Saturday, January 15, 2005

New Year -- New Ideas and Directions

So it's more than the start of a new year for me, in some ways it's the start of a new life. Grad school for me is over and besides that pesky comprehensive exam, I'm all set to graduate.

Looking back at my studies of IR, I notice some good things and some bad. First, we read far too many journal articles and skimmed material that we should have read in depth. Instead of reading journal articles, we should have been reading the books written by Morgenthau, Hobbes, Waltz, etc. Rather, we pretended that the textbook summaries that we got of their work was enough. Now that I have more time, I'm reading the IR "classics"and I'm finding much more depth (as would be expected) in the original texts. When we studied these guys in class, I would always wonder why they didn't address certain issues. Well, often they did but that material didn't make it into the textbook. Reading the originals certainly gives you more meat to work with because they address so much more than textbook thumbnail sketches imply.

Second, we focused much more on content than on process. Let me explain what I mean. The content of a course is the subject matter, which naturally changes from course to course and discipline to discipline. But the process used in courses changes very little. Students debate with each other and the professor and they write papers. It seems to me that students could really benefit from a professor that critiqued student's logic and their paper writing skills. Far too often professors just look at content without looking at the process used. By focusing on process as well, students would develop real skills that they could use in the real world. Argumentation and logical reasoning abilities are widely applicable as are writing abilities. Newspapers everywhere are constantly looking for people who can write. Why not give students real skills in addition to subject knowledge?

On the plus side, I was introduced to the fascinating world of economics. IPE was a real eye opener for me. Economics allows us explain why people make the choices they make in pursuit of the various things they want or need. That knowledge is CRUCIAL to any true understanding of politics and I now understand why some people say we should study them together.

Most importantly, I've gained deeper knowledge of how the international political process works (and doesn't work) and I now appreciate just how hard it is to accomplish any goal or task. International politics is like domestic politics on steroids. Pinning down any cause is difficult in social sciences anyway, but when multiple countries and processes are involved the task becomes Herculean. Without an idea of a cause, providing a solution is impossible. I realize that now and never again will I say "Why don't they just do ..." The situation is never that simple.

So it's back to the IR classics for me. I would like the blog to reflect that so if anyone is reading this, expect more in-depth articles on fundamental topics in realism and IR. Covering current events from an IR perspective is fun for a while but that's not what I want to do. I'd prefer to emphasize the knowledge aspect of the field by actually developing some knowledge. Funny how I feel better able to that after my classes are over!

So welcome to a new year!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!

Sorry for the light blogging. I'm enjoying an end-of-the-year break. So for now, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2005.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Left2Right: A Critique

Left2Right is a new blog that was started by several Left professors in the aftermath of the election. Their stated purpose is to communicate Left ideas to the "common folk." You can well imagine how it's going for them.
This critique of the postings so far was a great read. The reviewer states he's not a conservative but a libertarian. Nevertheless, he seems to have a good grasp of conservatism. Here's a small excerpt:
So, if you want to be listened to in Washington, your problem (one which is general to left-wing intellectuals) is how to falsify conservatives' belief that you hate America and want to destroy it. This is not going to be possible at all as long as you express contempt for the values and reasoning ability of the majority of Americans that voted for George Bush.

But your problem runs deeper than that. To be listened to, you will need to demonstrate that you share what present-day American conservatives think of as their core beliefs,including but not limited to:

The practical and moral superiority of free-market capitalism over socialism and all other competing visions of political economics.

American exceptionalism — the belief that the U.S. is uniquely qualified by history and values to bring liberty to the oppressed of the world.

Islamic terrorism is an unqualified evil which cannot be explained or excused either by "root cause" analysis; further, that laying it to past failures in U.S. policy is a form of blaming the victim.

(Note that I am not endorsing these beliefs, simply pointing out that conservatives generally hold them.)

As long as conservatives believe that you do not share these core beliefs with them, they will conclude that your policy "help" on Iraq or the War on Terror would be an active detriment. And — here's the hard part — they will be justified in that belief (which, as you doubtless know, is not the same as the assertion that the belief is confirmably true).

