Friday, June 29, 2012

Whiny Fan Alert: Write Faster?

Whiny fans!

Glad I came to this series late.  Given how books 4 and 5 had some threads that seemed endless, I don't mind waiting as much for book 6.

Premature Panic About the Next Referendum

Folks are worried that in the next referendum on Quebec independence (if the question is clear), Canada will not show up nor will there be any leaders of the federal side.  There are some reasons to be concerned: the rest of Canada is tired of Quebec being subsidized; that those subsidies are creating entitlement (see months of student protest because their lowest tuition will be lower than the rest by less [it will go up but not enough to be at the same levels as elsewhere]; that there are no appealing Quebeckers who might be on the No side.  All true, but such arguments omit some important counter-weights:
  • Yes, the PQ will come back into power, but the party is hardly a unified entity.  As soon as Marois is in power, the cleavages will become more apparent.  Moreover, it will go into power, if it does, as the winner of a three-way fight.  It may gain a majority in seats with only thirty-something percent of the vote.  The rest of the vote would be going to a federalist party (if a lame one) and a new party, Coalition Avenir Québec [CAQ], that is not enthused about sovereignty (wants to kick that can down the road ten or more years). 
  • Speaking of lame leaders, Marois is unlikely to be convincing.  If she is the voice of independence, Canada may not have as much to worry about.  How does she compare to the previous generations of referendum leaders?  She is better than Rene Levesque? Is she more dynamic than Jacques Parizeau?  Looking at only lame Federalists makes one forget that the current crop of sovereigntists are pretty lame, too.
  • Demographic changes in Quebec make it less likely that a yes vote will succeed.  Sure, Anglophones did flee (as I am doing right now), but they are offset by the waves of immigrants who moved to Quebec, became citizens and learned French.  What the PQ will find out is this: learning French does not make one a sovereigntist.  Indeed, these folks may have moved to Quebec because they wanted to live in Canada, and Quebec was a favored part of that Canadian entity in which to reside. 
  • Polls show that Quebeckers are not in love with another sovereignty debate.  Hence the popularity of the newest hot third party--CAQ.  So, while the spirit in favor of a united Canada may not be as willing this time as last, the same is true for the other side.
Confirmation bias abounds.  People are noticing only that which appeals to their arguments, including, of course, me.  The truly important thing is this: my home value no longer rides as much on this as live now in Ottawa and not Montreal.  And isn't everything always about me?

Meme of the Day: Moving to Canada?

Ignorance is just bliss--for those who can mock the ignorant.  Given how busy I was yesterday with movers and technicians and such, I did catch the big health care ruling, but I did not really see the stream of tweets about "moving to Canada" until late at night.

I thought it had to be just a joke, right?  [Insert SNL bit: really?  Really?  REALLY?  Really?!] I mean, Canada has public health care that dwarfs what Obama put into motion.  I hesitate to call it a national health care system since it is distributed by province, but it is definitely government-provided.  Indeed, my move will help me test my beliefs on this score--will my family have better access in Ottawa than it did in Montreal?

But while reading these tweets, I realized that the folks who are probably most upset about the ruling are the same folks who would say that they support many of its elements if asked one by one and Obama's name is taken off of it.  The funny thing about these folks saying this (even if only a portion of them are not joking) is that the two countries' health care debates have always obsessed about the other.  In Canada, they tend to accept the flaws in the system since they only compare themselves to the tragedies in the American system--people going bankrupt and losing their house as they pay extraordinary bills.  So, they wait and wait and wait, and, at least in Montreal, sit in hospitals that are beaten to crap.  In the US, people focus on the waiting times in Canada and forget how unequal the American experience is.  In neither country do people think that hard about models outside of North America. 

All I can say is that I am glad that the Canadian media has not caught up to me on this one--I really don't want to be answering questions about whether Americans will genuinely seek to move up here because of this ruling.  They didn't flood north to escape Bush.  If anything, folks might try to move up here because the job market is better.  But that may be temporary as government austerity seems to be contagious.  As the drop in government spending in the US seems to be responsible for a significant hunk of the current employment, it seems to be the case that this is the one thing that Canada (at least Harper) wants to imitate--starving the government.

Unpacking is Such Sweet Sorrow

Sensing a theme?  We started to unpack as the movers got our stuff off the truck, but it is going to take a while.  It can be easy and it can be hard.  Easy was last night when I opened the box next to my desk and found all of the stuff that I plug into my laptop: monitor, speakers, keyboard, mouse, etc.  Hard is trying to find the pillows so that I could go to bed--ended up in the second to last box in the bedroom.  As a result, I do have one song in my head this morning.  No, I am not dealing drugs to pay for the house.  I have seen where that leads.

It could be worse.  We got wifi almost immediately or else this would have been me:

One implication of the experience thus: don't expect me to go someplace for my next sabbatical (kicked further down the road due to the move).  Perhaps the one after that after the details of moving fade from my memory. 

