Friday, February 22, 2008

"...You're beaaaaaaaaaaautifullllllllll...."

I find James Blunt a bit irritating and his music overly-emotive (ha, how ironic that I think someone is overly-emotive.) But I came across this on YouTube and felt compelled to share it. I was totally unaware that he was in the British Army. In Kosovo! I can go to bed now -- I learned something new today.

And now that you've suffered through that, watch this. Because it is hysterical. And it'll get James Blunt's falsetto voice out of your head. :-)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"...why can't weeee be friends?..."

(Pre-script: My dad's side of the family is Croatian and Irish. We've always "identified" with the Croatian identity more than the Irish identity, I think. That pull that some of us feel to Eastern Europe is something we can't really desribe or explain. That being said... I don't feel any ill will towards Serbs, nor do I think their arguments about Kovoso are unfounded. I kind of forget the point I was trying to make... but I think I just want to point out that I really am trying to be objective even though I identify my ethnicity with a state that may be part of a war-zone again.)

In light of all that is going on in Eastern Europe right now, I thought it would be useful to (at least tangentially) tie our blogging assignment about Lt. Col. Marttala's presention to Kosovo.

And I'll do that.... after you all read this article from the BBC.


US embassy in Belgrade attacked

Police were not guarding the embassy at the timeSeveral hundred protesters have attacked the US and other embassies in Serbia's capital in anger at Western support for Kosovo's independence.

Protesters broke into the US compound in Belgrade and briefly set part of the embassy alight.

Firemen later found an unidentified charred body inside.
Other embassies were also targeted. The United Nations Security Council condemned the violence.

The attacks followed a peaceful rally by at least 150,000 people in the city.

Most Serbs regard Kosovo as their religious and cultural heartland.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica delivered an impassioned speech condemning the territory's secession.

In pictures: Belgrade rally
"As long as we live, Kosovo is Serbia. Kosovo belongs to the Serbian people," he told the flag-waving crowd.

Later about 1,000 protesters smashed their way into the US embassy, throwing flares through the window while others scaled walls to rip down the US flag.

At the time there appeared to be no police protecting the embassy, but riot police later intervened, firing tear gas.

'Mob attacks'

The fires raged for half an hour, and when firemen finally managed to get inside the building they found a charred body.

The main rally outside parliament was peacefulThe body has not been identified, though US officials said all embassy staff of US nationality had been accounted for.

White House spokesman Dana Perino said the embassy had been "attacked by thugs" and that Serbian police had not done enough to stop them.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US had warned Mr Kostunica and his foreign minister that it would hold them personally responsible for further damage.

Mr McCormack added that the protesters had entered the chancellery but had not breached the embassy's secure area.

Smaller groups later targeted the Croatian, Turkish and British embassies but were beaten back.
In New York, the UN Security Council condemned what it called "mob attacks" on US and other embassies in Belgrade

In a unanimous statement, the council recalled the inviolability of diplomatic missions under international law, but welcomed steps by Serbian authorities to restore order.
Kosovo 'stolen'

Serbian President Boris Tadic appealed for calm.

"This only keeps Kosovo distant from Serbia," he said.

Serbia, supported by Russia and China, says Kosovo's Sunday declaration violates international law.

During Thursday's rally, ultra-nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic accused the US and EU of trying to steal Kosovo.

"Hitler could not take it away from us, and neither will today's [Western powers]."

After the speeches, the crowd marched to the city's biggest church, the Temple of Saint Sava.
Thick, black smoke had also earlier billowed from the crossing point at Merdare, 50km (30 miles) north-east of Kosovo's capital Pristina, as Serb army reservists tried to enter Kosovo.

"We are here in support of the Serbs who still live in Kosovo," Dejan Milosevic, one of the organisers, told the Associated Press news agency.
The Kosovo police, backed by Czech troops from the Nato-led peacekeeping force, put a steel barrier across the road and were able to hold their line.
Protest rallies were also held in the Bosnian Serb republic (Republika Srpska) here were unconfirmed reports of injuries as several hundred protesters clashed with police outside the US consulate in Banja Luka.

