American Government (8th edition) by Gitelson, Dudley and Dubnick
    Purchase at: Amazon;

  • Randi Art
    This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from randubnick. Make your own badge here.
  • Draw Breath (Friends Ciarán and Isabel)
  • Sociable Geek (Friend Stephen)
  • Meditations71 (Friend Stefan)
  • Slugger O'Toole
  • Ideal Government Project
  • Thur's Templates

Monday, January 31, 2005

Troubled attractions....

I finally got around to completing the Barabasi book, Linked, and my reaction to it remains pretty positive, although I am also a bit disturbed by its proselytizing tone. There are points, particularly at the end, where the author gets a bit too self-referential and self-congratulatory. Barabasi is clearly a key actor in the development of the network paradigm emerging from the study of complexity, and his writing skills and insights are a real plus for the reader. And it could be that there is no better or more qualified author to take on the subject. Yet there were times during my reading that I wished for a more "objective", third-party perspective, closer to the science reportage found in other works (e.g. M. Mitchell Waldrop’s 1992. Complexity). I suspect that my reservations have more to do with an aversion to proselytizing and a tendency to favor critical analysis. But even with those suspicions in place, I have to give Barabasi's book high marks.

There is a critical dimension to Barabasi's arguments, notably his assessment of a common obsession with focusing on the particulars of structures and objects in the sciences (both physical and social). He is explicit on this point in the following passage from the original concluding chapter (an afterword was added for the paperback edition):

To look at the networks behind such complex systems as the cell or the society, we concealed all the details. By seeing only nodes and links, we were privileged to observe the architecture of complexity. By distancing ourselves from the particulars, we glimpsed the universal organizing principles behind these complex systems. Concealment [of the particulars] revealed the fundamental laws that govern the evolution of the weblike world around us and helped us understand how this tangled architecture affects everything from democracy to curing cancer.

An interesting choice of words, and that particular paragraph generated both excitement and anxiety for me. On the positive side was the idea that here we might have a truly fruitful paradigm to deal with many of the issues and phenomena we study in governance. In earlier blogs. I noted the contrast between Barabasi's perspective and the widely accepted view of networks applied to governance by Slaughter and others. I believe the adoption of Barabasi's perspective would radically alter the current analyses by focusing attention on the dynamics of network complexity rather than on (as he puts it) the nodes and links.

I am also concerned with the idea of adopting any perspective that makes claims to universality and "fundamental laws that govern" anything. For decades, critical analysts have been attempting to "unmask" the patterns of social life concealed behind widely accepted paradigms and ideologies. And here we have someone advocating for imposing a new mask -- concealment of the particulars -- so that we can better understand the world around us. Very troublesome....

Read more!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

More Distractive UK Tellie.... (with corrections...)

Several posts back, I wrote about the TV game show "Distraction" which was making its way from Channel 4 in the UK to Comedy Central in the US. This evening I'm sitting in Belfast watching still another very British TV show, but this one is unlikely to make a similar transition. It's called "Top Gear," and is broadcast every Sunday evening on BBC Two. As I was watching segments of the show this evening (a "best of" compilation from the past two months), I was once again drawn to the same three basic questions: (1) why would anybody produce such a show, (2) why would anybody watch it, and (3) why is it so enjoyable to do so???

Put briefly, this is a show about cars -- and the things people might do with them. But it is also a “politically incorrect" show in which the central host, Jeremy Clarkson, constantly berates environmentalists, public transport, American cars, and Americans in general at some points. Example: in one demonstration of how nimble a particular vehicle handled, a British helicopter warship was assigned the task of "locking in" its missile guidance technology on the car as it took evasive measures around the track. Within the confines of the track, the car successfully evaded the technology. But given some distance, the helicopter was able to lock in on its target. To dramatize the point, the TV producers simulated the destruction of the car. In a comment afterwards, the hosts noted that of course the British pilot would never do such a thing because, unlike their American peers, the British soldier would never attack an ally. (And a good chuckle followed....)

But for the most part, it's a show about racing cars against time and other things. For instance, in one segment there is a race staged between one of the three hosts Clarkson again) driving a Ferrari from the UK to a ski resort in the Swiss Alps while the other two hosts traveled by combination of public transport and air through Geneva (this was, by the way, a follow-up to an earlier race between the same ‘teams’ that pitted a car against UK and French Rail between the UK and Monte Carlo – which the car one, as I recall). A little over 11 hours after the start of the race, the Ferrari pulled past its competition (by this time on foot after dismebarking from a bus) just down the street from the hotel that represented the finish line. In still another segment, the car was challenged to beat a bobsled team running along a comparable course.

What all this proves, I have no idea. But it was great fun to watch.

One of the regular weekly segments of the show (appropriately titled "Celebrity Laps" according to the website -- but Ciarán comments below that it is actually called 'A Star in a Reasonably Priced Car!') features a well-known guest who is put behind the wheel of a vehicle and challenged to beat the time of previous guests. Being a very "British" show, I only recognize a few of the names on the celebrity list. However, in tonight's show they replayed two recent laps involving people I actually knew. In one segment, Roger Daltrey of the Who did a fair job on a wet track to end up with a decent lap time. But the highlight was the lap time scored by Jimmy Carr -- yes, the same Jimmy Carr who hosts the "Distraction" game show in both UK and US – with a list topping time of 1:46.9.

Now how is that the wasting time!

PS: My thanks to Ciarán for turning my on to this show – which is very strange when you consider that he has never (according to his admission) driven a car more than several inches in his life.

Read more!

Post(card)s and Painter....

Randi is at it again.... This time a "postcard" from Porto and an initial use of her Painter IX software....

Read more!

Saturday, January 29, 2005


Today's theme is "pressure". That seems to be the common thread of my life this day, and even the tune running through my head at the moment is Bill Joel's song that carries both the title and "feel" of "Pressure".

There is, first of all, the pressure of catching up with the 12 days lost (and actually productively used for other purposes) in my delayed return to Belfast. I start teaching on Tuesday, and there are web sites and class notes to post, as well as the first lecture to prepare.... PRESSURE!

