Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Viral Marketing I Can Believe In

AMC is engaging in some interesting bargaining tactics with the satellite folks:


Oh my.



Politicology? Um, No Thanks

Last month, I blasted a Political Scientist, or perhaps a Politicologist, Jacqueline Stevens, for her piece in the New York Times.  This past week, she took issue with her critics, including me.  So, the conversation continues.  I don't want to address everything in her latest post or in the entire debate, but I would like to clarify a few things and respond to a few things.

First, she takes a bit of umbrage at the title of my post: Self-Hating Political Scientist.  She points out that this is a phrase often used to Zionists against less passionate defenders of the Israel, and that was not my intent.*  However, I used the phrase not with Israel in mind but because I was already frustrated with the folks attacking political science from the Right with Representative Flake at the front of the battle, seeking to de-fund political science and only political science.  Why?  Because he had problems with our epistemology?  With our definition of our discipline is?  No, because political scientists are asking questions that make him and other reality-averse folks uncomfortable, like the quality of representation and the politics of climate change (these are the examples Flake raised: "So what kind of research is NSF charging to our credit card? $700,000 to develop a new model for international climate change analysis; $600,000 to try to figure out if policymakers actually do what citizens want them to do.").
* Zionist ideologues are probably not huge fans of my posts (here or here), either, given that I consider Israel not to be the center of anyone's foreign policy universe except for Israel.  Oh, and conservatives are not so thrilled with me either.

Stevens wrote her piece criticizing the discipline in a particular time and place--this June in the NYT--essentially giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  The enemy?  That would be forces of ignorance--as the Flake Amendment, singling out political science, was aimed at reducing the funds available to do political inquiry.  By taking our intra-discipline squabble about what our discipline is to the editorial section of the NYT, Stevens was giving these folks more ammunition.  Hence my ire.  Hence my labeling her as a Self-Hating Political Scientist when I could have used other labels with right-wing associations as well--such as fellow traveler. In her most recent post, she quite clearly hates the label of political science, as I discuss below, so I don't think the title to my previous post was all that off the mark.  To be clear, I am not invoking the whole "I am sorry if you offended" non-apology because I am not apologizing, just clarifying.

Second, Stevens repeats the idea that some of our arguments and findings are not worth the investment of public dollars because they are "re-representing journalistic observations through equations and not producing new knowledge."  Journalists often get it right, but they often ascribe to events dynamics that are perhaps less than crucial.  For instance, heaps of coverage of political debates but most social science find these to be of marginal influence.  Newspapers report all kinds of stuff and some of our findings concur with the banal, everyday understandings.  But our work also (a) disagrees with much that is asserted in newspapers (see the hardly conservative views of media coverage by Chis & Will Call 'em Out); (b) covers stuff that media does not assert; and (c) adjudicates between the conflicting conventional wisdoms in the news media.  Since when have we seen security dilemmas raised in newspapers as the causes of arms races?  Speaking more closely to Stevens' area of interest: conventional newspaper accounts usually use ancient hatreds--that ethnic groups hate each other--as a central explanation of any civil war.  Does that mean we should ignore studies that show identity to be more complex than that?  I get back to identity further below.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Moving, Electronically

I have a new profile page on the web.  My next step is building my own webpage with docs, links, etc.  If only I had a graphics designer gene buried somewhere.

Best Names for Voter Restriction Efforts

The New York Times has an editorial today entitled "Killing a Fly with a Bazooka" about the efforts by Republicans to "tilt the playing field."  I am now having a contest here at the Spew for the best names for this effort.  I don't think Voter Suppression is good enough.  Here are my suggestions:
  • Voter Fraud Fraud
  • The Disenfranchise Movement
  • Repealing the Voting Rights Act One State at a Time
  • Election Wars Six: Revenge of the GOP
  • White Man Can't Jump 2: Tilting the Basketball Court
I prefer the first two (easiest acronyms) but the third does have some charm.

What do you suggestion?  Or Prefer?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cupcakes Uber Alles

If having a cupcake as part of my breakfast is wrong, I don't want to be right:



And, yes, I got the snitch!  Thanks to all of my well-wishers!

When UnOriginal Movies Are Really Unoriginal

My wife and I watched Real Steel the other night (it is on the Canadian movie channel his week), and it was striking how some of the fight sequences seemed to be shot for shot like those in Rocky, especially Rocky 3.  The big bad at the end was clearly Mr T's Clubber Lang.  Anyhow, I thought of that when I saw this (spoiler below the break):

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Inspiration or Why Some Greeks Think I Am a Wanker

I was not watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, but was watching the twitter snarkery when the topic of FYROM came up.  I guess Macedonia marched along with Fiji and France rather than with Manitoba (kidding).  Why?  Because Greece has obsessively blocked Macedonia's entrance into international organizations under its preferred name.  So FYROM--Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the default until this is resolved. 

What did I tweet that angered the Greeks (well, the ones I angered anyway) on twitter:



The Greeks will say that the name Macedonia poses an irredentist threat to Greece--that Macedonia would claim northern parts of Greece.  Who am I to question that?

Well, I wrote the book on irredentism.  Okay, I co-wrote the book on irredentism.  Ok, ok, I co-wrote a book on irredentism.  Anyhow, yes, there are folks in Macedonia who have irredentist ambitions, but these folks are not a powerful force.  More importantly, Greece is a much more powerful country--militarily, economically, politically--so there is really no threat at all of Macedonia taking over hunks of Greece to create a Greater Macedonia.  No, Macedonia is actually threatened by irredentism--the brief skirmish that NATO ended in 2001 was part of a Greater Albania project.  Actually, aside from Turkey (which is a big aside), the biggest irredentist threat in the neighborhood is ... Greece.  Greece's involvement in Cyprus has often been a bit questionable, and Greece has played politics with the Albanian Orthodox Church to get folks in there that support giving up hunks of Albania to Greece.

To be clear, I am not saying that I am in love with the government of Macedonia, which has often been flawed.  What I am saying is that Macedonia does not present a real security threat to Greece.  Instead, it provides an opportunity for politicians to take nationalist stances--that the politician who lets Macedonia enter an international organization as Macedonia will be accused of betrayal.  I compared this outbidding dynamic of a largely substance-less issue to be akin to the silliness of American politicians comparing flag pins that they now must wear or else be accused of being not sufficiently American or patriotic of whatever.  The difference is that the flag pin competition has not had any real impact, whereas keeping Macedonia out of organizations has hurt its economy and perhaps been damaging politically.  Rather than focusing on the substantial issues of the day, Macedonian politicians can focus on the name game, too. 

Indeed, as I have mentioned before, these nationalist games are handy distractions from good governance.  How has Greece's government performed during the era of FYROM/the "threat" of Macedonian irredentism?  Not so good.

As a result, I got called a name that apparently means wanker in Greek.  It does not bother me at all--I might even be a bit proud today.  Antagonizing nationalists around the world? Not a bad slogan.  Not quite as good as "danger is my middle name." 

