Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Point of Clarification for the Youngsters Out There [UPDATED]

Obama will speak tonight about the combat troops leaving Iraq.  To be clear, the 50,000 guys left behind (trainers, whatever) will still be folks in uniform who can kill and be killed.  They will still be at risk, but there will no longer be folks whose primary mission is to engage in combat.  I don't know how the troops will be organized, but if some do training anything like they do in Afghanistan by serving in Observer/Mentor/Liaison Teams (our friend, the omelet) embedded in Iraqi units, they will still engage in fighting and face some significant risks.  The others, who maybe doing logistics, coordination and other stuff, will still be possible targets of suicide bombers, improved explosive devices and the occasional rocket.  Iraq is not as peaceful as ... Denmark, so the troops will still be in harm's way.

I am not saying that this step is not an accomplishment.  It certainly is, but there is the danger of setting expectations to the point that any violence will be seen as a betrayal.  That would not be the case.   I hope the big O does a good job of making that clear, but whether he does or not, I have no confidence in the media to get it straight now or when the inevitable happens.

UPDATED: To be clear, there is something between 50k and 0.  This piece suggests that all troops will be gone by the end of 2011.  Certainly, the left wing fears of permanent big bases in Iraq will eventually be dispelled.  But one could imagine some kind of agreement, either open or not, that would allow a small number of American soldiers/Marines/airfolk (even Navy because they would hate to be excluded) to keep on training, but focused at bases and at higher level headquarters--staff positions, not fighting positions.  Sort of Vietnam in reverse?  From 50k to 1k-2k or something like that.  Plus the possibility of Special Forces having some access.  This might not be very visible as Iraqi nationalism might demand no Americans around, but, on the other hand, it might be possible to have a very minimal number of American uniforms without risking the nationalist credentials of the Iraqi government. 

In sum, thinking of absolutes here is probably not a good idea.  Oh, and, if folks are listening to Paul Wolfowitz who had a NYT column on this issue, then I am completely befuddled. Wolfy did nothing right on Iraq thus far, so why listen to him now, other than to increase the number of people that get media attention despite being near total failures.

Not So Fast, Tex

Ok, Petraeus is not a Texan (and for that, we have much to thank).  But I would suggest that General Petraeus be cautious about overestimating how many chips can be moved around the table when transitions occur in Afghanistan.

That is, I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw this:
The guidelines envision that while some troops would leave the country when their current areas were secured, others could be reassigned new missions within Afghanistan, giving General Petraeus flexibility in troop deployments as he confronts pressure from some allies and some Democrats in Washington to begin winding down the war next year. 
Oh, they must be talking about Americans, because few other countries are going to be willing to reassign their troops to a new region.  Well, they might let their troops move to the north and west, where things are less violent, but those are precisely the areas that will be transitioning to Afghan leads first.  NATO troops will not be moving South and East.  Caveats restrict the Germans, the third largest force, from moving to a hot zone.  Even the Danes and the Brits, who have fought very hard in the most dangerous areas of Helmand, are reluctant to move to Kandahar or Uruzgan, as they have local knowledge and, if things go well, a place where they can take credit. 

I feel sorry for Petraeus as he is compelled to come up with a quick plan to move things into Afghan hands, but it is hard to see that that much progress has been made on the military training, which is years ahead of the police reform (reform is such a weak word, given the quality of cops until now).  But patience is running out. 

My greatest frustration is that we have only been doing "this"--counter-insurgency of any kind since 2006 and really "this"--counter-insurgency that is relatively well coordinated and according to the playbook for about a year or two, and "this" doing COIN with enough troops for a few months.  But the publics see the war as being nearly ten years old now.  So much wasted time, money, and, most importantly, lives, because Rummy and the gang had no interest in making Afghanistan a stable place, and crushed early efforts by American generals to do any kind of COIN since it smacked of nation-building.
The administration’s strategy in the coming months will aim to explain to the population in NATO countries that, while the war in Afghanistan has been going on for nearly nine years, the current counterinsurgency strategy began only in the first year of the Obama administration — and that a full complement of forces has only arrived late this summer. 
Good luck with that.  So, now, we must rush through training of soldiers and cops.  The military folks might say:
“It has everything to do with getting the principles and concepts for transition right,” said a senior NATO military officer in Kabul. “The transition pace will, after all, be conditions-based, and this reflects that.”
Um, no.  We are moving towards milestones and not benchmarks, to borrow a fun turn of phrases from my year in the Pentagon.  It is now ALL about the clock and not about the situation on the ground.  Obama is going to start reducing, perhaps slowly in 2011.  The Dutch left Uruzgan this month, and the Canadians will be gone by the end of 2011. The Brits have said 2014/15, which, as I found out last week in Copenhagen, created a ticking clock for the Danes as well.  Sure, there may be troops as trainers after 2014 or so, but we are now seeing the train starting to leave the station, whether or not Afghanistan is ready for running the show.

Petraeus can try to resist this, but domestic politics trumps everything else.  And not just for politicians in Ottawa, DC, London, etc.  The domestic politics in Afghanistan are also starting to dictate this pace, as Karzai's fixation of holding his office uses tactics that tend to burn down his government.  Patience is ebbing in part because of Karzai's own shenanigans.  So, I expect to see a transition that is much more about the pace than the quality.

Silent Dogs and Iraq

Some of the big focal points in my recent book (does 2008 still count as recent?) were the silent dogs: the countries that did not engage in irredentism (Hungary, Romania and Russia).  The silent dog bit comes from Sherlock Holmes, I believe, who noted in some case about the dog that did not bark when one could expect it to do so.  So, silence can be an overlooked clue. 

Why am I raising this now?  Because Americans have not been dying in big numbers in Iraq, and things have been going pretty well despite the pullout of the troops from the cities, and these non-events do not get as much attention as white folks feeling oppressed in the US.  Check out Marc Lynch's take on this: "Winding down America's involvement in Iraq without disaster is nothing to scoff at."

I think it is nice to know that the Iranians are about as limited in their influence as we are.  As mentioned earlier in this blog, Iraqi nationalism pushed against the Iranian influence.  It might mean that although xenophobia is just a completely negative phenomenon in the US, it can be a mixed blessing or better than that elsewhere as Iraqi nationalism constrains the US and Iran in Iraq.

Finally, the US keeping a commitment should be noticed even if it is because it can be so rare or at least seen as such.

Scrambling--an Academic Necessity

Shifting gears from summer-time research to fall and the start of classes can be challenging in the best of times.  When it means a research trip to Copenhagen and then back for one class and then a trip to the American Political Science Association meeting in Washington, DC, it is a bit much.  And, yes, as Mrs. Spew reminded me, it is my fault.  I chose the timing of these events, so I should not whine.  Indeed, my biggest concern right now is whether I can get away with wearing shorts at the conference since DC will avoid Hurricane Earl apparently but still be the hot and humid swamp it always is around this time of year.

I would not worry, as I am sure the Marriott bar is nicely air-conditioned, but the need for food will compete with the desire to remain un-drenched. I will just have to make sure that the Chipotle's burrito does not slip onto my bare legs....

Monday, August 30, 2010

Not the Best Way to Serve Beer

Fried?  I think the guy has a very shallow learning curve, as he kept getting burned while trying to fry beer.  Serves him right.  Now, frying things that have been dipped in a beer batter is something else entirely.

Killing Americans and Immigrants Alike

There is a story in the NYT about border sweeps far from the border: an effort to find illegal immigrants moving down south from Canada into the US.  The story focuses on trains and ferries, but it reminded me of a stop on the NY Thruway where the traffic actually is stopped on the highway itself to check for immigrants.  Well, I guess, as you get waved through more or less.  But more importantly, it creates an opportunity for cars/trucks/buses to run into stopped vehicles on the highway.   No kidding--people have died.  So, we spend more resources for a few fish in a net with lots of holes.