There was then the mundane pressure of making mundane choices... Example: One of the nice things about Saturdays is that there are no appointments or workday deadlines to meet, but then there are the decisions of whether and how to 'waste' one's time (which actually means, how to enjoy one's 'day off'). Today's mundane choice was between coffee at Roast or a vegetarian omelet at Renoirs -- PRESSURE! (The dilemma’s resolved as I walked out the door by a text message from Ciarán suggesting we meet for coffee, which turned me in the direction of the omelet....)

The pressure built as I realized that my not-so-trusty PDA was inoperable (put too much PRESSURE on the screen) and I needed to deal with that problematic toy once again... PRESSURE! More pressure in trying to deal with the repair authorization web site of PalmOne.... and no technical support in the UK on Saturday -- the pressure builds as I realize the this time the unit is finished for good, and I need to replace it with another one.... Spending more money is always a pressurized experience for me.... PRESSURE!

This is all followed by catch-the-bus pressure, get-to-the-store pressure, remember-to-do-the-course-website pressure, and on and on.... PRESSURES!

And then comes the email message from Domonic:
Subject: "Accountability Bloke"
Message: "Ya know it is hard to procrastinate if you aren't going to keep this thing current. I may actually have to work today." PRESSURE

The phone rings – it’s Randi calling from the US. First thing she wants to know is why I haven't posted anything on my blog today! PRESSURE

Sometimes you just have to give in, and so I am writing this blog on the pressures of writing this blog....

Read more!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Things to stare at on a snowy day....

From Randi Art.

All during the snow storm that hit Beverly last weekend the weather folks kept talking about a "small clipper storm" that would result in some flurries on Wednesday. Those "flurries" turned into six additional inches of snow on the ground, making January the snowiest in Boston area since they started keeping records....

Here in Belfast a six inch snowfall would absolutely paralyze the place and be talked about for decades to come....

Randi responded to all that by posting painting of a vase -- which provides a very pretty diversion from all the snow pictures.... Damn, she is good!

Read more!

Reacclimating to Belfast.....

I am back in Belfast again, and it will take several days to readjust and catch up (with sleep, among other things). Came back to new computer (XP operating system to replace the Win98 I had -- and which took none of the programs I wanted to use), and today I moved across the hall to another office that has more space and a (partial) view of the hills to the west of Belfast (as well as the Institute parking lot; I gave up a front office view of University Square, but seeing outside from my desk was a neck stretching exercise). Now it is time to get back to work.

But first I have to reacclimate myself to the basic rules for an American living in Northern Ireland. Three of the rules (1-3) apply to anyone living in the UK; two of the rules to anywhere on the isle of Ireland (1 and 3) (rule 2 is applicable, modified only by the exchange rate difference for the Euro); and rule four to Northern Ireland in particular.

Rule one: Remember to look right, drive left. I rarely drive here, so it is really the "look right" rule that is most important. This is more than a matter of the Brits and Irish driving on the left. There is also the lack of crosswalks accompanied by the fact that, except at the designated crossing areas (termed "zebra zones" for obvious reasons; if you want a picture of one, take a look at that old Abbey Road album cover... c'mon, you know the one -- everyone has a copy of that!), cars have the right of way up to the two lines that are literally located at the cross street intersection. So look right and expect no vehicle to give you the right of way -- you have to walk around them to make the crossing.... Yelling and cursing will get you “nowhere, man”! (Which is a title of a song on a different album, so don’t bother – especially if all these music references make no sense to you….)

Rule two: When reading menu prices (or any other price list), remember to multiply by two plus or minus .35. This has only partially to do with the exchange rate, which is now hanging tough around $1.85US = £1 (or GBP or Quid -- whichever you prefer). There is also the fact that there is a 17% VAT (a “value added tax” if you must know) built into all prices AND things are just so much more expense here (make that plus or minus .50). (By the way, the prices for take out are cheaper than the prices for eating in, so beware of price differences in those fast food places – its that pesky VAT again….)

Rule three: When looking at the clock and thinking of home, or when setting up conference calls with colleagues in the US, learn to subtract 5 (or 6 or 7 or 8 depending on where you come from).

Rule four: When listening to the weather for England on the BBC, assume that the opposite is true in Northern Ireland. Sunny forecast for England means rainy for NI; rainy for London, sunny for Belfast. Complementing this is rule 4.5: never trust your visual sense of the weather -- if you look out and it is sunny, take the umbrella. Raining outside, take the umbrella....

OK -- now you are ready to hit the streets....

Read more!

Monday, January 24, 2005

New York Times-ly essays

Missing The Guardian very much, especially the book review section on Saturdays that makes such good company over several cups of coffee.... The Sunday New York Times Book Review is, of course, a worthy substitute, and yesterday's issue (dug out of the snow drifts - but I was amazed they made the effort to deliver!) proved why.

Two essays proved valuable. First case in point was the lead essay on "Atrocities in Plain Sight" by Andrew Sullivan which highlighted two publications that each focused on documentary evidence about (and surrounding) the Abu Ghraib scandal. The essay itself left much to be desired -- I was not smitten by Sullivan's bow in the direction of how great it is that despite all our faults, we in the US have a government that is so open and forthcoming with information about its errors; and more than any other review essay I've read in the NYT, this one seemed a bit "padded" with excerpts, although the points exemplified by the extended quotes surely needed to be made. What was most valuable about the essay, however, were the question raised by Sullivan's secondary analysis of these documentaries. Should we focus on the logic and narrative making at the top which seemed to foster the atrocities, or should we focus on the work of those at the bottom (or even middle) of the hierarchies that provided the context for the abuse? Legally, we seem to have come to terms with the issue by putting enlisted personnel on trial (mainly because the evidence is much clearer) and merely grumbling politically (and typically from the fringes) about the poor judgment of those at the top who (all too late, if at all) seem to have backtracked and corrected themselves. The legal approach is working smoothly, but the political track has stumbled, and all we can hope for is some future mainstream political backlash that might make the charges "stick" to those at the top who are successfully sidestepping responsibility.

