Friday, September 30, 2011

Art Imitating Life

Community is a wonderfully unrealistic, silly show that is frequently making fun of the very sitcom enterprise.  But this week, it was making fun of Model UN and of the UN itself.  Good times.  In the competition between two Model UN teams seeking to represent the school, one team chose to be reasonable, leading to the prof (played by Freeks And Geeks vet Martin Starr!) to rule for the other team:
That's the common sense move, one that flies in the very face of the UN itself, a fundamentally symbolic organization founded on principles of high minded rhetoric and empty gestures.
I knew there would be more poli sci this year and would have a fun actor from a great TV to cameo as the poli sci prof.  Complete with beard!  But little did I know that it would make fun of the UN so adeptly.  Good times.  I look forward to more Poli Sci Community and hopefully getting a nice clip of that piece to show in future classes.

My Favorite Chairman

Admiral Mike Mullen is retiring today, stepping down from the highest position in the US military.  Why am I a big fan?  Not just because he called out Pakistan for its support of the Haqqani network.  Not just because he took a pretty strong stand to end Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Perhaps it is because he helped to recover the position from the damage that Rumsfeld, Myers and Pace did to the spot.

To be clear, his take on DADT was quite powerful:
"No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot help but be troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,"
But the bigger and more important contribution he made was to return the job of the Chairman to be the senior adviser to the President and SecDef on military matters, even pushing back a bit when his views might not have been those that they sought.  Given that Rumsfeld turned the spot into lapdog (or Vulcan mindmeld victim) and Myers and Pace went along with the worst ideas of the Bush crew with nary a peep, Mullen reminded us that the job of the military is to provide the best advice to the President and then implement the orders of the President and SecDef even if they (the military) disagree. 

Having the military disagree a bit with the leadership is a natural situation, given their conflicting audiences and imperatives.  Advice is just that--making recommendations.  These implies two things: that you are not just telling the bosses what they want to hear; AND you know that they don't have to heed the advice.  The previous two chairman forgot or ignore their roles and became yes-men.  Mullen never seemed to fit that category.  He served a SecDef and a President that wanted the best advice--not best defined by guessing what they wanted but informed estimates of the best ways to proceed.  And Mullen gave it.  Now he is stepping down after a long and distinguished career.

All I can say is: thanks.

Concussions and Hockey

I have posted on and off over the past few years about the concussion problem in football.  Of course, football is not the only sport that has this problem.  Hockey faces the same crisis, especially when its star of the moment, Sidney Crosby, has been sidelined by a concussion for more than half a season.  Ken Dryden, the former goalie great of the Canadiens, has a great piece at* about what needs to be done, at least as a start.
*  With this piece, Bill Simmons's little empire starts making a big dent behind the silly stories of pop culture and Red Sox collapses. 
The question Dryden raises now is whether the commissioner of hockey, Gary Bettman, will do what it takes.  Roger Goodell of the NFL has been mixed at best.  Changes in the kickoff rules are good, but how about requiring the safest possible helmets?  And how about getting the media folks to change their coverage and focus less on the hardest hits?  The game of football is great without focusing so much on the collisions.  I do think football has been making progress, with stories of guys going for the right kind of tackles.  But much more progress can and should be made.  Especially since the NFL sets the example for all other forms of football (college, high school, and younger).

False Choices of Teaching Versus Research

Camp Airy, 1979
My blog ended up producing this op-ed.  Thanks to Roland Paris for encouraging me to turn the rant into a submission.  Combined with the advising rant from yesterday that got heaps of play thanks to certain retweets by folks with large bases of followers (thanks to Andrew Exum), I am a media star for a day or two. 

I just hope the paparazzi don't find me.  Damn, too late, as time traveling ones have taken photos of me while I was at summer camp long ago:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Advising for Money?

I should not be surprised that there are folks (at least one, anyway) that are selling advising services.  That is, this person is saying she makes money advising PhD students since their own formal advisers don't advise much:
I am teaching your Ph.D. students to do things like plan a publishing trajectory, tailor their dissertations for grant agencies, strategize recommendation letters, evaluate a journal's status, judge the relative merits of postdoctoral options, interpret a rejection, follow up on an acceptance, and—above all—get jobs. And business is so good I'm booked ahead for months.
I guess I am surprised--that Phd students have the cash to hire people like this.  But am I surprised that profs can be lousy advisers?  Um, no.  I know of some profs that don't even do the basics, like read the damned chapters within a month or two (one colleague lets them sit on his desk for a year, sometimes).  Doing more than that, to help a phd student find a job by reviewing the CV, read stuff to be submitted to journals, networking to help them find jobs--this all takes heaps of time.  But it is definitely part of the job.

Yes, it is part of the job, especially since we profs can do our work because our grad students are doing the grading, the coding, the book-chasing, and all the rest.  I consider it part of the implicit pact we make--the student needs to do the work (his/hers and mine), take feedback seriously, and so on and I will need to do the work to make sure they get started in this difficult business.  Indeed, I have often used the Harry Potterism of unbreakable vow--that advising is a lifelong (or career-long) deal.  I still chat up my adviser and rely on him from time to time and expect to do the same for my disciples students.

Indeed, this is not just an obligation, but one of the proudest parts of my work the past ten years or so.  Nearly every student for whom I have served as their primary supervisor has gotten a tenure track job after or as they finished their dissertation.  I do whine about the workload (I will be reading three or four completed dissertations next spring; and the staff strike is making recommendation letter processing more painful this fall), but I am mighty proud when these folks do well.

But again, I am not surprised that not everyone works hard for their graduate students.  Institutions often provide little incentives to do this part of the job well, and people who prove to be unreliable in this endeavor rarely face any consequences except perhaps having less work to do.  Burden-sharing in academic departments is not unlike that within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--wildly uneven.  The good news is: in my business, no one gets killed.  The bad news: some folks get lost.  If there is someone out there that will take some money to help those who find themselves with sucky advisers, I cannot blame them.

And there are rewards.  Just yesterday, a guy upon whose committee I sit dropped by to give me a big bottle of beer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Separation of Church and Prof?

For the second straight year, I have had a student approach me on this day in the Jewish calendar to wish me a Happy New Year.  One could suggest that these students are being perceptive since I was born into a Jewish family.  Or one could suggest that they have a poor sense of boundaries since I only look Jewish/sound Jewish (I complain a lot).  But I am not at all a religious person.  Indeed, I am pretty anti-religious when it comes down to it.  So, it feels mighty awkward to me. 

