Sunday, October 22, 2006

College Football

The fourteenth and fifteenth largest stadiums in the world (discounting racing stadiums) are the Michigan Stadium and the Beaver Stadium according to Whilst looking this up by the way I found somewhat to my surprise that five of the stadiums in the top ten are in Iran! What is surprising about these stadiums is that they are both the home of university American football teams. The Rose Bowl in California, that some of you may remember for hosting the 1994 World Cup Final is the home of none other than the UCLA college football team. These teams are made up of students, not professionals, who play in varsity leagues. What is perhaps even more amazing than the size of these stadiums is that the universities actually manage to fill them. The Wolverines, the team of the University of Michigan has hosted crowds of over 100,000 on almost 200 occasions and the last time that the attendance figure fell short of this mark was in 1975.

Successful American universities have a very different atmosphere from their European counterparts. There in an intense sense of loyalty and dedication to ones university that is simply not present on the old continent. On matriculating to an American University, college life quickly subsumes the identity of the individual. Campus living means that everything in your life is directed towards the school. Students support their college football team instead of their local team, for example. Many college groups, whether they be musical or sporting or other activities strive for an excellence that gives a sense of pride to the students extending far further than the immediate friends of those involved. The specialist and more prominent schools in business and international affairs bring in a constant stream of high profile figures and alumni, such as leading politicians, CEO's, high ranking civil servants, and internationally renowned academics who hold seminars and give lectures on their experiences demonstrating just how far you can go with your degree.

The frenetic pace of these extra curricular activities means that there is little time to discover life off campus. Neither does this finish after your graduation, alumni will continue to support their college football team for the rest of their lives, when in Bologna last year my girlfriend at the time and a graduate of Cornell University was I thought slightly too excited about a forthcoming visit of a group of acapella singers from her Alma Mater. By contrast I dont think I would make too much of an effort to go and see the Warwick University Symphony Orchestra play, even though I myself played in it for three years. Alumni events take place regularly, and some of them can be quite impressive. There is no escaping, the reach of the alumni network is global. I was slightly surprised to find myself getting invitations to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, for lectures that had been co-sponsored by the SAIS alumni network London chapter, and I havent even left my school yet.

This strong sense of loyalty that universities work hard to engender in their students I believe plays a large role in the success of American universities. For one thing, this sense of loyalty enables American universities to command vast sums of money. The amount of private donations to American universities is truly astonishing. The total amount of private donations to education in the US runs to around $40 billion a year. Harvard and Princeton receive around half a billion dollars each.

It is for this reason that I look at the attempts of UK universities to plug the shortfall in their budgets through private donations with great scepticism. Universities in Britain simply do not command the loyalty or the attachment of their alumni that their US counterparts do. We cannot rely on simply trying to encourage a culture of giving, which is what politicians in Britain now are currently talking about. US universities work hard and invest lots in their sports teams, musical groups, arts, culture, alumni relations and other such activities that attach students to their Alma Mater for the rest of their lives, and until we start investing in the cultural side of altruism as well universities will have to look for other ways in which to fund themselves.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Wounderful Wide Web

Internet dating, comes in many forms. One particular type that has been fascinated me was is the missed encounter on Craig's list. For those of you that dont know Craig's list, it is a free adds website, extremely popular here in the States, I first came across it when looking for a flat in D.C.. On the site you can get your hands on absolutely anything and everything apart from drugs and arms, but most definitely sex. The missed encounters section is where people come to post messages to people they have met or seen in the hope that they will get into contact. Simple enough you might say, but some of the posts leaves one wondering. Here are just a few examples of posts that appear.

Tysons Corner 9ish- working on your laptop - w4m - 25

Reply to:
Date: 2006-10-04, 11:34PM EDT

I was with a friend of mine grabbing dinner when I saw you pass by on your way to Barnes and Noble. As we were leaving I saw you working on your laptop by the escalator. I just want you to know that I noticed you and on the rare chance that you see this, I would love to hear from you.

gorgeous woman/starbucks in old town (me-runner taking a quick break) - m4w

Reply to:
Date: 2006-10-11, 11:01PM EDT

you had a skirt on...wanted to say hello but chickened out...

This one is a classic...........

I horked on your tits. - m4w

Date: 2006-05-23, 12:49PM CDT

Me: Tall, dark, (I'm told) handsome. I vomited a little bit of home brew down your blouse. You said, "Cute."

You: Cleavage covered in my vomit.

I think we had a moment. Call me?

Jokes aside, and we can only hope the last one is a joke, the posts immediately came to fascinate me, as they left me with so many questions. I can only imagine how many people with skirts on pass through a starbucks any given day, and what are the chances that on any given day, out of the millions of people who work in D.C., someone who was working on their laptop would be scanning craig's list to see if anyone noticed them? Who are the people that do scan the list hoping that someone may have posted something about someone who vaguely matches their description? Whilst it may seem fanciful to think that anyone would ever have any success trying to meet people in this way, and quite frankly why would you want to try, the list remains extremely popular.

Egged on by a couple of my friends I decided to investigate the phenomena, and took the bold step of making a post myself. I have copied it in below.

