Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Separation of powers in China's socialist democracy

China's official Xinhua news agency reported (August 27) on legislative events, but the language is convoluted, and I doubt that translating from Chinese is the only cause. When people struggle to slant their descriptions, language often gets warped. Reading and interpreting the reports gives students practice in using the knowledge they have and in critical thinking.

For instance, this law and the other actions mentioned below, were "approved by the NPC Standing Committee at the end of a six-day legislative session." The article also notes that "China's top legislature on Sunday voted to adopt a new law..."

And so I'd ask my students, "How is it that the NPC Standing Committee can have 'a six-day legislative session' or the 'top legislature... voted to adopt a new law...' when the NPC isn't in session?" (I would point out that a March 14, 2005 article on Xinhua's web site noted, "The National People's Congress (NPC)... ratified the Anti-Secession Law with an overwhelming vote of 2,896 for to none against on Monday... at the closing meeting of the NPC’s Third Session in Beijing...")

Top legislature adopts people's congress supervision law

"China's top legislature on Sunday voted to adopt a new law, trying to enable its lawmakers to better supervise the government.

"The Supervision Law of Standing Committees of People's Congresses at Various Levels, which would enhance the supervision power of the lawmakers and prevent administrative and judicial bodies from abusing authority, will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2007.

"It was passed at the 23rd session of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress, China's top legislature. The session was concluded here Sunday afternoon.

[Shown at right below: Wu Bangguo, at center, chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, addresses the closing ceremony of the 23rd meeting of the 10th NPC Standing Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Aug. 27, 2006.]

 "'The correct implementation of the law must be ensured,' said Chinese President Hu Jintao, also General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, at a meeting with leaders of non-Communist parties, federations of industry and commerce and personages without party affiliation...

"Enhancing supervision power of people's congresses and supervision of all respects is a key content of developing Socialist democracy and implementing the basic policy of governing the country by law, Hu said.

"The stipulation of the people's congress supervision law must insist on the leadership of the Party as well as on the people as the masters of the state, and stick to governing the country by law..."

I'd recommend that your students read the whole article and "translate" it into English that actually describes what's going on with this new law.

"I'd ask students: Which checks and balances are under consideration in China? Whose power checks or balances whose power? When the Xinhua article says, "China's top legislature on Sunday voted to adopt a new law..." Who passed the law? How many of the 2300+ delegates to the People's Congress voted for the new law? And what does that last sentence of the excerpt above say about "the Party"? Is that in the Constitution?

And I'd ask similar questions about other parts of the article.

I might also ask students questions about some related articles:

  1. China's top legislature adopts corporate bankruptcy law
  2. China to set regulations for managing foreign partnerships
  3. China's top legislature expels three members

And I would probably refer them to the description of China's legislature in their textbook and to a "how a bill becomes a law" section of the Xinhua web site.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Encouraging Apathy or Competition?

Things like this would seem to promote the political apathy noted earlier.

From the Washington Post:

Opposition Party Looks To Be a Putin Creation

"The powerful and pro-Kremlin United Russia party has a new opponent -- one, however, that bears all the marks of a Kremlin creation.

"The leaders of three small Russian parties... announced a merger Tuesday. The union followed a series of meetings between the leaders and President Vladimir Putin, who blessed a venture that appears designed to leave him with loyalists on both sides of the Russian political aisle...

"The new party, which will have 30 seats in parliament and says it wants to become the country's largest opposition group after elections in 2007, also swears fealty to the president...

"The Kremlin hopes the new party, which has yet to be named, will form the basis of a nominally two-party system in parliament, analysts said. It will give voters an alternative to United Russia and siphon off votes from the Communist Party and others while remaining subservient to the presidential administration, analysts said...

"Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has had a string of fake opposition parties, manufactured to create the pretense of political competition. On Tuesday, critics immediately labeled the new party a rehash of earlier efforts...

"At their news conference Tuesday, party leaders dismissed the charge that they were puppets of the president. 'The easiest form of discrediting any organization today is saying that it is the Kremlin's project,' Babakov said. 'Our decision is not just a decision by leaders of our parties. It is a decision by our regional branches, party members. Believe me, all those people are very far away from the Kremlin.'"

Against expectations - Political Apathy in Russia

Well, here's a depressing analysis that you could ask your students to evaluate. Does the logic make sense? Where are the opinions and how do you distinguish them from the facts? Does anyone else see the haunting shadows of late Weimar Germany in this analysis? And could your students explain why that shadow is likely to appear in a Russian analysis? (Forgive my history question.)

The whole article is worth considering as a writing prompt for your students (don't be satisfied with this excerpt), especially as the election approaches. This excerpt is from an article published by Novosti, Russian News and Information Agency.

Political apathy spreads over Russia

"The average Russian is paying less and less attention to politics and delving deeper and deeper into his or her own personal, everyday problems. The reasons for this attitude are not only economic; this political apathy is caused by narrowing political choices due to changes made to election legislation (such as the abolition of the 'against all' option) and the lack of an alternative, which has become the main attribute of current Russian politics.

"Sociological research shows that due to the absence of a dominant ideology and people's de-politicization, Russians are willing to accept a one-party system and the political dominance of the ruling pro-Kremlin party, United Russia. This is not because United Russia is seen as extremely good, but because ordinary Russians no longer care who controls politics: They want to be left in peace to work for their own survival or, on the contrary, enrichment. Ordinary people do not see a direct connection between politics and their prosperity. Surveys by the Levada Center show that people are inclined to blame the government for all negative developments. At the same time, they view the government not as a political institution, but as an economic body that is unable to cope with people's chief concerns, i.e. inflation (the biggest concern, according to polls), poverty and corruption. As many as 66% worry about low incomes, while 70% of Russians fear a price hike. The government's two main tasks, polls indicate, should be to fight corruption and reduce prices.

"Russians do not see a serious alternative to the incumbent president...

"Still, this apathy and de-politicization cannot last long. With all the relative predictability of the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2007 and 2008, respectively - and it is this predictability that causes apathy - Russians' future political preferences are unclear. For lack of clear ideological priorities and goals that unite the nation, populist doctrines and nationalist parties have a fairly good chance of succeeding. So far, complete apathy has played a paradoxically positive role, toning down the most radical and quasi-fascist sentiments. Yet this phenomenon has another side: the nationalist minority can become a majority because of most people's absolute indifference to what is going on in politics.

"For people to vote consciously and with interest, they need incentives. Perhaps, an adequate solution would be to democratize election legislation in the next political cycle. The first step could be to lower the 7% threshold in the parliamentary election. This measure could lead to a fledgling multi-party system appearing in Russia. Then even apathetic voters would suddenly be interested in the choices on offer."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Countries and Companies

Thanks to Patrick O'Neil at the University of Puget Sound for pointing out a great map demonstrating globalization via Starbuck's and MacDonalds. It would provide a great exercise in interpreting graphic data. Ask your students to translate the graphic information into words. You can write a rubric for grading those little "essays" so grading them won't be too difficult, and you'll get a good idea of your students' skill levels.

You can check out Dr. O'Neill's blog for yourself by clicking here.

The map reminded me of the opportunities provided by comparing companies and countries. For instance, comparisons of countries' GDPs and corporate sales figures are fascinating documents. One chart is from The New Internationalist, which notes that "Of the world's 100 largest economies, 50 are trans-national corporations (TNCs)."

The Global Policy Forum offers a chart from May 2000 which shows the world's top 12 "economies" as

  1. USA $1,722.0 billion (1998)
  2. Germany $977.0 billion (1998)
  3. Italy $559.0 billion (1998)
  4. UK $487.7 billion (1998)
  5. Japan $407.0 billion (1998)
  6. France $222.0 billion (1998)
  7. Netherlands $163.0 billion (1998)
  8. General Motors $161.3 billion (1999)
  9. Daimler Chrysler $154.6 billion (1999)
  10. Brazil $151.0 billion (1998)
  11. Ford Motor $144.4 billion (1999)
  12. Wal-Mart Stores $139.2 billion (1999)

Your students could easily research an update to this data from the CIA World Factbook - which shows that China is now 2nd to the USA - and the Fortune 500 - which shows that Wal-Mart is now #2 on that list.

All those numbers bring to mind questions about the differences between nation states and corporations, especially MNCs and TNCs, that make for interesting discussions in comparative politics classes.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mexican Election Analysis

Mexidata.info is apparently sponsored by Mexican Information and Research Associates, which describes itself as emphasizing "business and government services; negotiations with federal, state and local government agencies and officials, plus the private sector; lobbying and facilitation with government officials, regulatory agencies and elected representatives; problem resolution; socioeconomic and political research and analysis; country and political risk analysis; actionable intelligence; U.S.A. services for Latin American clients."

