Friday, February 23, 2007

School Work

I don't remember ever having to read this much every day. Its like I still go to work, except 'work' consists of parsing through journal articles and books at six-seven hours on average daily. And I feel like I'm still behind school work! I'm only supposed to write three 6,000-word essays for my subjects this term, and present them in my seminar (report) in class. It doesn't seem like much, but perhaps my previous graduate work makes me see issues as more complex than I may have three-four years back, hence I 'complicate' matters when there is no need. I say this because the quality of the seminars presented so far don't seem that advanced. Naks, yabang.

But I royally fucked up my first seminar though, because I made it too long and 'detailed'. 29 powerpoint slides for 1 hour was cutting it close. But I practiced delivering it! I didn't anticipate that no one, aside from the teacher, seemed to know what I was talking about. I guess nobody has done any IPE (International Political Economy) among my classmates.

The classes are all fascinating and everything, but again, there seems to be little effort to explain concepts and IR theories and how they shape politics. The lectures are matter-of-fact (as in Realist). The analyses are matter-of-fact. I imagined the scholarship here would be similar to Britain, where IPE is more mainstream. I imagined digging deeper into Democratization, Development and the State, to no avail. I hadn't anticipated that scholarship here would be much more similar to the US than Europe. Focus on war, security, terrorism and all that are all fascinating, but doesn't interest me as much as political economy. I suppose I am informed by the concerns of my own country, where economic and political development as well as social equity in the global context are more paramount. Oh well.

So far, at least in my uni, the 2 professors I have this sem seem not to have ventured beyond Realist analysis. When you teach politics of the Third World, Realism as your theoretical tool won't get you too far. Your conclusions will amount to this: wow, how terrible things are in these poor, developing nations. Realism will not ask questions about the nature of these states. Realism will not ask questions as to why they are poor. Realism will not ask questions about the nature of Capitalism and how it has shaped contemporary global politics since the colonial period. Realism will not look beyond the 'state' as a rational, calculating actor on the world stage. Realism is the analytical tool of 'great power' foreign policy-making and problem-solving. It does not, indeed, cannot say much about the social ills of the rest of the world (ROW).


On a lighter note, I made two fabulous purchases this afternoon. I anticipate taking EU subjects in September and so these books are a great find! I bought them for $10 total, P380. These books don't normally sell for less than P1,500 in the Philippines. O 'di ba?

My bookrest has been garnering queries from students. They ask me where I bought it only to be disappointed to hear that I brought it with me all the way from the Philippines(!). I'm not sure how the bookrest revolution began in Manila, but I've a feeling it came from the UP College of Law, because that's where I first saw them used for hardcore study, waaay back in 2001. Then I bought one and used it whenever I studied at Starbucks, a year later, you saw them everywhere! Maybe I'll start the bookrest revolution here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Joys of Broadband

The leader of the 'free world.' Funny Bush moments.

Terrorists on Saturday Night Live

Friday, February 16, 2007

I love America, I hate America

Its one thing to think you know Americans, and one thing to have an actual one confirm your theories about them. I had coffee and small talk with one hailing from the Midwest today. K is a woman born and bred in Iowa, land of cornfields and wheat, home state of Hollywood god Brad Pitt. In such a multinational uni as mine, the standard opening lines usually go along the lines of where are you from, what are you studying, how long have you been here, what do you do back home et cetera.

I've given up the fight not to speak with something very close to an American accent so people ask if I've ever lived in the US. I've given it up because for one, unlike back home, speaking like a Yank isn't seen as pretentious. Two, its just easier because Tagalog (like French) is tense while English is much more relaxed and so aside from being able to speak faster, I don't trip over words pronouncing English words that don't match the Tagalog motions of my tongue, palate and mouth.

K, a woman in her early thirties, is a communications prof in the uni. She has been here for three years. Our conversation wandered from the basics of who, what, where to when, how and why. Why did she stay in Australia when she could've gone back home? She said she loved the uni and being able to meet with people from all across the globe. She said she knew that Americans had such a bad rep in campus. They are seen as 'ignorant' and 'loud.' Before coming here she had no idea how unpopular Americans were overseas. She expressed mild shock and disbelief. At the time the US had just invaded Iraq (almost) unilaterally. She, being a citizen who ostensibly elected the Bush government in office, was an obvious target of critique. K has since come to disassociate herself from the reputation of her country. If people didn't like where she came from, then she'll do her damnedest to get people to like her for who she was.