Anyhow, what an appropriate way to kick off the Olympics, which is one of the many great presents Greece has given the planet (democracy, philosophy, Oedipus jokes, and tzatziki are a few others).   Enjoy the games!

Friday Nerd Blogging: Check It Ooot!

My latest contribution to Friday Nerd Blogging at Duck of Minerva is more than just the standard youtube video or three.  It reviews an excellent book, Redshirts, that has changed my perspective as I partake of fiction now.   Check it out.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romney Doesn't Know!

Hearing today about Romney's poor start to his Eurotrip reminded me of another poor start to a Eurotrip (NSFW for language):


To be clear, this was supposed to be the easiest part of the trip: they speak the same language (more or less), the Conservative Party is in power.  Just don't kiss the Queen, slap her back or mention that you have met with the head of MI-6.  Ooops! I just wonder how Romney will mess up in subsequent stops, like will over-pandering to Israel and by proxy to evangelical Christians make him seem just a bit whacko?  Or just out of touch? 

Of course, the question really is this: will Romney play the criticisms here to his base like he did for his NAACP trip?  That is, unpopularity in Europe is a sign of righteousness, just as not pandering to African-Americans at the NAACP meeting is a way to play to the whites in the GOP base--that is the entire base.

I don't know.  But I am pretty sure that Romney doesn't know, Romney doesn't know, and so on.

Accountability, Eh?

For the past couple of years, I have had much fun going back and forth with Phil Lagassé, an expert on Canadian defence institutions, about how accountability works up here.  I have been asserting that there is no parliamentary oversight over the Canadian Forces, and his rejoinder is that oversight is a ministerial responsibility, and it is the job of parliament to oversee the Minister of National Defence.  

Which means I am right--no parliamentary oversight over the military.  But when the Minister, um, underperforms, and parliament does not do much about it, it raises questions about this whole process (process, by the way, is the dead giveaway when you are talking to someone--Americans say pra-sess, Canadians say pro-sess).   

Just in the past couple of days, we have had a series of stories about Canadian civil-military relations that remind us that this stuff is really hard.  One story focuses on Libya: that the Minister, Peter MacKay, either didn't know what he was talking about or lied when the question of costs came up.  In the new story, one of the papers got the emails where the military folks were pondering how to react to MacKay's announcement that the mission cost half as much as it really did and that he didn't get any different info from the Canadian Forces even though the Canadian Forces, via General Jon Vance said it indeed did tell the Minister about the costs.  So, was the General wrong, that they told the Minister the wrong info?  Not clear but the exchange is:
Cyr said finance officials were working to confirm what MacKay knew, but "bottom line is that if MND says he did not know, then he did not know."
"If I was wrong I'll certainly own up to it," Vance replied.
"Not suggesting you are or were wrong," Cyr answered in the last email of the chain. "A political truth can sometimes be different."
 Ah, truthiness with a hint of maple flavor.

The second recent story is that DND is cutting the program whereby the CF takes members of parliament on rides--airborne or otherwise--to demonstrate their programs.  This is in reaction to another MacKay mistake--using CF helo on a vacation trip.  Folks in DND got the CF to find information about opposition critics using CF for transport in order to silence the criticism, but these other trips were well within the parameters of educating members of parliament about weapons systems and not about convenient vacation rides.  I engaged with Phil at the time about how questionable it was for the CF to either be compelled to or be enthusiastic about digging through the records to make the opposition look bad.  So, to protect itself, the CF is now out of this business.  Which means that members of parliament can be comfortable in their ignorance about how the military works.

Crisis or not, the system here seems broken.  Not to say that the American system where Congress actually does have a significant role is better or unbroken.  Just that the Canadian system seems broken.  The Minister of National Defence has been overseeing a series of train wrecks--the F35 purchase, truck bids that have to be cancelled, mistakes about the costs of Libya (still darned cheap for what they were trying to do), and so on.  MacKay, because he was leader of one of the major Conservative fractions in Canada before they united, is, dare I say it, bullet-proof.  Harper cannot get rid of him, and so he cannot really be held to account for whatever is going on at DND.  So, accountability at the ministry?  Not so much.  Parliamentary oversight over someone at DND?  Not so much.

The good news is that this will raise heaps of good questions for my first class at Carleton--Civil-Military Relations. 

Update:  See the comment thread as Phil was strawman-ed while out of town.  He responds in the comments and then I respond to him.  The important thing is this: I distracted him from his lovely vacation in France.  So, I win.



Science Fiction and Ethnic Identity

My latest post at Political Violence @ a Glance.  I compare an episode of Star Trek to one of Babylon 5 to show the evolution in how we think about ethnic identity.

Voter Fraud Fraud Illustrated

Check out this piece at Mother Jones.  It does a wonderful job of depressing me early in the morning--demonstrated that voter fraud legislation is awful, awful, awful.  I wrote about this only two weeks ago, but the stats at MJ pushed me to write again.  I cannot think of a more destructive, anti-American movement than this.  What about the presumption of innocence?  What about overcoming a past where Blacks were systematically denied the ability to vote? 

I am glad to see Doonsebury calling, pardon the phrase, a spade a spade:
The bird, of course, is Jim Crow.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Substitute? Hell, Yeah!

As the new kid in town, to play Ultimate, I have had to be a sub.  Teams tend to be short a few players in the dog days of summer as folks go on vacation holiday.  My first Monday in town I subbed for a fun team, and was quickly invited to join the team.

Tonight, after a month in town, I found myself subbing for a Wednesday night team, aiming not to mess things up.  Mostly, the hope for subs is that they do not screw things up.  They don't have to be major factors, but they need to not be major holes.  So, when I arrived and they said that they were talking about my filling in for fast players who can jump high, I knew they were joking--my bio sketch on the league website was pretty honest about my limitations.  After about five points in the game, my temp teammates were indicating that they might want me to stick around.  I was and am mighty pleased.

Why?  Because I am as or more insecure as the next person.  I have long enjoyed ultimate for two basic reasons: it is an inherently fun sport and it is something at which I have always been pretty good.  I am definitely not as good as I once was--I am slower, more easily injured, my defense is often fairly questionable, and I probably cannot throw the disk as far as I used to throw it.  On the other hand, I make fewer dumb choices with my throws (although I still make a few), I still don't drop the disk (although I could have grabbed one difficult pass tonight), and I see the field pretty well. 

My temporary team won, and I helped rather than hindered.  So, I will be invited back (insert Sally Field clip here), I am told.  Not just because they are desperate.  Even if I don't, this night of ultimate was more than I was expecting as I had not planned on playing tonight.  But when the chance arose, I grabbed it because more ultimate is more ultimate. 

So, here is the song of the night:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Reverse Gravitus

When advocates of a policy stance get riled, they put together a letter and then get a bunch of people to sign the letter to show how broad the support is, how wise the letter is given how smart and prestigious the signers are.  The whole idea of imprimatur is that adding big names to the letter makes the letter seem more legitimate.

