Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dimensions of truth

The world is not totally one way or the other. I feel that the world is made up of multiple truths. The way I may see the world may not be the way you see the world, but that doesn't necessarily mean my view is wrong. I sort of see reality as a three dimensional thing, like a diamond. There are many surfaces and planes which casts off every color in the spectrum. If you look one way you see one color, but if you look at it from another angle you see a totally different color. Just because one person sees a situation through a certain lens does not mean that others do not exist or are wrong. When thinking about the incompatibility between the three different schools of thoughts and their interpretation of the Brenton Wood system I hate how society tells us that we have to choose what is right and what is wrong. Instead I feel that we should see these different approaches as just a different plane and not choose right or wrong. As we talked about in class, the people in each school of thought looks at different things when examining the system. They have different definitions for what consists of an institution they look at different entities ( groups and norms vs. individuals etc. They look at the world in different colors. We should take these colors, combine them and make a rainbow. or create a multi-colored lens that allows us to see the world through different perspectives. Okay, the constructivist, the liberals, and the realists do not see the Brenton Wood system the same, but I find no reason to pick which view is right, indefinitely. We should pick the view that is right for the situation and the parties involved. Keep each view in our "IR Tool Belt." By doing so we can see where each view is lacking and use the others to allow us to see interactions between countries more clearly.

I Like Realism, I Like Liberalism...

As we pitted realism against liberalism, liberalism against constructivism, and constructivism against realism, Professor Jackson likened the excercise to learning vocabulary: 

At the time, it seemed as if the theories contradicted one another.  However, they may not contradict each other as much as complement each other.  In essence, a theory is "necessarily partial . . . it highlights some things, while leaving others out" (PTJ podcast reference, Realism).  Thus, all three perspectives should be considered because they analyze different parts of a whole.

However, if all three schools of thought were interconnected, why is there this debate as to which is right?  Possibly, not all the theories can be applied at once or as strongly at a time.  "Accuracy" is dependent on every type of context (i.e. social, economic, historical, cultural), especially the state's/people's goals. 

However, in general, a state may find it advantageous to do the following:  take a constructivist mentality and assume that history changes --> to exchange in its best interests (liberalism) --> in order to sustain power and influence world order (realism).  Yet, as stated, this scenario always is dependent on context.  A state (and its people) must be comfortable with applying the different theories for them to be effective, and the worldly scenario must be in accordance with theory.

In the Brenton Woods example, as discussed, all the theories aligned to form a fairly successful sytem . . .

So, like in the video posted above, it is possible to say, "I like broccoli" and "I like potatoes."  In fact, both become part of a well-balanced diet.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Accurate Perspectives

If one perspective is accurate, does it necessarily mean the others are wrong?
Tough question.

There are always different ways of looking at things. Just because one way is right, does not necessarily mean that all the other ways are wrong. If one person looks at a wall and calls the color "white," and another looks at the same wall and calls the color "eggshell," is one of them wrong? No. They just have different perspectives on the same thing. It doesn't mean that one of them is wrong. With something like perspectives on Bretton Woods, however, it gets a little more complicated. In cases like that, I do believe that different opinions can be either more or less accurate - and most likely, none of them are completely true. Of the perspectives we discussed, none of them really fit together. It just isn't really possible for all of them to be right at the same time. In many ways, they contradict each other. There is not any certain way to tell which one is right. That being said, in order for one to be right and the others to be wrong, there would have to be some sort of absolute truth. In my view of the world, there isn't an absolute Truth. At least not when it comes to ideas - it can be true that here in Washington DC, at midnight the sun is always down. It is dark. That is true, and that can't change. But when it comes to an idea, a theory, something that isn't completely concrete, I don't think there can be a true and false. No black and white.

But again, as I said before, I do believe that something can be more accurate than something else (although when it comes to Bretton Woods, I have no idea what perspective I believe is most accurate). It doesn't really make sense that if something can be more accurate, there wouldn't be a completely accurate, but this is a ridiculous question that really isn't possible to answer correctly. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, if one answer to this question is accurate, does it necessarily mean that all the others are wrong? Think about it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Constructing Theoretical Institutions

The other day we looked at how the three various theories we’ve learned interacted. While in class the three points of view contradicted, this conflict is not inevitable. The three ideologies can be used and combined to create a comprehensive worldview.

One of the first things we learned about constructivism is that it does not tell a state what to do. Rather, constructivism can be used to explain the world. It makes very few (if any) normative claims in and of itself. Therefore, anything can be looked at through a constructivist perspective, even if the person is a realist or liberal. However, a few of the basic tenets of the ideologies would have to be tampered with. For example, realism holds that international relations boils down to a battle between self-interested states within an anarchic system. Using constructivism, one would say that this institution of self-interest is not the only possible one. Rather, it is the institution that we are currently in and therefore we can understand other states objectives using realism even as we attempt to construct another one.

Conceivably, a person could try to connect realism and liberalism. One could say that on economic matters we live in a liberal world while in military matters we live in a realist one. However, the contradictions and equivocation that would be involved would be hard to deal with. A better solution would be to combine these two ideologies through constructivism.

Once a person recognizes that the norms, rules, and institutions in the international society are malleable one can make a great number of reasonably leaps. Under constructivism, realism and liberalism can coexist perfectly well because different states may hold different ideologies. If two states use realism to construct their identity then they will interact in self-interested ways. However, if these two states are constructed as liberal, then they will choose actions along a liberal path. Therefore, a state can seek to create whatever kind of international environment they want to; including (but not limited to), liberal institutions, realist institutions, and institutions combining elements from both of them.

What would Rousseau say?

The French Ambassador’s hair particularly stood out. It looked as if it should have been a wig. If there was a God it would have been a wig. But, alas, that slicked backed mop was firmly implanted in his scalp. That seemed to set the tone for out talk. His argument was that according to scholars the burqa isn’t a religious symbol and was therefore only a repressive and arcane cultural practice. This argument has several flaws. According to Enlightenment ideals, in every person there is a place of sacredness that does not belong to anyone other then that individual. How that person chooses to express that place of sacredness is up to them. Therefore, any state mandate that interferes with the full expression of it is a violation of that person’s rights. According to this belief, religion is not an institution it is a personal choice. The state does not have the right to say what is or is not part of a religion.

