An Overview of Corruption in Italian Politics

Corruption, whether it be moral or financial, seems to be synonymous with politics in America today.  Whether it’s campaign financing, lobbying, or Weiner’s latest sexting scandal, it can feel like the American public deals with the most corrupt politicians in the world.  However, while American politics may seem corrupt and broken, it fails to compare to the level of corruption that has engulfed Italian politics since the end of World War II.

In Italy’s first democratic election in 1948, the U.S. funneled $1 million into the centrist Christian Democratic party in hopes of defeating the Communist party, setting the precedent for corruption in Italian politics during the First Republic.  What followed were 51 governments in 50 years, each consisting of multiparty coalitions always formed around the centrist Christian Democrats.  This era of  unstable governments but stable politics epitomized the party system Giovanni Sartori characterized as “polarized pluralism”, a tripolar system where communists held the far left pole, the Christian Democrats held the center pole, and fascists held the far right pole. In order to keep the communists out of the governing coalition, however, the conservatives often resorted to corruption.  In 1978, Christian Democrat Aldo Moro attempted to broker an “Historic Compromise” with the communists to have them join the governing coalition. Moro was kidnapped and murdered by conservative extremists to prevent this compromise from being pursued..

Then came the Tangentopoli scandal of 1992.  After being arrested on charges of bribery, socialist politician Mario Chiesa unveiled a massive network of corruption in Italian politics, breaching all four major parties.  In total over 100 politicians and 300 members of Italian industries were convicted of corruption, leading to a grassroots anti-government movement culminating in the electoral reform of 1993 and christening the beginning of the Second Republic, a time dominated by two major party coalitions: the center-left and the center-right.

This set the stage for Silvio Berlusconi to enter the political arena by means of his center-right political party, Forza Italia. Before entering politics, Berlusconi controlled Italy’s only media empire, owning media giants Fininvest and Mediaset, as well as owning AC Milan Football Club.  His personal fortune and influence as a media tycoon allowed himself to gain the electorate necessary to succeed in his run for Prime Minister of Italy in 1994.  His victory exemplified the application of marketing to politics; Berlusconi’s target voters were the young and the elderly because they watched the most television, and since Berlusconi owned three of the seven national television channels he could portray himself positively via his media empire and sway voters through his “personalization” of politics.  Since that victory, Berlusconi has served as Prime Minister four times and has maintained his position as the leader of the center-right.

Predictably, Berlusconi has been attacked by political rivals for protecting his political interests via business and his business interests via politics, but that is not the only example of foul play Berlusconi has had a hand in.  On top of the media “reform” bills he passed like the Gasparri and Frattini laws (which preserved the status quo), Berlusconi also became linked with bunga bunga parties where he allegedly took part in sex parties with minors.

In his twenty years in politics, Berlusconi has faced trial around thirty times for everything from perjury to illegal financing of his political party to tax fraud.  Yet time and time again he has gotten the charges dropped and maintains his place at the helm of the Italian center-right coalition.  Until now.  For the first time on August 1, 2013, Berlusconi was definitively convicted of a crime.  Berlusconi will serve a one-year sentence likely on house arrest or doing community service as punishment for using offshore companies to purchase the rights to American movies, reselling them to his media empire in order to pay lower taxes.  Furthermore, his appeal on his conviction of sleeping with an underage prostitute is due to be reviewed in October.

Will Italian corruption end with Berlusconi?  Uncertainty remains, but optimists have reason to hope.  The Italian election of 2013 proved interesting for plenty of reasons, but its most interesting story related to the rise of a new political party: The Five Star MoVement.  Founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, the Five Star MoVement is an anti-corruption, anti-establishment party that cannot be accurately placed into a traditional left-right political spectrum.  In the election in February, the center-left coalition led by Bersani gained 29.5% of the vote, the center-right coalition led by Berlusconi received 29.1%, and the Five Star MoVement party received 25.5% and was the most voted individual party.  Considering that in the 2006 general election the center-left coalition received 49.8% while the center-right received 49.7%, it is obvious that the Five Star MoVement has truly thrown a wrench in Italy’s political climate, receiving a quarter of the nation’s vote as a new alternative to the previous duopoly in Italian party politics.  Grillo’s success has forced the center-left and center-right to form a grand coalition in order to maintain their primacy in Italian government, but with Italy’s history of dissolved governments and Berlusconi’s pending criminal convictions, a time may soon come for a new party to enter Italy’s higher politics offices.

Italy’s history of corruption in government is truly astounding, but will history continue to repeat itself?  The most recent election results for the Five Star MoVement suggest that the public is finally fed up with corruption and ready to end politics as they know it in Italy.  However, it is important to bear in mind that this same dissatisfaction happened in 1992 with the Tangentopoli scandal only to rear its ugly head again when Berlusconi rose to power.  Can corruption be banished from Italian politics?  I fear it cannot.

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Travel, Exams, and Homecoming

Hey everyone,

Last time I wrote I was in Dublin visiting Mac.  A lot has happened since then, and I hope you understand why I did not write sooner.  Spending my last months in Europe, I wanted to soak it in rather than spend precious time blogging.

TRAVEL

After a wonderful couple of days in Dublin, I flew back to London for a night before flying to Copenhagen to see Charlie the following day.  I flew in on a Thursday and, after meeting Charlie at the airport, went back to his shipping container of a home (it was literally a shipping container) before hanging out with his engineering friends at DTU, the technical university in Copenhagen.  However, Charlie and I had scheduled a flight to Oslo the following morning at 7:00, culminating in minimal sleep for the two of us that night.  We stayed up, watched the NCAA Basketball title game, and had quite the adventure getting to the airport in time for our flight.  If you know Charlie and me, you know how rare it was that we messed up transportation to get to the airport!  Even with the setback, though, we remained upbeat and we’ll definitely be laughing about this for years to come.