A less featured but no less notable essay followed the Sullivan piece -- and this by Robert D. Kaplan, a no less respectable essayist who opinions seem to hold water as much on the right as in the middle. His review of two works on interrogation and torture is notable for its logic that, in the end, provides a defense for intelligence gathering through interrogation (and, yes, even practices that can be regarded as torture). When left to knowledgeable experts, he seems to say, this is an effective, necessary and important part of the conduct of war. Given over to amateurs (such as the reservists at the center of the Abu Ghraib scandal) the morality (if indeed it is in nay respect moral) as well as effectiveness of the effort is lost. Kaplan's admiration for Machiavellian realism sends chills throughout the reader's body, but his short essay (compared to Sullivan's) is even handed in highlighting the dangers as much as the necessity. Those who get caught up in Sullivan's longer piece should make sure not to overlook Kaplan's and the issues it addresses.

Read more!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Snowy Day

From Randi Art.

Randi captured our initial view of the world outside this AM. The windows were too frosted to see what has taken place overnight.

They have labelled it one of the top five blizzards in Boston weather reporting history, and locally (in Beverly area, just south of Cape Ann) it probably was worse than that (as it was along Cape Cod to the east and south of Boston). It was (and still is) a challenge. I suspect that the official snowfall in Beverly of 36+ inches was understated. It was at least a consistent three to four feet deep in both my front and back yards -- and deeper in the area where drifts accumlated.

I spent most of my morning just digging a narrow path to the driveway. A crashed computer meant I have to get to the local computer shop for a "data dump" before leaving for Belfast on Tuesday. With a little help from a friend or two, I finally made it on the road -- and faced spooky "white out" driving conditions for an hour. (Made even more spooky by the fact that I was the only non-ploughing,non-fourwheel vehicle on the road).

Got to the store (one of those huge electronics stores) where it was me and a skeleton crew that was doing little else other than watching others clear the huge and empty parking lot. The tech guy and I chatted and I left the computer in his hands for the day. Went home and slept off the morning activity, and got a call that the computer will be ready on Monday. In the meantime I watched the Patriots beat the Steelers (American football for my UK friends). Now with blog done, it is time to curl up with the Sunday New York Times (which had to be rescued from the front "lawn").

Read more!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Second effort....No go!

Well, second time was not the charm. Now delayed departure until Tuesday due to snow storm that is just starting to take hold in eastern Massachusetts.

Continental had already cancelled flights to UK out of Newark, and getting down to Newark through Logan over the next 36 hours would be nearly impossible. They were more than happy that I said Tuesday departure would be fine with me -- realizing that they are likely to have a heck of a time getting more desperate folks on board.

As for my family, I get the impression that they are at least pleased that I will be around to shovel our way out of this one. In the past I have been lucky enough to be somewhere else in the world when the really BIG snow storms came through....

This is turning out to be the longest I've been away from Belfast since taking up the Fulbright in September 2003. I am actually beginning to miss the weather as well as my good friends....

Read more!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Well, I can complain just a little....

From Randi Art....

A couple of blogs back I said that some New England snowfalls make it "tough to complain" about being delayed another week from my return to Belfast. That is still the case, but since making that remark we have had some additional "light" snowfalls, and last night's was no less captivating to see in the early morning sunshine.

But I have to admit that this is getting a bit "old", especially when it means removing still more snow from the walks and driveways....

Read more!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

From NPR: Firings Raise Questions of Blogger Freedoms

Click on title for audio story....

Read more!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

On the work of "gatekeepers" (a rant - revised and resubmitted)

[The original version of this post was a rant too much for friend Domonic, and on reflection I decided it was a bit too harsh on Professor Koppell (who also took me to task). Thus, here is a 'revised and resbmitted' posting -- demonstrating, I hope, that peer review does in fact work if given half a chance....]

After spending too many blogs on personal matters, I think it is time to do a few that will help justify the name of this blog site. Given the proliferation of scholarly articles about accountability being generated by colleagues in public administration, accounting, political science, psychology, criminal justice, etc, etc., there is plenty to write about. The problem is where to begin.

A good point of departure is a particular comment that caught my eye in a piece by Jonathan Koppell of Yale. His article in the January/February 2005 issue of Public Administration Review ("Pathologies of Accountability: ICANN and the Challenge of 'Multiple Accountabilities Disorder'", pp.94-108) starts with a complaint about something that plauges all students of the subject: the ambiguity of the concept of accountaiblity. "The perpetuation of fuzziness regarding this important term," he argues, "is a failing of our discipline" (p. 94), and he then sets out his own typology as a means for confronting this collective shortcoming. "I do not suggest a new, all-encompassing definition of the word," he disclaims. "There are enough already!" (95)

To his credit, Koppell is clear about both the problem and his intention of leading us toward resolution. "Ambiguity in the operative notions of accountability is not a benign problem," he notes, for it "can undermine an organization’s performance.... Organizations trying to meet conflicting expectations are likely to be dysfunctional, pleasing no one while trying to please everyone. Ironically, this may include failures of accountability—in every sense imaginable" (95). He proceeds to label this dysfunctionality "multiple accountabilites disorder (MAD)," and again is straightforward and clear in his objective of tackling the problem head on.

Koppell's execution of his argument is admirable, and his case study agency (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- ICANN) is an excellent choice. But there is something telling about the fact that the field's top "gatekeepers"+ were impressed enough with this work to give it space in the field's leading academic journal. For while the presentation and logic of the paper are indeed quite good, the work is flawed in a number of respects that reflects some basic weaknesses in our field rather than in Koppell's article. Let me touch (actually, let me 'rant') on a couple.

