Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Flag Speculation

Lots of people are wondering why there is a white flag on top of the Brooklyn bridge:
My guess?  Green Goblin is surrendering to Spider-man due to much guilt over that which transpired on this bridge long ago.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jon Stewart Uber Alles

This is why I prefer to blog about Star Wars than Israel/Palestine:

oh, and the joy of Argentina is that I could actually watch a Daily Show clip unless information control central that is Canada.

The American People Need Re-Education

Because their opinions on Star Wars needs heaps of work. Sure, I provided a public service long ago by ranking the SW movies, but apparently the average person polled by 538 either does not read my blog or believe it or both.  Let me go through the 538 post and point out some of the insanity and provide some perspective.

First, those surveyed have seen Empire the most, Return the second most and Star Wars (a New Hope) fourth.  Spike TV needs to amp up its showing of Star Wars--we now have a better idea of what they owe America.  Phantom Menace is third most watched?  Oy.  I guess we were all excited about more Star Wars and showed up to watch it.  So disappointed were we.  JJ Abrams must avoid the Phantom mistake.

Second comes the ranking, which can be seen as right or very wrong:
Right because Empire > SW-NH > Return.  Woot!  But Phantom Menance as third?  That 10% of those surveyed would give it any chance at being anything but the worst of the series?  We can pick on boy Anakin, we can on all of the revisions such as Midichlorians, we can pick on the dialogue, and yes, it has the most Jar Jar of any of the movies.  What this really proves is that any survey will have about 10% (or 20%) pure deviant opinions.  Either these are drunk frat boys trying to be funny, hipsters who are trying to be uncool, or the profoundly disturbed.  Any survey will have some chunk of people spouting off opinions that are OBJECTIVELY WRONG.

"Those who rated "Phantom Menace" as the best film were more likely to rate the prequels higher."  My response: like saying that those people who like to eat glass also like to eat rocks. 

The good news is that people almost get right the favorability stuff:

Many would say that Han should be ranked higher, but 1% is a thin margin and as much as folks like the charm of the smuggler, he ain't got no powers.  Luke is the point of view character as well.  So, no surprise he is the tops and so is Leia.  Indeed, little separates the major protagonists that we all love.  C3PO can be whiny so he is a bit off the top.  Anakin is over-rated--worst acted, got the worst dialogue (not the actors' fault), made it hard for Natalie Portman to fall in love convincingly (she easily demonstrated that skill in a weekend with Thor), and the dude kills a bunch of kids.  Not Darth Vader but Anakin.  And he attacks Mace Windu....   Surprising that Boba Fett, always seen as being cool by much of pop culture, is ranked so low here.  But he did pretty much just get knocked over into a Sarlaac pit, and his dad was also pathetic against the Jedi.

And, yes Jar Jar should be ranked lower than Palpatine.  Why?  Because Palpatine despite being the personification of evil was at least effective.  Jar Jar was ineffective.  Also, Palpatine read Diversionary Theories of War and used that arcane IR knowledge to amass power via the cynical use of ... separatists.  Jar Jar--just a goon, drawn in a pretty racist fashion.

The bigger problem with this ranking is that Chewbacca is left off of it (so is Mace).  Not only does Chewie not get a medal at the end of SW, he is denied his place in the survey.  Must the discrimination against the shaggy continue?  I say nay.

More folks think Han shot first, many think Greedo did, many don't understand the question.  Yeah, that's about right.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Bashing Law Profs

My brother-in-law is a law prof, and a damned fine one.  He has written good stuff beyond law reviews. I have always been impressed with his hard work during the family summer vacations as he works really hard to beat the law review submission deadlines that are late in August every year.

I say this as a caveat before I get brutal about distinguishing law profs from the rest of professor-dom.  Why?  Because a law prof has published a piece at the Wall Street Journal that basically calls for Israel to violate the Geneva Convention--that attacking civilians is hunky dory with him (swell, spiffy, too legit to quit, etc). [Pretty sure my law prof brother-in-law is horrified]

The Geneva convention says:

The first thing to ponder is who is this guy?  Thane Rosenbaum is a law prof--that was one response I saw on twitter.  Well, my first response is to say: law profs and prof profs are two different species.  Law profs do not generally have PhDs.  Which means that they did not have to pass comprehensive exams that demonstrate a mastery of the relevant literature.  They don't have to pass dissertation proposal defenses or dissertation defenses or write dissertations.  Which means that they don't have to be able to design research, defend the design or defend the research.

