Tag Archives: LSE
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.

March 14, 2007

London photos: When not in class, we…

Here’s a few more recently upped photos of LSE friends – some from my dorm (Bankside represent) and others from my Russian & Post-Soviet Studies (RPSS) program. The theme for this week is drinking, or whatever.


This is a pic of Omar from the Bankside boat party held at the beginning of term. Possibly the greatest neighbor you could ask for, he had excellent taste in music and was a constant source of entertainment during dinnertime when we were forced to endure the culinary disaster that is British dorm food. “What is this? This…this…fishcake?!” Watch out for this dude, though – he’s like a Moroccan version of Andy Fastow. There’s no telling what he learned in those finance classes…


At a bar in Notting Hill, drinking some of that delicious Belgian fruit flavored beer – Me, Mathias, Taline, Erin, Hudson


Moira, myself, and Jessica at the Great British Beer Festival. I totally shoulda been working on my dissertation instead of spending 12 hours here.


Crystal and I enjoying Snakebites at a pub in Holborn after watching the “Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch” video a million times at the LSE library (Dissertation, whatever)


BBQ on Olga’s rooftop. Olga says she isn’t mentioned enough on this blog except for the snowboarding post, so check it dude, I’m giving you props here. Olga had the effin’ sweetest flat ever right on the Thames. That’s the Tate Modern right there in the back…my dorm was right behind the Tate Modern.


Take some Americans, Russians, Germans, French, British, Canadians and an Iranian. Add vodka. Mix thoroughly. Drink. Repeat. This being a party hosted by Olga, the vodka, of course, was the wonderful Russki Standart:


Hudson, Alec, Olga, Mathias


Erin, I have no idea who this guy is, Crystal, Taline, Hudson


Erin, Taline, Crystal, and I at Taline’s rooftop party in Notting Hill during one of those beautiful summer nights in London. Taline, like Olga, also had an amazing flat that was near some of the greatest pubs in the city.


One of a million toasts at Taline’s infamous birthday party (Taline also thinks she is not on this website enough, hopefully this post will rectify that a bit). I swear to God, everytime a group of us RPSS alums meet up, this party will eventually come up.

“That blood was still on the wall five months later!”

“I was just standing there and someone handed me a plate…that was on fire.”

It never gets old…for us, at least.

And with that, I have to go figure out how to do my taxes.

January 10, 2006

LSE Grad week photos

LSE graduation

I finally uploaded all the pics from Grad week in London. There are two sets…first, photos from the actual graduation ceremony:

LSE graduation
Me on stage…after shaking Howard Davies’ hand…or going to shake his hand…I’m not exactly sure

LSE graduation reception
The reception in the Hong Kong Theatre after the the ceremony

LSE graduation
A group photo of the Russian and Post-Soviet studies grads who attended the ceremony…and two of our profs

LSE graduation
Taline, Crystal, Erin, and I

LSE graduation
Me in front of the Royal Courts of Justice

The second group contains photos of everything we went to in London:




January 1, 2006

For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne

It seems like everyone is blogging about the year gone by, so it’s only fitting that I follow suit and reflect on some of my best memories of 2005.

Attending LSE

Since I was a sophomore at GWU, it has been a goal of mine to attend the London School of Economics. This goal was realized in late September 2004, when I left California to begin my MSc in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies in London. I can honestly say that my year at LSE has been one of the greatest I have experienced in my 23 years on this earth. Living in London was amazing, of course, but in particular I loved the multicultural environment of LSE. There are not many universities in the world that can top LSE in the number of foreign students on campus. Indeed, you almost forgot how horrible the food at the Bankside cafeteria was when sitting down at a table and debating politics with a Brit, Moroccan, Indian, Canadian, Jordanian, and fellow American. And having a bar with subsidised alcohol in the basement of your dorm? Well, let’s just say it made doing your laundry a lot more fun. The location of our Bankside dorm was also unbeatable: directly behind the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the River Thames, a short walk to Borough Market, and some great restaurants and pubs. So, even though the fire alarms at 3am were a constant annoyance, I really enjoyed living at Bankside.


