Wednesday, September 30, 2009

End of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" In Sight?

A Colonel who is now serving in Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's office (OSD for short) has published a piece in Joint Force Quarterly, arguing against the policy that was Clinton's dodge of the issue--whether gays and lesbians could serve openly in the US Armed Forces. Not only is Col. Om Prakash serving in OSD, not only did the paper win the Defense National Security Essay competition, but the publication of JFQ is vetted by the big guy himself--the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

The big quotes in the piece (as summarized by the NY Times):
“after a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly.”

Colonel Prakash concludes that “it is not time for the administration to re-examine the issue.” Instead, he writes, “it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.”

“In an attempt to allow homosexual servicemembers to serve quietly, a law was created that forces a compromise in integrity, conflicts with the American creed of ‘equality for all,’ places commanders in difficult moral dilemmas, and is ultimately more damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve,” Colonel Prakash writes.

It is about time that reality is applied to this issue. So, good to see that a reasonable argument is being made, one that seems to have imprimatur of both the Secretary of Defense (a Republican) and the Chairman of the JCS (probably a Republican). Obama's plate is already over-full, and he has to be careful how to deal with this issue, given the other balls in play (health care, cap and trade, etc.), but there may be a way for him to stop enforcement via executive order and then let Congress debate the issue later. He can make some kind of announcement about the needs of national security with two wars going on require all hands on deck, and so forth.

We live in interesting times.

Pax Americana--Wither, Whether, Whatever?

Michael Lind posted an extremely annoying piece in Salon on "The End of Pax Americana," suggesting that Obama may finally return the US to its core values. It is annoying for many reasons, so let me just take his assertions and quibble with them. The basic thesis is that after World War II (Lind, like the usual lefties, blames Truman, it seems, as if FDR was an idealist), the US abandoned a concert-of-power security system and instead focused on containment and unilateral free trade. An interesting move as it allows him to blast the US for being too hawkish on foreign policy and too soft on defending the economy.
  • First, the idea that there was a working concert to be abandoned is kind of strange--were Stalin and Mao going to be partners in maintaining peace and protecting the status quo in the world? Depends on whose peace/piece and whose status quo one is considering. While there is much fault to be laid at the US door for various activities during the Cold War, it does take at least two to tango. The Neo-realists have it right that a bipolar system is inevitably going to have a significant amount of confrontation as the two superpowers focus all of their attention on the other.
  • Once you pile on to that basic structural antagonism the conflicting ideologies, the very different political systems (democracy vs. totalitarian), the personalities (again, Stalin and Mao, please), it is hard to imagine a concert of the US, USSR and the PRC managing the world.
  • Second, the piece contains a very strange assertion--that the US bought its alliance partners off with unilateral free trade--serving as an open market but letting the Germans, Japanese and others to protect their own. This twists the tale, I think, as it was not so much bribery as seeking trading partners who had a significant postwar disadvantage--having been utterly destroyed. Yes, these patterns continued, but it also overplays the generosity of the US as it developed (both as a country and the collection of firms) strategies that maximized profit and influence in the world. And again, this ignores other structural dynamics.
  1. While hegemonic stability theory has its problems, the idea that international cooperation involves all kinds of collective action problems where free riding is endemic and one needs either one collective action provider or a small group of them is not that hard to swallow. So, Lind is right that there was toleration of free riding, but that was going to happen if the US wanted a stable international capitalist economy.
  2. Moreover, Kurth would talk about the product cycle (one of my favorite pieces of all-time): that the dynamics of international investment, including the movement of jobs overseas, is a natural part of how things are produced.
  • Third, that with the end of the Cold War, the US could have dumped its old behaviors and returned to a FDR-Keynes world order. Again, this is puzzling since the idea of setting up rules to manage liberal international economic and political systems was quite Keynesian (see Ruggie, Embedded Liberalism). It also ignores that the world is quite path dependent--that the choices we make structure the choices that folks will make in the future. Just as Obama has to face what to do with two unpleasant wars, leaders cannot ignore what they inherit.
  • Fourth, Lind mistakes Hegemonic Stability Theory. It was not so much about guns and lives, but about providing markets of last resort, helping out during exchange crises, providing a stable currency. The security stuff was not really part of HST at all. And as a result, Lind conflates those who observe that leadership in the international economy is necessary with the neo-cons who wanted to maintain American military dominance. Oops.
  • Fifth, he argues that the vision of the world with the threat of World War III is extremely pessimistic. It might be hard to remember now, but in the aftermath of World War II, optimism about international relations was quite scarce, that the war and the Great Depression killed post-WWI idealism. The early days of the Cold War seemed to justify a darker view of International Relations. A recent trip to Berlin and its documentation of the division of the city remind me of the dark days of the Cold War.
  • Sixth, Lind asserts that the Pax Am strategy requires exaggerating the power and malevolence of Russia, China, and Iran. I wonder if he would say the same if he had been living in Eastern Europe last year when the Russians shut off the natural gas and killed more than a few people with this demonstration of its leverage. I do not disagree that these threats are overplayed, but threats they are--you have worry about what countries can do, not what they promise. And the best way to manage such threats might be containment (not rollback a la Bush).
  • Seventh, one can support American leadership in the world, militarily and/or economically, and consider the invasion of Iraq to be a bad idea from the get-go.
  • Eighth, Lind seems wildly optimistic about the ability of countries to cooperate. Check out how well NATO is doing these days in Afgahnistan.
Yes, this kind of piece brings out my inner Neo-Realist--that the structure of international relations shapes outcomes--that competition and conflict are natural, that cooperation is quite hard. Domestic politics also matters, so Lind also underplays how constrained Obama or any leader might be, by domestic interest groups (defense contractors, ethnic lobbies, other concerned parties). And invoking Machiavelli's quote on reform is appropriate here as well--that change is quite difficult as it is risky. And invoking today's lecture, who can focus on the long term when a politician's power rests on short term outcomes?

Lind argues that the American public would not support the provision of public goods, such as peace and economic stability. True, they don't necessarily support paying for such things domestically, either--health care, taxes for education, etc. Part of representative democracy, when it works, is to find ways to do things that are collectively optimal even if they are individually sub-optimal. I think.

Finally, Lind points to various Obama decisions as moves away from Pax Americana. Maybe, or maybe his various policy decisions are driven by a desire to do American leadership more intelligently than his predecessor.

Foreclosure Aftermaths: Today's Theme

Fascinating piece in today's Salon: A "repo" woman whose job it is to go into a foreclosed house and clean it up for the bank so that it can be re-sold. This hits close to home as I have a relative who is currently facing foreclosure, and so this repo woman or someone like her may have to clean up my relative's stuff. The most disturbing line is actually not so much about what people leave behind but how they behave while they are in the house:

"Don't you feel bad for the people?" everyone always asks. The short answer to that is, "No." But I do feel bad for the kids, the kids whose parents left behind their toys and their artwork, the kids whose school pictures I have tossed into a garbage bag. And for all the kids whose bedroom doors had locks on the outside.
I can imagine that might happen once or twice--teenager out of control or whatever--but "all the kids" suggests a behavior that is not as deviant as I would like to think.

Zombie Housing?

CNN has a story about the housing crisis, referring to the developments where only a few houses are built as Zombie subdivisions.

This might be stretching term too far, although the crisis perhaps has destroyed many brains along the way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Return of the Living Dead Blog Post

With Zombieland coming out this weekend, Zombies are back in the news. Ok, they never left, as those shambling monsters seem pretty hard to kill. So, yet another Spew about Zombies (see here, here and here for previous ones).

Mike Munger, a political scientist out of Duke, has a post with a strong opinion about what counts as a Zombie and thus what is and is not a Zombie movie: the zombies must be slow (28 Days Later does not count), only motivated by hunger for human flesh, only kills by tearing apart (no weapons to be used by the Z), and so forth.

Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead concurs:
After three films spanning three decades, and much imitation from film-makers such as Lucio Fulci and Dan O'Bannon, the credibility of the zombie was dealt a cruel blow by the king of pop. Michael Jackson's Thriller video, directed by John Landis, was entertaining but made it rather difficult for us to take zombies seriously, having witnessed them body-popping.
Munger includes some good reading suggestions. I do think he might find Zombieland problematic since the trailers have Z's that seem to vary in speed. I am a bit less conservative in my coding of Zombies and the other elements of Zombie-ness seem to be in play. In other words, I am looking forward to this movie very much. And, after finally seeing a Zombie classic (Shaun of the Dead), my daughter is super-pumped to see the movie as well.

In other zombie news, physicists have argued that mall are the best places to hide in case of a Zack outbreak. They developed a model suggesting that complex locations with lots of hallways and rooms are good places to avoid an entity that is simply moving around and will only attack if it makes contact, more or less (I have not read the article, just the summary of it). I seem to remember that the Zombie Survival Guide warns against malls because they are probably already Z-infested.

On the other hand, the video below from a Zombie blog suggests that a Costco would be a good place to hide out--plenty of rations of all kinds, few entrances, tall shelving (Zombies cannot climb), etc.

It seems strange that many of the Zombie blogs seem to be, well, dead. That is, that their recent posts may be years old. What happened to these intrepid documenters of Zombie defenses? Did they lose the fight or have they gone in hiding as they await the spread of Z? More research is required.

College News of Note

In Canada, they say university, not college. But I cannot shake the habit.

Anyhow, two stories today that are intriguing and one could wonder how they might be related.

  • First, the numbers of Americans going to school in Canada is increasing. This should not be surprising since Canadian schools are far cheaper than American ones, even with the CA$ near the US$. With Americans losing much of their savings to the market crashes of the past few years, the choices are either go to American public schools or Canadian ones as US private colleges and universities are pricing themselves out of the market.
  • Second, Tufts has found it necessary to make the following rule: do not have sex with your roommate in the room (assuming that the roommate is not your partner, I guess). Apparently, they have had more complaints the past few years by students that their roommates are, well, rude. It used to be the case that a person would signal to their roommate that the room was occupied for extracurricular activities. Sounds like a coordination problem to me, and not one where a rule is really required. What happens to those who break the rule? Enforcement will be interesting--police patrol or fire alarm? Hmm, perhaps not the place for metaphors from the principal-agency literature. The more I learn about the lives of undergrads these days, the less I want to know, I think.
Perhaps would be Tufts students will come to Canada instead since Canadians have a rep for being polite, and/or Montreal has a rep for being a city with few inhibitions. So, we might see both the student who is upset at the rudeness of their roommate and the randy roommate both moving north, and repeating the dynamic here. Perhaps the rule should be that Americans have to room with Canadians? Hmmmm.

German Elections and Afghanistan

Salon has a good analysis of the recent German election (disclaimer: at least good as in readable--I am not an expert on Germany so they could have gotten stuff wrong). It is pithy as is typical at Salon:

The nationalist and anti-Islamic Christian Middle - for a Germany according to GOD's commandments flew across the finish line on a wing and a prayer and held fast with a solid 0.0%.
I am particularly interested in this election since I was in Berlin in June, talking to members of Parliament (among other folks) about Afghanistan, and perhaps it is not surprising that my follow up question via email this summer did not get a response as the election was approaching.

Do I expect to see less restrictions on German forces in Afghanistan now that a more center-right coalition has replaced the grand coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats? I would say probably not much for two reasons:
  1. The annual mandate process where the Bundestag has to approve the mission and specify some of the key limitations (but not all) is likely to produce similar outcomes as the Ministry of Defense and other elements of the government will seek wide support for the mandate, rather than just crawling over the 50% line. Moreover, divisions exist within the Conservatives over Afghanistan, so it is unlikely that the party will push for significant changes in how Germany operates on the ground.
  2. The move from a Grand Coalition to a center-right actually raises the risks of the Afghan mission for the government now that the Social Democrats are no longer tied to it. They can oppose it and join the stronger Greens and Left in pushing for tighter caveats or at least push against looser ones.
And, aargh! The Pirate Party did pretty well but fell short of the threshold needed to get into the Bundestag:
The Pirate Party came in at 2% nationwide, a thoroughly respectable result for a brand-new party and about what its youthful members expected. The Pirates won 3.35% of the vote in Berlin alone, polling 6% in the trendy Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district. Since an overall minimum of 5% is needed to receive a mandate, this means they will not be boarding the Bundestag any time soon.

When Networking is Not Working

So, Facebook has now become the medium not just for announcing improved relationships, but also can the place to watch the slow motion train wreck of divorce. It is actually surprising that de-friending was not one of the first steps.....

The internet does not, I think, really change the dynamics of relationships--that technology does not cause divorce. However, it does allow people to broadcast faster and wider than ever before. Sometimes a good thing, sometimes not so much. I know that I have been a bit less discrete about the various ups and downs in my life on FB than I have here on my blog with the vain hope that only my friends see the former and not the latter.

There is no doubt that the internet and sites like facebook allow information to travel far faster than before. During the Grandmaster Ultimate tournament, I told the other old folks (who started playing later than I did) about how strategies and tactics took time to travel to Ohio from NYC back in the old days. Now, if a team in Germany develops a particularly advantageous strategy, it spreads across the world very quickly.

The question is really then about velocity and about the width of the audience, as other technologies (the phone, the radio) allowed information to spread, just not as quickly or as widely. People found out about affairs and divorces in the old days (in days of Mad Men) by slower forms of gossip and indiscretion. So, does the velocity and breadth change how the actors behave?

This is something I just started pondering in class on Monday and have to continue with, as the speed of commerce and the speed/breadth of destruction probably have changed how countries behavior in International Relations. I am just not so clear whether the internet has really changed how people behave--does it make personal conflict or cooperation more or less likely? It is probably a wash in the end as it facilitates people of similar interest to meet, but it also creates more points of tension as well (the news that there was a facebook group about whether Obama should be killed!?).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soviet vs NATO in Afghanistan

An interesting comparison of Soviet and NATO experiences in Afghanistan--a good, informed one for a change. Steve Coll compares how the late Soviet strategy is similar to McChrystal's new strategy.
The revival of an urban-dominated “ink spot” strategy for the defense of a weak Afghan state may be the best of a series of bad military choices. Certainly the past U.S. military approaches since 2001—a concentration on counterterrorism raids initially, followed by a poorly resourced counterinsurgency approach that also made a dubious priority of rural Helmand Province—have not stanched the Taliban’s revival.
Those are a lot of ifs. The uncertainties point, like so many other factors in this conflict, to the central importance of politics in Kabul and Islamabad.
Smarter than your average bear in terms of comparing past and present--that the USSR tried an inkspot strategy focused on cities and that seems to be the McChrystal strategy as well.

I still need to hear more about what Gen. McChrystal wants to do to have an opinion, but this article does raise some important questions.

As always, in counter-insugency, success is pretty hard to measure.

Seven Sins of the Academy [Updated]

The Times Higher Education has a piece on the seven sins of the academy [note the focus here is on the British universites but enough commonalities for me to blog about] and I thought it would be fun to see how I have witnessed or engaged these sins (and others) in my career.

First, I must disagree with the decision to omit sloth from the list. I have seen plenty of laziness amongst academics especially when it comes to service to the department/university/profession/community. While there are procedures and incentives to keep profs working hard (and most do work plenty hard, even/especially during our summers "off"), the system does not always work and the reliable are forced to provide more of the collective goods than the unreliable.

