Monday, February 28, 2011

The Bright Side to Media Whoredom

No, this is not about Dan Drezner and his ride to the top of the list for books sold in Canada.  Nope, it is about the effort by Rumsfeld to sell his book, which has included posting documents online that, well, just make it clear to one and all about what a truly awful person/administration he is.  The latest is a series of emails to the worst National Security Adviser in recent history (that includes the folks under Reagan who implemented Iran Contra).  Nothing like a bit of Rummy to make me empathize with Condi.

It's Not Over Until It's Over

Lots of temptation to rush to judgment.  Especially these days when folks want to declare Al Qaeda losers in the round of middle east political transitions.  There is something to this as the events have shown:
  1. Political change is possible without extremist violence.
  2. The people of the region care more about jobs and liberty than about religion, especially the extremely retrogressive band that AQ seeks to sell.
  3. The US is not propping these governments up ... if the people push hard enough.
But in each case, the show is not over, the game has not ended, the metaphors will continue!  That is, we have not reached a stable outcome in any of these places yet.  Tunisia and Egypt have not suddenly become Denmark, and the transitions will be bumpy and quite reversible.  So, AQ may have lost in the short (and, yes, they have lost in the short-term big time), but they are in it for the long haul.

Oscar? I Hardly Met Her

Well, the good news was that my defense at yesterday's game of ultimate was not as bad as the Oscars.  But that is not saying much.  More good news--twitter made the event eminently entertaining.  Heaps of snark abounded online, from expected places (Tim Goodman, Dan Feinberg, Alan Sepinwall, Bill Simmons, Dan Drezner)* and the unexpected--post-doc and scholar of Canadian politics: Emmett Macfarlane.  Indeed, since I was arriving a few minutes late from my game, I was tempted to just wait an hour and then watch via DVR to skip the commercials, the technical stuff and so on, but that would have put me out of synch with the twittering.  So, twitter made seeing the live version more desirable.  I am not sure the internet will actually save TV in that way, but for big, widely shared events, perhaps.

* For professional reviews of the show, see (here, here and here).

I like Anne Hathaway and James Franco, so I am sorry to see that they (especially he) were miscast.  Nothing made that clearer than when Billy Crystal walked out.  Showing Bob Hope's hosting as a great way to make Anne and James look even worse.  The whole changing the stage thing may have looked good in person, but was a waste.  The only presenters that popped where Helen Mirren and Russell Brand.  Mirren can do no wrong--now she is an action star and host-material.

Biggest hypocritical moment: if Robert Downey Jr was really upset at Ricky Gervais, then his mugging with Jude Law was pretty strange to see.

Best moment to be in Canada:  Melissa Leo's speech--no bleep here.

Second best moment to be in Canada: I don't what ads were shown in the US, but an ad for Battle Los Angeles during the middle of a lame Oscar broadcast caused me to ponder this in a tweet:  "After these oscars, are we gonna root for the aliens in BATTLE Los Angeles?"

Best change of the night: few montages!!

Worst timing: Best Director was way too early.  Reduced any uncertainty about the outcomes.

Second worst timing: Tom Hanks talking about trifectas and then Alice in Wonderland wins the category to kill that idea.

Most tragic use of guest presenter:  Tom Hanks.  He can bring a lot of charm and fun to the show.  But his scripted bit was a waste.

Worst Choices: Three for the montage of death: 
  1. Celine Dion: She may have her fans, but not among the twitter-verse.  And if you want to go young and hip with Anne and James, then Celine is not the right person anyway.
  2. We could not hear applause for the folks who died!?  How do we know who Hollywood loves?
  3. Finishing with Lena Horne and Halle Berry was a mixed blessing.  Was Lena the biggest, most beloved name?  Plus it undermined the gambling for those betting who would be shown last (yes, that is a real bet people could place at internet gambling sites).
 Thanks to twitter (and much better decision-making on the ultimate field), the night was not a total loss.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sharp Students

See this guest post at Duck of Minerva for a very interesting analysis of the civ-mil dynamics of late in the Middle East.  I am not the chair of Theo's dissertation committee, so I cannot take much credit.  I am on his dissertation committee, so I am looking forward to finding out what he figured out in his work.  Anyhow, take a look at his post and then perhaps his CPS piece that is linked in the post.

Oh, and it is fun to see how this generation of students is far better at networking in grad school than I was.  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stranger and Stranger

Robert Putman, one of the most prominent political scientists, has a piece in the Wall Street Journal documenting his interaction with Qaddafi.  He had the chance to have a conversation back in 2007.  This was, I guess, when Qaddafi was appearing to be more reasonable, less of a support of terrorism and all around good guy.  Ok, that is a bit much. 

Should we criticize Putnam for conversing with a dictator?  No, I think not.  Putnam was doing what all scholars do most of their lives--engaging their curiosity.  Putnam had a chance to meet one of the most, ahem, interesting politicians of the last forty years.  And he took his wife.  What a date!?  I don't think my wife would join me on such a trip, but I guess I would go as long as it didn't look too much like I was approving of the guy's rule. 

Of course, today such a meeting is anathema as the blood on Qaddafi's hands is far more visible than it was four years ago (not that he didn't have it then).  But I guess Putnam thought he might be able to convince Qaddaffi to let some voluntary associations develop.  Qaddafi didn't yet we see social mobilization and some pretty decent organization around Libya.  Perhaps Putnam was wrong twice--to think that a conversation with Qaddafi might be anything more than just a curiosity moment; and that one needs social capital in the form of voluntary organizations to foster social mobilization (of course, I am being unfair.  If I remember Putnam correctly, you don't need social capital of the kind he discusses for rebellion, just for democracy).

Anyhow, it is a well-written piece about a political scientist dancing with the devil.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Too Soon, 2011?

The twin tragic figures of the week: Charlie Sheen and Qaddafi.  Both would be laughable except that both are doing damage, although Charlie's is not nearly as widespread or serious.  Sheen is not only self-destructing, but other-destructing.  The folks on his TV show (each TV show employs hundreds of people), his kids, they are all paying a price for Sheen's rants this week.  But his rants are fairly amusing--fools and trolls, indeed.  Qaddafi's speeches have been jokes.  As one tweet noted, Qaddafi blamed drugs, teenagers but not rock and roll.  He even blamed Al Qaeda--is he so deluded as to think that we might fall for that an side with him as an ally against terrorism?  Oh, we had.  Oops.  Not any more. 

Is it too soon to laugh at these guys?  I remember a key South Park where they announced that enough time had passed that they could make AIDS jokes.  Is it too soon?  No, of course not.  A morbid sense of humor can get us through dark times, as M*A*S*H illustrated so nicely.  But we can keep in mind that both of these addled celebrities are doing heaps of damage.  We can multi-task, can't we?

More Than One Way to Coup Proof

One of the frustrations with being a political scientist is that those that we study often have multiple strategies to deal with their problems, so we often cannot provide great predictions.  To say that politicians want to keep their positions is a useful starting point, but we need to know their constraints before making guesses.

The example du jour is, of course, Libya.  Qaddafi considered the problem of coup prevention since he came to power via the military, and provided an interesting but not entirely unique "solution": create a weak, divided armed forces so that any attempt to seize power would fall apart.  Of course, the tradeoff is that it would be a lousy tool for repressing an uprising.  But he was more or less prepared for that with his mercenaries.  As I have been repeating for the past month (yes, it has only been a month of Mideast protests, more or less), the big question is whether the guys with the guys will shoot.  Qaddafi, nutjob that he is, figured out that he can be more confident about the guys shooting the citizens if they are not from the neighborhood.  The mercs seem not just willing but eager to shoot, in sharp contrast to the Egyptians.

I wonder if the Saudis are taken notes.  They cannot farm out their repression to Palestinian guest workers, can they?