Moving out day at Bankside

The other side of LSE, besides dorm life, was my academic program. Our RPSS group (with the addition of some friends from International Relations) became a really tight-knit bunch, and we enjoyed some great times together, from the pints inbetween classes, to the parties at Taline’s flat in Notting Hill and the BBQs on the roof of Olga’s apartment building overlooking the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. And, of course, how could I fail to mention the numerous evenings spent at Churchill’s Arms, the Hillgate and Hobbit Pub, or the times we stuffed ourselves with scones and tea and laid in the grass at Kensington Gardens?


Some RPSS comrades in Covent Garden

So, to all of my friends who I met at LSE, thanks for a wonderful year…it really wouldn’t have been the same without all of you.

Travel

Another goal of mine, once reaching London, was to travel as much as possible without affecting my studies. Living in London, you literally have the world at your fingertips. I wasn’t sure when I would ever have this chance again, so I wanted to take advantage of all the low-cost airfares and accommodations throughout Europe (when else will you get to fly to Rome for $30!?) Luckily, the British academic year provides you with ample time off, including a five week spring break in March/April. Also, my boss at IT Services was really cool about letting me rearrange my work schedule, so I got some traveling in during the summer months. So, I expanded my list of countries I had previously traveled to (UK, Russia, and Mexico) to include France, Hungary, Belgium, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Egypt, Italy, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. All of the countries were great, but I’ll expand on a few that I felt were particularly amazing:

Hungary: While Prague is a great city, and constantly touted as the darling of Central Europe, I think it is a bit overrated. Personally, if you have to choose between Budapest and Prague, I say go to Budapest! As a Cold War aficionado, I really enjoyed visiting Statue Park (full of old commie statues) and the House of Terror (former HQ of the secret police). In addition, I was lucky enough to experience some authentic Hungarian cooking and hospitality courtesy of Csaba and his mother, Kati.


Sunset on the Danube River


Goofing around in Statue Park

Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Montenegro: In April, Taline, Crystal, and I went to Dubrovnik, Croatia, a beautiful city which, only 14 years before, was the scene of massive shelling by Yugoslav artillery that destroyed many buildings withing the historic walled area. We went before the start of tourist season, and pretty much had the place to ourselves. The locals were incredibly friendly, and wanted to hear about how much you enjoyed their city, offer suggestions on the best places to eat, and talk about their relatives that lived “over there” in America.


Dubrovnik


Within the walled city of Dubrovnik. Excellent cafes and restaurants.

A big part of this trip, though, was the day Crystal and I spent wandering around Bosnia and Montenegro. Having studied the Balkans conflicts, and with a propensity for ignoring travel warnings from the State Department, Crystal and I decided to hop a decrepit bus to Trebinje, the nearest town across the Croatian-Bosnian border. After lying to to a Bosnian border guard, and passing a number of burned out houses, we finally arrived in Trebinje. Once we wandered around Trebinje for a few hours and decided there wasn’t much more to see, we hired a sketchy taxi to take us to Montenegro via a treacherous mountain road. Upon arriving in Montengro, we went down to the beach and climbed around some old fortress ruins with great views of the distant mountains and sat down to have a milkshake. We wanted to get back to Croatia for dinner, so we took a taxi to the border and walked the 100 metres of no man’s land, surrounded by signs warning us of landmines, until finally arriving in Croatia, much to the amusement of the two Croatian border guards who probably didn’t see very many American girls walking across the border. Yes, we befuddled many people that day, from Bosnian bus station attendants and taxi drivers to Montenegrin hairdressers and Croatian border guards. Building cross-cultural relations and promoting America, that’s what Crystal and I do best!


Trebinje, Bosnia


A relaxing moment in Montenegro, with a random dog that kept following us.

