Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

And now for something completely different

When it first came out in 1975, I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Several years after I began teaching Comparative, I saw it again. From that point on, one of the beginning scenes became a regular feature of the first day of class. You know which one.

It's full of conceptual ideas that go a long way to proving that the Pythons paid attention to at least some of their tutors at Cambridge.

Once you and your students have enjoyed seeing this scene (more than once, perhaps), there are many opportunities to explore concepts that should become very common knowledge before the course ends. Here's my beginning list of things students should explore, research, and discuss: social class, social cleavages, executive, elections, legitimacy, mandate, exploitation, ethnic identity, autonomy, autocracy, and divine right.

(Be careful, your students will want you to show more of this movie, especially the "I"m not dead yet" scene that follows the "Peasants" scene.)

Here are excerpts from the script of the "Peasants" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Arthur and his trusty servant Patsy "ride" into a field where peasants are working. They come up behind a cart which is being dragged by a hunched-over peasant in ragged clothing. Patsy slows as they near the cart...

Man: ...you automatically treat me like an inferior!

Arthur: Well I *am* king...

Man: Oh, king, eh, very nice. And 'ow'd you get that, eh? (he reaches his destination and stops, dropping the cart) By exploiting the workers! By 'angin' on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there's ever going to be any progress,--

Woman: Dennis! There's some lovely filth down 'ere! (noticing Arthur) Oh! 'Ow'd'ja do?

Arthur: How do you do, good lady. I am Arthur, king of the Britons. Whose castle is that?

Woman: King of the 'oo?

Arthur: King of the Britons.

Woman: 'Oo are the Britons?

Arthur: Well we all are! We are all Britons! And I am your king.

Woman: I didn't know we 'ad a king! I thought we were autonomous collective.

Man: (mad) You're fooling yourself! We're living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--

Woman: There you go, bringing class into it again...

Man: That's what it's all about! If only people would--

Arthur: Please, *please*, good people, I am in haste! WHO lives in that castle?

Woman: No one lives there.

Arthur: Then who is your lord?

Woman: We don't have a lord!

Arthur: (spurised) What??...

Arthur: I am your king!

Woman: Well I didn't vote for you!

Arthur: You don't vote for kings!

Woman: Well 'ow'd you become king then? (holy music up)

Arthur: The Lady of the Lake-- her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king!

Man: (laughingly) Listen: Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some... farcical aquatic ceremony!

Arthur: (yelling) BE QUIET!

Man: You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!!

Arthur: (coming forward and grabbing the man) Shut *UP*!

Man: I mean, if I went 'round, saying I was an emperor, just because some moistened bink had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

Arthur: (throwing the man around) Shut up, will you, SHUT UP!

Man: Aha! Now we see the violence inherent in the system!...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Appreciating ambiguity

Not long ago, someone asked me why I stay involved with teaching comparative politics. After all, I retired from high school teaching four years ago. My accountant says that my book publishing venture is fortunately a hobby that pays for itself. She tells me I could better help pay my youngest son's college tuition if I was a greeter at Wal-Mart.

Part of my response to explain why I keep working to promote teaching of comparative politics is that I think the course is one of the more important courses students can study.
  • The subject matter offers opportunities to expand our frames of reference.
  • Comparisons teach us that there aren't single, simple answers to big questions.
  • The comparative disciplines offer academic and intellectual methods for making sense out of variety and alternatives.

All these things are more and more important in today's global economics, politics, society, and culture.

Of course it's easy for all of us to see evidence that reinforces what we believe is true, so it wasn't difficult for me to see this message in the March issue of Fast Company, a business journal.

Columnist Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz answered a question about keeping up with advances in technology and the effects of globalization. Maybe there is advice here to offer your students.

The Corporate Shrink

"...[A]dvice on how to cope with a world of fast and furious change. Bottom line: You better have a taste for ambiguity and uncertainty.

"I'm convinced that in the future, the most successful among us will be those who understand that they are citizens of the world. Keeping up with the effects of globalization takes both openness and work--openness to learning, reading, and seeing the world, and work to adapt to the competitive, intellectual, and cultural shifts before they bite you in the rear...

"[T]he pace of technological development has long outstripped our human capacity to use that technology, including our brains' ability to process information and to do actual work...

"The biggest variable in all this change is you, especially your personal flexibility and your open-mindedness to listening and learning... I'll go even further: With rapid globalization and technological innovation, the more you can tolerate or even enjoy ambiguity, uncertainty, and change, the more successful you'll be."

Teach comparative politics; teach ambiguity. (If you've read my book, you'll recognize that theme.)

Pardon my "politicking"

  • Do you know about the political battles going on over "net neutrality?"

  • Has your teaching changed in the past 10 years because of the Internet?

  • Have your students' opportunities for accessing information changed since they began looking at and creating web sites?

  • Would e-mail "postage" change the way you communicate with colleagues and students?

  • How would your teaching and your students' opportunities be different if the Internet was more like cable television and less like the telephone system? (In other words what if your Internet Service Provider delivered only those links that paid to be delivered instead of delivering all the links with Internet access?)

As someone who helped students build a school web site in 1994 and who depends even more today on the Internet to do the things I do, I know what my answers to those questions are. More expensive and limited Internet access would mean that you and I and our schools and students would be handicapped in our efforts to learn about government, politics, and controversial issues.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, a bill to require "net neutrality," sponsored by a very conservative legislator from Wisconsin and a very liberal legislator from Michigan is being considered. Both the Christian Coalition and MoveOn.org are supporting it.

If you think your teaching and your students' educations would be affected by restructuring the Internet following a cable TV model, you should probably tell your Representative and Senators about what those changes would be. I know I will.

Here's an excerpt from an op-ed piece in the New York Times. If you'd like more information, search for "net neutrality" the news section of your favorite source or on the Internet.

Why the Democratic Ethic of the World Wide Web May Be About to End

by Adam Cohen
Published: May 28, 2006

"The World Wide Web is the most democratic mass medium there has ever been ... anyone with an Internet-connected computer can reach out to a potential audience of billions.

