Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Profs and Basic Websites

Rei Tang asked on twitter: what's with profs and really basic websites?  A few quick and dirty answers:
  • Building a more than basic website takes time and skill.  Since there are few incentives for flashy websites, why bother?  Developing skills takes time.  I used to have some web-skills but focused more the past several years on production (writing) rather than spiffy-fying.  
  • Many profs are have no skilz.  The middle generation of profs might have done some web-writing earlier and had added whiz bangs at a time where the whiz bangs did not work well across different browsers and, more importantly, slowed the loading.  
  • No, most of us do not use RAs for this as our RAs are busy doing research that we need, not styling which is a luxury.  
I have been meaning to revise significantly my website (SS) but I have been delayed as I needed to learn a new program (I relied on Frontpage until Microsoft let it die).  Now I am waiting for my new job with a new server and a new software package.  But my focus will not be on making it anything more than functional (hopefully not unattractive).  Why be more than basic?  Since I am not trying to max pageviews with my webpage so that the advertising dollars roll in, I am not sure what folks would want in a prof webpage.

So, tell me: what do you want, what do we not provide?


It is so easy to forget all of the benefits that would come with attacking Iran, so let's list them (listicles are the hip thing on the web, right?):
  • Delaying Iran's nuclear development by sometime between zero and five years.  
Ok, is that it?
  • Proving that Israel and/or the US is willing to use force to protect itself/ally.
Oh, I guess that has been done before, huh?

Okay, so we have the key benefit.  Let's enumerate some of the costs:
  • Higher oil prices because every good war (and the bad ones, too) cause oil prices to rise.  Unless one is Russia or another oil exporter (Norway, Scotland, Nigeria ....), this is not a good thing. 
  • Iranian retaliation.  Whether it means missiles flying everywhere (well, in the region, despite the warmongers' assertions, ICBM's are not in their inventory) or closing the Strait of Hormuz temporarily or funding even more terrorist groups, Iran has options even after they lose a few nuclear development sites.
  • The US has re-antagonized a hunk of the world.  Good times.
  • The actual costs of the effort.  Has anyone noticed the US has a deficit problem?  Has anyone noticed that its military is mighty tired after exceeding the war cap for so many years?  
  • The Iranian regime is strengthened.  Anyone who believes that bombing Iran will lead to more dissent has never watched WWII movies about the Blitz nor has paid attention to the US bombing of Japan, Vietnam and other places.  This is not Serbia and this is not Libya.  

I am sure I am forgetting some.  One last question: what happens after the fighting ends?  

Neither a Borrower

Nor a lender be.

Well, sure, I first heard that phrase on a classic Gilligan's Island episode where the castaways staged a play (I cannot possibly explain to the new generations).  Anyhow, one of my greatest frustrations in my old job in Texas was the willingness of students to come to my office to ask to borrow stuff, like my stapler, phone or even a printer one time. 

The problem of stapler shortages seems to remain as I still get students trying to turn in papers sans the metal keeping the pages together.  Oy.

Anyhow, here is a nice documentary on the subject:

The Stapler Lecture
by: lherring

H/T to Megan Shannon for interrupting my Iran rants with this video she tweeted.

When Iran Enters My Dreams

This morning, I awoke just in mid-dream about Iran and the potential war on the horizon.  Yeah, it has gotten that bad.  In the dream, I am standing up, watching a bunch of Bay of Pigs-type folks preparing to drop into Iran as the first wave.  I ask the crowd of IR security types: "who is in favor of a war with Iran?"  I guess my dreams are as selective as the people I choose to follow on twitter because no one wants this war.

What does this say?  Well, probably too much about my psyche.  But other than that?  I have yet to hear an argument that asserts that any kind of attack against Iran would produce anything more than a delay in Iran's nuclear development.  What I do see are very compelling arguments to think once, think twice, think three times and see if we can avoid making the mistakes we (well, they, the Bush Admin) made nearly ten years ago.

It has gotten to the point that the US should make clear to Israel, if it has not already done so, that it will get the "Georgia treatment."  That if Israel starts a war with Iran, the US will make noises about trying to stop the violence, but it will not be compelled to come to Israel's aid.  It is one thing to promise to defend a friend.  It is another to let an ally drag one into an ill-considered war.  If Israel wants this war (and I am pretty sure that there is a fair amount of division on that), then Israel can have it to themselves.

