Okay so it’s not really math camp, it’s a math research program, whatever. I’m here. And guys, I’m not going to fail! You knew that...
I go to at least one event in Parliament a week, so I figured I should keep track of them somehow.
The Arab Spring and Israel’s Security, Professor Benny Morris (leading scholar of the Arab-Israeli conflict and commentator on Israel’s Foreign Policy)
Benny Morris mostly discussed how the Arab Spring will have greater effects on Israel and other parts of the world. For example, it may be working as a distraction that’s letting Iran further their nuclear program. He also warned that the new Egyptian government may not adhere to the pro-Israel policies and treaties of the old regime.
Russia’s Elections: Where next for human rights? William Browder (anti-corruption campaigner and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management) and Michael Weiss (Director of Communications at the Henry Jackson Society)
Moral of the story: Russian politics are corrupt. Really, really corrupt. Michael Weiss, who I work with at HJS, gave some background on the current political situation in Russia. William Browder, who, at one point, was the largest foreign investor in Russia, told a chilling story of one of his lawyers who eventually died in a Russian prison after being denied medical treatment that demonstrated the many levels of corruption and human rights violations going on in Russia.
The Arab World’s Struggle with Modernity, Dr. Tarek Heggy (a leading Egyptian liberal political thinker and bestselling author)
He briefly traced the origin of the Islam vs. modernity conflict, then he focused on the situation in Egypt. He believes that the Egyptian Christians, women, and liberal Muslims can work together to make sure the Muslim Brotherhood do not gain complete political power.
After the Arab Spring: The Future of the US Human Rights Promotion, Lawrence Haas (Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy at the American Foreign Policy Council and former Communications Director for Vice President Al Gore)
Good speaker. Talked about what US human rights promotion is, how we do it, how it helps, its limits, and the role it will play in the future. He reminded us that the US may have to make short-term compromises for long-term results.
My flatmates always have visitors from home. The Romanians have friends from their hometown who live in London, and the German has friends who can just fly over for a weekend trip. Finally, this past week, I had my own visitors!
One of my friends from Denmark was in London for a few days, so I got to meet up with her for dinner and briefly during my lunch break. It was so great to see her! She has done so much traveling, so it was fun to hear about some of her most recent adventures in Japan and Malaysia. We also talked about the frisbee team I played with (which is how I met her in the first place); they had a frisbee camp weekend thing is southern Denmark, which they had invited me to. It didn’t work out with my schedule, but it sounded like it was a good time! Spending time with her really made me miss Denmark, so hopefully I can go back and visit soon.
I also got to see one of my teammates from home, Linda Ding! She’s studying in Brussels for the summer, so she and her friends came to London for a weekend trip. We went to the Borough Market, which has basically every kind of delicious food you could ever want.
After having a lot of free samples and eating lunch, we wandered down the river to the Tate Modern Museum. Some if it was pretty cool, and some of it definitely went over my head. It’s really great that the permanent exhibits are free, so I would definitely consider going back on a rainy day. Anyways, it was great to see a friend from home - yay for Whiptails in Europe!
I think my lack of posting kind of shows how used to London I’m getting. I’ve really enjoyed settling in and developing some routines, not just feeling like a tourist here for a temporary stay. This weekend, for instance, I didn’t feel the need to join the hoards of people at the museums or Buckingham Palace or what have you. Instead, I wandered through used book stores and spent a hot and sunny Sunday at a park with some friends. I know there is so much for me to see and do in this city, but it’s nice having these kinds of lazy summer weekends. I’ll get to some of it eventually…
I’ve been able to spend more time with the other interns, both for after work drinks and on the weekends, and I’ve been able to hang out with my flatmates some more (update: old Romanian flatmate left and was replaced by a new Romanian). It’s pretty cool having such an international groups of friends here.
Work has also been pretty good. Some administrative stuff, more terrorist profiling, skimming articles about religion, etc. I went to an HJS event in Parliament last week where Benny Morris spoke (apparently Musharraf was talking in the next room over), and I’ll be going to another one tomorrow about Russia’s elections and human rights. Hopefully I’ll have more to report soon!
