Friday, November 30, 2007

Another weird coup attempt...

Yet another bizarre, poorly-planned coup attempt in the Philippines. This has basically become an annual event. In fact, it may have been a bit behind schedule.
I don’t really have the mental energy right now to wrap my head fully around this one, although it’s worth noting that one of the coup leaders was Antonio Trillanes, who was elected to the senate in May, while he was in prison for his role in a 2003 coup attempt.
And people need to ask why I find the Philippines so interesting?
There’s also an interesting quote in this story from the Inquirer, where AFP Chief of Staff General Esperon, (not someone who usually gets much love on this blog) attributes the coup to “messianic people” in the military “who think they can give solutions to the problems of the country while they cannot even solve the problems of their own [military] units.”
It immediately reminded me of a the work Guillermo O’Donnell and Phillippe C. Schmitter, scholars of transitional justice who assert that granting amnesty to the military for past human rights abuses “reinforce[s] the sense of impunity and immunity of the armed forces” and encourages a “messianic self-image” of the military as “the institution ultimately interpreting and ensuring the highest interests of the nation,” ultimately undermining any social stability that amnesty is supposed to buy.
All that aside, though, I have to admit that what is really sticking in my head is the whole hotel thing. Trying to overthrow the government by seizing a luxury hotel in a business district miles from military bases or government offices. What the fuck is that all about? It seems to be a popular tactic for (failed) coups in the Philippines. The Manila Hotel coup of 1986 comes to mind, as does Trillanes’ own 2003 Oakwood Mutiny which -- in a slight variation on the theme -- took over a luxury apartment complex.
(Credit as well to the Toronto star, for the best headline I’ve seen for this story: “Hotel coup fails; people had reservations”)

I’m really trying to figure out if this is a tactic that is used anywhere else.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cool-guy academics

During our discussion about Eric Tagliacozzo’s Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, one of my classmates coined a new term: “Cool-guy academic.” Which is to say, the type of academic -- preferably as nerdy as possible -- who focuses on “cool guy” topics like smuggling, piracy, drugs, organized crime and prostitution.
And I’m sitting there thinking, “guilty as charged.” With the exception of a few papers on nationalist historiography, every major project I’ve worked on in the last few years has been about sex, drugs or violence (or some combination of the above).
So I confessed.
“Why heroin? Why not rice?” a fellow student asked. At the time, I cracked a joke about actually wanting to find a job after grad school, unlike the PhD students in history I was surrounded by.
But it is a serious question. Take drugs, for example. An incredible amount of ink has been spilled about the role of opium and alcohol monopolies in financing and consolidating the colonial state. No one’s denying this revenue was important, but some recent scholarship suggests it may be exaggerated, or at least overemphasized. Meanwhile, other, less sexy, areas like rubber plantations and tin mining are seriously under-studied.
So I’ve been reflecting on my fascination with the ugly underbelly of society. Granted, I did have the ultimate cool-guy academic as my undergraduate advisor. But it goes back a lot further than that, and I think it’s fair to say that I wanted to work with McCoy because of my fascination with the illicit, rather than developing that fascination as a result of working with him.
I’ve been this way ever since I was a kid. I read every single holocaust book we had on the shelf, and anything else with comparably dark themes, from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to Shakespeare’s tragedies. A fascination, shall we say, for the morbid.
I’ve always seemed to want to fill my head with the most horrific information I can find. I’m not sure if that makes me a “cool guy.” But it definitely makes me something.

Monday, November 26, 2007

UN report on extrajudicial murder in the Philippines

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (now there's a job title) has just released his report on the Philippines. I realize that some of you may have actual lives, but I'm pretty excited it's out, and I know human rights activists in the Philippines are too. The report doesn't say anything that hasn't been said before, and I'm not too optimistic about it having much of an effect internationally or even in the Philippines, but it's some strong words from a credible source, and it certainly can't hurt.

And then the next day, it looked like this:

My friends, and friends' friends, are generally pretty considerate of other people's homes. They would've gladly helped clean up after the meal. But with the kitchen sink completely broken, there was really nothing anyone could do that night. So, the morning after Thanksgiving, we had to wake up to this:

And this:

Exactly how I wanted to spend my vacation.
(I don’t care to get too far into it, but the scene can’t be completely understood without mentioning that we also awoke to a blocked toilet. Let’s just say the list of that things I was thankful for that day included a sturdy pair of thick-soled boots and the fact that, contrary to my worst fears, fixing the toilet did NOT actually require sticking my hand in it.)

Perhaps this was my penance for celebrating a holiday with such nationalistic, genocidal roots?

In any case, the sink clearly needed to be fixed before anything else could be done. And there was no hope of getting the landlord to do anything about it that day. So we had to do it ourselves. Which, after a massive team mobilization, got done successfully.
Overall score:
  • Sink - 2 (breaking in the thick of food preparations; thwarting any attempts to clean as the evening progressed)
  • Us – 2. (managing to cook the meal anyhow; fixing the damned thing in the end)
That seemed like a good point to call it a draw and move on.


Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been reexamining a lot of the negative effects of the years I spent traveling, squatting and generally living in marginal ways. But it’s important for me to remember the benefits too. Living a completely improvised existence for so many years left me with an incredibly eclectic skill set – everything from writing grants to wiring a house with power stolen from streetlights. And I truly am glad that somewhere along the way, I learned my way around Teflon tape and PVC piping.
Getting in touch with my inner plumber

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Getting in touch with my domestic side. So, so many more pictures to put up tomorrow.
For now, despite the sink exploding this morning, everything's actually enough under control that I'm taking a break from the crowd and hiding out with my computer.
Next up: dinner for 30.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mt. Shasta, from I-5 in Northern California

It’s been a rare sunny day in Olympia. And cold! Four months of living in the Bay Area has made my blood thin.
On the way up here, I was remembering the only other time I’ve ever been on I-5 between Oakland and Oregon -- tail end of what was probably the most miserable trip of my entire life. I was seventeen, on the West Coast for the first time, hitchhiking south after the WTO protests in Seattle.
My companion and I were both broke, and sick from all the teargas and nerve-gas we’d been exposed to. I remember being cold, throat aflame, and with wet feet for days on end, walking and walking in the rain and finding it nearly impossible to get picked up. In the realm of small miseries, I can think of few worse than waking up in the morning and having to put back on the same wet clothes you were wearing the night before. I think it took 5 days to get from Portland to Oakland (including a disastrous detour on the 101), and I can’t recall ever being happier to make it somewhere.
Doing the same trip in reverse took about 13 hours, including a surreal stop at a casino and the requisite tire blow-out 15 miles before our destination (fortunately, the only roadside emergency I actually know how to deal with). Quite a pleasant trip, all things considered. And I’m happy for a change of scenery.
I still have to spend a few hours working every day to justify leaving town for nearly a week, but the rest of the time is mine to explore, think about food, and spend with old friends.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I've been feeling kind of stressed lately, so I'm trying to remind myself of small things that consistently make me happy no matter how stressed or grumpy I am:
  • Photobooth pictures
  • Dancing
  • Skating
  • Swimming
  • Mail (paper, though email's not bad either)
  • First cup of coffee (and second! The best thing about addictions is that you create problems for yourself that you can then easily solve)

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Personal and the Political

[I seem to have internet access again. Which does more for my mental health than I care to admit.]

I made a decision, somewhat consciously, to keep this blog personal, except for when the political became explicitly personal. Back when I first started posting, this made sense. I had other outlets for passing on news -- including membership in the news collective of a radio station that reaches 25,000+ people.

Anything I thought was important in a general way, I could get on the air or pass on directly through personal networks. Which left this blog as a forum for items not of interest to anyone not specifically interested in me. (Hence the title, a literary reference I assume few people outside my immediate family ever pick up on). I've never made any effort to reach readers beyond my family and friends, and even then I can be pretty cagey. It's never been a secret project, or completely anonymous -- there are quite a few pictures of me on here, and work that has appeared under my name elsewhere -- but I've kept it so it won't pop up if you google me, and I can be pretty stingy about giving out the url.

But lately I've been feeling short of things to say about my day-to-day life. Because, really, I'm in a set routine, and there are only so many times I can complain about schoolwork or people who try to run me over on my bicycle. At the same time, I've lost access to a wider platform for the less personal.

Meanwhile, so many things are going crazy just outside my little academic bubble. I've gotten reports of 7 disappearances in the Philippines in the last week (from sources I don't trust 100% without verification, but the evidence is pretty compelling) . A friend from Madison was beaten and arrested at a demonstration on the US-Mexico border (he's out on bail as of this afternoon, but still faces felony charges and possible deportation to Colombia, even though he grew up in the US and is a legal permanent resident). Not to mention the usual litany of horrors in the world at large.

But somehow, I still find myself trying to get information passed on through other people's websites or news shows rather than posting on my own. This is partly because I know I don't have the time or energy to update this blog consistently enough for it to function as a news source. But it's also partly because I still haven't decided whether this is an appropriate venue for that kind of material. So, I don't know. Thoughts? (and yes, commentophobes, you can call or email)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Go look at my photos...

I'm still working on getting all the tags and dates organized, but I've started putting some of my photos from the last 5 years up on flickr.
Check them out at:

Sunday, November 04, 2007

My most disjointed post ever...

“Like many people, I started blogging out of an urgent need to procrastinate” –Alex Ross, in the New Yorker, Oct. 22
While I’ve been distracted by other things:

The Glorietta blast has been ruled, officially now, an accident. I'm still not sure what to think. And I also can’t quite help being suspicious about the timing. Though only confirmed in the past days, the initial declaration of this revised assessment came October 24, after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council at Malacanang that also led to a rapprochement between Arroyo and Speaker of the House Jose de Venicia Jr. Convenient, as usual.

I’ve finally taken the plunge and purchased a computer which should, I feel it’s reasonable to hope, work properly. I eagerly await the return of the hyphen, zero, underscore and close parenthesis to my writing.

I’ve been going through a lot of my old {and recent} photographs, and will start putting them up on flickr, though probably not until my new machine has arrived. I will put up a link when it’s available.

Some previews, chosen more at less at random on the theme of “ruined buildings”:

Ruins of Tito’s mansion in Mostar, Bosnia i Herzegovina, 2002 {destroyed by war}

El Forat de la Vergonya, Barcelona, 2003{destroyed by gentrification}