Sunday, July 31, 2011

Driving in Montreal is Like Comedy and Poker

It is all about timing--don't be on a bridge as it collapses, don't be in a tunnel when 15 meter hunks of concrete collapse.  Seriously.  We were not going through that part of the tunnel this weekend (twice) for the comedy festival, as our exit was right before it-where there was yet more construction.  But to get to the other side of downtown--to the TV stations where I did media (when they still cared about Afghanistan), to the distant frisbee fields (before I stopped going to such distant fields because the construction and traffic became too insane), to La Ronde (the Six Flags park), one would have to go through this tunnel.  And to get to downtown itself, there is an earlier tunnel segment right before this exit that is made of the same material--crappy.

The city and province were so lucky that no one was under the concrete when it fell as it is a busy highway.  The sad thing is that no one will hear the alarm bells that this event will ring precisely because they are deaf from all of the other bells already ringing.  Oh yeah, one reason to take this particular road is to get to the one bridge that is more or less okay since the other two major bridges that are on the other side of this tunnel are falling apart.

I rely for worktime commutes on the train system.  And now I will simply avoid driving through downtown unless I absolutely have to do so, as I have no reason to expect that the city and province will provide a durable solution to the collapsing infrastructure.  The big concern is figuring how to get to New York for our summer vacation with the bridges falling apart.  The alternative of going west and then east adds much time, but going on a bridge or through a tunnel as they collapse might mean far less time ... on the planet.

When TV Breaks Your Heart

I finished watching the four season of The Wire last night.  I think my heart is still on the floor, as it was ripped out of my chest.  What a moving, draining, funny, sad, and dynamic depiction of inner city life.  And it all works because it demands the viewers to pay attention and to remember stuff from the first three seasons.  Alan Sepinwall has some very useful re-caps posted--useful because I am watching the show years after it appeared and am not co-watching it. 

The political scientist in me marvels at how much of this show is just the absolutely best depiction of politics--that a politician (Tommy Carcetti) constantly has to face heaps of tradeoffs between competing priorities and between his own ambition and what is best for the city. There are rarely any clear policy choices, and every actor has their own set of incentives to work at cross-purposes--the president of the city council, the governor, the police commissioner, his number two, and everyone else. 

As someone who has watched way too much TV over the past few decades, I can simply say that The Wire is just fantastic and is must-see TV, more than any other program for both its quality and its social relevance.  I have learned so much urban and municipal and bureaucratic politics that I almost wish I could just show this program to my classes for weeks on end.  Instead, I will eventually have to figure out which five minute slice of the five years (once I finish the fifth year) does the best job of showing bureaucratic politics at its best/worst.  I am already thinking of using the discussion between Stringer and Avon about whether one needs to dominate territory in order to do well in the economy of the 21st century for my IR lecture on globalization.

Any other suggestions for using the Wire for IR and/or ethnic conflict classes?

The Real Problem with the US Debt Ceiling Negotiations

I think I have been blogging less the past week because I am so frustrated with the dynamics in US politics.  This whole debt crisis is an artifact of two simple Republican realities: they want to see Obama fail and enough of them refuse to raise taxes to a level where they will be low by historical levels but a bit higher than now.  People argue that famines are not caused by nature but by politics. Well, this common sense famine is definitely the product of politics. 

It should not surprise me since a core theme in my previous work, especially For Kin or Country, is how political incentives will often cause actors to pursue that which is best for their career rather than that which is best for their country (no, I am not the only political scientist with this theme).  But it can still frustrate me. 

I am not going to go into all of the stances taken by everybody.  I just want to acknowledge that this drama has just been depressing, even as it causes the value of my house to increase in exchange rate terms.  Indeed, you know the US is in a crisis when comedians at the Just for Laughs festival make exchange rate jokes that kill (make folks laugh a lot). 

So, if I am blogging less, you can blame Boehner, Cantor, Fox News and other folks who are less interested in what is good for the country but more interested in what is good for themselves.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Unmotivated Xenophobia?

The strange thing about Norway's xenophobia is that the haters are responding to a non-event.  According to this very sharp piece, Muslims make up only a small percentage of the immigrants, with most coming from other Scandinavian and East European countries.  Muslims serve as a convenient target after 9/11, but there is no reality to the fear that Muslim immigrants might have much weight in the political and social systems.  Other countries in the region have seen a bigger flow, so the resentment is easier to understand (not approve, just understand). 

This is not too surprising since extreme right-wing political movements do tend to focus on imagined enemies, such as the UN's black helicopters, but it speaks more to alienation in general rather than on immigration.  We should not say that their choice of stated enemies do not matter, but the problem is not so much immigration, at least in the Norwegian case, but the social and political dynamics that leave folk so outside the political system that they need to blame a pretty small group of immigrants for whatever ails them.

Immigrants are easy to blame and to target, but we should not be distracted by the blame-casting.  Nor should we see this as entirely new and a product of globalization or the internet.  Folks have long used outsiders as scapegoats and right-wing extremism is not new to Norway either.  So, before we focus our attention on that which is new, we might need to consider older, more basic political dynamics (including that the political spectrum is really a circle where the far right and far left merge).

Holy Crisis in Civil-Military Relations

Over the past few months, I have pondered about crises in civil-military relations in Canada and the UK, but events yesterday in Turkey put all of that into perspective:
In the surprising series of events, Turkey’s top commander, Gen. Isik Kosaner, together with the leaders of the navy, army and air force, simultaneously resigned in protest over the sweeping arrests of dozens of generals as suspects in conspiracy investigations that many people in Turkey have come to see as a witch hunt.
The resignations were accepted and the head of the military police was made head of the entire military.  This is very striking as the Turkish military used to be but is clearly no longer a major force in the political system.
But the Turkish political system has gone through profound changes in recent years, and many analysts argued that resigning was the only weapon left in the military’s arsenal. Few people interviewed on Friday thought that a coup was likely, both because Turkey’s democracy now has deep roots and because the military appeared diminished. “Besides this one act, the military doesn’t really have that much left in the tank,” said Steven Cook, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Mr. Cook argued that the resignations also said a great deal about Turkey as a democracy, because its citizens — even those who dislike Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly powerful Justice and Development Party — were no longer willing to accept military rule.
 In a pretty short time, the military has moved from being a legitimate player in the political system, with its willingness to take over seen as normal, to a situation where they accept, even reluctantly, a very intensive investigation and where resignations are the only, ahem, bullet, they have.  The resignations were essentially an attempt to push Erdogan into a corner but he pushed back, demonstrating civilian supremacy.

People may ponder whether an Islamist based party should have this much power, but civilian supremacy over the military is a basic yet often overlooked element of democracy. 
“This was their last resort,” Ms. Aydintasbas said of the resignations. “It is happening precisely because there is no likelihood of a coup. There is nothing else for them to do.
While these events create heaps  of headlines and some uncertainty, I am pretty sure, despite my general ignorance about Turkish politics, that the inability to threaten a coup is a good thing.  It has been an interesting time in Turkey's extended neighborhood, with the Turkish model being seen as a possible future alternative for Egypt.  Tis model has evolved into a more stable democratic endpoint, which might be a very good thing for the region.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Making Mine Marvel Yet Again

The Spew Family kicked off Spew-fest 2011 (celebrating the origins of the superhero Spew) by going to see Captain America. This has been quite a summer for superhero movies, with a wonderfully cheesy Cap entertaining us while saving the world from the Red Skull and other Nazi folks. 