Charlie and I visited Oslo mainly to see our Norwegian friend, Øyvind.  He studied in Decorah on an exchange program during our junior year, and Charlie and I were actually the second and third people to see Øyvind since he left Iowa.  We only had about a day or two to spend, but looking back that was probably a good thing for our wallets.  I had heard people say that Norway was expensive, but oh my… I walked into a McDonalds just to see the price of a Big Mac meal: about $21.  We ended up buying pasta from a grocery store and Charlie cooked meals for us while we were there.  The three of us did all the sightseeing we could in Oslo, also including a quick game of five-a-side football with Øyvind’s friends who were studying Chinese with him.  It was utterly fantastic to be in Norway, especially with Øyvind, but we left for Stockholm after only two nights in Norway.

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In Stockholm Charlie and I stayed in a hostel that was right on the main shopping street.  We had barely over 24 hours in Sweden, but thankfully we were able to meet up with Sandra, a Stockholm native who I befriended at LSE this year.  Sandra and her friend, Matilda, showed us around the city, of which my favorite part was the Old Town district.  Charlie and I also roamed around an engineering school in Stockholm that he was interested in for grad school.  We loved Stockholm.  The city is beautiful, the people are wonderful, and it’s not quite as pricey as Oslo!

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After Stockholm we flew back to Copenhagen, where I would finally have the opportunity to explore the city I so briefly saw a few days prior.  Copenhagen ended up being my favorite Scandinavian city partially because of the awesome people I saw there and because the food was finally affordable!  Charlie had class going on while I was there, but I luckily knew of a couple of Oles studying at a different school in Copenhagen.  Charlie and I met with Liza, Kelsey, and Alex at a coffee shop downtown and then did a bit of sightseeing all around the city.  That night I hung out with Alex, Kelsey and their new friends, managing to navigate the Copenhagen transportation service on my own somehow to find them.  I loved this trip to Scandinavia, and even if it proved to be expensive, I’m glad I went there instead of the typical France-Spain-Italy-Germany route that nearly everyone else took.

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After one night back in London, I took the train from King’s Cross all the way up to Aberdeen, Scotland, an 8 hour train, to visit Rebecca.  Aberdeen is very, very far north, and although it clearly is not as large as the other cities I had been to, I enjoyed taking in the limited sights.  Aberdeen was just so old.  Every building reeked of history, and I enjoyed hanging out with Rebecca and her friends, including Sarah (who I met in London) and fellow Oles Kate and Gina.

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After a few relaxing days in Scotland, I headed back to London for a few nights before then training out to Plymouth to visit Jon.  Staying with Jon proved to be a wonderful time.  Plymouth is a beautiful seaside town in Southwest England, and staying with his family proved to be a great time.  He lives within a fifteen minute walk of the beach, and we took a couple of scenic walks with his dog to take in all the beauty.  Another theme of the trip, though, was football.  Jon took me to see Plymouth Argyle, a League Two football club (who he says deserves to be Premier League), play in a game which had serious ramifications on their survival hopes.  In the end Plymouth lost, but seeing a lower league football match was a great experience and thankfully they avoided relegation at the end of the year.

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EXAMS

The end of my travelpalooza meant the inevitable beginning of exam season.  The LSE academic year splits into three terms, where the first two contain all of your coursework and lectures and the last one contains all of your exams.  However, these were no ordinary finals.  I had five cumulative exams each worth 100% of my grade (except Social Policy, where it was 75%) in the course.  Essays? Don’t matter.  Math assignments? Don’t matter.  Coming from a lifetime of continuous assessment, these exams looked daunting.  I started revising fully in mid-to-late April, starting with Complex Analysis–my 300 level Maths course that I took during the first term and had not touched since December.  While traveling I had looked over some of my Complex notes, but it wasn’t until I returned to London for good that I finally buckled down and got to work.  At this point I had to plan my revision carefully to make sure I would be ready for all five exams.  Here was my exam schedule:

May 20: Social Policy 221-Poverty, Social Exclusion, and Social Change

May 23: Maths 317-Complex Analysis

June 4: International Relations 202-Foreign Policy Analysis

June 12: Maths 209-Differential Equations

June 17: Government 264-Politics and Institutions in Europe

All things considered, I had a rather fortunate exam timetable because all my exams were spread out.  I had Social Policy on the first day of exams and Government on the third to last day of exams.  My law friends finished in late May, but they had to cram for every subject right away while I had time to  fully revise each of mine.  I was most worried about my Maths modules and the IR exam, so my revision schedule essentially looked like this:

April 23-May 10: Maths 317

May 10-May 20: Social Policy 221

May 20-May 23: Maths 317

May 23-June 4: IR 202

June 4-June 12: Maths 209

June 12-June 17: Government 264

Two months of straight preparation for exams; two months I’ll never get back.  Even though it mentally drained me, it was sort of invigorating.  Waking up in the morning knowing all you had to do was revise this topic or that one without any extra-curricular commitments allowed me to really hone in on my studies.  This was also the term when I really got to know my fellow Saunderites well.  Of course I had gotten to know them well over the first two terms, but in the third term I took quite a few study breaks to play Fifa, and since most people were around the dorm we were able to turn it into a daily routine of sorts.

Anyways, back from that tangent, I suppose it would be helpful to go exam by exam and say how I thought it went.

Social Policy 221: Great.  This course was easily my favorite course at LSE and I felt the most prepared for it than any other exam I took.  My preparation seemed spot on, and I really enjoyed learning about welfare policy and all of the different dimensions of poverty and social exclusion.  For the exam I answered questions on in-work poverty, the relationship between poor health, social exclusion, and poverty, the linkage between disability, social exclusion, and poverty, and different social security systems’ approaches to fixing poverty.  In fact, I enjoyed the course so much that I am hoping to receive a Fulbright scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic year to go back to London and research a new welfare policy named the basic income (or Citizen’s Income), a topic that really caught my attention and passion.