Its web site publishes opinion pieces written by four businessmen, three of whom appear to originally be from the U.S. and Canada. Nonetheless, the columns I've read seem well-informed and thoughtful. In other words, they might be good teaching tools. Today, there are two worth looking at and "clipping" to save for the day when you're teaching about these topics.

As everyone waits to hear the decision of Mexico's electoral court later today, Carlos Lukens' column, Picking up the pieces after Mexico's election, describes how everyone lost something in the presidential election and advocates further reforms to move Mexico closer to democratic government.

Allan Walls' column, Deadline Approaches for Mexico’s Electoral Court, does a good job of describing the Federal Electoral Tribunal, how it was created, and how it got into the position of final arbiter. It would be a good supplement to a textbook's paragraph on the court.

Picking up the pieces after Mexico’s election

"After nearly two months of drifting in a political whirlpool, Mexico’s political system has gone from the sublime joy of establishing a democracy to the possibility of facing a revolt.
"Actually the current and escalating post-electoral crisis should have been expected, the consequence of a bitter and pungent presidential campaign during which all political parties made a shameful spectacle of themselves – and Mexico’s democratic system ended up disgraced in the eyes of the electorate.
"But in picking up the pieces of this social tragedy, Mexicans should ask what happened? And most importantly, was anything learned?
"What happened was that pre-election ambitions ran unrestrained as principles and ideologies were cast aside in a frenzied power quest. Political etiquette and decorum gave way to frantic melees among party companions. As usual in battle, truth was the first casualty, and condemnation and censure were its executioners.
"Sadly, in Mexico’s heartbreaking battle for democracy no one left the field uninjured...

"The Mexican electorate had a very bad initiation to the democratic process. They were exposed to internal party feuds and character abuse during the primaries, and made to bear the brunt of a bitter and negative presidential campaign in which no candidate’s standing remained firm. And now they are being held hostage by an irresponsible situation in which a losing candidate is being allowed to question all electoral processes and government institutions, and to openly promote subversion unconstrained by any authority.
"Considering historical political opportunism and expediency, Mexican politicians must face the fact that their images have been severely stained. Many government inadequacies were made public. Political corruption has been further revealed and even overexposed.  And all political party images were ruined.
"As a result, Mexico now must pick up the pieces of its Humpty Dumpty political system. But as the story goes, it can’t be put back together again. Mexico must initiate a comprehensive political renewal program involving and based on citizens and institutions that look toward their nation’s future and well-being, instead of inflexibly grasping at obsolete party structures."

Deadline Approaches for Mexico’s Electoral Court

"If there’s a contested election who has the final say?  In the 2000 United States election the U.S. Supreme Court had the final word.  Needless to say, everybody wasn’t happy about it.

"But somebody has to have the final say.
"It’s now 2006 and Mexico has a hotly contested election.

"The first question is, 'Was the election legitimate?'  If the answer to that question is 'yes,' then the next question is, 'Who is the winner?'  Is the winner Felipe Calderon of the PAN (National Action Party) or Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, AMLO, of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution)?

"Mexico’s electoral tribunal has the final say, and the day it must rule on the election is rapidly approaching..."

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Clericalism in Mexico

Manuel Roig-Franzia, the Washington Post reporter would have written this article quite differently if he had studied comparative politics. He begins with a sentence that sounds like the mix of religion and politics is surprising. He does note half way through that, "The mix of religion and politics is always explosive in Mexico." It's not until a couple paragraphs later that he notes what textbooks regard as a basic fact, "Even though the church is widely respected and supported... the [1920s] war is often cited by Mexicans who want to maintain a strict separation of church and state." And there's not a word about the PRI and 75 years of "institutionalized revolution." Nonetheless, this article might be the basis for a good exercise in critical thinking.

In Mexico, the Cardinal and the 'Crazies'

"MEXICO CITY -- It was an intrusion onto sacred ground.

"At the height of Catholic Mass in the baroque Metropolitan Cathedral, a man interrupted the service by brandishing a political protest sign at the country's most respected religious figure. Outside, demonstrators chanted, 'Norberto Rivera, hell awaits you.'

"Rivera, a cardinal, oversees the world's largest archdiocese here in Mexico City, the center of religious life in a country where nine in 10 people are Catholic. He had been considered a leading contender to succeed Pope John Paul II after the pontiff's death last year.

"But Rivera is now immersed in a nasty political tussle that illuminates the hair-trigger sensitivity here about mixing religion and politics.

"On one side, supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist presidential candidate who is challenging the results of the July 2 election, accuse Rivera of siding with the apparent winner, Felipe Calderón. On the other side, Rivera calls protesters who have disrupted Mass at the cathedral 'crazies,' and other Catholic leaders condemn López Obrador supporters for placing the image of Mexico's most revered saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, on political posters.

"'The mix of religion and politics is always explosive in Mexico,' said historian Enrique Krauze, who has dubbed López Obrador a 'tropical messiah' because, Krauze says, he tries to use religion to further his political appeal.

"Rivera has shown no reluctance to blend the spiritual and the secular, either. Last month, he said the church could mediate the post-electoral crisis.

"Two weeks later, he called on Mexican Catholics to respect a decision by a special elections court rejecting López Obrador's request for a full recount and ordering a recount of only 9 percent of polling places. Rivera's statement echoed the position of Calderón, who supported the court's decision, and countered the stance of López Obrador, who lambasted the ruling and continued to demand a full recount...

"López Obrador's supporters have interpreted Rivera's remarks as improper intrusions into the political world. Mexican law prohibits religious leaders from direct involvement in politics. But the tension also has roots in history.

"Troops supported by the Catholic Church fought a bloody, three-year war against the Mexican government in the 1920s. The war, which cost more than 70,000 lives, was an unsuccessful attempt to overturn reforms that had stripped the church of its considerable influence over the government and the country's financial system.

"Even though the church is widely respected and supported -- Mexico has more than 90 million Catholics, more than any country except Brazil -- the war is often cited by Mexicans who want to maintain a strict separation of church and state..."

The Feedback Loop

Looking for an example of feedback in a system of policy making? How about this example from China in which the results of pursuing a policy of industrial development include life-threatening pollution as well as jobs and prosperity. It was reported by the BBC.

Third of China 'hit by acid rain'

"One third of China is suffering from acid rain caused by rapid industrial growth, an official report quoted by the state media says.

"Pollution levels have risen and air quality has deteriorated, the report found. This comes despite a pledge by the authorities to clean up the air...

"The pollution inspection report to the standing committee of parliament found that 25.5 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide were spewed out, mainly from the country's coal-burning factories last year - up 27% from 2000.

"Emissions of sulphur dioxide - the chemical that causes acid rain - were double the safe level, the report said. In some areas, rainfall was 100% acid rain, it added.

"'Increased sulphur dioxide emissions meant that one-third of China's territory was affected by acid rain, posing a major threat to soil and food safety,' Sheng Huaren of the standing committee, was quoted by state media as saying...

"'It is especially worrying that most local governments base economic growth on energy consuming industries, disregarding the environment's capacity to sustain industrial expansion,' Mr Sheng said.

"His report echoes the findings from the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) released earlier this month.
In July, China announced it planned to spend 1.4 trillion yuan ($175bn) over the next five years on protecting its environment.

"The sum - equivalent to 1.5% of China's annual economic output - will be used to improve water quality, and cut air and land pollution and soil erosion..."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Capitalist Politics in Russia

From The Guardian (UK):

Kremlin party sets up its stall

"Roll up, roll up: get your blue jeans and politics here! United Russia, the party which acts as a legislative sledgehammer for the Kremlin, is opening bargain-basement shops with a weather eye on next year's parliamentary elections.

"A cut-price furniture store jointly run by the party and a local business opened this week in Nizhny Novgorod, 250 miles east of Moscow. United Russia bosses have said no profit will be made and denied it is a ploy to curry favour with voters. However, a source inside the party told the Kommersant newspaper the venture promised to be 'very beneficial'.

"'Poor people will be able to buy products in shops with the logo of the party for much less money and will start to trust United Russia,' the source said. 'It's a simple idea and it'll win political points.'

"Similar 'social' shops selling cheap furniture, clothes and shoes are being opened by United Russia in poor regions across the country. A clothes store opened by the party in Kirov offers pairs of jeans for 100 roubles (£2) to 400 roubles, and T-shirts for 30 roubles. War veterans and the disabled get a discount.