Dupont 1pm - m4w - 24

Reply to:
Date: 2006-10-05, 11:11PM EDT

I saw you from the window and almost dropped my frappucino, you were tall had long flowing brown hair. You were dressed to kill. We made eye contact and looked interested, email me if you were.

Now I wasnt even in Starbucks at 1pm, let alone making eye contact with anyone, fortunately my coffee maker arrived from Italy last week and has saved me from the living hell that is American coffee. However I thought that there might have been enough people there that this might work. I sat glued to my computer screen, waiting for a flood of emails from desperate Washingtoniennes.

Unfortunately for my blog, but probably fortunately for me, nothing came. I think that you probably need to have actually had some kind of connection with someone for this to work, rather than just make up a faux encounter whilst round at dinner with friends.

Whilst considering how to further my research, help came from an unexpected source. I was at a concert a few nights ago and a girl asked me for a lighter, I talked to her for at the most 5 minutes before she went on her way, we didnt exchange numbers, I couldnt even remember her name. By the time I woke up in the morning she had already managed to track me down using facebook. The internet networking tool I had only just joined a few days before. I have to admit I was slightly put out by this, but I decided to go ahead and ask her out all the same.

I ended up having a very pleasant evening, with a charming and above all, normal and intelligent girl. Although I admit I had actually talked to her in person before she contacted me off the internet, I myself would probably not have looked for her on the web (even if I had remembered her name), and it struck me that this was probably more to do with a cultural difference between Americans and Europeans (and Brits are definitely considered Europeans here) rather than a product of me being normal. Scanning around Craig's list's international sites seemingly confirmed this. There are far far far more posts on the personals sections of the US sites than there are in other places. In other international cities they mostly seem to be prostitutes and Americans posting. Neither has internet dating taken off in Europe in the same way that it has here.

It suggests that Americans seem to be far more comfortable meeting new people than we Europeans are. Americans for whatever reason are, much friendlier to strangers, people smile and greet each other in the street, in every shop you are asked how your day is going by the person at the checkout and this is often a lot less fake than we Europeans like to think it is. The girl at the bar spoke to me for five minutes and wasnt trying to sleep with me! This daily ritual of interaction with complete strangers, however superficial makes people far more confident when meeting others for the first time, something that can only help in an age when 'networking' is deemed so important. With less fear of meeting strangers, there follows more of a willingness to do so and hence the birth of networks that allow this to happen.

I am not trying to suggest this is the only reason why people seek each other over the World Wide Web, one could also make the case for loneliness, but without the implicit trust required to spend the evening with a complete stranger im sure these meetings would not happen, no matter how lonely one might be.

I can only leave you with the suggestion that we make more of an effort to be nicer to strangers. If not for the betterment of society as a whole, few are as altruistic as to think in such grand terms, and not because you have a particularly strong desire to get involved with internet dating, but because, as my beloved professor was so fond of telling me about reading the classics of modern political economy, it will make you a better person.

Friday, October 06, 2006

La Mere De La Liberte

One of the most interesting things about living in abroad anywhere is discovering the various stereotypes, images, views and opinions that foreigners hold about you and your nation. Whilst living in Italy last year quickly I learnt that when my friends told me that I was wearing a 'combinazione inglese' it wasn't a compliment, and on arriving here I couldn't understand why people kept complementing me on my teeth, until I realised the reputation that British people had for bad ones.

One of the great things about D.C. is that you get to meet and talk to people from all over the world. Whilst walking down embassy row you seem to leave America and enter the world, as every building becomes the territory of another state.

The other night whilst attending an event that included a prominent French politician, I heard one view of the Britain that that should have filled any Brit with immense pride. He told the assembled audience that in France, Westminster is referred to as "la mere de la liberte". I found it incredible that a country such as France, with the huge importance that it places on its own fundamental values of liberte, fraternite and egalite can look to Britain, and still call her parliament the mother of freedom.

The context however, made this remark come as a dagger to the heart. The speaker was sharing this particular French idiom to try to get across just how disappointed and appalled he was with the British for passing a law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that allowed indefinite detention without trial or review by a judge. How could an institution with the greatest and most illustrious tradition of upholding freedom, that was established when in the rest of Europe we were still barbarians, he said, allow this law to pass? what hope is there for others?

When looking around the world today, the freedoms that we enjoy in the Western world are actually quite rare. Europe and America make up only 10% of the worlds population and despite the many justified complaints that people make, on these two continents we are very free compared to the other regions of the world. Importantly we have managed to achieve these freedoms whilst at the same time not sacrificing our security.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein had security without freedom whilst now the people there have freedom without any security. As the debate on our civil liberties continues, we should not see security and freedom as a trade off, having either one without the other is not desirable. Developing the kind of societies that have both has been one of the greatest achievements of Europe and America. The institutions that have provided the foundations of these societies have in many cases taken hundreds of years to establish. The world looks to them as it does to us and we would do well not to let them down.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Dear All,
Welcome to my blog. Washington D.C. is often the focus of the worlds attention, often referred to as the centre of world politics. As someone who has for a long time been interested in politics, it has often been a place the I have looked at from the outside. Now, having just moved here a month ago I have the view from the inside, and have quickly become allured by American culture and politics.

In this blog I hope to give a picture of America as seen through the eyes of a 'legal alien' as well as thoughts and comments on my home country as seen looking from the other side of the pond.