Time to think about the tradeoffs of our policies, I think.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mad Men Rocks the Party That Rocks the Body

What a perfect episode for Emmy night! [spoilers of MM and Emmys await below]

Obama as a War President

Former roomie Peter Baker has a good story on the challenges facing Obama as a leader of the US military and how folks come to his relationship with the military with contrasting perspectives.  People are confused and uncertain in large part because Obama has a nuanced dynamic with the armed forces.  He takes seriously their perspectives but will not buy into their recommendations on their say so.  Obama frustrates his base by being a pragmatist, and this happens as well with the military.  He will not give them every thing they want, and his SecDef certainly buys into the notion that the civilians should control the military while taking seriously their advice. 

Perhaps this quote puts it best:
Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sometimes advises Mr. Obama, said the president was grappling with harsh reality. “He came into office with a very sound strategic vision,” Mr. Reed said, “and what has happened in the intervening months is, as with every president, he is beginning to understand how difficult it is to translate a strategic vision into operational reality.”
What is very clear in this story is that Obama prioritizes and the wars he inherited are not quite as important to him as the economy.  Plus he believes that the commanders should be running the wars, not him.  The temptation to use the old 7000 mile screwdriver is always there, but Obama does not see it as his role to push the pieces around on the maps.  And for that the military should be thankful.  And if he sees that the military is not representing the best values, for instance by forcing cadets to lie about their sexuality, he will seek some changes in a deliberate fashion.

The funny thing is that Baker ends his piece by comparing Bush and Obama in their relationships with Petraeus--both finding this one general to be key to their wars.  Yes, there are similarities.  But I am pretty sure that Obama will not be the fanboy that Bush was with his weekly video teleconferences, but rather give Petraeus the support he needs without micro-managing (as Rumsfeld did) but with some oversight.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I think Karzai may actually be trying to make Obama's next decision as easy as possible.  I am becoming of the opinion that Obama may take this stand next year:
I have given the generals what they have asked for.  Our troops have performed admirably, adjusting to a new kind of war and paying a terrible price for it.  But in this kind of war, as the generals remind me, the military aspects only get us so far.  To win this kind of war, we need to have a government on the ground that the people can support.  It does not have to be a perfect government, but it needs to be one that is committed to making progress.  Unfortunately, it has become abundantly clear that the Karzai government is actually an obstacle to progress.  From the election that President Karzai and others deliberately undermined to the efforts to block any serious attempt to address corruption, we have enough evidence to show that this is simply a government upon which we cannot build.  We can continue to pour money and lives into this country, but without sincere efforts by the Karzai government, we will not be able to make progress.   Therefore, I am now committed to drawing down our troops now and handing over the effort to the Afghans, ready or not. 
 It would be brave, it would be ugly, it would not produce a great outcome, and, of course, the concern really is about Pakistan.  But I don't think Karzai wants us to help them build a semi-capable government.  So, either we just create mini-states and lots of decentralization or we focus on limiting the damage done to the neighbors as we get out.

I knew that Karzai was not a great bet a few years ago, but he has defied every expectation of being minimally supportive of the mission.

Of course, I could just have the traveling blues.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Last Day in Copenhagen

The trip, like my previous ones for this project (and what a great project it has turned out to be), was successful.  I learned a great deal about the Danish effort in Afghanistan and about Danish politics and the relationships between the two.

What else did  I learn?
  • Cobblestone streets/sidewalks are bad for one's ankles.  
  • One of my few complaints here is that the museum hours are mighty short, so I had to figure out other things to do this morning while waiting to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • Another complaint (other than paying for ketchup) is how price french fries are--like five or more bucks!   
  • Given how the Danes have performed versus Norwegians in Afghanistan, Thor (new movie coming out soon) would clearly identity with the Danes. 
  •  Wearing a suit while doing the tourist thing through a counter-culture commune area (Christiana) is probably not a wise idea.  Nor is climbing to the top of a very tall church tower smart either.  But I was in that part of town for the MFA meeting...
  • The Brits can be mighty annoying.  Went to the Danish Navy Museum today and was reminded that the British Attache had a big picture of the burning of Copenhagen in his office.  Does the DC-based British Defence Attache have a picture of the Brits burning the White House?
    • Oh, and the Danes have the oldest navy--exactly 500 years ago.  Ceremony for it was apparently recent.
  • Danes are not that patient--if you don't turn right when the green arrow is lit up, you will get honked.
  •  A few last thoughts on the whole bike craze here.  
    • I am amazed that I have not seen any crashes.  Heaps of traffic weaving in and out.
    • I found smoking while biking (seen more than a few times) is kind of amusing in a healthy-death craving kind of way.  But texting while biking seems like even more stupid.
  • I forget if I mentioned this before, but the Danes bravely got rid of their subs in 2004, since their cold war mission was not longer existed.  Hard to make such a big step, but they realized they could not afford every capability (listening, Canada?) and dropped a lesser need.
A few questions:
  • What is the deal with the elephants?  I have seen elephants more than would expect given that they are not native to Denmark.
  • Do the kids really get out of school around 5pm?  or do they just hang out for a long time?
  • What does hanky panky mean?  I stumbled across their red light district and some guy kept saying to strangers: hanky panky?  
  • Why is there CNN on the TV in the breakfast room of my hotel but not on the ones in the rooms?  Instead, the only foreign language tv is sports in German.  
    • And what is the deal with CNN international edition?  Seems like the morning programs are all fluff pieces and no real news.
    Overall, I have enjoyed the sights, the food, and the people.  Everyone has been most helpful, and I have gleaned heaps of good stuff for the book.

    Domestic Politics Anyone?

    Interesting piece suggesting that the time is ripe for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement.  I am no expert on this part of the world, having studiously avoided it for nearly my entire career.  But here I go with one modest thought: domestic politics?  The writer asserts that "Yes, Mr. Netanyahu would face strident opposition from within his Likud party, but he could lean on the support of the Israeli center and left to ensure a Knesset majority."  Sure, that would be easy, wouldn't it?  Or not.  That is, a) Netanyahu has shown little desire or inclination to defy his party (indeed, he has helped set the tone, right?); and b) why would a politician decide to betray his party so completely?  Netanyahu would either want to destroy his career since his position depends on his party's support or jump parties.  Are either of these likely?

    I could go on to talk about credible commitment problems, but I just want to point out here (as I have before) that we can wish for all kinds of things and they usually come under the category of political will.  Yet, until we can figure out how to design plans that provide incentives to politicians to take the deal (under the table side payments, promises of Nobel Peace Prizes for those with egos, over the table side payments to help buy off the opponents, whatever), we cannot expect politicians to do what might be right if it is politically costly.  Politicians simply do not like to defy their base all that often.  The problem in Afghanistan is that Karzai's base is the corrupt folks and warlords (as if warlords are not corrupt).  Dumping these guys is not something he is likely to do.  Netanyahu cannot simply ignore his party.  So once again, I do wonder where the editor of the op-ed page is for the NYT--or is it the op-wish page?

    Confused About 21st Century Media

    I am very confused about the media.  Is it just me or does this seem to be a unique time in American media history where failure is not just an option but almost a step up?  Michael Brown, of Katrina and FEMA fame, has a radio show??!!!!

    I could imagine a podcast since those are often unpaid, but someone is paying Brown?  People are listening?  What are his credentials?  "I helped to exacerbate one of America's greatest humanitarian tragedies, undermine public support for my President, and embarrass my party and my country."

    I have been mystified by who gets attention these days in the political/media sphere.  I was stunned to see folks pay attention to Dick Cheney after he left office, but at least he had held an important office.  I was less stunned to see Sarah Palin get attention because she can be so entertaining.  And she has no problem diving deep into ethically troublesome waters to come up with wonderfully destructive yet empty phrases (or get them from focus groups) like death panels. 

    I guess the need to fill all of the slots on cable tv and talk radio 24/7 has meant that there are no standards for expertise, competence, reliability, sanity, discretion, discipline or quality any more.  Walter Cronkite must be spinning in his grave.

