Friday, April 30, 2010

Holy Missing the Point, Batman!

As my previous posts have demonstrated, I am a big fan of Slate and of the Explainer column, but their column on Mexican immigration laws entirely misses the point.  The Slate column focuses on Mexico's immigration laws, pondering whether they are tougher than American ones.  But the prompt for this piece is not US immigration law but Arizona's blast to Germany's and South Africa's pasts: "I need to see your papers!"

So, the question really is not whether Mexico has tougher laws than the US (yes, in some ways) but rather do Mexican states, such as Chihuahua or Durango or Chiapas have their own immigration procedures, policies and enforcement?  I don't know.  I doubt it.  However, one province in Canada has its own immigration policies and apparatus: Quebec.  American federalism is symmetric--all states have the same powers and responsibilities (more or less), but in Canada, one province tends to have more authority over more issues.  I had to make it through the Quebec immigration process before Canada would consider my immigration file.  So, if one wants to ponder about Arizona, focusing on Mexico, ironically, may be in the wrong direction. 

Come Here You Big Lug!

Or not!  Pretty amusing take on the highs and lows of the Presidential hug.  We need to get a quantitative analysis of this, stat!
The huggee who doesn't want to be hugged: John McCain and George Bush.
The huggee who regrets it later: Joe Lieberman and George Bush.
The huggers who should be but aren't comfortable: McCain and Palin.
The huggers who want to, but shouldn't: Bill Clinton and Monica.
The hug heard 'round the world: Hillary Clinton and Suha Arafat.
The huggers who should probably get a room: Tipper and Al Gore.


And yes, this is a token post.  I am all spewed out this week, after the Lost Draft Tuesday night.  I guess, well, I need a hug.

Bare Branches, continuing?

See here for a more visible story about yet another attack by a man against a bunch of kids in China.

There is definitely copycat dynamics going on here, but it is important to keep in mind that the disease metaphor must be taken seriously.  That is, not everyone catches a disease even if they are exposed to the virus.  So, a few men have engaged in this bizarre behavior.  The first event may have affected the others, but something else also matters--whatever it is that made these three guys imitate the first.  Otherwise, this, like all phenomena that can be copied, would be far more widespread. 

This is what separates this kind of stuff from a Zombie outbreak, where all those who are bitten would then become Zombies.  I raise Zombies not to be too silly, but to point to the extreme end of the virulence spectrum (fictional or not).  It is likely that much will be made of the copying, which might end up distracting ourselves from thinking about what it was that caused these guys to imitate and others not to do so.

Insanity and inequality are mentioned in this piece, but not bare branches

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Year One In Review

Yesterday, I posted some info about what I have Spewed about for the past year.  I figured out how to use google analytics (which I have been using to track the traffic) to see what the trends have been over the past year.

First, of 4085 searches that led to my blog, 4012 were using google. 
Second, other than direct visits, the top ten ways people were directed to the Spew are: Google, Blogger.com, Drezner's blog (thanks!), Facebook, my mcgill website, Jacob Levy's blog (thanks), twitter, Marc Lynch's blog now called the Mideast Channel at Foreign Policy (thanks!), cnn.com (??), and the Mcgill Poli Sci librarian.  Tom Ricks is just a few spots down.  Other sites that have directed people to me include spoilernews.com, straightdope.com (?), Poliscijobrumors.com, largeheartedboy.com (?), duckofminerva.blogspot.com, and giblerclasses.blogspot.com (only two visits, Doug).

Which posts did most people view? (biased by my recent increased use of "see more" technology--it puts people onto a specific page, rather than the general blog page--annoying to Steve Greene, handy to me).

Schadenfreude, election-year style.

One of the recurring themes in this blog for the past year has been schadenfreude--enjoying the misfortunes of others.  This Slate piece suggests that although the Democrats are going to lose seats, it is the GOP that is in turmoil.  Hee, hee.  Yes, I am enjoying the fact that the extremists in the Republican Party are tearing it apart.  Good times. 

Female Squids

The last part of the US Navy (other than SEALs?) is going to be gender-integrated soon.  The Navy is going to announce how and when women will be allowed to serve aboard its submarines.  The key issue, the piece addresses, is about accommodations: where will they sleep?  What is not being discussed at all are the capabilities of women.  And this is progress. 
Last September, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead described himself as "very comfortable addressing integrating women into the submarine force."
"Accommodations are a factor, but not insurmountable," he said.
It was not long ago that people raised questions about whether women can fight or she be allowed to fight for the US armed forces.  Now, most of the armed services are integrated by gender, with the notable exceptions of the Army's infantry, artillery, and armor branches.  Other countries, including Canada, has women serving in such roles. 

I was always struck during my year in the Pentagon: that the Army Military Police guarding the building after 9/11 would rotate units, so we would occasionally have an airborne unit providing the MPs.  And there would be a number of women serving as MPs wearing the airborne beret (purple).  So, women could jump out of planes and then do what MPs do.  But could not be in a foxhole, inside a tank or running a cannon.  My guess is that these barriers will drop in time as well.

The times, they are a-changing.

Bare Branches and Knife Attacks

In the past two days, men have attacked different groups of kids with knives in China.  And a month ago another guy did this, and was just executed.  What is going on here?  In reference to the executed attacked, "Authorities said he carried out the attack because he was frustrated at "failures in his romantic life," Xinhua said."  It would be premature to say that all of these attacks are due to "romantic failures."  But it does suggest a hint of what some scholars have predicted: the legacy of tampering with sex ratios is likely create more conflict.

Hudson and Den Boer argued in 2002 that the focus on limiting population growth combined with the preference for male children not only unbalanced the ratio of boys to girls, but by doing so, created the seeds of future conflict.  They essentially showed that China was "missing" more than 86 million women in 2001.  And the other side is also true:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Celebrating One Year of Narcissism

Perhaps the best way to celebrate a year of thinking about myself and my thoughts would be to examine what I have blogged about.

To be clear, I do not have a clear, consistent tagging strategy, so take the following with a grain of salt. 

Drafting Lost and Out of My Mind, A Scouting Report

Last night, we held the draft for our Lost Survivor fantasy league, and there was much joy.  A bit of snark and some modest teasing.



In this post, I review the choices, make some predictions about who will do well and who will lose, and generally make fun of everyone's choices.  Of course, by making my own predictions, I am opening myself up to return fire, but that is as it should be.

First, some awards to open the first and last season of Who Survives Lost?

Dog Bites Man 2: Obama Still Pulling US Out of Iraq

Sure, the plan to pull out was based on an assumption about the election, but the US is bound by the Status of Forces Agreement [SOFA] to leave Iraq whether there is a government in place or not.  So, even if this were not "perhaps the most defining promise he made when he ran for president," Obama really has little choice now that Iraq has its own political system.

While it is good to keep track of this as Iraq has fallen off of many radar screens, to set it up like Obama really faces a key decision here is a bit strange.  Omission of the SOFA in the article is stranger still. 

Further, there is very little discussion in the piece about how changing the deadline interacts with Iraqi domestic politics.  One clear thing has been signaled of late--that the Iraqis still have their nationalism.  They have begun making noises about too much Iranian influence and would be very, very turned off by a revision of the US decision to get small and then soon get out. 

Is this the same kind of decision as the original war plan (cool declassified slides here)?  No, I think not as it takes into account the realities of the SOFA, of Iraqi public opinion and politics, and of the limits of American power.  That would would make it the anti-Bush/Rumsfeld/Franks kind of plan.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lost and Out of My Mind League Draft

Ok, I have a working name for the game: Lost and Out of My Mind.  Still looking for alternatives.

The draft will commence at 9:30, and will be kicked off by Anubis Oracles posting his pick in the comment box, followed by the Ginger Genocide (Steve has yet to give a team name, so I am taking liberties, inspired by the new MIA video). 

I have received three lists thus far, so for those folks I will be posting their picks unless they show up tonight. 

Remember, you can trade your picks.  So far, no action on that front.


Good luck.

