ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monthly Archive: September 2009



September 2009





September 2009



Starting the week

Written by , Posted in Adventures

Monday marked the start of my first full week here in London. Each day has involved some manner of shopping (primarily for goods for my new home, like dishes or a toaster) and a visit to campus. Monday I registered for the National Health Service and joined some hall mates on Brick Lane for curry. It wasn’t the best, but it was cheap-ish, and the servers offered one free drink and a free coffee for LSE students. We seem to get discounts all over the place.

Yesterday was the general post-grad orientation. It was quick and relatively painless. Last night was The Graduate, a welcome dancing/drinking party at the three clubs on campus. Yes, that’s right. There are clubs on campus. One is more of a sports-bar-type place, one is a straight up dance floor and another is more appropriate for live music. I didn’t discover the other two until I’d spent too much time on the live music section. But there was much dancing, and a lot of fun meeting new people.

Today I met up with someone who I met at orientation yesterday and we went to the student club fair. I signed up for a few, including the celtic society (shocking), drama, philosophy and humanist. Could be interesting.

Tomorrow I finally meet with my department. I’m quite excited to get going on this whole studying thing.



September 2009




Written by , Posted in Random

JK Rowling

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter’s books have sold more than 400 million copies

Harry Potter author JK Rowling missed out on a top honour because some US politicians believed she “encouraged witchcraft”, it has been claimed.

Matt Latimer, former speech writer for President George W Bush, said that some members of his administration believed her books promoted sorcery.

As a result, she was never presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The claims appear in Latimer’s new book called Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor.

He wrote that “narrow thinking” led White House officials to object to giving Rowling the civilian honour.

The award acknowledges contributions to US national interest, world peace or cultural endeavours.

Past literary recipients of the award include John Steinbeck and Harper Lee.

Others denied the privilege under the Bush administration included Senator Edward Kennedy, who died in August this year.

Latimer claimed, in his book, that the veteran politician and health care activist was excluded because he was deemed to be too liberal.




September 2009



Another day, another park

Written by , Posted in Adventures

I spent Sunday afternoon (another GORGEOUS day here) wandering around Regents Park after a quick run over the Tower Bridge. It’s huge and really lovely, especially the gardens (pictures are attached once again). For such a lovely day there weren’t as many people out as I would have expected, although one nice gentleman did ask if he could walk with me through the park (I politely, I hope, declined). 

I’m figuring out the buses fairly well, and am taking them as much as possible, as I’d rather pay one pound than the higher price for the tube. Plus, I have to read, and usually get a seat on the bus, so that’s another upside.

Sunday night was drinks organized by the housing, then dinner out with people. I’ve met folks from France, Brazil, Finland, German, the Czech Republic, Italy and Ireland so far, all of them quite nice. It’s always kind of weird meeting new people after the standard questions have been asked, at least for me. I did stick around for post-dinner drinks at Gun, the local pub.

Today was spent taking care of more paperwork and such for school, and getting a real phone plan and phone number. And I finally have kitchen items, so I can cook! Not that this means I’m going to start tonight, but still. I no longer have to eat my sandwiches while standing over the sink.

My ethernet is still a bit sketchy, but even with all the people possibly on the wireless network I’m using now, it seems to mostly be working, which is excellent. I’m trying to troubleshoot, but I still need to make good enough friends with someone to ask if I can try my laptop and cord in their system to see if it’s my room or computer. That could take a couple of days.

Oh, and last (and really most exciting): I found a good cobbler. I walk through my shoes at an amazing clip, and don’t see that being any different here. It’s those little things that really make this feel like a place I’m living and not just visiting.



September 2009



Well, really they should have changed it to “coler”

Written by , Posted in Adventures

My first long run in London! Ten miles along the Thames was a lot, but I was able to do it, and it felt good! I also attempted to iron something and managed to give myself a lovely three-inch burn (complete with blister!) on my leg. Yeah, it’s awesome.It was gorgeous here today. I was able to wear a sundress and sit in Hyde Park, enjoying a gorgeous day. I may have even gotten a bit of a tan. I’m reading the book suggested to me by the department for the people who weren’t so much philosophy majors, and it’s really interesting. I navigated the bus system somewhat successfully, and even bought some groceries to put together food. No cooking yet – but maybe tomorrow.

Tonight I met up with Dan and some of the friends he made when he lived here a couple of years ago. It was very fun, especially as we got down to the “here’s where the American accent and words are wrong” section of the evening. It was honestly quite entertaining.

After we went to Brick Lane Beigel Bakery, which is open 24 hours and has actual, good bagels. They are the perfect size and chewy and super yummy.

