Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Academic Conundrum: Bad Jerk or Worse Jerk?

Who is more annoying the insulting committee member who prolongs meetings because he likes to hear his own voice but happens to have an excellent record or the same kind of person with a lousy record of teaching and research?

On the one hand, the blowhard with a strong record is annoying because it is harder to object to them and everything they stand for--they are a success, having built a record of excellence.  And that can be really frustrating.  One can have much fun, taking apart the record of the talentless, unachieving blowhard.

On the other hand, the accomplished blowhard may actually have expertise which justifies their stances, that their comments might have value.  The entertainment value of the talentless hack may be marginal, and not overcome the annoyance that they bring to the table. 

Of course, whoever unnecessarily prolongs meetings more is obviously the worst.

Belichick's Horcruxes

Now we are on to something: where has Belichick stored the other pieces of soul?  I really should not speculate because I am, well, a fan of the Dark Coach's team and want them to be successful this weekend and beyond.

But I cannot help myself as a student of Defenses against the Dark Arts.  So, where are BB's horcruxes?  If he is at all like Lord Voldemort, he would place pieces of his soul in items that mean a great deal to him from his past.  So, my guesses are:
  • There would be one at a Annapolis somewhere since that is where his father coached football--a very formative experience.
  • There would be something that involves his time with Bill Parcells and the NY Giants.  Probably involving Lawrence Taylor--maybe his shoulder pads?
  • Something from BB's time in Cleveland.
  • His second Super Bowl ring--not his first or his most recent--that would be too obvious for a scheme-ster like BB.
  • The challenge flag he carries around in his sock during games--it is never that far from him.
  • No, none of his coaches, since he discards these much like Voldemort discarded Death-eaters.  One could have guessed ye olde offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, but BB would never put a piece of his soul in a person older than himself.  Kind of defeats the purpose.  Tom Brady?  Well, if Tom Brady is not cut after this season or next.  Yes, Brady is akin to Voldemort's snake.  But crafty BB might actually put a piece of his soul into .... Peyton Manning instead.  Why?  Because Manning is perhaps the smartest QB in the game, and that is one thing that BB values.  It might also weaken Manning, making him easier to control/defeat.  This would explain his recent performance.  Finally, making Manning a horcrux would not be what anyone would expect (well, except me). 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Unsolicited Advice: Empty Next Version

I saw this piece that contains advice from parents whose kids have left the house to parents who still have little kids in the house.  Of course, my first reaction is: hey, parents with little kids have no time to read this and no energy to follow this advice.  I remember how exhausting it was to have one little kid in the house.  Having more than one?  Oy.

Anyhow, some of it is good, some of it is impractical, some silly.

  • Record conversations with them about whether or not there is a Santa or God.  People worry enough about the surveillance state without us dragging out our phones/ipads/whatever recording device whenever a conversation with our kid(s) get interesting.
  • One hunk of advice is not advice--time is precious.  But the text beneath it is good--embrace the family vacation.  Once they get older, holidays and summers do get more complicated.
  • Get to know their friends. Sure.  We were inconsistent with that--we knew Kid Spew's friends far better than Teen Spew's. 
  • Have family dinners.  For some this is impractical.  For us, we did this nearly every day and our daughter managed to dominate the conversations somewhere along the way.  I forget when that started.  
  • Go to every play, sporting event, awards assembly you can.  Yep.  I missed a few along the way due to travel, but was there for most of this stuff.  Of course, this is easier when you don't enroll your kid in four or five activities at the same time.  Our kid tended to pursue one activity at a time and then drop it and move on.  Tiger parents we were not.
  • Listen from the front seat while chauffering around.  Hard to avoid if you have a talkative kid.  Sure, we ended up listening to podcasts the past few years, but they often provided us with more fodder for more talking.  If you don't get it by now, yes, we have a talkative family where I am often the quiet one.  Really.  No, really.
  • Keep the kids secrets.  Sure.
  • Help your kid figure out their strengths and interests.  Well, yeah.  Not sure why empty nesters have to tell anyone this.  
  • Same goes for be affectionate.  Of course.  Again, this is not the wisdom of empty nesters.
  • At the end of the year, sit down with your kid and write down their memories of the past year.  Sure, this is an annual thing you only have to do about 16 times or so.  But really?  Interrogate your kid on an annual basis?  Isn't this what Facebook is for--noting in your account what has been going on?  I sent out annual letters with our holiday cards that detailed the year in Kid/Teen Spew.  Sorry, by the way, as we missed this year's card due to work and flu.   This is the kind of thing that separates the ambitious parents from relaxed (lazy?) ones like myself.
  • Unplug when the kid talks to you.  "You can check email when the kid goes to bed." Some of us work out of the house and also use computers and other screens for much of our entertainment.  So, no on this one.  Yes, in terms of paying attention during meals and when the kid has a serious concern, but one can turn away from a screen temporarily without turning offf the machine.  
I am still trying to figure out this empty nesting.  The good news is that technology allows us to be connected without being intrusive via email, facebook, skype/facetime.  I certainly don't miss having to chauffeur the kid even as I miss having the kid in my car.   Things are definitely less interesting without Kid/Teen Spew around.  I get more sleep, but I am pretty sure I prefer less sleep and more kid time.  Just not the less sleep we got when she was zero to five.  That was not so much fun. 