I guess I would never have imagined approaching a prof with an assumption about them and then acting on it.  I know there is no ill intention--obviously, the opposite.  But I still think that my religion or lack thereof is a private thing (only fit for blogging).  I do mention other private things in class, like my family to illustrate various concepts (like my strategic dogs and what they imply for strategic thinking), but I never identify myself by religion.  So, is it appropriate for students to assume that I am of one particular sect/brand/whatever and then appeal to the imagined community that the student thinks we share?  Again, I think not. 

This never happened before the last couple of years.  Are folks being more presumptuous or am I just becoming too approachable and informal in class?  Your guess is as good or better than mine.

Flying Ethics

After proving how self-centered I am with my previous post about my willingness to fly regardless of the environmental consequences, I will now present my rules for flying behavior.
  1. I do not tilt the seatback more than an inch or so unless the seat behind me is empty.  I have spent way too much time behind people who seem oblivious to the person behind them.
  2. I cede the armrest to the person in the middle if I am on the aisle (which I always am).  But my space begins on the other side of the arm rest and I will defend that turf.  Last night I was stuck with a thin tall guy who had no sense of space, kept occupying mine.  Oy.
  3. I don't look nasty at the parents with screaming kids, but will ask if they can control the kid if he/she wants to use the back of my seat for soccer practice.
  4. If I am in the middle or window seat, I try only to get up once or twice during a longish flight.  I get out of my seat to let the middle/window folks out when I have the aisle seat (which is almost always), but prefer to keep that dance down to 2-3 times per medium flight.  The elbow guy from last night wanted to do that dance again and again.  
So, what rules do you have?

Oh, and I am a big fan of Trip It and Flight Track apps.  Helps to organize the travel info and keep me informed as I travel.

Anyhow, that is enough travel blogging for now.  I have a whole week before I go again, this time to LA. 

Never Too Late to Overthink Harry Potter

A terrific post here that does some nice over-thinking about the various themes and sources of Harry Potter.  That there is far more of Ancient Greek stuff flowing through the tales than I would have suspected.  Very striking and persuasive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flying and the Logic of Collective Inaction

A facebook friend of mine commented on my status the other day when I was traveling to the Cotswolds near London for a workshop.  He had observed that I had been flying a lot lately, and I should be thinking of the climate.  That is, flying is bad for global warming.  I don't disagree with the science (he is a scientist).  I just have pretty strong beliefs due to my understanding of the logic of collective action that if I exercised any restraint on my travel, it would have no impact on anyone else but me.  And my family.  That is, my understanding of social science trumps the implications of science.

The basic logic of collective action is that when there is a public good or public bad (defined by two key properties: (a) does my enjoyment of the good reduce that available to others; and (b) can non-cooperators be excluded from the good), free-riding is inevitable and even rational.  If I were not to fly, and everyone else continued, would my restraint really reduce the warming of the planet in any meaningful way?  Nope.  If everyone restrained and I did not, would my flying matter?  Not much.  One can consider me selfish for thinking this way, but I am realistic.  I do not think we will make any headway on global warming anytime soon in any arena, whether that is relying less on beef (cows fart methane, right?), using solar/hydro power, conserving lots of power, etc.

I am more optimistic about finding replacements for oil because the market creates incentives to innovate.  As oil prices climb, substitutes become affordable and innovation becomes profitable.  But as far as I can tell, efforts to monetize the warming effects of various behavior are failing.  Carbon tax anyone?

I do think that I will be flying less.  First, because my wonderful project is coming to an end.  I will not be flying all over the place to do research for the next one (poor research design!).  Second, I do think that as oil gets increasingly scarce, air travel will become increasingly pricey (and perhaps research funding will also become scarce).  So, in 15-20 years, I may not be flying to conferences as the experiences may be priced out of existence.  So, I am embracing the moment and taking advantage of the travel opportunities in the near future. 

The logic of collective action applies to other realms, of course.  I do recycle even though it requires  bit of effort.  If I had to sacrifice a lot to recycle (like not doing my research or giving up opportunities to meet interesting people in beautiful manors with great food), I probably would not.  But if it just means dumping some stuff in a big govt-provided trashcan, then sure. 

I just think I understand the social realities just as my friend/critic understands the effects of air travel.  Now, I must grab some food (produced probably in environmental destroying ways) before I hop on my next flight to get back home.

Gender in the Social Sciences

Progress! This study shows that women are getting more PhDs in the US across all fields compared to 30 years ago.  With the social sciences and education leading the way, but the life scoiences not that far behind and ahead of humanities.  Of course, we should not be surprised since the comparison is to 30 years ago.  Which is forever in terms of gender relations.  Not quite as forever ago as Mad Men's era, but 1979 was the year of 3 Mile Island when nuclear power plants seemed like scary ways to provide electricity.

I found that this news  to be most interesting because I am traveling from a workshop in the English countryside (complete with sheep and very narrow roads) on Adaptation in Afghanistan that was an entirely male crew.  At drinks last night, this oddity was observed, with the Europeans noting that there are far more senior female scholars of International Security/War Studies in the US and Canada than in Europe.  Why?  Not entirely clear but the idea was raised that American security scholars come from political science whereas they are based in War Studies type places in Europe.  I don't know if that is true, but I did notice the discrepancy when the group first met.  I tend to find myself chatting with female security/conflict folks at North American meetings much of the time since the younger folks are doing lots of interesting work, and the gender balance is pretty balanced (as far as I can anecdotally observe). 

I would be curious to see the same figure up above for various European countries, but my guess is that, except for Scandinavia (the new Danish Prime Minister is female), the Europeans are behind North America. 

In related unrelated news, Australia will now be allowing women to serve in combat, including in Special Operations Forces, joining the Israel, Canada and New Zealand. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Old Building Means Light Blogging

I am at a workshop in the cotswolds in the UK in a hotel with thick walls.  This means lousy wifi.  So don't expect much blogging for a couple days.  Do post suggestions for topics.  Cheerio.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

R.O.C.K in the UK

I am always surprised that I have only been to London three times: one long trip more than twenty years ago as part of a summer educational experience, one long weekend last year as part of a workshop, and now another four days for a workshop on military adaptation in Afghanistan.

So, what I have seen and learned?  First, I was surprised to see a separate line for students at Customs at Heathrow.  Students?  I almost whipped out my McGill ID to get in the shorter line.  Second, I cannot remember another airport where the TV screens at customs were telling people that they must declare asylum at the airport or else they cannot do it at all.  Hmmm.  Asylum.   Nope, not this time.