Their primary form of publication is in law reviews.  Law reviews are not peer reviewed despite the name--they are reviewed by law students. [Update: Ok, some are.  That this guy has not apparently published much in law reviews of late suggests that the system works, I guess]

To be fair, not all law profs are hacks [update: I was pointed to here by Phil L.].  And not all other forms of profs are devoid of hack-iness.  But if you are a law prof advocating for the use of violence against civilians, you suck as a law profYou suck as a human being as well.  If a political science prof wrote something like that, one could possibly imagine that there is a strategic logic for how civilian casualties might work.  Indeed, there have been such folks who have argued that civilian victimization is a workable counterinsurgency strategy.  That does not mean it is right, but that it might work.  A law prof should be arguing about whether something is legal or not.  But I guess if you don't read the Geneva Convention, then you don't have to worry about such arguments?

Oy.  Oy on stilts.  This guy is not doing anyone any favors.  Except the WSJ which will now get more hits.  Lovely. (No link from me).  So, what is my point?  That we should not hold law profs to the same standard as other profs since they don't have to do what other profs have to do to earn their credentials?  Maybe.  This guy makes me think: yeah, maybe.

[H/T to Max Fisher and Matt Ford for their tweets of the docs above]

Buenos Aires: Day 2, Electric Boogaloo

Had my first hunk of Argentine beef and it will certainly not be my last.  I had one meeting at the other end of Buenos Aires today, so I decided to walk and do some tourism along the way.  Very tired now, but it was worth it. 

What did I learn?
  • They love their dogs so much that they park their dogs (see the pic)
  • That neither banks nor hotels will exchange currency.  Given that there is a vibrant informal trade, one might expect the government to facilitate more legit outlets.  But no.  So, that helps to explain the major tourist destinations having heaps of men and women whispering loudly "Cambio!".  The difference in rates is apparently about 40%--$8/1 officially but $11-12/1 unofficially.  
  • I apparently look Argentine enough as I had multiple people ask me for directions today.  Must learn the phrase for "sorry, I am a silly tourist."
  • Argentine beef is good--I think a late lunch may be all I need... at least until the ISA crowd shows up and then things get social.  
  • They park cars in their academic buildings:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jewish or Democratic? The Choice Is Coming?

It has long been argued that Israel would eventually have to choose whether to be a Jewish state or a democratic one but not both.  Why?  Because as the non-Jewish population of the country grew, the Jews would eventually be significant enough to alter the political scene.

Why soon-ish?  Recent events suggest that the two state solution is not going to happen.  The West Bank is not going to become a Palestinian state with the extensive settlements creating facts on the ground that will be very hard to overcome. 

So what happens?  The right wing may have hoped that the Palestinians would leave Gaza and the West Bank, but they are not so welcome in the rest of the Mideast and they do not seem likely to leave.  Admitting a lot of Jews from elsewhere (Russia) have perhaps delayed the inevitable (at some cost since the Russians and others have to be put somewhere and perhaps alter the balance of political power).

Talking to a former student today, one who is much smarter than I on this area, raised the likelihood that the third intifida would be focused on democracy--that the Palestinians will push for the right to vote in Israel's elections.  Yow!  This would/will put Israel in a very difficult spot.

As I posted last week, I don't like to write about this particular conflict since people are so divided on it and because I don't spend that much time reading about it (too damned depressing).   That the two state solution seems to be off the table just makes me even more frustrated.  Again, actors on both sides have heaps of blame to share.  So, yet another pox I guess....

Buenos Aires, Day 1

I am in Buenos Aires for the meeting of the International Studies Association and the regional related association--FLACOS.   I am also meeting some experts on Latin American civil-military relations as the next project will include a few cases from this region.  So, a bit of research and prep for future work and a bit of testing the project's ideas.

