Monday, January 31, 2011

A GPS Love Story

I have never used a GPS until this trip.  We don't have one at home and have not really  needed one.  Google maps are usually sufficient, although I did get stuck on a backroad where perhaps a GPS might not have sent me. 

So, I love the GPS for getting around Europe.  Way too many roads between cities to navigate myself.  But sometimes, I think the GPS is too clever--choosing routes with lots of changes rather than slightly less direct but easier trips around cities, for instance.  I saw more of Liege than I wanted.  On the other hand, it increased my guts to explore parts of Europe not near the highway.  Indeed, most military cemeteries seem not so easy to find w/o a GPS.  And I did see some small towns that I might have otherwise missed, even it meant taking a slower route to Houffalize. 

Bulge Monument
The big benefit has been that I have had more guts pursuing certain locales.  I took a very small road from the monument in Bastogne to the guys who fight in the Battle of the Bulge to the Easy Company memorial.  GPS made it easy to trust the path along the farm roads.

But I have found a limit.  Navigating Brussels with GPS is better than without, but not sure how much.  Without Dave reading the system to me, it was not always clear which right turn is the right right turn as the roads twist and turn with many intersections with five or six possible turns (not including roundabouts, which I have managed pretty well, except in Brussels where they are much less straightforward.

Anyhow, it has been a learning process.  Will definitely rent a GPS whenever I rent a car in a strange locale (I can do without the GPS next time I am in San Diego).  I guess the question for September will be whether I need a car in Seattle and whether I would need a GPS there.  Never been there.  Hmmm.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Soviet Style Results?

So, only 99.6% of those partaking in the South Sudanese referendum voted for independence.  Should we doubt the results given the high yes vote? Of course not.  This outcome is really an equilibrium--those who were likely to vote no saw the outcome as inevitable and didn't vote.  More importantly, there was real enthusiasm for independence from a country that had only given them war, exploitative development and broken promises.  to get this level of support requires a seriously difficult history.  Scholars have a hard time counting the Sudanese civil wars--where does one stop and another start?  And the links I reported in previous posts show how different the two parts of Sudan are, and these differences are the product not just of geography, but of policies and politics.

What can potential separatists learn from this?  That getting this level of support requires a great deal of patience and a brutal opponent.  The Southern Sudanese did not get this result over night but through decades of struggle.  They earned their independence and deserved it due to the oppression and reneging from the government of Sudan.

Tips to Dissidents

Abu Muqawama, who has a great blog and is interesting to follow on twitter, combines very sensible and sharp analyses with some humor at times.  So, his reaction to Egypt's events of the past few days: to post a video teaching these folks how to throw well.  Apparently, their rock-throwing needs some work.  The video focuses on the crow-hop--footwork--that I had never heard called that before. 

But I have to wonder is this wise?  That is, to focus on footwork, as most bad throwing involves pushing the ball (the outdated but still not entirely inaccurate phrase--throwing like a girl) rather than throwing it with your upper arm almost parallel to to the ground and the lower arm about vertical.  Reminds me of skiing at Smugglers Notch many Thursdays and getting the same lesson (we had a badge that got us half price lessons and tickets), and the lesson was always about pole-planting, which is important, but I needed help with footwork.

Anyway, good to see that baseball can be useful for facilitating unrest.

When PC is Not PC

DL Hughley has the best take on the whole censoring Huck Finn thing I have seen thus far:

I know that the language in Huck Finn is offensive, but so is revising the text.  Alternatives such as slave do not improve the context, which is what it is. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ardennes is not Arduous

Driving in the Ardennes is bit bumpier.  The roads are still superior to Quebec's (not saying much), but the ones around the Ardennes do have some imperfections.  Still, it is a pleasure to drive while thinking "is this good or bad tank country?"  Anyhow, some observations along the way:
  1. My favorite observation is literally observing something.  To the right is an overpass, but rather than the bridge serving as an overpass for another road, it is a motel.  Yep, you can stay directly above the highway.  I have never seen that before.
  2. Other neat experience--this one gas station in Luxembourg--right on the highway--apparently gets lots of business since the gas taxes are lower there.  So, the way it works is that you pump the gas (figuring out foreign pumps was one of my fears when I thought about driving in Europe), and then you get back in your car and drive up to a toll booth kind of place, and then pay there.  Pretty civilized although it could create lines.
  3. Other funky gas observation--the Europeans tend to park on the wrong side of the machine and then try to pull the hose around/over the car.  I guess I see it once in a while in North America, but I saw it both times I gassed up thus far.
  4. One more: Texaco?  Yep, in addition to the expected Shell and BP, there are Texaco stations.  I don't remember the last time I saw one in the US.  Maybe when I was in Texas?
  5. The Battle of the Bulge was not the original name of the offensive, of course.  I never thought about it, but learned today that it was called the von Rundstedt Offensive after the Field Marshall--not because he initiated this plan (he didn't, he thought it was a bad idea) but because Hitler modeled the plan after the 1940 offensive that swept through France and the low countries.
  6. At the monument for the Battle of the Bulge, one of the plaques listed as one of the key participating units "TEAM SNAFU."  I thought I was on that team for about six years.

These Few, These Band of Brothers

It is perhaps unfair that Easy Company has gotten all of the press since Band of Brothers came out.  It was the entire 101st Airborne Division that was put in Bastogne and nearby to hold the town.  And not just them but other folks as well.  This weekend of US Military Cemetaries in Margraten and Luxembourg make it abundantly clear that there were many, many units beyond the famous Big Red 1, the 82nd, the 101st, and so on.  Numbers of divisions that have been largely omitted from the movies, TV shows, and our minds were stamped on grave marker after grave marker.

Still, the tv series did an amazing job of depicting what that particular group of men went through, fighting a major battle here.  I walked in the forest here, where Easy had their foxholes.  The forest gets dark and eerie after only a few steps in, as the trees are very close together.  And let's not forget that such trees, when hit by artillery, can produce splinters that wound and kill.

