Friday, September 28, 2007

Tying up loose ends

3.5 hours writing, 0.5 hours reading, 1 hour emailing, page count = 133

Tailoring work continues on It Takes a Village, as I edited another another two chapters of the manuscript. I have one more to go on Monday. Not much more really needed to be cut, there was still some repetition, but the basic ideas are there. As I’ve gone through the document, I’ve highlighted places where I need to add cites or flesh out ideas, so that, along with prep for my trip to Colombia, will be next week’s tasks. Editing the empirical chapters has been particularly helpful because it's focused me on exactly what additional data I need to gather on my trip.

In terms of reading, I’ve been catching up on Colombian news online to get up to speed on current events in advance of my trip.

Thanks to Matt Sumner for being this week’s monitor! Next up is his wife Laura Malchow, also in Oakland. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy

1.5 hours writing, 3 hours reading, 1 hour emailing, 1 hour planning, page count = 130

The tailor's week continues on It Takes a Village. I took the scissors and measuring tape to the methodology chapter and removed the billowy extra cloth of the erstwhile 3-state comparison. Like on those exercise-machine infomercials where they show what a pound of fat physically looks like, I have a trophy/memento mori of my own, a file called "Cut from Dissertation," that's now up to about 19 pages. Which means, given that I was at 142 not so long ago, that I've put back in about 7 new, better pages. So the integration proceeds apace. Tomorrow I move on to the empirical chapters.

In terms of reading, I went back to one of the texts that first got me onto this topic, Fernando Lopez-Alves's State Formation and Democracy in Latin America. Lot of food for thought in there, as well as a few things with which to disagree. His chapter on Colombia covers a lot of ground, synthesizes a good deal of literature, and provides many useful insights. I hadn't read it in many years, so it was good to return to one of the sources of my thinking on this project. (Though in truth it's been more than a decade that I've been trying in one way or another to write about La Violencia....)

Continued planning for my upcoming travels, including Colombia, Princeton (looking a little iffy, depends on who's available), and Berkeley. Lots of frequent-flyer miles to be had!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Leavin' on a jet plane

2 hours writing, 1.5 hours reading, 1 hour emailing / travel planning, page count = 136

Continued to work my way through the manuscript, removing extraneous stuff and adding in new material where appropriate. I'm doing a fair bit of rearranging passages, actually. Given the piecemeal way I've worked on this project over the last few years prior to this June, there was a good deal of repetition when I brought all this different pieces together and arranged them into one. It's starting to hang together better as a single document, but there's still a way to go in that regard.

Also, I got my ticket for Colombia! My trip is set for October 9-27. I'm really looking forward to getting back into the archives, and of course, to seeing family and friends down there. I haven't been since 2003. I'm also planning trips to Princeton and Yale to attend seminars and meet with professors and graduate students. Ah, the joys of being in a train-friendly region. I'll also be gong to Berkeley in November to present at my department's Latin Americanist seminar. After a nice stretch at home this month, it's back to traveling in October.

On the reading side, I prepped for the Antioquia state archives by going through Blood and Fire to identify episodes of police aggression worth following up on. I got some ideas about the types of data I can gather that would put a unique spin on my project.

On the career side, I reached out to a number of colleagues to get more advice and job ideas. I want to keep that up, and see if I can't set up some appointments for when I get back from Colombia.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Snip, snip

3 hours writing, page count = 134

Had an informational interview today with a colleague who works at a leading philanthropic advisory firm. You can tell she gives advice for a living, because her comments were very strategic and to the point. A big help! I spent a good bit of time catching up on the philanthropic press in preparation for the meeting.

I continued going through the manuscript, today focusing on the police chapter (now the security-force chapter) and the methodology chapter. I pruned a good deal of extraneous material, and as a result, my net page count is down; I did, however, add in a couple of pages of new material.

Thanks to Villager Geordan Drummond for the suggestion, via the comments section, to keep the how-the-chapters-are-going tally as a recurring feature. You'll now find that on the right-hand side of the blog, below the list of Villager websites, including Geordan's.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Structure and soccer tacos

3 hours writing, 1 hour reading, 1 hour meeting, 0.5 hours emailing, page count = 142

This week's monitor is Matt Sumner, in Oakland. Matt is my wife Cathy's oldest brother, and he got married last month in San Francisco. We had a great time at the wedding. Matt's an interior designer, loves monkeys, and hates mushrooms. Welcome Matt!