    And, yes, I have not listened to Brown's show.  My patience for radio and TV talk shows is pretty minimal as it is (I flee the room when my father turns on such stuff at family get-togethers), so I guess I am ill-equipped to judge Brownie's show.  But Brown's record is enough to convince me that there is something wrong today when folks can establish this kind of record yet they get heaps of media time anyway.  I guess I can look forward to the Tommy Franks Variety Show, the Doug Feith Hour of Introspection, and Dan Quayle's Tips on Raising The Next Generation of Candidates. 

    Is this a Republican thing?  After all, the big Democratic Presidential failure of my lifetime, Jimmy Carter, just goes around helping to free people and build houses for the poor.  Where is the John Edwards radio show that focuses on hair care and family values? Or perhaps a dating show?  Ooops, there is Eliott Spitzer.  Any others?

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    Um, Do Over, Please?

    So, we have yet another corrupt guy on the CIA payroll... just like Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President's brother and big kahuna of Kandahar.   Very bad optics, but I guess we can only rent politicians that are easy to rent, which means that we are not the only ones renting this particular guys.  Right?

    Or, as one of my interviewees said it today, scale has advantages and disadvantages.  US is big so it can do a lot but is hardly coordinated.  CIA apparently not aboard the anti-corruption train.  Of course, anti-corruption is a new priority for the US (if it is, indeed, priortized, as in coming in ahead of other interests), so perhaps the CIA does not like to cut loose old rentals.  Anyway you cut it, this just is bad policy.  And it shows that making progress on the governance side is just very, very, very hard, even when we are semi-trying.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Liberal Me This

    Tried to find good pun for title and failed miserably.  Anyway, I was struck by an experience I had yesterday.  I interviewed a member of the Denmark's Liberal Party (Venstre is its name in Danish), and was surprised to find a bunch of bumper-stickers/posters that were Bush/Cheney and McCain/Palin (talk about dodging a bullet....).  

    And I realized that Liberal in the Danish context refers to the traditional Liberal definition of free trade, property rights, and so forth.  So distinct from the American political context where Liberals are on the left end of the spectrum, seeking government intervention to compensate for the problems induced by market capitalism (unemployment, poverty, etc.). 

    And distinct from Liberal theory in IR, which focuses more or less on how the pattern of interests domestically and internationally drive events (rather than the distribution of power [realism] or the content of identities [constructivism]).  I find myself more in the Liberal category of IR theory than in any other (although my students think I am a hard-core realist). 

    But this got me thinking about how elastic (and perhaps even intersubjective) such labels are.  After all, the least conservative people these days in the American political system are folks who call themselves Conservatives.  They (well, many of them) are not trying to preserve a way of life or an existing political order, but trying to destroy existing institutions and patterns of behavior (theocracy, anyone?).  "Conservative" judges are as or more guilty of judicial activism and the denial of states' rights as liberal ones. 

    So, are these labels meaningless?  No, identities do matter, but we need to take care to figure out their content--which changes over time in response to events, political entrepreneurs, and so forth.

    Yes, I am practicing to get back into lecture mode, having not taught for more than eight months.

    Copenhagen, Day 5

    While I am changing from my suit to jeans after having a very interesting discussion with three Ministry of Defense people and one Army officer, I thought I would post a few more things I have observed in Copenhagne:
    • Of all the cities I have traveled through the past year (Berlin, London, Paris, Canberra, Sydney, Wellington and now Copenhagen), Copenhagen has far more police/ambulance sirens going off.  Perhaps I am in a lousy neighborhood?  More graffiti than most of these other places as well, I think.  But still does not feel like a dangerous place.
    • A correction: the wind is stronger here than in Lubbock, more like Wellington.  Nor is the wind here particularly chewy.
    • Another correction: weekday Copenhagen Danes are much more fit than weekenders.  Biking is apparently really good for the environment.
    • And I prefer Carsberg Classic which is darker than the regular Carlsberg.
    Best news--found an Indonesian place while walking around today.  Will try it out tonight.

    More Evidence that DADT Is Undermining US Military

    This story about gays and lesbians at the US Military Academy just serves as more evidence that we need to hustle a bit faster to get rid of this obsolete restriction.
    “Anyone you meet here,” the senior female cadet said, “you have to assess their personality very closely, and see if you can trust them.”
    This is not only sad but destructive.  Creating an environment of fear and distrust among the future officers in the military is awful.  How will these officers work together down the road?

    I'd love to see if a reporter could find a similar group of folks willing to talk to a journalist at the US Air Force Academy, given its status as an outpost of evangelical proselytizing.  Distrust must be incredibly high there.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Arctic Sovereignty From Another Point of View

    Even with the recent news that Canadian politicians have discovered reason, it has been fun to occasionally talk about Arctic Sovereignty with the Danes, given that Canadian folks have portrayed them as card-carrying members of the Axis of Icy Imperialism© along with Russia and the US.  So, one member of parliament chatted with me about the required visits of one of Denmark's few ships to Greenland and the contested area (Hans Island) and the deployment of Danish forces to take down the Canadian flag and replace it with a Danish one.  

    The Dane put it in terms of Canadian aggression.  Holy oxymoron, Batman! 

    Copenhagen, Day 4

    What happened to day 3?  Interviews and then rain so I didn't have much in the way of observations.  Except one: you always know you are getting close to the US embassy in a country as the bike path/road/sidewalk suddenly become blocked with ugly concrete planters.  Today, while walking to the Royal Danish Defence College, I was wondering around the neighboring suburb to waste some time (I got there early), and thought I was running into another US facility.  Nope, close though, as the Israeli Embassy (or residence) was surrounded by various obstacles to make approaching by vehicle quite hard.

    Anyhow, what did I learn during my fourth day in Copenhagen:
    • It is just like Lubbock.  It is incredibly flat and incredibly windy at time.  But otherwise not so much unless you can imagine the bikes here to be the equivalent of Chevy Suburbans.
    • It is just like the Island on Lost, as it spontaneously rains even when it is sunny and then stops immediately, almost as if John Locke was anticipating it all.  
    • Last year, I noted that Paris, Berlin and London vary in how much they trust their citizens to pay for the metro/train.  Paris--very untrusting--with very difficult obstacles to surmount if you don't pay.  Berlin--complete trust with the possibility of an inspection.  Copenhagen--same as Berlin.  
    • Train was also funky in that an entire car (or more) was dedicated to bikers and their bikes, with stands built in.  The trains also have "quiet" zones and anti-quiet zones (wifi).  Interestingly, you will find less English in the metro/train system in Copenhagen than in the cities I experienced last year.  They make up for it by using English in the names and advertisements of their shoppes.  The pic here is for boots and shoes, which are semi-underwater here.
    • Truthers are even here.  Ug.  Right outside the Parliament.  
    And I went on a canal tour--one of the best values in a town where the food is super-expensive.  

    Americans and Canadians Can See Eye to Eye On One Thing, at least

    Paying for ketchup at a burger joint for one's fries is just wrong. 

    The Future of Peer Review

    Shall we wiki peer review?  This article presents one model of replacing peer review with online review.  I don't know.  I guess I am not as frustrated as some with peer review, as I have had some success, so I am not sure how broken it is.  I do think some journals are far better at it than other--getting good reviewers to respond in a timely fashion.  By good reviewers, I mean folks who evaluate the article fairly for what it tries to be.  Other journals are slower.

    Who will be more fair and honest--a reviewer known only to the editor or folks on the web with their names attached?  Anonymity on the web is not the best path to happiness as we have seen on many threads out there, and anonymity poses a similar risk via conventional reviewing except there are editors in the latter case. 

    But change is hard.
    The most daunting obstacle to opening up the process is that peer-review publishing is the path to a job and tenure, and no would-be professor wants to be the academic canary in the coal mine.

