Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading Has Risen, and It is High.

#433rds: 04/17/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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The Beinecke Library will temporarily close next year. 50 years old and having never seen a good renovation, the building’s ugly innards need to be examined. I worked there for about a year and a half, deep under this modern stone-walled building. It is beautiful, it is elegant, it is important. It also needs to be gutted and strengthened from the inside out. It doesn’t need a whole reinventing, but it needs to a renovation.

As I whirl from the news of not getting into any PhD programs, I wonder when and where to apply again. How do I reinvent myself? What were my weak points? What were my strong ones? What schools would I be happy at? What schools would I hate? What do I do next? These are, of course, also existential questions that I use to string myself along.

Another thing that needs to be reinvented is the tenure track at Yale. One of the few universities where it’s still virtually impossible to move from tenure-track to tenured, Yale loses its junior faculty at what I assume is a faster pace than most places. At other universities, there aren’t even tenure-track positions to go through before being denied tenure. And yet, in a time rife with denial and rejection, I continue to try to be strong and persevere. I want to teach. I want to write. I want to get there.

 

“Invisible Children does not claim to be neutral.”

I’m deep into thesis territory. Currently hovering around page 110, madly pounding away at the keyboard. The chapter I’m working on is about two things, primarily: AFRICOM’s involvement in Uganda, and Invisible Children’s involvement in counter-LRA interventions. Yesterday afternoon I had just finished wrapping up a section suggesting that Invisible Children, by involving itself in military strategy, further blurred the distinction* between military humanitarian intervention and humanitarian/development relief (IC does both).

Many NGOs active in war zones collaborate to some extent with militaries, for better or for worse. In the LRA conflict, many used UPDF convoys to deliver goods, and toed the government line when it came to how to direct aid. But Invisible Children’s activities don’t use military support to carry out development aid. They coordinate with the military to help direct counter-LRA initiatives.

Then I happened upon this just-published short article on Invisible Children post-Kony 2012. It’s pretty bare-bones (if you’re interested in the topic, this piece does it more justice), but it includes some discussion of exactly this topic of an NGO’s role in military activity (sans analysis):

Invisible Children keeps a staff of about 80 people on the ground in Africa. They run programs dropping leaflets from airplanes to encourage LRA soldiers to lay down their arms, and setup a high frequency radio network so that remote villages can report LRA activities and movements.

Unlike other NGOs, which usually try to stay neutral in conflict zones to do their work, Invisible Children doesn’t apologize for actively supporting efforts to track down Kony, with help from both the US military and national armies in the region.

“Invisible Children does not claim to be neutral. You know, we are not in this conflict saying we are not going to take sides,” says Sean Poole, the anti-LRA program manager for Invisible Children.

This isn’t revelatory. Invisible Children has long stood behind their “comprehensive approach” that blends peace-oriented come home messaging and Safe Reporting Sites with more offensive maneuvers. But it’s an explicit statement of that fact. They see themselves as not neutral, but on the side of peace.

Agree with that framework or not, it’s a feature of the discourse around the international human rights regime. Because the LRA are guilty of human rights abuses and are indicted by the ICC, efforts to pursue them are legitimized with little regard to their consequences. And regardless of whether the current efforts against the LRA can be characterized as “good” or “bad,” the quote above is representative of human rights discourse and humanitarian intervention overall, from Darfur to Libya to Syria.

*The existence of this distinction itself is also up for debate. To a large extent, humanitarian interventions, armed or not, deploy a mixture of unequal, dehumanizing, and (in)directly violent power relations. Mamdani  [pdf] argues that humanitarian intervention reifies international power structures and depoliticizes those deemed “vulnerable,” and Branch goes into all sorts of detail on how humanitarian interventions (military and non-military) have exacerbated the LRA conflict in particular in his book on the topic.

#433rds: 4/16/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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I haven’t left the common room.* The stained glass overhead consists of an old man adorned in gold armor, holding a vessel aloft to an incredibly witch-like woman (off-camera); either a very cruel dentist hard at work or a man force-feeding someone a pair of pliers; and a couple with a dog at what could be a bar or a pharmacy or both. The images that adorn these windows dominate much of the otherwise gray wall space. For how diverse they are, the color palette is decidedly narrow: black and white and yellow dominate the images of farmers, wooly mammoth skeletons, and mermaids.

The images are rarely, if ever, a guide for me. I go where my friends go, I go where the outlets are, I go where I can see through the dust on my laptop screen. But I sit most often under the aforementioned mammoth and volcano, flanked by a forest, a woman, and Old Faithful. For how little these images figure in my everyday, I despise the people sitting under Old Faithful. They are my foes, as much as my coursework is. If I can’t sit under Ice Age fossils, nobody can.

Maybe I just need to chill, to feed myself, grab a drink. I should hit the bar (or pharmacy, as it were). If the Mammoth can’t be my Muse, perhaps the Dentist can be my Guide.

* This is a lie.