The feeling I got from the French diplomat was one of cultural imperialism. All his rhetoric of integration seemed to hold beneath it a belief that to become French one had to not only speak French but conform to French culture. He seemed to imply that one could not fully maintain a foreign culture while still being French. Its interested to compare this stance with the “Welcome to the USA” video wherein diversity was only shown in isolated sections. The message being that while there is diversity in the larger community there is little in individual communities. With both these countries the question hangs in the air: is it possible to maintain ones culture while integrating onto another one, and if not which parts of ones culture should be kept?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Parlez-vous français?

I was ecstatic to go to the French embassy this past week, not because I particularly favor the French (though their baguettes, Tour de France, and history in relation to the U.S. is pretty cool), but because it was a chance to get into the mind of another country.  As the speaker M. Manuel noted, we can see the "glass as half-empty or half-full." 

This definitely seemed to apply to identity.  I was shocked when the diplomat bluntly stated, "There are no minorities in France."  This underscored their ruling on the burqa.  After I (a too optimistic and "liberal American") took a poll on a website against banning the burqa, I realized I was out of favor.  Apparently, homogeneity is good.  Though some may chuckle about the French diplomatic tradition to conduct business in their native tongue, there may be some admiration of their pride as well.  If a nation has so much pride in itself, can we not help but be in awe of it?  Such is a powerful country.  If, according to Wendt, we take anarchy/self-help as institutions, strong relationships may occur that are not necessarily egoistic (i.e. alliances).

I suppose that a little patriotism goes a long way.  Though we are free to choose how much we focus on our country, to a certain extent, it seems like a civic duty... grounded in reality.  Yes, we should "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS" on that personal level, as blandished during the Nats game.  Still, we should not overlook the issues in America, as masked by the Customs service ads.  In contrast to the French, how does the U.S. truly feel about minorities?  How much does it act upon those feelings?  To what extent is the American language English?  Then, is integration sparse because of society's limits or our own expectations?

In Alabama We Speak English

I was pretty much disgusted with the campaign video that we watched in class on friday. I literally thought that it was the parity of the real thing. I couldn't believe that someine really felt that way about the diversity we have in the United States. I know that in my community at home everyday I encounter a different ethnic group that has their own language. I love it.At anytime in my neighborhood at home you can hear spanish, an african dialect, arabic, or mandarin. It is a part of my neighborhoods culture. I can honestly say that no one in that neighborhood really resents the presence of these languages. Unlike in Alabama where this apparently is a big issue.( big enough that its a campaign platform)

This video and discussion in class got me thinking about our visit to the French Embassy. During the discussion with the French diplomat, I remember him saying that in French law there was no concept of the minority. A French man with African heritage is simply french. I thought for a long time and I came to the conclusion that I actually do not like that. He kept stressing integration to French society. Why can' t there just be acceptance. why can I not keep cultural practices from my families heritage? I feel like this policy sort of erases a piece of your heritage. I know American is not perfect and without discrimination, but I love the fact that you can hold on to your culture and still be an American. That's why I was soo shocked to see the campaign add speaking against that diversity.

Reflections on Our National Identity

This video is really similar to the ones we saw in class. In theory, it’s supposed to display America’s national identity. Well, and advertise our country, of course. It shows a lot of what we supposedly pride ourselves on and consider uniquely ours - diversity, wonders of the world such as the grand canyon and the golden gate bridge, the endless rolling fields of grass that I feel like I’ve never actually seen, bears, and all that good stuff. I have to wonder though, is that really our identity? What we are generally proud of is usually not those things that can be displayed in promotional videos. Things like democracy and freedom. I mean, I get that the video is just advertising. But still. I feel like fields of grass is not necessarily what we should show. Especially because Europe has so much more of that than we do. 
And also, this video makes me wonder, why do refer to ourselves as “American”? Like, we’re from the U.S. America is more than that, and yet this video features lots of people saying “I am America” (which, on a side note, just reminds me of Stephen Colbert’s book "I am America and So Can You"). When we say “American” we mean “from the United States”. As if the rest of America just doesn’t count. Even the website that’s shown at the end of the video is “,” yet it links to a site exclusively about the U.S. government. 

In my experience, our national identity is very different from that of other countries. We seem to have a superiority complex that goes way beyond nationalism and patriotism. Maybe I'm wrong, but I definitely see that in us. We fell like we have an obligation to be the best, the most powerful, the protectors of the free world. We feel superior - I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing though.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What can states do?

Are there certain actions that states can’t do given social norms? The first distinction that should be made is between what a state is capable of doing and what it should do given the consequences. A state like the US is capable of invading Mexico, stealing its gold reserves, and then leaving; however, given the probable consequences this action would not be wise. However, more essentially, the US cannot invade Mexico out of obvious self-interest unless it is ready to completely redefine itself and become a very different US. I believe the question is whether a state can carry out certain actions given its identity?I believe that without a dramatic change of identity there are some things a state can’t do. A state the gets so used to ways of being and functioning will become so indisposed to carry out certain actions that for all practical purposes we can say it “can’t” do it even if they have the capacity.

For example, the UK has the capacity to invade and occupy Ireland. However, because of the socio-political attitude that exists in the UK we may say that they can’t do it. Excuse me for the Wendt and PTJ regurgitation but I truly do believe that by acting in a certain way a nation becomes defined by those actions. Furthermore, if the UK were to carry out this action, it would be accompanied by such an extreme change in identity that they could be defined as a different UK.

To draw a perfectly stereotypical and tropic literary example, I would make a parallel to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While both individuals occupied the same physical space and were even part of the same psyche, they were given separate names because they constitute separate identities given the differences between their world views, reasoning, and actions. In much the same way, if a state were to completely change the institutions that it adhered to one could call it a different state. For this reason I believe there are certain actions that a state cannot do while remaining the same state.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What States Shouldn't Do

There really is no limit on what states can or can not do. If a state decides to invade another country and take control of the government by force, they can. If a state wants to massacre everyone within the state that disagrees with the political regime, they can. Just like how PTJ can start swearing at us in class if we say something he doesn't agree with. It may not be completely illegal, but that doesn't make it right.

