Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Those Wacky French Presidents!


French President Sarkozy has apparently stirred up a little crisis by suggesting to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he ought to replace his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, comparing him and his extreme right-wing credentials to those of Le Pen.

In my week in Paris, I gained a better appreciation for how powerful the French President is, compared to Presidents elsewhere. And the individual inclinations of each President seem to matter a great deal, which has meant a sea change in French foreign policy when Sarkozy replaced Chirac, despite occupying similar spots on the political spectrum.

I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Legit Coups Not So Popular

Despite the fact that various institutions in Honduras have blessed the removal of President Zelaya, the fait accompli is not going over too well outside of the country, and the degree of consensus inside may have been exaggerated.

Again, I am not an expert on Honduras, but we do seem to see more opposition to coups these days, as Obama and Chavez are on the same page, more or less. There is near unanimity among outsiders that militaries ought not remove Presidents. I am not sure how robust this consensus is, or whether the timing of these event, so shortly after the disputed Iranian election, matters a great deal.

On the other hand, while one wants to avoid having Presidents that are too powerful, having a one four-year term seems to be taking term limits too far. This limits the President's accountability. Would the President of Honduras be challenging the institutions (over something else) if he had really to think about re-election? I do not know, but it is something to think about.

Senator Stuart Smalley


Gosh, darnit, the Minnesota Supreme Court really likes Al Franken. Or at least his case. If the Republicans were already going somewhat insane, this would drive them over the top. But, don't expect a shield from filibusters as the Democrats will surely be divided enough on most of the major contentious issues of the day. Still, we live in interesting times.

Monday, June 29, 2009

June Movies: More Arrogant Profs!

Ok, due to travel, the summer movie season slid to a halt in June, with only one movie seen in the theater--Transformers Part Deux. Modest spoilers follow:




















First, the movie was better than expected, with a good dose of humor and some nice action sequences. It was hard to tell at times some of the differences between the various transformers, but not a bad ride.

Second, this movie continues to perpetuate the typical stereotypes of professors, and hit home a bit uncomfortably. Rainn Wilson plays an astronomy professor in an early sequence at a school that looks like Yale but is apparently in the Philadelphia area. He begins the first lecture of the year, full of smarm. He gestures with an apple and then drops it, demonstrating the law of gravity. This is where things got uncomfortable for me, as I do tend to drop things in class to juxtapose the law of gravity--that the hard sciences have laws and we don't in political science (just theories, Ma'am); and I also use an apple on the second day of my intro class. I don't demonstrate gravity with it, but rather compare it to an orange and then to a frisbee, and I do, like Wilson's character, toss the (unbitten) apple into the audience. The purpose is to demonstrate different logics of comparison. Yet, the combination of fruit and classroom stunts with a character reeking of arrogance .... Well, I guess my students and teaching assistants would have the best take on the comparison between art (if one can call Transformers art) and reality.

Independence Day?

Today is the last day that American troops are supposed to be in the cities of Iraq, with the Iraqi Army and police forces taking over the job of providing security to the people. As of tomorrow, the US troops are only supposed to engage in operations at the request of the Iraqis, more or less. I am, as they say, as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

There are a few major problems with the new status quo:
  • The Iraqi government has not fulfilled the various promises made to the Sunni militias that sided with the US forces against Al Qaeda of Iraq.
  • The Iraqi parliament has not made that much progress on enacting legislation that would deal with many of the outstanding issues and grievances.
  • The Iraqi security forces are a mixed bag--some quite capable, others quite lame.
  • The last year of semi-peace may have been the result of the various opponents biding their time until the US forces go back to their large bases.
Thomas Ricks has had a series of pieces documenting the "unraveling." If we get through the next year or two without major violence, I think we will be lucky.

In any society, governments play two potential roles at the same time: they can deter potential rebels/bad guys through the selective and discriminate use of coercion; and governments can create violence by presenting a severe threat to the populace. Much of the violence since World War II has been the product of governments preying upon their societies. So, to have a peaceful, stable and reasonably decent society, we need governments that are strong enough to deter those who would threaten relatively innocent parties while these same governments would have to be restrained enough to assure the citizens that its coercive apparati would only be aimed at those who break the laws. [This is the theme of a fantastic but obscure/over-priced edited volume that came out last year]

This delicate balancing act is a challenge for all political systems, and is particularly hard during or after civil wars and insurgencies. The question of the day is whether the Iraqi government will be capable and competent enough to use force selectively and only threaten those that are determined to bring it down. As you can tell, I have my doubts.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Honduras--A few more thoughts about a place I don't know well

Well, it is funny that one of my shortest posts got the most responses. To be clear, I know less about Central America than nearly any other place on the planet. But let me consider the general situation and the application of civil-military concepts.

Yes, President Zelaya sought to act against the will of the Honduran Supreme Court and of the Congress. But, what was the urgency to have the military step in? How was the President funding the referendum? Is there a national police force that could have implemented a court order to arrest the President? What is the process by which Honduras can impeach or remove a President? The CNN reports a process that seems a bit, ahem, dicey.

I am not saying that Zelaya should have been allowed to do whatever he wanted, but I am asking how would a process work, according to the Honduran Constitution. This outcome might be the best for Honduras, but the process by which it came about may be very problematic.

Let me suggest another example: I believe it was the August coup in 1991 in the Soviet Union (but it might have been another event in Russia in the early 1990s). During this coup, the commander of the Strategic Rocket forces issued an order to have all of the mobile missiles return to base so that control is not lost during the disorder. Do we find this decision reassuring? Well, somewhat, as this commander did not have the authority to make this decision. So, we get the right decision, but only because we (the world) was lucky that the right guy was in the right spot.

In Honduras, the military now seems to have the role of deciding when the President is acting in accordance with the Constitution. Is this a good thing for long term democratic stability? I am not so sure.

For the American example raised in the comments, the more apt parallel is not that the military should have exiled GW Bush for the absence of WMD in Iraq, but the contested 2000 election. At no time did anyone seek to ask the military's opinion on whether Bush or Gore won the election. I was not pleased with the Supreme Court's decision, and we are still paying the price. But I would prefer a bad Supreme Court decision to the intervention of the military. It is the job of Congress to remove the President via an institutionalized process, one that is quite difficult to achieve.

Militaries often claim that they are acting on behalf of the public against corrupt leaders, and many times they are. But they often do not return to the barracks.

I am a big believer in process. It sometimes leads to bad outcomes, but the classic question in civil-military relations is: how guards the guardians? If the military sees itself as having a role in the political system, who stops it when it is wrong.

The Past and Present of Civil-Military Relations

I started teaching a course on Civil-Military Relations a couple of years ago, mostly so that I could master the literature for my current project with David Auerswald on how countries control their militaries when engaged in multilateral operations. The old literature focused almost entirely on coups--causes, conduct, prevention and the behavior of military regimes. I was more focused on the newer parts that focused more on how advanced, stable democracies try to control their militaries not to avoid coups but to maximize effectiveness.

As it turns out, that old coup stuff is still relevant as events in Honduras this weekend suggest. Indeed, coups have not quite gotten as out of style as we hoped. Even in the absence of a military take-over, the issues and dynamics are still quite relevant, as we have watched in Iran where coup-proofing is the story of the day.

So, it looks like I didn't waste that much of my students' time the past couple of years.

Grant Coincidence

I just blogged about grants a couple of days ago, and now one of the lead articles in the New York Times focuses the processes and outcomes of grants to study cancer. The article indicates that the National Cancer Institute is far more likely to fund incremental projects that are unlikely to lead to innovation and significant strides in fighting cancer, and far more likely to reject projects that are riskier.