#433rds: 4/15/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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Do.

I am about 3/4ths finished with my workload, but about 47/50ths done with the school year, which means it’s time I just buckle down and do it. Just do. Every tangent must be fought off. Every divergence taken out. Every source footnoted and image captioned. Everything that needs doing needs to be done.

Finding a place to be productive can be a challenge in and of itself. I’ve had productive afternoons in the graduate student common room. There are cozy booths to settle into, and stained glass figures mundane and exotic. The clang of metal appliances and the aroma of coffee from the little café that sits in the middle of the room. And the most ornate ceiling I’ve seen on a campus filled with details. It’s a place to admire, but it’s also a place to do work. Do.

Curiously, it’s not always a place one can go to do work. It closes prematurely in the late evening, even early evening on weekends and during school breaks. While college students here enjoy the pleasures of residential college common rooms and libraries that are open all day, all year, the graduate students are left with beautiful common room with a closing time. All we want is a cove to call our own. A place to do work whenever we want to. We’ve fought for student space before, the struggle has seemed endless, but the end may be near. Cost estimates are coming in, resolutions have been passed, reports published. All that’s left is to take the keys out and leave the door open so we can just do our thing.

Weekend Reading

Weekend reading marches on:

#433rds: 4/10/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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I was sitting on the 3:50 train into New York City yesterday, curled up in my window seat, reading a book for class, jotting down some notes. A group of Yankees fans were lit, openly pregaming in the aisle, and the two undergrad/high school boys in front of me alternated between talking about sex and girlfriends vs. the music they were listening to. It was otherwise quiet.

Somewhere in western Connecticut, the train slowed, the electricity flickered, and only the lights by the doors stayed lit. The Yankees fans exchanged tipsy jokes about being stuck on the train, the youths talked about Brand New. The conductor announced that the pantographs weren’t connecting, and that mechanics were on their way to reattach them. I don’t think many passengers know what a pantograph is; I didn’t.

I immediately wondered if there were any phalanges on the train.

#433rds: 4/9/14

This is part of a month-ish-long blog/Instagram project. For more, go here.

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The weather is finally getting better. And by better I mean the wind is still awful, allergies are kicking in and I don’t even get the pleasure of real warmth, but at least it’s not freezing and there’s no ice packed onto the sidewalks. The sun’s out, but I still need a sweater, although it doesn’t have to be wool (I don’t own anything wool anyways). The weather’s nice enough to be deemed enjoyable.

The sky is clear, and while I was walking outside I snapped (yet another) photo of a late 19th-century building that belonged to the owner of a New Haven garment factory, since turned into a fancy apartment complex.

Living in a factory is one of those chic, trendy things that middle-class people do in urban settings these days. With walls of brick, exposed pipes, and all of the downtown lifestyle that comes with it. The people who live in factories might not generally wear a full outfit of pink with golden horses like the suit I laid my Scrabble tiles on.

But, damn, they should.

#433rds.

A friend of mine is doing a thing, and it is a thing I am going to try to do too. It’s called #433rds, and it is fairly simple:

For the month of April:

  1. At 3 pm every day, take a photo. Post on Instagram.
  2. Take 30 Bananagram tiles and arrange them into words in 3 minutes or less.
  3. Write something that day based on those two inputs. (Or, if you’re feeling Cage-y, don’t.)

I don’t have Bananagram tiles. I also will not always be free at 3pm. I also have pressing matters to attend to. But these are precisely the reasons that I will occasionally be playing with Scrabble tiles and photographing and writing about it. The desire to take photos, the need to not thesis, the fun of finding new ways to write. Anyways: Day 1 (err…. the 8th) is below:

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I just heard about this project earlier this afternoon. My decision to participate (however briefly it will last) was impromptu. I thought about sitting in a café to try and do some work, but decided that if I came home I could play with Scrabble tiles before getting down to business.

My day and the plans I have for it are certainly seeping through. I tried twice to spell out “thesis” with my tiles, but ended up with “these.” I had to include “meow” the second I saw the M and W. Not only is Jonathan, our new cat, the subject of my photo, but this morning I publicly debated letting him have his own Twitter account. And this isn’t the first time I’ve taken a photo I’ve taken of him overseeing his fiefdom from on high. Also he’s adorable.

Lastly, Men in Black is on Syfy this week. Not only did I already know that, but it prompted me to place those peripheral tiles down in that form as I ran out of time. I am clearly bad at this game and these projects.

Weekend Skimming

This weekend’s reading list is brief. Thesis duties abound and, while brushing up on my weekend reading through the week has helped me disengage from the research, I can rarely afford to disengage now. What follows is a small collection of whatever I read this week when I refused to thesis. It’s a smart bet that weekend reading will be light to non-existent for the next month or so, dear readers. If you find yourself itching for a fix, mosey on over to The New Inquiry‘s Features page and look for Big Sunday Reading. There’s bound to be lots of good stuff.