So, this exemplar du jour raises a bunch of questions for me:
  • How unaware are the organizers of the credibility black holes known as Doug Feith (seen by many as semi-responsible for many of the early horrible decisions/implementations of the Iraq war); L. Paul Bremer (whose Coalition Provisional Authority was better known as Can't Produce Anything but more insurgency by firing the Iraqi military) and Robert MacFarlane (Iran-Contra, anyone)?  What value do these guys add? Ok, what positive value do these guys add to such a letter?   Hey, we blew it the last time we were responsible for US policy in the Mideast but trust us now?  Oy freakin' vey!
  • Perhaps the organizers are not clueless but powerless?  That Doug, Jerry and Bob (and yes, I am using over-familiarity with first names because I do have just a wee bit of contempt for these folks) found out about the letter, and the organizers did not have the heart or will to keep them out of the meeting/club/whatever. 
  • Were any of the signers of this letter advocating safe zones alive and awake in 1994-95?  Srebrenica mean anything to them?
  • Are they unfamiliar with the fact that the US is already way over the war cap?  Hey, if they want a war, could they please tell us all how the US should pay for it?  The days of freebie wars are long gone.  
Syria is a hard problem with many complicating dynamics--Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, chemical weapons, Russia, and so on.  But thinking about complicated stuff is not the strength of some of these signers.  Saddam Hussein is dead, so Iraq was a success and that is the end of it.

Would I like to see the US intervene to stop the Syrians from shedding heaps of blood?  Hell, yes.  But wishing and wanting are not = good policy.  What the US can do and what we want it to do are two different things.  Until the advocates of a more aggressive effort can tell us how to pay for the effort, how to manage the post-Assad situation and so on, I will simply make fun of them for including such profound foreign policy failures on their list of august advocates of aggression.


Overthinking the Cupcake

Halloween Cupcake at Busch Gardens!
This piece applies a heap of pop social science to the cupcake phenomenon.  I, too, have pondered how can such a frivolous enterprise, a cupcake store, stay in business.  But then I realized: Cinnabon.  Talk about food that is indulgent yet popular.

So, I have a different theory about cupcakes that requires no social science at all: when done right, they are darned tasty.  Indeed, Magnolia's in NYC is just a semi-religious experience as the food (cupcakes and cookies) are just super-tasty.  Perhaps cupcakes also have special status because they remind us of being a kid--getting the frosting all over our face as we eat the sweet goodness.

All I know is that my birthday is approaching and all I want for that day, besides some beer and friendship, are some CUPCAKES!

Update: The funny thing is that today we learned that Cinnabon is the first American business to open up in Libya! So, sweet addiction to fat and sugar is hardly American.  Perhaps Magnolia will be next?

Quebec in the Rearview Mirror

When I lived in Montreal, I responded to the question about how I like it with this response:
"I love Montreal, I hate Quebec."  No, I don't hate all of Quebec, I just hate the entity that is the Quebec government and I hate the nationalist politics that produces policies such as this.  In short, if you call the provincial health care folks (and remember, despite talk about Canada's national health care program, the policies are provided/regulated/administrated by the provinces), you will have to wait quite a bit to be told that you can press 9 for English.  Then once you do that, someone at the health ministry will assess whether you can speak French enough to keep the conversation in French.

What utter bullshit!  There are areas where the stakes are high enough that we ought to be trying to minimize confusion.  For instance, one time I was stopped for speeding, the officer started in French, and I asked if he could speak English.  I didn't want to make a mistake with an officer of the law.  He replied, "I don't have to" and then proceeded to speak perfectly fine English with me.  Health care is a similarly high stakes enterprise.  If you make a mistake there, someone could literally die.  One could speak good French (not me) and still not master the words associated with advanced health care problems.

In my time in Quebec, I did note that nationalists were upset that one could dial 9 for English.  Note, not 2, not 1 but 9.  I understood why the default would be French and not English (never dial 2 for French), but to deny people the chance to get information in English?  Well, I guess their preference of pushing the Anglophones out is now a policy at the health care ministry.

The funny thing is this is under a Liberal, federalist government that is the only haven for Anglophone votes.  Ah, there is the rub: the Anglophones have few choices, so the provincial Liberals sell them out on a regular basis. 

The reality is that Quebec is always willing to be bilingual--when it is taking your money.  The tax agency, the parking tickets, and such always have been very accommodating to those who are not fluent in French.  But Quebec, I found, to be almost always monolingual when it came to giving out money: grant agencies to be an obvious case.

I didn't move to Ottawa just to escape Quebec, but it certainly played a role.  We are loving Ottawa and Ontario.  The few government folks (motor vehicle, schools) have been very customer service-oriented.  Nice change of pace even if finding a doctor turns out to be a Canadian challenge, not just a Quebec one.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When Militaries Are More Careful Than Cvilians

Sometimes civilians do heaps of PR harm to the military.  In today's exemplar, journalists and legislators are both making the Canadian Forces and Canada by extension appear as deviants from international law.  The piece takes Canada to task for the legislation that ratifies and implements the international treaty on Cluster Bombs. 

The legislation apparently has loopholes written to facilitate Canadian interoperability with those who still use cluster bombs (the US).  The two key holes* are: Canadian commanders ordering personnel from non-signatory countries to use them and secondment issues.
* The other exceptions reflect other issues.  Investment in companies that make cluster bombs is almost certainly not an issue raised by DND but by other folks in the government.  Transit through Canadian territory is probably something that DND does care about--that American planes overfly Canada all the time, and Canada is not interesting in telling the Americans to fly around Canada when CBs are on board.

Regarding the former: when Canadian commanders go into the field, they take with them a letter of intent from above them in the chain of command (CEFCOM until the new institution kicks into gear, Deputy Chief of Defence before CEFCOM existed).  This letter tells the commander going into the field what he/she can and cannot do.  I gained via Access of Information request (akin to Freedom of Information request) several of these letters.  The earlier ones made it clear that Canadians could not use landmines or ask contingents from other countries working under them to deploy landmines.  The more recent ones use very similar language about cluster bombs--that Canadian officers could not ask other countries to use cluster bombs for them.  So, the reality is that the CF is already abiding by the treaty even before it becomes ratified. While these letters can be revised or changed by another order, this is unlikely given that these letters are vetted/written in part by the military's lawyers. 
It is not clear why the Conservative government is providing a loophole that the military is unlikely to ever use.  The disgruntled Foreign Affairs personnel blames a split between Foreign Affairs and DND, but I am confused as to whether and why the CF would want an exception about condoning the use by others given past behavior. 

Regarding the latter: when Canada sends its personnel to work in another country's military, it is hard but not impossible to impose upon them restrictions such as no cluster bomb use.  The idea of these "secondments" is for the officers to be treated as one of the receiving country's personnel so that they can learn how that country operates and can fulfill the functions of the billet (the position) they serve.  Canada lost heaps of cred when it pulled its personnel out of British ships during the Falklands War as the Brits then had to find personnel from elsewhere to staff these positions.  The seconded officers are not just sitting around watching but filling real jobs.  So, putting limitations on them that would make them not as useful as the regular officers cuts into the program of military exchanges.
However, it is not impossible.  When I was at the fighter base in Bagotville in June of 2011, I bumped into a British fighter pilot who had served with the Canadians in the skies over Libya. In our short conversation, it became clear that his rules were not identical to the Canadian ones and that British officers were keeping an eye on him to help him finesse the differences.
Still, I do understand why the CF and DND would want a secondment exception.  In my humble opinion, I do not think this is such a travesty.  