Anyhow, each coup prevention strategy has tradeoffs.  Mubarak sought to ensure the loyalty of his armed forces by imitating the Chinese and enriching the officers through their own businesses.  The problem then becomes that the military may see the dictator as a threat to their income.  Qaddafi chooses mercs and a weak military, but this means civil war or something like it when enough folks get together that mercs cannot crush easily.  Others have multiple, overlapping security institutions challenging each other.  Iraq had this with the Special Republican Guard, the ordinary Republican Guard, the army and various other actors.  Very expensive, especially when you have a real military threat as you have probably impoverished the majority of the forces confronting the external threat.  The Saudis?  I don't know enough, but money does have its limits, as any one who controls the oil and cash spigots can pay the guys with the guns.

What does all this mean?  That the field of civil-military relations (along with social movements, repression, and foreign aid) is going to be back in fashion.  This area has not gone completely out of fashion, but the focus was elsewhere.   And in this field, the focus was more on how do stable democracies control their militaries and whether there are crises or divides--like the US military being far more conservative than the society.  The issue of coups receded after being the focal point for so long.  Recent events indicate that we need to figure out some answers to the classic questions: when will the military shoot at the civilians?  when will authoritarian leaders lose control?  And, of course, when will the military step back after seizing power and intervening?  As hard as it is to get a coup rolling or to get the military to support the citizens, getting them back into the barracks is hardly a trivial question.  We still don't know what is going to happen in Egypt and Tunisia, not to mention Libya.

All we do know is that social scientists probably should not be speaking on behalf of the dictators.

Where is my Sneakoscope When I Need It?

In Harry Potter, there is a dark detector called a sneakoscope.  It alerts one to the presence of sneaky activity.  However, it does not work so well at Hogwarts because there is so much sneaking going on.  Alas, it would be handy to have such a device when grading, as we profs are not (dare I say it?) omniscient when it comes to cheating.

Specifically, we may not find plagiarism in our students' work.  Focusing on grad students, thanks to the recent stories about the German Defense Minister and Qaddafi's boy genius,* there has been much condemnation of their advisers.

*  On the other hand, the stories of social scientists praising Qaddafi make me ill.  I used to think a great deal of Anthony Giddens but no more.

Knowing nothing of the cases themselves since I have other things to do than read their dissertations (my students provide enough dissertation chapters for me to read, thank you), I will say this: it is not always apparent that something is taken from some place else.  Unless a phrase or an idea jumps out, the focus is not on detecting cheating but evaluating the quality of the ideas, the execution of the project, and how to improve it.  Of course, the Qaddafi case is a bit, ahem, different, since heaps of money seems to have flowed to the London School of Economics from the Qaddafi family, which implicates everyone in England but not the UK.

Sure, I have had cases of undergrad plagiarism jump out and scream.  But at McGill, I have not detected any cases of graduate plagiarism.  Does that mean that none has happened?  I don't know, as I don't whip out the google search to test every sentence or paragraph.  Indeed, the basic approach is one of trust, where I expect my students not to cheat, and I do not spend my time engaged in "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"  However, if one of my students becomes a senior government official and then is found guilty of plagiarism, then I will feel bad.

So, we need to consider that the advisers here might have done their job.  One of them says that the oral defense of Qaddafi went on for two hours and he seemed to have done the research.  Of course, that is just one test, and as I know from personal experience (a plagiarist had asked me all semester long about his/her ideas and how best to combine them, but was really talking about three or four papers and how best to combine them), conversations, even oral defenses, are not the best means for figuring this stuff out.  The proof is in the writing and the reading.  Time pressures, other priorities, and, indeed, trust, point towards accepting the writing at face value.

This does not mean we should excuse the folks who supervised Qadaffi, especially as the inflow of money would already raise suspicions.  But I do think we need to take a breath before pointing the finger of blame at anyone besides the plagiarist until we know more.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is a Keynesian To Do?

The word is getting out there: that unions and state deficits are not terribly related.  What we really see out there is a revenue problem, not a spending problem.  It is no accident that we live in a time of historically low taxes (in the US, not in Quebec) and high deficits (Quebec tends have both high deficits and high taxes, plus high subsidies from Canada, etc, but manages to have lousy services, but that is a rant for another day, or a previous day). 

Some would argue that this has been a deliberate effort by the Republicans to starve the various levels of governments of money so that they can then claim that government needs to be gutted.  Whether they were clever enough or not to do this, the reality is the same--lots of hate for taxes despite the low rates, states having cut their taxes find it hard to raise them, and an economic crisis that make past tax cuts bite even harder as tax bases go down and spending on safety nets goes up (basic macroeconomics).

The problem we face if we are good Keynesians* is that we ought to be spending our way out of the bad times and then collect the taxes in the good times (this is what happened under Bill Clinton, more or less).  But we seem to be hitting the wall, more or less, on how much we can borrow.  So, should we raise taxes and perhaps hurt the growth that is just starting to develop in the economy?  Well, cutting budgets is also bad for growth, if conventional economics is correct.  All these budget cuts are going to mean less money going to less people, which means they can spend less stuff and so on.  So budget cuts are just as bad, if not worse, for fostering growth.

 * The caveat here is that all my economics I got long ago in college, so I could be wrong about this.  All I do know is that the Republican stands on these issues tend not to be based in reality at all. 

As lil' Steve put it, it is about Revenues, stupid!  If we have to fight deficits, then I would rather see taxes increased than spending cut.  Of course, the Republicans would rather use the deficits to bust unions and gut  states and the federal government

Efficacy of Intervention

I am not a scholar of international law nor do I pretend to be one.  Indeed, I tend to be a realist when it comes to International Law: that it is not all that binding.  So, when it comes to doing something about Libya, the question for me is more about what kinds of intervention would have what kinds of benefits/costs.  Is it worth it?  Can we do it?

Marc Lynch has been calling for a no-fly zone, (and so has Nicholas Kristof) but the time for that may have passed.  The conflict is now in the streets of the cities of Libya apparently, so stopping the planes from dropping bombs would have a marginal impact.  Furthermore, it is not clear what this would take.  Yes, the US has an aircraft carrier in the Med, but that would be about it unless the flight distances from Sicily/Malta/Crete (certainly not Egypt/Tunisia) permit planes to hang over/near Libyan airspace.  Plus Libya has anti-aircraft missiles, so would a no-fly zone requirement bombing those?  Remember, when the US was patrolling no-fly zones over Iraq, there would be the occasional bombing mission to take out such missile sites.  And the Standard Operating Procedure for the US is to bomb these sites first before doing anything else. 

The Arabist blog raises good questions about doing something or doing nothing.  "a Qaddafi victory would be absolutely dismal. Firstly, the behavior of regime loyalists in Tripoli suggests that there would be terrible reprisals. Secondly, it would probably many dark years ahead for the people of Libya."  We clearly want Qaddafi and his coterie gone, for the consequences of them sticking around are pretty awful.

But what can be done?  We could plink some tanks, but given that the armed forces of Libya are now divided, how do we know we would be hitting the right ones?  Jumping into a counter-coup/civil war is a very difficult prospect.  It is not clear how the folks on the ground would respond to an American intervention.  And yes, it would be an American one.  NATO is currently out of the picture, no way would the EU be able to step up.  And we are all stretched by the other wars and efforts.

Economic sanctions are clearly called for.  Stopping the flow of military aid (thank you, Germany) is a must.  But anything more than that is pretty hard to do and do well.  There are limits to American power, to the power of international organizations and there are limits to efficacy of force in general.  Yes, we could jump and help the eastern part of Libya secede.

But is that really in the cards?  Given the overstretch of the US military, is this something the US can do with few risks to ourselves and to the folks we would like to protect?

Again, this conflict, like the previous ones, remind us that lots of problems in the world are very, very hard and we do not have a magic wand to make them go away.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Beginning or End of Soccer (Football)

Funny?  Indeed.  But if this guy gets away with it, kind of makes the entire sport a joke, no? 

The Hits Keep on Coming

The concussion saga continues, with a suicide by an ex-player: Dave Duerson.  In his suicide note, he asked that his brain be studied, and then he shot himself in the heart.
Sitting with his mother on the deck of his father’s building Monday night, Tregg Duerson sobbed. “He was looking for an answer,” Tregg said. “And he was hoping to be a part of an answer.”
Puts it all into perspective.  The NFL is trying to lengthen the season to 18 games but refuses to require the players to wear the most protective helmets.  Keep on following Alan Schwarz's stories in the NYT.  

