Monday, January 30, 2012

Spatial Resilience of Social-Ecological Systems - Graeme S. Cumming

An introduction and overview of the necessity of including spatial components concerns to our analysis of social-ecological systems (SES), Cumming adroitly breaks down aspects of resiliency and clearly indicates the necessity of thinking in and across spatial scales when considering the functioning of complex systems. Operating under the premise that organization in complex systems is an emergent quality of a host of quantifiable variables, Cumming's focus on the SESs indicates how the nexus of human/natural interactions can be parsed in many ways and contrasted across differing scales. Throughout he has broken-down, in simple English, how properties of resilience are emergent of integrated systems of people and their surrounding environments. As the concepts continue to be elucidated throughout the work it becomes gradually apparent that Cumming is revealing a broad-sweeping critique of how we connect theory to practice in managing SESs.

Grounded in notions of network analysis, social-ecological systems are predicated upon the idea that all locations of arrival are derivative of the interactions of socio-environmental actors across scales and nested within contexts. Indeed, it can be argued that separations of people and nature are less points of departure, than they are points of arrival; SESs speak to this. By refusing to make an a priori demarcation between the social and the ecological, Cumming allows for the actors (or vertices, or nodes) to speak for themselves the only way they know how, through their relationships (or connections, or edges or articulations) with one another. In so situating himself Cumming is approaching complex issues of the natural sciences from a more dialectical point of view than is often taken. Though the work does delve into the foundations of how entities from which these systems emerge, are composed, an extrapolation of his work leads the reader to posit an inter-related world, one where components of analysis can never be understood, much less conserved, in isolation. Though he brushes upon system identity, one cannot help but wonder if Cumming would be willing to extend the emergent nature of his complex systems to the individual?

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Choice: How Clinton Won - Bob Woodward

Inside the formative months of the 1996 Presidential Campaign, the foremost Washington insider contrasts the machinations of Bob Dole's quest for the presidency with Clinton's concern of how to make his own case to the American electorate. In Woodward's recounting President Clinton had all-but assured victory before the general election began. By June the Clinton-Gore apparatus was well on its way to raising a record $180 million while Dole's campaign would battle with message and fundraising issues throughout. For Woodward this was a campaign more about communication and funding than anything else. Thus it is little surprise that Dole, the consummate senator and nuanced equivocator, could scarcely compete with Bill Clinton, the master communicator.

While few men in American public life may have been more qualified to be President than Robert J. Dole, Woodward's appraisal of Dole's character forces the question of what is required of a President besides experience? Throughout the campaign cycle Dole is frequently unable to master his organization and unable to make executive-style decisions concerning policy, message and strategy. Dole seems to be the archetype of go-along/get-along senate collegiality. In contrast, Clinton, while it is lamented that he often over-analyzes all points, has the bearing of an executive and the willingness to make decisions and soldier forward. Surely some of this difference of tenor cannot be separated  from the aura surrounding the presidency - one wonders how the two would be cast differently were Dole the incumbent and Clinton the challenger - but we are certainly left with the impression that the illusory quality of leadership inheres more in Clinton than Dole. Inasmuch as the presidency may require a sort of American father figure Clinton seems to relish this role, while Dole shrinks from it.

Though it may be apocryphal, Averell Harriman was remarked to have said that men seeking the Presidency must desire, above all else, to be President. Whether or not this is true, and whether or not it reflects well on American politics is open to debate. What is clear is that in the 1996 Presidential Election Bill Clinton desired more than anything else to retain the presidency. That Bob Dole could not give a satisfactory reason for why America should alter course appears inseparable from the portrait Woodward paints of Dole as a decent man. Perhaps he simply was not willing to sacrifice enough to be President; Woodward leaves us unsure as to whether or not this ought redound to his credit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Higher Learning in America - Robert Maynard Hutchins

One of the foremost thinkers of education in the twentieth century, former University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins makes an emphatic, and still timely, plea for drastic changes to higher education in the United States. To hear Hutchins tell it, the logic upon which the system of higher education rests is flawed. Schools are at once trying to train people for vocations and to maximize the life of the mind, the end result being that neither is adequately accomplished. Hutchins counters that the primary goal of educational institutions should be to provide students with a curriculum that is entirely focused upon the pursuit of truth for its own sake. Though this pursuit of truth can take on many different forms, Hutchins believes that understanding our common humanity must remain a central tenet.

Hutchins makes numerous recommendations that would rise perhaps universal ire across the education community, and it would be entirely relevant to question whether or not his recommendations are outmoded. What remains of relevance are questions surrounding the purpose of the American educational system; Hutchins opens the door to a conversation that remains glaringly unresolved.