I feel like there are some rules that most countries abide by, even if they could get away with breaking them. For instance, democratic countries don't interfere with each other's government - at least, there's no situation like Iraq, where one democratic country invades another and attempts to change their government. Democratic countries recognize each other as legitimate governments, and in that way they are somewhat allies. For the most part, countries follow the unspoken ethical rules that we all somehow believe in: don't massacre people. Avoid killing civilians in war. Hostages, if taken, are traded in fairly for that state's demands.

But just because most states follow these behavioral norms does not mean that all of them do, or that they by any means can't. There really is no "can't" in international relations - if a country has the power to do something and get away with it, then they can. And, if it improves their position in any way, they ought to. I'm not trying to condone morally wrong behavior, but if a state has the power to do what it wants, why shouldn't it?

Constructivist Say: What a Respectful World

In Tuesday's class, Erin, PA in teal heels with a suit, transformed into Erin Lockwood, teacher, in teal heels and a SUIT.  Although the greater authority of PTJ hovered like a ghost in the background, Erin was respected because PTJ gave her authority, and she did not transgress such powers of authority.
Consequently, on a macro scale, states act in a balance of power.  They are given authority when their actions are seen as legitimate.  What constitutes legitimacy?  It is shaped by the idea that states are bound by ideas rather than contracts.  Ideas are embodied by domestic/national ideologies and international trust (alliances).
Yet, with such a busy, “thick” anarchy, would one state notice if another transgressed international law?  In Orwell's book, Animal Farm, the nation-state of the farm is usurped by pigs.  There is no limit to their totaltarian rule:  excessive labor without compensation, false confessions, murdering the elderly, and changing laws.  Neighboring farms conspire with/attack against the regime, but it remains, though miserly. 
Absolute power? (1)

Though a satire on the Russian Revolution, Animal Farm was contained.  The people were not strong enough to resist the order and there was no international system.  Contemporary times pose new norms.  Aiming for the "goodness of humanity," states are chided if they are caught in opposing acts by international organizations (i.e. E.U., U.N.), NGOs, and war laws.
Still, what prevents states from acting like Animal Farm?  Although states are run by humans who sympathize with their fellow humans (i.e. the Holocaust was bad), as Machiavelli presumed, humans are creatures driven by power and self-interest (i.e. the competition of capitalism).  These two concepts find a medium in international respect.  As Machiavelli stated, states want more than the fragile and fleeting authority.  They crave glory.  For example, Mr. Bame, Director of Public Affairs and Outreach for the State Department’s Bureau of International Organizations, stated that “Iran likes to see itself as a leader.”  Thus, it reconsidered keeping American hikers hostage not because of ethics but because of politics.  Farideh Farhi, from the University of Hawaii, observed,“He loves publicity and thinks what he is doing is a very effective public diplomacy” (2).  States care about how others perceive them, which may limit their power.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What The World Will NOT Tolerate

When we went to the State Department and talked with David Bame, someone brought the hostage situation involving American hikers being taken by the Iranian government. When talking about this situation, Mr. Bame pointed out that the actions of the Iranian government went against norms in international interaction and law. Normally, governments do not take hostages, they do not imprison people from other countries without those individuals breaking a law. These actions are typically done by criminal groups and the government turns a blind eye to the situation and feigns ignorance or pledges that they will do all they can to help recover the hostages. Everybody feels a certain heighten in emotions when they think about people being held hostage by extremist groups and it goes without question that these feelings are even more intensified when the government is involved. Today, people in the global society recognize that all people have certain human rights that can not be violated. One manifestation of this idea is the U.N's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of the things that the U.N decided was a protected universal human right was article 9 of the declaration which states, "No one shall be objected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile. This declaration of universal human rights, in my opinion, lays out things that sovereign states can not get away with violating. The ideas that no one shall be enslaved, and everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person are things also listed in the declaration of universal human rights. I feel that if any of the things listed as universal human rights are things that sovereign states can not violate. If there is a violation the people and the international community will see that justice takes place.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Constructing Liberalism

I found our conversation on liberalism to be quite interesting. Liberalism offers an effective way of looking at how nations relate, and particularly how they cooperate. However, other parts of it seem nothing less than silly.

In the modern world it would be ridiculous to claim that nations do not depend on other nations to survive. Through the law of comparative advantage production has become (and continues to become) increasingly specialized. Even if we look at the one power that could conceivably challenge the US in the near future, China, we see a relationship of mutual dependence. This situation contradicts any realist predictions that may be made about the rise of China. Of course, the realist would point to the fact that both countries are trying to make themselves more independent (China but dumping US debt and the US by diversifying its trade) but until either country is willing to take a major economic hit for their independence, it doesn’t seem close at hand.

However, I can’t help but think that the rise of liberalism as a theory and the interconnectedness of the world are merely correlated. The primary reason for the interdependence of the world is the free market. With the rise of capitalism and now with globalization no country can hope to exist in isolation and hope to be a world power.

As we learned, before capitalism the European governments ran their economies based on a theory of Mercantilism. In it states sought to gain as much bullion as possible in order to ensure their security. It is not coincidental that realism was the primary theory of international relations at the time. Furthermore, while I have no proof, I believe that by states subscribing to a theory of liberalism and allowing free trade, liberalism become a self-fulfilling prophecy just as much as realism was.

Our reality is not stagnant. Every action we make in life constructs our social reality and every purchase we make shapes the world economy. Every individual citizens actions come together to create a single performance of state. I personally see a lot to be learned from the theory of constructivism and look forward to our discussion today.

The world will be ours, will be be satisfied with the state in which it is handed down to us?