"Rival parties have threatened to go to court to prove the shops violate electoral law. 'Politically one can make this conclusion: the campaign for elections to the state duma has already begun,' said Vadim Solovyev, a secretary of the central committee of the Communist party..."

Friday, August 25, 2006

In and out of jail in Nigeria

Nigerian officials arrest a couple of officials accused of corruption and release from jail (maybe) thousands of un-convicted prisoners in Nigeria.

If you're looking for examples that illustrate a weak state (one that's not able to implement its policies), these cases are good ones: first, the arrest of two accused state legislators, but not an accused governor; secondly, the sorry state of prisons and the criminal justice system.

Nigerian MPs arrested after siege

"Two Nigerian state legislators have been arrested by anti-corruption officials, after a dramatic siege at the Federal Court in the capital...

"President Olusegun Obasanjo has promised tough action against corruption in Nigeria, but correspondents say he has been criticised for using his powers to target political opponent."

The New York Times published a Reuters report on a Nigerian prison inmate release program.

Nigeria: 10,000 Inmates to Be Freed

"Nigeria is releasing 10,000 inmates who have spent up to a decade in prison awaiting trial. More than 25,000 inmates, or 65 percent of the prison population, have never been convicted of a crime but are in jail because of delays in the justice system, missing police files, absent witnesses and prison mismanagement. Bayo Ojo, the justice minister, said: 'We have embarked on a massive decongestion of prisons, and 10,000 prisoners have been cleared for release. Some are already out.’' He said those being freed included thousands accused of minor crimes who had spent more time in prison awaiting trial than they would have served if convicted."

It turns out that it's not the first time such a release has been announced. The BBC reported last April on prison conditions and a similar release announcement.

The 'notorious' jails of Nigeria

"Prisons in Nigeria are notorious, with many of the country's 40,000 inmates crammed into massively overcrowded, dilapidated cells in old prisons.

"The most shocking statistic is that some two thirds of all the prisoners in Nigeria have not been convicted.

"Many have to wait for years for the case to come to court...

"Some people have waited for their trials for more than a decade.

"Their files had been lost, they were forgotten.

"The problem was so glaring that the government announced in January that all those who have spent three to 10 years awaiting trial will have their cases reviewed for immediate release.

"Those who had already spent more time in prison than their prospective sentences would be let out, along with the elderly, the terminally ill and those with HIV.

"In total, that amounted to 25,000 inmates. But this amnesty has yet to be implemented..."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

While we're thinking about human rights

While we're thinking about human rights, a British official is promoting conversations in the UK about race and immigration (see the excerpt below).

To keep up with the topic or to find resources later when you're teaching about the UK, you can look at The Guardian's "Special Report on Race in the UK."

Kelly calls for 'honest debate' on multiculturalism

"The communities secretary, Ruth Kelly, today called for a 'new, honest debate" about rooting out extremism and argued it was 'not racist" to discuss immigration and asylum.

"She said Britain had moved away from a 'near-uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism' and was facing challenges that threatened its record on uniting ethnic groups..."

Human Rights as Universals?

Here's a conceptual topic for your students to consider. What are human rights? And, are they universal?

Below is an excerpt from an interview of Iranian dissident Emad Baghi by a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The discussion focuses on the relationship between Islam and human rights.

But there are other things to consider.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
is online at the UN web site.

How does that list compare with the U.S. Bill of Rights?

And the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights?

Then there's the article from Xinhua on its China View web site, Human Rights Can be Manifested Differently.

And, here's what The Constitution of the Russian Federation says in Section One, Chapter 2, "Rights and Liberties of Man and Citizen."

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are concerned about human rights in Mexico. Should they be concerned?

While the Human Rights Act has given the UK its first bit of written constitution, the debates about the implications continue. See "Liberty's" concerns and The Guardian's special section on human rights.

Here's a link to "Chapter 4: Fundamental Rights" in the Nigerian constitution.

___Interview with Emad Baghi___

World: Islam And Human Rights

"Is the concept of an Islamic state compatible with accepted notions of human rights? Can the modern concept of human rights make headway in the face of religious dogma and Islamic traditions? Emad Baghi, the head of the Tehran-based Organization for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights, knows at first hand the political sensitivity of new interpretations of religious texts, especially those involving human rights and the death penalty: in 2000, Baghi, then the editor in chief of the journal "Fath," was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison for writing about the death penalty and retribution, as well as the killing of political and intellectual dissidents.

"RFE/RL: I suspect we are entering into a highly controversial area. Scholars and intellectuals differ widely on the question of what caused the Islamic world to fall to a lowly position by almost all standards of modern civilization. Traditionally, intellectuals in the developing world tend to blame the West. Are you proposing a revisionist view?

"Baghi: I believe that the demise of the humanistic view, which was deeply rooted in our classical literature, has resulted in the persistence of totalitarian systems in which human dignity has no place and in which everything is political and ideological. That is the main source of the decline of Islamic civilization. Some blame colonialism and imperialism for this failure. I believe that the main cause -- an indigenous cause -- was dictatorship and a lack of freedom, although colonialism contributed to this since these two phenomena were mutually dependent: naturally, the colonial powers needed stable and powerful governments in these countries to be able to exploit their resources – and only dictators could achieve that..."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

When technology trumps teaching

On August 8, I wrote about Guy Kawasaki's "10/20/30 Rule of Power Point."

Well, I just found out that back in November 2004, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article about a survey done by the Educause Center for Applied Research that reinforces what Kawasaki said about limiting yourself to 10 slides in 20 minutes using a font size of at least 30.

When Good Technology Means Bad Teaching

"Giving professors gadgets without training can do more harm than good in the classroom, students say

"Alison Lesht, a senior at Connecticut College, dreaded going to her organic-chemistry classes, held in one of the college's wired classrooms.

"It wasn't that the material was dense and challenging. It was because her professor 'would write on the PowerPoint slides complete sentences, which she would then read,' explains Ms. Lesht, who is majoring in biology and minoring in religious studies. 'It didn't really add anything to the lecture. It just made everything more complicated and convoluted.'

"'I call it 'PowerPoint abuse,' she says. 'It's pretty widespread.'...

"The problem was underscored in a national survey released last month [October 2004] by the Educause Center for Applied Research... After surveying and interviewing students at 13 colleges of different types, researchers for the group said they were surprised by the number of negative comments about how professors used technology. 'The qualitative findings revealed students' strong feeling that faculty use technology poorly,' said the researchers' report...

"Some complaints involved the kind of PowerPoint abuse bemoaned by Ms. Lesht, but other technological teaching blunders were cited as well. Some instructors wasted class time fumbling with projectors or software. Some required students to use chat rooms and other online features that went unmoderated, or that seemed to have been tacked on to the syllabus as afterthoughts. Some devoted too much time to teaching students some quirky Web tool at the expense of delivering course material...

"Students also complain, however, when professors make no attempt to use new tools, putting pressure on faculty members to try high-tech tools even if they are not comfortable with them...

"The most common technology used in the classroom seems to be PowerPoint, and it is also the most criticized by students.

"A good PowerPoint presentation can enliven a lecture by offering imagery to support key points, and having a prepared set of slides can keep professors from straying off on tangents. Many students also praise PowerPoint slides for being easy to read, noting that professors' chalkboard scrawls can be illegible.

"But students say some professors simply dump their notes into PowerPoint presentations and then read them, which can make the delivery even flatter than it would be if the professor did not use slides...

"And unlike overhead transparencies, which professors can annotate with a pen during a lecture, PowerPoint slides cannot be easily changed during class...


"In a recent survey... students said they liked technology -- when used well -- but some gave their professors failing grades when it came to using PowerPoint, course-management systems, and some other kinds of classroom technology. Some specific complaints:

  • Reading PowerPoint slides verbatim: Many professors cram slides with text and then recite the text during class, which some students say makes the delivery flatter than if the professor did not use slides.

  • Wasting class time fumbling with software and cables: Professors who are uncomfortable with technology can spend too much time troubleshooting instead of teaching.

  • Failing to moderate chat rooms: Some professors require students to make weekly contributions to online chat rooms, but then never monitor the results or mention the discussions in class, making the discussions seem like busywork.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Political Role of Science

The other Boston Globe article Michael Harvey recommended is about the role of science in Iran. It figures into the politics of Iran's nuclear programs and offers a chance for some comparative analysis with the politics of science in the U.S.A.

Iran looks to science as source of pride

Nuclear program stokes ambitions

"TEHRAN -- The white-coated scientists at Tehran's Royan Institute labor beneath a framed portrait of the turbaned, bearded supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the head of a state that enforces strict religious rules governing everything from how women dress to what kinds of parties people throw.

