Archive | November, 2007
November 12, 2007

London School of Evil

I’m about 300 pages into Kurt Eichenwald’s Conspiracy of Fools, which details the rise and fall of every Californian’s favorite company, Enron. One of the main players is Michael Kopper, Andy Fastow’s right-hand man and all around immoral prick (originally from Long Island…figures). He’s also a fellow alum of the London School of Economics (MSc Accounting and Finance). While reading about his financial shenanigans and overall evilness I was reminded of an article that was originally published in The Ecologist (a UK-based hippie-ish rag of no particular distinction) a few years ago. I came across it while I was an RPSS student googling for a copy of “Soviet Communism – A New Civilization” and, after reading the article, was surprised to learn that my graduate school was apparently responsible for all the evils plaguing the world.

Webb Of Evil – Sidney and Beatrice Webb, London School of Economics
The hell that bedevils society, believes THE GROW, can be traced to a single source: the academic teaching of institutions like the London School of Economics.

Surely it is no accident that the LSE was founded very largely by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the patron saints of the Fabian Society. The Fabians are of course renowned for their promotion of large-scale, socialist, centralised planning, a gospel reducing the status of the individual citizen to that of a shopping mall customer: everything clean, neat and tidy, and the freedom of the individual to decide how he or she will live, rendered non-existent.

The Webbs travelled all over Russia as privileged guests in the heyday of the Stalinist terror, when millions were being shot and frozen to death in Siberia, or being used as slave labour on giant construction projects, or starved as a result of Stalin’s forced farming collectives. On their return, they published a massive tome entitled, believe it or not, Soviet Communism — a New Civilisation. In hundreds of pages they endeavoured to show just how democratic centralised Soviet anarchy was supposed to be. A prominent historian at the time described it as the most monumentally useless book ever written.

Today, in quite fundamental ways, the LSE continues to run true to the form of its founding spirits. At heart the Webbs were fascists, just as are Fabians in general: indeed some may argue that the prevailing doctrines being taught at the LSE exude fascism.

Yet these founding principles are only the beginning: the school’s mischief goes much deeper. Almost the first sentence any student is likely to read in one of its texts on elementary economics will reveal the school’s overall philosophical stance. He or she will be informed — as though it were a natural law, rather than the product of slipshod, amoral reasoning — that the factors of production are land, labour and capital. We need to grasp precisely what is being stated here: the LSE is saying that in economics labour, human beings — creatures gifted with powers of imagination and creativity of seemingly limitless extent, people able to love, dream and inspire, able to evoke unparalleled acts of generosity, self-sacrifice and even their own deaths in the service of their fellows — are of no more account than a bag of money or a cabbage patch. Just that.
It is a statement which annihilates morality on the altars of Mammon, a statement which demeans human striving to the level of an economic calculation and opens the doors to all the social, political and environmental disasters which have been inflicted on successive generations all over the world during the last two centuries or more.

We do, of course, need a new approach to economics, we need one that realises that human beings are not factors of production and never can be, that far from being a factor of production they are the only morally intelligible object of it, an approach which recognises that any system of teaching which denies the validity of human uniqueness is guilty of the most monstrous degrees of evil. Such denial carries with it the assumption that economic activity that ignores or rejects morality is nonetheless valid and generally acceptable.

But economic activity divorced from or opposed to moral principle is simply brigandage. However much the brigands may manipulate global markets, receive knighthoods and other decorations, operate in giant, opulent city offices and generally dominate the political and social scene, brigands they are and brigands they remain.
Today we are surrounded by portents: global warming, finite resource rapacity and excessive squandering; the elimination of a vast range of entire species of fauna and flora, all vital to ensuring the planet’s otherwise self-sustaining equilibrium; the proliferation of thermonuclear, chemical and biological war weapons now able to eliminate life over large areas of the planet; these and more are portents of limitless disaster stemming from in-built economic assumptions. And these assumptions in turn emerge from the academic teaching of institutions such as the LSE.