I spent the afternoon walking in the general direction of Regent's Park.  I found a store dedicated to the Beatles and then a museum at 221 Baker Street dedicated to Sherlock Holmes.  I walked to Lord's Cricket field because I thought it would be cool to see a major home to that strange sport.  Was not so much because it had big walls blocking the pitch.  Alas.  Even worse, I didn't realize how close I was to Abbey Road.  Instead, I went to Regent's Park, which was lovely although way too much "football" and no ultimate.  Perhaps this is what happens to declining empires--they don't adopt the newer and better sports.

After Regent's Park, including a very  nice "Honest Sausage," I walked down a series of streets (actually the same street with the name changing occasionally), and discovered that there are far more organic, gluten-free, and such places in London than I remember from previous visits.  Healthy Brits?  Perish the thought.

Finished with beer/dinner with the delightful Stephanie Carvin

Tomorrow, I take a train to the Cotswolds to the site of the workshop.  Yep, tis a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sicilians and the Pakistan Problem

I have already blogged about the latest news on the US and Pakistan, but I had a good conversation with one of my colleagues (Jason F) about it that made me think a bit more.  I realized that this situation is much like this battle of wits:

Or in poker, when one has to figure out if the other guy thinks that I think that she thinks that I think that she has a strong hand.

Here is the Pakistan situation.  After the Bin Laden mission, Pakistan was upset that the US did not inform them of the raid.  So, over the following weeks, the US informed Pakistan of suspected insurgent gatherings and then watched to see what happened.  And?  The insurgents in Pakistan seemed to have been tipped off.  So, the US had proof that Pakistan was leaking intel to the bad guys.  But there is more to it: the folks doing the leaking must have had a good idea that passing along the information would cause the insurgents to flee and thus informing the US that there would be a leak.  That is, the folks doing the leaking did not care that they their leaks would be observed.  The key actors in Pakistan not only did not care that the US would get upset but perhaps even wanted to antagonize the US.  Meanwhile, the US knowing that the info would probably be leaked was creating a situation where Pakistan would unambiguously signal how thoroughly unreliable it was.  Again, the Pakistanis almost certainly understood this.

So, what are the Pakistani folks involved thinking?  As a non-expert, I can only speculate, but my guess is either they think that the US has no choice since it must ship stuff through Pakistan to the Afghanistan mission OR the US is leaving anyway, so screw 'em.

The funny thing is that the US would have more leverage of the Pakistan military was more corrupt since the foreign aid would be something that they sought to pocket.  So, I am confused.  But I do expect that US aid will slow, that the US will continue to step up lines of communication (LOC's) that go around Pakistan, and that the relationship will worsen.

My Personal Comedian

Over the past few months, I have become very fond of the Nerdist podcast, hosted by Chris Hardwick.*  The podcast focuses on comedy and on nerd stuff and their intersection as Chris and his pals posture themselves as nerds and are interested in comic books, superheroes, Star Trek/Wars, and all the rest while Chris and his pals are also standup comedians (and actors and more). 
The most recent podcast featured Tom Wilson, Biff of Back to the Future.  He has, of course, done far more than that, but the role of Biff crowds out everything else, especially in the public eye.  Of course, Tom played the gym teacher in Freaks and Geeks who dated Haverchuck's mother.  He is also an artist, with some great pop art.
 * Hardwick will be hosting a talk show about Walking Dead each week after each episode to add to his many activities.

I had a great encounter with Tom about 20 years ago.  Steve Oedekerk and Tom came to UCSD to do a charity show, but it was poorly, poorly advertised.  So, the comics barely outnumbered the audience.  My wife and I considered Tom to be our own personal comedian that night.  Steve and Tom gave us a full show (perhaps not the show they intended, but the full hour plus) despite only having a few people show up.  Tom was great that night, so I am pleased to see him pop up in things, like Freaks and Geeks.

Given how he has often been cast as a bully, especially the role of Biff, the podcast was most interesting because Tom informed us all that he started out small and picked on and only grew to be the big guy late in high school.  So, when preparing for Back to the Future, he identified more with Marty and less with Biff.  Fascinating stuff.

On the podcast, Tom does a great job of discussing the challenges of being an iconic character in a huge movie so central to pop culture so early in one's career.  Like Barry Williams (Greg Brady) and Mark Hamill, Tom has become identified with this single character so he gets the same kinds of responses again and again, even twenty-five years after the first movie came out (and as we approach the year in which many of the events of the second movie take place). 

So, Tom has come up with various strategies (like the postcard at the Nerdist link) and this song:

Mess with the Bull?

The old phrase is: mess with the bull, and you will get the horns.  Is it a coincidence that after the Prime Minister and Defence Minister let Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk hang out to dry for flying on government planes that we then get a flurry of stories about questionable flying decisions involving Minister of Defence Mackay?

First, there is the story that Mackay got a lift back from his vacation via a search and rescue helicopter (of which there are mighty few).  Then there was the story of an Air Force cargo plane (C-17) being used to deliver a firetruck for charity to the Dominican Republic despite the complaints of the Air Force folks.  Given that C-17s are few and had been busy with Afghanistan and other missions, this seemed like a questionable use of resources.

So, last night I engaged in a twitter conversation with my friend who is wise in the ways of Canadian civ-mil relations, Phillipe Lagassé, about the timing of these revelations.  Seems to us, more or less, that the CDS, who was chosen in large part because he was far more soft-spoken than his predecessor, Rick Hillier, is still very much of this current generation of senior officers.  That is, savvy, proud, and perhaps more willing to push back than the generation before Hillier.  It may not be the case that Natyncyzk is firing back at his bosses, but like mortar fire, indirect responses are harder (although not impossible) to trace and stop.

I have no inside knowledge--this is just semi-wild speculation.  Of course, all of this is really just about different folks yelling: "hey, look! A distraction."  or "Squirrel!!"  The important issues of the day are not a few flights here and there, but those that I have listed before on my previous squirrel post.

Given my current obsession about squirrels as a means of distracting folks from core issues, I think I might need another sauce for my collection.  We have denial, perspective, awesome and secret sauces.  Perhaps we should have distraction sauce?  If so, I am pretty sure it would taste like squirrel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Death and Corruption

Apparently, in Canada, you cannot avoid death and taxes corruption.  It turns out that some officers of Canada Revenue Agency have been in bed with the corrupt folks in Montreal's construction industry.  So, the good news is that the rest of Canada can be less smug about Montreal corruption since it is, well, corrupting the federal government.  Swell. 

I don't have much to say about this (not wanting to offend the tax people, the mob, or the mob's tax people or the tax people's mob).  Just noticing the problem. 