    I will have to think more about this, but right now, I am not sure how broken the current system is, as most of the journals I review for and get reviewed by are pretty fast these days in terms of the review process.   In terms of going from that stage to publishing, things are much slower, but that is not about the review process.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    In Loco Parentis/Loco Parents

    Last year, when I enumerated the ups and downs of prof-ing, I forgot to mention one of the best parents: No Parents. Apparently, this generation of parents needs to be reminded to go home.  I have only had a few interactions with parents in my 17 years or so of prof-ing.  The few times have mostly been prospective students wandering around with their parents, pondering their future.  I have not had to deal with parents when dealing with plagiarism cases or bad grades .... yet. 

    I think the NYT story linked above is probably exaggerating things a bit, but the students at McGill are probably a little less entitled and probably have had a great deal more independence than American students in general (holy generalizations, Batman).  But when my friends and I complain while eating/drinking/playing poker at the various conferences, parents are never the subject of complaints. 

    I have always thought of this as one of the huge differences between prof-ing and teaching K-12.

    With Friends Like These

    People wonder why there has not been as much of an outpouring of support for the people of Pakistan.  Well, perhaps it is because many folks are not fans of their government.  True, the people suffering from the floods have little control over their government, but when their government crows over upsetting a peace process because they were excluded, it tends to alienate the planet. 
    “We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.” 
    Sure, this latest news may not have affected attitudes, but those attitudes were already fairly set against Pakistan for the years of the double-game, getting lots of assistance while still providing refuge and support for the Taliban, for Al Qaeda, and for terrorist groups aimed at India.

    Is it fair or right that this diminishes support for the people struck by this horrible tragedy?  Certainly not.  But Pakistan as a government raises big questions about the limits of power and of patience.

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    The Jones and Product Placement

    On the flight to Copenhagen, I ended up choosing to watch The Jones because its premise seemed interesting: four people (David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, and Ben Hollingswoth) pretend to be a family in order to promote a variety of products to a community of wealthy folks who are lemmings.  This "family" is employed by a corporation (led by Lauren Hutton) that does this in a bunch of places to get folks to imitate and adopt new products.  So, it is not a con but advertising....

    This could have been a pretty clever satire about the commodification of self-value and so forth.  But for 3/4's of the movie, the folks are shilling a mix of real and fake products (the cheap food stuffs are fake, I think), and the real stuff is probably the result of product placement.  So, on the one hand, this makes the movie a bit more realistic with real stuff, but, on the other hand, the movie is selling products that most people cannot afford (indeed, Gary Cole's character bankrupts himself keeping up with the Jones). Kind of undercuts the message, methinks. 

    Mad Men does deal with real stuff (and I am not thrilled about having to wait a week to see the episode that plays tonight--have to watch the Will Ferrell basketball comedy instead!), but not in ways that undermine what they are trying to do, but exactly in ways that emphasize the themes. 

    Copenhagen, Day 2

    Spent my second day and my last full day of tourism with a bit of history.  First, I walked around and in Rosenborg Slot and Kongens Have.  This is where the Royal types used to hang out.  The castle was pretty interesting as were the gardens.  Plus another nice moat  These Danes know their moats.  If I have get a Spew Mansion, I will hire Danes to do the moat. 
    Then I went to the Carlsberg Brewery.  They had a nice visitor's area/museum dedicated to beer and the company.  Very interesting stuff.  And you get two beers at the end of the tour.  Excellent. 

    Taking a break now to let my feet dry, and then more of the city.

    One bit of frustration--my cell apparently is locked so new SIM card does not work.  Other than that and the wet clothes, things are alright here in southern Scandinavia.

    Part 2 abridged due to rain.  Will have some other time this week to see stuff, but now time to prep for interviews.

    Implications of Mosque Madness

    Frank Rich does an excellent job of:
    • developing the implications of the domestic demagoguery for the war in Afghanistan;
    • reminding us of the hypocrisy that is FOX news
    • informing me of something I had missed--the role of Saudis in funding FOX.
    Not only has this story caused Petraeus to be widely ignored as he stumps for the war, but Sarkozy's deportation of Roma (very reminiscent of 1940's era events) has been almost entirely ignored.

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    Copenhagen, Day 1

    Aside from getting in three hours or so late thanks to a broken plane in Newark (only a fuel leak!?), things went well today.

    Of course, I realized quickly that I probably should not really talk about my research to the taxi driver if he is from Pakistan.  Led to a 15 minute conversation about 9/11.  Ug.  But he was nice enough.

    What have I learned about Copenhagen thus far and the Danes?
    1. The city is like Shrek and onions--it has many layers.  The current building holding the parliament sits on top of pretty much every previous construction on that site since the 1100's!  Really.  So, one of the tourist sites are the "ruins" underneath the government center (Christianborg), which contains walls and bricks and wells from the previous forts/castles/etc.  It turns out that one of the groups acting the early Danes was the Hanseatic League.  Thanks to Hendrik Spruyt, I knew who these guys were.  On the other hand, the Danes kept burning their own palaces down through bad design.
    2. An interesting contrast with Australia.  In Syndey, it was hard to walk around the harborfront without bumping into seven weddings.  Thus far, I have seen more weddings and wedding pictures near the Kastellet (former fortress, still rocks the widest moat I have ever seen).  What can be over-read into this?  That the viking blood of the past means that they associate marriage with defense and conquest?  Surely not.  Just a pretty area of the city, but Copenhagen has plenty of those.
    3. The Danes are not as uniformly blond as one might expect, but still pretty darn blond.  They are not nearly as fit as residents of Oslo, although they seem to be less obese than North Americans (not that difficult a trick).  What was surprising to me, given all of their hoopla about Muslims, is how few I have seen thus far, compared to how many head-scarved women I see in Montreal.
    4. The 7/11's are the busiest stores, which was a problem for me since they might have sim cards so that I can use my Canadian phone with a Danish number and less $$$.  But that might just have been because of the huge crowd that showed up for some sort of gay rights/pride event.  It was good to see Batman and Robin show up, but it led me to wonder which version of B&R was more homoerotic--the original TV show or the George Clooney/Chris O'Donnell version?
    5. I do wonder about the competitiveness of Danish Dairy as both Ben and Jerry's and Cold Stone Creamery have outlets here.  
    6. The Wire has absolutely re-wired my brain.  I am in towards the end of the second season (which rocks, despite some thinking it is one of the weaker ones--all I have to say is Omar in court) and now when I see a port, I think about cans being diverted.  
    7. Oh, and I just noticed that my very basic hotel room has a bottle opener attached to the desk in the most obvious way possible--more than any other hotel room I can remember.   Hmmmmm.
    I have one more day on my own to overcome jet lag and get the lay of the land here (which is flat--must find one of those free bikes) and then things get busy quickly.  It should be an interesting week.

    Mo (sque) Hypocrisy

    This really requires no comment:
    So just to make it clear, the GOP has now staked a claim as the defenders of the sanctity of the Ground Zero site, but they have simultaneously VOTED to deny the necessary long-term healthcare and compensation for the rescue workers and first responders who struggled in the ruins of Ground Zero.
    I was having trouble thinking of a word to describe people like this, and then I remembered.....HYPOCRITES.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    When A Break In Policy Is A Return to Tradition: Canada and the Arctic

    The Harper govt has decided to focus more on building rules to govern the arctic than confrontation with the menacing Danes, Americans and Russians.  The article here pitches this as a break in policy.  It might be a break with the past few years, but Canada has always realized that it does not have the leverage, the power to get bigger, more powerful countries to bend to its will.  Instead, it has always sought to develop multilateral institutions (UN, NATO, NAFTA) to tie down the giant to the south and realize Canadian interests through bargaining, rules and shared values.  So, this move is hardly as revolutionary for Canada as it appears to be, although it may be a change in the Harper approach.  But it was inevitable.  And not unwise.

    What Progress Looks Like

    “When I go to downtown Baghdad, and I’m stuck in traffic, and I’m not jumping curbs, and going against traffic, I’m driving in traffic like everyone else — and I’m looking to my left and right, and there’s a guy selling fish,” he said at Forward Operating Base Falcon, a base on Baghdad’s outskirts.
    “He’s got a fish cart. He’s cooking fish. And there’s a watermelon stand and then there’s an electronic store right next to it, and people are everywhere. And I’m sitting in traffic and I’m going, ‘Man, this is unbelievable.’ That’s a victory parade for me.” 
    NYT has a good story about the experiences of the American soldiers in Iraq who are now on their way out.