So, perhaps, I should not been surprised to find out on a small country road, my trip greatly facilitated by gps, a tour bus full of American high school or college kids, two cars, and, as I was leaving, a group of men, one woman and one kid marching down the street to see this monument to Easy Company.  This band of brothers, indeed.

Good or Bad News on DADT Repeal

This video can tell us two things, and I am not sure which.   That it is good news that the commandant and senior non-commissioned officer are behind the repeal of DADT?  Or that it is bad news because such a video is necessary?  That they have to remind their Marines that the US is a country of laws and that the Marines must follow the civilian decisions?

Overall, I guess this is good news, but I just don't feel comfortable that such an appeal seems to be necessary.  On the other hand, the commandant opposed the decision when it was being debated, so his backing of the decision now shows that he can move ahead.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Work and Tourism Collide

I spent much of today driving--to get from The Hague to Brunssum where the NATO base is that serves as the operational command for the Afghanistan mission in between the hq in Afghanistan and the folks in Brussels.  After that, I drove to Margraten where there is a cemetery where the Americans who died during World War II in the Netherlands are buried.  These two experiences collided. 

Focusing on how countries influence their missions in Afghanistan inevitably gets to casualty aversion, as countries go to different efforts to limit the risks their troops face, even if it means putting the mission at risk.  And then I see the cost of war with thousands and thousands of crosses marking the sacrifices paid by the World War II generation.  Given that a good number these were lost in Operation Market Garden, an incredibly poorly conceived plan, I was thinking today about risks and costs.  On the one hand, this one cemetery (there are many American ones and then many, many more for other countries) holds more killed in action than twice the American and allied lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  So, perhaps our focus on the casualties in Afghanistan is excessive.  War involves death--if you want to achieve something through the use of force, there is a price to be paid.  Excessively worrying about the casualties can undermine the mission (and has very much done so in Afghanistan), making it more costly perhaps in the long run.  On the other hand, there was a much clearer means to ends connection back then--sacrificing to defeat Germany and Japan and those were worthwhile goals. 

What kinds of costs are worth it in support of the Afghan government?  oooh, that stacks the deck.  Ok, is what we are paying in costs in Afghanistan worth it in terms of helping the Afghans?  Here, there is something about responsibility.  The US walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviets left, and only returning after paying deeply for the consequences--the rise of AQ.  The terrorists are largely gone from Iraq and have found plenty of other places to hang out, so why stick around in Afghanistan?  Because we might owe the Afghans a decent effort.  Only in the past few years, have we, the US and its allies, really tried at all to create a better (not perfect, but better) place.  And, despite the surge in violence, it is certainly a better place than it was in August 2001.  It is probably better than it was in 2002 or 2003 and so on.  Every year, as one interviewee put it, is a pivotal year, but I think 2011 is especially so.  This upcoming summer will measure the effort as only now for the past year have there been enough troops to do the kind of COIN that needs to be done. 

I still don't know if it is worth it.  I just know that leaving precipitously is a bad idea.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Weapons of Mass Distortion

Dudes, they have a catapult.  So, they are loading it with pot.  Gnarly!  Ok, first subs and now catapults.  I guess where there is a profit, there is a way.  What this really tells us, regardless of the stupidity of metaphors like a "war" on drugs, we are in an arms race.  And it is cheaper to build offensive systems (catapults) than defensive systems (fences).  We might want to think a bit about what technologies we deploy in this arena and think about how hard or easy it is for the other side to counter.   That way, we invest wisely.  Not unlike SecDef Gates realizing that expensive systems to land on beaches might not make too much sense in a world with guided missiles.

Another Hysteria Defanged

Eurarabia?  Not so much.  Muslims are not going to be increasing their share of populations as significantly as the hysterical folks feared.  The problem for the Denmarks and Netherlands of the world is that they are not used to immigrants at all, that the fears of being swamped by Muslims is not about losing their majorities or political dominance but dealing with folks that are different.  Perhaps these facts might reduce the appeal and legitimacy of those who try to inflame the fears.  Or not.  Facts never get in the way of a good mongering of fear.

Still, the important stuff is at the bottom of the piece---once again, the key is not so much religion but wealth/poverty.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Research Progress Report

Three days into my research trip in The Hague, I have learned a great deal, not just about the history of Operation Market Garden (the weekend's tourism), but also about the main project and related ones.
Min of Foreign Affairs

  • Absent-minded Prof-ness pays off: arrived way too early at a think tank because I thought the meeting started earlier.  Which meant that I ended up talking with these folks far longer than was planned, and it was incredibly useful.
  • Comparing the Danes and the Dutch may end up being a Tale of Two Xenophobes.  Turns out that the two countries both have anti-immigration/anti-Muslim parties that play crucial roles supporting minority coalitions (both countries have center-right coalitions that fall short of majorities), but given the complexity of xenophobia (see Kin or Country), the two parties have very different positions towards Afghanistan.  Yep, one's hostility to Muslims leads to support for deploying the military to Afghanistan, while the other's is more focused on the homeland.  
  • My timing is accidentally both good and bad.  The Dutch politicians are debating this week sending a new police mission to Afghanistan, which means that the politicians have no time to meet with me, but it also gives me a clear view of how the process works and how the politics have developed.  Plus a nice comparison to when I was in Berlin in 2009 when the Germans were working a decision through the Bundestag.  
  • The lesson learned from the Dutch experience in Srebrenica (the Dutch troops were present when the Bosnian Serbs overran the UN safe zone and executed 7,000 or so Bosnian Muslims) is always bring your own air support (F-16s), even to a police mission.
  • Min of Defence
  • My justification for the trip--to understand "Early Departers"--will actually lead to an article as the Dutch and Canadian experiences have some neat comparisons that should be fun to develop.  Including the applicability of Godfather 3:

Good Reasons to Go to Grad School

Absent-minded intellectual, indeed.  And "If we were good at life, we wouldn't need more school."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

By Popular Will [updated]

Canadians seem to have bought the hype--that the arctic is the key foreign policy priority.  They want military resources shifted to the North.  Well, then, time for the Canadian politicians to downsize the army and heavily invest in the Navy and Air Force.  Oh, but what, there is no way that the Canadians will ever be able to amass a significant enough navy or air force to thwart the Russians or the Americans.  Oops.