As part of my internship, I have to (get to?) attend events the HJS hosts at Parliament. Tough life, I know. Today’s topic:
The Economic Crisis and The Quest for Economic Meaning
Woah. Not a small undertaking.
In a small room in the House of Commons, Stephen Hammond MP introduced the talk. The speaker was Dr. Thomas Sedlacek, Chief Macroeconomic Strategist at CSOB and member of the National Economic Council in Prague. Oh, and the financial adviser to the first Czech president after the fall of communism. In his research, Dr. Sedlacek looks at the relationship between economics and society, drawing on religious stories, parables, and myths to explain economic concepts. He covered a lot of interesting aspects of the current state of the economy, so here’s my interpretation of a few of his points.
He started the talk by explaining the first recorded business cycle: the story of Joseph and the Egyptian Pharaoh. According to this Biblical story, the Pharaoh had a dream about 7 fat cows and 7 thin cows, and he asked Joseph how he should interpret it. Good ole Joe told the Pharaoh that his dream was a prediction of the next 14 years: 7 good and 7 bad. His advice? Do not eat everything they produced during the good years, but rather store some of the surplus for the bad years. The result: the good years will be a little bit worse and the bad years a little better. He contrasts this story with our current business cycle: instead of heeding Joe’s advice, we spent more during our good years and borrow more during our bad years. Our good years were better and our bad years are worse. He suggests that we should return to Joseph’s advice in order to get out of this bad part of the business cycle. The role of the modern economist, therefore, is not always to increase GDP growth, but to ensure that the bad years aren’t so bad.
He also talked about the interconnectedness of the economy, especially in Europe. There’s no such thing as a “Greek debt” - it is a pan-European debt. The Greeks did not get themselves into their current state alone - poor investments from other countries, for instance, did not help prevent the decline. He thinks it is wrong to believe the European economy, especially of the countries using the Euro, can be severed off in such a way. Okay, are you ready for this comparison? The European economy is more like a cow than a loaf of bread. If you slice a load of bread in half, you can still put it back together to resemble the original loaf; not much is lost in the separation. But if you slice a cow in half, sure, you’ll still have two halves of a whole cow, but you have lost something, life, that will make it something different if you try to put it back together. We can’t think of the economic troubles of Greece, Spain, Iceland, etc as separate problems because they are all, in good times and bad, tied together.
This mentality feeds into his idea that there is only a certain amount of “energy” to be had by all. He explained this concept with a common experience: The Hangover. Say, on a Friday night, you go out and have a lot of energy - you drink, dance, talk to people you wouldn’t normally have the energy or confidence to talk to, etc. You aren’t really getting extra energy from anywhere, you are just borrowing this energy from Saturday morning. So, since you used up this energy on Friday night, you should expect to not have as much energy to use the next day. The economy works in a similar way because you can’t simply create more energy when you feel like it. You need to anticipate when you will need energy and when you have to store it for the future. Use your energy wisely.
Another of his major points was about the connection, or lack there of, between monetary and fiscal policies. As it is right now, politicians have no control over monetary issues, but they can control fiscal issues, like the level of debt; their monetary hand is tied, but their fiscal one is free. But since they cannot control monetary policies, they can’t really just produce as much money as they need with the click of a button, their role with fiscal policies must be compromised. He argues that politicians should either have control of both monetary and fiscal policies or neither, either both hands should be tied or both should be free. I did get a little confused here - if politicians did not control fiscal policies either, then who would? Anyways, I think his take home point for this idea is that politicians, in the current system, should be able to meet their goals with the economic means they are given.
Dr. Sedlacek was a good speaker. He made economic principles accessible to the non-economists in the room, and brought up a range of modern myths and stories, like Avatar and Lord of the Rings, to explain some concepts. He has recently published a book called The Economics of Good and Evil, which I think I want to read - it seems like a good way not only to actually learn about economics, but also to gain a new perspective on stories and myths from religion and society and see how they’re relevant in a different way. Well done, Dr. Sedlacek, well done.
