A theory of Kenneth Waltz

While speaking with Roham this afternoon, we stumbled across what may be the perfect Oxford way to respond to a question about Kenneth Waltz. Obviously, the first step is to interrogate the question. What do we mean by ‘Waltz?’ I think we can analyze him usefully on the basis of three levels of analysis: the cellular, the individual, and the systemic. Clearly, parsimonious theory demands that systemic explanations be concentrated upon: in this case, the extent to which Waltzian theory is constrained and disposed on the basis of the system in which it exists: American academia. A fundamentally anarchical system, where economic power and the recourse to forceful argument is the ultimate arbiter, American academia effectively constitutes large parts of both the identity and interests of Waltz.

Indeed, while a systemic theory of Waltz may not capture all of the detailed minutiae of his history, or the internal processes by which his external policy is defined, it does provide good answers to the big questions of his fundamental behaviours vis a vis other academic actors. Consider the phenomena of bandwagoning and balancing, in response to Waltzian hegemony. Additionally, consider the emergence of counter-hegemonies in different parts of the system. All can be explained on the basis of the distribution of research capabilities, and the rational characteristics of academic actors.

While many would contend that in order to really understand Waltz, we need to go back to analysis at the individual and cellular level – with a particular focus on the cellular elite that comprises his central nervous system – the fact is that theory, once broadened to that extent, risks being overwhelmed with detail and particularity. If we can develop testable hypotheses about the behaviour of Waltz on the basis of systemic analysis alone – evaluated, of course, through rigorous statistical analysis – we will have developed a theory of Kenneth Waltz is both useful and parsimonious.

Diseases and factory farming

Despite how mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and avian influenza have been in the news for years, I’ve never seen any coverage that explicitly makes the connection between industrial factory farming and the emergence of these diseases. While things like close human-animal contact in the developing world seem to be important when considering outbreaks of influenza, it is entirely a product of an industrial farming system that turns cows into cannibals that BSE has emerged as a threat to human health at all. BSE is a prion illness that spreads between cows when they are fed portions of the brains and spinal cords of their dead brethren. The fact that it keeps cropping up means that this is continuing to happen.

I don’t doubt that if people were aware of the realities of where the bulk of humanly consumed meat comes from, there would be a lot more people wary about eating it – on environmental, health, and hygienic grounds. On the disease front, people should at least acknowledge the dangers inherent to keeping thousands of closely packed animals together, all of them on hormones and other drugs to make them grow faster. Additionally, the constant use of antibiotics to try to suppress disease among populations of factory farmed animals contributes to the emergence of bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics. Food animals have also been genetically weakened over time as they have been both ‘standardized’ so as to produce single definitive variants and bred for qualities like the quantity of a certain kind of meat they produce, rather than being able to resist diseases or even function on their own.

A lot of people seem to take the attitude that “given that I want to eat meat, and I am dimly aware that learning about where it comes from may put me off it, I will resist learning about where it comes from.” While psychologically understandable, such approaches do not live up to the standard of good sense, or due diligence with regards to how we behave as individuals and societies.

Pastoral wandering

Woman beside bridge beside Port Meadow

I spent most of today exploring the area around Church Walk. The best discovery, by far, is that we are only two turns and six minutes away from the Port Meadow. Sitting beside the flooded portion of the meadow, immersed the direct afternoon sun, there was the uncanny sense of being profoundly disconnected from my whole environment. I could even see the blood vessels in my retinas: silhouetted in green against the grass and sky.

Out there in the late afternoon, with sun, breeze, and a brie baguette, it was a supremely attractive place. As the sun set, and its light grew redder, all the trees and church spires in the distance were cast with shadows and gorgeous hues. Living right beside a church spire conjures a really effective sense of place.

Seeing all this made me look forward to the summer, when I will have only financial and vague thesis commitments with which to concern myself. Our local environment seems to be the kind of place in which you need to spend a lot of time wandering alone, before you might bring some trusted individual along with you. As most of my trusted individuals are very far from here at present, it’s an arrangement that suits me well.

QT strategy

Thinking about the QT, the question now seems to be whether it is worthwhile to push for a distinction. On the basis of the revision I have already done and my practice exam, Dr. Hurrell predicts that I will score in the high sixties. The amount of effort required to push that into the low seventies is probably very high: considering only a couple of people among the 28 in the program are likely to achieve that. The benefits are mostly prestige vis a vis the faculty and fellow students. The best plan, I think, is simply to prepare to a good extent – focusing on the shortfalls that Dr. Hurrell identified – and hope for inspiration to strike on the day of the exam.

Iran, international law, and the bomb

While reading about US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explaining why Iranian nuclear enrichment should be referred to the UN Security Council, I immediately began wondering why such enrichment is a breach of international law. The United States has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), creating certain legal obligations, as has Iran. India, Pakistan, and Israel are non-signatory nuclear powers. For Iran to actually develop nuclear weapons would be a violation of the NPT, but the process of enrichment – even at an industrial scale that could produce enough uranium-235 for bomb making – does not seem to be, in and of itself. Indeed, the NPT explicitly affirms the right of members to develop civilian nuclear technologies, including uranium enrichment.