First and foremost, like too many other articles on accountability (and many other topics) published in our leading journals, there is little or no demand that the authors be familiar with (or at least acknowledge) the accumulated knowledge in the field. Koppell's work, for example, ignores a wealth of conceptual work on accountability that addresses the very issues he focuses on. Instead, he is allowed to selectively construct "straw men" and "cherry pick" from the literature in a way that serves his argument, but does little or no justice to our current knowledge of accountability. As in other examples too numerous to recount, the field's gatekeepers fail to challenge authors to provide a thorough review of the literature that will substantiate the claim (implied by submission to the leading journal in the field) that this paper will make a signficiant contribution to the accumulating knowledge of public administration. Instead, the editors and reviewers of PAR and other journals tend to be more concerned with page length and the rhetorical tightness of a presentation. By not insisting on a substantial review of the literature in which the author must demonstrate an awareness of other schoalrship on their topic (both within and outside PA), we foster a culture of rhetoric rather than scholarship. The result, in Koppell's case, is an under-reading and mis-reading of the research on accountability.

Koppell's work reflects a second and more profound problem in our field -- the bias toward a normative agenda for PA scholarship, one that accepts and values (without challenge or serious reflection) the premise of any work that seeks to make PA function "better". If the gatekeepers were doing their job, Koppell would not have been allowed to presumptively declare that the ambiguity of accountability is a "failing" of the discipline (why is it not a failing of our political system, or even the English language?), nor would his assertion that the existence of conflicting accountabilities (i.e., MAD-ness) is dysfunctional been permitted to stand as a justifiable premise upon which to construct his argument. At minimum, Koppell should have been told to revise and resubmit his work with a clear defense of these assumptions. [Frankly, I doubt that he could have met that challenge, for it is in the very nature of governance and our political world that PA must contend with conceptual ambiguities as well as "multiple, diverse and conflicting expectations". In fact, had Koppell been asked to dig a bit further into the literature produced by "Romzek and her coauthors," he would have discovered an approach that claims that the very raison d'etre for accountability was to deal with such conflicts!)

Again, let me stress that I am not blaming Koppell for the shortcomings of this publication. Rather, a stronger approach to the editorial gatekeeping and peer review functions of the field would have resulted in a much more significant contribution to the our knowledge of accountability. Nor is it fair to lay the blame at the doorstep of the current editors of PAR or the peer reviewers for this particular piece, for their standards and decisions are indeed reflecting those of the PA field.

Which leads to my general argument (made elsewhere) that the problem lies with the reluctance of our field to come to terms with its role as a social science. This is not the place to reassert that point, although my reaction to the Koppell piece and several other articles in PAR and other PA journals has rekindled my interest in raising this issue with my colleagues....

+It is relevant to the following rant that I declare that I was one of those "gatekeepers" in a past life when I served as managing editor of PAR; and I suspect my present role as an editorial board member and peer reviewer means that this posting is a bit of self-flagellation....

Read more!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

It is tough to complain....

From Randi Art.

We returned from the airport this evening following my aborted attempt to return to Belfast, and suddenly the wind picked up and light flurries turned into one of the nicer snowfalls of the season thus far. Randi captured the scene with her digital camera....

Read more!

Distraction -- the show, that is.

If you've read my last blog, you know that my plans to return to Belfast have been put off a week because of a ticket issue with the airlines, and that I now have an extra week of homelife to fill. So, you might ask (as if you had nothing better to do with your own life), what are my plans?

Well, one benefit of this unplanned extended visit home is that I get to watch a bit more of US TV (which I seem to do less and less over the years). And to explain why US TV might be a treat this week, let me tell you about a UK tellie show, "Distraction"....

Among the 'guilty pleasures' I've taken to while in Northern Ireland these past 15+ months is the TV "game show" on Channel 4 (the big commercial competitor to BBC besides Murdoch's SKY) titled "Distraction". Hosted by Jimmy Carr, a straightfaced, quick witted comic who demands constant attention to 'what' he says (as opposed to "how" he says it or "what he does" when he says it; I am not a great fan of mimicry or slapstick), Distraction is just plain and simply outrageous. Not funny outrageous, mind you, but "oh my gosh" outrageous.

Here is the premise. Four "contestants" (of the sort who belong on one of those reality TV series like Survivor or Big Brother) are asked a series of relatively simple (e.g. pop trivia) questions through three successive rounds, with the loser of each round being eliminated. But while answering the questions, the contestants are faced with some distraction -- such as having to clip spring-tight clothes pins on their faces or snapping rubber bands on their noses each time they ring the buzzer to answer a question. There was one round when some contestants had to take a swig of their own urine samples (solicited before the show under the pretense of some official drug testing policy) before providing answers after they rang the buzzer. In still another 'episode', to answer a question each contestant had to crawl face up between the open legs of a line of several naked people who had bodies that (to put it bluntly) one would immediately turn away from upon sighting from a distance.... In other words, you must really, really want to win to overcome the distraction of some rounds.

So, through process of elimination, one contestant is left 'standing' -- and then comes the finale. The grand prize offered is usually a car -- yes, a small car, but a car nonetheless. Now Carr asks a series of slightly tougher questions of the contestant, and if she or he gets it wrong, something terrible is done to the prize -- its windshield smashed, its interior spray painted, its fenders sledgehammered. In another variation, the prize is a few hundred five or ten pound notes, about 50 to 100 each stuffed into five electric toasters. The toasters are "activated" and the money starts to burn, and Carr starts to ask the contestant a series of questions -- and only if he or she answers a query correctly can the money be saved by pulling the plug of each toaster....

Two issues come to mind: 1. Why would anyone of their own free will become a contestant on this show. 2. Why would anyone of their own free will sit there and watch it. (Actually, there is also 3. Why would the viewer enjoy it so much!)

The reason I bring this up is that a US version of Distraction will now be broadcast on Comedy Central starting Tuesday. And Jimmy Carr is hosting.... If nothing else, I'll watch to see if the US version comes anywhere close to being as outrageous, bizarre and 'entertaining' as the UK original....

Read more!

Here I sit, broken hearted....

Given the events that unfolded in my life today, I am inspired to wax poetic. The actual diddy this is based on is a bit on the risque side, but my version is not quite so:

Here I sit, broken hearted.
Paid my fare, but never departed....

If things had gone according to 'plan' I should at this very moment be sititng on a flight bound for London Gatwick from Newark, with an eventaul link over to Belfast. But, alas, I am the victim of that which binds both the US and UK together -- a slow postal service.