Ok, onto the sins listed by the article:
  • Sartorial Inelegance: This is not nearly has bad as it used to be. Much less polyester at the annual Poli Sci conferences. And it varies by climate--one could expect to see shorts at UCSD--even by the profs. Still, most of us would not be confused with fashionistas. I would not blame income for this as the choice of attire is not so much constrained by the various costs but by the lack of thought involved. It goes with the social skills problem that is not really addressed in the piece (more on that below)
  • Procrastination: I want to say something here, but don't really feel like it. Maybe later.
  • Snobbery: Certainly, there are all kinds of intra-academic clubs where one tries to improve one's self-esteem by putting down the work of those in other groups--research institutions vs. liberal arts colleges; rational choice or not; formal modeling or not; quantitative vs. qualitative; post-modernist or not; one subfield versus another, top ten or not; etc. When I was at Texas Tech, I had the distinct feeling that I was, like Rudolph, left out of the reindeer games. Not so much now that I am at McGill. But that might have been just as much my insecurity as it was the reality that Lubbock was never near any inner or outer circle.
  • Lust: The piece has this line: "why do universities pullulate with transgressive intercourse?" Since that is too confusing, perhaps it can be better illustrated in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the oblivious professor is surprised by a student who has written a message on her eyelashes. The better quote from the article is this: "On an English campus, academics can be heroes." Hmmm. But this contribution to the article (written by Terence Kealey) has made big news around the world by suggesting that the "flaunting of curves" by undergrads towards the male profs is a "perk" of the job. So, let's run far away from this questionable (to say the least) assertion (supposedly comedic) while we can.
  • Arrogance: The article focuses on the excesses of the British Academics in their arrogance, compared to the American ones:
    • "American academics attend conferences in best bib and tucker, they are on time, they ask intelligent questions, they are polite, they have beautiful teeth and they are disappointingly sober. Now, all this could be construed as professionalism - particularly when compared with the drunken, late-night antics of the flip-flop-wearing, unshaven and almost always sunburnt Limeys whose most pressing questions are "where's the bar?" and "does anyone remember my room number?" - but, I assure you, it is arrogance. Make no mistake: their reverence for the subject, thoroughgoing knowledge of its intricacies, prolific capacities to produce research of the highest standard ... what unspeakable arrogance!"
    • This contribution is more amusing than the previous one. To be clear, in my mind, arrogance refers to when one acts as being better than others without necessarily being based in reality. One is not necessarily arrogant if one actually has the merit to back up the perception or claims of superiority--then one is tactless and perhaps obnoxious. I have mentioned institutional arrogance before--the sense that one's institution is special and therefore its strange and deviant ways do not need justification or defense. I do think this form of arrogance is particularly crippling as reform does not occur, bad decisions of the past serve as justifications for bad decisions of the present and future, etc.
  • Complacency: The essay here takes on a distinct angle that might not be widely shared in terms of what complacency means: "I mean the attitude that one's undoubted distinction in one's own subject entitles one to pontificate about any other; and conversely, that their ignorance of one's own subject disqualifies everyone else from having a worthwhile opinion on anything at all." To me, that speaks more of arrogance and perhaps my institutional arrogance is really about complacency. The article goes on to suggest that complacency is the antonym of curiosity, so I guess I would find there to be very little of it in the academy with which I am familiar--most academics are quite curious people.

Still, I have to say I enjoyed the quote from this piece:

"Of course, some would say I have too little experience to hold these opinions".
My own rejoinder of "Oh no, X, you have exactly the right amount of experience
to hold those opinions" was one of my more satisfactory moments on the High
Table, which I fear is why I remember it.
  • Pedantry: "there's the rub of pedantry - it's the scholarly moment when someone else wants to shout: "What's the difference?! - who cares?!"" This essay suggests that we academics are in love with details. Perhaps, but I am not a detail kind of guy, but I have seen pedants at work. Not that much fun to see them at play either.
I alluded to social skills deficit syndrome (we are standing by the phones if you want to donate as we are searching for a cure to this widespread academic disease) earlier but that really should not count as a sin. So, what sins are omitted?

I should not be so arrogant or pedantic to assume that this list covers the major academic sins, nor should I be so complacent as to accept this list without further inquiry, but I have put off writing a few letters of recommendation where I assert that our students are far better than those elsewhere.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Limitations and Victory

Last month, I blogged about limitations--that one has to know one's own limitations especially in a team environment to be successful. Well, this became quite relevant this weekend, as I played in a Grandmaster Tournament--an annual event late each September for the past several years in Montreal with teams from Baltimore/NY, Philly, Vermont, Massachusetts, Ottawa and Toronto. It is an ultimate tournament for guys over 40. I didn't play last year because the team was incredibly careless a couple of years ago, and I didn't enjoy either getting thwacked or having to chase lots of people as they took advantage of our turnovers.

Well, this year the team was a bit different, with three new players--incredibly experienced and talented players who just turned forty. I didn't realize how much experience they had until after the last game of the second day, when they exchanged stories of all of the world tourneys at which they played. Most impressive. Indeed, I agreed to play this year because the lineup looked good. I was not expecting us to dominate, but that the quality of the games would be much better. And I was more right than that, as we did dominate. Winning the first game, 11-0 with only three turnovers the entire game, winning all five games the first day, all fairly comfortably. Today, we won the semifinals quite handily and then the finals was a bit more competitive, but we started with a 4-0 lead, which closed to 4-2, and then we went ahead 7-2 and on from there to 13-8 or so.

But my role on this team was quite different. Usually, I am best handler on the team or close to it, as I have strong throws (backhand, forehand/flick, with and without curves) and usually make good decisions. But on this team, out of eleven players, I was somewhere between fifth and seventh best handler. Which meant that when we had seven players on the line (ultimate is usually a game of seven against seven), there were at least three better handlers, so I spent most of the tourney playing the role of cutter--trying to get open for the handler to throw to me.

Unfortunately, I have had little practice as a cutter, as that has not been my primary role since, ahem, 1986 or so. Knowing this and also my lack of speed, I had to focus most of my efforts on trying to create space for my much faster teammates. And that is something this team did quite well--create space on the field so that the handlers could throw into the open spaces and ahead of their teammate so that only the teammate can get the disk. It really was quite a clinic in how to play the game properly.

It was the first tournament I can remember where I didn't throw it long (no hucks) at least once (and I usually throw it deep more than that). I did manage to receive a few throws in the endzone, which has been rare these days as I mostly am throwing it into the endzone these days.

In sum, I learned a great deal while having a fantastic time. It is ironic that I have gone my entire career without winning a tourney until last year--when I joined my daughter's junior team along with one of the best players in town and we managed to win the C/D (the middle level) end of the summer season tourney. And now, my second winning tourney with a very old team.

[pics from the tourney to be added when I get them]

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Speech Night?

Ok, so two posts in one post-ultimate tourney night on speeches. I guess I did not do much talking today as I was much more junior on this team than usual. Not in age, but in big tourney experience. Several of the other guys had played in not just Canadian national tourney finals but at various World tourneys. So, I kept my mouth shut (very out of character and not my strength) and followed the plays as drawn by the more experienced guys.

So, Foreign Policy has a fun list of wackiest speeches at the UN.

Probably the strangest one of all:

Chavez Sniffs out a Sinner

Year: 2006

Quote: "The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still."

Tell All of the Week

So, the former Bush speechwriter who has made big news with his new book, Matt Latimer, was interviewed by Salon. He turns out to be a Rumsfeld buddy. Yuck! So, now I have to take everything he says with a bigger hunk of salt.

The rest of the piece is an interesting take on speech-writing, but I have such complete and total contempt for Rumsfeld that it is hard to see past that. Other than killing the Crusader artillery system, I have a hard time thinking of one decision that Rummy made that didn't suck.

Gender Differences: Book I Have Not Read of the Week

Salon has an interesting interview with a woman who has written how small differences in gender for kids lead to very different adult gender identities/behavior.