If you’re looking for a relaxing and inexpensive vacation by the sea, I highly recommend Croatia. Ever since I arrived back from my vacation there, I have been singing its praises (so much that the Croatian tourist board should hire me). And, surprise, surprise, CNN has reported that Croatia and Montenegro are on its list of “hot spots” for travel in 2006. Obviously, Anderson Cooper has been reading this blog.

Egypt: Well, what to say about Egypt…seeing the Pyramids was absolutely incredible, as was walking through tombs that are thousands of years old. Other highlights: Snorkeling in the Red Sea and trying not to hit cruise ships on the Nile after our boat driver handed over the controls to me. The only downside to Egypt? Constantly being harrassed by sketchy Egyptian men, and the need for a heavy police presence wherever you go.


Look Ma, I’m in Egypt, the country you desperately tried to convince me not to travel to!


The Red Sea


Beware! American tourist attempting to ride camel and take photos simultaneously

Ireland: Finally seeing the country that so many of my ancestors came from, and enjoying a pint of Guinness “from the source” at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. I think the most interesting part of my trip to Ireland was visiting Belfast in Northern Ireland and seeing the divided Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods with their political murals. Growing up, I often saw images of the fighting in Belfast on the news, but it was really hard to comprehend until I finally saw the city for myself.


Guinness for strength!


Loyalist mural in Belfast

So, overall, I must say that 2005 was an amazing year filled with living in the greatest city in the world, visiting some incredibly interesting countries, and meeting new people from all over the world. I don’t know what 2006 will bring, but I hope that the trend will continue somehow.

December 22, 2005

My year in London gone by, I miss it so

I’m back from London. It was a lovely week, filled with old friends, the usual London sights, and plenty of pints of Strongbow. It was actually a rather surreal experience because I felt like I had never really left the city, and that the past three months in an overglorified resort town of yesteryear was just a temporary exile. But, unfortunately, I no longer live there, and have to refer to everything in the past: “my old tube stop”, “where I used to live”, etc. But, might as well get on with this post, the point of it being to describe what I actually did while over there.

Our flight from LAX to Heathrow was fine, except for the hour of nonstop turbulence. Now, sometimes I think that brief periods of turbulence can be quite fun, like a rollercoaster, but when you are sitting through an hour of it, you begin to wonder how safe you really are flying in an aluminum tube 30,000 feet over the North Atlantic with no land in sight. I found myself desperately trying to remember the aerospace education classes I had slept through as a cadet in Civil Air Patrol: “Uhhh…turbulence…is…uh, pockets…of…air? Just a…minor…annoyance…to pilots.” Damn, no wonder I never made it past Airman First Class. Eventually, however, the captain came over the PA system and said “I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that while this may not be fun, you are perfectly safe.” Thanks, Captain.

We arrived in Heathrow around 2pm, after descending through dark, thick clouds of smoke that smelled of petroleum (a huge fuel depot had blown up north of London, you see). We had our passports stamped and collected our luggage, but when we got to the station for the Heathrow Express (a fast train from the airport to Central London) my dad discovered that his carry-on bag was missing, so I spent a good hour searching around Heathrow, from the Heathrow Express ticket counter, past security back to the luggage carousels, and back to passport control. The bag was gone, never to return, but those workers at Heathrow sure are a nice bunch of people. When I got back to the station, there was a train waiting at the platform so I screamed “Train! Let’s go!” and we grabbed our luggage. My parents made it onto the train, but just then, as my body was half into the train car, the doors closed. I had tried to use the skills I had acquired while on the DC metro in order to force the doors open, but the British like their trains to run on time, and nothing I could do would let me get onto that train. I was publicly reprimanded by two Heathrow Express staff members, one over the loudspeaker and one in a long, purple coat, for my attempts to interfere with the train’s departure. So, Kim and I waved goodbye to my parents, who were off to Paddington station, and oh, did I mention that they didn’t have their train tickets because they were sitting in my coat pocket? As you can see, this first hour of our trip was just lovely!