"But in the cutting-edge field of human embryonic stem-cell research, the scientists work with a freedom that US researchers can only dream of: broad government approval, including government funding, to work on the potent cells from early-stage embryos that researchers believe hold the promise to cure many diseases.

"In 2002, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave his blessing to research on surplus embryos created for fertility treatments -- work sharply restricted in the United States under pressure from religious conservatives -- calling it a 'lofty' effort that fit his goal of making Iran the scientific leader of the Muslim world.

"The scientific ambitions that led Iran to embrace one of the world's most open policies on stem-cell research also help to explain why many Iranians support the nuclear research program that has thrust their country into a dangerous international confrontation...

"Caught in the middle are Iranian scientists. With government backing, they have been able to launch health initiatives -- from family planning and drug-addiction therapy to prevention of heart disease -- that have won admiration from leading US researchers.

"But they also face restrictions -- from the West and from their own government -- that make it hard for them to take part in international scientific exchange. Iranian scientists who travel abroad can face accusations of having too much contact with foreigners. And they are often denied visas to Western and Arab countries that mistrust Iran..."

From Abu Dhabi

This morning, before I even had a chance to read my usual round of online news, I found a couple e-mails from Michael Harvey in Abu Dhabi, where he teaches comparative. This is a reminder that if you find good articles, please share them with the rest of us. You can send your recommendation to me or you can join this blog and post them yourself.

Michael read the Boston Globe onine and found this interesting explanation of how policy making is limited not only by other nations and economic considerations, but also by history. It's one of those instances when historical analysis is very appropriate for comparative analysis.

Lingering boundary dispute clouds Tibet's future

How to define borders slows deal with China

"...the Dalai Lama and China cannot reach a deal on Tibet.

"Since 2000, the two sides have held five quiet meetings to discuss the future of the former Himalayan kingdom. The negotiations have gone well and the Dalai Lama, 71, is so eager to return to Tibet from exile in India that he has forsaken previous demands of independence for an agreement to give the region genuine autonomy.

"But further progress has been stuck on the question of how to define Tibet's boundaries... during the 18th century, the Qing dynasty emperors annexed Tibet's Amdo Province and renamed it Qinghai. Later, Chinese forces encroached on the eastern part of another Tibetan province, Kham, dividing off sections to the surrounding Chinese provinces of Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan. British India also nibbled away at the weakened Himalayan kingdom. When Maoist China occupied Tibet in 1951, Tibet had only two provinces...

"'Historically, the whole Tibetan plateau was one unit,' Thubten Samphel, the information secretary of the Department of Information and International Relations of the Tibetan government-in-exile at Dharamsala...

"Although China's economic assistance to the autonomous region has substantially improved their lives, they resent the intrusions into their faith...

"Maoist policies led to the deaths of more than a million Tibetans and destroyed thousands of monasteries, the Tibetan government-in-exile says...

"About 6 million Han Chinese settlers... [have] turned Tibetans into a minority...

"To try to woo Chinese Tibetans and undermine their desire for reunification, Chinese authorities appear to be giving Tibetans who live outside the autonomous region more religious freedoms than it gives those inside..."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Politics and Economics

Swiss banking giant, UBS, describes itself as "the world's largest wealth manager, a top tier investment banking and securities firm, and a key global asset manager." In early August, the "wealth manager" released the results of its comparative survey of the cost of living.

The results they released don't offer much analysis about the causes of the differences, but they do describe the data in understandable ways. (That's a model for your students to follow.) My favorite is the comparison of how long an average worker in a wide variety of countries has to toil in order to buy a Big Mac. Here's what UBS says on its web site:

35 minutes of work for a Big Mac

"Wages only become meaningful in relation to prices, i.e., what can be bought with the money earned. A globally available product like a Big Mac can make the relationship between wages and prices much clearer. On a global average, 35 minutes of work buys a Big Mac. But the disparities are huge: In Nairobi, one and a half hours’ work is needed to buy the burger with the average net hourly wage there. In the US cities of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Miami, a maximum of 13 minutes' labor is needed. Although the comprehensive comparison of purchasing power and gross wages puts them at the top of the table, higher production costs mean that workers in Swiss and Scandinavian cities need 15 to 20 minutes for their Big Macs."

MoneyWeb, a South African online newsletter, like most other news media, reprinted with little editing, the content of the UBS press release:

Jo’burg a cheap place to live

"A worker in Johannesburg will earn up to 63% less than a similar employee in New York City and around 60% less than the same person in London. However a comparable worker in India will earn more than 90% less than someone in New York.

"These astonishing figures are the results of UBS’s 2006 Prices and Earnings survey. The survey was conducted in 71 cities around the world, with only Johannesburg and Nairobi featured from Africa. All results were converted to a single currency (the US dollar) at rates on a given day to make direct comparisons possible.

"Johannesburg isn’t expensive by any means, but neither is it cheap and falls into what UBS terms a 'median city'.

"It’s more expensive to buy electronic goods in Jo’burg (28% costlier than New York, but a good deal cheaper than London). Very few cities offer cheaper appliances than New York but Dubai is the cheapest.

"Workers (at the average wage of 14 different professions) in Jo’burg will need to work for half an hour to buy a Big Mac, while Parisians would need 21 minutes and New Yorkers 13 minutes. Employees in Mexico City would need to work for almost an hour and a half..."

Most of the world's media parroted the UBS press release (which was issued in four languages), probably because the report itself was written in German. The whole report is available, including the list of how many minutes of work is required to earn enough to buy a Big Mac in 71 cities. That list also reveals, more prosaically, how long it takes to earn enough to buy a kilogram of bread and a kilo of rice.

It's not of great importance for our purposes that the report is in German. I can read the data, and my German is so poor that when I was in Germany and trying to speak the language, people kept asking me to speak English so they could better understand me.

My point here is that there is a wealth of economic data available from UBS, the World Bank, The UN, the IMF, Global Insight, and the CIA World Fact Book (which, by the way, got a new web address in late July).

You can set your students to work making hypotheses about correlations between economic conditions and political systems AND finding out if their hypothetical correlations actually exist. I would ask them to work with a partner and to present their hypotheses, their research results (with carefully credited sources), and their conclusions to the class. It's also a chance to reinforce the lesson that correlations are not causations. That makes it a great "two-fer" (i.e. a two for one deal).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Russia's '91 coup and teaching opportunities

Anniversaries of major events offer wonderful opportunities for collecting teaching materials. For instance, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China meant that major print and broadcast media sources produced retrospective and analytical articles and programs. I video taped a good documentary, "harvested" several good readings to supplement my students' textbook and "clipped" several dozen historic and contemporary photographs from online sources that I used as lecture illustrations.

While a 50th anniversary is a bigger deal, even a 15th anniversary can offer materials for important lessons. In 1991, there was a coup in the Soviet Union. It was a crucial event in Russia's transition and the political careers of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Here are some of the gems I found at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty web site. Some of them might fit into your teaching plans. (And if you want some good photos to illustrate a lecture, there are many in these articles.)

Besides looking at the origins of Russia's political system, these events (and those of 1993) offer opportunities to study (among other things) political change, political culture, democratization, and rule of law.

As you consider and teach about these topics, it may be worth repeating one of the perceptual anomalies surrounding Soviet/Russian politics. A sidebar on the RFE/RL site notes that, "According to a recent Harris poll, some 59 percent of European Union residents regard former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev as the best Soviet/Russian leader. Just 12 percent named Russian President Vladimir Putin and 4 percent picked former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Within Russia, the situation is quite different, with only 12 percent of Russians saying they have a positive impression of Gorbachev in a recent poll."

The first article consists of Mikhail Gorbachev's answers to six questions from RFE/RL.

Russia: Gorbachev Reflects On The Legacy Of The Coup

"PRAGUE, August 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) --Fifteen years after the failed coup that triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union and transformed his own life, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev talks to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service about the events of August 1991 and their legacy.

"RFE/RL: According to many public opinion polls, perestroika remains more popular abroad... than in the overwhelming majority of countries of the former Soviet Union. How would you, as the author of that initiative, explain such a difference in its reputation?

"Gorbachev: The difference between the reputation perestroika has in Russia and abroad is explainable. Central and Eastern Europe gained independence... I can tell you that neither the majority of their people nor their political elite desire a return to the way things were, or have any regrets about exiting the union...

"Russia is a special case. The reason I say this is because Russia lost the most as a result of the break-up, in terms of geopolitical stature, in terms of historical merit, in terms of political power it had by virtue of controlling other republics, and finally in terms of economic strength, having ceased to be the center of a major economic complex with a population of nearly a quarter-billion people.

