Who'd have thought that a post entitled "Logistics" would bring me out of my blogging slumber? Probably anyone who knows me.

I've always been a bit fascinated by the postal system. The idea that you can put a letter in the postbox on the corner, and then have it drop through someone else's letterbox the next day (usually) for only £0.41 is quite an incredible feat of logistics. Even more amazing is that you've been able to do that for over 100 years. Simon Gardner, an academic at Lincoln College Oxford has even written about how the postal system helped to shape aspects of the modern law of contract.

A couple of weeks ago my trusty laptop finally gave up after six and half years of faithful service when one of the hinges holding the screen in place snapped. So, it was new laptop time. I ordered a new one from Dell, which was to come from China, and it arrived today. But what was more exciting than receiving the laptop was tracking it on its way to me. UPS's online tracking service makes for compulsive viewing:

There was something quite compelling about following my laptop's progress as it made its way to my door. As much as I love Royal Mail's ability to get post around the UK within 24 hours, it doesn't quite compare to UPS getting my laptop from China to London in just over 30 hours. But then again, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, as UPS do love their logistics:

I didn't embrace the delivery man like the lady in the video (I was covered in oil from cleaning up the frame of my bicycle after some thief stole the wheels from it), but he did ask me all about the laptop contained within the box. I think I made a good stab of feigning knowledge, and he seemed to think I'd made a good choice, which is encouraging.

Douglas Adams' holistic detective, Dirk Gently, makes use of the "fundamental inconnectedness of things" to solve crime. From China to London via Koera, Kazakhstan, Poland and Germany, he'd have been impressed by UPS.


An Officer and a Gentleman

Blogging isn't one of my specialities any more. Gone are the days of updates on what I bought in the shops. Gone are updates of practically any sort in fact. But once in a while something comes along that seems worthy of an entry, and yesterday evening was a perfect example.

Nathan, a friend I've known since the days of primary school, passed out from Sandhurst yesterday after nine-months of training, and even longer preparation. I can't pretend to understand or appreciate the effort that must have taken, but what I do appreciate is how well deserved it was.

At midnight last night he became an officer in the Army, and it was great having the opportunity to be there. Nathan, if it weren't so corny, I'd say I salute you.

Of course, the day wouldn't have been complete without an exploding tyre, me and Jon consequently missing the first three hours of the Commissioning Ball, closed motorways on the way back, getting lost in Frimley at 02:00, and my bumping into Maddy from Selwyn.

As starts to an Easter weekend go, this certainly ranks up there.


Living up to London

Despite being the sort of person who loves to plan everything out, even if I'd spent a year do so, I don't think I'd have predicted even half of what these past-four months have brought.

At the end of August I moved up to London. I'd just got back from America and Canada, hadn't started work, and had nowhere arranged to live permanently. Four months later and all that seems like a distant memory. Here I am now back home for Christmas having found a lovely flat in Ealing near the Common to share with Eley, Lottie and Simon, and really enjoying work. It's been a fun and sometimes frantic four months, and so much has happened that to try and recount it all would be impossible, and would just do each event an injustice. More recently though, I've been skiing (and strudel tasting) in Italy with Anna, and yesterday was my birthday, so 'thank you' to everyone who wished me a happy one, and especially to Lottie for laying on a wonderful spread of food that should keep us going well past Christmas, and to Anna, for being a formidable karting partner yesterday evening – Lewis Hamilton would have been quivering in his racing shoes, had he been there.

What will the New Year and beyond bring? Who knows. I'm one of these people who makes notional New Year's resolutions, largely because it's the done thing and because I like making lists, but this year, I feel I'm actually going to make some that are going to stick. Perhaps it's because I'm finally 23 - I've always considered this to be the first proper “grown up” age, so I suppose, I'm now a grown up in my own eyes, expect, I'm not. Yet.

So, what are they? In no particular order: To cycle into work and back each day; to buy a, and learn to play the ukulele; to start playing badminton again; to take up karting properly once the new season begins in March; and (can I have this one?) to finally get around to doing everything I've been either putting off, or too lazy or busy to sort out.

2009, here we come. But until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas whatever you've got planned, and wherever you're doing it.

Take care.


The day the blogging died

You may (or may not) have noticed that my blog entries have dried up over the past couple of months as I've had less and less time to spend sorting things out and writing things up. Unfortunately, I'm not about to have any more free time to get things moving again, but I do have a back log of around ten entries that I have just got to add some photos too, so I'll try and get them up soonish.

After that though I fear that this blog will go into a deep sleep for the foreseeable future. I'm about to move up to London to start my new job, and I have to move into my new house and settle into a completely different way of life, so things will be busy for a while and I doubt I'll find the time to blog. But, as they say, never say never.