Explaining the Lost Draft Process

Perhaps a blog is not the best internet technology for tonight's draft, but it will have to suffice.  At 9:30PM EDT, Anubis Oracles will be on the clock.  He will have five minutes to post a comment on my blog naming his first draft pick.  Once he does so, lil Steve (to be named Ginger-ocide if he does not provide me with a name) picks next by posting a comment on the blog.  If people take less than the full five minutes for each pick, this can speed along. And for those who cannot be virtually present, I will post the top ranked character left on the lists they provide me.  Those picks will speed up the process.

Strategic players will think a bit beforehand about their preferred characters--to come up with a rank ordering or draft board so that they can pick without panic when their time comes.  

Oh, and please feel free to post snarky comments about people's choices as we go along.  Just keep updating/re-loading the blog page.  And folks can use facebook as well to poke fun at each other, but the blog is the official site of draft-age, sponsored by a micro-brew to be named later (how I wish that Blue Moon was a micro-brew and not a Coors company).

So far, I have one list.  Please send me your lists or let me know if you will be virtually present.

And if you have questions, ask away.

Oh, and Tabula Rasa posted this on FB, giving away whom she is likely to pick at #5.


Apparently, she has not realized that some deception is usually part of this process, so that people do not steal your pick before it gets to be your turn.

Blaming the Technology, Not the Users [Updated]

I have received multiple facebook links to a NYT story on Powerpoint.  As a long time user (addict?), as a short time resident of the Pentagon, as an occasional victim of Powerpoint Poisoning, I have a similar reaction to this as I do to advice columnists (Dear Abby, Anne Landers and their ilk) that blame the breakups of relationships on the internet: how do you feel about the phone?  Just like the internet, the advent of the telephone sped up communications and allowed spouses to meet and plan affairs.  Tiger's texting is just a slight advance over the telephone hookups that have been doing on since Alexander Graham Bell breathlessly said. "I need you."

What are the criticisms?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ted Danson, Shrinkage and Peter Cetera

Random Video of the day.  Can't embed so just hit the link and try it out.

Putting It All Into Pespective





















Given that I have been focused on the Lost Fantasy League the past few days, I thought this puts it all into perspective.  Where you fit on this depends on three criteria.  I would like to think I am a Geek, according to this coding scheme, but you may disagree and think I am either a Nerd or a Dork.  And, yes, Jacob, another softball down the middle of the plate for you.



HT to The Great White Snark

Lost Fantasy League Strategy Guide

We have one day left until the draft for the Lost Fantasy League (still seeking a name for our game).

Half of the teams have names, the other half are risking my naming them.  So far, the named teams are: Anubis Oracles, Lockean Provisos, Team Tabula Rasa (or is it Rosa?), Red Shirts, Team Doc Jensen, and Quantaum Humer.

One change in plans: the draft will commence at 9:30EDT as my daughter's play may go long.  Chip, as the first person to draft, is already on the clock.  Each person will have five minutes to decide (which means the draft may take up to 200 minutes!  But that is unlikely).  If you provide me with a ranked list of your preferred top 40 or so characters, then I will input your most highly ranked character that is still available.  Please get me that list before 5pm Tuesday EDT if you can (as I would like to have them in hand before I watch my daughter perform in a silly play).  If I receive no list and you do not attend the draft, then you will have to pick after everyone else has--not a good strategy.

Where is Scotty When You Need Him?

I have long wondered what the Canadian military has found out with its quarterly polling of the Afghans.  It turns out that international development efforts are largely hitting issues that Afghans care less about--education, health and the like--and missing those that are their priorities--electricity, jobs, irrigation.

Before going further, we must note that there might be some endogeneity here--that success in education and health have made them lesser priorities.  Yet, it does seem to be the case that the Afghans know what is truly important--that power and jobs have multiplier effects that operate in the short term whereas education and polio eradication sell better back home.  Indeed, Ben Rosell, the RoCK (Representative of Canada in Kandahar) notes that electricity has not been as much of a priority because:
We were not as confident we could have tangible progress in that area by 2011 and because the entire idea behind focusing was to demonstrate to Canadians that their investments would make a concrete difference on the ground," he said.
Plus electricity is simply much more difficult since insurgents can interrupt it pretty easily.  It is funny that electricity is something we take for granted unless we lose it (power failures in the West are rare but inconvenient) but not by military planners--who always target the production and transmission of electricity. Yet, when we go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we focus on other stuff than this basic need.  Indeed, one of the classic Petraeus stories is his focus on a key transmission tower--not so much for the power but for the symbolism, but still he focused on electricity even if or especially because it was hard. 

Going back to Roswell's statement--electricity would be making a concentrate difference--it would help employment, quality of life, etc.  This is basic stuff but we end up fighting amongst ourselves over who pays for the fuel if we drop off a few generators.  All I can say is: as we build up to the big Kandahar offensive, we should drop into Kandahar City as many generators as it takes to power the place reliably and fuel it until more substantial production facilities can be built and protected.





HT to Mark Sedra for his tweet

Stop Telling Them We Are Here!

That is Stephen Hawking's recommendation--that we should not be looking for alien life out there because we might be telling them where we are.  This has already gotten much play by IR types, as Drezner, among others, beat me to the punch again.

Drezner suggests that we need to gain some information for the purpose of early warning, but I think I have to side with Hawking on this: what would early warning do to help us?  Hawking's basic premise is that any extraterrestrials that show up would have an extreme advantage so that we would be helpless (unless they are allergic to water, one of the stupidest premises in all of movies, thanks M. Night).*  So, it is not clear what early warning would do, as either the governments of the world would cover up (like 2012) or the people would panic.

Sure, more knowledge is good, but the parallel of submarine warfare is apt.  As subs hunt each other, they cannot use their active sonar to ping and find the adversary as it would reveal its own location.  Passive sonar--listening with really good earphones--is the way to go, as you hear the noises the other guy makes but do not reveal your own location.  So, the implications of Hawking would be to invest in passive technology (telescopes, other tools for measuring signals from space) but avoid blaring noise into space or sending distant probes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Tenth Player, Revealed!

As Jacob (the player, not the character) guessed on my FB page, the tenth player in our Lost survivor league is none other than "Doc" Jeff Jensen.  He is famous (notorious?) for his very long and complex analyses of Lost at ew.com and in Entertainment Weekly.  His latest post is, ahem, typical.

Obviously, Doc has greater knowledge about Lost since (a) it has been a significant chunk of his career the past several years whereas it is a mere obsession for the rest of us; and (b) he has spent much time hanging out in Hawaii and elsewhere with the creators of Lost, the actors and everyone else involved in the show.  Over the past two years, he has had a video blog, Totally Lost, with Dan Snierson at ew.com that has been quite amusing and informative.  He is also incredibly well read, as his Lost columns demonstrate, giving both Jacob and Steve G. runs for their money on obscure references.

So, we should expect Doc to win our league.  It would be like having a football fantasy league with Mike Lombardi.  So, if Doc wins, the second place finisher gets all the gifts, prizes, fame and fortune that goes to the first prize winner (getting a post of their own on my blog, free beer/scotch next time we meet in a non-virtual way).  If, on the other hand, Doc does not finish first, then the winner of our league can feel most knowledgeable indeed, and we can make fun of Doc.  If anyone can over-think this thing other than Jacob, it is Doc Jensen.  So, it is win-win!

So, as the all-powerful Commissioner for Life, I welcome Jeff as he joins our strange way of celebrating the end of Lost.  His team name is named Team Doc Jensen, which is much less obscure than I was expecting.

Lost Draft Order and Rules

As promised, today I am announcing the order for Tuesday evening's (and then some) of potential survivors our players will pick as we await the next episode of Lost.

