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Anwar Ibrahim on trial for sodomy again February 7, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia , add a comment

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was today back in the courtroom for trial on charges of sodomy, a very serious offense in the Muslim-dominated Malaysia. The prosecution claims to have rock sure technical evidence, Anwar and his supporters claim this is a high-level government conspiracy to discredit the opposition movement. Whatever the truth, both sides of the political fence in Malaysia has much on the line in this trial.

Similar charges in 1998 led to Anwar being sacked as s deputy PM, imprisoned and quarantined from politics – also being the decisive blow against his economic reform program1. It may have been a pyrrhic victory for the sitting regime as it also served as a rallying call for the opposition eventually leading to the creation of the current opposition coalition where such diverse parties as the Islamist PAS and the socialist DAP stand reasonably united with Anwar as their leader.

In the previous round, the allegations against Anwar were by many seen as a decisive low blow by a hegemonic leader (Mahathir Mohamad) against his reform-oriented deputy who was rising too fast in public popularity . In 1998 Mahathir sat on the pinnacle of a strong pyramid of patronage and media control. He needed to prevent Anwar from getting in the position for a possible hijack of this effective machine. In destroying an internal enemy he created an external one.

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  1. I have previously published a student paper about this in the post Sex, lies and capital controls []

Race – an outdated concept? January 29, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Human rights, language , add a comment

Great controversy has apparently arisen in the US over the inclusion of the word “negro” in a national census. Once again I am reminded of the different reality I live in. Where I come from, Norway, race isn’t a concept we’re familiar with neither in social science nor politics. Nationality (including second and third generation immigrants), religion and cultural heritage are certainly issues, but genetic “race” alone is an alien concept. We do have some dark blotches on our record, most notably treatment of Jews before WWII and the Rom and indigenous Sami peoples until far too recent years. In present day Norway, I perceive the concept of race as one that belongs to the extreme right fringe of society.

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The Massachusetts mess January 18, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Uncategorized, United States , add a comment

The Democrats may lose their supermajority in the Senate. A serious problem for health reform. Several bloggers have opinions on what this may signal that way or the other, particularly since this is a traditionally Democratic seat. Dan Drezner has an interesting take on the real reason why the race has suddenly gotten interesting: Both candidates are apallingly bad.

I quote:

[…]the candidates are God awful.  Seriously, they stink.  Just to review our choices:  Democrat Martha Coakley has a prosecutor’s complex that would make Javert seeem like a bleeding-heart liberal.  She is a God-awful politician so out of touch with  reality that she accused Red Sox hero extraordinaire Curt Schilling of being a Yankee fan (Schilling’s blog response is here).  Based on the ads I’ve seen, her campaign has also been, by far, the nastier of the two.

This leaves Republican Scott Brown, who based on this vacuous Boston Globe op-ed, is an empty shirt with no actual policy content whatsoever.  He was in favor of health care reform before he was against it.  He can’t stand the run-up in government debt, and wants to cut taxes across the board to take care of the problem — cause that makes perfect economic sense.   The one thing he is unequivocally for is waterboarding suspected terrorists.

It would be true political irony if all Obama’s blood sweat and tears over health reform should go to waste because of a mess like this. But that’s politics for you. Part of the reason why it’s so interesting…

The blogosphere: Neither Hayek nor Habermas January 14, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Academic matters, blogging , 3comments

While researching for my master thesis (yes, it should have been finished by now. It isn’t – for several reasons.) I stumbled across an interesting article by Cass Sunstein1 about the blogosphere and whether or not it adheres to the ideals of Hayek’s information market or Habermas’ public sphere. His conclusion is that it doesn’t adhere to either very well. The article is a couple of years old, but still interesting. Political science bloggers Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell are among the sources he cites.

I quote the abstract:

The rise of the blogosphere raises important questions about the elicitation and aggregation of information, and about democracy itself. Do blogs allow people to check information and correct errors? Can we understand the blogosphere as operating as a kind of marketplace for information along Hayekian terms? Or is it a vast public meeting of the kind that Jurgen Habermas describes? In this article, I argue that the blogosphere cannot be understood as a Hayekian means for gathering dispersed knowledge because it lacks any equivalent of the price system. I also argue that forces of polarization characterize the blogosphere as they do other social interactions, making it an unlikely venue for Habermasian deliberation, and perhaps leading to the creation of information cocoons. I conclude by briefly canvassing partial responses to the problem of polarization.

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  1. Sunstein, Cass R. (2007) “Neither Hayek nor Habermas” Public Choice 134(1-2), Springer Netherlands, pp. 87-95. Available online in fulltext through SpringerLink for those with acess: http://www.springerlink.com/content/b8167107l4662l47/ []

Obama’s international relations theory December 12, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : International relations, United States, World politics , add a comment

Dan Drezner’s blog at Foreign Policy has a nice blog post about the international relations theory of Obama’s Nobel speech. As a treasure trove for IR lecturers, he claims to have seen clear traces of both Realism, Neoliberal institutionalism, Social construcivism, Democratic peace theory, Feminist IR theory and Human security theory. Personally, I can spot a few of those, but my knowledge of IR theory isn’t quite sufficient to cover them all.

But what is the moral of the story of Obama’s theory mixing? Logical inconsistency? No, that the real world is significantly more complex than what either of those theories portrays it as, and that any government drawing on just one way of analyzing the world has a much smaller toolbox to choose from when trying to understand what’s going on and what to do about it.

Just having an American president that has relaxed the hardcore neo-Conservative thinking of the White House seems to me to be important enough for world peace to justify a Nobel Peace Prize all on its own, regardless of the greatness of his future achievements.

