Johns Hopkins Magazine -- February 1997
Johns Hopkins Magazine


P U B L I C    P O L I C Y &    &    I N T E R N A T I O N A L    A F F A I R S

Coming apart in Canada... adventures of an expeditions editor... TQM misinterpreted... Singapore's authoritarian democracy

The crisis in Canada that won't blow over
When Charles F. Doran looks north to Canada, he sees a country that may greet the new millennium by coming apart. In 1995, voters in Quebec came very close to approving separation of their province from English-speaking Canada. Doran warns that another such referendum could occur as early as 1999, and the United States needs to think about the consequences of its neighbor fragmenting.

"As far as U.S. interests are concerned, the most attractive option is a strong, united Canada," says Doran, who is Andrew W. Mellon professor of international relations and director of the Canadian studies program at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). "Canada already has 85 percent of its total trade with the United States. We want to preserve the trade and investment arrangements which are so important to the prosperity of North America. That's easy to do with a united Canada, much more difficult if there's fragmentation."

Doran expressed his views in the Sept./Oct. '96 issue of Foreign Affairs. In his article "Will Canada Unravel?" he noted that the two Canadas have found it hard to agree on where to go next to resolve their deep divide. He cites a recent poll that said more than 80 percent of English-speaking Canadians think of their country primarily as a nation of 10 provinces, not of two founding peoples; a similar percentage of French-speaking Canadians takes the opposite view.

"Many people thought the `undecided' [in pre-referendum polling] Francophones would vote against separation because of economic reasons. They in fact voted for separation. That came as a shock to virtually everybody," he notes.

It wasn't the only shock to observers, says Doran: "This last referendum was unusual by any standards that I know of in democracy--94 percent of the eligible voters turned out. That is a phenomenal turnout."

Doran anticipates new provincial elections in Quebec within two years. If the highly popular Quebec premier, Lucien Bouchard, wins reelection, he has said he will hold another referendum on separation. This time, says Doran, the separatists might win. And if Quebec leaves the confederation, he predicts, the rest of Canada may not be able to cohere. "English Canada will have to reconstitute itself politically, and that will be difficult. One or more provinces may decide to go their own way."

For the U.S., such fragmentation would mean renegotiation of the NAFTA treaty, he says, and new, more complicated security arrangements. "I have two recommendations. One is that we consider something new, which I call `regional affiliations'"-- something more than an international treaty, less than statehood. "These new political entities would associate with us in terms of their foreign policy--and not have their own armies or foreign policies--but they would conduct their own domestic policies. This is a kind of governing relationship that doesn't have any easy analogies, but it seems to fit the conditions. If that were not sufficient, we would have to consider statehood for some provinces if they requested it. This would not be easy, either.

"The United States really cannot do much of anything now. If it tried to make suggestions, it would be rejected and looked upon as heavy-handed. What the U.S. has to do is think about what its own interests are, and take seriously the prospect that fragmentation could occur. This is not what it has done up to now. It has tended to dismiss this as a crisis that will blow over."

After his article appeared, Doran says, he received a letter written by a class of 11th-graders in British Columbia. "It talked about how they loved Canada and how important unity was," he says. "Each one had paid his or her own way all the way across Canada to attend the last big rally of federal [unified Canada] supporters. It will take that sort of commitment for the federal government to prevail." --Dale Keiger

The stuff legends are made of
In Peter Miller's office are three clues to his occupation. One is a small collection of artifacts near his desk: an Inuit scraper, some arrows from Yucatan, a didjeridoo. A second clue is the neat array of periodicals on an opposite shelf, magazines bound in a familiar shade of bright yellow. The third clue is on Miller's feet. He's dressed in a blue button-down shirt, tie, and slacks, but on his feet are hiking boots.

Miller '71 is senior assistant editor of expeditions for National Geographic Magazine. But he prefers to think of himself as "adventures editor." Though he has traveled to some far-off places in the service of Geographic, he says, "As adventures editor, I send out people to do things I'd never do."

Like free climbing the awesome spire of Trango Tower in Pakistan. Rafting wild rivers in Kazakhstan. Soaring 120,000 feet up in a NASA balloon. Or strapping on scuba gear and diving a mile underground through an unexplored, water-filled cave system in Mexico, an expedition that cost the life of one staffer. Says Miller, "It takes a certain...not craziness...but intensity to get that far into something like cave diving. I don't have that craving to push beyond where anyone has gone before."

Still, his stint at the magazine has afforded him some unique experiences. He's interviewed three of the survivors from the Lusitania. Ridden with storm chasers ("You've seen the movie Twister? I did that."). Watched as a camera explored a tomb in an Egyptian pyramid, gazing at things no one had seen in 4,000 years. Met legendary primate researchers Jane Goodall, Birute Galdikas, and the late Dian Fossey.

