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August 31, 2006

Syllabus

Download a copy of the syllabus right here.

Example Posts

I've written some sample postings (here, here, and here) to show what I'm expecting in these postings. The first is a response to a news story, the second to a blog entry, and the third a commentary on the Strib's myVote site. Again, as long as the content of your post relates to politics in some way, the range of acceptable material to blog about is very wide. In addition to simply discussing news items, for example, you could also:

  • Attend a guest lecture on campus and write about it.
  • Attend a political rally, protest or candidate debate and blog about it.
  • Read a journal or magazine article, or even one of the unassigned chapters in one of our books, and write about it.
  • Go vote in the primary or general election and blog about your experience.
  • Attend a meeting of a campus civic or political organization and write about your experiences.
  • If you see a movie or something on television that makes you think about our class material, write about it.
  • If you have an interesting conversation about politics with a friend or a family member, write about it.
The sky is the limit really. The point is to try to apply the theories and research we discuss in class to real-life situations.

As these examples also illustrate, the categories I've created are just general guidelines. Some things will fit into several categories, other topics will be kind of a stretch to fit into any of them. That's okay: just pick whatever it fits best. The goal of the categories is just to help keep things organized and make browsing through the entries easier, not to limit what you can or cannot write about. If you can think of a category broad enough to encompass many entries that I haven't thought of, let me know and I'll think about adding it.

The Strib's myVote

One of the issues we'll be discussing quite a bit is the impact of the internet - and technology generally - on politics. We'll encounter some skeptical takes on whether or not the internet is good for democracy, but here's an example of where the internet can undoubtedly help: the Star Tribune's myVote website. Enter in your zip code and then street address and you're directed to information about all the races you can vote in as well as information on how to get to your polling location.

One of the stranger facts about voting behavior is that people invest enormous amounts of time and energy into reading up on national and state races, where their vote is only one out of millions, yet tend to entirely ignore the local races in their communities where a handful of votes really can make a huge difference. The Star Tribune has a webpage for just about every candidate for just about every position, and from the strib's bio page you will frequently find a link to each candidates personal website as well. So even if you've not been aware of who is running for what, you can spend a little bit of time before you head to the polls reading up on the local races and making an informed decision rather than just picking a candidate based on who had the prettiest lawn signs or simply ignoring these races altogether.

Nationalism, Autonomy and Group Boundaries

David Berreby, the journalist who wrote the book "Us and Them," has a blog spin-off from the book, appropriately named "Us and Them: The Blog". He's started a series of entries called "Forbidden Questions," and the first entry is titled "Freedom for Our People" -- is it snake oil?" Like the Barber article on "Jihad vs. McWorld," Berreby draws attention to the tension between group claims to autonomy, on the one hand, and the globalizing forces that contradict those claims. From both sides, democracy gets tossed around as a justification but in both cases, democracy can suffer. Berreby focuses on the outbreak of violence surrounding nationalist movements around the globe. As anthropologists and social psychologists have long pointed out, a group boundary both includes and excludes. In particular, Berreby questions whether we should favor the idea of a nation as a valid group boundary:

People can be persuaded to fight others on any basis. Timor illustrates this. So does Somalia. These are both nations in which people who share culture, ethnicity, language, history and religion have nonetheless found other methods by which to divide themselves homicidally.

Perhaps, then, the homogenous ``nation'' makes no more sense as a way to organize politics than the messy incoherent multi-language superstate. In which case, we can ask if nationalism is worth giving up the superstate's virtues -- for instance, its interest in preventing itself from being sundered by religious, ethnic or culture-based violence.

So today's forbidden question is about all those David-vs.-Goliath independence movements of the past two centuries -- from the Greeks throwing off their Ottoman yoke to the Timorese: Have we been rooting for the wrong side?

Berreby's "forbidden question" helps us think hard about the slogans we use to think about the world: "people should be able to rule themselves," sure, but every line you draw around "people" tends to crosscut other boundaries that may be just as legitimate. I'm not sure I like Berreby's alternative idea (that perhaps we'd be better off with super-state empires), but then again his point is to ask the question, not answer it. What's interesting is that it's hard to like either option - but where do we draw the lines then? Can we have our cake (autonomy for all peoples!) and eat it too?

Bush speeches "not political"?

This week, Bush will begin a series of speeches on the war in Iraq. On Wednesday, he had this to say about the upcoming speeches:

``They're not political speeches,'' Bush said Wednesday when asked if they might have an impact on the congressional elections just over two months away. ``They're speeches about the future of this country, and they're speeches to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation would become even more in jeopardy. These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn't politicize these issues that I'm going to talk about.''

Bush uses "political" in an interesting manner here, a way we commonly hear politicians of all stripes use it. What is Bush trying to communicate? Presumably that he is "just getting things done," or "just doing his job" for the country and not to advance his own political agenda. To emphasize how "not political" his speeches are, he says they are "speeches about the future of this country." This is a good example of how politics can mean very different things to different people. If politics is defined as the realm of public decision making, then how can discussion of "the future of the country" not be political? And if that's the defintion of politics, then isn't being political a good thing in a democracy? However, given the more sinister definition of politics (where politics equals self-serving power grabs), it's a good rhetorical strategy to cast yourself as being "not political." For one thing, as Bush immediately shows, it entails your critics are "politicizing" the issue by criticizing you, or at the very least puts the burden on them to demonstrate that they're not "being political" and have purely altruistic motives. As Eliasoph points out, this split in how people define politics can make it difficult to discuss public issues.

August 29, 2006

How to Blog

To login, follow the Login to UThink on the right side of the screen. Enter your x500 id and password.

1. First, set up a nickname. Once you've logged in, you'll be taken to the Movable Type main menu (Movable Type is the name of the blogging software the U is using). In the top right corner, you'll see "Welcome yourx500." Click on your name and you'll be taken to your Author Profile. In the "Display Name" box, enter what you would like displayed as your name on the blog. Your first name is fine, though if you want to use something else that's fine too: just email me and let me know what it is.

2. To make your first entry, from the Main Menu page, just click on the "New Entry" link under "Politics and Society." You'll be taken to a page that looks like this:


mt_newentry.jpg

In the Title field, enter a title for your entry. Under "Primary Category," click on the drop-down box and find the category that best fits your post. Then, in the "Entry Body" box, write your post. In general, it's a good idea to write your post first in a simple text editor and then just paste it into the box.

For short entries (two paragraphs or less), just put the whole thing in the "Entry Body" box. For longer entries, break up your entry by putting anything past the second paragraph into the "Extended Entry" box. That way your entry won't take up all the space on the main pages and people will have to click a "Continue reading..." link to see all the post.

A few notes:

  • To make something bold, highlight the word and then click the "B" icon.

  • To italicize something, just type the word, highlight it and click the "I" icon.

  • To make a weblink, write the text you want to make into a link, highlight it and then click the link icon above (it's a little chain icon). Then, in the window that pops up, type (or paste) in the URL you want to link to.

  • Obviously, for all of these you can just use HTML tags as well if you know them.