Chapel Hill Treehouse

A decidedly mixed bag of musings by andrew reynolds, professor of political science at UNC Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More tank carcasses for Half-Dome

All in the Panjshir valley - Afghanistan (August 2006)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Afghan pics (2)

View from Massoud's tomb of the panjshir valley

Local boy

Me at valley entrance

Afghan Pics(1)

Panjshir valley
Tank play in the Panjshir

Trailhead report - Afghanistan

I maybe a newbie but I know enough to know that trailheads sneer at roadrunners, have veiled contempt for track-letes and only passing toleration for those who tread the grass.

Running on a treadmill, a machine, indoors, without shouts of ‘turtle!’, ‘head!,’ or ‘why is Sqounk running so slow!’ are reason for expulsion. But prey let me finish my Carolina friends, give me a chance. Yes, my ‘trail run’ was on a big black machine in the basement of the UN operations guest house in the Shar-e-naw district of Kabul, but frankly it is a miracle I’m running at all, here in this bastion of democracy.

Running outside in Kabul has three significant flaws: 1. Kabul is at 2,000m and the altitude makes you queasy. 2. The roads look like campus construction on a good day. 3. There is about at 98% risk of being bundled into the trunk of a Honda by the kindly gentlemen of the Taliban. While (1) and (2) I have ignored in other places, and (3) gets you on TV; for Willow and baby Willow’s sake I promised not to run outside. Monk and Ding could outrun al Qaeda but I’m not speedy enough.

My ‘trail runs’ have consisted of driving to a UN guest house about 20 minutes away through survival-of-the-fittest Kabul traffic, saying ‘salem’ to the armed guards and then hanging out with the white people in an improvised gym. I have actually run 60k over the last week – all on the machine (averaging about 7.40 mile pace, gearing up for the Outer Banks in the Fall). I saw beautiful white walls, listened to Rufus on my ipod, and noted the delightful ceiling architecture. Ok, enough pathetic trail report…but at least I can attach a photo of me in the gym garden proudly wearing Willow’s Trailhead shirt…is this the first trailhead sighting in Afghanistan I wonder? Shouldn’t there be a ‘pics of trailheads on vacation runs’ page on the website?

To pad out my report I’ll offer some reportage on my trip. I am here working with the Independent Electoral Commission, helping them to re-write the national electoral law. It is my third trip here – I enjoyed the Afghan winter in 2005 and the Fall in 2004. While security is deteriorating dramatically in the South and East of the country, effectively a low level war now between the Taliban and Coalition forces, Kabul remains comparatively safe. Of course, ‘safe’ if you are not in uniform or unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are improvised explosive devices (ieds) almost every day aimed at the tanks of the European ‘peace-keeping’ forces and the US-UK soldiers. Tanks and big guns are pretty ominous when you see them up close, especially when those carrying them have that hunted look of those who never know where the attack will next come from. Yesterday I drove through a battalion of my British army squadies on foot patrol…fully armed, fully kitted out, looking down the road through the sights of their machine guns. My Afghan colleague couldn’t understand how I could tell they were British…I said “look at them…pasty, mean, teenagers, who are my height but about 100lbs of muscle heavier.” The next day at the heavily guarded ISAF ‘soldiers’ market I felt so at home with the pride of England around me…guys remarkably well trained in the art of using the word “fuck” and its derivations, as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective and vowel. On the way I enjoyed watching three sandy American hummers speeding towards me with a gun turret nicely aimed at my passenger seat…couldn’t they tell I was UNC faculty!!? What is wrong with these guys?

As part of my work I’ve been speaking to a lot of people. In and out of parliament -- which inspires just because it is there. A lecture at the University of Kabul which used to be more of al Qaeda madrassa. And brainstorming sessions with the leaders of civil society – lawyers, teachers, doctors.

Malalai Joya is a small raven haired woman of 28 with large brown eyes and a mouth that on occasion breaks into a grin despite the fact that she lives under constant threat of assassination. She first hit the headlines in 2003 at the loya jirga in meeting in Kabul to confirm the transitional government of Hamid Karzai. She brazenly denounced the warlords, in particular the notorious Abdul Sayyaf. A shocking move for an Afghan woman to do in public.

Riding on the backs of anti paramilitary and drug lord sentiments last year she was elected to the new Afghan National Assembly from her home province of Farah, which is deep in Taliban land. In April she tried to speak in parliament and was shouted down, with threats of rape and murder made against her by her parliamentary colleagues. Behind barbed wire and multiple bodyguards she said she is a marked woman – there is no reason to disbelieve her. We followed a car to her heavily guarded house and then spent an hour discussing politics. Her passion and quiet bravery makes her seem so much larger than her little body. She makes an immediate impression…in a land where almost everyone plays nice with the warlords she offers no accommodation – women must be respected, the law of the gun must be ended, and the ugly mafiosi of drug lords and militia commanders (many of who remain at the highest level of government) must be kicked out permanently-- no ifs, no buts, no ‘but the reality is you must accept the men of the past otherwise they will bring down the state.’ My questions are translated into Dari for her, but she answers in English.

Today we headed north to the Panjshir valley – home of the ‘Lion of the Panjshir’ Ahmed Shah Massoud – the leader of the Northern Alliance and the man assassinated by al Qaeda on Sept 9th 2001 as a precursor to 9/11. Now THIS is the place for our next international trail run. The Panjshir valley runs along a stretch of imposing mountains which was Massoud’s fortress in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s and against the Taliban in the 1990s. The valley itself is only about a mile across and has a single road that winds along the river. The journey here is relatively safe because the Panshjiries hate anyone who is not from the valley. But the only people they hate more than anyone who is not from their valley are the Taliban, and so because the Taliban hate us, the Panshjiries would die for us to avoid even a paper cut. It’s the age-old logic of the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend.’