Had lunch today with a former UC Berkeley classmate who's now a professor at NYU. We had a good conversation about strategies for completing the dissertation, life as an assistant professor, and his reseach on public opinion and party appeals on issues. Our class appears to have done pretty well on the job market, which is great to hear, and I have to say, not that surprising....

Today I started going back through the manuscript so far and identifying what needs to be pruned and where I need to look up additional cites. I also made two big structural changes: the chapter on the police is now about security forces more broadly, although the police continue to be featured prominently; and the section on Latin America-wide comparisons moved from Chapter 6 (Colombia in comparative perspective) to Chapter 2 (Research Design). I figure I need to give the big picture in Chapter 2, motivate the choice of Colombia as the case study, and then come back at the end to do comparative vignettes about a select number of other countries, based on the big picture. Which means the kernel of Chapter 6 that I previously had has now been absorbed into another chapter. Gulp! But I still know what countries I want to look at there, so there's at least a basic structure to build on.

Time for a status check on the overall structure:
  • Introduction: Decent second draft in place

  • Chapter 1: Understanding Security-Force Configurations: First draft was in LASA paper, making changes based on feedback to broaden focus from police systems to security-force configurations

  • Chapter 2: Main Argument and Research Design: Close to a first draft, need to revise the piece about subnational comparisons (switch from Santander/Tolima to Antioquia) and accommodate the newly-moved piece about the Latin American big picture

  • Chapter 3: Colombia 1819-86: Antecedents to the Critical Juncture: Most of a first draft in place; need to go through it once

  • Chapter 4: Colombia 1886-1914: Configuring Security Forces: Accounts of two episodes drafted, they need a lot of fleshing out and contextualizing

  • Chapter 5: Colombia 1946-66: Impact of Security-Force Configurations: First draft in place, needs fleshing out and editing

  • Chapter 6: Colombia in Comparative Perspective: To be written, comparison countries chosen

  • Chapter 7: Conclusion: To be written
This weekend, we went to the Red Hook Ball Fields, a wonderful street-food destination in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. It's a 20-minute subway ride from our neighborhood, followed by a 10-minute walk through what can only be described as an industrial wasteland. But, then the ball fields come into view, and it's a whole 'nother story. For many years now, Latin American vendors have been setting up on weekends in the ball park, selling quesadilas, huaraches, sausages, tacos, pupusas, ceviche, and all kinds of south-of-the-border goodies. The winners. It's a great family atmosphere, with long lines, picnic tables, and local amateur teams playing soccer on the fields. There are about 10 stands offering a wide range of options; on this first trip, the winners were the spicy pork quesadilla, the cantaloupe agua fresca, and the fried yuca with fiery avocado dip. We didn't even get to the seafood or sausage! Definitely worth a return visit. But soon!

Friday, September 21, 2007


1.5 hours writing, 3 hours reading, 0.5 hours emailing / administrivia, page count = 140

Sometimes, writing is editing, so today, I took another pass through the 19th century chapter, cleaned a few things up, and added a few things. There's still a lot more work to do, but the basic structure is definitely there. I think it's pretty close to being a viable draft. Hooray!

In terms of reading, I finished up the Malcolm Deas collection that I started yesterday, with two great articles about the history of local bosses, and the dynamics of local-national connection in the 19th century. There really are some interesting parallels with the United States in the same period, which if I were going to be an academic, I would probably explore in an article. The way that the two parties operated, the presence of a vast internal frontier, the dynamics of industrialization - good stuff there.

Culture note: a great documentary on New York in the 40s and 50s that I saw at the Tribeca Film Festival last year has been put out in limited theatrical release. Definitely worth checking out. It's called Toots, and it's about the culture of celebrity at a time when Joe DiMaggio would eat in a restaurant, like the one that Toots Shor ran in Midtown, next to the sportswriters who covered him (there were 11 daily papers!), next to the fans who watched him at the stadium. Money quote: "It was a simpler time, not a more innocent one." That's exactly what's going on in the 19th century stuff that I'm studying. Fewer gadgets, less money, but people are basically the same. No wonder "hanging chads" reminded me so much of electoral-fraud shenanigans from 19th-century Latin America. They used to say in Colombia, "quien escruta, elige": the one who counts the votes decides the election. These are less simple times; why should they be more innocent?