    Is Iraq fixed?  Certainly not.  The future is most uncertain, as it depends on Iraq's politics, Iran's interference, and a host of challenges.  Is it better off now than before the Awakening and before the Surge?  Absolutely.  Was the invasion worth the cost?  Um, no.  Not at all, as too many Americans and too many Iraqis (and Italians and Brits and others) have paid with their lives for a foreign policy effort based on either lies or misperceptions or both (certainly an effort based on arrogance).  Could we have lived with Saddam Hussein?  Sure, we had done so for quite a while.  Would the Iraqis have been better off with more years of autocracy or with the war and its costs?  Hard to say, but the aggregate costs for the US in terms of lost opportunities in Afghanistan, a nearly broken military, deep budgetary holes, diplomatic costs that are still being felt, and so on, make the effort a net negative.  We may have won the counter-insurgency campaign (for the time-being), but the war cost more than it got us. 

    But things are better now than they were a few years ago, so sticking it out for a bit longer was worth it.  Whether it is sustainable, I don't know. 

    Welfare Rant #1

    A friend of mine on facebook "liked" one of the groups or threads or whatever that tied together welfare and drug-users, basically complaining that our tax dollars are subsidizing drug abusers.  And that pushed a button--my rant button. 

    I am no expert on welfare, but I did have to teach about it for several years at Texas Tech, so I did try to find some stuff out along the way.  I may not be entirely accurate here, but as I understood it then (and I doubt it has changed much), the single most common event leading someone into poverty and onto welfare is .... divorce.  Becoming a single mom is the event most associated with needing some sort of welfare program.  One of relatives got a divorce from an exemplar of a deadbeat dad, and she needed help from her state to get by.  Food stamps made a difference until she was no longer eligible (I have to say that limit of eligibility was mighty, mighty low) once her deadbeat ex was required to pay child support of around $165 a month.  The good news about this low assessment* is that it was small enough not to be missed that much when he didn't pay.  Anyhow, so she got food stamps for a while, she got free counseling for her kids, her kids still are on Medicaid, and she has gotten subsidized day care and day camp so that she can continue to work. 

    Now that she has an hourly job, she is making too much money to get as much assistance from the state. What she could really use would be housing subsidies, but that does not seem to exist, I guess, in her state.  She, of course, is also getting assistance from her family (her mother, us), and her deadbeat husband occasionally kicks in the $165 or so that he owes her but not regularly, not monthly.  And so far, he has gotten away with that.  We may have had a cultural shift in attitudes about deadbeat dads, but the actual enforcement is blunted when counties facing budget problems want to keep their prisons clear of folks who merely default on their financial obligations to their families.

    Good times.  So, pardon me if I do not really care if some tax dollars make it into the hands of folks who use drugs.  I care more that some of this money actually does make it into the hands of single moms (and single dads, too) that have incredible responsibilities, difficult choices, and few options.

    *  The lesson is not to marry someone who owns their business because they can easily hide/deny their income.

    Expertise--A Matter of Limits?

    Dan Drezner has a great take on how one becomes an expert.  I'd just like to point out that number 9 on the list is that an expert needs to recognize his/her limits.  Indeed, knowing your limitations is an on-going theme here at the Spew.  The more you know, the more you should be aware of what you do not know. 

    My year in the Pentagon was, as they say there, like drinking from the firehose--I got exposed to alot of information over a short period of time.  So, I learned a great deal about how US foreign policy made.  But I also realized that there is far more I do not really understand.  I thought I knew how NATO worked, but I had no clue.  The current project that takes me to Copenhagen this evening is aimed at answering some of the questions that were raised nearly ten years ago in the five-sided building.

    Last night, I had a much better ultimate experience than the week before, in part because I didn't try to be the hero on the last possession, but instead made an easier pass to someone who then made the scoring pass into the endzone.  Knowing my limits and those of my teammates has been, I think, one of my advantages on the field. I just have to adjust as my limits increase as I age.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Learning How to Read a Survey

    Heaps of folks are tweeting/facebooking about the new survey that has 18% of Americans thinking Obama is a Muslims.  First, as Drezner tweeted, you can get 20% of Americans to say pretty much anything (normal curves have thin tails--but the tails do exist).  Second, this result is entirely driven by White evangelicals/conservative Republicans.  The really consistent change is that more people don't know than before.  So, Fox News has been successful in confusing people.  Or perhaps Obama's tolerance is confusing--that if you tolerate a non-Christian religion, that makes people unsure of what you really are.... I wonder if Howard Dean's numbers or Bloomberg's numbers on this question would have the same pattern?

    You know what?  I would actually prefer that the American people didn't know what the religion of the President is.  The President's standing should be on what they are doing, what they have done, what they promise to do, not where they worship or not.  And, indeed, in the other questions, the majority of Americans feel that Obama is behaving correctly:
    • Mentions faith/prayer about right (only white evangelicals/Republicans disagree);
    • Relies on religious beliefs to make policy decisions about right, driven down mostly by white evangelicals who want religious beliefs to matter more.  Um, thank you, but no thanks.
     For me, the second best news is this:

    When Optics Require Innovation

    The Status of Forces Agreement means that the US military has to be out of Iraq entirely by the end of 2011 with the combat brigades leaving this month.  But the US still has aspirations of doing important stuff after 2011, so State leads and is guarded by ... contractors.  Private military companies.  I am sure that if you asked Iraqis which they would prefer, they would prefer to have US military guys doing this kind of work rather than contractors because the former are accountable and the latter not so much.  But both Iraqi nationalism and American domestic politics require no American soldiers or Marines of any size to be in the country. 

    Yep, the policy is drive by optics--the uniforms would look bad on Iraqi and American TV.  So, we must innovate and have a really large civilian presence guarded by contractors.  But is this really a good idea?  Probably not, but politics, as they say (this is a morning for cliches), is the art of the possible.

    The former head civilian, Ryan Crocker, suggests that this should be revisited:
    “We need strategic patience here,” Ryan C. Crocker, who served as ambassador in Iraq from 2007 until early 2009, said in an interview. “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality. We do have an Iraqi partner in this. We certainly are not the ones making unilateral decisions anymore. But if they come to us later on this year requesting that we jointly relook at the post-2011 period, it is going to be in our strategic interest to be responsive.”
    I think Obama could imagine keeping some troops around, so this really hinges on Iraqi politicians taking a brave stand.  Perhaps they could frame a request for some US troops to stay by framing it exactly as: do you want some US troops to remain or do you want a bunch of trigger happy, unaccountable private military contractors like Blackwater Xe?  Put that way, I am pretty sure that Iraqis would punish their politicians less for letting some troops stay.  Framed as US troops or nothing is something else entirely.  But first we need a  settled Iraqi domestic political scene, which does not seem to be close at hand.

    Best Military Advice, continued

    Apparently, Petraeus's slide explaining how the transition should work in Afghanistan.  I miss the acronym heavy environment that is NATO.  Anyhow, it is interesting to see what Petraeus is pushing against:
    • decisions based on preferences of the folks at the top (Obama, NATO, Karzai).
    • time-based (milestones, not benchmarks).
    • just pulling out.
    • transition for transition sake.
    Of course, the best military advice, which this may be, may not become political decisions (especially since the process at the top includes places where consensus is required--NAC means North Atlantic Council).  The key question is the first issue--conditions-based.  Will the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan really drive events or will the requirements of domestic politics?  Moreover, while there is some debate about how much progress the Afghan National Army has made over the years implying some potential for modest transitions, there is consensus that there has been no real progress on the Afghan National Police.  And that means local level conditions are not advancing enough to really transition to an Afghan-led effort.

    Mike Lombardi, formerly of the National Football post and now at the NFL's website and network is fond of repeating the maxim that hope is not a plan and the two should not be confused.  Well, is this a plan or is this wishful thinking?  I lean a bit towards the latter.  And I am not optimistic about the parliamentary elections next month.

