Saturday, May 30, 2009

More PhD Chapter Writing Issues

I now have almost 16,000 words of notes and quotes typed up for my latest chapter about Non-Governmental Actors in US Foreign Policy-Making Process. The chapter’s only meant to be 10,000 words long, but there’s just so much information, so many good quotations that I’d like to use to build the chapter, that I find myself in a quandary about writing.

The media sections of the chapter, most of all, are causing problems. I’ve read and noted literally hundreds of articles from TIME, Newsweek, The New Republic, The Nation, The Weekly Standard, National Review, The Atlantic, Harper’s, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times to find out how they report on China. Sure, I’ve been able to spot the trends: for The Weekly Standard, for example, China is a particularly favourite whipping-boy, while Wall Street Journal reports almost exclusively on business issues, in a rather bland or positive manner. But there are so many good quotes, I’m having difficulty cutting them down.

The structure of the chapter’s also causing problems. All the actors I’m looking at – special interests, business, academics, media – are interconnected, each feeding and reinforcing the other. In many ways, without one, everything would fall apart. Do I start with the media, and work backwards? Or do I start with business, academics and special interests, discuss their opinions, preferences and positions, followed by how the media then conveys their messages and reports on their actions, policies, and positions? Each has its pluses, but also negatives.

It sounds strange to be worrying about this so much, but I can’t start writing before I sort this out. Bloody infuriating.

Just in case the US was feeling left out…

The Wall Street Journal today has a story about US Congressmen creatively using their government allowances: “Lawmakers Bill Taxpayers For TVs, Cameras, Lexus

It’s nice to know that it’s not just the British politicians who are able to creatively game the allowance system of their government. While there are no stories about a Representative using his/her allowance to dredge their moat, the $24,730 Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings expensed for a year-long lease of a Lexus GS450H is considerable. Not as dodgy as Eni Faleomavaega claimed expenses for two $1,473 TVs.

The problem with the story is, of course, that the American lawmakers are amateurs at this. (Or maybe they’re more honest than British MPs?) There’s nothing particularly outrageous (see aforementioned moat-dredging) or shocking. Ok, Faleomavaega bought some TVs – how many offices on Capitol Hill don’t have a TV? CNN or another channel is always playing in the background, I’m sure. (46” is excessive, but maybe the Rep. is blind?)

And the Lexus Hybrid? Well, that’s good for the environment, and $24,730 for a car like that is actually pretty good – according to Lexus’s US website, their purchase price starts at $56,550, which would actually have still fallen within the Congressional individual expense claim allowance of about $1.5million per year (to cover everything from staff salaries, travel, and general office and job expenses).

For us in the UK, bombarded with films and novels about corruption in the US political system, it’s a weird but nice change for the UK to have the more corrupt pols. (Nice, at least, for those few of us who actually like the US, and want to live and work there.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

More about New Newsweek

Well, it seems like they’re going for themed issues from now on. Fine, but an entire issue about Iran, and only Iran? Some of it was interesting, for sure, but there’s a lot more going on in the world!

Considering the higher price (even for subscribers), I can’t say I’m looking forward to years of only finding the occasional article in the occasional issue of interest or use.

Disappointing. Breadth is not something to shy away from.

Proof of Global Economic Problems…

Apparently, the new sofas college ordered for the coffee-shop have had to be cancelled – the factory/company that made them in China has shut down because they are bankrupt.

The problem with relying on an export-led economy is, of course, if no-one’s ordering your stuff, you’re in deep trouble. Didn’t expect the furniture sector to be so quickly and noticeably affected, though, as I figured everyone needs somewhere to park while they drink coffee. Ah well.

It would have been nice to have some new sofas, though…

Friday, May 22, 2009

The New Newsweek

imageIt seems to be the season for magazine re-designs. The Atlantic recently underwent a very successful (and colourful) redesign, and now we have one of the best newsweeklies undergoing a similar face-lift. I’ve been reading the magazine religiously since October 2002, when I was living in Kumamoto, Japan, and wanted something in English to keep up on the news and general current affairs (I am equally fond and loyal to TIME magazine for the same reasons) – it would later become my go-to publication for information and updates on the War in Iraq.*

This new design for the magazine has both good and bad elements. First, and most importantly, it’s not always clear what’s an article. They now appear almost identical to those annoying “Special Advertising Sections” that Newsweek runs from time to time – usually about the economic developments of an African or South American nation. This effect is largely down to the abolition of the familiar red bar at the top/bottom of every page of journalistic content. (Now they have more varied bars.) The new font is not as good, either – it’s more squat and rounder than the previous one.