In the coming weeks, an almost 2,000-strong EU mission will be deployed to help Kosovo develop its police force and judiciary.
So.... two things:
One, the use of tear gas by riot police to disburse the crowd at the American Embassy in Belgrade. It's interesting that this came up since I think it's safe to say that we were all a little shocked when Lt. Col. Martalla told us tear gas can be used on civilians but not military personnel.
And two, what happens to people who attack an Embassy? Technically an attack on an Embassy is an attack on the homeland that that Embassy represents, right? So are those protesters today who threw flares into the American Embassy enemy combatants right now? And what about the ones who scaled the building and tore down an American flag? (Ten bucks says that Congress brings that good, ole "resprect the flag" legislation out again over that.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"...friends shakin' hands sayin', 'how do you do' ... they're really sayin 'I love you.' "

I know this blog is supposed to be academic, not personal. But I can't help myself sometimes. And this is one of those times.

Today is my last day of work at UPMC -- at my high-stress, low-paying, degrading job. I was so afraid that when my last day rolled around, I would be panic-stricken. I was terrified I'd end up regretting my decision to leave. I'll be completely honest with myself and all of you, dear readers...


(unless Colin Farrell was sitting in the sidechair in my office with me right now, smiling at me and chainsmoking.)

I was standing at the bus stop this morning at6:45am (for the last time), freezing my ass off on the wind tunnel that is 5th Avenue in Shadyside and watching the cars go by. My bus stop is at an intersection with a redlight, so often, I get treated to snippets of peoples' radios as they're waiting for the light to turn green.

This morning right before my bus came, a car stopped at the redlight. The lady was smoking so her windows were cracked just enough for me to clearly hear what her radio was playing... and I heard these lyrics before the light changed and she sped off...

"....think to myself
what a wonderful world
The colors of the rainbow
so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people passin by
I see..."

There's so much ugliness in the world and so much doubt by we mere mortals about whether we can actually make our lives meaningful; whether we are making the world a better place by being in it. Something as silly as hearing that song on a day when I am actually thinking what a wonderful place this world is was enough to make me smile this morning before I had even had coffee. And now that I have my coffee, I find myself smiling even more.

Thank you for indulging me.

(One last personal note -- It's Wino Wednesday at Shady Grove. I will be there, drinking wine heavily in celebration of hanging up my UPMC security badge. Come have a glass of merlot with Turkey, Poox and Beck.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"...I know nothing stays the same, but if you're willing to play the game, it's comin' around again..."

We all knew it was coming, but it's still one of those "HOLY CANOLI!" moments. And so is President Tadic's statement about international law at the end of the piece.

Kosovo Declares Its Independence


Published: February 17, 2008
Filed at 10:25 a.m. ET

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) -- Kosovo declared itself a nation on Sunday, mounting a historic bid to become an ''independent and democratic state'' backed by the U.S. and key European allies but bitterly contested by Serbia and Russia.

''Kosovo is a republic -- an independent, democratic and sovereign state,'' parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi said as the chamber burst into applause. Krasniqi, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and President Fatmir Sejdiu signed the declaration, which was scripted on parchment.

Across the capital, Pristina, revelers danced in the streets, fired guns into the air and waved red and black Albanian flags in jubilation at the birth of the world's newest country.

Serbian President Boris Tadic immediately rejected the independence bid, saying his country will never accept Kosovo's ''unilateral and illegal'' declaration.

Sunday's declaration was carefully orchestrated with the U.S. and key European powers, and Kosovo was counting on swift international recognition that could come as early as Monday, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, Belgium.

''From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free,'' said Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which battled Serbian troops in a 1998-99 separatist war that claimed 10,000 lives. ''We never lost faith in the dream that one day we would stand among the free nations of the world, and today we do.''

''Our hopes have never been higher,'' he told the assembly. ''Dreams are infinite, our challenges loom large, but nothing can deter us from moving forward to the greatness that history has reserved for us.''