“We have a system that works over all pretty well, and is very good at ruling
out bad things — we don’t fund bad research,” said Dr. Raynard S. Kington,
acting director of the National Institutes of Health, which includes the cancer institute. “But given that, we also recognize that the system probably provides disincentives to funding really transformative research.”

I really have no idea how it works in the hard sciences, and I really am not sure about the macro picture in the social sciences, even in Canada. What I have tended to observe in my corner of academia is that funding follows the fads, which, in turn, follows current/recent events. So, heaps of funding after 9/11 for terrorism and then counter-insurgency but probably not that much before. Funding for research on international finance, I would guess, probably was pretty hard to get, but will be easier now.

A key difference between the social sciences and the hard sciences, for the most part, is that their equipment is quite expensive and regular outside funding is required to keep their labs up to date. They also require larger numbers of post-docs and grad students to operate the labs. We, in the social sciences, as far as I can tell, put most of our money into graduate students for research assistance and then travel. We don't need much in the way of fancy equipment, except for some outliers in the profession. We can get by with interruptions in our grant cycles--when we do not get renewed. At least I hope so.

When the folks who rank universities into categories (Research 1, etc) changed their criteria to focus more on external funding, my previous institution went way over the top, making the pursuit of grants seem more valued than the actual accomplishment of research. Funding is an important means to an end, but not an end in and of itself. Sometimes we forget that, but perhaps in the world of cancer research, the funding issue is so critical that its dynamics determine the research.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Theocratic Conspiracy or Just a Coincidence?


I mentioned a couple of days ago that the media seems to have the ability to focus on one issue or event at a time. And then Farrah Fawcett dies, but is immediately crowded out by Michael Jackson's demise. I would be tempted to suspect that the Iranian regime had MJ killed just to get the cameras and bandwidth focused elsewhere. At least, with Iran, the media followed the story for more than a couple of days, as it can have a fickle attention span, as proven by the past 48 hours or so.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The So-Called Rule of Three

Very frequently, when celebrities die, we tend to notice it happening in a pattern of three. That is, we just had Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson die in quick succession, and so people observe yet again that celebrities tend to die in groups of three. I would suggest that we observe the pattern because we want to observe the pattern. The time in which the celebrities must die together is elastic, so that it only counts when three have died. This week's sad departures is easier to bunch together, but in other cases, observers will count deaths that occur a week or more apart. So, our coding criteria are flexible enough to make cases fit our rule. We will ignore those deaths that happen in isolation, so the rule is not seen as violated. If any other celebrity dies in the next couple of days, then Ed MacMahon's may fall out of our group of three.

Why does this matter? Actually, it does not really mean anything at all. Just a pet peeve.

It is sad that these folks died. I was more of a Cheryl Ladd and Kate Jackson kind of guy, but Farrah Fawcett's rise did have a big impact at a pivotal time. I remember being upset at missing the key episodes of Six Millon Dollar Man where she appeared--where were Tivos, VCR's, and Youtube when we needed them. And I was a fan of Charlie's Angels--I was just the right age. I do remember being bummed out when she and Lee Majors divorced. Her career after that took more twists and turns than most, just like her battle with cancer.

Michael Jackson's life is perhaps one of the strangest, but his talent was undeniable, no matter how much I tried to deny it. Thriller was an amazing album, but I resisted mightily at the time since it was so overplayed. As a teenager, it was my job to dislike anything that was very popular. I couldn't help but watch the amazing videos as they ranged from the ridiculous (the fight sequence in Beat It) to the sublime (the dance sequences in Billy Jean and Thriller), making MTV much less monochromatic.

I don't think we have to group these deaths into an artificial group of three to mark their significance. Despite the fact they passed after their prime, the individual losses are significant enough.

The Hidden Challenges of Private School

Our daughter goes to private school since this is the only way immigrants in Quebec can get an English education. The rules for eligibility to the English public school system are confusing enough for Canadians, but pretty simple for immigrants since they closed a key loophole (closed between the time we accepted the job and the time we arrived!). She likes her school, and it has the advantage of being small, so she gets a good amount of attention.

As we were driving home today from a fun day of zipping along the tree-tops, she was going through the paperwork that came with the grades that we picked up before our ropes-course adventure. It led to a conversation about some of the challenges of private schoool:
  1. The school expects parents to lay out large sums of money on trips and other expenses without blinking. Many, but not all, of my daughter's classmates do seem to have incomes that exceed a professor's salary, so perhaps her peers are not so sensitive to the additional costs.
  2. Uniforms. No one likes them. They are not particularly comfortable, and they are over-priced. As a result, we tend not to by a complete set for five days of school, especially since there are different uniforms for winter and non-winter as well as stuff for gym. Which means that we have to do laundry quite strategically throughout the school year--twice a week.
  3. The least obvious one is that we are not well integrated into our larger neighborhood. We don't really know the kids in the surrounding blocks as my daughter goes to school a 15 minute car ride away, rather than to the very nearby schools. The kids come from all over the West Island of Montreal, and mostly not from around where we live. So, we know our immediate neighbors, but her friends are not nearby, making spontaneous interactions largely impossible with kids her age. That will probably be an advantage in a couple of years, though.
On the other hand, her school is far better integrated than mine ever were. Perhaps not along income, but the school does consist of bunches of immigrants as well as Francophones who cannot get access to the English public system (the language/education laws work to segregate the English and French-speakers born in Quebec).

As I said, we like her school, but it is a path we would not have chosen if we had any flexibility. Now that we are committed to this path (path dependence indeed), we have a good idea of what to expect for the next four years: lots of laundry.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grants: Who is Funding My Travel and Why?

Explaining another mystery of academic life to those folks outside of academe.

I have gotten a few questions lately about who is funding my research and what are they expecting from me? Good questions, particularly given my pictures of tourist spots in Berlin and Paris. The answer is that Canada is paying for my recent trip but not for the tourism. That is, the rooms, the flights and other travel expenses were covered by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It is a government funded institution that supports research by university professors in the areas captured by its title.

Does the government of Canada assign me the task of going to Europe to ask pesky questions of the French and German decision-makers involved in their missions to Afghanistan? No. The SSHRC agency vets proposals for a variety of grants. The one I received a few years ago was the Standard Research Grant, which is not dedicated to a specific kind of project (hence the name) but to helping profs engage in their research. The agency has developed an extensive process by which the proposals are vetted, taking into account the question being pursued, how it is being researched and the expertise/record of the applicant. [see Jacob Levy's blog for a discussion and relevant links for a grant that has gained the attention of the politicians]

There was not a call for research on NATO and its operations in Afghanistan. But, this project was funded in part because it is an inherently interesting question that has gotten even more interesting as the project has gone along, as the NATO partners have been bickering ever since we received the money about the challenges of burden-sharing in Afghanistan. This was not strategic on my part (or my co-author), but, well, fortunate, as the past several NATO summits have focused on the problem of caveats--restrictions placed on some of the contingents in Afghanistan by their home country. This is part of a larger question/dynamic about how countries control their forces in multilateral operations--our topic. Initially, we were going to spend much time and effort comparing NATO's efforts in Bosnia to those in and over Kosovo and the mission in Afghanistan. But, there has been enough variation among the various countries as well as within several over time, that we are focused almost exclusively on Afghanistan.

In terms of what we are stopped to give back to the SSHRC for the money, well, we owe a final report and nothing else. Of course, we have higher aspirations: we are in the process of writing the book and revising a couple of articles for submission to journals. I would say that this project has already been more impactful (geez, how I hate that word) than my other projects, as we have had a series of conversations with policy-makers, where they were not just giving us information but also learning from our work. I have also presented the work in progress to policy-makers in Ottawa, in addition to mixed (policy and academic types) there and elsewhere (next week in London!). Moreover, we have had a lot more direct contact with media types because Afghanistan is THE Canadian foreign policy issue. So, the whole question of whether this project is relevant outside the academic world has already been answered.

