musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Monday, December 16, 2013

What's Going On in South Sudan? Second Hand Accounts from Juba

Like most current and former Juba-ites, I've been following events in South Sudan closely over the past day or so - thankful not to be there and worried about those that are. Here are a few links re: what's happening (by no means exhaustive):
For a brief/general overview of the politics of South Sudan, click here. Or here. Or here.

Then there are the first person (or second/third person) accounts trickling out. A good friend in Juba (though a blogger herself) is wary of posting things while still there, so with her permission I'm recapping here. 

(Keep in mind that 1. neither she nor I are journalists, 2. I have no way of verifying whether any of this is true, and 3. those of us who have had similar conversations over time realize that the Juba rumor mill is quite robust and there's rarely such a thing as 'unbiased'. That having been said...)

My friend's security guard at her house lives in an area just outside Jebel market called Kor Wolliang and fled last night after the fighting started. His take is that something happened after the National Liberation Council (NLC) meeting yesterday... whatever it was "the Nuer (aka former VP Riek Machar's tribe)-loyal presidential forces took charge in the Giera barracks. They 'slaughtered' some Dinka (aka President Salva Kiir's tribe), broke open the stores, stole ammunition, and then when the Dinka forces brought in reinforcements from outside, they fled towards the Yei road. In getting there, the Dinka following them 'slaughtered' Nuer along the way. Then the Nuer forces tried repeatedly to come back into town, hence why we've been hearing fighting from that side of town."

So basically a lot of slaughtering... scary scary scary. That particular word seems to be floating around a lot right now, with another friend reporting through the grapevine that hundreds have already died. Unfortunately, it's highly likely that the real story (or the death toll) will ever come out.

The guard continues (via my friend): "at the same time, once fighting got going at one side, fighting in the Bilpam area then kicked off. It sounds like Kiir's forces were victorious there, too, but it's unclear where the Nuer forces are rumored to have gone. He (the guard) claims that the Equatorians (i.e. him - from Yei) aren't taking sides, so they're tasked now with keeping the city of Juba safe. They're manning all of Munuki road, and around the back through Kator Payam and the Bridge. The Dinka are there as well, but they're mostly staying in the barracks."

While this conversation (between my friend and her guard) is happening, 3 SPLA soldiers walked by. Her guard friend said they were some of the Equatorians, which is "why they're being peaceful and just patrolling". She could also hear some pretty heavy vehicles on the UNDP road from her house which the guard "claimed were tanks, so that no one will try to pass the road to President Kiir's house at night."

So what's next? Well, this depends on several things - chief among them whether Riek Machar (who is currently unaccounted for) is found and whether he is put on trial. If this happens things could deteriorate rapidly, further fracturing an already fractured and tenuous political (and potentially military) situation. It will also be interesting to see whether Kiir backs away from the 'attempted coup' rhetoric - though I doubt it. In all, things don't look promising but, as they've done so often before, South Sudan might prove us all wrong and bring things back to the muddled, how-does-anything-actually-work-here sense of normalcy that we have come to know and love. 

So there's lots of speculation/conjecture here tinged with (most likely) some facts. Take it or leave it, but my experience is that Juba is a very small place and that word travels fast, especially among South Sudanese. Unfortunately very little of this is verifiable and therefore will unlikely ever come out in official media - a positive byproduct of journalistic integrity and the need for fact-based reporting but also the reason why so little info at all tends to come out of a place like Juba.


The Mack Brown Legacy - Far Beyond Austin & All 'Bout the Money

As a UT grad, my life is obviously consumed right now by two words: Mack. Brown. So now, a guest post from a good friend (and my source for what's really going on in college football)...

I remember as a kid, you could get tickets to a Texas football game for $5 at the local HEB. The Longhorns couldn’t fill the stadium on a Saturday to watch a mediocre John Mackovic coached team; it had been a similar story for the twenty years following the retirement of Darrell Royal. Today you practically have to be a dellionaire to afford season tickets.

With the announcement that Mack Brown will be “retiring” as head coach of the Texas Longhorns after 16 seasons, he’ll leave the Forty Acres - and college football as a whole - a vastly different landscape than he found it. Texas is now a major industry, the largest athletic department in the country. They have their own TV network, the stadium has been expanded, improved, and every dime has been squeezed out to create one of the few profitable athletic departments in the country. There will be much written about the legacy of Mack, what he’s done for the program, and how he was unable to leave under his own terms. But it's bigger than that.

Brown’s legacy looms large. He will be viewed in a similar fashion to the man he was often compared to, Darrell Royal. Royal put the Longhorns on the national stage, a stage to which Mack Brown returned them all those years later. Mack did it in his own style, wearing his heart on his sleeve, treating his players like his kids, and acting with a genuine kindness towards everyone he encountered. He turned Texas football into a family - a family that still lives its life on a national stage.

While the circumstances surrounding his exit will leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth, it had been in the works since Texas fell to Alabama in the 2010 national championship game. From there, the program slipped and Brown’s inability to rebound quickly from the subsequent 5-7 season was ultimately his undoing. It didn't help that Texas' struggles happened to coincide with the rising success of Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech... 

Although these are the most visible reasons, his departure has more to do with the current landscape of college football - one that Mack Brown himself helped create.

