College Rankings

Time published this story about the college ranking system. Apparently a substantial group of liberal arts colleges (124 schools), will not be participating in the classic U.S. News and World Report rankings, because of concerns about how those rankings are decided.

I didn’t know this, but 25% of a school’s ranking under the U.S. News system is based on a survey of school reputation, filled out by college administrators and presidents. That seems like a poor way to rank schools. Reputation doesn’t necessarily equate to performance, and given the fierce loyalty that some people have to a school (and the equally fierce dislike for rival schools), I have a hard time believing that survey data.

It’s interesting, because the U.S. News rankings are well-known and widely-cited. MSU tells everyone who will listen that we have the highest-rated education program in whatever, and so on. The more people who believe it, the more the reputation persists. [A note to MSU fans -- this is not intended to be a disparaging remark in any way]

I’m guess I’m just not sold on college rankings. It seems like you can get a decent education most places, if you care enough to try. If you’re devoted to half-assing your way through, you can probably do that anywhere.

Freed from Guantánamo, but nowhere to go

The New York Times published a story on the 10th (that I only just stumbled across) about a number of Chinese terrorist suspects that have released from Guantánamo, only to find themselves in a a state of limbo, as the headline terms it. The story can be found here, but I’ll summarize for those in a hurry.

The people in question are from the Muslim Uighur minority in China. The men left their homes in China in order to escape government persecution and earn money for their families. They ended up in Afghanistan, where they lived in a remote camp. During the Afghanistan War, they were picked up by the U.S. as suspected terrorists. The men were transferred to Guantánamo, but eventually U.S. intelligence began to doubt that the Uighurs represented a real threat. The men were cleared for release; it just wasn’t clear where they should go. Chinese officials maintain that the men are still terrorist suspects. The U.S. approached various countries around the world in order to find a nation that would accept the men. Some tried to make additional demands on the U.S. before agreeing, others were pressured by China to decline.

The Uighurs are currently living in Albania, but they cannot see families or move to other countries, as no other countries will take them. This exposes one of the fundamental problems with the Bush administration’s actions in Cuba. There is a long history of international legal procedure for dealing with prisoners of war. Likewise, noncombatants have relatively clearly defined rights in international law. The administration argued that the War on Terror required a new method of dealing with terrorists, as they do not clearly fall into POW or non-combatant status.

It doesn’t really work though. These suspects are detained and tried based on evidence that would not be admissible in traditional courts. When the U.S. can’t make a case with these reduced evidence standards, it’s highly unlikely that traditional trials will be an option. Some of these prisoners in Gitmo are dangerous people, but because this administration tried to create a third class of combatants, utilizing military tribunals to try them, there is no way to re-integrate detainees into the traditional legal system. They really do end up in limbo.

Innocent or not, these men just spent years in detention. Upon being freed they have nowhere to go. Many have been subjected to interrogation techniques that are questionable at best, outright torture at worst. They may not have started as anti-American terrorists, but I’d be willing to bet that their opinions of the U.S. are pretty low at this point.

This is sort of a rant, but it seems to be an ugly and ineffective system that violates the rights of many and weakens existing international legal norms. I’d welcome some debate on this issue, so if you disagree, please tell me why.

Time to get back into shape

So I’ve been feeling like a lazy sack of crap lately. Being a student is a fairly sedentary existence, as is my work for the university (tech support). I bike a lot, and try to stay fairly active, but lately it isn’t enough.

So the plan is start working out consistently and seriously. But I still hate weight rooms, and I’m not interested in running. I’m going to work out 3 mornings per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Because I’ll be doing this before class, it needs to be fairly quick. I’m shooting for about an hour.

I’m going to start with 20 minutes on the bike. Riding feels so natural to me at this point that it should be a good warm-up exercise. Should give me some cardio work, as well as help my cycling.

Then I’ll do 15 minutes of vinyasa yoga. It’s not enough time to really practice, but I don’t have a lot of time in the mornings. The stretching is so important, especially considering how much time I spend hunched over a computer every day. This will be the hardest part to get back into, as I haven’t kept up with my yoga practice recently.

Then I’ll spend 20 minutes or so doing push-ups, crunches, and whatever other resistance work I can do in my apartment.

It’s a pretty basic workout, but it should help keep me fit. It’s also short enough to do before class, which is important. I’m planning on starting an actual vinyasa class this summer or next fall, so that will help as well.

This is one of those posts that nobody will care about, but now that my plans are publicly available on teh intarwebs, I’ll feel doubly lazy if I don’t follow through. Wish me luck!

Technology and its role in globalization — breaking down the state-centric system

The following is a post that I’ve written for the student blog that I’m setting up. Enjoy…

Much of International Relations theory, especially realist and neo-realist theories, takes the state-centric international system as an integral aspect of the system. While non-state actors have grown in importance recently, and international institutions try and are sometimes able to constrain state action, international relations continues to be, primarily, the study of relations between states. In more basic terms, despite Al Qaeda and the U.N., states remain at the center of International Relations.

Yet I argue that computers and the internet, and the powerful and pervasive communications technology that they spawn, have the potential to break down this system because they enable such fast and robust communication across all sorts of traditional barriers. This week I wrote a post in my personal blog about Hometown Baghdad, a video project featuring Iraqi youths. To me, this is an excellent example about the new types of communication that the internet has opened up.

While it’s easy to brush these projects aside as simply pop-culture fads, they represent significant communication, from one individual to another across serious cultural and national barriers. Influential technology in its infancy often resembles a fad, but this degree of communication provides individuals with increased access to other people around the world. This access to people removes the barriers to international journalism and commerce. Not only that, but this allows reciprocal access as well, creating a way for the rest of the world to access new places, at least virtually.

Barriers on the state level still prevent communication from reaching its true potential. Perhaps the two greatest barriers are the cost of access, which limits the participation of the developing world, and government censorship, in which governments are trying to impose state-based barriers onto the virtual world of the internet. But this is changing.

The cost of access is falling. Another one of my favorite projects, the One Laptop Per Child Program is trying to get low-cost machines into the hands of millions of children around the world. The technical specifications of the machines should allow quick and cost-effective access to networks, without much of the costly infrastructure. Low cost hardware, coupled with well-designed, open source software, will be essential in bringing networks to the masses.

In my mind, the results of this could be phenomenal. Access to networks is access to knowledge. But it is also access to reporters, and access to markets, and access to meaningful cross-cultural communication.

As for censorship, a classic internet quote offers some insight. “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it” (apparently from John Gilmore). The actual technology, at its lowest levels, is designed to be difficult to stop. The debates about state control over the internet are, in my opinion, just beginning.

My views on technology are unabashedly optimistic, but I really do believe that computers and networked communications have the potential to open the world to everyone (and open everyone to the world), in ways that we are only beginning to see.

This post glossed over a lot of issues, but it also outlines and connects a number of my personal interests. As articles and case studies pop up, expect more information. And as always, please feel free to comment with your thoughts or questions.

Not starving

My mother thinks that I’m starving this summer, as I’m now cooking all of my own food (no meal plan). In an attempt to ease her mind, Here are some pictures from the delicious Memorial Day feast that I cooked up with my buddies Clay and Pat. Can’t exactly call this starving!

Clay took all these pictures, which explains his absence. Those are his knees holding up the plate, however.