"This democratic Web did not just happen. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989, envisioned a platform on which everyone in the world could communicate on an equal basis. But his vision is being threatened by telecommunications and cable companies, and other Internet service providers, that want to impose a new system of fees that could create a hierarchy of Web sites. Major corporate sites would be able to pay the new fees, while little-guy sites could be shut out...

"Last year, the chief executive of what is now AT&T sent shock waves through cyberspace when he asked why Web sites should be able to "use my pipes free." Internet service providers would like to be able to charge Web sites for access to their customers. Web sites that could not pay the new fees would be accessible at a slower speed, or perhaps not be accessible at all..."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Constitution for the UK?


I'm really embarrassed. Someone sent me a link to a very good teaching resource, I replied with a thank you, and then deleted the e-mail. Naturally, I forgot who sent this to me. It really is a great catch and would be a wonderful article to use near the beginning of a comparative course when considering the UK, constitutionalism, devolution, roles of the judiciary, types of legislatures, and the origins of civil rights and civil liberties.

Thank you. Thank you. Take credit for finding this by using the "Comment" section below.

The article comes from the RSA Journal. The e-JOURNAL is the online version.

The RSA is the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce - commonly known as the RSA. It was founded in 1754 by William Shipley, a painter and social activist, on a manifesto "to embolden enterprise, enlarge science, refine arts, improve our manufactures and extend our commerce". In other words it began as an 18th century think tank. Today, it says of itself, the RSA pursues those five goals in ways "that reflect the original mission in 21st-century terms."

Here are excerpts from the April 2006 article, written by Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford University and Gresham Professor of Law at Gresham College. Bogdanor was described as "a leading constitutional expert" in a 2004 Telegraph.co.uk article, "Is this new statute untouchable?"

Please note that at the end of the online article is a very useful list of 15 constitutional reforms since 1997. One of the things I'd do with that list is have students research the details of the changes and evaluate Bogdanor's claims that these things are "revolutionary" changes. The whole article is available online by clicking on the title below.

Tomorrow’s government

"Since the Labour government took office nine years ago, Britain has been engaged in a process that seems unique in the democratic world — that of converting an uncodified constitution into a codified one. This has been done in a piecemeal fashion, for there is neither the political will to move more rapidly, nor any consensus on where the final resting place should be. Nevertheless, since 1997 we have seen an unprecedented and probably uncompleted series of constitutional reforms...

"The cornerstone of our new constitution is likely to be the Human Rights Act, which will transform the relationship between the judiciary and government. Traditionally, our rights have been determined by parliament. In future, they are likely to be derived from a higher law, the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Human Rights Act makes part of our law. Judges are now required to interpret legislation in light of this Convention...

"If Britain is engaged in a long journey towards a codified constitution, it is highly likely that this constitution will be a quasi-federal one. Indeed, the four component parts of the United Kingdom are now governed in four different ways...

"Devolution introduces new constitutional relationships into the United Kingdom, new relationships both between its component parts and, within the House of Commons itself, between MPs representing different constituencies. These relationships are familiar enough in federal states, but wholly unfamiliar in Britain, with the very limited exception of Northern Ireland under ‘Stormont’ between 1921 and 1972...

"...the Human Rights Act and the devolution legislation, and perhaps the European Communities Act of 1972, have the quality of fundamental laws. Perhaps this legislation indicates that we are coming to develop a constitutional sense — a sense that there ought to be publicly proclaimed legal rules limiting the power of government. It would be difficult to imagine a more profound change in our constitutional thinking...

"For we remain one of just three democracies — the others being New Zealand and Israel — without fully codified constitutions. We seem to be living in a halfway house, suspended between our old ‘historic’ constitution and a fully codified one. Whether we come to enjoy living in a halfway house or go on to complete the edifice remains to be seen..."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thinking Comparatively

Timothy C. Lim, author of Doing Comparative Politics put together a lesson plan on "Teaching Comparative Methodology." It's based on a section of the second chapter, "Comparing to Learn; Learning to Compare."

Comparative methodology is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of comparative politics. For my students (I teach undergraduate courses in comparative politics), the trick is to make comparative analysis seem relevant—something that can be applied to a range of issues and problems. For this reason, I tend to look for examples that
  1. are closely related to social issues in the United States, and
  2. can be presented in an interesting and thought-provoking manner.

For these reasons I’ve used Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, in which he asks the question: "Why do so many Americans kill each other with guns?"

To answer this question he provides a rudimentary comparative framework: he compares the US to a range of other democracies, including Germany, Japan, Australia, and Britain. Basically, he uses these cases as a way to “control for” a range of variables. In so doing, he demonstrates that certain variables—e.g., exposure to violent video games, “goth rock,” even easy access to guns—cannot, in themselves, explain America’s high rate of gun violence. In other words, if listening to Marilyn Manson, say, were the reason why so Americans kill each with guns, then we should expect to see the same phenomenon in every society in which kids listened to Marilyn Manson. This obviously isn’t the case, so, through a simple application of comparative principles, we know that we need to look for answers elsewhere.

Moore does this by drawing a slightly deeper comparison between Canada and the United States. I am not going to go through the whole process here. Suffice it to say that Moore’s comparison of the US and Canada provides both positive and negative lessons for students.

Using Moore’s argument allows for a highly interactive teaching environment.

I usually start by showing a clip of Moore’s film, follow this up with a guided discussion, and then, after all the material has been digested, ask students to respond to an essay question that asks them, in the most simple terms, to critique Moore’s argument from a comparative perspective. I do this by having students write a “conversation” with Moore after a chance meeting in Starbucks. If anyone wants the text of my assignment, please e-mail me at tclim@calstatelae.edu). [You can also find more commentary on Moore's methodology on pp. 3-4 and 35-36 in Dr. Lim's book.]

Link to the script of Bowling for Columbine
I recently came across another good example to use: John Stossel’s report, Stupid in America (available at http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Stossel/story?id=1500338).

In this report, Stossel uses comparisons to make the case that the basic problem facing the American school system is the lack of “competition,” and, more specifically, the lack of a voucher system.