Does lack of rhetorical skills make you less deliberative? November 20, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, My master thesis, Uncategorized , 3comments

I’m working on a master thesis about political deliberation, and I’m interested in finding a good method for measuring and evaluating the level of deliberation in a discussion. Two current methods I’ve been looking into, the Discourse Quality Index and pragma-dialectics, both seem to share the same validity problem: They register low rhetorical or logical skills for a lack of deliberative attitude.

Put simply, deliberation is a term that is used about discussion when people engage in a rational dialogue about something in which they are dedicated to the “forceless force of the better argument”. According to Jürgen Habermas, its most famous theoretician, it should be characterized by sincerity, inclusiveness, equality, reasoned critique, reflexivity, respect and be free from the influence of money and coercive power1 . In the more realistic conceptions of the term, we are willing to consider a discussion as more or less deliberative, realizing that a few real world discussions are likely to be perfect.

As I mentioned, I’ve been looking for methods to analyse discussion in order to determine how deliberative it really is. I’ve been trying to find a method that satisfies the criteria of:

  1. Significance – Must be a method we can expect a large portion of empirically oriented political science to accept.
  2. Usefulness – Must be a method that is suitable for comparative study of cases, preferably on a large scale and with a multitude of institutional arrangements.
  3. Completeness – Must be a method that is theoretically consistent with established theory of deliberation, for example Habermas’ discourse ethics.

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  1. My rewrite of the rules presented in his book discourse ethics []

Not an iota! November 13, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : History, language , add a comment

In reading social science litterature over the last few days, I’ve come across the use of the word iota several times. Usually used in the expression “not an iota”, but occasionally as “there may be an iota of…” This got me pondering what iota really means. I assumed it is an expression that comes from physics or something, meaning a very miniscule amount of something. Interestingly enough, it means no such thing and has an interesting story behind it going 1700 years back, involving heresy and possible murder.

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Nonsensical boycott uproar November 13, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Academic matters, Human rights, Norwegian politics , 1 comment so far

My university, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), has been the centre of an international controversy blown ridiculously out of proportion for the last few weeks. It peaked today with a university board meeting actually attended by reporters from Al-Jazeera(!). I assure you not a common occurence in a Norwegian university.

It all started with a petition by thirty-four academic staff members from NTNU and the regional college HiST recommending an academic and cultural boycot of Israel and Israeli universities. Interestingly enough, at least two of the petitioners have jewish backgrounds themselves. Although I am sympathetic to the cause, I think the idea of academic and cultural isolation is more likely to be counterproductive to the larger goal of improving conditions for Palestinians. My opinion is however beside the matter. For reference, the total number of academic staff at NTNU is about 2700, of which 34 doesn’t seem like an alarming number. This also mobilized a counter-petition by other members of the staff.

Next, three professors at NTNU organized a seminar series about the Israel-Palestine conflict with the endorsement of the university Rector Trond Digernes. They invited international speakers like Stephen Walt, Moshe Zuckermann and Illian Pape in addittion to various Norwegian speakers. They instantly came under attack by “friends of Israel” that critizised them for a biased selection of speakers, accusing them of being inspired by hatred of Israel and jews.

This was eventually picked up by Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. That’s when the ball really started rolling. The usual freak anonymous hate-calls and blog flaming is to be expected. But After the Ha’aretz article, NTNU actually received an official letter from the Israeli ambassador accusing NTNU of “Israel-bashing”. For diplomats to interfere with university seminars, especially with such language, seems rather unusual to me.

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On Fox and Obama October 15, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : United States , add a comment

The Daily beast brings a very interesting editorial piece about the struggle between Obama’s administration and Fox News. John Bathcelor points out that Fox isn’t primarily a news network, it’s an entertainment network that makes money from advertising. And they’re doing that very well right now:

None of what goes on in the evening has anything to do with government. The president and the Congress are discussed as omnipresent villains in a fairytale that begins with a happy kingdom of worthies, introduces an ogre, a witch, and a curse, and then interviews champions to come forward to rescue the frightened children and save the USA. All the while, Ming the Merciless, aka Rupert Murdoch, rakes up the ratings and the bucks.

The worst mistake Axelrod and Emanuel are making by confusing Fox News with the Republican Party is that they are confusing campaigning with entertaining and then letting this mistake blind them to the fact that the White House is for governing, not just staging.

Fox News is not in the news business; it’s in show business. The Republican Party, like its blood kin the Democratic Party, is in the campaign business. The White House is in the government business, though, from the evidence so far, it doesn’t know how to break out of the campaign business.

It all sounds rather logical to me. I’ve never been thought “taking on the media” was a particularly good idea. The winner in this struggle is surely Rupert Murdoch, who gets richer by the hour.

Nobel Peace Prize to Obama October 9, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : International relations, United States, World politics , add a comment

nobelprize

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama is certainly an unexpected and interesting choice by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. On the one hand, awarding it to a person with a nine month history of involvement on the scene of international diplomacy may seem odd. On the other hand, awarding the prize based on work towards international diplomacy and multilateralism must be considered a return to the original intent expressed by Alfred Nobel in his will.

Some critics claim that awarding it to the man that advocated stepping up the military effort in Afghanistan is outrageous. Awarding the prize to someone who has shown himself willing to use military force is however nothing new. Theodore Roosevelt (1917), Henry Kissinger (1973) and Mikhail Gorbachev (1990) are examples of statesmen who aren’t remembered as always being soft when it came to the application of power. (more…)