Where is Norma Rae When We Need Her?

The union-busting in Wisconsin confuses me.  Not because the GOP wouldn't love to destroy what is left of the American union movement--that I expect.  No, it is that I am coming full circle on unions.  I grew up with a Liberal (American liberal, not Canadian liberal) mother who shaped my thinking about unions.  It was a time where the history classes in high school focused on the roles unions played in humanizing the workplace after the era of child labor and all the rest.

Yet I have always had a bit of bitterness towards unions, as my first taste was the teachers' union.  My junior year of high school essentially took place two weeks later than it should have due to a strike by the teachers.  This meant that my last summer at camp, the one where I would be a counselor-in-training with all of the responsibility and fun attached, started late for me.  So, I lost 25% of what was supposed to be one of the best summers of my life.

After that, I had little experience with unions until I came to Canada.  Here in Montreal, unions are powerful actors and they rely on old school coercion to make their points.  The cable tv union was on strike when we arrived, and the workers were famously cutting the cables to express their displeasure (so we have a satellite dish instead).  The city workers were on strike, so the parks were getting overgrown.  Parents tried to move the fields themselves so that their kids could play, but then they were intimidated by the workers.  The firefighters painted their trucks and put stickers all over them about political issues. So, I started developing a nasty attitude towards unions.

And then my teaching assistants struck during finals.  Of course they would.  It was the time at which their leverage was the greatest.  I am not a big fan of this union and not just because that one semester became pretty challenging.  Every time I have TAs, I must fill out a form allocating the hours that they will work. This is to protect them from being abused, and I get that.  The problem is that the social sciences tend not to abuse their TAs like the sciences, but we all have to live within a system that creates perverse incentives (assign less writing for the undergrads so that we do not exceed the TA's hours) and fosters lies (how long does it take to grade an exam?). 

McGill's professors are not unionized, for which I am ever thankful, given what I have heard about the other universities around here that are.  There is a union at McGill, but salaries are not fixed to a grid to make sure the mediocre do as well as those who are productive.  Funny how the mediocre are big fans of the union, though. 

So, I have been joking for years that Quebec is turning me into a Republican because I have become anti-union and anti-tax.  But then the Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, reminds me why unions exist in the first place--to protect workers from capricious employers.  I get upset at unions that seem to be overly entitled (name your average union in Quebec), but the case in Wisconsin and now elsewhere is more than just about efficiency and cost savings.  Indeed, as this chart shows, there is little correlation with unionized state workers in the US and deficits:
 Thanks to

Indeed, the interviews with the Scott Walker, as clipped by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, demonstrate this is much more about union busting that cost cutting.  Given that the rest of the financial package seems to involve benefits to rich folks (the Koch brothers yet again?) and a refusal to raise taxes, when it is clear that the deficits problem come from too little revenues, I find it hard to have anything but empathy for the unions, even the hated teachers unions.

What the pro-business folks forget is that the market (hee, hee) not only creates incentives for the development of the firm, but also incentives for workers to organize.  It drives me crazy that the mad, delusional libertarians (unlike the semi-reasonable ones) seem to believe that the market works without regulation when they actually like having regulations and government decisions that facilitate businesses at the expense of everyone else.  Such as selling off assets of the state without bidding.  Oh wait, would bidding be a market process?  Damn.  How inconvenient.  It is kind of like the bible or Clausewitz or the Constitution--people focus on the parts they like and forget the rest.  Market capitalism requires competition in the marketplace to work, yet the folks who seem to be behind much of the anti-regulation fever really do not want competition--they want monopoly, preferential access, and protection.  For themselves, but not for anyone else.

So, I have come full circle--I am a big fan of capitalism (as the alternatives suck bigtime), but make mine a well-regulated capitalism, where government works to make sure the system functions and that there are safety nets for those that capitalism would ignore or damage.  And one of those aspects that helps make the system work happen to be organizations that represent workers, just as there are organizations that represent capital.  Yes, unions can be too strong, too entitled and cause tremendous dysfunction, but American unions are simply not in the same ballpark as those in Quebec.  Pretending that they are is just silly, and we can see that the American people via the polls and the Republicans as they run away from Walker, that the pretense is not going to carry very far.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Holy Principal-Agent Problems, Afghanistan, part 2

I blogged earlier about the problems facing the Taliban as the lower level folks develop some different interests from their superiors.  Well, the problem continues or at least to be covered yet again
Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.
He also cited divisions over a suicide bombing at a wedding in Kandahar Province last year that was organized by a more radical field commander, without the approval of the Taliban leadership. Some of the younger, more radical commanders have come up through the ranks to replace those who have been killed.
During the fighting in the fall, the Taliban commanders sometimes found their calls for help going unanswered, according to American military officials. One group, in Sia Choy, in the Zhare District of Kandahar Province, appealed for help from commanders to no avail.
Over time, there has been significant replacement of the guys who bear the risks and the new ones are less happy and less tied to their bosses.  This makes the war harder to conduct for the Taliban but any peace deal would be harder to keep.  Fragmentation seems inevitable, as a loss of control will mean that different individuals will push in conflicting directions.

And this is deliberate.  Petraeus understands that the clock is ticking away--that 2014, unlike 2011, is a real deadline.  NATO members and their partners are losing patience,  So, rather than trying to aim for the long haul of development and governance (especially with Karzai making that harder rather than easier), the goal is to hit the Taliban as hard as possible now since there is not much of a later to be had. 

Of course, the big test is ahead of us: after all this reputed progress, the tale will be told during the spring and summer fighting season.  If we see heaps more Taliban operations that do significant damage in the supposedly secure inkspots, that says one thing.  If we see heaps more violence, but it is at the initiative of NATO and Afghan forces, that means something else.  And if there is less violence, well, that would be great.

I wonder if folks will be patient enough to wait for the summer to evaluate how things are going?  I would not bet on it.

Pick Your Plagiarists

Turns out that Zu Guttenberg is not the only prominent politician who plagiarized their dissertation: Seif-al-Islam Qaddafi ripped his off from wikipedia, apparently.  Of course, this son of Qaddafi has done far more damage with his speech the other night that just antagonized the crowds further, making Mubarak look articulate and reasonable in comparison

What does this say about ambitious politicians and their pursuit of dissertations?  Well, I am not sure what the value added of a PhD to someone who is aspiring for political office.  If they do not plagiarize, they may still have written something that might antagonize people--you know, by expressing an original idea.  And if they plagiarize, well, that is a ticking time bomb.  Why should folks care?  Because they want their politicians to be at least appear to have integrity.  If they lie and cheat as students, that does not portend for a politician that is transparent or corruption free.

At least these guys provide some amusement value to divert us from the man-made tragedies in Libya and natural one in New Zealand. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Contagion? Yes, Please [updated]

The spread of protests from Tunisia to Egypt and now to Libya and Bahrain raise lots of questions about how contagious are political events like protests.  And these questions force to re-consider some of my oldest and dearest publications.  I argued long ago (here and here) that the outbreak of ethnic conflicts and of separatism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union only seemed to be part of a contagious process.  But the ethnic conflict in each was not directly related to the secessionist conflicts in the others.  Instead, these countries faced a similar shock, the de-legitimation of communism and the onset of political competition, which then, because of similar institutions and divides, caused independent separatist efforts in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

So, to come to a region about which I know little, what does seem to be the case is not so much that there are concrete dynamics that move from one state to another* , but rather there are common issues of unemployment, sclerotic leadership, and corruption. 

* Refugees are the classic pathway by which one ethnic conflict can trigger another.

 This time, the shock is something like the end of Communism--the collapse of a set of ideologies/beliefs that legitimated and perpetuated the rule of these folks: "better me than the Islamist alternative" and other opiates that the dicators used to quell the populace.*

*Again, I am not a Mideast expert, so I am just postulating here.