After starting school, girls quickly surpass boys when it comes to reading and writing skills. Why do these academic differences so quickly reveal themselves?

Girls, there's no question, talk more to each other even in preschool and toddler years. There are more words exchanged than between two boys. Magnify that over a couple years and you have more girls going to school with more verbal skills. With boys, you see the same thing with spatial skills, throwing things, building things and playing video games. Being aware of these different cognitive domains can help us as parents and teachers provide each child with more of a rounded experience early in life. It's important to not give preschool children too much choice about what activity they do, because then you have kids separating by gender and only reinforcing their strengths.

Good thing ultimate is coed, I guess.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Political Science Applied to Political Scientists

I was chatting with a great friend the other day, and he was puzzled by one of his colleagues who seemed to be upset when he got a great publication. Why was this friend not helping him enjoy his success? As part of a larger pattern, it made complete sense to me.

The logic of invidious comparisons not only explains ethnic conflict (thanks to Donald Horowitz) but also those with self-esteem issues in the profession. The basic idea comes from social psychology--that one's self-esteem depends on how the group with which one identifies is perceived. The better one's own group, the better one feels. And the group's status depends on how it compares to other groups, so individuals will put down out-groups as part of making in-groups look better, which, in turn, makes the individuals feel better about themselves. This dynamic explains sports fans so well and ethnic conflict, too.

As it turns out, the individual in this friend's department was already in the habit of putting down work that did not fit into his category of good work (his kind), so my friend's success challenged his views. Not all colleagues are this un-collegial. In fact, most are: genuinely happy for the success of the colleague; glad that the department will look better as a whole (and thus themselves too); and/or so self-absorbed as not even notice.

Wise Words

"The perpetual plea for U.S. foreign policy to “do something” needs to be changed; we would be better served by adopting the physicians creed: “First, do no harm.”"
--Gary Sick, a member of the National Security Council under three Presidents and expert on Iran.

But, of course, what is wise is not necessary what works in domestic politics. The piece is very interesting in how it shows the continued expectation of Iranian nuclear weapons that never seems to quite happen. Sick also is quite clear that we need to be careful since many of the potential steps lead to war, something that the US cannot really start right now, nor is ever an attractive option (think back to the Sicilian's warning about land wars in Asia).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Canadian Politics Can Be Fun

PM Stephen Harper walked out during the UN speech by Iran's el Presidente for life Ahmadinejad, straight to a Tim Horton's--a Canadian institution with apparently at least one outlet in Manhattan. Not to mention the one in Kandahar------->

Now that Tim is returning to Canadian ownership and Canada may be facing yet another election, appearing at a Tim Horton's is good politics, not just good snacking (although their donuts are not as good as either DD or KK).

Brutally On Target Post Du Jour

Check out Thomas Rick's post today on Judith Miller, who embarrassed the NY Times and modern journalism by being the Bush Administration's dupe.

The key quote:
In the past, Brits in her situation would go to work in African leper colonies. Americans, I think, simply lit out for the frontier. But then, Fox is kind of the news equivalent of a leper colony.
So, I perhaps am not the cattiest blogger in the sphere.


Great post at Salon on the effort by Kirk Cameron (uber-Christian) to give out free copies of Darwin's Origin of the Species with a 50 page insert that is supposed to undermine the rest of the book. The Salon post includes a link to a youtube video with a Romanian woman who does a great job demolishing Kirk and his claims.

See below for said video:

Civil Wars? Whose Job Is It Anyway?

The ways academics divide the world may be as surprising to outsiders. For instance, different people study ethnic conflict, nationalism, and contentious politics, and we rarely talk to each other. But the strangeness of the moment is Civil War. When I sought to teach a course on Civil War last year at the graduate level, a couple of my colleagues resisted, arguing that Civil War is a topic for Comparative Politics, not for scholars of International Relations. So, it raises the question: whose job is it to study Civil War anyway?

Wars among countries are the classic focus for IR scholarship, but that which happens within a country usually is seen as belonging to the Comparativists. BUT there are a few problems with this. A) The tools for understanding war among countries might just be handy for understanding wars within countries--that there may be some, ahem, comparative advantage for IR scholars to go there. B) Comparativists may have avoided the topic because they see war as too IR-ish (although the past few years have seen some really cool work). C) Most importantly, civil wars are not self-contained (just like other key dynamics these days), so that the causes, processes, and consequences of civil wars may involve stuff outside the country, like changes in commodity prices, involvement of ethnic kin (diasporas), the flow of refugees (as both cause and consequence of civil war), neighboring countries (irredentist or not), international organizations, non-governmental organizations, etc.

Which of these civil wars had little international importance/irrelevant transnational dynamics? (list from wikipedia, but largely overlaps with the usual lists)

* Afghan Civil War, 1978–present
* Algerian Civil War, 1991–2002, conflicts persist
* Angolan Civil War, 1974–1989, 1995–1997, 1998–2002
* Bosnian War, 1992-1995
* Burundi Civil War, 1988–1991, 1993–2005
* Cabindan Civil War, Angola, 1975–2006
* Cambodia, 1978–1993, 1997–1998
* Casamance Conflict, Senegal, 1990–present
* Chechen Wars, separatist conflicts against Russian federal government, 1994-6; 1999 to date
* Civil war in Chad
* Colombian armed conflict, 1964–present
* Congo Civil War, 1996–1997, 1998–2003
* Côte d'Ivoire Civil War, 1999–2000, 2002–present
* Darfur Conflict, Sudan, 2003–present
* East Timor/Indonesia, 1975–1999
* First Eritrean Civil War, 2008-ongoing
* ETA separatist insurgency against the Spanish government, 1968? to present
* Georgian Civil War, Abkhazia, South Ossetia in Georgia, 1988–present
* Guatemalan Civil War, 1960–1996
* Guinea-Bissau Civil War, 1998–1999
* Internal conflict in Peru, 1981-present (once extremely violent communist insurgency, which has largely wound down since 2000).
* Iraq War, 2003-present
* Israeli-Palestinian conflict 1948-present
* Islamic insurgency in the Philippines, 1969-present
* Kashmir Conflict, 1989–present
* Kurdish Civil War, 1994–1997
* Liberian Civil War, 1989–1996, 1999–2003
* Nepalese Civil War, 1996–2006
* Communist insurgency of the New People's Army in the Philippines, 1969-present
* Northern Irish civil war, 1969–1998 (Considered ongoing by extremist minority groups)
* Palestinian Civil War, 2006–present; fighting ended in June 2007
* Rwandan Civil War, 1990–1994
* Sierra Leone Civil War, 1991–2002
* Sri Lankan Civil War, 1983-2009
* Somali Civil War, 1991–present
* Sudanese Civil War, 1955–1972, 1983–2005
* Tajikistan Civil War, 1992–1997
* Ugandan Civil War, 1987–present
* Yemen Civil War, 1979–1989, 1994, 2000s
* Albanian Civil War 1997
* Kosovo War 1996–1999

I dare my readers to argue which one or ones of these conflicts have practically no international implications--that is that neither the civil war affects the neighbors/beyond nor the outside affects the civil war. Are there other recent civil wars omitted from this list because they have no external causes/processes/effects?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Crappy Canadian TV Feed Du Jour

It has been hard to follow the ESPN broadcasts of this summer's World Series of Poker because they are not broadcast by TSN (the Canadian equivalent/brother of ESPN) at the same time as ESPN's. So, I was pretty happy to see that there would be two hours of the WSOP tonight--covering the Main Event. After an enjoyable first hour, the second hour is .... the first hour again!??? Huh?? I didn't stick around to see if they fixed it, but having a Canadian satellite dish has been a mixed blessing.
  • We get the lousy Canadian commercials (smaller market, fewer companies paying for ads) repeated endlessly it seems (including back to back to back), and this is particularly annoying during the Super Bowl.
  • We get the US shows on "US" channels but they often mess up the feed so that the show starts twice--first for 30 seconds to two minutes and then starts again or ends like that.
  • We often do not get the tease for next week (which is so frustrating when it comes to Lost).
The only bright side is that we have Canadian channels for the stations in most of the time zones, which has two positive side effects--we can often watch shows that would compete with each other in the US in the same time period at different times; and we tend to get a better selection of NFL games as each Canadian station across the country tends to get the US games closest to them, so we get NE, Buffalo, Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Seattle, in addition to the main games that each American network broadcasts.