Alliances are always problematic in two ways: allies may not show up when needed (Britain and France betrayed Czechoslovakia in 1938) or allies may start wars that drag everyone else in (WWI?).*  Let's avoid the second dynamic now by making clear that if Israel wants a war, the US certainly does not, despite the yammerings of the folks who thought invading Iraq was so cool.
See Glenn Snyder's book on the dilemmas of alliances.

I am just glad we currently have an administration that has had its fill of war.  The bad news is that a Republican could still win next fall, despite their best efforts to fail.  Then, who knows?  Suddenly the stakes for the next election have become much, much bigger.  Which explains why I am having lousy dreams.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Roland Paris is My Hero

Because he can nearly off the cuff nail the Iran warmongers to the wall.  Kindly, gently, powerfully.

When people ask me about war against Iran, I will just point them to this video.  Well done, sir!

Why I Do What I Do

See this blog for a rationalization for why I blog.
So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.
Good qualification.  Teaching is the most important thing I do. In terms of research, I have started to realize that blogging is pretty important.  I read far more on blogs these days that inform me and direct me to interesting research than the good old days of waiting for journals to arrive and hoping there would be an interesting article or two inside.

One of the most important?  Hmm, I will have to think about that.  What do my fearless readers think?

Omar's Coming!

That's right, wind-up toys of The Wire characters.  I guess that answers the "what to get Steve for Father's day" question.

Prevent This!

When people argue about ethnic conflict and civil war, one of the questions that comes up is: can we prevent stuff?  The answer is no.  Why?  Not because there is no warning, not because there are not measures to take, but because people do not act to prevent stuff because it is harder to get folks to invest when the threat is low and not imminent.

Why am I talking about this today?  Because of this map, which shows that we are not preventing preventable diseases.  People are not getting vaccinated as much as they should, even in the advanced democracies.  Jeez!

Some places seem to be doing a good job--Scandinavia to no surprise.  Brazil to some surprise.  My guess about Libya and Iran would be about data availability.  New Zealand looks pretty scary--all that wind must blow diseases everywhere?!

Anyhow, check it out and ponder why we don't prevent the stuff we can prevent as well as could.

Turning Point in Afghanistan

Folks are arguing that the recent killings of NATO troops by Afghan army and police represent the turning point in the effort.  I think these folks are about three years late.  The turning point really was the re-election of Karzai.  Why?
Not just because of the effort to steal it, although that had a lot to do with it, but because Karzai's campaign strategy was to run against the mission, criticizing civilian casualties and never owning the effort at all.  Indeed, as the election was being stolen, Obama was considering the surge, and he built into it a time-limit of 2011.  That set the path towards eventual reductions of troops. 

I had argued in favor of the Canadians staying and in favor of the surge.  Why?  For the former, it was largely about value added and alliance maintenance.  For the latter, it was about giving the effort one real, committed attempt to get things right.  But all this came too late and against too much pushing the other way--poppies, Pakistan and President Karzai.  Much has changed on the ground since 2009, but it is not sustainable. 

I am still not pushing for a quick exit.  Leaving quickly would be unfair to the Afghans who did bet with us.  Leaving slowly would probably give the non-Pashtuns a chance to fight the next civil war on a relatively even footing as we train and equip the ANA for a couple more years.  Perhaps that is the best we can hope for.  That and a decent interval?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Concussions: The More Things Change

I watched enough games this year to see that the new concussion rules for the NFL were observed sometimes but not always.  There would be times where a player clearly took a major hit to the head and then came back into the game. 

More evidence: this story.  The San Diego Chargers essentially ended Kris Dielman's career.  Well done.  You would think by now that the on-going snowball of lawsuits might make a difference.  Of course not.  And with the owners still pushing for an 18-game season, the concussion problem is clearly not being taken that seriously.  I am at the stage of giving the NFL one more season, and if I see players continue to be sent back in after sustaining concussion, I may stop watching.  It will not affect the NFL, but I will feel less complicit nonetheless.

Excuuuuuse Me

I am not a hardass, but if I were, I might imitate this:
I am sure there are a couple of omissions.  I do tend to grant extensions pretty easily, but few if any after the fact.  Oh, and I dance on papers that I slipped under my door.  I hate papers slipped under my door.  Ok, maybe I am not so easy after all.