I do love my new house, and I enjoy the adventure of figuring out where everything is going to go.  Plus SHOPPING for stuff shall be fun whether it is a new TV (done), furniture to replace the grad school era stuff we finally dumped (no success thus far), or blinds/hardware/mundane stuff (in the next few days). 

Blogging will remain at a minimum until I can find most of the stuff, and most of the stuff is in its place.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moving is Such Sweet Sorrow

We are amid move, with lessons about the process and observations about Ottawa most fresh in our minds.  Too tired to write coherently, the best I can do is a set of bullets:
  • Make sure that when the movers leave your house that the house back together.  When they left, they had not put the door back on our Montreal house.  Ooops.  At first, we could not find the pins that go in the hinges.  When those turned up, things got easier.  But perhaps very appropriate given that our first week in Montreal involved a bathroom door that would not open and I was on the wrong side of it.
  • Bring bulbs.  Light bulbs, that is.  Our new house is good shape, except the previous owner's solution to busted light bulbs was to eat carrots?  
  • Guilt a certain secret squirrel by paying for a delightful dinner.  I expect to be paid back in baked goods.
  • Ottawa is easy to navigate--missed a turn but was still able to get to dinner.
  • Speaking of which, Spoon!  We were introduced to a frozen yogurt place that was fun.  Good way to end the evening.
  • Oh, and keep track the damn powercords of the other computers in the family.  Good thing the kid is off at camp.  I am sure the cords will turn up since we left nothing behind.
  • Driving in Ottawa is a pleasure--lights are better timed, roads are smoother, less traffic.  My commute will be almost entirely along the Rideau Canal.  Very nice.   
Cannot think of anything else--but that speaks to my being fried.

Today, the movers arrive and we start the great unpacking.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Goodbye and Thanks for All The Fish

As I head off into the sunset, I have a few last words, of course.  Well, words and videos (use Chrome if you have problems--I blame uber-Google for my recent Firefox/video problemos).

As I have said again and again, I will miss the undergrads at McGill. Thanks for making the last ten years a blast.  They were more than a willing audience, asking tough questions that forced me to think and re-think.  I am pretty sure that no one is going to stop them:

I am so proud of the grad students who not only did all of my grading and research, but also are making major contributions with their own work.  While I complained about all the work I had to do as their supervisor, their success is mine.  And, their future, well, is ....:

I am leaving McGill in good hands--a new chair and the imminent ascension of a great bunch of folks means I am probably leaving at the wrong time.  I owe those Associate Professors a debt that I can never repay although I did buy them some beer.

I will miss most the frisbee folks who caught my throws no matter how errant and who made up for my lousy defense.  They also taught me a lot of French--well, Quebec curse words.  These folks have big hearts and a bounty of silliness.

Wait!  There is an ultimate frisbee song:

Wait, another one by a guy I played against often and sometimes with in Montreal:

Hey, it makes sense that I post three different videos for the ultimate community of Montreal--they were that much fun, and I used to play three nights a week.

To my Montreal friends, thanks for making the past decade a very enjoyable time for my family and me.

If you end up in Ottawa, stop by and we can share a pitcher of beer:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dance Your Diss

Fourth annual Dance Your Dissertation winner:

I have two and a half (the half is a student who has me on his committee) PhD students completing this summer.  My challenge to them: Dance Your Dissertation!

These Are The Cities I Know, I Know

As my time in Montreal is ending, I have been thinking about how it compares with the many places I have lived during my academic journey around North America.  Leaving aside the Philadelphia suburbs of my youth (didn't really partake of the city nor have incredibly fond memories of high school) or summer camp (great place but it could have been anywhere--the experience was entirely the people), that leaves us with Oberlin, San Diego, Burlington (VT), Lubbock, suburban Virginia, and Montreal.

As always, when grading, the top and bottom of the scales are the easiest.  As readers of my blog know, I was not very fond of my Lubbock experience.  I never felt like I belonged, entertaining my kid meant going to the mall since it was too hot to do much for about four months, the dust storms and the raining mud, the place was hostile to Halloween, and all of my friends were either in the department (only temporarily since all were destined to move on) or on the frisbee team--and it took a few years to get enough people together to have just one team.  We were friendly with our neighbors but had little in common.  Not a horrible place to live, but not one that I would have chosen.

On the other side of the spectrum, the answer to the question "where would I live if I could chose" is most obviously San Diego.  This is, of course, colored by the great experience I had at UCSD--just terrific folks in grad school.  But aside from that, great weather, great food, beaches!, we snorkeled, it was just beautiful (opposite end of the topography spectrum from flat Lubbock), and the traffic was not entirely awful.  Might be now, but what I experienced was just a great place to live.  No shortage of things to do--it would have been fun to raise a kid in that town.  Each weekend we could have gone some place completely different.  Four climates all available in a couple of hours.  Every time I go back, I have the same exact question: why was I so eager to leave?

The ones in the middle are harder to rank.  I have a deep fondness for Oberlin because it was such a great place to go to college.  Just a lively environment, interesting and interested people, but the winters were dim, the spring and fall were windy and often gray.  In my day, there were few restaurants.  While the college did a great job in bringing stuff to town, it is a great place to be a student, but to live?  