Thanks to Christa Roth for monitoring this week! Next up is Matt Sumner, in Oakland. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This c-note brought to you by Hershey's

2 hours writing, 4 hours reading, page count = 138

Spent an enjoyable afternoon reading 19th century history. Malcolm Deas, an Englishman who splits his time between Oxford and Bogota, is a leading historian of this period in Colombia, as well as a wonderfully droll writer. (I had the pleasure of meeting him on my last trip to Bogota, he gave me very good advice and pointers.) I appreciate his high tolerance for ambiguity, as well as his eye for the telling detail. Paper money was only introduced in Colombia in the 1880s, and at a certain point during the 1899-1902 "War of a Thousand Days," the government ran out of paper. Thanks to a, uh, public-private partnership, a solution was found. For a while, government-issued banknotes said "Republica de Colombia" on one side and "Chocolates Chaves" on the other.

Continued working on the 19th century chapter. I may not have a complete draft by the end of this week, but I'll be close. Onward!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

FutureTed and PastChris

2 hours writing, 2 hours reading, 0.5 hours emailing / administrivia, page count = 134

Whew! Today's vocab word* is "cinchona bark," which is an agricultural export product to which Colombia briefly tied its economic hopes in the 19th century, the period on which I focused my reading and writing today. That chapter is coming along pretty well; I think I may have a first draft of the whole thing by the end of this week.

It's been interesting coming back to this project after three years of not focusing on it full-time. I've been playing guitar since high school; at this point, there are more songs that I've forgotten I know how to play than there are ones I remember I know how to play. In a similar fashion, I'm sometimes surprised by how much I've learned about Colombia over the years, because it's not necessarily right there at the front of my mind. But luckily, I'm a pack rat, so I've generally stored it away somewhere. Like today, I was writing about the role of factions in the party system, and I wanted to make the point that the stability of Liberals and Conservatives (kind of like Democrats and Republicans here) over more than a century was not about relentless discipline, but about a great deal of flexibility. The two-party system was a shell within which the real work could be done, of factional competition, bargaining, and coalition building. I wanted to provide some evidence for that point, and I vaguely recalled having made a table along those lines a while back. Sure enough, it appears that three and a half years ago, I went to the trouble of figuring out what faction each 19th-century president was from, and put it in a table in a paper I presented at a conference. Cut, paste, thank you. There's a line on my favorite show, How I Met Your Mother, that's a propos here. A guy, Ted, has to make a difficult decision. Rather than making the decision, he says, "Let's let FutureTed take care of that," and ignores it. Except in this case, it's PastChris, and he's already taken care of it. Much better!

* Why this word? Cinchona bark makes quinine, which makes tonic, which makes a gin and tonic. Salud a la cinchona!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


1.5 hours writing, 3.5 hours reading, page count = 127

Having spent a lot of time on the theoretical and methodological chapters, I decided to focus today on one of the empirical chapters - especially given that I need to be very clear on what data I still need in anticipation of my upcoming research trip to Colombia.

So I worked on the chapter on the 19th century, the "critical antecedents" that lead into and shape the "critical juncture" when security forces were configured. One of these is regionalism, the tendency of Colombian politics to be organized around multiple geographic and cultural centers, and as a result (purportedly), to tend toward decentralization and fragmentation. Turns out the story is not that straightforward. Going back to a source I re-read over the summer, Nancy Appelbaum's Muddied Waters, regionalism is an outcome of the state formation process, rather than necessarily a cause. That is, the borders of regions change significantly over time, and no one can agree on exactly how many regions there are or even what constitutes one. Putting this alongside another source, it appears that the broad borders of Colombian states were established in 1863, at the very height of 19th-century Liberal federalism, and that subsequent centralizing Conservative administrations essentially kept those broad borders, only gradually subdividing them into smaller units. One could therefore argue that the regions represented by state borders were developed and consolidated in the course of the state formation process, rather than preceding and independently shaping it. Or is it that regionalism was so strong that the borders of the states couldn't be touched? I'll need to explore further...

Monday, September 17, 2007


1.5 hours writing, 3.5 hours reading / researching, 1 hour phone call, page count = 124

This week's monitor is Christa Roth, in San Francisco. We used to work together at Hispanics in Philanthropy, and she taught me practically everything I know about management. A few years ago, Christa adopted a boy from Russia. His name is Miles, and he's obsessed with Tigger, which is surely a sign of deep and native wisdom. Welcome, Christa!