Even if it were not, grants are necessary to help foster research, as universities are key locales where (this will sound awfully un-humble) knowledge is created. Not all research is policy-relevant (although we should care about policy relevance some of the time). Basic research is as important in the social sciences as it is in the hard sciences. We just don't need or receive billions for super-colliders that might threaten the planet and whose commercial applications are indirect at best. But our research does actually serve the public good in a variety of ways. Of course, given that I have received such funds, this post is entirely self-serving, but then again, so is this blog.

So, I was lucky enough to get a grant that would allow me to pursue an incredibly interesting project. And if I couldn't interview military officers and government officials at night or on weekends while I was in Paris and Berlin, well, I think my time was well-spent. Indeed, my courses in the future will benefit from the visits to the museums, memorials, and monuments.



And I do like the new version of my CV:

Ask The Reader: Theocracy or Military Regime?

It is becoming increasingly likely, I think, that Iran, which was always a strange hybrid, is going to become more like a traditional military regime and less like a theocracy. The legitimacy of the Clerics has been undermined by their positions on the election, and the last week has demonstrated that Ahmadinejad has effectively stacked the key institutions with members of the Revolutionary Guard. So, which is better for the Iranian people, if significant reform is not going to happen? And which one is better for the neighbors?

Let me suggest a couple of things, despite the fact that my knowledge of Iran is pretty close to zero:
  • A Revolutionary Guard-led regime with much less ideological cover might actually have to be a bit more careful than Ahmadinejad has been the past few years, as support can only come through coercion (well, that and bribes, given the Rev Guards' increased role in the economy--hints of China). Regime maintenance will have to become the focus of all efforts and cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, the clerics may end up presenting a significant threat once they realize they have been sidelined.
  • Under the good old days of unquestioned theocracy, Iran did aggressively support terrorism around the world, as far away as Latin America and with great consequences for Lebanon. So, it is not so clear that we should be rooting for the clerics.
  • Unfortunately, it is pretty clear that a coercive regime is going to be worse for the Iranian people than what they have been living with. Dissent has been and will be met with repression.
  • And what we know about repression from the decades of scholarship is that it can work and it can fail. We have no simple equation or theory that tells us if the use of force here will succeed at squashing dissent or not. Most of the work in this area is frustratingly contingent.
  • We do know more about military regimes, but not in comparison to theocracies. Again, it really comes down to who is willing to shoot whom, and, thus far, the current regime has built up a robust support system through various coercive arms of the state.
So, I leave it to the readers: which do you prefer: theocracy or military regime? And why? In whose shoes are you putting yourself?



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Priorities? Questionable Media Attention

Just a short post to marvel at the media attention span these days. I grumbled while in Europe about how much of CNN International's and CNBC's time was dedicated to Iran, but, at least that was the most significant issue and complex enough that it could use some attention. As far as I can tell, the US media skimmed over the tragic Metro accident and is now obsessed with the South Carolina governor with the Argentinian mistress. Just that her name is Maria should be a boon for anyone borrowing the music from West Side Story. And this is a strange tale. But this much coverage? At least it pushed Jon and Kate off the screen for the moment.

Fete Nationale

Today is Fete de Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a day for Quebecers to celebrate their identity. It is also pretty close to the 7th anniversary of when I established residency in Montreal. Which reminds me of how scholars can often fail to use their knowledge in their own lives, and I am referring not just to participating in collective action when free-riding makes the most sense.

When I got the job offer from McGill, I did not seriously consider the issue of Quebec secessionism. This is partly because I was so frazzled at the time due to the long hours inside the Pentagon, partly due to the deep desire to get out of Texas Tech and Lubbock, and partly because I never studied Quebec as it was never violent enough to be comparable to the cases of secession I did study.

We moved in 2002, seven years after the previous referendum, which only narrowly went to the No side (rumors of voter by the secessionist side linger). I guess that was long enough for me to think that the issue was dead. But, I know, given my work and my reading of the literature on ethnic politics, that plenty of incentives continue to exist to ensure the continuation of nationalist politics with separatism as the focal point.

These incentives include:

  1. A first-past-the-post system that exaggerates the share of seats the larger parties get, so one can get majority of seats despite only gaining a small plurality of votes. A classic recipe for ethnic outbidding, where one or more parties promises to be the best defender of a group's interests.
  2. A split between Montreal (which is underpresented in the provincial assembly) and the rest of the province, which varies in supposed substance (English vs French, immigrant vs pure laine, etc).
  3. A political party or two (Parti Quebec that competes within Quebec for the provincial power struggle and the Bloc Quebecois which competes for seats in Canada's Parliament) who owe their very existence to the separatist struggle and would probably cease to exist or at least split if either Quebec became independent or gave up the cause.
  4. Geographic and population circumstances that empower Quebec within Canada, so that the federal folks can never write off Quebec, one way (letting it go) or another (ignoring it).
  5. Following from the previous point, the threat of separation gives Quebec much bargaining power to extract resources from Canada. So much so that some folks suspect that the nationalist cause is popular not because people want Quebec to become independent but that they want to gain more concessions. My guess is that this might apply to supporters of sovereignty to a degree but not to supporters of independence.
  6. A political system where a winning referendum would only need fifty percent plus one vote. This, of course, drives me crazy since fundamental change should take more than that. One referendum could be followed by another with a completely different result, just due to a small shift in turnout or drunk frat boys. Also, the temptation to cheat in such circumstances is higher, and fears of such would be high as well. It was fun to watch Quebecers ignore the European Union's requirement for Montenegro's independence--55%--which would be clearly insurmountable here.
And, of course, the grievances, as we see from time to time, remain to provide enough fodder to maintain a nationalist discourse, even if these grievances pale in comparison to separatist causes elsewhere and do not provide enough enthusiasm to win a referendum decisively. Indeed, precisely because Canada presents no physical threat to the lives of Quebecers, because Francophones have largely won the battle for control of Montreal's economy, and because Quebecers can pursue their grievances through the courts, through the national parliament, and through their asymetrically-powered federal unit that support for real independence is half-hearted. This distinguishes Quebec from pretty much all of the successful secessionist movements of the past five years or so.

Now that I have spent seven years here, on Fete Nationale, I feel safe in declaring that the nationalist discourse will continue, despite the best efforts of some of its leaders to sabotage it (Parizeau), and, the outcome of the next referendum (yes, Virginia, there will always be another referendum) will hinge on how clear the question is. If the question is quite clear, as forces within Canada and Quebec have been pushing, then the vote will be no. If it is vague, then outcome is less predictable.

Good times! Well, for scholars of nationalism, not so good for those who care about their home values.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Service versus Summer Days

Summer days quickly fell victim to delayed service, so blogging will be light for the next week or two. The academic enterprise greatly relies on the third and least observed/rewarded part of the professor's job--providing service to one's department, to one's university, to one's community and to the profession.