Burlington was a good place to live after grad school.  I had the most beautiful commute of my life--with mountains on either side and a lake that iced over in winter.  The skiing was great.  The town has a surprising number of good restaurants and food trucks.  The neighbors were very friendly, and we felt more at home there than most other places.  But it was remote, with limited non-snow things to do.  Could have had more ultimate.

Suburban Virginia (Burke in Fairfax County) felt mighty familiar as my wife grew up in the Maryland suburbs, I spent two years there as well growing up, and many of my camp friends were from the area.  I did take my young daughter to the Mall on a regular basis--mostly to the natural history museum.  It was a great place to be in the policy world as I did get to go to a bunch of events at think tanks until I got competent enough in my Pentagon job that I could not disappear for a couple of hours.  We had a chance to spend much time with my in-laws and my blond nieces.  The traffic was awful, but I didn't experience it much since I went to work so early.  If I lived there for real, the traffic would have ended my ultimate career, I think. The Metro system is falling apart, according to my twitter feed.

Then there is Montreal.  While I complain much here about the roads, the traffic, the nationalism, the people have been mighty friendly to us.  Our neighborhood feels like a neighborhood.  The skiing has been terrific except for this last winter of rain.  The ultimate community has been amazing, so I got to travel all over the city and meet plenty of people, learning heaps of Quebec curse words as a result.  We loved going to the comedy festival, and it appears to be against the law to be a lousy restaurant.  Other than Mexican food, we can get whatever we want here.  Well, I am not a big fan of Montreal's bagels.  The big obstacle to enjoying the city has been the roads--that they are designed to congest, so we did not explore as much of the city as we would have liked.  But in terms of pure enjoyment, I have to say that Montreal was terrific.

So, if I have to rank where I have lived (and blog rules say I must), focusing on where I would like to live again:

SD >  Montreal (due to ultimate community) > Surburban VA/DC > Burlington > Oberlin > Lubbock, but with Mtl/DC/VT very closely ranked.  I might have a different order of those three if I was in a different mood.  Recency bias may be at work.

I will miss Montreal a great deal.  The folks where I live, many of the faculty where I worked, all of the people I played ultimate with and against will be missed.  The skiing choices will not be as good or as close in Ottawa.  The ultimate, however, should be fun, as their community of frisbee folks is bigger than Montreal's.  But will I find folks to be as spirited, as silly?  Probably not.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Turkey, Syria, and NATO: Give Up Your Pundit License

All those thinking that the shooting down of a Turkish plane by Syria will lead to NATO going to war against Syria: please stand back from your computer.  Your pundit license has been suspended.  The folks at Atlantic Council have a good rundown on this, but here is my superfluous take anyway (hard to do anything but blog while house is being put into boxes). 

  1. One fighter shot down is not an attack.  It is kind of a "defense."  It is too small of an event to trigger anything.
  2. Even if Syria did something more significant, there is no automaticity to a NATO response.  The members would gather and vote eventually.  NATO members could then disagree about whether anything that happened was attack-y enough.  Just as someone will not get tenure because there are enough profs who do not like the candidate, merit has got only a bit to do with this.  Turkey has had rough relations with a number of NATO members over EU membership.  So, it is not the most favored member of the org.  Oh, and you can bet that Greece would be less than helpful.
  3. Even if NATO agreed to invoke Article V--an attack upon one = attack upon all, this would not produce an automatic response or result.  The language of article V provides heaps of wiggle room--each country to help as it deems necessary. So, after Article V was invoked after 9/11, some members of NATO did not participate in the patrols of NATO aircraft over American cities during major events.  So, an attack upon Turkey, even if A.5 is invoked, would not actually obligate any NATO member to respond in any specific kind of way.
  4. With the US exhausted and reluctant to expend more resources on yet another war in the Mideast, it would certainly not be pushing for aggressive response until/unless Syria does something more significant than shoot down one plane.  What the US really does not want is for there to be a debate about Turkey at NATO since that would raise tensions and widen existing cleavages within the alliance.
So, Turkey may be consulting with NATO, but this may more about signalling either to Syria to back off or to NATO that it should step up before things escalate.  This might also mean that Turkey is constrained by NATO--that it cannot dance off on its own.

If NATO did act in Turkey's defense, then the UN loses relevance.  NATO has acted before without the UN (Kosovo), and the grounds here would be better--collective defense.  This does not mean that Russia loses relevance as there are plenty of tools in the Russian box of annoyance, including sending more arms, sending personnel, and otherwise raising the risks of escalation.

As I was asked via twitter, this is not the first Russian friend to face these challenges, so why would Russia be more concerned and more willing to engage in risky behavior over Syria than over other places?  I don't really know except order does matter--that is, this is AFTER Libya and after other friends fell.  Is this put up or shut up time for Russia?  I hope not.  Then again, NATO is somewhat at risk here as well.

