30 November 2010

"Baby it's cold outside"

 This is what I saw from my window when I woke up this morning: SNOW! Yes, at long last, London has received some of the massive snowstorm that hit Edinburgh and the north-east earlier in the middle of last week. I will admit that even after the weeks of blizzard conditions last year, I am still fond of snow. Especially when I have nothing to do and can sit inside and admire the falling flakes from the warmth of my own home. This was the case today: the only time I needed to leave my flat was to get Diet Coke (clearly a life necessity) and to go to the gym. The whole reason that I went to the gym was so that I didn't risk spraining an ankle or breaking my neck by running outside. This would be a prime example of me being sensible, using my head, and taking the proper course of action. Unfortunately, such a scenario of sensibility didn't contend for my luck. Coming out of the gym, I managed to slip on perhaps the only patch of ice in all of London (since, for the most part, the snow has not been sticking on streets or pavements) thus causing me to engage in a fantastic bit of windmilling and land heavily on my back. Never fear! I am OK. Injury was prevented by the fact that I was wearing a backpack with my running shoes and gym clothes in it, which helped to cushion my fall. And so here is yet another example of how running has saved my life :).

My major gripe with the snowfall today was that: a) it distracted me from writing my OSINT essay since I kept admiring the falling snow's beauty, and b) it is going to create some serious hardships in tomorrow's final XC race at Hackney Marshes. I am really not looking forward tomorrow. Snow on the course means frozen feet. Either way, I am going to be ridiculously cold. There may be five minutes or so when I am running that I might actually feel a bit warm, but I imagine that for the most part it is going to be quite miserable. BBC Weather has this as the forecast: -2°C for the maximum temperature --'A cold and cloudy start with further snow flurries during the morning, although they will tend to ease away for a time. Feeling very cold with a biting northeasterly wind.' The emphasis, of course, is my own, since the tone of this statement is one that doesn't seem to grasp the sheer enormity of the implications of this forecast. Very cold with a biting wind? These are not ideal conditions for me. Not at all. (You try running in shorts and a tank top when it is 23°F outside and see how you feel!) 

Countdown until I come home: 17 days
Countdown until Christmas: 25 days
Progress on OSINT paper: 500/1500 words (but the hardest parts - those that were not clearly sketched out on my outline, are done!)
Number of layers currently wearing: 5 plus mukluks 
Number of times I've listened to Dean Martin's 'Baby it's cold outside' and wished that Drew was with me: roughly 15,000

29 November 2010

Leslie Nielsen died. I am so so upset. This is right up there with the deaths of Red Buttons and John Ingham. At least Wikipedia Deaths told me the day after it happened and I didn't find out, say, three months later.

Today is such a sad day.

28 November 2010

On some days I dress up as an officer in the Royal Navy just for fun.

THIS is the best invention ever created, hands down. It is from the 1970s and is not only an alarm clock but...wait for it...a tea maker as well! It wakes you up AND brews you a nice cuppa. There is absolutely nothing more than one can ask for in life. Brilliant. Amazing.
Countdown: 19 days until I come home; 27 days until Christmas
Items separating me from the holidays: 2 Theories classes/seminars, 1 Theories paper (3000 words), 3 Middle East classes/seminars, 1 Middle East presentation, 2 OSINT classes, 1 OSINT paper (1500 words), 1 XC race
Current Temperature: 32°F/0°C (Feels like (according to the Weather Channel: 32°F); Feels like (according to me): FROZEN HELL)

It's cold outside. Really, really cold. In fact, it is so cold that the water bottle that I frequently keep on the window sill next to my bed actually formed ice in it during the night. I typically like ice in my beverages, but only when this ice is formed inside a freezer and not, say, the area around my bedside. Call me crazy...

Of course, it is not nearly as cold here in London as it is elsewhere in the UK. Scotland is really being hammered with snow and sleet; Edinburgh airport has completely shut down as a result. I remember the one time it snowed when I was in Edinburgh. It was the day that I had to walk 3 miles outside of town to the Lothian & Borders police headquarters so that I could be fingerprinted for my DoS internship. It had snowed enough the night before to make the sidewalks icy, but not enough to cancel classes at the University. And so, after making my appointment at the HQ at 10am, I had to hightail it across town to George Square for my 11:10am seminar on James VI/I. I arrived completely soaked (due to falling snow and having slipped on the ice a few times) and quite miserable. My feet were numb for hours afterward. I believe that is probably one of the first moments that I realized I would never be adding 'conquered Mount Everest' to my list of life achievements. (Climbing Ben Nevis this summer reconfirmed that realization.)

It is not snowing in London, at least not right now. The weather websites offer conflicting information as to what the rest of the week holds. Weather.co.uk says that it will snow on Tuesday night/Wednesday - I definitely do not want this as my last XC race of 2010 is on Wednesday at Hackney Marshes! BBC Weather says that it will just be devilishly cold. Although neither scenario is particularly appealing to me, I believe that I will ignore Weather.co.uk as a source and continue reading BBC Weather for the rest of the week.