Part of my religion in the public sphere research involves looking for all of the news articles that make certain claims about religion in three different London newspapers (The Guardian, The Telegraph, and the Daily Mail) from the past 10 years. That is a lot. of. articles. I’m just about to finish looking through all of the 2000 Guardian articles that include the word “Christian”. I found this article from March 3, 2000 and, though it’s completely irrelevant to the project, I thought it was entertaining. Enjoy!
Z is for zonked;
A Guardian guide to the US elections xxxxxxx
SECTION: Guardian Leader Pages; Pg. 23
LENGTH: 310 words
For those who feel that the US electoral system makes the rules of cricket look simple, we offer this handy alphabetical guide to next week’s climactic Super Tuesday primaries.
A: Al, as in Gore. Vice-president, Democratic frontrunner, woodentop.
B: Beauty contest. A popular vote not involving delegates or swimsuits.
C: Christian right. Scary stuff.
D: Delegates. People in funny hats who wave flags at party conventions.
E: Exit, as in polls. Treat with care.
F: Founding Fathers. Traitors to the British Crown. It’s all their fault.
G: George, as in W Bush. Republican money-bags, fake Texan, Mommy’s boy.
H: House, as in White. DC rent-free pad, 42 previous occupiers, vacant soon.
I: Independent, as in voter. Swingers, Vietnam vets, John McCain supporters.
J: Jewish vote. Absolutely crucial in New York, less so in Idaho.
K: Knicks. Bill Bradley’s basketball team which proved white men can jump.
L: Lewinsky, as in Monica. Also known as Clinton fatigue. ‘Nuff said.
M: Monica, as in Lewinsky. Stop it!
N: Negative advertising. Telling lies in the privacy of other people’s homes.
O: As in ‘Oh gee! Mom! I won the primary!’ (Calm down, George).
P: Political action committee. Lobbyists who buy the candidates and the elections on behalf of corporate America.
Q: Quayle, as in ex-Veep Dan. Sadly, he dropped out early on. Spell potatoe, Dan.
R: Registered voters, or (loosely) party members. Bush and Gore’s core support.
S: Stump. Remains of a tree (see ‘A’).
T: TV debates. In which candidates spontaneously exchange hurtful barbs from carefully rehearsed scripts.
U: Unimpressed. Condition of most voters, who will abstain next week.
V-W: Vote-winner. A policy everybody can agree with (like bombing Saddam).
X: As in kissing babies.
Z: Zoo. It sure is.
I’ve had a market-full weekend: Portobello Road market yesterday and Spitalfields market today!
Portobello Road is in Notting Hill - yes, as in the movie. It’s a long street of antique stores, clothing shops, and restaurants, and on the weekends, it turns into an open-air market! Stalls with antique maps, London souvenirs, and fresh food line the streets. There’s also an area just of vintage clothes and jewelry:
It was really, really busy. I got a little overwhelmed and didn’t buy anything (well, besides a loaf of fresh bread and a pastry), but now that I’ve gotten a feel for the place, I want to go back and actually do some shopping (since I’ll have so much room in my luggage when I leave…)
Today, Melanie, her friend Nina, and I went to the Spitalfields Market. We had been planning on doing this guidebook walking-tour of the Shoreditch area that goes to a some markets, stores, and other toursity sites. Buuuut it was cold (in the 50s!) and rainy (ooooh, London), so we ended up just staying at this first stop. It’s a large covered market that has mostly hand made and vintage goods, and I got some scarves and really delicious smelling tea (with papaya, pineapple, strawberry, raspberry, and rose petals…mmmmmm).
We also got to hear some live music! Lydia’s friend Jeni’s band was playing at a cafe/bar right off of the market. The concert was on the bottom floor of this 3-story restaurant, cafe, bar place called Luxe. Her band (Undeciders) was great! We also stuck around for the group after them, which was a jazzy jam band. They did a pretty cool sax-y and keyboard-y cover of “Smell’s Like Teen Spirit.” Pretty solid ending to a summer London weekend!