The main purpose of this trip to London was, of course, my graduation ceremony, held on Wednesday, December 14th. The ceremony was at 11am, but I had to arrive at LSE earlier in order to pick up my gown, which was being distributed in the basement of the Old Building (that LSE, they sure do know how to name those buildings!). Now, the only other college graduation I’ve gone through is GWU, so I will thus compare everything to GWU. First off, at GWU, a few days before the ceremony we would wander over to the Herff-Jones representative to pick up our cap and gown, which were bright and shiny and wrapped in plastic. At LSE, though, we had to rent our graduation robes. I suppose you could buy them if you wanted, but personally I could think of better things to spend $700 on. So, an hour before your ceremony, you are issued your robe and cap in the Old Building, and then wait patiently in line for the next available old and adorable British man to dress you. They are all dressed in fine suits and speak with that impeccable upper class British accent, you see, because our robe providers, Ede and Ravenscroft Ltd., are the official robemakers to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and thus must act the role even if they are only helping idiotic foreigners such as myself properly wear my gown (er, robe?). Now, my gown was nowhere near as regal as the Queen’s, as it wasn’t decked out in jewels or animal fur or whatever, but it was still a spiffy outfit. It was confusing, too, because as I was being dressed by the aforesaid old British man, I managed to stick my arms through the wrong openings in the arm (it’s confusing to explain, but come on, it was morning and I didn’t have any caffeine yet). Looking at my arms poking out through the wrong openings, my dresser remarked “Come on dear, you’re about to receive your master’s degree, get your arms right.” (Hey now, I bet you aren’t snarky with the Queen when you are robing her, are ya?!) “Sorry, sir,” I replied sheepishly “but in the U.S. we wear cheap polyester gowns.” I think he was satisfied with that explanation.

The actual graduation ceremony was held in the Peacock Theatre on the LSE campus. It involved a few speeches, walking across the stage while your name was being read, and shaking Howard Davies’ (LSE Director) hand. It was pretty much like a typical graduation, but seemed a bit more “authentic” because everyone was speaking with British accents and Howard Davies was sitting on a throne. Weird, I know. After the ceremony we had a reception in the Hong Kong theatre, where waiters served us mimosas and set out plates of mini sandwiches and mince pies, those great British delicacies. I’ve never had a mince pie before, and after my first one, I’ve determined that I wasn’t missing out on anything because YUCK!

Since graduation was only a few hours, the rest of my time in London was spent wandering around the various tourist sights and drinking and dining at the places I came to know quite well over the past year. Since Kim had never been to London before, I made sure that she saw the important stuff like Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye, Tate Modern, Trafalgar Square, Camden Town, Bankside area, Covent Garden, Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Imperial War Museum, etc. And, of course, we stopped by Harrod’s, a place that can make even Krispy Kreme donuts seem “posh.” I rarely ever buy anything when I go to Harrod’s, but it’s still fun to wander around the food halls, leaving behind a trail of drool, and then admire the gold-plated mobile phones in the “room of luxury.” We also met up with Mark at the London Tower, so he could admire how all his UK tax dollars are protecting the Queen’s crown jewels (Hi Mark! Great to finally meet up with you!). I’ve been to the Tower of London a few times, but I’ve never taken the Beefeater tour until now…totally worth it!

Another big part of the trip to London was the food. We don’t have much ethnic food here in the desert (or if we do, it’s ridiculously expensive), so it was great to visit the restaurants we used to frequent: Monsoon (Indian) on Brick Lane, Lebanese in Kensington, Tas Pide (Turkish) in Bankside, Lowlander Pub (Belgian) in Covent Garden, etc. We also stopped by one of our favorite pubs in Notting Hill, Churchill Arms, which serves excellent Thai food for under 6 quid a dish. Afterwards, we went to the Hillgate pub and then the Windsor Castle pub (Hobbit pub), which was serving an excellent winter Pimm’s drink. Later that week, the Bankside crew gathered at our local pub, the Anchor, which was now apparently the scene of a techno dance party. It was very odd, because usually the Anchor is pretty chill, but whatever, it is still a great pub – you just have to take your pint upstairs, where it is a bit quieter and you can hear your friends talk. (Omar, glad you could pull yourself away from your i-banking job to have a pint with us).