The valley is such a change from the dry dusty yellow around Kabul. It is a mini grand canyon with sheer mountain cliffs and a lush green floor. Stunningly beautiful. The white-water river that runs the length of the valley would be terrific for rafting but I don’t see the tourists hitting it hard just yet. Half way up the valley we visited Massoud’s grave and patted the camels of the nomads. You can imagine that it all seems quite far from Wilson Park.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Good start for Norwich

My team: Norwich City Football Club, Championship league, England (I did my undergrad degree in Norwich, 1985-88).

Three games into the season and they have made a solid start. After losing to Leeds in the opening match of the season they beat Preston 2-0 and Luton 3-2 in a thriller. Only downside is that we might be selling our England third string keeper to Charlton.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Gardens-from Kabul to Chapel Hill

Dry dusty and yellow Kabul actually has some great walled gardens...often roses but today I saw a whole line of sunflowers (in front of the Uzbek embassy).

This reminded me I forgot to post pictures of my Chapel Hill vegetable garden.

It was an experimental garden this year, I planted lots to see what would flourish. The cucumbers did well, the tomato and aubergine grew like wildfire but never fruited, and I sowed the carrots, leaks and spring onions too close together. A couple of months ago I planted a few pumpkins and said "go for it" and they really have. They have just run rampant over the whole garden...which is fine. If they fruit they'll make 100lb pumpkins in the fall.

The other pic shows the first two peppers harvested - they will be lovingly hung from the rafters.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Music sharing

I realise I have never blogged about music. For those of you who have had to endure a 7 hour car trip signing festival with me you will know that music is almost as central as Henrik, electoral systems and, errr, my life.

So let us share...and share back. What are you listening to right now?

For me...the last three things played on my ipod.

John Ritter - 'California'
Rufus Wainwright - the 'Want One' album
Wilco and Billy Bragg - 'California stars'
(not sure why there is so much california in there?)

Kabul arrival

Three days to get here (way too much time stuck in Chicago) a night in Dubai and then that classic Air Arabia flight from the UAE to Kabul across Iran and the mountains of Hazara-land (I'm sure their air-safety score is really unfair).

Now sitting in hot dry heat surrounded by blue minarets, german tanks, and foreigners loitering around a murky green pool. Tomorrow I begin barnstorming the election commissioners but today it is the weekend. I missed the Kabul desert golf classic today! Shame :( I really must try and play the course next weekend - 9 holes of landmined rough and sand shots all the way.

Lectures are being set up at the university, for the womens groups, civil society institute and think tanks. But for now I am listening to Rufus Wainwright's 'Oh What a World' as the burkha's go by (isn't that what Afghanistan is *so* all about :)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Scenes from Ocracoke 2

Scenes from Ocracoke 1

Our fifth consecutive year holidaying on the island of Ocracoke North Carolina which we adore. !2 miles of protected (uninhabited) beach and a quaint little village. This year we went with our best friends John and Wendy, and their son Sam. The pics of us all -- attcius, maddy, layna, I, Themba and the Wolford-Lynch's (plus their dog Terra)-- require little commentary. A fine time was had by all.

Pabble Pics


The sport of Pabble was invented in 2005 by Andrew Reynolds (of Chapel Hill, NC) while on vacation on the island of Ocracoke NC in the Atlantic (closer to America than to Britain).

It is a beach sport owing its geneology to paddle-ball, badminton, table-tennis and the Paris-Dakar rally.

The first international match (or 'sandy' as it is known in pabble terminology) was held in August 2005 between Dr. John Lynch and the above named inventor. It was a close fought battle with Reynolds ultimately coming out on top with a 7-6 victory (subsequently Lynch objected to Reynolds making up the rules mid game).

Pabble is played on a rectangle of sand - 10 paces by 7 paces. The court (or 'platter') is then divided into four with a small semi-circle (the 'serving platter') drawn in each back corner. The middle line is the net, which has no height, in fact it has negative height as the net is the indenture made by the pabble bat as it draws the line.

The serving pabbler must have one foot planted in the serving platter and serve the ball to the diagonal quadrant (e.g., as in tennis). The pabbler has free choice as to which quadrant they wish to start serving from, then they must alternate sides.

A pabble point is only scored on a service. A pabbler has to win back service before winning a point.

A game is won when a player reaches 7 points. There is no two-point margin required for victory.

If, at any stage of the game, the ball lands directly on a line both pabblers must exclaim "pabble!" and the point is replayed.

The first international round robin Pabble tournament was played in August 2006 at the site of its invention (one past pony beach, Ocracoke, NC).

Aug 2006 Pabble League Table

Pabbler Pl Won Lost Pts

Atticus 5 3 2 6
Andy 3 2 1 4
John 2 1 1 2
Layna 1 1 0 2
Maddy 1 0 1 0
Wendy 2 0 2 0

(Wendy continues to be the 'greatest pabbler never to have won a major').

Henrik crashes out of Buick Invitational

The man started well on Friday and was 2 under par through 11 but then 4 bogies and 1 birdie left Henrik 1 over for the two rounds, missing the cut by 4 shots. This is the second cut missed in a row, making 5 cuts missed out of the last 7 (Mr.Bjornstad is not making my weekends exciting right now).

Next week its the International in Colorado...I'll sing HB John Denver songs from Kabul to give him that extra (bizarre) edge.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bad news from the Bear

Henrik - Day 1 - US Bank Championship in Millwaukee - 76 (+6) - Third from last - Disaster!