The Game


Reading this week:

  • Aid and Authoritarianism in Africa, edited by Tobias Hagmann and Filip Reyntjens

Yesterday was “The Game,” which is the rather pretentious moniker for the annual Harvard-Yale Football game. I don’t like football, I don’t even actually know the rules of football, but I went because it was billed as an “experience” and I had a lot more fun than I thought I was going to.

I saw very little of the football game. We had a pre-game thing at our institute’s building where the big draw was bagel sandwiches. The guy who organized it also brought bourbon, and that plus some Keurig coffee was a great way to start the day. We eventually head over to the bowl where we had a “tailgate,” which involved drinking some beers in the vicinity of Nick’s SUV, but I guess that is in fact the average tailgating experience so there you go.

We head into the stadium with about 20 seconds left in the second half, and so were quickly watching halftime. This is when the real action started: a climate protest! The protest was a coordinated effort between Yale and Harvard students to protest the investment in fossil fuels and the like by the endowments of each university. During the protest, I was not in favor of the protest, but I have since revised my assessment. First, the protesters had absolutely no trouble getting onto the field. I saw them line up behind some banners behind the endzone and then walk on over to the 50 yard line. Based on how easily they got down there, I figured Yale had known about it and allowed it to happen as a planned event, and so I was annoyed at Yale for acting all surprised that it was happening. Turns out they did not in fact have the blessing of Yale, and Yale just doesn’t try very hard to keep people off the field. So now I’m 100% in when it comes to execution of the thing.

The second thing was that I didn’t really get the point. I didn’t think there was anyone in the stadium that was particularly pro-climate change, so I didn’t know who they were trying to convince. My judgement here has been revised as well. Apparently the game (er, The Game) was being televised by ESPN so there was in fact a national audience they were trying to target. And they made both the New York Times (I’m technically in that header photo, way up in the stands) and the Washington Post, so maybe they’ll be able to exert enough pressure on the colleges to actually divest from the offending companies. While I was in the stands I was annoyed that Yale was allowing the protesters to delay the game (I was cold) so they could preach to the choir, but now I know none of that is true so I’m into what they were doing and I support it.

The game eventually restarted and I watched about 6 minutes of the second half. Then I ditched because like I said it was cold. But Yale won! That’s cool I guess!


Unrelated to all that, above is a card they were handing out with the Yale fight song. Let’s talk about this for a minute. I went to the Naval Academy for undergrad, and the big football rivalry there is with the Military Academy. The Army-Navy game is fantastic. As I also mentioned, I hate football, but I’ll get excited about Army-Navy. Give ’em the goat! It’s America’s game (I hold that’s less pretentious than “The Game,” also America is awesome and stuff), and the president tends to show up and stuff. More importantly, the Navy’s official fight song includes the line “Drink to the Foam,” which goes far to set the right tone (the best fight song is of course “The Goat is Old and Gnarly“). What does Yale’s fight song have? Some weird barking? Get your shit together Yale. You’re supposed to be the best and brightest.

Bobi Wine


Reading this week:

  • I Didn’t Do it For You by Michela Wrong

I saw Bobi Wine on Friday (you can watch videos of the talk here and here). This was an interesting experience because no one knew who he was. If you didn’t click on the link, Bobi Wine is the Ugandan opposition leader. That sort of position puts him in the midst of all the usual controversies in struggles over power and politics, which I won’t bother to comment on because I’m in no position to have a particularly educated opinion. But I at least knew who he was!

It was kinda tough to find out about the event. I suppose Wine there is only the opposition leader, but when Yale invited the presidents of Senegal and Sierra Leone to campus, these were known events and showed up in newsletters and the like. Bobi there was invited by the African American Studies group. I’m wondering if they kinda regretted it, because Bobi has in the past advocated for violence against the LGBT community, and has never really come around to full support of LGBT rights. During the talk, both the moderator and another friend of mine pressed Bobi on his stances around this issue, and frankly he gave a very politician-y answer. He talked about supporting the rights of all citizens but never quite said he supported the rights of Uganda’s LGBT citizens.