Thaci pledged that the new nation would be ''a democratic, multiethnic state'' -- an attempt to reach out to Serbs who consider Kosovo the cradle of their medieval culture and religion.
But he also had stern words for the Serbian government, which last week declared secession illegal and invalid, saying in the Serbian language: ''Kosovo will never be ruled by Belgrade again.''

Reacting to the declaration, Serbian President Tadic urged international organizations ''to immediately annul this act, which violates the basic principles of international law.''

Friday, February 15, 2008

"...Cause things are gonna change so fast, all the white horses are still in bed..."

I wrote the following post after the Virginia Tech shooting last year and posted it to another blog. It's interesting to note that some of the points I made in that post are things we have discussed this semester in our class. The point I'm trying to make by re-posting something that is almost a year old is that it's hideous that this is just as timely now as it was all those months ago because of the shooting yesterday at Northern Illinois University:

"Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Where do we go from here?
Category: News and Politics

When things happen like the shooting at VA Tech yesterday, I find that the only thing I can think about is how it could have been prevented. I guess it's a hazzard of what I study in school. We're taught to look at disasters (man-made or natural) and piece together policy recommendations that, if adopted, can either prevent disasters or keep the damage the disasters cause to a minimum.

I've done an semester-long case study on hurricane Katrina. I've done research on Darfur and sexual violence during wartime. All of these incidents have long-term reprocussions. And none of them have simple solutions. I'm starting to think of the random gun violence that afflicts the US in the same light.

Before I learned how hard it is to adopt and implement new policies, I always thought gun crime would be preventable if there were tougher laws here in the US about who can buy guns and what kind of guns are allowed on the streets. As I do more research and see that the world is not black and white, but shades of gray, I have started to realize that all of the laws and policies in the world cannot stop anyone from doing what they want to do. Even if what they want to do is harmful or illegal or morally reprehensible. Laws and policies are only useful if the people the laws are made to protect are willing to accept them.

After seeing what happened yesterday on that college campus, I'm reminded of how fleeting life is. Of how lucky we all are to feel as safe as we do on a daily basis. So many people have so many critisisms of the US. I am one of those people. I don't agree with any of the domestic or international policies of the current administration. I do know that Americans have lives that are alot better than the average citizen of the world though. In many countries in the world, violence like the kind that happened yesterday in Virginia is a regular occurance; something the citizens of those countries have to deal with on a daily basis. Studying genocide and ethnic and gendered violence has opened my eyes to this. And it's made me more thankful for the things I have; for being lucky enough to have been born in a place as safe and policitally stable as the US.

But death and violence and political conflict need not make us cynical or harden us against the world. And this is something I need to remind myself, too. We all have to remember how tiny and rare and precious we all are in this world and that we are not, that none of us are alone in all of this mess. (Thank you, Jodie Foster speaking Carl Sagan's words in Contact.) And it is an event like the shooting at VA Tech that always reminds us of this.

Let the next step be remembering this all of the time. Let that be where we go from here.

Currently listening : Both Sides Now By Joni Mitchell Release date: By 21 March, 2000"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

You say "potato," I say "it's torture."

In his book "War Law," Michael Byers states:

"Previous administrations at least paid lip-service to the existence of normative constraints by concealing and denying their covert operations. The Bush Administration… lets the mask slip, to the discredit of the nation and… at the peril of the soldiers whom so many of the rules are designed to protect." (page 135)

In light of the Bush Administration's justification of waterboarding as a tactic to be used during interrogation of suspected terrorists detained by the US, this quote rings pretty true. It's almost as if by openly supporting waterboarding the current administration is taking the high road. As if they're saying, "Yes, we know some of you hippie liberals think this is bad. And that all of you Amnesty International folks think this is torture. But we're doing it for your own good and that makes us right. So really, you should be grateful. P.S. -- Watch your back. If we think you're a terrorist, we'll do it to you too."

As so many of us have said all of the time in class and on our blogs, IHL and norms are basically impossible to enforce. We as human beings have to rely on good defeating evil. But what is good and evil now? What if the good guys start doing bad things to win? Terrorism and suicide bombings and assassinations of political leaders begging for reform and genocide and sexual violence are rampant on our beautiful planet.