    We Are a Bad Guild [updated]

    The academic community, like the law school folks, have done a poor job of being a guild--we create too many competitors for too few jobs, creating heaps of anxiety and perhaps pushing down wages.  This psychologist is quite clear about the problem.  While I have been telling aspiring law students to think about supply and demand for quite a while, I have only started doing so for aspiring PhD students lately.  Taking on fewer students?  Well, our department does not give individual profs the power to admit students, so I cannot unilaterally reduce the size of our program.  I am taking on fewer students because of past uneven burden-sharing issues, not because of the job market situation. But this article does suggest that more restraint would be a good idea.

    It is clear that we face still strong incentives to have many PhD students around, but perhaps not let them complete and compete?  The system is, indeed, broken, and we need to think about the incentives we face.  But I am doubtful that we will make much progress, as this is a classic case of a collective action problem.  And academics do not cooperate very easily.

    Updated: Check out this story for the ugly trend.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Least Surprising News of the Week

    Administrative expenses at colleges and universities have been going up faster than faculty costs.  I am shocked about as much as if there is gambling at Rick's.
    Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent.
    I wonder what the numbers would be if service was dropped out.  Of course, since this article is from the Goldwater Institute, the focus is on how much states and the federal government are doing to subsidize administrative expenses and perhaps we should let the students feel more of the costs.  That makes me laugh, as we see tuition skyrocketing across the board--as their own charts illustrate quite clearly.

    Anyhow, administrative bloat is pretty obvious--there are far more Vice Principals/Chancellors, Assistant Provosts, etc than before and their costs are pretty steep because they not only command higher salaries but also more and more staff.  Nice to know that our anecdotal understanding is supported by the statistics.  If these admin types could figure out how to make university funding sustainable without gutting faculty or accelerating tuition, their growth would be worth the cost.

    The Greater Romania Party and the Republican Party

    Yesterday, I pondered why the Republicans would want to distract people away from the lousy economy.  I quickly received heaps of comments here and on facebook suggesting that the GOP is equally implicated by the "Great Recession," and that surveys show that the public has more negative views of Republican handling of the economy than the Democrats.  Pretty hard to achieve, but there you have it.  In talking this over with my wife, I suddenly realized an interesting parallel--the GOP with an extreme right-wing party in Romania--the Greater Romania Party.

    The Greater Romania Party, I found in researching For Kin or Country, is not as loudly irredentist as one might have expected with that name.  Instead, over the course of the post-communist period, it has been a party that has focused its nationalism on xenophobia--on the internal targets or "others" rather than the external "us" in Moldova.  What is more interesting and relevant for the US today is how the Greater Romania Party was quite flexible in changing targets as some "others" had more friends or were seen as being less useful for rabble-rousing.

    The Greater Romania Party started out being quite anti-Semitic, but this was not so easy to sustain, given how few Jews remained after the Holocaust.  During my interviews several years ago, everyone noticed that Vadim Tudor was taking a very different stand--proclaiming himself to be a philo-semite (whatever that means) by visiting Auschwitz and by taking on an Israeli campaign coordinator.  Focusing on the large Hungarian minority was also a part of the Greater Romania Platform, but as Romania sought membership in the European Union and as Hungary made it in first, the party needed to dump this component of its nationalist rhetoric to appear more suitable as a party that could lead Romania into the EU.  The good news for the party was that there were three or four groups left to target: homosexuals, Roma, Muslims and immigrants.  I am guessing that the party figured that they could target each of these, but especially Muslims and immigrants without too much opposition from the EU or from Romanian parties worried about threats to the EU membership process because the members of the EU were not and are not big fans of Muslims or immigrants (or Roma).  We have a party seeking to divide the electorate and gain support based on emotional appeals to an imagined pure nation of the past, promising policies that discriminate against those that are seen as belonging to the Romanian nation.  And this worked to some degree, as this party finished second and third in the early to mid Aughts.

    And the Republicans, fighting to maintain a vote share in desperate times (mobilized minorities, declining percentage of whites in the US, etc.) have made a similar move, emphasizing one set of identities and then another, alienating one minority and then the next in the quest for more support for more extreme candidates.  The anti-Semitism has not been so prominent, but it is there.  No accident that George Soros is portrayed as an agent of bad stuff by both the Greater Romania Party and the Republican Party.  Republicans focused a bit on race, proving that Obama's Presidency does not mean we live in a post-racial America.  They focused on gays and lesbians, but found that Americans have grown far more tolerant to rise to this bait as enthusiastically as in the past.  The Arizona laws on immigration played upon fears of Latino immigrants committing an ever-increasing number of crimes (despite all trends to the contrary).  So now, rather than taking the new ruling on Prop 8 and running with it, the focus is now on the 14th amendment's born in America proviso (as opposed to the equal protection component): this combines Islamophobia with anti-Latino xenophobia.  Terror babies, indeed! 

    When I teach about ethnic conflict, the starting point is always that there are multiple identities and that the salience of each one (and the meaning attached to each divide) varies according to the political context.  It is striking that the Republicans have taken this bit of social science thinking seriously and have moved from one identity/set of cleavages to the next, trying to mobilize the base in this election.  Since the base of the GOP is white rural Christians, the use of identity politics can work in the short term precisely because the demographic balance of the US is shifting.  The 2010 elections may lead to big Republican victories, but my best guess is that this is a short term outcome, as the combination of different targeted minorities will ultimately produce majorities.  The GOP can win California only with a Republican who is one in name only.  In Presidential elections, that diverse state is lost for the near and medium term.  Colorado is now a toss up state.  Arizona, well, that should be interestingly ironic down the road.  How about Texas?

    Indeed, we may have our answer for why using Islamophobia--to distract from the previous waves of anti-gay, anti-African-American, and anti-Latino stands.  But it is unlikely to work for long.  The Republicans should take a look at the Greater Romania Party to see what the future contains--as the the Romanian extremist party is now getting very few votes and having few seats after it has gone through its menu of targets.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Ultimately Arbitrary

    Wayne Norman, a philosopher at Duke, has developed very quickly a very interesting blog--thinking about sports in ways that have shifted my perspective quite a bit.   He has pondered classic questions like: when is a sport a sport? What's wrong with soccer broadcasting?  He has compared soccer to American sports to understand why soccer has not yet become as popular in the US  (and Canada?)* as it is elsewhere. 

    In his latest post, he posits something quite striking,
    The “essence” of a game or a sport, again, is bound up in the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. The participants must embrace rules that prohibit efficient means in favor of inefficient means to achieving the goal of the game. In many cases, the most basic rules are, for all intents and purposes, arbitrary.
    Of course, given my own obsession, I immediately started to ponder about Ultimate.  Because Ultimate was invented by a bunch of over-educated types long after other sports and is a semi-conscious imitation of some sports (football, soccer, basketball), it makes sense to focus on a few aspects that fit Norman's idea of arbitrary obstacles to efficiency.  Three come to mind:
    1. You cannot run with the disk.  The frisbee is advanced forwards and backwards (moving it backwards is not a big deal and can be a good idea, as it moving the ball backwards in soccer, to create space and keep posession).  But only by throwing.  The most efficient means of getting the disk into the endzone would be perhaps to run it in like in football, rugby and similar sports, especially when it is windy or when one is already close.  But nope, you can only run with the disk if you pass it within a couple of steps or for a couple of steps as one stops running.  You cannot change direction while slowing down and you cannot take more steps than is necessary to stop.  Otherwise, you can be called for a travel. 
      1. An implication of this rule is that once you have stopped, one foot becomes the pivot a la basketball, and then you can only move one foot as you pivot with the other.  It would be more "efficient" to step around someone guarding you to pass the disk, but the rules prohibit that.