Last week I had to make an 'emergency' change in my original flight plans that would have brought me back to Belfast on the 13th, and the adjustment was to arrange for flights that would start in Boston at 4PM today (the 16th) and put me in Belfast by around noon or so tomorrow (the 17th). With a little jet lag out of the way by Tuesday, I could make all my various appointments and resettle into an academic life in Northern Ireland once again.

But there was a hitch.

Like many others, I typically rely on reservations and connections that involve nothing more than showing up at the airport, picking up 'electronic tickets', checking bags, and making it through the lines and hurdles of airport security. This time, because the very last leg of my trip from Gatwick to Belfast involves a "code share" with FLYBE (British European Air), I needed to be "paper ticketed.' (It seems that FLYBE and Continental, my originating carrier, can't quite come up with a way to share their e-ticket systems....)

Simple enough. Order the tickets online and they will be sent by snail mail right to my door -- someday, that is. "Allow 5-7 business days for delivery" is one of those phrases that you always think is a formality or an exaggeration -- that what they really mean is only two or three days. Given that I made my reservation on the 10th, that should be plenty of time -- after all, the mail is delivered on the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th -- each well before my flight on Sunday the 16th. And certainly (so I thought) a big company like Continental would have all that factored in when they established the policy of mailing paper tickets....

To put it nicely, neither Continental nor I should not have counted on the US Postal Service (USPS).

Here it is Sunday, and no tickets. Off I go to Logan airport hoping they will let me start my trip without the paper tickets in hand -- but without those precious tickets it will cost me about $1700 to make the $664 trip (and that doesn't include a $100 penalty I would have to pay for something called a "Lost Ticket Adjustment" (or whatever)).

Thank you USPS. Thank you Continental. Thank you Lance Armstrong (I bet he never gets his mailed air tickets to France late....)

So a few pleadings later with the nice staff behind the Continental counter at Logan's Terminal C, and we have achieved a compromise of sorts. Here I sit back in my US home, waiting for the next delivery of the US mail (which is Tuesday the 18th, since tomorrow is M L King Day, an official federal holiday -- that's 'bank holiday' to you UK types). The deal we struck (once they got approval from the 'higher ups' in Houston) is that I will take the exact same itinerary next week using my paper tickets, and we will call it even -- no higher fare, no penalty, etc.

But heaven help me if the tickets never show -- then I have to engage in one of those great bureaucratic nightmares where, half outraged and half in tears, you tell your story to (you hope) the nice and compassionate folks in Houston (or Newark or wherever). As for USPS, well it might as well be the Royal Post or some other mail service....

And what will I do with my extra week in the US? Well, I will not make those meetings and appointments I set up in Belfast. I will be put back in the NHS queue for that hearing aid I was to pick up on the 18th after over a year of tests, etc. (sorry, friends, you will still have to speak up a bit louder!); I will miss a meeting of the Institute staff at Queen's University which I promised to attend, and also that dinner with a delegation of legislators from Albania; and of course I will miss the pleasant company of friends and fellow coffee drinkers at QUB.

But as for how I will fill my week, well that is the obviously going to be the subject of more blogs....

Read more!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Welcome to the Giant's Causeway, and please leave it where you found it ....

Randi's painting of the Causeway reminds me...

The Giant's Causeway is often noted as "Ireland's most visited tourist attraction", but it is interesting how little reference is made to the fact that it is located in Northern Ireland in the "official guide".

When I received my Fulbright a couple of years ago, I knew as much about Northern Ireland as most of us do -- mainly through the news about the Troubles. But I obviously needed to know more, especially about mundane things such as the weather. So I asked those I knew who had visited Ireland what they could tell me about Northern Ireland (and Belfast especially). Almost everyone offered the same reply: "Oh yes, I've been to Ireland; beautiful country, lovely people. But, oh no, I have not been to Northern Ireland -- too dangerous, ya know..."

That was typically followed with travel and tourism advice -- you must go see this, and you must go see that. And almost to a person all would advise that I shouldn't miss seeing the Giant's Causeway -- after all, it's "Ireland's most visited tourist attraction".

Clearly these folks had been to places they would never have thought of going -- and it is obvious that the official site for "Ireland's most visited tourist attraction" does a pretty good job of hiding its location from those unsuspecting tourists who board the bus and never realize they had ventured into the 'Troubled' north.... Want the truth -- stick with the official site for the Northern Ireland Tour Board.

Then there was the 2003-2004 Holiday Inn brochure -- you know the one that lists all HI properties in Europe, with maps for each country placing nice little stars to mark the location of each major 'must see' tourist spot. I can't seem to find an online copy, but the one I have in my collection clearly shows that the Giant's Causeway has moved from its prominent position in County Antrim (near that other 'must see' spot at Bushmill's) to a location somewhere in the County Mayo area on the northwest coast or Ireland -- obviously quite safely situated within the Republic....

I have nothing against County Mayo or the rest of the Republic -- fine places, indeed. But if you want to see "Ireland's most visited tourist attraction", I'm afraid you'll have to risk a trip to Northern Ireland -- and bring your new British pound notes, please; there seems to be a shortage of the local variety at the moment.

Read more!

Friday, January 14, 2005

The case of the $12 price difference -- an internet mystery....

This is the $12 mystery -- or the difference between $131.99 and $119.99.

Late yesterday, while cooking dinner (actually, reheating leftovers from the previous two dinners) our 7-year old 'microwave oven' crashed -- three minutes of high level 'nuking' barely had an impact on the cold pasta sauce poured over equally cold pasta....

Seeing such events as opportunities, we jumped on the Internet and looked up the price of a new microwave (following the rule that it is always cheaper to replace such things than to repair them).

Lo and behold (!), there was the perfect replacement unit -- in fact, after seven years, it was the identical unit with a couple of new bells and whistles tossed in, but even the product number was the same. And for only $119.99 at our favorite local appliance superstore (which will go unnamed, although it rhymes with 'west rye').