One answer I did particularly like of his was when one person asked him if he was going to commit to not becoming another Museveni and hold onto power for 35 years once he got it. Bobi said, in essence, that it wasn’t on him to promise not to hold onto power. Instead, preventing another Museveni was about empowering the people and empowering institutions. That’s an answer I thought made a lot of sense; you can’t put all your hopes in just the person itself, but in the position.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about. Except for the people at the talk, no one knew who Bobi Wine was. Before the event I asked people if they were going to see Bobi Wine speak. “Who?” “The Ugandan opposition leader.” “Oh.” They had never heard of him. I was no expert on Ugandan politics but I had at least heard of the man. I knew what red hats meant. I couldn’t believe that no one was even dimly aware of who Bobi Wine was. My friend and I showed up to the event 15 minutes early and we were the first ones. The turnout wound up being pretty good, because Yale people like to show up about two minutes late to everything, but still people weren’t exactly knocking down the doors to see a central figure in East African politics. I’ve started to recognize the people that show up to “Africa” things at Yale, and it’s always the same small crowd.

This is just another symptom of what everyone who cares about Africa knows: that the community of people who care about Africa outside of Africa is very tiny. This blows my mind. People give a whole lot of shits about China and the Middle East. But the interesting frontiers of China’s impact on the world aren’t happening inside China, they’re happening in places like Africa where China is having real effects on the ground. If you care about China you should care about Africa, and South America, and the rest of the Global South where China is working to increase its influence while at the same time the US and Europe are pulling away. Bobi Wine was on the Yale campus and every single person who cared about that fit into a not particularly large meeting room. That’s kinda crazy.

Maryland Renaissance Festival


The most upsetting of signs.

Reading this week:

  • The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa by Alex de Waal

This past weekend I went to the final weekend of the 43rd season of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. It was frankly a little upsetting to discover that this was the 43rd season because I distinctly remember the 25th season and I thought that was slightly more recent.


The King arrives!

So clearly I have been going to the Maryland Renaissance Festival for years. As a guy who has actually been to a number of these things, the Maryland version is probably the best and that’s what keeps on bringing me back. Plus my dad is hugely into it. I was probably the one that got him into it, which is a trend for him when it comes to hobbies, because I was also the one that got him into German Longsword and blacksmithing. Dad is indeed a jack of all trades, except his name isn’t Jack and those trades are focused largely on not so useful skills in the modern era.


My dad and me! Dad is in his Outlander getup. It was my sister that got him into cosplay.

But anyways the actual festival! It was a fairly gorgeous day for it, except it was rather cold, which I was very aware of seeing that I was wearing my utilikilt all day long. Very liberating, a utilikilt, but much better in warm weather.


I started off the day by seeing Puke & Snot, which has for years been my major draw to the festival. Due to various circumstances, the show is on its third Snot but was none the less good for it. Frankly I enjoyed all the jokes centered on the fact that he is Snot #3. Those are the only new jokes; they’ve been doing the same act for years but somehow it’s still pretty funny. Perhaps I am merely old and set in my ways.

After that trip down memory lane, I went on several more trips down memory lane just wandering around the festival. When I was I guess 18 years younger I would spend most of the time in shops deciding what I would buy with my whole month’s paycheck from my paper route, which was usually about $100. This was a phenomenal amount of money when I was 12 or 13 and I just about spent it all every time. These days I buy less and see more shows but hey they still got cool stuff and it is still fun to go back to the same magic shops and ball maze games.


They do, of course, also continually incorporate new stuff. The above photo is from “The Danger Committee.” They are one of many many shows at the festival that have about three tricks and manage to stretch it into a 45 minute show largely by being funny. Though the main dude there did also manage to compose a rather great poem about an audience member right on the spot, so he’s probably actually got four tricks. I was just proud of the above picture, where you can see a silvery blur which is the knife thingy (it had more pointy bits than a regular knife) that he is throwing at his compatriots’ heads. Well, he’s throwing it to narrowly miss their heads but still.


