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February 27, 2007

Day 3 Into 4: London

-Patrick S Lasswell

This Post Describes Events from the Summer of 2006

Lack of Civility is the Death of Hope

Royal Institute of Justifying Conspiracy Theories.jpg

Royal Institute of Justifying Conspiracy Theories

It may seem extremely strange to some people who know me to find that I’m extolling the virtue of civility. I value civility so much that I try not to squander it on those it is lost upon. Hormonal drama students who like to run up and down the halls of cheap West End hotels at all hours are not deserving of civility, but your travel partner is. Giving someone who is going to go through any number of checkpoints with you an excuse to look up the local phrase for “He's carrying drugs/weapons/pornography” is an exceptionally bad plan. I was deeply worried that my deteriorating physical condition from staying an extremely hot, humid, and unventilated hotel (hostel) room would affect my conviviality with Michael. I have spent too many years living on big gray boats not to understand exactly how badly things can go when the mood turns sour. People in the Navy are actually pretty good about avoiding invitations to walk home from the middle of the ocean.

So far, Michael and I have been having a lot of fun with this trip. One month ago today we were laughing our heads off in gleeful appreciation of the notion that we could get away with traveling, talking to interesting people, and get paid well for it. Implicit was the notion that we could make this work because it would be fun for the two of us. As we drank ale and dreamed great dreams, we knew that the camaraderie was what made this possible. The kinds of inspiration and mental agility needed to accomplish this kind of feat were only possible with a strong friendly trust. This was more than the practiced solidity of trained acrobats; this was the inspired trust of improvisational acrobatics. If we’ve learned anything from the intimate portrayals in “The Amazing Race”, we’ve learned how badly things can go once a team stops wanting to be there.

We go out that evening seeking comfortable accommodations and a traditional English pub. We're in the West End and the theater district and end up in a pub that proudly proclaims its connections to the great Charlie Chaplin. It's a nice enough place, but I make the critical error of ordering a hamburger. Heat exhaustion is my only excuse for this folly, instead of a reasonable patty of ground beef on a soft bun, I get English interpretation of American food. Arriving on my plate is a charred lump of chopped steak on a stiff roll, with chips (fries). The previous night we were smart and had Indian cuisine, a diet designed for hot, muggy weather. Now I'm trying to recover from a day of hyperthermia with indigestible chunks of gristly bovine product. The beer is alright, but nothing to write home about when you come from the city with the best ale in the world.

Italy Fans Showing World Cup Madness at Picadilly Circus.jpg

Italy Fans Showing World Cup Madness at Picadilly Circus

After dinner we continue wandering around London seeking cool refreshment and relief from the heat. At the next pub, the place is packed with people watching Italy beat Germany in the World Cup. It was a close game to the end and the noise is considerable. After the end of the game, the Italy fans do their best to show that they have Italian spirit by driving like idiots through the streets honking their horns endlessly. We wander back towards Piccadilly and the place really is a Circus. Italy fans are mobbed around the Eros statue, climbing the Victorian monstrosity and otherwise going nuts. Others are gathered around, watching the festivities and taking pictures with their camera phones. After a while the police show up and gently break up the party. We head to a nice night club because we can and it is still open. Before long that bar closes and we reluctantly leave its air conditioning to go back to the steaming embrace of our unfortunate lodgings.

I get a couple of hours sleep in before dehydration wakes me up. I re-hydrate with the help of the Gatorade powder I didn't expect to need until we got to Iraq. A shower seems like a good idea and helps me cool down for a while. I make a critical mistake in wetting down a shirt to remove the wrinkles and then hang it up in my room while I try to get more sleep. The humidity in that chamber climbed the rest of the way to 100% as the shirt “dried” and sleep moved further and further away. I'm getting fussy, a condition not conducive to good travel.

Light creeps through the window, the cursed, sealed window, and I go out to greet the dawn and hope for some reduction of temperature. It is pleasant and not hot in Piccadilly, the mess from the evening's riot has been mostly cleaned up. The McDonald's has a glass door that's been smashed by anti-globalizationists swept up in the fervor of the World Cup. Or maybe some drunken idiot got rowdy, it's hard to tell the difference, really. Neither kind of person can be expected to be able to articulate intelligently, act coherently, or show useful results.


