Sunday, June 9, 2013

TA-DAAA! Publication!

Oh, wow.
I wrote a Career Mentoring review for the Association of American Geographers and it got published! It's called Quiet Desperation. Check it out!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Prospects, Old Worries...

One year ago, I was deep into the production and composition of my thesis. Little else mattered. I churned out chapter after chapter, sending it to my adviser for review and then taking it back for revisions. It was a weird type of purgatory; for even though I was steadily whittling down the faults and cracks in my writing, it always felt like I was "busy going nowhere." The work of writing and revising was constant, but the product I made never seemed to measure up. Then it happened. My prof. emailed me an approval for my manuscript in the late Spring and I was approved to publicly defend my thesis and prepare for Summer graduation. Defending led to approval by the thesis editor which led to graduation. I still remember the day that I received my diploma in the mail; I sat and stared at my Master's degree, wondering if the time I had invested into its acquisition was worth it. It's the kind of introspection that I imagine Niccolo Machiavelli must have had after writing The Prince or Henry David Thoreau after writing Walden. A point where each author must look at its creation and ask, "OK, now what?"

For me, the answer was easy. I had applied to several jobs, PhD programs and law schools in anticipation that I was bound to get at least one of them. I have never been more wrong in all my life. All of my prospects dried up like autumn leaves. Refusals came in waves with each letter signifying another closed door. When the new academic year rolled around, things were at rock-bottom. No job offers, no PhD prospects and no way out of SLC. It was a time that I've come to call "The Summer of Fail," for lack of better words. Christ, what a dark time. I could barely look Lisa in the face and the unfaltering love and respect from my children only made me feel more wretched. If they couldn't count on me, then who?

Thankfully, all was not lost. My adviser offered me a year of funding for the U's PhD program.
It was a year of elbow-room to try again...A second chance to get on my feet.

I've since made the most of my mulligan. I've traveled to (my third) GEOINT and set wheels in motion for a shot at a job. I've been in touch with potential advisers at good, quality political geography schools in hopes that one of them will be impressed by who I am and what I can offer. I'm even in the process of trying to publish the old thesis and present my findings at next year's AAG meeting in NYC. I'd like to think that I'm better prepared for the application processes this time around, but there's a quiet nagging in the back of my mind that takes me back to the SoF and its lost opportunities. Who's to say the outcome of my last batch of apps won't be replicated? What makes this go-around different than the Summer of 2011? What if history repeats itself? Exactly how many times can I pick myself up after hitting the ground?

It makes me shudder to think about it. This type of doubt always creeps in and damages part of my resolve before I can catch it. But writing about it like this, it helps. It helps when I identify and keep these fears at arm's reach. Not necessarily so I can "understand" what's at stake. Trust me, after being a parent for twelve years, I know exactly what I've got to lose. No. Knowing the stakes allows me to prepare. It allows me to dig in and put contingencies in place. I will not be caught off guard, regardless of the outcome.

And deep down I know that, unless I'm dead, I will get up after every fall. I will recover from every setback. I will regroup and soldier on. It's a strength given to me from my family.

Now comes the tough part...Having to rely on others for my advancement.
Here goes nothing.

Willie Colon said it best:
"Si el destino me vuelve a traicionar
te juro que no puedo fracasar
estoy cansado de tanto esperar
y estoy seguro que mi suerte cambiara
pero ¿cuando serĂ¡?"

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thesis Abstract and Defense Announcement

Well, the time has finally come to defend my masters thesis. I'm a bit nervous to say the least, but no more nervous than when I wonder where we'll end up after the Summer.
Anyhow, here's the abstract. I hope to see a lot of folks there.


An Investigation of the Philosophical Changes of the Abu Sayyaf Group
Using Geospatial Analysis

Thomas C. Zumbado

Political science scholars believe that the ASG’s propensity for accumulating funds through hostage ransoming and other criminal activity has caused the organization to drift away from its radical Islamic foundations and become nothing more than a gang of bandits. This research explores this claim by applying geospatial and temporal analysis to ASG terrorist activity from 1994 to 2008 to determine whether the body of ASG attack data is congruent with the political objectives put forth by the group at their inception, or more suited to criminal patterns of activity that epitomize monetary gains as the highest objective.

This is done through the pursuit of four research objectives that explore if attack data display an operational terror-to-crime shift. Objectives one, two and three compare the attack data distribution to map overlays of economic level, ethnic composition and religion to identify where the majority of attacks occur. This identifies if the ASG is prone to conducting attacks in areas predominantly populated by their constituency, which are the poor, Muslim Tausugs of the southern Philippines. The fourth objective qualitatively examines the historical timeline of the ASG by comparing it to Dishman’s (2001) theory on the ideological transformation of terrorist groups. The results of these four objectives are combined and measured in the decision rule to evaluate whether ASG attack data supports the more popular claims of a philosophical shift. Applied methods include spatio-temporal analysis and geostatistics (Getis-Ord hot spot analysis and mean center progression).