Maths 317: Pretty good.  This was my most worrying exam.  Having not touched Complex since December, I essentially had to relearn all of it in a month.  All things considered, I felt pretty good about it.  Because of the grading system differences between the UK and the US (in the UK a 70 is an A, in the US a 93 is an A), Maths exams were always going to be the most difficult to take.  I was used to taking Maths exams in the States and getting almost every question right bar maybe one or two, but in the UK I could miss a quarter of the questions and still get an A.  This testing difference was huge. It forced me to really pick and choose which questions I wanted to dedicate time to answering, so there was a real cost-benefit analysis on time during each exam.  Anyways, I’m glad it’s over.  As interesting as the Cauchy Integral Formula, residues, path integrals, Laurent series, and complex numbers are, that was one exam I was happy to complete.

IR 202: Good.  Throughout the year, IR had always been the essay-based course I was getting the worst marks in.  I’d consistently get 5-10 points lower on my IR essays than my Government or Social Policy ones.  For the exam I proved to be very patriotic.  I wrote essays on Obama’s foreign policy, the Congress’ role in foreign policy decision making, Britain’s foreign policy under Blair, and whether or not regime type can be used as a predictor of foreign policy.

Maths 209: Fair.  Differential Equations had a new lecturer this year; because of this, there were no past exams to look over that were accurate representations of what the exam might look like.  When I took the exam and looked at the five questions (I had to answer four), I had not revised one of the questions at all, forcing me to answer the other four no matter what.  Thankfully, I feel like I did okay on them, but it was definitely the worst I felt after an exam thus far.  There were so many eigenvalues and graph plots…

Government 264: Good.  My last exam was also the exam I dedicated the least amount of time towards for studying.  I basically had four days to prepare myself for the exam, but overall it felt okay.  I ended up writing essays on the Italian constitutional reform of 1993, the British Constitution, and devolution in the UK and Italy.  As is evident, I used those four days to cram all I could about the UK and Italy–which was actually really interesting considering Italy’s election this year!  By this point, however, almost all of my friends had been finished with exams for at least a week: some had even gone home already.  I was just thankful to finally be done.  Two months of preparation finally concluded and I returned to the blissful nothingness of summer.

HOMECOMING

After my last exam finished on June 17th, I only had three nights to hang out with my London mates before flying home on the 20th.  Those were arguably the best days of the whole year.  We had nothing to do but hang out.  But, the 20th came and despite the false hope of getting bumped on my flight back, I boarded the plane to come back to the States.

I hated leaving.  I really, really hated it, but this year provided me an opportunity very few people have: a second chance at a first year of university.  Replicating that first-year experience was the best year of my life.  I made friends I will never forget, and I will try my hardest to come back to visit.

Of course it was wonderful arriving back in the States and seeing all of my family and friends who I had missed so dearly while abroad, but leaving London felt strangely permanent.  When I left Olaf after my first year, it didn’t feel anything close to this.  I knew that I’d get to see my Olaf friends again soon and that if I really wanted to I could drive to go see them since most of them lived within five hours or so of me.  But I can’t say the same for my Londoners.  I can’t just drive to London or Bristol or Norfolk or Swansea.  It costs quite a bit to fly back out there, but I know that when I do it will be more than worth it.

To everyone involved in this past year of my life: thank you.   Especially you, Carr-Saunders.  You took me in as one of your own, and I was essentially dubbed the token American who just happened to be a proper Gooner.  London earned its place as my favorite city in the world, and I know that my hatred of leaving it shows that I spent the year the best way that I could by developing friendships and joining societies and exploring Europe. I can now firmly say I have three homes: Decorah, Olaf, and London.

I fell in love with you, London, and that’s why I’m hoping a Fulbright will take me back.

Anyways, that concluded my year-long experience at the London School of Economics, and now I’m back at St. Olaf working in admissions once again.  It’s great to be back, and I really enjoy admissions work, but it’s hard not to wish I was back in London. I know this has been a really long post, but hopefully it has been an enjoyable read.

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Bloggiversary

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Tirades to Persuade, so it seems only fitting to recap the year’s highlights.

  • After a strong first couple weeks of posting (conveniently providing a means of productive procrastination from finals), TtP simmered out last summer (minus ArsenalCubs21′s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Euro predictions)
  • ArsenalCubs21 then used TtP as a travel blog on his trip to Namibia and South Africa, where he blogged more than ever before, posting about each and every day before realizing that such a rate of posting was unsustainable.
  • JakefromTtP continued to post occasionally on topics ranging from Game of Thrones to the Boston Bombings.
  • Effectively blogged-out, ArsenalCubs21 did not post again until he once again used TtP to document his year abroad in London.

And since you, our dedicated, knowledge-thirsty readers are not able to view the stats from our blog, we just wanted to share with you some stats.

MOST VIEWED POSTS

  1. EXCLUSIVE: TTP INTERVIEWS “Game of Thrones” WRITER GEORGE R.R. MARTIN with 588 views
  2. Apparently we need to have a talk about gay people. with 219 views
  3. Want to legalize gay marriage? Start a war.with 210 views
  4. How Ronald Reagan killed my dog and made me convert to Timeline with 200 views
  5. The Dangers of YOLO with 125 views

VIEWS BY COUNTRY

  1. United States of America with 3,183 views
  2. United Kingdom with 176 views
  3. Canada with 170 views
  4. Australia with 35 views
  5. Ireland, Germany, and India tied at 21 views
  6. Honorable Mention: Trinidad and Tobago with 5 views (We <3 you, O dedicated Trinidadian faithful)

We have been viewed on every (populated) continent, and are incredibly thankful to our raucous fanbase of dedicated readers.

Keep on TtP-in’.

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On Boston and Empathy

(Remember when blogging was a thing? Pepperidge Farm Tirades to Persuade remembers. But on to the story…)

We did it, people. We made it through last week.