One experience he found particularly affecting was flying over Mt. St. Helens after it erupted: "We hired a helicopter. There was a low cloud ceiling that day, and when we came to this ridge covered with beautiful green trees, we had to go up into the clouds to go over it. When we came down on the other side... everything was gone."

When he started at National Geographic in 1979, for two years he wrote "legends"--photo captions. That doesn't sound like much of a job, but at Geographic, legends writers work as reporters; they actually track down the subjects of the photographs and interview them. If the story was about Northern Ireland, for example, Miller traveled to Ulster to do the reporting for the captions. The legends writer then composes what amounts to a tiny essay for each photograph. Geographic knows that many of its more than 9 million readers never read anything more than these captions, Miller says, so these writers must capture the essence of the story in a very few words. "You have to have the knack," he says, "and not everyone can do it." His flight over Mt. St. Helens was to write legends.

Miller has authored a number of pieces for the magazine. He's done stories on John Wesley Powell, the Susquehanna River, the Louvre, and the southern India state of Kerala. Profiling Jane Goodall was one of his favorite assignments. When she called his house one day, one by one his wife and sons picked up the phone to assure her that Miller would be right with her, so they could say they'd talked to the legendary naturalist.

His job has its unglamorous periods, Miller concedes. Referring to the primitive public toilets one finds around the world, he says, "How exciting is it to spend two weeks in India standing on those little footprints around a hole in the floor? If you do that for months at a time, it loses its romance. You get back to the office and say, `Oh, am I glad to get some decent food, a nice bath, and no mosquitos.' Then, in about two weeks, you're ready to go again." --DK

TQM: A buzzword that's failed?
For years, American corporations have sought ways to transform themselves into more competitive operations. They have downsized, rightsized, outsourced, re-engineered, and created a sub-industry in productivity seminars. Over the last 15 years, one much-heard phrase has been "Total Quality Management." TQM, based on the precepts of the late W. Edwards Deming, first came to public attention in 1980. Throughout the '80s, one corporation after another implemented TQM programs. Deming's ideas were supposed to transform the Western way of doing business.

Peter B. Petersen, professor of management and organization theory at the Hopkins School of Continuing Studies, says that this transformation hasn't occurred, and isn't going to. "TQM is a buzzword that has failed," Petersen says. "We have had the death of Total Quality Management. It is gone. But the management problems remain. What are you going to do about it?" Petersen answers his own query: "You need to go back to the original thinking of W. Edwards Deming and start fresh."

But wasn't TQM based on Deming's original thinking? Yes, says Petersen, although he notes that Deming himself never used, or would even acknowledge, the TQM label. But too many corporations failed to embrace the fundamental precepts of Deming's teaching. "People are doing their own thing and calling it TQM," he says.

Petersen is in a position to know. He was Deming's friend for 11 years, until the latter's death in 1993, and has written scholarly papers on Deming's management philosophy, most recently for Journal of Management History. When speaking of his late friend, Petersen sometimes lapses into present tense, as if Deming were still alive.

Deming believed that corporations had to dedicate themselves to a constant, objective examination and improvement of their system of producing work. He saw two sorts of errors--he called them "variations"--within companies: errors caused by people, and errors caused by the company's system. "Forget errors by the individual," Petersen says, paraphrasing Deming. "Shape up the system. Make the system work. Traditionally in the world of work, we beat on people not to make mistakes. But the vast majority of mistakes are system errors that must be corrected by management. Unlike others who try to make the people work better, Deming goes after the key executives and tries to make the system work better. And making the system work better is very, very difficult."

It's difficult, says Petersen, in large part because it requires the constant attention of top management. "In those cases where the CEO has a passion for the subject, it'll work," he says. "But unless the leader of the organization has a passion for it, it's doomed to failure, because things will come up in a company that steal an executive's time. Instead, the emphasis will be on getting the troops all excited. The fact is, you don't have to get the troops all excited. They want to produce. What you have to do is get top management involved."

Petersen describes what tends to happen when a company tries to implement TQM: "Somebody sells the boss on the idea. Then you have the conference room presentation by the rah-rah consultants. Then you rally the troops. Then you work on process improvement-- get the little guys to improve their processes with each other. Then you hit them with the idea of `zero-defects,' another thing that beats on the little guy. Finally, you come up with some ideas of what top management should do, which turns into a dog-and-pony show to them. Then top management says, `We'll look into it.' And that's when the program kind of slips away and dies, when it comes to really changing the big system."