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Bush and the World of Ideas

One of the main criticisms leveled against President Bush is that he is out of touch with the world of ideas. He supposedly doesn't read (he does, but does that even need to be said?) nor is his staff receptive to outside ideas. This Washington Post article describes the newly created Office of Strategic Initiative (OSI) who's stated purpose is to do historical research and interact with various thinkers in order to keep the president informed. While the office only has six staff members, they strive to identify historical and intellectual trends that the president should be aware of when making decisions.
I note from reading this article that such an office never existed before the current Bush administration. While some, no doubt, will look at Bush as needing someone to "think" for him, the creation of this office was arguably a good thing since the president can not keep up with current, let alone past, intellectual trends in the various disciplines.
On a side note, I'll be graduating soon. Think they need an IR specialist? Hmmm...

Monday, December 13, 2004

Post-Election Taiwan: the Future

Now that the DPP has been denied a majority in the legislature, what can we expect for Taiwan? The KMT managed somehow to retain enough seats to keep themselves afloat for four more years. They have narrowly escaped the possibility of investigations and the resulting airing of massive amounts of dirty laundry (on both sides considering Lee Tung-Hui's corruption) that would have surely sunk the party for good.
In trying to put that past behind them, the party may now get smart and realize that the relatively young mayor of Taipei, Ma Ying-Jou, gives the KMT the best hope of the future. Ma is widely recognized across the island as the only uncorrupt politician in Taiwan, an image he has maintained despite constant attacks from political enemies. Popularity polls show Ma attracting voters from all major voting blocks, a wide-spread base of support that would assure him a win in any election that he entered.
Despite his obvious electability, Ma was sidelined in the past presidential election earlier this year and he may be again if Lien Chan (the head of the KMT) and James Soong (the head of the PFP -- a KMT splinter group) can't forgo their belief that they are owed the ROC presidency. The antics they presided over regarding the presidential election results turned off many voters, and the KMT's best hope now is new blood in the form of Ma.
The DPP, meanwhile, will be stymied in any attempts they make to change the cross-Strait status quo. Chen Sui-Bian was largely a lameduck president before the legislative election of Saturday, but now that his party has been denied a legislative majority, the DPP will be unable to pursue any independence activities -- barring any massive political shakeup or the declaration of martial law again.
So the crucial window of opportunity to declare independence before the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics has past. Chen's promise to Lee Tung-Hui to declare independence for Taiwan before the latter's death will likely go unfulfilled. While Chen may think that he has nothing to lose now and may, therefore, pursue extremist rhetoric, he lacks the political power to effect any real change. The DPP long ago realized that the post-2008 era will leave China greatly empowered and they will have few restraints on their actions at that time. Declaring Taiwan independence after 2008 was never an option and now the pre-2008 era has been taken from the DPP as well.
All in all, this election was good for Taiwan. Change is best when it happens slowly and the results of this election will reinforce a slow reform of Taiwan's democratic institutions by sidelining the extremists. Overall, a victory for the status quo.

US vs. N. Korea 2003: A Close Call

Check out this report describing how close we came to war with N. Korea in 2003. Scary stuff.
President Bush came very close to actually launching an attack on North Korea in the spring of 2003. In March the U.S. moved a fleet of ships to the region, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson with its 75 aircraft. In preparation for the attack, 6 F-117 Stealth bombers were sent to South Korea and 25 F-15 Fighters and 24 B-1 and B-52 bombers were stationed in Guam. Plans to conduct air strikes were in place, Bush admitted to South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Pan Ki-Mun one year later. The danger of war was averted during the U.S.-South Korean summit in Washington in May 2003, when South Korean officials strenuously objected to the plan. As in 1994, the American public never knew just how close the U.S. came to war on the Korean Peninsula in 2003. South Korean opposition to military action only strengthened the Bush Administration’s conviction that it would be necessary to demonstrate the futility of negotiations before it could win the support of regional allies. It felt it could best accomplish that goal by presenting an image of negotiating without actually doing so.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Today's Taiwan Election: The Future of the KMT and Taiwan