I also learned something AWESOME tonight. The housing I’m in used to be a flophouse run by the church for wayward women. There were tour groups outside earlier this week, and we couldn’t figure out why. Well, it turns out that when Jack the Ripper came back after a bit of a break, he came back RIGHT HERE. Like, a block away. In fact, if you visit this site and scroll down to the picture with the caption “Crispin Street Womens Refuge” and you’ll be looking at my new building.

I’ve attached some pictures – a few are from the neighborhood (Spitalfields Market is right near me), but most are from the park today. The one that looks like a stream running in granite is the Princess Diana memorial.

One last thing – I’m now signed up for the Paris Half Marathon – March 7, 2010!





September 2009



From National Journal Magazine – If Air Travel Worked Like Health Care

Written by , Posted in Random


If Air Travel Worked Like Health Care

Fasten your seat belts — it’s going to be a bumpy flight.

by Jonathan Rauch

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009

“Hello! Thank you for calling Air Health Care, the airline that works like the health care system. My name is Cynthia. How can I give you travel care today?”

“Hi. My name is Jonathan Rauch. I need to fly from Washington, D.C., to Eugene, Oregon, on October 23.”

“Yes, I’d be happy to assist you with that. It does look like we can get you on a flight on January 23 at 1 p.m. or February 8 at 3 p.m. Which would you prefer?”

“Neither. I need to be in Eugene on October 23. As in, the 23rd of October.”

“I’m sorry, we have nothing open on that date. You might try another carrier.”

“I suppose I’d better. Who has availability?”

“I’m afraid I have no way to know that. I have no way to look into their systems.”

“Who would know?”

“You can call them individually and ask. I’m sure you can find one.”

“Look, I don’t have time to call two dozen airlines. It’s important that I get to Eugene on the 23rd. There must be something you can do.”

“Well, it looks like maybe we could squeeze you in on October 26, if you don’t mind departing Washington Dulles at 5:35 a.m.”

“Good grief. All right, I suppose it will do.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t use e-mail to transmit records and other personal or secure documents. We keep our records on paper.”

“Great, thank you, I’ll be happy to make that booking for you. That’s one flight from Washington Dulles to Chicago O’Hare on October 26. Will there be anything else?”

“Wait, hold on. Chicago? I’m going to Eugene. It’s in Oregon.”

“Yes, sir. The Eugene portion of your trip will be handled by a western specialist. We’ll be glad to bring you back from Chicago to Washington, though.”

“You mean I have to call another carrier and go through all this again? Why don’t you just book the whole trip?”

“Sorry, sir, but you do need to make your own travel appointments. We would be happy to refer you to some qualified carriers. May I have your fax number, please? Before I can confirm the booking, we’ll need you to fill out your travel history and send that back to us.”

“Cynthia, I have filled out my travel history half a dozen times already this year. I’ve told six different airlines that I flew to Detroit twice and Houston once. Every time I fly, I answer the same battery of questions. At least a dozen airlines have my travel history. Why don’t you get it from them?”

“We have no way we could do that. We do not have access to other companies’ records, and our personnel have our own system for collecting travel history.”

“But 95 percent of these questions are always the same. Don’t you know that every time I fill out one of these duplicative forms I increase the chance of error? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hold my travel information centrally, so that everyone could see the same thing?”

“Sorry, sir, we have no capability for that, and we do need to have your travel history at least two weeks before you fly.”

“I don’t suppose I could fill out these forms online?”

“No, sir. The forms are only about 30 pages, though. Did you have that fax number, please?”

“I don’t have a fax machine. No one faxes anymore. Just e-mail me the forms.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we don’t use e-mail to transmit records and other personal or secure documents. We keep our records on paper.”

“What century is this? You think paper is secure?”

“We do keep all your travel records on low-acid paper and in fire-retardant file drawers. When someone needs access to your records, we make a photocopy and put them in the mail. Or fax. How many items of luggage were you wanting to bring?”


“OK, good. We suggest you make luggage arrangements with Rapid Air Transport, though of course you’re free to use any luggage company you like.”

“Luggage company?”

“Yes, sir. You’ll need to arrange baggage transport. Would you like a phone number for Rapid, or would you prefer to find your own baggage company? I’m sure Rapid would be pleased to work with you. All you need to do is sign the Personal Travel Records Release form. Where would you like me to mail that?”

“Release form?”

“Yes, sir. You’ll need to sign and fax or mail that back to our Travel Records Department so that we can release your travel records to Rapid. Under the privacy rules, we’re not authorized to tell them when or where you’re flying without your written permission.”

“I suppose I couldn’t just e-mail you this permission, or grant it online?”

“No. Did you want a list of luggage carriers for your Chicago-Eugene leg?”