What I love is the embracing of unilateralism that this represents.
“That traditional notion of what is a Canadian is kind of challenged by this. We sound more like what people would say Americans would sound like dealing with international issues. That’s quite an eye-opener,” said Neil Desai, director of programs and communications at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
So wonderfully un-Canadian, but the rest of the world thinks of the northwest passage as an international waterway, and find the Canadian concern about arctic sovereignty to be laughable.  Indeed, in my day today in The Hague, I mentioned arctic sovereignty with a diplomat or two (not Dutch) and the instant response was a smile.

The good news is that a focus on the North would mean no casualties and no killing, so the Canadian Forces would not attract any controversy.  But the huge investment will certainly not lead to any more influence in the world (unlike participating in missions elsewhere) and the responsibility seems to be to protect only the arctic environment.

Update: good to see the Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Natynzyck showed he has a good grip on reality even if the public does not.
 General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff, on Friday said that the North was logistically more difficult than Afghanistan. The patrolling by the Canadian Rangers of those vast territories rightly earns Canadians’ respect, but they are an under-resourced militia – 4,300 members – to control an area equal to Europe.

Too Much Time, Too Much Talent

Check out this trailer for a Jerry Seinfeld is an evil genius movie:

Heaps of fun.

Maryland Reasonably Accommodates a Bit Slowly

The folks made a girl miss the first half of a basketball game because she wore a hijab, but were able to figure out it was not a threat before the 2nd half.  Much swifter reasonable-ness than some other tales.  This entry at Jezebel has a nice summary of the continuing Hijab challenges.  The fun part is that there is definitely a market out there.  I wonder if a kirpan-safety system is the next step in the reasonable accommodation marketplace.

As usual, market solutions to ethnic differences are preferable to zero tolerance/govt imposed ones.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Lows?

Just when I thought Condileezza Rice was the worst National Security Adviser in recent memory, Pal-leaks revealed that she was also an awful Secretary of State (way to fail upwards!).  She actually seems to have proposed moving the Palestinian refugees to South America.  Wow.  Let me repeat.  Wow.  Jeez, why wouldn't folks who have wanted to return to their homeland choose Argentina and Chile anyway?   Sounds like a magical solution.  Or just a fantasy.  Good thing that there was no credibility left to lose.

De Train, De Train

Just a few thoughts on life in The Netherlands after my first day of research.
  • I found it amusing that the trains happen to be a big source of complaints in the Netherlands.  Apparently the rides are too smooth and too on time.  Of course, I have only a bit of experience, but if they only knew what the trains in North America were like, they would not be so quick to complain.
  • I am an idiot.  I left my camera in the room where I was doing the interviews, so I missed a chance to take some great pictures (pic to the right from the web).  Breda, where the Dutch Royal Defence Academy is located, is a very nice college town.  The historic prison does not look like a prison but more like a sports dome.  The academy is in the site of a very old fort, complete with its own replay of the Trojan horse tale.
  • Several of the people I interviewed were Dutch officers who had served in Afghanistan and then started to work on their dissertations.  Talk about serious fieldwork.  Indeed, these folks have some great data, some very interesting questions, and proved to provide a bunch of useful insights into the Dutch processes, dynamics and outcomes of their deployment in Afghanistan.  Good start to the week.
  • And, as always, imperialism rocks!  Ok, perhaps not, but it does mean that the food in many European cities is excellent because of its past.  Had some great rijsttafel--Indonesian food that is tapas-like with many small, tasty dishes.     

Sometimes We Sort Too Soon

Oh my!   That hat hit too close to home.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Captain Who?

Apparently, the US is not so popular these days.  In some countries, the title for the Captain America movie will be The First Avenger.  Um, what does he wear?
Oh, yeah.  Probably going to be hard to disguise "The First Avenger's" country of origin, eh?  The funny thing is that one of the countries with the different title is Russia, and if there is one country that can truly get into some Nazi-defeating, would it not be Russia?

Just saying that it will be pretty hard to market a Captain America movie as anything else.  Red, white and blue with stars!  Without the star, perhaps he is Captain France or Captain Netherlands, but with the star, he can only be Captain America.  Talk about a major marketing headache!

Height and Hair--Dangerous Combo?

Perhaps being tall is so advantageous because women cannot see the top of your head?  This NYT piece suggests that balding is and perhaps should be[given the attitudes it presents] a confidence killer.  I guess I was being real strategic when was in my late twenties to tie down woman since I would start, ahem, getting sun-burned up top as I turned 40. 

I was faced with the clear evidence of joining the other 80 million Americans in the group of the increasingly hairless (that stat includes women) the first year I taught my big intro class.  One of the students in the class video-taped one of the last classes of the term.  I tend to walk back and forth while I lecture, and so she was able to tape the back of my head.  I could not deny then the reality that there was a bunch of flesh where hair used to be.

And how have I responded?  Drugs?  No.  Plugs, nyet.  I don't even obsess about it.  The lack of hair is conveniently located in a place that I rarely see.  I mostly notice it in winter time where hats itch more than they used to do so.  I started wearing a bandana while playing ultimate very, very early in my career, so I have not had to change what I wear in summer.  I have resisted buying one of those sprays (as displayed by Beau Bridges in Fabulous Baker Boys).* 

Perhaps I can do so, as the article suggests, because I am married.  If I were to become single, would the first step be changing my hair status quo?  Nope, it would be shaving my beard, which has increasingly gray.  I didn't need the five stages of grief to deal with my hair loss.  Just a good sense of humor and the luck that my old hairstyle has the effect of a combover so I can deny combing over.  That and the fact that the man I have respected the longest has been bald for as long as I have known him.  Of course, he has a snazzy mustache, so perhaps that does the trick.

*  We forget about that scene because everything Michelle Pfeiffer does in that movie erases all that came earlier.  Yowza.  I mean, whoopee!  I am speaking, of course, of her singing.