There Are Trends and Then There Are Trends

Lots of discussions these days about LtG Andrew Leslie, his report and "transformation" of the Canadian military.  The big issue is that headquarters staff have been growing this past decade, which means that there are fewer folks to sail ships, fly planes and go to places like Afghanistan.   My temptation is to snark and say that if there are only 79 fighter planes in the Canadian Forces, is the real shortage of pilots that are not at desks or of planes?  Same with ships.  Obviously, a bit less likely with the Land Staff (the Army). 

There has been a significant increase in staff over the past ten years, and this is not unique to Canada.  As operations in dangerous places like Afghanistan have become an on-going reality for many advanced democracies, more and more folks have been required at various headquarters to report to the folks at the top what is going on.  Indeed, one of the complaints I have heard around NATO countries and NATO itself is that there are so many demands for reports that staffs that are supposed to be doing planning cannot do so. 

General Rick Hillier re-organized the Canadian Forces with the creation of four distinct commands: Canada Command (CANCOM covers North America), Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command (CEFCOM is for all forces deployed elsewhere), Special Operations Command (duh), and Support Command (logistics).  This is really what increased the staff dedicated to HQs.  Was Hillier wrong?  He certainly does not think so, voicing his opposition to Leslie's suggestion that these four commands become re-centralized more or less.

Where is my ill-informed position? 

It's Not Me, It's You

In his waning days as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen is certainly speaking freely, blaming the recent attacks in Kabul on Pakistan directly via its support of the Haqqani network.
"The Haqqani network... acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency," Adm Mike Mullen told a Senate panel.
Admiral, tell us how you really feel!  Oh my.  So much for mil to mil relations.  When the arm of the US govt that has had the most interactions with another government becomes this blunt, it is hard to imagine things getting better.  The intel must be pretty good/bad for the Chairman to be saying such unpolitic things.  It is one thing for an out-going SecDef to spew a bit about burden-sharing in NATO.  It is another thing entirely for the head of the American military to say such stuff about a supposed ally.  But given the events of the past year--Bin Laden being found so close to various military HQs, the increased sense that Pakistan is not merely tolerating the Haqqani folks but working with them, and all the rest, the gloves are coming off.

Not that the US can really get what it wants out of Pakistan* through threats and bluster.  Kindness failed, and it is hard to see how being brusque will work better.  Still, the farce is apparently over--that the idea that Pakistan is helping out rather than hurting the US.  So much for that.  There is something to be said for being clear about what is going on.  It may not change anything, but at least people cannot hide or be offended by others hiding or being hypocritical.  US relations with Pakistan are a mess--the Emperor has no clothes.
* As a student of caveats, let me issue one: I am not an expert on Pakistan or India, but am wildly speculating.

The timing is interesting to me, as I was lecturing my intro course the other day about how political scientists define power: to get others to do what they would otherwise not do.  How does the US get Pakistan to change its behavior?  It seems clear that the US either lacks the levers to push Pakistan or the willingness to accept other costs to get Pakistan to do what the US wants. Part of the problem is that Pakistani leaders doubt American will to support it in a time of crisis.  Which is legitimate given how the last three wars or so played out (with Pakistan getting its butt kicked and the US tilting a bit towards India).  But part of the Pakistani problem is that they have views that are almost Foxs-news-esque in terms of their divorce from reality.  Enough actually believe that Afghanistan provides them with strategic depth--that Pakistan could have forces retreat to Afghanistan in the face of an Indian invasion.  They also fear that India can use Afghanistan as a way to encircle Pakistan.  Of course, Pakistan's own policies do a good job of creating encirclement.  The laughable part is that Afghanistan is a crappy place for any outside to use for any particular purpose.  Yes, it can serve as a base for terrorism, but Pakistan has proved that its own territory works just fine for that (as does India's).

So, the US ability to change things is limited.  It is unlikely that shaming will work better than the other efforts made by the US, but it might have been one of the few tools left in the box.  Now what?  How about a great tilt towards India?  As the US leaves Afghanistan over the next few years, dependence on Pakistan will wane.  Then the incentives and options will be much, much clearer.  Pakistan can embrace China, and is already doing so, of course.  But it is used to having both China and the US on its side.  Having the US really jump onto India's side is very much a worse case scenario.  Well, for Pakistan.  For the US, India and many others, it may very well be inevitable.  If I were a Pakistani leader today, I would be trying to figure out whether China can fill the holes left by the breaking American relationship.  

Update: More details from NYT story.  Mullen is very, very sharp, as he points out that Pakistan is not only messing with everyone else but is watering the seeds of its own destruction.  They will not see it that way, but sometimes you have to tell an alcoholic that they are an alcoholic.  My words, not Mullen's.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Future of Defence Research in Canada

The story of the day is that we now have more information about the demise of the Security and Defence Forum [SDF].  It is a part of Canada's Department of National Defence responsible for reaching out to the academic community and beyond.  It had a budget of $2.5 million, but that is going down to $.5million.  The main expense of SDF had been funding research centres throughout Canada--about thirteen of them.  Most of these centres are highly dependent on SDF money for their existence with a few notable exceptions.  Most will have to fold or reduce their activities significantly.  I don't know what the shared one between the University of Montreal and McGill will do since I left the organization last year (more on that below).

It does seem strange that such a small expense (given the size of defence spending) would be seen as a key cut to be made, especially when the spokesperson for the Minister of Defence says how valuable the Ministry sees its interactions with academics (even if DND ignores most studies).

However, I understand why DND administrators would not want to pay for administrators at universities, which is where a fair amount of money goes in the research centres.  There is something to be said for providing the basics so that the centres can then raise money through other sources, but I don't think SDF planned to have its money spent on secretaries and graduate student assistants focused on admin work.

The true losses of SDF's demise will be:
  • Funding graduate students.  The Canadian model of graduate funding is somewhat different than the American one, as the primary funding agency for the social sciences--SSHRC--gives most of its graduate student funding to students in their first few years.  Dissertation funding--getting money to go to places to get the data, do the interviews, and so on--is not as readily available.  DND via SDF provided pre- and post-docs which were quite valuable in helping graduate students complete their research projects. 
  • Facilitating outreach.  While DND's public affairs section will still exist, SDF was incredibly helpful in arranging my first sets of interviews with Canadian officers.  The public affairs events tend to be very much pro-Canadian Forces publicity events, which makes heaps of sense.  SDF was more focused on helping researchers do their jobs, rather than just selling the Forces.  Which, in my experience, actually did a better job of selling the forces.
I do think it is understandable that DND would question whether they were getting what they were paying for.  The idea was to support research related to Canadian defence, which is perhaps parochial but entirely sensible for a government agency.  Some research centres focused more broadly on a wide array of security issues that may or may not be related to Canadian defence.  One of the ironies of my local situation is that I was doing the most stuff related to Canadian defence and much of the outreach/dissemination via media appearances, but did not find much support from my campus's research centre.  Most of my SDF money was from applications to the Special Projects grant, not from the local centre since it had other priorities (which is why I left the centre).