What Tunisia did and then Egypt was show to the publics that the army might not shoot, that the dictators have been wearing no clothes, and that it takes a lot of guts and mobilization, but then it can work.  But people have to die in the process.  We do not have a body count yet for Egypt but it was supposed to be more than a hundred.  The bodycount in Libya will be far higher, I am afraid.

Getting back to my old arguments about contagion and demonstration effects, I have always believed that demonstration effects do not matter so much because any event will be read in different ways by the various actors, just confirming their existing beliefs.  But these events are so shocking--that the strongest, most apparently stable leader in the Mideast (this would be Mubarak) can fall after 18 days--that it simply cannot be fit into the old boxes in people's heads.  Instead, it opens up those boxes and makes people re-imagine what is possible.  Tunisia may have tipped and influenced Egypt, but it is the Egyptian example that will have the most powerful effect.  But remember this, a spark can only set off a forest fire if the conditions are right.  You are seeing the spread of something in the Mideast precisely because many of these countries are facing very similar economic, political and demographic pressures.

We have not seen the end of this, but if one knows what the economic, political and demographic patterns are in the countries that have faced much dissent, we can probably figure out the limits of this wave of dissent.  It might not be 1989 all over again, but then again, it might be more like 1968 or 1848.

More ducking, covering and re-thinking as events compel.

[Update]  I am not the only one thinking about 1848.  And there has been some twittering about the US doing something about Libya.  The US cannot use Egypt as a base these days due to recent events, so the only thing that NATO/US can really do is a no fly zone enforced by planes from whichever US carrier is in the Mediterranean.  The US Sixth fleet is a significant actor, but its role in a Libyan civil war or repression is limited.  We live in interesting times.

British, English, King-ish

For those confused about what to call the dandies on the other side of the pond, this should help:

Indeed, this is quite a lesson not just in what to call the folks who eat bangers and mash, but of the various ways in which countries/entities relate to their former empire.  Good times. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Out in the Nick of Time

Ok, so I left Texas about ten years ago, but stories like this make me feel as if I got out just in time.
Texas is preparing to give college students and professors the right to carry guns on campus, adding momentum to a national campaign to open this part of society to firearms.

If I was still there, I would not be showing the Duck and Cover video, I would be living it.

Just brilliant. 

What is the Value of Prestige in Academia

There is always much ranting and raving about rankings and relative standings on the Political Science Job Rumors site, and now one thread tries to address the question of prestige directly: what would it cost for one to move to a place with less prestige.

It got me thinking about prestige on a slow Sunday morning.  I think I cared much more such things before than now.*  Why is that the case?  Am I less narcissistic?  No, just more aware of my narcissism.  I think I care less about prestige now for a couple of reasons (noting that it is easier to care less when one is at a more highly ranked place).

My previous job was at a place that was poorly ranked.  Actually, it was accurately ranked given that it could not hold onto good junior faculty.  Moreover, I felt that I was outside of the professional networks due to the physical location and prestige of the institution.  Now, I am at a school that is highly ranked (one of the top three in Canada and pretty visible in the US) with much better** graduate students and undergrads.  I definitely feel better about the place I work, less embarrassed by the name on my badge at conferences.

But does it matter that much to me?  I think it matters less because I have been around long enough.  What does time do?  Well, first, I feel that I have done enough via books, articles, conference presentations, networking, and the like that people know who I am and what I do.  My institutional affiliation matters less to me in terms of how I feel others see me.  Second, over the course of time, I have met enough folks at places that are not highly prestigious who are quite smart, producing great work, and teaching me a great deal that it is far less about what people's affiliations are than what they do (I am sure Dumbledore would agree).  Third, I have seen enough idiosyncrasies in the hiring processes of the places I have worked and not worked to discover that the market does not distribute "talent" (brains, good ideas, training, ambition, whatever else) as efficiently as often averred.  Plus some people end up in certain places because of personal issues.  Finally, I think that the net makes a difference--that it is much easier to contact and network now than fifteen years ago with blogs, twitter, facebook, and all the rest.***

Together, this means that affiliation and, with it, prestige matter far less than many folks (especially aspiring graduate students) think. The name on one's PhD matters a great deal, especially at first, but the name of the place you work matters less so, especially over time as the individual track record, for good or bad, becomes well developed and well known.  ****

*  Is there any proof of this?  Well, it is public knowledge that I interviewed at a school that was not among the top three in its state a few years ago, and would probably have been as a downward move, prestige-wise. 
** That is, in general, they have had significant life experiences, did better in high school/college (better grades and test scores), took feedback more seriously, worked harder, etc.
***  Of course, with posts like these, I may be doing more harm to my prestige.....
**** A question--would it be better to put the footnotes at the bottom or interject in the middle perhaps in italics the way Alan Sepinwall does it?

Lessons from Bad Repression and New Media

Andrew Exum, during a visit to Egypt, has been reporting back what he has found.  He has a great take that finesses the: facebook/twitter ended the regime vs. it was all people power.  That is, the social media helped with the networking, but it required real bodies out in the streets to make a difference, not just virtual protesters.  In addition, the regime accelerated its demise by shutting down the web, forcing people to go outside to learn stuff, and by shutting down the cell phones, as nothing pisses folks off like lost access to their community.

Striking stuff in a very succinct package.  Exum, or Abu Muqawama, his alias on twitter and elsewhere, has been clear, interesting and excellent at providing his own perspective and links to useful sites along the way.  Consider this your Sunday morning web-recommendation (perhaps a weekly post, if I can remember every Sunday morning).

Reviewing the Month in Civ-Mil Relations

David Sanger has an interesting piece addressing the key questions concerning the militaries and the dictators they prop up.  As I have been repeating, he starts with the premise that the key is when military has to choose--to shoot at the people or not.  The forces of coercion in Bahrain seem to be making a different choice than the Egyptian military.  As are Libya's. 

The problem for outsiders is that we can guess, expect, hope, predict and so on, but just like war, outcomes are rarely certain.  Sanger focuses more on what the prospect of change means for the military.  That is important, of course, but I think another key factor is the uncertainty of the situation.  Unless a military has a track record of intervening and repressing, it is not clear that the officers at the top have either the resolve or the capability to use force against their people.  These officers do not know whether the guys in the square with the guns will actually fire, and so they are going to be wary.  To try to shoot and to fail risks their positions and perhaps their lives.  They must worry about provoking a civil war, with the military fracturing with some supporting the dissenters and others supporting the government.  So, in my non-Middle East expert eyes, it is not so much what change means, but whether the military elites believe that they can be successful in holding back the tide without destroying their institution.  Yes, the threat of change matters, but they must consider whether they can stop the future and at what cost.

What this article demonstrates best is that the Obama Administration actually tries to figure stuff out and then reacts, rather than trying to impose their dreams on reality, which is, ironically, what Rumsfeld is trying to do with his new memoir.  They have experts on democratic transition on the National Security Council, they ask ahead of events about the possibility of instability and political change in the Mideast, they consider various cases to see if there is a pattern, and they consult experts to assess the situation.  Seems basic, but what a breath of fresh air.
He [Michael McFaul] spent the past few weeks churning out case studies for President Obama and the National Security Council, as it sought lessons about how to influence the confrontations that have engulfed close American allies and bitter adversaries. “There is not one story line or a single model,” said Mr. McFaul, who drew on work he did as a professor at Stanford. “There are many paths to democratic transition, and most of them are messy.”
Sanger finds that in this case the key was the military and its views on Mubarak vs the alternatives:
“You could almost hear them making the calculations in their heads,” said one senior American official who was involved in the delicate negotiations. “Did they want to stick with an aging, sick leader whose likely successor was his own son, who the military didn’t trust? And we just kept repeating the mantra, ‘Don’t break the bond you have with your own people.’ ”
Again, they were also calculating not just what happened if they were successful, but whether they would be successful and at what cost.  Would repression work, what would it do to the military?