This Game of Syrian Thrones: very dangerous.  But nobody is jumping too quickly into the fray yet.

Kicking the Can Down the Road

In the best spirit of counter-insurgency, I am going to kick a particular can down the road.  Rather than posting about the excerpts from the new hot book on Afghanistan by, I am going to wait to read the entire thing, and then probably produce an epic blogpost.  The book is triggering much interest because it has reported interesting infighting in DC (no surprise), inter-service rivalry in Afghanistan (no surprise), and alliance tensions (no surprise).

The book will, if I am correct, do an excellent job of illustrating all of the dysfunctions that folks who have followed the war are pretty familiar with.  Chandrasekaran's previous book, Imperial Life in an Emerald City, was infuriating because it made abundantly clear how bad the Iraq occupation was managed.  This new book will probably show smarter and better trained people making mistakes and having a lot of conflict.

The only thing I really want to say now is that the framing is a bit off.  If Holbrooke was completely empowered by the Obama White House, he still would not have been able to make a deal with the Taliban.  Bosnia 1995 and Af-Pak 2009 are two different contexts with Serbia and Croatia ready for peace.  Was Pakistan ready in 2009?  Was the Taliban?  What kind of deal would they have not only been willing to sign but actually to observe?  Thus far, the Taliban record for keeping deals is pretty meager.  

Anyhow, that is enough for now--I will read the book in July and post my reactions to the entire thing.  I am sure that I will be appalled.  

Defensive? But Of Course

My post yesterday on the NYT op-ed that, well, got much wrong about political science went pretty viral--hitting more than one thousand pageviews here and another near 1k over at the Duck.  Pretty cool.  Well, except that I would have preferred that Jacqueline Stevens had not published her piece in the NYT at all.

Anyhow, I got criticized in one or two places as being defensive.  I don't mind getting criticized.  Indeed, (a) it is a social science after all, which means people tell me that I am wrong all the time, and it is my job to try to persuade them otherwise; (b) I am attention hound and admitted narcissist so criticism = attention > being ignored.

My post was hardly perfect or complete.  For instance, I only took issue with Stevens' depiction of positivist political science--I didn't try to defend post-positivist views.  Why?  I know what I am and I know what I am not.  While I would and have supported the hiring of people who do political science in ways that I don't really think of as political science, I only do political science as I conceive of it--as the development of generalized understandings of how the political world works via development and testing of hypotheses with the aim to provide policy implications.

What I do want to take issue with today is something much sillier and yet much more common: the criticism that one is being defensive.  I got that yesterday, and it does not hurt me.  It just annoys me greatly.   It always has annoyed me.  Why?  Because if one is attacked, one has two responses--ignore the attack or defend oneself. So, silence is certainly an option but not really a strength of mine.  Also, silence is often confused with condoning the accusation.  "If you didn't think it was right, why didn't you say anything?"  If you say anything, you are being defensive.  Damned if you, damned if you don't.

Of course, there is being defensive and there is being DEFENSIVE.  I remember one of my first talks at a conference, I tried to reply to every single comment and criticism rather than just picking and choosing a few of the relevant/salient/useful/harmful.  But the simple act of responding to riposte in one's direction to deflect the accusation and perhaps illuminate why the attack is flawed is defensive, right?  Why is being defensive wrong?  The answer: it is not.  If someone tries to spread rumors about you, and you then broadcast your view of the truth, is that problematic?  I think not.

The point of this particular Spew is just to suggest that if your best criticism is that someone is being "defensive," think again.  There are better justifications for dismissing my arguments than that.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Moving Anxiety

As we wait for the movers to arrive to pack us up and then move us down the road, I cannot help but be a bit anxious.  None of our moving experiences have been awful, but there have been some hiccups.  Let's see if I can remember them all:
  • East Coast to San Diego: Everything in or on my 1971 Buick Elektra.  No real problems besides the joy of driving coast to coast in a car with no AC.  We timed going through the Mojave at night, but it was so dark and we were so tired.  The bumpy things on the edges of the highway were new to us and not that reassuring.
  • San Diego to Vermont: The truck was late because they didn't turn off and ended up in Canada. 
  • Vermont to Texas: Late because the truck broke down and they didn't have any flashlights.  This meant my pregnant wife was sleeping on the floor as we were too cheap/poor to stay in a hotel. 
  • Texas to Virginia: No problems as we had the Allied Master Mover, who was designated as such because he was always on time, had no complaints and such. He was fantastic. 
  • Virginia to Montreal: We had to go with the firm that McGill used.  Ug.  We loved our Allied experience but could not go back.  McGill's moving policies were terrific otherwise.  My wife and daughter got to spend several days in a Montreal hotel while I was in our furniture-less house with the dogs.  The big complication was getting our Honda across the border since we owed money on this.  But back to the movers, they had a truck that was juuuuust the right size.  Nothing less assuring than having the mover say: do you really want those bookcases?  Um, yes, we own them.  And we own a lot of books, so he had to re-arrange to get the stuff in the truck.
The latest move is the shortest in our lives except for changing apartments in San Diego.  We shall see how it goes.