Den Haag, Day 1

I got out and about today, lucky that it did not rain although it had last night.  What did I learn during my travels?

First, it is always fun to walk past a bunch of embassies to see the different styles.  The US, as usual, looked like a fortress and was uninviting.  I noticed two embassies that had their first floor windows shuttered--Iraq and Kuwait. 

Second, I learned that my navigation is much more about luck than skill.  I was looking for the Peace Palace--the location of the International Court of Justice--and pretty much just stumbled upon it.  Later, while looking for the most direct route to the beach, I ended up consulting the sun to figure out which way was north, and confirmed that by guessing that the wind would be coming from the sea.

While at the Peace Palace, I noted that it had a very beautiful gate.  Next to it was a Flame to mark the desire for Peace, or something like that.  Apparently, this was a product of a gathering of the world's ambassadors with 198 providing stones for this rock garden.  The flame was the product of seven flames from five continents.  Which of course leads to this question--which two continents needed someone else to provide the flame?  Antarctica would be one.  And the other?  Anyhow, the cynic in me notes that the flame is awfully small.  Not much hope for peace?

Third, best Dutch word for innocuous English word: slagroom = whipped cream.

Fourth, beer is not beer but bear.  I ended up in a chain restaurant with a stuffed teddy bear theme because I was puzzled by the name "Binky Beer."  Binky as a bear name makes more sense than as a beer name.  Had fine food and beer anyway.

Fifth,I spotted the most cynical underwear ever in a lingerie shop on the pier: "Love kills slowly."  So much for romance. 

Spending More to Get Less

I have long pondered whether having the very best weapon system made sense if it meant you could only acquire a few.  This was a key problem with the Crusader artillery system.  It is now a problem with all kinds of weapon systems, but the story of the day is the F-35 the next generation (fifth gen for those keeping track) fighter that the US is pushing and the its allies are thinking about.  Canada has already "committed" to spending heaps of bucks for a few (65).  We still don't know the costs, but there is another unknown--how much to keep them flying?  It is always harder to get money for maintenance than for purchasing since buying the planes does benefit corporations and Congressional districts (ridings up here in Canada).  This testimony, even if only half right, is pretty damning as it suggests that the F-35 costs of flying (after buying) will be triple the previous plane.  Not good. 

Something to think about--will Canada have the bucks to pay for upkeeping its new planes?  Perhaps, but only if it wants to have a smaller army and a smaller navy.  Tradeoffs must be faced, one way or another.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Neither Here Nor There

So far, my first experience driving in Europe has been mostly uneventful.  It was my first time driving a manual (stick shift) in years and years.  Of course, the only time I stalled out was across the street from my hotel at the end of the day.  The first challenge was that I needed to push down on the stick to put it in reverse.  So, it took me a bit longer to get out of the rental car lot.

After that, it was smooth sailing.  The Belgians and Dutch have wonderfully smooth roads with heaps of speeders.  I discovered a side benefit of having a GPS (my first time with one--yes, I am behind the times) is that it alerts the driver for where the speed traps usually are.

I was surprised to see more than a few farms along the way with ... ponies.  Heaps of them, really.  Other than that, the big surprise was on the smaller roads where occasionally a road with one lane in either direction would become a road with only one lane total.  So, it would lead to traffic stopping as people on either side would have to figure out which side goes first.  Good times!

One thing that was not a surprise:

Following Some Mighty Footsteps

I spent my first day of the last research trip for the book on NATO and Afghanistan driving from Brussels to Arnhem.  The point was to learn more about Operation Market Garden, which used heaps of airborne units in a risky (foodhardy in the extreme) to try to seize some bridges so that the Allied forces could go around the German defenses.  My interest in this particular effort was re-ignited due to the part played by Easy Company as depicted in Band of Brothers and by renewed interest in seeing how over-rated Monty, perhaps the most famous British general of WWII, was/is. 

So, I went to a museum near Nijmengen that had some good displays and the standard tank.  Not only did the airborne units grab the bridges but eventually the armored column (hint, never plan a fast advance that relied on a single road) got there too.   They had an interesting memorial which looked to be under a ceiling consisting of parachutes.

After that, I went to a largely Canadian cemetery, as the Canadians played a major role in the Netherlands both as part of Market Garden and afterwards, doing much of the work of liberating the country from the Germans.  An appropriately gray day.

I then drove to Arnhem.  I cross the bridge that was too far--that it was simply too far for the armor column to reach it, so that the Brits and Poles who had been airdropped nearby had to give it up after running out of ammo and supplies.  This memorial commemorates the battle and the sacrifices--paid not just by the troops but also the citizens in and near Arnhem.

I then got to the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek just before it closed.  It had some great footage shot during the battle, and they did a very nice job of bringing together artifacts, personal stories and history.  My favorite pic:

Written on a glider--the full phrase: wot! No engine--a good description for gliders.

The glider and other stuff was in this building--a hotel that was the HQ for the German commander (Field Marshall Model) and then the HQ for the British commander of the folks around Arnhem.  The building, the Hartenstein, was restored after the war and eventually became a museum. 

What did I learn?  A variety of things but perhaps most notably: the British tried to lay blame on the Poles who provided a key hunk of the airborne units for the failure of the mission.  But the failure clearly laid in the hands of the senior commanders, especially Monty but also Ike for approving a plan that relied on wishful thinking.  It was a gamble, and I guess it was worth a shot since a success would have meant a much shorter war, and losing here did not endanger the war war effort.  Still, hope, as Mike Lombardi always asserts, is not a plan. 

NFL: Alan Schwarz Is Out There

The NFL should just give it up.  They pushed Toyota into dropping part of an ad because it showed football players (not NFL players) colliding and referred to how Toyota research on car collisions is being shared with those working on concussions in sports.  But this illustration seemed too much for the NFL which used to glorify such big hits and has been inconsistent in the playoffs in penalizing such hits.  So, NFL exerted its market power as its games provide heaps of audience for car ads.