"[Former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin and [former acting Russian Prime Minister Yegor] Gaidar's reforms destroyed the industrial potential of the country and reduced millions of people to poverty. Privatization was carried out in such a way that instead of contributing to a growing private sector, it only resulted in corruption and mass theft. The country was in shock, so people naturally looked back to the Soviet Union and the social guarantees that it offered. The guarantees were modest, but at least they were guarantees. Now, even though things are improving under Putin, I would still estimate that about 50 percent of our people live in poverty...

"RFE/RL: How do you assess the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Russia today?

"Gorbachev: There are frequent accusations that democracy is being suppressed and that freedom of press is being stifled. The truth is, most Russians disagree with this viewpoint. We find ourselves at a difficult historical juncture. Our transition to democracy has not been a smooth one, and we must assess our successes and failures not in the context of some ideal, but in the context of our history. When Putin first came to power, I think his first priority was keeping the country from falling apart, and this required certain measures that wouldn't exactly be referred to as textbook democracy.

"Yes, there are certain worrying tendencies. We still have certain stipulations and restrictions that cannot be explained by real dangers, or by the realities of life in Russia. However, I would not dramatize the situation. In the past 20 years, Russia has changed to such an extent that going back is now impossible.

"RFE/RL: Let's turn the clock back 15 years. You suffered a horrible betrayal on the part of the people you considered your comrades-in-arms, as well as, perhaps, your personal friends. Not many people have experienced this. What personal lessons have you learned?

"Gorbachev: We need to follow the path of democracy. We need to respect the people, and not turn them back into the herd that was bullied for decades and centuries in our country. We cannot resolve problems through coups. We need the people to participate in the changes that are being enacted in the country. Democracy needs to be effective. The law needs to be efficient. Thieves and corrupt officials should not feel safe. We need to follow the path of democracy toward a free, open, and prosperous country."

Next is a February 2006 article Russia: The Fading Legacy Of The Failed 1991 Soviet Coup

Besides the illustrations on that page, you'll find links there to a dozen more photos from the '91 coup.

There's a short analysis of Yeltsin's career, Russia: Legacy Unclear As Russia's First President Turns 75

Here's an interesting question. In Western media, Gorbachev has been portrayed as a victim of the coup. Yeltsin contends he was in on the plot. Russia: Yeltsin Accuses Gorbachev Of Complicity In 1991 Coup

And finally, a bit of analysis from the man who represented the USA in Moscow in '91. Former U.S. Ambassador Assesses The Coup's Legacy

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Transitions are difficult for the current Chinese dynasty

The road to a rule of law in China is not a smooth one, especially when there are no precedents.

Chinese Crackdown on Rights Lawyers Signals Effort to Deter Increasing Legal Challenges

"BEIJING, Aug. 18 — Chinese officials are stepping up a crackdown on defense lawyers in the latest sign that Communist Party leaders are determined to stamp out legal challenges to their authority.

"The Beijing police have detained Gao Zhisheng, one of the country’s most outspoken lawyers and dissidents, on suspicion of criminal activity, state media said Friday.

"Separately on Friday, court officials in Shandong Province held a closed criminal trial of Chen Guangcheng, a legal expert and advocate of peasants’ rights, which Mr. Chen’s defense lawyers condemned as heavy-handed political persecution.

"While the Chinese leadership is eager to create the impression that it is building an impartial legal system, the latest actions suggest that at least some powerful officials want to curtail the growing use of lawsuits to contest abuses of power, human rights violations, land seizures and official corruption.

"The ruling party has encouraged the idea that people have legal rights as a way of checking petty corruption, improving efficiency and channeling social grievances into the party-controlled judicial system...

"But a surge in social unrest in recent years, including protests by people frustrated that they are unable to exercise their constitutional rights, has alarmed local and national leaders..."

An ongoing campaign

For a graphic description of the Iranian president's popularity and skills as a politician, read Simon Tisdall's description of a recent "campaign stop" from The Guardian (UK).

Ahmadinejad roadshow seduces an adoring public

Eyewitness report: Iran's president arrives on a US-made helicopter - an evangelist from the sky

"He arrives amid a hurricane of swirling brown dust and deafening noise. A dense, rolling cloud of straw and dirt sweeps across the parched field, enveloping turbaned dignitaries, battering the hoisted green, white and red flags of Iran, and forcing thousands of enthralled onlookers to shield their eyes.

"As the rotors of the venerable American-made Huey 214 chopper spin slowly to a halt, and the murk clears, a great, human noise replaces the sound of engines. It is not cheering; more like a giant, murmuring sigh, punctuated by shouts of joy and the screams of women.

"For Meshkinshahr, a city perched on the desiccated Caspian steppes and mountains west of Ardabil, this dramatic descent to earth has the momentous significance of a prophetic visitation. Local elders say there has been nothing like it in years. Children are out of their heads with excitement.

"But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clambering out of the helicopter cabin with a big smile on his face, is getting used to it. His visit, part of a magisterial three-day, nine-city procession through Ardabil province in north-west Iran, is the 18th such meet-the-people expedition since he took office one year ago this month.

"Mr Ahmadinejad's extraordinary comings and goings are a cross between American-style town meetings, itinerant Islamic evangelism, and pure political theatre. Think Bill and Al's "excellent adventure" during the 1992 US presidential campaign; think Saladin on a soap box; then add a straggly beard, wrinkly, unexpectedly twinkly eyes, a gentle, open-handed style, and a genuine ability to connect - and you have Mr Ahmadinejad, a local hero (he was formerly governor of Ardabil), a would-be champion of Muslims everywhere, and an unlikely grassroots superstar..."

Friday, August 18, 2006

No transparency here

After the recommendation of the blog Danwei as an important source of information on China, I promised to keep an eye on it. Here's a little essay on Chinese thought control.

Jonathan Ansfield is a free lance journalist and entrepreneur in Beijing. In his August 17 blog, Spot-On, he speculated on the reasons for the delay in publishing the Chinese edition of Tom Friedman's latest book. He offers some insight into the political processes in China and a good example of how difficult analysis is when policy making is not transparent.

The Flat World Hits a Speed Bump

"The World is Flat was scheduled to hit bookshelves in Chinese earlier this summer. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman’s best-seller appeared sure to top sales in China...

"Turns out the world’s not that flat, after all. Not flat enough for Friedman in China, anyway. Today, it appears that the PRC edition of his tome will finally appear this fall... an Editorial Director Lin (he wouldn’t provide his full name) [at the Chinese publishing house said they]... had to push back their scheduled release date on short notice... in order to make 'additional revisions'...

"He stressed that the ongoing revisions were standard procedure for their translations. But he also acknowledged the delay was unscheduled and the publication date was indefinite... he said portions was not 'in accordance national conditions'... Lin also conceded: 'I fear some portions will have to be cut.'... [S]tate publishing houses or their industry minders routinely sanitize foreign titles for the Chinese market... So as with many cases where Western ideas meet Sino realpolitick, it’s hard to ascertain exactly what or who may be behind the editorial changes to The World is Flat...

"What parts of the book could be so offensive to the Chinese? To the Western reader, at least, Friedman is far more disparaging of the United States than China. He’s far more worried about American competitiveness than Chinese.

"Down in Changsha, Director Lin could offer no specifics as to what would need to go or why. The problem, he suspected, was less a matter of the content about China than Friedman's 'style of expressing it.'..."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Presidential politics in Nigeria

The BBC reports on another bit of the politics leading up to the presidential election in 2007.

General Babangida is a man to know and be reckoned with in Nigerian politics. The speculated support Babangida gave to Obasanjo probably amounted to millions of dollars.

One of the things I'd want my students to do with this article is identify the sources used by the BBC reporter and evaluate them.

Nigeria agents in corruption raid

"Nigerian anti-corruption officers have raided three companies belonging to Mike Adenuga, one of the country's most prominent entrepreneurs.

"He is also a close business associate of ex-military ruler Ibrahim Babangida [at left], who this week announced his decision to stand in next year's elections.

"If Mr Babangida is implicated in any probes it may bar him from standing...

"Last week, Mr Babangida's son Mohammed - who owns shares in Globacom - was arrested, quizzed and released by EFCC officials.

"Analysts say these are part of efforts to stop him from running for the presidency next year...

"There has been speculation that Mr Babangida gave financial support to Mr Obasanjo's 1999 election campaign, in return for a promise that he would become the president's chosen successor.

"Mr Obasanjo has however denied favouring any particular successor to the presidency.