In light of it being absolutely miserable outside, I spent most of today in my room engaged in an epic battle with first the monstrous pile of laundry and then my OSINT essay. I was successful in regards to the first (after all, it is not that difficult to launder clothing), but rather less so in terms of the second. See, I have a nasty habit of engaging in productive procrastination. 'But Rebecca,' you might say, 'these two terms are contradictory.' Precisely. I procrastinate by being productive. Case in point: I have a 1500-word paper due on Friday on the topic 'OSINT is not a substitute for traditional intelligence disciplines. Discuss.' This is quite a simple topic as the answer is 'no, it is not'. Open source information is an integral component in the production of all-source intelligence...but it can never completely replace information obtained by clandestine and technical intelligence collection methods. There is always going to be some piece of information that cannot be found via open sources, and thus must be collected covertly. And thus open sources in relation to traditional intelligence disciplines are like a camera lens and focus. The lens (OSINT) captures the overall image, but it is the focus (traditional INTs) that provides the detail. (I came up with that all on my own. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to use that analogy now in my paper since turnitin.com will say that I've plagiarized it. Ah well...)

Anyways...did I finish the paper today? No. Because despite having a detailed outline and knowing precisely what and where I will write things...I engaged in 'productive procrastination' by actively looking up more articles on open sources. After all, what if there is a critical piece of the argument that I am missing? What if reading one more article will provide me with a hitherto unknown (to me at least) argument for the benefits of open sources in all-source intelligence production? The likelihood of this happening is low, of course, but it is relatively easy to convince myself otherwise. And so I spent most of the afternoon going through the unread articles on my reading list and examining them for further evidence to support my argument. I gained a few good quotes, but nothing that will dramatically impact the content of my paper. The result of this is that I will now have to make a dreaded trip to the library on Chancery Lane and lock myself in the postgraduate tower until the essay is finished. 1500 words is nothing to write, of course. I can pound that out in three or four hours. Motivating myself to do it, on the other hand, is quite a challenging task indeed. It will get done though! I will finish the essay tomorrow and then, in the words of Jay-Z, "I'm on to the next one."

In other news: I had a race at Wimbledon Common on the 17th and Dad came to visit me on the 20th (until the 26th).

First, the race. It was freezing that day. It was so cold, in fact, that I ran wearing leggings, gloves, and two shirts (my KCL running tank top and a Nike base layer long sleeve), which is quite unusual for me as I tend to find too many layers constricting. As it so happened, the gloves did not survive the race and are now lost somewhere in Wimbledon woods. The course was incredibly muddy and people were falling down right, left, and sideways. On one downhill, a girl skidded into me, which caused me to drop one of my gloves (I had taken them off since my hands had gotten too warm). One glove is of no use, so I had to drop the other one later on. It doesn't matter too much since they were only 2GBP and losing them gives me an excuse to visit H&M. :) Despite the mud and the hills, the race was a success for me. I came in 12th place with a time of 20:29. Not too shabby. This week's race is at Hackney Marshes and is flat (blah). It is also the London Colleges League championships, so I am hoping that some hitherto undisplayed speed will somehow manifest in my person, thus allowing me to perform well. We shall see.

Dad came to visit three days later. We had a grand time, although I don't think he fully appreciated how much walking I do on a daily basis until he actually came to visit me. (Hope your feet have recovered, Dad!) We did a lot during the week: we saw the South Bank Christmas Market, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum, the British Museum, the Museum of London, and even visited the City of Westminster archives, which forced me to get reacquainted with using a microfilm machine, but allowed me to buy a book called 'Graveyard London' that talks about plague burials in the city. (Only morbid me, right? Hey! I haven't completely given up the option of being a plague historian, you know. It can't hurt to keep reading up on the topic just in case.) The piece de resistance was my big surprise for my father on Wednesday. I had dropped him a few clues (and by a few I really mean one since I forgot about the others) to build his anticipation, and then told him what was occurring while we were at lunch on Wednesday afternoon. So what was it? What was my big surprise that, as earlier stated, would win me 'best daughter' award?
Dad at the Jersey Boys

 I took my Dad to see 'Jersey Boys' on London's West End for his 60th birthday present. We enjoyed a 3-course meal at Med Kitchen in Cambridge Circus prior to the showing, and then headed to the Prince Edward Theatre for the main event. 'Jersey Boys' is a Tony award-winning musical about the formation and success of the famed 60s group 'The Four Seasons'. I had seen them perform at the Regent Street Christmas Light turn-on and then revelation struck: I would take Dad to see the show. He loves musicals. He loves the 60s. It was an immediate win in my mind (further confirmed the next day when I casually inquired if he had heard of the Four Seasons and, upon finding out that he had, awkwardly said 'ok, that doesn't mean anything. That statement is of no importance at all') and apparently was a big hit with him as well. It is not often in my life that I can honestly say I am pleased with a decision I have made. This is one of those rare times.