Well, I'm feeling much better today. I had a great phone conversation with Mary Roldan, a professor of history at Cornell, and author of Blood and Fire, an exemplary regional history of La Violencia that I've cited before on this blog. We had a fun, wide-ranging conversation about local history in mid-20th-century Colombia. In a perfect world, academia would be structured so that political science and history weren't at odds but complementary, and I'd just write books about Colombia the rest of my life. But instead, I get to pursue my other passion, for philanthropy - submitted two job applications over the weekend!

Mary has written about the state of Antioquia, and I was most interested to get a sense of what the archives are like, for the trip I'm planning in the coming weeks. It sounds like they're pretty accessible, but not as organized as they could be. That's OK; I'd rather have to work to find things than to see immediately that there's nothing there.

In terms of writing, I wrote up the piece about comparing my "critical-juncture" argument to others that are out there. These are versions of the "punctuated equilibria" argument in evolution, that things go along steadily until boom! certain moments happen that move things along relatively swiftly and more or less irrevocably. Some authors identify later critical junctures, another an earlier one, and another one that's basically at the same time as mine (1880-1910). Key things I took away from this: I need to think more about whether my critical juncture happens at the same time in all countries, and I need to address the role of political parties, as the two other critical-juncture arguments that include Colombia both score it as heavily influenced by parties, which makes perfect sense.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sick day

I guess four trips to seven destinations in five weeks were bound to take a toll on me. I'm also completing a job application that's due today, so I want to focus my energy on that and on getting better. Look forward to a good start to the week on Monday.

Thanks to Tanja Royal for monitoring this week! Next up is Christa Roth, in San Francisco. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Not feeling well

4 hours reading, 0.5 hours emailing, page count = 120

I'm definitely coming down with something. Today was not very productive, and I'm not optimistic about Friday, but we'll see. One of the suggestions I got from a professor who's done historical work is to put my "critical-juncture" argument alongside other ones and see where it fits in. This kind of comparison is important to do, as the narrow specialization of academia works against the accumulation of knowledge, which is what social science is supposed to be about. So I gathered information about related arguments and compared them with each other. It's interesting, some are earlier than mine (1880-1910), some are later, and some are at the same time. I don't have anything to say about that yet, other than to observe that the ones that talk about Colombia emphasize the role of the party system, which I've considered incorporating, but isn't in there right now, and that several of them take the structure of the economy into account, which I haven't done in favor of political explanations for political phenomena.

I'm making progress on the to-do list I set myself for the month, but most of it is background stuff rather than writing. I'll work on writing up the critical-juncture piece on Friday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Keep it simple, stupid

1 hour writing, 3.5 hours reading, 0.5 hours emailing, page count = 120

Continued working on a formal model today, and doing some related reading. There are different versions of two-level games, so I checked out a prominent one and tried to incorporate what I could from it. I find the exercise of developing a formal model quite challenging: good ones are deceptively simple. I have a lot of variables that are relevant to the phenomena that interest me, so it's difficult to keep things clear and to make the relationships explicit. I've tried a number of different times over the past couple of years - I recall vividly my first "dissertation day" while working at HIP, spent at a cafe uptown near Columbia working over the elements of a potential model. But I feel like I am making progress on it; in particular, I'm increasingly clear on what the tool is good for and what it's not. In any event, the exercise is forcing me to be more explicit about what I'm trying to explain, who the actors are, and how they relate to each other, so that's all to the good.

Also did some methodological reading, and set up a meeting for Friday. I've been invited to attend a couple of seminars at universities in the area, so I'm thinking about the timing of those trips - which could include meeting with fellow graduate students and job-related contacts - alongside the timing of a trip to Colombia. I'm speaking with a professor who knows the archives I want to visit very well on Monday, which is also the day my human-subjects protocol is being reviewed, so I guess I'll need to wait until next week to definitively plan the timing of my trip.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Think global, steal local

1 hour writing, 4 hours reading, 0.5 hours emailing, page count = 120

I've come back to the idea of doing a formal model, in part inspired by the very interesting and intuitive one developed in another of the books I got at LASA, on decentralization in the Andean region. I'd been struggling with the disconnect between the national-level policy choices and local outcomes that are both part of my project. The key insight was to see that it's a two-level game, with 1 local and 1 national component. The book I was reading offered one example of how to do that, so my writing today was about starting to sketch out another.