Wish us luck!

Best Pop Culture Satire Ever

I should be doing moving stuff but this Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator is incredibly amusing (h/t

Self-Hating Political Scientist

I tried, I really tried, to ignore the screed at the NYT against political science (especially of the quant variety), but Jacqueline Stevens's rant is such a poor effort that I know it will be widely read and influential.  Why?  Because bad ideas often spread further and faster than good ones (see Clash of Civilizations).

There are so many things wrong with this piece that it is hard to know where to start.  First, I am , of course, much of what this women hates about political science.  I have actually worked not just with Department of Defense dollars but actually in the Pentagon and, dare I say it?, liked it.  I have taken National Science Foundation [NSF] money--about $4,000.  I have used .... data!

Ok, with that disclaimer aside, I guess the only way to address this piece is to go through it from the top..  Otherwise, I might write something as incoherent as Stevens's piece.  Ok, one more disclaimer, I am mighty miffed to see a left-wing political scientist end up being a fellow traveler with the right-wing ones that are trying to de-fund NSF's political science program.  I don't know this person as her work is in political theory, a subfield that I do not know well.

Stevens argues that "it's an open secret" that the creation of "contrived data sets" has failed to produce "accurate political predictions."  Oh, really?  Yes, anyone creating a data set understands that coding political behavior means making assessments and assumptions.  But any other methodology that seeks to generalize about politics also has to make assessments and assumptions.  So, quantitative work will vary, just as qualitative work will, in how well they are performed.  Yes, there are alternatives to using the past in either slices of numbers or in case studies, such as experiments and surveys and game theory--but they will have the same problems.  So, either we go ahead and try to test our hypotheses and figure out whether there are generalizable dynamics or we don't.  If we don't, then we don't need federal grant money or any funding, as we can just think and write without doing the hard work of gathering data via coding or via interviews or whatever.

The second problem with this sentence is this: most of us do not aspire to provide accurate predictions of single events.  Most of us seek to understand the causes of outcomes, which leads us t be able to predict that y is more likely or perhaps only possible if x is present (which she ultimately condemns in her conclusion).  This can lead to predictions.  Indeed, having more understanding should allow us to develop expectations.  Having less understanding or no understanding is probably not the pathway to predicting anything.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Obvious Blogging Outage

For the next week, blogging, well by me anyway, will be intermittent as moving is commencing.  So, unless I get more done to prep or inspiration drives my hands to fly across the keyboard, you can expect less Spew.

While I am busy supervising packers/movers and then driving to Ottawa and unpacking, you can post here suggestions for July Spew-age.  Let me know what I miss while my head is buried in boxes and as my wifi is getting re-connected.  Plus any advice on living in Ottawa (or frisbee teams that need an old/slow handler) is most welcome.

[I am realizing that google's purchase of youtube means that videos work better on Chrome these days than Firefox]
I will have some stuff auto-posting as I leave town.  Anyhow, see you in the flipside.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Artificial Deadlines: Not This Time

Brian Rathbun's post gets much right about how academics operate, especially the setting of artificial deadlines to motivate production.  That he posted it the same day that (a) stop doing academic work so that I can get ready for the movers on Monday; and (b) that my co-author, Dave Auerswald, and I send our book manuscript out to our preferred press for their consideration seems most apt.

Yes, "NATO and Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone" is done.  I fully expect both NATO and Afghanistan to cooperate and not change much while the book is under review.  Both seemed agreeable.  I always warn my students not to study a current event, as one might get hosed by changes in reality that upset one's conclusions.  This is all driven by a friend's experience who was writing a research paper in college in the fall of 1986 arguing about how successful the US arms embargo was against Iran.  And then Iran-Contra happened. 

The way we dealt with this challenge was to focus on much but not all of the NATO experience in Afghanistan--from the start until early 2010.  It has been the case that our predictions and explanations could cover the subsequent period, but revising on a daily basis did not make sense.  Plus our interview were mostly prior to 2011.  We did squeeze in a new chapter--Libya--as it started and ended in a time frame convenient for us, and covering the various actors all in one chapter did not require as much depth as covering a few of the actors (US, France, UK, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand) in Afghanistan with much greater depth.

As readers of this blog know, I loved the research for this effort and not just because of the tourism it facilitated.  I not only have had a terrific co-author, but I met a bunch of smart, interesting, engaging people along the way--military officers, policy-makers, diplomats, experts, academics, journalists and others.  Oh, and the beer was pretty terrific as well in all the places we visited.  More acknowledgements will come--in the acknowledgements section of the book.  The readers of my blog here and other places I post online have been helpful as well, pushing me to think more clearly, if not write more clearly.

Anyhow, the book is out of our hands now.  Time to focus on moving, on the various responsibilities I have been putting off (setting up the Foreign Policy Analysis program for next year's ISA, among others), and start on the next book.