Not to Blame for Unsolicited Commercial Emails [Spam]

I explore and take pictures of St. James' Square, a nice little neighborhood that used to rule the known world. On one corner is the East India Club where they invented Ghandi. The opposite corner holds Norfolk House where General Eisenhower and some friends put together the largest, most complex amphibious invasion in human history, two or three times in a row. Scattered around the buildings are historical markers indicating some of the resident's. Here lived the woman who sponsored the invention of computing. The home of the first woman Member of Parliament has it's windows open, a sight that fills me with schadenfreude. I'm weak, I blame it on the heat exhaustion. Normally I wouldn't be mean to people with millions of dollars of real estate if I couldn't do it to their faces. My father, who never let genetic reality get in the way of thinking he was Irish, would pale with shame to know that I stood in the center of English power while they were laid prostrate and didn't put the boot in.

Hot St James Square.jpg

Location is Not Everything

After a very long time Michael woke up and we went to breakfast. For the last week I had been extolling the virtues of breakfast at Fortnum and Mason, the great department store on Piccadilly. For decades, Michael's best friend has been a fascinating man named Sean. Over a decade ago they ran out of things to argue about, a sport they both loved, and so they started quibbling with intensity. The only thing I can figure is that he mistook me for Sean for a moment and thought that I had taken an extreme position over a minor point. I assured him that Fortnam and Mason was the truly great, and he was reluctant to believe me. Perhaps I shouldn't have extolled the virtues of blood pudding as part of my pitch for what composed a perfect breakfast. That may have been what caused the confusion. In the end, we had a delightful breakfast, even if only one of us chose to enjoy the blood pudding. Civility was restored through the good graces of excellent hospitality and hope for the adventure escaped death by steambath.


Gentility and Great Coffee

February 24, 2007

Day 3: London

-Patrick S Lasswell

This Post Describes Events from the Summer of 2006

We’re Having a Heat Wave, an Albion Heat Wave

Heat at the British Museum.jpg

Heat at the British Museum

Every few years it gets a bit warm in England, and this is one of them. The downside to a nation that is under a perpetual gloomy cloud…other than the morbid depression and all that…is that air conditioning is more of a concept than an actuality. After a night in a small room with no air conditioning, no functioning window, 100% humidity, and a cast of thousands of juvenile thespians outside, I am functioning on two hours sleep. Perhaps functioning is too strong a word.

The plan for today is to do research at one of the great troves of erudition in the modern world, the British Museum. Michael is greatly restored due to his window functioning, and I am the one struggling to fog a mirror now. We arrive just after 9:00 to confirm something we’ve been noticing all morning, Central London gets a late start to the day. For two people with extensive experience in high technology, the notion that you can’t get a half-caf triple hazelnut latte at every hour of the day and night is frightening. There isn’t even competition for serious caffeine abuse until 7:30 AM. On the other hand, when you can walk from the center of the banking, through the center of men’s fashion, to the center of political power in about 15 minutes, first thing in the morning; the pressure to commute wired just isn’t there. The British Museum will be opening at 10:00, and I am having difficulty staying up that long.

How I Felt at the British Museum.jpg

How I Felt at the British Museum

Michael and I have our new cameras out, looking to fill our memory cards with images of Mesopotamian glory to take back to the people we’ll be talking to. As an icebreaker, I think this will carry more weight than the traditional lame joke and a handshake. “Here’s the history of your people, preserved despite the worst ravages of the Hussein regime. Sorry about the unpleasantness just after the invasion, but as you can clearly see the best stuff left here long before we arrived.” Everybody likes local color, especially when their old stuff defines the beginning of human civilization, is my theory. Also, it’s a chance to go through the British Museum!

Ram in the Thicket British Museum.jpg

Why does our primitive art stink compared to real primitive art?

