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A mere 20 minutes after I thought of the topic, I committed to doing my Geography senior research on environmental degradation in the Aral Sea basin. My thought going into the class today was to do something on the decline of the Russian military, especially with respect to their nuclear arsenal. But Christina wound up wanting to do pretty much that exact topic. She was really apologetic, but I think the Aral Sea thing will work out better. For one, I remember the Political Geography section of 101 being by far the least fun. And the Aral Sea topic relates to environmental studies, which I wish I could have done more of. The Aral Sea also gives me the opportunity, if I can get the kind of data that I need, to incorporate GIS.

Most important, though, is the problem of political bias. Last year Len Tkach did his thesis on the World War II monument in Washington, DC. At his defense someone asked him whether, after a year of research, he was for or against the monument. I was impressed that he could say he honestly did not have, and had endeavoured not to take, sides on the issue. It helped him get a balanced view from his interviews with participants in the struggle, and allowed him to look more objectively at the processes of conflict over heritage issues than he could if he had been trying to argue for or against the monument.

I'm very strongly opposed to Clinton and Bush's plans for a national missile defense system -- I think it's too high a cost to address too small a threat, while ignoring the underlying reasons for the threat and posing a great risk of antagonising the rest of the world. So I think researching the Russian nuclear arsenal would be too likely to turn into a diatribe against a missile defense system and in favor of retaining the ABM treaty. I have a sort of political bias with regard to the Aral Sea, being a committed environmentalist, but I don't think it has the potential to skew my research in the same way.

Of course, if they had let us research South America or Australia, I wouldn't have this problem.


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