But, first, a couple of announcements:

Speaking of People Who Get More Attention Than They Deserve

Robert Kaplan is now apparently an economist, as he argues in today's NYT* that geography is destiny.  Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain are all in southern Europe:
That Europe’s problem economies — Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal — are all in the south is no accident. Mediterranean societies, despite their innovations in politics (Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic) were, in the words of the 20th-century French historian Fernand Braudel, defined by “traditionalism and rigidity.”
I wonder if he would say the same about the Scots and the Irish.  He should, but they, inconveniently, are doing pretty well these days (the Celtic Tiger is tamer and a bit troubled, but still not so badly off, I am guessing).  How does Iceland fit?  Their financial system crashed, too, but they are descended from North Europeans, not the barbarians of the south and east (oh, am I suggesting that Kaplan is a racist?  Sorry).  Kaplan then goes on to repeat the mistakes of his previous work:
To see just how much geography and old empires shape today’s Europe, look at how former Communist Eastern Europe has turned out: the countries in the north, heirs to Prussian and Hapsburg traditions — Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary — have performed much better economically than the heirs to Byzantium and Ottoman Turkey: Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece. And the parts of the former Yugoslavia that were under Hapsburg influence, Slovenia and Croatia, have surged ahead of their more Turkish neighbors, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia. The breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991, at least initially, mirrored the divisions between Rome and Byzantium.
Slovakia?  Where does that fit?  How about the Baltics?  Perhaps it is how the breakup actually played out that mattered--who was harmed and helped by war, sanctions, refugee flows, and the like?  Nope, that would be too political and contemporary and not ancient enough.

All I can say is that perhaps the biggest difference I made during my year on the Joint Staff was to change the reading list for officers who were taking positions on Central and East European countries--dropping Balkan Ghosts, with which Kaplan created more ignorance than knowledge.





*  No link provided because I really don't want people having more knowledge destroyed by reading Kaplan's stuff.

Dog Bites Man

I guess the NYT loves having access to disgraced former Governor Eliot Spitzer, but they feature a piece today where Spitzer says that Andrew Cuomo is often motivated by politics when making decisions.  I am shocked, shocked that a politician might be motivated by the desire to gain office.  Ok, perhaps not as this is a foundational assumption for much work in Political Science, including my work.  You don't have to be a hard-core rational choice theorist to buy into this assumption, but it does make you eligible to join that club.

The funny thing is that Spitzer is noted for, well, being motivated by other desires, to the point of sacrificing his office.  Sure, when we speak of rational choice, we can imagine other goals other than political ambition, but it seems to me that Spitzer followed his ends through less than optimal means, unless his escort provided optimal services.


Ok, back to a higher plane--politics.  I did get some flak on my op-ed about Canada and Afghanistan, where I argued that politics is driving Prime Minister Harper's decision to pull all of the Canadian Forces out of Afghanistan, with folks saying duh!  But the point I was making was that the PM and his allies were making an excuse--that it was not politics and the desire to avoid a vote-losing decision but rather the mandate passed by Parliament.  But mandates can be changed if politicians want to exert leadership.


This article interviewing Spitzer raises another question: is it just me, or are 21st century journalists and media outlets more reliant on the folks who have failed out of positions for their information?  Didn't it used to be the case that if you were disgraced (Spitzer, Edwards, etc) or failed (Palin, Cheney), that you became irrelevant?  Why do we pay attention to these folks now?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Where Is My Tin Hat?

The conclusion:
That is another thing you don't see mentioned in the anti-wireless manifestos, the inverse square law: The intensity of an electromagnetic field decreases with the square of the distance. And no matter how strong the signal, I found that I could cut it off almost entirely by placing a piece of Reynolds Wrap between the meter and the source. For whatever it's worth, aluminum-foil hats really do make a difference.
The piece addresses fears that wifi may be killing us (a typo almost had me saying "wife may be killing us", but that would be something else entirely).  Basically, fears of wifi causing cancer and brain damage are bunk.

That the wifi skeptics are citing Kuhn's paradigm stuff suggests that there may be some brain damage after all--from reading philosophy of science.  Yuck.

Get To Know the Players [updated]

We now have the players for the Lost survivor game.  Unless we have a late joiner (I have a couple of invites out to web-celebs), we have nine enthused Lost fans, ready to compete for the opportunity to post here at this blog and also a beer or scotch (none of that fancy Widmore-esque 60 year old stuff).

Thus far, none of the players have chosen a team name.  If they don't choose by the draft, the other players will choose for them, or I will do so in the last resort.

So, Skip, who are our players?

Friday, April 23, 2010

South Park Guys Take a Few Risks

After clearing being targeted after last week's episode, Parker and Stone continued their 200 episode celebration with a focus on Mohammed and the controversy around using his image.  This CNN story covers it well.  Interestingly, it seems that they may have manged to stir up a conversation among Muslims.  And that would be good.  As some have noted, South Park has targeted pretty much every religion, so this is not a matter of hating Islam.  After all, these guys started out depicting a brutal fight between Jesus and Santa.  They depicted Moses as a Tron-like glowing figure.  Anyhow, it will be interesting to see where this goes from here.

One Thing All Quebec Residents Can Agree About

Given the past few days of highly contentious posts and comments (thanks, Mrs. Spew) about language policy, rights, and nationalist politics, I thought I should post on something that all those who reside in Quebec, especially in or near Montreal, can agree: that the various governments (QC and Mtl) will inevitably mess up as they seek to renovate the major highways around the city.

There are now conflicting plans for replacing one of the two major east-west arteries into the city of Montreal from the West part of the Island where it intersects the major north-south highway--Turcot interchange.  Montreal city planners (that phrase alone should generate a few laughs) have proposed an alternative to the Quebec plan, focusing more on restricting flow into the city.  This is part of a general endeavor to try to minimize pollution, I guess.  The Montreal folks propose fewer lanes, some restricted to buses and carpooling, a tramway to pick up people who would otherwise drive, and also somewhat different paths so that Montreal can profit from new housing/business development.  Quebec resists, indicating that this would cost more money, take more time, and require more concrete (which requires lots of maintenance due to winter/over-salting and corrupt construction).

I want to raise a few points about this goal of traffic reduction.  The basic idea is that any renovations should not encourage more suburban sprawl but actually discourage it.  By cutting down on the throughput (the number of cars that will use the new highway), the Montreal planners hope to cut down on the number of people who drive downtwon.  This along with cutting the numbers of parking spaces (you can find many parking lots with spaces blocked off and unused) is aimed at encouraging people to take mass transport as well.  What could be wrong with this?

Speaking of Death, How About Some Advertising?

Heard a story on the way to dropping my kid off at school--that a guy is trying to exchange advertising space on his URN in exchange for some cash to help pay for the cremation.  There has been much talk about the new futures markets that will involve betting on how movies do, but this is an entirely different futures market.  You have to figure out: a) when is the person likely to do; and b) who popular will they be in the future.  Depending on the company's time horizon, one could emphasize one or the other, but this could be the future of Death.  One might want to invest in a prominent burial plot with a big gravestone or, even better yet, crypt (apparently Nic Cage has already purchased a pyramidal crypt) to maximize space and visibility. 

What kinds of companies would/should advertise on urns/graves/crypts?  Cialis and viagra come to mind.  Other pharmaceutical products for folks closer to the end also make sense.  What else?  Sky-diving?  Um, no, that would not just be inappropriate but also probably would serve to deter business.  Higher education?  Perhaps as the folks attending a funeral might have more cash to spend after the reading of the will. 

Any other ideas?

Warning Order: Lost Fantasy Game to Replace Lost

Inspired by last night's NFL draft and the Sports Guy's frequent fantasy drafts of non-sport stuff such as realtiy TV shows, I am proposing that we here at the Spew have a fantasy draft of who will be alive at the end of the Lost series finale.  Of course, this gets quite complicated since characters have been known to die and then be resurrected (Siyad) and more importantly to live in one world and die in the other (Libby, Charlie, Locke, etc).

I will be the final arbiter of what counts as alive--it is my game and my blog.  I MAKE THE RULES!!

Ok, enough of that, what are these rules, oh fantasy Lost league commissioner for life?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Right Stuff

I do miss double stuff oreos, but perhaps not this much:

What's Life Without A Little Wisk

I forget the comedian, but he had a bit using various product names, and substituting a laundry product, Wisk, for risk.  I was reminded of it while reading an article in a Slate series this week on Risk.  Today's story focuses on General Mattis, who led the Marines in the invasion of Iraq* and now leads Joint Forces Command, which is responsible for training the US services to work together.
Mattis is an evangelist for risk with two core principles. The first is that intellectual risk-taking will save the military bureaucracy from itself. Only by rewarding nonconformist innovators will the services develop solutions that match the threats conceived by an enemy that always adapts. The second is that technology cannot eliminate, and sometimes can't even reduce, risk. Mattis warns about the limitations of sophisticated weapons and communications. They can be seductive, luring military planners into forgetting war's unpredictable and risky nature, leaving troops vulnerable. 
The fundamental fact: "War will always be messy. You can hope to control it, but in the end it is unmanageable. This means always accepting extremely high levels of risk."