Beard Me

Why is there a sudden surge of pieces on beard: here and here?  What does my beard say about me?  That I hate shaving mostly.  That, and I don't mind looking older than I am, as my beard went gray a while ago.
The beard — a traditional signifier of age and wisdom in most cultures — had become a symbol of youthful rebellion (and a different sort of conformity) for the first time since the heyday of Fillmore East. In downtown Manhattan, where I live, the beard was de rigueur for young creative professionals.  [NYT]
Really, or are guys just lazy like me?  I am suspicious that this is an invented trend.  Where are the beard stats?  I think we are just noticing the facial hair more, not that we are actually seeing heaps more of it.  But perhaps I am wrong.  Are there more guys with beards these days?  Or just folks who study security and then chat about it on twitter happen to be bearded (that would be Andrew Exum who has been teased by a twitter account that represents his beard)?

Doctor Doctor

I find the appellation of Doctor to be strange, but I am still pretty proud to call my former student Ora Szekely Doctor.  She went from current to former today after defending her dissertation.  Actually, she did not have to defend it as it stood on its own.  It is a fun piece of work, pondering why some non-state violent actors (a.k.a. militias) are more successful than others.  Focusing on the various groups fighting with Israel, she find that a group's strategy of gaining support from domestic and international supporters matters a great deal, and that groups that focus more on marketing themselves do better than those that focus more on coercion or on providing services. 

Even better, she starts teaching in a few weeks at Clark University.  She is not the only student I have supervised to have finished and found a good tenure track position, but she is the most recent ;)  I am bragging here about her not just to take credit for her success but to highlight one of the best parts of this job: spending several years watching someone master the stuff, communicate well and then moving on. 

Of course, this is not the end as I see advising PhD students as a lifetime deal, as these folks will need recommendations and such down the road.  I have finished reading her dissertation, but expect to be seeing a draft or two of her first book.

Supervising graduate students is a lot of work, and it does not end with the school year.  But it can be pretty rewarding.  This day reminds me of the big upside involved in this business.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Entitlement 101

Ok, one short blog rant before I work on the aforementioned grant: mid-summer is not only the time for finishing up various projects but also for students to register for classes at McGill.  Actually, current students can do that in late spring, but new students get their turn now.  My monster intro to IR class of six hundred and twelve is now full, plus the 60 person waiting list.

I say this not just to brag about how wonderfully popular I am, but to set up the frustration.  I am now getting emails from students asking for me to let them into the class as their need to get in is apparently more important than the sixty folks on the waiting list.  Before we had a waiting list system, these emails were understandable.  Getting similar emails for my other class, which is a senior-level class that does fulfill graduation requirements and where the students really do need the class to graduate that term, is understandable.  Still not much I can do since the folks on that waiting list have similar issues.  But for an intro class?  Sorry, but we have another intro class in IR that is more focused on economic stuff that serves as an equally good prerequisite for the other classes.  And there is always next year. 

Of course, I understand that my willingness to teach the huge class means that I accept all that comes with it--the management problems of having a big team of teaching assistants, the ten percent problem (that in any class perhaps 10% of the students cannot follow instructions which means about sixty for this class), the joyful lack of grading I have to do, and so on.  With great power comes great responsibility.  I love teaching the class since the topic is fun to teach and the students have heaps of interest.  So, I really don't mind the negatives that come with a massive class that much.

To be clear, I do love McGill students, who tend to be less entitled than those elsewhere (even if I whine about it again and again).  But I really don't want to be thinking about them until September.  I don't have summers "off", a phrase that drives most profs bonkers, but I do have summers off from undergraduates (graduate students are a year-around joy/plague).

Juggling Too Many Balls

The past few years I have used the metaphor of juggling so many balls that I no longer worry about dropping one or two but tripping on the ones already on the floor.  Hence my blogging has slowed to a crawl this week with multiple deadlines biting me on the butt.  Blogging usually does not take too much time, but Australia-travel-induced sleep problems plus the approaching end of the summer (one month till classes start!) have meant that other stuff has taken priority. 

Which reminds me: read this blog post on readiness and defense spending.  One key part of this is that one makes priorities to figure out what should be the focus and what stuff should either be put off to later or dropped entirely, whether it is weapons systems or academic duties.  Blogging is actually pretty close to the bottom of the list, so excuse me while I work on a grant application for which I am getting repeated nagged by my co-investigators.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Harry Potter and the Romantic Comedy

Again, brain fritzed due to too much driving, so more HP fun instead:

They could have used some of the scenes from Hp6/7.1 where Ginny is pursuing Harry.  Or even Cho-related scenes in HP5.  I did think that one of the best minor things in the 5th movie was how Ginny reacted to the onset of Cho, including how she looked back as the folks were leaving Harry along with Cho just before they kissed.

Harry Potter and the Amazing Adviser

I was kind of stunned to see folks either seriously or mockingly suggest on the Political Science Job Rumor site that the Harry Potter books might have encouraged them to go to grad school, hoping to find a wonderful mentor.  This is a stunning case of confirmation basis (a running Spew theme) if it had any truth to it.  I doubt that it does, but given how foggy I am after driving to and from Ottawa for yet another interview about Canada and Afghanistan (a fascinating interview with a real Mountie about police training and how the police side of things is overseen, compared to other parts of the CA effort in Afghanistan), I will take the easy blog inspiration and run with it (spoilers below).

Ok, Dumbledore was a great mentor to Harry, but he was an exception as far as we can tell with headmaster mostly remaining an administrator.  So, aspiring grad students might think that they are just like Harry.  Doomed?  Oops.  Plus didn't Dumbledore set Harry up to die, kind of?

Perhaps students considered Minerva McGonagall to be their likely adviser.  They must like tough, stern, but fair.  Ok, I guess I can see that.

Potions Prof: Either nasty Snape or status-conscious Slughorn.

But it is the post of Defense Against Dark Arts that should give any aspiring student pause if Hogwarts is what they imagine grad school to be.  Of the six (we shall discount the last year since we do not realy see much of Hogwarts in the seventh book), we get:
  • crazy/possessed, 
  • incompetent/narcissist, 
  • sincere and competent but split personality, 
  • quite good but with a hidden agenda, 
  • bureaucratic tyrant,
  • quite nasty but with a hidden agenda.
So, while we would like to think of Hogwarts as a wonderfully magical place, what we have seen of it provides pretty dismal adviser models.  Perhaps that makes Hogwarts a realistic model after all?

Update: So, of course, this raises the question of which model is your adviser most like?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grad Student Rap

These guys obviously have way too much time on their hands.  No wonder they have not finished their degree.

Guessing is Guessing

I tried to articulate my take on the uproar over the first assessments about the events in Oslo via twitter, but apparently I had a hard time saying it in 140 characters or less.

We should not be surprised that folks saw multiple attacks creating mass casualties and thought Al-Qaeda.  AQ has developed a reputation for carrying out such attacks, so it is not unreasonable to think AQ in such circumstances.  It is like seeing a flat, mass-produced, mediocre hamburger and thinking McDonalds when there are other producers of such hamburgers.  Thinking AQ when one sees multiple attacks in a country that has been involved in Afghanistan for most of the past ten years is not entirely reasonable.  It was not right this time (it was right on 9/11 to guess AQ), but not unreasonable.  It is one thing to think that all Muslims are terrorists (they are not), but another to think that a big terrorist event might be AQ. 

The problem really is that (a) we tend to speculate with little evidence; and (b) the media wants us to speculate with little evidence.  The new media age means that there are both means and incentives to air one's first thoughts.  The important thing in such circumstances is to be explicit about the guesswork involved--that speculating without facts is exactly that--informed guesswork at best.  Twitter, blogs, facebook, 24 hour networks all transmit reactions to events.  It used to be the case that we didn't have such easy and quick means to share our disinformation, but we could still get some of it on the air one way or another.