So, it could be a wash, except that much of the Canadian minuses are so very annoying, like the messed up feed tonight.

Best Star Wars satire of Environmental Politics ever of the week

This is a pretty damning view of environmental activism and a very funny one. It starts slow but gets better and better (hat tip to Mrs. Spew).

Profs on TV

Ok, so professors are never accurately or semi-accurately played on TV. They are usually lechs. This week, on How I Met Your Mother, one of my favorites, Ted is starting as a new architect prof at Columbia. I felt immense pain as he screwed up his first twenty minutes or so of his first day. But then, it didn't matter because he was in the wrong room, so he could start fresh with his real class.

Nope, I never lectured to the wrong group of students. However, on my very first day of teaching, at the U of Vermont where I was a visiting professor (one year deal that became a two year deal), I forgot to bring my syllabi to the first class. And then I repeated the mistake later that day when I was teaching my second course (same topic, Intro to IR). And I did it again (or not did it again) when I was teaching my third class that day (Intro to IR--same topic to three different sets of students).

So, I was an idiot my first day. I think a more realistic one than portrayed this week, though.

The painful lecture is about 2:30 into the video below:

Hometown Racism Case continued

During the summer, I posted about the pool near my old hometown that had kicked out an African-American day camp which with it had arranged days at the pool. Well, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has fined the pool, noting that neither this year nor last year were there any African-American members and that the ad campaigns seemed aimed only at whites.

Anyway, that is where things now stand.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Irony Graphically Depicted

[Red more sinful, yellowish saintly]

Wired has a set of graphs for the seven deadly sins, and, surprise, surprise, surprise, shazam, where one would expect to see a particular set of values ascendant (evangelical Christianity), you tend to see more sin. So, are people developing devout beliefs because they see more sin around them? Or are they just incredibly hypocritical? Given the activities of the representatives of these folks as exemplified by Mark Sanford and the Palin clan suggest, I vote for the latter.

And yes, Southern California and NY are devilish, too--just less hypocritically so. It reminds why I am fond for the past of the Republican party--midwestern values.

Best Health Care Reform Ad

Those silly folks at Funny or Die have given us a new ad for Health Care Reform--do think of the endangered Health Insurance company in this time of crisis, please. Sob.

Relevant Research--More on A-Stan

Um, where has McChrystal been for the past few years?

Apparently, he was surprised when he arrived in Afghanistan:

Senior officers who work with General McChrystal say he was surprised by the dire condition of the Afghan mission when he assumed command in June.

His concerns went beyond the strength and resilience of the insurgency. General McChrystal was surprised by the lack of efficient military organization at the NATO headquarters and that a significant percentage of the troops were not positioned to carry out effective counterinsurgency operations. (here)

Even hanging out in Iraq as he had been, McChrystal should have had a decent grasp of the limits of NATO at war. The caveat problem that I am working on with David Auerswald is not new in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Indeed, limits on alliance partners also mattered in Iraq. In Afghanistan, over the past several years, key partners asserted that they were not doing COIN but peace-keeping. While this was partly for domestic consumption, it did mean that many of the troops in the field did not have the same flexibility or doctrine as other contingents. And, to be clear, as Tom Ricks proved in his series on the Wanat battle, American adherence to the Petraeus playbook is uneven at best.

So, the lesson, as always, need to my work out faster.

and one last great quote:
“We haven’t been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years,” said one officer. “We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for one year, eight times in a row.”

Analogy of the Week, II (or Man Crush part deux)

Not only am I a big fan of Obama, but SecDef Gates is such an improvement over Rumsfeld that I cannot help but gush, even when I don't agree entirely with the decisions. So, I was quite pleased to see this quote:
In his new memoir, Matt Latimer, a Pentagon speechwriter under Mr. Gates’s predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, compares Mr. Gates to the Harvey Keitel character in “Pulp Fiction” — the one who shows up after the grisly killing to wipe away all traces of blood. (from NYT piece)
My students often wonder if I am a realist or a liberal (in IR theory terms), and the real answer, when it comes to policy-making is that I am a pragmatist. So, when I see the SecDef being legitimately lauded as one, I am thrilled.

Man Crush continues

I didn't watch Obama on Letterman--past my bedtime, but the first clip out this morning deepens my respect and affection for the First Guest. When Dave asked him about the hostility at town halls and Jimmy Carter's suggestion that racism is in play, Obama handled it deftly, saying he was black before the election, so that the people knowingly chose a black person. This along with a subsequent comment about politicians know that people will attack him show how self-possessed this guy is. I know I am not that even-tempered (duh!), so I have got to admire Obama in these circumstances.

On a similar note, Obama now faces criticism from the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a bunch of scholars who want a serious re-evaluation of the Afghanistan strategy. Which is funny because this is what Obama is doing--not jumping in without thinking, but taking Gen. McChrystal's recommendations seriously. This coalition is building on a previous effort--Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy, which published an open letter signed in 2004 by much of the academic community who study security (and profs who don't study that stuff too), suggesting that the Bush team was out of whack precisely because it did not do the due diligence that is the hallmark of Obama. I signed the earlier letter, but only heard about the subsequent one after the fact. And that is fine, since despite misgivings and doubt registered here about Afghanistan, I think Obama does not need our pre-emptive criticism on this one. He has not made a decision yet because he is evaluating all of the bad options he faces.

The problem as I have blogged about the past month is the absent of good choices. The frustrating thing about the leaks about the review is that they all focus on numbers of troops and not on the supposedly new strategy. That is really the key for whether the additional troops make sense, despite the politics being all about the troop levels. What is McChrystal's plan to save the show in one year? Especially since there is always a delay in the troops getting there and then having an impact? If the idea is to essentially replace the NATO troops so that unity of command is provided and that is necessary for success, then, ok, that makes some sense.

Before rushing to judgment, I want to see more details on the strategy.

China Plays By Its Rules

Very interesting piece about China's foreign assistance policy. First, the (dare I say it?) money quote:
We know more about China’s military expenditures than we do about its foreign aid,” said David Shambaugh, an author and China scholar at George Washington University. “Foreign aid really is a glaring contradiction to the broader trend of China’s adherence to international norms. It is so strikingly opaque it really makes one wonder what they are trying to hide.”
The piece talks about how much of China's foreign aid is tied to the purchase of Chinese goods (so far it sounds like anybody else's aid) from companies owned or tied to China's politicians (oops!). Learning from the Bush Administration (Haliburton and Iraq), the Chinese refuse to let third world countries set up competitive bidding processes. Plus there seems to be a systematic effort to hide everything about these programs, raising red (oops) flags.

The question I ask is: how much of this is really that different from Western practices or at least Western practices of 10/20/30 years ago? Is this really different than how the US facilitated the penetration of multinational corporations into the third world? Maybe, but perhaps more of degree rather than magnitude. I am no expert on foreign direct investment, so I await Dan Drezner's take on this. Or any of my readers....

Monday, September 21, 2009

Afghanistan and Leaked Strategic Review

I don't need to blog about it as Marc Lynch has already done so.