Notable events this week:
Mon, 11/29: Library all day. Absolutely must happen. MUST!
Wed, 12/1: XC race at Hackney Marshes

Thrilling, no?

25 November 2010

Turkey Day...Hooray! (Or: Look Ma! This title is related to the post!)

So, my Dad's been in town for the past week for the express purpose of visiting me (and touring around London...but that's not important), which has meant that I have not had time to post. We've been everywhere and I will provide further detail on our activities in the next post (since I currently do not have an hour or so to spend writing up the extensive list). He leaves tomorrow afternoon, but I will at least get a chance to see him off before he heads to the airport (provided that it does not blizzard during the night which, considering the current temperature outside, is a distinct possibility...or at least it feels that way).

For those who seem to have misplaced the date (Hey! It can happen to anyone!), today is Thanksgiving. Turkey Day. The day when Americans do what they do best by cooking large amounts of food and celebrating the fact that they have the means to share this food with family and friends. Or at least that is what it seems to most non-Americans (or those like me who don't really see the point of Thanksgiving -- after all, shouldn't you be thankful every single day?) Of course, Thanksgiving is about a lot more than that...or it is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a day for reflecting upon what we have, for appreciating our friends and family, and remembering those whom we have lost throughout the year. Or if you are celebrating Thanksgiving 'Pilgrim-style', you should be thankful for having escaped religious persecution in Europe (if you are a Puritan), for not having died from small pox brought to the New World (if you are Native American), and for not having lost your mind due to syphilis (either party). Of course, this thanks will be relatively short-lived since the majority of the attendees of the so-called first Thanksgiving feast (if it even really took place) would have died due to starvation and exposure to cold during the harsh winter that followed. Not a particularly cheery holiday, the original Thanksgiving.

As I mentioned above, I do not really like Thanksgiving. I am of the belief that you should be thankful for you have every single day...especially since life has a nasty habit of taking away these things with no advanced warning. Still, I will follow convention and express my thanks for the following things: (NOTE: These are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER so I do not want to receive emails saying 'why was X placed above Y?')

1. My Dad and Mum: Not only do they support me in everything that I do (or almost everything - they are decidedly un-supportive of my desire to travel to the Middle East), but they cross oceans to visit me in foreign lands and Skype with me. They put up with my rants, my insecurities, and help me out when times get tough.
2. My Brother: John & I get along roughly 75% of the time. He is incredibly stubborn, something that I can freely say since I am 99.5% sure that he doesn't read this blog. Still, I love him.
3. Pets: I was going to lump my brother in with Izzy, Cinnamon, Tatiana, and Scooby, but felt charitable so gave them their own category. I miss my kitties and the crazy cockapoo. :(
4. Relatives: I am thankful for my paternal and maternal extended family. I wish them (especially my Granddad & Nana, Granny Becky, and Grandma) better health and a good rest of the year.
5. Boyfriend: I am so incredibly thankful for my wonderful, amazing boyfriend. How many guys would be willing to stay in a relationship with a woman when she has been located 3,000 miles away for most of their relationship? Thank you Drew for your support, kindness, concern, love...thank you for being you. Being with him has made me a better person and brought a new light to my life.
6. Radiator: I am thankful for my radiator in my room (but am more thankful for the space heater at home). Without its 5 minutes of heat per hour I would probably freeze to death. Or I would just end up spending most of my free time in the shower with the hot water on in a vain attempt to get warm.
7. Aubergine (eggplant), sweet potatoes, mushrooms, avocado, peanut butter, oatmeal: Without these foods, I would probably starve. My digestive system is extremely sensitive and tends to react negatively to most things that I eat. It is always particularly interesting when it decides that foods previously on the 'ok' list should suddenly be 'off limits', a change that always results in considerable distress for myself. So far these six items have remained 'ok' for me to eat and have therefore made up the bulk of my diet.
8. Good health: After years and years of being almost constantly ill, I am finally at a period of good health. For the first time in a long time, I wake up each morning and do not have to endure pain of some sort during the day. It is a strange but welcome feeling and I am thankful every day that this continues.
9. International postal system: Props to the international mailing system which finally coughed up my package from my parents. Sent in the beginning of October, it appeared yesterday, albeit covered both inside and out in a fine powder. I immediately dismissed the notion of anthrax (after all, who is going to send me a powder package? And besides, after the terrorist package plot last month, it is bound to have gone through the mill in terms of testing.), but have spent the past 24 hours puzzled as to what this fine dust could be. Further inspection revealed it to be a substance known as Swiss Miss. As per my pleas on this blog, my parents sent me two boxes of Swiss Miss low-calorie hot chocolate mix. Unfortunately, the boxes were crushed in transit and two of the packets were torn, resulting in the hot chocolate mix being expelled into the box and coating everything in a fine layer of powder. I'm not fussed though. Hot chocolate > anthrax/other mysterious dusts in my opinion.
10. Everything else: I am thankful for my life. People tend to take life as a given until they are forced to confront death. I am quite aware of the fact that my life can end at any moment. While this would be rather inconvenient (presumably more to others than to myself) if this were to happen sooner rather than later...I am thankful for the life that I have had a chance to live up until now. The good, the bad, the in-between...at least I had the chance to live it. And for that I am thankful.