Finally, one of the interesting parts of this article is how it so neatly sums up the Saudi perspective:
they [the Egyptian military] ignored the advice of the Saudis, who, in calls to Washington, said that President Hosni Mubarak should open fire if that’s what it took, and that Americans should just stop talking about “universal rights” and back him.
 What does this say about the Saudis?  That they are scared, that they may understand only too well how fragile the legitimacy of their regime is, that they would prefer others to use force openly and brutally so that they do not have to do so.  They would prefer to keep their repression in the form of prevention and not on TV.  Apparently, they do not imagine themselves to be the Chinese--to use force decisively and not only get away with it, but get rich as a result.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Health is Bad

I don't have the patience to discuss at length the new GOP craze--being against health.  If Michelle Obama started pushing for literacy a la Laura Bush, I am pretty sure Michelle Bachman would be for banning books.  Lil' Steve does a fine job of ranting on this, so go to his blog.  All I have to say is this: if they are trying to create splits based on who and who does not breastfeed, the right wing must be running out of issues. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

When Plagiarism is Really Bad News

The German Defense Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, is in deep trouble for having plagiarized his dissertation.  The funny thing is that his PhD is, well, unnecessary because he previously had the reputation for being one of the more dynamic and charismatic German politicians.  Now, his extraneous PhD may bring him down since he cut and pasted his way, apparently.  While he has not been perfect, I am sorry to see this happen as he had the guts to be more honest with the German people than any other politician on Afghanistan.  That it is not just a crisis scenario but a real war.  However, zu G may have blown his honesty resources on the nature of the war in Afghanistan and not have much left over for some incidents that occurred there and elsewhere or on his dissertation.  Indeed, the key thing about plagiarism here is that it indicates a character flaw that may have also appeared elsewhere.

We shall see if he lasts through this storm.  I doubt it because he had ruffled feathers by being more straightforward on some issues and much less so on others.  Accountability is a funky thing--people expect consistency. 

Crowdsourcing Human Rights

I have always admired not only the academic work of Christian Davenport (everything I know about repression comes from him and Will Moore), but his data determination.  He went to great lengths to determine how Rwanda's genocide played out, at the risk of being called a holocaust denier for simply stating the truth that more Hutus died than Tutsis.  He then developed the definitive repression website (a site for researchers of repression, not for repressers to pick up tips):  (I reviewed that site a while back).  Now, he is trying to get folks to report human rights abuses and direct data his way to crowd-source via this site: 

People wonder how the internet has changed what social scientists do.  Davenport keeps teaching us that we have only scratched the surface.  In addition, he demonstrates how important it is to be patient.  His Rwanda project took quite some time and resources to generate the findings.  This new project, relying on crowdsourcing, is a very much a long-term project as the crowd will take a while to gather.  It will take more than just a minor blog like mine to get enough folks to gather virtually and provide the data that Davenport needs to get the crowdsourcing to work.  Spread the word.

The Downside of the Internet

The internet is so very useful for my research, but, geez, does it serve to distract*:

* Comic is from, HT to Jacob Levy for pointing it out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Applied Political Science

A friend posted this on my FB page in response to the event: Hug a Political Scientist Day.  Given the timing (so close to my anniversary with a wife who puts up with my applying political science concepts to our lives), I thought I would share it here:

Betting on the Golden Boy

I am in the middle of listening to Chad Millman's Behind the Bets podcast.  As we are in between the Super Bowl and the college basketball tourneys, Chad decided to talk to a friend who is a self-styled expert on Oscar betting.  Yep, there are wagers to be had.  Vegas sports books cannot take bets on such things because the Nevada Gaming Commission prohibits bets on events that are judged/voted, which are seen as more subject to manipulation.  The casinos can take bets on who might fumble first but not on the Super Bowl MVP.  But they do set the odds anyway, and off-shore betting sites (that would be online folks) do take such bets.

This podcast had some fun stuff in it, such as the guy recommending one bet on Toy Story 3 to win best animated movie.  The odds are 1/33, which means that you must bet $3300 to win $100.  That seems like a stupid bet unless you take seriously the idea that it is really free money: that Toy Story 3 is not likely to win but certain to win.  This is the kind of bet the "sharps" take all the time, like betting that the Super Bowl will not go into overtime.  The odds are stacked so that you have to bet a lot to win a little (the opposite of a long shot), but the betting pros don't mind betting a lot on a narrow gain if it is a sure thing.  And there are more sure things in Oscar betting than on a football field, like Colin Firth winning best actor, against 1/33 odds.

The most amusing but also most wrong part of the podcast: with the two guys agreeing that you have to bet on Best Director and Best Picture because why else watch the entire broadcast?  One needs action to do so.  Chad went on to say that we don't really care about the outcomes because we do not identify with the producers who get the big bucks out of this.  A surprising assertion from a guy who writes about sports--we do not identify with the owners of teams, but we root for particular teams with which we identify.

The reality is that we also identify with movies--that we find some movies to be better than others and we feel bad when others denigrate our favorites.  We feel better when our favorites do well.  The logic of identification (relying on social identity theory and folks like Donald Horowitz's logic of invidious comparisons) applies to any way we distinguish ourselves into groups and that our self-esteem then hinges on how well our group does and how well those things we identify do.  I remember the outrage I felt (and many others did) when Saving Private Ryan lost to Shakespeare in Love (and I liked the latter, but identified more with the former).

Overall, a very interesting podcast, including tips on how to bet on American Idol and how to parlay the obvious winners for the Oscars to bet better odds.

Fun with Maps!

Sociological Images posted a few maps about the consumption of alcohol.  As a student of international relations and a johnny-come-lately to beer-swilling, I thought these were interesting:

 Not too many surprises here: countries with high percentages of Muslims drink less and Russians drink far more.  Apparently, the reputation of Aussies to be hard-drinkers is well-deserved.  That most of Europe fits into the highest categories might be a bit of a surprise.  One might think it is all that wine, but not entirely so, as the next map suggestions:

Again, no surprise that it is beer for North American and Australia and spirits (Vodka) for Russia.  Not sure what is other, which seems to be only widely drunk in Africa.  Not surprising that Italy and France stand out as wine-drinking countries, but Spain as a beer country?  This map does suggest that beer is popular in more countries (woohoo!), although with India and China in the spirits category, that is enough to make spirits #1 in total consumption (my guess).....

Any other thoughts on the distribution of boozing?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Betting on the Mideast

A famous bookie has set the odds on the next domino to fall in the Mideast: Yemen.*  He set the odds at 15/8.  But I have a quibble: what does it mean to fall when the government is already pretty close to a failed state?  Jordan is next at 9/4 and then Algeria at 7/2.  Bahrain is at 8/1 with Saudi Arabia and Syria set at 20/1.  Interesting that Iran, Libya and Sudan are in between.  I have repeatedly stated that I am not a Mideast expert, so I am not sure where I would put my money.  I guess I would put it one Sudan or Libya since the odds are pretty good.  Actually, if I could, I would bet that no other dominoes in the Mideast fall before the end of 2012.  While there is increased protest elsewhere, the protestors are not the only ones learning.  Iran is going to repress its opposition pretty successfully.  I would say the same for the Saudis and the Syrians. 

The bigger problem from a betting perspective is what counts as a revolution?  We don't even know if either Egypt or Tunisia have experienced a real revolution.  Thus far, they could easily be seen as coups.  Not until we see elections and new governments arise with people who do not wear uniforms can we start to think about calling these changes revolutions.  If the bets are on changes in dictators only, then we may have to re-think.  Sudan would start to look as a good bet, given how hard this year is going to be.

Where would you put your money?

HT to Ora Szekely for pointing me to this article. 

If You Build It, They Will?

Stunning pictures of Chinese cities with no people.   Apparently massive investments have not lured people to these new developments.  How can a country with over a billion people have cities that are largely uninhabited?  China may be booming, but I would not be so confident in its ability to sustain either its political or economic strategies.

Lying Liars Mea Culpa

I hadn't realized that the phrase Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell was actually implanted in my brain by Al Franken's book: "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them."  I did read the book when it came out, so I did see that phrase before. I didn't mean to plagiarize Franken.  My apologies to Senator Al. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More on the Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

Just wanted to highlight a piece written by folks who worked under Rumsfeld.  They use a document that Rumsfeld posted on the web to show that Rumsfeld's memoir must just be the most outrageous bit of fiction, just second to the weapons of mass destruction intel. 