The much publicized announcement of Iranian enrichment of uranium was about material enriched to the level of about 3.5% uranium-235: the variety necessary for fission bombs. Such bombs require a much higher concentration of uranium-235, in the vicinity of 90%. Without guessing about the ultimate purpose of the program, the present enrichment activity seems to be in keeping with the requirements of nuclear power, rather than nuclear weapons.

When it comes to the United States and their obligations under the NPT, the present scorecard definitely doesn’t look so hot. The nuclear deal with India that President Bush approved and is now seeking Congressional approval for is one such violation, since it includes the provision of nuclear fuel to a state without appropriate controls in place. Likewise, the push to develop new kinds of nuclear weapons is a definite violation of the spirit – if not the precise letter – of the treaty, which stresses the obligation of states to seek disarmament and the reduction of nuclear arsenals.

Maybe it is in the strategic interests of America to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but they shouldn’t try to cloak that as being an enforcement of international law when it is not. More broadly, the United States should realize that using the United Nations at the times where it seems plausible that it might serve their interests, while ignoring it otherwise, seriously diminishes the credibility of their supposed commitment to multilateralism and international law.

All that said, it is certainly possible that Iran is conducting nuclear research with an aim to developing nuclear weapons. If so, evidence of that breach needs to be presented in an open and verifiable way.

Travel plans

The church on whose walk we now live

As the days get brighter, I have been plotting out travel plans for the period between now and the end of the M.Phil. My primary objective is to see the more interesting, less well known parts of Europe. Much as I enjoy Tuscany or the Italian coastline, it seems more intelligent overall to have a look at places like Estonia, Turkey, and Croatia, while they are reasonably close at hand. Indeed, Instanbul is my top European target at the moment; I am waiting for some combination of free time, money, and a traveling companion to come together. Within the UK, Dublin is the place I would most like to see – ideally with someone like Tristan.

The appeal of Istanbul has much to do with how exotic is seems. Especially after seeing the photos that Emily and Bryony brought back from Morocco, I am hoping to travel somewhere with an Arabic character. It should also afford a good number of photographic opportunities, which is becoming a critical consideration for travel destinations for me.

As much of Europe as their remains to see, I think it’s essential that I see some other regions sooner rather than later. At the top of that list is Africa. Three sub-regions have particular appeal: French speaking West Africa (like Ghana and Benin), South Africa, and Kenya and Tanzania. I remain seriously interested in the possibility of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in the summer of 2007, as a follow-up to the M.Phil. To finish an academic program, then climb 5.8km straight up one of the world’s most interesting mountains would make an excellent pairing. I’ve also heard a lot about how people have had their climbs sponsored and, in so doing, raised a lot of money for charity. While the time right before the QT isn’t right for contemplating such expeditions, it’s a good thing to keep in the back of one’s mind.

Asia is another major region that I need to visit. I would very much like to go to Japan but, like Africa, it’s a place I would much rather go along with someone who has local experience and, ideally, appropriate language skills. I can do well enough in Europe with English and French. I think that would be less true farther afield, especially if I want to experience things beyond the simply touristic.

Visiting Nick Sayeg in Australia would be a lot of fun, especially if it was a part of a trip that also involved Sidney and a good amount of New Zealand. Alex’s photos from there are enough to ensure it a place on the relatively long list of potential destinations.

Of course, that leaves South America. For me, South America is more interesting as a quasi-athletic possibility than as a straightforwardly touristic one. My father went cycling in Peru, and Astrid did her incredible looking Andean hiking. It would also be really cool to see Tierra del Fuego, and even Antarctica, if it could somehow be managed.

One third of my Eight Year Plan, the overall strategic framework that should see me through until I am thirty, is defined as “travel everywhere important, or that I really want to see.” Through a combination of planning, intelligent selection of jobs and schools, and opportunism, I definitely mean to do so.

Progress on many fronts

My new kitchen. OMG PONIES!!!

Successful supervision

Both the meeting with Dr. Hurrell this evening and the exchange dinner went well. Apparently, my practice QT would have scored around 64, which he considers to be a good pass. He made some suggestions for things I can work on during the next week and predicts that I will score between 67 and 69 on the real test. Tomorrow, I get back to revising and writing my own practice essays. Above all, he stressed the importance of constantly sign-posting: indicating in the introduction not only what points you will make, but hinting at their content and stressing their relation to your main thesis. Doing so contradicts the aesthetic style of unfolding argument that I prefer, but it’s hardly up to me to set the style for the qualifying test.

I also need to make one of my classic pre-exam lists of specific points made by authors that are likely to be useful for essays. When you can attribute something relatively obscure that is related to the question under discussion, it creates the impression that you have a really extensive grasp of the reading material. While that might be true when you are writing a paper, it can only really be simulated on a test that covers such a broad collection of materials.