 Turkeys can come in many forms
Sovereign (aka: not edible)

19 November 2010

My Dad arrives in London tomorrow morning for the express purpose of visiting me. He will stay for a little under a week and we have quite the agenda ahead of us! He doesn't know it yet (and since he has presumably left for the airport by now, won't until he gets here) but he is in for quite the tour of the city. Oh yes. The highlight of his trip will be on Wednesday when I've got a surprise in store and will definitely be winning the 'Daughter of the Year' award. Not that there is much competition considering that, as far as I am aware, I am the only daughter that he has since John is presumably still male. As for what this surprise entails...well...you will just have to wait until Thursday to find out what happened.

I should be taking this opportunity to start tackling the mess that I currently call my room. I really do not know how such a small space can fall into such a state. It always starts off the week in pristine condition, but is terrible by Friday. As far as I can tell, the transformation takes place on Thursday when I arrive home quite late in the evening and am exhausted from work/class. I tend to just drop my books where ever is most convenient (i.e. the floor) and change into my pajamas as quickly as possible. Since Dad will presumably want to come visit my humble abode at some point in his visit, I suppose I should at least pretend that I am somewhat civilized and try to tidy it. Yeah...not really feeling fussed about it at the moment. Perhaps tomorrow after my run/before I greet him at the hotel.

Note 1: It has been observed by one of the only regular readers of this blog (i.e. my Mum) that the titles of my posts often make no sense when compared to the actual content. I am aware of this. Oftentimes, the title of my posts are lyrics from songs that are currently have a particular meaning to me and have nothing to do with the subject matter discussed in my posts. As such, they can pretty much be ignored. However, if you have free time on your hands and wish to ponder the relation between title and post (as I am sure that some sort of subconscious reason for the association can be construed)...feel free! 

Note 2: My radiator seems to have gone on strike. Hitherto this point, the 'on' light would stay lit for an hour, and the radiator itself would emit heat for perhaps 20 minutes of that hour. But for the last few days, it seems to have decided that this was simply much to work to be getting on with, and so stays 'on' for 2 hours, but emits heat for 5 minutes. How do I know this? Well, I sat next to the radiator for an hour the other day whilst reading and am certain that I felt warmth coming out of it for only 5-10 minutes. What this means for me is that I currently have on every single long-sleeved shirt I own, a hat, my mukluks, and fingerless gloves. I am still cold. Ridiculous.

Note 3: 28 days until I come home! I am so excited! I was once told that you can never truly appreciate home until you've left it. I did not understand what the speaker meant at that time, but I sure do now. After having been on the move since I was 20 (in that I have not really spent more than two months at one time in Scaggsville), I am ready for some consistency. I miss my bed. I miss my parents, brother, grandparents. I miss my boyfriend. I miss my cats (and, I will grudgingly allow, the dog). I miss central heating. When I return to the USA for good (or for the foreseeable future) in May/June, it will come as a bit of relief since I will not be packing up my belongings to head off to another destination.(Gotta pay off that massive student loan first! Gah...)

Note 4: I hope it snows when I am home. Why? 1) I have no place to be that would require trekking through the snow. 2) We (supposedly) have central heating at home. Failing that, there is always my trusty space heater and blankets. 3) Snow shoveling is excellent cross-training.

Upcoming Events:
11/24: Achievement of 'Best Daughter' status
11/27-28: London Running Show (I am such a dork)
12/1: XC race at Hackney Marshes
12/3: OSINT paper due
12/10: Theories paper due
12/17: HOME

Next post: Turkey Day (or: Remembering the day that white Puritan settlers and American Indians celebrated the fact that they had not died of smallpox during the summer, but before they died of starvation/cold in the winter)

14 November 2010

I will never again complain about having to go to Harris Teeter or Bloom when I am at home. Today's 3 mile walk in the freezing rain to the Big Tesco was absolutely miserable. It was made worse by the fact that I didn't have an umbrella with me since I was coming back from the gym (and had apparently lost my damn mind since one simply does not travel in London without an umbrella), my bag broke on the way home, and there were massive crowds at Tesco. By the time I returned home at 2:30, the sky outside was already darkening and I felt a sense of increased apprehension set in regarding tomorrow's paper presentation in Oxford (to be addressed in another post on Tuesday). Overall, today has not been pleasant.

