Thursday, March 10, 2011

In for a penny, in for a pound

Now that I'm back in Research City, I have no intention of leaving again until my postdoc finishes.  This is what I tell myself whenever I feel a twinge of fear from watching the news, reading the news, or, as occasionally happens lately, witnessing the news occurring.  One can only evacuate so many times in a season, right?  The fact that my fellowship is still going on at all, and that I'm able to live in my apartment and move around my neighborhood at will is enough all by itself to make being here worthwhile.  Even if other parts of town were intermittently too dangerous to venture into from time to time – and that really isn't true for me as yet – I could always hole up right here, concentrate on writing, and still do something valuable for my professional development.  It'll take more than, um, a number of violent deaths and hints of more serious violence to come to make me up and go.  Especially when I just re-stocked my liquor cabinet at duty-free!

Without getting too much into the issues here, there's some genuine nastiness afoot in RC nowadays, and not all of it can be blamed on the bad old regime stirring up trouble.  I'm sure they are, but as any pseudologist worth hir salt can tell you, people do not do what they do solely because malevolent, shadowy forces manipulate them into doing it.  And a lot of people around here, despite their generally sound analytical instincts, are forgetting that fact in their intense desire to pin the blame on the bad guys.  Grimly ironic, considering the divide-and-rule tactics the former government here pursued for decades. 

What I think I'm seeing in RC nowadays is one of the less savory effects of a political revolution: a bunch of not-so-great opinions and prejudices that were repressed from public airing in a number of ways are now being blared aloud, along with the more constructive opinions and ideas.  The line from I, Claudius comes to me: "Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out."  They're hatching, all right.

At present, I think the little voice in my head fretting about a second evacuation is just paranoia.  I already feel cowardly and substandard enough as it is, having evacuated once.  Even so, I'm trying to keep my ear to the ground for hints of a larger wave of violence and anarchy, since those are really the only things that can scare me away.  (Besides total open-ended lack of internet; I'll admit it.)  It's tougher than it used to be: several important news channels that broadcast in RC-ish are currently blocked, or at least aren't getting through to my satellite dish.  That makes me even more dependent on the internet — and I think you can all figure out why that is not necessarily comforting.  But I'm hopeful that this paranoia remains just that, and I can spend the next few months occasionally reminding myself to stay calm while continuing my research unmolested.

And don't even get me started on coffee.  I brew my coffee at home in a French press, and since I returned to RC, there's no goddamn whole coffee to be had here, and there's no ground coffee coarse enough to use in a press.  (For those not in the know, espresso-ground coffee is too fine for the press filter, and ends up clogging it.)  The place near me that sells coffee beans that it can grind to order told me today that they won't have any for sale until the end of the month.  Holy caffeine withdrawal!  I may have to take a taxi out to the other roaster I know of, several miles away, after I call to confirm that they have beans in stock.  Meanwhile, I swallowed my pride and bought a small container of Nescafe to see me through.  Hard times, people. 

On a thematically related note, I notice that the US and its allies are still dithering about how to respond to the mounting violence and flat-out insanity on display over in, uh, Gonzo Country.  While it's hard to watch people struggling to liberate themselves from an oppressive dictator with long odds of success, I at least understand intellectually why not much is happening: in for a penny, in for a pound.  It's not easy to commit to a no-fly zone over GC without implicitly committing to later ground warfare.  Could we do that?  Sure.  But is it a good idea, in the wake of the clusterfucks we made for ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Maaaaaaaybe not so much.  Unintended consequences have loomed large in those arenas, and now the US is once bitten and twice shy.  (Er, twice bitten and thrice shy?)  The PR effects are hard to gauge, but surely the US government now recognizes – I mean, Christ, they must have picked up on this by now, right? – that they are not playing in the big leagues when it comes to public image work in a big swath of this region, and they tend to let others define the politics for them, and then they play catch-up belatedly and, more often than not, unsuccessfully.  Sending in troops to depose a dictator in a country full of Muslims whose sole major industry is petroleum and whose system of government would have to be re-built from the ground up...well hey, what could possibly go wrong? 

All of this knowledge, of course, doesn't make me feel much better that my country is basically telling a bunch of very brave and very endangered people in GC, "We salute you, we respect you, and you sorry bastards are on your own here.  Lotsa luck!"  The emotional pull of seeing people risk their lives to free themselves from tyranny is, no doubt, part of why an entire wing of the discipline of Pseudology is devoted to intellectually aiding activist movements.  I've never been in that wing, for various reasons, but I certainly understand the impulse at moments like this.  At best, the US is stuck in a no-win PR situation, but those people rising up against their ruler may be trapped in a far worse no-win situation, barring a miracle.


  1. Poor thing, no coffee! You'll just have to suck it up and make sure to mention it in your memoirs.

    And if you're having trouble getting internet, then at least you're not being inundated with news of Charlie Sheen, I bet. Take comfort in the small things!

  2. Back in the day in RC, I briefly used the finer coffee in a French press with a filter over the press part. It worked okay (kept me caffeinated), until my husband knocked the French press off the counter and it met its demise. Plus, you can't evacuate if they let you return!

  3. @Sisyphus: My internet is actually pretty solid these days. And even if it weren't, I find that, when I call my family to say hello, they manage to ask me if I've heard the latest scandal about Charlie Sheen. Apparently, there is no escape at all.

    @Shedding: I'm not good with amateur engineering like that; I tend to screw things up instead of making them work properly. Plus, I have just confirmed that a good coffee roaster across town has beans in stock, and they're easy to reach via public transportation. Field trip, ahoy!

    As for evacuation, I can leave if I have to, because I have a survival instinct. Plus, as a matter of bureaucracy, I didn't take one of the formally designated evacuation flights; technically, I took a very timely commercial flight. And, as far as Evacuation Country was concerned, I was there for vacation. If I have to evacuate again, it would only be in case of serious, sustained disaster; I was discussing this possibility with my fellowship coordinator. Evacuation in that sense would be fleeing a sinking ship, which, of course, we all hope does not come to pass.