What all this demonstrates really are two things: the intent of the CF to respect international law; and the ignorance that the civilians seem to have about the Canadian military.  It is not clear why the Conservatives felt a need to carve out such exceptions especially since the US works with plenty of countries that have restrictions inspired by the cluster bomb treaty and that are pretty similar if not identical to those produced by the landmine treaty.

Oh, and a third thing: it would have been nice if the author of this article had talked to someone familiar with the CF, rather than just human rights advocates and one government spokesman.  How about interviewing a Judge Advocate General type (a military lawyer)?  Why not take a look at the orders given to the commanders in the field?  The way Access of Information requests work is once they give documents to the person requesting them, the docs are made public.  So, my asking for letters of intent given to Canadian commanders over the past ten years (I have several but not all, and they are at work, not at home) means that any journalist could find these docs if they looked for them.

Of course, I am not an expert on international law, but then again, it would have been swell if the writer had consulted one.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fixing the Tail

The challenge we often face is how to deal with very aberrant behavior.  The reality of the late 20th and early 21st century is that technology has given individuals far more ability to impact others than in the past (although these sprees are actually in decline).  I am, of course, speaking of Aurora. 

I don't know anything about the perpetrator except that we will find him to be insane.  By society's definition, anyone who shoots up a theater full of people is crazy.  I tend to see this and other kinds of situations as represented by a bell curve--that our policies and our social science can address people who are in the big middle of the curve, but it is hard/impossible to design policies that hit people who are outside the 95% or outside the 99%. 

There seem to be two obvious approaches: improve our mental health care "system" and reduce the damage that such flawed people can do.  If we can get people who have significant mental problems the help they need, this would reduce (although not eliminate) the number of situations like these.  I am not sure how the new health care legislation will affect the provision of mental health care, but I am hoping that events like this might lead people to consider more investment in this side of health care.  Not just to prevent mass murder but to help those who are having problems. 

The second strategy, which is politically unlikely, is to reduce the damage a damaged person can do.  By this, I mean, of course, gun control.  No, we cannot eliminate guns, but it would seem to me that we ought to be able to limit guns that are designed to kill large numbers of people very quickly.  I understand that the 2nd amendment is aimed at providing civilians with the ability to counter-act a repressive state, but if assault rifles are justified by the second amendment then so are mortars, anti-aircraft weapons, landmines, armored vehicles and so on.  While I would love to see really significant gun control, I understand it is not going to happen.  I have lowered my sites (pun intended) to focus just on reducing the speed at which one can fire bullets.  If all you have are guns that can shoot six bullets, then you can only hurt six people at a time.  I am just thinking of reducing, not eliminating, the damage any deranged person can do.

Of course, the guns and their 30 bullet magazines are out there, and no gun control measure will eliminate those.  But it would be nice if we could make it harder, rather than easier, to kill and injure dozens of people in a few minutes, wouldn't it?

We cannot eliminate the tails under any bell curve, but we can do more to help those on the margins and we can do more to limit the damage done by those who slip past.  Or not.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Driving into the Past

Spent today driving to and from Quebec to pick up daughter in between sessions at summer camp.  Had serious deja vu, so I thought my readers should as well: the joy of QC infrastructure.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Lego Wire

Best part of the 21st century: people can do heaps of fun stuff to make video shorts.  This one is a Lego version of The Wire.

Just too good.

Worshipping Chicken

I never really felt comfortable eating at Chik-fil-A.  I guess I was put off by the company's legitimate but still a bit in your face "we are closed on Sundays to worship our favorite God" stance.  So, not terribly surprised by the stance on gays (which may or may not be changing).

So, I enjoyed this instead:


Hardball, Part 2

Attack the candidates and the campaign?  Sure.  Going after nominees because they sent their kids to summer camps that were once founded by left-wing Jews? Please. 

As a veteran of many summers at a Jewish camp, I can say that politics/ideology was never on the daily schedule nor did it make much of an appearance besides the token pro-Israel moment or two.  What did we learn from the Israeli counselors (there were Brits as well)?  Mostly that Israelis drive pretty aggressively: "what is this thing you call the break?"

What did we do all summer? Play sports, think about the girls at the girls camp, make a few crafts (rarely did our stuff approach art), prep for meeting the girls from the girls camp, hike nearby (including near Camp David), chase the girls from the girls camp, go on a few trips to do some white water rafting or rock climbing, ponder why the chase failed, swim during the hot Maryland summer, think more about the girls at the girls camp, maybe participate in a play (especially if it meant interacting with the girls from the girls camp), play capture the flag (maybe that is where some politics was smuggled in), and go to bed.  Occasionally, bedtime would be delayed if folks wanted to play Star Wars with their flashlights.

So, in sum, this kind of attack is just silly and possibly anti-semitic, as tying Jews to Communism is an old, old trick.  Yes, some Commies were Jews, and some Jews were commies, but the circles do not exactly overlap. 

As they say at camp: oy.


Dems Playing Hardball?

I have always been frustrated as a Democrat that the Republicans would always be much tougher, attacking harder while the Democrats would just suck it up and rarely attack the Republicans.  This year, well, Obama and his campaign seem to understand: (a) the stakes; (b) that restraint does not actually get much in the way of rewards; and (c) how to put it together.



This is such a negative ad, but Romney's best chance is to make the economy the issue.  The problem for him is that these ads make it look like Romney and his ilk are the reason the economy sucks--that the top folks get raises and fire the people doing the work.  So, what Santorum said about Obamacare may apply as well to the economy--that Romney is really poorly suited to running against Obama on these issues.  Hard to attack Obamacare since Romney did a similar program in Massachusetts.  Hard to attack Obama on the economy since Romney is similar to the folks who got the nasty bailouts.

Of course, it is worse for Romney since he cannot seem to get his act together.  The next video is damning because the tax return issue is not new at all.  The other candidates in the GOP attacked him on it, and yet Romney still has no good answer.



The irony of all of this is that this is the second campaign in a row where the GOP focused on a candidate who appeared to be the most electable despite the fact that, well, they had significant weaknesses as campaigners.  McCain was better than the nuts, but that was not saying much.  Now Romney was better than the nuts, but he ain't that good.

Of course, I am still fearful of something bad happening in the world that might tilt things to Romney (Euro collapse, etc).  And I may be falling victim to wishful thinking, but if the GOP folks are attacking Romney, then Obama is not in as bad shape as one might think given the state of the economy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

UN as Daddy Day Care

Romney apparently said today "we've been 'turning to the United Nations' to 'raise our kids.'"