The world will soon be ours to mold and to control. I sit back in class and I hear how people explain the world. I hear them say, “ This is how it is.” I hear people say that in this world today it is naïve to believe in the good in humanity. They say that the leader of countries around the world do not act with the interest of humanity in mind, only preservation of power. I hear people say that kind actions are seldom ever done out of true kindness. I ask you all, is this the world you wish to live in. Soon and very soon the time of our fathers generation will be up, the way of the world will not be decided for us, we will not sit in classrooms talking about the state of the world around us. We will be creating this world. Policies will be made from our actions, agreements, treaties, peace; prosperity will be achieved through our means. I do not wish to live in a world where helping your neighbor is placed under scrutiny. I do not wish to live in a world where the heart has no place in politics. I do not wish to live in a world where we do not recognize humanity in others, its all strategy and not compassion. I do not want a leader who does not ask him self, “What if that was me?” People say to live in this world is not possible that we never know what people are thinking and this is very true. I speak of the future that our generation can make. Change starts with the thoughts. If we change the way we think we can change the world. The lens we use to see the world inhibits us from seeing the world as the world in its entirety not just of states and sovereign bodies. We automatically create divisions we see as un crossable boundaries. I see the world as a place where boundaries can be blurred by one thing everyone has in common. Are we not all human, do we not all desire to live a life of abundance? Let our respect for humanity transcend cultural differences, religious intolerance, and regional conflicts. I desire to live in a world where different is not wrong different is just different. The good of these different people is no longer just a figment of the imagination, or the minority of choices in a given situation. Lets create a world where optimism can survive.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Got Liberalism?

After last week’s Machiavellian reasoning behind realism, I was very much looking forward to our discussions about liberalism.  My mind rang bells of life, liberty, and opportunity!  Yet, by the end of the week, I realized that the liberalist notion of a “new imaginary of sovereignty as inhering in the people” is anything but simple (O&R, 99).

When a nation has faith in the people, it trusts humanity’s strengths and weaknesses.  When the class ticked off some drawbacks of liberalism on Tuesday, they pointed to our faults:  fickleness (i.e. acceptance/rejection of laws), stubbornness (i.e. “slowness” in passing a bill), and dissatisfaction (i.e. freedom of speech).  Despite these characteristics, the mere fact that they are essentially human may strengthen a country’s character.  If it makes any sense, the noise of media sources is truer than any one imposed truth.  Freedom of expression lets the populace agree to disagree.  Yet, when the majority does harmonize, it is powerful.  Take for instance, the in-class mentioned example of America’s speedy reaction to 9/11.  Though Bush may/may not have had his own motives for entering Iraq, it was a liberal act because most people were united by fear and pride.

What does it take to hold up the world?
Cooperation pulled through garnering at least some (maybe not the best) solution, and the collaboration of many cultures, opinions, etc. has worked well for America over the years.  Yet, after we discussed the uninformed/informed voting issue, I realized that we are biased by history.  As Alyssa M. pointed out, “we all know why poll taxes and literacy tests make us jumpy; they have long been instruments used to serve racist purposes,” in the same way, well-to-do citizens like liberalism because it is America’s system.

It makes me question whether we would feel the same way if we were from another country, and if liberalism is the best state for all countries.  If certain nation-states had the capacity to develop, would liberalism still work?  How about nation-states which are not used to liberalism and states with different cultural norms?  Mr. Bame noted China’s growing influence in the world.  Though it has some capitalist tendencies, by no means is it referred to as “liberal.”  If China rose using a different path than liberalism, then who is to say that liberalism is the only way?  Even more, what measures “success”?  Happiness?

State Department and Voting

This week we went to the State Department, and talked about liberalism and the issue of uninformed voting. I really our visit to the state department. After listening to the discussion with David Bame and looking at the papers in the folder that we got, I realized that there was a lot more to the department than I had previously thought. There are the diplomats, the environmental workers, a branch for arms control, for narcotics enforcement, for civil rights, and many more areas that I hadn’t really thought about. After hearing about everything, I think I would really like an internship there at some point - not this year, but maybe next year, or junior year. And it’s definitely a bonus that many of their internships are paid. 

I would reflect on our discussion from Friday, but I feel like there’s nothing more I could add that hasn’t already been said. I still stand by what I said in my post - that it is better to vote uninformed than not at all, assuming that “uninformed” does not mean completely clueless. It goes without saying that completely clueless people should not vote, and I think that most people if not everyone in the class agreed. 

All things considered, last week was a good week. I hope that this week will be equally as interesting. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is A Uninformed Vote Better Than No Vote At All

I really had to sit back and think about this question. I asked many people what they thought of this situation and the responses varied. Is an uninformed vote better than not voting at all? After much preponderance, I decided that I do not know if a person that is not informed about the election is better off not voting at all. When you vote for someone, ideally, you are putting forth support for the beliefs and the plans that this person wishes to implement. You follow this person through their campaigning process, speeches, press conferences etc. You find out if what the person stands for is in anyway similar to your own beliefs. Then you make the decision to support them. If you do not know what the people campaigning wish to implement, if you do not know if you are in agreement with the policies that person wants to implement, there is a high chance that many policies may not be in accordance to your views. That person could implement policies that negatively affects people like you. Statistics show that the largest groups of non- voters are young adults between the ages 0f 18-24, women, and minorities. Their choice not to vote places the protection of their interests in the hands of others that are advocating for their own opinions and views. Basically the majority of the people making decisions reflect a small percentage of the US population. If you vote without knowledge of the candidates a person can be negatively affected, but if a person does not vote they can also be negatively affected. I think the lesser of the two evils, would actually making an uninformed vote. If more of the constituents are represented in the vote the more sway they may have in the policies that may affect them in some way.

To Vote or Not to Vote?

A liberal nation follows a "for the people, by the people" mentaility.  To this extent, a populace should not be denied the right to vote.  However, the argument for an "enlightened" group of leaders reminds me of the age-old term, "universal manhood suffrage," which of course, excluded un-landed men/farmers, women, African Americans, and other minorities.

Although many proponents of the "educated" vote deny their favoritism of the gentry, this is a complex argument in what determines "representation" and what determines "educated."  To me, representation is the whole populace, from the TV-trailer man to the Harvard graduate.  All have the right to voice their opinions, even if they lack substantial evidence.  For example, consider students in a classroom:  if a student is not as informed as the others, should he/she still speak?  Is there such thing as a stupid question . . . stupid vote?  Arguably, yes, but does he/she hold that right to speak?  Furthermore, this leads to the question of education:  should it be determined by its cost, life experiences (logic), intution, or a combination of the three?

All Americans have to deal with the consequences of the vote.  It is a collateral decision of the nation.  Yet, it is also a duty for the common citizen to be "knowledgeable" about the political process for the most effective government.  Going back to the classroom example, all students have the right to learn.  There should be less blame and more responsibility in educating our neighbors. 