Star Wars: Revisualized

Check out this post about how best to watch the series, keeping alive the twists.  Not just a re-ordering but something more than that.

watching Revenge of the Sith makes Return of the Jedi a better, more effective film
watching Revenge of the Sith makes Return of the Jedi a better, more effective film
watching Revenge of the Sith makes Return of the Jedi a better, more effective film`
watching Revenge of the Sith makes Return of the Jedi a better, more effective film
watching Revenge of the Sith makes Return of the Jedi a better, more effective film

Tell me this guy is wrong.  I dare ya.

H/T to Robert Farley who works at the doppelganger to my new institution.

Hazardous Moral Hazard

The concept of moral hazard can be so confusing that even a very good article in the New York Times that clarifies some of it gets it wrong as well.*  The article starts by talking about money given Katrina victims by the federal government and where some have spent the money on non-essentials.  This is actually a bad example of moral hazard because it is not about providing people with insurance or the equivalent which then leads to risky behavior but more about people just frittering away money they have received.
* Thanks to Beth D for pointing that out.
The classic stylized fact (I don't know if it is true or not) of moral hazard is that far more houses burn down per capita in the US than in Europe since Americans are insured against fire while Europeans are not.  The idea is that Americans are less careful because they know they have a safety net.  The book, Traffic, by Tom Vanderbilt, is chock full of tales of how innovations such as anti-lock brakes often do not lead to fewer accidents because people who have them drive more recklessly thinking that they have better brakes (I just have no clue as to how to use my new car's antilock brakes). 

In politics, this has become very relevant as folks have argued that social safety nets make people less risk averse, leading to risky behavior that leads to bad outcomes, such as buying homes they cannot afford.  Of course, as the NYT piece points out, there are moral hazard problems on both sides--for the house buyer and for the banks but the politicians tend to focus on the home buyer.

The article also points out quite well that insurance is not the only thing that drives behavior.  That failing to pay for one's house has all kinds of consequences that a bailout may not cover--humiliation, the costs of moving, etc that Malcolm Gladwell addressed a while ago.

Why should I care about this?  Besides my frustration at where the US is these days in terms of recovering from the housing mess, the moral hazard problem has been raised frequently when it comes to intervention in ethnic conflict and civil wars.  Alan Kuperman has made quite a career (see here and here) of arguing that the western impulse to intervene makes things worse.  That folks in the world will engage in conflict, including provoking the government they oppose to use excessive force against civilians to get outside attention and then intervention.  There is, yes, something to this, as the Kosovo Liberation Army is probably the best case of a movement that seemed to be focused on getting outside intervention and sought to provoke Milosevic to get there. 

There are many problems with this moral hazard account:
  • Mostly, such accounts ignore the fact that such movements might be motivated by real grievances.
  • That people might be willing to fight oppression even if international assistance is not forthcoming.
  • That doing nothing may be pretty damned unappealing, regardless of what the group is doing.
  • That whatever an organization may be trying to do, the reality is that they often only a small part of a larger group, and we might happen to care about the larger group.

This is very relevant this winter as it may be the case that Syrians are engaged in combat against the Syrian government because they hope to make the news enough to get outside support, just as the West did in Libya.  The problem is that the Syrians were protesting peacefully, and thus became subject of severe repression, which led to defections from the army and violence.  The Syrians have been resisting for about a year, so they cannot merely be hoping and waiting for rescue from outside.  They have sincere grievances, real fears about the Syrian government, and are not just engaging in risky behavior because they have a high degree of confidence that they will be bailed out.  Indeed, the West long sent signals of Syrian not being just like Libya.  The engine for this conflict is NOT hope for intervention, but the nature of the Asad government.  Did the international community help out thirty years ago when Asad's father leveled an entire city?  No.  Perhaps that might be the salient lesson for most Syrians, not Libya? 

I am not advocating for intervention in Syria today--there are no good solutions at hand.  The point here is just that the moral hazard argument is easy to raise, but applies far more rarely than folks argue.  There may be others who gamble due to being highly insured but those folks do not get criticism because they are powerful.  We ought to take seriously people's stated motivations.  Finally, when talking about Katrina and where the aid went, we might also consider other stuff in play like .... racism. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Tribute to the Oscars


Other than the excessive montages, the other big mystery of this evening was Steve Nash only getting five minutes in the All Star game.

Politicians, Religion and College, Oh My!