I happened to be lucky this time when my first reaction was to think Oklahoma City rather than AQ, but that was mostly about not speculating too quickly rather than thinking that this new terrorist is akin to Timothy McVeigh, which he apparently is.  Well, I was lucky and I was only connected to the net intermittently as I was traveling back from Australia through airports with lousy wifi.  By the time I got to Montreal, the AQ speculation had been crushed by the facts now in hand.

So, the real lesson here is that guesses are guesses, so we need to take them with big grains of salt.  People will always speculate, that is just part of the way we converse and react to things.  Some speculations are "better" than others in how accurate they are.  Some are worse in that they can be based on racism, ethnocentrism, and all the rest.  We just need to remember that all first reactions are exactly that--first and reactions.  More thought and better assessments happen later, not in the moment.

Key Limit to Scholarly Relevance

Dan Drezner has a great post today about how the foreign policy smart set (his phrase) gets so frustrated by domestic politics that they tend to recommend domestic political changes that are never going to happen.

I would go one step further and suggest that one of the key problems for scholars who want to be relevant for policy debates is that we tend to make recommendations that are "incentive incompatible."  I love that phrase.  What is best for policy may not be what is best for politics, and so we may think we have a good idea about what to recommend but get frustrated when our ideas do not get that far. 

Lots of folks talking about early warning about genocide, intervention into civil wars and the like blame "political will."  That countries lack, for whatever reason, the compulsion to act.  Well, that is another way of saying that domestic politics matters, but we don't want to think about it. 

Dan's piece contains an implication which is often false--that IR folks have little grasp of domestic politics.  Many IR folks do tend to ignore or simplify the domestic side too much, but there is plenty of scholarship on the domestic determinants of foreign policy/grand strategy/war/trade/etc.  Plenty of folks look at how domestic institutions and dynamics can cause countries to engage in sub-optimal foreign policies (hence the tradeoff implied in my second book--For Kin or Country). 

The challenge, then, is to figure out what would be a cool policy and how that cool policy could resonate with those who are relevant domestically.  That is not easy, but it is what is necessary.  To be policy relevant requires both parts--articulating a policy alternative that would improve things and some thought about how the alternative could be politically appealing.

Otherwise, we can just dream about the right policy and gnash our teeth when it never happens.

Summer Camp Redux

I have posted before about summer camp, but was reminded today by a ridiculous NYT piece about folks taking private planes to camp (does the NYT have a thing for making camp seem so extravagant) and by a FB status of a friend that today is actually the 35th anniversary of my first day at camp.  Today is the first day of the second four week session at my old camp.  I started in the summer of 1976--yep, the bicentennial year.  I went for four weeks for each of my first couple of years and then entire summers for the rest of my teens (and then some as a counselor).

A friend of mine reacted to the NYT story on FB by pondering whether parents still forced their kids to go to camp.  I had a quick reaction to that, not only because I had so much more fun and, well, self-esteem at camp but also because the next generation seems to be having the same experience.  As I mentioned in the previous post on this topic, I lived for summer as I did not enjoy my school growing up and never felt like I fit in.  At camp, I certainly did, especially as the years went by and as I developed friendships with not only the kids in my age group but also the counselors and administrators that saw me as a fellow lifer.

My daughter has posted a series of videos people made at camp, and it is hard to imagine that there would be that much joy in a similar video made at school.  It is not just the absence of work, but the shared community that makes the difference.  Plus the absence of bullies (at least in the Saideman experiences), the reduced barriers among cliques, and the opportunities for extreme silliness.*
* The night that Sky Lab was due to crash, my unit of 12-13 year olds (five bunks of campers) was having a sleepout in the gym down at the bottom of the hill.  The counselors thought it would be fun to throw pebbles onto the tin roof to make it sound like the pieces of the space station were hitting the camp.  Much chaos ensued, including the throwing of watermelon rinds.  I believe it became known as Rino night, but I could be wrong.   
I guess some folks did not enjoy summer camp, but the repeaters almost always did so.  Sure, for eight-weekers, the seventh week tended to drag (hot Maryland August did not help).  Anyhow, it is pretty easier to fall into a state of nostalgia during the middle of the summer, thinking of great summers long ago, especially as various deadlines start to approach with the new school year.  Where did the summer go?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sometimes Intuitive Is Enough

Scholars generally seek to come up and prove counter-intuitive arguments. They are sexier, more attention-grabbing and thwart the usual "so what" question.  So, I have enjoyed the past few years the idea that xenophobia has positive qualities, particularly that fear/intolerance of others may serve as a break on irredentism (expanding one's country to include territory inhabited by lost kin).  A pretty jazzy counter-intuitive argument, as far as political science kind of arguments can be thought of as jazzy. 

Events in Oslo remind me that xenophobia is usually seen as negative because hate is inherently bad and leads to bad outcomes.  We know very little about this guy, Anders Behring Breivik, who killed so many, but it does seem to be the case that his personal ideology was one of xenophobia--hating the immigrants coming to Norway and hating Norway for tolerating these foreign folks.  Yes, one can have anti-immigration positions and not choose to kill lots of people, so it probably has a lot more to do with his personal dysfunction than with the "cause" of hating foreigners.  We should not paint all xenophobes with the same brush, as many can just protest and organize politically.

Still, hate is hate, and those who preach hate usually end up either preaching violence or creating an environment where violence seems to be a solution.  I tweeted about Oklahoma City when I first heard of the attack, as I was flying back from Australia and got the news and internet connections intermittently.  I thought of OK City mostly because I screwed up early that day, leading class discussions about it (it was my second year of teaching) and basically assuming it was done by Muslims.  Timothy McVeigh taught me a lesson that day--not to jump too quickly to conclusions.

I do think that McVeigh may have more to teach us about this new event--about the combination of unbalanced loner and a movement to hate others.  There has been a steady rise of anti-immigration and anti-Muslim political movements in Europe (and elsewhere).  This event may have a positive impact in that it may break the momentum, as the radical right fell apart in the US at least for a time after OK city.  At least, I have to hope so.

In some ways, this event reminds me more of Columbine than anything else. That there is a violence outbidding process where each crazed individual must up the stakes to get attention.  Suicide is not enough, killing a few co-workers is not enough, a small bomb is not enough, a shooting spree has been done, so the acts become larger and larger.  I am afraid that we will see more damage done by damaged individuals.  The technology of self/other destruction continues to "improve" so that the next guy will do even more harm. 

Coming back to the Saideman and Ayres book, I should note that we recognize that xenophobia's positive possibilities (deterring aggression) traded off of the negative (domestic discrimination against out-groups).  So, in the Norwegian case, there is no irredentism to be deterred, so xenophobia only has the normal, intuitive, negative consequences that we have long understood.  

Depressing non-counter-intuitive thoughts on a hot summer's weekend.  Time to go to the movies.

Audience Reactions to HP8

NS for those who have not seen the movie or read the books:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Flying Back From Sydney

And we got some significant turbulence over the South Pacific!  Could it be an island with mysterious electromagnetic properties?  Maybe.  So, it is quite suitable that today Lost had its last (maybe) appearance at the Comic-Con (if only I was in grad school at UCSD now!) that this bit of film was shown:

HT to Sepwinall.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Band of Brothers, Hogwarts Version

Catching sporadic bits of internet as I sojourn back to Montreal from Cairns via Sydney (rain!), LA and Chicago, and I am both amused and annoyed that people are denying that Hermione was not a hero in the series and especially the last book/movie

Yes, the series has Harry's name, and he is, indeed, the leader of Dumbledore's Army, but there is not a single hero in the series but many, many, many.  Sure, some lit major will say that there is only one hero and anti-hero, but I don't really care.  The book shows truly heroic behavior by girls and boys, men and women, downtrodden species (a.k.a minorities/ethnic groups such as house elves, centaurs, hypogriffs, etc), and so on.  Even those who did indeed find the dark arts attractive can find heroes within themselves for the right cause (love, of course).  Even girls who are too clingy may give their lives for their school and their friends.  Parents were willing to orphan their kid for the cause (Remus and Tonks, a far better orphaning than that by Jin at the end of Lost).  I could go on and on.