There are many programs around the country that would take 25 wins over three seasons; however, the number of schools where that is acceptable is starting to dwindle. College football is no longer about wins and championships... it is about the dollar signs that come with those victories. Mack Brown created a successful program, but the Texas Athletics financial powerhouse is far more impressive. It is a model that many around the country are trying to emulate. The constant shifting of conferences, the increasing stadium capacities, the 'arms race' of facilities. It's all to generate the most revenue possible. But none of this unprecedented growth is sustainable without the wins. Some will say that Texas going 8-5, 9-4, and 8-4 over the past three seasons is below the bar that Mack Brown set. But the decision to hand over the keys to the program right now has much more to do with dollar signs. Season tickets are down, the stadium wasn’t selling out, and donations aren’t coming in at previous levels. And for an annual salary of over $5 million a year, Brown simply was no longer a profitable investment for the Athletics department. 

Brown wasn’t the most legendary coach to succumb to this kind of pressure and he certainly won’t be the last. Florida State ran one of the most legendary coaches in the history of college football out of Tallahassee. Terrible you say? Unfair? Well, they are now sitting in the National Championship game, on a trajectory of sustained excellence and restored enthusiasm in a program that had fallen behind Virginia Tech and Florida. The resurgence of the Seminoles leaves questions about how much longer Frank Beamer (VT) and Will Muschampp (Florida) will still be at their respective schools. Prior to the Sandusky scandal that ended Joe Paterno’s career, he had been locked in an annual debate of whether it was time for the legendary coach to hang up as Penn State found themselves outside the power brokers of college football.

It’s a trend that will only get worse as coaching salaries continue to soar and expectations for schools across every major conference spiral out of control. If Alabama is not playing for an SEC or National Championship game over the next two seasons, do people start calling for a coach that has won three National Championships in four years to move on? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised. Even schools like Wake Forest that don’t have the resources to compete and have managed to be a respectable program over the past decade anyways decided that wasn’t good enough. Because when you think of the Demon Deacons you think of a team that should be at the pinnacle of the ACC each season... right?

Mack Brown helped create a program that is viewed with envy around the country. And ultimately it’s the 'arms race' that created today's Texas that eventually - and ironically - cemented his downfall. It’s not unfair. It’s simply the environment in which we live. A new coach has the opportunity to return Texas to the national stage athletically. But the new coach will also have to sell season tickets, increase donations, and give Texas a bump in an ever competitive Texas recruiting scene. Could Mack Brown have gotten the Longhorns back there? 

There was too much money at risk to find out.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Does the Hajj Radicalize Muslims? You Might Be Surprised By the Answer

Every year millions of Muslims from around the world participate in the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Despite being a fundamental pillar of Islam, the Hajj is often misunderstood, especially by those wary of increased religion-tinged violence in recent years. The July 7 bombers of the London public transport system, not to mention the 9/11 hijackers, had undertaken the Hajj; could it have been the cause of their increased radicalization? Wouldn't a yearly gathering of more than two million Muslim men and women from over one hundred different countries be a good place to breed religious extremism?
So what is the actual impact of the Hajj on pilgrims?
Researchers from Harvard (Khwaja and Kremer) and Case Western Reserve University (Clingingsmith) decided to find out. They conducted an experiment on Pakistani Hajjis (those who have performed the Hajj) back in January 2006, comparing successful and unsuccessful applicants to an existing lottery system that allocates a limited supply of Hajj visas to aspiring pilgrims. Results suggest...

From my Huffington Post blog. Full post here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Malala and the Keys to Peace

Even as we celebrate the International Day of the Girl today, two days ago we remembered the anniversary of the Taliban's attack against Malala Yousafzai. Malala, a then 15-year-old Pakistani student who campaigned for greater educational opportunities for girls, miraculously survived and just a year later brings audiences to tears with her story of strength, defiance and heart.
She is an inspiration to people of all ages, nationalities, religions and sexes. She inspires me, a 30-something Turkish-American Christian man, in ways that few do. More importantly, she shows that perhaps girls and young women are the biggest untapped resource in the world.
From my new Huffington Post blog (apparently they let just about anyone get one of those these days...) - see the full post here, including shout out to the Andi Leadership Institute for Young Women!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Top 11 from the People's Republic

We just went to China and it was... well... amazing.

For my perceptions on the People's Republic, click here. For photos, click here. And for the Top 11 highlights from our trip to Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Shanghai......

11. Chinese Opera. I know it's cheesy touristy but the mask thing was pretty freakin' awesome.
10. Breaching the Great Wall, something those pesky Mongols never could do.
9. Juxtapositioning a redheaded Mexican sporting a communist star hat bought in Vietnam with the portrait of Chairman Mao outside the Forbidden City in Beijing. Not kidding.
8. Capturing my Turkish friend with a similar hat posing as a Latin American dictator at a fabulous temple complex in Chengdu in what might be the best photo of the trip.
7. Learning how to make dumplings and, more importantly, eating them at a friend's parent's place.
6. Completing the most picturesque, sweatiest, excruciatingly difficult and undeniably memorable run ever: twice around the lake in Hangzhou.
5. Pandas! (i.e. a species that has successfully survived way beyond its expiration date because of its 'cute' gene... seriously the things have basically zero actual survival skills)
4. A toast to a fantastic trip on the eve of our departure on a rooftop bar on the Bund, looking out over Shanghai (which kind of looks like a cross between lower Manhattan and a space colony).
3. K. A. R. A. O. K. E. (including discovering that your Chinese friend might actually be Robbie Williams)
2. The food... omg the food. (hot potpeking duck, etc.)
1. Spending innumerable hours/days with a fascinating group of future global leaders with whom I will forever share the bond of Chen Chen.