Monday, January 28, 2008

University of California - Bureaucracy

A new semester, and as usual I’ve spent most of the past week running from office to office trying to persuade people to bend the rules for me.
I really can’t decide whether there is something wrong with me or something wrong with the system that makes this such a pattern. As far as I understand, normal people do not do this. They sign up for classes online, show up, and that’s that.

Me, well…

Having to juggle multiple departments is a big part of why pulling my schedule together is always such an epic drama. As an undergrad, I completed 3 majors in 3 years, and now I’m working on two Master’s degrees simultaneously. So I have much more bureaucracy to deal with, and much less room to maneuver.

This semester’s big upset came from trying to join a journalism school class on Burma. International reporting, Southeast Asia – what could be more perfect, and (thanks to my past research and reporting in the region, not to mention those 3 majors competed and 2 Master’s in progress) something I’d like to think I’m pretty well qualified for. But of course there was a catch. Because of the way the dual degree program I’m in is set up, I have not yet taken one of the prerequisite J-school classes. But I applied anyway, and early last week a loophole, somehow, was found.

And then the next obstacle. The lecture component of the Burma class conflicts with Indonesian, which I’m absolutely required to take to remain eligible for my funding. So I had to convince my Indonesian teacher to let me take her course as an independent study, showing up twice a week instead of three times and working on my own to keep up with the class. Then I had to convince my advisor in the Group in Asian studies that this was okay. Then I had to double-check with the people who administer graduate fellowships that I could use an independent study course to meet their requirements. Then I had to get the department of South and Southeast Asian studies to sign off on my course plan for Indonesian.

It’s been raining like crazy all week, and I discovered it’s very, very hard for people to say no to me when I show up in their office wet and disheveled, making a sad face, and holding out damp papers for them to sign. It also helps that, unlike in Madison -- where I had an actual nemesis who seemed to take personal affront at my I’m-such-a-special-snowflake attempts to bend the rules, and threw obstacles in my path at every possible opportunity (this woman is, to the infinite benefit of the students who follow me, no longer employed there) – everyone I met with actually wanted to help me. The University of California - Bureaucracy (just in case you were wondering what UC-B stands for) can be an absolute nightmare, but my experiences with the individual tentacles of the beast have been pretty good so far. The paperwork is still grinding through, but it looks like it’s all going to work out.

The upshot of all this is….I’m going to Thailand and Burma in March!

I won’t know for a few more days exactly where I’m going to be sent, and my project will obviously be location-specific, but no matter what, it’s going to be pretty amazing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Erap and Sin

Estrada: RP suffering for defying Vatican in 2001 uprising
“Claiming vindication, former president Joseph Estrada said on Monday the country has been suffering because the late Jaime Cardinal Sin did not heed “God’s voice” and, instead, backed the Edsa II People Power revolt, despite a Vatican order to stay away.” more...

I first read this story yesterday, and I still can’t stop laughing about it. Estrada’s chutzpah on this one is almost unbelievable.

It was recently revealed that the highly influential -- and very amusingly named --- Cardinal Sin defied orders from the Vatican when he leant his support to the 2001 “People Power II” movement that swept Estrada from power.

The role of the Church in Philippine politics is ambiguous, and a case can certainly be made for church-elite collaboration against even pseudo-populist politicians like Estrada (Eva-Lotta Hedman’s In the Name of Civil Society is one interesting take). But for Estrada to take this moralistic tone is pretty incredible.

This is the man who managed to reach transparency international’s top-ten list of all-time most corrupt leaders after just 31 months in office! In addition to old standards like graft, kickbacks, complicity in drug smuggling and illegal gambling, Estrada was particularly notorious for spending millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains buying houses for his various mistresses.

But of course, the problems in the Philippines are not caused by corrupt, morally bankrupt leadership. Oh no, says Estrada, it’s because god is punishing the country for Cardinal Sin’s disobedience.

Wala siyang hiya! Ang kapal ng mukha nya!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Irises, in January.
January Irises
Everytime I remember to look around, this city astonishes me.