"But the BBC's Mannir Dan Ali says Mr Obasanjo is said to be unhappy with Mr Babangida for backing politicians in May who blocked a constitutional amendment to allow presidents to run for a third term in office...

"Our correspondent say Mr Babangida has frequently been accused of corruption but no evidence has ever been produced to back up the claims.

"Mr Babangida governed Nigeria for eight years until 1993.

"He was toppled from power by mass protests after he annulled elections that were widely seen as having been won by a businessman, Moshood Abiola."

You might also want to check out the BBC's Q&A: Nigeria's political future from May '05


the profile of Babangida at OnlineNigeria

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Melodrama in London

There are elements of soap opera in Tony Blair's continuing political dance in the UK. Everyone knows the eventual outcome, but no one knows for sure when the season will end.

This opinion is from The New York Times.

The Latest Crises Do Little for Blair’s Political Standing

"LONDON, Aug. 15 — There should, perhaps, be some relief here at two events that have become entwined in British politics and its perennial questioning of Tony Blair's standing.

"One is the cease-fire in Lebanon, which many in London’s political village were angrily demanding. The other was the easing of London’s terror alert after the roundup last Thursday of two dozen terrorism suspects accused of plotting to bomb trans-Atlantic airliners.

"Both episodes might have been welcomed as a retreat from real or threatened violence on a tremendous scale. Yet both left a curious aftertaste, fueling rather than calming the public debate over Mr. Blair’s performance...

"Mistrust of Mr. Blair’s alliance with Mr. Bush goes far beyond the Muslim minority of 1.6 million. Since the invasion of Iraq, when more than one million Britons took to the streets in protest, suspicion of the trans-Atlantic bond sought by Mr. Blair has been central to public discourse and may be one reason for the recent criticism he has faced.

"As the military historian and columnist Max Hastings put it, 'One could nowadays fit into an old-fashioned telephone box those who believe anything Bush or Tony Blair says about foreign policy.'"...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Comparative Education

The labels in this article from The Economist may sound a bit unfamiliar, but the issues facing the British educational system are similar to the ones American schools face. In fact, they are very similar to the issues that motivated the invention of the Advanced Placement program 50 years ago.

Less than meets the eye

"Every summer A-level results are met with scornful claims that the exams have grown easier... around a quarter of A-level entries are still likely to score an A. In 1991 fewer than 12% got the top mark... Top universities with far more applicants than places say they cannot distinguish between the brilliant and the bright...

"[T]he A-level system, which restricts students... to studying just three or four subjects of their choice. Many abandon sciences, maths, languages, even English... Some dons complain that students arrive at universities in need of remedial teaching. Worse, employers say that workers... do not know how to calculate or communicate effectively.

"With secondary education under fire, an officially-commissioned inquiry... proposed scrapping [A-levels]... and introducing instead an overarching diploma covering both academic and vocational qualifications.

"But many schools think that such reforms will not go far enough. More are now offering the International Baccalaureate (IB), for which pupils are required to study six subjects, including science, maths and a foreign language, and write a long essay...

"The growing popularity of the IB is causing concern that pupils without access to it may soon find themselves at a disadvantage. There are not enough science teachers for all schools to offer the IB, even if they wanted to...

"Other alternatives to A levels are also in the works. Fifty private schools... are working with Cambridge University International Examinations to develop the “Pre-U”. Less prescriptive in its subject coverage than the IB, it will be tougher and broader than A levels, with an additional extended essay. But unless the government accredits the course, state schools will not be able to offer it, and poor children will find it even harder to compete with richer ones than they do under what was once known as the 'gold standard' of secondary education."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Power Blogger

Brian Whitaker noted in a Guardian (UK) column that Iran's president has started a blog. However, Whitaker is not sure what to make of the endeavor.

"A picture of the president shows him writing with a pen on a sheet of paper, which is not very bloggerish. Surely they could have sat him at a computer somewhere for the photograph.

"All this underlines the fact that Ahmadinejad doesn't really get the point of blogging. A presidential blog is almost a contradiction in terms: blogs represent the voice of ordinary people, not politicians who are pretending to be ordinary people. And of course ordinary people who blog in Iran and other parts of the Middle East risk ending up in jail."

Ahmadinejad's blog may be online, but when I tried to view it this morning, it seemed overwhelmed by the traffic generated by publicity from The Guardian and the BBC. It claims to be available in Farsi, Arabic, French, and English.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Cleavages and civil war

An article in the New York Times by Gary J. Bass, an associate professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton, seems to suggest that we resist the appeal of easily apparent causation and look carefully at more complex factors when seeking to explain how things got to be the way they are. Bass also presents some challenges to the popular ideas of Samuel P. Huntington, a favorite of casual and professional political scientists.

So, can Belgium, as a multi-ethnic society, offer hope to Nigeria? Are wealth and transparency in government more important than ethnic or religious homogeneity in maintaining civil order? Can you get students to think beyond the popular, generally accepted ideas? Here's a place to begin.

Web searches for Fearon, Laitin, Kaplan, and Huntington will produce some results that are useful in themselves and will also suggest other names and titles to research. Of course, a visit to the library will offer even more -- like articles and books as well as references.

What Really Causes Civil War?

"The commonplace assumption that a more homogeneous society is a more peaceful society certainly sounds reasonable... After all, in a country with numerous ethnic or religious groups, politicians are easily tempted to organize factions along group lines — which can lead to rising tensions and even civil war or the collapse of the state...

"But what if this whole premise is wrong? Odd as it may seem, there is a growing body of work that suggests that multiethnic countries are actually no more prone to civil war than other countries. In a sweeping 2003 study, the Stanford civil war experts James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin came to a startling finding: 'it appears not to be true that a greater degree of ethnic or religious diversity — or indeed any particular cultural demography — by itself makes a country more prone to civil war.'

"Fearon and Laitin looked at 127 civil wars from 1945 to 1999, most often in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. They found that regardless of how ethnically mixed a country is, the likelihood of a civil war decreases as countries get richer. The richest states are almost impervious to civil strife, no matter how multiethnic they might be... And while the poorest countries have the most civil wars, Fearon and Laitin discovered that, oddly enough, it is actually the more homogeneous ones among them that are most likely to descend into violence... civil wars only begin under particular circumstances that favor rebel insurgencies. The most common situation involves a weak, corrupt or brutal government confronting small bands of rebels protected by mountainous terrain and sheltered by a sympathetic rural population, and possibly bolstered with foreign support or revenues from diamonds or coca...

"The Fearon and Laitin argument has not gone unchallenged. In a 2004 paper, the Oxford economists Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler noted that when an ethnic group makes up more than 45 percent but less than 90 percent of a population, strife becomes more likely...

"Other scholars have backed up Fearon and Laitin’s general argument. Crawford Young, an African politics expert at Wisconsin and a former dean at the National University of Zaire, maintains that... [in] contrast to the conventional view that violence in Africa is a product of the legacy of arbitrary colonial borders that bundled rival tribes together... recent African civil wars [can be blamed] largely on novel financial and military factors. He points to the illicit sale of arms from the former Soviet Union and the rising professionalism of foreign-trained guerrillas... This argument... helps explain why Colombia’s civil war, fueled by coca profiteering, has dragged on for so many decades. Far from needing ethnic grievances to perpetuate them, some civil wars can perpetuate themselves...

"If true, the notion that ethnic diversity does not make civil war more likely would... call into question the thinking of pundits like Robert D. Kaplan, who has written that that multiethnic Nigeria 'is likely to split into several pieces,' and Samuel P. Huntington, whose book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order previews a world torn apart by cultural differences between Muslims and other civilizations — ethnic warfare on a global scale. The Fearon-Laitin thesis suggests that the debate over the future of fragile countries should turn from questions of ethnic demography to the need for good government, economic development and adequate policing..."

Foreign Affairs
offers this summary of Huntington's thesis:

"World politics is entering a new phase, in which the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of international conflict will be cultural. Civilizations-the highest cultural groupings of people-are differentiated from each other by religion, history, language and tradition. These divisions are deep and increasing in importance. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to Central Asia, the fault lines of civilizations are the battle lines of the future. In this emerging era of cultural conflict the United States must forge alliances with similar cultures and spread its values wherever possible. With alien civilizations the West must be accommodating if possible, but confrontational if necessary. In the final analysis, however, all civilizations will have to learn to tolerate each other."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Copyrights and teaching

Have you ever had qualms about handing out photo copies of newspaper articles? I have.

Did you, like me, ever wonder whether the FBI warning at the beginning of videos applied to you when you showed something to a class instead of your family?

Are the fair use and educational use of copyrighted material on the web different from the use of printed matter? What are the fair use rules anyway?

