Friday, March 28, 2008

Putin Debate Comes to Chapel Hill

Yesterday my adviser, Dr. Raleigh, and most of the other Russian-ists were out of town at a conference, so I volunteered to supervise his two undergraduate classes. It didn't require much time, but one of them was especially impressive.

A freshman seminar on Russian history and politics was to hold a debate on the pros and cons of the Putin presidency, which de jure ends on May 7. It was very impressive to find a group of twenty 17-18-19 year-olds who had read and begun to form opinions about issues as diverse as economics, civil liberties, and press freedom. I also found it heartening that they were able to draw comparisons with issues and events from the US and the world I honestly didn't expect them to know or care about.

They were probably 10 or 12 years old when Bush "looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul" and found a man he "could do business with," but that was one among the many events they evoked (this one, of course, contra-Putin).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Morocco Pics

So, as promised, I have some links to others' pictures from Morocco.

Nicole's Pictures from Morocco Scroll down to and find the Morocco pics in the big group at the bottom.


I'm glad we all got to hang out in Morocco and thanks guys for getting pictures up!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Journalism, (n.) a very dangerous profession

Journalism in Putin's Russian proves yet again to be a dangerous profession. I guess we can only hope that journalists in Medvedev-ian Russia will find a safer work environment. Effective journalism is one of the ways to guarantee a free and civil society. American journalism is far from perfect, as evidenced by the need for bloggers and non-professionals to take up the slack left by too many Britney Spears stories. However, Americans are lucky that journalists are largely safe from threats such as this:

Not a Good Sign

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Travels of the Non-Russian Variety

I know this is a Russia blog and all, but when I travel I want to tell people about it. So, here goes:

This past week was Spring Break at UNC. Conventional wisdom says that grad students don't actually get vacation, only some extra time to work. I broke the rules though, and bought a ticket a while back to visit Molly in Rabat for the week, leaving on a Thrursday and returning the following Sunday: I'll tell you one thing - nine days in Morocco is not enough even to begin to see all it has to offer.

Little did I know when I bought my tickets back in December that there would be an American Home Reunion, Morocco Style in March. It worked out that Nicole, Joanna, and I were all coming to visit Molly and Eric, who lives in a different Moroccan city, Meknes. It was great to catch up with everybody and we had a great time handing out. Its hard to believe that after nearly a year together we had not seen each other eight months!

Highlights of the trip abound.

I had never been surfing before, but thanks to Molly's connections at the Oudaya Surf Club, we got a lesson on morning. The lesson: surfing is hard!

Another trip took Molly, Nicole, and I on a train to Meknes where we planned to meet Eric and Joanna. Turns out we didn't have to wait that long, as they were on the same train! After a night at Eric's place, the following day we took a train an hour further East to Fez, a city famous for its medina. A media is a walled city, often with crazy winding streets, a continuous market of everyday goods, antique stuff, food, and tourist souvenirs blended into a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and smells that are not easy to forget.

After another night at Eric's we took a short car ride north of Meknes to visit Volubilis, the site of Roman ruins that date back nearly 2,000 years. I had never seen anything like it. Sited on a high spot in a lush valley of wheat fields and olive groves, it was easy to imagine it as it might have appeared, a bustling and prosperous town of thousands of people with all the hallmarks of the Roman way of life.

Another favorite part of the visit is the food. In addition to the well known dish couscous, Morocco has great pastries. Think French, only with the occasional North African touch and really cheap! Think delicious pain chacolat for less than fifty cents!

Language is another amazing part of Morocco. As Molly has told me from her experiences teaching and meeting Moroccans, they seem born linguists. In addition to the local Arbaic language, Darija, or Berber educated Moroccans often speak standard Arabic and French, languages of education, business, government, and culture. One also doesn't have to look far to find English speakers, many of them with excellent accents and commands of English is a third or fourth language!

In all, it was great to see Molly's school, meet her friends, see the great little apartment in the Casbah, the oldest part of Rabat right next to the sea, that she shares with Anya. (Thanks Anya for putting up with us!) The climate is beautiful, the people friendly, living is inexpensive and I am looking forward to returning this summer!

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures, I'm working on that!