By now it is 8:45pm, and desperate to have a microwave to 'nuke' our cold coffee in the morning (I know, it is getting pretty disgusting by now...), we jump in the car to make it (through a very thick fog, as it was) to the store several miles away before it closed (which the web site said would be 9pm). With moments to spare (literally) we rush into the store (only to learn that the web site was a half hour off -- they closed at 9:30) and went right to the microwave section where we found the exact unit of our dreams -- for $131.99....


We inquire.

The salesperson (so to speak; they are really high school kids pretending to be interested in your needs) informs us that he is not suprised -- the web pricing is often less expensive because it is based on competing with other web store sites -- while local pricing is based on the local competition (which rhymes with Circuit City -- well, actually,it is 'circuit city' but I am not known for my rhyming abilities). His advice: go home and order it online and use the 'local pick up' option which (get this) would allow us to come back in the morning,walk right up to the same counter and pick up that exact same unit -- yes, the very same one sitting there on the shelf for $131.99.

OK -- we'll outsmart them, we think -- so we run across the store to the computer department where row and row of internet linked computers sit, screens flashing. And there we are able to access the exact store online site (so we thought) figuring we can put in the order right there and then and get out of the store that night with our new $119.99 microwave.

But, lo and behold (!) we find that the internet site now showed a price of... $131.99!

Dejected, thinking that we were just victims of a price change (it was too late to do anything by now), we went home knowing that our evening's pasta will have to be tossed and tomorrow's coffee will have to bypassed until the store opened (at 10am -- or so the web site told us) and we would have to buy the unit for the additional $12.

But once home and online, lo and behold(!), the web site showed that the price was indeed still $119.99. Even more important, we can even get a free (!) toaster or hand mixer if we ordered online -- even if we picked up at the store!

All's well that ends well, right?


We placed our order, and the next morning we awake to the sound of our son heating up his left over dinner (for breakfast, of course) in the microwave. And, lo and behold (!), the old Sharp-Auto Touch Microwave-Black-R-510 (oops, did I give that away?) is working just fine, thank you.

We try out our coffee -- we even reheat last night's leftover leftovers for lunch -- and it is fine.

What brought our microwave back to life remains a mystery, sure. (We suspect a local 'brown out' since our street lights seem to have become comatose.)

But even more perplexing and mysterious is the internet pricing shell game we particiapted in the night before.

It is at times like this that I wish the TV show "Ask Mr. Wizard" was still running so we could call in and ask him to solve this puzzle....

Read more!

More on being 'Linked'....

Barabasi's Linked continues to fascinate. His 12th chapter ('The Twelfth Link') on the “Fragmented Web” has reinforced and explained a number of personal observations.

First and foremost is that the reality of the Web and its impact tends to run counter to almost everything we predict or assume. My favorite personal example is the myth of the future paperless office (the Adobe Acrobat community still seems hooked on that one; but see The Myth of the Paperless Office); but there are others, including the myth that with everyone linked we will become more sociable and less isolated. As many studies have indicated, the opposite is the case, and Barabari's overview offers a good summary as to why that is so.

An important discussion in this particular chapter relates to the formation and ongoing isolation of communities, and this seems particularly relevant to academics. One of my personal projects in recent months has been to get those who study "accountability" in different fields to at least read each other's work -- and perhaps even begin communicating amongst themselves (see our project at Queen's University Belfast to convene an international conference on accountable governance in October). Much of what Barabari writes is relevant to this idea. Although published before its onset, Barabari's discussion also highlights the importance of the new Google Scholar site, and in a way indicates the logic behind it. (If you haven't used that site, you are really missing a major development!)

A second point --one discussed more directly in the book -- is the implication of the Web's architecture and dynamic for politics and the way the Internet has political reinforced divisions and provided significant power to some. He cites an interesting book by Sunstein ( on this, and there is much in what he says that reinforces Frank's analysis in What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (it is all linked!).

And then there is the relevance of all this to the saga of my recent purchase of a microwave oven on the Internet -- but that is another story (post to follow)....

Read more!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

...Ah yes, but then there is the Antrim Coast....

Pic from Randi Art

GUBUs, IRAs and all, Northern Ireland remains one of the most stunning places to see, even in the absolute dead of winter when (as a colleague described it in an email today) the weather is 3D: dull, dark and dingy. Randi took this picture when we drove around the Antrim Coast just about this time of year last. I think there are more shots like this to come....

Read more!

GUBU and Mr. Crown's Affair....

The recent events in Northern Ireland linking the IRA and Sinn Fein to the 26 million GBP robbery of Northern Bank (noted by one acquaintance as the greatest heist of wastepaper in history since the bank converted its currency) has finally provided me with an example for a phrase I learned from friend Ciarán and other colleagues: GUBU. While initiated under different circumstances, the acronym seems to fit: "Grotesque, Unprecedented, Bizarre, Unbelievable!"

Actually, for those who are trying to figure out where the theives got the idea, that part seems simple. Note the recent remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair," and the original film's premise that the proceeds of the fictional heist would be distributed from an international bank to participants on the 19th of each month over several decades. This, of course, was designed to provide a nice retirement for those whose life in crime had left them without investments in retirement accounts (which, as my wife points out, are called IRAs in the US).

But it is the idea that Sinn Fein leaders knew of the planned robbery (per Bertie Ahern) that truly makes this as a classic example of GUBU. Where else but in (Northern) Ireland!

Read more!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Oh, I see...I think...Well, perhaps not....

It took awhile, but I think I finally get the gist of Alain Badiou's approach to ethics. Or at least for the moment I think I get it….

The problem has not been his writing, although the translation of some terms makes for awkward reading at points. Rather, it is the radical departure from the conventional approach to ethics that he proposes. We are so use to the standard perspective -- one that posits ethics (in the Kantian tradition) as a subject unto itself, a set of universal imperatives -- that any contrary position, especially when strongly asserted (as Badiou does in this work), becomes difficult to comprehend despite its inherent sensibility and simplicity.