On the extreme end, when people favor the "elitist" vote, they may favor "popular sovereignty," which is not always the answer.  Consider the political parties with their "correct," popular possibilites.  Meanwhile, there is always a place for more representation, as America musters patience for that third-party candidate. . . .

~  interesting consideration about the "mentally challenged":
~  it may be a natural phenomenon that we all make judgements: (NOTE:  this article reminded me of the book, Blink)
~  consequences without education:  "Get-out-the-vote efforts have admirable goals of involving more people in the democratic process, but they neglect to follow up by educating voters, in addition to encouraging voters.  Encouragement is good, but without education, it turns get out the vote into a pissing contest between the political parties to see who can sign up the most people." Get-out-the-vote efforts have admirable goals of involving more people in the democratic process, but they neglect to follow up by educating voters, in addition to encouraging voters." (

This sort of question make me think J.S. Mill was rite about edukated voting

Is an uninformed vote better than no vote?

There is absolutely no purpose in voting if you really have no clue about the issues surrounding the vote. Anyone who randomly fills out a ballot or fills one out based on a triviality (I just love his name!!!) distorts the electoral process. These people should stay home. However, if you extends the term “uninformed” to include those people that know very little about the election than you begin to get into some tricky territory.

In an ideal world we would all have the time and motivation to vigorously research every issue and every candidate so that we could make our own rational choices. The truth, however, is that for the majority of things a person votes on they are relying on another’s opinion. When I voted for Betty T. Yee for Board of Equalization I knew very little about her positions or even what she would do if elected. However, I did know that my beloved representative Mike Thompson supported her and that if he said she would be good, she would probably be good. I see very little wrong with this guidance by endorsement when the election is small positions like First District Representative on the Board of Equalization. I don’t understand what people on this board do and to make an informed vote would take hours of time. I would much prefer to let the trusted expert make that judgment for me. We rely on experts to guide us for so much else that not allowing them to influence us in such situations seems ridiculous.

However, I do believe that a person needs to take a lot of time when figuring out who they can trust. I do not trust his endorsement because of his looks and a few tag lines. I base my trust in Rep. Thompson on a close examination of his views, his character, and from his actions as a congressperson. A democracy is reliant upon this sort of educated vote.

That brings us to the issue of education. The philosophers who’s ideas the US founded itself upon did not stress the need for state run education because they believed that only the landowners should be given the right to vote and landowners could be trusted to educate their children. However, now that suffrage has been extended to all citizens and parents no longer have the ability to educate their children due to the modern work schedule the government has been given this responsibility. The problem now is that the US is failing in that responsibility. And while going to college is not necessary for an education it certainly helps. My opinion is that until we dramatically reform the educational system to enable those with even the lowest of incomes to receive quality schooling and a college degree our democracy will suffer. There will always be ignorant people that will vote in ridiculous ways, they will have to be tolerated for the sake of equality. But the least we can do is make sure that anyone who is able to form rational opinions is given the opportunity to refine them.

Is an uninformed vote better than no vote? Yes. With exceptions.

My problem with questions like these is that I can so easily see both sides of the issue that I have a really hard time deciding what I think. However, after some thought on this question, I believe that in a democracy, any vote is better than no vote - no matter how informed that vote is. 

First of all, “uninformed” is a subjective term. What one person might consider uninformed, another person might consider a perfectly reasonable amount to know before voting. There is only so much that anyone can know about a candidate, and many people don’t have access to all of that information. Many people won’t know a candidate’s stance on specific issues, but they don’t necessarily need to. This is why political parties exist - so that a candidate can align his or herself with a party that most accurately describes their views, and then make that affiliation known so that voters do not need to do extensive research on candidates before knowing which one they agree with most. In this way, the minimum voters must know is what party they themselves are aligned with. Then they can vote along those party lines. 

Second, this country was built on the principles of democracy, one of those principles being that everyone has a say in the government. True, it did not start that way, but for many decades now, every adult citizen has the right to vote. Therefore no one should feel excluded from voting just because they are not as informed as most voters about the candidates. 

That being said, I don’t believe that we should make people vote if they have no interest in politics. Only people who actually care about the state and future of the nation should cast a ballot. I guess what I’m trying to say is that an uninformed vote is better than no vote, if and only if the voter knows his or her position on politics and the candidates. I do not believe that people should vote completely blindly, as that would not be an accurate representation of what citizens in this country want. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Spy Stuff

I found the Spy Museum lacking. Furthermore, I felt that they did not give their trade enough credit. I feel that the true value in espionage is not as a “force multiplier” in the case of war but rather as a means to prevent war. Though the opening video did show how the CIA’s intelligence network helped prevent nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the museum did not stress this aspect of spying. Rather, they geared the museum towards cool gadgets that may have been used in the field once and have had very little impact upon actual events. The one station that gave an idea of what a job at the CIA is like was the photo analysis booth. Probably not the best advertising, however, to show that aspect of spy work:

ATTENTION: Seeking analyst to sit at a desk every day looking at photos from unnamed location in an attempt to find weapons that aren’t there 90% of the time. Do you want long hours, minimal pay, and few career advancement opportunities? If so, this may be the job for you.

I did find the last section to cyber terrorism to be especially poignant. In the Sep/Oct. 2010 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine William J. Lynn III talks about how vulnerable the US is to cyber attacks ( One of the largest problems is simply the way the Internet is structured. As it is, the offense always has the upper hand. Innovation in cyber defense is always one or two steps behind innovation in hacking. This fact alone puts the Pentagon in a weaker position than any twenty-year-old hacking savant living in his mom’s basement much less a profession hacking organization.

Another problem is that, as of now, the US Cyber Command has no clear rules of engagement. As a result, they are acting largely outside of any legal framework. Finally, as Lynn points out, it takes the Pentagon an average of 81 months to make a computer system operational. That means by the time a computer system begins to work it is already obsolete. The Pentagon needs to become far more flexible to keep up with the rate of innovation.This threat of cyber terrorism and cyber war is bound to become one the largest security issue of our generation. I’m glad the Spy Museum is bringing it to the public eye.