The new plan is unclear, but it may be the case that SDF only funds the Special Projects.  That would be ok but not great.  Tis better than issuing calls for specific projects to be funded, as leaving the agenda setting in the hands of the scholars is probably the best to maximize creativity.  The big question is whether SDF will still fund pre- and post-docs.  I sure hope so, as profs can find other ways to fund their research, centres can find other ways to have conferences, but graduate students need some help to complete their work.

Strike That

I have mentioned before that living in Quebec has changed my attitudes towards unions.  Unions are much more powerful and inconvenient up here, so they annoy me more than they ever did in the US.  I do get that they are a key player in keeping the economy from being too inhumane, so I am ambivalent about them when I think hard enough.

The big problem I tend to have is that the coercive diplomacy/bargaining between union and employer often is played out with innocent bystanders as key pieces in the game.  The TA strike a few years ago hurt profs and students even though the bargaining was between teaching assistants and McGill's administrators.

Today, as in right now, there are folks on strike at my university--the staff.  They want more money and to protect their benefits.  McGill would prefer not to pay them much more and would like to alter their benefits.  Given the economic context where McGill is in a deep, deep hole thanks in large part to Quebec's financial mismanagement and due to student unions keeping tuition unnaturally low, I see McGill's point while I appreciate the staff's concerns.  For me, the problem is that their fight is costly to me and my students.  The most important thing is that it upend plans to facilitate the flow of letters of recommendation for my graduate students on the academic job market.  Now, my grad students must rely on me to be timely, organized, and responsible.  This is really a recipe for disaster, as I have a heap of students on the market applying to many, many jobs.  I hope I don't screw up (like sending emails to places and forgetting the attachments) too much.

The good news is that I did duck one strike.  The flight attendants of Air Canada were about to go on strike right before my next trip, but they settled, apparently partly due to the threat of government intervention.  The interesting thing is this intervention is being criticized from both sides of the spectrum--for forcing businesses to compromise with unions and for forcing unions to compromise with business.  With such an array of critics, I have more confidence that the outcome is a pretty good one.  That and I get to go to London (UK, not Ontario) without having to worry about a strike.

Again, I get that both sides need to have threats, especially the unions, in order to bargain (I am teaching coercive diplomacy today in Intro to IR).  I just also understand that corporations and unions often end up being more focused on the interests of the organizations than the members, and that can be problematic as well. 

At least, we have football (but not basketball) to keep us distracted.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Social Science Proving the Obvious

I had a fun discussion with Mrs Spew today about a potential science fair project that the little Spew was pondering, but then rejected because the initial experiment suggests that the findings would be dull.  In the publishing social science business, we always want our findings to be counter-intuitive and even mind-blowing.  If they aren't, we try desperately to frame them that way.  "You see, the conventional wisdom is x, and we found y!"  Even if the conventional wisdom is pretty darned silly (hint, see my first book about this strategy).*
* The good news for my earliest academic enterprise is that people still buy into the old conventional wisdom, which means that my book is still counter-intuitive even if I should be disappointed that people have not been persuaded by it.
Why do I bring this up today?  Because a new study has come out that shows that Canadian Defence bureaucrats do NOT pay attention to studies taken by academics and other outsiders.   Just shocking.  Really.  It seems to be the case that the bureaucrats just file the studies and go ahead with whatever they were doing.  Now, this is actually an important study because it seems to prove that the folks at the Department of National Defence (yes, DND, which means decisions really depend on a twenty-sided die being rolled) are inattentive to outsiders.**  Perhaps we expected it, but knowing this means we can try to assert (at least in grant applications) that we need to do more to disseminate our findings.
** And it makes sense that they don't pay attention to outsiders, as they must respond to the incentives of their organization.  Doing otherwise can mean being frozen in position, if not losing one's position.  Political science can explain pretty easily why folks in chains of command look up and down and not outside.

But, of course, what it really means is that we need to find other folks to influence since these folks are not persuade-able.  Like politicians, maybe.  Perhaps military folks who take lesson-learning very, very seriously.  But not the media since this has been an incredibly crappy weak for the Canadian media.

  1. One TV station and then the rest of the media engage in mob coverage (not research, just coverage) of the Chief of Defence Staff flying government jets.
  2. The study mentioned above actually includes a big mistake--putting the Leslie transformation study into the same category as outside experts.  Why?  Because the Leslie transformation project was sponsored by the government, so it has more legs.  The bureaucrats may fight it, they may resist it, they may win, but they certainly cannot ignore it.
  3. Columns that make huge mistakes about higher education, creating ignorance rather than illumination.
These have not been the best of times in American media, but the Canadian media has its own challenges.  I guess I wish Gus from the Wire had his hands on the controls. (NSFW language)


Not much blogging today.  With DADT now becoming history, it is hard for me to whine about stuff.  Just a great day for some increased consistency between the policies governing the military and what our military is supposed to be fighting for. 

If you have a great video celebrating the day, shoot me the link.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The True Dark Side

Nice video against cancer making heaps of fun of Star Wars.  How could you not like it?  The video, not the cancer.

Squirrel! Federal Style

Last week, I blogged about how language politics and such were useful distractions for Quebec parties and media, when much more important stuff is at play.  Namely, the political system and the construction industry are utterly corrupt, but not even in a semi-efficient way.  So, bridges are falling apart, tunnels collapse, and we are worried more about how best to deal with immigrants and Anglophones. 

Well, the media and politicians in Ottawa can play this game, too.  So, the tempest these days is over the head of the Canadian military, Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natyncyzk, flying in a government plane rather than commercial flights to a variety of destinations, including a family vacation.  If this is what parliamentary oversight over the military is here, then I do believe my existing assertion that there is no parliamentary oversight of the Canadian military remains quite valid.

First, the issue itself: I wonder if anyone is bothering to see how the heads of other militaries travel, given that they need to be in constant communication with political and military types, that their schedules change very quickly, and so on.  Anyone see the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff flying around the US on commercial planes?  The British head?  Aussie?  Hmmmm. 

