Friday, February 29, 2008


2 hours researching, 1 hour writing, page count = 199

I worked on the comparative framework section of Chapter 1, focusing on background info on the 19th-century armies of the Southern Cone countries. Paraguay and Uruguay really do stand out as distinct. Paraguay's strongly militarized security forces have always been on the far end of the spectrum from Colombia's politicized security forces, but one analyst I was re-reading made a connection between Paraguay and Nicaragua as far as the personalism of their military regimes during the 20th century, how deinstitutionalized they were. Given that I have both countries in my "Colombia in comparative perspective" chapter, this gives me food for thought. But first, time to finish Chapter 1.

I also submitted a job application today, we'll see how that goes.

I'll have a new set of monitors next week. In the meantime, have a good weekend!

Thursday, February 28, 2008


3 hours writing, page count = 199

Made good progress today, finishing up revisions to the section on earlier interpretations of La Violencia. It's been interesting going back and taking a look at how different scholars summarize and analyze the same basic literature. I feel pretty good about my take on it, and can see clearly how I contribute and push things forward.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Clogged up

3 hours writing, page count = 199

It's been a slow week. I've been having a hard time writing; for some reason, this last push to finish the revised Chapter 1 has been difficult to get started. I've gone through and identified all the areas that I need to modify, thought about the sources that will help me do that, and begun a final polish. But it's not coming easily. I also had a really bad sinus headache this afternoon that took me out of commission. In the evening, I made some decent progress revising the section on party systems. Hopefully tomorrow will be more productive.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Otherwise engaged

I had a job interview this afternoon, so I focused today on preparing for that. It went pretty well, but it may not be a fit. I got some good ideas for preparing for the next one that comes up.

Then I had a couple of things I had promised to take care of for some colleagues in Colombia by today (commenting on a dissertation chapter and writing a reference letter), so I did those the rest of the afternoon.

I'll pick up again on the dissertation on Monday, monitor TBD. Thanks to this week's monitor, my lovely wife Cathy Sumner!

Thursday, February 21, 2008


3 hours writing, 0.5 hours planning travel, page count = 196

Well, I finished a complete pass through Chapter 1, which now has a logical flow from beginning to end. Originally 30 pages, it's now 44, with most of that being new content. Feels good. Now I need to go back and fill in the gaps and missing cites, give it one more clean-up, and I should be ready to send it to my advisors, probably early next week. Hooray!

In that spirit, I started planning for my two trips to Berkeley this spring: the first next month to get signatures, and the second in May for graduation and formal filing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


4 hours writing, page count = 194

I continue to work my way through the last section of chapter 1, on the comparative framework. My main task today was to update a table on security-force configurations and regime outcomes with historical data. This means going back to work I did last summer and figuring out a way to communicate it succinctly. Also, I needed to think out very clearly how I measured the concepts and that the data was coded consistently. I'm nearing the end of that, and should be able to complete it tomorrow.

On another note, this is the single most interesting and useful article I've read so far this year. Completely resonates for me. Focusing on effort, not ability, is the key to success. Simple, but I can't hear it enough. Onward!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beginning to end

3 hours writing, page count = 193

This week's monitor is my lovely wife Cathy Sumner. Welcome!

I finally finished connecting all the new material in Chapter 1. It now flows logically from beginning to end, 40 pages - of which at least 35 are new material since the New Year. Now I need to go through the last section, iron out the kinks, and then go back and fill in gaps in references or data. I'm debating whether to send a revised draft of the whole manuscript to all my advisors, or to send a revised Chapter 1 to my principal advisor first. I'm thinking I'll likely do the latter.

I submitted another job application last Friday, and I have a phone interview this Friday for another application, which I'm excited about. Wish me luck!

Friday, February 8, 2008


3 hours writing, 2 hours researching, page count = 191

Well, it's been a crazy week. Last night, we had a great "soft launch" for the New York City Venture Philanthropy Fund, a volunteer project I've been involved with for the past several months. Thanks to those of you who have contributed so far! We had a great turnout, and are planning three more events in the spring.

P.S. on yesterday's post. I can't believe I forgot to mention one of the most interesting parts of the march, at least as I experienced it: the absence of speeches. Put another way, its acephalic nature. People gathered at 127th St. and 15th Ave., and walked up 127th to where it T's at 7th Ave. Then they took either went north or south on 7th, and went home. There were no platform, mikes, megaphones, bandstands, speeches, politicians: none of it. Amazing.

That afternoon, I nipped down to the center and picked up a piece of data I hadn't been able to find here: town-level electoral data for the 1947 legislative election. These are key for my argument about the politicized allocation of security forces within Antioquia state, so I was glad to get those, and to begin processing them.

In terms of writing, I continued with Chapter 1, going through and tightening as needed. Coming back to it after a week away, I'm quite pleased with the first few sections, I think they're tight and flow logically. Visible progress is gratifying.

My job search continues, and I'll be submitting three more applications in the next couple of weeks. I have a phone interview coming up for an application I submitted a couple of weeks ago, which I'm looking forward to.