The point can be best made by a quote that Band of Brothers used to close the series: "I was not a hero.  But I served in a company of heroes."  Sure, BoB was real, and Dumbledore's Army is not, but both can serve as inspirations, particularly in these challenging times.  It is the choices we make, and these folks made difficult decisions, screwing up often but willing to risk much for the cause.

So, is Hermione a hero?  Um, duh.

Dive! Dive! Dive! for Real

Day 2 of Cairns was almost entirely at sea, and I mean that in a good way.  I had my first diving experience and I learned many things.  First, don't dive and then fly.  Apparently, one could die in a  pressurized cabin with bubbles doing magical things to one's circulatory system.  So, instead of two dives, I went on one so that I could fly 18 hours later.  Second, it really was not hard to keep breathing.  So much easier to dive than to snorkel.  I did a fair amount of snorkeling after my dive, and I sucked in more and more salt water as the went along.  Third, it was a heap of fun.  Saw plenty of colorful fish and even some colorful coral even if the reef is not what it once was. 

I only realized while walking back to my hotel how similar this diving experience is to skiing.  The boat took 1.5 hours to get to the reef, just like it takes about the same amount of time to get to good skiing near my house.  Both require heaps of expensive equipment, and both can kill you.  Oh, a big difference: no whales on the way home from skiing: thar be humpbacks.   Pretty stunning. 

So, a good couple of days after two days of conferencing.  Tomorrow, I get to live through Friday, July 21st twice--makes me think of time travel every time I come back from Australia.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Regret #27 Not Taking Psych

I wish I had taken psychology in college.  This science is really the art of @$#$% with people:

This one experiment demonstrates why politics can be so messed up--we are all about short term gratification.  I have no clue as to how valid or widely accepted this stuff is, as I am not going to read a heap of psych stuff.  I am just going to accept the youtube clip as valid social science.

and thanks to Grantland's youtube hall of fame of the week.

Making Mine Marvel in the Future

I liked Maguire as Spidey and thought Raimi could return to the heyday of Spidey 1/2, but this new reboot does not look half-bad:

And more Emma Stone is, indeed, more Emma Stone.  Seems like her backstory changes much and she will have more spine than the comic book version, but that would not be hard if I remember correctly.  I still think Emma would have been a perfect MJ. 

I do wonder if making the death of Peter's parents a central mystery is a good thing or not.  I guess it depends on execution.

Maybe JFK Was Not That Smart

thanks to

Australia Tourism Redux

I have been in Australia since Sunday, but today was the first real day of tourism.  I spent the past couple of days at a workshop on civil-military integration in the various efforts by the outsiders (and some insiders) in Afghanistan.  Of course, we disagreed about what we meant by civil-military stuff.  The fun part was when my paper was entirely ignored since it shared the same session as a paper on the New Zealand effort that most of the audience found to be too positive.  I guess I hit the sweetspot of being critical yet not entirely negative.

Anyhow, I spent this morning flying to Cairns and this afternoon walking around the town.  No crocs seen thus far.  I did see a lot of places for backpackers and even a few actual backpackers.  the weather is a nice change from "winter" in Canberra, which did get somewhat cold. If I was not not acclimatized to summer in Montreal, I would be laughing more at what they consider to be winter.  Still, Cairns is a very nice contrast. 

I do have a few questions about Cairns and about Australia.  First, why is the second biggest language here German?  Is Cairns a major destination for German tourists?  Just curious.  Second, why was John Travolta introducing the Qantas safety instructions?  Do Aussies have too much respect for American accents?  I ask this because Simon Baker, an Aussie, is in various ads for a bank, dressed like his Mentalist character and using an American accent.  Why would an Australian actor be using a non-Aussie accent for an Australian audience?  I am confused. 

One thing that does not confuse me: why Richard Branson is rich.  Virgin Australia airlines charged for water since all they had was bottled water and for the TV programs.  I guess I prefer having no choice and free entertainment than charging for it.  The other strangeness of travel today was having to walk through the "car park" to get from one terminal to another in Sydney.  Good thing it was not raining.  Oh, it was.  Never mind.

Still, minor complaints as I am squeezing in some fun tourism after a productive and interesting workshop.  Especially since tomorrow I will be diving for the first time and exploring the Great Barrier Reef.  Of course, the Aussies have been telling me that I should make sure that the diving boat does not leave me behind, since there have been a few recent stories about such things happening.  Open Water apparently was not sufficient to scare dive boats into keeping track of their divers. 

Going Native, Eh?

I never expected to be working on Canadian defence issues.  I thought it was very funny that I had a title, Canada Research Chair, where I was neither Canadian nor studying Canada, but then again, the hard scientists are not just studying Canadian microbes….  But Afghanistan has been the gift that has kept giving to me anyway, as my work on NATO and Afghanistan led to an interest in Canada’s effort, which in turn led to much interaction with the Canadian Forces and folks within the Canadian government (and probably a book on Canada and Afghanistan after the current project is done).  While I have now interviewed over two hundred people for the Dave and Steve project on NATO and Afghanistan, perhaps a quarter of these folks are Canadians.  I have had the opportunity not only to talk to the Canadians in Ottawa and Montreal, but also a trip in 2007 to Kandahar and Kabul.  And this effort has led to a proliferation of questions about Canadian foreign and defence policy, including:
  • the CF effort in Libya, as an extension of the Afghanistan experience;
  • the impact of the world upon Canada and vice versa; 
  • the role (or lack of role) of parliament in overseeing the Canadian forces, where Phil Lagassé and I spend much time with warring tweets about Crowns and prerogatives and accountability and oversight;
  •  the effort to develop a whole of government approach where civilians and military folks are supposed to be working together (the subject of my presentation in Australia);
  • larger questions about the future of the Canadian Forces
    • Can Canada afford all three branches?  I say nay;
    • My deep skepticism about Arctic Sovereignty;
    • What is the place of the Canadian military in the making of foreign policy;
  • applying IR scholarship (theories, models) to understanding Canada as well as putting Canada into a Saideman-specific context given my interests in ethnic conflict and in civil-military relations.
I have also developed friendships with other folks on the twitterati list [especially Stephanie Carvin (@StephanieCarvin), Philippe Lagassé (@pmlagasse), Emmett MacFarlane (@EmmMacfarlane), Taylor Owen (@taylor_owen),  Roland Paris (@rolandparis), and Mark Sedra (@msedra)],  so that I end up responding to their tweets  with “vigour” as the aforementioned list indicates.  I guess that means I lack a filter, especially a politeness filter.  Well, we knew that already, eh?

To be clear, I am still most ignorant about other parts of Canadian foreign policy, such as soft-lumber disputes, trade agreements in general, and so on, and my knowledge of Canadian history is mighty thin and selective.  Going to Vimy can only do so much.  

Tweeting, like blogging, allows me to speculate, ruminate and react, building upon my previous research and also blundering into areas where I have no research experience but opinions nonetheless.
I look forward to more tweet-ersations about this incredibly large yet incredibly small country.  Please join the conversation so that I can @reply with vigour.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cannot Tell Your Murder Victims Without a Program!