Results of analysis indicate that the majority of ASG attacks occur in the “Constituency Overlay,” a trivariate convergence area where the majority of the population are poor, Muslim Tausugs. In addition, temporal analysis displays that attacks localized and peaked around the CO in accordance with Dishman’s benchmarks for a terror-to-crime transformation. It is concluded that the majority of ASG attacks are driven towards crime due to the group’s tendency towards a high frequency of moneymaking attacks within the areas of constituency. Based on the criteria of the decision rule, the patterns of attack data indicate that ASG operations have been more inclined towards criminal goals rather than ideological goals since the death of their founder, Abdurajak Janjalani.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thesis Acknowledgements...

My thesis is getting close to being done. Tonight, I'm sending it off to my committee for approval for defense. As my readers, I thought you might like to read the acknowledgments.

This thesis and my journey through graduate school would not have been possible without the patient wisdom of my adviser, Dr. George Hepner, and he will always have my undying gratitude. All the advice, support and encouragement he has offered have kept me on track throughout the whole process.

I’d also like to think my committee members: Dr. Richard Medina, for his perspectives on the graduate experience, friendship, and dedication to challenging me to make this the best project it could be; Dr. Benjamin Judkins, whose mentorship and friendship, not only with this research, but also in the past few years, have been inestimable to me; and Dr. Thomas Kontuly, for all the “kitchen encouragement” and for agreeing to join my adventure on such short notice. Thanks for always having my back, guys.

I wish to express my gratitude and respect to the endless list of scholars who have meticulously pieced bits of theory, science, culture and history together to build the multidisciplinary world we call Terrorism Studies. May we always remain dedicated to our cause, for there is still much to do.

Finally, I’d like to thank my loving wife, Lisa, for her patience and understanding of all the hurdles of research and grad school. She is my muse and the mortar that binds our family together. And my children, Vincent and Amelia, for their unfaltering love and admiration.

This is for you, son.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Quiet Moment...

Grad School: Hell of a first year.

In the past, I've tried to keep a steady routine of blogging for the sake of my own sanity if not for the benefit of my 2-4 readers.

But then came grad school and the huge siphoning of time and attention it requires.
It seems like a poor excuse considering how much I used to enjoy writing.

That's right, used to.
There was a time when I'd spend countless hours of my week writing stories, letters, anecdotes; anything that would let me put an outlet to the rush of thoughts spinning around in my head.

And I thought I was pretty good at it, too. I'd write something and my closest friends would read and comment on its quality for better or for worse. Most of the time I received kudos.

Then I went to college and writing became work.
Now the quiet little outlet of a socially awkward introvert became the method by which I was evaluated. My papers returned bloodier and bloodier, with criticisms outlining how I'm too dramatic or too exaggerated. The collegiate writing experience was a trial by fire and a whole new learning experience that left some pretty deep scars. Thanks, APA.

But now that I'm alone in an airport and stuck with nothing else to do but write, I find myself eager to spill my thoughts into this journal for no other reason other than to be
I mean, I could be working on my thesis or grading assignments or reading a newspaper, but I still can't fight the itch to put my simple musings onto paper.

Well, what do you know? Even after all my trials with academic composition, I guess I still like to write.The only thing that's changed is my methods.

I'll take a laptop over a pen and lined paper any day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tom, are you dead?....

Not really.

Sadly, I've been neglecting my blog because there isn't a grade associated with the writing I do on it. This is just a single example of the cutthroat mercenary mentality awaiting you in beautiful Grad School!!!

It goes a little like this:

The goal is to get a collection of super-educated (sometimes conflicting) individuals to all agree that you're worthy of an advanced degree. It's a monumental task, no doubt about it.
But all that fun starts AFTER you've finished your coursework.
(And I'm not there yet.)

Grad school coursework is reminiscent of the Mad Max flick, Beyond Thunderdome.
Essentially, students of a similar discipline are all thrown into a pit with various journals, surveys, databases and computing equipment and then forced to fight to the death.
OK maybe not to the death, but certainly to the "who-can-finish-first-and-curry-the-most-favor."

Thankfully when I was cast into the ring, I was lucky enough to be the only frood in there.
Sometimes it pays to be a political geographer. Yay me.

I was however, subjected to some hard truths about GS work:

1. Read nothing unless it's about your field of study. (There's not much time as it is.)

2. Write nothing unless it's towards your thesis or it gets you a grade. (B+ is just a high-level loser.)

3. All that junk about a family? Forget it. You're married to the field now, boy and you WILL be faithful! Your children are the analyses that you produce, so try to make yourself a big ol family! (Coochie-coo!)

4. Your office is your new home! Ain't it nice and roomy? Your apartment is just where you store all your crap....including what's-her-face and the anklebiters.

5. Don't try to explain what you do to your extended family. It'll just confuse them and make them think you don't know what the hell you're doing. (Which may be true, but they don't need to know that, do they?)

6. There are no gods other than the pantheon of professors you must appease. Believing in anything else is heresy! (I suggest naming them and fitting them into other famous mythological pantheons. You'd be surprised how close everyone fits!)

7. Traveling through grad school with your cohort is the equivalent of storming the beaches at Normandy on D-Day. Only a handful of you will make it through the process. The rest will have been gunned down by the Nazis.