There are plenty of fundamental problems with his report from a comparative perspective, but that is exactly why it is so useful. It provides a lot of material for discussion. Moreover, by focusing on the methodological problems underlying his report, students really learn the utility of thinking beyond knee-jerk reactions. Another advantage of using Stossel’s report is that it has inspired a lot of discussion in cyberspace — this gives students a good opportunity to do a lot of research and evaluate different arguments on their own.

I’ve written my own critique from a comparative perspective, which you can access at http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/tclim/weblog/stossel.htm. I haven't yet used this case in my classes, but I plan to this fall. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Del.icio.us adjunct to this blog

I am beginning to figure out some of this new technology (hopefully before it becomes obsolete).

Patrick O'Neil suggested saving the Web links from this blog in a "del.icio.us" list. That way they could be organized by topic and easier to retrieve.

So, I've done that.
If you go to http://del.icio.us/CompGovPol

you'll find all the links mentioned in the blog. And, as I post new things or find that you have posted new things, I'll add them to the list at that site.

Then I read Patrick O'Neil's message more clearly and discovered that we can network the links from this blog with the links he's collected on his "del.icio.us" site.

So, if you go to http://del.icio.us/network/compgovpol

you will find the nearly-200 links on Dr. O'Neil's list as well. And there are some very good and useful things there that you can use to create lessons and make assignments for your students.

If you make your own course-related "del.icio.us" list of links over the summer or as you prepare for next year's course, let me know and we'll add it to the network so everyone can see what you've found useful.

Wonderful stuff this new fangled technology. It's a long way from the Basic I learned in the '70s and the HyperCard I learned in the '80s and even a fair distance from the HTML I learned in the '90s.

Teaching from OLD textbooks

Michael Gordon e-mailed me last week on his next to last day of school.

Reflecting on the year just past, he noted ruefully, that helping students meet the College Board's standards was difficult since "our book [is] so old (Mexico and Iran not in the book, Nigeria in the 2nd Republic, Blair just starting to run for PM, and the concepts NOT discussed)."

I won't mention his school district because I don't want to cast aspersions. This may be a "dirty little secret" among teachers of AP Comparative.

People who most often mention the textbooks they use are those who are asking about textbooks because they finally got approval to buy new ones or the fortunate few who have the resources to stay up to date. Teachers who have to struggle with 8-12 year old textbooks, quietly persevere. If we're going to deal with the issue, we have to discuss it. Here's my beginning. Use the "Comment" link at the bottom of the entry to add your 2¢ worth.

When I was teaching, I felt like I was one of the lucky ones since I usually had a pretty up-to-date text. In 15 years, my students got 4 different texts or editions. I always had to fight for new texts, but playing the "AP requirements are different" and "political science is not history" cards went a long way toward persuading department chairs and curriculum coordinators to find the money to purchase new books.

But what do you do if have only a textbook that describes Nigeria's 2nd republic and Sani Abacha, the Major-Blair transition, the Yeltsin-Putin transition, and the aftermath of Deng Xiaoping's death? Even if your textbook describes Fox's first years as Mexican president, Khatami's presidency in Iran, and Obasanjo's campaign for reelection, your teaching job is complicated.

1. Current events articles can compensate to a certain degree. But events don't happen at regular intervals, nor do they necessarily emphasize the structures, processes, and concept we want to teach.

2. The Internet can help as long as you insist on critical thinking, verifying information students find online, and requiring students to put what they learn into their own words.

How about assigning groups of students to write updates to the country chapters in the old textbook? School libraries are not much help, but if you can get access for everyone to the Internet, this task is achievable.

Perhaps competing teams could work to produce the best updates (to encourage critical thinking and verification). Translating what they find into their own words can be encouraged by providing a format and/or a set of questions to answer. Look at the organization of the textbook and ask students to follow that pattern. Or use the AP organization, and ask students to update the textbook with that model. A format will discourage simple cutting and pasting from Wikipedia articles (which are first rate candidates for verification).

Depending upon your resources, these updates could be duplicated and distributed or they could become presentations. Your comments and evaluations ought to be parts of what is handed out or presented. If you do have competing groups, the winners should be determined by something more than a popular vote.

3. Get yourself some examination copies of new textbooks. Publishers do want you to see what they're offering. And if your text book is more than 5 years old, there may have been two new editions of most textbooks. Go to the publishers' web sites. I have collected links to many of them at http://apcomparativegov.com/textsites.html.

It's even better if you can find the name of the local or nearby publisher's representative and call. Ask for a sample copy and at least samples of ancillary materials. When it comes time to order new books, you really do need to know what you're buying.

And don't stop with just the traditional textbooks. Get copies of Timothy Lim's book, Doing Comparative Politics (You might have to buy a copy of Lim's book because the publisher is a small one. Used copies are available at Amazon.com.) and Patrick O'Neil's book Essentials of Comparative Politics. Note that O'Neil's book is accompanied by online cases describing 10 countries (including the 6 AP countries).

Use these books as teaching sources. Create lessons and lectures from them to update the textbook your students are reading.

Do you have other ideas? Use the "Comments" link below to share them with us. Or send them to me at Ken.Wedding@gmail.com and I'll post them.

Teaching about Civil Society

Want to teach about civil society? How about an example from outside of the AP curriculum?

Clip this article from the New York Times, save it for the next time you want to introduce the concept of civil society.

Assign it to your students and then ask them to define "civil society" as used in the article.

Next, divide the class into six groups and assign each group the task of reading through a textbook chapter on one of the six countries in the AP curriculum and finding examples of civil society described in the textbook.

Finally, in a discussion, do a preliminary chart of aspects of civil society in each country as described in the textbook AND speculate on what is probably missing in the textbook descriptions (so you all know what to look for later).

Here's the article:

Iraqi Charities Plant Seed of Civil Society

"BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 22 — In the wave of lawlessness and frantic self-interest that has washed over this war-weary nation, small acts of pure altruism often go unnoticed...

"But the Iraqi government has been taking note of such good works, and now, more than three years after the American invasion, the outlines of a nascent civil society are taking shape.