Steve is Occasionally Right: All Is Not Swell in the Larger EU

One of the key claims in Kin and Country is that the conditions imposed by the European Union to ensure the good behavior of the applicants are not as imposing or lasting as others averred. Is it wrong for me to be glad to see events that support our claims even though these events are, well, bad?
On 21 August 2009 the Slovak government declared the Hungarian head of state persona non grata and denied him entry to the territory of Slovakia. This step marked the height of renewed acrimony between Hungary and Slovakia since the passage of the amended Slovak State Language Law in June. Such level of tensions between two Schengen zone EU states is without precedent and grows beyond the framework of bilateral relations. With this decision the Fico government wanted to bring a resolute response to Hungarian manifestations of dissent concerning the language law and made it clear that backing away from its policy is not an option before parliamentary elections.

As a result of the 2006 parliamentary elections the radical nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) became member of the governing coalition, and periodically made offensive statements against Hungary and the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. The self-styled Social Democratic party, Smer (Direction) led by Prime Minister Fico has not kept extremist anti-Hungarian sentiments from gaining ground but has instead allowed them to become part of mainstream politics.
, an admittedly biased observer, but the facts are, as they say, the facts)

Yep, the Slovaks passed a language law that dramatically reduces the rights of Hungarians to use their native tongue in Slovakia, despite being a significant minority--and this law ran counter to what they had previously promised and what the EU had expected. Now, Slovakia has stopped the Hungarian president from participating in a ceremony to dedicate a statue of Saint Stephen (my favorite saint) who founded the Kingdom of Hungary [Thanks to Zsuzsa Csergo for the link--see her book on language politics]

It just goes to show that keeping someone out of a club is a lot harder than shaping the behavior of members.

And while we are on the theme of "Steve is occasionally right," Brigadier General McMaster (author of a key book on the Joint Staff's role in producing Vietnam), who was an innovator in Counter-insurgency in Iraq and adviser to Gen. Petraeus, is now arguing:

there was "a failure to recognize" that the security problem in Iraq had shifted from insurgency to a communal struggle for power. .... What looked to some like a government, he explained, was instead a situation where different people had captured parts of the government structure. "So in effect our strategy in 2006 was a rush to failure," and even was intensifying Iraq's problems, he said.
This points to the key problem in many civil wars--that the government or elements of the government are combatants (rather than being merely absent as portrayed in the ethnic security dilemma). So, the question then becomes how to restrain the government (or parts of it) from preying upon the society while simultaneously building its capacity to thwart those who are threats to the citizens and the government? My recent edited volume with MJ Zahar addresses this challenge. Ok, we raise the challenge, but perhaps do not provide clear remedies.

Quote of the Week

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Sign outside of Albert Einstein's office at Princeton, cited today at NFL post, a blog that does excellent coverage of football and Mike Lombardi, who writes it, has a leadership fixation.

Wonder how this quote applies to events closer to home?

One False Choice: More ANA Now

Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, is pushing for more Afghan units rather than more American ones as Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops becomes public.

This really is a false choice, because there is no way that we can somehow magically find tens or hundreds of thousands of new Afghan National Army troops to throw into the fray. Sure, having more indigenous forces do the work is always the right idea for counter-insurgency--if they are capable. But insta-training is not going to lead to capable troops, but rather probably more collateral damage, greater distrust between civilians and army units and between ANA and the NATO forces, and wasted effort.

If we send more forces to Afghanistan, some of those will clearly be used to ramp up the training of the ANA further and create more Observer, Mentor, Liaison Teams [OMLT or Omelets]. Training is a priority, but it is not a substitute for folks who can do the difficult work.

Levin would be right in pushing for increases in the force levels planned for the Afghan army, but that is different than asking for more troops now.

And to be clear, training the ANA and the Afghan police is not an easy task, given the wide gulfs in literacy and, ahem, values. The stories coming out about Man Boy Love Thursdays should be taken quite seriously as part of the challenging environment in which NATO is operating.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan

In an interview, Obama indicated that he will not add more troops to Afghanistan unless/until there is a strategy that requires it. The interview, like the earlier post today, reflects a reality-based administration that considers the various alternatives, takes seriously dissenting opinions and then makes considered decisions. You may or may not like Obama's decisions, but one should respect the improvement in the decision-making process. He also demonstrates some keen insights--that sometimes the military, just like other bureaucratic agencies, think more of x leads to better outcomes.

It is interesting that I am now getting flashbacks to my days in the Pentagon, where the US and its NATO allies conflicted over which term should be used in the documents: benchmarks or milestones.
Obama didn’t answer directly on whether he supported a timeline, but said his strategy contained “benchmarks” for achievements to assess the progress of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan
Benchmarks are condition-based ways to view progress and milestones/timelines are time-based. Bush sought milestones in the Balkans so that the US could get out, while Europe, which would feel the consequences more directly of any failures in the Balkans, generally preferred for conditions to improve before pulling out. Ironic is it not that the Dems in the Congress are pushing for timelines and Obama is focused on conditions.

For the latest on Canada's views on Afghanistan, including a few quotes of yours truly, see this story.

European Missle Defense continued

In today's NY Times, SecDef Gates explains and defends the decision to change the plans for defending Europe against missiles. The plan now is to deploy ships with anti-missile missiles and then down the road put other interceptors into Europe.

The money quote is:

I am often characterized as “pragmatic.” I believe this is a very pragmatic proposal. I have found since taking this post that when it comes to missile defense, some hold a view bordering on theology that regards any change of plans or any cancellation of a program as abandonment or even breaking faith. I encountered this in the debate over the Defense Department’s budget for the fiscal year 2010 when I ended three programs: the airborne laser, the multiple-kill vehicle and the kinetic energy interceptor. All were plainly unworkable, prohibitively expensive and could never be practically deployed — but had nonetheless acquired a devoted following.
My love affair with this SecDef continues. While this change might have been handled better, and I do believe that one reason to change the plan is to reduce the anxieties of Russia, which Gates underplays, the basic decision is a sound one.

And while it may not be politically acceptable these days to suggest that one is changing a policy to reduce the threat posed to Russia, it does follow from the logic of the security dilemma and my lectures in Intro to IR this week: that in anarchic system (no world government), countries must rely on themselves and that means if one country arms, then others will react, despite the stated good intentions of the first actor. So, Russia can only look at missiles (even defensive ones) on its borders as a threat and react accordingly. Will Russia consider naval vessels with anti-missile missiles parked in the Black Sea as less of a threat? Thus far, that looks likely.

Anyhow, making policy based on the costs and benefits of the various systems is the right way to go, even if one downplays one of the key benefits. Certainly better than making policy based on "theology."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blame the Internet? Nope, says book I have not read

I wrote a post last month that there is much hysteria blaming the internet for a variety of problems and that it was exactly that--hysteria. I suggested that the internet was not all that different from the advent of the phone, etc. And, as it turns out, I am not alone. See this salon piece that reviews a book makes the same argument, more or less, but better with things like facts.

Every communication advancement throughout human history, from the pencil to the typewriter to writing itself, has been met with fear, skepticism and a longing for the medium that's been displaced.... "A Better Pencil" is both a defense of the digital revolution and a keen examination of how technology both improves and complicates our lives.

I start with Plato's critique of writing where he says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember things. ... Of course we remember all this because Plato wrote it down -- the ultimate irony.

But the people who yearn for the good old days of older technology like typewriters don't seem to realize there never were any good old days. At the same time, in looking at new technology, it never does everything that people promise it will.
More juicy stuff--read the post and perhaps even the book!

When Does Transparency Become Invisibility

Very interesting post at the Columbia Journalism Review on the changing relations between media and US military in Iraq (thanks to Marc Lynch's tweet). Lots of interesting stuff here, including the idea that the US military is the most transparent in the world (more so than the Canadians if you ask the folks on the parliament's defence committee); that Petraeus and his folks did not see the media as an adversary to be contained (perhaps as a tool to be manipulated?); and that some of the responsibility of declining access is due to cutbacks on the media's side with fewer reporters and less time spent in Iraq.