I told her my classmates were probably in the same state of shock and disbelief. When their country is criticized in class (which happens quite a lot), they seem a tad defensive. I told her, its because your government's policies affect the world. She said people back home are, to a degree, 'ignorant' of goings-on abroad. She called them 'simple' in that their concerns revolved around working hard, caring for family, going to church. Values and concerns rooted in the local and the immediate. Indeed, why should a corn farmer care when the US Treasury pressures the IMF to withhold rescue funds to a collapsing Argentine economy?

I told her, I too dissociate the American government from Americans. I like America. All my favorite TV shows are American. In some ways, having been a (neo)colony for so long, I feel somewhat American. I like the Americans I've met so far, hyphenated ones in particular. My closest friend is a Texan who has a Vietnamese mother and a Pakistani-Indian father. I like G who's Colombian-American. I like J who's Palauan-American. There are 'pure' (read white) Americans in class, but they seem to not want anything to do with me. Or maybe I don't want to have anything to do with them. I've met a few Canadians who are insulted when they are mistaken for Yanks. I tell them, you need to pepper your sentences with 'eh' more often.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Alex Jones' Terror Storm

I went to a docu screening in campus yesterday. The Film department shows "Films that matter" every Friday. They screened Terror Storm by the now infamous American journalist/filmmaker Alex Jones. Similar to Michael Moore, Jones connects the dots and shows some discrepancies regarding the the official story of the US government on 9/11. The 2hour 'conspiracy theory' basically claims that the tragedy that launched the global War on Terror was an inside job.

While this isn't news to me, what fascinated me more were the reactions of the kids who saw it. I saw three-four classmates from my IR classes, and the rest were journalism students I suppose. The general reaction seemed to be, it didn't matter whether the film's claims were true our not. The way Jones did his expose was very similar to Moore's - that is, while purporting to fight government propaganda, the film felt like a propaganda itself. Some said it didn't really matter whether the film's claims were true or not. Among the anti-Bush rhetoric, it was just background noise. I sat there with my mouth open, I couldn't believe what these kids were saying.

It might not matter to them whether the US government engineered 9/11. It might not matter to them whether the US has launched a billion-dollar campaign to sustain war in Iraq, its their taxes after all. It might not matter that the US certainly looks set to maintain bases in the Middle East. But it matters to Iraqis who've been on the verge of civil war the past three years. It matters because it can mean the difference between life and death. It matters because they have a government installed by the Bush regime. It matters because they have an occupying foreign power. And it matters to the whole world because skyrocketing oil prices know no boundaries.

Its frustrating how simplistic these UN do-gooder wannabes see the world. US politics doesn't halt at their borders. And they wonder why they're so unpopular in campus.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Identity, Politics and Identity Politics

It gets quite 'interesting' When you have Europeans, North and SOuth Americans and Asians in one classroom talking world politics. In UP, it is hardly 'radical' to be critical of the US, international institutions and the 'evils' of capitalism. It is 'mainstream' to be anti-everything. When you have people from all around the globe to instantly refute or support your opinions on these matters, the clashes in opinion give you a mini-snapshot of clashes in discourses happening all around the globe. This might explain the rather conspicuous absence of theory in the classes I'm taking this semester.

I have 3 classes, 2 of which are under Professor F. Professor F is a raving Realist if I ever saw one. A 'Realist' in International Relations jargon is one who takes the 'State' for granted, as though 'States' have always been and always will be. It doesn't recognize that States in how they function and in the way we understand them today, have only been in existence for about 5 centuries or so. Another key charactersitic of a Realist scholar is the fact that it takes the State as a 'rational' entity, as though it can homogenously make decisions and respond to external actors reflecting the country's 'national interest.' As though the State's decisions will benefit everyone in the country. Lastly, Realism (and all its permutations) is unfortunately still the most dominant school of thought in IR scholarship. This is because American scholars have dominated the discipline since the end of the second World War.