"Since 2003 the government has registered 5,000 private organizations, including charities, human rights groups, medical assistance agencies and literacy projects. Officials estimate that an additional 7,000 groups are working unofficially. The efforts show that even as violence and sectarian hatred tear Iraq's mixed cities apart, a growing number of Iraqis are trying to bring them together. 'Iraqis were thirsty for such experiences,' said Khadija Tuma, director of the office in the Ministry of Civil Society Affairs that now works with the private aid groups. 'It was as if they already had it inside themselves...'

"The burst of public-spiritedness comes after long decades of muzzled community life under Sadaam Hussein, when drab Soviet-style committees for youth, women and industrialists were the only community groups permitted.

"Mr. Hussein stamped out what had been a vibrant public life. Since the founding of Islam in the seventh century, charity has had a special place in its societies. As far back as the 19th century, religious leaders, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, formed a network called Al Ashraf that was a link between people and the Ottoman-appointed governor of Baghdad...

"Not all groups are a force for good. [It is] estimated that nearly 10 percent of the registered groups were involved in guerrilla activities and other crime.

"One was funneling aid to fighters in the volatile town of Falluja, she said, and the government shut it down. Another was running a ring that sold Iraqi children into slavery abroad..."

Najat al-Saiedi, right, delivering clothing for children in the Shoala neighborhood in Baghdad. She founded a group called Bilad al Rafidain — or Mesopotamian — Orphan Relief.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Comparative International Relations

On May 15, the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news site published an article about how policy making in Iran, Russia, and China was intersecting. The problem for comparative politics teachers is that the article seemed mostly to be about international relations. In fact, the policy making process and the involvement of a variety of interests in the state is one of the keys to understanding government and politics. And foreign policy making (and the involvement of other states' policies) can be a good case study.

This may well be another example of how the fuzzy border between the disciplines of comparative politics and international relations is sometimes a barrier to understanding both areas of study. And it's a reminder that we should take to heart the subtitle of Chip Hauss' textbook, "Domestic Responses to Global Challenges."

This topic also brings up another example of my own ignorance. I'd never heard of the "Shanghai Cooperation Organization" before reading this article.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site, "The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an intergovernmental international organization founded in Shanghai on 15 June 2001 by six countries, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan."

The SCO web site points to changes at the end of the Cold War as the motive for "...the 'Shanghai Five' mechanism [predecessor to the SCO], initially developed on the basis of strengthening trust and disarmament in border regions of China with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan."

The Web site of GlobalSecurity.org, explains one of the reasons SCO is not well known in the West: "Its working languages are Chinese and Russian."

Global Security goes on to describe that the activities of the SCO "...gradually extended from building up trust in the border regions to mutually beneficial cooperation in the political, security, diplomatic, economic, trade and other areas among the five states." It also notes that "Iran appears increasingly interested in joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and form[ing] a powerful axis with its twin pillars, China and Russia, as a counterweight to ... US power... The SCO was initially set up as an open and nonaligned organization and it was not initially targeted at a third party. Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui said [in 2004] that the ... organization is still very young and the six SCO members need to have further discussions before deciding whether or not to accept new members."

In any case, here are excerpts from the article and a link to the whole text:

Iran: Plans To Join Shanghai Group Seen As Bold Geopolitical Stroke

"Iran's recent announcement that it intends to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could complicate Western efforts to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Iran now has observer status at the SCO, but it hopes membership could come as early as June. Although SCO membership is no foregone conclusion -- and does not include mutual defense pledges -- being inside the Shanghai 'club' could bring Tehran extra support from its two key members: Russia and China...

"Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mohammadi was quoted by ITAR-TASS and Xinhua news agencies as saying in April that his country hopes to join the SCO this summer. He said Iran is looking forward to reviewing the nuclear dispute with its SCO 'colleagues.'...

"Analyst Jean-Philippe Beja of the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI) in Paris said that formal SCO membership for Iran at this juncture would be a blow for the West.
"'Of course, it would be considered a provocation by the West -- by the United States and Europe, which are trying to isolate Iran and which are trying to get Russia and China to join them in a sanctions program [against Iran],' Beja said. 'If Iran is part of the SCO, it means it will be considered a legitimate partner both by Russia and China.'
"As it happens, Iran's aims in aligning itself with the SCO fit well with Chinese and Russian geo-strategic goals. Moscow and Beijing want to reduce the penetration of U.S. influence into Central Asia and the Middle East. In this context, Iran could serve as a bastion against further U.S. encroachment from the west.
"In addition, for China, access to Iran's vast energy resources is essential, and bringing Tehran into the Shanghai 'club' ensures that access.

"Analyst Alireza Nourizadeh is with the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies in London. He pointed out that there is a certain process of east-west "bidding" going on to attract Iran's attention... Nourizadeh said that '[Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad and the people around him ... believe that the only way for Iran to survive is to cooperate with China and the South-East Asian nations.'

"But a note of caution emerged today from the meeting in Shanghai of SCO foreign ministers. Tajikistan's Minister Talbak Nazarov said the question of Iranian membership is not being considered -- at least for the time being...
"The arrival of Iran as a member, along with prospectively India, Pakistan, and Mongolia -- all of which have observer status in the SCO -- could affect the fine balance in the organization between Russia and China..."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Russian Nationalism

The Economist offers an interesting perspective on Russian nationalism and racism. It might be interesting to save this article and compare it the state of things a year or two from now.

The article is not one of the premium articles and is available online to everyone.

Playing a dangerous game
Alarmist rhetoric from President Vladimir Putin; skinhead violence on Russian streets. Is there a connection?

"...Unfortunately, the idea of international friendship, like the near-defunct tradition of the subbotnik, is less popular in Russia than it was... [Racist violence is seen by some as] the reincarnation of old Russian neuroses that a combination of internationalist rhetoric and strong security services had managed to suppress during Soviet times...

"At the last count, 52% of those polled by the Levada centre supported the idea of 'Russia for the [ethnic] Russians'; large numbers confess to hostile feelings to Chechens, Roma and others...

"The relationship between this rhetoric, the Kremlin's bid to revive national pride using tsarist and Soviet symbols, and the hate on Russia's streets, is murky. Alexander Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre, a Moscow think-tank, sees all of them as different manifestations of feelings of imperial nostalgia. Others think Mr Putin is deliberately tolerating, even cultivating, radical nationalism as a political tactic...