  1. I have now much less service to my department as my term as Associate Director of Graduate Studies. Most of this kind of service ebbs in the summer time as people flee, especially the students. No job searches, which occupy heaps of time, either in the summer.
  2. Service to the university tends to decline as well--hard to have committee meetings when folks are out of town. Or at least can claim that they are. My role as Director of the Montreal Research Group on Ethnic Conflict bridges this and the next category, but since it mostly involves organizing speakers and workshops during the year, it does not occupy much time in the summer either.
  3. Service to the community can mean many things, depending on one's specialty. At TTU, the folks who did Public Policy were heavily involved in the municipal governments in the area. Here, my community service, such as it is, is mostly media stuff--some newspaper, radio and semi-regular appearances on TV. This is mostly event-driven, with my TV stuff at the local CTV station mostly focused on Canada's military effort in Afghanistan.
  4. Ahh. Here is the big one right now--service to the profession. Specifically, reviewing for journals, presses, grant agencies, etc. This always, always, always comes in bunches. This can be very time-consuming, especially one stupidly agrees to review large hunks of stuff. And I agreed to do a bunch of this before the trip to Europe, and, surprise, surprise, didn't get much done. I spent much of my downtime in Europe typing my handwritten notes into computer files, leaving little time or energy for reviewing other people's stuff. So now I am stuck.
I will probably end up blogging anyway, as I procrastinate or distract while I try to read the stuff.

Anyhow, this service stuff largely goes unseen, and is never really counted for tenure or promotion. So, the irony is that while I am critical in my written work of arguments that focus on the power of norms, I tend to say yes to service despite the rational calculus suggesting shirking would be the better option. Because it is the right thing to do. Collective action sucker, indeed.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Days Drifting Away, but Uh Oh!

In my post earlier today, I was critical of the perception of threat to the French language, but I did not intend to diminish the importance of identity or dates to remind us of who we are. Fete de St. Jean de Bapiste is important for Quebecers to remind themselves of who they were and are. My point was mostly to suggest that Quebec and Quebecers are better off than they were, and that the perceptions of threat outside of Montreal about Montreal are outdated.


And just as June 24th is important to Quebecers, today is a very important today to me, although it took some reminders. One of my Facebook friends posted that he was reuniting with his brother and his father at Camp Airy—I guess his father is still one of the camp doctors that surge on the first day of each session to check the incoming boys [I wonder what the H1N1 pandemic is doing to their process of intake]. And, today, on the way to the train home, I listened to a podcast of the Vinyl CafĂ©, the Canadian equivalent to Garrison Keillor, Stuart McLean went through a list of his summer jobs, ending with his favorite—a counselor at the camp my daughter now goes to every summer in the Montreal highlands—the Laurentians.

These reminders helped to reset my internal clock. For the past 23 years, I could usually figure out what the day it is in the camp calendar and what is likely to be going on at that time down south at the camp in the Maryland “mountains.”

For me, summer started on the third or fourth Monday in June. Actually, for me, that day meant that my life was starting again, while the rest of the year was mostly about waiting for the next summer. Camp was incredibly important to me, as it was a place of firsts: first ultimate experience, first rock climbing, first kiss (there was a girls camp 10 miles away or so with more than weekly interactions between the two), first play (an Agatha Christie murder mystery), first lead role (David and Lisa, playing a troubled boy who had a hard time connecting with the girls [method acting?]), and first job as a summer counselor.

It was not only a place of firsts, but of bests as well. I was one of the more adequate athletes of my age cohort. It was not a sports camp per se, so the best baseball players were at baseball camp, the best wrestlers at wrestling camp, and so on. Which mean that the competition was not as stiff—so I could win pretty much all of the wrestling tournaments in which I participated the last several years of camper-ness, usually as the underdog against fairly fearsome foes (I can still remember their names—which is amazing given how poor my memory is of most details—as my wife would attest).

I did most of my acting at camp, with my favorite role as the aforementioned socially unskilled David. Of course, my acting bug was partly driven by the opportunities it presented—to hang out at the girls camp. It never paid off in the way I had intended, but, given my years since in front of big crowds, the acting experience back then continues to pay dividends today. [Forgive the short shorts, but this is the only digital picture of me at camp--and with Mike Magenta, the drama director at that time].

I developed skills there that seemed quite valuable but have long gone un-used: porchball, uno, spit (the card game), cleaning up each morning, the art of taking cold showers when the hot water would run out, hiking and bitching at the same time, and, of course, the ability to count down to the day camp started again

I am more nostalgic about camp than any other of my experiences. I loved Oberlin and the people there, but never really felt as I fit in. That was probably apt since Oberlin defines itself as a place for people who do not fit in. I was incredibly lucky to be part of a great cohort in grad school, with the academic stuff supported by heaps of softball and bar-b-q’s. The junior faculty at TTU helped me get through that place, and the guys on the Joint Staff made each “half day” (from 6am to 6pm or so) more than bearable. But camp was what ultimate remains for me—the time and place where I can be my best with people who made me feel like I belong. I was one of the few kids each summer that spent the entire eight weeks there, with most only there for two or four weeks. So, I really felt like an insider, one that belonged there, year in and year out. Becoming a counselor was a pretty easy transition, and I only stopped when I spent the summer after my junior year traveling in Europe.

I am sadder this year when I remember camp, as some of the legends of that time are now passing on. I have only recently re-connected with some of the Camp people thanks to Facebook, only to find that the very best were facing cancer and Alzheimer’s. The good news is that the victim of Alzheimer’s disease can still remember his days at Camp Airy. If I have to forget everything else, I would hope that Camp would be my remaining memory as well.

Language Politics: A Contintuing Theme

While I was away in France and Germany, it was time for the semi-annual language controversy in Montreal. Apparently, there was a non-francophone band that was invited and then uninvited and then re-invited for the St. Jean de Bapiste Day celebrations. This day is THE Quebec National holiday, celebrating the Quebec nation and is largely, although not entirely, associated with Quebec separatism, ahem, make that sovereignty.

So, it is only appropriate that in today's Gazette there is a story about a poll about the different perceptions of French in Quebec. The Anglophones and the Allophones (whose first language is neither French nor English) don't think that the French language is threatened in Montreal, while Francophones overwhelmingly do think French is threatened. Since I just spent a week in Paris where a country historically known for the assertion of its identity and language seemed remarkably chill about these topics (including four or five langauges on the emergency explanation in the Metro), I found this extremely interesting.

I am going to track down the survey because it seems like it might have a huge bias. That is, the Anglophones and Allophones largely reside in Montreal, and the question seemed to be phrased as "Is French in danger in Montreal?" So, who were the Francophones who responded? If Montrealers, then I would consider their opinion to be a serious concern, as they are experiencing daily life and if they feel their language is in danger, well, that is serious. But if it is somewhat or largely folks elsewhere, then it is a largely a matter of politics and not of threat.

The reality is that the defenders of French have largely won their battles. They control the commanding heights of the political, economic and social systems of Quebec and even of Montreal. They have passed legislation and enforced it that makes French more prominent, that makes the immigrants (except for those stubborn few who send their kids to private schools--so that only half of their K-6th education is in French) send their kids to French immersion programs. This idea that French is threatened in Montreal largely resides on old beliefs about how things used to be.

There really is only one last thing that Quebec could do--it could eliminate or significantly reduce English from the air waves. Right now, telelecommunications is regulated by the federal government, but that could be grabbed by Quebec. However, that would be of limited impact since those who want their English programs on radio or TV could simply get gray market satellite programming and/or rely more on the internet. In a globalized world (as much as globalization is overplayed) and located next to the US, there is actually very little the Quebec or Canadian governments can do to limit English telecommunications products. Even banning English movies would not work since people would just see them online, legally or illegally.

But, these surveys are always good for feeding the beast--the newspapers and other media in this town who want to focus on the language dynamics rather than the lousy public services....