    Confused About Republican Strategy

    Why are the Republicans putting the mosque near (not at, just near) the former site of the World Trade Center (ground zero will always mean to me the courtyard in the middle of the Pentagon) at the heart of their campaigns?  Sure, demagoguery is good fun, but given how bad the economy still is, how high unemployment still is, how hard it is to borrow money, and so on, why not run on the economy?  Incumbents lose when the economy is bad, especially of the party in power (Dem incumbents are at far greater risk than GOP incumbents). 

    I am just puzzled why the Republicans would want to divert attention from the economy.  Even if they have no solutions (other than tax cuts for the rich), it would seem to me that focusing on bailouts, deficits and the like would be just fine.  Where is the message management police when you need them?

    Any readers want to explain why religion-baiting makes more sense?  Is this about turnout?  Un-confuse me if you will.

    These Kids Today, part two

    Beloit College circulates a list each year to prepare the profs for the new generation of students--a "mindset" list.  The idea is to prepare profs for the reality that our students have a different mindset.  Of course, the first question is: should we care?  Well, some of this does deal with communication, so we need to be prepared to communicate with them, although bending to their preferences/styles may be doing all of us a disservice.  And for those who use pop culture as part of our teaching style (that would be me), then we need to update our references (Monty Python is dead to them, for instance).

    Anyway, here is some of the list and my reactions in blue:
    1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive. Good: printing is easier to read when grading in class exam booklets, although I try to avoid such things when i can.

    2. E-mail is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail. I did not find this a problem last year.  Are this year's students that much different?  I will not be facebook friends with new students so they cannot expect to chat with me, nor will I skype.  I prefer email as it leaves a trail--that I can use the past emails to remind me what I have committed to do (grant extensions, whatever).

    3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia… and learn Chinese along the way.”  Is there more interest in Asia now?  Not so sure, as folks in Montreal tend to look to Europe still.

    4. Al Gore has always been animated. This is already out of date--has Al always been considered a sexual predator?

    6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High. This seems dated--are the 18th years of today focused on a 1990's vampire slayer? 

    8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.  Academia, I think, was ahead of the curve on accommodating student disabilities--we have entire offices and procedures dedicated to this stuff, so this is not so new.

    9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend. As the kids would say, WTF?

    10. A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority … unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet. Oh, I think xenophobia still matters especially in poli sci classes.

    11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis. That has been true for nearly forever. 

    12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry. Ok, that is a significant cultural change.

    13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation. For a year maybe.  Jeez, this list is out of touch.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Overwhelming Guilt

    Do I feel overwhelming guilt for arguing for xenophobia's upside in my book with Bill (the non-terrorist) Ayres: For Kin or Country?  One part of the book's argument is that people will be less enthused about bringing back "lost territories" if they consider success to be the equivalent of a large wave of immigration, as they will not want to share their country with these "others."  Even if these others speak the same language as long as their shared identity has weakened a bit over time. 

    The conclusion was that what was bad for domestic peace might be good for international stability, so xenophobia might not be always a net negative.  But now I am stuck watching the xenophobes running amok in the US.  Is it ok, in the larger scheme of things?  No.  Why?  Because there are no positives to American xenophobia.  There has been little risk of American irredentism ever or manifest destiny lately (since 1898 or so), whereas a bit of domestic hatred (towards Roma, Jews, gays, Muslims, whatever) might be compensated by regional peace in Eastern Europe.

    Still, the anti-Muslim fever in the US, fanned by those who have nothing positive to stand for, is appalling, and makes me perhaps a bit more reluctant to be flippant about xenophobia.  The good news is that we can divert the American people from these demagogues with this video:

    Mad Men: Rejected?

    Funny that the title of this week's Mad Men is rejected, as not all advances were rejected and some folks made progress.  Again, for a thorough review, see Sepinwall.  But for a few quick thoughts, see below the break:

    Best Military Advice

    General Petraeus is making the news for saying that he might recommend against a quick withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Why?

    “Certainly, yes,” he said when the show’s host, David Gregory, asked him if, depending on how the war was proceeding, he might tell the president that a drawdown should be delayed. “The president and I sat down in the Oval Office, and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice.”
    Some might compare this to McChrystal's criticisms of Biden's views.  Petraeus is much more experienced at this game and has more legitimacy, based on past experience.   And he is speculating about the future.  One where Obama has not really promised a fast drawdown but a re-evaluation of the impact of the surge (which begins in December).  So, Petraeus is defining his role appropriately--to give the unvarnished best advice he can give to the President.  Then it is up to the President to decide.  Petraeus will have to show that there is progress being made, despite Karzai's best efforts to show that he ain't changing.  That is the real problem, right now. 

    We expected violence to go up as more and more Americans poured into the country, increasing the tempo of operations and the number of folks who can be targeted.  So, this spike in violence was anticipated, just as violence spiked in Iraq during the outset of the surge.  But will the guys now holding territory face a decline in violence that is not merely seasonal (things slow down in winter)? 

    Again, this gets at metrics--what is progress?  How do you measure it?  And which indicators matter most?  Since the campaign is multi-dimensional (military, governance, development, international), if one is failing miserably on one (say, governance with Karzai undermining anti-corruption efforts), does that doom the effort?

    The only clear thing right now is that Obama is in a difficult spot--pulling out has huge consequences, but staying is just becoming increasingly costly.  If Petraeus can show to the American people that progress is being made, that should reduce the political costs of sticking around.  But Petraeus is no magician--if there is little progress, then there will be a limit to how much he can spin it.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Somebody Is Planning Ahead

    “Reunification will definitely come,” Mr. Lee said in a speech marking the 65th anniversary of the Koreans’ liberation from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. “I believe that the time has come to start discussing realistic policies to prepare for that day such as a reunification tax.”
     Stunning.  Raising taxes is never popular, but to propose them for a possibility that is pretty far down the road is amazing.  And the neighbor is not going to like either:
    Analysts expected an angry North Korean response.
    “North Korea will take a unification tax as the expression of a South Korean attempt to prepare for a sudden collapse of the North Korean government,” said Kim Yong-hyun, an analyst at Dongguk University in Seoul.
     So, of course, the big question is: why now?  Is this part of the tit-for-tat after the North Koreans sank a South Korean Ship in May?  Perhaps.  Is this a domestic political ploy?  Probably not as tax increases never play well, especially when the benefits go to someone else.  Could this be a sincere effort by a politician to pay now for something that is going to be costly down the road?  Oh my, this could utterly shake my belief system.  Bears further observation.

    Old But Slow

    I have been noticing articles and podcasts with a common theme lately: when is an athlete too old and too diminished to keep on playing.  Why?  Perhaps because I have had a few bad games of ultimate lately.  I have long been too slow to play great defense, and I have never had great ups to out-sky people.  So, what has changed?  Well, since most of my game has been in my throws and decision-making, it could be my arm or my head.  If the latter, then it is good news as I can learn and try to make better decisions.  If the former, then it is probably part of a decline.  And my elbow does get sore now, so perhaps I have lost a bit on my fastball and my distance throws, and my head has not yet caught up to that reality.

    Is it time for me to hang it up?  No, not yet.  I am not yet Willy Mays wandering around centerfield in 1973.  But my days in the A league may be coming to an end.  The key to being a handler--one of two or three point-guards/quarterbacks is know one's own limitations.  My limits are changing, and I now I have to learn the new ones and adjust. The good news is that I have never been in good shape, so I don't have to worry about that.

    Bush and Obama on CT

    The challenge of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11 is the absence of easy and good choices.  The NYT has a piece addressing the secret side of things.  It includes one long sentence that presents the downsides of engaging in the secret side:
     Yet such wars come with many risks: the potential for botched operations that fuel anti-American rage; a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections; a weakening of the Congressional oversight system put in place to prevent abuses by America’s secret operatives; and a reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders and surrogates with sometimes murky loyalties.
    The funny thing is that people are surprised that Obama would be pursuing counter-terrorism with a similar kind of enthusiasm and with similar use of secret sauce as the Bush Administration.  While they have perhaps not identical attitudes about executive authority, Bush and Obama have faced similar sets of ugly choices.  Bush could not and Obama cannot be seen as being weak on counter-terrorism.  The domestic costs of a severe attack would be huge--politically. 
     When terrorists threaten Americans, Mr. Zenko said, “there is tremendous pressure from the National Security Council and the Congressional committees to, quote, ‘do something.’ ”
     In terms of means, the US tends to focus too much on the military side--that counter terrorism is multi-dimensional.  Of course, multi-dimensionality means that military tools are part of any strategy, and, given the nature of the threat--individuals and sub-state groups--using special ops and other less conventional and more secretive tools/tactics is inevitable.