Santorum made lots of news for criticizing Obama's goal of increasing the number of folks going to college.  There is so much here to discuss, but I will try to focus on a few key points:
  • It really depends on what you think it takes to compete in a 21st century economy.  We usually think that more education is helpful for developing a critical and adaptable mind so that people can adjust to changes in what are the desired skills.  But, if you want an American workforce that competes by being cheaper than Europeans and focusing on less skilled parts of the economy, then perhaps a university education is not so beneficial.  Of course, the problem is that a college degree remains highly related to making more money.  Not getting a college degree is highly correlated with working jobs that have hourly wages and crappy benefits.  But perhaps that is Santorum's market?
  • Attacking universities makes sense if one wants to appeal to folks who are not planning on sending their kids to universities.  Since over half of today's kids go to university, this plan is akin to Sarah Palin's "real America"--white rural America.  That is, Santorum seems to be seeking votes from the non-median voter, as many of the GOP candidates seem to be.  This might make sense in the primaries, but when Romney or not-Romney competes with Obama, this is going to be a big problem.  I have long argued here at the Spew that the GOP faces a huge problem of being a party seeking the votes of a declining part of America.  With Santorum's anti-contraception stuff of late, it almost seems as if he just wants votes from white males from the South and rural parts of the midwest and mountain states.  
  • Finally, Santorum's appeals make sense to me if he is really just trying to win the evangelical vote, as the best right-wing candidate.  Why?  Because some religious folks are mighty suspicious of what they teach at universities.  Not just that one might lose their religiosity (which studies show not to be true), but what they teach at universities.  
    • One of the most memorable moments in my time at TTU was teaching the Freshman seminar one year.  The class is aimed at teaching a variety of skills before the semester starts and then for the first few weeks of their first month at college, including money management, study skills, time management, etc.  One of the parts of the class was on diversity since students were coming from all over Texas but might not be used to being in classes and dorms with students from rural areas or from cities, from wealthy neighborhoods or poor ones, of different races, of different language backgrounds, etc.  So, it came up that most students at TTU at the time were Christian and a particular kind of Christianity--evangelical.  
    • The idea was to point out that there were other folks at the school who were not--Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Atheists, whatever.  But the conversation led to a question which missed the point of the exercise: if everyone here is Christian (no, they are not all Christian), why do THEY teach evolution?  As one of the points of the freshman seminar was to teach critical thinking, I went along with this thread and asked them why evolution was taught there.  The conversation then circled around the idea that other folks believed it so it was important to understand what they were thinking.  I ultimately ended the conversation by explaining that evolution was foundational to biology, chemistry, geology, economics, sociology, political science, anthropology and other areas of inquiry.  
    • But the larger point that became obvious was that these students were warned that "they taught evolution" at TTU.  That universities are places where stuff is taught that is contrary to some dogma and thus one should be wary of such places.  Thus, Santorum is likely playing to that audience.  Again, not a great idea for the long haul, but he needs to win the nomination first by being the best at representing the views of folks who show up at Republican primaries. 
Ethnic outbidding is usually bad for the country even if it makes sense in the short term for the politician.

Stars Mash Wars

Sentimental Sunday?

H/T Erin Simpson.  See this site for the artist and more.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Silly Saturday Preview

I really enjoyed season 1 of Game of Thrones, then I read the books.  Now I eagerly await season 2:

Dragons?  Maybe.

The Atheist Song

Steve Martin remains brilliant.  First King Tut and now this:

H/T to Frank Sposito

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bright Shiny Line

I engaged in a long twitter conversation with several people today about this story about members of the Canadian Forces digging Minister of National Defence out of the hole he dug for himself regarding the search and rescue helicopter he used on his vacation.  The CF folks looked to see if the Liberal opposition critic had engaged in similar practices.

I am not going to discuss this in depth as I have a column that might be posted on this soon, but I will say that asking the military to do your opposition research is UNACCEPTABLE.  And the CF officials should have passed the buck upwards to the Chief of the Defence Staff who should have asked the Ministry folks to re-think.

More later, depending on if and where the column gets picked up. Oh, and this is where you can tell I am a civvie--the military would have entitled this something like "A Red Line."

UPDATE: My longer rant on this is now available at The CIC.

Desire versus Need

I have an op-ed this week at Embassy magazine, written for the Canadian foreign policy community.  It may or may not be gated.  The basic gist is that the military of any country, including Canada, may want particular capabilities now but that will not necessarily affect where and how the politicians deploy them.  If the F-35 purchase, for instance, crowds out spending on the army, the politicians may still decide to participate in a multilateral effort involving infantry.