I don't know if this is true, but it raises a variety of questions/thoughts:
  • Does the UN have stock in ink?  Kids today seem to like tattoos. 
  • What is the curriculum include at UN Day Care?
    • Learning How to Circumvent Your Parents' Vetoes?
    • Membership 101: You can join any club you want as long as your name is ok (Taiwan, Macedonia) even if you fall short of standards (Human Rights Commission).
    • The Golden Rule As Applied to Combat: Fire only if fired upon.
  • What is the UN Day Care hours and penalties for late pick up?
  • Do they have local franchises like Kindercare?  Is Kindercare really the UN's franchise?
  • What do they serve for lunch?  Caviar and lobster (for those who ponder UN waste), Chinese every day (for those who fear the yellow peril's insidious influence through an organization it does not really like), etc?
  • Do the kids get to ride on the black helicopters?

Breaking Bad Help!

The really important question of the week is not really Syria (joking, of course) but what was the meaning of the opening?  In an interview in Entertainment Weekly, Bryan Cranston says: "There are five distinct changes that the audience will be wondering about, and yet it will all pay off." I consider the possibilities below the break but need your help:


Who Is Out of Touch? Israel or Me?

Israeli politicians make a big deal about Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel.  They think that the US ought to release Pollard despite his conviction.*  Thus far, American Presidents have not entertained this at all.  Israeli pundits think that American Jews care about Pollard and that this will shape their votes.  It may be the case that some/many American Jews will vote against Obama for not being sufficiently pro-Israel, but that will have nothing to do with Pollard.
*  I have been corrected.  I said he was convinced of treason.  No, he signed a plea deal agreeing to a charge of espionage.  This deal was two-sided.  It aimed to get his wife a deal and for the government to get info from him about what damage he did.  Still, in my mind, he is convicted and a traitor (for money, not just for his affinity to Israel), but perhaps not a convicted traitor.

Who are these American Jews who support a traitor?  Do we see them marching?  Lobbying?  I think there are bigger fish to fry in US-Israel relations: stances on settlements, on negotiations, on Arab Spring.  Indeed, that Obama supported some regime change--Egypt--is perhaps the most distance he has really had of consequence with Israel.  Sure, Obama wanted a settlement freeze, but didn't get one for long.  Sure, Obama wanted sincere negotiations, but they went nowhere as they usually do.

If Israelis are sincerely surprised that Hillary Clinton would not entertain the possibility of seeking a release of Pollard, they don't understand Americans and American politics at all.  We take spying especially by "friends" very seriously.  There is no question of Pollard's guilt (only whether he slipped info to countries other than Israel).  Indeed, the Israelis should be thankful, he could have been charged with treason.  The US could have executed him. No pardon unless an American president wants to be seen as weak on treason.

So, there really is no point in raising and re-raising this except to score points at home (Israel, that is) to show that one is sufficiently independent from the US and sufficiently pro-treason.

While there has often been much suspicion about American Jews having divided loyalties, the Pollard issue seems to demonstrate pretty clearly that selling out the US is one place where the line is drawn quite clearly.

Of course, I may be out of touch as I am not a member of any Jewish community.  I just happen to be related to folks who are.  The arguments about Israel never, ever approach Pollard.  He is a non-issue.  I am pretty sure from my narrow sample but also from the behavior of mainstream Jewish groups in the US that Pollard is mostly an issue in Israel.  If the Israelis want to burn political capital with the US on an issue that they will never see resolved in their favor, they are welcome to it. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Deja Vu Separatist Style

If I lived in Canada in 1995, I would say that I am experiencing deja vu as the stories emanate out of Scotland.  But I was starting teaching in West Texas, so I was not all that attentive.  Still, Canadians must be watching this all like Scotland is re-booting the Quebec drama with slightly different accents (kind of like the Amazing Spiderman but less likely to turn a profit).

The story of the day is that the Scottish National Party, as the campaign for the referendum continues, is backing away from its anti-NATO stance.  This is hardly surprising.  To get more than 50% plus 1 or whatever the standard will be, the SNP has to be vague about anything that would alienate potential supporters and soften the impact of independence.  Becoming independent for Scotland or Quebec would be costly.  Lots of difficult questions and complexities that might give one pause about the utopia that would be an independent Scotland or Quebec.  In the last referendum in Quebec, advocates of independence tried to make the jarring transition appear to be smooth--no, we can keep Canadian passports and the Canadian dollar. 

The ardent independenistas are going to vote for an independent Scotland regardless of the NATO stance and regardless of the costs of transition.  To win enough votes of the softer (dare I say squishier) nationalists, the SNP, like the Quebec sovereigntists, need to apply some denial sauce to any of the potential qualms that folks of mixed views might have.  So, thus the new stance. 

Do not be surprised if we see more "hey, this really will not be that radical a change" statements even if they kind of contradict the big message that a big change needs to be made. 

And the Canadians will just shake their heads and sigh.  Except for those who make money leveraging their expertise on separatism (on either side).  And no, I have no money on this. 

Yes, I Cited Rummy Approvingly

In my latest CIC piece, I build on latest week's theme at CIC on deception in IR.  I had fun with it, as I basically used Rummy's classic quote of known knowns to show that uncertainty and lying can co-exist.  That Rummy was pointing out something important, that there is much we don't know, but he was doing it mendaciously.  Anyhow, take a look at the post (I even sneaked in a link to a robot chicken bit on "A Certain Point of View").  I did not link to this classic Sam Jackson/Boomtown clip.  Have to draw the line at NSFW although some would argue that Rummy is NSFW.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Saideman Spews The Obvious

See my latest TV appearance (via phone) on the Red Cross saying the Syrian Civil War is, well, a Civil War.  I do love that the ad before it is of a Canadian celebration of the War of 1812.

Anyway, my basic take has been that it has long been a civil war and that the outsiders have few good options. And, no, the ICRC is not going make Assad re-think.

Back to working on my new garage.

Update: As a result of tweeting this set of attitudes, I got interviewed by an Associated Press reporter via email.  My one paragraph about this not affecting Assad or the various rebels is now syndicated across the planet.  Pretty cool.  Of course, they focused on the part I know least--Syria--rather than the part I know best--the unlikelihood that this will move the US and its allies into doing anything.


Voter Fraud Fraud

When did the risk of denying someone the right to vote become less important than the risk of voter fraud?  How does the GOP get away with its efforts to deny the franchise in ways that are pretty clearly aimed at reducing the voting pool for the Democrats?  Rolling Stone has a great piece here about the actual occurrence of voter fraud.  It basically does not happen.  Few elections turn on a few votes so the incentives, with criminal penalties at stake, mean that it is very irrational to engage in voter fraud.  However, there seems not to be much in the way of penalties to deny people the right to vote. 

The funny thing is that the risk equation here--the risk of denying someone the most fundamental right in this or any democracy vs. the unlikelihood that someone is committing fraud--reminds me of the Texas logic that seems to apply--that it is better to execute an innocent person than to let one guilty person spend a lot of time in jail.