No trip to London would be complete without afternoon tea, of course, so a bunch of us RPSS grads met up at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. If you’re ever looking for a place to have tea, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, and scones with jam and clotted cream, you have to try the Orangery. It’s really cheap (about 10 quid) compared to the Ritz, and in a very nice location. Whenever someone would come visit me in London, I’d always take them to the Orangery so they could experience this wonderful British tradition which I have never really seen British people partake in.

On Saturday I took my parents to the Borough Market so they could finally see what I had been raving about for the past year. And since it was hard to decide between the falafel and hamburger, I just had them both, and picked up a “world famous” brownie for later.

During our last afternoon in London, Kim and I went souvenir shopping. Since I’m no longer a resident of London, I’m allowed to enter the cheesy souvenir shops and buy ridiculous stuff like flip flops with the Tube map printed on them. We also did some last minute shopping at Heathrow Airport, and, at 9am, had a bottle of Scrumpy Jack’s and pint of Stella before catching our plane back to the hell that is Los Angeles. I don’t care how good the weather in LA is, flying back there from London is just goddamned depressing.

Thus concludes our trip to London, and also my year at LSE. I miss that city so much, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of all the great times I had and all the wonderful people I met while living there. I also have an immense sense of pride when it comes to London – is that odd, to take pride in a city that you only lived in for a year, and one that is located in a country of which you aren’t even a citizen? Possibly. I have visited a lot of different cities during my travels, and none of those cities – not Moscow, Paris, Rome, nor Prague, could possibly top London…it is simply the greatest city that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting, and I am eternally grateful for the year that I lived there. I hope that sometime in the future I will be able to move back there, but until then, this trip served as an excellent way to say goodbye to the city that I had fallen in love with over this past year.

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” – Samuel Johnson

December 11, 2005

London calling to the faraway towns

I’m heading off to LAX in an hour…flight leaves 7pm, gets into Heathrow around 2pm on Monday. I’ll be back in the U.S. on the 19th.

Looking forward to seeing all my LSE friends, showing my friend Kim the city I lived in for the past year (a friend that I have known since 1st grade (!) is coming to London with me), drinking Strongbow in all of our usual pubs, eating some scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, enjoying some great Indian food, visiting Borough Market, and, well, EVERYTHING about the city.

So, I will see all of you here in the desert in a week, and to those of you that will be in London, you’ll find me at the Anchor (surprise, surprise).

October 26, 2005

It’s official

lse_bumper_sticker.jpg

lse_bumper_sticker.jpg

(I have this bumper sticker, but no car to put it on. Maybe someday when I get a job, I will.)

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from my advisor at 1:10am PST letting me know that I had successfully completed the requirements for my MSc in Russian & Post-Soviet Studies at the London School of Economics.
Now I can go back to London in December to parade around in a silly hat and gown. Afterwards, I plan to visit all my old pubs and drink Strongbow.

Also, it would be nice to have a job. Please?

September 15, 2005

Last Days in London

During the time between handing in my dissertation and departing London, I tried to sightsee and enjoy as many pints as possible while also tying up a variety of “loose strings.” I was, in essence, a “super-tourist” who derived most of her sustenance from Strongbow and salt & vinegar crisps.