Anyhow, check it out if you can.

Stupidity Squared

This week has just been appalling in Afghanistan.  Given the furor last year about one Koran being burned in Florida, how can anyone let any be burned in Afghanistan?  Having said that and knowing full well that much of the protests and violence are organized quite deliberately, I just wish 50% of the mobilization that occurred and continues to occur could have been aimed at the Taliban when their forces attacked various religious institutions and personnel over the years.  Or using kids as suicide bombers. 

To be clear, even in times like these, the vast majority of people are not engaged in dissent, not engaged in riots, not engaged in violence against ISAF, etc.  But whether the goal is to win hearts and minds or simply to gain confidence, this week is in the loss column in a big way. 

2014 cannot arrive fast enough.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Best Interactive Graphic of the Week

Check out this map of Africa and the celebrities that have "staked claims" to different countries.

What does it say that Clay Aiken is the one celebrity tied to Somalia?  Yet another reason why Somalia seems cursed, I guess.

Anyway, check it out and ponder the choices folks make.

Two Days Early For Saturday Silliness

I have a cold so excuse me:

I stopped collecting comic books when my daughter was born as diapers seemed to be more important.  With escalating prices, the trend towards multiple books required each month just to follow one hero or group, plus clones, I got out at the right time.  But I could imagine collecting Chuck.

Maybe My Math Sucks

I have frequently argued here that grad school is not for the uncertain, not for the weary, but only for the committed, especially PhD programs and law school (the latter because of the path dependency created by $$$).
Well, I could be just wrong:

H/T to Chris Blattman for re-tweeting this figure.

Seems as if getting a PhD is the right idea--low unemployment and high wages.  The question would be: how do folks who do not finish compare?  If you just end up with an MA, you are still better off, but not all folks who fail to finish their PhD program leave with an MA.  They often leave with nothing but a few years of lost time.

Still, students who seek this life may not be making as bad bets as I thought.  However, the academic job market varies widely among fields.  Getting a PhD in English or Philosophy is unlikely to lead to heaps of wages or certain employment, whereas a PhD in engineering or bio-something is likely to lead to a very good paying position.  Poli sci?  Somewhere in between.  Not every student finishes, not every student who finishes gets a good job.  Even students who get good jobs have to face big problems as one usually has to surrender control over where one lives (six years in Lubbock!) and is especially problematic if one marries another academic.

Anyhow, I will dial done my anti-grad school rhetoric, just in time for my new job where I will be teaching only graduate students.

Update: Lukas Neville, a former student, provided a link to yet more math.  Most job growth will not be for those with PhDs--only 3% of the new jobs will be for those with too much learnin'.  Bad news.  The good news is that there will be more jobs for PhD's in 2020 than today: 1.7 million.  So, it depends on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty.  More likely, it depends on whether you see yourself as employed or not down the road.  21 year olds will be optimistic--my guess.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

War Reporters Admiration Society

We have so few folks who are crazy enough to be war reporters (this piece raises some good questions) and far too few news organizations funding them.  When we lose one or two or three as we have over the past few days, it is a huge loss.  Samid Khan Bahadarzai in Afghanistan, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik in Homs, Anthony Shadid last week, Gilles Jacquier last month, and so on.  We already have selective enough coverage of international events with news organizations cutting foreign bureaus and travel budgets.  Losing these sharp people means that the folks who do get parachuted in will just not have as good perspectives.

This is so crucial since most oversight works via "fire alarm systems" where politicians respond to bad policy or bad implementation when they learn of problems--when someone calls the media and the media then shines a bright light.

Iran = Iraq?

Lots of good tweets today from a variety of folks pondering the comparisons between the rush to war in 2003 and now with Iran (and Syria).  Heaps of points to be made, but I will focus on two big differences and a third while I am at it:
  • US is not governed by folks who are hot to trot to go to war.  Obama has had enough Mideast wars, having long exceed the ME war cap, plus a war with Iran would mean high oil prices.  An oil shock is perhaps the greatest threat to his re-election.
  • In 2003, the US was only committed to one war and a few skirmishes elsewhere.  The folks running the government didn't really care about that war anymore, and felt comfortable knocking down a government with little (no) thought to what came next.  Now, we have an army that is tired from multiple wars, an economy exhausted by paying for those wars with debt.  So, it is really hard to look at the shelf and see much left to use in yet another war.
  • Finally, while Obama has show he is quite willing to take an aggressive stance--such as the Bin Laden mission--he deliberates carefully.  The Afghanistan surge only happened after serious study, and that was a commitment of 30,000 more troops to an on-going war.  Starting a new war would require heaps of thought.  And if you think about this potential war long enough (or the one with Syria), the complications, the costs, and the rest easily swamp the short-term benefits (delaying an Iranian bomb by a few years).
So, I am not at all worried that the US will start a war with Iran and not even with Syria (although the French might drag the US into another war).  No, I am worried about Israel or Iran doing something stupid that will make war hard to avoid.