The history of vote denial is pretty clear.  Literacy tests, poll taxes, and the rest were all designed to appear to be fair while aiming to disenfranchise Blacks.  Now we have voter fraud as an "issue" because the Republicans see the writing on the wall.  With an increasingly diverse country and with recent and not so recent stances antagonizing Blacks and Hispanics, the GOP realizes that it needs to game the system in order to win elections.  Rather than developing appeals beyond whites, the GOP is trying to make sure that those that they have demonized and antagonized cannot vote.  The reality is that the ID-less are not randomly distributed among the ethnic groups in the US but concentrated among those groups least likely to vote for the Republicans--the very poor and minorities.

So, we should not be surprised that the voter fraud fight gets louder as whites slip into plurality rather than majority status in places like ... Texas.

Again, it comes down to this: if we are going to make a mistake (and we always do as no system is perfect), is it better to deny the right to vote to a person who is a legitimate voter or is it better to let a fraudulent voter vote?  Isn't the presumption of innocence also something that we ought be keeping in mind as well?  Isn't that also basic to our democracy?  Even if there were a voter fraud problem, which there is not, care should still be taken not to disenfranchise those that are legitimate voters.  These laws do not take such care.

See the new piece by Nate Silvers that has good links to existing work and also puts the debate into some perspective on the effects of this stuff.  He argues that the effects are likely to be small at the national level, but I wonder if such efforts matter more at the local level--elections for state representatives and for the House of Representatives.  These elections matter, too, of course, so it might not swing the Presidency, but the injustice here might impact who writes legislation.  Even if the effect is small, the effort here is still utterly reprehensible and fundamentally un-American (even it accords with historical practices such as poll taxes).

Update from today's NYT:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Corruption of the University

I have long been annoyed and frustrated by the role big sports play at American universities.  This is one area where Canadian schools are clearly superior--the athletic tail does not wag the academic dog up here as it does in the US.

So, the unsurprising news is that people at Penn State valued their program's reputation above the kids who came into contact with Sandusky.  When faced with potential trouble, these folks covered up, letting the kids be exposed to a pedophile and face a lifetime of scars from the experience.  Bigtime college sports creates a culture of entitlement.  Paterno, in the various reports, made it clear that he thought it was his job and no one else's to police the behavior of his athletes.  Student-athletes who violated the code of conduct were to be judged by Paterno and not by the procedures that governed the rest of the student body.  He expected this to be the case from all accounts, and was upset when anyone "poached" on "his terrain." 

This is, of course, a perversion of the academic enterprise.  When sports become the most important thing at a university, then we should expect standards of behavior to be tossed away and for the athletes and their mentors to be entitled.  Entitled to a free pass no matter what crimes they commit.  Sexually assaulting a child is pretty much as bad as it gets, but since Sandusky was associated with the football program, he got to walk and commit more crimes.  Awful, awful, awful.  With great power comes great responsibility.  But if there is no accountability, how can we expect power to be exercised responsibly.  Each bigtime coach gets to behave as he or she wants.  Bobby Knight gets to assault students.  Others get to betray the students on a regular basis by committing the students to a university and then walking out the door for some more money. 

Is Penn State the first school to hush up the crimes of people involved in their programs?  Certainly not.  Will this one event change the culture of American universities so that sports programs are held to account?  I doubt it.  I do hope that this event will cause some folks in some positions of power to draw some lessons that some accountability is increased in some places.  That is not much of a hope, but that is what we've got when coaches are given far more money and power than anyone else on campus.

The Road to Hell

The old saw that the road to hell is paved with good intentions could be altered to suggest that the road is paved or at least signed with rhetoric.  I have been having a Twitter DM chat with someone about the drone war and pondering how it is distinct from Assad's massacres.  It started with a joke about the massacres being defined away if Assad made it clear that all of the targets were males of military age, referring to the Obama standards for the drone campaign.

My responses to this were: oy! um! yuck.  I have had a bunch of drone conversations in the past few days.  My basic take is that I see drones like any weapon system as a tool that can be handy but is not useful for everything.  I am not opposed to using force to kill people who are seeking to kill Americans and allies of Americans.  But I do think we need to think about the consequences.  Drones should not be used nor air strikes from F-15s or whatever for ordinary targets in sovereign countries (different rules for operating in a war).  The strange thing about the American drone wars in Yemen and Afghanistan is that we seem to be either finding a heap of top level folks, given the number of strikes, or we are targeting mid-level folks.  And mid-level folks are not that hard to replace, so it is not clear what such strikes accomplish given that the costs, especially the side effects down the road or beyond the event are hard to calculate.  So, I basically favor a very limited, very discriminate drone campaign, and I don't exclude hitting Americans who are based abroad if they are major players in terrorism against the US.

Back to the original question, how does the US distinguish itself from Syria these days?  My twitter answer was: intent and scale.  I do think intent matters, and I do think that trying to attack only those who are planning to use violence against you is superior to attacking civilians who are protesting your regime.  I also think that scale matters: that drone strikes, even with civilian casualties, cause far less harm than Assad's assaults.  On the other hand, the US did a heap of damage to Iraq's civilians through its bungled war and its bungled occupation.  There is much controversy over the exact numbers--tens of thousands versus hundreds of thousands--but no doubt that the US did a heap of harm there.  Of course, people can say that Saddam Hussein did worse and would have done more, but that does not address the reality that the US could have done far better if it had executed the bad decisions well.

Anyhow, it is a gray world out there, but some folks very much wear black hats while the folks who think they are wearing the white hats need to be far more careful and judicious in how they deploy the use of force.  The Bin Laden mission, aside from the unfortunate Polio doctor escapade, was pretty close to perfect in terms of the discriminate use of force.  If only we were as careful the rest of the time.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Squirrel on the BBQ

Kyle Saunders tweeted this tonight:





And I cannot disagree.  If the Bain stories are getting bad press, why not propose an awful, awful, awful possible running mate to distract the media?  Condi Rice, as I have repeatedly noted, was the worst National Security Adviser in American history (not that hard since the position was created post-WWII).

Plus it gives me an excuse to post this:


And this is why my Distraction Sauce© has a hint of squirrel taste.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bosnia in Rearview Mirror

I was on CTV News Channel discussing the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.  Take a look if you want.  I tended to push back--not deep hatreds but political institutions.  Not my best stuff but not too embarrassing (except for my answers on the legal stuff).

Could I Be Any More Cynical?

Imagine if Mathew Perry was saying the title: Could I BE Any More Cynical?  Hmm, check out this post at CIC on my take on corruption and see if I could BE any more cynical.

The Mutant Model of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Last night, one of the people I follow on twitter, Robert Farley, who works at the other Patterson School, watched the X-Men: First Class movie and said this:




Why? Because Graham Allison wrote THE academic book on the Cuban Missile Crisis.  No, his aim was not really to provide the definitive account, but to illustrate three ways of thinking about policy, especially defense/foreign policy:
  1. One could look at governments as rational actors, making decisions that aim to advance the national interest.  This was the conventional approach at the time and is still quite prevalent.
  2. One could study organizations to see how they function as machines more or less, processing information as an input and processing policy as an output.  That how organizations function shapes what they do via standard operating procedures and the like.  
  3. One could take the second model further and focus not on organizations as processors but as actors in politics.  That politics takes place within governments as individuals and agencies fight to push policies that benefit themselves, more or less.  He called this government politics but became known as bureaucratic politics.  
The important question of the day is this: how does the new history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the important roles played by Mutants--especially Magneto and Professor X--shape what we know about Allison's three models.  The answer is this: it reminds us that there is a fourth set of folks who matter in politics: individuals.  The perceptions, passions, aspirations,affinities, ambitions and anxieties of the various Mutants determined the outcome on that day. 