Much is astir in Afghanistan with Karzai allies getting whacked in quick succession.  Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was the Capone of Kandahar (and beyond), was killed by a person with whom he was well acquainted.  AWK has been a big challenge for the folks in Southern Afghanistan, especially the Canadians before they left (well, they are still at the base, holding a garage sale) and the Americans.  Why?  Because he was a corrupt power broker who could get things done.  Working with him meant tainting the effort, working around him was pretty close to impossible.

So, what does his death mean, as well as that of Jan Muhammad Khan?  Hell if I know.  I am not an Afghan expert, just an expert (more or less) on the forces shaping the intervention and why the outside actors are doing what they are doing.  But a roomful of folks who study elements of Afgahnistan don't have a clear idea, either.  I am currently in Australia, participating in a workshop on the effort in Afghanistan.  Lots of Afghan experience in the room, but not any clarity on what is going on with these assassinations.  Is it Taliban?  Maybe, but probably not as AWK did enough to alienate plenty of folks.  Is someone systematically trying to undermine President Karzai's support network?  Seems to be the case, but who would that be?  The Taliban, who are increasingly likely to get a better deal from Karzai than from a replacement?  The folks in the north who fear a Karzai deal with the Taliban?  Could it be a rival tribe?  Is it because Karzai has been seeking to change the constitution so that he can have a third term?  The outside actors?  Probably not the last, as it would be way too, um, nuanced and risky.

With AWK, can the governance effort work better now?  Well, given that Karzai replaced his brother with another brother, probably not.  Nepotism is usually not correlated with procedural government, democracy or otherwise.

As Andrew Exum tweeted the other day, anybody who tells you anything definitive about this is talking out of their ass.

Those Damned Shippers

Thinking about HP some more as I rant about relationships (spoilers below for those who did not read the books and have to yet to see the finale):

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Box Office Bonanza

I managed to catch the final Harry Potter movie in Canberra.  I was surprised that it was not much more expensive than in North America, but I compensated for that with the really high cab fairs to get there and back.  But it was worth it.  I really enjoyed it, of course, and not surprisingly so with such positive reviews and how I ranked the books.

My preliminary thoughts below as I look forward to seeing the movie again once my daughter comes back from camp.

Carmegeddon? Montreal Scoffs

LA develops a bit of panic over the closing of 405, a key freeway through the city.  I was flying to and beyond LA as this weekend of construction was approaching.  Apparently, it was not as bad as feared.  As I heard more and more about this, I could not help but be amused.  Why?  Because LA was reacting to an announced closing while Montreal was just reeling from a closing of a key part of a highway that surprised even the government.  Contractors went ahead with a project without the government agency being too clear about the timing.

Indeed, Thursday night I was driving home from the Nasty Show (which was very funny, although we think last year's might have been funnier) and was gleeful to just make it on to the highway as they were closing the on-ramp.  Otherwise, I would have had to drive around looking for other entrances to the highway that might have also been closed.  A fun Montreal game--looking for the random on-ramp that is still open.

So, LA prepares the public, and the public reacts by staying home.   Montreal does not even know what is going on and tends to message poorly.  But the Quebec folks would say--we cannot learn from LA.  Montreal is unique, they would say.  Oy, I would say.

Latest Panic Faces Science

I love any graphic that shows that the dependent variable seems to be changing before the independent variable.  Of course, this will not change the minds of those that are committed to this belief.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Infrequent Blogging Ahead

Later today I am headed off to Australia for a short workshop, a quick bit of tourism and then back.  So, I may not have much to post as I hop from plane to plane.  And before I go, I must rip out the carpet out of my bedroom (the easy part) and the staples holding down the foam pad underneath (the hard part).

In lieu of deep thoughts, here is a funny bit from this blog:

EMBED-Slave Leia PSA Starring Kaley Cuoco - Watch more free videos

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Full Hearts Indeed

I just want to thank all y'all who have been making this show:

I watched the finale last week, as the show was on Wednesdays this spring and was not interrupted for the hockey playoffs ironically enough.  So, I have spent the past week catching up on the old podcasts that were released when FNL finished its final run on DirectTV.  For a nice history of the show, go here.  And you can find the Sepinwall/Feinstein podcast and the Sepinwall/Sports Guy podcast here: (w/@hitfixdaniel) (@sportsguy33).

Thoughts about the finale and the show dwell below:

HP vs Nasty

The new and final Harry Potter movie is getting, unsurprisingly great reviews.  However, I will not be seeing it as soon as I would like.  Why?  Because tonight I am going to our first event of the Just for Laugh Festival (one of my favorite parts about Montreal)--the Nasty Show hosted by Roastmaster General Jeff Ross.  Questionable priorities?  No, just limited time.  I head off to Australia tomorrow for a workshop on civil-military integration (how did each country do at the so-called "whole of government" effort) in Afghanistan.  The Nasty Show only has a few spots this week, with the rest of the fest over the next few weeks.  So, I had to choose The Nasty Show, plus I didn't quite realize that I was leaving the same day that HP8 was coming out. 

Oh, and yes, Mrs. Spew and I enjoy some pretty harsh humor.  Previous Nasty Shows have been quite delightful.  I recommend them highly to visitors to Montreal this week.  I will discuss the highlights tomorrow on the blog before I get on the first of many, many planes.

I will try to see HP8 in Canberra as soon as I can (Sunday Aussie time?).  Do enjoy the movie.  I am sure I will have the same feeling with that as I did with the end of Friday Night Lights (to be blogged later today): I cannot wait to get to the end but then don't want it to end.  And Star Wars has taught us it may be better for things to end than to be re-visited.  Alas.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Giving the French Their Due

On a day where the French women's soccer team lost a big game to the US team, I feel that we should give the French their due.  When folks talk about NATO and Afghanistan, the French get lumped in with the Germans, Italians and Spaniards as a heavily caveated contingent that didn't see much combat.  That label fit in 2007 but not now.  Today, four French soldiers lost their lives in Eastern Afghanistan, and this is not that unusual, as President Sarkozy re-deployed the French contingent from safe Kabul to dangerous Kapisa (even though they are close to each other on a map).  This comes on the heels of both Sarkozy's visit to the troops and an announcement that France will be cutting its commitment by one quarter by the end of 2011 and may be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013. 

We have very conflicting images of the French--aggressive to the point of recklessness in Libya and passive in Afghanistan.  The truth, as always, is in between with the French clearly now among the burden bearers (as opposed to merely consuming rations) in both Afghanistan and Libya.  The question remains--is this Sarkozy or is this a significant change in how France sees NATO?  Given the budget cuts facing the French military and given how unreliable the Germans (and the EU as a NATO substitute) have been, it may be the case that even a less Atlanticist French President will see that there really is no alternative to NATO. 

And, I will repeat, NATO's demise is exaggerated

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Brady Kid

The kids of the past twenty years don't know how good they have it, and saying that makes me quite the fuddy duddy.  But they have so many channels and so much media to consume.  In the old days of the 1970's, all we had were ABC, NBC, CBS and a few UHF stations that played repeats of old schmaltzy programs.  Which ones?  Besides my favorite of Hogan's Heroes, the other two that were endlessly repeated and endlessly watched were Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island.  Neither would be confused for excellent television, but they were consumable and repeatedly so.  Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of these two shows, died today.  For that, I owe him some thanks for the hundreds of hours I spent watching Gilligan screw up and Marcia be cute. 

And as it turns out, he is a model for any graduate student!  Not a bad transition from failed grad student to uber-successful producer.

Horrible Boss?

The Spew family saw Horrible Bosses this weekend and enjoyed it immensely.  Best comic use of cocaine in quite some time, just to name one highlight.  Perhaps not as painful for the ribs as the first Hangover movie was, but a very funny movie (have not seen Bridesmaids so I cannot make the comparison to rank funniest summer movie).  So, now our movie ranking for the summer is probably Super 8 > Horrible Bosses/X-Men > Thor > Green Lantern.  I will assuredly be putting HP8 up near or at the top as soon as I can see it in an Aussie theatre.