Taiwan will today hold a legislative election that will probably determine the future of the KMT and which might allow the DPP to pursue independence. Both sides know that the stakes are high and so they are both trying their best to get their candidates elected. But, depending on the outcome, the future of one or even both parties may be in jeopardy.
The KMT has fallen on hard times in recent years. It has seen its monopoly on power slowly erode since Lee Tung-hui left office. As everyone knows, the KMT is the richest political party in the world and even though much of their money came with them when they fled China, a substantial part of their funds came from their seizure and use of assets in Taiwan. The DPP has long coveted those assets, and they may be poised to finally take them back if they can win a majority in the legislature in this election.
So the KMT is fighting not just for an election, but for its political life. If the DPP wins a majority, they will immediately call for investigations into the various assets that the KMT hold. Native Taiwanese that support the DPP have called for such investigations for years but were unable to break the deadlock that the KMT legislative majority posed. There's a saying in Chinese: the investigation can't go forward because it can't go upward. That impediment could be removed today depending on the will of the voters.
The DPP is also struggling because they have made the quest for independence their central goal in past years. That quest allowed them to rally the base and cast themselves as the opposition. Now that they are in power with Chen Sui-bian in office, they are engaged in a very delicate dance of trying to appease the independence-minded base while not angering the only Taiwan ally that counts: the US.
The past couple of weeks have clearly shown the difficulty of pleasing both the base and the key ally as Chen has made clear remarks about replacing "Republic of China" with "Republic of Taiwan" (despite promising not to do just that) while also calling for a new constitution. The US is clearly upset over these moves and Chen's administration has fallen back on the old Chinese trick of speak and double-speak in order to obscure what was actually said and meant. The Byzantines truly had nothing on the Chinese.
So as voters go to the polls today, the future of the KMT is at stake and with the DPP, the future of all of Taiwan may be at stake. The best possible scenario is that things stay exactly as they are, a likely outcome considering the bizarre accusations and ball-dropping antics of both parties in recent weeks. If by some slim chance the DPP wins a majority, then Taiwan will likely go through a very difficult period as the DPP seeks political payback from their foes. Investigations will be launched, some politicians will leave the country in hastily prepared vacations, and the DPP will become the new boss (same as the old boss). Then the independence talk may begin in ernest, depending on the stance the US takes toward the election. Considering all the talk of empire we hear these days, the US is amazingly gentle with Taiwan in a time when they should probably be more assertive. If the DPP goes too far, that assertiveness may eventually come out.
So keep your fingers crossed as another election holds the future of Taiwan in its hands.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The New Face of Outsourcing

Here is a very interesting story about Europeans working in Indian call centers. They are working for Indian companies, making local wages, and apparently loving it.

Folks, this is the new face of outsourcing. In the future, if you love a certain job (okay, maybe not call-center type stuff) you willl have to go where that job can be performed at a world-competitive wage. Jobs that can be outsourced are likely to move where the labor is the cheapest in order to offer the goods and services at the lowest price to consumers and maximize corporate profit. Welcome to the brave new world!

Before anyone gets too upset about this, I should point out some obvious benefits of accepting this part of outsourcing. Many foreigners travel and enjoy living in other countries. Outsourcing allows them to take jobs that otherwise wouldn't be available to them. The travellers/expats benefit from this as well as the companies that would seek to employ them. Just think, those call centers benefit from having native speakers work for them instead of paying them to teach the workers English. The companies get the benefit of the foreigners presence because they will spread recent English usage to the Indian workers. This is a very smart move on the part of the companies. The spillover effects of hiring Europeans make it worthwhile.

Moving to a foreign country or just taking one of these jobs temporarily can be an amazing cultural experience, but the pay can also be pretty good. As the article mentions, these call-centers pay fairly low wages but what it doesn't address is the cost of living in India: it's very low. These Europeans can take a job that, to them, would be fairly easy (speaking English all day) and take advantage of the job perks to save money.

While these workers are probably younger traveller types, I predict we will start to see some slow migration patterns of Western workers moving to where the jobs are. It will take some time, but I predict that some people will choose love of a certain type of job over location and move accordingly.

I guess we have to wait and see.