Cartoon Du Jour

Just a great bit of insightful silliness here:


I love the sideburns and bellbottoms, but the phone is the best.  I remember when we got our first push-button phone--in the mid-1980's.  A friend noticed and welcomed my family in the 1970's.

H/T to!/caidid/

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ally Confusion

My latest at CIC: who are allies of the US and Canada and who are just friends?  Some folks are mighty confused.

The Joy of Moving

Moving is one of the greatest hassles, one of the most significant causes of stress (up there with death, divorce, weddings, and grading).  But this big change has been, well, a big boost as well.  I remember very fondly the going away party that my favorite cruise director ex-colleague threw for lil' Steve, Katri S and myself over ten years ago.

Well, the advantage of having a long, long goodbye has been that I have had a heap of Sally Field Oscar moments.  Yes, I am just as/more insecure than the average academic that feels like an imposter.  Given the slings and arrows received over the past four years or so, the year's long farewell has been a big boost.

It started with the comments on my announcement.  It was reinforced by the gifts I received from the Pol Sci undergrad student association.  I then had a great beer and dinner with the McG poli sci staff. I had a nice beer with my fellow associate professors and then another great beer swilling with a few of the last McG students I know well. And most recently, my teammates threw me a surprise ultimate pickup game.*    I have been very moved, very touched by the experience.  I will miss these great people and am forever thankful that "social media" (that would be Facebook, Twitter and the rest) will allow me to keep in touch with these folks.

There are two obvious ways to get recognized: die and be eulogizied or leave and be feted on the way out.  Thus far, I prefer the latter.  Thanks again.

*  My daughter's friends pulled a similar trick on her--turning an ordinary outing into going away festivities.

Darker is Better?

With a new, apparently darker Spider-man movie about to come out, I began to vent into a broken twitter today: dark is not always better. It may be the case that this Spider-man is better than Raimi's or perhaps just different.  But I am pretty damned sure that the new Batman movie will, ahem, pale in comparison to Avengers as an entertainment experience.  I doubt that it will inspire multiple posts applying to and from IR as Avengers did.  Maybe it will.

I will probably like the movie, but not because it is darker.  Having a darker view of anything is not inherently better or worse, although it does seem to be more likely to be reviewed positively.  Likewise, I often notice reviewers who complain that a TV show is sentimental.  Why is having sentiment (positive) bad?  Indeed, there is a contradiction here, because two of the very best comedies on TV are very, very sweet: Parks and Rec and Community.  Seinfeld was not at all sentimental and sometimes quite dark (the death of George's fiance).  Tis the quality and the context that matter, not the shadings. 

Sure, some folks will like darker stuff because they like a dark view of humanity or they are depressed or like the world to be more depressed than they are.  Some folks like everything to be sunny because they are depressed and need a pick me up or because they are sunny and don't like downers or because they have a positive view of humanity that they don't want disturbed.

For me, dark and light are like volume--I like somethings loud and somethings quiet.  I don't think things should always be loud or quiet--it depends on context, content and execution.  Which is why I doubt that I will like the next Spidey or Batman movies more than Avengers--because Joss Whedon did a great job of executing the movie.  Prometheus was hell-a-dark, but, well, was pretty flawed.

I think this song captures it all:

Work and Life and Women: Heavy Dose of Perspective Sauce

Anne-Marie Slaughter's post at the Atlantic is flying around the internet this morning.  Read it.  Now!  It is a long but fascinating, persuasive, engaging, articulate piece about the dilemmas of being a woman in the 21st century.  Can such a person "have it all"?  Probably not.  She addresses the perceptions, the tradeoffs, and what must change. 

Much of what she said resonated with me even though I am not a woman, and my wife is an aspiring novelist.  During my year in the Pentagon, I left for work before the family woke up and returned, exhausted, after dinner and just before my kindergarten-er went to bed.  I could only really interact with my daughter on weekends--going to relatives, going to the Mall, going to the parks nearby.  It was not a bad year to be "away" since she was engaged in her first year of school, had more family in the neighborhood than ever before or since, and was pretty easy to manage.  It was still a hard year for my wife (even if we leave aside my workplace being attacked by terrorists and by anthrax packages).  It was a hard year for me--I enjoy hanging out with my kid.  I still do although we do not have that much time left as she is now in high school.

Anyhow, the point is that Ann-Marie Slaughter did an excellent job of marshalling not only her experiences and that of people she knows but also scholarship on the issue.  A couple of her key implications are:

"Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier."

"Fortunately, changing our assumptions is up to us"
I not only re-tweeted her post but thanked her via twitter.  She responded back that she is getting heaps more agreement on this than on her foreign policy stances.  I am not surprised--it is much harder to say to someone like her today that she does not know what she is talking about, that it is all about the work.  Of course it is easier to disagree about her stance on Syria, where "other side" of the argument has much firmer ground to stand upon.  And I guess that is progress.  As she notes in the piece, much progress has been made since the days of Mad Men.

Again, read the piece.

Quick, Change!