Why do such dramatic failures as Rummy, Cheney, and Rice get so much attention?  Why am I giving them even more? 

Veteran Engagement

Tom Ricks has a brief summary of a longer post about how to talk to veterans.  This has been a theme in Ricks's blog for a while--that people suck at talking to vets who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.  That yellow ribbons and un-thinking workship may not be what they need.

The short list, plagiarized from Ricks' summary:
1. Do: Ask About Our Buddies
2. Do: Listen
3. Do: Try To Learn Something
4. Do: Have an Open Mind
5. Don't: Talk Politics
6. Don't: Be Cavalier with Questions. (Especially that old favorite about how many people you killed.)
7. Don't: Assume Everyone Is Crippled With PTSD
8. Do: Something

I have not had much experience except interviewing current officers about larger political issues (oops), as that is my job and my current focus.  But this advice seems sharp and useful.

A Failure in Leadership

It is a sad truth that rape is doing to happen in the military, just as it happens in society.  But a few key differences stand out:
  • in civilian life, you have more ability to one's tormentor.
  • in civilian life, one's bosses have less power over you.
  • in civilian life, your life does not depend so much on the people around you, above you and below you.
So, this story of women who found DoD woefully unresponsive to their situations is deeply depressing.  I have been a big fan of SecDef Gates, but he seems to have fallen far short of his usual performance here.  I just hope that this lawsuit brings some changes.  Yes, it is possible that there is not a systematic problem here and that some mistakes were made.  But the machinery should be there to protect everyone from everyone else. 

Political Science Cards and Fantasy Rules continued

I should lose a few points for posting something quickly, but I was both enthused and sleepy last night.  So here are some modifications to both the player card and the fantasy rules.

Political Science Player Cards:

What would I add to the card?
Lifetime Citations would seem to be an obvious stat, akin to Runs in baseball, if the goal is to get stuff out there.  This would be the old school stat to go along with the more sabermetric-y H-index.  One could also have Cites per year or Cites per Paper.
Total Number of Co-Authors or CA: I think I might be a league leader.
I would replace Home Runs with Major University Press Books or MUPB's.
Students Placed at Tenure Track Slots: SPATTS
Average Media Apperances: Number of appearances on radio, tv and newspapers per year, averaged over five years.  Mine is going to spiral downwards now that the Canadians will be largely out of harm's way in Afghanistan.  
Involuntary Major Service Obligations, such as chair, associate dean, director of graduate studies, etc: IMSO.

Any other suggestions?

Revised/Added Rotisserie/Fantasy Political Science Rules
These supplement/revise the classic rules.

Publishing (most of the original rules are still quite good)
+5 points if an article or book will be published two years after it has been accepted for publication.
+2 points for having an article you have revised and resubmitted getting another R&R at the same journal
+1 pity point for getting an article rejected after going through the R&R process twice
-10 if an article is destined for a journal that stops publishing for a year (the World Politics rule)
I would change the secondary category of AJPS, JoP, WPQ (what is now PRQ), and SSQ to drop SSQ but add the top journals in every subfield (IO, ISQ, WP, CP, CPS, Political Theory)

Conference Participation additions:
-1 if the paper was presented elsewhere
-3 if someone walks out in a huff during the middle of your presentation
+5 if someone ask a question so absurd that it leaves you flummoxed, like blaming the xenophobia of 1990s Europe on the Ancient Egyptians (yes, it happened to Bill Ayres and myself)
-1 if you give the paper to the discussant within 24 hours of the conference
-10 if you actually expect the discussant to read your paper while at the conference

The networking division of the rules are a bit obsolete as there is no paper room or papers to buy any more, so some changes are in order:
-5 The conference is held in your town
-1 Spend more time in the book room than in panels
+1 Flirt with book rep.  Tripled if book rep flirts back.  Multiplied by negative two if the player is married
+.5 For each doodad/swag one picks up in the book room (the Steve Greene rule).
+1 Each time someone looking for you assumes that you are at the conference hotel's bar
+3 Each time they are right
+3 Each time splitting the bill costs you at least 1.5 times what you would have paid on your own at a restaurant during a conference
-5 Each time splitting the bill saves you money
+20 For each meal where the participants all worked together previously but no longer at that old school (the ex-TTU faculty club rule)
+35 For bringing chocolate chip cookies for roommate to share (the Bill Ayres's wife rocks rule).
+10 Hosting the annual poker game
+20 Generously funding the winnings of the other poker players (the drunk BV rule)
-50 Bring to the poker game a new, disruptive player (the dead to me BV rule)
-3 Using one's relatively large annual salary to bully junior professors and grad students at the poker game (the Pat James rule)

Media Section
+1 for each radio appearance
+2 for each TV appearance
+5 for each appearance lasting more than 5 minutes
+1 for each op-ed piece published in a regional newspaper
+5 for each op-ed piece published in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal
-5 for each op-ed published in the Washington Post.
+50 points for each appearance on The Daily Show or Colbert Report
-1000 for any friendly appearance on a Fox ranting show (O'Reilly, Beck)
+ 1000 for an unfriendly reference on a Fox ranting show--the Frances Fox Piven rule

New Media
+5 for first blog.
-2 points for each additional blog (The Wayne Norman Rule)
-2 points for a blog that is updated less than monthly
-3 points for an unfocused blog that combines political science with commentary about pop culture, sports, whatever (The Spew Rules)
-5 points if you spend more time on a silly blog post than the academic goal of the day (like revising a chapter)
+1 for having a twitter account
+1 for tweeting at least once a day
+1 for every 25 followers
-25 if one has more robo-followers linked to illicit sites than normal followers
+3 points if someone with more than 1k followers either retweets or responds to your tweet
+1 for having a facebook account
-1 for each current undergrad that is a FB friend (the Creepy Rule)
+1 for each "like" of a snarky comment you posted on someone's page (the Saideman really is a narcissist rule)
+10 for posting as oneself on the Political Science Job Rumor's site--the Mike Munger Rule.
-3 for each anonymous post on PSJR if one has already posted as oneself


Monday, February 14, 2011

Political Science Player Cards and Fantasy Rules

Just one glance at the political science job rumors website is enough to demonstrate that we have heavily invested our egos in this business.  It is not just aspiring grad students facing a difficult job market.*  All of the ranting and raving about rankings of programs and which programs should be trashed next are in large party about self-esteem and egos.  Donald Horowitz's application of social psychology--the logic of invidious comparisons--applies to more than just ethnic conflict.  So, when I see something like this:

I cannot help but think about what my stats are and how my card would look.  Of course, some of this would not apply or would have to be significantly revised, such as nature, science and National Geographic.  For the time being, I am not going to fill in my own card, as it would take too long.  I do know that I would have zero stolen post-docs and no career awards thus far.  On the other hand, my winning percentage for grad students would be very good--I have only lost one potential PhD student because he needed to get more high tech training than we could provide.  And my placement record for my PhD students thus far is quite good.

In an age of improved sports statistics thanks to the sabermetricians and their equivalents, we could consider new and different statistics, either in addition to or in lieu of the ones on the card.  H-Index is a fancier way to measure citations (check out the software publish or perish).  A baseball card for profs might include both, just as the new ones include not just batting average but OPS (combination of on base % and slugging %).  I would add number of co-authors (mine would be sixteen if one includes papers that have been presented but not published).  Datasets created?  Job offers?  Course evaluation average?  Reviews for journals/presses/grant agencies?  What stats would you recommend for a  prof's card?

A different way to measure an athlete is not their card but their value to a fantasy team.  A couple of political scientists were way ahead of the curve by making up the rules for rotisserie political science.  The rules are very focused on Americanists, given the points given for particular journals.  Notice no discounting for co-authoring.  My favorite rule is the Kathy Kemp Rule: 65 points if you send a paper a birthday card for being under review for a year.  I have only had that happen once (the paper was rejected eventually, but two subsequent pieces have been published at that journal).  My favorite category is attendance--points for attending panels other than one's own.  I used to get heaps of points here, but a precipitous decline as of late.  I do like the loss of points for saying something serious at a conference business meeting.  Minus 17 points for being named Dean!  I am thinking of a new category--number of people who mistakenly think I have reviewed and rejected several of their articles.  Right now, I am at 2 for that category--that I know of. 

