Friday, May 14, 2004

How do student exchanges affect US isolation? 

In an original post I agreed with the fact that sixty+ universities are complaining to the White House about its strict isolationist policy towards other countries, and how that is hurting universities in the US.

Yet I believe I may have failed to justify my claim. I think I have grown used to a liberal audience, and have begun to make the mistake of assuming that my readers will share the foundational claims behind the issues I discuss. I may have started to focus more on the "how" of what's happening, and less on "why" it is significant from a liberal perspective -- that last part being assumed. Thankfully, the diversity of opinion even among us liberals is still enought to keep me challenged to defend my position at all times...

So, following a reply from Michael, I decided to go more in depth about why having international student and cultural exchanges is consistent and necessary with a liberal position...I'll admit my personal bias upfront: having been a foreign student many times, I can't possibly think that cutting back on international students is a good thing. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to be said from a less personal point of view.

If it weren't for the opportunities for students to go abroad, cultural exchanges (already rare) would be nearly non-existent. Moreover, most students born in third world countries would never even get a chance to get a better education. Some countries, like Colombia, hardly even offer Master's programs at all. That said, were it not for the brain flow coming from Europe during WWII, some of the greatest "progress" the US has made would not have happened.

These foreign students are often made to pay 3x to 4x (10x in Canada, as tuition there is highly subsidized to local students) the amount of tuition of other students, and as competition is fierce these are often the brightest minds of their own countries (though not in all cases, as you can see yours truly got in anyways). It is a known fact that it is a lot harder to enter a university as an international student than as a local one (thanks to quotas, international students have the entire world as competition, whereas local students have more of a chance of getting in). Visa and money requirements are already too strict, ensuring only the upper-middle class gets to travel. If anything, the US and other first world countries need to ease these requirements, as the university group is demanding. Its currently strict position is not only hurting the university life of the US, it is diminishing the already too narrow possibilities for cultural exchanges.

There is also another side to it. I have to admit that in many ways I'm a renegade centrist. Not the irrational, fundamentalist rightwing kind, but the right-of-center in economics kind. I started out extremely liberal, then travelling around made me both consider the opposite point of view, and return to my original one with more conviction as a result of experience.

Spending time in Quebec, one of the most socialist places in the world, and seeing some of the administrative shortcomings of that system made me start to think that perhaps the economic conservatives had it right (pun intended). Then I travelled more -- and suddenly I started to realize what it's like to really put yourself in the shoes of people who are born without any benefits at all. I started to realize that behind the principle of right-of-center economics (along with xenophobia, of which I was never guilty) is a profound apathy for anyone else's condition. I started to realize that poverty is not only a misfortune -- it is an injustice, as long as we perpetuate it by caring only about the size of our tv screen.

I now admire the Canadian system, and fully understand just why Canadians defend their healthcare so much. In fact, I've even noticed a pattern among the kinds of destinations my friends pick when they do exchanges or travel -- the conservatives usually go to Europe and try to avoid the third world entirely (unless it's to stay in some secluded resort where the only natives they encounter are service staff)!!

Europe itself has started to recognize the benefits of cultural exchanges (although it has in many ways restricted itself to pan-European programs only). The EU has created many programs like Erasmus (anyone seen the French movie L'Auberge Espagnole?) to promote student travel and exchange, precisely out of the belief that these exchanges can lead to more of a high-quality, standardized level of education, and to a greater respect and understanding for other cultures (European, in this case). I think if anything the US should be encouraging more of its students to study abroad -- if only in one year exchanges -- to end the isolationism of which it is so often accused.

So shouldn't the US be saddened indeed at losing international graduate students? What do you guys think?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Nostalgia moment 

Remember when sending Rumsfeld out to be rude to reporters, foreigners, and the Senate was called a “charm offensive?” I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing that phrase used in close context with his name any time soon.

Moment of silence 

I started a couple of posts, but don’t have the heart today. What happened to Nick Berg makes me sick. His own last few minutes must have been horrific, but at least his pain was relatively quick. What I keep getting back to is his poor family and the media circus that they are going to be subjected to. Their pain will not be quick. Everyone will want to co-opt Nick and the family to support their position on Iraq and the Bush administration. Television crews will stalk them. Remember, May is ratings season. We can’t imagine what they are going through and we have no right to interrupt them. Leave the people alone.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Fire Rummy 


Last week, I talked to Republican members of Congress, GOP fund-raisers and contributors, defense consultants and even one senior official of a coalition partner. The clear consensus was that Rumsfeld had to go. "There must be a neck cut," said the foreign official, "and there is only one neck of choice."

To the end of cutting Rummy's neck, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a petition demanding Bush dismiss his "superb" SecDef. Go sign it! And while you're there, please consider donating to the DCCC to give President Kerry a Democratic Congress.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Gore Vidal Takes on Theocrats in Playboy 

SoonerThought has some excerpts. Here's an excerpt of the excerpts:

It's nicely ironic that the pledge's "under God" (added by Congress in 1954) and our currency's "In God We Trust" (added in 1955) were duly blessed by President Eisenhower: "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future...." In 1952 a fellow West Pointer teased Eisenhower that he would, if elected president, have to start going to church for the first time since childhood. "The only way they'll ever get me into a church will be feet first," Ike said grimly.