I mean, it’s Monday, right? By definition, we have arrived at the start of a new week. We even have Earth Day, which is like the Chinese New Year of Holidays That Signify New Weeks. No longer can we remark with resigned defeat in our voices that “man, this week sucks,” at the news of a shooting or explosion or death of your favorite Game of Thrones character. It would be disingenuous. Right? That happened Last Week. There’s only so much asshole-ishness a man can put up with before it becomes necessary to tune it all out.

Let’s see if we can get a good laundry list of the events from Last Week. ***SPOILER ALERT*** THINGS THAT WILL MAKE YOU SAD APPROACHING: Five dead and scores wounded in Boston. Fertilizer plant leaves dozens feared killed in Texas. Avalanche in Colorado, shootings near Seattle, civil war raging in Syria and Iraq. The complete and totally laughable inadequacy of the American political system. Everybody, or hopefully mostly everybody, is aware of what’s happening. But there’s a point you reach where you value your sanity over your desire to be informed and sympathetic and generally good as a human being. Maintaining that high of a level of empathy is legitimately exhausting. Is that a frightening notion? Sure. But the only real alternative that I could possibly imagine is just being sad, always.

At a point you start to realize that this is how we, as a people, deal with tragedy. Shitty things happen, and we feel sad or ashamed or outraged about them, but they always reach a point where they become Last Week. And Last Week is not always identifiable by a Monday or an Earth Day, and it’s not signified by multiples of seven rotations around the sun. The length of our Last Weeks, shorten steadily and persistently. Four months ago, 20 young children were shot dead in Newtown, and background check legislation (which 90% OF AMERICANS SUPPORT. Things that are less favorable: apple pie, Jennifer Lawrence,  bald eagles flying into rainbowed sunsets, etc.) could not even pass the most liberal of the legislative bodies. I’m not saying this bill is a cure-all for our country’s ills, but it’s fucking something.

I honestly don’t know what to say. We have now reached a point as a country where tragedy of unimaginable scope can take place and we will sit and do nothing. We will sit and slowly forget. Hey, it happened Last Week. Maybe this week will be better.

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A Long Overdue London Update

Wow, it’s been a while.  Sorry I haven’t written more frequently, but that silence has largely been due to how busy I’ve been keeping myself over the past few months!  With Christmas break and the Lent Term at LSE, I haven’t had the time to write a new post.  I’ll try to catch you up.

Last time I wrote, November—and my first term at LSE—was coming to a close (man, that’s a long time ago…).  December went by smoothly, filled with some essay writing and final social events of the calendar year, and I flew home on December 14th for my four-week Christmas break.  I was fortunate enough to go directly to St. Olaf and see my friends on campus for a few days before finally heading home to Decorah for Christmas.  Break was perfect.  Even though I had only been gone for about three months, I missed everyone; getting to see them all before returning to London for the long haul (until June) was much needed.  After working Admissions at Olaf for the first week or so of interim, I flew back to London to start our second term at LSE.

Because I don’t really remember what happened when chronologically, I’m going to sum up Lent term at LSE in sections dedicated to my different areas of life in London.

A Cappella

During our first meeting of the new term, my a cappella group (The Houghtones) tried to figure out all of the pieces we wanted to do over the next few months.  This was always going to be a big term because we had a few performances mixed in with Timeless (which I’ll explain later) and The Houghtones very first competition.  At this meeting, we came across two songs we were considering: Take a Walk by Passion Pit and Some Nights by Fun.  While listening to Take a Walk on YouTube I realized that the two songs actually worked really well together, so I decided to venture into a discipline I had never entered before.  Arranging.  That first weekend of term, I spent about 15 hours arranging this mashup of two songs I really, really liked.  In the end, I laid the foundation for the arrangement and organized a base structure for the mashup.

In the end, we decided on three songs to learn and perform: A Simon & Garfunkel medley (Bridge Over Troubled Water/America), a Radio medley (in which we tried to be a radio, complete with station-switching), and the Some Nights I Take A Walk mashup (where I got to have the Take a Walk solo).  Our first major performance was in Timeless in mid-February.  Timeless consists of multiple LSE student groups coming together to form a variety show of sorts under the guise of a theater production.  The acts

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came from tons of dance groups (including many Indian dancing troupes), solos, a comedian, and us.  The best part about Timeless, however, is that it is performed in a West End theater.  This year it was the Lyceum Theater, home of The Lion King.  We rented out the theater for one day and spent the whole day doing tech rehearsals and putting the show together at the last minute.  The Houghtones had two slots in the show, which we filled with the Simon & Garfunkel medley and the mashup I originally arranged.  By this time, the mashup had changed significantly.  With the help of other members of the group, we changed the arrangement to include We Are Young by Fun. The mashup now went from Some Nights to Take a Walk to We Are Young and back to Some Nights.  I love that mashup and am truly proud of it.  Performing on a West End stage was something I had never dreamed of doing, but Timeless was really an experience I’ll never forget.

The other major performance of the term was our competition.  The Houghtones are a relatively new a cappella group, and because of that we had never entered a competition before.  By entering the Voice Festival UK competition, we were placed in the London regional with five other groups, including All The King’s Men (who finished 3rd at internationals last year) and Vive (a semiprofessional group from a renowned London music school).  Needless to say, we had our work cut out for us.  We worked hard on learning the Radio medley, and we pieced everything together (including movement) just in time for the competition.

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That night, we (lucklessly) drew the performing spot right between All The King’s Men and Vive.  We performed about as well as possible (minus some vocal fatigue from practicing so hard that week), and I really think we impressed the London a cappella scene.  Predictably, we didn’t win.  Out of the six groups there, I can confidently say we were at least fourth, but the three groups who I would put ahead of us all have albums out and have gone on international tours, so I wasn’t distraught at all over it.  It really was amazing, though, how much attention we received simply by entering this competition.  Our President, Liam, received emails from producers asking about working together for our “next” album, and one guy even wanted to include us in a documentary on the UK a cappella scene!  That’s exposure you can only get in a big city.