The key to Badiou's ethics (or at least my oversimplified understanding of it) is that it that it is always an "ethics of" -- that it is always in relation to the situation or circumstance in which one becomes a subject. For him ethics involves fidelity to the "truth" of the situation -- the historical "event" of which you are a part. Reflecting his radical (marxist) materialist assumptions, Badiou declares "there is no heaven of truths" (p. 43), only those that manifest themselves within the "immanent break" of the situation. This logic drives him to deny the relevance of factors that other approaches assume and build upon, i.e. psychological predispositions, human nature, etc. Whatever a "some-one" brings to a situation is "exceeded" by the truth of the event, the situation, and that is context that defines the "ethic of truth" that is central to Badiou's perspective. To persevere in the truth of the event -- to be faithful and consistent to the situation in which the some-one finds himself/herself defined for the moment -- is the nature of the ethic.

Badiou highlights four arenas for the ethic of truth: politics, science, art, love. And I must admit to flashbacks of watching Last Year at Marienbad
while reading his examples. Yet there is something intriguing (and perhaps a bit scary) about this argument. Even if I am completely misinterpreting it, the process of attempting to unravel it is an interesting exercise.

Read more!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Linked to AIDS....

I realize it is not the way sane people operate, but I have this tendency to be reading two or three works at any one time. At least one of the three gets a complete read through, while the other two end up on the floor somewhere near my bed or desk.

At the moment there are four books on my current list, but only three are getting any attention -- and the one getting the most attention at the moment is Barabasi's Linked, which is quickly emerging as a favorite. Fascinating, this network stuff -- and not at all in the way I expected.

I originally started it as a companion read to Slaughter's A New World Order, a book that seemed more relevant to my interests at the time. But as it turns out, Slaughter's work is merely a repackaging of the institutionalist perspectives on governance with a new twist here and there, but nothing I've read so far seems to justify all the hype and accolades. As I noted in an earlier post, it seems to be applying the illumination of some pretty basic (so-called) "network" models to global affairs, but thus far she has not quite demonstrated how any of this constitutes the "new world order" claimed in the title....

Barabasi, however, is providing the reader with the latest approaches to (and insights of) network analysis, and using it in ways that actually make this a "page turner". In the current chapter (10 by normal count, but he calls it "The Tenth Link"), for example, he is discussing (in one chapter, mind you) the popularity of a political cartoon, the failure of the Newton handheld (and the success of the Palm), the success of the Love Bug virus, the success of a hybrid corn crop in the US Midwest, Wilt Chamberlain's sexual promiscuity, and the spread of AIDS -- and I have yet to complete the chapter! As fascinating, in the process he has raised a number of policy and moral issues that must be addressed as a result of recent findings in the networking field as applied to the spread of the AIDS virus....

Get this book!

Read more!

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Randi has been transfering some of her "PDA" sketches to her blog. The results are pretty amazing. Using her Sony Clie, she is able to capture the color and scenery of a place. This one is from a trip she made to Porto:

And the second one was sketched while we sat on a park bench in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin.

Read more!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bringing the smoking ban home....

Speaking of smoking issues (see friend Ciarán's comments), I admit to having developed a completely unsympathetic position to the problems of smokers. In fact, I'd describe myself as actually hostile in my attitude to smokers -- although friendship too often trumps those feelings. But even among friends I will engage in some serious tweaking and unsolicited counseling about their nasty and unhealthy habit. On this point I am truly an old curmudgeon.... (And having quit more than 34 years ago, I have a right to be!)

[Pic from CNN]

I was ecstatic when Ireland implemented its smoking ban, and I wish I had more opportunities to visit the south to take advantage of it. North of the border, a trip to a pub is a tough choice. On the one hand, Northern Ireland (like the rest of Ireland and the UK) is a "pub culture" -- that is where people gather, that is where some of the most interesting and enjoyable conversations and socializing takes place, and that is where you want to be on any particular evening after a day of suffering the "dull" weather of the emerald isle. On the other hand, the prospect of having to inhale the smoke of several dozen other folks, and then going home with clothes that wreak frm the smell of smoke, makes me pass up the pleasures of the nightly pub scene on most nights.

In the US, the smoking laws for pubs and restaurants varies from place to place, but generally you will find the non-smoking options are many and rarely will you have difficulty keeping a good distance from smokers in public places.

One of the more interesting developments, however, is evident as you wander through housing areas. My daughter recently moved into an apartment complex, and during several visits I noticed folks standing outside on the front porches, sitting in their cars, or walking along the streets puffing away on their cigarettes. The temperature is generally below freezing, and there are considerable amounts of snow on the ground (and still falling), so it is obvious that these folks are not outside just enjoying a pleasant bit a fresh air. In fact, most are obviously shivering between their 'drags', and one or two have a noticable (and often rather loud) cough that indicates that this is not a pleasant experience at all . It is clear that somewhere inside their apartments sits a spouse, parent, friend, or some "significant other" who has laid down the "law": there will be no smoking on these premises!

Good for them!

Give it up folks. It is unpleasant, unnecessary, unhealthy, expensive, annoying to all, and makes no sense whatsoever.

And while I am generally a friendly sort of bloke, don't expect pleasantries from me when you ask if it is "okay if I light up?" Hell no!

Read more!

Another winter scene....

Randi Art

Read more!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Ignatieff's 'ethical' war narrative

Finally got around to completing Ignatieff's Lesser Evil, and I remain impressed with the overall discussion and argument he makes about the ethics of conducting a war on terror.

His conceptualization of "lesser evils" is effective but still bothersome to me given my sensitivity to the use of the term evil. It is understandable within the context of the dilemma-based view of ethics he presents. From this perspective, ethics is not the act of pursuing or adhering to some set of principles, an approach which is better termed "moralistic" than ethical. Rather, it is the examination of how one deals with dilemmas involving choices that have to be made between two or more courses of action. More significantly, the dilemmas under discussion involve choosing between two "bad" options -- and thus the need to select the "lesser evil." For the most part, therefore, the term "evil" is applied here figuratively, although there are some choices (e.g., the use of torture) where the idea of "evil-ness" is more literal.