Second, is this really the important issue facing the Canadian military?  Um, no.  Let's count how many other issues might just be more relevant for Canadian national security, budget politics, and everything else:
  1. What are Canada's plans for the next days/weeks/months in Libya?  Qaddafi is still out there, and Canadian assets are still in theatre being used on behalf of the new government.  
  2. Canadian submarines are still not operational.  How about we consider the security implications of having no underwater capability at the present time?
  3. Other NATO countries and partners are re-considering the F35 INCLUDING the US.  So, perhaps Canada might consider whether the plane (all 65 of them) might crowd out other spending priorities.
  4. What criteria will Canada have for where to build the next generation of ships, given that this is a highly political issue (jobs where?)?
  5. General Leslie's report on transformation--how is that going to be implemented or not?  Perhaps parliament might consider whether un-doing the Hillier command structure makes sense or not.  Anyone studying whether CEFCOM and CANCOM made a difference than the old DCDS model?
  6. How about this: can Canada actually afford three modern branches or perhaps just choose one or two?  
The point is that the media feeding frenzy is just silly but so very easy as it does not require any facts, study, comparisons, understanding.  What we need is a healthy dose of perspective sauce.  If the government jumps on this and on the CDS for these flights, I think I am going to have to hit an entirely different kind of sauce.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Profs Atwitter

I have deleted this post as it will essentially be published in the Globe and Mail as an op-ed next week apparently.  Since the G&M wants exclusivity, I felt having this post here at this moment in time would not be appropriate.  I will post the link to the piece when it is published.

Thanks for your interest.

A Zombie Ate My Homework?

Thanks to the SF Signal Z songlist, I found this.  Which is just an uber-geeky fun song and video.  Happy Saturday!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Concept Definition and Confusion Illustrated

H/T to Outside the Beltway for this wonderful video that illustrates nicely the problem of defining concepts.

I stick with seven continents because that is what I was taught.  I think the large land mass part is more important than the separated by water.  But that is just me.  How many continents do you think there are?

Mais Non! Gambling at Rick's

The study has finally come out: there is significant corruption in the construction industry in Quebec.  Shocking, yes?  Non.  Given that it apparently costs 30% more to build stuff in Quebec, and that stuff tends to fall apart, we are not surprised. 

I think we would not mind the corruption if the stuff was built to last.  But with heaps of infrastructure falling apart, including bridges, tunnels, overpasses, and water mains (this pic is of a mini-flood at McGill a couple of days ago), the corruption is not so amusing or tolerable.

Yes, corruption exists everywhere to varying degrees, but the level seems to be higher in Quebec.  Why?  Because (squirrel!) the political system is distracted from public service and towards nationalist issues.

Will the system be cleansed or at least taken down a few notches?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  The folks in power in Quebec have been there a long time, so they are quite implicated.  Same for the folks running Montreal.  Especially since the last policy statements from the opposition parties have been about language and not corruption.

Language Politics Writ Small

For months, I have been mildly amused about a poster in the men's room near my McGill office.  The poster, put up in response to the flu threat a year or two ago, instructs people how to wash their hands.  The funny thing is that it is in French, as McGill's language of instruction is almost entirely English.  While many McGill students and faculty are bilingual, some are not so much.  Anyhow, I felt it was strange that the sign had no English on it, although the pictures made it clear what was being instructed.

Still, it bothered someone enough to write on the sign, demanding that it should be in English.  This graffiti has been up there for a few weeks, when someone else continued the conversation, demanding:
"Apprennez français calis!"   
Which means: Learn French, Chalice!  I think.  That is, it means Learn French and then I think uses the Quebec word for Chalice, as Quebeckers have taken words from the Catholic Church and turned them into curse words.  I would be surer if the person was using another Quebec-ism such as Tabernac, which I have heard far more often on frisbee fields.

This graffiti conversation is interesting to me, both because it shows the linguistic politics in Montreal, and because it illustrates the on-going Quebec conflict over religion, given the calis interpretation that I think is correct.

Of course, given that the poster shows how to wash hands (and that there is now a second poster in the same bathroom, but in English [with "francais svp" written all over it]), and given these kinds of posters are always ignored anyway since we wash our hands like we always have, this is really the epitome of a tempest in a teapot.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What is a Club?

A Club, as opposed to an association or mob, is supposed to be selective in membership.  The  joy of being in a club is to exclude some folks from joining it.  Some people get this better than others.  Full professors in certain places in Canada seem to understand this far better than the European Union.  Sure, this piece refers to just the start of a membership process for Moldova, but this process seems to be an unstoppable machine where the logic of previous promises leads to new ones, ultimately leading to membership to a country that fails to meet key conditions for membership to the organization (Cyprus anyone?). 

This is not even about map-obsession where membership is aimed at keeping the map of Europe hole-free.  Keeping out Croatia or Bosnia or Serbia would mean ugly holes in the map of the EU.  But Moldova is on the edge, so its absence should be seen as a problem.  Unless Ukraine, Belarus and Russia are down the road? 

Isn't this where the EU got into trouble?  By forgetting about standards and letting in countries in to the Euro zone even though they fell far short of admission standards (that would be Greece)?

Anyway, as a published skeptic about the EU and the power of its conditionality processes, all I can think is: hee, hee, there they go again.

Circle of Crap continued

The other day I discussed the circle of crap in honor of my family's garage sale.  I have also blogged about the Canadian submarine problem.  I cannot believe I did not put them together: that the Canadian sub procurement process was part of a high tech circle of defense crap.  The Canadians bought a set of used British subs that have remained broken ever since.  The only question about whether there are more operational subs in the West Edmonton Mall than in the Royal Canadian Navy is whether there are any operational subs at the Mall. 

Of course, even four subs is way too few for a country with three large coasts, given that even in good times, one usually has a sub undergoing training/refit/etc for each that is deployed.  Two subs at sea for three coasts?  Hmmm.  Anyhow, Canada may still pay less for these four subs and their repairs than for four new subs, but the "savings" seems to be evaporating mighty quickly.

And for those in the market for any kind of military hardware, think twice before buying from the snake oil salesman with the lovely British accents.


Don Macpherson has a good column in today's Gazette, discussing how the PQ is playing up the latest numbers about language and Montreal to distract from, well, that it is falling apart.  The new stats show that the number of "true Francophones" is declining in Montreal because they are moving to less expensive (and perhaps more infrastructurally sound) suburbs.  This is hardly a crisis as they are not being replaced by those nasty Anglophones (that would be me) but Allophones (immigrants) who speak multiple languages and increasingly use French at home.