Ultimately human societies are governed by the ideologies of those who control and manipulate their dominant institutions. It is the teaching of the London School of Economics, with its academic endorsement of the subjection of human uniqueness to economic processes, in addition to its endorsement of the ideology of greed as the motivating principle of today’s society, which has brought us to our present pass.

As an institution it is evil incarnate and the continuance of its current teaching inimical to any prospect of social advance or moral progress.

I do not dispute this article’s description of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the founders of the LSE. With their praise of Stalin’s regime following their tour of the USSR, they were perfect examples of the useful idiots who turned a blind eye to the horrors of the Soviet Union. The Webbs were committed Fabian socialists who founded the LSE as an institution dedicated to the betterment of society (and for them, that ultimately meant a socialist society achieved by gradualist, rather than revolutionary, means). If they returned to LSE’s campus today, however, they would be surprised to see that their beloved academic institution is turning out a bunch of drones who line up for interviews with McKinsey & Company and Deutsche Bank (admittedly, I went from thinking I would pursue a PhD in Russian history to asking my friends “Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome to work for ExxonMobil or Shell?” Must be something in the air around Houghton Street).

LSE has certainly graduated its share of terrorists (and quite a few, if you believe the Russian government), white collar criminals, Presidential confidantes, and neo-cons, but I wouldn’t agree that the university is fascist and “evil incarnate.” If that were indeed the case, surely you’d expect the LSE Facebook groups “Future White Collar Criminals” and “Future Dictators of Third World Countries” to have more than 100 members each.

And I will neither confirm nor deny membership in either of the aforementioned groups.

November 11, 2007

By the time I get to Arizona

arizona_sunrise.jpg

Well, so much for posting every day, but whatever.

I got back from Scottsdale last night around 10:30pm. Returning to DC is always a bit depressing, especially when the temperature has dropped to a level in which flip-flops are no longer feasible, and the bullets continue to fly in your neighborhood. Also, there is no one to clean your room, bring you cappuccino at seven in the morning, or lay out your robe and place chocolates on your pillow. You have to do that yourself.

arizona_sunrise.jpg
Early morning in Scottsdale, as captured by horrible camera phone

Arizona, and especially Scottsdale, reminds me a lot of the SoCal desert where I grew up. Our hotel, situated on a beautiful golf course, could very well have been in La Quinta or Indian Wells. The weather was perfect – sunny and temps in the 80s. We went horseback riding through the desert one afternoon. I used to ride a lot when I was a kid, but can’t remember the last time I’ve been on a horse. The ride itself lasted about an hour and a half, and led us through valleys filled with giant saguaro cacti and across the Verde River, where wild horses lounged on the banks. Admittedly, I felt incredibly city-slickerish riding a horse while dressed in Puma sneakers and a polo shirt, with a Treo repeatedly buzzing in my pocket. It’s a good thing my grandfather, an Oklahoma born, cowboy boot and hat wearing, ranch-owning rodeo participant, was not around to see this faux pas.

While in Arizona, I also learned how to play tabletop shuffleboard in the hotel bar. I even somehow managed to win a few games despite having had seven pints of beer by that time. We ended up playing a bunch of guys from Honeywell, who were also in town for meetings, and I won a home security system off them (which would be quite useful in my current neighborhood – more so that a missile guidance system, anyways). When we moved on to pool, however, I lost both games so our wagers with each other ended in a wash.

The food at the hotel was delicious, but after three days of eating like the bourgeoisie, I started to crave something with a bit more of the proletarian ambiance I am accustomed to. Thankfully, the good people at In-N-Out were kind enough to export California’s finest to the citizens of Arizona:

in-n-out_arizona_sm.jpg
No, this was not all just for me

We stopped at In-N-Out on the way to the airport. I got my usual double double, fries, and chocolate shake.

Yeah, life in the energy industry is rough, I tell ya.