On the reading front, I focused on the parallels with Mexico, including a tradition of rural strongmen and armies that are getting more politicized by the drug war.

I find myself in need of some project management, as there're a lot of balls in the air right now, and I don't want to drop any too often as I move toward the finish line. I have a timeline, but any other suggestions of tools or techniques are welcome!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pass the shovel

1.5 hours writing, 4.5 hours reading / researching, 0.5 hours emailing, page count = 120

This week's monitor is Tanja Royal, in Cologne, Germany. (Sorry, Tanja, for using your maiden name and childhood city in Friday's post!) Tanja is a product designer, who's worked in designing and planning shop systems. Part of the reason she, her husband, and their two cats are moving to the Bay Area this fall is to find opportunities to design other types of products. She's starting to enjoy cooking a lot, mainly German and Russian recipes. Check out her cool website via the links on the right-hand side of the page, which features different Villagers' websites. Welcome Tanja!

Sent thank-you notes for my meeting at APSA and followed up with a former Berkeley grad student who's now teaching at NYU. I'm definitely moving into a more social phase of the writing process, where I continue to immerse myself in academic culture, for several reasons: to (re)connect with interesting people, to get ideas and feedback for my project, and to combat the double isolation of writing from a distance. Seems to be going well so far.

In terms of writing, I focused on methodology, reading one of the papers from the panel I attended in Chicago, on "critical antecedents," and considering its implications for my project. Reading-wise, I also continued to delve into the pile of books I picked up at LASA. Today's was about state formation in Central America. The argument was interesting, but perhaps not entirely useful. The author suggests that we think more about violence not as an outcome of political processes, but as a precondition for them. "Public violence" is a term he uses to include both the policing/coercive elements of the state, but also the struggles carried out by guerrillas, party henchmen, social bandits: basically anyone operating in the public arena with an intention of defending or overthrowing the existing social order. (Muggers don't count; that type of "private violence" is not directed at the social order, just at one or more individuals for private gain.) This is suggestive in that it offers a way to conceive of both security forces and irregular armed forces as part of the same game, but problematic in that it doesn't offer, at least in what I've read so far, guidance in interpreting the rules of that game. Perhaps the case studies will yield more insight.

In other news, the subtitle of the fourth Indiana Jones movie is "...and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Really, George Lucas? The comedian Patton Oswalt has a bit about the first thing that it would occur to him to do if he had a time machine would be to go back ten years, find George Lucas, and kill him with a shovel, before he could ruin Star Wars by making the prequels. Would that be public violence, or...? Never mind! I just hope Spielberg can keep Lucas from destroying another icon of my childhood.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Labels and the surgical strike

1 hour writing, 2.5 hours reading, 0.5 hours phone meeting, 1.5 hours emailing / administrivia, page count = 115

I had a good phone conversation with the historian on my dissertation committee today, and she was very encouraging about the prospects of doing a "surgical strike" type of data-gathering trip to Colombia this fall to gather state and municipal data - or rather, to see if such data is even available, and get what there is. Since I know exactly what I'm looking for, and it's likely to be clearly labeled as such, I should be able to tell relatively quickly what's there and what's not. As she pointed out, there's likely to be a file called "police" in a well-organized municipal or state archive, given that the police are an institution of the state - it's not like researching women, she observed, where there's not going to be a file labeled "women," and you have to piece what you're looking together for from multiple sources.

Heartened by that conversation, I started looking into possibilities for travel in September and October, and it looks pretty good as far as making plane reservations. There are a number of factors to consider for the timing, including the September 17th meeting at which my human-subjects protocol will be reviewed, which includes scripts for soliciting interviews. I hope to have made solid plans by the end of next week.

In terms of reading, I began going through the pile of books I brought back from LASA. Up today was a new collection of essays on regimes and democracy in Latin America, including a piece by Villager Jay Seawright and another Berkeley compatriot, Sebastian Mazzuca. Given that my outcome of interest is regime stability, it's important for me to be up-to-date on what's going on in that field. A number of the conversations I've had in the past couple of weeks have been centered on issues of how to classify the level of democracy going on historically in Colombia and other comparison countries, so those are some waters I'll need to wade into before all is said and done.