"From the pogroms of the 19th century to the intermittent racism of the Soviet Union, Russian rulers have tried to manipulate nationalism for their own ends. If that is the Kremlin's game, it is a risky one, and not just for the beleaguered immigrants—as the Kremlin may already have discovered. The Motherland party is widely thought to have been created by the Kremlin in order to drain votes away from the Communists in the parliamentary election of 2003. It was banned from participating in December's local election in Moscow after it ran an anti-immigrant advertisement with the slogan, 'Let's rid our city of rubbish.' But Motherland's real crime, many thought, was not being too offensive—but becoming too popular."

Teaching Opportunity

May 16, 1966, is considered the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. The CCP and the government don't want to talk about it, but some Western media are marking the occasion with articles that offer some background and some first hand accounts from the decade that followed.

This is one of those anniversaries when teachers can collect useful articles (and perhaps video reports). If you put the ones you find most appropriate in a folder, you'll have some resources to refer to next year. You can find more stories from around the world by searching news sources.

From the BBC World Service:

Cultural Revolution memories fade

"Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the start of China's Cultural Revolution.

"It began as an attempt by Chairman Mao to tighten his grip on power, but it soon turned to chaos.

"Students and workers formed squads of radical Red Guards and went on the rampage. Many died in the ensuing violence and China was left in a state of anarchy for a decade.

"So what do people in China think of the Cultural Revolution today?...many here in China live with the memory of those chaotic years every day of their lives... [like the] writer Dai Qing... 'I can never forget what happened then,' she said. 'No-one can ever forget'.

"She wants China's ruling Communist Party to have a public inquiry... But she will have to wait a long time. The Cultural Revolution was a disaster for the authorities - a time when they lost control of Chinese society. They have banned any public debate on the era..."

From The Guardian (UK):

Mao casts long shadow over China

"It is an anniversary that China wants to forget. Today marks 40 years since the start of the cultural revolution, one of the most insane episodes of the 20th century when children turned on parents, pupils tyrannised teachers and hundreds of thousands died in the name of class war.

"The government will hold no commemoration. But for one survivor, at least, the lessons of those '10 years of chaos' must be heeded if China is to develop a modern law-governed society to match its economic progress...

"The official history of that period records the May 16 circular in which Mao called for a life-or-death struggle against bourgeois ideology, saying: 'All erroneous ideas, all poisonous weeds, all ghosts and monsters, must be subjected to criticism.' Textbooks recognise this was a mistake that led to political chaos, economic instability and social unrest as Red Guards publicly humiliated, and sometimes killed, professors, doctors and other "counter-revolutionaries".

"But questions about responsibility and compensation remain largely unanswered. Although Mao drafted the circular, most of the blame for what followed is usually heaped upon the 'Gang of Four' led by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing..."


About the only places in China that you'll find remnants of the Cultural Revolution are on the tables and in the market stalls of vendors who sell trinkets to curious foreigners who do not have first hand memories of that decade of turmoil.

And from The Australian

Red Guards, dirty secrets

"NIE Yuanzi is a frail, slightly stooped 85-year-old who lives with her two persian cats in a tiny, borrowed Beijing bedsit. It is hard to imagine that this was the woman who sparked China's Cultural Revolution, which cost tens of thousands of lives and destroyed the livelihoods of millions.

"While China's leaders are suppressing any commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the revolution this month, Nie uses her first interview with a Western journalist to argue that China must learn the lessons of that disaster to ensure it never happens again.

"'The Cultural Revolution was a disaster so huge that we can only understand it if we study it,' she says..."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Human Rights

So the EU refuses to talk to Serbia about admission to the union because suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic remains at large. Nigeria is pressured to arrest and extradite Charles Taylor who is wanted as a war criminal. Sadaam Hussein is on trial in Iraq. Democratization is touted as a trend in global politics.

So why is it that in the USA and the UK, there are debates about government spying on citizens and limiting the power of courts in human rights cases?

Here's an introduction to the topic from a New York Times article.

Blair Weighs Move to Limit Courts' Power in Rights Laws


Published: May 15, 2006

LONDON, May 14 — Prime Minister Tony Blair says he is contemplating changes in Britain's human rights laws, limiting the power of courts to challenge the government, after a paroled rapist killed a woman and a judge refused to send several hijackers back to their country.

The government depicts the debate as one weighing individual rights against potential threats to public safety — a familiar discussion in the United States in its campaign against terrorism ... Britain [does] not plan to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, which was written into British law by the Human Rights Act in 1998. But ... the government [is] concerned about the way the values reflected in the legislation had been applied...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

It's all in the name

Michael Harvey, who teaches in the UAE and is preparing to teach comparative in the next school year, sent this little note along to help us remember that not all policy making involves nuclear technology, human rights, or economic growth.

Sometimes analyzing how these "lesser" policies get made can provide a window into government and politics that's easier to see through than the big issue examples.

Iran, Qatar Leaders Argue Over Gulf Name

Wednesday, May 3, 2006
The Associated Press

"TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An old dispute got a new airing this week, when the Iranian president and the emir of Qatar got into it over the name of the body of water that separates Iran from the Arabian peninsula.

"Geographers have traditionally called it the Persian Gulf — after ancient Persia which is now called Iran. The Arabs would prefer to call it the Arabian Gulf...

"The emir, seeking diplomatic goodwill, said he hoped Iran's national soccer team would bring pride to all the 'Arabic Persian Gulf' region during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

"Not missing a beat, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shot back: 'I believe you called it the Persian Gulf when you studied in school.'

"Qatar's emir, who signed several economic agreements and met top Iranian leaders during his visit, sought to ease the tension, saying 'by the way, the gulf belongs to all [neighboring countries].'

"Qatar and five other Arab states share the gulf waters with Iran, whose population and language are largely non-Arab.

"Ahmadinejad's prickly response was apparently triggered by efforts to protect the term Persian Gulf against the use of Arabian Gulf, which Tehran views as an imposition by Arab nationalists...

"Historically the body of water has been known as the Persian Gulf, but Arab nationalists such as late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein made attempts to rename it the Arabian Gulf.