“Let me guess. Rapid doesn’t operate out West. I have to find a separate luggage company for the second leg.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And they’ll need more copies of all the same paperwork. And they’ll ask me all the same questions. And I’ll have to arrange to get my travel records to them by mail or fax. And I’ll repeat all this nonsense five or six separate times between here and Eugene, because the providers aren’t equipped to talk to each other and my records aren’t digitized and no two providers use the same system.”

“Yes, sir, that’s right! Did you have a preferred fuelist, or did you want a reference for a company to provide jet fuel for your flight?”

“Fuelist. That would be a fuel specialist, I suppose.”

“We can make a fuel arrangement for you, but please be advised that the fuelist’s charge will be billed separately and you will be responsible for it. We’ll need to know where to have that bill sent.

“May I have your flight-insurance information, please?”

“Millennium Travel Care, group number 068832, ID number RS-3390041B.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we’re not in Millennium Travel Care’s provider network.”

“You’re listed on their website. It says you accept Millennium.”

“We did until last week. If you like, you can pay out of pocket for your ticket.”

“How much would that be?”

“Yes, sir, I’ll be happy to get that price for you. That would be $17,885.70.”

“What? For a flight to Chicago? Does anyone actually pay that?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I wouldn’t know. I can tell you that different clients and insurers pay different rates. For individuals, the rate is $17,885.70.”


“In a sane system, I would call an airline and it would give me a price for the whole trip, not just for one part of it.”

“Plus tax. And fuel.”

“Is anyone else cheaper?”

“Sir, again, I couldn’t tell you that. Carriers don’t have public rate sheets. Prices are privately negotiated, so there’s really no way you could comparison shop.”


“Did you want to go ahead, then?”

“No. I DO NOT WANT TO GO AHEAD. I do not want to go anywhere! I want to jump off a cliff!

“This system is insane. It is fragmented to the point of incoherence. Record-keeping is stuck in the 1960s. Communication is stuck in the 1980s. None of the systems talks to the others. Everyone reinvents the wheel at every stage of the process. There is no pricing transparency.

“In a sane, modern system, I wouldn’t have to arrange each leg of my flight myself. I wouldn’t have to fax documents around, find and juggle multiple providers, fill out again and again what are essentially the same forms every time I use a provider.

“In a sane system, I would call an airline and it would give me a price for the whole trip, not just for one part of it. It would sell me a safe round-trip journey, instead a series of separate procedures. It would have back-office personnel using modern IT systems to coordinate my journey behind the scenes. The systems and personnel would talk to each other automatically. At the press of a button, once I entered a password, they would be able to look up my travel history. We’d do most of this stuff online.

“In fact, Cynthia, I would be able to arrange a whole trip with a single phone call!”

“Sir. Please. Calm down and be realistic. I’m sure the system can be frustrating, but consumers don’t understand flight plans and landing slots. Even if they did, there are thousands of separate providers involved in moving travelers around, and hundreds of airports, and millions of trips. Getting everyone to coordinate services and exchange information just isn’t realistic in a business as complicated as travel.”

“Yes. I suppose I’m dreaming.”

“Was there anything else I could help you with?”


“My goal today was to provide you with outstanding service. Did I accomplish that?”



All that’s missing is a denial to carry him on a flight because he had a car accident once.



September 2009



Friday Culture

Written by , Posted in Random

I got about five hours of sleep Thursday night, so I was tired but not horribly exhausted today. I decided it was a day to explore a bit, so I wandered over to Brick Lane, which is known in the states as the place for good Indian food in London. It is not, however, known for that in London. Apparently the curries there are really not so good. But it does have a ton of funky stores, including at least a half-dozen vintage shops. It is also quite near an art house film theatre, so I did finally get to see “The September Issue.” I recommend it – Anna Wintour doesn’t come off like a horrible person, in my opinion, and it is interesting to learn about all that goes into putting together a magazine like that.

I stopped off at a local cafe for some very good hot chocolate, then went to Trafalgar Square to meet up with Kate and Richard. We wandered the National Gallery for awhile, then got some italian food nearby. I had a glass of wine, and that nearly did me in. They helped me figure out a good bus to take back home, and I was actually able to fall asleep before midnigh, and not wake up again until 8! I may actually be on London time now. We’ll see . . . 

This morning I ran about 10 miles, mostly along the Thames. It’s a gorgeous day, one that is just begging for me to go out and play, so I’d best be off!



September 2009



New London Flat

Written by , Posted in Adventures

Today was definitely a better day. I got about five hours sleep, and went out for a run pretty early. I then made my way to campus (about a 40 minute walk) and registered. The woman in line ahead of me grew up in the SF Bay Area – small world. I got my ID card, registered for classes and even opened a bank account. Well, I took the first steps anyway – it takes Citibank two weeks to get the info to me. But that’s okay – I’m glad it’s done.