As Schwarz points out, the contention that football is just one of many sports where concussions occur is true but also silly:

Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the N.F.L., said: “We felt it was unfair to single out a particular sport. Concussions aren’t just a football issue.”
The N.F.L. is correct that concussions are an issue in other sports. According to researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, high school football players report about 100,000 concussions per year. The second through ninth-ranked sports combined reach 110,000.
The NFL should realize that they cannot cover up the concussion problem.  There has been some new openness and improved policies but lots of resistance as well.  Schwarz is going to make sure that resistance is futile.  Nice to see journalism having a bit of an edge and not so much he said she said.

Lessons Leaning for the US Army

Excellent guest post over at by retired LTG Barno.  Barno served as commander of Operating Enduring Freedom--the US ad hoc/unilateral effort in Afghanistan--and butted heads with Rumsfeld--always a good sign.

Anyhow, in his post, he lists ten things the US Army should do as it recovers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and prepares for its future.  The most important is figuring out how to keep the folks who gained tons of experience and demonstrated heaps of initiative and leadership when they return home to jobs that are simply going to be less interesting and less challenging.  The key is that the Army can make it much worse or ameliorate the downshift. 

My plane in Zurich awaits, so read the rest of it.  Not all of it is ground-breaking but it is pretty sensible. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Can You Please Spare an Airbase?

The quest for a replacement to Camp Mirage continues.  Check here for an update.

Let the Seal Beating Continue!

I tease my students about Canada's seal industry.  It provides an excellent example of an industry that faces either trade restraints or environmental restrictions, depending on your point of view.  Good thing that the Chinese do not care how cute seals are, as the Canadians have a found a new outlet to replace the European market.

The funny thing is that Canadians get very defensive about the seal industry, even getting pretty hostile to Paul McCartney while he was married to Heather Mills.  He is ok again here now that he got a divorce. 

Anyhow, perhaps this will lessen the frost on EU-CA relations with the seal industry focused elsewhere.

Conservative Means What?

Newest item on the Conservative agenda is an old item--de-funding the US Agency for International Development.  I guess they see this as a waste of money and a bunch of hippies spreading cash among the corrupt third world types.  I guess they have not been reading the news/reports from Iraq and Afghanistan where USAID has been a key component of the COIN effort.  See here for a good rant about what they are missing and putting it into perspective--the money going into USAID vs money spent on Defense.  Given how hand-in-glove USAID has been with the US (and Canadian, and probably other) armed forces, it is strange to see Conservatives be so anti-national security.

I do enjoy the irony that conservative used to mean something about resistant to change, making hard-nosed by reasonable decisions about budgets, but now it pretty much means unreasonable, unthinking, knee-jerk opposition to anything that does not fit into their increasingly narrow ideology.  I do think there will be a reckoning within the GOP over how far to the right they can go.  We might not be there yet, but it is not that far away either.

You Say You Want a Pretty Revolution

Explainer has a good take on the rose/orange/jasmine revolutions.  While these social movements (not yet social transformations/revolutions) may not spread from one place to the next, their marketing strategies do.  Using a flower/color to make the movement appear to be the equivalent of a previous successful and widely supported revolution makes sense.  After all, even insurgents need to "Market Rebellion" as Clifford Bob wrote an interesting book about how groups try to appeal to Amnesty, Greenpeace and others who serve as "credit bureaus" for the community of non-governmental aid agencies. 

So, the marketing strategy of the 21st century is to name your movement after a flower or color.  It does not make the movement democratic or successful, but given that we still add -gate to any scandal, it does make sense for dissenters to use a kind of label that outsiders are likely to pick up. 

Of course, it leads to all kinds of questions: who will have the "puke green" revolution?   Mauve?  Magenta? Fuchsia?  Banana?  Daisy? I guess there are nearly infinite names for colors and fruits and flowers.  I am sure that there will be dissertations to figure out why certain colors/fruits/flowers are chosen and others are not.  Are certain colors/tones associated with specific outcomes?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tunisia's Civ-Mil Relations

See this post for a clear analysis of Tunisia's civil-military relations--why the military didn't fire on the civilians, why the military is different from others in the region, and perhaps why it may still end up playing a role.  I don't know bupkus about Tunisia, but Steven Cook touches on the big issues and pretty deftly.  I have no idea if he is right about Tunisia, but he is definitely looking at the right stuff.

Are Americans That Uptight?

The Economist thinks Americans are uptight.  Their blogger asserts that friendly insults is much more a British way of interacting:
The moment the ice is truly broken between two newly acquainted Britons is when one teases the other about something.
I guess that means my friends and I are all British.  Not that there is anything wrong with being British, but the gross generalizations of the humorlessness of Americans and the backlash to Ricky Gervais are both wildly over-stated.  Indeed, Americans enjoyed it, as you can tell by the increase in ratings.  If Americans were afraid of a few pointed comments, then they would avert their eyes and change the channel.

Yes, taking the stuffing out of some celebrities may cause a bit of a reaction, but wasn't that the desired effect?  And are Hollywood celebrities typical of Americans in their sense of humor?  Perhaps not.  Or perhaps folks are much more likely to take it well when they are not on stage.

I suggest that the Economist folks watch a Roast or two to see that the Americans can be just as funnily cruel as any Brit.  See below for a bit of evidence:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For Your Situational Awareness: Speaking Pentagon-ese

I just want to highlight a blog that just started a running series on learning to speak Pentagon-ese.
The first lesson is on "working that."
The second is: "FYI/FYSA" referring to the distinction between "for your information" vs. "for your situational awareness."

I am looking forward to other terms that will remind me of my "drinking from the firehose" as I was indoctrinated during my year in the Pentagon. 

Any suggestions that we should pass on?