I would say that every year of parenting this kid was better than the previous one with this year being the first year that is not true.  Why? Because she ain't around anymore.  How could that be better than High School Senior Spew?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Canada and Success in Iraq

I was on CBC's The Current radio program today, and among three experts talking about Canada, Iraq, and what success might look like.  As I had to wake up early for the taping, I had to scramble to think about success.  The answer: multiple audiences means multiple definitions of success.

In the short term, the standards are lower and clearer: stopping the expansion of ISIS in Iraq.  Check.  That is, the bombing campaign, enabled by CANSOF (Canadian Special Operations Forces) and perhaps others, has helped the troops on the ground (Kurdish and Iraqi forces) to hold the line against ISIS.  Given that ISIS's key narrative was about the inevitability of its momentum, just stopping ISIS's expansion is important and not just for protecting those who had not fallen in the hands of the truly bad guys.
Also, short term success: Canada once again showing that it is a reliable ally to the US and the other advanced democracies.  Given how short term American political memory is, Canada has to keep showing up rather than just pointing to the time in Kandahar.

Two other key measures of success for Canadian politicians looking more at the home crowd: no casualties (successful so far) and no discordant messaging from the field (successful until last week, now quite the failure).  As long as the costs of the mission are measured in dollars, it is hard to see it resonate that much domestically.  Unless the government looks like a bunch of liars.  In the past week, I have blogged much about the mismanaged messaging.  Trying to say that there would be no combat by Canadian ground forces has been a mistake, given that SOF doing advising and assisting will do stuff that looks like fighting to most observers.  Again, the line should have been drawn between conventional military operations and SOF mentoring, which could involve painting targets for the air campaign.

Long term?  That depends on politics in Baghdad over which Canada has no influence.  If Canada's aid on/near the front lines gives the Iraqis the breathing space to develop political deals that allow the Sunnis and Shia to live together in relative peace, then there would be long term success.  But, to be clear, the US had limited leverage on the Shia to be inclusive with the Sunnis when the US had 100k troops in Iraq, so it really is about the domestic stuff there over which the outsiders have minimal influence. 

One of the speakers focused on the UN.  I snorted.  Why?  Because the UN cannot get the Sunnis and Shia to come to an agreement.  Because who would provide the peacekeepers in Iraq?  Because the example of Bosnia is actually a lousy example of peace keeping/enforcing--that it was the US and NATO that ended the Bosnian war, not the UN which probably prolonged it

One of the things I have been consistently pushing lately is humility--that outsiders have had limited success in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc.  Canadians have to be particularly humble given that it has a relatively small military and it makes relatively small commitments.  Again, if the US cannot get the Shia and Sunnis together, it is silly to expect Canada to bring them together.

Anyhow, it was an interesting conversation, one that will be continuing as Canada continues to try to figure out what it can do in the Mideast and elsewhere.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Will Deflation-Gate Replace Squirrel?