I loved being in The Houghtones, and I know I’m going to miss it (and definitely the people) next year at St. Olaf, but I also know I’m going to love being back in Chapel Choir.

Football

Because I chose to play both football and basketball at LSE, I didn’t get to play as much football as I wanted.  The season went relatively well; in one league we finished third (out of ten) and in the other we were relegated.  I really enjoyed my football, though, becoming more and more confident as a goalkeeper.  Some guys in the FC said they thought I was the second best keeper in the FC, only behind the first team keeper.  I couldn’t believe it.  That means they put me ahead of a guy who played for the England U16s and only behind a keeper who went through the Chelsea academy until the age of 16.  It makes me wonder what I could have done in the academy setup over here.  But overall, the third team (and the FC as a whole) has been such a great group of guys and I’m definitely happy I chose to play over here.

LSEFCBeing in football is also a major social commitment, though.  Although first term I didn’t go to Wednesday night AU (Athletics Union) events very often, I went more frequently this term.  Those nights will definitely be memorable, especially Club Dinners, AU Ball, and FC Pub Quiz night.  I’m definitely going to miss the FC (and all their songs) next year.

Basketball

Basketball proved to be my least enjoyable extra curricular of the year, mostly due to our performance on the court.  We went 1-10 and were relegated from the top flight of UK university basketball.  What I failed to realize was that some of the teams in my league gave full rides to basketball players.  I lined up for our playoff match at Worcester against a 6’9” guy from Boston who was on scholarship.  We lost by 69 points.  SIXTY.  NINE.  POINTS.  That kind of deflates your confidence.LSEbasketball

Regardless, I liked the team.  A lot of my teammates were graduate students, which meant I didn’t really see them outside of basketball, but nonetheless I enjoyed playing ball with them.  I once again realized how much I prefer playing football to basketball, though.

London Events (read “Arsenal and the West End”)

This term has been a memorable one as far as London events go.  I have now been to the Emirates five times (once for a youth game which I’ll mention below), and I’ve seen Arsenal win five times in person! (There has to be something to that… I need to go more often).  First term I saw the 2-0 win over Montpelier in the Champions League, and then this term I saw the 1-0 win over Swansea in the FA Cup replay, the 2-1 EPL match against Aston Villa, and the resounding 4-1 win over Reading in the EPL this past Saturday!

The other major notable event was a few weeks ago when I managed to get a free ticket from a friend to go see the Book of Mormon on the West End.  I had heard from my friend Greg back at Olaf that it was incredible, and man, it surpassed every expectation I had.  I love South Park and I love Trey Parker and Matt Stone, but I didn’t think Book of Mormon could really be that funny.  I was wrong.  I don’t think I stopped grinning and laughing until intermission.  It’s by far the greatest musical I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack nonstop since.  I’m so lucky I get to go again in May with Vidur!

Friends Visiting!

I was blessed to see quite a few friends from home this term.

Over Olaf’s interim break, my friend Sheldon stayed with me in London for a weekend.  He had been in Rome for January, so he figured he’d stop in London on the way home.  That weekend was the second time I really did the whole “London tourist” scene, going to Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, the Southbank, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, British Museum, Abbey Road, and the works.  By far the most interesting part of the weekend was at Buckingham Palace during the Changing of

BuckinghamTasethe Guard, however, where we met up with a couple other Oles.  During the change, one random guy walked into the middle of the road holding two knives in his hands.  He started shouting, and since I’m super tall I was able to start watching this way before other people noticed. After a minute or so of shouting and police cautiously approaching him, he put one of the knives up to his throat.  At this point I started rambling to the other Oles about what was going on and quickly snapped a picture of the guy with the knife up to his throat.  At this point one of the police officers managed to run up from behind the guy and tase him before he could harm himself or anyone else.  By this point the whole crowd was fixated on the happenings and watched the police set up police tape and put the guy in a police vehicle.  Here’s an article in the Guardian about it.  Needless to say, that was…interesting.

Later in the month I also got to meet up with my friend Mike from Decorah, who is studying at Swansea for the semester.  He happened to be in London, so we met up at a pub and caught up for the first time since high school, really.

A few weeks after that one of my best friends from Decorah, Charlie, came to visit.  Charlie is studying in Copenhagen for the semester, and he managed to come by for a weekend in London.  We did the usual tourist stuff, but the highlight for me was going to the Arsenal v Aston Villa match with him, my friend Hamish, and Hamish’s friend Will from home.  Arsenal won 2-1 thanks to a late winner (made all the sweeter since Hamish is a Villa fan) and it was overall a great day in London.  Thankfully, I’m going to visit Charlie in Copenhagen later this week!

CharlieandI

Once term came to an end in late March, we began our five-week Easter break.  Five weeks is a lot of time, so I planned a couple of trips around Europe to fill some time.  Those all start in the second week of break, though, because for the first week my friend David from Olaf came to visit!  He originally had planned on visiting our mutual friend Zach (who went to high school with David and was at LSE first semester) and myself, but Zach actually took an internship in D.C. second semester so he didn’t return to LSE.  However, our friend Mac, who is studying at Trinity in Dublin, came for a few days!  The three of us managed to do all the touristy things we could imagine, including a few things I hadn’t gotten to do with my other visiting friends, like tour St. Paul’s Cathedral and go to the Science and Natural History museums.  We also managed to go to an Arsenal NextGen Series U19 game against CSKA Moscow at the Emirates, which the Arsenal youth team won 1-0.  The stadium only had 6,000 fans, but the highlight of the game was definitely watching my friend Jon, a Tottenham fan, have to stand up during the “If you hate Tottenham, stand up!” song.  David and I also got to go to the Arsenal v Reading 4-1 win that following Saturday, capping off a great week.  The highlight of week for me was definitely the food, though.  Even though I had been in London for so long, I had never really explored the food scene enough; thankfully, Mac is a serious foodie and looked up some incredible places to eat, including two Japanese noodle places, two incredible burger places (Patty and Bun was my favorite of the week), a burrito truck, and a toasted cheese sandwich in Borough Market, which was voted the best sandwich in all of London.  That cheese sandwich definitely lived up to its billing.  Borough Market was filled with delectable food stalls; I’m going again, no matter what.  During this week we also were able to run into my friend Rebecca from Olaf and her friends from UW-Eau Claire, Sarah and Megan, who were all studying in Aberdeen.  On top of meeting up for some meals, all six of us managed to go see Spamalot on the West End!  I’m going to visit Rebecca in a few weeks, and it was nice showing them around London before having them show me around Aberdeen!