With great power comes ... great power.  The X-Men had no institutions at that time to constrain their decisions.  Intra-group politics certainly mattered as the love triangle involving Mystique mattered.  But the events turned on the decisions of Professor X and Magneto, who combated each other despite their love for each other because of their conflicting visions of humankind.  So, when empowered individuals have the chance to impact the course of events, it is their personalities, their backgrounds, their proclivities that matter.  And that sucks.  Why? Because it is hard to theorize about individuals, and it is hard to code individuals without some circular reasoning.  We political scientists prefer to stick mostly to groups of individuals--parties, interest groups, countries, social movements, states, international organizations, alliances, etc.

So, Spider-Man teaches us to use power responsibly.  The X-Man, at least in the First Class edition, teaches us that Allison missed the fourth model of politics--understanding individuals as key actors.  If only he knew how empowered some actors are by their mutations....


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When the Movie is Different from the Book

I have to agree with a Bill Simmons rant last week on his podcast--saying the book and the movie are different is just lame, as they are two different media.  You cannot be in the heads of folks in the movies unless you get endless narration.  Etc.

But this is still fun:










H/t To Buzz feed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/keenan/harry-potter-characters-in-the-books-vs-the-mov

Game of Thrones Illustrated

Finding myself uninspired to blog, mostly due to moving exhaustion and then driving to my daughter's camp and back exhaustion.  So, let me just insert this wonderful video here:


Perhaps I will use Breaking Bad next week as inspiration to develop a Breaking Bad theory of international conflict.  Or not. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Joy of Quebec Infrastructure

Today, I had to drive to and from the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal since that is where my kid goes to summer camp and today is visiting day.  Since we moved to Ottawa, we had to take a different route, one that illustrated the mess that is public planning in Quebec.  We drove on Autoroute 50 (mess #1) and went past Mirabel airport (mess #2).

Autoroute 50 is not complete, so one has to get off and take ordinary roads through towns and rural areas before getting back on.  But an unfinished highway is hardly unique to Quebec (although this province does seem to take far longer than most).  No, it is the design I want to whine about.  An autoroute has a blue shield not unlike a US Interstate:

One would then expect a divided highway with two lanes on either side.  But nay, that is not the case.  It seemed like it averaged three lanes, with each direction taking turns having a passing lane.  This makes sense if one remembers that roads in Quebec cost 30% more to build due to, well, corruption.  30% would be, well, the fourth lane, right?  So, instead of having smooth flow, we had to wait for the short passing lanes to hustle past the trucks and other vehicles that moved much slower.  Why build a big highway but not provide the minimum number of lanes to provide for smooth flow and less hurried passing?

It is fitting that A-50 goes by perhaps the most obvious mistake in the history of Quebec infrastructure: Mirabel airport.  Driving past it today, we were struck by how beautiful the terminal appeared to be (it starred in at least one movie [The Terminal with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta Jones] and perhaps others) and by the flora growing through the parking lot of the hotel.  The latter reminds me of the previews for Revolution, the new TV show in the fall that will take place 15 years after all the power goes out.  The airport is a significant distance from Montreal but was built to replace Dorval Airport (Trudeau airport) which was seen as too small, hemmed in by the western suburbs.  It was supposed to be THE montreal airport for international travel, but there were never any links, other than highways, built to move people back and forth.  So, it essentially died, to be used only for cargo, for Bombardier airplane manufacturing, and general aviation.  In other words, a colossal waste of money and effort.

I knew of the Mirabel story before today, but this was the first time I drove past the "facility" and marveled at the site.

Sure, we had some great crepes near my daughter's camp, but this trip reminded us of one of the reasons we are pretty happy to have moved west.  Quebec has historically been mighty messed up when it comes to planning, building and maintaining infrastructure.  Given how much stuff needs to be torn down and rebuilt between where I lived and where I worked and played (ultimate and skiing), I could not have any confidence that any of that construction would work out well.  They still haven't figured out how to connect the airport that is near downtown with downtown.  Oy.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Taco Theory of International Intervention

Will McCants, who defeated me in our round of twitterfightclub months ago, reminded me today that I owed him an explanation:



So, how is intervention like a taco?  If I remember what I was thinking a month ago, I think the answer is: messy.  But that is too easy.  Let's think of the ingredients that go into a taco and the obvious or less than obvious parallels in an intervention:

  1. Let's start with the main filling: it can be beef (ground or not), pork (carnitas are a personal favorite), chicken, fish (very popular in some areas but never to me), shrimp, turkey, fake-meat, whatever.  In an intervention, the key question is who joins?  Is it mostly a US effort, which makes for a more robust, filling taco but one that could cause bloating (too much intervention can be a problem)?  Is it a bunch of European countries?  This would make for a blander taco (chicken--skipping the obvious joke and focusing more on the meh quality) that would perhaps be less likely to upset a delicate digestive system.  It could be a mixture of lesser militaries from countries that prefer to export their armies rather than have them hang out at home, which would be the tofu filling.  Not quite the real thing, not likely to upset a stomach, but not really what people have in mind when they think intervention.
  2. The next decision is about what kind of beans to include: black or refried.  Often it is the case that an intervention builds on a previous one.  IFOR supplanted UNPROFOR, for instance.  That would be a case of refried beans.  The choice here is mostly determined by path dependence--what have you got at the point you are making the taco/intervention?  Building on a previous one?  That is often the case.
  3. What vegetables to include? For a good taco, you need a good balance of meat and veggies.  For a good intervention, you need a good balance of military and civilian efforts.  The only problem with this analogy is that a good intervention might have a civilian dominate the effort, such as the High Rep in Bosnia, but, in personal opinion, the veggies should never dominate the meat in a taco.  Oh well, there are limits to any analogy.  A good mix of lettuce, onions and peppers works for me.  The UN would be the lettuce here, providing some structure and glue.  The EU would be the peppers (not hot peppers, just red/yellow/green ones) to provide critical fiber and flavor (reconstruction).  The non-government organizations would be the onions, as they are all over the place--often too much in one spot, too little in others, not really coordinated with anything.
  4. Next: you have the guac and sour cream.  In moderation, these can provide some flavor and bind the ingredients together.  Too much, and not only do they overwhelm the rest of the ingredients, but they cause the taco to fall apart quickly and most messily.  So, what is the appropriate analogy here?  Hmm, how about the media?  You need to have them involved to spotlight the situation, to drive up awareness and foster oversight and accountability.  But too much or too misdirected can mean that secrets that need to be secret get blown, like negotiations or attack plans.  
  5. Penultimately, you have the salsa.  It can be mild, medium, hot or muy caliente.  These refer, obviously, to the rules of engagement and the resolve behind them.  An intervention with heaps of caveats and limited rules means that it will not make much of an impact.  A taco with mild salsa is not likely to create much of a reaction.  
  6. What wraps all this up?*  A soft tortilla or a hard shell?  The reality is that either will break upon eating.   This is really a trick question: the hard shell is akin to a UN effort.  If eaten forcefully, the shell will crumble quickly, making an utter mess.  However, if eating slowly, carefully, it can last a while.  On the other hand, NATO interventions are soft tortillas: surprisingly strong in containing a mixture of ingredients, but must be consumed quickly before the liquid-y materials soak through.  Kosovo and Libya were the NATO tacos par excellence: despite all of the ingredients almost bursting out, the tacos could be consumed without making too much of a mess.  Afghanistan, on the other hand, was simply too long, so that the various pieces of the NATO effort began to spill out.  The Dutch ingredients, followed by the Canadian, and then French.  Soon, the consumer just had bits and pieces of American and British meat dangling from the soaked tortilla.
*Yes, at any burrito shop, the tortilla is the first choice but it made sense to conclude with it here.
You can tell that I am somewhat biased in what I like in my taco and what I like in an intervention.  I prefer a mixture of meats for more flavor and a mixture of countries for a portfolio of capabilities and backgrounds.  I prefer black beans--that an intervention is the first one rather than refried--a repeated effort with heaps of failed international efforts to proceed the latest taco/round.  I prefer a few strong vegetables rather than too many kinds and fewer but stronger civilian efforts so that they can be coordianted.  I prefer a modicum of guac and sour cream to hold things together.  The media is a vital part, but should not be the show.  Restraint is required so that people are not endangered, that risks can be taken--such as bargaining.  I prefer hot salsa rather than muy caliente--too much discretion to the troops on the ground can be a dangerous thing.  Caveats are a blunt way to influence behavior on the ground.  Again, moderation is the key.  Finally, I prefer soft shells to hard--they are less likely to break.