So, what did I learn today?
  • My strategy of watching only movies I would not pay for in the theatre on flights paid off.  The Jack Ryan movie had an incredibly stupid plot.  The Robocop re-boot was so forgettable I spent much of today trying to figure out what I watched last night on the plane.  Oh, and flights are good for re-watching very good movies too.  The Lego Movie remains chock full of magic. 
  • The US is not the only place with unhappy veterans.  This pic is in the park next to the presidential palace.
  • How to divide by eight.  The current exchange rate is pretty favorable, so my shopping for my wife and daughter is complete thanks to the street fairs.
  • Buenos Aires is like Vancouver--the cabs do not seem to be able to make it through more than one light.
  • In the tour of the Casa Rosada, the Presidential palace, we got to have a quick walk through the President's actual office.  They covered up the phones so we could not see who is on the speed-dial.  Very interesting.
  • Very doggy town between the strays (a couple) and the poop (way more than a couple). 
  • Thus far, I have not tried the late late dinner.  I did learn that the beef empanada is much better than the chicken.  Probably the last time I have chicken in this beef-tastic place.
  • It is very strange to watch a British soccer team play an American one (Tottenham vs Seattle Sounders) broadcast on EPSN in Spanish.
  • I really enjoy my grad students.  Through good timing, I had a chance to spend most of the day with one of my former PhD students who is now on the tenure track.  Not only was it fun, but I learned stuff (see next post).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Happy Twitter-versary To Me!

Today is the five year anniversary of when I joined twitter (+/- a day or two).  Woot!  It has been a very quick five years.  I was a skeptic, of course, as I didn't think there was much to say or to learn in 140 characters.  I quickly learned that with links, pics, RT's and all the rest that 140c's could contain a heap of information.  More importantly, I learned that tweets could contain a heap of personality, as I have met many, many sharp, interesting, insightful, fun individuals over the five years.  Some have become friends, and some have become real-life friends.

So, twitter has been a time-sucking boon to me.  I have to be better about managing my time, as I can get distracted, especially with days like the ones we had this week.  But it is not as frivolous as I thought long ago either.  I am now better informed about events as I get multiple perspectives pretty quickly.  While my feed is not as diverse as it could be, I do get exposed to many views that I do not necessarily share.  Sure, I prune away the conspiracy theorists, the extremists and the like, but I keep following at least a handful of folks to my right and a similar handful to my left.

I have kept my feed a mix of the professional (scholars, analysts, institutions) and the personal (tv critics, a few comedians, a few interesting actors).  I originally tried to keep my twitter voice distinct from my other voices (blogging, facebook, etc), but I tend to lack the discipline.  Plus I like to be silly and tease my friends and joke about stuff.  The joy of twitter fight club was not just winning the 2nd prize of a cool flask, but of testing my snark against sharp people and meeting people I would otherwise have never met, all around the world.

I certainly tweet too much, which probably deters some folks from following me.  I tend to get more followers when I am off at a conference, which means that fewer tweets is more attractive.  I know I regulate my feed so that there are not too many over-tweeters on it.  But again, I lack discipline and have many interests so I tweet a lot.

I certainly have used twitter more consciously this year to promote the new book.  Now that the book tour is taking a siesta, I am no longer tweeting the song list.

Anyhow, I am very thankful to those who engage me via twitter.  Twitter has allowed the world to become a smaller, more interesting place.  Thanks for putting up with me.  See you on twitter (although not as much in the next week as I will be in Buenos Aires, conferencing and having the first conversations for the next big civ-mil relations project).

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blog Posts as First Drafts

I wrote about proxies yesterday as principal-agent problems.  Today, I gutted the theory and had it published at The Globe and Mail.  So far, the fans of Russia are commenting more than other folks, not a surprise.  That they are forgetting that Putin has taken credit for organizing the separatists is only a mild surprise.  Oy.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Principal-Agenct Theory Exemplified

The metaphor of principal and agent is one that I dodged during and after grad school, but caught up to me when I was working with a friend on the NATO and Afghanistan book.  Why?  Because we realized the question really was about delegation--and that is what P-A all about.

The basics are this: whenever someone (the principal) hires someone else (the agent) to do something, the agent ends up knowing more about the details of the matter than the principal, including how the agent is behaving as it is doing the work (or not doing the work).  So, principals need to figure out how to get the results they want--by hiring people with similar outlooks, by managing discretion, by oversight and by providing incentives.  See the Dave and Steve book for how it is applied to NATO and applied to the civil-military dynamics within the countries operating in Afghanistan.

P-A is relevant today because of the events in Ukraine.  We don't know much about what happened although some are foolish enough to speculate. But what we do know is this: Russia has organized, facilitated, equipped, and staffed the separatist movements in Ukraine.  They may not be entirely of Russia's creation and they are not entirely staffed by Russia, but it is clear that Russia's politicians have seen these separatists as their agents--their employees--to do their bidding. 