Upcoming events:
Mon, Nov. 15: Oxford
Wed, Nov. 17: XC race at Wimbledon
Thur, Nov. 18: Presentation for IPME
Sat, Nov. 19: My Dad arrives!!!

13 November 2010

"You're freaking out my energy"

One of these days I will actually post when I say I will. One day. Soon. Perhaps. (Clearly my language indicates that I am an extremely decisive person.)

I will freely admit that I am not a city girl. Whilst St. Mary's was a bit too small for my tastes, London and DC are rather too large. I dislike crowds since I am very easily annoyed by people who walk slow/on the wrong side of the sidewalk, and so have decided that big city living is simply not for me. That said, there are some days when living in a major city does have its perks. Take today, for instance.

It started off much like any other day in that I woke up, ate breakfast, and ran to the gym. This in itself is one of the perks of the city: there are gyms everywhere. Back home in Laurel - not so much. (But Laurel has TurboJam, which London does not...so I feel that it balances out nicely.) I specifically joined the KCLSU gym off Stanford Street because: a) it's cheap, and b) it is 2 miles from my flat. This makes it far enough that I can feel justified in not going when it is raining or cold (on these days I usually go for a run on the Thames Path...go figure), but close enough that I can run or walk there within a reasonable amount of time. After the gym and a shower, it was time to head to Oxford Street to run a few errands.

For those who are not aware, Oxford Street is THE shopping mecca (besides Westfield's mega-mall outside of the city) for London. All of the major high street names have shops on the Street or one of the small streets off it. It boasts no less than 3 H&M stores as far as I can tell (and since I have never successfully made it down the entirety of Oxford Street, there could be several more) and the world's largest Primark. This in itself is enough to guarantee that the street will always be crowded. And crowded it is. I consider Oxford Street my own personal version of hell. Not only do you have massive amounts of people crammed on the sidewalks, but they often are laden down with enormous shopping bags, baby prams, or suitcases. Add to this the slow walkers, the window shoppers, and the awe-stricken tourists, and you end up with a virtual gridlock situation. It can take five minutes to move the distance that I could walk, unimpeded, in a minute. As a result of my upbringing, I am a naturally fast walker. So having my ambulatory progress impeded by the movements (or lack thereof) of others frustrates me immensely. I can usually last no more than 20 minutes in these crowds before I lose patience with humanity entirely and stalk off down a side street to regain my composure. As I result, I only go to Oxford Street when I absolutely have to and even then I try hard to avoid the weekends. Unfortunately, today's errands required me to visit a store only found on Oxford Street. But that is not the point of this story.

The start of the parade: army marching band

Hamley's Toy Store display

Worshipful Society of Basketweavers

The Redcoats are coming!!!

The new Lord Mayor of London, Michael Bear

Swingin' Carnaby Street (off Oxford Street). No Christmas is complete without OuterSpace!Santa


On my walk across the city to Oxford Street, I happened to come across the Lord Mayor's Show (when the new Lord Mayor is sworn in). I had seen advertisements for it plastered on telephone boxes, but had not actually realized that it was being held today. So it came as a bit of a surprise when I began to notice a decided lack of traffic in the city centre and eventually came upon the actual parade itself. It was very good and got me into a better mood than I had started the day in. (See a selection of photos of the parade below). I believed that it helped fortify me against the unpleasantness of Oxford Street, which was still a miserable experience. But this was negated by the fact that I got to see the Lord Mayor's Fireworks show along the Thames at Victoria/Temple as I was walking back home.

10 November 2010

The Lighting of the Regent's Street Christmas Lights

The Christmas season has officially begun! In the UK, at least. While retailers across the pond may have begun to display this season's 'must have' gifts and the latest model of faux Christmas trees, they won't make the full commitment to Christmas until the night of Turkey Day. The UK does not celebrate Thanksgiving and, as a result, start the Christmas season approximately two weeks earlier. Last night, I took a break from my latest stressor to attend the Regent's Street Christmas Light Turn-On. Regent Street was one of the first places in the world to 'light up' for Christmas. This year's theme was centered around the latest Chronicles of Narnia film.

More to come. I'm tired.

Key lesson of today: Today is Wednesday, not Tuesday. I have been so stressed out that I lost track of what day it was and spent much of the morning convinced that it was Tuesday. It was not until I actually looked at my calender and realized that it was Wednesday (and therefore XC practice day), that I became fully aware of my folly.

Off to bed and will write more about Regent's Street tomorrow!

08 November 2010

I do not like the cold.

Anyone who has passed a winter with me knows this. In fact, when the weather outside moves beyond requiring a light jacket, I am more often than not to be found inside clutching our portable space heater for dear life.  Last year at St. Mary's during the epic blizzard, it was not unknown for me to leave our suite wearing 6 or 7 layers of clothing. (Come to think of it, it was not unknown for me wear 6 or 7 layers whilst inside the suite - darn that air conditioning!) There was a period of several days in late January when I would only venture out to go to the campus store or to the gym, and ate nothing but Campbell's Soup and Wheat Thins because the trip to the Campus Center would have spelled a death sentence for me.