Irony Du Jour: Hearing on Reasonable Accommodation is Neither

I meant to rant about this earlier in the day but a tweet reminded me: any effort to think about reasonable accommodation in Quebec is bound to cause more problems than not.  The Quebec National Assembly (that would be the provincial legislature) is having a hearing on a new bill to deal with that menace to society: the niqab.  The story:
The four Sikhs had been invited to appear before a legislative committee debating a bill that deals with the reasonable accommodation of religious minorities. But the group never got through the metal detectors at the entrance of the National Assembly building as security agents ruled the kirpans, or ceremonial daggers, they carried were a potential weapon.
Yep, they were invited and then turned away.  The Canadian courts have ruled that the kirpans are not a weapon and can be carried in the Parliament.
“It’s a bit ironic. We were here to speak on the issue of accommodation and we weren’t accommodated,” said the group’s legal counsel, Balpreet Singh. “An accommodation should be able to be made. An accommodation exists at the Parliament of Canada. An accommodation exists at the Supreme Court of Canada and legislatures across Canada. I don’t think it should be a problem here in Quebec.”
Um, he must not be from here.  Some folks in Quebec embrace any opportunity to assert that Canada's Supreme Court does not matter here.  And to do that while offending a minority--double bonus!

The hearings were focused on banning the covering of a woman's face while she is receiving various government services.  The funny thing is that the Sikhs prohibit exactly this kind of face covering, but wanted to prevent a precedent for restrictions against religious practices.  Not sure why they would see that as a risk.  Oh, that's right. 

The key quote from the Parti Quebecois spokesperson:
"Religious freedom exists but there are other values. For instance, multiculturalism is not a Quebec value. It may be a Canadian one but it is not a Quebec one,” she said.
And they wonder why folks do not want to live in the paradise of a free and independent Quebec?  Nationalism is more important than tolerance.  Got it.  Why such a strong reaction?  Because the niqab was been blown into a huge threat and impediment to government service, when very few women wear it.  

How has the Canadian court ruled on kirpans?  Reasonably and accommodating.  Schools can restrict students--they can carry the kirpans but only if they are kirpan was "safely sealed in a sheath and placed in a secure envelope strapped to the shoulder." Not that hard to come up with solutions if one is looking for them.  Pretty easy not to see them if being reasonable and being accommodating is not in your interest. 

Oh, and the really ironic part is now the Bloc Quebecois (the separatist party that runs for seats in the Canadian Parliament) is pushing for less accommodation at the national level, even though there are Sikhs sitting in the chamber as members of Parliament. 

I believe there is a French phrase that is perfect here: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"
the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Stephen Makes Sense

I have complained repeated in my blog about the new media fixation with listening to people who have repeatedly failed.  But I understand it now, thanks to Stephen Colbert:

It is simply a requirement to give the "media trolls" their entitled spotlight.

Got it.

Predictably Poor Predictions

Foreign Policy predicted the hot spots but missed out on Tunisia.  Now they have a list of five Arab states* most likely to follow Tunisia's example:  Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and Jordan.  The piece focuses on food prices, unemployment, and protests.  These are all good indicators or risk factors, but I would wonder what the coup-proofing strategies of each leader are?  How are the various coercive parts of the government organized?  Recruitment?  Again, the key in these situations, as China so ably demonstrated at Tiananmen Square, is whether the folks with guns will shoot at the protesters.  Collective action is hard enough without real fear that one is going to pay for it and fail. 

Another key factor, shared in common with several of these states, is that semi-reform is pretty dangerous.  Lifting the lid off the pot just a bit but still keeping the heat (repression) on is a recipe for things getting out of control.

I am not a Middle East expert, so I cannot say which countries in the region were snubbed--that should have been on this list and left off. 

Again, I am skeptical about contagion--that an event in one place causes events elsewhere as people learn of the new possibilities.  The question remains--each authoritarian leader develops his (no female dictators in this part of the world, right?) strategies to anticipate efforts to remove him.  Some do it better than others.  Sometimes old strategies lose their effectiveness (see Slobodan Milosevic), sometimes events can serve to mobilize people, but those events are usually domestic ones not something elsewhere.

Still, I must admit that if I was a dictator, I would be a little nervous today.  Of course, enduring dictators are habitually nervous.

*  Another damn slideshow.  Why can't a list of five be on one page?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Politics of Parenting

The first rule of parenting: don't tell other folks how to parent.
The second rule of parenting: ignore the first rule.

Much of a ruckus has been made by Amy Chua's new book,* which basically argues (I have not read the book but have read the reviews) that one should dominate the lives of one's kids so that they focus on achievement rather than TV, friends and so forth.  Of course, now the claim is that the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal does not summarize the book  fairly.  Well, the tales that have been told are suggestive nonetheless.  And profoundly racist perhaps, since it generalizes to an entire ethnic group (Chinese moms) a set of behaviors that may not be as widely shared.  Plus non-Chinese moms can be domineering as well. 

What I love about this take on nature vs nurture (or neuter, since the Chua way is, in my mind, perhaps the anti-thesis of nurturing) debate is that Chua had two kids, and they ended up being different.  My mother had four kids (plus an imaginary fifth, Pablo, who died in a mysterious pressure-cooker accident, but that is a tale for another day) and ended up with widely divergent outcomes.  That is, my siblings finished at the top of the class by combining smarts with hard work.  I didn't.  Why? Hard work was less interesting than the seventeenth viewing of Marcia getting bonked on the nose with a football or Gilligan and the Harlem Globetrotters.**  And now my life sucks.  I wish I had Amy Chua as my mother.  Ok, only if the resulting autobiography trashing her would make millions.  Otherwise, not so much. 

What does this debate show?  Anecdotes are great for misinformation.  If we actually consult the science of parenting, we might find some, ahem, facts and tendencies.  For instance, Chua's kids might do well in school because they have two highly educated parents--two Yale law profs.  That is, nature (genetic inheritance) and environment (not so much the lack of stuffed animals but the presence of books) might matter more than the loving tyranny Chua apparently practiced.

Re Television: "no evidence that TV is in and of itself harmful for children—it depends on what they watch and how much they watch. I can certainly understand placing limits."  Besides, if the kids don't watch television, then how will they understand the pop cultural references profs use in their classes?