So, what is going on?
Blanchet's proposal ... Its real purpose is political.  It's to prevent François Legault's new nationalist party from outflanking the PQ in the defence of the French-speaking majority against the minorities.*  The PQ learned its lesson in 2007, when it conceded that defence to Mario Dumont's Action démocratique du Québec and temporarily fell to third-party status as a result.  Two weeks ago, Legault presented a discussion paper on identity in which most of the proposals were considerably weaker than what the PQ had already proposed in its new program.
But what caught attention was a possibly coded appeal to xenophobia that the PQ hadn't thought of: a temporary, symbolic reduction in annual immigration targets.  Now the PQ has quickly matched Legault's proposal with a similar one of its own. The proposal is also intended to distract attention toward the identity question and away from the PQ's current problems.
I discussed this recently.
Yep, we have some ethnic outbidding going on here, with the old, fractious nationalists competing with the new kids on the block to be the best nationalists after the new kids had initially appeared to be putting this stuff behind them.  Of course they did not--playing with identity, in this case it is language, is too damned convenient.

Can I be disappointed without being surprised?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Group Identity: In School and in Life

I had a nice life imitating art (or science) today.  I was lecturing about identity and the stuff we political scientists have borrowed from social psychology to explain ethnic conflict today.  The idea is to get my IR of Ethnic Conflict class exposed to the basics before we move on to the international relations issues that are the heart of this course.

So, today, I am quite aware of my identity and how my self-esteem depends on how I see my group and how others see my group.  Then I notice a blog about Teaching Political Science which links to an article that focuses almost entirely on American Politics and a smidge on Comparative Politics.  I would not mind it if the article was not entitled "Ten Things Political Scientists Know ..."  But since it entirely ignores International Relations, I have a pretty gut level emotional response of the marginalization of the group with which I identify (even if some narrow-minded colleagues think that civil war is just for Compartivists).

One of the upsides of residing in Canada has been that the border pretty much does away with imperialist Americanists trying to define the field only in terms of their narrow subfield (one that would be considered a sub-subfield of Comparative Politics in other countries).*  Sure, I have long since realized that Americanists are pretty handy since they tend to insist that the grad students have strong quant skills which make them useful to those of us who are falling further behind on high tech skills.
* Canadian Politics is the parallel subfield up here (with Americanists considered to be Comparativists, which is really quite amusing), but Canadianists tend not to be so forceful and tend not to seek dominance (we are what we study?).
 But moments like this make me realize:
  1. Americanists might still be pretty damned narrow-minded about what Political Science is, more so than the other subfields.
  2. My lecture today about the logic of invidious comparisons (explicating Horowitz 1985) is not just for my class but also for understanding why I am so provoked right now.

Ups and Downs of Drone Warfare

I hesitate before trying to argue with Roland Paris about his op-ed on Drone Warfare for two reasons: a) I have not done much research on drones; and b) Roland is about the scariest sharpest person in Canada.  He argued that the US is setting bad precedents by using remote-controlled aircraft in non-wars such as Yemen and Somalia, that the US is engaged in assassinations.  Roland points out that the real escalation in Pakistan has been under Obama from 33 strikes in 2008 to 118 last year.*  He is right to point out that drones are handy precisely because there are few domestic costs (no body bags). 
*  Which might have much to do with the disillusionment with the government of Pakistan as with anything else.
Roland goes on to criticize the secrecy of the target selection, that there is no accountability involved. And I cannot say I disagree too much.  But I guess I wonder how realistic (small r) it is to expect the US or any country to provide information about targeting decisions?  Much exposure of that would reveal the means by which folks are identified--the sources of the intelligence that lead to certain folks getting attention and targeting.

I also wonder what should countries do when potential "evil-doers" hang out in failed states?  Obviously, adversaries will go where they don't have to worry about hostile governments.  Yes, they can reside in territories controlled by friendly governments, but such governments may have to bear costs for their support and betray them occasionally.  Somalia is an obviously friendly environment for those who seek to avoid potentially ambivalent host governments.  Given that the US tried it the other way before (1992-93), what could the US do now? 

The other problem I have is with the focus on targeted killings--that while they are problematic, they are better than the alternative of untargeted killings.  Drones may not be quite as accurate as the Pentagon might portray, but they are still far better at discriminating between target and others.  If the choice is bombing cities to coerce and striking individuals (and yes, this is a semi-false choice, but not an an entirely false one), I would choose the latter.  The discussion of drones reminds me of qualms that some countries have had in operations in Afghanistan when a plan is to pick up or capture a senior Taliban leader.  But the alternatives would be not fighting at all or being less discriminate in the use of force.

Still, Roland's overriding point is well-taken--that the US needs to consider all of the consequences of their actions, assess the tradeoffs, be more honest about the processes, and perhaps even make it clear who are the folks making the decisions, even if we are not privvy to the actual bits and pieces of information that lead to the selection of some targets rather than others.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pop Phobia: Who Are the Phobes?

This post by Spencer Ackerman asserts that you will not find too many Islamophobes in the American military among combat vets.  He essentially makes the fairly standard argument that the more contact you have, the more sympathy you have, the less hate you have.  The more you interact, the less you buy into the hype:
And many, if not most, came home understanding that Muslims aren't so different. Muslims don't have heat vision. They're not implacably opposed to freedom and all that shit. They're not looking to join a terrorist group, and "proto-terrorism" doesn't lurk in their hearts.
But Ackerman does note that he "can't prove any of this.  It's all anecdotal."

Ah, but we do have some social science on your side.  And we have patterns that we see again and again that suggest that contact does not breed conflict as much as ignorance.  How so?

First, one of the consistent findings in the scholarship is that ethnic conflict is most severe when ethnic groups are concentrated.  That is, when they largely live apart, not when they are integrated.  There are all kinds of reasons this may be true, including concentration means easier to defend (which makes attacking less risky) and so on.  But one of the logics is that if groups are concentrated, members will not interact that often with outsiders, and that will help to reinforce suspicion, fear, and otherwise reinforce in-group, out-group dynamics.  And to be clear, it is not just ethnic differences or diversity but how they are situated.  Studies that focus ethnic fractionalization--how likely you are to meet someone of another ethnic group NEVER find that more diversity (which implies more contact) is a bad thing in terms of ethnic violence. 

Second, we tend to find those folks who join nativist, xenophobic movements are often those who hardly ever encounter the others that they fear.  These movements are not in urban areas but elsewhere, but the feared immigrants are in the cities.  This is not just a Tea Party kind of thing.  Here in Quebec, lots of the folks opposed to reasonable accommodation and raising fears of the various religious menaces (Muslims, devout Jews, etc) never see them, as they live in the hinterlands.  Famously, a few years ago, one town issued a declaration about what their values were, so that no immigrants with conflicting values should move there without adopting the new beliefs, but this town was not facing a wave of immigration. 