So that brings me to this week.  For the next two weeks, I’m on a travel extravaganza where I’m basically visiting all of my friends who are studying in Europe right now.  I’m currently visiting Mac in Dublin (oh my, the Guinness from the gravity bar is delicious), and later this week I fly out to Copenhagen to visit Charlie, where I’ll take a weekend trip to Oslo (to see Oyvind for the first time since Junior year!) and Stockholm. After that, I’m spending a weekend in Aberdeen with Rebecca, followed by a few days in London before going to visit Jon in his hometown of Plymouth.  It’ll be a crazy few weeks, but I’m excited!

Classes and Exams

Of course, this five week break is supposed to be for revising, but don’t worry, I’m studying during my plane rides everywhere!  Classes have been going well.  I’ve been doing pretty well on my essays and the subject matter has been continuously interesting throughout the year.  For my four classes, I’d say I’ve enjoyed my Government course on Politics and Institutions in Europe the most followed by my Social Policy course on Poverty and Social Exclusion.  Foreign Policy Analysis and my two Math(s) modules haven’t been quite as fun, but they’re still okay.

I received my exam timetable a week or so ago, and boy is it spread out… I have finals on May 20, May 23, June 4, June 12, and June 17.  A full month of exams.  Yay.  I guess this is what I wanted, though.  I don’t have any awful back to back exams, and I have plenty of time to prepare, but it is pretty annoying that I finish on the 17th and fly home on the 20th, leaving me only a few final nights with my London friends before leaving them for who knows how long.

After that, I’ll be going back to Olaf to work admissions in the summer.  I’m looking forward to it!

Anyways, this has been a long recap of my term at LSE, but hopefully it’s been an interesting read.  I’ll try to blog again down the road, chronicling my traveling experiences and my exam month from hell…

-ArsenalCubs21

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Second London Update

Hey everyone,

I’ve been swamped over the past month or so, leaving me little time to write about my time in London.  Now I’ll try to catch you up on my life.

Last time I wrote, I hadn’t had a football match yet for the LSE 3rd team.  Well, our first game was against the LSE 2nd team (the very team that said they didn’t need me after initially selecting me) in league play.  That Saturday afternoon I played the game of my life.  We got a quick goal to start off the match, and after stopping chance after chance for the 2nds, we went into halftime up one nil.  Coming out of the half, we again scored quickly, this time following it up with another quick strike to make it 3-0 after about 55 minutes.  The game ended at 4-1, with their goal coming late off a deflection.  Needless to say, we were pretty stoked to have taken down the supposedly better 2nd team, and after the match I knew this would be a great year for football.  Since then, in games I’ve played in, we’ve taken 7 points out of a possible 9, and sit towards the top of the standings.

Basketball is another story.  Our best player, a 6’8″, 3 pt shooting Peruvian has been injured the whole year, and we have struggled.  We started off the year with five straight losses, but this past Wednesday we took Oxford into overtime and won on a buzzer beater!

For my a capella group, we’ve gotten down three songs: Skinny Love by Bon Iver (in which I have a solo), Kids by MGMT, and Raindrops by Basement Jaxx.  It’s been a great time so far, and honestly I’m just glad I’m still singing.

In early November I took a day trip to Dover and Canterbury with my friend Vidur from U of Chicago.  Particularly interesting to see was the tunnel system at Dover Castle that was used during WWII to send and receive messages for the British Navy.  Other highlights included seeing the White Cliffs of Dover and the Canterbury Cathedral.

Two days after that trip, the American in me went bonkers.  Election night brought out my patriotism.  Since the time difference pushed the results back a few hours, I stayed up until six in the morning anxiously following the results.  I slept well (and quite relieved) that night.

Later that week I lucked out and got to go see Les Mis on the West End.  I had only ever seen the 25th anniversary edition, so to see the full musical on stage was incredible.  And then ever better, the following day my friend Kelsey came to visit!  She’s studying in Galway, Ireland for the semester, and was able to come by for a weekend in London.  It felt great to see another Ole in London, and our weekend was packed with London touristy stuff, like Abbey Road, the Tate Museum of Modern Art, and then to cap it all off, a tour of the Harry Potter film studio.  The tour was well worth the price.  If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend it.  They kept nearly everything from the movies, and they even have an area where you can ride a broomstick in front of a green screen.  And, of course, they had real Butterbeer.

Another highlight happened a week and a half ago when I had the honor of eating dinner with President Torgerson of Luther College and four other Luther people.  Once again, seeing familiar faces was great, and it was nice to talk about Decorah and other things nobody here in London really knew about.

And then, the ultimate highlight happened on this past Wednesday: I attended my very first Arsenal match at the Emirates Stadium.  I booked the tickets for Zach and me about a month ago, and boy was it worth it.  Our seats were behind the clock end goal off to left a little bit, but just being in the stadium really felt like the completion of a pilgrimage of sorts.  The game proved to be fantastic.  It was a Champions League fixture against Montpelier, and after a great result against Tottenham the Saturday before, Arsenal cruised to a 2-0 victory thanks to Wilshere’s first goal in nearly two years and a sublime volley from Lukas Podolski.  I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time I sat there and sang along with the Gooners for the first time.  It’s proved difficult to watch the Arsenal games so far since I have football most Saturdays, but I will definitely continue to scour the fixture dates for matches I can attend, and then hopefully get a ticket.