So, until whenever, thanks for reading :).


A Family (Re)Union

When I first met Judge Koeltl in Holland last year, he remarked on how he knew someone with the same surname as me; Doug Connah, a lawyer from Baltimore. He put us in touch and I ended up exchanging a few emails with his brother, Jim, on the history of the 'Connah' surname as known to both of us. When I recently visited Judge Koeltl in New York though he went one better, and suggested that I get in touch with Doug to try and arrange a meeting given that Baltimore and DC aren't that far apart. On Thursday, that's exactly what happened.

I took the afternoon off from interning to go to lunch with Dough before taking him on a tour of the Capitol building. It was slightly surreal to hear someone else saying 'Connah' at the restaurant, but it was great to meet him especially given the shared career path.

Over lunch Doug showed me copies of the research he's done into the history of the family. He had some great photos of his ancestors and even some newspaper clippings on the history of Connah's Quay in Wales which I visited just under a year ago. What he had certainly tallied with the little that I've managed to piece together and it's spurred me on to wanting to do some more research of my own once I'm in London come September.

I still find it amazing that a meeting like this can be arranged to so easily. Not that many years ago surely it would have been almost impossible. But it owed it's happening to so many coincidences down the line; from my going to Utrecht, to meeting Judge Koeltl, to him recognising my surname, to my interning in DC and to Doug getting back from his European jazz-band trip in time to come down to DC before I leave. It really makes me wonder just what'll come about in the next few years that I can't even begin to imagine at the moment.

Just to further the small world talk, a couple of years ago when Facebook was in its infancy there was only me and someone called Beth on Facebook with the 'Connah' surname. Out of curiosity I got in touch and we've stayed in sporadic contact over the past couple of years. I mentioned a group I set up on Facebook for people with the surname to Doug and mentioned Beth in connection with it only for him to realise that Beth was his niece! Of all the small world coincidences that surely has to be one of the best I've been a party too. Given the scarcity of the surname, and the fact that the two people outside of my immediate family that I know with the same surname are themselves related, surely there's a good chance that somewhere down the line there is a relational link? It would be nice to think so.


A Tale of Two Committees

One of the benefits to working in an office where there are far too many interns for the work available is that we get to go a relatively high number of events on the Hill outside of the office, such as hearings, briefings and receptions.

Committee hearings are essentially the organs of the legislative process; bills that have been introduced to either house of Congress are passed over to the committees to be examined, amended etc, and otherwise select committees can be convened to look into specialised topics. But until today I've been thoroughly underwhelmed by what I've seen in committee hearings, both at the full-committee and sub-committee level, to the extent that I've not been enthusiastic about going along to some that have come up.

For instance, last week, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing into the Bush presidency. It was bound to be controversial - but the various members couldn't even agree as to whether it was the first step down the road to impeachment or not. Two hours later and the witnesses hadn't even finished making their opening statements. I left, thoroughly bored and disenchanted with what should have been a groundbreaking and incredibly far reaching hearing. But today I went along to one at a committee I've never been to before, the Committee on Science and Technology, and for a change, was thoroughly impressed. So let me compare and contrast that committee with the Judiciary committee - the committee I've perhaps spent the most time watching.

The Judiciary committee is obviously one of the more prestigious in the House and as such, it seems to be staffed by people with inflated egos and agendas. A typical hearing, whether designed to look into proposed legislation or undertaking an investigation starts with ALL of the committee reading out their opening statements (all of which are available on paper) and in doing so usually far exceeding their alloted five minutes to make partisan points, either because they say too much, or because they speak so incredibly slowly. The witnesses then do the same with their opening statements which have already been circulated to all present. By this point, in my experience it's not unusual for two-hours to have elapsed, yet nothing has actually happened. When the questioning starts a sizable chunk of the time is taken up with each side making 'points of order' and issuing 'parliamentary inquiries' which are usually batted aside by the Chair, but not before they've used up more time. Today for instance the issue was legislation on allowing people to make claims against the Iraqi government in US courts for compensation for torture. After starting an hour late, the next 45 minutes consisted predominantly of sniping, before one member asked to make a point of order, to which another candidly replied "he doesn't have one". It's such a shame to see such an important committee descend into such a farce, especially when at the end not enough members had stuck around to make up a quorum, so the vote had to be postponed anyway.

The contrast with the Science and Technology Committee couldn't have been greater. Granted, it was a hearing on the future of NASA, to which both the Democrats and the few Republicans who showed up seemed to share a broad consensus, and John Glen was testifying, but the whole thing was slickly run and respectable and it actually felt like the hearing achieved something. Opening statements were limited to the two senior committee members, and the witnesses stuck to the time limits. The questioning was civil and again, time limits were strictly enforced. The result? All over in two hours, everyone present (both members and audience) stayed until the end, and the process just seemed to work as it's meant too.

