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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ducking in

Today, at the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, I posted "Cheney: The Most Dangerous Veep Ever?" It concerns the political stunts he pulled -- and lies he told -- to promote war against Iraq.

Thursday, June 25, I posted "Is Obama channeling Bush?" The post is about the latest increase in heated rhetoric from President Obama about events in Iran.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Global Health

Does foreign aid work? I've mentioned that question previously, but there's new disturbing data recently published in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal. Here's the AP account of one recent study:
Trying to show health campaigns actually saved lives is "a very difficult scientific dilemma," said Tim Evans, a senior World Health Organization official who worked on one of the papers.

In one paper, WHO researchers examined the impact of various global health initiatives during the last 20 years.

They found some benefits, like increased diagnosis of tuberculosis cases and higher vaccination rates. But they also concluded some U.N. programs hurt health care in Africa by disrupting basic services and leading some countries to slash their health spending.
The other study discussed in the AP story about the journal articles notes that health aid dollars do not necessarily match need. It would appear as if many political factors influence aid decisions:
[University of Washington researcher Chris] Murray and colleagues also found AIDS gets at least 23 cents of every health dollar going to poor countries. Globally, AIDS causes fewer than 4 percent of deaths.

"Funds in global health tend to go to whichever lobby group shouts the loudest, with AIDS being a case in point," said Philip Stevens of International Policy Network, a London think tank.
Somewhat cynically, Philip Stevens of International Policy Network (a British think tank) points out the mixed motives of the aid community:
"The public health community has convinced the public the only way to improve poor health in developing countries is by throwing a ton of money at it," Stevens said. "It is perhaps not coincidental that thousands of highly paid jobs and careers are also dependent on it."
It's fairly disheartening.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fall classes: books and films

This past week, I made final book selections for my fall classes.

MWF at noon I'm teaching POLS 335, Global Ecopolitics, a course which is most often called Global Environmental Politics at other schools. However, I did my graduate training at University of Maryland where Dennis Pirages was pioneering the study of "ecopolitics." In addition to extensive discussion of global environmental concerns (with a focus this term on climate change), my course devotes a great deal of attention to both resource politics and global poverty. There are still plenty of seats available in the course. Students do not need prior exposure to either international relations or environment courses.

In the right-hand column of this blog, I've added a link to my textbook selections available on-line at Powell's Bookstore. The list includes books I've used in the past few years, though it begins with books selected for the coming term:

Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren by Joseph Dimento and Pamela Doughman (MIT 2007).

Global Environmental Governance: Foundations of Contemporary Environmental Studies by James Gustave Speth and Peter Haas (Island, 2006).

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It by Paul Collier (Oxford, 2008).

I'm also teaching POLS 552, Global Politics Through Film. The class will be viewing films on Monday afternoons at 3 pm (the class ends at 5:15) and will discuss them on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 pm. I've taught the course twice since 2006 -- students can find a list of films used previously here. I changed a couple of selections from fall 2006 to summer 2008 and may again tweak some choices from the original list. Time constraints are a major concern as some interesting films are longer than 150 minutes.

I think it is a fun class for students and I must increase enrollment before late August for it to remain on the schedule. My pitch: students do not have to take any exams, but will write a couple of short analytical or review papers through the term -- culminating in a longer research paper at the end. I provide extensive feedback and typically allow rewrites of papers in classes at the 500 level. All of the paper assignments tie to film texts. Undergraduates worried about taking this course at the 500 level may be able to sign up for a 300 or 400 level course and might be able to arrange for this to count as a Writing Requirement (WR).

No textbooks with substantive international relations content are required; the class will instead read a couple of short IR-related articles each week. The class focuses on substantive issues more than IR theory. The following books is recommended as an aide to writing about film:

A Short Guide To Writing About Film by Timothy J. Corrigan (Longman, 2006).

This is the sixth edition of Corrigan's brief text. Though a new 7th edition is available, I figured that it would be cheaper for students to buy used copies of the slightly older one. I think it would be OK for students to consult any recent edition of the book and it is likely that the new edition will have a better resale value.

Disclosure: The blog receives a 7.5% commission on book sales purchased through links from this website.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Duck doings

Today, at the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, I posted "Joking Cousins" about the "joking relationships" that operate throughout Africa. Practitioners insult one another without taking offense -- a social tie that is said to promote peaceful order within various societies.

On Wednesday, June 10, I posted "Domestic terror" about the recent shooting inside the Holocaust Museum and the murder of an abortion services provider in Wichita. Do these violent attacks mean that the Department of Homeland Security was correct a few months ago when it warned about the danger of radical right-wing extremism in the US?

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Steroids update: Sosa HR edition

Today, The New York Times is reporting that baseball slugger Sammy Sosa tested positive for steroids in 2003. At that time, Major League Baseball's steroid policy was supposed to assure anonymity for players who tested positive.