It's a tough road to hoe, to be sure. But for me, the worst part of it all is feeling one step behind everyone. I've got to admit, I've felt pretty dumb in grad school so far.
Now one result of that is an initiative to power through my obstacles and become a better scholar.
But there are times when I'm reminded of my age and how other people I know have already bought a house, have a career and have otherwise "settled down."

At worst, it makes me want to quit. Or at least stop after an MS.
Thankfully, those days are few and far between.
For now, I'll just keep dragging my can into work every morning until I come to the next fork in my life. Then I'll look back at everything I've done and decide what to do next.

Sounds like a plan.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

She came out of nowhere...

...and sat right down next to me.

I was returning from GEOINT 2009, having boarded a plane in San Antonio destined for a two and a half hour layover in Phoenix. I sat in my cramped seat doing my best to pour over the writings of Sayyid Qutb, when I heard a bubbly female voice with an English accent ask me what I was reading.

I looked up to spot an eccentrically-stylish older woman with a big smile on her face craning her head to see. I'm often pretty eager to talk about my schoolwork as it allows me to assess whether or not I understand what I'm reading, but it's usually not a good idea to fess up to mature Caucasian ladies that you're reading the "feel-good" handbook for Islamic fundamentalists.

But she seemed so lovely and sincere that my eagerness to meet her request overran my usual discretion. I mumbled some broken explanation about the "Milestones" text and my study focus on terrorism and SE Asia. What happened next still makes me chuckle...

"Oh, REALLY? I'm sitting next to YOU!"
Plop. She fell into the middle seat right next to me and crammed her big bag of crazy (something that always seems to accompany eccentric gals) under her seat. She immediately started to chat me up. Who I was, where I lived, what my degrees were; anything and everything about my life.

I don’t mind a little conversation now and then, so I answered her as best as I could. I told her about my near misses in the Army, my family and my return to school. Inevitably, our conversation turned to topics about her and that’s when she wowed me.

Ms. Helen’s mother had fled the Nazis early in her life and then the whole family fled the rise of communism in Czechoslovakia in the 50s. This path led her them to England where she would then receive her calling to travel around the world in missionary/humanitarian service. A hard life to be sure, but somehow this lady took a bowl full of lemons and made herself one tasty glass of lemonade:
She’s visited 108 countries.
She’s written two books and is working on a third.
She travels all around the world, giving lectures on religious, social and economic issues.
Best of all, she and her husband are aiding a family of Pakistanis in securing a home in the US.

This brief bio does this woman little credit.
By far, the most valuable part of our conversation came from our discussion about the nuances and context of Muslims and their view of the western world.

In a nutshell, Ms. Helen and I discussed how the constant stream of media from the US into the rest of the world defined their perceptions of Americans.
We talked about how fundamentalist Islam isolates many Muslims into believing that Americans are violent, uncaring and oversexed heathens out to contaminate the rest of the world with our corruption. We also discussed how this same religion debases the value of women and becomes more and more orthodox and hard-lined the closer you get to Mecca. It was very enlightening.

But her greatest lesson to me was how I should endeavor to understand Islam and its practices before I judge the actions of extremists. Certainly, their violent actions and extreme views are unbecoming of a supposedly peaceful faith. But when I understand the motives, fears and reasons for their actions, I can think on their causes and analysis with a bit more academic clarity.

As an explanation, she offered this anecdote.

In a very remote village, there lived these two female Christian missionaries who served the community by providing some minor medical care. Each morning, these gals would wake up and mosey over to the local well to wash up and brush their teeth. The gals noticed that they always had a captive audience for their morning routine, so they took pride in the fact that they were demonstrating good hygiene to the villagers and a friendly demeanor by answering questions about who they were, where they were from, what they did, etc.

Helen explained to me that the villagers had a very different idea of these missionaries.

Every morning, these two pale foreign women walked to the village well to partake of their morning water rituals. The first ritual required them to pour water over their hands and faces. Afterwards, they enacted a second ritual where they would apply some cotton to the ends of sticks and then stab their faces until they frothed at the mouth and spat out.
Once they were done with their strange rituals, the village chief asked them about their origins. They lived together, but they weren’t mother & daughter, sisters or even relatives. Naturally, the villagers thought they were lesbians. But since they passed out the occasional band-aid and mostly kept to themselves, they were allowed to stay.

Context is everything.

She cautioned me to understand the factors that added up to the sum of their fears.
What is it that makes them so hostile? Would you be just as hostile if you were in their place?

It was a sobering epiphany. As a political scientist and geographer, I tend to think on a more strategic and empirical level of analysis. But this quirky little wordsmith reminded me to remember what it is that makes these people human.

Sadly, we arrived in Phoenix all too soon. We exchanged a quick farewell and she gave me a business card. And just like that, she vanished into the throng of the airport crowd.

What an experience. In just two short hours, this lady taught me to never forget that everyone has a human side and follows their own logical path. In her own witty way, she made me a better scientist.

I know a lot of smart people. But it is a rare occasion that I meet anyone who is genuinely wise.

Thank you, Helen.