"Iran has warned that it would not attend the 2006 Asian Games if host Qatar continues to use the term Arabian Gulf while advertising the games."

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Creative Politics

Having exiled, jailed, or tamed the oligarchs created by privatization, reestablished state control of the media and the petroleum industry, outmaneuvered all the other political parties, and nearly re-centralized state power, Putin has now moved to regain Kremlin control over corruption.

The Russian Orthodox Church should be looking over its shoulder at Putin, the avowed believer, and minority religious organizations should probably fear for their existences. The religious sphere may be the one not under Kremlin control. (Of course, it may just be that I am not knowledgeable enough to realize that Putin long ago gained control over religious activity and treasuries.)

Here are the New York Times accounts of the latest developments. The second article hints that Putin is ensuring that his regime will continue even after he's no longer the front man.

In Shake-Up, Putin Fires Head of Russian Customs Service

"MOSCOW, May 12 -- President Vladimir V. Putin fired the head of the customs service and a dozen or so midlevel security agency officials on Friday, ostensibly part of an anticorruption sweep of the Russian bureaucracy but moves that also undermined a pro-Western member of his cabinet.

"Officials caught up in the mini-purge were accused of smuggling cars, wine and even yachts to Russia, or skimming the billions of dollars in duties collected in Russia's import-dependent economy.

"On Thursday, Mr. Putin transferred the customs service ... to direct oversight by the prime minister ... Andrei Belyaminov, a close ally of Mr. Putin's, replaced Aleksandr Zherikhov as head of the customs service...

"Experts see Russia as one of the world's most corrupt countries. In a ranking by Transparency International, a Berlin-based anticorruption group, Russia was ... in 126th place out of 159 countries in 2005.

"The customs service is seen as a prize in Russian politics.

"Stanislav A. Belkovsky, chairman of the National Strategy Institute, a research organization, said ... 'We don't see any struggle against corruption as a matter of policy. This is competition inside the system and level of influence.'"

Putin Says to Name Preferred Successor

"MOSCOW (Reuters) May 13, 2006 --Vladimir Putin said on Saturday he would name a preferred successor to follow him as Russian president and vowed to ensure a smooth handover of power when he steps down in 2008.

"Putin, who was himself made acting head of state by then-President Boris Yeltsin to ensure his election, has long rejected suggestions he should change the constitution and stand for a third term.

"The identity of his successor has become the country's hottest political topic. He gave no clues as to whom he would support on Saturday, saying that was a question for the people, but made clear he expected a role in the choice.

"'I think I would be right to express my point of view on one candidacy or another, and I will do this,' Putin told reporters...

"'I have certain ideas about how to set up the situation in the country in this period of time so as not to destabilize it, so as not to scare the people and business.'

"Since Putin's election, he has stamped his mark on the country, and overturned much of Yeltsin's work. Observers say that, while cracking down on crime and securing state finances, he has also undermined Russia's nascent democracy...

"The Kremlin's control over the media and levers of power ensure almost certain success for its choice.

"Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are widely seen as frontrunners to be picked by the Kremlin to follow Putin. The lawyer Medvedev and ex-spy Ivanov come from different backgrounds, but are both seen as likely to maintain Putin's course of ensuring a strong Kremlin, and being assertive abroad.

"'Everyone is concerned about stability and are wondering what will happen after 2008,' Putin said. 'I cannot just say 'I've done my job' and you sort the rest out yourselves. To the last minute of my holding the presidency, I will responsibly do my duty,' Putin was quoted as saying.

"Since the fall of communism in 1991, Russian elections have been criticized by international monitors, who say the Kremlin's control over national life distorts the democratic process.

"Attempts to rig elections in Ukraine and Georgia led to popular uprisings and the election of pro-Western presidents, something the Kremlin is seen as being keen to avoid."

I'd put my money on Ivanov, given Putin's KGB background. But, if Medvedev has been a realiable and pliable assistant in the Kremlin, he might get the nod. Ah, democratic politics, Russian style. It's as interesting as capitalism, Chinese style and revolutionary politics, Mexican style.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Revolutionary Chinese Youth

When I first studied about China, the images we got of the Little Red Guards were startling. Well, the images from a May 2006 punk concert in a Bejing music fest are startling to me now. Some of the little emperors (the only children) have joined a global culture. Ask your students to compare these pictures with some taken of Chinese young people in the late 1960s.

The concert photos come from a photo blog called ZiBoy (begun back in 2001) by Wen Ling, an artist and photographer in Beijing. I found the Cultural Revolution photos by doing a Google image search.

A valuable teaching resource

Some of Rob Crawford's students at the Pine Crest School in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, found the Angus Reid Consultants Web site. It offers some great teaching resources through its "Global Scan," which "provides a daily summary of published polling results from all over the globe."

On the front page of the Angus Reid site today (May 12) are links to opinion polls on the Mexican presidential race, party support in the UK (2 polls), and party support in Russia. There are also links to previous polls on Putin, Tony Blair, the 2006 Mexican election, Iran, and the EU. It also has a link to an archive of over 11,000 poll results.

Go to http://www.angus-reid.com/

Loss at a distance in time and space

Yesterday, I was editing and updating my computer's address book and came across Chuck Shergold's name. Chuck taught at St. Michael's Univesity School in Vancouver, BC. I realized I hadn't heard from him in a long while. We had occasionally exchanged thoughts about teaching comparative and he sent me references to good articles in The Toronto Globe and Mail.

When I tried to send him an e-mail, it bounced back, and when I searched the Internet for him, I found out he'd died in December. I was saddened to an unexpected degree by the loss of someone I'd never met. But, our exchanges about teaching a course that was enjoyable for both of us, convinced me that his death was a great loss for his students. Then I read the message from St. Michael's headmaster and the obituaries from a couple BC rugby sites, and I realized that the loss of Chuck Shergold will be felt far beyond his classrooms. I don't know what I will take away from this news. I'm still pondering that.

By the way, the headmaster didn't mention it in the note below, but Chuck played on the Canadian national rugby team and on eight provincial campion "sides" in BC before he started teaching.

"Chuck Shergold, 1953-2005

"Well-loved teacher, coach, House Parent, friend.