Anyhow, it reminded me of why I got into this business of academia, despite the limited ability to choose where I live (six years in Lubbock, for example): limited hierarchy.  Yes, department chairs/heads matter and so do the senior faculty before one has tenure.  After that, well, academic freedom is mighty freeing.  So, I have never imagined the deaths of my bosses since I do not really have bosses. Have I imagined some folks retiring? Um, sure.

Rank Rankings

One of the enduring themes (if one can have an enduring theme in a blog that is about two years old) is the questioning of rankings.

Well, that stops now.  McGill was ranked as having the 25th best political science program in the world!  So, from now on, all rankings, regardless of methodology will be not be questioned.  Or not.

This ranking puts us just behind Johns Hopkins and ahead of Duke and, most importantly for the Canadians, ahead of U of British Columbia.  The rankings are a combo of academic reputation, employer reputation and citations.  I actually cannot really buy into these rankings for a lot of reasons, not the least of which UCSD is ranked 15 places behind McGill despite being much higher on citations because of "employer rankings."  Any ranking that is a combo of reputations is going to be pretty flaky and pretty resistant to changes over the past five to forty years. 

The category of those departments between 50 and 100 include several that are clearly top programs, as in top 30 in North America (I cannot really say much about departments elsewhere--ignorance is, um, ignorance).  So, Dartmouth, which pound for pound has one of the very best programs in the country despite the absence of a grad program (which might effect rep a bit), Emory, GW, Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland, and UNC are all much closer to McGill than this portrays, if one can figure out what "best" means. 

I think that I have some wonderful colleagues, and they are doing mighty fine political science, but 25th in the world?  Um, sure, I hope the provost believes that.  The Dean will not because, well, he's a political scientist and has a clue about North American political science.  I think that we have one of the top three programs in Canada and a program that compares well with American programs, but can we possibly have a better reputation than departments that have more stars and more depth and more resources and more citations?  I don't think so.

To be clear, I will invoke Wuffle's Law and use this ranking until there is one that comes along that ranks McGill even higher.

Update: the Montreal Gazette had an article about how well ranked the McGill Law school was in rankings done by the same folks.  Perhaps it matters more there since hiring law students for law jobs probably depends much more on the school's reputation and less on what the student does (publish, research, etc.) 

Steve Does Conspiracy Theory updated

Canada turns over Kandahar to the Americans and then the King of Kandahar, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President's half-brother, gets assassinated.  Coincidence?  Well, it might be fodder for conspiracy theorizing except for a few inconvenient facts:
  1. The Americans already took over much of Kandahar before the recent formalities.
  2. The Americans have mixed views towards Karzai with some agencies making use of him (CIA) and others seeing him as an obstacle to progress.
    In late 2009, when the New York Times first reported that the CIA had for years been working with Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president's half-brother and a major player in the heroin trade, Major General Michael T. Flynn, the top military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, told the newspaper, "If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves," he said. "The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone."The Atlantic*
*  Check out the rest of the short piece--it summarizes the challenges that AWK presented to the outsiders quite well.

What does this mean for the future of Kandahar?  I don't know.  Depends on who killed him?  Who replaces him?  Can we finally focus on institutions rather than individuals?  Um, maybe.  Probably not since the key individual is still President Hamid Karzai and he is determined to undermine institutions.

So, does this matter?  Yes.  How?  I have no idea.

For a good piece on who killed AWK, see here.  And this article does suggest a bright side--this should end any talk of making AWK governor.  Such an appointment would have been incredibly embarrassing.

More as we figure things out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Defense Outsiders Disagree

This poll of defense insiders indicates that the legacy of Robert Gates is Iraq, more or less.   Steve Metz and I disagree.  Metz tweeted: "repairing the relationship between the SECDEF and senior military leaders."  Mine was: "rescuing OSD and SecDef's rep after Rummy's mess."  Perhaps Iraq kind of addresses those to a certain degree, but I definitely think that Gates made a huge difference, and perhaps we appreciate him all the more because his predecessor was the worst SecDef in US history. 

The survey then identifies what should be Gates's successor's priorities--getting out of Afghanistan and cutting the budget of the military.  Both are important, but are subsumed by this: figuring out what will American military power be used for in the next generation and preparing the military for that.  How?  By reducing current commitments (Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe) and shifting spending so that the declining budgets will be well spent. 

Of course, politicians will seek to send troops and ships and planes where the military might not want and where the SecDef did not plan.  But that is why plans include contingencies.  The question that should be asked of each line of the defense budget is: how does this commitment of scarce dollars affect the choices down the road?  If a certain plane is so expensive, that it reduces the flexibility of future commanders, that would be a good reason to downsize or cancel a program.  If a certain system increases flexibility and the ability to exert influence, that would be worth spending money on.  We face an era of tradeoffs, and the SecDef's job will be managing those and recommending to the President the best ways to manage (not eliminate) risk. 

Americans Have a Lot of Gumption

Mila Kunis said yes!  So, that is one Marine who has a date for the Marine Ball.

And, yes, this is my civil-military relations post of the day,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Missed It, She Did Not!

Didn't catch the game except on twitter.

What a story, down one player, in stoppage time, what a pass, what a header!

Montreal Rocks!

Ranked third best summer city in the world!  By whom?  By folks who love Montreal.  "The study polled summer travellers who’d loved visiting Montreal."  Really?  Holy selection bias, Batman!  Or something like that.

To be fair, as the article enumerates, Montreal in summer is actually quite wonderful.  Lots and lots of festivals, for one thing.  We have tickets to a handful of Just for Laughs festival events, hosted by Jeff Ross (the Nasty Show), Craig Ferguson (one of the galas), and Kevin Smith (Smodcast).  The Jazzfest just ended with a big free concert by the B-52's. 

Summers here are also quite sunny without being miserable a la DC or NYC.  When the folks complain here of hot and sticky, I just laugh.  The article cites great food, which is quite true.

I do kind of mind that it makes a virtue out of Motnreal's rocks roads--that the town is gritty.  Um, less grit would be just fun.  I have cut down on my ultimate this summer as I will no longer go to games across the city that require me to cross a bridge or venture through and past downtown.  Luckily, there is a new league in the West Island suburbs--the Lakeshore Ultimate League, so I can get my ultimate without too much traffic/construction/headaches.

The article cites Montreal's diversity, and last night, I had an amusing remind of the joys of bilingualism.  We had just seen Horrible Bosses (which was most amusing),* and on our way back to our car, I spotted a car with a note on it.  The car had been parked in the middle of two spaces, taking up half of each.  So, the note on the windshield insulted the obnoxious parker--in both English and French.  Now, that is, as they say, some mad language skillz!

We do appreciate summer here in part because it is so very short and winter is so very long.  The city does very much come to life, and Montrealers are already a lively bunch to begin with. 

Sappy Spew

While the Spew tends to be silly, satirical, and/or sarcastic, folks who know me know that I can be sappy.  This clip is pretty moving:

Of course, another perspective--what mean parents to set her up.

Good to prepare my final Friday Night Lights post with this bit of reality to keep things in perspective.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Germany, Confused

Germany opposes at the UN the Libyan mission and refuses to participate in the NATO effort.  This is actually consequential since the AWACS planes that control the airwar include one that is jointly staffed by many NATO members, unlike other purely national assets.  And the Germans had been one of, if not the, biggest contributors to the NATO AWACS program. 

But Germany sells tanks to Saudi Arabia as the Saudis are helping to repress the folks protesting in Bahrain.  This is bad timing, bad optics and perhaps even bad policy. It undermines German claims about valuing human life, democracy and all of that when the profit motive matters more than principles. 