Perspective on Karzai

Mark Sedra provides some good angles on the Karzai problematique (oooh, I hate that word).  Conclusion--we gotta dance with the guy we brought to the ball. 

Remember when the Bush folks were so upset their first few days with alleged pranks that the out-going Clintonites did--removing keys from keyboards, etc.  Well, they must have really wanted to teach the Dems a lesson.  Karzai is just one of the many legacies that constrain Obama's choices.  Thanks, guys.  Nice prank!

Hey, What About Bosnia?

Bosnia moved from the front-burner of US and NATO policy on 9/11.  Iraq pushed Bosnia into the freezer, and it has now largely been forgotten.  Well, by many policy-makers, but it is not a done deal or a solved problem, although it looks like that in comparison to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Oh, if only Afghanistan could be as functional as Bosnia.  Oy.

Anyway, Florian Bieber addresses Bosnia fatigue and then suggests how the EU and US should deal with Bosnia by focusing on constitutional reforms.  Take a look and consider how benign neglect has worked better or worse than active interest. 

What Does the Iceland Volcano Ash Crisis Tell Us?

The crisis, IVAC, for short, has a variety of implications, both good and bad, depending on how you look at it.
  • Social media seemed reduce the stress and help some people find the resources they needed (beds, trains, whatever).
  • We now have learned how dependent Europe is on air travel, much like the US, despite a much better rail infrastructure.  
  • We have seen one possible future--when fuel prices make air travel nearly prohibitive.
  • The EU does provide a valuable service--as a target. 
    • Since airlines were compelled to lose money, they can approach the EU and governments for compensation.  If the airlines were allowed to decide for themselves, they might have made the same or similar decisions, but then would not have anybody to blame and from whom to demand a bailout.
  • No PANIC!  That is, there was heaps of frustration, but no real panic in the streets for all of this disruption.  Despite the dramatic inconveniences and uncertainty, people reacted more calmly than they do to their team winning or losing in the playoffs (I don't plan on being downtown for any of the next Canadiens playoff games).  
Of course, what we really need to figure out is what does the IVAC imply for a future Zombie outbreak.  I guess we will have to wait for Dan Drezner's next book to tell us.  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lost in Lost

Doc Jensen has some very interesting stuff today.  Belated but interesting.

Two by Two Saves the World

Just a great video explaining the risks of doing nothing versus something on global warming.
The key props are a whiteboard, a devil's horns hat, and various combustibles. 


Trust the eggheads, huh?  Indeed.





HT to Kristy, my favorite Aussie for the link.

Threats and Responses

Thanks again to some really thoughtful responses.  I promised to respond with a focus on threats, so see below:

But before starting, I have many biases, but the one that comes to mind as an American is that I tend to worry more about individual rights than collective rights.  And I worry about governments interfering too much, and I worry about people who worry too much.  For instance, lots of folks worry about the new immigrants to the US not learning English.  I would rather the market and the society have its impact, which will be to protect English, than impose the state upon the individuals.  If they want to send their kids to private school in Spanish, that is their choice.

Anyhow, here is what I wrote while waiting for my internet connection to work again after the break:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last Recruit? I am on board

Usual spoiler alert for Lost


Who Says Research Does Not Matter

Check out lil' Steve and his take on judges and elections. He is citing some other stuff, but he does it better than I would. Short summary: electing judges bad.

Ask the Reader: Change in Format

I changed the template--mostly so that one can stretch things sideways in case an embedded video needs more width to play.

If you find the new template objectionable, let me know. 

Answers? Maybe? Entertainment?

Hell, yeah
Previews of tonight below:


Jack vs. Locke.   Just like good old times.  And Jack is having none of it.

Saideman Under Fire Again?

I just had another op-ed published in the Globe and Mail, arguing that Canada has more choices than just between keeping everything in Afghanistan and departing entirely.  I expect heaps of negative comments. 

Tyranny of the Majority

I provoked some folks yesterday by suggesting that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms is pretty weak, given the ability of Parliament and of provinces to opt out by using the Notwithstanding clause. 

The comments indicated that there are norms not to over-use it, that it does not protect the language stuff I mentioned since Quebec has the right to do what it pleases in this area, and that protection of culture/language trumps individual rights. 

My problem is not so much with what has happened but with what can happen.  Norms are fragile reeds on which to base one's confidence in the political system.  I tend to look to institutions and incentives.  And that is where the problem lies/lays/resides.  Institutions already privilege the state's rights to impose upon individuals, despite language in the rest of the Charter suggesting otherwise.  Incentives exist that make recourse to notwithstanding clause a temptation to politicians and a threat to political minorities (those folks who cannot win majorities, whether it is due to ideology, language, race, or whatever). 

Let me speak to incentives.  Canada and Quebec have first-past-the-post electoral systems, where pluralities of votes are turned into majorities.  This has not happened at the national level for a while, as the existence of a regional voting bloc (the Bloc Quebecois) upsets the math.  This empowers Quebec in a variety of ways at the national level, particularly given that a party can only gain a majority in the Parliament (for now) if it is able to gain enough seats in Quebec at the expense of the BQ and the other parties.  So, because of this and because of the ongoing tensions, Quebec can do pretty much what it wants.  That is an exaggeration perhaps, and, again I am not a Canadianist or a constitutional scholar, but I am a scholar of ethnic conflict. 

Anyhow, what is really important for me is that within Quebec, it is essentially once again a two party system where the two compete for 90% of the vote (the other 10% are Anglophones who have no place else go politically other than the Provincial Liberals)* and, by the way, the voting districts are designed to marginalize Montreal.  So, whichever party gets enough francophone votes wins a majority of seats, and given the various institutions in play, this gives that majority party a great deal of power, including the ability to legislate against the interests and perhaps rights of minorities.  This looks a whole lot like ethnic outbidding, and it reminds me a whole lot of Sri Lanka from the 1950's to the 1980's where the two parties competed to be the best at protecting the Sinhalese, resulting in the marginalization of the Tamils.  I am not saying that the Anglophones in Quebec would face the same level of violence as in Sri Lanka (before that, more would leave as others have done so).  Just that the institutions and proportions are very, very similar so that the political dynamics here combined with the lack of institutional protections (because of the existence of the NW clause and the possibility of its use) create a climate of fear and uncertainty: there are no barriers to tyranny of the majority.

I am very, very, very worried about reforms to Bill 104 since there are actors actively seeking to end my ability to send my child to private school because we are immigrants.  The PQ and its allies are making such noises.  Why would a political imperiled Jean Charest take the hard road and protect the folks whose votes do not matter, when he can play the nationalist card instead and curry favor with the hawks on the language issue?  While I have not started looking for rental housing in Cornwall or Plattsburgh, I have google-mapped to see how far my commutes might become if I have to leave the province but still work at McGill.  And why?  Because I fear tyranny of the majority. 

Of course, the irony is that much of the past in Quebec is driven by their own experience with tyranny of the majority--that Anglophone Canada oppressed Francophone Quebec.  So,what is good for the goose .....  means that there are not institutions nor sentiment about protecting the minorities, but rather a willingness (as exemplified by the reasonable accommodation hysteria of the past few years) to stomp on the rights of some minorities to assure the majority that the imaginary threats have been squashed. 

Tomorrow I will address where the threats are coming from and why Quebec cannot really do much about it.








*  I find that the anglophones in Montreal are very much like African-Americans in the Democratic Party since they cannot really support the PQ.  The ADQ ran against Montreal so that was not really an option either.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Snarky and Educational: Ask the Reader

One last reference to Slate today: a great post explaining how Palin gets history wrong and is trying to get the US to act like the British did in1773. While the British did then lose the colonies that would become the US, I guess it would be only fair to point out that the British did manage to dominate for another century or so.  And that raises the question of whether an enddate of American hegemony of 2100 might be better or worse than we have any reason to expect?