So why did I decide to go to grad school in England, a country that is not exactly known for its warm and temperate climate? As my father is fond of saying, 'Beats the hell out of me.'

Thursday and Friday morning were actually quite pleasant in terms of temperature. Normal people were wearing t-shirts or shorts. I was only slightly chilly, which is a drastic improvement from usual. But the rain started on Friday evening and by Sunday it had dropped fifteen degrees. Today was simply unbearable. I left to do laundry and almost gave up entirely about halfway on the journey to the laundry room...which is about a minute's walk. It is not so much the cold that bothers me, but the damp. It was 'raining' in the manner that only seems to occur in England. It is a form of precipitation that is enough to be considered as such, but is not quite rain. It is as if the rain simply can't be bothered to come down properly and so settles for a half-mist, half-spritz that is annoying more than anything else. It will not really get you wet (unless you lay out in it, which I see no rational reason for doing), but instead seems to settle into your bones and permeate your soul. This makes the accompanying cold and wind seem so much worse.

Such was the situation today that, laundry finally conquered, I debated whether or not it was worth it to go outside to buy groceries. (Readers: I was almost willing to give up my Diet Coke for the day due to the weather. This is serious!!!!)

In the end, I did go out, mainly because I would have felt incredibly guilty for not having left my room save to do laundry.  And because I really needed that Diet Coke after reading about atrocities committed in the Sudan.

I must say that I am looking forward to returning home to where I can hug the space heater, wear my mukluks without being laughed at, and bask in the wonders of central heating. (Oh and the warm, warm love of family/friends/pets/boyfriend, of course.)

That said, I do hope it snows. 

06 November 2010

"I miss missing you sometimes"

So I broke my foot the other day while making tea. Confused? So am I. Here I was living under the impression that tea drinking was an activity that carried only moderate risk. Sure, you could drink it while it was too hot and burn your taste buds, or spill it on yourself and burn some other parts. You could put your milk in before your tea and be socially ostracized. Or you could choke on an unfortunate teabag left in the bottom of the cup. Or consume too many tannins. For the most part, however, the risks are minimal and do not involve the lower extremities of the body. Of course, these risks are all assumed to happen to a normal person, not one who seems to attract danger and mishap such as myself.

I think I'll leave the details as to what exactly happened vague on purpose. Believe me, the truth is always much more mundane than what people work up in their imaginations. So let your imaginations go wild. Tea + ? = broken foot.

I initially thought that the toes were broken, which didn't really concern me as I've broken toes on numerous occasions through my equestrian and karate activities. But some prompting from my mother caused me to seek out the GP, who took an X-ray and revealed that yes, I have broken my third toe on my left foot, but have also broken the intermediate cuneiform (props to me for not having to look that up when he said it was broken). Unfortunately, there is nothing to be done for it save some splinting and resting of the foot. Sure doctor. I'll rest it. I'll try my best anyway. I make no promises.

In other news, I've decided my dissertation topic. Possibly only of interest to myself, the exact topic is too extensive to detail in this post. Sadly, I have had to, at long last, move away from the topic of 'plague'. I tried to find some way to work it in to IR (an examination of the international implications of global epidemics beginning with plague and continuing to contemporary malaria, HIV/AIDs perhaps?) but eventually realized that this is a new period of my life and so I must separate myself from plague. While I imagine that I will always go a bit fluttery when I hear the names 'Cohn' and 'Herlihy', I realize that this is part of being an adult - giving up things you love. (Although my fondness for plague is not quite so strong as to be described as love...). Still, at least I know that if this whole 'international relations' thing fails to work out, I can always return to history and become a plague historian. That would suit me just fine.

My dissertation topic is extremely topical and deals with aspects of current maritime counter-terrorism policies and international law as applied to Somalia/Horn of Africa region. I figured that since I've already published an article about the consequences of Somalia's status as a collapsed state (although I really do need to update it with a more in-depth look at whether such evaluations actually serve to perpetuate this condition), it would not be too much of a stretch to move into its current activities on the sea. (For those who do not read the BBC, the Somali pirates were awarded something like $12.3 million in ransom for two ships today. This is the highest amount paid to the pirates to date -- and isn't exactly going to be helpful in convincing the Somalis that piracy is not a lucrative endeavor.)

04 November 2010

Yesterday was my second cross country race of the season, this time at Richmond Park in West London. A longer post will come soon.

17th out of 73 women. 2.7 miles. 17:43. 6:33min/mile pace.

Last race I ran 2.5 miles at 17:54...but there were hills. So I need to work on my speed for the next race which is at Wimbledon Common on the 17th.