I FINALLY saw the British Museum, which I cannot believe that I failed to visit over the past year. The British Museum is absolutely amazing – there is no other museum like it in the world (well, from what I’ve seen, at least). The place is filled with artifacts that the British plundered from ancient civilizations while they were in their “Empire” phase. Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia – it’s all there. The Egyptian collection was especially impressive, as I was finally able to see all the artifacts that were missing from the places I visited in Egypt (like the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, if you will). I was reminded of the episodes in which my Egyptian tour guides would point to something (a sarcophagus, statue, etc) and tell us it was actually a reproduction. “The real one,” he said, “is at the British Museum.” Oh. Well, good to know I flew all the way down here to see a reproduction of something that is located in a building a mere 15 minute walk from my school! I’ve always thought that if the Pyramids weren’t so hard to remove and transport to London, the British would have taken those out of Egypt and put them smack dab in the middle of Hyde Park.
After touring the British Museum, I saw a production of “A Few Good Men”, which I didn’t realize was actually a play that Aaron Sorkin wrote before it was turned into a movie. I thought it was the other way around. Anyways, this production is actually a play that is based on the movie which was based on a play. Weird, I know. It was also weird to see a play about the U.S. Marine Corps in London, and even weirder to see Rob Lowe in the role of Lt. Daniel Kaffee, which was played by whackjob Tom Cruise in the movie. The play was really good, though, so if you’re looking for a production in London to check out, I high recommend it. And Rob Lowe in Navy dress whites…not to be missed, TRUST ME. Also, the great thing about going to the theatre in London is that you don’t have to dress up. You can wear a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops and no one will care. The only ones that do dress up are tourists.

The next day, I went on a tour of Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and the Roman baths (pictures up soon). Windsor Castle was great – the Queen sure does have the life, that’s for sure. Stonehenge was, well, really not too impressive. It was much smaller than I imagined, and honestly, I’m not really into that period of history. In addition, my stupid audio guide thing they give me would only work in Russian and Japanese (go figure) so I lost quite a bit while attempting to decipher the Russian. The Roman baths were awesome, mostly due to the fact that we had a great tour guide.

I also went on a tour of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. For a few weeks during the summer, when the Queen is at one of her 5 million or so residences throughout the United Kingdom, Buckingham Palace opens its doors to allow us commonfolk to traipse through the State Rooms. I’ve always thought that the outside of Buckingham Palace was rather bland when compared to the opulence of the Romanov palaces, but I must admit I was rather impressed with the interior of the palace.

After Buckingham, I had one last tea at the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. I’m really going to miss the scones with jam and clotted cream…and the little cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches with the crust cut off…

For my last night in London, I met up with some friends at our favorite pub, the Anchor. I have spent a lot of time there this past year, so it was only fitting that my last pints of Strongbow and glasses of Pimm’s be enjoyed at the Anchor.

When I arrived at Heathrow airport the next morning, strangely enough, it hadn’t really hit me that I was permanently leaving (although it sure has sunk in by now) so I wasn’t feeling very sad at that moment. It’s an 11 hour flight from London to Los Angeles. As much as I complain about these long flights, sometimes, I must secretly admit that I enjoy them. I like to think of them as a mandated “relaxation” time, in which you watch five movies that you haven’t seen while the flight attendants constantly bring you sodas and candy bars. Sadly, however, I flew United, where they charge a ridiculous sum of $5 for beer and wine. An 11 hour flight, and not one free beer! I could take a 2 hour flight with CSA Czech Airlines to Prague or a 2.5 hour flight to Dubrovnik with British Airways and still get unlimited alcohol! Pathetic American carriers!
I finally arrived in LA a little after 2pm. As we flew over that city, I was reminded of how much I hate it – traffic, smog, a seething mass of nothingness. God, what an awful, ugly city – if it can even claim the title of “city” – characterless suburbs connected by multiple jammed freeways is a more apt description. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive home, that’s for sure. Leaving the plane was a disorderly procedure, as usual. How silly of me to assume that because we had landed in the U.S., we would exit the plane in a civilized fashion. You see, something I’ve learned about European traveling habits is that they don’t exit the plane in a row by row fashion like us Americans do. Instead of allowing the rows at the front to exit first, they all jockey for a position in the aisles so they can rush off the plane as soon as the cabin door is opened. If you weren’t one of the first to jump out of your seat and into the aisle, then good luck trying to get off the plane anytime soon.