I will ponder it a bit, but what say you, the readers?

Volcano Provides 1.21 Gigawatts?

Anne Applebaum has a very interesting post at Slate on the impact of volcanic dust upon Europe.  She illustrates briefly how the end of air travel in Europe as sent  it back into the past--that the channel and the Atlantic seem much wider and the continent is now much longer. 

But I wonder if this is just the past or is it the future?  I have been wondering for quite some time what higher oil/gas prices will do to air travel.  As we run out of the stuff, will air travel simply become too costly except for that which is truly, truly necessary?  Will conferences, talks, interviews and other professional business be skyped (as some people presented via skype at a conference in NYC this past weekend)?  I hope to spend a semester or year in Australia after my daughter goes to college and our pets depart, but will it be too late?  Or will we be able to fly in and out but not around East Asia and the South Pacific as the costs of additional travel become too much?

So, our Icelandic volcano may not just be reminding us about the past but giving us a taste of things to come.  That is, unless innovation gives us new energy sources that can fit on planes (I don't think we will be experimenting with nuclear powered aircraft again) or extends old ones.

Fatty Stats

Count on Nate Silver to bring some perspective to the Double Down debate.  That's right--the guru of numbers, first with baseball and now with politics at fivethirtyeight.com has posted on whether the controversial new KFC sandwich is that bad for you.

I am just tickled that Silver has moved to address this key question.
And his answer is:
  • Double Down is no more caloric than other fast food sandwiches, and actually contains less calories than many.  
  • It does have twice has much cholesterol than the Big Mac
  • It does have more than half of the sodium one should have in a day.
  • And half the daily allotment of fat--32 grams
Of course, this is not sufficient for the man o' graphic stats.  So, he creates an index scaled so that the DD is 1.0 (the grilled is a smidge worse for you than the original recipe).  The worst: Panera's Chipotle Chicken, surprise , surpsie.  McD's chicken with ranch is second.  Nooooo!!!!  I am most saddened that Chipotle's Chicken Burrito and Boston Market are next.  Burger King's chicken tendercrisp is the same as the DD.  Subway's Chicken/Bacon Ranch and McD's Crispy Club are healtheir.  McNuggets are better still.  The best: McChicken, KFC Buffalo Snacker and Subways 12' Oven Roasted.  The wrost of all, including non-chicken: Wendy's triple baconator (no surprise there), Hardee's Monster, and BK's Quad Stacker.
Ironically, because the DD has less calories, it performs the worst on bad stuff/calorie, with Chipotle's looking much better and Subway even better still.The scientific conclusion:
So, is the Double Down the most gluttonous fast food sandwich ever created? It depends on how you measure it. At the margins, consuming one Double Down almost certainly isn't as bad for you as a Triple Baconator, a Thickburger, or even a fully-loaded Chipotle burrito. But while those products should, in theory, fill you up for at least half the day, the Double Down might leave you hankering for seconds. It's a high bar to clear, but it's the closest thing to pure junk food of any "sandwich" being marketed today.
  •  

Is Canada Free?

A few weeks ago, there was much noise about the fact that in one dataset, the US was considered a bit less free economically than Canada.  I, of course, scoffed since I live in Quebec, where the heavy hand of the state is always on the wheel, much more so than anywhere in the US.  But that got me to thinking, especially as debates have flared up about niqabs and English private schools: does the notwithstanding clause mean that Canada is only mostly free or partly free?

Canada does have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.

 This also includes legal rights to life, liberty, security, due process, equality under the law, and so forth.
It goes on to guarantee language rights:

Official languages of Canada
16. (1) English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada.
Language of instruction
23. (1) Citizens of Canada
(a) whose first language learned and still understood is that of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province in which they reside, or
(b) who have received their primary school instruction in Canada in English or French and reside in a province where the language in which they received that instruction is the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of the province,
have the right to have their children receive primary and secondary school instruction in that language in that province. (footnote indicates not in force in Quebec). 
 At first, I noticed that it specifies citizens, but the restrictions on language education in Quebec apply even to immigrants who become citizens.  And there is the kicker--the footnote saying this does not apply in Quebec.

To be clear, I am not a Canadianist or a constitutional scholar, but it seems mighty strange that a charter of fundamental freedoms provides the national parliament or any provincial assembly to say: nope, not for us.  There are limits--that the notwithstanding invocation only lasts five years.  Then the assembly or parliament would have to vote again.  But these votes are simple majorities.  So, as long as a minority is permanently a minority, their rights exist to a large degree at the whim of the majority. 

This leads to me the conclusion that this Charter (unless I am confused, that the notwithstanding clause can only be applied to part of it?) is just a piece of paper.  If the government can pass restrictions on rights, such as the right to wear religious garb, with a simple majority, then does freedom of religion really exist?  If one cannot choose the language of instruction for one's children from one of the two official languages but is forced to educate the child in one, does this right exist?  Not in Quebec.  

I understand that the politics of past constitutional crises have produce compromises that perhaps have allowed Canada to remain united.  But the cost has been a certain amount of freedoms and rights.  So, I guess Canada is mostly free. 


Learning from Madness

Today's NYT has several op-ed pieces on the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City fifteen years ago, including by Bill Clinton.  While Clinton's piece is entirely predictable--a call for the partisans of today to be clear about what they mean and the distinction between peaceful dissent and violence--it makes very clear that the government is us and we are the government.  In another time of anti-government jeremiads, this reminder and the consequences of extremism are quite welcome.  
In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it [the line between protest and violence] again.
 In the aftermath of the Hutaree arrests, where ordinary militia types did not back up the more extreme folks, I need to note that not all gun-nuts are violent, that not all Republicans are sympathetic with those call for violence, and that not all Tea Partiers are racists.  However, it is important that such folks distinguish themselves from those who promote violence.  And just perhaps they might want to change their rhetoric so that they do not appear to be calling for anyone's assassination.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Deceptive Headline of the Week

I know it is early but:


Gates Says U.S. Lacks Policy to Curb Iran’s Nuclear Drive

The problem is that the memo SecDef Gates wrote was in January as part of a process to figure out how to deal with the problem of Iran's nuclear weapons program.  That Gates wrote a memo criticizing where the US stood at the time is a sign of a healthy policy process, especially given how difficult this problem is.  If the Iran nuclear issue had an easy solution and Obama was not seeing it, that would be one thing.  But it is entirely something else when the issue is quite difficult and the administration is working through it.  The article itself is not bad, but the headline is stupid and a bit out of date.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Weekend Nature Video

Very pretty, very greedy eight-legged freak:

Lost Progress Report [Spoilers]

Before the season began, I considered the Lost questions/mysteries that might or might not be answered.  With five hours or so left, how are we doing?


And Now For Something Completely Different

A theatre review?  Sure.  I saw 39 Steps in London, and the NYT Review suggests it made it across the pond intact, Ash Cloud or not.  So, if you are grounded in NY, go see the show.  It is simply a heap of fun, and might take your mind off of the quakes, the ash, the rapid Republicans, and all the rest.  May the Farce Be With You!

Tea Party and Racism

Much has been made of recent surveys that show that Tea Party members and those who are inclined to support whatever it is that they stand for are overwhelming white and disinterested in the problems of African-Americans.  This does not make them racist, even if one third of them believe that Obama is not a born American (I was surprised to find that it is only 1/3 who believe this.  I must be watching too much coverage of Fox news).  They think that Obama works too much on the behalf of the poor and minorities.  This, again, is not really racist--they are not saying that they hate African-Americans, just that they don't care about them and see any effort made on their behalf as being too much. 

It is easy to conflate intolerance with self-centeredness.  I am not saying that Tea Partiers are not racists, just that they may have attributes that lead them to policy preferences and political positions that do not require racism to get there. 

