World Politics Question #6

Today in class we spent our time discussing different theoretical accounts of the Bretton Woods system/ by the end of the class period, it seemed possible to construct arguments from a variety of theoretical perspectives that could plausibly explain the postwar international economic system. This leads to the more general question: are theoretically informed analyses of empirical events and situations -- like Bretton Woods, for instance -- anything but opinions? In other words, can they be right or wrong, or is the answer always just "it depends on your point of view"?

Tip of the lightsaber to Athkor, whose reflective post inspired this question.


World Politics Question #5

And now for something completely different (but perhaps not so different):

If aliens landed on the White House lawn, what do you think that the response of the world's governments would be? How about the response of the US government in particular?

I ask this question both because it's an example that Wendt uses in the article we're reading for Friday, and because it's an excellent test case for various IR theories -- we can talk about courses of action unfettered by any serious need to be historically accurate. In this way, maybe we can grasp the logic of these theories more profoundly.

Besides, writing about possible alien encounters is often less depressing then writing about, say, the present state of the global financial system.


World Politics Question #4

Whoops -- completely forgot to post this after class on Tuesday, sorry…

The question was and is: is the United Nations a realist or a liberal organization? There's material in the history and design of the organization to support both claims, so your job is to make the most compelling case that you can make.


Technical requirements

In my syllabi for any of my courses that utilize blogging, I spell out a set of "technical requirements" that a course blog has to meet. These usually involve things like: each post needs to have a unique url, comments must be public, etc. Sometimes students ask me to take class time to teach them how to do these things with their blogs, especially one of the requirements I spell out:

each blog must have some easy way that a viewer can bring up all posts written by a specific author. With Blogger, this is a matter of using Google’s “Blog Search” technology and then adding a link to your blog’s template, but note that you have to add the search links to the blog template; it is not enough to simply set up the blog! Other options exist for other blogging platforms.)

But I am extremely reluctant to spend class-time on this, for three reasons.

1) when I require papers to be e-mailed to me, I do not consider it my obligation to train anyone in the techniques of word-processing a document or attaching a document to e-mail. Similarly, I would not consider it my obligation to train anyone in handwriting if I were administering an in-class exam, or in basic English grammar and syntax if I assign a text to read. I presume that the student has acquired those skills elsewhere, and if not, that other offices and services exist on and off-campus to help the student in this respect. I am more than happy to point to the student towards the correct office, and help them get the support that they need, but that does not mean that I am prepared to provide that support myself.

2) one of the things that people have to be comfortable doing in the age of the Internet is googling around to find out how to do things online. This goes doubly for basic web work. "Adding a link" is the sort of thing all competent web users ought to be able to do, kind of like "gassing up the car" and "checking the tire pressure" are things licensed automobile drivers ought to be able to do as a matter of course. By now I presume that everyone in one of my classes has conducted a basic web search, read through online discussion boards, and looked at the ways that other web pages are put together, so looking around for a few minutes at basic html syntax and Blogger's voluminous help files and FAQs should not be beyond anyone's competence. Seriously, this will take you about ten minutes -- and if you find out how to do it yourself, you might even remember it, or at least remember how you figured it out.

3) by giving an expectation rather than a procedure, I am allowing -- even encouraging -- students to be creative in how they meet that technical requirement. In my syllabus text I suggest one method, which involves adding a link to the blog template that points to a blog search, but there are other methods: the proper use of tags/labels for posts, the construction of a simple image map overlaying a graphic featuring everyone's name and pointing to aggregate posts, etc. I am indifferent as to how you accomplish the goal, so long as I can visit everyone's blog and with one click get access to all of the posts written by each individual person.

And as I said, I am happy to talk to people outside of class as they think about this technical requirement -- I'm more than happy to point people toward appropriate resources. But this is not a technology class so I am not going to spend class-time training people in the use of technology.


World Politics Question #3

Apologies for posting this question a couple of hours late -- my flight back from Germany was a bit longer than expected. Anyway, the question:

Is the security -- defined as the territorial integrity -- of the state the first and foremost thing that a state's leader ought to concern her- or himself with?


World Politics Question #2

Should powerful countries look after the interests of less-powerful countries? In other words, is there any particular obligation to others associated with being a powerful country?

Note that, in light of our class discussion, I am deliberately going back to the ambiguous word "power" rather than the more precise "authority"/"capacity" distinction. I do this because I want to give maximum latitude to the ensuing online conversation.