02 November 2010

"The World Won't Get By Me, I feel like I'm onto something, But we keep moving, we're not through yet"

Look out world! Rebecca has taken to her soap box again!
In case you have gone through the entire day without noticing, it is Tuesday, November 2:: Election Day. (Or it would have been if my internet had not failed and I had been able to post this, as intended, on Tuesday.) Yes, at long last the midterm elections are upon us. Unfortunately, I will not be fulfilling my civic duty and participating in this election as I have failed to receive my absentee ballot despite repeated attempts to have one sent to me. Perhaps somewhere out there are six absentee ballots addressed to me, doomed to be left forever blank. Maybe someone is collecting them for when I achieve some measure of fame. Or possibly they are lost in the black abyss of the international postal system. For those of you have not yet had the opportunity to get to the polls: GO! This election is very important, a fact that can be clearly seen even here in Europe 

Currently, Al-Jazeera English has a huge banner displayed across the top of its website emblazoned with the message 'Battle Lines: US Votes' as if this were a day of war. I wish I could say that they are being a bit dramatic but, unfortunately, they are relatively spot on. The Democrats and Republicans (and those crazy Tea Party-ers) are in conflict over, well, everything. Personally, I've grown rather tired of both mainstream parties acting like petulant children. They refuse to negotiate for fear of compromising their 'values' (whatever those are these days) or making concessions to the other side, whom they regard as 'the enemy'. Thousands of dollars are spent by both sides in their efforts to denounce the other. Mass media adds to the problem by playing up the hype. Newspapers, news channels, popular TV shows - whatever their particular slant, they all have a hand in criticizing the other side. In the meantime, the US is tearing itself apart. The American public has taken to displaying its anger and frustrations in a very overt way. Neighbors of opposing political views rip down each other’s campaign signs. Thousands of private citizens turn out for demonstrations bearing signs that are often derogatory, offensive, or racist in nature. And this is a phenomenon not only limited to the Tea Party or Republicans – Democrats do it too. 

What is particularly disturbing to me is how far we will go in our desire to seek out scapegoats, to take a group or idea that we do not understand and blame it for our misery. We blame the Republicans, the Democrats, the Tea Party…but we do not stop there. No, we go further: we blame the Mexicans, the illegal immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, foreigners in general. These groups are the Irish and Jews of the 21st century. They are groups that have recently assumed a sizable minority in the US or have otherwise been ‘thrust into the limelight’ due to current events (eg 9/11 and the increased resentment towards the Muslim community). Hitherto this time, Americans had generally been able to ignore them and had therefore made little attempt to understand them. But now that times are hard, lack of understanding has changed from suspicion into outright resentment/hatred. Outcries against the building of mosques and heightened anti-immigrant measures are the most prominent examples to come to mind. These groups are not to blame for the current state of the US. We like to think that issues such as immigration, health care, and gay marriage are separate from the economy, but I don’t think that they are. They are issues that are important, yes, but have become more important, radicalized even, when taken in context with the state of our economy. We worry about our economic futures, but because current restoration attempts have been relatively unsuccessful and there is no glaringly obvious ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ to inspire hope, we do not like to admit this. So instead we focus our frustrations on other issues – ones that shouldn’t inspire such violent and hostile reactions, but currently are – and search for the associated scapegoats on whom to place our blame. 

(Beware, America. The rest of the world is watching. They have noticed the racist undertones that have crept into mainstream political rhetoric. I have had acquaintances tell me that they are afraid to go to the US because they have seen how Muslims are treated on TV or have read articles about the incredibly irrational behavior of supposedly ‘everyday’ Americans at the large political rallies. (That said, I’ve encountered few individuals who actually disapproved of the idea of the ‘Rally to Restore Sanity/Inspire Fear’. On the other hand, an unexpectedly large number of people have expressed extreme disease at the Tea Party phenomenon.) Just as we can make fun of the failure of the Greek economy or laugh at the French strikes, so too can other countries find severe faults in the US. And believe me, they do.)

Yes, America is in trouble. After several years, our economy is still repressed, the health care debate has confused everyone, and the job market, to be quite frank, sucks. Are the Republicans solely responsible for this? No. Have the Democrats failed entirely because they have not been able to fix it during the 2 years they’ve held power? No. Americans, as a collective body, are responsible. There is no ‘magic cure’ for any of these problems. There is no manual given to the President and Congress that provides step-by-step instructions on how to fix an economy. There were many factors that went into the destruction of our economy and there will be no easy solution to restoring it. And there is simply no sense to be had in crying, ‘Well, it would be fixed if the Republicans had won the Presidency’ or ‘Had the Democrats won in 2004…’ because reality is not counterfactual. The ‘what ifs’ in life are interesting to ponder, but are merely that: ‘what ifs’ – possibilities that never occurred and never will. We cannot go back in time (yet). We have to concentrate on what actually happened and use the facts as a starting point from which to start digging ourselves out of this hole. 