Either way, they seek a return to a past that never existed as they face a future of increased political marginalization.  The irony of opposing the census is that they might be accelerating the future--where whites in general and white right-wing folks in particular are outnumbered.  An additional irony is that policies that help minorities and the poor now might really be in the Tea Partiers interests in the long run as they will need good will when they have less power in the future.  One thing is certain, in the long run, they are going to need to get used to losing.

Remorse Personified

I had never heard of this story, despite the fact that As’ad Shaftari has been telling it pretty loudly for quite some time.  He was second in command when the Christian militias massacred Palestinians during the Israeli invasion of Lebabon in the early 80's.  And he came out and apologized for it.
“I apologize because when I was defending what I thought was Christianity in Lebanon, I wasn’t practicing at all the true Christianity, which is about loving others,” he said in the apology, which was about 500 words in all and was initially published (in Arabic) by a news agency and several newspapers. The apology made clear that he believed that nothing — not the exigencies of war, any prior crimes by others, or any legal amnesty — could extenuate the wrongs he had done.
Pretty remarkable.  And, given how cynical I usually am, I cannot help but be impressed that he was led to this dramatic statement and subsequent ostracism by a group called Moral Awakening (now called Initiatives for Change) that "preached peace through personal change."  However, no others have really followed Shaftari, so that his lone voice has not altered the realities on the ground nor the divisions among the Lebanese. 
“He is a tragic person, somehow,” said Lokman Slim, the co-director of a documentation and research center in Beirut who had interviewed Mr. Shaftari as part of a film about Lebanese attitudes toward the war. “He made this huge step forward, but he didn’t find followers.”
The article ends on a hopeful note, that there was a soccer game between lawmakers of the different factions.  I guess this is typical of the Middle East--individual acts of progress, surrounded by collective resistance to moving ahead. 

No wonder I have avoided this area in my research (besides from the other obstacle of mountains of stuff to read if I wanted to catch up).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ash Reference, But No Zombies

Where is Bruce Campbell when you need him?  Obscure references aside, I am pretty glad that I didn't decide to go Europe this month.  Slate has a good explainer on the Ash Cloud complete with how to pronounce its source.  It has been a pretty eventful time, geology-wise with earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, and China, and now we are reminded that volcanoes can be very disruptive. 

I am not a scientist, but I am curious--can these kinds of eruptions, which create clouds that cool the planet, at all off-set the global warming trend?  If so, would that imply that we should trigger some?  I wonder if mad scientists are listed somewhere.

By Your Command

Cylon Security.  Ooops, make that cyber-security is coming to the foreground.  Ricks has a guest post today about the Senate hearings on LTG Keith Alexander's new role as commander of Cyber Command which is just now forming.  Cyber Command will be equivalent, more or less to the other Commands: the regional ones such as Central Command, but also the functional commands of Space, etc.  Given the news of late (China/Google, etc), this seems to be about time. 

Of course, there are heaps of complexities hinted to in this piece:
  • Division of labor between domestic with the dysfunctional Department of Homeland Security
  • Alexander will be double-hatted with Cyber Command and his continued role as Director of the National Security Agency.  Will this mean divided attention or fruitful interaction?
  • Rules of engagement for commanders--what is an attack?  how can one reply? what permission is required?
  • Congress is way behind the curve. 
Still, an interesting and logical starting point.

Spare the Rod

Really.  Please, spare the rod.  Or not.  Stories like this remind me why I left Texas and will not return.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Holy Fermented Wheat!

I knew that when I was going to Australia for only ten or eleven days that I would miss out on much, but now I really have a regret: I could have been baptized at the shrine for beer.


Of course, these boys show their dedication but also their youth--in cans??!

Trust Me, I Have a Beard

This article indicates that bearded men have more credibility as endorsers than those sans beard.  The study does not differentiate between think and thin beards or gray or not gray.
The capacity of a beard to communicate positive personality qualities (such as experience, dominance, virility, strength and maturity) and to compromise, at the same time, the perceived attractiveness of its owners has also been demonstrated in more recent research (Addison 1989; Conti and Conti 2004; Shannon and Stark 2003), though some of the meanings traditionally ascribed to the possession of a beard may have been modified over time (Corson 1980).
Hmmm.  Maturity.  Those who know me are cackling now.  But perhaps the beard serves to exaggerate these qualities.
it seems that beardedness increases the perceived levels of expertise and trustworthiness, while reducing the perceived level of attractiveness in those who possess this physical feature
This is not a tradeoff that I like.  Being a trusted expert is only worth so much.  It has been shown that individuals with a
beard are on average perceived to be older than people of the same age without and, through
a halo effect (see De Souza, Baia˜o, and Otta 2003), also more competent and trustworthy

We have tested the first part of this at the "Guess your age" booths at carnivals and amusement parks and found a beard profitable--if stuffed animal accumulation = profit. 

So, the scholars find that beards make a difference for those products where the endorser's expertise or trusthworthiness is seen as relevant, but do not make much of a difference if the attractiveness of the endorser is key.

For politicians, the question then is: do they want to be attractive or seen as trustworthy?  If the former, then the current trend of mostly politicians without any facial hair in the US (Jack Layton in Canada is a "maverick" since he has a mustache).  But if politicians want to be seen as trustworthy, then they sprout a beard.  Obama, who, as my wife has repeated noticed, is ripped, could take a small hit on the attractiveness side by growing a beard and then appear more trustworthy.  Of course, he would have to groom it so that it would not appear too much like the beards of Osama and his ilk.

It could just be that beards are the marginal but undervalued edge in politics that on base percentage was in baseball in the 1990's.


Of course, my dirty secret is that I am bearded because I hate to shave.  There is no more strategery to it.



HT to Lukas Neville's tweet.

Obama as a Realist, part due

The debate continues:

There is a symposium at Foreign Policy.com with various folks making claims about Obama being or not being a realist.  Ug!!  Drezner, too!!  


As I said yesterday, the dichotomy between realism and idealism is not terribly useful unless one is strictly focusing on seeing the world as it is versus seeing as they would like it. 

Personal relationships are not an either or thing.  They can be useful to folks who are pursuing security/power and to those who see other interests in play.  They may get in the way of the national interest, whether it defined in terms of power or not.  Likewise, a realist or a liberal would consider soft power to be a tool of foreign policy (see Hans Morgenthau), but would disagree about their relative usefulness.  Downplaying democracy and human rights?  Is that the distinction?  If so, the realization that peace between Israelis and Palestinians (defined in some places as a human rights issue) is actually a security issue makes clear how unclear or useful this debate is.

Obama is, thus far, a pragmatist.  He is sensitive to the consequences of his policies, which is why it took awhile to make a decision on Afghanistan.  He sees the tradeoffs.  He is not going to confuse a good personal relationship (see into Putin's eyes) with making good policy.  Obama is not perfect, but this debate about realism vs. idealism is entirely misplaced.

But it gives these folks and myself something to talk about.  So, no harm then?

Realism and Identity

The classic realistic dictum is the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  So, it should not be that surprising that:
After years of mass unemployment, mutant inflation, chronic shortages and state violence, Zimbabweans simply don’t care about skin color. In fact, Mr. Mugabe has managed to achieve the exact opposite of what he set out to do in 2000: the forging of a postracial state(NYT op-ed)
Whites and blacks in Zimbabwe share a common enemy--Mugabe.  So, the simple realist story would be that that blacks and whites are cooperating now due to the common threat.  The problem is that this cut at the issue would then predict conflict between whites and blacks once Mugabe leaves the scene (he will die at some point, right?).  

A somewhat different take is that blacks and whites are sharing a series of common experiences, increasing the salience of other identities, injecting the various identities with new meanings.  This would mean that the current bridging of race (if it really is bridged, I am taking the writer's word on this) may actually not be as fragile as a realist approach would predict. 

Ethnicity, including race, is more complicated than hard-wired, ancient differences based on a single attribute such as race.  No ethnic group is as unitary as our theories (including much of my work) posit.  There are differences within each group.  And there are always multiple identities in play--race can be one or more than one set of competing identities, but language, religion, kinship (clan, tribe), region, class, gender may all be bouncing around and relevant for the political struggle.  And the content of each identity is usually contested.