But more than an "ethical" discussion, Ignatieff's book helps articulate a "war narrative" for the war on terror that has been missing form the out. My colleagues and I explore war narratives and their role in conducting government business during wartime in a forthcoming article. What is historically distinctive about the war on terror is that it is the first in US history declared without a significant war narrative in place at the time of its declaration, and we argue that the narrative vacuum was filled with one of at least four distinctive types of war narratives. Over the past three years, however, a war on terror narrative has emerged, and I think Ignatieff's version of it is a useful and normatively interesting version that ought to be widely read.

Read more!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

'Welcum to Neeglan'

{Pic from Randi Art]

It's the local version of 'Hi' or 'Howdy' during the stormier days of winter -- like today.

People in New England are sometimes known for their 'don't speak unless spoken to' attitude, especially toward strangers (which is just about anyone you haven't seen each day of your life for the past several years). Yes, there might be a nod in your direction when you meet on the street, perhaps even a smile -- but generally New Englanders are not a gregarious, back-slapping, how-ya-doin' sort of folk.... Except in the midst of a storm, when total strangers will suddenly blurt out 'Welcum to Neeglan' as you pass them (or attempt to) in the street or parking lot with snow swirling about. I suspect it is a friendly gesture, acknowledging a common bond through suffering the whims of the weather.

PS: about 3-4 inches of slick stuff on the ground -- coming down pretty steady -- hea
ding to 8 inches they say....

Read more!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Lesser evils and obscene questions....

Good friend Ciarán forwarded me an interesting op-ed from yesterday's Observer by Nick Cohen that raised the admittedly "obscene question" as to whether the world ought to be concerned with the health and well being of those who suffered from the impacts of the devastating tsunami in Burma.

By all indications -- other than those coming from the government of Burma itself -- the damage and loss of life must have been as bad along that nation's 1650 mile southern coastline as it was for their neighbors in Thailand and Indonesia. No one seems to believe the incredible figure of only 53 deaths provided by Burma's official sources (compared to tens of thousands of casualties along the neighboring coasts), but there is a sense as of today (Monday) that the facts will soon be known.

What Cohen seems to be arguing, however, is that efforts to get aid and assistance to the Burmese people ought not to become an obsession given the nature of the Rangoon regime and its efforts to maintain a wall of silence around any information that reflects badly on life in Burma. "The penalties on working in the world's worst states should raise the question of whether the game is worth the candle. To many it's an obscene question to ask." From that point on he offers a rant that essentially advocates taking political advantage of the disaster by tying relief efforts to the "democratic"-ness of the countries involved. Using his logic (as I read it), those with strong democratic institutions - and especially with well developed civil societies - should get priority for assistance. His comments on Indonesia and China imply that less favor would be shown to nations with a history of repression (despite their current rating on Cohen's democratic scorecard) . Etc.

This Bush-like, Reagan-esque approach is Machiavellian, to be sure, although it is likely to be rationalized on the belief that corrupt regimes will only waste the funds so why send good money after bad purposes when the relief given to democratic states would be used so much more effectively.

Thinking about this while completing my reading of Ignatieff's Lesser Evil, I believe what we have here is the mirror context for the dilemma of dealing with terrorism. For Ignatieff, the morally questionable behavior that liberal governments must engage in during an anti-terror campaign is justified in light of the greater evil that they would face if they did nothing. Applying that same logic, when faced with a human disaster of such magnitude as the Indian Ocean tsunami, a decision to engage in humanitarian support of the Burmese people through contact with their government can certainly be regarded as the moral equivalent of a lesser evil when compared to the implied "greater evil" represented by Cohen's support for a politically manipulative use of this situation to either force a regime change (highly unlikely) or to teach "them" (the Burmese people?) a lesson for their support of the anti-democratic military regime.

Extending the lesser evil approach even further, it would be necessary for those undertaking this "lesser evil" action to accept the fact that such morally compromised behavior (i.e., providing aid and assistance to the Burmese people) must be accompanied by exposure to harangues from folks like Cohen who seem to operate under the assumption that no good deed should ever go unpunished....

Read more!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Accountable terror?

Ignatieff's analysis of The Lesser Evil relies heavily on the accountability factor in governance, a point that reinforces my sense that modern governance is defined by this core concept.

As his arguments turn to differentiating between state violence aimed at dealing with terror, he makes a strong case for the defining role of adversarial justification in contemporary liberal democracies. The point is made most explicitly in his discussion in Chapter 4 (p. 109):

"The liberal state and its terrorist enemy stand under very different obligations to justify their actions. The agents of a constitutional state are aware that they may be called to defend and explain their actions in adversarial proceedings, possibly even in court. Terrorists do not stand in any institutional setting that holds them accountable. They may have an informal moral contract with their base of support, a tacit set of understandings of what types of violence are acceptable, and, in particular, which kinds will expose their base of support to reprisal. But this is not the same as an institutional obligation to render an account of your actions. This absence of any institutional obligation to justify helps explain why terrorism so often escalates into extremism for its own sake. Yes, states can be guilty of acts of terror, but it is false to equate the ease with the acts of terrorists."

Underpinning any reliance on "adversarial proceedings", of course, is a strong moral commitment to the institutional context of the liberal state, and here is where one begins to see the real challenge of the war on terror for those who study public administration ethics. Many of my colleagues have been spending so much time in search of some vague standard for ethical conduct (e.g., social justice, equity, etc.) that most now find it difficult to respond to the call for a "state of war" ethics implied in the current preoccupation with homeland defense and security. It seems that the most relevant standard may be in the call for "constitutional competence" proffered by David Rosenbloom and others as a central tenet for educating public administrators.

The problem is whether that is enough, especially given the nature and history of constitutional standards both here (in the US) and abroad. (What I have in mind is the current dispute in the UK over the recent Law Lords decision that challenges the Home Office's policies on detention of suspected terrorists.) And then there is the question of what constitutes "constitutional competence" at the "street level" where situational and moral details get a bit murky.

Oh, so many questions....

Read more!

Recalling last year....

Randi has been making good use of her "Randi Art" weblog by posting some of her pictures and paintings. This one was based on a photo taken at a restaurant located on a hill overlooking the Antrim Coast. This is the view from the parking lot in the back -- imagine how nice the view was from the dining room which looked out over the rocky coast north of Belfast....

Read more!