    People tend to forget that Obama did not pose as a pacifist during the campaign--he was opposed to Iraq but promised to stay in Afghanistan and engage in counter-terrorism.  Being a Liberal does not mean one has to be squishy.  But the administration could do a better job of allowing oversight to take place.  Fighting hard does not mean you have to fight without any oversight.  It might be easier but not necessarily better.  We could use some of those values in Obama's Mosque speech here.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Better Late than Never?

    Obama came out on the NYC Mosque controversy.  Given some time, he then articulates the issue clearly and persuasively:
    But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
    the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms – it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race or religion; wealth or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us – a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today. 
    Obama, combining the 1st and 14th amendments, separation of church and state and equal protection under the law, does not help me resolve which amendment is my favorite.  Nate Silver shows that this is not as brave a stand as we might have thunk as even a Fox News poll shows that more than sixty percent of Americans do buy into the 1st amendment.  Still, Obama does the nation a service by putting the Islamophobes back into a corner (under their rock?).

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Scott Pilgrim and the Rolling Stones

    The Spew family is most jazzed about Scott Pilgrim, perhaps the movie we have looked forward to the most this summer (since HP 7.1 is in the fall).  It is getting good reviews, including from the part of the NYT review that always indicates its appropriateness (what kind of sex and violence): “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Violent like a video game, sexy like a pop song on the radio."

    And anytime we can combine a hot movie with The Watcher and a key Stones lyric, I am all in.  Indeed, I have used that line in my IR classes about the limits of cooperation--you cannot always get what you want, but sometimes you can get what you need.

    Is The Right Getting More Clever?

    Yesterday, I pondered whether the Prop 8 folks fell into a trap.  It turns out that they may have realized this themselves, as there is not a line to appear the judge's decision. 
    Barton: Right now the damage is limited to California only, but if California appeals this to the US Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court with Kennedy will go for California, which means all 31 states will go down in flames, although right now this decision is limited only to California.
    So there's an effort underway to say "California, please don't appeal this. I mean, if you appeal this, its bad for you guys but live with it, but don't cause the rest of us to have to go down your path."
    It is a gamble, but it would be fun to see Gov. Schwarzenegger mess with the right that has been so critical of him and appeal the decision, hoping to get the Supremes to rule against these kinds of laws.  Of course, this is more wishful thinking on my part.  If there is no appeal, California improves as a wedding/honeymoon destination for gay couples.  I wonder if that will appear in the next California tourism ads starting the governator.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    The Future or Past of Military-Financed Research

    In Canada, the Security and Defence Forum [SDF] has been supporting scholarly research of the Canadian miltiary and other security and defense issues.  To be clear, it does not support the development of new weapons technology (other agencies do that).  The money has gone to a dozen or more research centres throughout Canada based at universities from coast to coast.  Money also goes directly to fund research and conferences through special projects grants (see below) and graduate students. 

    The general idea is that Canadian public policy is better off if there is a community of scholars who study defence issues.  For instance, before World War II, few democracies had much academic depth in the study of security issues.  After the war, there developed in the US and elsewhere more and more scholarship to understand the causes and consequences of war, alliances, military doctrine, procurement, and a host of other security issues. 

    Why blog about this now?  Because SDF is about to get axed, apparently.  It would save the Canadian military $2.5 million.  Which, even in Canada, is chump change in terms of defense budget savings.  SDF has faced this threat before, seen by some as funding cheerleaders in academic world, that having the military fund research is ethically problematic, that there are other agencies to fund social science (the Social Science Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] to name the major one), and so forth. 

    Let me reveal what SDF has done for me to be clear about my biases:

    Wishful Thinking?

    I have been thinking for quite some time that the demagogues on the right  have been overplaying their hands on immigration and Islamophobia.  I have been hoping that this is more of Obama's rope-a-dope strategy--give the dopes enough rope to hang themselves.  Is this just wishful thinking?  At a time where economic trends are pretty depressing, where there are lots of real problems with difficult choice sets, it is perhaps easy to rely upon fear and blame-casting.  But is it good politics?

    That is, we may find that short term polling indicates that many Americans will buy into Islamophobia, but will this really lead to support for the Republicans this fall and beyond?  How do we reconcile these polls registering intolerance (and fundamentally anti-American attitudes) with other polls that suggest progressive attitudes winning?  Gay marriage is more popular than ever!  Ok, that is a bit much, but more Americans are supporting the right of gays to marry than ever before.

    I pondered last night with my wife--did the Prop 8 folks fall into a trap or at least generate unintentional consequences?  By restricting the rights of a minority, these folks created opportunities for that minority to seek redress through the courts.  If this goes all the way to the Supreme Court, which is now very likely, it may (just may, no certainty) lead the Court to rule that equal protection under the law requires non-discrimination against gay marriage.  And wouldn't that be ironic/karmic for the voices of intolerance to spark a process that leads to greater tolerance?  Or am I wishful thinking again?

    One last note of irony--there is now a small movement to alter the 14th Amendment that grants American citizenship to all those born on US territory.  The funny thing is that it causes folks to overlook the real power of this amendment: Equal Protection.  This amendment is now rivaling the 1st Amendment as my personal favorite.

    Here We Go Again

    NYT has an article about the uncertainty of the next milestone (or is that benchmark) in Afghanistan's political development: parliamentary elections.  There are concerns that it will go just about as well as last year's Presidential election.  This is the first but not the last story about how difficult the security situation is for an election and how these challenges will just facilitate yet more corruption.

    Too early to say right now, but could it possibly be worse than what happened last year? 
    We know it’s not Switzerland,” said Staffan de Mistura, the special representative of the United Nations secretary general for Afghanistan. “But I am concerned, and I am raising a yellow flag.”

    Oh, forget I asked.

    Viral Madnews

    I have marveled over the past couple of years about the spread of various video clips on youtube and elsewhere from strange marriage vows to Star Wars parodies.  The pace has gotten to be so fast that we now go from stunt to revealed hoax to getting behind the scenes of the hoax in about 24 hours.  The latest is the Jenny and her whiteboard resignation bit.  Truly an enjoyable set of pics (not even video).  And now we have a CBS.com interview with the actress and the creator

    This is one of those days where I wish I was a sociologist. I'd love to see what kinds of stuff get the most play and when.  Clearly, the Jenny (what is it about Jenny?  I still know her phone number--867-5309)* here gets much play given the economic context--lots of frustration over lousy jobs, few jobs, economic distress, etc.  I am sure there is already a grad student out there trying to figure this out.  But, of course, the problem is, as the kids say, the FAIL cases--which stuff does not spread.

    Two last comments: the interviewer here is a bit weak: "Do you like the internet?"  And The Chive?  Really?  How far from the The Onion?  Hmmm.  I do like the site's humility: "Probably the Best Site in the World."

    *  There is a website dedicated to a guy trying the number throughout the US.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Why Kansas City Royals Are a Lousy Team

    Because they let Darth Vader throw out the first pitch at their minor league team's Star Wars day.
    More importantly, we can learn two things from this event.
    First, we can all get along:
    Here, we have a Stormtrooper proposing to a Naval Officer.  If these kids can put service rivalry aside for love, we should all be able to work together.

    Second, in the next photo, we discover that UnderArmor (my favorite sports gear company) helps equip the Empire.
    The symbol on the Stormtrooper's head gear gives away Underarmor's double dealing.  I do not know how I feel about wearing the same heatgear and coldgear as the minions of the Emperor.