On the other hand, something that I learned during my dissertation research nearly twenty years ago: the dynamics within the country often get a different gloss outside.
Mr. Mugabe knows exactly what he is doing in constantly invoking race-based rhetoric. By framing the crisis in Zimbabwe as a struggle against the West — against the white world — he escapes censure from other postcolonial African leaders who understand their own countries’ histories in the same way. And when the West allows Mr. Mugabe’s narrative to go unchallenged, it plays right into his hands. 
 Just as Cold War conflicts were seen as ideological or racial rather than tribal (Congo/Katanga), and just as conflicts among kinship groups were seen as religious (Nigeria/Biafra) [see Ties That Divide], it is easy but wrong to see the current conflict in Zimbabwe as one of race.  It belongs to another class of cases--not racial wars but of cases where leaders do their best to stay in power, often destroying their society.  Hence the title for our book: For Kin or Country.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A good day for me at ForeignPolicy.com

I have been linked twice today at foreignpolicy.com.  Tom Ricks dedicates a post as a response to my comments on his previous posts about a conference on civil-military relations (see here and here).  I am a big fan of Rick's books and blogs, so I appreciate it very much that he took my complaint seriously.  I still would have liked him to be more critical of former Chairman Myers, not just Rumsfeld, but I do like his take on wrestling vs. bullying.

And Dan Drezner also linked to my post on optimal models of transport, but those were much less serious posts. 


I never really expected the Spew to be read by anybody, so to have these guys raise my blog's profile is a bit scary.  I still have not figured out what to cover and what to ignore.  I approach the end of my first year of blogging, and guess it seems to be ok thus far.  No lawsuits yet.  I guess that would be one measure.

The Other Side of State Capacity

One of the themes I have been pursuing the past few years has been the tradeoff between having governments that are too weak and those that are too strong.  If the government lacks the capacity to deter potential rebels, then violence will increase.  But if government is too strong and too unrestrained, then the people will have something to rebel about.  So, the core question in Iraq is not whether the army and police will exist, but whether they act more or less appropriately and not be seen as a threat to any ethnic group or as predators preying upon the society.  The NYT has a good piece today addressing exactly this issue.

Which is more disturbing?  That the ministries are corrupt and messed up so that the barracks are unlivable.  Or that there is significant fear that the Prime Minister might use his capacity as commander in chief to do a recount?  I vote for the latter, in a close race.

Is Obama A Realist? [updated]

Or is the better question: should Peter Baker have taken some IR before leaving Oberlin?

Baker has an interesting piece in the NYT about Obama's foreign policy.  First, two categories: messes he inherited from Bush; everything else.  Obama is now, according to Baker, moving onto the second bit, with the focus on non-proliferation.  The funny thing is, of course, non-proliferation was THE focal point of the Bush Administration, but it was defined and pursued in a very specific way--disarming certain countries that were pursuing weapons of mass destruction (Iraq first) and condoning others (that would be India).

I guess the difference is between non-proliferation and counter-proliferation.  Preventing the spread vs. disarming. 

Baker then invokes the classic realist/idealist dichotomy:
If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.
“Everybody always breaks it down between idealist and realist,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. “If you had to put him in a category, he’s probably more realpolitik, like Bush 41,” the first President George Bush, Mr. Emanuel said.
He added, “He knows that personal relationships are important, but you’ve got to be cold-blooded about the self-interests of your nation.”
That is basic intro to IR 101.  Well, old school IR 101, which I had.  But the new generation of IR classes do not focus so much on Realism vs. Idealism (a la E.H. Carr) but Realism vs. Liberalism and then perhaps also vs. Constructivism.  While Realists would like to conflate Liberalism with Idealism so that Liberal IR Theorists are seen as been just as silly, fuzzy-headed as those who tried to outlaw war in the 1920's.

But the key differences between Realism and Liberalism are not about self-interest vs. altruism and singing Kumbayah.  No, the differences are several, but most importantly:
  • Realism (with its many versions) focuses on the pursuit of power either for its own sake or for the sake of security. 
  • Liberalism (with its many versions) focuses on the pursuit of interests, including and sometimes especially self-interest.  But interest is not just defined in terms of power, and security is much more multi-dimensional.  
    • Not all Liberal IR theorists focus on such topics as human rights and democracy as the ends of foreign policy, particularly when we are trying to understand what countries do.
    • Indeed, one can argue that the rise of constructivism is in part due to the dissatisfaction with Liberalism's convergence with Realism on a variety of issues.
I guess Baker and the various interview subjects quoted in the piece are focused more on topics rather than on what Obama might actually be trying to do--maximize a variety of American interests rather than solely its security and security narrowly defined at that.
“All these other countries, they have their own interests,” said Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “They don’t get out of bed in the morning thinking, ‘Gosh, how can I make America’s life better?’
Indeed, and that recognition is realistic, but being realistic--that is reality-focused is not monopolized by Realists.  Liberals can be realistic, too, despite not having the catchy name.  Realism and Liberalism have many things in common from an IR theory perspective with both focused on the world as it is, not on how we would like it to be.  Neo-Cons are distinct from either approach as they sought to impose their views upon reality, ignoring inconvenient bits of reality such as Chalabi's own self-interests and Iranian ties (ooops!).

The good news is that this has been useful to me as I am re-thinking how to teach my Intro to IR class for next fall.

Update: Tom Friedman is a lousy IR theorist as well.  Again, distinguishing stuff between realism and idealism is doing nobody any favors.

Google Reveals Imperialist Design? Ask the Reader

Found this from a tweet retweeted by Roger Ebert.  So, people have been pondering why they cannot own a canadian?  Or own something Canadian?  The first suggests that the folks out there in the world want some slaves that are good at managing the cold, are polite, and are obsessed with hockey.  The latter suggests that people want Canadian stuff, perhaps property, and find some kind of restriction.  The key word here is "own" so this is not about getting access to Canadian prescription drugs.  I would think that this result is not due to a significant demand for Canadian slaves, but for property. 

Is it hard to get Canadian property?  Not in my experience--if you have the cash. If you need a loan from a Canadian bank and you are not a permanent resident of Canada, well, then things get tricky but not impossible.  The mortgage was the only loan we could get for our first several years here.  So, let me just be confused by this result. 

Anybody out there with a better explanation?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Endless Mind#$@%$#, Indeed.

So, a riveting Lost, and I was just thinking I had some stuff figured out when .....

Civ-Mil Continued [updated]

Yesterday, I posted here a comment on put on Tom Ricks's blog about his reports of a North Carolina conference on Civil-Military Relations.  Here is the link to today's post on the same conference, this time about Rummy management.

I posted another comment today because few things piss me off more than letting Rumsfeld and the senior military leadership off of the hook.  Awwww, people were scared of Rumsfeld--they must have been wimps.  Um, give me a break. Rumsfeld created an environment where he would not listen to those with whom he disagreed.  Rummy and his master systematically excluded people from the Occupation who actually knew something about Iraq, post-conflict reconstruction or both.  Why?  Because they would say things that were reality-based--that would disagree with the fantasy that the aftermath of Iraq would be easy and cheap.

We can enumerate the mistakes made by this crew--and many of these implicate not just Rumsfeld but also Myers, Peter Pace (the Vice Chief and then Myers's successor as Chairman), Tommy Franks, and sadly then Franks's successor John Abizaid:
  1. Going into Iraq with not enough guys.  Myers, in Ricks's post, talks about how he was upset that Wolfowitz blasted Gen. Shinseki for telling Congress that more troops would be required.  Actually, the greater sin was not the criticism of Shinseki but NOT LISTENING to the man who had operational experience and, who (surprise, surprise, surprise) turned out to be right.
  2. Disbanding the Iraqi military.  Rummy claims that Bremer made that decision, and Bremer blames Rummy. Where is Myers in all of this?  He should have tried to get the decision reversed as soon as he heard about it.
  3. The reluctance to recognize the reality on the ground--that there was an insurgency, not just some dead-enders.  
Providing the best military advice does not mean mind-melding with the SecDef but telling the President what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. If that creates a crisis in civil-military relations, then so be it.  The crisis is if civilians do not do their jobs and if the military does not do its job.  Without the best information, you are unlikely to make good decisions.  With poor information, bad decisions are still possible, of course.

