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SP.246 / ESG.SP246 Current Events and Social Issues

Fall 2004

Skulls of Rwandan genocide victims, lined up on shelves.The skulls of genocide victims are lined up on shelves at the Ntarama Church Memorial in Rwanda, where 5000 people were slaughtered in 1994. The Rwandan Genocide killed 800,000 people in only three months, many of whom were massacred in schools and churches like this one, where they crowded in hoping for sanctuary. (Photo courtesy of Scott Chacon.)

Course Highlights

This course features assignments and an extensive list of readings.

Course Description

The goal of this seminar is to have open discussions of controversial political and social issues and raise awareness of current world events in an informal setting. Discussions for the first part of each class will focus on current events from that week, while in the second part of class students will discuss a scheduled issue in greater detail. Scheduled issues include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the regulation of marijuana, how our society should punish criminals, genocide in Rwanda and Sudan, discrimination in our society today, the future of social security, whether pornography is sexist, and where we can go from here in the Arab/Israeli Conflict. Discussions will be supplemented by readings, films, and public speakers. Students will also be encouraged to read news media from around the world.



Syllabus

This course, as part of the Experimental Study Group Seminar Series, offers students the opportunity to participate in a small discussion-based class taught by an MIT upperclassman under the guidance of a faculty supervisor. Students Claudia Gold (B.S. 07 Political Science) and Jocelyn Rodal (B.S. 06 Literature) taught this seminar in cooperation with Dr. Lee Perlman, Lecturer in the Experimental Study Group. Seminars taught in this format are all graded Pass/Fail and receive 1/2 of the academic credit assigned to regular academic classes.



Course Description

Welcome to Current Events and Social Issues. Our goal in this seminar is to have open discussions of political and social issues and to raise awareness of current events in an informal setting. We are hoping to have students from a variety of political persuasions. We want you to feel free to disagree with our own political opinions, which for the sake of openness we will not keep secret.

For the first part of each meeting, our discussion will focus on current events from that week. The second half will be supplemented by readings, films, and guest speakers. Students are expected to read the news from multiple sources every day of the week, and we encourage you to read news media from around the world.



Course Calendar


WEEK #Topics
1Introduction and Political Systems of Thought
2What is a just war? Were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just?
3What is a just war? Were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just? (cont.)
4Is pornography sexist? Should it be regulated?
5How should we treat criminals? What constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment?
6Should we legalize marijuana? How should we treat other drugs?
7What is the future of Social Security?

Guest Speaker: Toh Ne Win from Goldman Sachs
8In what forms does discrimination exist in our society today? Should the government step in to stop discrimination?
9Is outsourcing of jobs a problem? If so, what should we do?
10The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Where can we go from here?
11Should abortion be regulated?
12Genocide in Rwanda and Sudan: How should we react?
13Is it ever right to break the law?




Readings

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WEEK #TOPICSREADINGS
1Introduction and Political Systems of Thought
2What is a just war? Were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just?Zinn, Howard. "A Just Cause, Not a Just War." The Progressive, December 2001.

Hersh, Seymore. "The Other War." The New Yorker, April 12, 2004.

Principles of the Just War
3What is a just war? Were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just? (cont.)U.S. National Security Council. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Washington, DC, 2002.

Spencer, Jack. "Presidential Authority in the War on Terrorism: Iraq and Beyond." The Heritage Foundation, 2002.

Jones, Terry. "I'm Losing Patience with My Neighbors, Mr. Bush." The Observer, January 26, 2003.
4Is pornography sexist? Should it be regulated?Dworkin, Andrea. "Pornography Happens to Women." Speech presented at Speech, Equality and Harm: Feminist Legal Perspectives on Pornography and Hate Propaganda. University of Chicago Law School, March 6, 1993.

McElroy, Wendy. "Banning Pornography Endangers Women." International Society for Individual Liberty pamphlet.
5How should we treat criminals? What constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment?Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62 Va. (1871).

Pugh v. Locke, 406 F. Supp. (1976).

Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. (1981).

Wilson v. Seiter, 111 S. Ct. (1991).

Overton v. Bazzetta 02-94 (2003). Kennedy opinion.
6Should we legalize marijuana? How should we treat other drugs?National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Marijuana: Facts for Teens." 2001.

Rey, Joseph M., and Christopher C. Tennant. "Cannabis and Mental Health." British Medical Journal (2002): 1183-4.

Optional Reading

Becker, Howard S. "Becoming a Marijuana User." American Journal of Sociology (1953): 235-242.
7What is the future of Social Security?

Guest Speaker: Toh Ne Win from Goldman Sachs
Dudley, William C., and Edward F. McKelvey. "The U.S. Budget Outlook: A Surplus of Deficits." Global Economics Paper No. 106 (2004). Goldman Sachs.
8In what forms does discrimination exist in our society today? Should the government step in to stop discrimination?
9Is outsourcing of jobs a problem? If so, what should we do?Sen, Amartya. "How to Judge Globalism." The American Prospect 13, no. 1 (2002).

Friedman, Thomas L. "The Great Indian Dream." New York Times, March 11, 2004.

Ikerd, John. "Societal Effects Make Outsourcing a Real Issue." Columbia Daily Tribune, August 15, 2004.
10The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Where can we go from here?Zuckerman, Mortimer. "The Price of Intransigence." U.S. News and World Report, December 12, 2003.

Kazak, Ali. "Bad Fences Make Bad Neighbors." October 28, 2003.
11Should abortion be regulated?Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "A Defense of Abortion." Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1971): 47.

Sprengel, Mark K. "Fundamental Issues." Heritage House, 1999.
12Genocide in Rwanda and Sudan: How should we react?Supplemental Reading, Strongly Recommended

Amazon logo b Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. New York, NY: Picador, 1999. ISBN: 9780312243357.
13Is it ever right to break the law?Thoreau, Henry David. "Civil Disobedience." 1849.




Assignments

Regular Assignment

In addition to the weekly readings and other assignments, students are expected to read, watch, or listen to the news from multiple sources every day of the week. We encourage you to read news media from around the world.

Some English language news sources that we recommend include:

Aljazeera

The BBC

The Boston Globe

The Economist

The Guardian

Haaretz

Indymedia.org

The L.A. Times

Le Monde Diplomatique

The Nation

National Review

The New York Times

NPR

Salon.com

Slate

The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post

You can also see world-newspapers.com for an enormous list of newspapers, magazines, and other news sources from around the world.


WEEK #TOPICSASSIGNMENTS
1Introduction and Political Systems of ThoughtTake the quiz at The Political Compass.
2What is a just war? Were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just?
3What is a just war? Were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan just? (cont.)
4Is pornography sexist? Should it be regulated?
5How should we treat criminals? What constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment?
6Should we legalize marijuana? How should we treat other drugs?Movie: Mann, Ron. Grass. 1999.
7What is the future of Social Security?

Guest Speaker: Toh Ne Win from Goldman Sachs
8In what forms does discrimination exist in our society today? Should the government step in to stop discrimination?Look around at Black People Love Us.

Find a modern-day work of fiction, movie clip, website, essay, piece of art, song, or other work that you find racist or sexist. Please bring it in if possible and be prepared to discuss it in class.
9Is outsourcing of jobs a problem? If so, what should we do?Class Debate: Prepare a ten minute argument, coordinated with your assigned group.
10The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Where can we go from here?
11Should abortion be regulated?
12Genocide in Rwanda and Sudan: How should we react?Movie: Bradshaw, Steve. Rwanda: The Triumph of Evil. PBS Frontline. 1998.
13Is it ever right to break the law?



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