2007: A Reflection

For most of 2006, I lived in Africa helping to run a small NGO, Global Youth Partnership for Africa (GYPA), and working for USAID. 2006 marked the last of several years that my work has focused nearly exclusively on transitional justice and reconciliation in northern Uganda.

2007 was a wonderful year of transitions. I moved from Kampala to the DC area (briefly) and then to Cambridge/Medford, MA. Predictably for someone in their first year of graduate school, my work shifted in focus from practice to academia. I wrote a lot about Internet & democracy through my work at Harvard's Berkman Center, and found my way around the Fletcher School.

Reading through this year's blog posts, I found that they very much reflect my change in focus, though there are still a few good tales from Africa. Here are some highlights.
Before I left Kampala, Rebekah and I managed to leave our mark on the Ugandan blogren. I wrote alot for Global Voices, and we started the Uganda Blogger's Happy Hour and the Best of Blog Awards.

I managed to get in some fitful arguments about the state of the global/local soul, what American youth can accomplish by working in Africa, and whether Uganda should send troops to Somalia.

In Cameroon, I had epiphanies with American students in Limbe, ran up mountains in Bamenda, and witnessed the emergence of the Cameroonian film industry in Yaounde. In Cambridge, I walked the streets with nostalgia for hot summer nights.

I've been fortunate to be blessed with health, good family and friends, and time to reflect. Wishing you all the best in a new year.

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Notes on Transcendentalism

For the past three winters, late December has only meant one thing: preparing for a trip to Uganda. For the first time since December 2004, I've had the pleasure of hibernating in my parent's house in the DC suburbs and spending a few weeks with family and old friends, doing miraculously little. The first non-academic book I picked up was Philip F. Gura's new American Transcendentalism.

Transcendentalism was one of my first intellectual interests, but I've thought very little about it since moving to New England. Gura's work is a history, and he does an exceptional job showing the movement's two distinct strains of thought. The first, embodied in Emerson and promoted by Thoreau, focuses on self-reliance. The second, represented by George Ripley and the Brook Farm utopian experiment, emphasizes social welfare and equality.

Why is Emerson's work now what the movement is remembered for? While Emerson was the most public of transcendental intellectuals, Gura explains that the North winning the Civil War ushered in the Gilded Age, when focus on self-reliance and capitalism canonized Emerson as a national bard. In a sense this has been America's guiding value ever since.

It seems to me that the struggle between self-reliance and social justice should be the chief public struggle of any modern age, and it’s fascinating to read about how earlier generations of Americans faced the same issues we do.


Vali Nasr, Poker and Diplomacy

Don't worry if you missed our recent Poker, Law and Diplomacy event at Fletcher.

Last week, on the Charlie Rose Show (see video here), Fletcher Professor Vali Nasr had this to say about the Iranian uranium enrichment program:

"The Iranians have played this game very well from the beginning. Everybody thinks they are involved in a game of chess. Iranians are essentially playing poker. They don't need to have the strongest hand. They need to know how to bluff, when to bluff, and when to use perceptions in the international community to create room for themselves to be able to continue development within the bounds of the IAEA."

Also, right after Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society founder and Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson left Fletcher, he flew to Mountain View to give a similar talk at Google headquarters. The full video of the talk is available here.


Wednesday Links 12.10.07

Paramos, from our camping trip in Zion National Park, via Meg Rorison's photostream

In Medford, my annual oatmeal, honey, and cinnamon infused martini makes a winter comeback.

In Chicago, Joshua Wanyama launches African Path Village, a new social networking site for making connection to and within Africa.

In London, the Economist recognizes that virtual worlds are most useful when they make things in the real world easier.

In Beijing, BBC News reports on Chinese peasants traveling to Africa to seek their fortunes.

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New Digital Natives Blog

A few weeks ago, Berkman’s Digital Natives Project launched an exciting new blog. I’ve noted their recent post on Digital Natives (and Internet and Democracy) principle investigator John Palfrey’s recent trip to Bahrain to discuss Arab Strategies for the Global Era. One of the key conversations was on using digital technology for education reform. In a region where blogging and online social networks are already a fast-growing phenomenon, it will be fascinating to watch how these tools will change youth, education and civil society. Read more about the participants in the conversation here.