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Travel/Father's Day Siesta

A weak weekend for blogging. Wiped out from the flight, but do want to raise a couple of things before I take a good father's day nap:

  • Is it just my recent experience or are health scares a problem on transoceanic flights? On my flights to and from Paris, the pilot asked for a doctor. Yesterday, it was a passenger in distress a couple of rows behind me. I never was on a flight with such an annoucement and now twice in one trip?
  • Father's Day seems less contrived and more meaningful after a two week absence from my daugther, expecially after a laugh-filled shopping expedition. I didn't realize how much joy I get out of quizzing her knowledge of rock music while we drive somewhere.
  • I think the Obama Administration is making most of the right calls on foreign policy, but could be doing better on the domestic front. If you are going to give benefits to same-sex partners, get serious about it and make everything completely equal. Half-measures annoy everyone. Why bother unless you are serious? On Iran, I think Obama's increasingly serious tenor is at the right pitch. By staying somewhat low key, we stay out of it and let the Iranian powers that be reveal themselves. I am still pessimistic about the outcome, but the cracks within the government might widen as the various security forces are not entirely united.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Last Full Day in Berlin: Clarifications and Some Tentative Conclusions

I finished my last interview today, and will be returning to Montreal tomorrow via Paris. Before I review some of the things I have learned about Berlin, Germany, and myself, a few clarifications of earlier posts.

Art Questions:
  • I had wondered about how the new painters at the East Gallery (the Berlin Wall) got their spots. It turns out that there is an effort to get the original painters of the first round of striking paintings to re-create the efforts since graffiti has taken its toll.
  • I had registered some surprise about the especially vicious statues in the park on my first day. It turns out that the park used to be the hunting grounds of the Prussian kings, so statues of hunting makes sense.
Outstanding Ironies:
  • I forgot to mention a very strange set of streetnames. Well, one strange one. Near the intersection of the Reichstag and the Chancelry, three streets intersect: Konrad Adenauerstrasse (leader of West Germany after WWII); Willy Brandtstrasse (leader of West Germany when it softened and opened relations to the East); and .... Otto Von Bismarck Allee. Known for unifying Germany in the late 19th century via a series of wars. Hmmm.
  • Got booted out of a church that remains bombed out. I think it was a museum for forgiveness now but I didn't have time to read the displays. And isn't that ironic that they could not forgive my lateness? No. Never mind.
Things I Missed:
Besides the family, of course, two weeks in the big cities of Europe left me adrift to a degree. I had a great time and learned a great deal for the project (will I land in Montreal with proto-chapters? Depends on the onflight entertainment!), but I missed the comforts of home, including:
  • A bigger computer screen. The laptop screen by itself is ok but not great for trying to juggle webpages for blogging or anything else. I am spoiled by my big screen setup.
  • Decent tv in English. Finally a decent story on CNN--a feature on Obama's flying killing and the webstuff spawned by it. Otherwise, the CNNIntenational and CNBC are repetitive, boring and annoying. The Quest money guy is super-annoying, utterly destroying the stereotype of the charming British accent. I am glad that Jon Stewart didn't take him on since it would have meant endless repeats of painful TV. I even tried out a few MTV Germany programs that were in English with German subtitles. I now wish I didn't understand English--the shows were appalling--reality TV at its worst, making the young men and women of America look incredibly bad (Rock of Love, some other dating show as well). If this is the future of America, it is a good thing the country is declining in relative power.
Best Parts of Berlin:
  • The beer, duh. The rest of the food was good, too, both German stuff and various other foods (Tapas, Turkish, etc).
  • Friendly people. The interview subjects were very helpful, even if their point of view was a bit, ahem, structured. They were generous with their time, and quite interested in what I was doing. And nothing makes me happier than folks being interested in me and my ideas (see the blog sidebar).
  • Some incredible art and architecture. There is a bit of the "Mouse that Roars" syndrome in that the city was entirely rebuilt 1.5 times. Once after WWII, and, half again over the past twenty years as a fair amount of East Berlin is not recognizable as a Soviet satellite. Of course, there is still Stalin-esque stuff remaining, but lots and lots of new buildings and mostly done quite artfully.

Surprises:
  • Berlin is the flattest city I have ever experienced (only because Lubbock does not count as a city). I really wish I rented a bike for my first weekend here--much less death-defying than biking in Paris.
  • A spunky people. The stereotype of uptight, introverted folks not true here. A lively city, compete with protesters, marriage celebrations, heaps of semi-retired German tourists, and so forth.
Lasting confusion:
I still really don't know how I should feel. There are plenty of museums and memorials dedicated to the World War II period, with a clear acknowledgment (mostly) of the role of Germans and Berliners in the Holocaust. There has been a more conscious effort to erase signs of the East German period (they got rid of all of the guard posts, minefields and the like but then reconsidered whether to rebuild some of the defenses to teach the next generation--Germans favored this, Berliners were strongly opposed). It was hard not to think of the Nazi period with Nurmbergstrasse near my hotel, s-bahn trains which ended near Wannasee (a beach area) where the Final Solution was planned, and other reminders of the past.

And perhaps most in my face, the fact that the German people and German politicians are in deep denial about the war in Afghanistan because they want to avoid war. I don't think American aggression is always the answer, but there is a fight to be had in Afghanistan and it is coming north to the German sector of the country (not to mention that Al Qaeda folks did use Germany as a base of operations). Refusing to fire on Taliban because they are retreating is problematic, but definitely part of the WWII legacy. Overcompensation may be rooted in the pacificism that comes with living in the ruins and in the realization that your country was largely responsible.

I don't blame today's Germans for what happened 65 years ago, but I wonder if they might want to re-consider their fairly repressive stance against Scientologists.

So, I am left confused, both about Germany and how to write the chapter. The good news is that I did get a lot out of this trip, personally and professionally. Now I just need some grant money to go to Australia and New Zealand.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Waning Days in Berlin

I was not really going to have much to report today about Berlin since I spent most of it indoors with various folks (member of parliament, ministry of foreign affairs, think tankers). But things got interesting as soon as I stepped out of the U-Bahn stop.

Students were sitting on the ground, chanting, apparently about the lack of higher education funding, surrounded by heaps and heaps of riot control types (you can see the white helmets). Given that riot control is one of the kinds of activities that many countries in the NATO mission in Afghanistan seek to avoid--a caveat that I have been asking about, it was quite (alternative word for ironic inserted here).

The other youths I encountered were shilling for Jaggermeister--giving out leis (quite German), pics with the female sales-youths, and shots of Jaggermeister. I would have been a poor guest in Berlin to refuse. Not too shabby.

Perhaps it is the shot of Jagger, but MTV Germany is beginning to freak me out. First, Geri Haliwell (a spice girl, I suppose) sang Raining Men and danced around the school where Fame was set or probably danced around the Fame set. Then MTV-G plays Country Road, sang by people I don't recognize, but with the western set (West Virginia is not the West!?) featuring the "Bank of Lubbock."

Two other features of Berlin--Beer plus soda--I had a beer with sprite mixed in and it was pretty tasty; and mullets. Saw several young males who were rocking the mullet. If the conflicting interviews about Germany's civil-military dynamics were not confusing enough, the Jagger, the sprite-beer, and the mullets definitely have played with my head.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Berlin, Day 5: Cue up the song Wipeout

Hit the wall this evening. Was going to type up my notes from 2.5 days of interviews (already did the first morning), but running out of energy.

I presented the latest version of our Caveats paper to the SWP, Germany's leading think tank. I was hosted by Markus Kaim, who has been working on NATO and ISAF stuff. It was the first time I said out loud what I think I learned in Paris, but the focus of the discussion was on applying the Auerswald and Saideman stuff to Germany and what we need to know. Germany is proving to be the most complex case, as there are various kinds of restrictions on what the troops can do on the ground. Received lots of good comments and suggestions.