A few key quotes from the piece:
Yet the military is increasingly reticent to deal with those who do remain. Even driving onto some military bases for interviews requires embed approval—a form which asks reporters, including those based in Iraq, to submit samples f their work and story ideas. Coverage is often killed by bureaucracy.
American reporters since last year have been denied the access badges that are given to any U.S. contractor. The badges prevent them from having to wait in areas most vulnerable to suicide bombers in order to enter the Green Zone.
But if the sophistication of the troops has increased, it’s not always mirrored among military public-affair officers, who tend to have far less contact with Iraqis.

Definitely a worthwhile read--a quick education on the state of embedding today.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Don't Let a Few Facts ....

So, is there a bit of racism in the opposition to Obama? Steve Greene throws a few numbers into the old regression machine and finds out: duh! Indeed, attitudes about race affected perceptions of Obama.

As a scholar of ethnic conflict, I am shocked. Ok, I am not. Anyhow, check out lil' Steve's blog entry on this.

First Time for Everything: A Class That is as Snarky as Me

My Intro to IR class (600 students) continues to impress me. And today, it left me speechless. Literally, I could not speak. I was laughing way too hard. This is hard to explain if you were not there, but I will forever remember the day that the phrase "Kangaroo Milk" caused me significant pain via laughter.

The context was a discussion about who is and who is not a Great Power, with the students recommending Canada and my use of that as an example of "Conceptual Stretching." That is, if Canada is squeezed into that category, then the category loses its analytical value. Continuing a theme of the previous classes, milk came up and then maple syrup, but when I suggested that Canada were a Great Power, then Australia would be one, too. And that led to Kangaroos and then kangaroo milk.

Good times.

For a different take on Canada's greatness (thanks to Jacob Levy for this reference),

Analogy of the Week

The Dolphins' offense is like watching two drunk people try to fool around. Just a lot of thrashing and apologizing.--Bill Simmons, ESPN Sports Guy

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New TV Season!!! Start Your Tivos!

Started well with a great Office episode and then a new fun comedy--Community. It is based a community college, where a typical bunch of very different folks form a study group. Any show based in an educational environment is going to get my interest, and this one was actually pretty funny. Very deliberate references to Breakfast Club didn't hurt, plus the romantic interest of the lead was told several times she looks like Elisabeth Shue, and the truth of that also does not hurt.

So, the general goal each year is for us not to get addicted to any new shows, and NBC is doing its best to make that happen by blowing five hours of primetime on Jay Leno. But Community looks to be a keeper.

A Breakable Vow and Gary Coleman

I have been whining much the past week, but my week of mourning ends today. My 13 year old daughter is sick of my complaining, and, so if I stop now, I can throw it back in her face the next time she complains for a week ;) Plus I biked for the first time in a while and as I was arriving back at my home, this song was on my ipod.

End of European Missile Defense? [update]

Obama has announced that he will not pursue Bush's plan for expanding land-based missile defense systems to Eastern Europe. I am sure that the right wing will argue that Obama is selling out the East Europeans, as this has been a major thorn in the side of Russia-US relations. There is more to it than that, including how expensive the program is (not to mention of somewhat dubious reliability). Ricks suggests that this decision is a boon for the US Navy, which can station ships in the Black Sea (regularly or during a crisis?) to shoot down Iranian missiles.

Obama did notify the concerned countries ahead of time, and their reactions seemed to be mixed, with Poles perhaps quite annoyed. Poland has been one of the largest contributors of troops to NATO's effort in Afghanistan and has been a steadfast supporter of the US. This will not change, as Poland obviously sees NATO's raison d'etre to be still relevant--the Russian threat.

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan sees this as good news too

Academic Survival Strategy #1: External Audience and the Portfolio Approach

In a discussion of tenure on the Political Science Job Rumor Blog, which is now for pretty much all aspects of Poli Sci, not just job rumors, the topic of co-authoring came up. I didn't really address that too much, although I have stated my thoughts on that topic, but instead focused on what I think is a key way to survive and thrive in academia.

There are always two audiences that an aspiring professor must consider: the internal audience (aka the department) and the external one--the wider discipline. It is easy to get so focused on the internal audience because you may constantly be exposed to the opinions of your colleagues that you forget what the standards of the larger community may be.

For instance, at my old job, articles had much value and books were seen as being less valuable (the equivalent of three articles) for getting tenure, so if one paid attention only to the internal audience, investing the time and effort in a book project did not make much sense. However, I sensed that among the wider group of North American political scientists who study International Relations, books have a great deal of value. Indeed, in the discipline of political science, some departments are article places, some are book places and some are in between or more flexible. I knew that the external audience valued books, so to play to that audience, I wrote a book (of course, this is not all strategy as I had a book I wanted to publish).

Why does the external audience matter? Principally for two reasons:
  • as part of tenure and promotion processes, outside scholars are asked to write letters evaluating the candidate's contribution, so meeting the external standards is important.
  • if one wants to move, then one needs to meet/surpass not just the internal standards but the external expectations.
  • a third reason also matters: the internal standards can be subject to fluctuations depending on who is there at a given time (changes due to sabbaticals, retirements, hiring, etc), but the external standards, as a general consensus in the profession, tend to evolve more slowly.
All this leads to and supports my governing pluralist philosophy: there is no one single way to be a political scientist nor should a department try to develop a single model of success. I do not think any one method or approach is right all the time. I, therefore, encourage my students to develop a solid portfolio of skills and attributes. I write books and articles so that my work will appeal to wider audiences than just one or the other. I have co-authored with a wide range of folks, and I have been solo author on about half of my publications. I use quantitative methods (statistics) when that method is most suitable, and I use qualitative methods (case studies) when the question requires that technique. I have been aiming to publish in all of the major journals rather than just one or two.

For my department, the best way to proceed is to cultivate a diverse set of skills and approaches. Not everyone has to be writing books, for instance. You can have a few folks more focused on policy audiences even while the overall commitment is to the academic audience. Not everyone has to be a stats guru, but having a few around is a good thing.

The idea is to manage risk a bit but also to maximize visibility and relevance, as these will lead to better reputation, which in turn leads to better students, better hires, more funding, etc. Focusing narrowly on one form of publication, one methodology, or one style can work for some places, but it requires consensus and commitment to that one form (the formal modeling places like Rochester or NYU). The portfolio approach makes the most sense if super-specialization is not available or attractive.

A Year That Has Stuck With Me

It has been seven years since I spent a year at the Pentagon, but I was reminded yesterday how much that year has stuck with me. I was talking to a colleague and I said I would "ping" someone. This is a term I picked up from the folks in the pit (office space) I shared in 2001-2002. To ping someone is to send a message and hope to get a response, as in using sonar to send out a sound and then when the wave of sound its something, you get a return sound.

How else has that year affected me?
  • I use the word "sir" far more often than I used to do so. Of course, using it once a year would be far more often.
  • I will occasionally complement a student or my daughter by saying "very professional!"
  • I have a knee jerk response whenever anyone refers to the US Dept. of Defense or the Pentagon when they really mean the Secretary of Defense. This is less severe with Gates than it was when Rumsfeld was still screwing everything up.
  • I still occasionally say "we" when referring to US military guys.
  • And, of course, my current research agenda on NATO and civil-military relations directly flows from some of the things I saw and experienced during that year.
I will probably be revising this list as more lingering effects come to mind.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Real Examination of A-Stan Strategy

Looks like John Kerry may be a better Senator than Presidential candidate. Well, that would not be too hard. But he held hearings on Afghanistan and asked really good questions of three distinct experts. See here. If only Canada could have such an informed discussion. Instead, heads are mostly in the sand as folks inside the government don't want to talk about it at all. PM Harper did say that Canada still intends to do development stuff and more civilian activities as it pulls back militarily. Not what US wants to hear, but I don't think Obama is going to piss all over Canada as the previous admin did over Iraq. And that is what I said on CBC Montreal radio today.