The folks here at Spew Industries are trying to assess whether to develop a new flavor of Distraction Sauce.  Our current product does really well in today's market place, as squirrel seems to be a popular flavor.  However, tastes do change quickly and it appears that a new form of distraction may gain in popularity:
Brian McFadden, NYT
The challenge for us is what does a deflating football taste like?  We know what squirrel tastes like, as we fried up a few and presented them to focus groups.  But I am pretty sure that we cannot get our testers to eat slices of fried deflated football.  Hmmm.   Plus, is this is just a fad?  Is the popularity of this taste as fleeting as ... the Indianapolis Colts' chances were in the game last week, regardless of the balls being used?  

For now, we will keep selling our Distraction Sauce with its squirrel flavor.  We were wise not to buy into the Benghazi spices that some folks were recommending to us.  Still, we will keep an eye open for popular distractions.

Ethnic Security DIlemma in Retrospect

One of the regrets of my career is that I was developing the ethnic security dilemma concept the same time as Barry Posen, who published his in Survival in 1993.  As I prepared for my comprehensive exams in 1991 in IR and Comparative Politics, I focused on ethnic politics for the latter exam.  I wrote papers that developed the IR concept for ethnic politics, got nice comments from my profs, but moved on to the dissertation. I should have tried to publish the piece--I would have scooped Posen.

Why talk about it now?  Well, one lessons is that publishing good ideas in grad school might just help one's job market outcomes--I spent three years on the market and ended up in a less desirable spot.  If I had that pub, who knows?

More importantly, I have been forever frustrated since because Posen's view of the ESD is a pretty military one--that it is all about translating the security dilemma to the civil war battlefield.  So, he ends up arguing that intermixing provides temptations to pre-empt, which leads to group competition which leads to spirals and violence.  The policy implication of this is to separate groups--partition or something short of it, so that groups are not tempted.  The problem is that groups that are quite concentrated, that are not intermixed, are not deterred by their vulnerability.  Highly intermixed groups have to worry and may be deterred by their vulnerability.  Indeed, in many of the classic ESD cases, outside actors have to be brought in to trigger the violence (see John Mueller's stuff). 

My view of the ESD was a political one--that competition was not for terrain and neighborhoods but for control of the government.  Why? The greatest threat to any group is the coercive apparatus of the state.  Genocide is committed mostly by governments who have most, if not a monopoly, of the means of coercion. 

Why am I thinking about this today?  I am preparing for my Contemporary International Security class, which meets tomorrow.  One reading focuses on the surge in Iraq and seeks to explain what caused the decline (temporary as it clearly now is) of violence.  Four arguments are in play: that the US surge worked on its own, that the Anbar Awakening (Sunnis turning against extremists in their own group) worked on its own, synergy between the two (the authors' argument), that violence declined because the ethnic security dilemma was resolved via ethnic cleansing. 

That is, no more ethnic insecurity due to intermixing as violence was aimed at creating homogeneous neighborhoods.  The article does a great job of showing that violence was not related to intermixing, that the creation of homogeneity did not lead to less violence but to changes where violence occurred.  That the homogeneous neighborhoods served as bases for aggressive actions, not for defensive ones. 

Anyhow, I am always glad to see some evidence that I might have been right long ago.  And, yes, I did publish pieces of my view of the ESD in various spots along the way, but it was a bit late to influence how others view it.  So, the more popular version continues to shape how people think about ethnic conflict.  Which proves the old academic saying: if you snooze, you lose.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Credibility Gap Opens

I want to be clear--I don't think it is wrong for the Canadian SOF to help with targeting and other advising/assisting stuff that gets them closer to the front lines.  If you want to engage in a bombing campaign, it is better to have accurate bombing than not.

BUT this government has done its best/worst to be manage the messaging and create more confusion than there needs to be.  The latest is a statement by the CDS to make it appear that he was not lying on October 19th:

“I understand that there may be some questions about my comments on Oct. 19th about the nature of activities being undertaken by Canada’s Special Operations Forces in Iraq. To be clear, the situation on the ground has evolved since I offered those remarks, and we have increased our assistance with respect to targeting air strikes in direct correlation with an increased threat encountered by the ISF. 

“Our SOF Personnel are not seeking to directly engage the enemy, but we are providing assistance to forces that are in combat. The activities of Canada’s Special Operations Forces in Iraq, as described by Generals Vance and Rouleau on January 19th, are entirely consistent with the advise and assist mandate given to the Canadian Armed Forces by the government. You should be justifiably proud of your men and women in uniform.”