Melilla, a photoessay by Flo Razowsky

Flo -- activist, photojournalist, friend and inspiration -- has just posted a beautiful new photoessay from the Spanish-Moroccan border at Melilla.
"This portfolio is part of a bigger project focused on the look of borders become manifest, the look of the land and the people when the arbitrary line in the sand takes form. These shots were taken from Melilla, Spain, a Spanish enclave cut off from the north of Morocco by a militarized and deadly triple layer, 10ft high structure. Migrants travel for 4,5,6 years to reach this side of the line only to be held in migrant detention centers, some for years, awaiting the legal system to either award them papers or deport them to where they started out from so many years ago and worked so hard (and many died) to get away from."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Arroyo Imbroglio

I highly recommend "The Arroyo Imbroglio in the Philippines," political scientist (and former teacher of mine) Paul Hutchcroft's new article in The Journal of Democracy to anyone interested in a lucid summary of a century of Philippine political history. In an impressively concise article (13 pages), Hutchcroft manages to address most of the key issues facing the Philippine political system -- corruption, fraud, violence, human rights abuses, impunity, insurgency and public disenchantment -- in a manner accessible to a non-specialist.

Although the Philippines can boast the oldest democratic structures in Asia, they are currently weak and lacking in legitimacy. Battered by scandal after scandal, these structures need careful and well-considered reform if they are to survive. read more..

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Glorietta update from the PCIJ

A while back, I posted on the Glorietta Mall explosion in the Philippines.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has just released an interesting report on the case:
Glorietta 2 blast: Bomb or gas? by Avigail Olarte
WHILE the Philippine National Police (PNP) considers the case closed, other experts continue to doubt the results of the investigation on the Glorietta 2 blast that left 11 people killed and 108 injured in October last year.

It doesn’t help that the police has flip-flopped on the matter, at first declaring the explosion was caused by a bomb — a terrorist act even — only to later say that it
was triggered by gas build-up. And the report of a Malaysian forensic expert showing that traces of explosives were found in the mall’s basement only bolsters speculations that itwas a bomb. read more...

Watch a Tagalog-language video from GMA TV the day of the explosion, in which the Police claim the explosion was most likely caused by a bomb - don't want to embed it, because it's on auto play, and starts with a creepy real estate ad.

Huckabee strikes again

Don't get me wrong -- I can't stand any of the presidential candidates. But there's still something about this guy that takes it to another level.

I'm not even all that old, and I can still remember a time when this would not have been considered acceptable political discourse.
And of course, the cheering crowd is probably full of the same kind of people who freak out about Shariah law and theocracy in the Middle East.

UPDATE: Check out a very interesting article by Ira Chernus about Faith-based politics at Tomdispatch

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cabazon's Creationist Dinosaurs

This friendly looking dinosaur at a truckstop in Cabazon, Southern California:
Holds a creationist museum in its belly.

You climb up its tail, and are greeted by exhibits like this:

Finally, when you reach the top of the stairs, you arrive in the mueum/gift shop, where a variety of dinosaur paraphenalia is sold, and a slack-jawed adolescent stares at a video of a sermon about how Noah took dinosaurs onto the ark with him.

"But of course, he took baby dinosaurs. Why? Because they're small...duh! And light. This will be important later." (Verbatim, to the best of my memory. I only wish I was making this up.)

[it's worth clicking to view the larger picture sizes, and actually read the exhibit labels]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Beautiful Downtown Bakersfield

As promised, a photo of Beautiful Downtown Bakersfield.

On the Edge:The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez

The first section of Steev Hise's film "On the Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juarez" can now be viewed online at
He will be poisting a new segment every Monday for the next 8 weeks -- definitely a film worth checking out.

For more information about the film, visit

San Joaquin Valley

Central California is grim, grim, grim.
Looks like Appalachia, only flat, and with grapes.
Perhaps tomorrow with pictures, but since I seem to have left without the usb cable for my camera, I won't be able to upload anything until I can borrow one, or until I get home. 
In the meantime, the highlight of the train ride was when we were briefly stuck in Hanford waiting for another train to pass, and the conductor invited us to take the opportunity to admire the "palatial views" the town had to offer.
"If you look to your right, you'll see...public storage.  And to your left, a big, giant, humongous hole. Woo-hooo! Welcome to Hanford."
About sums it up. Maybe I don't even need a photo.

Friday, January 04, 2008


I just feel the need to publicly express how disturbed I am that one of the front runners for the next president of the United States is a man who does not believe in evolution.

Darwin help us all!