Americas (South & North)

Wikileaks Cablegate! Panamanians hope for a successful coup!

I was just peeking around Wikileaks's Cablegate ( This looks like the real thing folks!

Take a look at this 1989 cable on Panama for example:


More analysis to follow...

Also there's Haiti elections. Isabel's article should help you get started.

Political theory interlude

Manuel suggested I read Norberto Bobbio, an Italian socialist writer on democracy. So I picked up his "Which Socialism?" In it, Bobbio argues that there's no necessary connection between democracy and socialism. Contrary to what socialists would like to believe, democracy doesn't automatically happen in a socialist economy. And also, democracies don't automatically evolve towards socialism. He thinks that socialists should pay as much attention to democratic theory and practice as liberals. He thinks the socialist dismissal of liberal democratic theory as simply 'bourgeois' is too summary. And worst of all, it can lead to a certain contempt of democracy on the part of socialists. And why hasn't socialist theory included more theorizing about the state and democratic arrangements? Probably because in socialist theory, the state is supposed to wither away, so why spend a lot of effort figuring out how something is supposed to work when it's supposed to wither away anyway?

"Which Socialism?" had a few other interesting ideas, especially Bobbio's 4 paradoxes of democracy. These are 1) that direct democracy is difficult in small organizations, but almost impossible in large ones. Pg.69 has this very interesting quote:

"Direct, or 'Athenian', democracy, which was revived by the student movements of the 1960s and 1970s, has almost always been deceptive: it consists, on the one hand, of an assembly whose function is limited, limited more severely in some respects than that of the worst parliaments, to ratifying (often by acclamation) the decisions of the executive as expressed in motions; on the other hand, of an executive, the basis of whose power is charismatic (in the technical sense of the word according to which 'charismatic is contrasted with 'democratic'), and whose power is far more immovable and irresistible than that of any executive of a representative body."

The second paradox 2) is that a more comprehensive democracy requires a more comprehensive administration. "To extend democracy means extending bureaucracy" (pg. 70-71).

Teaching: Jacques Ranciere and Sugata Mitra

A few months ago I was blown away by Sugata Mitra's TED talk on child-driven education. Mitra's thesis is that children can teach themselves. What they need is not teachers who know how to do what they are trying to learn, but materials, problems, one another (groups), and perhaps encouragement. Mitra put computers out and watched what children did with them. Groups of children would gather around the computer and teach themselves how to use them. Their "performance" teaching themselves ended up to be as good or better than those with teachers. What Mitra introduced in this talk that wasn't in the previous TED Talk by him (also very good) is the "granny cloud". These "grannies" just expressed enthusiasm and interest in what the students were doing, no evaluation, and it improved student learning immensely.

The other day I was at a friend's house and saw a book by Jacques Ranciere called "The Ignorant Schoolmaster". Ranciere tells the story of the 19th century version of Sugata Mitra, someone named Joseph Jacotot. Jacotot managed to teach a group of Flemish students to write a series of things in French, although he knew no Flemish and they knew no French (similar to Mitra at the end of the talk writing english questions on a blackboard with Italian students, who answered his questions reasonably quickly). Jacotot showed that you don't need to know, to teach. What you need to do to teach is set a problem for a student so that the student must use their own intelligence to solve. There was no need for additional explanation of texts - the text was the explanation, there's no need for a teacher to explain it. But current methods of teaching don't serve learning or students, is Ranciere's point - they serve the system, and the teachers. "Universal teaching", in which students teach themselves, isn't useful to the system, and won't ever be adopted by it, because it has totally different objectives than the current system.

Polyculturalism and Self-determination

[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]

The present essay reviews in summary form the key ideas for "cultural liberation" and then discusses the consequences of these ideas for the concept of self-determination, specifically national self-determination, in our world and in a good society.

Review of polyculturalism

Security Certificates and the case of Adil Charkaoui

On February 20, the Federal Court of Canada dropped most of the conditions it had placed on one of the prisoners of its “security certificate” regime, Adil Charkaoui. While much of his life is still lived in the rights-free zone widened under the “war on terror”, his struggles over the years have won him back some parts of his life. (For the decision see here)