So, there you have it, the Taco Theory of Intervention.

Political Science Vs. Conservative Folks


One of the reactions to my post on how negatively viewed politicalscience is these days focused on party identification or ideology—that political science is negatively viewed by conservatives because political science ridicules conservatives.

And then I ridiculed conservatives.  Damn.  Let me try to do two things here:
1) Explain my view of contemporary “conservatives” and why I find it hard not to be very critical of them.
2) Explain why political science is inherently neutral but also inherently controversial.*
* I have loved the word inherent since facing it on my first Intro to IR paper.  Pardon me if I over-use it.
In my tweeted reaction, I basically suggested that conservatives should not have a problem with political science if they were the folks I remember from the 1980s rather than the contemporary conservatives.  Why is that?  Today, that label has lost a heap of its meaning in my less than humble opinion.  When the folks who were seen as right wing two decades ago (Bob Dole) are now seen as on the left fringe of the party, that raises questions.  If people calling themselves conservatives today cannot recognize the rightward shift of the Republican Party and of the standard bearers of the conservative movement, then we may have an unbridgeable gap in perceptions.

Vehemence and refusal to compromise are not Conservative values even if they are required to be considered conservative today.  I have always thought of Conservative as meaning preservation of the status quo and/or a desire to return to some previous status quo that was seen as being better, say the 1950s.  Today’s loudest but perhaps not most representative conservatives do not really harken back to a post-World War II time that might be felt as better than the present day.  Instead, they seek to move things much further backwards to a reality that either existed in the late 1800’s or not at all.  As a result, I have a hard time arguing with these folks or taking them seriously if they are represented by Perry, Bachman, Palin, Paul, or Gingrich.  When folks argued that they would rather see Obama fail than have him and the country succeed, well, that is Radical, not Conservative. 

So, there is my bias.  But that is separate, I think, from my views of how political science can be, more or less, ideology neutral.  I do think that people’s ideologies shape the kinds of questions they ask.  For instance, one can consider the threat of failed states to human security or one can ask whether state failure facilitates terrorism.  Ideology might shape one’s disposition towards focusing on the former or the latter.  Which set of theories one finds most attractive will also be shaped by one’s political outlook.  Chances are that Marxist type theories will appeal more to those on the left,** for example, and public choice ones might appeal to those on the right.  The real key is this: no matter what your biases are, if one is doing political science as it is ordinarily conceived in the US (and parts of Canada and less consistently in the rest of the world—that is a positivist approach), one is compelled by the evidence.  That is, you can have whatever theory you want, but if it does not hold up against the evidence (experiments, surveys, quantitative analyses, simulations, case studies), then you are going to have to address that.
** However, one of my favorite books, Gilpin's War and Change, was very much Marxist in the way it juxtaposed the distribution of power (akin to the class structures) with the rules of the game/institutions (the superstructure), creating tensions that inevitably lead to ... war and change.  Gilpin was hardly a Marxist ... or was he?
When it comes to International Relations, things get surprisingly clearer because the theories themselves (with some exceptions) do not line up with the Conservative/Liberal, Right/Left split.  Are Realists Conservatives?  Well, the most prominent ones (Walt, Mearsheimer) are most frustrated by and opposed to Neo-Conservativism.  However, Realists often take stances that traditional Conservatives would like—that the pursuit of national interest should be unfettered by humanitarian impulse.  The left hated Kissinger who was the most avowedly Realist scholar/policy-maker (of course, the far right hated him as well).  Likewise, Liberalism may seem to be most compatible with the Liberal end of the American political spectrum, but that is not necessarily the case.  Liberal IR theory focuses on the competition among groups within countries to define interests and then the effort by countries to pursue such interests when they conflict or overlap with others.  The interests involved may or may not be those that folks on the left-wing would find appealing.  The content of those interests that win may make American conservatives weep or sing.  Until recently, most constructivism was pretty much driven by left of center impulses--to understand how not to use nuclear weapons, to understand where environmental movements come from, to figure out when humanitarian norms matter.  But as constructivism became more mainstream, I think that political outlook mattered much less.
Much of IR is none of these but “non-paradigmatic” or mid-range theory, focused on addressing puzzles.  Again, these puzzles may be of interest due to the scholar’s ideological dispositions or due to where the grant money is buried, but the answers they get are those that are the product of the analyses.  We may want to find x, but the data may tell us y.  If we are doing “science”, then we are stuck with the results we find.  Yes, we can lie with statistics, but most of us worry about being found out and most of us have some integrity, so most of the time, the results will tell the tale. 
Consequently, political scientists tend to be pains in everyone’s rears because we report what we find, and what we find may not be what people want to hear. 

I do think political scientists as a breed are more annoying to contemporary Conservatives since our work is reality-based.  We deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.  When political scientists speculate about the future without basing it on the real world, we produce stuff that might be wildly popular but shaky at best, such as the Clash of Civilizations.  And we call that “Bad social science.”