When you arrive in the United States, you have to fill out a customs form which asks a variety of questions, one of which is the countries you’ve been to since you left the U.S. So, I listed them all: UK, France, Hungary, Belgium, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovinia, Montenegro, Egypt, Italy, Ireland, and the Czech Republic. The officer looked over it and said “Did you really go to all these countries?”

“Yes.” (No, I only went to one…just felt like throwing a few others in there)

“What was the purpose of your travel?”

“I went to school in the UK.”

“What school?”

“The London School of Economics.”

“How did you travel around to these countries?”

“Uhhh…I….flew.”

I’ve always wondered if, at Customs Officer training, they give them a list of stupid questions to ask, in the off chance I might slip up and admit that instead of studying in London, I was actually training at some terrorist camp in Afghanistan to wage jihad against the United States. Clearly, if I had been doing that, though, my luggage wouldn’t have been weighed down by bottles of Pimm’s, packages of McVities, and a Big Ben teapot.

It took me about an hour to clear customs and get my luggage. After that, I waited for two hours to meetup with my mom. Even the LAX airport can’t escape the ugliness that is LA. All the vinyl seats were ripped up, with the yellowed foam pouring out of them, and the rest of the terminal appeared as if it hadn’t been redecorated since the 1970s.

The traffic home was ridiculous. Where did the fast trains go? I missed the Heathrow/Gatwick/Stansted Express…even the Thameslink from Blackfriars to Gatwick. The only good thing about driving home from LA is that there are plenty of opportunities to stop at In-N-Out. Of course, we did, and it was wonderful to have real American beef once again. The following day, we went out for Mexican food…real Mexican food! It’s been eight months since I’ve had it, and it was absolutely delicious…I’ve been here for exactly one week and have had it three times since.

I also had a pint of Stella a few days ago…well, a 16oz glass, as they say…they don’t call them “pints” here. I was a bit surprised to see Stella on the menu, but it just wasn’t the same…I had it at the Cheesecake Factory – a Yuppieville extraordinaire of uninspiring and bland food whose only saving grace is, well, the cheesecake.

Yeah, we’re not in London anymore.

September 1, 2005

D-Day (Dissertation Day)

I love the smell of toner in the morning, and watching the printer spit out warm sheets of paper that are filled with incoherent thoughts. Today a majority of grad dissertations were due, including mine. I stumbled out of bed at 8am after two or so hours of sleep, and walked to school to add the finishing touches to my paper. Printed it, bounded it, handed it in, DONE. Now I just hope I pass.

Afterwards, we had a few pints (OK, three each) at the Three Tuns, and watched as other grad students frantically raced to their various departments to hand in their dissertations at the last minute.

Oddly, this feels a bit anti-climatic. It’s good to have it out of the way, but what’s next? I leave for California next Thursday, and the more I think about it, the sadder I get. Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and family and enjoying some delicious Mexican food, but I don’t feel ready to leave London quite yet.

August 19, 2005

Living in the United Kingdom is like having an omnipresent babysitter

Our network over here has really been sucking, so my internet access has been rather intermittent. And no, there is nothing that I, the network advisor, can do about it.

Of course, I’m convinced that it is LSE’s way of forcing all of its grad students to work on their dissertations. If you don’t have internet access, what else are you going to use your laptops for? That’s right, open Microsoft Word and start typing. One thousand words…two thousand words…three thousand words…really, this lack of internet access does result in a substantial increase in productivity (although seems to have come to a halt now that internet is back – this post being a perfect example).

In terms of the UK being a “babysitter”, the pubs in the UK close at 11, and the tube at midnight. It’s like having a mandatory bedtime. Oh, but please, can’t we have just another pint? No, you kids have class tomorrow! Get outta here!

But…but…pubs can now apply for late licences, effective November 24.

When I won’t be here anymore. Damn.