I am to meet with Dr. Hurrell again before the end of the break, to discuss emerging thesis plans.

Exchange dinner

The exchange dinner was fun, particularly insofar as it involved talking with Lucy, Leonora, and their friend Anna in the MCR afterwards. The exchange dinner itself seemed more sparsely attended than the one in Cambridge was. I suppose twenty or so people take up much less of our hall than they would at Christ College. It’s also rather less of a to-do to have dinner in your own college than it is to cross much of the country. I appreciated the fact that the vegetarian options were quite good.

After the gathering in the MCR really died down, it was nice to have a cup of tea with Anna at the G and D’s on Little Clarendon Street: one of my favourite bits of Oxford, especially as it appears at night.

  • The iPod Shuffle is a brilliant little device. Worn in a shirt pocket, you barely feel it. Somehow, music sounds better from a device that you don’t even notice that you’re carrying.

Day largely bereft of revision

Wadham Chapel

Happy Birthday Louise Little

There’s nothing like sitting at your own kitchen table with food, music, and something good to read. It’s an experience that was decidedly lacking in Wadham, and one that I am quite glad to have once more. Now, I just need to find a way to reconcile the making of coffee with the mineral content of Oxford water.

I need to get a set of wrenches for my bike. A few days ago, while I was riding on the Iffley Road, the pedal fell off, complete with the shaft that connects it to the bearing around which it rotates. Today, my handlebars suddenly became loose and slid well out of their intended position, making riding in a straight line impossible. They may not have put quite enough torque into the assembly.

Clearly, Church Walk is going to be the happening place to be this summer. Roham lives across the street, and was over here for a while last night. Emily will be living up the road, and was also over here for a while last night. She even brought us flowers, which was very kind.

  • I borrowed one of Kai’s Apocalyptica CDs this evening. Drew Sexsmith first introduced me to them, and I really love the way they do strings with punk-rock style percussion backing. It’s extremely dramatic and musically effective. That’s probably why “Drive” is my favourite song of theirs, not to be confused with the Melissa Ferrick version.
  • A word to all the commenters: I appreciate the contributions that you make to the blog a great deal. It makes is much more vibrant to have some feedback. That said, please include some kind of name when you leave one. It doesn’t have to be your real name, just something that other people can refer to. Conversations between a pack of people, all called ‘Anonymous’ get confusing fast.
  • Tristan linked a site about underground exploration that brought back happy memories of exploring the steam tunnels at the University of British Columbia with the Afternoon Tea Society.
  • My brother Mica is going to be a residence advisor in Totem Park next year. Apparently, that means free tuition at UBC, as well as free residence. Good for him.

On narration

Reasons for which I am not too guilty about writing a blog that is often just a “daily diary filled with trite commentary:”

  1. Letting my family keep track of what I am up to
  2. The same, for those friends who care to know
  3. Documenting the Oxford student experience for those thinking of coming here, or those simply interested
  4. Keeping track of various things that may be important to know in the future

For those it bothers, it shouldn’t be too difficult to skim or ignore.

Second termly report

In my pigeon-hole today, I received my supervisor’s report on me for Hilary Term:

He has produced a series of well researched and interesting papers, and he engages very well with the issues in the theory seminar. It is perhaps important to think a little more about ways of sharpening the focus of the argument of his papers, especially given the constraints of the Qualifying Test. But overall he seems to be getting a lot out of the MPhil. He is continuing in his energetic search for funding opportunities.

My Michaelmas assessment was posted here in January. They both seem reasonably good to me. I am meeting with Dr. Hurrell to discuss my practice qualifying test tomorrow evening. Afterwards, I have the second portion of the Wadham exchange dinner with Christ College, Cambridge, where they will be dining here.

Last post of the day

Natural light is good stuff

For three hours, I sat in the Wadham Library and wrote until my arm practically fell off. The result: forty-three handwritten double-spaced pages in response to three questions. I didn’t make reference to many specific authors, but I definitely think I got the concepts down. I was particularly gratified to get a question on the relevance of neo-Marxism in a globalizing world. Regardless of whether it’s a perfect Oxford exam, I am supremely confident that I haven’t embarrassed myself with it. I meet with Andrew Hurrell on Wednesday to discuss it. The real QT is on the 20th.

After having a few hours to get used to it, I can say with a good degree of certainty that my new room is a distinct step up. My basic thoughts when I arrived in Library Court: “Not bad… but I thought this was Oxford.” I understand it better now, and rooms with windows that show the outside world are good. Especially when it’s right behind your iBook screen: reminding you that the world does not turn upon the subtleties (and blatancies) and the blogosphere.

PS. Remember the iPod that Apple said was working fine when I first sent it to them? Well, they are sending me a new one now that they have re-tested it and realized that it was every bit as broken as I said it was. They could probably have saved some money on shipping if they just listened to me the first time…

Considering the three-year AppleCare plan cost me about $80 Canadian and the iPod has already been replaced twice, it seems like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it?

Bring on iPod the fourth!