Math Folks Get Math

There was a piece in a today's Montreal Gazette that argued that computer and engineering students in the province (a) have much less support for student strikes that seek to prevent increases in tuition.  Which just goes to show my assertions that folks who oppose tuition increases suck at Math and perhaps don't understand their self-interest.

The Arts/Humanities students argue that they are more interested in keeping tuition down since their long-term salaries are less likely to compensate for higher tuition.  Perhaps.  Perhaps the computer/commerce/engineering folks understand that the current and future costs of higher education in Quebec are an incredible deal compared to elsewhere in North America. 

The irony of this is that the passion for striking becomes reversed at the next level--the science graduate students tend to be more interested in striking because science research and teaching assistants are worked much harder (abused?), compared to those in the arts and social sciences. 

Anyhow, I prefer to think that the division between Arts and higher tech folks is not just one gets paid less in the future.  Instead, one gets the math of investing in higher education to maintain the value of the degree.  The others want the next generation to keep having a nearly free lunch, even if it means that the value of the degree sinks due to a lack of funds.

The good news for me is that McGill students tend not to strike over tuition even if they participate in rallies and protests.  Plus they are on break this week, so it is unlikely that they will get their act together to strike soon.  And not before too long, finals will be around the corner.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Simplest, Gold-Plated Plane

I love the contradictions in this one piece on the next USAF bomber.  They want it to be a simpler, less expensive plane, seemingly learning the lessons from previous planes--the incredibly expensive B-2 bomber in particular:
“We are going to make our best effort to not over-design the aircraft,” says Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. “We are intent on ordering a capability that is not extravagant.”
Wow, sounds great.  But then what do they want the plane to have?
  • stealth (which is expensive, since it requires special skin that helps to evade radar and more);
  • "capable of intelligence gathering, conducting electronic warfare and linking to offboard sensors"
  • "non-kinetic weaponry, including high-power microwave weapons, lasers and electronic attack."
  • "large magazine, which means small or repeating weapons, long-range radar and the ability to judge the effects of electronic attacks." [Won't the long-range radar make the plane easier to find since radar is the sending of signals to bounce off of stuff?  I am no expert here so correct me if I am wrong.]
  • "at least some supersonic dash speed"
Ok, so that is a pretty minimal, stripped down order for a cheap plane, right?  Of course not.  It is early in the process so maybe someone will decide that tradeoffs must be confronted and the plane may end being fast but not so stealthy or stealthy but not so great at electronic warfare, etc.

All I can think of this: more things change, the more they stay the same.

Gambling at Ricks? Part 34

The Montreal Gazette is running a series of stories about "NATO's secret war against Qaddafi."  Yep, those bombs were mighty stealthy last spring and summer.  The series is asserting that NATO took sides and sought regime change, not just civilian protection.  I am shocked.  Shocked I say.  Or not as I labeled a blog post "Standard Libya Post" to address the false dichotomy of civilian protection vs regime change. 

Yes, NATO let arms reach the rebels.  Yes, members of NATO did some of the arming directly.  Yes, NATO targeted Qaddafi's forces and not the rebels.  Why is any of this all that shocking in 2012? 

There is a larger question that this story does not seem to address and something that the R2P folks need to figure out: how do you responsibily protect people from an irresponsible government?  Can you do it without changing the regime which has proven to be unable to restrain itself from killing its people?  Folks who get indicted by the International Criminal Court perhaps might not be fit to be leaders anymore, so if you are going to protect civilians, what do you do about the indicted politicians who remain in power (not just Qaddafi but thinking these days of the people running Sudan)?