I call B.S. on this.  Why? Because I have some decent sources that say that the CAN SOF were tagging targets--acting as forward air controllers--before October 19th... as in when the mission started.  Indeed, the Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson says that the SOF guys never had any limits on what they could do.  So, which is it?  No activities near the line, no tagging or no limits?  I would bet on the latter.

The problem is that this government created a false impression in September when it was talking about the mission. It should have said something about how this mission was not going involve the SOF engaged in offensive operations on their own, which would have allowed for facilitating the offensive/defensive ops of the Kurds/Iraqis.  But the urge to say no boots on the ground doing combat made the government say something that was unlikely to be true--that the SOF were not involved in combat. 

This is not mission creep as Roland Paris would argue, but deceptive government messaging.  If the govt slid into combat, then it would be mission creep.  But that is not what happened, aside from one firefight.  But this is also not akin to what the CF did in Bosnia or other peacekeeping missions, as the CF did not tag targets for someone else in those efforts (as far as we know). 

So, we have much muddled/confusing/conflicting tales being told now that just undermine the credibility of the government and the Canadian Forces.  More transparency at the start would have largely avoided this. 

I will post tomorrow on combat vs. whatever, boots on the ground vs sneakers and all that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tag, You're It

The debate of the past 48 hours about what the Canadian Special Operations Forces [CANSOF] are doing in Iraq is partially repeating the confusions of September.  The CANSOF were sent to advise and assist the Iraqis (seems to be primarily the Kurds).  Canada then sent planes--to drop bombs, to refuel their planes and others and to do reconnaissance.  While the two opposition parties opposed the deployment, they cannot do much both because they do not have enough votes and because the Canadian Parliament does not have authority to do anything--tis all the prerogative of the Crown (thanks, Phil!).

Anyhow, the reality is that Canada is engaged in bombing targets in Iraq along with its allies.  To engage in accurate bombing of moving targets, having someone on the ground "tag" the targets via a laser designator is pretty much required in the 21st century.  Especially if you want to minimize mistakes--hitting civilians.  Indeed, the most controversial bombing in Afghanistan was where the Germans claimed to have eyes on the target but did not, which led to more than a hundred civilians being killed. 

Alas, we are stuck in a definitional mess about what is combat and what is not combat.  But the larger issue is that if we want the CF-18s to do their job, we need to rely on folks on the ground to help out in the targeting.  Outsiders can train the Iraqis to do this, but it is not an instant, easy lesson apparently.  So who gets to do the tagging? As it turns out, Canada does (and maybe the British and Aussies, so far the Americans are saying they are not doing it).

This does mean more risk than just hanging out far behind the lines, which means a firefight that happened last week.  But that is why SOF are sent, rather than conventional forces--they are better trained, better equipped and more experienced (hence the Special).  This means you can offset or mitigate the risks--there are more risks but you are sending the best folks who can operate in ways that reduce the risks (the Canadian snipers that seemed to end the firefight pretty quickly from what the reports suggest).

The key is this: sending CF-18s meant that Canada was doing combat.  It wants to avoid sending larger numbers of troops to do ground combat--that this is not Kandahar.  But there are boots on the ground doing stuff very related to combat--designating targets, advising at the front.  These books are worn by SOF, so the risks are less and we don't think of them as boots on the ground.  The government is trying to have it both ways--that there is no ground combat but Canada is engaged in a kinetic air campaign.  That creates the muddled confusion. 

To be clear, I am fine with Canadian SOF enabling the air campaign (aha, the army guys are enablers!), as the Iraqis are not yet ready to do that work apparently.  I would rather have the CF-18s  (and our allies) hit the targets than miss--both to be more effective and produce fewer civilian casualties.  I am not fine with the idea that Canadians should avoid the front entirely, as this would put real limits on the ability to advise and assist those who are facing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. 