He adds that changing a corporation's system means shaking up the status quo, and that can be threatening to many of the people who must make the changes. Says Petersen: "If I'm a vice president, and you're going to change the array of what I do, I'll fight you every bit of the way. So while I may smile at the meeting where you, the boss, tell me about it, I'm going to be cheering inside if it falls flat on its face. And I'll be the first to say, `Hey, I told you that wouldn't work.'" In the end, he says, very little changes at the top--where the change needs to take place. --DK

A state-of-the art dictatorship
Stephen D. Wrage (SAIS PhD '87) once got into trouble with the Singapore police for leaving a dish full of water on the balcony of his apartment. The dish was under a fern that Wrage had just watered. The Singaporean government had decreed that standing water was a health hazard because mosquitoes bred in it. One of Wrage's neighbors apparently had watched him tend the fern, then turned him into the police.

Wrage, now an associate professor of political science at the U.S. Naval Academy, tells this story to illustrate the extent of the government's control over the people of Singapore. He recently has been publishing essays on the small Asian country in The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, and Nieman Reports.

Wrage spent a year in Singapore from 1994 to 1995, working at the National University on a Fulbright teaching grant. He had pursued the grant because as a political scientist he was curious to observe what Singapore calls its unique blend of Confucianism and capitalism. He left the country profoundly cognizant of the sort of authoritarian state run by Lee Kuan Yew, who for more than 30 years ruled Singapore and is still its dominant political figure, though he's no longer prime minister. "Lee has created the world's state-of-the-art dictatorship," Wrage says.

Lee's party, the People's Action Party, has controlled the country since it separated from Britain in 1959 and achieved full independence in 1965. The PAP calls its rule "authoritarian democracy," without apparent irony, and, says Wrage, permits no meaningful opposition. He notes that the government strictly oversees all print and broadcast media--indeed, it controls the company, Singapore Press Holdings, that owns every domestic publication--as well as the Internet. University students told Wrage that the government requires them to observe and report on their teachers to the Internal Security Department (something the government officially denies). Citizen block-watchers monitor all suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. There are strong penalties for the most trivial of offenses, such as jaywalking, spitting in the street, or tossing something from a balcony, and there are no jury trials.

The government aggressively pursues anyone who dares to publish criticism of its policies or actions. Wrage recalls what happened to one of his colleagues at the National University, Christopher Lingle, who published a response in The International Herald Tribune to an op-ed piece by the permanent secretary of foreign affairs. The government charged Lingle, an American, with contempt of court for "bringing the Singaporean judiciary into disrepute by implying that it was compliant." It forced him to flee the country, and eventually confiscated $20,000 of his savings.

Wrage characterizes the regime as holding its population hostage. He notes that the government holds the mortgages on almost 90 percent of the housing in Singapore, and 20 percent of a Singaporean's income--sometimes more--is taxed for the "Central Provident Fund," a pension that the government, says Wrage, can take away whenever it chooses.

Singaporean authorities do not face a restive population, Wrage says, because the government has created a prosperous society that provides well for its citizens, so long as those citizens obey the rules. Average life span on the island is 74 years for men, over 78 for women; the government maintains an expansive social welfare system; unemployment in 1993 was a measly 2.7 percent; its economy grew by 8 percent last year, with inflation below 2 percent. In the capital's retail districts you find stores bursting with merchandise. There's not much crime, Wrage notes, and little government corruption.

"The nature of the government's social contract is, `You provide the workforce, we'll provide the rest. You'll get rich and we'll keep you secure,'" Wrage says. Nevertheless, young people, especially recent college graduates, are leaving the country, says Wrage. He adds that the government has been surprised by how many residents of Hong Kong, which reverts to Chinese control this year, have been relocating to Australia instead of to Singapore.

He laughs now about his encounter with police over the fern. But Wrage did have to leave the country a few weeks earlier than he'd planned. He'd submitted a letter, in which he criticized a government official, to The Economist. The magazine was not supposed to publish it until August 1995, and he meant to be gone by then. But the letter ended up appearing in late June. Because he'd used a fax machine owned by the government, Wrage was warned that he might be prosecuted for illegal use of government property. The U.S. State Department advised him to get out of Singapore and not go back. Furthermore, U.S. officials warned him not to travel in Asian countries that have security forces on good terms with the Singaporean police. They suggested that he might find himself detained on some pretext and extradited to face legal proceedings in Singapore.

Wrage concedes that in and of itself, Singapore is not that important as a world power. It's a tiny country of 247 square miles, with a population--3 million--smaller than that of many of the world's cities. But he says other nations, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, have been studying Lee Kuan Yew's methods of social control. And he notes that some American corporate executives, and people such as former secretary of state James Baker, have expressed admiration for Lee's administration.

"Lee is a lot like B.F. Skinner," Wrage says. "He sees himself as engaged in a long social experiment in behavioral conditioning." --DK