"On December 13 the St. Michaels University School community was shocked by the passing of Chuck Shergold, of a heart attack. Chuck was Head of our History Department, Senior House Parent in Bolton House, rugby coach, and good friend to so many staff and students. This news was sudden, and was especially difficult because Chuck's daughter, Stephanie, passed away due to complications from cystic fibrosis six weeks ago. His funeral will be at the University of Victoria Auditorium at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, December 21.

"Our hearts go out to Wendy, Chuck's wife, at this sad time. Chuck and Wendy's house in Bolton House is right next to our own house, and hardly a morning or evening passed when I wouldn't have a few words with Chuck about school, or rugby, or his daughter Stephanie, or their new dog, Roxy. Many people knew Chuck more deeply than I did, and while everyone has been affected differently, there is unanimity in our attachment to him as a talented and revered teacher and colleague; a skilful and respected coach and athlete, and an unpretentious and devoted man, to both friends and family.

"In the new year the School will have an opportunity for those unable to attend the funeral - students, families and friends - to honour Chuck. The information will be available early in the new year.

"Robert Snowden
"Head of School"

Politics in Nigeria

In spite of what the Nigerian press and the Washington Post correspondent think, I really doubt that this is the last we'll hear about Obasanjo's efforts to be president for life. The military-patronage complex seems to have decided on Obasanjo, and that force has rarely not gotten what it wanted. (And why is correspondent in Johannesburg better able to write about this than a reporter in DC?)

Nigerian Lawmakers Block Changes to Constitution
Rewriting Would Allow President to Run for Third Term

"JOHANNESBURG, May 12 -- The push to rewrite Nigeria's constitution so that President Olusegun Obasanjo could run for a third term suffered serious setbacks this week as opponents mustered public commitments from enough lawmakers to block the bid.

"Supporters did not immediately concede defeat... But a series of emotional speeches condemning the plan in the national assembly appeared to doom it on Thursday. Forty-two members of the Senate have now announced opposition, five more than necessary to block any change to the constitution.

"Nigerian newspapers on Friday were nearly unanimous in reporting that the plan was dead or nearly so...

"Despite Obasanjo's attempts to distance himself publicly from the effort, it has widely been seen in Nigeria as emanating from his office. Opposition lawmakers have alleged that millions of dollars of bribes were offered to those who agreed to support a third term. Obasanjo denied the charge..."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What would Gorbachev do?

Is this any way to run a country? Or is the executive power Putin and his elite are assuming politics as usual? Is the Russian elite just more unified than those in Nigeria or Iran? What distinguishes this method of selecting a chief executive from the one used in the UK? or Mexico? Is the assumption that the people don't know different from the elite's assumptions in China?

The BBC news report that this article is based on, "This World: Putin's Palace," was broadcast on Thursday, 11 May, 2006. It might be online. Use Google to check.

Russia's 'managed democracy'

In less than two years, Vladimir Putin must relinquish the presidency of Russia, but who is in line for the job?

...After the fall of communism, in what was then the Soviet Union, this country rapidly became a chaotic, lawless and very dangerous place.

For most Russians, their new found "freedom and democracy" simply meant being much poorer and dying much younger.

When Vladimir Putin was appointed, and then elected, president, he promised a return to law and order.

It was music to the ears of the majority, even if some liberal democrats were nervous that it would herald a return to the authoritarianism of the old Soviet regimes.

Now six years later, everyone knows that Mr Putin should, constitutionally, relinquish the presidency in 2008.

But what will happen then? Who will become the next president?

Russia has no real history of dealing "democratically" with these questions.

There is no tradition of Western style presidential campaigns or even of really "credible" presidential elections...

[Putin aide] Dimitri Pescov... defends what he calls the "managed democracy" of Russia by claiming that there is no single model of democracy, so each country carves out its own style...

Pescov, meanwhile, is preparing for the biggest press conference in the world.

Mr Putin will face 1,000 journalists live on television for two hours of apparently unscripted questions.

The president is good at this kind of thing and Mr Pescov is clearly confident.

The real point of it, though, is to convince the Russian people that they can trust their president. Trust him to have all the facts at his fingertips and to be able to deal with whatever the Russian and the international press can throw at him.

And the reason they need to be confident of this?

Well, the Russians do not really know who to vote for and they expect their president to name his own successor.

They want Mr Putin to select the most "appropriate" candidate for the job.

And those who do believe in "managed democracy" - like Mr Pescov - want the electorate to feel confident enough to vote Putin's man into office...

As far as Pescov and the rest of the presidential administration are concerned, that is the best way to secure Russia's future...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Double Double Toil and Trouble

It's a pop quiz.

Putin and Ahmadinejad defend themselves against American critiques. Putin wants to encourage larger families. Blair is self destructing. Which of these news stories properly belongs within the fabric of Comparative Politics and which ones belong in International Relations? Why? (And why is that an unfair question?)

''Their house is their fortress -- good for them,'' Putin said, speaking of the USA. ''But that means that we also must make our house strong and reliable.''

"Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems," Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote.

''We must at least stimulate the birth of a second child,'' said Putin, bemoaning the declining Russian population.

And [in] a national poll published Tuesday in The Times of London...[m]ore than half said the "biggest problem is now Tony Blair himself."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Grannies and Sisters

Once it was the "neighborhood grannies" who floated around the hutongs and villages running little errands, minding children, taking down dried laundry, visiting homes, and talking to everyone. They kept track of what was going on and what was being talked about. And they reported to local cadres who was pregnant, who was unhappy, who was unexplainably flush this week, and who was suspicious.

Now, it's the "little sister" who hangs out in the online chat room suggesting politically correct discussion topics and reporting on politically incorrect ideas. Howard French reported for the New York Times on 9 May, As Chinese Students Go Online, Little Sister Is Watching." (This article is also posted on Howard French's Web site, A Glimpse of the World and might be available there after it is in the Times' archives.

"SHANGHAI, May 8 — To her fellow students, Hu Yingying appears to be a typical undergraduate, plain of dress, quick with a smile and perhaps possessed with a little extra spring in her step, but otherwise decidedly ordinary.