Not everyone will be satisfied all of the time. I’m upset that all of this nonsense is even occurring but, regardless of this, it will still continue. Just because I have taken the time to write out my thoughts regarding the extremity of the current political situation does not mean that the entire nation is going to stop their debates and say, ‘Right, enough is enough. Rebecca has grown tired of this and so we must stop and make her happy.’ (I wish this were the case though. Wouldn’t it be neat if I could say ‘Look, world. I’m unhappy with the current situation in Israel & Palestine. Do sort yourself out so that I don’t have to think about it anymore.’ World peace would be achieved so easily! But I digress…) I accept this fact easily enough, especially since it is not that difficult of a concept to grasp, but others seem to have a hard time believing this. ‘Why isn’t the economy fixed? Where are our jobs? Why isn’t there health care? Why do we have to have national health care?’ The list of complaints is absolutely endless. Americans have the right to freedom of speech, and they are definitely not shy in exercising it. But the effort that our politicians use in debating each other is time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere. Just think: if politicians were actually able to stop accusing each other, set aside their political agendas, and sit down to think about what is good for America…we might actually have a few more solutions than we currently do. But as it stands, our political leaders seem to be more concerned about winning favor within their parties and wooing voters so as to secure their chances at re-election. ‘Think about what is good for the US and cooperate with the other side? Preposterous!’

In other news, my parents apparently sent me a package. Unfortunately, this package, much like my absentee ballot, is floating around the abyss of the international postal system. Perhaps there is an entity similar to that which lives in my university’s washer and, without fail, eats one of my socks at every wash. Except this one eats mail. Hmmm…an interesting thought. The package has been MIA now for several weeks and I’ve all but given up hope of ever actually seeing it. This is a bit sad since I do love receiving mail. Oh well. At least my Jiffy peanut butter was not contained in said package.
The past few days have been interesting, to say the least. I went to Oxford for work-related purposes on Monday, but was able to fill my afternoon off with a mixture of good cider, good company, and good conversation. The overall result was an extremely pleasant experience. Maybe if I am lucky, it will happen again in another year and a half. We shall see. Decidedly less pleasant was the journey home. The bus got stuck in the London rush-hour traffic. I had heard that it was horrible but, living in the city centre and utilizing self-ambulatory forms of transportation, had never actually witnessed it. ‘It couldn’t possibly be worse than DC traffic,’ I naively thought to myself. Oh no. It was much, much worse. The trip from Ox usually takes 1 ½ hours. Today it took 4. Unpleasant!

London has been emulating the French lately. In the past month, both the Tube (London Underground) and Fire Department have gone on strike on several occasions. Since I walk everywhere save for when I have to get to Regent's Park for XC practice, the Tube strike does not particularly bother me. The only foreseeable downside is that there will be more people walking to work and, inevitably, more slow-walkers for me to have to navigate around. Somewhat more worrisome is the Fire Department going on strike. It may be just me and my history with devastating fire, but I find it a bit troubling to think of what might happen in the event of a fire in my building on strike day. Will the Fire Dept. simply refuse to come? I am all for making the public aware of the fact that the services they take for granted are not, in fact, given. (After all, one can't truly appreciate what one has until one has lost it - a lesson that I have learned several times over.) But I feel that there has to be alternative ways for the Fire Dept. to express its frustrations other than simply not turning up during a fire. Sure, this would be rather effective in forcing people to realize the value of the firefighters. The downside is that this realization would potentially result in the considerable loss of lives and property. Luckily for me, the latest Fire Dept. strike was scheduled for yesterday whilst I was in Oxford. (And no, my building did not burn down in my absence.) The Tube strike is scheduled from 7pm tonight to 6am Thursday morning. It will be interesting to see how this effects people since the other strikes have been relatively minor (less than a full day in length).

Other news: 
1. I've been seriously loving the beats of Magnetic Man (especially their mix with John Legend "Getting Nowhere"), Tinie Tempah, and Katy B. Sometimes I listen to their music to get me pumped for note-taking or in the mornings when I don't particularly feel like doing anything. 
2. My insomnia persists, although I've found that if I push myself to the absolute limits of exhaustion then I sleep like a baby. Unfortunately, this isn't enough incentive for me to wake each morning at 6:30am and begin to try to go to sleep at 2:30am. 
3. My second XC race of the season is tomorrow at Richmond Park.  \
4. The Harry Potter movie is coming out soon! I just wish that I had someone to go see it with me. :( 

Sidenote: November 7th is the War Studies Halloween Party (yes, we are a bit slow in observing holidays). Do I go as a Bond Girl (to satisfy my new-found desire to be a spy) or a member of the Tea Party? Bond Girl would be a fun costume to pull together (especially since I can wear my fake-leather tights), but the Tea Party one would fulfill the party theme of 'scary'. Decisions, decisions. ((Also known as: How many people do I care to offend that night?))