Saturday, April 16, 2005

ASN Conference

The last few days have been fairly eventful.

I recovered from the flu in time to prepare for my presentation at the Association for the Study of Nationalities conference on Thursday.

The presentation went amazingly well - I received a number of compliments and felt that the paper was surprisingly well received. My panel was well attended (people were actually standing throughout the presentations) since the topic is a fairly hot-button one - the politics of Russian energy. I focused on Russia's actions in the energy sector in the Near Abroad. I know it doesn't sound very exciting, but I promise, it's a really neat topic once you start delving into it. I think I'll keep doing research in this area, since it's a field that attracts a number of interesting folks both from academia and from the policy side. I think I may actually have to tackle Central Asian regional electricity grids at some point, although the dearth of information has put me off from the topic for a number of years now.

I've been attending the conference (today is the last day) and basking in the joy of being surrounded by academics. Academics are an interesting breed - many of them lend themselves so easily to mockery, and others bore me to tears (I'm not a big fan of political theory, and there's a fair amount of that at the conference).

I did meet one of the coolest people I've ever met (and I've met a lot of cool people in my life) - Dodge Billingsley. He's the founder of Combat Films and Research, which according to their website is a "small, conflict oriented, think-tank that uses film and video footage as its primary source for research." He presented a documentary on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and went into some of his other projects during the Q&A. As his former professor described him, he's something of a 'war fetishist and adventurer' and as a result he had some of the most amazing stories of being in combat zones and sneaking over the border to Chechnya and stuff of that ilk.

Most people would think that he's nuts. I've always been fascinated by war zones and it was great getting to ask some of the myriads of questions I've had for years about non-government affiliated civilians getting into areas of conflict. Basically, he has the world's best job. He gets to traipse around combat zones, make documentaries and go to all of the places I've always wanted to go to. I mean, this is a man who described the Fergana Valley as 'really peaceful' and who's been in the midst of a battle in Afghanistan as well as embedded with troops in Iraq. Some people have all the luck.

At least it gives me hope that someday I too can cross into some of the conflict-ridden regions of the world. Just don't tell my mom.


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