If I quote a copyrighted publication in this blog, is that legal? If you repost a blog entry on a web site for your class, is that legal? How about if you repost a blog entry I made that included excerpts from a newspaper article?

Enforcement is sporadic and rare, but the consequences are serious. The connections created by the Internet make the potential for enforcement greater. (Who is keeping track of what you read and download online?)

William McGeveran of the University of Minnesota Law School and William W. Fisher of Harvard University have written up a research project for the Berkman Center for Internet and Society that is relevant to our teaching.

The paper, "The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age," reports on a year-long study funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (The abstract is available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=923465 )

What the authors found, with the help of two expert workshops, was that confusion and structural complications limit the potential of "digital technology in education."

The paper "identifies four obstacles as particularly serious ones:
  1. Unclear or inadequate copyright law relating to crucial provisions such as fair use and educational use;
  2. Extensive adoption of digital rights management technology to lock up content;
  3. Practical difficulties obtaining rights to use content when licenses are necessary;
  4. Undue caution by gatekeepers such as publishers or educational administrators."

The paper's conclusions include suggestions for some types of reform that might improve the situation, "including certain types of legal reform, technological improvements in the rights clearance process, educator agreement on best practices, and increased use of open access distribution."

The first and last of the four obstacles are the ones that give me the most trouble. The confusion about fair use usually causes school administrators (as good bureaucrats) to take the most restrictive and limiting policy positions possible. That gives them some peace of mind about defending teachers' actions, but it can really deprive students of wonderful learning opportunities.

Thus, the sugggestions for improvements are important and realistic. One of those suggestions is "educator agreement on best practices." So, start this conversation with colleagues and begin describing the best practices.

If you go to the abstract page, you can find a link to download the whole paper. Most of us probably aren't vitally interested in the details, but perhaps we should be. Your local IT support people and the policy makers probably should read this. Maybe you should download this and pass it on to one of them.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Protest and recount in Mexico

I assume that for once news about Mexican politics is readily available in the US and that Comparative teachers are keeping track of events and learning more about the administration of elections in Mexico. Nonetheless, this article from the New York Times was helpful to me.

Mexico Recount Begins, and Protests Go On

"ZAPOPAN, Mexico, Aug. 9 — An election official was quickly dealing out ballots like giant cards on a felt-covered table on Wednesday when Humberto Mejía’s hand shot into the stack like a striking snake. 'Wait!' the lawyer for the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution cried.

"He had spotted a ballot for the leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, that had mistakenly been put with the ballots for his conservative rival, Felipe Caleron. 'We’ve only counted two polling places this morning,' Mr. Mejía said, 'and I have found two more votes for Andrés Manuel.'...

"Across Mexico, judges, election officials and party representatives began the slow process of recounting hundreds of thousands of ballots from about 12,000 polling places. More than 180 magistrates oversaw the opening of packets containing ballots from the July 2 election that are to be counted again in 149 of 300 voting districts and 25 of the 32 states...

"With the political crisis deepening, Mexicans of all political stripes are hoping the partial recount will either put to rest Mr. López Obrador’s claims of widespread fraud or lend them credence, which might force the court to order a wider recount.

"On Saturday, a seven-member electoral tribunal charged with ratifying the results and declaring a president-elect rejected Mr. López Obrador’s claim that there were enough irregularities in the election to warrant recounting all the ballots. The narrow ruling left the judges little leeway to order more ballot boxes opened, though it is still possible, election law experts said.

"Instead, the judges ordered the ballot boxes opened in about 9 percent of the polling places after they concluded that Mr. López Obrador had presented evidence of arithmetical errors and, in some cases, fraud...

"Experts on election law said that while the partial recount was far less than Mr. López Obrador had wanted, it indicated a major concession to his party. What is more, counting ballots a second time in nearly 12,000 polling places could unearth a raft of errors that would give more leverage to proponents of a completely new tally...

"But election-law experts said the electoral tribunal would have a hard time justifying widening the recount to include other polling places because of the way its members wrote their ruling.

"In essence, the ruling says ballots should not be recounted simply because a political party has suspicions that the tally was manipulated; there must be empirical evidence. The judges would have to alter that precedent to order a wider recount...

"Most experts agree that the partial recount is unlikely to change the results, unless Mr. López Obrador’s theory of widespread fraud is correct..."

The Washington Post headlined the protests outside of Mexico City banks ("Protesters Barricade Banks in Mexico"), and noted that "All but one of Mexico's major banks are in the hands of foreign companies, and the industry's sell-off has been a symbol of the free-market reforms in Mexico disliked by the left...

"The protests had a nationalist tinge... 'Banamex is really Citigroup, a foreign bank that ransacks the country,' said Gerardo Fernandez, spokesman for the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD..."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Punk civil society in China

Punk culture is a tiny, tiny bit of political culture in China, but remember the CCP started with 6 members.

There's a link to a slide show (with a sound clip) and a video of a punk performance along with this article at the Washington Post web site.

You can find photos from a May punk rock festival in Beijing at Wen Ling's photo blog, ziboy archive. Choose the May 2006 archive from the list on the left side of the screen and be patient since the it takes some time for the photos to load. Then scroll down a bit to see the stage, the audience and the mosh pit.

Punks and Posers in China, A Muted Rebel Yell Emerges in Nation Where Dissent Is Suppressed, Fads Rule

"For Chinese punks today, it might take screaming to be heard. They make up a small slice of the music industry here, and they play to a largely underground scene. But their struggle to gain attention provides a glimpse of what it's like to be a rebel in a country that suppresses dissent and individuality, and an artist in a culture that worships money and Western fads...

"'Most bands are into punk because it's fashionable. They are more like copy bands, cover bands that copy the lifestyle. Punk rock should be more dangerous, more deep. You should establish your own style,' said Yang, the lead singer of P.K. 14, which has a sizable following and performed Saturday night at a bar in Beijing's Wudaokou district.

"'We want to be a dangerous band, like Fugazi or The Clash or Bob Dylan. Woody Guthrie's folk music influenced me a lot,' Yang said. 'But because the government doesn't care about us, we are not forbidden from playing. Maybe we are not dangerous. It's sad.'...

As a result of these limitations, would-be anarchists in China have to be flexible. Chinese punks may admire Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, but their methods are different.

One popular band sings sarcastically about its destructive need for Zhongnanhai cigarettes, a brand that happens to share its name with the residential compound for China's top leaders. Another band sings about "the square of hopelessness," without ever mentioning Tiananmen.

Still, some punk rockers say they don't shy away from making a statement.

"'You can confront the government,' insisted Lei Jun, 31, lead singer for Misando, a band named after a sweet traditional Chinese dessert. Lei said he started listening to bootleg tapes of punk music in 1996. He and his friends attended their first live show a year later...

"'First, we liked the music. We felt excited,' said Misando's drummer, Guo Yang, 20. 'The characters. The personality. Sid Vicious. The power of Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen. We liked the energy and the fact that they could say what they were saying on stage.'

"Today, Lei wears combat boots, black T-shirts and white suspenders, and he shaves his head. It's a look, he said, meant to connect with the working class. He speaks of a 'stress between the people and the government.'...

"Many punk rockers in China are long on style and short on substance, critics say. Few of them can articulate what they stand for or explain what their songs mean. Some claim to be voices for the downtrodden but aren't familiar with true poverty.

"Critics point out that most of the punks are members of a generation born in the 1980s, and the first to be raised in the one- child-only families mandated by the government. Their parents are seen as more indulgent, willing to let their only children lead the lives that they want.

"Even as they claim the freedom to say whatever they want, punks admit there are lines they cannot cross...

"At a recent concert, a Chinese punk rocker was 'just following the script for punkness' and attacking President Bush, said Michael Pettis, owner of the club where P.K. 14 performed. 'Chinese punks should be attacking Hu Jintao, but that's not the way it works in China. That's dangerous.'"

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Civil Society and Human Rights in Iran

Civil society in Iran remains fragile. A human rights group, with many international connections was recently banned and its cofounder has been sent to prison for disclosing "classified information" and producing "propaganda against the regime."

The first report is from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The second one is from the New York Times.

There was also a report in The Peninsula, Qatar's Leading English Daily

Iran: Officials Ban Rights Group Led By Nobel Peace Laureate

"Iran has banned a rights group led by the country's 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi. The Interior Ministry said on August 2 that Ebadi's four-year-old Center of Human Rights Defenders failed to obtain a valid operating permit and warned that any related activities could be prosecuted. The center has been an ardent voice for human and minority rights in Iran since its inception. Ebadi, who has been among the Iranian leadership's fiercest critics...