November 7, 2007

Arizona

I am in Scottsdale until Saturday. For work. Gonna be 88 degrees tomorrow.

That’s about it.

November 6, 2007

Kvass!

kvass_poster.jpg

kvass_poster.jpg

I swear, I must be the only non-Russian who likes to drink kvass. After walking around Moscow on a warm summer day, there’s really nothing better than a cold mug of kvass (alright, maybe a beer). The Coca-Cola Company recently announced its intention to break into the kvass market:

In the booming consumer market that is today’s Russia, kvass is the kind of phenomenon that Western soda producers can no longer ignore. Enter Coca-Cola Co., which recently announced plans to begin making kvass in Russia.

The Atlanta-based soft drink giant isn’t sure where in Russia it will locate production or what its marketing
strategy will be, says Vladimir Kravtsov, Coca-Cola’s spokesman in Russia. But it has a name for its version of kvass, Mug and Barrel, and it has a recipe that tested well among kvass drinkers in the Volga River city of Samara this summer, Kravtsov says.

“Our launch of kvass in Russia will be in March or April of next year,” he said. “The kvass segment of the Russian beverage market is the fastest-growing segment. The combination of a traditional Russian recipe and the high quality of Coca-Cola will be positive synergy.”

Somehow, I doubt the babushkas manning the yellow kvass tanks are worried.

November 5, 2007

El Petroleo es Nuestro

Great article in this weekend’s NYTimes on the “Perils of Petrocracy”, specifically focusing on the natural resource curse as applied to Venezuela, and Chavez’s use of PDVSA to fullfill his “oil socialism” revolution:

In the 1990s, Venezuela’s state oil company was a sleek machine, an excellent exploiter of oil, well fed on its own profits. It floated above society, unmoored from the problems of the average citizen. Today, oil money feeds and educates poor neighborhoods. The purpose of the national oil company is not to produce more oil, but to produce Bolivarian socialism. These are two very different ways to handle a nation’s oil resource. Can either model show poor countries how to convert natural resources into sustained wealth? Few questions in economic policy are more important today.

In other news, former government officials met last week in Washington to conduct a roleplaying game focusing on a theoretical shutdown of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline due to political unrest in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, in the real world, Azeri authorities arrested “a group of heavily armed Islamic militants who were allegedly plotting an attack on the US Embassy in Baku”, and 50,000 protesters marched down Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue to voice their dissatisfaction with Saakashvili.

November 5, 2007

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent, To blow up King and Parli’ment

It’s Guy Fawkes Night, that brilliant British celebration involving bonfires, fireworks, and alcohol. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed that, while attending Bonfire Night festivities in 2004, there was no effigy of Guy Fawkes. I mean, seriously, what’s the point?
Sadly, Fawkes’s hometown, York, no longer holds a Bonfire Night. Afraid of lawsuits, or whatev.

November 4, 2007

Antietam National Battlefield

Antietam cannons

“I have heard of ‘the dead lying in heaps’, but never saw it till this battle. Whole ranks fell together.” – Captain Emory Upton, 2nd U.S. Artillery, at Antietam

I visited Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland back in August, but didn’t get around to uploading the photos until now. I’ve been to Gettysburg a few times, but have never made it out to Antietam (or Manassas, for that matter) despite its proximity to Washington DC.

The Battle of Antietam, fought on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with 3,600 killed and over 17,000 wounded.

Antietam cannons
Antietam Dunker Church
Dunker Church

Antietam bloody cornfield
Self-explanatory.

“Every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they stood in their ranks a few minutes before.” – A Union officer

Antietam Bloody Lane
Bloody Lane

Antietam Bloody Lane
View of Bloody Lane from the observation tower

Antietam Creek
Antietam Creek

Antietam Burnside Bridge
Burnside’s Bridge. Much smaller than I imagined.