In terms of writing, I gathered together all the feedback I've gotten over the past two weeks, pulled out some recurrent themes and "to-do" items, and began identifying places in my manuscript (holy crap, that's the first time I've called it that - at 115 pages, to call it an "outline" is a little absurd!) to address some of those themes. I realized I haven't fleshed out what I mean by "critical junctures" and "path dependence," so there's a few pages right there. Moving along....

Thanks to my darling Cathy Sumner for monitoring this week, even as I was out of town. Next up is Tanja Schtschur, in Berlin. Our first international Villager, very exciting! Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Formal and informal

I'm posting this on Friday, as it was $15 for Internet access at the hotel in Montreal.

2 hours meetings, 1 hour book-shopping, 1 hour reading, 6 hours travel, page count = 112

Hmm. A bit of a mixed second day in Montreal. It started off well, as my first two meetings were great. Both were with professors who know a lot about security forces and local-level dynamics, but in countries other than Colombia, so they had interesting comparative information to share, as well as insightful comments on my work. One of them echoed yesterday's comment about developing an original dataset. Definitely something I want to look into, and that ought to be feasible given the sources I'm already consulting. The other had really good suggestions about how to position work on the police in the context of two adjacent literatures, on decentralization and civil-military relations. His own work looks at both of those issues, and I'll want to be in touch with him as the semester progresses. In fact, he teaches in the department of Villager Marco Mojica, so it really is a small world....

Things went a bit downhill from there, as my other two meetings didn't happen. The first, I'm not sure what happened, I was where I was supposed to be and waited 20 minutes. The second, I gather the person was delayed coming from the airport. Alas. I'll look into setting phone appointments with both, as I very much would like to speak with them both.

I did manage to get in some shopping for dissertation-related books while at the conference. As it's an academic trade show, all the university presses set up booths in the exhibit hall and offer discounts on their usual prices, which are steep given the limited press runs. (Trivia: the 7th Harry Potter book made more in its first day than the top-grossing movie of all time made in its first weekend. The pen is mightier than the camera?) I went a little crazy, but it has been three years since I've been paying attention, and there's a lot of interesting stuff going on - especially in the decentralization literature, which I need to catch up on. So I may have made a few purchases... of which I started reading on the way home, and gave me lots of food for thought. Charles Tilly, one of the pioneering authors on state formation, wrote a short, intriguing book about "trust networks" and how they interact with systems of rule (governments). This is a fascinating sociological angle on the types of dynamics I study between irregular armed forces and security forces, and makes me think a little differently about what counts as order and what doesn't. Banditry may in some cases be a form of local trust networks protecting themselves from encroachment by the state. While my work focuses on what the state is up to in these situations, it's important to understand the resources through which rebels operate in cases where insurrection is prevalent. Hmm, I think it's time to revisit the idea of doing a formal model; there's a lot going on at the local level, and some of that type of thinking could help me organize all the different pieces.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Poutine my best foot forward

I'm posting this on Friday, as it was $15 for internet access at the hotel in Montreal.

2 hours presenting, 1 hour meetings, 1 hour schmoozing, 6 hours travel, page count = 112

Well! That went about as well as could be expected. We had a pretty decent turnout for the panel on which I presented today. The thing I like about the Latin American Studies Association conference, as opposed to the American Political Science Association one I attended last week, is that it's so much more international. My panel was a great example of that: my fellow presenters were a German guy who studies Mexico, and a Venezuelan woman who studies in France. We spoke at least five languages between us, and brought the experiences of three quite different educational systems to bear. The German guy's paper was very complementary to mine, doing a really good job of situating the current role of the police in historical context. I learned a lot from it, and will want to stay in touch with him as our respective projects evolve. I got a good question from the audience that made me think about how I relate my project to the drug war currently going on, and that I need to be clear about how long the term is in "long-term effects" of the institutional design I examine. On one level, it's the mid-1960s, as things really started to change in Colombia at that time with urbanization, and later the drug war. Also the police system was altered significantly in that time period. On another level, there's a lot of continuity from my period to today: the local-level dynamic of stalemate, where no party can muster sufficient force to definitively defeat the other, persists....