So, who are the phobic folks?  Those who hate and fear the "others"?  Those that have little experience in general. Sure, some folks who meet do continue to hate, but the recurring pattern seems to be that those with the least exposure tend to be the most xenophobic.  Folks in NY, LA, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, London, and elsewhere are far less likely to jump on the xenophobic bandwagon.  If I had more time (if I were not so lazy), I am pretty sure I can find voting patterns for the National Front, the Party for Freedom, the True Finn Party, the Danish People's Party and the like and see that these parties do better in the most homogeneous communities.

Anybody got some social science to suggest I am off on this?

Kabul? The New Tet

It is too soon to tell what is going on in Kabul right now, but folks are raising the Tet parallel all over the place, including on unrelated blog posts of mine. 

My first take: the Taliban aspire to Tet but are too late.  That is, Tet was a key turning point because it changed expectations about what was happening in Vietnam, forcing a series of political decisions and changes, including LBJ not running for re-election and the end of escalation.  In Afghanistan, the Taliban may be attempting to score a similar blow, but it will not affect US domestic politics in the same.  Why?  Because the US and its NATO partners have already begun the process of getting out.  In 1968, there was no end in sight, with the US commitment seemingly forever enduring.  In 2011, the clock has been ticking for a while, with 2014 very much on the horizon. 

My second take: the Tet parallel is apt in one way.  All that stuff we have been hearing about decapitation of the Taliban must be, ahem, exaggerated if the insurgents can coordinate this well.  To be clear, I am not saying that the US/NATO forces have been lying about how many middle-level managers have been getting captured or killed, just that the effects may have been overplayed.

My third take: war is bargaining by other means.  Lots of stuff lately about the Taliban meeting with the US and such.  The surge was aimed not so much at victory perhaps but stopping the insurgency's momentum--so that bargaining could proceed. This attack might be a way to re-shift the bargaining space as it shows that the Taliban's powers are not all gone. 

So, this might be Tet-esque but no more than that.  Still not good news for anyone, but we need to be careful about which parts of the analogy seem to apply.

Where is Buffy?

Stakeholders?  Why does this phrase annoy me so?  In this piece, there is a report of a general meeting with stakeholders?  Is it shorthand for people who care?  Or for people we are about who might care?  I guess it sounds better than relevant elites, but it just does not sing to me.  All I can think of when I hear this phrase are either vampires who need some staking or putting up some tents.

Any business-speak of the late 20th century annoy you as much as stakeholders annoys me?

Pie Crust Promises continued

I really do not want to appear to be taking any enjoyment out of the current Euro crisis, but I have to ask: what the hell were they thinking when Greece was let into the Euro zone?  I have said this before but let me rant a bit to compensate for some under-blogging of late: the initial intent of the Euro zone was, as I remember it, to be open to only a subset of the European Union.  That the key was a credible ability to manage one's economy via sound fiscal policy. 

So, did anyone do any research to figure out Greece's fiscal standing?  Or did the conditions not matter since the EU has been all about clean maps?  As it turns out, the promises made by the EU itself turned out to be a pie crust promise: easily made, easily broken.  And yes, this provides yet more proof that having a child has influenced how I think since I saw Mary Poppins dozens of times in the weeks my dy daughter was sick when she was 2 years old (more than 13 years ago). 

As a tribute to the European Union, I thought I would illustrate the problems with conditionality with this google search, which has a Carla Bruni song among the top links found!

All Is Well, Remain Calm

Sure, McGill has to say that the strike of the support staff is not affecting things.  That is part of the bargaining effort.  In any bargaining situation, using coercion (such as a strike) to inflict pain is a likely strategy.  Just as likely is an effort by the coerced to deny being hurt so weakness is not perceived.  But we who are affected bystanders do not have to buy it.  It is simply incredible as in not believable to say that losing the work of hundreds (thousands?) of staff folk would not have a negative impact.  Otherwise, why have them work for you in the first place?

To be clear, I really like our department's staff, but I am not entirely sure I am in love with the union or its demands.  Lots of stuff involved, but it is abundantly clear to me that we miss them, that their absence is affecting the faculty and the students.  How does it matter? 
  • Well, registration for classes is always a tough issue since we have lots of students interested in our classes.  While the waiting list system is automated, the students trying to enroll are not so much.  Managing their mistakes (like dropping the main part of the class as they sign up for discussion sections) requires humans. 
  • I am trying to create a team of coders from undergrads who are interested in doing research for credit.  Not easy to figure out how this works with a bunch of folks on the picket line who might be able to answer my questions.
  • Work-study is at a standstill-I employ some students via workstudy.  But that seems kaput for now.
  • I have several grad students (both those for whom I am the main supervisor and those where I sit on their committees) on the job market, but now the secretary who sends out the letters of recommendation is on strike.  So, the students have to depend on profs to be detail-oriented and get out tens and tens of letters on time.  The good news is that more hiring departments use online processes but certainly not half.  So, we shall see how this goes.  
Again, I get both sides: McGill does not want to suggest that the strike is costly or else it might have to make some concessions.  The strikers want the strike to hurt or else they will not get what they want.  But it is not fun to be one of the two or three groups (students, profs, neighbors, etc) who are in the middle of this.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Did We Learn On the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

  • Try other days when you want to join the "mile high" club.  At least, that was the twitter rumor for the various alerts.
  • That when football's opening day coincides with 9/11, the US Air Force sends A-10s for the flyovers since the F-15's and F-16's might have other things to do.  Maybe I am wrong to infer this, but the A-10's over the game in Baltimore were an unusual sight.  Maybe they just wanted a slower flyover?
  • Football is once again very much like war.  We like to think we can predict outcomes (and some folks do pretty well at that), but we play the games rather than just simulate since the underdog often wins.  In war as well, the favorite often loses.
  • More people complained about 9/11 coverage this year.  And that is what makes democracy great--the ability to complain without consequences.  Sure, we can be spoiled--other folks have much worse problems, even in this nasty economic period.  But the ability to complain without much repression is really the American way and that of the other democracies.  I certainly hope that democracy sprouts in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and elsewhere, even if it has short term costs for the foreign policies of other places.  But I am also realistic that not all regime change really  change the nature of the political system.  Sometimes, it is just about replacing one dude with another.  Time will tell if the changes of 2011 will significantly improve the lives of the folks who fought for them.