I have been seeing a lot of of pieces out there about the rise of Germany and so forth, but as long as it continues to stumble, Germany is not going be leading anybody anywhere anytime soon.  Too bad because the country has a lot to offer.  But then again, it is now ruing the whole Eurozone thing anyway, so it is not clear that past leadership was all that terrific either. 

Just don't over-estimate the wisdom or the power of German foreign policy for the next few years.

The New World Map

With a new country, South Sudan, we have a new map thanks to the Guardian and to Roland Paris for tweeting the link.  I always enjoy looking at maps and trying to figure out when they were made, given the changes in the world. 

What are most notable are some of the lists at the bottom:
  • First, no big pattern of new countries.  Recognitions of one or two have not lead to a cascade.  The big wave of the end of the Soviet Union/breakup of Yugoslavia/velvet divorce led to what?  A dribble of Eritrea and Palau in the early 90's and then East Timor did not lead to many new secessions.  Montenegro and Kosovo finally gained independence after the de facto breakup of the rest of Yugoslavia more than a decade earlier.  South Sudan is not going to cause a cascade of new secessionist movements either.  What would a potential secessionist learn from SS's experience: fight for more than forty years, endure a few broken treaties, and happiness will come your way?   I don't think so.  I will stand by my anti-contagion argument, even if it does not hold up so well for democratization/authoritarian demise.
  • Second, Bahrain is among most densely populated countries?  That might help to explain its particular path the past six months or so.
  • Third, Afghanistan is not among the ten poorest countries, in terms of gross national income per capita.  I don't know if it is the poppies or the international assistance or both.  Almost shocking that a country with so much resource wealth, Congo, would end up 2nd, but that is what a few civil wars and heaps of corruption can do.  Depressing.  Diamond are not oil as Sierra Leone has learned.  
  • Fourth, that Vietnam is eighth on the list of refugee senders is a bit surprising.  Aren't there other countries that are worse off, producing more refugees (other than the first seven)?  I guess less people returned to Afghanistan than I had thought.  
  • Fifth, Germany has received almost 600,000 refugees?  This is the most of any non-neighbor (Pakistan, Iran, Syria lead), the most of any developed country, more than twice that of the US despite having less than a third of the population.  Germany gets heaps of abuse for all kinds of reasons (caveats in Afghanistan, opposing the Libya mission, selling tanks to the Saudis just as they are repressing protestors in their neighbors, see forthcoming blog post), but taking such a large dose of refugees is pretty impressive.  Of course, as social scientists have long known, refugees tend to end up mostly in places that are less well off: Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, Kenya, and CHAD!  China, US, and UK round out the list.  No, not Canada, but probably close to the top ten.
Oh, and BBC re-posted their interactive Sudan maps (I discussed this set of maps in January).  Yes, once again, Sudan really screwed the folks in the south. 

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Thinking Sigil-ly

    I am reading Game of Thrones after falling in love with the TV show.  The book is good, but not that different from the movies.  Kind of like the first Harry Potter movies which did not leave that much out.  GoT the book is almost identical thus far to the series, but I expect more deviations down the road.

    Damon Lindelof of Lost and Star Trek has been tweeting what would be his sigil (sign of his house) and the motto of his house, such as the Starks who have the direwolf as the sigil and "Winter is Coming" as their motto.  It got me to thinking about what would be the equivalents for my house.  Of course, if I followed the GoT tradition, I would have to adopt the sigil and motto of my father (yep, GoT is patriarchal, don't blame me).  Which would mean that our motto would be: Keep It All!  Alternatively, Don't Throw It Out.  The sigil would be a scrap of paper with hard to read markings on it (my father tracked every order at every restaurant we ate at for as long as I can remember).

    If, on the other hand, I could re-invent my House and come up with a new sigil and motto, as I rebel against my father (in GoT, my fate would probably be the Wall as I am the second son), my motto would be "Nothing Said, Nothing Ventured" since I have almost no filter.  And my house sigil would be a puppy because attention seeking is the way of our House.

    What would your House/Sigil/Motto be?

    Canada Out of Combat

    Some additional thoughts and comments in the aftermath of the transfer of authority ceremony marking the end of the Canadian combat mission:
    1. The coverage is so very Kandahar-centric.  It ignores one of the key realities of Canada's first few years in southern Afghanistan and one of the ways in which the Canadians were distinct from most other countries operating in Afghanistan--a willingness to move outside of one's area of responsibility to help out others.  Canadian Forces went to Helmand to support the British, to Uruzgan to support the Dutch (before they left) and Australians, and (I think) to Zabul to help the Americans and Romanians.  The only other countries with sizable contingents to be this flexible were the Americans, Brits, and Danes.  But this myopia is endemic not just to Canada but to most of the countries who say not so much Afghanistan but just their piece of it.  This did lead to tensions within the Canadian effort as the civilians kept focusing on Kandahar whereas the military became more focused on what NATO command wanted them to do, which could be both beyond Kandahar and only a chunk of it.
    2. I was probably too quick to say it was worth it, as Matthew Fisher suggests that the verdict can only be assessed down the road.  But the media and others will be asking that question now, as one can see in heaps of pieces written the past week or so. 
    3. It is still stunning how few Canadian soldiers died in ordinary combat.  The stats show IED's (improvised explosive devices or land-mines) were responsible for ninety-eight out of 137 combat deaths, with gunfire for twelve.  I don't know what this means exactly except that the enemy cannot shoot straight, that the modern armor these soldiers were is pretty good, that the doctors, medevac and other folks in the medical chain are outstanding, and that the soldiers are trained quite well.  Given that the Canadian Forces did go out on patrol and did not hunker down just in the big base and did engage in operations all through out southern Afghanistan, this outcome is most striking.  The IED threat was the hardest problem to tackle, something that was pretty clear in briefings in Kandahar in 2007, and was the impetus for much of the Manley Report's military recommendations--more troops, more helos, more UAV's. 
    4. These results are suggestive.  It is understandable why countries are reluctant to deploy ground troops to Libya, but it does seem, after the Afghan experience, that one Canadian battle group with allied air support could do a lot of damage to the Qaddafi forces.  Still, the politics both domestic and international make that impossible.  
    What next for the Canadian Forces?  Some of the media coverage is predicting a new "decade of darkness" with heaps of budget cuts.  Well, cuts are coming, but they will be unequally felt.  With big plans for expensive air and naval equipment, the army is likely to face some serious cuts, and, as Fred Kaplan reminds us, the fastest way to cut costs is to cut people.   The funny thing is that this one way in which Canada might imitate the US, by cutting army personnel, will probably not face the same epithet that is often used in such circumstances of being "too American" or "Americanized."

    And that is the last point I will consider this morning--that some will look at how kinetic the Canadian Forces were (how much combat they engaged in) and say this is a product of spending too much time being with and wanting to be like the Americans.  I think this entirely misses the point.  One of the key attributes that the Canadians brought to Afghanistan was a better grasp initially of what it means to do combat in a populated area.  The Canadians used force but seemed to be more restrained than the Americans.  Not that all Americans are cowboys, but that the Canadians always took greater care, especially when it came to detention (where accountability was always going to be much higher).

    This suggests that we might seek to reverse Uncle Ben's famous dictim: it may be the case that with greater responsibility, comes greater power.  Canada had more influence precisely because it acting most responsibly--meeting its alliance commitments, helping to protect folks in a truly difficult area.  If it were easy, anybody could have done it.  Because it was so very hard and so very costly, it tested the Canadian Forces and Canada.  Leaving earlier than the countries does diminish the "grades" the Canadians will receive for the effort, but Exceeds Expectations absolutely.  Outstanding, mostly, especially in the realm of Defence Against the Dark Arts.*

    * Yes, I am now contemplating grading all aspects of the Canadian effort in Afghanistan with Hogwarts' grading system.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Romeo and Gryffindor

    What if JK Rowling had really enjoyed Romeo and Juliet more than ethnic conflict?

