the shuttle to the Metro yesterday. Contrary to the usual tactic of avoiding their instructor, this kid sat next to me and we discussed his interests in World Politics (cinema and IR), moving to Washington, going to university and so on. It was actually refreshing to have a student not avoid me (as is most students'--including mine--tendency!) but sit down and have a chat about stuff. Especially as this kid doesn't talk in class at all. It makes me realise that in many ways American kids are more trained in this "social interaction" business than I (and my non-American colleagues probably) have been. Even after all these years of being in academia, my tendency, when I see a professor I know, is to quickly leg it in the opposite direction.

* While I'd like to take credit for the idea, I actually nicked it off Weberman!

** I told the student that I really didn't need to know that and it was an image that will refuse to leave my head from now on.

*** It's a rather clever drawing. I wish I had a scanner to put it on Blackboard. E and I used to spend a lot of our time in one of our postgrad classes doing a similar exercise (drawing concepts out). I believe some of the results even made it to older posts on PTSD.

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a collection of unrelated things

Three things I did today:

I failed miserably at any sort of socially-acceptable behaviour by obviously changing the subject (when death of a colleague and mentor was mentioned) and then mentioning I was changing the subject.

I dropped a glass of soda in the middle of a crowded restaurant and walked away without offering to help clean it up.

I listened to John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt talk about the Israel Lobby at a local bookstore and actually thought it wasn't a half bad talk. They explained their views, in person, a lot better than they do in the book and they sounded surprisingly normal.

More on the last activity in a later post but, for now, a few thoughts on teaching freshers. Or, rather one main thought on teaching freshers World Politics.

What is the point of teaching them World Politics? Should I ensure they know the main concepts, even if it were possible to define "sovereignty" or "realism" OR should I make sure they are comfortable discussing these concepts, have some idea of how they are used in World Politics and can come up with exceptions where the concept has not worked?

I've been focusing on the latter--in my last class, I sidestepped defining "sovereignty" to discuss how sovereignty has been used. We talked about how the Peace of Westphalia occurred in a specific, historical and cultural setting (Western Europe) but the concept of sovereign states then spread throughout the rest of the world, thus ignoring existing patterns of political authority. I talked them through the examples of Australia (not "discovered" till much after Westphalia and not settled by Europeans till almost 250 years later. One justification for settlement being that Australia was not a sovereign state, in the sense that the Europeans defined sovereignty) and (recently) Burma.

We then talked about "internal" challenges to sovereignty (again, the example being Australia and the declaration by Aboriginal people of 26 January, Australia Day, as "Sovereignty Day").

Did we discuss definitions of sovereignty? No. Did we discuss scholars and their interpretations? No.

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This is me, not gloating

Not even a little bit. I mean, just because Ohio State blew out their first game (as expected) while Michigan lost to a AA team? That's no reason to gloat.

Nope. Not gloating. But if I were a student at Appalachian? Boy howdy, would I be in a fanfuckingtastic mood tonight.

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