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Archive for December, 2005

California Christmas

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

Since my last update, I finished
writing that five-page final paper, a response paper that I finally
didn’t manage to turn in and somehow packed a bag and left for winter

So now I’m in California, in the
foothills of the Sierra mountains.  It’s beautiful here, so
blissfully quiet and simple.  The food is good, the air is fresh
and I’m having a lovely time with my violin, my DVDs and my lovely

I’ll have a proper update with photos and all at some point.

Merry Christmas.

Just barely…

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

Done!  But just barely.  I went to bed at about 6.30am this morning (meaning I lay down on top of my sheets with the lights on) and woke up at about 12.30pm, with about three quarters of the paper written.  I thought I had loads of time (read: two hours) so I was truly shocked when it suddenly turned 2.45pm and I was yet to be done with my paper.  I spent about ten frantic minutes trying to (a) hastily craft some kind of concluding sentence to the final paragraph and (b) trying to make the one-sentence-too-long paper fit into the seven-page limit*.

* At this point I had already exhausted all the tricks I could think of, including moving substantial amounts of material into the footnotes (font size 9) and reducing the spacing between paragraphs (there are strict rules about double spacing the text itself).

But that’s all done now.  Whew.  Now I shall allow myself a few minutes to enjoy a glass of wine and pretend I didn’t miss two classes today and don’t have a whole bunch of other work due (including a response paper for MIT due at 5pm today!).

Incidentally, I don’t think I ever posted my first Justice essay, which my TF called the best he read “by far” despite the one huge logical flaw (which I realised myself about ten minutes after turning in my paper).  While the praise was very appreciated and gratifying, it also means that the essay I just turned in has no chance of achieving the same level of success, given how unstructured, philosophically muddled and weakly positioned it is overall (and let’s not forget the truly horrendous last page and concluding statement).  Anyway, to read my first (superior) paper for this class, click here.  In this essay I argue that torture is never justified, even to prevent an iminent catastrophic terrorist attack.

PS: As a result of all the nonsense I ate last night while writing my paper (including milk and graham crackers, Hagen Daaz ice cream, a bowl of soup and a whole load of chocolate), I am now literally two pounds heavier than when I started writing.  Bleargh.

Another long day’s night ahead

Monday, December 12th, 2005

This entry marks the last stupid act of procrastination before I actually start on my Justice paper that is due in just fourteen hours (during which I will have a sleep a little, and even hopefully make it to classes in the morning…  we’ll see).

I’ve watched March of the Penguins and Bewitched on DVD, I’ve eaten a bagful of sour patch kids candy (ensuring an impending sugar coma), I’ve made a bunch of fluffy diapers, I’ve tidied the common room somewhat.  And now I’m blogging, just before 11pm, nearly five hours after I was first free to begin drafting an outline for this terrible paper.

I would panic, but the paper questions are just so uninspiring that I would almost rather just not write at all.  But I can’t.  And I won’t.

So let’s get cracking, shall we?

Breakfast… mmmmn

Monday, December 12th, 2005

Seriously there are only a few things that can get me out of bed in the morning.  These include early (read: 10am) classes, time-sensitive travel plans and breakfast meetings (groan).  But vying with these motivations is the lure of a delicious dining hall breakfast.

Take this morning, for instance.  I fell asleep while reading Masp

I love Formals – don’t you?

Sunday, December 11th, 2005

IMG_4795, originally uploaded by J Y.
From left: me, Aidan

I had a fantastic time at the Quincy winter formal – the Snowy Soir

Quincy Juniors at the Soir

Sunday, December 11th, 2005

IMG_4808, originally uploaded by J Y.
From left: Jade, Erin, Mica, me

It’s kind of a clich

The cultural difference

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

It’s late and I really want to go to bed so I’m going to make this quick.

At about 2.15pm today (Dec 7, Wed), US air marshals shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar, a 44-year-old home-improvement store worker, as he ran off an American Airlines jet in Miami after allegedly indicating that he had a bomb in his backpack (which he supposedly reached into while running off the plane).  He was travelling with his wife who reportedly had run after him claiming that her husband had bipolar disorder and needed to take medication.  After Alpizar had been killed it was confirmed that he had not been carrying any explosive device.

The first I heard about this news was from several Americans who all expressed the same sentiment: “I feel so much safer knowing that US Air Marshals are doing their jobs to protect people from terrorists.”  I was left reeling when I heard this.

The fact that the dominant popular US reaction to this incident seems to be unironic, unqualified satisfaction with the result was really quite shocking to me.  Having been right in the thick of the action when a similar tragic incident occured in London in July (which I also blogged about here), I can report that the British reaction was quite different.  People felt far more conflicted about the event, and many people felt even less safe afterward.