Antietam Burnside Bridge

Antietam cannon
Obligatory pose with artillery

Antietam cannons
Cannons at site of the “final attack”

Antietam national cemetery
Antietam National Cemetery

Antietam memorial
The base of this memorial reads “Not for themselves but for their country”

Antietam Reenactors
Reenactors about to perform a weapons firing demonstration

Antietam Reenactors
Antietam Reenactors

The rest of the photos are here.

November 3, 2007

Charlie Wilson’s War

Here’s another movie to watch this holiday season (after you’ve seen There Will Be Blood, of course):

Charlie Wilson’s War is based on George Crile’s book of the same name, which details the exploits of Congressman Charlie Wilson, a man who, in between cavorting in hot tubs with strippers and doing lines of coke, occasionally dragged himself to the Capitol building to represent the Texas 2nd Congressional District. While Wilson was liberal on many social issues, he was a hawk when it came to foreign policy, and a huge supporter of the Afghan Mujahideen, who were then struggling to expel the Soviet Army from Afghanistan. Wilson used his position on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee to funnel millions of dollars to the CIA, which in turn provided the Afghan Muj with training and weapons, including, most importantly, Stinger missiles to bring down the feared Mi-24 Hind gunship.

I read Crile’s book about four years ago and really enjoyed it, although by the end I wanted to throw it against the wall, as I was so disgusted that multi-million dollar covert operations that changed the course of history (some for the better, and some for the worse) were basically spearheaded by a drunken Congressman and right-wing Houston socialite. Seriously. Read the book. Maybe then you will conclude, as I did, that we shouldn’t let Texans make any foreign policy decisions whatsoever.

Or, if you’d rather not read the 500 pages, you could just see the movie, which stars Tom Hanks as Charlie Wilson, Julia Roberts as Joanne Herring, the aforementioned wealthy Houston socialite, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos, the profane CIA agent in charge of the Afghan operation.
When they first announced Hanks in the role of Wilson, my first reaction was “WTF?” Hanks is a solid actor, for sure, but I couldn’t really see him playing this gregarious Congressman from Texas. He seems to play the character well from what we’ve seen in the trailer, though, so whatever. I’m not really sold on Julia Roberts as Herring, but Julia Roberts annoys me anyways. And the screenplay? Written by the godly Aaron Sorkin of A Few Good Men and West Wing fame (we’ll forgive him for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip).

Charlie Wilson’s War opens Christmas Day, and what better way to spend Christmas Day than by watching a movie with tons of gunfire and explosions?

November 2, 2007

I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time

The latest shots fired, right down the street at 5:15 this morning, at least came from an MPD officer, someone who actually knows how to use a firearm.

I slept through the entire thing, but one of my roommates apparently witnessed a good portion of it.

I’d like to go back to California now, please.

November 1, 2007

Halloween in the city (no, this kevlar vest is not a costume accessory)

The last time I went trick or treating was, no joke, in 2003 when I was a senior at GWU. My friends and I had the brilliant idea of trick-or-treating on Embassy Row dressed as the Berlin Wall. Naturally, I was East Berlin. We figured the foreigners would just write us off as obnoxious American college students (which, of course, we were) but most of them loved us (“How intellectual“, one embassy staff member commented).

You’ll be relieved to know that this year I did not participate in trick-or-treating, but rather took on the proper adult role of actually giving away candy. My roommates and I sat on our front steps and dispensed M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey’s, and Three Musketeers to the lil’ rug rats in our neighborhood. The little kids got two pieces of candy and the obnoxious roving bands of teenagers only got one. The most adorable trick-or-treater was a kid dressed as a firefighter, complete with plastic axe. He got three pieces of candy. Second most adorable kid was dressed as a dinosaur. After he got his two pieces of candy from Laura, he turned to me and held up his bowl. “You’re persistent kid, I admire that” and with that he walked away with an extra piece from me.

The night wasn’t entirely peaceful, however, as a drive-by shooting occurred shortly after 10pm. Ten shots fired, four wounded, a block from my house.

Yeah, you should totally move to Columbia Heights.