And my timing here is great, as NATO asked for AWACs planes to be sent to Afghanistan to run its increasingly crowded airspace. Well, NATO wanted it last year, but it was held up because it would cost NATO members money, and France was blocking it, or so they say here. But France gave in recently, so now NATO's request is formalized, and in Germany, it requires a vote of the Parliament to authorize a new mandate that allows the planes to go there and tries to separate ISAF (the NATO mission) from the OEF (counter-terrorism, ad hoc, US led mission) aspects. This is both good and bad for the research, because I get to watch a key part of the civil-military relations process during my week here but some of the people I am talking to are running around, trying to speak in the Bundestag or "chop" on the paperwork within the MoD. Exciting times. Reminds me of the key crises during my year in the Pentagon. Nice to know that it is not just the US that gets frantic ;)

Two more days of interviews. Need to find a stationary store or business supply store for more notepads....

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Berlin Day 4: Tired feet, good conversations

First, why are there fireworks in Berlin tonight? Perhaps it is because it is the anniversary of the 1953 uprising. Of course, I am getting ready for bed, so I cannot see them, just hear them.

Anyhow, a good day as I got some good points of view from foreign military representatives in the city, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and elsewhere. Have to get ready for my presentation tomorrow as it turns out that the location is the biggest think tank in Germany on International stuff. But got back late from my tour/dinner with a connected researcher/graduate student, so will have to hustle in the morning.

So, just a few observations:
  • Seems to be a consistent difference now--government offices have sparkling water (water with gas) and normal water everywhere else. Hmmm.
  • Ministry of the Foreign Affairs had the strangest device for moving up and down in the building--a steadily moving elevator with no doors--you have to time your entrance and exit.
  • MFA also had a different security entrance--a revolving door that only revolved part way--counter-clockwise to enter the building and clockwise to exit. Getting a real education in comparative building security--MoDefense in Paris, in Berlin, Min of Foreign Affairs here, other govt buildings in both cities....
  • Star Wars Stormtrooper on the s-bahn today. Must have been down with the photo opps at the Brandenburg Gate.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Berlin, Day 3: A good day to be a political scientist

Well, it is always a good day to be a political scientist, but with interesting elections of late in Lebanon and Iran, there are heaps of good questions out there. Too bad we cannot provide definitive expectations. We can focus on the key dynamics and make some educated guesses. But as long as personalities and other ad hoc factors matter, we can only be humble. To build on Rumsfeld, the key are the known unknowns--we don't know if the military will shoot and, if so, upon whom? We know that the Iranian clerics have organized to repress and that the police are doing so. But, it could turn. The coup-proofing that the Iranian regime has developed (allowing the Revolutionary Guards to develop alternative sources of income, the existence of multiple sources of repression, etc.) seem to be robust enough.

But I was really referring to an interesting day of interviews, a very good start to my week in Berlin. I started with an interview with a consultant who used to work in Afghanistan in various roles (NGO, UN, German government). Then, I had lunch with a member of the German Ministry of Interior and talked police stuff--another place where caveats can shape effectiveness. Then I had conversations with German and Dutch officers working in the Ministry of Defense. Finished with an interview of a member of the Bundestag. I am probably more confused than before, but that is a natural part of the process. Confusion exercises my brain muscles, which is why I try to be confused at all times.

Some interesting (at least to me) observations along the way:
  • The German MoD is ensconsed in an area mostly populated by Art and Music Museums [complete with military version of the ubiquitous bear statue in the MoD parking lot]. This is a strange juxtaposition, but, then again, the German military is more focused on softer forms of power--development more than counter-insurgency.
  • Neither the Germans nor the French like to use the term counter-insurgency in large part due to their respective pasts in Yugoslavia during WWII and in Algeria/Indochina. Why does the past COIN during Vietnam not have the same effect in the US? Rumsfeld tried to keep the US military from using the word insurgent, but that was not because of the ideological or cultural meaning of the term--he just didn't want to recognize the reality of civil war in Iraq. But still, this is an interesting contrast. After all, Vietnam was a disaster, and the US military did seek to forget it all, leading to the failures of 2003-05. But the American people don't care that it is called counter-insurgency.
  • Big Egyptian Embassy, just a couple of doors down from the German Ministry of Defense. Hmmm. This connection might explain how the Germans were able to have a huge dig in Egypt in the mid-1930s, staffed with lots of soldiers, and then free to run large, fast convoys through the streets to the port.
  • Just before I got to the MoD, a guy in a car wanted directions. He had an Italian accent, and then started to hand me his card. I then realized it was the same scam effort that I encountered early in my trip to Paris. I moved on quickly.
Tomorrow, more interviews: Foreign Ministry, Canadian DATT, think tank type.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Elections, part II

I am not sure things are as clear some might suggest but we are moving from the literature on electoral fraud to the academic debates on repression, social mobilization and regime maintenance. I don't know anything about Iran, but the question, as always, is will the young guys with guns fire upon the citizens? What do the citizens (especially the protestors) expect? What does the government expect? The reality is that no one can be confident about what happens next. If the Interior Ministry successfully gets the police to shoot, then the question will become--will the Army fight the police or the people or stand aside?

The more we know about the stuff, the less confident we should be about any predictions. So, my prediction is that we will not know what will happen until it has happened.

Berlin, Day 2: Less Irony, More Tragedy

The headline of this post refers to my morning at the Jewish Museum and my afternoon at the East Side Gallery--where the Berlin Wall still stands. Overall, it was a good day--great food (the guidebook was right twice), better beer (I like wheat more than pilsner), sun and sore feet.




The Jewish Museum:


  • I hadn't noticed ipods as the medium for audio tours before. Verrry interesting.

  • Was struck by the display referring to education as the greatest good in Judiasm. Now that is ironic given my profession yet my fallen status. Perhaps I am the product of a secret conspiracy to maximize Jewish values despite all of my transgressions (they would be called my wife and daughter).


  • The museum has very distinct and deliberate architechure--to create voids--spaces of emptiness to remind people of the missing 500,000 German Jews (about half fled before the war and half were killed by the Nazis).


  • One void was quite noticeable--very little mention of the German resistance and of folks like Schindler. The displays did note that the folks (some? many) behind the July 20 1944 attack on Hitler (as portrayed in the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie) were anti-semitic and did not plan to return German laws to the heyday of acceptance of Jews--the early Weimar period (yet another reason the Weimar government was doomed). Maybe some of the people behind the assassination attempt were genuinely motivated/appalled by the Final Solution, but the movie probably exaggerated their numbers and their passion.


  • Had to google/wiki the Haavara Agreement, as there was a reference to it but not a clear one. Apparently, the Zionists in Palestine made a deal with Nazi Germany that would facilitate the emigration of Jews in the early 1930s in exchange for the Nazis getting the emigrants' property. Controversial since Jews were trying to boycott Germany at the time. This deal might have helped Germany's economy at the time, but, given what happened later, when Jews lost their property and their lives, this ugly tradeoff was probably the best that could be done at the time.

  • It is really strange to be, well, enjoying Berlin when it is the site of such an awful set of decisions and outcomes. On the other hand, the displays indicated that Jews were the targets in the middle ages of much violence for the supposed crime of killing Christ. So, unless we want cycles of violence, we have to move on. And given that the war ended 64 years ago, pretty much anyone who had a role to play has to be over 84. That means that the rest of the Germans today bear collective guilt but not individual responsibility (except for the random 14 year old in 1944 who betrayed a Jewish family in hiding and the like).


East Side Gallery:





On to other evil and how people responded to it.
Some amazing murals and some crappy graffiti on a stretch where the Berlin Wall still exists.