"PRAGUE, August 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Interior Ministry says in its statement that the Center of Human Rights Defenders had no official permit and its activities were therefore 'illegal.'
"But Shirin Ebadi, who leads the group, tells RFE/RL that her group has been operating in Iran legally...

"Shirin Ebadi... tells RFE/RL that human rights work in Iran is not 'easy,' but she says her center is determined to continue its activities.
"'All of our activities are in accordance with Iranian laws,' Ebadi says. 'There is no reason to suspend or stop them.'"

Iran: Rights Group Led by Nobel Peace Laureate Banned

"The authorities have banned a rights group founded in 2002 by a group of lawyers and led by Shirin Ebadi, the only Iranian to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The Interior Ministry said the group, the Center for Protecting Human Rights, had failed to obtain a valid operating permit. 'Its activities are illegal and the violators of this decision will be prosecuted,’ the ministry said. The group has defended dissidents and journalists and has repeatedly criticized Iran's hard-line judiciary. Ms. Ebadi, who won the Nobel in 2003 and headed the Tehran City Court from 1975 until the revolution in 1979, after which women were banned from such posts, said her center needed no special permit under the Constitution. Last month, another of the center’s founders, Abdolfattah Soltani, was sentenced to five years in prison..."

Monday, August 07, 2006

Preparing for the new school year

Guy Kawasaki was part of Apple's Macintosh team and is now a venture capitalist. He often has ideas that extend beyond his specialty. That's why his December 2005 blog entry is still one of his most popular pieces.

As you plan for teaching the upcoming school year, here's some advice to think about. Just mentally substitute "class" for "meeting" and "students" for "venture capitalists." Then adapt Kawasaki's ten topics to the topic you want to teach and the audience to which you are presenting.

Don't beat yourself up about not being able to meet Kawasaki's rule. It's a good target. But, I don't have to tell you to that neither Kawasaki's nor Reynolds' (see the recommendation at the bottom) ideas are totally applicable to the classroom. After all you get do several presentations a day -- often each one unique. And your technical support, preparation time, and budgets are incredibly limited compared to those accessible to the people who are pitching ideas to people like Guy Kawasaki. And neither of them is likely to deal with audience members acting out or parental concerns about grades.

The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

"...I am trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points...

"Ten is the optimal number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation because a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting—and venture capitalists are very normal... If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business. The ten topics that a venture capitalist cares about are:
1. Problem
2. Your solution
3. Business model
4. Underlying magic/technology
5. Marketing and sales
6. Competition
7. Team
8. Projections and milestones
9. Status and timeline
10. Summary and call to action

"You should give your ten slides in twenty minutes... Even if setup goes perfectly, people will arrive late and have to leave early. In a perfect world, you give your pitch in twenty minutes, and you have forty minutes left for discussion.

"The majority of the presentations that I see have text in a ten point font. As much text as possible is jammed into the slide, and then the presenter reads it. However, as soon as the audience figures out that you’re reading the text, it reads ahead of you because it can read faster than you can speak. The result is that you and the audience are out of synch.

"The reason people use a small font is twofold: first, that they don’t know their material well enough; second, they think that more text is more convincing. Total bozosity. Force yourself to use no font smaller than thirty points. I guarantee it will make your presentations better because it requires you to find the most salient points and to know how to explain them well...

"One last thing: to learn more about the zen of great presentations, check out a site called Presentation Zen by my buddy Garr Reynolds."

Presentation Zen, is Garr Reynolds' blog on issues related to professional presentation design. It looks like it has a lot of thoughtful advice about how you present yourself and your messages. When I looked this morning, I read an interesting consideration of the use of a podium.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Elections and legitimacy

Project Syndicate is an association of 288 newspapers in 115 countries, which publishes op-ed pieces on its web site.

Recently, it published, Elections Without Winners by Ralf Dahrendorf who is the author of numerous books and a former European Commissioner from Germany. He is a member of the British House of Lords, a former Rector of the London School of Economics, and a former Warden of St. Antony’s College, Oxford.

There are good ideas here for students to evaluate even if this essay is an introduction to the concepts.

"...quite a few recent elections have ended in at least a near-stalemate. Mexico’s presidential election is only the latest example. Several weeks ago, the general election in the Czech Republic yielded a total impasse, with the left and right each gaining 100 lower-house seats and no resolution in sight...

"There are other recent examples, including, perhaps most notoriously, the 2000 presidential election in the United States. Why are we suddenly experiencing so many close results in democratic elections? How should we best deal with them? And what do they do to the legitimacy of the governments that result from them? ...electorates everywhere seem more volatile than anything else, with voters prepared to change their preferences from one poll to the next. Often, they want change – just that...

"So what can be done in practical terms when division leads to stalemate? One solution is to form a grand coalition... Another possibility is to turn razor-thin majorities into one-sided governments that remain centrist in policy.

"As long as winners with razor-thin majorities, once in office, steer a middle course, they are more likely to remain acceptable to an electorate that is more volatile than divided.

"By contrast, grand coalitions are, in the long term, likely to raise doubts about the system and encourage radical groups. The same may also be true if narrow winners adopt a radical agenda, as some think George W. Bush has done in America and many feared Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador would do in Mexico...

"The real question is whether an uncertain electorate is prepared to defend democratic constitutions if an extremist who wins by a hair tries to overturn it and usher in a new era of tyranny...

"But one conclusion is perhaps more compelling than ever... The first-past-the-post system is still the most effective method of ensuring orderly change."

China Media Guide

I told you I'd keep my eye on Danwei, the media blog about China. Well, nothing new has been posted there since I began looking, but I did find Danwei's China Media Guide.

The authors say, "This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of Chinese media entities - such a thing would be drowned in the Daily newspapers published by party committees of every county seat across the country; rather, the newspapers, magazines, TV stations and websites listed here are those that we at Danwei read regularly, have a passing familiarity with, or simply feel are worthy of note."

What follows is a long annotated list of newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts (and web links to many of them). Outlets affiliated with the government or party are marked.

For example (the star indicates party or government affiliation):

People's Daily Group
☆People's Daily (人民日报)
National voice of the Party. Also available in an English version.
Beijing Times (京华时报) ¥0.5
Part of People's Daily group but edited and managed like commercial newspapers such as Beijing Youth Daily. It borrows its design from Southern Metropolis Daily, and aspires to be a working-class paper, a beggars' paper...

So, if you're looking for a Chinese source for your students to read or research from, check out the list.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Single issue protest politics in the UK

Emerging in Britain: single issue politics with a powerful emotional message and an innovative strategy. It might seem realistic in elections for Commons, although we should note Tony Blair's increased margin of victory in 2005 when he was opposed by Reg Keys. The comparative question is, "Is this tactic realistic in other political systems?"

This report is from The Guardian (UK).

Families of soldiers killed in Iraq launch party to challenge ministers

"Whenever news of British military deaths in the Middle East flashes on to their TV screen, Reg and Sally Keys become silent and you can see anxiety wash across their faces...

"The Keys are among 115 families whose sons have been killed in Iraq. But this week, one of the worst for British casualties, has been different for the bereaved; this week, they have been doing something about it...

"Mr Keys, a 54-year-old former paramedic who stood against Tony Blair in Sedgefield at the general election, is at the centre of moves to form a new political movement aimed at bringing down ministers who failed to vote against the war in Iraq. In the next two weeks he and a small group of others will meet to lay down the foundations of Spectre, a political party that will target the people they hold culpable for the deaths of their sons in what they see as an illegal war...

"The families hope to field upwards of 70 candidates at the next general election, and suck enough votes away from Labour ministers to cause political ructions.

"'Every time you see news of more deaths, it just brings it all back and you realise that some family's nightmare is just beginning,' Mr Keys says. 'We know how those families will be feeling. We all feel we've been lied to, ignored and, frankly, insulted. But now it's different. Now we're going to make ministers pay with their seats.'...

"Mr Keys took 4,252 votes in Sedgefield - 10.3% of the vote. Now he believes similar results up and down the country could cost Labour ministers their seats...

"Tony Travers, an elections expert at the London School of Economics, believes ministers would be unwise to ignore Spectre. 'There is much evidence of a lack of trust in politicians, so when you have ordinary citizens standing, they can sometimes attract voters. Where you have bereaved citizens contesting seats, you could have an even more powerful movement.'

"Among those who could be vulnerable are foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, with a majority of 5,657 in Derby South; Ruth Kelly, the communities and local government secretary, with a majority of 2,064 in Bolton West; and, less conceivably, Jack Straw, leader of the Commons, whose Blackburn majority is 8,009..."