Next week, Cathy and I are meeting her parents in Vegas, and we get back late on Thursday. I may or may not post next Friday, but I'll be back the following week.

Thanks to this week's monitor, Josh Miles in New York. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A sea of white

I got back from Bogotá last night. Amidst our sadness, our family celebrated the long and full life of my grandmother Helena, whom we will all sorely miss.

She would have been proud this past Monday, when sandwiched between the Super Bowl and Super Tuesday, something truly remarkable happened. In the space of a month, a group of young Colombians convened, via Facebook, a February 4th march against the FARC, the primary guerrilla group involved in Colombia's 50-year civil war, that convened hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

The FARC once had a genuine political project - their emergence at the tail end of La Violencia is about where my dissertation leaves off - but now they're a drug-running mafia that uses kidnapping and extortion to fund their activities and undermine the government by sowing terror in the population. They're not the only group using terror tactics in Colombia - the ELN guerrillas, paramilitaries, and just plain drug traffickers are part of the conflict as well. But the FARC are the largest and most visible.

They currently have 3,200 hostages, of whom 40-45 are high-profile "exchangeables," including 3 Americans and a former presidential candidate. Last fall, the FARC began discussing a "humanitarian agreement" to release some of the exchangeables (canjeables). President Uribe brought in his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, a patron of Fidel Castro who's presumably closest to the FARC's end of the ideological spectrum (their ideology is entirely cynical at this point, but they publicly continue to avow far-left/Communist dogma), as a mediator.

In December, Chavez suffered a key domestic setback, as his effort to reform the constitution via referendum to permit him unlimited re-election was narrowly defeated. At around the same time, Uribe de-authorized him as a mediator with the FARC, because he phoned a Colombian general directly, a serious breach of diplomatic protocol. This was Chavez's opportunity to distract attention from his failure in the referendum. (When you're having trouble at home, create a ruckus abroad that everyone can get behind.) Chavez seized the opportunity, weighing in against Uribe and continuing to insist on a role in the release of three hostages, announced by the FARC for late December.

The three included a mother and her son, 3-year-old "Emmanuel," who had been born during his mother's 6-year captivity (you do the math). In late December, the FARC announced a postponement of the release, and Uribe responded by accusing them of not even having Emmanuel anymore. Which turned out to be true! They had essentially subcontracted the task of holding the child, and the "subcontractor" had taken him to a hospital for medical attention, where a state social-services worker took Emmanuel into custody based on concerns of neglect - but not realizing that the child was a hostage.

Ultimately, Emmanuel's mother and another hostage were released at year's end in the jungle to an international delegation, and flown directly to Caracas, where Chavez got what he wanted, a photo op holding Emmanuel in his arms, flanked by the other two released hostages. This fan and patron of Fidel had finally found his Elian Gonzalez.

A few days later, the favor was returned: Chavez argued that the FARC should be taken off the US and EU lists of terrorist organizations, and be given the status of "belligerent groups," which connotes that they're a legitimate party in a civil war with political aims. Which is just not true anymore.

It was in response to Chavez's assertions that a young Colombian created a Facebook group, "A Million Voices Against the FARC," on January 4, to show the public that the FARC did not have a legitimate social base, and were in fact repudiated by Colombians, undermining their claim to be a "belligerent group" and not a terrorist organization. Tens of thousands of people (including me) joined the Facebook group, and the organizers planned a march against the FARC for February 4. As it became clear that the march was going to be a big success, controversy over its framing erupted on the left, which opposes Uribe's authoritarian tactics. (Amid ongoing charges of human rights abuses, Uribe succeeded in getting the constitution reformed to allow for his immediate re-election, a profoundly undemocratic move carried out through democratic means.) It is indeed odd that the march should focus only on the FARC, and not address the ELN, or most importantly, the paramilitaries, the latter of which have been responsible for just as much if not more atrocities over the past two decades. For this reason, some on the left opposed the march. Others in the opposition saw the march, while having a worthy goal, as an implicit endorsement of the Uribe government and its policies. (Sound familiar, Democrats?) Families of the hostages distanced themselves from the march, fearing reprisals against their loved ones.

Despite these concerns, the turnout on Monday was massive. Hundreds of thousands of people turned up across Colombia, and in more than 100 cities around the world, to protest the FARC's terror tactics and to call for the release of the hostages and an end to kidnapping. My family and I participated in one of the five marches that took place in Bogotá, and pictures and video are below.

It was amazing to see so many people out, wearing white T-shirts that said "Colombia soy yo" (I am Colombia) on the front, and a series of slogans on the back superimposed on the colors of the Colombian flag. Interestingly, the messages on the back were not identical across the shirts. Mine says, "No more kidnapping, no more murders, no more lies, no more FARC." I actually prefer the version my sister has, which substitutes "No more terrorism" for "no more FARC." But I still wanted to participate in the march because even though other terror groups were not explicitly included, it remains true, as one of the chants on Monday went, that "Colombia without guerrilla would be a marvelous place" (Colombia sin guerrilla sería una maravilla). Such a beautiful country with such promise. Here's to a future with no more FARC, no more ELN, no more paramilitaries, and no more kidnapping.