  • I was quite struck by a set of beer gardens between the Wall and the Spree (canal/river) since there very well may have been landmines there twenty years ago. Also, that the East Germans had a lousy sense for real estate, messing up a good spot with an ugly wall.

  • The wall had some blank spots where painters were adding new murals. I was too shy to ask (yes, me, too shy) the artists who were in mid-painting how the process works where they get permission. Since there is a fence protecting the better parts of the wall and the blank spots, there has to be some government in there somewhere, deciding who gets spots and who does not.

More Comparison with Paris:

  • The Paris Metro has barriers and guards access to the system carefully. The Berlin system (U-bahn, S-bahn) is on the honor code with some apparently random enforcement. Interesting. What does it say, reader, about their societies?
  • While I thought it would have been nice to bike a bit around Paris, biking really is best for Berlin--long, flat stretches, smooth roads, sane drivers.
  • Cheaper food--and cheap beer!

Tomorrow, the observations will decline as I will move into listening mode.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Elections, part I.

I have not read much to say much about the recent Middle East elections, but this article suggests that not only was there fraud in Iran, but ham-handed fraud (oops, not too halal). If the reports are true that the Moussavi lost both in his home town and in Tehran.

A carefully planned theft of the election would at least have conceded Tabriz to Moussavi and the rural western Iranian villages to Karoubi.

As the kids would say, OMG! Ahmadinejad may have more caused more trouble than he needed. The worst outcome he faced was a runoff--no need to butcher the results so badly. Either tweak them or let them play out as long as runoff or a win seems likely. Only if an expected first round majority for the opponent would have made something like this worthwhile. However, as I find in my classes, those who cheat do so because they haven't figured out how to succeed the ordinary way--that they are not so bright. Hmmm.







Berlin, Day 1: Irony and Interesting Stuff

Ok, seems like my mood has gotten less whiny and a bit more spunky now that I have touched down in Berlin. The weather was great (although a bit windy for ultimate though good for cooling hot tourists).

Again, a bunch of observations and perhaps a question or two for the three readers out there:

  • My last picture in Paris was of (the or a, don't know which) Communist Party office while my first in Berlin was of the CDU (conservative party). What does that say? Perhaps that hotel prices are much higher in Paris rather than Berlin, so that I could afford a hotel in a better neighborhood? Definitely a nicer hotel with wired and wireless internet and hopefully more reliable at either/both.

  • In the Tiergarten--the huge park in the middle of the city, there was a series of statues, each one demonstrating a fair amount of violence. Hunters fighting off a pack of dogs, hunters killing a buffalo or something, and so forth. Later on, outside the modern art museum, which used to be a palace or something, had an old statue of a God or hunter about to stab an animal with a spear. Much more violent statues than I have seen in other cities, perhaps suggesting the psycho-social/quasi-national roots of Nazi Germany?



  • So far, I like the beer gardens in Berlin (sample size of one) to those of Munich 22 years ago, which were tourist traps.


  • Second irony alert: in the middle of the park, along the major boulevard, there is a statue (Siegessaule) that was begun after the Prussian war against Denmark, and the completed after the victories over Austria and France to cement German unification in 1871. The figure at the top is the Goddess named Victory. Yep, a statue dedicated to victory, and, yet ever since this statue was completed, Germany has won many battles, but has lost every war. What does this mean? Apparently, golden idols for the Gods is an insult of some kind.

  • There is a road in the park along the Spree (canal/river) named John Foster Dulles Allee. First time I have seen a road named after a US Secretary of State outside of the US (any inside the US?). I would not hold my breath waiting to see Condi Rice Strasse or Bvld de Colin Powell or even Hillary Clinton Avenue any time soon.


  • The Germans are incredibly obedient at the crosswalks, only going with the green walking signal (which seems to have led to a souvenir business of little green walking dudes), even if no cars are in sight.


  • Ok, perhaps it is not just Texas and Russia. Lots of countries seem to have the bigger is better fetish. Not only is the Reichstag huge, but so are many other buildings. Reminds me of a certain alien planet on Babylon 5, yes, the one responsible for all of the wars, although their buildings looked a bit more like Budapest.


  • CNBC is so much better than CNN International. Only had the latter in Paris, have both in Berlin, and CNN is repeated stories I have seen a bunch of times, all news or crappy news. CNBC has Conan. No need to think about it anymore. Bad news for me trying to get work done transcribing the notes from Friday....


  • Thus far, the most expensive museum during my trip was the Checkpoint Charlie one--and they didn't take credit cards. Good thing there was enough interesting stuff outside to make the decision easier. The picture is my shadow, standing astrike of the marker where the wall used to be.

Reader Feedback Needed

  • Does anyone know of a great book or article (in English, of course) on the move of Germany's capitol from Bonn to Berlin--this must have been controversial, politicized and with all kinds of unintended effects and 2nd order effects. Perhaps Michael Lewis or Malcolm Gladwell said something about it?

  • Ok, how do I order beer in German? I like the beers that are less yellow and more orange, dark perhaps but not necessarily black.
A great day. Tired feet, but more stuff to see tomorrow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quick Reaction to Rise of Extremism

There have been a series of pieces in NY Times and elsewhere reacting to the shootings of the noted Abortion Doctor and at the Holocaust museum. My first thought about these events--that they are seen as criminal acts, rather than acts of dissent/protest/rebellion/etc. My students are studying militia strategies, when terrorists can support from the public, when some minorities are targeted for violence, and more. So, my first thought is to distinguish the events in the US from the subjects of my students. Why? Because successful repression of rebels involves the perception of violent acts as criminal ones, not political ones. While there may be a bit of dissensus on the abortion doctor killings, there is really little doubt that most Americans will view the shooter at the Holocaust museum as a crazy thug and not the martyr of a political movement. Timothy McVeigh is not a rebel but a dead criminal. These distinctions are meaningful.

What else is going on here? Right-wing extremism,which was considered rising by Homeland Security in April, is apparently rising in reaction to an African-American president, but we should also take seriously the economy--people have less to lose now and more need to blame. One of my students, Suranjan Weeraratne has studied scapegoatability--what causes some minorities to be targeted at some times and places and not others. His work is on Indonesia in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 1998. So, the parallels are pretty clear. We do have leaders in the US (well, Republicans anyway) spewing venom towards immigrants and perhaps other targets, but this has not led to riots like it did in some parts of Indonesia. But one of the aspects of Suranjan's work is especially useful here--he finds violence is more likely in areas where there are prominent religious and ethnic institutions that serve as focal points for collective action [He is defending his dissertation this summer, so you should hire him in the fall]. One could suggest that the Holocaust museum is similar to the institutions in Indonesia. This does not mean we should not create such institutions, even if they focus anger and resentment. But that these institutions should be prepared, and, indeed, it seems to be the case that the guards did their jobs very well, even at the cost of one guard's life.

And, ironically, I am off to Berlin, where anti-semitism was so thoroughly de-legitimized by Hitler's efforts.

Paris, Packed

Finished my week in Paris. Last day was chock full of interesting interviews--the J-5 types, Min of Defense aides and strategists. I need to type the notes into my laptop, but am procrastinating. I think I have a decent but not perfect grasp of France's military policies in Afghanistan. Still some holes and conflicting views, but some interesting contrasts with Canada and US.