Of course, there's not so much to be gained on the Science and Technology Committee as there is on the Judiciary one, but it's striking just how dissimilar two committees can be and I can only put it down to partisanship and the leadership skills of the committee chair. Judiciary is incredibly partisan, and the chair is largely ineffective. Science and Technology had a strong, yet fair, and likable chair and there was broad respect across the aisle.

Everyone talks about needing to build a bi-partisan consensus to get anything done here. I'd wager that it's not about consensus so much as a mutual respect regardless of ideology and an acknowledgment that the good of the process depends on more than petty squabbles about terminology and technicalities which can only serve to score cheap political points at the expense of political progress.


A Very British Reception

Just after the internship started we heard that we'd be meeting with the British Ambassador, but we knew not why nor quite how. Last Wednesday our questions were answered, at least in part.

After not having been at work due to spending the day at the Library of Congress having an induction to the 'Fundamentals of Federal Legal Research' in the slightly misplaced hope that it would prove to be a sort of taster of what legal study in the US might be like, I decided to walk to the British Embassy. It seemed like it would be a nice walk through leafy greens towards the US Naval Observatory, but unfortunately, when I found myself walking through a wood and along gravel lanes with little idea of whether I was heading in the right direction with less than ten minutes to go before I was supposed to be there, walking seemed like a poor decision. But I finally made it just in time to be ushered through.

We only found out what the occasion was when we were given our name tags with 'British American Business Association' (affectionately known as BABA) printed across the top. Having never been to an Embassy reception I had no clue of what to expect, and things seemed bad when the first thing we had to do was the whole cringeworthy lining up to shake hands with important people, themselves lined up, and who probably have little interest in what you've got to say, or any reason to remember you afterwards - especially when you're in a situation like me where the name tag in saying 'Intern' just about says all there is to say.

Being outsiders to the event it was a little difficult to work up the enthusiasm to network, and our meeting with the British Ambassador lasted just about long enough for a handshake and a photograph. But the Embassy itself is impressive and in a pretty imposing position up on Massachusetts Avenue beyond the Embassy Row quarter of town. The gardens were pretty and plentiful and the Ambassador's residence where the event was held was fittingly grand.

It was odd being surrounded by so many British people again. We're still living together as British interns, but we know each other well enough not to think of each other as being British, so to hear all these unfamiliar voices in familiar accents was initially slightly disconcerting.

Unfortunately, we had been promised 'heavy finger food', which didn't materialise, so we had to make speedy dinner plans after being ushered out after little more than an hour to clear the way for a dinner the Ambassador was hosting that same evening. Unfortunately, just as with the day before the weather intervened at this point by delivering yet another torrential downpour that turned the sky pitch black just as we were exiting the Metro. Washington DC doesn't seem to have much time for us.

The White House

Every day on my way home from work I walk up Pennsylvania Avenue and past the White House. It's a hugely enigmatic building, and it's striking in its simplicity both from the front and from the back. I'd go so far as to say that it's a good job the British didn't succeed in burning it to the ground. Not that the same can be said for the horribly over the top Eisenhower Executive Building to the west - if that had been around in 1812 it should have been the first to go.

On Tuesday last week I finally got a chance to go inside, and as a result got the morning off work as well. Unfortunately the wonderful Washington DC weather conspired, as it so often does, to catch me without an umbrella and hence by the time I'd finished waiting in the (surprisingly short) queue to get inside, I was soaked through. But, of course, the sunny smiles of all the security staff practically dried me out.

The tour itself is odd. Given the security, the ban on cameras, and the difficulty in getting on a tour, I was expecting it to be guided once you got inside to keep people together, but it's self guided, to the extent that you can spend as long as you want inside. Practically, the pathway is clearly marked and narrow enough to make sure that the line keeps moving, and there's security at every turn to keep you in check. You don't actually get to see that much once inside apart from the state rooms, which are very... stately. I've heard others compare it to a British National Trust property, and it's not a bad comparison to make. Of course, it is very grand inside, everything is in its rightful place and there is an innate grandeur, it's not exceptional. Perhaps the hurried nature of the process through didn't help - it only took about 25 minutes from walking in to walking out - and at the end of the day I can at least say I've been inside the White House, but the rooms we walked through obviously aren't typical of the property. I guess it's been spoiled by the promise of TV's the West Wing!

Last year's ESU interns were fantastically lucky in that they by chance met the White House Press Secretary at a reception and who later organised a personal tour of the White House for them, including a visit to the Oval Office. Now that would have been quite something indeed.