The line should have been drawn not between ground combat and no ground combat but between combat and conventional offensive military operations.  But too late for the government to undo their rhetoric of the fall.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mission Confusion

Today, we got a clearer idea of what Canada is doing in Iraq and so we are now more confused.  How could clarity provide confusion?  Let me explain by focusing on what we learned today.
  1. We learned that Canadian Special Operations Forces engaged in a firefight with ISIS.
  2. We learned that CANSOF are near/on the front lines about 20% of the time, as they assist the Kurds/Iraqis.
  3. We learned that CANSOF are using laser-designators to help the planes drop their bombs accurately on targets (GPS bombs are, in my amateur understanding, good at fixed targets, but moving targets are best hit when spotlighted by laser-designators--some knowledgeable Air Force types can tell me if I am wrong on that).  
  4. That the CF and CANSOF were incredibly transparent today.  Which is really, really interesting (see below).
Canadians seem to be confused because they were told by their government that there would be no combat operations.  The government seemed to indicate that the CANSOF mission to advise and assist and train the Iraqis would not involve stuff on the front line.

I had a long day so I have not had the chance to check my old posts, but I think I raised the question of what "Assisting" meant.  Anyhow, Roland Paris, amongst others, is calling this mission creep.  I have many problems with that term, but given that this seems to be the mission all along the way, the mission did not creep--it was just not what people thought it was.

One of the problems in today's discussion of deployments is boots on the ground vs. no boots on the ground--with a key exception--that SOF don't count as boots on the ground.  That the Special Operators wear flip flops or sneakers or float on hoverboards, but do not count as troops in popular discussion of deployments.  We have known since September that Canada had SOF in Iraq.  Assisting.  Well, what kind of assistance is most useful when the other side is on the offensive?  If you have 60 SOF or so, perhaps the most useful would be serving as forward air controllers to facilitate the air campaign.  And that seems to have been the case. 

What happened last week was not a combat operation in the sense that Canadian Forces did not plan an attack but got attacked and responded with force.  Which is fine and to be expected.  But this is effort is not so similar to the combat Canada experienced during the blue helmet days of peacekeeping as the CANSOF were participating in combat--targeting the ISIS troops/assets on the ground so that the air campaign.  Is that combat?  Certainly.  Is it participating in ground combat ops?  Kind of.  I think that will be the government's fudge--that the Canadian Forces in Iraq on the ground are not engaged in offensive operations--that they did combat but not combat ops.  Which is slicing things finely and making them look silly. 

The really big news, in my opinion, is that the CANSOF folks were pretty transparent today, which the CF does usually but only rarely when it comes to Special Ops.  And now the government is in a bind.  Pretty much everything the officers said today at their press conference can be used to raise questions about the government's policies:  will the mission be extended? how much combat will the CANSOF folks experience? Did this exceed the mandate (even though the parliamentary vote was one of expressing support and not about approval [thanks, Phil])?  My guess is that the firefight forced the openness as it would get out that the Canadians did engage in combat.

For my televised take on this stuff, see this video as I was on CBC's Power and Politics today.

And, yes, my winter beard is awesome.

Hate and Heritage

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  It takes on a  bit more meaning in my house this year since we just saw Selma, which reminded us that MLK kept pushing and pushing when he knew his life was at stake. 

It led to a conversation with Frosh Spew--she said she had learned that the appearance of the Confederate battle flag on state flags in the South was not something that had been around since the Civil War but was a response to the Civil Rights Movement.  Yep.  So, the flag came to symbolize not the war and whatever heritage might be involved but opposition to Civil Rights. Which means it stands FOR segregation.  It stands for Voter Suppression.  It stands for ... White Supremacy.  

It is just that simple--that the timing of its re-emergence as a symbol means that the heritage that is bound up with the confederate battle flag is not brotherhood in battle in the Civil War or States' Rights but racism. 

Which is why I am appalled to find out today something that I did not know or had forgotten: that in some places in the South, MLK Day is also Robert E. Lee Day and Stonewall Jackson Day.  FFS!!!  It is perhaps the perfect way to diminish the day--combining MLK with those who fought to perpetuate slavery and White Supremacy. 

Whenever I discuss inequality and discrimination with my daughter (racial, gender, whatever), I tend to emphasize the progress, and she always sees and finds unacceptable anything short of equality.  She has tremendous impatience with the way the world is.  A tremendous passion for seeking change.  And, as a result, I have a hard time arguing with her.  Because she is right. 

As long as we have states continuing to lionize those that fought for inequality and politicians undermining the gains of MLK via Voterfraudfraud, we will need to be passionately impatient.