Thanksgiving was a little tough.  Being away from home for the first time stunk, but the General Course at LSE set up a Thanksgiving dinner for those of us here for the year.  It felt like a true American Thanksgiving dinner in the sense that it involved watching the NFL, arguing over sports and politics, and eating a bit too much food.

Anyways, that’s all I can really think of for now.  Life here really is incredible.  The people are great, the school is excellent, and the city is exciting.  Next weekend I’m flying over to visit Kelsey in Ireland, which I’m really excited for, and then I’ll fly home for Christmas on December 14th.

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Our Presidential Endorsement

Here at Tirades to Persuade, we know you’ve been waiting to find out who we would endorse for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election.  Well, look no further.

Barack Obama.

There we go.  With our massive viewing audience, that should more than seal the victory for the incumbent President.

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A Year in Foggy Londontown

Hey everyone,

ArsenalCubs21 here, and I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while.  After blogging (about) every day on my trip to Namibia and South Africa, I effectively was ‘blogged out’ and took a few months off.

But now I’m back, and I’m here to once again document my traveling experiences.  I was lucky enough to go to Africa this summer, and now I’m even luckier to be in London!  Technically, I’m a General Course student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which means that I will be spending my entire Junior year of college abroad at the LSE.

I flew in on September 30th.  My journey began by flying from Rochester, MN to MSP airport (all 30 minutes of it) and then having a six hour layover in MSP. I had never flown on my own before, so I used those six hours to eat, eat, and eat.  Realizing it was my last few hours in ‘Merica, I ate two dinners.  Firstly, whilst exploring all of MSP airport (because what else are you supposed to do?) I stopped at a Taco Bell to grab a Crunchwrap Supreme and a burrito.  It hit the spot.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to get Taco Bell in London, so I figured I’d capitalize while I could.  Then, about two hours later, I decided to watch some good ol’ American college football in a TGIF.  I sat there for another two hours, just watching football, the Ryder Cup, and eating a burger and fries with a Coke.  After second dinner I headed over to my gate and waited to board the plane.  I couldn’t sleep much on my overnight flight because I didn’t get an exit row seat, so I crammed my 6’7″ frame into regular coach seating for eight hours.  Luckily, I had the second Game of Thrones book (thanks to my co-writer jakefromttp) to finish on the flight, so it wasn’t unbearable.

When the plane landed in Heathrow around noon London time, I realized just how big of a trip this was.  I wouldn’t be back home until December, and even then, that’ll only be for a few weeks until I fly back out.  I got through customs without any issues and picked up my bags and boarded the Tube.  Lugging my two bags around with my backpack proved to be difficult, but I navigated the Tube well enough that I arrived at my dorm, Carr-Saunders, without any issues.

After getting my key and room number, I got to room 314 and met my 18 year old roommate from Bristol, Greg.  Because I didn’t want to unpack everything, I went with Greg to another guy’s room.  There I met Louis and Miles.  Louis is another 18 year old (edit: 19 year old.  He got mad at me.  But he looks 16.) Brit studying Geography, and Miles is actually another General Course student from America who goes to Princeton.  I also finally managed to meet Zach, a friend-of-a-friend who goes to Case Western in the States and is also General Course.  From then on, it was Week One all over again.  So many names.  So many repetitive conversations.  “What’s your name? Where are you from? What are you studying?” Repeat.  Going through the same situation for the second time made me really see the differences between London and St. Olaf.  Olaf definitely had way more structured “get-to-know-you” time and games, whereas LSE is much more reliant on people being outgoing.  Within that first week sleep was hard to come by, but friends were definitely made.  Also, for all you Oles reading this right now, you’ll get this next reference.  My dorm is Kildahl.  It’s only like 150 kids, mostly first-years, and everyone hangs out in the common room.  It’s actually really nice, and I now understand where Kildahlians are coming from when they argue about how great Kildahl was.  But of course Carr-Saunders is better than Kildahl.  Our common room has ping-pong, pool, and a PS3 which has had FIFA 13 on it all day every day.  You can’t beat that.

At the Fresher’s Fair during the first week (like the co-curricular fair at Olaf), I managed to sign up for too many things, just like I did at Olaf.  I picked out football, basketball, music club, poker club, and Model UN club, but after a few weeks here, I’ve realized that the two sports and music are enough.  Tryouts for sports were the first weekend, so I journeyed off with my new friends Haymish and Shinty to football.  Although I didn’t play varsity athletics at Olaf, I was optimistic in my ability to make the top half of players in both football and basketball.  At football tryouts, I was offered a spot on the LSE 2nd XI (out of seven teams), which was the best I could have done, but a few days later they emailed me saying they found a keeper who played for the England U16s, so I was subsequently bumped down to the thirds.  However, I’m happy with that because it has allowed me to play on the basketball first team.  We actually just had our first game yesterday at Oxford, and although we lost by 24 after being tied at halftime, there’s plenty to be optimistic about.  I started the game at center, and played decently, collecting 10 points, 4 blocks, and about 6 rebounds.  My third extra-curricular, though, might be what I’m most excited for.  I auditioned for, and made, the LSE A Capella group.  After only being away from Chapel Choir for a few weeks, I already terribly missed singing, but now I have this group to sing with.  And not only that, it’s the first time I’ve been in an A Capella group, so it’ll be interesting and fun.