"And for Ms. Hu, a sophomore at Shanghai Normal University, coming across as ordinary is just fine, given the parallel life she leads. For several hours each week she repairs to a little-known on-campus office crammed with computers, where she logs in unsuspected by other students to help police her school's Internet forums.

"Once online, following suggestions from professors or older students, she introduces politically correct or innocuous themes for discussion...she and her fellow moderators try to steer what they consider negative conversations in a positive direction with well-placed comments of their own. Anything they deem offensive, she says, they report to the school's Web master for deletion...

"Part traffic cop, part informer, part discussion moderator — and all without the knowledge of her fellow students — Ms. Hu is a small part of a huge national effort to sanitize the Internet... Ms. Hu, one of 500 students at her university's newly bolstered, student-run Internet monitoring group... an ostensibly all-volunteer one that the Chinese government is mobilizing to help it manage the monumental task of censoring the Web.

"In April that effort was named Let the Winds of a Civilized Internet Blow, and it is part of a broader 'socialist morality' campaign, known as the Eight Honors and Disgraces, begun by the country's leadership to reinforce social and political control...

Chinese authorities say that more than two million supposedly 'unhealthy' images have already been deleted under this campaign, and more than 600 supposedly "unhealthy" Internet forums shut down...

For her part, Ms. Hu beams with pride over her contribution toward building a 'harmonious society.'

"'We don't control things, but we really don't want bad or wrong things to appear on the Web sites,' she said. 'According to our social and educational systems, we should judge what is right and wrong. And as I'm a student cadre, I need to play a pioneer role among other students, to express my opinion, to make stronger my belief in Communism.'

"While the national Web censorship campaign all but requires companies to demonstrate their vigilance against what the government deems harmful information, the new censorship drive on college campuses shows greater subtlety and, some would say, greater deviousness...

"As they try to steer discussion on bulletin boards, the monitors pose as ordinary undergraduates, in a bid for greater persuasive power..."

Friday, May 05, 2006

The 8 Glories and the 8 Shames

A Brit who lives and works in southern China has a blog titled, Liuzhou Laowai. He recently posted the following skeptical observations about the latest mass campaign (which is a lot less "mass" than those campaigns were in days gone by).

"6,000 years of history. A rich and varied culture. Some of the world's greatest literature, art and philosophy. Home to Confucius and LaoZi and the Teracotta Warriors. And what does the leader of the largest population on the planet come up with to seal his reputation as a great and wise leader? This trite, simplistic bollocks, now displayed on a billion public buildings throughout the country."

"Love the country; do it no harm Serve the people; do no disservice. Follow science; leave ignorance behind. Be diligent; not indolent. Be united, help each other; make no gains at other's expense Be honest and trustworthy; do not spend ethics for profits Be disciplined and law-abiding; not chaotic and lawless. Live plainly, struggle hard; do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures."

"He must have been up all night thinking that lot up! Now I could understand if he was addressing a kindergarten class, but this is aimed at the whole population and especially party members. But then the arrogant drunks who run this place always treat the populace as if they were kindergarten kids.

"Still, it beats his predecessor's 'Three Represents'. Not only does he have eight instead of three, but, trite as it is, it is understandable. There is not a single person on the planet who understands 'three represents'.

"According to The People's Daily 'a number of songs have even been composed with lyrics straight from the new slogan'. Can't wait to hear them!

"As well, central government departments, some schools and even the China Disabled Persons' Federation have put together plans to study and carry out the new socialist ethical standards as set by the president. Study? Study? How long for? Three seconds would cover it all!"

The Washington Post article about these "new socialist ethical standards," said that the Chinese president, " having risen through the ranks in the Communist Youth League, with its Boy Scout-like code, Hu, 63, seems to have turned naturally toward a campaign appealing for cleaner living as part of the answer to corruption and cynicism.."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

From Rhymes with Orange, a comic strip which I read at the Settle Post-Intelligencer.

One high school student to another: "My history teacher's panicked because we're only up to World War Two."

"She says she has one month to cover nine presidencies, four wars, and six Supreme Court decisions or bear the guilt of us not being informed citizens.

"So we made her a big card that said, 'Don't Worry! We don't care!'

"Boy, did she cry... I think she felt really supported."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Limits to action in British government

Adam Goldstein who teaches at Windward High School in Ferndale, Washington, asked,

"While reviewing for the UK I thought of an interesting question. Now my students also want to know. If the UK’s Parliament can create an Act of Parliament to pretty much circumnavigate any other government agency, what would formally prevent a political party once in charge (aside from legitimacy, gradualism, etc) from changing election rules to make them in their favor or to simply abolish elections, make another party illegal, make it so you can have 6 or 10 years between elections? Again, I know they would suffer in the minds of the British, but is there anything actually preventing them from doing it, especially if they have an overwhelming majority in the Commons like Labor did in 1997?"

I responded,

"There's no constitutional provision to prevent any of what you describe.

"The key is legitimacy. 'Playing fields of Eton...' and all that, one of the most powerful forces in British culture and political culture is the idea of 'playing fair.' Any party or leader who did anything nearly as radical as changing the rules in the middle of the game would not survive the public outrage and turmoil. We saw what happened in Poland, the Philippines, the Ukraine, et al. when people took to the streets. The Brits would take to the streets in spite of not having a tradition of doing so (like they do in France). But before it got that far, an idea like that would never get beyond a joke in one of Westminster's pubs (if it got that far). No sane Brit would seriously think it.

"Robert Redfield was an 'ancient' anthropologist, whose work I enjoyed. He described some cultures as operating under a moral order, where there was general agreement (if not near unanimity) about what was right and wrong and living by those ideas. He described other cultures as operating under a technical order, where people followed rules and did what worked. We're a lot closer to the technical order with our Constitution and court system; the British are a lot closer to having a moral order (at least in the political sphere)."

Time for something new?

It's less than a week until the exam. I probably shipped my last books yesterday, so I have some time to experiment with something new: this blog.

Is this something that can help?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Teaching as collaborative action

Teaching is essentially a process that is cooperative. Even if you're learning while reading a book, you're virtually collaborating with the author. This blog should facilitate a collaborative process.