One of the fun but scary dynamics involved with moving are all of the changes that occur at once: new friends, new neighbors, new teammates, new colleagues, new traffic patterns, new shopping, new restaurants, and perhaps even the chance to re-invent oneself.  Will I able to become a hard-ass in my teaching so that students quake and never turn in work late or expect grade changes?  Hmmm.

While I ponder that, consider this video tweeted by the man who perfected the career change from child actor/doctor to international man of mystery, Neil Patrick Harris:

I like the video alot, although the change-themed song I still prefer is:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Belated Reaction to UVA Mess

The story of the President of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, being dismissed by the Board of Visitors (think Regents or Governors) has spread far and wide.  I will not get into the details, but provide a few of my reactions.

What is the academic equivalent of "if you mess with the bull, you get the horns"?  Check out this and this.  When folks with, ahem, limited worldviews mess with really smart, over-educated people, they will lose the war of words and ideas.  Yes, the Visitors may succeed in winning the war--who controls UVA--but at significant cost.  Wulf's resignation (the first link) is pretty devastating as he is a man who has done pretty much everything to a high degree of success, that he has been strategically dynamic or dynamically strategic or whatever.  Academics tend to have expertise, access to facts, and a keen ability to put it all together pretty well.  Sure, they have no real power except the power to make people look foolish.  So, the BoV now looks pretty foolish.

The truly stunning thing is that they chose to fire someone who is incredibly rare in the academic enterprise: a university leader respected by pretty much everyone.  Sullivan was apparently able to get everyone to buy in to her approach.  The only folks who didn't like her are a few people on the board.  Otherwise, she was able to convince most of the community to support her.  This should not be underestimated. Herding cats?  Getting academics, students, and everyone else to move in the same direction is harder than herding cats: perhaps herding cats, dogs and birds?  Why mess with that? 

One can debate about whether "business model" as a concept applies to a university given that:
"Universities have multiple inputs & uncountable and unpredictable outputs. And that’s how we like them." From Slate
But the idea that universities should adopt strategic dynamism is silliness.  Universities cannot adjust quickly to exogenous shocks and changes in the marketplace.  Much of what we do involves reputations--that schools are valued for perceived impact, whether that is teaching, the quality of the students or in research.  None of that changes very quickly.  Universities are less like sailboats and more like aircraft carriers--damn hard to turn around quickly.

While I like to generalize and move around in my research, I know there are many things I cannot do, including run a business.  Perhaps those who run businesses might be just a bit more humble about their expertise beyond their experiences.  Dan Snyder has not been very good for the Washington Redskins football team despite being a dandy businessperson.  Peter Angelos was a very successful lawyer, but the Orioles have failed since he got the franchise.  Just perhaps the big business folks who got appointed to the Board of Visitors have few clues about what it takes to run a university.  Just a guess.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gunning for the Game

NBC has a new reality show: Stars for Stripes.  The idea is that some C level celebrities (Dean Cain, Picaboo Street, Todd Palin, etc) will complete in military style competitions, complete with trainers who co-compete with them.  I love the wonderful symmetry between NBC as a crappy network and the Democrats as a crappy party both relying on a retired general, Wesley Clark, who is universally reviled among folks in the US military.

But the point of this post is to suggest potential games for the competition.  The articles I have seen mention target shooting and, I think, rappelling out of helicopters.  From my time in the Pentagon and then as an observer via twitter and various interactions/interviews over the past decade, I have a few suggestions:

  1. Powerpoint Ranger: The contestants must take a concept or plan and devise the most complex set of slides.  Extra points for flying graphics that swoop across the screen.
  2. Acronym Alphabet: Competitors must be able to list acronyms from A to Z--the one that can keep going the longest wins.
  3. Moving Machines: The first contestant to move their belongings from one base to another to a third without losing more than 10% of their belongings wins.
  4. PC DFAC: During the competition, the contestants must eat only at military dining facilities and must avoid all pork products.  Anyone who eats a pork product is out.  Also known as the Green Zone Challenge.
  5. Service Rivalry: Each contest will be associated with a service and within that service a distinct branch (Surface vs Sub, Armor vs Infantry vs. Arty; Pilot vs Missileer, etc).  Contestants will compete to buy the biggest, most expensive and least useful pieces of equipment.  Winner is the one that gets the largest percentage of the budget.
  6. Word-Smithing: Each contestant will be given a document and will have to change all of the nouns and verbs to their synonyms, such as small dog to puppy. 
  7. Hooah?  Another mindgame: contestants will compete to see who can figure out the meaning of a "hooah" given the context of a particular situation.
  8. Navy Fashion: Contestants who dresses the fastest in the correct uniform once they are told which season it is wins.
Ok, that is what I got thus far.  What say you?

Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

I have been engaged in a running twitter conversation with NATOSource about the value added to NATO of Greece and whether NATO would miss Greece if it left the alliance.