Hegemony Close to Home

Last Friday, September 9, I attended (Prof.) Philip Brenner and Ambassador Anthony Quainton's lecture on "Cuba and America:  Where Do We Go From Here."  There were many interesting points brought up:  the actions (or non-actions) of the Obama administration, Castro's comements on the current regime, and possible resolutions for the future. What really struck me was how Brenner said one of the chief concerns of U.S. "stupid" policy is how we are "prisoners" of our rhetoric/ideology.  To a certain extent, we hold a liberal theory of IR, in the sense of advocating democracy.  Yet, because of such pride, the nation cannot accept Cuba's differing view (complicated by history, etc.). 

It seemed that this presentation tied into our discussion on hegemony.  When the general audience questioned whether giving into Cuba would reduce our hegemony, I referred back to our discussion on power/realism/polarity.  Just because the U.S. has a "benevolent" hegemony over the rest of the world, why does it not have the power to take serious action in Cuba?  Or, is it a question of authority?  Sovereignty aside, I wondered what duties the U.S. has as a hegemony. . . .  As mentioned in class, our positive image to the world was shattered after many years in Iraq.  Still, are we not even taking responsibility in Cuba?

As mentoined in the lecture on Cuba, I agree that it is most difficult to separate the policy from the people.  Maybe that is why some mention our future tolernace of Cuba would be called "normalization" rather than "reconciliation."

Reality of Realism

I enjoyed Friday's discussion on realism, and while some people don't see the merits of that theory, I sympathize and almost agree with realists on the subject of international relations. True, realism does not cover every international issue - terrorism, humanitarian efforts, and many others - it is only a theory, after all. But there's something about the cold logic of it that I find appealing. Yes, it is pessimistic, but that does not make it wrong. Aspects to realism, such as the idea that you cannot rely on any other state, make sense. It's realistic - at least, in some contexts, it definitely is wise.

I also thought the spy museum this week was really awesome. I guess I find that sort of thing to be interesting - disguises, stealth, danger, national security and so on. I liked how the last thing you see in the museum before the gift shop was the room with the video on cyber security and "weapons of mass disruption" as they called it. It was like they were trying to scare you, make you realize that you're defenseless, and that the government's security efforts are all that is protecting you. You can't trust anyone else.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I am definitely not a realist( in terms of my world view)

In class on Friday Erin wrote two lists on the board, "How To Talk Like A Realist" and "What's Left Out Of The Realists Theory" The entire discussion, for the most part was about the inherent badness of people. No one can trust one another because everyone is out with their own self interests in mind. Everything was about power. In the world view of a realists, states can never be sure that another state might not military attack them. When she asked us what we thought the Realism IR theory left out, I automatically thought of the word optimism. To me the Realism IR theory did not allow people to have a positive out look on interactions between states. I find it hard to assume the worst in people. I find it hard to think that people are inherently selfish. I find it hard to believe that countries do not care about the common good of this world. Some may call me naive, but i personally believe the world could use a dose of naivete. If it means that the world is no longer seen as a place of distrust and selfishness against each other, then I think it is up to our generation to bring back hope.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Foxes Rule the World

If Machiavelli wrote his text, The Prince, for today's leader it could have simply been titled, How to Maintain Control of your Territory: for Dummies. In his day the dummy was the new ruler and today it is the President of the U.S. as well as those in charge of other countries. I personally believe that many nations today have leaders who have taken notes and pages from this book. As PTJ pointed out when assigning the question, "Machiavelli paints a portrait of a ruler who must always be prepared to do whatever it takes to maintain HIS power." I feel that contemporary ruling elites use more stealth and qualities of Machiavelli's figurative fox in order to disguise their own motives of keeping power, themselves. However, that desire to dominate and maintain dominance is one that has been instilled in us so much it is an integral part of the society of politics. Although it is never blatantly said, " We want to control this territory and all its inhabitants and stay in power," actions of the elite show us that this is what motivates many of their actions. Now a days the political system has moved away from single person rule to a political body like that referenced in Hobbes book Leviathan (thanks Erin for bringing this to my attention). In this age the "HIS" that PTJ refers to does not only represent the individual, but it also represents the party or state the individual is a member of. There is that constant refrain when dealing with international relations "Protecting____interests". The President tries to satisfy the demands of the party in power, the party out of power, and the people. Unless he does all these things he will not be liked. Like we discussed in class, rulers should find that balance between love and hate so that their people, above all respect them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DC United

Sitting down at the DC United game the first thing I noticed was the contingent of fans dressed in the blue and white of several Latin American countries.There was a flag from Argentina, one from Honduras, and perhaps one from Uruguay though it was obscured by the other banners. There seemed to be nothing wrong with using another countries flag to support the DC team. In fact, they were some of the most fervent supports in that section of the stadium.

Once we crossed the stadium a different sentiment had taken over. The blue and white supporters of individual players had transformed into a red and black mob of team fans. Their spirit was infectious. And if you did not catch their bug then you better try to fake it. Within minutes of immersing ourselves into the crowd a fight almost broke out when one of the groups leaders didn’t think one person was singing loud enough.

“If you’re not going to sing get the fuck out!” he yelled, beer in hand. I began to sing louder.The songs in English were easy enough to pick up, however, every other song had at least a few lines in Spanish:

Vamos, Vamos United
Esta Noche
A Ringo make a czar

The last line is a guess. The supporters sang in far too much of a drunken slur to make out anything remotely complicated. What I found amazing was that all the supporters whether they were white, black, or Latin American knew and sang every song. The crowd was composed of a diverse cross section of DC. Behind us there were three white males that complained about their jobs at the Hill during lulls in the game. Next to us were a group of Latin Americas who seemed connected to one particular player on the team. Whenever that player would get the ball they would begin to cheer. A few rows back there was a 50’s-ish white male that reminisced about the good ol’ days in DC United history. After talking to him for awhile he turned out to be a technological engineer for some ubiquitously named company. In front of us stood the leaders. The captain appeared to be the large African-American man standing on the seats and referring to the stands as “his section.” He empowered us all. There was no way I wanted to be on his bad side, I wanted to make him proud in the process screaming myself horse trying to keep up with his level of singing.