In practice, Realism in its 'calculations' also neatly translates into policy options for US foreign policy. Unfortunately, it doesn't apply as well to the complexities of politics in developing countries.

While the classes are 'advanced' in that Professor F doesn't explain basic concepts to the undergrads in class. He also takes a lot for granted. If I hadn't been a postgrad in UP, I can't imagine how I would've coped. Thankfully, I have a background in getting to know two regions (Latin America and Eurasia) I know very little about. Reading up on Latin America and its history is similar to reading our own. The long Spanish colonial occupation and administration, the creation of landed mestizo elites and feudal relations, the early integration and strong links to the global capitalist economy, the US intervention, the fall to military authoritarianism and consequent democratization, the intervention of international financial institutions (IFIs) and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) that further open up the economy as well as as change the complexion on local politics. In general, the problems of many of these Latin American countries are eerily similar to our own even though we are half a world away.

I worry that the simplistic way in which Prof F teaches his developing country politics is reflective of how other teachers in the developed world teach theirs. That is - they are sympathetic of the the Third World's woes. They recognize the presence of corruption and extreme poverty. They recognize the need for change. But they never ask 'WHY' things are the way they are in the world of the 'Other.' An American student once asked what 'poverty' meant exactly and I am suddenly made aware that I am the only student in class who is actually from a developing country.

There is also a tendency to paint the picture even worse than they are. The other day I went to an interview with a Russian editor in chief of a news website. One student asked if there was State repression in the media and whether she (the editor) felt like her life was in danger given the killing of another journalist who was highly critical of Putin.

I then remember a Texan (who is actually now a good friend) who mentioned the horrific killings of Philippine journalists. I had to correct her that although there are these killings, it has done nothing to keep most of Philippine media from being highly critical of the government. Democracy is alive and well and thriving in the Philippines despite these killings.

I tend to think then that the West tend to see the rest of the world as a basketcase against which they identify themselves. They tend to to only see the worst of the 'Other' to feel grateful of their own comfortable existence. They tend not to see the resistance, the struggle, the tenacity of these countries to better their condition because they themselves have no concept of this kind
of struggle.

What is constantly demonstrated in class is how poor and corrupt these countries are. The tendency then, for the student who has never set foot in the Third World, is to want to 'help' these countries. The solutions they come up with are those derived from the conditions in their own countries. It reflects their values, assuming these can easily be transplanted in other regions with radically different histories and cultures and religions and ways of life.

I then tend to think of all those technocrats working for global institutions that govern the world. The WTO, the IMF-World Bank, even the United Nations. Although some may genuinely want to make the world a better place, complete ignorance of the 'Other' tends to create more harm than good.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

People Power is Alive and Well

In preparation for my seminar presentation on the 2001 Argentinian economic meltdown, I came across this documentary on Youtube. 20 years on, People Power is alive and well. It is the Philippines' gift to the world -- to show that the People can and that "Democracy" doesn't simply mean voting every so often.

To see the whole docu (albeit in parts) click here. More background info on the crisis and the People's response coming soon.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Campus Photos

Some photos!

I took this photo very early a couple of weeks back when I got here. This is the view out my room window.

And here was my actual room in campus. A bed, a wardrobe, a desk and a toilet. I'm now staying off-campus.

Here is the famous "Arch" between the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science and IT wings.

If you look at the other side of the campus, here's the courtyard.

My favorite recently-discovered place: the library! The building on the left is the Mainlib, the one on the right is the Faculty of Medicine.

The Lake! Huge man-made lake where Bullsharks roam. Strictly no swimming. Its water that flows in from the canals. Dirty.

The tall building on the left is the South Tower where I'm rooming. The cluster of buildings on the right is the University Center where there are lecture theaters, admin offices and the Pines Brasserie where most everyone takes their meals.

On the other side of the lake is the North Tower residences and the commercial center.

Its a gorgeous campus, and everything smells new! I suppose because this uni is pretty new compared to other Aussie unis. Established in 1989. There are computers almost everywhere, and wifi access in convenient areas.