Does authoritarian parenting "work"?
We studied more than 20,000 high school students from all ethnic backgrounds from nine different U.S. schools. Kids raised in authoritarian households got grades comparable to kids from what we called authoritative households, where you had strictness accompanied by warmth and encouragement of self-direction. Authoritative parents also had children who had friends, were more self-assured, and were psychologically healthy. That was pretty much the case across ethnic groups.
The Scientific American piece then asks the key question:

I think one has to ask, "Excellence in what?" Clearly what this author is describing will contribute to excellent grades. I don't think it's rocket science to expect that if you stress doing really well in school, don't allow children to do anything but schoolwork, and drill them for hours at a time. The question for parents to decide is whether that is the only thing that's important.
Where I come down is that it's a myth that one has to sacrifice other qualities in a child to promote academic success. There's a lot of science that shows it's important to have kids play, to have unstructured play time, and that every moment doesn't have to be spent in productive activity.
I learned as much about everything from watching TV, going to summer camp, hanging out and such as I did in formal classes.  School learning is important, but it develops only one part of our brain.  And we need to do more than that if we want to be tasty Zombie treats and subjects of Zombie parenting.

* Her previous book, on the dark side of the spread of "free market democracy" (I guess we should instead support authoritarian socialism?) was also not so much based on systematic analyses, which found the opposite--that less government involvement in economies is better for mitigating ethnic strife.

** I actually never saw this movie.  Or, it caused so many brain cells to die that I don't remember it.  Do not watch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Email Etiquette for Undergrads (and Grad Students)

US News has a post that is now going viral since it is a comprehensive and reasonable guideline for undergrads as they prepare to email their professors.  I am just going to highlight a few, and you can go to the piece for the entire list.  Before I go on, I should mention that McGill students are actually pretty good in the way they email, so much of the list does not really apply that often to me and mine.

1. E-mail is forever. Once you send it off, you can't get it back. Once your professor has it, he or she owns it and can save it or, in the worst case, forward it onto colleagues for a good laugh—at your expense. [Indeed, not really a bad thing as it helps me remember who asked for extensions] 
5. Subject lines are for subjects. Put a brief explanation of the nature of the e-mail (like "question about paper") in the subject line. Never include demands such as "urgent request—immediate response needed." That's the surest way to get your request trashed. [Yes, urgent stuff goes in trash, as only spammers use headers like that] 
6. Salutations matter. The safest way to start is with "Dear Professor So and So" (using their last name). That way you won't be getting into the issue of whether the prof has a Ph.D. or not, and you won't seem sexist when you address your female-professor as "Ms." or, worse yet, "Mrs. This and That." [Grad students can call me Steve, undergrads--I don't know you that well, and you don't know me that well] 
5-Star Tip. Never e-mail your paper as an attachment in a bizarre format. ... Stick to Word. [Or send it as PDF.  And don't send a virus or that will be the last time the prof accepts a file from you] 
10. No one really likes emoticons and smileys. Trust us on this one. :) [ Disagree ;(  If one is using humor, it is not entirely a bad idea to use one.  Using more than one is a bad idea] 
12. This is not IM-ing. So pls dun wrte yor profeSR lIk ur txtN. uz abbrz @ yor own rsk. coRec me f Im wrng. (Translation thanks to, which features a neat little Facebook widget.) [Not an issue yet, but absolutely, please don't] 
18. Don't lay it on too thick. It's one thing to be polite and friendly in your e-mail; it's another thing to wind up with a brown nose. [Absolutely, profs that I know mind more brownosers than students who just go along and don't make a splash]

I would add:
  • don't use email to ask questions that require more than a few lines of answer.  Professors do not want to elaborate about a theory in an email.  If a question requires significant explanation or a give and take, then use email to make an appointment.
  • don't expect all profs to respond at the same pace.
  • don't expect profs to respond quickly the night or weekend before something is due.  Most profs are not as attached to their computer as I am.  And I don't like students begging for extensions or seeking feedback at the last minute. 
Any additions other profs would like to make?

Where are The Directors?

The Golden Globes was wildly uneven last night both because of the strange choices made by the folks voting and those made by the Director.  First, the former: yes, Brad and Angelina are pretty.  Got it.  But we don't need them for every reaction shot.  Why not show the folks who are in the show or movie react?  Or their relatives?  Or at least go back and forth from Angelina to Megan Fox and Scarlett.  Did you know that Christina Hendricks was there?  Could not tell from the coverage. 

Ricky, Ricky, you're so fine, you blow my mind!  Lots of mixed reviews of Gervais's performance last night.  He did his job--keeping us interested in the show.  Of course, he offended a bunch of folks there, but it was hard to tell if the offense was real or mock (Steve Carrel was clearly mockly offended).  Some of this stuff was obvious (comparing Tom Hank's resume to Tim Allen's), but it did keep things lively.

The Hollywood Foreign Press has been accused of taking bribes, but it seems that they are more about lechery than greed with the selections of The Tourist as one of the best comedys (Angelina Jolie was surprised to find her performance to be comic),* Piper Perabo's nomination for best actress in a TV drama, nominations for Burlesque.  On the other hand, it may just be strange judgment with Scott Caan as best supporting actor ahead of the folks in Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Neil Patrick Harris, etc.  And Johnny Depp being nominated for anything and everything.

Biggest surprise: that Natalie Portman has a wonderfully awkward laugh. 

Biggest non-surprise: that the Brits would have clever yet sincere speeches--see Colin Firth.  That and that Toy Story 3 won--not a surprise either.

Best speech: Melissa Leo, who was quite funny.  Paul Giamatti was excellent as well.  Deniro could have delivered his speech well, but the stuff was better than I would have expected.

Biggest disappointment: Mad Men got shut out despite having a phenomenal fall.  And if it had to lose, it should have lost to Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy.  Boardwalk Empire might have gotten better, but I dropped the show after a few weeks, which is saying something since I rarely drop shows easily.

2nd Biggest Disappointment: Glee as best comedy/musical.  Um, no.

Hidden Disappointment: No nominations for True Grit.  These foreigners don't enjoy an American Western, even if directed by the Coen brothers.

Still, the show was a nice distraction from the last football game of the day.  I will now not regret missing next week's games while hanging out in the Netherlands.

* Giving awards for unintentional comedy would be fun.