The stadium was not filled to any extent but the people who were there seemed to have created close-knit communities. They were not the violent hooligans of Red Star or the Rangers but anger was prevalent. However, the anger focused on the individuals on the other team rather then any ethnicity or nationality. The game never seemed to be a reflection of a battle between DC and Columbus, Ohio. It always remained a soccer game. I think this is a reflection of the state of America. There are very few regional rivalries. The battles are ideological. Perhaps if the game had been between the 10th Amendment Vikings and the Federalist Pioneers or the Socialist Sickles and the Capitalist Patriots more passion would have been created. As it was, the passion stemmed primarily from past loses and the bottles of beer constantly been consumed.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Extra! Extra! Read All About Us

The Newseum's theme, "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peacebly to assemble . . ."  (also known as the First Amendment), screamed from the walls of the exhibits to the front pages of the international newspapers.  I have always been told the news is there to inform, but the Newseum really impressed (no pun intended) upon me the power of words. . . .

1.  Writing on the Wall
In the book Bass Ackwards and Belly Up, Habiba, an Ethiopian refugee, told her sister to "touch the Berlin Wall."  I can see why.  Unlike our response to the green/orange sectors, I did not realize the Wall caused so much desperation to escape (i.e tunnels, hot air balloon) among other emotions.  Still, the Wall let news penetrate through it.  The New York Times said that Western German T.V. was "socialism by day . . . capitalism by night."

2.  "I like to photograph kids because I still dream the way kids do." ~Walter Iooss, Sports Illustrated
I nearly skipped Iooss's exhibit as mere "sports photgraphy," colorful action shots to convey statistics, but was surprisingly moved by the photographs of children (whether Michelle Kwan [above] or street children playing futbol in a Latin American country).  They illuminated hope, a nice contrast to some contemporary media.

3.  Pogo
Innocent comics may be not-so-innocent, whether Annie, Calvin and Hobbes, Snoopy, or even Popeye.  The focus of this frame really caught my attention and led to self-evaluation.  Because we are in a World Politics UC, I then wondered, with all our connecting with, criticizing of, and aiding of other countries, how much does the U.S. look at itself from a bird's eye pov?  How much do we actually focus on domestic affairs?

4.  Katrina: Worst Hurricane in American History
In all honesty, I had to check the date of the event: 2005. The pictures of New Orleans and victims stranded on rooftops seemed like from some other day and age . . . even some other country. Consequently, the world news saw the event as a "national disgrace." American opinion changed over time, whether sympathetic, cynic, desperate, or relieved. One of my favorite headlines: "Thank you, Jesus" (The Commercial Appeal), because despite our secular world, some still found refuge through faith. Even more, I was inspired by the resolve of the journalists, who described the conditions as "easier . . . in Baghdad." The two local papers that continued to run were there strictly to inform, and that is truth at its best.

5.  9/11 Pride?
With all the news coverage on the attack, some journalists/reporters claimed that (ironically) it was a source of pride.  As "people before reporters," they were especially empathetic towards the issue, and as was their call of duty to inform the public.  I am unsure whether their statement is to be commended or denounced. . . .  Should not more issues be tackled with such passion?  In any case, the display of the national/international newspapers was overwhelming.  Besides the Trade Towers antenna, however, I was a bit disappointed by the exhibit . . . until I saw the video.  In fourth grade, one does not undertand the signifcance of 9/11 other than 1) My teacher stopped teaching us English to run out to the teacher's lounge and watch the news 2)  I couldn't play soccer that evening because of some plane crash all the way in New York and 3) My mom was crying because my dad was in the Air Force.  Yet, the TV images were so powerful . . .  it is amazing I watched the whole thing.  It really made me think about cause-effect, too:  How much would we, as a nation, be different today if 9/11 did not happen?  Was it inevitable?  Was it necessary?  And of course, the age old question, "Could it have been prevented?"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Green, Orange, and DC United

When I woke up and saw the green and orange signs separating the sides of the floor, marking the sinks in the bathroom, the seats in the lounge, and the elevators, I was confused at first, and then I got annoyed. I felt no sense of pride in my "orange" side, nor any hostility toward the green side, I just kept thinking "why are they segregating us?" The creation of the blue nation seemed to reflect that thought, although I don't think it was a good counter move, since not everyone was invited to leave their side and join the blue. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experiment to see what would happen if we were separated into two different "nation-states," but as someone pointed out in the discussion, there were some flaws to that plan because we did not choose to be in either one, and thus could not really have much pride in our color. 

The DC United game was also interesting to me in a few ways; first, it seemed very different from many of the games described in How Soccer Explains the World in that there seemed to only be a few people that were really passionate about their team (such as the guy dressed at Darth Maul with the light saber... I'm not really sure what Star Wars has to do with soccer, but it was cool anyway). Most people there seemed to not be very into the game, or at least not super passionate about it. There was also very little hate directed at the Columbus Crew and their fans, unlike in some of the stories in How Soccer Explains the World. After the game, on the train platform, a few Crew supporters were holding up their giant yellow flag and waving it around. I barely even saw any unfriendly glances in their direction. Maybe it's that as Americans we care less about soccer. Maybe we just like the game and don't care as much about particular teams. Maybe it's that we're less violent than other societies (such as Serbia.) Whatever the reason, all things considered, the crowd was just not very passionate about the game. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sovereignty in Abkhazia and Somaliland

A question over the right of sovereignty immediately brings up the complex issue of self-determination. Should a given population be given the right to decide for themselves whether should constitute a nation-state? This question in turn boils down to land rights. Does the land belong to the people that inhabit it or the nation-state under whose jurisdiction it rests? Such question come forefront to mind when looking at the current situation in Abkhazia. If one was to take a Lockean viewpoint, one could say that people acquire land through their labor; as such those who actually utilize the land are in direct ownership of it. When they agree to become part of a state they forfeit their right to the land.

However, when a government dissolves, any such compact is broken and the land rights return to the people who inhabit it.These people can either switch their allegiances to another government or form one of their own. Therefore, using this viewpoint, one could argue that the Abkhazian people gain the right of self-determination after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The current Georgian rule is therefore arbitrary. Using this viewpoint, one would argue that a province wide referendum should be made and internationally overseen to let these people decide where their allegiance lies. I personally don’t feel prepared to take a stand on the issue of Abkhazia. It is easy to say from a distance that the local population should be given ultimate self-determination but what if we faced a similar issue. If a sizable portion of Maine’s population hypothetically wanted to secede to Canada should the US allow them self-determination. It is a tricky issue and one that I am not ready to answer.