Of course, before I get going, Greece would never leave NATO since it would never want to be outside an alliance that includes Turkey.  While Greece has not been able to use NATO as protection against Turkey while inside NATO, any Greek provocations if Greece were outside might just be a bit more problematic.  Plus being inside both NATO and the EU gives Greece multiple opportunities to screw over Turkey and Macedonia.  What more could Greece want? 

Anyhow, to use Bill Simmon's analogy, does Greece put more on the table than it takes off the table?  When I asked NATOSource, the answer was:
  1. Geostrategic value in NATO's southern flank
  2. Irreplaceable bases in the Eastern Med
  3. Net stabilizer in the Balkans--troops in KFOR.
Hmm.  I am not impressed.   Re #1, NATO's southern flanks against whom?  Given that Greece is now surrounded by NATO allies (Bulgaria, Albania, Turkey) and future members (Macedonia), I think the southern flank is fine sans Greece.  Irreplaceable bases?  This must boil down to Crete, right?  Otherwise, NATO could base on territories near Greece without much loss of a capability.  Crete was handy for Libya, but how often is that going to happen?  Re #3: stabilizer?  Greece's positions towards Macedonia hardly count as stabilizing and offset the mighty 150 Greek troops at are part of KFOR.

While Afghanistan cannot nor should not be the be-all of NATO, it is telling that for much of the mission, Greece had 150 or so Afghanistan--about the same size as each of the Baltic republics.  Go ahead, check the old placemats.

So, Greece's added value is Crete as far as I can tell.  What does Greece "take off the table"?  What costs does Greece impose on the alliance? 
  1. Well, blocking efforts to improve EU/NATO coordination mostly just to screw with Turkey.
  2. Blocking Macedonia's entry into NATO  (which might be a marginal gain except for those who care about maps with no holes) due to Greece's name obsession.
  3. The ongoing feud between Greece and Turkey on all things, so that NATO occasionally has a war among members.  Good times.  Yes, Greece's irredentism is just as problematic as Turkey's.  And like Turkey, Greece's democracy has occasionally been suspect.
So, it is hard to measure the various pro's and con's, but it is relatively clear that Greece is not a boon to NATO.  Whether it is net bane, I leave up to the readers.

I am not advocating kicking Greece out of NATO (although it was my pick and that of many others in the poll a month or two ago of experts on NATO).  I am just saying that Greece has little leverage in that direction (especially compared with potentially destroying the Euro). 

Or am I completely wrong?

Tsk, Tsk, Canada!

Today, I have a post at Canadian International Council on the latest reactions to Quebec's protest season.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights lumped bill 78 essentially in with other acts of human rights repression such as the demise of Hungarian democracy.

I found this pretty appalling, so I thought I would suggest a list of real sins that Western democracies have committed and are more deserving of UN HCHR opprobrium:
  1. Disenfranchising voters who might be Hispanic, Black or otherwise likely Democratic voters in the US.
  2. Treatment of indigenous peoples in Australia (Aborigines), US (Native Americans), Canada (First Nations), etc.
  3. The Death Penalty in the US.
  4. The rise of xenophobia, especially in Europe.  Imagine if countries were trying to restrict refugees from Arab Spring from landing on their shores. Oh, right.  It happened.
  5. Fox News and its destruction of understanding.
  6. Donald Trump.
  7. The never-ending American presidential election--so punishing to all involved, especially those subjected to campaign ads in swing states.
  8. Dan Snyder's reign as owner of the Redskins and Peter Angelos's reign as owner of the Orioles.
  9. Madonna's English accent.
  10. The firing of Dan Harmon and the placing of Community on Friday night.  Anything short of six season and a movie is worthy of an International Criminal Court prosecution.
So, what do you suggest as serious or less serious human rights violations that should supplant Quebec's Bill 78 on the UNHCHR's list?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lying Frisbee Players!

The usual pre-game cheer--this time with extra Mojo!
Funny that I set up the blog up to auto-post a few pic-posts of my ultimate frisbee experience in Montreal, and then I go out and get seriously moved by a surprise pick up game thrown in my honor last night.  The captain for the past half dozen years of General Admission (GA), my Sunday night team, told me that we had to play two games last night since next week is a holiday (St. Jean de Baptiste--QC's would be independence day) and the other team could not play next week.    So, when I got to the field, I kept asking people who are opponent was, and people kept demurring saying that they didn't know.  LIARS!  Every single one of them.  My first ever surprise party, and I was very surprised.

I know my place--on the offensive line
Indeed, they had to explain a couple of times that the folks were there to play with me. I thought they were teasing. Nope, so we played a very silly game--where I tried some throws I never would throw in a competitive situation such as a behind the back blind pass into the endzone (almost caught).  

I was very moved, and the pics here will always remind me of the very best part of Montreal--my ultimate Ultimate friends. Merci beaucoup for everything, especially making me look good by catching my questionable passes, throwing the disk at the edge of my decreasing range so that I could dive for the disk, and compensating for my lousy defense.  I doubt that I will find a group of folks that combine fun, competitiveness, spirit, and all the rest in one package.  It truly has been my pleasure.

An obviously very silly group of people with big hearts.