I had a good meeting with a professor who studies Costa Rica, and knows a lot about historical sources. He had a great suggestion for materials I should look at: State Department files, which include not only biweekly briefings on local politics, but occasionally subject reports on topics like military reform. So that's a great tip. Also, he suggested that I focus on developing an original dataset out of the archival materials I study, whether it's State Department files or the ministerial reports. As someone who's parlayed a historical, single-country study into a successful political science career, his advice was extremely helpful for positioning my study for broader consumption in the field. Even though I'll continue my career in philanthropy, it would be good to publish an article or two out of my dissertation, and there's always the possibility of turning it into a book. But first, I need to find a job! :)

I ran into a couple of Berkeleyans at the conference and caught up with them. One is in a similar position, based in Boston and working to finish the diss at a distance. I'll be keeping in touch with him and hopefully exchanging drafts as the semester goes on. It's funny, because he quoted the title of this blog as a truism before I even mentioned that I had one or what it was called! True dat.

Finally - Montreal is fabulous! It was much cheaper to fly to Burlington, Vermont, and rent a car than to fly direct to Montreal, so I did that. The drive was about 1hr45min through beautiful countryside - rolling hills on a clear late summer's day. Southern Quebec is adorable - farm country with all kinds of interesting-looking roadfood destinations. For dinner, Cathy found a place for me called Au Pied du Cochon, featuring typical Quebecois dishes. It's apparently one of Anthony Bourdain's favorites, and I can see why: there's a whole section of the menu devoted to foie gras. I had a pork dish featuring sausage, blood sausage, and meltingly good pork shoulder over thyme-y mashed potatoes, all cooked together in a tiny enameled cast-iron pot - delicious - and poutine, a Quebecois specialty: fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. Hoo-boy! I'm sorry, Al Gore, but I only ate half, it was so much food. But scrumptious. A definite winner. It's located in the Mont-Royal neighborhood, which is adorable. I neglected to bring a map and tried to just wing it - I knew the restaurant was equidistant between the Mont-Royal and Sherbrooke metro stops, about three blocks north of the main drag connecting them - but I can't recall having been so pleasantly lost. I wandered through Mont-Royal for about an hour before tracking the place down, and in all that time passing shops and restaurants, I saw exactly one American chain. Everything was local, accessible, and funky. A real treat. I'll definitely be coming back with Cathy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dog days of summer

1 hour writing, 4 hours preparing for meetings, 1.5 hours emailing, page count = 112

My lovely wife Cathy Sumner is this week's abbreviated monitor. This abbreviated week's monitor. Whatever. Cathy is Director of Corporate Relations at the New York Botanical Garden, a gourmet chef, confidante to the wise and the worldly, and the #1 reason I'm glad I went to Williams instead of Amherst. Welcome, my love!

A bit of a transitional day as I decompress from one conference and finalize preparations for another. I have another good lineup of meetings for Wednesday and Thursday in Montreal. These folks will be more directly involved with research on the police, where last week's folks were more Colombianists and Latin Americanist political scientists. So I'll get a different kind of feedback.

Based on some of last week's feedback, actually, I drastically reworked my conference presentation, making the overheads much more concise. I have 25 minutes, and I timed myself this evening at 27, so I should be in good shape. When you start putting the pieces together in a verbal story, more and different threads emerge that you can weave into the whole. I'm hopeful about getting some direct feedback, and look forward to reading the other panelists' papers on the plane tomorrow.

I also sent all my thank-you notes for yesterdays meetings, for both the dissertation and career meetings. With the latter, I included a revised resume; I'm getting the word out there!

For lunch, I began phase 2 of the great NY street-food odyssey, Chinatown edition. #13 on New York magazine's list, Xinjiang Kebabs, is located under the Manhattan Bridge on the edge of Chinatown. It's located at the end of a curving, shaded block of fruit carts. Perhaps that's "shady" block, as I observed an old guy in a lawn chair, amidst empty electronics boxes, receiving a wad of cash from a kowtowing younger man. Anyway, Xinjiang's specialty is meat-on-a-stick, including the crown jewel, butterflied hotdog. "Spicy?" the vendor asked. Hell, yes. Plus an unctuous lamb stick and a grilled corn not actually drowning in butter: $3. The thing is...this is truly mobile food, as you'll want to snarf it while walking briskly away from the immediate environs, which on this first day of fall were...fragrant. Aromatic. Ripe. (Yikes.) I won't be making a return trip, but if ever in the area, I might go one block out of the way to pick up a dog. In the winter....