However, there is another autonomous region in the world that has not been internationally recognized but does not have such tricky philosophical questions attached to it; namely Somaliland. Somaliland is a province is the very north of Somalia that managed to form a government even as the rest of Somalia descended into chaos. Since then it has formed a relatively liberal democracy and maintained a reasonable degree of peace. They are now in a crisis however. Due to lack of international recognition many problems have arisen within the country. Because of a lack of jobs many resort to coal mining, thereby contributing to global warming. Because of a lack of international oversight, there are widespread accounts of election fraud that may endanger this new democracy. Even as we channel million if not billions of dollars of aid that seems to simply disappear to the failed state of Somalia, we refuse to even acknowledge the functioning democracy right above it. At present, Somaliland is functioning as a sovereign state. All it needs is the international recognition of this fact to help it prosper.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pondering about PR and Sovereignty

(Please note: I am a dabbler on the following issue. Coming from a city with a large Latino population, I always just thought the following subject was an interesting debate . . .)

Puerto Rico is a beautiful tourist destination, has a rich culture, and is not a country at all. As a commonwealth, or a “permanent association with a federal union” (, Puerto Rico benefits from many features of the U.S. as a nation-state, the main being “politico-military rule” (O&R 2). It also relies on the U.S. for 85 percent of its imports ( Still, despite the U.S.’s aid, unemployment remains at 17 percent (virginislandsnews).

Thus, there has been an ongoing debate. On August 27, 2010, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi stated that a 2011 referendum on the region’s government would give the choice of commonwealth (no change), statehood, independence, or sovereignty with U.S. relations (laht).  Those for independence liken the U.S.'s presence in Puerto Rico to the BP oil spill (virginislands). Those against note the population’s American patriotism and the country’s insufficient resources to support the economy (

The question of Puerto Rico’s independence comes down to the definition of sovereignty and capability. To a certain extent, Puerto Rico should be sovereign. With its “vestiges of colonialism” (laht), Puerto Rico certainly has its own history that unites its people. True, the U.S. has power over P.R., and in turn by definition of sovereignty, holds the people’s obedience/loyalty and representation (O&R 2), but without this babysitter connection, P.R does have an identity already in place, furthered by being an island. Building off of nationalism, if P.R. were to become independent, would it be capable of becoming a nation-state? It would have the authority to do as it pleases, but would it have the capability to rule effectively? This leads back to SIS-105-081UC lecture notes from 8/31: “to extend capacity beyond its own resources, [a nation must have] authority and power.” Yet, does a nation have to be efficient in politics, military power, and financial matters to be recognized, or can it just remain an inefficient nation-state? Do “corrupt” nation-states count, do “poor” nation states count (i.e. Cubans make $18/month,, etcetera . . . or should they lose their statuses? I think they should remain, but they should also receive an initial amount of aid. It is unrealistic to “colonize” inefficient nation-states. Consequently, “sovereignty” becomes a label of nation-states, yielding authority, but respect and power must be earned for O&R’s nation-state to triumph.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I cried tears for the starved Princess

The moment I walked into the Newseum I thought I was just in for a fun time. I was going to be a news caster for my own network. I was going to look at the Elvis exhibit and all the front pages for the day. I didn't think that I was going to cry. Upon entering the museum, one of my friends said we should see the Pulitzer Prize photos. I did not think anything of it until I began to make my way around the exhibit. Picture after picture depicted something that inspired various emotions in me. I saw things that I felt were morally wrong. I saw things that made me feel angry. I saw things that made me feel still. I kept coming back to this one photo of an Ethiopian woman and her daughter sitting in line waiting for food. They were regal and had the demeanor of queens, despite starvation. It made me flash forward in the life of the child and see the woman she might have been and flash backward and review the life of the woman that held the child. Then I got to the portion of the exhibit where there was a description of the photo taken. There I found out that the girl died waiting in the line for food. I learned that those in power in Ethiopia often kept aid from being delivered to their people because they hoped to starve out those who rebelled against them. But what did this princess do? This sort of made me curse the world I live in where power must be maintained by force and violence. Made me curse the world and made me want to create a new one.

A Rightful Restoration of Sovereignty

I come from a Buddhist family - my dad is a Buddhist priest - which means that I’ve grown up knowing the stories of people like the Dalai Lama; how he was born in Tibet when it was a sovereign nation, grew up and ruled during the Chinese invasion, and was eventually forced to escape into exile when it became clear that the Chinese had control of Tibet and would not allow him to remain in power. 
Having grown up with this knowledge, I feel very strongly that Tibet should once again become its own sovereign nation. My outlook on this is mostly religious rather than political, but I will attempt to explain it as best I can. 
Before China invaded in 1949, Tibet was an autonomous state, separate from China both geographically and in the type of governing system they had. China was communist, while Tibet was an absolute theocracy - two very different and incompatible systems. Buddhism, of course, was the national religion, while the leader of the nation was the Dalai Lama. There was relative peace except for relations with China, who argued that Tibet was originally part of their land, and ought to be so again. Tensions got to the point where the Chinese invaded, killing many and forcefully taking over Tibet’s system of government. 
Here are the specific reasons why I believe that Tibet has a right to sovereignty. First, Tibet was its own nation for many decades, until the Chinese took it by force. The population of that area still remains mostly Tibetan and Buddhist, so it would make sense for them to once again become their own nation. Second, the Dalai Lama was exiled and has not been able to return to Tibet since then. The theocracy and center of the Buddhist world has dissolved and become part of communist China; restoring that would both allow the Dalai Lama to return to his homeland, and perhaps strengthen Buddhism is that part of the world. Finally - and the most religious reason for the sovereignty of Tibet - is the future of the Dalai Lamas. There has been a Dalai Lama for centuries, and when each one dies, a successor is found in Tibet from the Tibetan Buddhist people who live there. Now that Tibet is part of communist China, the search will be much harder - if the searchers even have the authority to look for the next Dalai Lama. That brings up many questions, the most obvious of which are “will there be a next Dalai Lama?” and “If there is, will  he be Chinese?”. It may not be a horrible problem if a new Dalai Lama is not found, but it will be the end of a centuries-long religious tradition, and the end of a common leader of Buddhists around the globe. 

However, every one of these potential problems could be solved by the sovereignty of Tibet.