As I've noted previously, contemporary players appearing on the all-time home run leader board are widely viewed as tainted. Consider this list of men who played in the 1990s who cracked the top 25 HR:

1. Barry Bonds: lots of evidence, apparently.
5. Ken Griffey Jr.
6. Sammy Sosa: 2009 report of 2003 test failure
8. Mark McGwire: 1998 Androstenedione use plus much other innuendo
10. Rafael Palmeiro: suspended in 2005
12. Alex Rodriguez: in 2009 admitted steroid use from 2001-2003
13. Jim Thome
17. Manny Ramirez: suspended in 2009
18T. Frank Thomas
24. Gary Sheffield: named in Mitchell report concerning 2003 usage
25. Eddie Murray

Does this mean Griffey, Thome and Thomas are the real home run heroes of the steroids era?

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The resource curse

I've just returned from nearly a week in an oil-rich state well-known for its opposition to the American regime. The big story, as has been widely reported, involves thuggish government behavior, which highlights its power. New information technology has played a key role in the backlash -- with lots of people lamenting the lack of government transparency.

No, I didn't go to Iran. For news about the controversial election and the even more contentious aftermath, visit my colleagues at the Duck of Minerva who are doing a great job.

FYI: I just spent about a week near Tulsa, where the local news media focused incessantly on the brutality of a state trooper towards an ambulance driver. The video isn't pretty.

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Monday, June 08, 2009


"Sugar" may be the best film about baseball that I've seen. It is a realistic story of a young pitcher from the Dominican Republic who is invited to spring training in the USA and then assigned to a low minor league team in small-town Iowa.

The film focuses attention on the agents and leagues operating in Latin America, as well as the immigrant experience in America. Indeed, the film would have been perfect for my "Globalization (and Baseball)" course that I taught during fall 2003. After all, I assigned Stealing Lives by Arturo J. Marcano Guevara and David P. Fidler, which tells the story of sweatshop baseball labor throughout Latin America.

Former Cincinnati Reds ace Jose Rijo plays a fairly prominent role in the movie. Apparently, presuming the film is accurate, baseball has upgraded the facilities in the Dominican Republican because Marcano Guevara and Fidler describe players working and living in squalor.

As you might expect, the film gives some attention to steroids. Most importantly, it emphasizes the precarious position of young men in Latin America pursuing an unlikely dream. The movie also shows the advantages granted to the million dollar draftee ("Brad Johnson") from Stanford. He teaches the main character about the life and work of former Latin star Roberto Clemente, who said: "Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth."

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Crime in the City is-a Getting Worse

Back in the 1980s, one of my favorite bands was the Beat Farmers -- a cowpunk group from southern California. One of their great songs was called "Gun Sale at the Church" (that's a video link).

Irony is a powerful weapon, right?

Sometimes, reality is even more potent. The Courier-Journal, June 3:
A Valley Station Road church is sponsoring an "Open Carry Church Service" in late June, encouraging people to wear unloaded guns in their holsters, enter a raffle to win a free handgun, hear patriotic music and listen to talks by operators of gun stores and firing ranges.

Pastor Ken Pagano of New Bethel Church said the first-time event is "basically trying to think a little bit outside the box" to promote "responsible gun ownership and 2nd Amendment rights."
The idea is fairly controversial in the local religious community. "Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper of Lexington...said the event 'would nauseate Jesus.'"

Apparently, the event has been planned to help celebrate the 4th of July -- not the latest act of domestic terrorism.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Discrimination and the Court

Just to be clear, the widely quoted and allegedly "racist" remark from Judge Sonia Sotomayor is from a section of a speech specifically concerning decisions in "race and sex discrimination cases." This is the relevant section from the speech -- with the part you've likely heard marked in red:
...our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that--it's an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others. Not all women or people of color, in all or some circumstances or indeed in any particular case or circumstance but enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging. The Minnesota Supreme Court has given an example of this. As reported by Judge Patricia Wald formerly of the D.C. Circuit Court, three women on the Minnesota Court with two men dissenting agreed to grant a protective order against a father's visitation rights when the father abused his child. The Judicature Journal has at least two excellent studies on how women on the courts of appeal and state supreme courts have tended to vote more often than their male counterpart to uphold women's claims in sex discrimination cases and criminal defendants' claims in search and seizure cases. As recognized by legal scholars, whatever the reason, not one woman or person of color in any one position but as a group we will have an effect on the development of the law and on judging.

In our private conversations, Judge Cedarbaum has pointed out to me that seminal decisions in race and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males. I agree that this is significant but I also choose to emphasize that the people who argued those cases before the Supreme Court which changed the legal landscape ultimately were largely people of color and women. I recall that Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Connie Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and others of the NAACP argued Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, Justice Ginsburg, with other women attorneys, was instrumental in advocating and convincing the Court that equality of work required equality in terms and conditions of employment.

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
A bit earlier in the talk, Sotomayor accepted "the thesis of a law school classmate, Professor Steven Carter of Yale Law School, in his affirmative action book that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought."

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