On the other hand, really good discussion about Afghanistan in Montreal tonight with an American and an Afghan (or Canadian/Afghan). There is a really interesting program, the Sauve scholars, affiliated at McGill, that brings in 13 or so young (under 30) people with amazing backgrounds and incredible aspirations. I am a mentor to one of the folks there and my department is over-represented among the mentors (4 of 13). So, I went to the reception, met the Principal (equal to University President), and got a tour of an amazing building--the residence of the scholars and the base of the foundation. Very impressive.

Should be an interesting year.

Death Star Conspiracy Theory

Just a priceless video about the death star's destruction from the point of view of the Stormtroopers (thanks to Ora, my TA extraordinaire for directing me to this).

And, of course, one can interpret the discussion anyway you want.

New Idiot to Add to the List of People Who Should Be Ignored

In previous posts, I have wondered why people care about what Dick Cheney and other folks have to say. Seems like Fox is adding to this list: Dick Morris said some stupid stuff about professors, but I don't really have to respond to it because: a) his track record speaks for itself; b) the other folks have posted intelligent responses.

Or one could check my September to do list, which my family found quite surprising.

I am trying to figure out whether the lazy stereotype is better than the lecherous one.

Are Elections The Solution?

One of the big lessons I learned in grad school was that electoral competition can lead to bad outcomes. Specifically, Donald Horowitz and others talked about ethnic outbidding, where the election process essentially becomes an auction where the two or more candidates compete to be the best nationalist. Not good.

Well, jump forward twenty years, and we still see elections as potential panaceas. Marc Lynch does a nice job of discussing the tradeoffs and complexities. I am no expert on the Middle East (despite the occasional depiction as one when I appear on Montreal TV), but the dynamics that Marc describes in these cases are not unique and we should not be surprised.

I think much of this has to do with wishful thinking more than analysis, since:
  1. "bad guys" can win elections;
  2. competition lead to outbidding, including Karzai trying to outbid his opponents and the Taliban on the collateral damange issue;
  3. corruption during a campaign can undermine the legitimacy of the effort;
  4. elections can serve as focal points for political violence.
Anyway, read Marc's stuff to see why Iraqi elections may not provide the dramatic ending to the US mission there.

Changing Roles

At Texas Tech, I became aware that I was the Colonel Hogan of the department. In Hogan's Heroes, Colonel Hogan was the senior Prisoner of War, so he was the leader of the Allied prisoners, seeking to undermine the buffoonish Germans led by Colonel Klink.

As I was the senior assistant professor for my last couple of years, I was one of the leaders of the reasonable junior faculty who had to manage the Chair of the department, who had been appointed by the dean, as well as the tenured professors.

Now that I am at McGill, I am no longer a junior member of the department, but I am among the most senior of the Associate Professors. I am also no longer the leader of the pack, but, instead, my formal seniority and plus my tendency to blog about things (among other behaviors) make me perhaps Colonel Crittendon--the British officer who was technically senior to Hogan and would undermine the efforts of Hogan and the gang through his own inept escape attempts.

I am not too sure how I feel about this realization.

For illustration, see below. Of course, finding a German version of HH on youtube was just too ironic:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Renting a Victory? [update]

I have wondered since my visit to Afghanistan nearly two years ago (Dec 2007) whether this is an optimal level or form of corruption that would allow the government to be semi-self-sustaining and legitimate enough. I realized that we could not eliminate all corruption there (or anywhere), and changing all of the norms of the political and the economic system seemed a bit ambitious.

Asking that question of the CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency] rep in Kandahar caused her head to spin. The military guys did see the value of the question, but they never changed their polling to determine which kinds of activities that we call corrupt were more or less likely to alienate the community.

Anyway, Fred Kaplan reviews the Senate committee hearing on the renewal of the Chairman of the Joint Staff. Afghanistan came up and the failure to develop governance was a focal point of the discussion--that more troops will not lead to more legitimate government. So, Kaplan goes to the extreme of suggesting that we rent some warlords and perhaps buy support throughout the society. Well, at least for a while. An interesting although problematic thought.

For the opposite perspective, arguing that corruption is THE problem to fight and how to fight it, see here.

Significant International Reputation

As part of this week's academic theme, I want to consider an interesting standard for promotion to Full Professor: Does the Candidate Have a Significant International Reputation?

This might seem to be a bizarre standard, as the job of a professor in terms of research is to create knowledge, which sounds mighty high falutin', but basically to provide original contributions--add to our understanding of a topic or two or three (whether the research always focuses on one topic or changes topic is something one could consider). Being well known actually may not be that highly correlated with adding to one's field. To take a not-so-random example, I joke in class that Sam Huntingon, in his last couple of decades, served as a black hole of knowledge--destroying understanding and facilitating ignorance--and was more famous for it. Whether you buy my argument about Huntington, the point remains that the quality of the contribution may not be tightly related to one's renown.

Still, there are good reasons for universities to develop such a standard. Professors with better reputations, holding all else constant, are more likely to attract more and better graduate students, more outside grant money, more donations, better new hires, and simply more visibility for the department/university (and other stuff as well--must remember what that might be).

But then the problem becomes this: how do we evaluate whether a person has a significant international reputation? What is significant and what counts as international? Not to mention reputation for what? Let's try to take those in turn:
  • Significant: Statistically this would mean that 95% of the time ..... what? Perhaps 95% of the time, a majority of respondents in a given field would be able to recognize the name and identify the realm of research/theories that person has published. Seriously, this significant thing is pretty hard to measure, but I guess it would mean that more than a handful of people would know of the candidate's work and its contribution, but less than a supermajority.
  • International: Across how many countries must a reputation spread to count? Two? Three? 180? Moving from the US to Canada would have made my rep expand to two countries and thus qualifying for international? ;) Ok, perhaps more than just those two then. Is the significant modifying the international then, suggesting more than a handful of countries?
  • Reputation: Reputation for what? Publishing a lot? Publishing ideas, methods, findings that are interests? Persuasive? Ground-breaking? Field-defining? Life-changing? Law-breaking? Idol-recovering? Code-breaking?
Aye, there's the rub. This is an elusive standard. The way to get through this is to send out requests to top people in the field to serve as external reviewers, so that they can evaluate the contribution of the candidate. Notice, we are back to evaluating their contribution. I am pretty sure that the letter-writers are not asked whether someone is popular or not. This is not high school.

If external reviewers are not yet consulted (they come into play at the Dean's committee level at McGill), then one could focus on the publications--where has this person published (which journals, which presses)? How much? And that is usually the default--counting pubs--which is like counting dead enemy bodies in a counter-insurgency--the more the better, sure, but does it really measure progress/contribution? The idea is that if tougher outlets like your work, then it must be good. Not an unreasonable approach, but it is indirect to either contribution or reputation because journals have been known to publish crap and your reputation should not affect the willingess of your stuff to be published in journals with blind referees (books are not reviewed blindly--the referee does know who the candidate is, so reputation could facilitate book publishing).

If one really is focused on reputation, then one could focus on indicators of popularity and exposure, such as citations, usage in syllabi, invitations to join various select clubs (editorial boards, leadership positions in various organizations, awards, fellowships, etc), and/or invitations to represent one's area of expertise. Is this a complete sample, a random one, or just one that favors my case?

Of course, one could wonder what impact co-authorship might have on one's international reputation. I considered the issue of co-authorship the other day. The issue should only matter if co-authoring affects the candidate's significant international reputation--deadweight? Or contributor to knowledge.

That is my take--yours?