The funny thing is that this conference has Myers, one of the worst Chairman in recent history, and BG McMaster who wrote a book (his dissertation) on how the Joint Chiefs failed to provide good advice during Vietnam.  I wonder what McMaster was thinking when Myers was talking at this conference.  I can only guess.

Ricks replied in his comment section, asking for more elaboration, so here is what I wrote:
Tom,
Well, it was a long time ago, so let me see if I can remember.  I was on a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship that put me on the Joint Staff's Directorate of Strategic Planning and Policy on the Bosnia desk (with some dabbling on Kosovo/Serbia/Macedonia, depending on who was on leave or TDY).  So, I was not in OSD, but worked with them constantly. 
So, three stories that come to mind:
1)  Because the OSD folks at the lower level lived in a very fearful environment, during my year, they did not write policy papers.  When the interagency agenda had a paper to be written by DoD, the junior OSD guys would defer to the Joint Staff guys to write the paper.  They would then go to their higher ups with the paper and essentially hold it at arms' length and their superiors would choose to burn the paper with their laser eyes (yes, silly metaphor but you get the idea) or not.  The paper, if intact, would then make its way through the interagency process.  Ironically, this gave the Joint Staff more influence as it would set the agenda for the discussion.  So, I remember in my first couple of months there, a LtColonel essentially wrote the American position on an effort to stop conflict at its earliest stages in Macedonia (Task Force Fox, if I recall correctly). 
After I left, I was told by colleagues that Rummy had put in a change--that papers would be written by OSD.  And the guys at the bottom responded by writing papers that were very unilateral, very right-wing so that they could only be accused of being overly enthusiastic.

2) Because I was the new guy, I got tasked with a snowflake (I think you mention snowflakes in Fiasco) where Rumsfeld was asking how to get all US troops out of every single commitment around the world that he could think of (he missed Iceland but the USAF 2 star above didn't).  I had to coordinate with Joint Staff desk officers covering the rest of the planet and basically argue the handful of guys in East Timor had more bang for the buck than pulling them out and so forth.  I ended up doing the same exercise, responding to the same request three times over the course of 12 months or so because I was/we were (not just my random advice but that of the JS chain)  disagreeing with what he wanted to hear. 

3) In late 2001 (after 9/11), six Algerians were picked up by Bosnian authorities as suspected terrorists.  In January of 2002, they were due to be released due to the limits of Bosnian laws at the time, so the question became what to do about this?  Ultimately, it was decided that US (not NATO) forces should pick these guys up and send them to Gitmo (before Gitmo became known for what it is now known for) as the first guys caught outside of Afghanistan to be sent there.  A guidance cable needed to go out to give the USAEUR (commander of US Army Europe) authority to go ahead.  But as news of this was getting out, people started to gather in Sarajevo.  The longer this took, the more likely it would provoke a crisis.  But the sticking point was Rumsfeld.  We could not get his subordinates to get the issue to Rummy one evening (it was 7 or 8) because they didn't want to disturb him.  But delay might lead to a riot or something like it.  But we had to wait until the next morning when it was ok to bother the SecDef.  This experience again indicated the climate of fear that the folks working under him perceived. 

I hope this gives some idea, if not actual eyewitness accounts of people being "wirebrushed," of the working environment created by Rumsfeld.  I left after my year's fellowship opposed to the on-coming war because I knew OSD would be running the post-war phase and they would screw it up.  Not because the people there were inherently bad (although the top of the dept was, well, Feith) but because a crippling management style where the job was to provide the expected answers would only lead to bad decisions.

Hurley as the Voice of Reason

So, Hurley has steadily become not just the voice of the audience, asking the questions we want to ask, but this preview suggests that he is now officially THE voice of reason:

Transport Debate

Last night's Big Bang Theory had Sheldon asserting definitively that the order of cool-ness is thus:
Jet-Pack > Hoverboard > Transporter > Bat-mobile > Giant Ant
EW's recap suggested that Transporter > Hoverboard.

And, this raises all kinds of questions. 
  • Isn't the transporter coolest of all since it can move you anywhere instantaneously, even possibly onto a ship traveling at warp?  If we ignore the massive energy requirements and the risks of just a minor screw up aside, it is hard to find a better way to move from place to place.  
    • Disapparation is similar but poses its own challenges of splinching and unresolved questions of range (Voldemort seems to have a range that simply convenient for certain parts of the books).  Still, disapparation is pretty convenient and much better for the environment, but can only be performed by Wizards and Witches.
  • Is the Bat-mobile really that cool?  Sorry, but being carried by a giant ant, rat or kangaroo seems just more interesting than a pimped up ride.  
    • Is there a cooler ride in Comic-book-dom?  The Fantastic Four fantisticar is pretty lame.  The X-Men have a modified XR-71 Blackbird, which is pretty cool.   What am I forgetting?  Well, web-swinging is actually one of the coolest ways to travel.  
  • Which giant animal would be coolest?  Ant?  Rat? Kangaroo?  I guess the hopping would make a Kangaroo pretty uncomfortable.  I guess I would go with Rat since it would be hard to hold onto the Ant.   
  • And we can put Iron-Man's suit within the jet-pack category as its coolest form.  Check out who is producing jet-packs!!
 So, I guess I would have it as:
Transporter > Jet-Pack > Hoverboard >  Web-Swinging > Giant Rat > Bat-mobile


More importantly, it seems like the hoverboard is something one can make right now!!!


So, if one focuses on just that which can be accomplished right now, Jet-pack > Hoverboard >>> Bat-Mobile

Especially if it can go on water!  


Alas, no, it cannot.  Marty McFly has not yet been topped.  And, yes, this hoverboard question proves once and for all that google and youtube make our lives much, much better!

H1N1 Update

Very interesting op-ed at NYT on a year after the outbreak started.  Interesting facts plus a good perspective on it all.
But the struggle between people and pathogens is a part of life itself. We cannot continue to be surprised every time a new virus emerges. Instead, we must use the lessons we’ve learned during the year since H1N1 arrived to develop more effective public health responses.
 Some highlights
  • Mexico took a big risk and hit--it reported the possible epidemic quickly despite the likelihood of a steep penalty economically.  The cost--one percent of GDP!  Pretty significant for a country beset by all kinds of problems.
    • Much better than China and SARS
    • Demonstrates a need for perhaps providing incentives for countries to be as swift as Mexico.
  • Health officials screwed up: kids were contagious up to three ways after fever disappeared (if it appeared at all), and adults were contagious between 5-7 days.  So, folks were going back to school and work to spread the disease.
    • What is it about kids that make them contagious longer?  Just a funky reality to note.
  • The article takes seriously that a "mild" epidemic in a developed country does not mean the pandemic was mild across the globe.  Of course, the US faced a less nasty outcome.
  • We really have no clue about how many people were infected since not everyone got a fever.
    • 1/3 of British kids in a survey showed antibodies--which meant they had been infected, which was ten times more than the estimates.
We need more international cooperation to head off the next one, as there will surely be a next one.

I guess this leaves me a bit uncertain about whether we are better prepared or not for an outbreak of the Z virus.

Germany Gets Tired?

“Germany is no longer, as a matter of course or of principle, the motor, heart and savior of Europe,” said Constanze Stelzenm├╝ller, a senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “This isn’t the Europe we signed up for. It’s much larger, much poorer, and we have to take care of our own.” NYT
Germany is apparently tired of being the guarantor of European economic stability, with not just Greece free-riding.  Germany has been reluctant to help out the Greeks, and spurned more moderate packages. 

Why do I feel just a bit of glee in all of this?  Sorry, schadenfreude. Well, I have long argued that domestic interests triumph the gloss of transnational identities, so that when push comes to shove, politicians look home rather than thinking of the folks across the border as brothers/sisters/cousins.  This combined with the optimistic reports about an American recovery suggest that:

plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose: the more things change, the more it remains the same.

So, I am a continued Euro-skeptic (see Kin or Country for more on that), although I dip my hat with a blog post using both German and French.  Ironic, n'est-ce pas?