*  Of course, that one phrase scares me just a bit.  One of the explanations for why so many terrorists from the Middle East are engineers--frustrated career ambitions.  The good news is that poli sci students would probably make lousy terrorists--they would find the lit reviews really hard to complete before moving on to the violence phase.

The Revolution of Writing About TV

I didn't know that there was a revolution in TV writing.  I do know that I have started to follow two TV critics, Alan Sepinwall and Tim Goodman, over the past year--reading their blogs, listening to their podcasts, and following their tweets.  Indeed, having my letters read by Tim and his gang in his podcast provided a thrill or two over the summer.  And now, thanks to Slate, I have learned that Sepinwall was the pathbreaker in this business of TV re-caps.  I don't always agree with Alan and Tim, but often do.  I have been catching up on The Wire and have used Sepinwall's old re-caps to help gain perspective on a pretty complicated show.  I miss stuff, and they help me see the connections.  Plus their podcasts (Alan's is with Dan Feinberg, also of are usually pretty amusing as well.  Indeed, Tim's, which has been on hiatus while he transitions from his old newspaper gig to the Hollywood Reporter, often had very little TV content unless one counts bad imitations of live and dead TV folks.

I know that there are others who do this re-capping stuff, but if I followed more of them, I would have less time for television, and that would be so wrong.  I have long been a TV addict, and I am glad that I have not just company, but excellent, often snarky company. 

The Pentagon Musical [NSFW]

New song with some slides.  Brutally amusing. 

To be clear, I enjoyed my time in the Pentagon, but did notice how the military guys looked at their time there as a prison sentence.  Not your average military base with long commutes, long chains of command to micro-edit your work, few windows, and little career credit for good work.

This does bring me back as the banner on the slide at the 2.25 mark was one we used all the time--the purple part, not the angry officer.  The slides that look like motivational posters gone awry were rife during my year in the Pentagon, as folks sent around or printed the occasional humorous power point slide. 

And, yes, I did start losing my hair (and gained a bit of weight) during that year.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Democracy as Foreign Policy Priority

Lots of credit-taking for Egypt in the US, as democracy promotion seems to have become all the rage.  The Bush folks are taking credit, saying that Iraq set the stage.  Um, just like an arsonist might take credit for new development after he burned down a city block, I guess.

Seriously, the idea that the Bush administration was promoting democracy is pretty fantastic.  As in fantasy.  After all, the initial plan (if you want to call what they were thinking a "plan") was to put Chalabi in place in Iraq.  How democratic was that?  The resort to quick elections after state-breaking (not just here but in Bosnia and other places as well) was motivated more by the desire to get out than to build representative political systems.

So when I read Peter Baker's post-mortem on the change in Egypt, I find it really strange that anyone would consider Democracy Promotion to be a Bush thing or that the Democrats under Clinton and Obama not be Democracy promoters.
President Bush, after all, made “ending tyranny in our world” the centerpiece of his second inaugural address, and, although he pursued it selectively, he considers it one of his signature legacies. The very notion of democracy promotion became so associated with him, and with the war in Iraq, that Democrats believed that it was now discredited. Never mind that Republican and Democratic presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to Ronald Reagan, had championed liberty overseas; by the time Mr. Bush left office it had become a polarizing concept.
Um, the Peter Baker I knew in college only OD'ed on classic coca-cola so I am not sure how much he really believes what he is writing here.  I am pretty sure that the only folks who think that Democracy Promotionwas a Bush thing reside within the Beltway.  Academics and their fellow travelers were thinking about democracy for quite some time, including the whole Democracy and War debate of the 1990s. 

The big difference between the Bush-style and the Clinton/Obama style is that the former requires invasion and poor planning, whereas the latter involves diplomacy, public and private pressure, and some patience.  Did knocking off Hussein cause the Egyptian "revolution"?  Did Bush's agenda?  While outside forces matter far less than inside forces, it might have been the Obama speech in ....  Cairo that made some dent.

Again, lots of competition to take credit for this stuff, where the credit belongs almost entirely to the protesters that risked their lives and to the military folks for not shooting.  The post-Mubarak navel-gazing is inevitable, but we don't have to buy what some folks are selling.  The Bush Administration had no credibility thanks to the lack of WMD in Iraq, with even Rumsfeld's latest efforts to sell that war failing miserably.

What this crisis clearly demonstrated is that foreign policy is chock full of tradeoffs, and we cannot focus on a single priority or agenda.  They have to be balanced, with serious thought about the second and third order effects.  If there is anything that the Bush administration failed to do, it was thinking beyond simplest outcome.  Obama and his folks clearly demonstrated that one can be decisive while taking into account the complexities.

Anybody looking back at the Bush Administration can only get sick from the lost opportunities, incredibly short-sighted decisions, the refusal to see tradeoffs, and the keen ability alienate pretty much the entire world except for Tony Blair.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

There have been heaps of stories about Rumsfeld's book, including Fred Kaplan's excellent reviewThis lunch with Rummy drives me a bit crazy since it once again demonstrates that Rummy is a lying sack of poor policy (or poop, for short).  Just the claim that he did not create a climate of fear in the Office of the Secretary of Defense is enough to drive me bonkers.  I saw it, I felt it, I heard on a daily basis during my year in the Pentagon.  It was more than palpable.  I worked with folks in OSD almost every day, and I was regularly being thankful that I had tenure, as these guys just were paralyzed with fear of their boss.  In a crisis, they were wary of bothering him after 7pm, delaying a decision and allowing it nearly fester into an anti-US riot. 

And yet, I have to read this book for my research.  Ug.  It was bad enough reading Bremer's, and now I have to read 800 pages of Rummy lying about everything.  He clearly was the worst SecDef in US history (but that only goes back to the late 1940's).  I don't know US history well enough to figure out whether he was worse than all of the Secretaries of War as well.  I will get it from a library as I don't want a single dollar from me to go to him, even if he gives some of the profits to charity. 

What a great administration! The worst SecDef and probably the worst National Security Adviser.  Plus a VP who shoots his friends in the face.  Glad to be only looking at these folks in the rearview mirror.

Trends in Aspirational Cheating

Check out this graph, from a Business Week piece about Ashley Madison, the dating site for cheating married people.*  Make of it what you will.

So, people register more after Mother's Day than any other day.  And mostly women, with the parallel for men and Father's Day.  Valentine's Day is an equal opportunity holiday, with a pretty even split of new registrants.  I would be curious about the patterns before holidays.

The key appears to be that married folks become much more interested in cheating after a day that is supposed to recognize their relationship and their role.  I guess lots of people are bungling the celebration of their spouses' contribution, leading to the celebrated spouse looking around.  Of course, as the title to my post focuses on the fantasy of all of this--just joining a dating website for cheaters does not mean that people are then cheating (unless one has a pretty strict definition of cheating).  I am sure there are no good stats on the percentage of people who join such a dating website who actually consummate. 

On the other hand, it may not be that people are celebrating these holidays poorly, but rather the mere fact of a day recognizing one's status (as lover in the case of V Day, as Mother or as Father) is enough to get folks to look at escape hatches or diversions.  "My identity sucks! I need to find someone else" syndrome?

I have no clue what this graph really means, but I do think the results are very funky.  Almost deserving of Steve Greene's chart of the day.

* HT to Wayne Norman and his post.

Unfortunate Pre-Valentine's Days Conversations and IR Theory

My daughter reminded me yesterday while we were on a chairlift that I think too much about poli sci and how to apply it to life outside of poli sci.  And here is another example:

Both my daughter and my wife yelled (because I am downstairs) for me to do something.  I inform my daughter that if I don't respond to my wife, I am certainly not going to respond to her since my wife has power over me and my daughter does not (or at least not so much).  My wife joins in, pondering how she could have power over me when I went to Europe for two weeks, something that she did not desire much.