Brain Overload

Ironically, one of the best discussions of too much information (not the TMI of personal info) during battle is in World War Z, where the Battle of Yonkers* turns into a catastrophe in part because the soldiers are too well linked to each other and to the commanders.  In this NYT piece, we see that the US military gets this, at least a bit, so they are funding research to figure out how to manage the too much information problem. This generation does, indeed, multi-task, but there is a limit.

Perhaps they should study the online poker players who play 20 different games at a time.

* Isn't it good to know there is a wiki just for Zombie info.  Talk about preparedness!  Of course, such sites would only be helpful for so long as the electrical grid is likely to crash in a z-pocalypse.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

After DADT: Women in Combat are Next

The Military Leadership Diversity Commission said the military should gradually eliminate the ban [of women from combat roles] in order to create a "level playing field for all qualified service members."
The commission, comprised of senior military officers, businessmen and academics, must now release a final report. Its findings would then need to be sent to Congress and President Obama before any changes to policy would be implemented.
The draft report said the military's "combat exclusion policies" do not reflect the realities of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and create institutional barriers to women, who are prevented from getting key assignments that could lead to career advancement.
"Service policies that bar women from gaining entry to certain combat-related career fields, specialties, units, and assignments are based on standards of conventional warfare, with well-defined, linear battlefields," the report said. "However, the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been anything but conventional."
Of course, it is not just that the kinds of wars we are fighting have changed.  Our attitudes about women and what they can do have also changed.  Much has already changed, with women flying attack aircraft, not just cargo planes, and women now (or soon) serving in submarines.  The really big exclusion is from serving in infantry, armor or artillery.  Which meant that I was surprised in 2001-02 to see the Pentagon guarded by females wearing the berets of the Airborne because women can be Military Police in pretty much any unit.

Moreover, we are already doing some gymnastics in terminology and behavior when not using women on the battlefield becomes a competitive disadvantage.

But this will take some time, as folks in Congress are slow to recognize that we are living in the 21st century with 21st century wars and 21st century attitudes towards women.  Much progress has been made, but we still need to go the last mile.

Too Soon to Be Happy About Successful Cyber War? Updated

This NYT piece seems pretty triumphant about the Stuxnet worm that the US and/or Israel deployed to slow Iran's nuclear power program.  Given how well past victories have played out in the long term, I wonder.  The US helped our friends stay in power in Iran in a coup long ago.  Took a while to reap the whirlwind from that.  Things got faster as arming the Muhajadeen against the Soviets started to kick back at the US as early as 1993 and certainly bigtime in 2001. Is Iran not capable of developing viruses/worms/other computer stuff that might attack American and Israel infrastructure?  Our defense computers are constantly under attack from the Chinese, so perhaps we feel like anyone else is not going be as good or as serious.

Of course, others may attack us via the internet whether we launch worms or not.  Perhaps this attack on Iran's nuclear program is actually a demonstration to anyone else that they ought not attack American computer networks because we actually have a pretty good offensive capability.

All I know is that we have opened up a Pandora's Box.  It might have been opened by someone else, it might have already been open, its opening may have some positive consequences.  I am just not sure all of this was thought through.  Yea!!!  We stopped Iran's program for a few years.  But if it means that the lights go out in the western half of the US, um, not so good.

Mission accomplished? Let's not go there.

Update: Gary Sick, noted Iran expert, raises similar concerns here.

Should I Read Or Not? Updated

Tom Ricks of reviews Peter Bergen's latest book that assesses the war between the US and Al-Qaeda in the Sunday NYT book review.  I ponder whether I should read it because I am not sure how much is new in it.  After all, Bergen spends much time on castigating the US:
Bergen is evenhanded but ferocious in reviewing the failures of the Bush administration, noting that in the wake of the worst security failure in American history, no one was fired, no one resigned and no one took responsibility. It’s widely understood that the White House ceded the moral high ground by embracing torture and secret prisons, but Bergen highlights how flatly unprofessional these actions were: seasoned interrogators were shunted aside in favor of eager amateurs who thought the facts could be physically wrung from detainees.
Colin Powell comes off as a chump who should have resigned in November 2001, when he learned about the administration’s new policy on detainees from a news broadcast on television, and long before he delivered one of the most misleading speeches in American history, his rallying cry for war at the United Nations. Dick Cheney appears less a brooding presence and more a red-faced buffoon, which may well be how history comes to regard him. I was surprised, however, at how badly Condoleezza Rice appears in this historical record. Bergen makes it clear that she was at best misleading about the actions of the administration.
 I am not surprised by the condemnation of Rice, as her job was to coordinate American foreign policy and provide the President with informed assessments of the options, which she clearly did not do.  Given that Ricks wrote a book called Fiasco about the Iraq war, I would think that he would expect criticism of the person who was supposed to be coordinating the decision-making of that Fiasco.

So, on this side of things, the book may only provide more details about that which we already know.  Given that Bergen is one of the experts on Al-Qaeda, that would be the part of the book that would provide the most new information.  The US side would provide details that will undoubtedly just reinforce my anger at the Bush Administration.  After all, this is how Ricks concludes his review:
“The Longest War” is one of the most important accounts on the subject to appear in years. But be warned: You will read it and weep.
UPDATED: I had an email conversation with Tom Ricks this morning, and his surprise was not so much that Condi Rice did stuff that should be criticized, just that she is rarely called out.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


This image suggests that Michel Ignatieff is a waffler on Afghanistan.  Which may be the case.  However, it seems to be the case that he has been prompted to criticize the government not just because mindless opposition is his job, but because it is pretty clear that the decision to send 800 trainers and other guys after June 2011 was not worked through the  various agencies.  NATO does not need 800 trainers behind the wire, but does need more training via embedding and partnering with Afghan units.  But that is precisely not what the Canadians will be doing.  So, this cartoon is amusing but it misses the point--the Harper government did not work this policy out well.  Criticizing it for screwing up the process is fair game, as it makes all of Harper's assertions about behind the wire and in Kabul somewhat easy to disbelieve.