But is engaging in interrogation tactics like waterboarding, sexual humiliation and sleep deprivation for the people who are suspected of perpetrating these crimes justified? Eye for an eye? The crime is violent so we should punish the perpetrators by bringing more violence into the world?

No. No. A thousand times no.

Bush is doing an injustice to the Geneva Conventions by openly flouting them. But by doing so, he's also opening up everyone's eyes to exactly what is going on in the War on Terror. Better to know the evil that exists than to live in blissful ignorance. He would be doing a greater disservice to the Geneva Conventions by sneaking around and breaking the conventions while we all bicker about who the next president will be. At least this way, the international community and concerned citizens of the world can begin to raise their voices in protest.

I want to end this post by sharing another passage from Byers' book. It is hopeful and shares my sentiment that while IHL and norms are so freely broken by world leaders, we have to believe in something. So we may as well believe that all of these hard-to-enforce-norms will one day be adhered to and become enforceable:

"International humanitarian law is, in part, what you and I and the rest of the people on this planet determine it to be. In the lead-up to future wars - and throughout the ongoing occupation of Iraq- we should insist that all countries uphold the strict standards of international humanitarian law, not because it is expedient but because it is right." (page 126)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"...You are my sweetest downfall..."

I'm sitting here at Crazy Mocha reading over my policy memo to CIVIC and the more I read it over, the more I dislike it.

(Let me just make an aside and tell you that part of my irritation right now may be coming from the fact that the woman sitting next to me is listening to music on her laptop WITHOUT HEADPHONES. And I can hear it both over the music in the coffee shop and the Patty Griffin I am listening to on my headphones. She's violating a norm. And I should say something to her, but quiet frankly, I don't want to talk to anyone who listens to Taylor Swift in public.)

I think I dislike my memo for the same reason I ended up disliking my policy paper last term about reforming Sudanese rape laws: It's because realistically I know policy reform and norm building are really difficult things to execute. I know if the Sudanese government read my policy paper about reforming rape laws, the reccommendations would have been completely ignored (partially because I am a Westerner and partially because I am a woman -- which, whatever, they're entitled to their cultural norms but only to the extent that those norms don't turn into policies that actually end up endangering women even more.)

I find myself being much more of a realist these days. I fear that building a norm that would hold governments accountable for the harm they cause to civilians during war is next to impossible.

My policy memo is written with a light of hope and idealism shining on it. But my downfall these days is allowing my hopefullness to be severely tempered by doubt - doubt that the humanity of well... most humans... is enough to rely upon.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"...And the moment is slippin' away and the answers you give aren't that great..."

"You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that." -- Charlotte, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

I have a few moments to myself as I sit in this lovely house just outside of Philadephia, where people have come and gone all day. And I find myself thinking something so mundane that it might just be sublime...

When something happens, be it good or bad, and people gather to eat and talk and laugh and cry... there is one thing that most people want and need and when it's there, it is accepted willingly and almost unconciously. And when it's not there, it's a letdown --

It's a pot of coffee. That's it. It's simple and it's ordinary. But when you walk into someone's home and there is a pot of coffee sitting on the counter, it's like you're being told, "yes, it's okay to stay long enough for a cup of coffee. Actually, can you? I'd like that."

I've never been the strongest person in my family or even in my group of friends nor am I one of those amazingly poised people who just instinctively knows what to do in troubling situations.

But if there is one thing I know how to do, it's make a good pot of coffee. And today, that one gesture is (aside from hugging my dear friend) the only substantive thing I've been able to do.

And somehow... maybe that's enough.

The point of exposing this particular soft and extremely personal anecdote to all of you is to point out another norm with which I think we all struggle: having the humanity to know when to stand back and not say anything even when you want to talk and think you know the right thing to say. Because more often than not when someone is grieving, nothing you say can help. So you stand back. And hold a hand. And be a friend... then walk away to put on another pot of coffee.