Regrettably, I am the walking dead, a condition that precludes distinguished scholarship. Michael and I power through the Near East exhibits in an hour. Our cameras are clicking constantly in a drive-by photo shooting of antiquity. The image stabilization feature on my camera is really coming in handy since I am staggering through the exhibit like a zombie. (The British Museum staff is remarkably tolerant of animated corpses, which raises a number of questions best answered in a movie critics are not invited to review.) I hate not having the energy and enthusiasm to give this place its due. I hold onto my camera like a lifeline, willing its recordings to capture more than my sleep-deprived head can.

Michael Going Crazy with his Spiffy New Camera at the British Museum.jpg

Michael Going Crazy with his Spiffy New Camera at the British Museum

Michael is having a great time with his incredibly spiffy new camera, and does a lot to keep me going. He’s shooting like a wild man, an expensive camera owning marauder, hell-bent on capturing all the glorious details of the architecture. I am familiar with all of the arguments against the extravagance of the British Empire and the hubris that was recorded in stone for the ages. Screw all that. London has lots of great buildings that I would love to live in and see every day. The anti-imperialist puritan jerks can take their inhuman stone monoliths and get bent. Even in my dilapidated state, my spirit is lifted enough that I can get back to the hotel.

The Spice of Life.jpg

The Spice of Life

Michael is convinced that our amazingly central and despicably cheap lodgings should be called a hostel, not a hotel. I’m too tired to argue the point. He takes pity on me and lets me nap in his room while he goes out shooting pictures of everything imaginable. I take my liner bag, lay it on top of his bedcovers, and get four blessed hours of rest in a room with air. I’m sure that this hotel is a fine place when London is not in the middle of a heat wave. The lack of amenities really doesn’t matter when you are in the center of such a great city. During a heat wave, the small airless, windowless, cells are the black hole of Piccadilly, and they are killing me. Even worse than death, this experience may be making me whine.

Day 2: London

-Patrick S. Lasswell

This Post Describes Events from the Summer of 2006

The Summer of My Discontent

It is 1:30 AM and somebody in the hall is doing his personal best to vindicate every unkind thing that has ever been said about drama students. Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, Knock, KNOCK, KNOCK, Knock, Knock, knock, knock, knock! “Let Me IN!” This has been going on for half and hour, two hours after I went to sleep. The nineteenth century masonry does its part by transmitting every acoustic element of the self-immersed fellow’s distress with advantage. No wonder Hollywood actors come here to the West End to perform in the theaters that infest this area. Who needs close-ups when the buildings amplify every expression to the creatures consigned to their embrace? Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, Knock, KNOCK, KNOCK, Knock, Knock, knock, knock, knock! “Let Me IN!” A star is born.


Eventually his roommate comes up the lift and puts the knocking tosser out of my misery. The hotel resumes a kind of quiet, interrupted by the teenage meanderings of less diligent would-be thespians. My room is still small, unventilated due to a malfunctioning window, hot, cheap, and in the center of London. From around the world theatre programs spew their spawn at this very hotel, seeking to provide them with an appreciation of the origins of modern theatre. I greatly fear that the youths drunkenly yelling out on the street below are getting that very thing. It’s Monday night and I can’t imagine the hell of weekends in this place. I’m really looking forward to getting to decent, quiet lodgings in Iraq.

I was so excited to get this hotel. I knew when Michael sent me the information that it was going to be a bit rough, but the location a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus was worth the discomfort. I neglected to consider that it was the high season, the middle of summer break, and that the college drama students would be here. Every one of them with projection, energy, and raging hormones…

It is a magnificent location, though. Michael Totten and I have taken a two walks about the vicinity. Even though I did not prepare for the history of this part of the trip and we went without our maps, there is something about a brief jaunt past Whitehall, Big Ben, Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Leicester Square, and so on that gets to you.

I’ve resolved to be more energetic and alert than Michael for this trip. After our trans-Atlantic flight, I was able to meet this goal by my capacity to fog a mirror. For a man who so deeply loves to travel, Michael has no capacity to endure prolonged confinement in a jet. He doesn’t have any kind of flight anxiety, and even in a stupefied haze he can still navigate central London like a native, but taking a rest day between legs made a hell of a lot of sense. Michael has an epic jet lag susceptibility that makes his accomplishments in travel writing all the more impressive. I’m not looking forward to scooping the shattered remnants out of his seat after the 13 hour flight home.