And that is where IR comes in (and poli sci in general): power is not control.  The US has a great deal of power--with the classic definition of getting people do to what they would otherwise not do--but cannot control events, as Egypt has reminded us yet again.  Of course, one of the big problems in figuring out power is whether someone did something because they were pushed or because they wanted to something.  Did the Soviet Union not invade Western Europe because of US threats and efforts at deterrence or because it had no interest in French food and mayonnaise on their frites?
As important, ours is an interdependent relationship, so there are significant constrains on how we use our power.  The US cannot exert too much power over China because China holds US debt, and vice versa.

So, my wife then ponders what powers does she have?  Not super-powers (she would prefer telekinesis, whereas I think she would most benefit from super-speed), but what resources does she possess that give her the ability to get me to do things I would otherwise not do?* 
  • Guilt: the ability to make one's partner feel bad for either doing bad things or not doing enough good things is a significant resource.
  • Information: Usually one member of a relationship has a far better memory about the past (I am an absent-minded professor.  Also, one member may have far greater understanding of the present (whoever manages the money, for instance).
  • Service Provision: In each relationship there is a division of labor (fair or unfair).  A partner could do less, making the other do more or do without.  Of course, this power resource is the most subject to spirals of retaliation in a tit-for-tat manner. 
  • Love: If you love someone, you will heaps for them.  Dumbledore would certainly think that love is powerful magic indeed.

Of course, this is all subject to confirmation bias.  A spouse will notice, perhaps, the times where the partner does not do what is desired rather than notice all the times that the exertion of power actually works.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Marriage is not a competition with adversaries competing with each other and outsiders, and is not a zero-sum game.  But yet there are relative and absolute gains to be had if one is at all self-regarding.

Friday, February 11, 2011

More Pentagon Jargon

This page has a heap of Pentagon-speak, and it is mostly useful.*  In my time, I never heard "put steel on target" and I had a heap of artillery officers in my branch, including commanding officer.  So, I am not sure how prevalent that phrase is.  Task/tasker/tasking is absolutely on target.  Our taskers were called JSAPs (Joint Staff Action P-something),  See the edited Far Side -->

Warfighter?  I guess.  I was struck by folks using the word "warrior" until I realized that I was working with folks who were trained to kill people.

De-conflict: "To synthesize and eliminate inconsistencies."  I do not think I ever heard this in the Pentagon, but heard it a heap during my research for the current project, as in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force folks had to de-conflict with the Operational Enduring Freedom folks, especially since the latter often were Special Operations types wondering through somebody else's battlespace.

Stoplight charts were not a word that was used, but definitely a very common way to illustrate progress/desired endstates (never heard the word endstate until my time in the Pentagon), and my favorite argument within NATO--milestones vs. benchmarks.

Battle rhythm.  Agreed, a big hooah here, as we did frequently hear this phrase to describe our schedule, including regular PT (physical training), which, in our office, meant three or four of us on a racquetball court (and yes, I got spanked on a regular basis).

This list at wired comes from the Ink Spots blog that I have linked to before, with previous Pentagon-ese.

*  And yes, this is a quick and dirty blog post to make up for the fact that I spent the day skiing with my daughter, since she had no school today.  Clear skies, good snow, great skiing.   

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Petraeus In His Own Words

on NATO TV. 

Interesting stuff.  Strange camera angles--the camera folks liked General Dave's hands.  But it is interesting to here the message that Petraeus wants to put out there.  Transition is conditions based and thinning out.  The idea is that responsibility for the safest/governed districts will be handed over to the Afghans--with the ISAF forces getting a bit smaller in those areas and not pulling out.  The word "irreversible" was used a lot when I heard about transition last week at NATO HQs in Brussels, Mons, and Brunssum. 

While the transition process is going to be very complex, two points stand out:
  1. Who chooses which districts to be transitioned?  There are heaps of politics in play here as Karzai may want his pals to be transitioned first, rather than which spots deserve it the most.  So, it is not clear that General Dave is going to get the districts he wants to be transitioned.
  2. Petraeus may want to redeploy ISAF troops from the transitioned places to where they are needed more.  But most of the ISAF troops in the safer places are there for a reason--they are the more restricted troops who cannot be deployed to the South or East.  Yes, there are dangerous places in the North and West, so there may be some room for moving the pieces around, but not as much as Petraeus would like.
Still, Petraeus is doing a nice job of explaining the likely trend ahead--more violence as the Taliban try to reverse their loss of momentum and as there are far more troops on the ground, making contact much more frequent.  Petraeus is doing a better job of setting expectations than Hosni Mubarak, but that is not saying much, is it?

Mutants and The Cuban Missile Crisis

Yes, really.

I wonder what lens is useful for understanding the role of the X-Men in the Cuban Missile Crisis: organizational process and non-standard operating procedures? 

Super Dreams: Which Super Powers Would You Want?

A Marist poll found that more people either wanted to read minds or time travel (28% for each), over flying (16%), teleporting (11%) and invisibility (10%).  Gen X and the old folks preferred mind reading while baby boomers preferred time travel.  Roughly similar numbers of younger folks liked either.  Gender matters more clearly as 35% of men wished they could time travel while thirty percent of women would seek to read minds. 

So, what could make of this?  Well, first, this poll seems to exclude some notable superpowers: super strength (Hulk, Superman), super speed (Flash, the mom on No Ordinary Family), telekinesis (Jean Grey), healing powers (Wolverine), and so on. 

Still, it is interesting that baby boomers are more into time travel than anything else?  Why?  To go to the future and learn how things will turn out or go back in the past to fix all the things they screwed up?  Probably the latter.  I doubt they seek time travel to double or triple what they can do a la Hermione Granger.   Men might want to time travel to fix their mistakes, while women are more interesting in understanding the people around them?

Hmmm, so I am stalling as I am pondering which power I would want, if I could only have one.  The problem with time travel is that it seems driven very much by regrets--fixing the past--and that nearly all of the pop culture on time travel indicates that fixing the past leads to nastier outcomes.  And getting knowledge from the future is seen as endangering the present (Back to the Future).  So, time travel, while attractive for righting mistakes of the past (getting the 2nd dog and the cat, buying a house in Canada with only a one car garage, etc) is attractive, I cannot help but think that this power is the most dangerous--to myself and others.  I blame pop culture for that.

Telepathy is mighty tempting, particularly if it means one can influence (Inception-esque) as well as read minds.  This would require great discipline since the noise would be tremendous and one might learn all kinds of things that one would not want to know.  If there is ever such a thing as too much information, then telepathy would be a bad idea.  Sure, it would be useful for my career--detecting students cheating, gleaning more info from interviews than the subjects would want to give up, and so on--but, again, this power can cause as much trouble as it solves. 

Flying is fun, but inferior to alternatives that would be more useful--teleportation and super speed.  Invisibility would mostly be useful for stalking, so no thanks.  Super-strength would be handy at times but would not fulfill a need most of the time.  How often am I lifting really heavy stuff or fighting someone?  Not much.  Telekinesis would be pretty cool, as I could get stuff without moving, exacerbating my lazy instincts. 

So, after all that, three stand out: super-healing, teleportation and super-speed.  The first would be great since I now get hurt more easily playing ultimate or taking apart my daughter's bed, so I could use a power that would bring my wrist and my ankles to health.  And this power would be more and more attractive as I get older (might even help with other aspects of aging).

Teleportation's attractiveness would depend on how far I could go.  If I could go anywhere in the world, then it would be number 1.  I do like to travel, so being able to move around the country/world would be very, very useful, and it would also allow me to avoid commutes and spending so much time in cars getting to and from work, ultimate, skiing and whatever else. 

Super-speed would have many of the same advantages of teleportation (although not clear about world travel--fast enough to run on water?) plus I could do stuff at super-speed. While this would worsen my tendency to be impatient, I could get a lot done every day at super-speed. 

The open question is how much of this I could share with others: could I teleport with people?  could I have other people move quickly with me? 

I guess I would rank these thusly:  super-speed > teleportation > super healing > the rest.

What would you choose?