R2P logically implies regime change much of the time, which is why China and Russia are opposed to applying R2P to Syria (well, this is over-determined).  Pretending otherwise is just silly.  Yes, NATO sent mixed messages because its mandate to protect was clearer than its mandate to change Libya's government.  I dare anyone to tell me how NATO could have protected the Libyans beyond the shortest term without changing the regime of Libya.  Of course, the situation now is problematic, as there was no coherent alternative government to walk in and put all the militias back in the box.  Yes, NATO ended up supporting folks who were less restrained and likely to engage in revenge.  In these situations, you have to dance with the folks who are at the dance or you can stay home. 

Which raises questions about R2P and its implementation since the realities of intervention are always going to be far from pristine--siding with militias, supporting regime change, using violence.

And Libya was the easy case, by the way.

Montreal versus Quebec

Henry Aubin wrote a column today that tries to make the point that the Parti Quebecois does not understand or does not care that a secessionist effort would be bad for Montreal.  I think he is close but not quite there.  It is not so much that the PQ is "willfully ignoring Montreal" as much as it is that the PQ is running against Montreal.  In my ten years here, it has been quite clear that a rural vs urban, Montreal vs the Rest of Quebec (ROQ to parallel the ROC of the rest of Canada) divide is perhaps just as important or even more so than the Angophone/Francophone debate. 

Depending on the year, Montreal is:
  • the haven of immigrants that seemingly cannot assimilate into Quebec culture;
  • overrun by non-Francophones;
  • dominated by Anglophones;
  • and so on.
Yet the electoral laws undercount the voters of Montreal and overcount voters elsewhere.  As a result, the major economic engine of Quebec is often under-serviced.

I have no doubt that Aubin is right--that secession would be awful for Montreal and thus bad for the Quebec economy.  I also have no doubt that the PQ largely does not care since its political strategy focuses mostly on getting votes elsewhere by running against Montreal.  It makes sense politically, but as we all know, what is good for a party or a politician can be bad for a state/province/country.  For Kin or Country indeed!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Doctrine Man is My Mentor

One of my new favorite twitter-er's is Doctrine Man.  He writes a daily cartoon of military stuff, chock full of snark:

Anyhow, he also has a blog, with today's theme on mentoring.

He, of course, criticizes the army's perhaps too generalized and too systematic take on mentoring since it is not mathematical or formulaic.  Still, at least the army thinks about mentoring and tries to get its folks to think about mentoring.  In my business of academia, there is great variance in the quality of mentoring (aka supervision).  We mentor undergrads, grad students and even junior faculty.  We are mentored by senior faculty sometimes.  But there is very little training, with some schools offering various workshops that might or might not be well-attended.  I have no clue since I am usually too busy mentoring to attend such stuff.

Doctrine Man's facts about mentoring:
  • Fact No. 1: Mentoring relationships take time to develop.
  • Fact No. 2: Not everyone is suited to be a mentor.
  • Fact No. 3: Not everyone is a good candidate for mentoring.
  • Fact No. 4: Mentoring defies checklists, charts, and formulas.
  • Fact No. 5: Mentoring can’t be forced.
Ah, but there is the rub or several rubs.  Fact no. 2 is hard for the academic world, since all tenured folk at research universities are expected to supervise grad students.  We are all busy folks and some people either through intention or inattention become known as crappy advisers, which then makes the good advisers far busier.  That can then cause their supervision to suffer.  It is funny how the folks who supervise badly always seem to want to increase intake of new students.  

Anyhow, good supervision can become a bit of a curse and bad supervision can be rewarding in the sense that you get less work to do.  On the other hand, good mentoring can be very, very rewarding as the success of one's mentorees becomes one's own success.  I have had a few email exchanges this week with current and former students, leading to much satisfaction.  I do consider agreeing to supervise someone as an unbreakable vow, more or less--it becomes a binding magical contract. I am looking forward to the next International Studies Association meeting for the first gathering of "Team Steve"--my students who are now dispersed throughout North America.  Dinner will be on me.  I just hope they don't drink too much (but if they do, it is probably my fault).

I have not been a perfect mentor, and I have complained alot about how much work it is.  But in this business where metrics of success are hard to measure or can be very deceptive (citations may just mean that people hate your work), employed, productive former students are very much a source of pride.  My mentoring here has been my greatest contribution to McGill.  The funny thing is that I am already supervising a dissertation at Carleton, so the mentoring is not going to be stopping anytime soon.

I just wish I had some army training in the art of mentoring.  Or perhaps not. ;)