Russia wanted to destablize Ukraine, and viola, these folks turn out, armed and equipped.  So, the questions then, from a P-A perspective are:
  • What were the orders, the guidance, given to the separatists?  What was their job?  Were they given authority to shoot down planes?  Was that something permitted or at least not forbidden by Russia?
  • What were the separatists' rules of engagement?  
  • Were the folks back in Russia aware of the separatists' capabilities?  
  • What kinds of leverage does Russia have over the separtists?  Can they reward good behavior and punish bad behavior?  
  • Does Russia have agents on the ground operating within the separatists' organizations?  
The P-A problem is particularly problematic whenever a country relies on proxies rather than their own military.  If one is relying on one's own military, you can promote/demote/fire poorly behaving agents.  You can more easily control the assets they have, expanding or shrinking their authority and their capability.  But with proxies such as rebel groups?  Even ones which have members of your own military within them?  Not so easy.

Yet the lessons of the 2000s is that counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency is best done by locals.  Which means outsiders are stuck with the P-A problems of relying on proxies.  Hamid Karzai, for example. 

Why am I blathering about this today? Someone asked me about the implications of today's events in Ukraine for Syria. Given that Russia has a fair amount of leverage over the separatists and yet still get an awful outcome, one can only imagine how little control the US would have over the Syrian rebels that the US might arm.  So, yeah, don't expect any MANPADs (anti-aircraft weapons carried by individuals) to be sent to Syrian rebels anytime soon.

Reacting Too Soon to Ongoing News Story

Guilty.  With the Malaysian plane crashing in the Ukrainian war zone, it is easy to start blaming folks.  It may not be the Russian separatists.  It might not have been shot down by missiles.  Lots of stuff could have happened.  So, I am going to speculate anyway because that is what we do either implicitly or explictly.  I prefer to be explicit.

What we do know is that commercial aircraft were flying over/thru a war zone.  This should be the first WTF question.  The Ukrainians said that they would not fire at any planes over 7800m apparently.  How reassuring is that?  The FAA decided months ago, before there were a series of planes (and helicopters) shot down in the region, to ban American planes/pilots from flying through this area [or not, see comments].  Why didn't other authorities (Dutch, Malaysian, European, ICAO) re-direct flights from here?  We know, thanks to the Vincennes disaster, that commercial planes flying over a war zone might be confused for something else. 

Some might say that something else caused this plane to fall out of the sky: bomb, pilot error, malfunction.  But given that the plane crashed in an area where anti-aircraft activities had been quite energetic and relatively successful, I think Occam's razor would cut all but the missile explanations.  Three different sets of actors could have launched a missile to this height--about 33k feet or 10km: Russia, Ukraine, and the Russian separatists.  All had access to weapon systems designed to knock down high flying planes.  Ukraine inherited Russia's anti-aircraft technology when it split from the Soviet Union.  The separatists apparently captured Ukraine's systems (the web is chock full of pics and claims on social media by the separatists that they had these missiles).  And Russia has what Russia has.

It is very unlikely that Russia would have shot down this plane.  No rational reason to do so (would only escalate a conflict that they have been kind of hoping to go onto the back burner), and unlikely to accidentally shoot down a plane over Ukrainian territory.  The separatists and their fellow travelers might blame the Ukraine government for staging such an event.  Again, this is unlikely as things were more or less moving in Ukraine's direction lately with some victories on the ground.  Why cause a major international crisis and hope that the other sides gets the blame?  That is a very dangerous game, and unlikely when, again, things were not getting worse but potentially better for Ukraine.

The separatists?  Well, knocking down planes and helicopters has been its primary means of imposing costs on Ukraine.  With significant losses of territory, offensive land operations seem not to be a good option to make Ukraine hurt.  But knock down expensive and very visible symbols of Ukrainian military might (relatively speaking)?  Yes, that makes sense.  So, if I had to bet, I would bet that the separatists did this by mistake.  They wanted to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft and had gotten pretty good at it.  Governments try harder, usually, to avoid such mistakes, but then again the US shot down an Iranian passenger jet in 1988, the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean plane om 1983 and so on...

Will we find out the truth?  Probably.  There are far more intel assets dedicated to watching this part of the world than the waters to the west of Australia.  Will everyone buy into the explanation with the best evidence?  Probably not.  I mean, if tweets touting the success of shooting down a transport plane are being erased, then denying reality is likely to be the order of the day.

Again, I could be wrong about all of this.  So take all of this with a large grain of salt.