Here’s a brief overview of my recent fun and work adventures:
Thursday, June 2nd
My German flatmate Melanie and I went for a jog in Regent’s Park. In the afternoon, we wandered around the city and eventually ended up in SoHo, where we stopped for a late-afternoon coffee & crepe break; we ate outside and people-watched. I wanted to buy little bedside lamp for my room, so, after consulting our handy travel guides, we found a department store called Liberty. The store is in a big tudor-style building, and I loved the designs of their clothes, furniture, and everything in between. They definitely had lamps, but I didn’t really want to spend £80 pounds on one…
We cooked dinner together (mmm risotto!) and then went to a pub down the street with our two flatmates and one of their friends.
Friday, June 3rd
The weather was so nice! We decided we wanted to spend some time near the Thames. We’re still trying to figure out the lay of the land over here, so Melanie and I meandered our way there. We knew we wanted to go kind of south-west, so we just used the sun to give us our bearings and took a bunch of small, winding streets there. We ended up at Trafalgar Square again, and then walked towards Parliament and Westminster Abbey. We found a quiet little park next to the river and rested there for a bit.
I met up with another Wellesley intern for dinner. Afterwards, my flatmates and I headed to Camden and hung out there for a while. Meanwhile, Melanie, while out with a friend from Germany, had her wallet stolen! So lame. So, kids, don’t learn the lesson the hard way: always know where your wallet is!
Saturday, June 4th
I felt a cold coming on, so I didn’t do much. The closest Boots, where I needed to go to get meds and tissues etc., is in the St. Pancaras train station. It’s always interesting walking through there because you get to see so many foreign people go and coming, hear different languages, and even watch someone wearing a crocodile costume sing through the station.
Sunday, June 5th
I was still feeling sick, but didn’t want to stay inside all day, so I went for a walk. I went to Regent’s Park, where they were having the London Green Fair. It was pretty much a combination of Solarfest and Earthfest: live music, good food, and booths selling vintage and eco-friendly items. On my way back from the park, I stopped at a jumble. Doesn’t that sound so fun?! It was! It really was just a super hipster rummage sale in the basement of a building on a tiny road. There was a lot of cool stuff, but I didn’t end up buying anything.
Monday, June 6th
First day of my internship! The office is a 10 minute walk from my flat, and I don’t have to start until 9:30 am - so nice! I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the internship as the summer goes on, but I’ll describe it a little here. For 10 weeks, I’ll be interning at The Henry Jackson Society, a political think tank that focuses on human rights and liberal democracy. My internship was originally with The Centre For Social Cohesion, but it recently merged with HJS.
Four other interns also started on the 6th. We met the other interns who had been there a bit longer and learned about the projects of each main researcher. Topics ranged from the modern silk road concept to drone warfare to events in Libya. I’m really interested in the two projects I’ve started working on: one involves profiling terrorists in the US, and the other involves looking at the role of religion in public in the UK. I really think I lucked out with these topics!
The office seems to be really busy this week. The new Prevent anti-terrorist policy the UK government just announced today draws on some of the work of the Centre for Social Cohesion previously released. On Monday alone, at least 4 people were interviewed for TV news reports, including BBC London and Sky News! I’m really excited to be working with these knowledgeable people all summer - and not just getting coffee for them, but actually doing research for them.
Later that night, Melanie and I decided that we didn’t want to just sit in the flat for the rest of the night. We went to a place called O’Neill’s in Liecester Square. I was surprised how busy it was for a Monday night! We jammed to their live cover band and then called it a night.
Tuesday, June 7th
We get an hour for a lunch break everyday. Many of the employees don’t actually have the time to take the whole time off and often grab food and eat it at their desks. But it’s kind of nice being able to leave the office for a while to get food. There are a bunch of little places to eat in the area, especially since we’re so close to King’s Cross station, but I ended up going to Tesco today. It seems to be a thing that business people in the area do. It’s really kind of funny walking in and seeing a bunch of other people wearing suits and business-casual clothing standing in front of the big isle of pre-made sandwiches and salads. I took the food back to the office and ate with some of the other interns - they all seem nice, and I hope I get to know them better!