I picked up some more things for the apartment so I could put away my clothes and dry off after a shower. All that I still really need are kitchen things, and my friend Dan (I met him at the LSE cocktail hour the alumni association held in NYC in August for new students), who also lives in this residence hall, suggested a trip to the Ikea. It’d be worth burning a day to get some cheap Ikea kitchen supplies.

Tonight Dan and I met up near campus and got some excellent Korean food near Tottenham Court road. It was my first meal here that wasn’t at a chain restaurant, and it did not disappoint.

Oh, it’s also London Fashion Week(end?) right now. They have this pretty cool set-up at the Sommerset, with wicked blue lighting. I wandered by, but shockingly was not allowed into the tents. I KNOW!

Since I now don’t have to register tomorrow, I plan to sleep in and then maybe catch a movie. Then Kate, Richard and I are to meet up for some sort of activity – hopefully the science museum.

I’ve attached some pictures of the new place. There are a few who will care, which is why I took so many (to give some perspective on the layout). 




September 2009



You Can’t Spell London without ACK

Written by , Posted in Adventures

Well, actually, you can, but it doesn’t feel like it today.

I left NYC Tuesday night. I was on a newer plane, so each seat had its own TV with pre-loaded movies and shows. Mad Men season two kept me up for the duration of the flight. I transferred through Dublin, and all four of my bags (including my guitar) made it through intact and unscathed. The jury is still out on whether I can say the same thing about myself.

As you may be aware, traffic in London is horrible, so I booked a shuttle service instead of a taxi so I wouldn’t be worried as the meter clicked ever-higher. Unfortunately that meant that even though my flight arrived at 12:30, I didn’t get to my new place until just before 4. But it was worth it – with four bags public transit would have been comical at best.

My apartment is great. It’s in the basement, and reminds me a bit of those apartments that have full windows below ground and a sidewalk grate above. You walk in, and to the left is the bedroom. It’s got a closet that actually holds all of my dresses, coats and shoes. And it has the most unexpected, beautiful thing of all: a double bed. That’s right. I won’t be hanging my feet over the edge of a tiny single bed for the next year. I wont have to sleep in the fetal position to fit on the mattress. No – I will be comfortable and able to stretch out every night. Score.

To the right as you enter the apartment is the bathroom, which is quite tiny. The shower requires serious stability to keep from falling out. But it works.

There is another door to pass through to get into the main living area, which is sort of shaped like a tee. There is a very long desk with chair facing the window, and a bookcase. Then there’s this sort of bizarre space that isn’t really well-lit and serves very little purpose, so I think I’ll put up a curtain there and just treat it as a second closet. The other half of the top of the tee is the kitchen. I have two little refridgerators, so I may actually be able to keep more on hand than condements and pints of sorbet. And there’s a little table with chairs, so I can eat properly when I get around to buying plates, utensils and pots and pans.

Which brings me to the ACK part. The apartment is furnished, but doesn’t have any of the other things one would need to live comfortably, like linens or kitchen supplies. I wandered for a good hour trying to find a place, and as I was giving up I happened to run into one of the two people at LSE who I met previously and exchanged information with. He directed me to Argos, which is basically like a cheap Linens N Things, except you order off the website or a catalogue and go pick the stuff up. Lots of things were sold out, so I ended up with some questionable linens (I believe my duvet cover is highly flammable), but hey, if I can finally convince my body that yes, 2AM London time IS a good time to be in bed, I won’t care. I just want to sleep.

The neighborhood is really amazing. To the east isn’t so exciting (or at least didn’t seem so YET), but right around to the west there’s this great alleyway filled with interesting shops and restaurants. And pubs. Many, many pubs. I figure I’ll pick one a night once I get back on some sort of schedule and see which ones are fun for hanging out and which might be conducive to studying with a pint.

I’m so overtired, and totally weirded out, I have to say. I haven’t lived in a new city in seven years, and I’m feeling about the same way I did that first night in NYC, which is to say, a bit off. My emotionally exhausted body is screaming “what are you doing?! Why did you leave New York? Or why didn’t you at least go somewhere more familiar?!” but the logical part of me is trying so hard to fight back with “dude, it’s awesome. You’re just super tired and a little stressed. Here, have some hummus.”

I hope to get maybe four or five hours of sleep tonight and then get started early tomorrow, getting in a run, going to campus for the first time, and maybe seeing “The September Issue” in the afternoon. I’ve always thought that seeing a movie somewhere makes everything seem a little bit more manageable and a bit more like home.

I hope to have pictures of the place and neighborhood up once I have some sort of storage for my non-hanging clothes. 

In the meantime, I hope Seattle, NYC and wherever else you find yourself is treating you well.



September 2009