Some last observations as I prepare for Berlin:
  • I am still lame, but got by ok. Definitely an increase in English-speakers and comfort with English in Paris since my last visit 22 years ago.
  • Indeed, favorite ad of the week was a series of posters in the metro for English lessons "Arretez le Massacrer du Anglais" with a cop or wounded person.
  • Parisians were certainly not as rude as their reputation. People were very helpful most of the time.
  • The food selection seemed more diverse, or my willingess to notice diversity has changed. Had Korean and Moroccan in addition to various kinds of French food. Only deviation--one cone of Ben and Jerry's this evening at the Sacre Coeur Cathedral.
  • Berlin may be easier in some ways (they expect people not to know German) but harder in others--really don't know German at all. Never been to Berlin, but spent several days in Munich a long time ago and a few days in Stuttgart as part of my year on the Joint Staff (US Army HQ Europe).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Penultimately Paris, Day 6th: Modern Art and More



This is my second to last day in Paris, and after 22 years and two trips, finally one rain-less day. Too bad it was a working day. I did get some tourism out of my system in the late afternoon/early evening, though. So, some more observations about life in Paris, 2009:


  • I paid more attention in the metro today--five languages for the emergency instructions on the Paris metro, four more than in Montreal.


  • Is it irony that the cheeziest stores are next to the Pompidou Centre, site of the Modern Art Museum? Or is it art?


  • Is it wrong that I have only three reactions to modern art: pretty, funky or blah? They had a Kadinsky special exhibition, and that was pretty educational. The regular modern art exhibits had a nice combination of different forms and didn't overcrowd the walls (one of the reasons I avoided the Louvre this time--plus wanted to avoid getting shot by an albino Monk assassin). There was also a special presentation of women in art, with a wall dedicated to the posters of the guerrilla girls movement. Very interesting.


  • I realized on my flight and then was reminded today that I am flying around Europe in the midst of a pandemic. So far, I am ok.
  • One more day of interviews and then off to Berlin with a full slate. Will have less time for wondering around, but Berlin is completely new to me. So, I will be running around alot this weekend, the only free time I will have.
Update: One more thing--a whole bunch of student groups were entering around 6pm. A) Does the Guggenheim or other modern art museums get as much student traffic? B) After school?

Afghanistan as the Main Show

In today's papers, there is a report about the new General, McChrystal, who is going to run the effort in Afghanistan and how things are going to work differently now. This story comes a few hours after I was asked by a French scholar what difference was Obama going to make in Afghanistan, given that much of the discussions of a revised approach preceded his tenure.

I think the most obvious and important difference between Bush and Obama here is on priorities--Iraq was Bush's, Afghanistan is Obama's. Washington, DC barely has enough for one crisis at a time. I found this out in 2001 in my second week on the Joint Staff when the Balkans went from being the main focal point of US pol-mil policy to being on the back burner as a result of 9/11 and then into deep freezer of US foreign policy as Iraq supplanted Afghanistan in 2002.

The story linked above is quite striking in the mobilization of senior personnel for the mission in Afghanistan--3 star deputy, a bunch of 1-2 star generals from the Joint Staff and from near retirement being deployed to Afghanistan, three ambassadors to help out Eikenberry--who as a general ran US operations in Afghanistan.

Some things we ought to consider in all of this:
  • Is this Obama or is this Gates? Gates was supposed to be a temporary bridge, but he is definitely making big decisions, and Obama seems to be quite comfortable with him. The speculation in December 08 of one year and then out is probably out of date.
  • Most of the folks moving to Afghanistan are coming from the Joint Staff--this is not inconsequential. I was always told that these were the best folks in the US military, but I was told this by folks on the Joint Staff, so it could have been self-serving and my experience was clearly affected by selection bias--I mostly encountered JS people in my one year in the Pentagon. However, in that year, there did seem to be a significant difference between JS people and officers elsewhere. The Joint Staffers were more curious, more flexible in their thinking, and tended to have better management styles (no Tommy Franks suck up to the folks above and step on the folks below). So, moving JS people to Afghanistan would seem to be a good thing [note that the boss of the J-5, my directorate for my time was first Gen. Abizaid and then Gen. Casey, who both did not do so well in Iraq--but for Abizaid I wonder how much of that was in his hands].
  • Obama/Gates were pretty unilateral in all of this--Commander of ISAF, one of McChrystal's hats (along with Commander of Op Enduring Freedom, which is an hoc, coalition of the willing, almost entirely American effort) is a NATO job, and his appointment should have been vetted by the Military Committee of NATO and then the North Atlantic Council. It seems like the Obama administration is in a bit of a rush, but to completely ignore the NATO process seems Rumsfeld-esque and unnecessarily abrasive (ok, that is probably redundant).
  • While I concur that more attention should be paid to Afghanistan and to the larger regional picture, the US still has more troops in Iraq and if/when things go south there, a lot of difficult decisions will have to be faced, like does US backtrack on its commitment to get out of the cities? How does it address conflicts between the Sons of Iraq/Awakening vs. the government of Iraq, etc? Even if things ultimately work out ok in Iraq, the situation is going to require CONSTANT VIGILANCE.
  • One related thought on Pakistan--when the US wanted Pakistan to do more with its own Taliban problem, was heavy-handed the approach Obama was hoping for? The Pakistan approach to counter-insurgency seems to be the opposite of what Petraeus has been trying to do.
And one more lesson learned from France--they call what they are doing in Afghanistan stabilization not because they think they are doing peacekeeping but because Algeria and Indochina has given counter-insurgency heaps du baggage.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Canada's Parliament and the Canadian Forces

In the course of an interview today with a French senior officer about France's command and control relationships, the officer indicated that parliamentary systems are different than presidential ones (he has not read my CPS piece of 2002), asserting that Canada had strong control over the Canadian military. I countered, nay, nay. But he got me thinking about it.

The officer's evidence was a quarterly report that the Canadian government must provide the parliament about the conditions in Afghanistan. This was one of requirements as a result of the extension of the mandate from 2009-2011. Indeed, given the series of extensions of the mandate for Canadian Forces by Parliament and the serious likelihood that Canada will pull out of Afghanistan (or reduce substantially) in 2011, the officer had a point. The report is not really much evidence, but the votes are. Yet, Prime Minister Harper is not constitutionally required to get approval for military deployments. He chose to do so, and, of course, the Parliament could always hold a no confidence vote, if he does not satisfy their concerns. Given that his is a minority government (his party does not have a majority of seats, and must depend on the inability of the rest of the parties to get their act together), this is a serious threat.

But, I guess it depends on what is meant by control, which is a central issue in the civil-military relations literature. Certainly, the CA parliament has far less power than the German Bundestag, which I expect to confirm next week when my travels take me to Berlin. I have been skeptical about the power of the CA parliament in these matters once I learned that:
  • the only members of parliament who have security clearances are the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, and the leaders of the various parties (mostly for terrorism issues), so the committees that are "responsible" for Foreign Affairs and Defence cannot ask any of the interesting questions or get the most important documents unless they get de-classified. How can you control the military if you have little clue about what it is doing?
  • one MP's staffer said that one of the ways they get information about the Canadian Forces' activities is to call the Pentagon. Yes, the Pentagon has more transparency than the CF (that was when Bush was still in power!).
  • The Previous PM did not seek Parliament's consent for deploying troops to Kandahar and Harper chose to do so. He did not, but now he is stuck.

Does domestic politics shape if, when and where the CF is deployed? Sure. The Prime Minister makes those decisions with an eye on his political position. Harper is not going to talk about 2011 until late in the game since there are no political rewards for it. But how Canada operates is largely out of the hands of civilians and entirely out of the hands of Parliament. Perhaps Canada's parliament is strong when compared to France's, but that is not saying too much (even with recent constitutional changes). And Canada's MP's are almost certainly kittens compared to their peers in Berlin. But I will only gain some certainty about that next week in Berlin, where it has to rain less (raining 6 out of 7 days would be less at this rate).