I think the difference is that Americans seem much more willing to make the following (shaky, I say) assumptions:

1) They are truly under attack and vulnerable to terrorist attacks.  “Especially in airports and on airplanes.”
2) Preemptive violence is a good solution to defuse or eliminate these threats, and in fact is the only possible response.  “What else can you do?  If someone says the word ‘bomb’ on a plane and then runs away, of course you should shoot him to save the lives of everyone else on the plane.”

These two assumptions allow many Americans to overcome the long-standing American distrust of the government and law enforcement to say things like “Air Marshals are well-trained counter-terrorism experts who know how to correctly assess the situation.”

(Actually, according to USA Today, training for Air Marshals with “no law enforcement experience” was cut from 14 weeks to just 5 weeks before 2002, and in 2004 “the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general issued a scathing report that cited air marshals sleeping on the job, testing positive for alcohol or drugs, losing weapons and falsifying reports.”  No quite so credible, if you ask me.)

More importantly, the two assumptions I listed lead Americans to do one of two things:

a) they fill in the many gaps in the available information (what exactly did the man say?  Did he appear drunk or drugged? Did he appear clearly mentally ill?) to paint a mental picture where the Air Marshals did the only possible thing. (“He announced he had a bomb and then tried to run away even when the Air Marshals told him to stop.”)
b) they focus only on the existing facts and insist that this is enough to condemn this man to a quick execution and assume that no other contextual information could change their reading of the situation. “He said ‘bomb’ on an airplane and ran.  That’s exactly what Air Marshals are trained to react to.”

If you ask me, I find the British response far more reasonable for its willingness to be self-reflexive about the underlying assumptions and the awareness at the time that the full facts were not yet known and that these particulars could make a critical difference to how a tragic death should be perceived.  In contrast the American response seems both unthinkingly instinctive and dangerously unfounded. 


Next time, I argue that African nations should not spend any money subsidizing or providing Anti-RetroViral (ARV) drugs to HIV positive individuals.  Yay controversy.

The final stretch… and a fumble

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

I’d like to tell myself that I am secure and rational enough not to be emotionally affected by less-than-ideal grades.  But then of course I would be deceiving myself.

Today I received back a paper I wrote for my International Law class several weeks ago.  It was nerve-wrecking because it was long enough ago that I had completely forgotten what I had written about and only remembered the rather middling grade my first paper had received.  So it was fairly gratifying (and a huge relief) that it made a good grade.

And then a couple of hours later I received the worst grade I’ve ever gotten on a response paper.  Again.  This TF just really detests the work I turn it.  The first time I figured maybe I was misunderstanding her expectations so I put a lot more work into the second one trying to conform to her (vague) advice.  A lot of good that did me.  This time she just wrote, “Jason, quit blabbering” (in French) and slapped me with a failing grade.  And slapped is right.   For about fifteen minutes after that I was in a stunned, depressive daze (can you imagine?).  Unbelievable.  This woman is going to destroy my good track record with the French department and crush my little heart while she’s at it.  *chin trembles*  Yes, yes I know: noone likes a loser whining about his failures.  I’ll just shut up now, and revert to rationality – now where’d I put my masculinity?  Yes, there it is.  Much better.

There must be some way to fix this.  Or at least make it less bad.

Now all I have to do is survive this last couple of weeks and:

a) Write a killer 5-page final paper for my MIT class.  I really *really* want to do well in this class.  It would be so disappointing to me if I couldn’t produce good work for this inspiring professor teaching a life-changing class.  Of course she has an incredibly challenging brief for this final assignment (“Pretend you’re writing a one page piece for The New Yorker.”)
b) Write a second Justice paper that impresses my TF more decisively than the first one (his request).  This is going to be hard…
c) Write a second/final French paper (and perhaps two more response papers) to rescue my currently very

Out of whack

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

I feel as if every time I make a resolution to start eating better, the dining hall manages to prepare a whole slew of my favorite foods.  Today I decided I was only going to get a salad, but of course the minute I walked in to get my lunch I noticed that they were serving long-grained & wild rice (so good!!), beef fajitas (mmmmn), steamed corn (which I’m developed a taste for), sausage minestrone (which took some will power to ignore) and chicken florentine (which looked fantastic but which I also managed to resist taking).  Grrr.  I still  made myself a salad in the end (topped with some of the parmesean and pesto pasta sauce on offer)…  in addition to all the other stuff I put on my plate.

The reason I felt I needed to substitute a salad for more substantial offerings is because I stayed up all of last night watching DVDs and eating Nutella sandwiches.  And the reason I stayed up is because yesterday I accidentally took a nap from 4pm to 10pm…  which pretty much threw my sleep cycle completely out of whack.

Ok, time to go to section.