Of course, LSE is a university, so one main reason for coming here was to study at such a great, well-known university.  As a General Course student, I can take basically whatever I want, so I’m taking four classes in four different subjects: Math 317 Complex Analysis, Government 264 Politics and Institutions in Europe, International Relations 202 Foreign Policy Analysis, and Social Policy 221 Poverty, Social Exclusion, and Social Change.  So far I love all four of the courses, and I’ve really grown to appreciate St. Olaf’s Math department since I haven’t felt behind at all in Complex Analysis.

Although I haven’t had time to do much sight-seeing or traveling, I did get to go to Cumberland Lodge last weekend in Windsor Park.  I had no idea how historically significant Cumberland Lodge was, but apparently Princess Anne spoke there only a few days before we got there.  I went with about 40 other General Course kids and we basically listened to lectures and discusses them the whole weekend.  The definite highlight of the trip, however, was on Sunday morning when we all went to an Anglican church service.  Although that might not sound too interesting on its own, we all went to this particular service because it’s where the Queen worships most weeks.  Luckily, she was there last week!  We all got to see her, but she didn’t stop to talk to any of us.

Anyways, that about does it for my first update.  I haven’t been able to get to an Arsenal match yet, but I did go to the stadium and got an Arsenal scarf from the team store!  It’ll come in due time.  If you have any other questions, feel free to comment below and I’ll try to answer them!

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EXCLUSIVE: TTP INTERVIEWS “Game of Thrones” WRITER GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

Through a bizarre instance of happenstance, renowned fantasy author George R.R. Martin (of “Game of Thrones” fame) agreed to sit down with us at Tirades to Persuade for an EXCLUSIVE interview. Martin discussed his most famous series, along with his notorious propensity for killing off main characters in his work.

As the interview begins, I sit with Martin at a secluded table in a coffee shop/bookstore hybrid. The 64 year old author wears his patented grey beard, hat, and suspenders while American sitcom ‘The Office’ plays on a nearby TV.

TTP: Thank you so much, Mr. Martin, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us! How’s the new book coming?

GRRM: Well it’s funny that you mention that. For a slow writer such as myself, I consider anywhere around 1,000 words in a day to be a good writing day. That being said, the sixth book in A Song of Ice and Fire is looking at, conservatively, 1 million words. We’re shooting for a release date somewhere in early 2015.

Wow. That’s certainly an ambitious undertaking. You think the next book is truly three years away? 

GRRM: Well, considering I’ve taken time away from writing to handle your questions, four years might be a better estimate.

Point taken. I think one of your traits that definitely sets you apart from your colleagues is your complete lack of hesitation when it comes to killing off characters. And not bit players, but ones that are both fan favorites and central to the plot. Is it difficult for you?

GRRM: Certainly, to an extent. But there’s also an element of It keeps you on your toes. I want people emotionally involved in my story. I want readers to be afraid to turn the page, not knowing who’s going to live and die. That fear only becomes more intense when they realize that literally no one is safe.

Do you fear that readers’ tolerance for seeing beloved characters bite it has a limit?

GRRM: No, not really. If you look at the Harry Potter series, fans were able to deal with the deaths of Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore. I think that made it easier for people to handle her killing of Harry at the end of the series. Another example–

Sorry, Mr. Martin, just one tiny correction, Harry Potter is alive at the end of the series. There’s even an epilogue showing him married with kids.

GRRM: Was. There was an epilogue. Please, feel free to check with one of the copies the store is selling.

I navigate the bookstore to find their Young Adult section. Flipping to the last page of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I read: …seeing the life go out of Tom Riddle’s eyes, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, gave his last breath gladly, knowing that the wizarding world he left behind was safer for it.”

GRRM: Like I said.

No. That’s not how it ends. This can’t…

GRRMAll life ends in death. This is the only fundamental truth, yet we keep ourselves ignorant to it! Like Hindu cattle, humanity marches on in blissful naivety while our biological clocks tick on towards expiration.

You. You did this. How could you!?

GRRM: The problem with my own books is that there are only so many characters to finish off. So I thought, why limit myself? Why not dream a little bigger?

On the nearby television set, Jim Halpert and the rest of the cast from The Office are ambushed by a medieval squad of assassins. Similar scenes play out with Arthur on PBS (poisoned), Don Draper on AMC (consumed by dragon), and Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless on ESPN (mutually defeated in one-on-one duel).

STOP! YOU’RE A MONSTER!

One exception is a televised press conference where Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James announce a seven book Twilight/50 Shades crossover series. M. Night Shyamalan is chosen to direct the film adaptation.

/weeps uncontrollably

GRRM: I take it we’re done here. I’ll leave these with you. Hope you enjoy The Winds of Winter!

On the table he leaves copies of Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. You don’t want to know how they end. 

 

A.N. – This is, obviously, a parody. I did not interview Mr. Martin, and have the upmost respect for his writing. Cheers.

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Help Wanted

The title says it all. We here at the blog have been, shall we say, a tad vacant over the last couple months. Moving half-way across the country (or across the Atlantic, in my colleague’s case) leaves you with little time for blogging. C’est la vie.

(For those non-French speakers, that means ‘we done goofed‘)

However, I’m not ready to give up on this project. We’ve been viewed in the States, Canada, U.K, France, and about 50 other countries ( <3 Trinidad and Tobago). That being said, I think we’ve realized certain limitations we have as far as regular writers.

I’m committing to writing once a week, with anything on top of that being icing on the cake. That, obviously is pretty scant for a blog. This is an invitation, nay, a plea: if you’d like to write, be it prose, political commentary, Twilight fan-fiction, anything, come write for us. I can’t promise anything (seeing as we spent our whole staff budget on Pizza Lunchables and Arnold Palmers), but I can say that it’s helped me develop my writing, and was even brought up during an internship interview (for a position I ended up winning).

So, if you’re interested, contact me (tiradestopersuade@hotmail.com) and let me know. You don’t have to write regularly, or even that well (god knows we sure don’t), you just have to want to help on this project. Let’s go.

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