    Oh, and yeah, I did spend an entire lecture last year suggesting how the implications of my Intl Relations of Ethnic Conflict class applied to Harry Potter. 

    Just part of HP-final-ebration 2011.  H/T to Mrs Spew for finding this video for me.  Which, of course just raises the question: is she Gryff and I Slytherin or the reverse?  Actually, we are probably both Ravenclaw, although I probably wish more than she does to be Gryffindor.

    and, yes, way too pop-ie for me but fun nonetheless.

    Why I Blog

    After a few years of blogging, I was asked recently while in a professional situation (that is, not asked by family or friends) why I blog.  And the funny thing is that I tend to blush when I get asked about my blog while in professional circles.  Perhaps it is all the Harry Potter references.  Anyhow, it got me thinking about why I do it now. 
    1. I have no patience for the op-ed submission process where you have 800 words or less (I sometimes rant longer than that) and you submit and if you do not hear within several days, you can submit elsewhere.  But then the story may have been overcome by events.
    2. I like that a blog can follow themes and events over time.  Gives me a chance to either develop and deepen a point of view or backtrack and contradict myself.
    3. It allows me to think and write about stuff without having to go through the process of formal research--reading all of the literature, reviewing why it falls short, gathering data, analyzing, submitting, waiting months for reviews, revising and resubmitting.  I would like to publish about Quebec, for instance, but there is so much stuff out there that I would have to read to get past reviewers but would otherwise not want to read.  The blog allows me to write about Quebec separatism without subjecting myself to the piles of books and articles addressing it.  I can simply apply my theoretical background to the question at hand.
    4. A blog is elastic--a post can be as short or as long as I want it to be.  
    5. I am impatient--it bears mentioning twice.  It allows me to comment on events as they are happening.  
    6. The audience is different.  Mostly my family and friends, but anyone who is interested can find the blog.  
    7. It reminds me how not to write in jargon although I probably still do it way too much.
    8. I can be as serious as I want to be.  Or as snarky as I want to be.  My original audience for the blog was myself, so there is still an element of doing it to entertain myself.  I had an article titled nixed by a journal a while back.  It was on irredentism--when will groups seek to join their mother country--and I wanted the title to be "Reuniting: When Does it Feel So Good" or "Four out of Five Irredentists Agree".  But nope, not professional enough.
    I will try to blush less at conferences and workshops when I discuss the blog.  

    Leaving The Same Way

    If you follow my twitter account, you know I spent this morning griping about the Canadian International Development Agency or CIDA.  This article was the inspiration.  The main punchline was that nobody really noticed when the civilians pullout out of Kandahar, especially CIDA.  This was not terribly surprising for a couple of reasons.

    First, the Canadian government, specifically the Privvy Council Office, has had much tighter control over what the civilians can say than what the military can say.  So, media folks, I guess, tend not to look to the civilian government folks for their views since they cannot give them or can only give them after being vetted by Ottawa.  This has been a recurring theme in most of my conversations with civilians and military folks over the past several years.  Note in the article that of three people who talk, one is a former and quite disgrunted CIDA person, one is a current CIDA rep, and one is outside of government.

    Second, the CIDA culture is one of centralization and long-term planning, which makes me giggle when I see this:
    Meanwhile, the Harper government decided to centralize control over the mission within the Privy Council office, in an attempt to be able to better oversee its cross-departmental nature and the stories being told about it from the ground.
    But it added another layer of complexity to an already complex process. Decisions that use to be made quickly on the ground now had to get signed off on by Ottawa.
    CIDA was never agile and always centrally controlled.  I would be a bit more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt if they had ever permitted someone to meet with me (yes, it really is about me).  The approval process to meet with a random academic seems to be very slow, so much so that their point of view will not be in the piece I have written. 

    Third, when the military head of NATO (a.k.a. SACEUR) was meeting with the Canadian command staff a few years ago, a group of academics was able to attend the roundtable, including myself.  CIDA got wind of this and asked the scholars to go to their offices.  Instead of briefing us or letting us ask them questions, they really just wanted us to tell them how to message better, as if we scholars have any clues about how to communicate to the Canadian public.  It was pretty surprising and not very useful for us. 

    Finally, those who were with me on the trip to Kabul and Kandahar in late 2007 remember my interaction with a CIDA representative quite well.  I was basically making the point that with Afghanistan being very corrupt, perhaps the best idea is not to fight all of it but recognize that some forms are worse than others.  Worse meaning some alienate the people more than others.  Abuse of power by the police may be worse than kickbacks from construction companies.  The rep's head spun, as she basically argued that Canada would not condone any corruption in Afghanistan.  Um, good luck with that.

    Anyhow, the good news for CIDA is that it can now return to doing what it wanted to do all along--long term development work, not tied to any other government agencies or policies, in random spots around the world.

    All You Needed to Know About the NFL Lockout

    I watched too much football last fall. May not be a problem this year. 

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Residual Categories Make for Tough Social Science

    One of the basic realities in any effort to categorize things is that a bunch of stuff is left over.  They are put into a separate category of other stuff.  Any effort to give it a sense of unity is likely to stretch the concept so far that it bursts.  The exemplar would be Clash of Civilizations where "Sub-Sarahan Africa" does not fit into other categories and is thus considered being one civilization.  The problem is that it does not actually have any real unity is akin to the stuff that unites all Hindus, Westerners, Muslims (Clash is mostly about religion), and so forth, opening up the author (Sam Huntington) to charges that he is was racist.  That and Central and South America are seen as a civilization distinct from other Catholic countries (Italy, Portgual, Spain, etc) because the folks there are .... um, brown.

    Anyhow, this clip illustrates the challenges of the residual category:

    Raining Mud

    This site has a nice time lapse video of massive dust storm hitting Arizona. 
    Reminds me of Lubbock. Except there would be no mountains in the background.  Just more plains.

    When Friends Jilt Friends

    Funny video (with some un-family friendly words):

    Water Park from Brian Chandler on Vimeo.

    Reminds me of the time I waited for a ride to go skiing the one time I had a chance in Colorado.  Glad there was no video.  I would have produced more family unfriendly words.

    Why Do We Suck at Nation-Building

    Andrew Exum answers his own question thusly (bold/color is mine):
    Why do we suck at nation-building? A lot of reasons. Here are just a few:

    (1) We are ignorant. We do not know enough about the cultural, political and social contexts of foreign environments to fully appreciate how our interventions will affect those environments. Thus our aid and development spending (and military operations, to be fair), meant to ameliorate drivers of conflict, often exacerbate them. 
    (2) We do not provide enough oversight and accountability for the projects we initiate. This is boring but important. We have spent ungodly sums of money in both Iraq and Afghanistan and have not provided enough contracting officers to effectively oversee the money we have spent. How do we just give tens of millions of dollars to agencies and departments in the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan without any oversight? Lack of contracting officers. How are contracts in Afghanistan divided up between shady sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors, with tax-payer money falling into the hands of the Taliban and warlords? Lack of contracting officers.
    (3) We do not have any patience -- and we have limited resources. Nation-building takes time. Where we can nation-build at relatively low-cost over an extended period of time, as in Colombia, we can be successful. But asking Americans to spend massive amounts of money for an extended period of time in Iraq or Afghanistan is a recipe for ... turning your average U.S. tax-payer into an isolationist. 
    Cannot really add much to this.  He is on target with all of this.