They also have this new (to me) falconry show where they have some falcons and the like and they show off their falconry skills. I am also very proud of the above picture, where you can see the falcon narrowly missing catching the target. What with the target being attached to a stick via a string, it was a lot like playing with cats, except the falcons are even more likely to wind up on top of a pole and not really want to come down. But all in all it was pretty neat.

Every time I go to the Renaissance Festival I am surprised at how quickly the day passes. You imagine you’re going to see every show and go into every shop, but just a few shows and a turkey leg later and you discover that the whole day has gone by and now you’re at the pub sing wondering how embarrassing it is that you are doing this weird dance thing they have you do but then a dude comes and plays a bagpipe really loudly right next to you and that is super awesome because bagpipes are awesome and you should really come to the festival more often but you keep doing this thing where you move to an entirely different continent. Anyways I recommend it. Until next year!

Apple Picking


Reading this week:

  • Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Africa by Hussein Solomon

I was warned that this would happen almost as soon as I arrived at Yale, but I have talked about Marx more in the past two months than I think in the entire other 30 years of my existence. I don’t know how unusual that is, given that I lived in prototypical suburban America growing up, and then went to the Naval Academy, and then of course was in the Navy for five years before briefly working for Amazon Web Services, none of which are particular hotbeds of pro-proletarian revolutionary thought. In the Peace Corps there was of course much more of a leftist lean, though I think that manifested itself more as something like radical feminism or anti-patriarchy sentiment without ever quite getting to the notion that we’ll have to break down the foundations of capitalist society, or whatever (two months have not made me a Marxist scholar, as you can tell).

I do remember reading while in the Peace Corps In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. In this book, as Wikipedia explains, “the central figure of the story is an activist attempting to organize abused laborers in order to gain fair wages and working conditions.” For me, besides of course rousing me to the fight for worker’s rights, the significant part of the book was that it is another example I think of how if you poke at the edges of some of the core authors of the American education system’s literary pantheon you find actual literal communist sympathies that we never quite get around to mentioning in high school. I’m going to lose the narrative thread here but yesterday one of the women in my program got Yale to sponsor an apple-picking trip for us to go on. So part of Yale’s endowment income (derived in a not-insignificant way from the fossil fuel industries) went towards providing a group of largely white and by definition privileged set of men and women the opportunity to pay to perform manual labor on an apple farm. What was the work the abused laborers were doing in the Steinbeck book? They were apple picking.


It was a lot of fun! We had hired a big yellow school bus to pick us up from New Haven to take us to the farm. The first activity was a “hay” ride. We in fact rode, but there was no hay, so the name is misleading, but it was pretty pleasant. The scheme here is that the tractor hauls its load of graduate students to the far end of the orchard (part of it anyways; I think they said they had something like 400 acres and we certainly didn’t see quite that many apples) and then you wander your way back picking apples and hanging out with people and apparently most importantly taking Instagram photos. I do not have an Instagram so I was at somewhat of a handicap.

They had a wide variety of apples and people had a whole lot of apple opinions but despite being perhaps the world’s #1 fan of apple pie I have never developed any strong feelings about apples. Some were better than others though. We sampled liberally as we moved along. The uh, cabaret apples I think were my favorite. Something like that. Some apples were clearly more popular than others, given the barren nature of the trees by the time our group got there, but that made it fun because you had to hunt down some exclusive apples. I had to climb a tree at one point. I was wearing my safari jacket though and ready for an expedition.


The day was pretty warm and the colors were fairly gorgeous. At one point I wandered off by myself to the crest of a hill (the trees were too young there to be bearing fruit) and looked out over the acres of trees. It was all pretty and peaceful and stuff. After we all managed to return from the fields the final part of the trip was apple cider and um, cider? donuts up at the barn/store thingy. That was yummy and we hung out some more before getting back on the school bus to head back home. Quite a fun afternoon. That evening I made apple cookies and I still had a lot of apples left so I will have to figure out what to do with them. Pie probably. I had imagined offering these baked goods to people but I think everyone else has the same idea so there will be too many apple-based baked goods. Very inefficient. I think we have discovered why we need collective action to make any real change.