We met with Norm, primary author of the Euston Manifesto, to begin the evening. I talked too much about the war. A lot of the time I feel like a dentist explaining the intricacies of root canal to the uninitiated. I know why the procedure has to take so long, cost so much, and cause such pain to restore function in the affected area. Civilians look at the problem and wonder why not use the biggest drill or yank the tooth entirely? Military nuance is lost to even the brightest civilian intellectuals, and I taper off with a lame excuse about the undesirability and fragility of dentures and other unattached solutions.

After meeting with Norm, we go for a jaunt around some of the most expensive and distinguished real estate in the world. The cool of the evening is fine to walk about this great city in and the long summer twilight (not an analogy, just the weather) was quite fine. We stop at a converted paddle steamer along the Thames to have a pint and a stop at the loo. Like everything here it is too expensive, but the bitter and cider are fine and we can use the rest. We talk about the upcoming job and plans. Michael discusses details and I make connections in the abstract. As the good ideas, beverages, and Thames flow, our earlier good humor about the job is restored. For the last week our manic laughter has been subdued as the weight of the task at hand and the last minute complexities pile on. Now that we are about it, we are getting back into stride. This makes me very hopeful for a good result.

It is now 4:00 AM and the drama spawn have all passed out or gained some sense of propriety. Alright, the drama spawn have all passed out. Light is coming into the sky and my laptop has turned on its daily scan for spyware. I will try to get a few more hours of sleep before we go out to the British Museum for an amazing day of research. I’ll probably need a nap this afternoon so that I don’t have to thin the herd of aspiring thespians in tonight’s production. Did I mention I’m looking forward to Iraq?

Moderate Risk
(Extreme Cubicle Aversion)

-Patrick S. Lasswell

I work as a part time consultant in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with my business partner Michael J. Totten.

This blog is about working abroad in the field instead of domestically in the cubicle maze. The world is a large place with a lot of opportunities for people with diverse skills, tremendous learning capacity, and the willingness to leave the office to accomplish work. It is not that we are better than you. It's just that we're willing and able to go, and you aren't.

What We Do

1. Go to safe dangerous places. There are a lot of places that are difficult to reach, have an unclear reputation, and are also tremendous business opportunities. Your competitors are already there eating your lunch, or maybe they aren't, but you have no way of finding out from your office.

2. Talk with interesting people. Do you have time to take tea with fifteen deputy ministers next week to receive fourteen polite maybes to reach the guy who can say yes? If we are on your dime, we will make the time. We have experience working with the mazes of bureaucracy to good effect, and also know when and how to avoid them.

3. Accomplish the Assignment. You need it done, we get it done. Our network of professional and social contacts provides us with a diverse knowledge base and skill set. We'll go over, around, or through the wall and make sure others can follow.

What We Do Not Do

1. Go to stupidly dangerous places. Moderate Risk means coming home and delivering results, not guest starring on Jihad TV. If you want do business in hell, find somebody else. We get paid on completion, and that means we don't go where psychotics run loose in the streets. Not to Chechnya, not to Darfur, and definitely not to North Korea.

2. Spy. We do not do anything that adversely affects the security situation of the places we do business in. We also do not cut our own throats in the public square or otherwise reduce our ability to perform repeat business. If there is a place worth going to for business reasons, we are not going to screw it up or screw it over. See the above prohibition. Also, spy agencies and handlers treat independent consultants with less regard than they do insects...and their checks bounce when they come at all.

3. Do security. There are a lot of great people performing excellent work in the security field. We can get you their contact information, no problem. We respect these people greatly, but we don't want to be them.

Why You Should Hire Us

We go where you don't want to, and we get the job done where you can't.

We're willing to go. Hell, we want to go. We know how to get the job done. And we don't have any overhead, so we're cheaper than the giants.

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