The opening sections of the magazine are, on the whole, better. It’s less messy, and much more visually pleasing (what used to be the “Perspectives” section is now the “Scope” section, which includes sub-sections like the “InternationaList”), even if there are bigger empty spaces. What does work in the new design is the three-column approach, an improvement on the previous two-column, which for some strange reason both looks better and reads easier.

Moving beyond the actual design, the content of this issue is pretty good. Couple of good articles about President Obama, but also an interesting article about George W. Bush’s post-presidential life.

On the whole, the magazine looks cleaner and crisper, perhaps a little more modern. But I shall reserve my judgment until I’ve read a few more issues, to see if it’s really as good.

* Incidentally, since I was relying on weeklies, and not getting daily updates, I found the shift from Afghanistan to Iraq wholly suspect and irregular. So at least there is some benefit to not being a news junkie – a benefit I have since lost…

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Greatest Irony of the Month

Dick Cheney, the patron saint of government opacity, has had a Freedom of Information Act request denied. Brilliant.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Very Good Video About UK Exclusion List

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M - Th 11p / 10c
Battle of the Banned
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic Crisis Political Humor

Infuriating Tutoring…

Just finished my final two tutorials for the year, and the first was perhaps the most infuriating experience of the year. The first 40mins went pretty smoothly, followed by some discussion about the formative essays I’d just handed back (of the 60~ essays, majority did worse than they should have for a second attempt).

Then we moved on to exam essay planning practice. The question was something about whether or not the “security dilemma” is still relevant to today’s security agenda. Pretty straightforward. There was some confusion as to what the security dilemma actually is.* Perhaps where I went wrong was thinking it would be best to see if they could answer that question. This pissed them off. A lot. So, after a rather long, futile attempt to get them to answer the question (pesky tutors expecting their students to think for themselves), I irritably answered the question for them. (There was much sighing, knowing “teacher’s think” grins, and rolling of the eyes.)

Now, I think it would be fair to say that the fault of the situation lies with both myself and also my students – firstly, I shouldn’t have spent so long trying to get them to answer, because it gave the impression that I couldn’t answer the question (I could, but their confusion and lack of understanding was confusing for me, as it’s a pretty important, day-one concept, which made me question what I knew), and I shouldn’t have acted so irritated. Secondly, they should realise they are in university and they no longer get things spoon-fed to them.

What’s interesting for me, though, was the two main tutees kicking up a fuss were from opposite ends of the spectrum. One has failed both assignments (she’s a second-year), the other got firsts for both assignments (he’s a first-year). Apart from making me reconsider whether or not the latter should really have been given the top grades (plagiarism, perhaps…?), it was surprising, but also highlighted the reason that the former failed (total lack of imagination or intellectual curiosity).

I explained that nobody in the class had said anything that was wrong in any tutorial they’ve had. Yet, for some reason, they just refused to try this one.

Don’t really know why I thought I should write this, but it’s been irritating me all day. It’s never good when a tutor/teacher gives the appearance of not knowing what they’re talking about. The fact that I did know, and was right makes it doubly annoying!

Anyway, you live and learn. Next year, I’m not going to be anywhere near as lenient.

- - - - - - - - - -

* Essentially, and boiled down to its simplest definition: “one nation’s security is another’s insecurity” (can be shown using China-Japan relations, US-China relations, Cold War arms race, etc.)

- - - - - - - - - -

Update (17:28): Just received an email from one of the tutees who attended the class – turns out, I’m not the only one who annoyed by others in attendance. Interesting.

Under whose authority…?

A very quick post (stream of consciousness): Just read an article from Reuters, “China warns France against award for Dalai Lama”, and there are a couple of things that stand out as ridiculous.

First off, if you consider that China is a nation that waves the banner of sovereignty at any given opportunity, this statement is hypocritical in the extreme:

“If the city of Paris makes him a so-called honorary citizen, it will certainly once again be opposed by the Chinese people. We demand the Paris city government stop all actions which interfere in China's internal affairs and not make the same mistakes again and again on the Tibet issue.” [emphasis mine]

Under what authority is the Chinese government able to demand anything like this from a sovereign nation? Perhaps I’m missing something, but France is perfectly within its right to offer honorary citizenship to Paris to whoever the hell it wants, Beijing’s knickers getting in a twist or not.

The fact that France acquiesced is incredible, as it merely strengthens China’s hand at throwing its weight about (something, I might add, they complain about the US…). Maybe there is something to the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” thesis…

Friday, May 01, 2009

A great photo

Got sent this link today. It’s title is “What Grown Men Do With Their G.I.Joes” – it’s not dirty, just really funny: