Friday, August 31, 2012

Moving On

Today marks the end of my ten years at McGill so, if you want to reach me, use my Carleton address (steve underscore saideman at carleton dot ca).Despite the bumps along the way, I had a great ten years.  No regrets about the move ten years ago (except I wish we had not bought a new car the previous year).  I had mostly great colleagues, fantastic students, heaps of interesting opportunities including some great travel.  Moving to Montreal also meant great skiing and ultimate.  I don't regret leaving as Ottawa has been most welcoming, but I do appreciate the folks that I met in Montreal. 

Thanks again for a great ten years.

Best Metaphorical Video for Quebec Politics?

Ok, watch this:

Guy who runs back the ball the wrong way as he got confused about which direction to go.  But the really funny thing is that the other team tackled him when they should have just let him run it into the endzone as they would have either gotten a safety or a touchdown if he dropped the ball.

I have using the line snatching defeat from the jaws of victory lately.  The question right now is this for Quebec: who will be the guy going the wrong way (that is, the party making big mistakes) and who will be the player trying to stop them (that is, the party that is preventing the other team from self-destructing)?

With three incredibly feeble and self-destructive parties, so hard to choose.  What do my readers say?

Breaking Bad, Quebec Style

How do you say "Breaking Bad" en francais?  There was a major maple heist!  Really!  Millions of dollars were stolen from the (I kid you not) "global strategic maple syrup reserve."  Perhaps because my family was a bit dizzy from waiting at an ER at 3am (kid had nasty fever, doing better now), reading this story from my cell phone provided a heap of amusement. 

So many questions to ask:
  • Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve?  Um, it is possible to have a crisis where the heroes must go to the Reserve and tap into the extra Maple?  Perhaps if our adversaries are attacking us via nasty insects (see Buffy, Season 2, episode 10), we can trap them with the syrup.
  • What will the thieves do with the syrup?  Did they short the price of syrup and now plan to our the syrup back into the market?  Will they make it into candy and go door to door saying it is for charity?
  • How was it stolen? Did Walter Blanc and Jesse Tremblay stop the maple truck/train and siphon out the syrup while the drivers were distracted?
  • Can you use maple to make meth?
Any ideas from the readership?

The Ultimate Job Market Question

The classic question all aspiring candidates for academic jobs ponder is this: when a place interviews multiple candidates (which they are supposed to do), is it better to go early or late?  Is it better come in and set the standard, shaping how expectations?  Or is it better to be the last one through, so that you are the last to leave a mark on people's memories?

Of course, it really depends on how the competitors do.  If the first person knocks their socks off, then following that is most problematic.  If the first candidates are mediocre or worse, then coming in and doing a decent job may be all that is needed.  But just doing decent as the first candidate may mean you get forgotten. 

This, of course, is deceptive because what really matters is not so much the ordering but how well one does--that is the only thing of which one has any control. 

Still, I cannot help but think that the GOP left the door wide open for the Democrats.  As the Republicans went first, they had all kinds of problems, including racist taunts of CNN reporter, Eastwood and his chair, the Akin-rape stuff that set the wrong tone, and a Romney speech that probably changed no minds.  Obama and the Democrats can perhaps appeal to more than just the people in the room, right?

Sure, conventions do not matter too much, but this election is pretty tight so everything matters, I suppose.  Still, the electoral map seems to favor Obama, particularly as the RNC did not do that much to prove that it is not the party of just old cranky white men (thanks, Clint!).  Still, interesting times ahead.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Best Day in American Politics

The GOP and Romney seem to love the whole "hey, isn't sad that the best day was the day you voted for Obama" meme to suggest that it has been downhill and disappointment ever since.  Well, sure, if you miss the point.  The day we voted for Obama was the day the US transcended race .... for a day.  It was an amazing moment in American and world history, and we damn well knew it, even if the man was facing the most severe challenges in American history and a party that preferred to have Obama fail than America succeed.

Of course, that was the best day.  Everything since has been a political battle, which means sore losers and compromised winners.  But that day was pretty damned special.  Other special days under Obama:
  • the day we left Iraq (sure, it was a Bush decision, but Obama followed through);
  • the day Obamacare passed and again when Supreme Court upheld it;
  • the day Obama got rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell;
  • the day the SEALs found Osama Bin Laden.
So, what are your favorite days of the past four years?

Making Fun of the Morally Challenged

When reality is so sad and sick, the best response is, well, sick humor:

That Ryan could be one step away from the Oval Office should be enough, right? 
H/t to

Sadness Down Under

It has been a bad month for our allies on the other side of the globe: Australia lost five soldiers, or diggers as they call them, yesterday in two separate incidents.  New Zealand almost doubled its KIA count with five soldiers in two incidents earlier this month.  All of the ISAF partners have faced tremendous stress of late, especially with the green on blue attacks--where the ANA being trained and partnered fire upon the outsiders. 

It is obviously time to go.  I will try to articulate that later, but right now I just wanted to post this video that was uploaded to the net by the New Zealand Defence Forces. 

While NZ's record of relations with the Maori is not perfect, I am pretty sure that Australia, Canada and the US could learn some lessons in the realm of the immigrants (that would be nearly all of us) and how they build upon the culture of those who lived here (wherever the here is) first.

Damn moving video.  I hope there is no need for more such moving displays of grief.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When The New Guy Seems Like the Old Guy

Francois Legault, the leader of the CAQ, the new party that proclaims to be different from Quebec's older parties, seems to be cut from the same cloth. Why do I say this?  Because he is promising to restrict the exodus of doctors produced by Quebec's medical schools (mostly aimed at McGill).  The funny thing is that Charest of the Liberals has been accusing Legault of being a closet separatist, when the real concern should be that Legault would run the province like any other PQ government--into the ground with over-reaction and coercion and one size-fits all solutions.

Is there a Doctor exodus from Quebec? Probably.  Do I know of McGill-produced doctors who have moved out of Quebec?  Certainly.  One might ask why some leave.  It might be about pay, but it also might be about how poorly administrated the health care system is in Quebec.  I remember early in my time in Quebec lots of discussion of doctors being compelled, rather than persuaded, to serve outside of Montreal and especially in the less populated parts of the province.  Again, coercion, not incentives.  The Soviet style decision-making about how many pediatric oncologists a hospital needs can be a bit of a turn off.

The thing that is most annoying and most typical is that this kind of policy assumes that people do not have choices and will not react.  Certainly, they will do so.  How so?  Well, the most obvious thing is that McGill (and others, I guess) would receive fewer applications as students anticipate and choose to go elsewhere rather than McGill.  Why is that a problem if people intend to leave?  Well, this selects out people who may not intend to leave but want the freedom to do so if they change their minds or get a good offer.  Perhaps the CAQ would argue that we don't need those people.  Well, if you reduce the pool of applications, you will almost certainly reduce the quality, causing a lowering of standards.  This is problematic because advocates of educational reforms almost always forget a key reality--students learn from each other.  So, if you reduce the size of the pool of applicants, you will probably reduce the quality of the educational experience.  I don't know about you, but I prefer that folks doing the doctoring to be not only really smart but also really well educated.  And the quality of the education depends critically on those who are school with the doctors that stick around.

There are other dynamics as well.  Students may come to McGill intending to leave but then fall in love with Montreal and Quebec and stay.  But you will not get those students if they know ahead of time that they cannot leave.  Further, McGill and similar schools, while public schools, do not just exist to help Quebec.  They produce public goods--a better educated medical community in Quebec AND beyond.  They also may help produce research while they are in Quebec or even after they leave that helps out Quebec.  If Quebec punishes those who try to leave and work in the rest of Canada, perhaps Canada might react by considering whether to fund McGill's medical schools.  Ah, yes, some of the med school funding is federal, not provincial.  Ooops. 

Lastly, McGill should be a point of pride in Quebec despite is Anglophone-ness as it has a reputation around the world as one of the finest schools.  Quebec politicians should keep in mind that when they come up with policies that would diminish McGill, they are also diminishing Quebec in the world.

But, of course, it is far easier for Quebec politicians to come up with coercive policies--to threaten doctors, to restrict choice--than it is to develop policies that require some imagination, some creativity, ways to appeal to aspiring doctors to keep them around so that they can help fix a broken health care system.  So, the CAQ, as the "new" party in town seems a lot like the old ones.  The quick reference to the "Notwithstanding Clause" should set off alarm bells.

Talk about restricting choice--this election gives Quebeckers a lousy set of alternatives.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mystery Solved

Why didn't I blog yesterday here?  Because I was contemplating the new Chief of Defence Staff in Canada and writing this post for CIC.  That and writing the post for Political Violence @ a Glance on civ-mil and Democracy.  It turns out I have nearly finite number of words per day.  Oh well.  Take a look at my recent posts at these places and comment there or here or both.

Documenting the Games

Oxford University Press's twitter account has provided quite the public service: Storify-ing #APSA2012HungerGames.  So, if you don't have twitter or missed the fun, you can hit the first link to follow the stream of silliness.

Again, I hope that New Orleans dodges the storm and that the folks who go to APSA have no problemos.  But in times like these, a little silliness to make fun of a stressful situation is a good thing.

Why No Coups in Advanced Democracies

See my latest post at Political Science @ a Glance.  A reader asked the bloggers there about why militaries do not always seize control--they have the guns.  I respond.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Political Scientists Play Hunger Games

As the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association may face cancellation due to Hurricane Isaac, there is only one thing to do: wildly speculate how APSAHungerGames would play out in 2012.  Spawned on twitter by @whinecough, an ABD (all but dissertation) on the job market, the idea is that in a hurricane-swept New Orleans, the APSA convention-goers must compete to survive.

The best line of the night, but the most inside baseball might be this one:

While some would think the Neo-Realists would do well, since they focus on security or power (depending on the time of day), they might get distracted by blaming some heretofore ignored domestic actor for the policy failures.

Much of the money by the "sharps" in Vegas moved to favor the comparativists who have fieldwork experience and study contentious politics.  Will Reno, with much experience hanging out with warlords, working in places like Somalia, and known to have the biggest biceps in the profession, is currently the favorite at 4 to 1. But he does have some challenges as there is a whole new generation of hip kids who not only study insurgency and have done fieldwork in Afghanistan, but also have survived the worst academic job market in history.  And they do not lack confidence:

The longest odds? Post-materialists.  They will find that in the Hunger Games that it is not so much the intersubjective meanings applied to arrows and bullets but the accuracy and power of the weapons launching them.  Blood may have all kinds of symbolism, but when it drains out of a post-modernist, the logic of consequences will dominate the logic of appropriateness.

Alas, the formal theorists will be killed first.  Why? Because they will have very difficult time getting their LaTex to work in all of the rain and wind.

I am not going to the conference, so I can only grieve the losses and then participate in the next twenty years of study, where we fight about:
  • whether the games being played were chicken, stag hunt, prisoners' dilemma, or deadlock;
  • whether the actors were pursuing relative or absolute gains;
  • whether the rational actor assumption is useful or appropriate (the Phil Arena fixation);
  • which pop culture best describes the games, and, yes, many will argue against the conventional wisdom that the Hungar Games best applies.  Indeed, Drezner-ites will insist that Zombie movies and books provide the most insights into APSAHungerGames 2012.  Somehow, Charli Carpenter will blame The Machines instead.
  • the scholars of civil war will debate about whether the Hunger really mattered, as grievances are over-rated. 
So, the bad news is that the profession may lose some of its best and its brightest in #APSA2012HungerGames.  On the bright side, the next job market might be a bit better and there will be new cottage industries of scholarship.

Ignorance is a Public Bad

Bill Nye the Science Guy goes directly to the point: raising a generation of kids who reject evolution is the opposite of a public good. 

We cannot exclude the rest of the public from the damage these ignorant folks will do as they vote, as they refuse vaccines, etc.  And the bad products of one will not exhaust the public bads being generated by the rest.

An Edgy Romney?

Today's NYT has a good piece that discusses the likely new strategy for the Romney campaign to go "edgy" by playing up class and race.  Perhaps that puts his recent birther joke into context.  My first three reactions to this are:
  • Class?  Really?  Aren't the Republicans always accusing the Democrats of playing class warfare?  And don't they do this since the GOP's platform and policy recommendations always suck for the poor and increasingly hurt the middle class?  That Romney's tax plans (oh, and Ryan's) are best for the rich, and only help everyone else if the trickle down that never quite trickles down do so this time.  
  • Race? Why should Romney be different?
  • More importantly, the article seems to suggest that the Romney folks are shocked, SHOCKED, that people might be unhappy about the economy but not ditch Obama.  I can guess several reasons for this:
    1. Voters may have noticed the Republicans who repeatedly said that they would prefer for Obama to fail than for the US to succeed.
    2. These same voters might remember that the Bush Administration drove the economy into this particular ditch and might remember that the economy is actually better now than when Obama came into office, even if it has not bounced back fully.
    3. Romney has said that we shouldn't have saved the auto industry--so how can working class Americans think that Romney has their interests at heart?
    4. Romney's past--running a company that took advantage of the rules to make money for itself WITHOUT BUILDING ANYTHING--makes him look like of the folks responsible for the current mess.
    5. That Romney's finances/tax situation make him less credible as an economic leader in these hard times.
    6. Some folks may have caught the info that the private sector has actually created many new jobs (even if they are not all terrific ones), but the current unemployment picture is greatly shaped by cuts in public jobs at all levels.  And that the Republicans would cut more of these.
Simply put, why should people struggling in today's economy think that Romney and the Republicans would do stuff to make them better off, with the possible exception that they would no longer be blocking everything to screw over Obama?  How about they run on that? Give us power and we will stop holding the US economy hostage?  Oh, extortion does not sound so good.  Poor optics. Ooops! 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Very Good Man

Neil Armstrong is being remembered today for what he did in the summer of 1969.  He was a hero long before that after more than 70 combat missions over Korea and after his previous work on Gemini. 

I cannot put it any better than what his family said (from NYT obituary):
“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life,” his family said. “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”
I don't remember the moon landing but do remember the big missions of the mid 1970's--Skylab and the rendezvous with the Soviets.  Thanks to the internet, we can go back to the past and read the papers of the day.


I finally had a chance to see the re-make of Footloose.  It was amazing how much of the dialogue was the same.  And much of the dancing.  But, alas, they gutted my favorite scene--the tractor chicken game. 

The strange thing is that they kept much of the dialogue in the substitute scene.  Instead of two tractors going at each other with Wren (Kevin Bacon) tied to his tractor by a shoelace, the competition was between four school buses in a demolition derby arena.  With a figure eight track, the buses could collide with each other but there was none of the chicken dynamics--there is no signaling, there is no tying oneself to the vehicle (although Wren 2.0 does lose his brakes).  Ultimately, he and the other folks on the bus (putting out a fire) jump off before colliding. 

The funny thing is that Ariel (the object of the guys' affections/obsessions) has the same conversation with Chuck (the bad guy), telling he has smoked a lot of pot.  He responds, "don't tell me I had too much pot."  She counters, "I didn't say you had too much, but that you have had a lot."  "Don't tell me that either."  But the relevance of this is gone in the new version.  In the classic version, this is important--at least for using it in class to teach Chicken.

I would always ask my students in my big intro to IR class what Chuck did wrong.  One student eventually says, "He smoked pot."  And I would always say, no, his mistake was not showing Wren that he had smoked pot.  Signaling that he had less control, poorer reaction time and so on would help in getting the other guy, Wren, to swerve. 

Well, I guess it matters not much at all since (a) I am no longer teaching Intro to IR; and (b) we will always have the classic scene.

The Best Thing About Nationalists

Is that they often cannot stand each other.  As best illustrated here (NSFW):

Seriously, Jacques Parizeau, the man who nearly led Quebec to independence in 1995 and then blamed the Jews and the other ethnic types for the failure, has often had problems with his successors.  Well, the joy now is that he has endorsed Option Nationale (see this as well), the holier than thou separatists who see the Parti Quebecois as poseurs.  I have been hoping that the various separatist types split their votes among the parties all claiming to be the best sovereigntists--the PQ, Quebec Solidaire (whose leader rocked the first debate), and the Option Nationale folks.  With the PQ ahead in the polls, it is now safe for the nationalists to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

As someone tweeted today (cannot find it now), if it were not for the concern about the PQ, the Liberals would be polling in the single digits with all of the corruption scandals and the fatigue after nearly ten years.  So, our best hope is for the PQ to self-destruct.  Not a bad bet, given history, given the dynamics of nationalist movements, and given Parizeau's raging narcissism.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Everything is Connected

I am stunned.  Absolutely stunned.  Check out this post (H/T to Rob Neyer) that connects heaps of TV shows back to St. Elsewhere, which was, according to its finale, entirely the product of an autistic kid's imagination. 

St. Elsewhere folks visited Cheers and Cheers overlapped with a bunch of shows and so on.  One universe, Tommy Westphal's universe:

Yow!  I think the post goes too far, suggesting that real events were not real--the 2004 Red Sox World Series victory, for instance.  But the fictional TV shows--Cheers, Boston Public, Boston Legal, Homicide, Frasier, Caroline in the City, Friends, Mad About You, Seinfeld, and so on (including M*A*S*H and the Dick Van Dyke show) all belong to the same universe.  To be fair, as Mrs. Spew pointed out, all the shows that precede St. Elsewhere could have entered Tommy's imagination from watching TV.  So, I would suggest a temporal cutoff--all that precedes St. Elsewhere is probably not a product of Tommy's imagination.  But that still leaves us with a heap of shows.

I am now going to dive into the Tommy-verse.  If you don't hear from me by next week, call the police and also call Tom Fontana (who helped write and run both St. Elsewhere and Homicide).

Good and Not So Good Questions

This is an excellent post about good and bad questions.  Yes, professors always say there is no such thing as a bad question, but then hate it when a student asks a question that is pretty lousy such as:
  1. “Did we do anything important when I was out?”
  2. “Why do we have to learn this?”
  3. “Do we need the book?”
  4. “How much work do we have to do in this class?”
  5. “When will final grades be posted?” 
  6. “How many footnotes/sources do I need?”
  7. “Do we need to know this for the exam?”
  8. Do you have a stapler?
  9. “Can I leave early?/Is it OK if I go to my club meeting?” 
The general rule is that nearly all questions are fine unless they are aimed at trying to do the minimum, like questions 3, 4, 6, and 7.  I kept my door open at Texas Tech since my office did not have a window and because I wanted to interact with the students.  I just didn't want to be their supply secretary.  Stapler is an expected request because students panic when they find that their profs want their assignments to be handed in with something binding the various pages.  But I had students ask to borrow a pen or pencil, which is more annoying than it sounds, since I was working in my office, not just waiting to serve up writing implements. I would have been happy to talk about my classes, about IR, about stuff.  I had students ask to borrow my phone (this is before cell phones became quite so popular).  I even had one student ask to borrow my computer so that he could print something off.  I didn't get this much at my next job, perhaps because I was at the end of the hall or because like I looked older and less tolerant....

The only question on the list that was really off was the last one "“Are you sure you that’s right?”  That is, feel free to argue that I am wrong.  The stuff we are doing in the social sciences is not absolute and my memory is not perfect, so contradict me ... if you have a decent argument.  But woe unto you if you decide to use conspiracy theory--as I am not a religion prof, but one of reality-based social science. 

Anyhow, as the return of the students is about a week or two away, I wanted to ask my readers--what is the strangest question you have heard (or asked).  For instance, in college, we ended up asking a prof if he used shampoo to wash his beard. What say you?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Adventures in US Military History

On twitter, one question that came up today was this: was the Osama mission one of the most important in US military history?  I am no military historian, but I have a heap of opinions.  So, my answer was yes, but now I need to backtrack and figure out context and comparisons.

First, what is a mission?  It has to be a single attack/rescue/defensive effort, whatever.  It cannot be a repeated effort--that would be missions, not mission.  Thus, a campaign is not a mission.  A campaign is a combination of missions.  I am trying to think about D-Day--was that a mission or not?  Well, it was a focused effort at a single discrete objective--land tens of thousands of troops on Normandy's beaches.  But it took so much time--not just the one day really but weeks of bombing, and it took days/weeks to get sufficiently inland.  Usually, we would consider a piece of that big operation to be a mission, like the Brits seizing a bridge behind the lines. 

Second, this is comparative: there are many missions, of which the Osama mission is just one.  But how do we evaluate importance?  War-turning?  That would be a few, but killing Osama did not end the war on terrorism (since a war on a method of war is unlikely to end soon).  But a mission can have a big political impact and it can have a big military impact.  Remember the time that these guys blew up some big guns so that the British Navy could rescue heaps of troops in the Eastern Med?  In the book, it was more than just rescuing thousands of troops but about keeping Turkey neutral. Hmm.

Ok, so what comes to mind?  Just US military history for now.
  • Dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  That essentially ended the war and started the Cold War.  Huge political ramifications even if Japan might have surrendered shortly anyway.  Is it a mission?  Sure, one plane, one bomb dropped.
  • The Doolittle Raid.  A small set of planes taking off from a single carrier.  Direct military impact?  Not much especially given how much ordnance was dropped later.  Political impact much larger--both at home as it gave Americans a chance to cheer for something in the dark days after Pearl Harbor AND it provided some impetus for Japan's attack on Midway which did turn the tide.
  • Bastogne.  Sending the various units to prevent the fall of the crossroads was a huge deal, although Germany was going to lose anyway (thanks to the USSR!).  But the dividing lines in Europe might have been a bit further to the west if the Brits, Americans, Canadians, etc. had to re-take the ground lost here.
  • Operation Market Garden?  Had it succeeded, the war might have ended a bit sooner with the line drawn further to the east?  Of course, the mission really had no chance to succeed--what an incredibly optimistic plan.
  • World War I?  Nope.  Not a single mission comes to mind.  
  • 1898?  Damned if I know.
  • Civil War: was there a single mission?  Perhaps the defense at Gettysburg that preventing the Confederates from winning on day 1 or day 2.  Again, I am not a military historian, and harder to think of this as a mission.
  • War of 1812?  Please.
  • Revolutionary War: Hmmm, crossing the Delaware?  
  • Korea: the Inchon maneuver was more of an operation rather than a mission, eh?  Any particular missions in this war?  
  • Vietnam? Oh, one could suggest the mission that produced My Lai, but that kind of warps the notion of mission. Gulf of Tonkin, I guess.  The mission, whatever it involved, helped to justify escalation.  Would escalation have happened anyway?  Probably. 
  • Cuban Missile Crisis: the recon flight that spotted the missiles.  Damned important mission.
  • Which reminds me of the U-2 mission where the plane got shot down, scuttling some US-Soviet diplomacy.
  • The Iran hostage rescue mission was damned important.  Failure can very important.  In this case, it ultimately led to Delta, if I am not mistaken, and certainly helped lead to Goldwater-Nichols which reformed the US Joint Staff and how the US operates its military.
  • Greneda?  Ha.
  • The peacekeeping effort in Lebanon?  Well, the suicide attack on the US barracks probably shaped US and terrorist behavior in the region for a few decades (not to mention affecting Jack Reacher quite directly).
  • Any part of the first Gulf War?  No mission stands out.  Not even the Battle of 73 Easting since the US was going to destroy the Iraqi army wherever it was encountered.
  • Nothing in the Afghan war nor the second Iraq war stands out, but I could be missing something.
  • The Osama raid.  Too soon to really understand the impact on those who might and do support AQ.  Too secret to figure out what intel was gained.  
That is a long list.  I would have to guess the top five in importance are:  the Bomb, defense at Gettysburg, the recon kicking off the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Iran hostage rescue mission, Osama raid.

Feel free to disagree.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tenure 101

I have spent the past several days at orientation meetings at my new place of employment.  I am coming in with tenure (just as I did the last time), so I am not concerned about tenure directly.  I do care about tenure procedures because the granting of lifetime employment (essentially) is a pretty serious enterprise and how academic units deal with it shapes the culture of the place.  So, in the course of events, I asked questions about it, and I also watched the folks around me get heaps of advice from the various panelists.  As a result, tenure is on my mind.  Not the first time of course, as as a search of my blog will turn up many posts related to the future of tenure, the apparent randomness of tenure decisions, what a strange institution it is, how poorly it is portrayed in movies, that promotion to full can be problematic,* and so on.
*  One of the strangenesses at Canadian schools (I know have an n of two) is that tenure seems to be easier than promotion.  At Carleton, the tenure and promotion to Associate Professor are two distinct decisions and processes, and only one of them seems to have university-wide standards, and it ain't tenure.  I don't understand it at all, but that does seem to be the reality.

While one can give lots of advice, I just have two pieces of advice for this post: think about the profession's expectations and do not think big.

First, your department/school/college/university may or may not provide clear tenure guidance.  Do consult your colleagues, do try to observer what has happened in the recent past, and so on.  But as you strategize towards meeting the local standards, do try to get a sense of your discipline's standards** and try to match those.  In many places, the profession's standards are the same as or tougher than the local department. Those places that seem to be far more strict than the profession's?  Well, you should know that going in and prepare accordingly.
**  This is mostly written with research intensive schools in mind.  Liberal arts colleges will be similar but not identical.  The norms regarding research output for folks at liberal arts colleges may be different than for research universities, so keep my bias in mind--based on my experiences at the research schools.
Why care about the profession?  Well, since it includes more people, it is unlikely to change quickly.  A department can radically revise its standards in a short period of time.  But that is not really the important reason.  The two reasons are:
  1. Many places require letters to be written by folks outside the department to provide an external check. These folks are probably not familiar with the local standards and will probably rely on their judgment of what it means to be a good x ... a good political scientist, a good economist, whatever.
  2. Besides personal glory, satisfaction, ego, whatever, one should try to meet the profession's standards to maintain at least the appearance of mobility.  It is almost certainly always better to be seen as mobile than not.  You don't have to constantly threaten to leave.  But if you can leave by getting a job elsewhere, then you can if that needs to happen (your state/province goes to hell, the department blows up, you need to flee an ex, whatever).  Also, one of the only ways to get a pay increase is to be desirable.  Some places may give you a pre-emptive offer so that you do not even go on the job visit.  Most of the time, you will only get a big raise if you have a job offer from elsewhere.  That is not going to happen if you do not at least match the profession's expectations.  

Choisir, My Ass

The irony in the Parti Quebecois's slogan just gets deeper and deeper.  So, now the PQ is talking about prohibiting people who are not fluent in French from running for office.  Certainly, such folks should be fluent, but why not let the voters decide?  If one is running for office in a community full of Anglophones, perhaps fluency in English might be a bit more important.  OR if one is living among First Nations peoples, it might be more important to be able to communicate with them.

Of course, one only needs to communicate with the local folks if one is trying to represent them.  And the PQ has little interest in representing people that are different.  And choice?  Not a strength of the PQ which has a basic authoritarian tendency based on the view that  giving people discretion is a bad idea.

Sure, they are now walking a bit back from this--new immigrants would face these restrictions.  Lovely.  The fifth D of xenophobic politics, along with dodge, dip, duck, and dive is deny.  Appeal to the xenophobes and then act as if you are not discriminating in a racist/xenophobic way.

So, yeah, I am super-happy to have left Quebec when I could.

Canadian Media Messes Up

This story about a Canadian officer who killed a prisoner in cold blood is more of an ad for the guy's book than anything else.  Semrau shot a wounded Taliban who was no threat.  That much is really not contested.  After so much angst in the media about "THE detainee scandal" which was about whether the Canadian Forces transferred prisoners to the Afghans knowing that they might be abused (not US-style rendition, to be clear, where torture was not just expected but actually desired), the Canadian media is playing up the tale of a guy who killed a detainee. 

Oh, and the preface is by Lewis McKenzie, a retired general, who says this:
“I strongly disagree,” MacKenzie writes. “When a soldier is faced with a similar situation in some far flung battlefield in the future, and has those 10 seconds to reach a decision, no regulation nor memory or knowledge of Captain Rob Semrau’s court martial will spring to mind.
“It will be his or her own moral code that will dictate their response — nothing more, nothing less.”
Um, no.  The detainee was not a threat.  So, the whole ten seconds, regs don't matter, it is just the personal code is ten tons of crap.  The rules of engagement, the laws of war, are supposed to apply in exactly these situations.  You have a defenseless prisoner--do you shoot him?  The answer is no.

Of course, Semrau's fans will say that I have no military experience, just as his panel at the court martial had no combat experience.  True, but some realities are just that--realities.  Killing prisoners is against the law, and also risk mission failure.  I think Canada learned perhaps some wrong lessons from its bitter Somalia experience, but holding people accountable for killing prisoners is not one of them.

So, let's put the book ads for Semrau where they belong--not on the front page in a fawning light.

Afghanistan in NYT Rear View Mirror: Being Stupid with Numbers

I tweeted last night that the NYT headline that US had as many KIA in Afghanistan in last 27 months as in previous 9 years was deceptive and almost meaningless (well, not politically meaningless) because the US surge meant that there were many more troops in contact more recently.  And contact means casualties.

So, let's take a look at the pics, shall we?

 The first figure shows pretty clearly that the pace of casualties is closely connected to the increased size of the contingents.  Few folks on the ground mean that there are few vehicles driving over IEDs, few troops ambushed, less violence over all.  One could look at this and say that US is causing itself casualties and that the sending of troops is amping up the insurgency.  That would be interesting but probably foolish.  The reality is the violence is an interactive dynamic.  The US sent more troops because the insurgents were engaged in more violence, and the insurgents engaged in more violence because NATO had moved out of Kabul and was contesting the insurgents.  People forget that the surge in Iraq, as accompanied by the Sunni Awakening as it was, involved a surge in violence as well.  Only after things played out a bit did violence decrease.  Afghanistan has not worked out so well thus far.  Why?  Perhaps because there is no Awakening equivalent.

Second figure compares where the US folks were killed.  The description is quite confusing, as the bubbles show more consistency than variance--the South has always been where the plurality of Americans (and others) have been killed.  Kandahar and Helmand have always been the most dangerous places in Afghanistan.  And, again, whatever differences remain can be chalked mostly up to where the Americans went in 2009-2011--where they people most were (sort of)--the south.

The numbers here are most interesting and we can get much out of them.  The NYT does a huge service by visually presenting this data.  The interpretation here is lacking, so readers should focus on the pretty pics and think for themselves instead of reading the captions and headlines.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Legitimate? Excuuuuuse Me

Lots and lots of stuff online in reaction to the incredible statements by our favorite candidate for the US Senate on legitimate rape.  I don't have much to say.  Ok, I have a heap to say, but would rather let two bits of internet genius say it for me:

via FB friend AS

and this

via gawker

Oh my.  Dear GOP, um, WTF? 

Lessons From Almost Two Decades of Teaching

I spent my second day of orientation at my new job.  Given that I have almost 20years of teaching experience and the reality that almost all of my classes will be grad seminars, I am pondering what I have learned since I started so many years ago.
  • I will always be surprised.  There was the idiot who thought he could do a rom-com by making a speech to his girlfriend in my 600 person class.  I was surprised when a student got a cell phone call, answered and then walked out of the class to continue the conservation. 
  • Which leads to the second lesson: I will never be perfect.  I will often wish I had something differently or anticipated a problem.
  • Only a few can please everyone (JJ).  The rest of us will get evals that present conflicting feedback.  "Your slides are too organized."  "Not organized enough." "Love the humor"  "Hate the jokes."  Have to consider the broader patterns and not obsesses about a comment, unless it is something like "he rocks the party that rocks the body."  
  • My first focus long ago was solely on being clear.  I did not attempt to be all that engaging, dynamic, silly, funny or whatever.  I just tried to deliver the content as clearly as I could.  I eventually relaxed.  Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on the student.  I did innovate by improving the incorporation of technology.  Youtube!  I over-did Youtube at first, and then dialed it back a bit.  
I think I have to re-set now back to my original position.  Why?  The challenge ahead of me: I have not taught a grad class in several years. That and I have not taught a class aimed at students seeking policy-oriented degrees.  Oops. 

I will let you know in a semester or two if I am managing.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Voter Fraud Fraud Post Du Jour

I have been posting here and on twitter quite a bit about voter fraud fraud.  That is, efforts to restrict voting rights because of fears about the possibility of voter fraud.  Which is voter fraud fraud because there is no real evidence of any voter fraud going on.  I have engaged in twitter arguments with sincere folks who are concerned about voter fraud and consider my claim that the GOP is promoting these bills to disenfranchise people to be conspiracy thinking. 

Do I have evidence that GOP is generating fears about a non-existent threat?  Only sort of.  This is not my day job, just a product of my righteous indignation.  I am too busy these days with meetings to do serious research to find evidence that the GOP is insincere. 

So, let me just posit a few ways to think about this:

First, the US has a history of the use of voting regulations to disenfranchise people--the literacy tests and other means to keep African-Americans from voting.  That cannot be contested. Yes, the Democrats did it until they stopped.  The point here is that given the history, shouldn't we err on the side of caution, that anything that might threaten the ability of people to vote ought to be considered only if there is a significant threat?  Given the paucity of voter fraud cases, that elections have not turned on voter fraud (this ain't Afghanistan), but elections do turn on turnout, ought we not err on the side of permitting, rather than restricting, the franchise?

Second, one of the very basic ideas carved into American values is the presumption of innocenceShouldn't we presume that people are voting legitimately unless proven others?  The act of striking names from the voting rolls without due process should be abhorrent, especially to the party that seems to obsess about repressive government (that would be the Republicans).  What is a greater threat to liberty than denying people the opportunity to vote? 

Thus, even if one does not consider the GOP's fascination with restricting the franchise to be its solution to its lame appeal to certain groups (African-Americans, poor people, increasing Hispanics, etc), even if one does not note the pattern that one party is pushing this and it happens to be the party that is much less diverse, even if one does not observe that one party is opposed to these efforts and it happen to be the one that is more diverse, if one simply considers the basic history of the vote in the US and/or one considers the foundational principles of the US about the presumption of innocence, then the decision is an obvious one. 

Lit Reviews are Like What?

Excellent piece here on what a lit review is and is not supposed to be by thinking about the metaphors.  The idea that a lit review is a dinner party is quite sharp--you invite some, not all, people, you provide the organization, you focus the conversation, and you have a good time.

Oh, and don't call the section of your piece "The Literature Review" unless someone is forcing you to do so.  It puts you in the wrong mind-set.  If you call it "Lit Review," you are already separating out that hunk of the writing from the rest, making it less organic and making easier for the reader to skip it.* Instead, entitle it with something that describes the lit that you are reviewing as you see it.  Such as "The Conventional Wisdom Sucks."  Well, that might be a bit too bold, but the general idea applies.  The idea of the lit review is not to satisfy reviewers--that is something you have to keep in mind, but that should not be the purpose of the enterprise.  The idea is to define the question, explain how key "others" have addressed it, where they fall short, and how others have written stuff upon which you can build your argument.  None of that requires an exhaustive list or summary of all lit.  Instead, as the linked piece above suggests, the trick is that you need to write from your perspective and focus on the goal of the article/book.  Lit reviews should not be painful to read--but if you think of them as lit reviews, they almost assuredly will be.
* Except, of course, for looking for citations of their own work.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who Cares About an Independent Quebec?

Yesterday, I got into a conversation with Quebec separatist on twitter, which led to this blogpost about Option Nationale.  One of my assertions was very undeveloped:
The Francophones have won every battle except independence.  And if they become independent, Quebec will lose.  It will lose the subsidies that Canada provides, it will lose cache in the rest of the world, since no one really cares about Quebec that much besides some old nationalists in France.
So, the question du jour is: who would take Quebec's side as it struggles to become independent if a referendum was won by the separatists?  And I do mean struggle both because a Harper government might not be such a friendly bargaining partner as the assets AND debts are divvied up and because starting up a new country is as easy as separatists dream.

Supporting Quebec in this struggle will be, dare I say it, viewed in Canada as being anti-Canadian.  Taking sides in a separatist conflict does, indeed, require taking a side.  The other side will get upset.  Thus, any country that supports Quebec in this imaginary future will risk upsetting Canada.  One might say, who cares about Canada?  But the reality is that countries already have relations with Canada (including that part that happens to have the oil) and benefit from those relations.  Potential supporters would have to consider damaged relations with Canada as part of the cost of supporting Quebec.

Given that supporting a separatist Quebec would not be a cost-free lark, who would be willing to risk these costs?  The separatists would say France.  Sure, common linguistic ties would suggest that France would support Quebec (as my first book would also predict).  But France has bigger fish to fry over the next decade, such as pulling the EU and its own economy out of the current fire.  The funny thing is that Sarkozy, who was leading the right-wing at the time, was not a fan of the Quebec project.  The socialists, Hollande, usually do not play nationalist cards so much.  And there is another target of French nationalism much closer to home.  Why score points on a situation that is not in the hearts and minds of French nationalists (that would be Quebec) when you can focus on immigrants at home? 

France is far less concerned with the defense of the French language (check out their stop signs) than Quebec.  So, will France support Quebec?  Perhaps.  It might be hard to oppose, but what would this support consist of?

Who else would support a separating Quebec?  The US?  Mais non.  The US would not put its virtual body in the way, but it is clear that the US likes Canada whole and not falling apart.  Quebec nationalists say that NAFTA would apply to them, so no real transaction costs for US-Quebec relations.  Sure, right.  Um, no.  The US would have something to say about that, and Canada, as a partner to NAFTA (which Quebec would not be) might use admission to NAFTA as leverage. 

Anyone else matter in this?  Again, I have a hard time figuring that out.  Perhaps some nationalist can convince me of their dreams of the relevance of some other actor who might support a Quebec independence drive in a meaningful way.  The good news for such folks is this: Quebec will not have to resort to arms to separate from Canada so external support really is not that important.  The real issue would be the bargaining process between Quebec and Canada over a variety of issues.  Quebec would have some leverage, but Canada would have much as well.  Ah, but we can dream of a friction-less settlement, right? 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Option Sucketh

For some reason, an advocate of the Option Nationale Party engaged in me a twitter conversation this evening.  He argued that independence would help un-freeze the currently lousy status quo.  Certainly.  But a quick look at the program of the party, which he said I should consider, tells me that the Option Nationale is no option at all for the Anglophones and other minorities in Quebec.

It would do much of what the PQ promises to do without the hedging.  CEGEPS would be restricted to French for Francophones and immigrants.  Funding of universities would be more proportionate, which would mean cutting McGill, Concordia and Bishop's.  Those who partook of free education would have to contribute back to society--suggesting prevention of emigration to Canada/elsewhere, right?  Free higher ed?  How to pay for that?  Who gets it?

The program is quite clearly not interested in making non-Francophones feel comfortable or even equal, so why bother appeal to them?  Yes, Anglophones are sick of the Liberals who have been in power for ten years and are quite corrupt.  But this platform of the O.N. is not about public service and good governance.  It is about inflicting nationalism on all institutions--why would a minority want that.  Is there anything in this that would make a minority feel as if they have a stake in the system?  That their rights would be protected and their interests influential?  No.

Yes, the nationalist discourse is a tremendous distraction from focusing on good governance, but it not clear how a nationalist party would be the right choice.  And, yes, I have full confidence that an independent Quebec would still have parties competing with each other about how best to deprive the minorities rather than focus on good governance.

Thus, I am only confused by one thing--why should a sovereigntist like this engage me?  I am absolutely everything that such folks stand against.  Except I left.   Hmmm.

The nationalist did ask me the right question: what is the resolution?  My answer is demographic change.  The more the old nationalists fade away, the more immigrants gain citizenship, the less relevance the nationalist cause will have at election time.  Some party may eventually emerge and promise good governance. The CAQ might be it.  The NDP farm team might be it.  The Liberals might find defeat to be what they need to reconstitute.  But much of Quebec is tired of the nationalist discourse.  The Francophones have won every battle except independence.  And if they become independent, Quebec will lose.  It will lose the subsidies that Canada provides, it will lose cache in the rest of the world, since no one really cares about Quebec that much besides some old nationalists in France.  It will be marginal, except for producing some electricity for NY and New England.  Oh, and asbestos for India.

Perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part.  I do expect Quebec to be stuck in this rut for quite a while.  But eventually a party/leader will emerge that will persuade enough people to focus on good governance rather than on identity divisions.  Hopefully, that will not take too long and that non-nationalist will be the best thing for the distinct society.

Friday, August 17, 2012

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? Social Media and Professing

LSE posted a set of suggestions for new scholars.  It is a good pretty good guide, but I don't agree with it entirely.  It also raises some questions, so let me pontificate (since this is my blog).

Let me take the recommendations in the order Salma Patel, the author, put them in and then comment along the way:

LinkedIn.  I believe that the neo-classic internet phrase that best applies here is "meh."  Linkedin provides some connectivity, mostly to the private sector, but I have yet to really find it useful.  Perhaps that is my experience, but I really do not know of any academic friends using it much.  It is aimed at networking, and is free, so no harm here.  Just not any real benefit as far as I can tell. Yes.  It is a cheap (free) and easy way to have a web presence.  It can serve as one's professional webpage, complete with pubs and cv uploaded.  Here's mine.  It is kind of a nerdy facebook where you can follow people's work, and they can follow yours.  The more of a footprint one can create that makes it clear what one's work is, the better.  Yes, there is a risk that someone may plagiarize your work, but if you get the stuff up on the web, then people will know who you are.  And that is the best defense against plagiarism in the long run.  People can copy you, but if folks know your work, then the plagiarist is just a plagiarist and your rep is intact.  If you hide your work, but someone finds it and copies it, you have less of an ability to claim that you were there first.

Twitter:  At this point, I think it is now a requirement to have a twitter account--I will be suggesting accounts to follow when I teach Civ-Mil Relations in a couple of weeks.  That does not mean that one needs to tweet.  But I do think that following interesting folks and various sources is a very valuable way to get connected and find out what is going on in your areas of interest.  I find so many links to so much interesting stuff to read.  The problem is actually doing the reading, but a lurker can get much out of twitter without ever posting.  I, obviously from my own behavior, think that tweeting is also important.  I have developed some very valuable contacts by engaging people in conversation, debating sometimes, building on other people's tweets and so on.  Of course, it is easy for me since I have tenure, but I find that there are plenty of interesting graduate students and assistant professors who tweet and are making a mark by doing so.  You don't have to be at the center of the academic universe if you can contribute something interesting to the conversation, whether that is a timely re-tweet of a piece one has discovered, an opinion added to the conversation, a link to a blog post that develops something further, or even just interesting pics.
    The funny thing is that I resisted twitter at first because I didn't think I could ever consistently say anything in 140 characters or less or find anyone else's short messages all that interesting.*  Even if we leave aside shortened links, there are plenty of folks who have demonstrated a capacity for insight, perspective, and humor (not just @depresseddarth).  Take a gander at the folks I follow (
* As it turns out, I ended up using this tool and discovered that although it took a couple of years to sign up, I was still ahead of 90% of the people who are on twitter now.  And this tool is super-useful to track one's own twitter account (I don't think I am the only narcissist on twitter) and others.  H/T to for the link.  
I probably should hashtag more to get my stuff wider attention.  Thus far, the only consistent hashtag I use is: #voterfraudfraud.  I use it when discussing the attempts to restrict the vote in the US with the excuse that there is voter fraud (which there is not).
So, much longer than a tweet, but the essential idea is that it is worth it as long as you avoid two dangers: major time suck and perhaps shooting one's mouth off a bit much.  Yes, do as I say, not as I do.  My new enterprise is launching NPSIA's twitter presence.  Twitter is an excellent way to advertise.

Blogging.  The suggestions that LSE lays out are quite good.  I think blogger/blogspot is easier for someone who wants to put no effort into formatting.  Wordpress is not hard, but not as intuitive as it would like to think it is.  Either way, the keys about blogging are, in my humble opinion:
  1. Write what you know. 
  2. Don't put too much time into it.  You will get little credit on the job market or by tenure committees for it.  
  3. It is valuable.  There are so many complaints about how we don't engage the public, that our funding produces research that never translates beyond our narrow circles.  Blogging is an excellent way to communicate to interested audiences, especially when combined with twitter.  Just follow the annual national security twitter fight club extragavanza to see young'uns more than hold their own against big-time experts.
  4. And be more restrained than I am about talking about one's institutions.  I tried not to say too much about the various tribulations I was experiencing in my past job, but it definitely leaked through.  Again, tenure is a beautiful thing.  Junior faculty should feel free to talk about their research and teaching, but perhaps not so much about more political challenges closer to home.
This entire post has been focused on a reaction to the LSE piece, so it has mostly been on the networking side of things.  All of this stuff has heaps of pedagogical dimensions as well.  But this post is long enough.  Remind me to get back to pedagogical stuff (sounds so much better in Russian: педагогический) if I forget.

Revising History

Seventy years after the events, we finally learn a bit of truth about the Dieppe Raid.  It seemed like a typical tale: Canadian troops losing their lives needlessly due to poor British planning.  There is a documentary tonight in Canada that presents a new take.  See here for the newspaper tale.  The essence is that the entire raid was a cover for a commando raid seeking to get German code books and machines.  And it was led by Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books.

The frustrating thing about the newspaper story, and something I will have to track tonight, is whether the raid, actually worked.  Did they get the codes and machines or not?  If they did, then Dieppe can be re-coded a success, that the Canadians who died there helped to save lives elsewhere as the breaking of German codes was huge and entirely secret for decades.  I am kind of surprised that it took a few decades for this new version of the raid to come out since Enigma lost much of its secrecy in the 1970s if I remember correctly.  Then again, the Brits are generally far better at keeping their secrets. 

Even if the mission did not succeed in getting the codes, at least Dieppe now makes some sort of sense.  Still, it remains a testament to poor planning.  Further history work (or perhaps just watching the documentary) will be required to figure out whether the mistakes made were necessary for the mission or just poor planning--that the distraction could have been better planned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Excuses for Blogging Shortage

I blame global warming.  Ok, perhaps not.  But I have not been writing as much here lately.  The new job has kept me hopping.  In addition to the usual teaching, research and service, I have been named Research Mentor.  Don't know what that is?  Neither do I.  I never heard of such a thing, but it is a Carleton thing, I guess.  The idea is to have a person in each unit help with grant-writing and such. 

In my case, I am going to use the title and all the power (none) that comes with it to try to fund-raise to help NPSIA gain more attention and connectivity especially with the folks in and near government who work in the Foreign Policy/International Security/International Development business.  In addition to grants and other begging, I am to help facilitate the intellectual community via speaker series and such.  The third part is to help NPSIA develop a better web presence through blogging (yes, yet another Steve blog) and twitter and such. 

As a warmup, I have been working on a new website for myself.  It is very much in progress (it needs a heap of work), but here it is:  Check it out and give me feedback as I desperately need it.

And I will try to get back to blogging once all of my orientation meetings are past tense.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Economic Protectionism is Theme of the Day

My second post of the day is also on protectionism, but a strange kind.  Apparently, some folks in Washington (the state) are upset that their Costco's parking lot is full of Canadian vehicles because the Canadians are running south for cheap goods and gas.  The locals are frustrated that those who come to put money in the local and national economies are filling up the parking lot.  What to do, what to do?

You could blame Obama, I am sure.  But I think you have to blame America and freedom.  That the big box store that Costco exemplifies is such a celebration of "the pursuit of happiness" via consumption and saving money via buying in bulk that resistance is, indeed, futile.

I am too lazy to run down to northern NY for Costco--we have one in Ottawa twenty minutes from my house.  My neighbors, however, did enjoy the hell out of the outlet shopping they sought as part of their summer vacation near American lakes, beaches and cities.  Low sales taxes, great discounts--the American way.

So, residents of Washington, before you protest your parking difficulties, remember that there is nothing more American than buying stuff you probably do not need as long as it is on sale.

Quebec Protectionism

One of the best lines I ever heard when interviewing folks was when I interviewed an Hungarian general.  He said: "Everyone is a nationalist after a few drinks."

Well, the relevance of this is that in an election, especially in a place like Quebec, everyone is an economic nationalists.  The parties are competing to be the best ones to prevent outsiders (Americans!) from taking over companies based in Quebec.  This was inspired, this time, by Lowe's trying to take over Rona, one of the major hardware store chains.  The really funny thing is that Charest is also promising to set aside $$ to help Quebec companies invest abroad.  Yep, no golden rule here.  I guess Charest never read Keohane's stuff on reciprocity.  Of course, he shouldn't.  Reciprocity does not play in an election, but it does tend to make one look just a bit silly.

Of course, this is really just another serving of distraction sauce.  The key issues of today are the usual, basic ones: good governance, jobs, health care, education.  But the Liberals cannot talk about good governance.  The PQ cannot either, since that is the CAQ's big issue, plus the PQ's record on caring about good governance is lousy.  Economic nationalism does sound like protecting jobs, but generally does not help much, especially if one is expecting foreign markets to respond to Quebec protectionism with open arms to their businesses.  Health care?  Good luck with that.  And education right now is covered in other distraction sauce--the student protests.

Anyhow, the point here is that running against Lowe's makes sense for all of the parties, but is not going to mean much down the road.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Joy Joy

We often over-think and over-criticize athletes because, well, it is easy and is a nice distraction from more complicated and more important stuff.

But this one pic shows us something that we should remember: winning is fun.

And it was such a team effort: LeBron making huge plays at the end, Durant sinking shots all over the place, Chris Paul taking control at a key point, Kobe making some timely shots, Kevin Love is apparently too tired to dance since he owned the boards, and so on.  People will complain that they didn't win by as large margins as the original Dream Team, but the quality of competition has caught up to the US.

Not a perfect game, but a fun one to watch.  And it is hard not to take some pleasure in the joy these millionaires felt as they played hard and represented well.

Obsession, Thy Name is Lost

Do check out this wonderfully insane set of photos.  These expectant parents are rabid lost fans.

I found it via Damon Lindelof's tweet:

Just one photo to give you an idea:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Sniper Silliness

This may be a first for the Spew but very much an internet tradition since 1873: Cat picture!

But I had to, given the civil-military relations embedded in this embedded video:

Running Against the Wind

The PQ has a great chance to gain power again with an exhausted set of incumbents who inevitably presided over a heap of corruption scandals (not that the PQ would be any less corrupt).  But, imitating perhaps the Republicans to the south, the focus ends up being on symbolic politics rather than substance.  The PQ is promising a harsher version of Bill 101, the law that regulates languages.  Not satisfied with denying immigrants and Francophones access to English K-11 (there is no 12th grade in Quebec), the proposal aims to restrict CEGEPs (the semi-junior colleges between high school and university) along the same lines. 

This law is clearly aimed at the nationalist base. In a three-way battle (or five way with two other separatist parties in the mix as well, this makes more sense than the GOP shifting even further rightward since there is less of a need to get any votes in the center and more of a need to cement the base.

The announcements always aim at the shocking disuse of French in Montreal, where the vast majority of the population do speak French.  However, the challenge is that Montreal is chock full of people for whom French is their second language, that their mother tongue is something else.  This allows the PQ to focus its ire on two targets in one shot: Montreal and immigrants.  Running against Montreal is a grand tradition, as it presents the "other" to the rest of Quebec, whether that other is urban, Anglophone, immigrant, gay, educated, or whatever.  Montreal is the economic engine for the province, but the disproportionate distribution of seats (Montreal is under-represented) combined with the usually politicially irrelevant Anglophone community means that it is politically rational to run against the city.  The realities of underinvestment in infrastructure and social services emanate from this--why send resources to Montreal when voters elsewhere matter more?  Why not blast the city for its cosmopolitan-ness even if it does not threaten the rest of Quebec and might even be good as it helps to feed the economy?

The immigrants are the second target.  The PQ has learned some lessons:
  1. appealing to immigrants allows other parties to be better xenophobes (ADQ a few years ago);
  2. immigrants will learn French (so many speak three or more languages) but learning French does not convert them into either PQ voters or separatists.  So, some proposals of Quebec citizenship are explictly aimed now at immigrants.
  3. xenophobia plays well outside of Montreal.
So, what the PQ does makes sense, but once again, what is good for electoral politics in the short-run is bad for Quebec in the long run.  This election can still be about corruption and good governance, but the more the PQ plays up the language stuff, the more Anglophones and Allophones will vote for the corrupt Liberals.  They fear more the certain consequences of an anti-Anglophone/anti-immigrant government and the disruptions that another referendum would bring than the uneven impact of corruption.  Hence Charest's instance that the PQ will hold a referendum and that the new party, the CAQ, may be closet separatists.

Heaps of distraction sauce abound for the Liberals with the PQ playing to its base.  We shall see if corruption becomes the key issue or not of this election.  If the PQ wins because corruption harmed the Liberals, we might not see any improvement in good governance.  Why? Because the PQ does not really care about it.

Yes, I am so very glad I am out out of Quebec.  Ontario may not be paradise, but at least the parties do not seem focused on the threat I pose as an Anglophone and as an immigrant.

Gun Mania

I love how this strip takes the fear of talking about gun control by politicians and moves it to the next level:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Plagiarism Friday

Fareed Zakaria has been accused of plagiarism (and it is pretty open and shut).  It will not prevent him from becoming President--that was never his aspiration.  But it does remind me of someone who ended his political career due to plagiarizing his dissertation:

Demography of Quebec Politics

No, I am not a demographer, I just play one on TV my blog.  I left Quebec behind when I moved to Ottawa, but I cannot help but pay attention to the election there.  So glad I got out before it was called.

Anyway, the stat of the morning is that apparently only 36% of Francophones think that Anglophones play a constructive role in Quebec politics.  There are many ways to read this, but here is my interpretation of this result. 
  1. Because of the nationalist politics of the past thirty or forty years, the Anglophones have had only one real choice--the Provincial Liberals.  The Parti Quebecois is not only separatist but regularly promises policies that threaten the interests of the Anglophones--limiting job opportunities, undermining educational opportunities (always the threat for "proportionate" funding of higher education--which means cutting the money going to McGill, Concordia, and Bishop's), and so on.  It is most clear that Anglophones would not be very welcome in an independent Quebec, given the politics and promises of the past.
  2. Third parties have generally been vague about their preferences about a future referendum on independence.  The ADQ was "autonomist" but did not rule out independence.  The new third party, the CAQ, had until yesterday or the day before said that it would not seek a referendum for ten years.  Only in the past couple of days has its leader, Francois Legault ruled out a referendum or the goal of independence entirely.  Given his past stances, one could understand why a federalist might be dubious.
  3. Given this reality, Anglophones had only one choice--to vote for the Liberals.  Which means that they can be taken for granted.  That the Anglophones could not and probably still cannot reasonably threaten to take their votes and go to another party.  
  4. Which makes it damn hard to be constructive.  How do you induce political change, how do you get politicians to focus on good governance, if your vote really hangs on the nationalist question?  Francophones can swing as much as they want because nationalist issues are just some of their concerns.  They have political power because they can choose any party without fear of new laws being enacted to discriminate and even disenfranchise them.  But with Marois positing policies that redefine Citizenship in ways that marginalize minorities, the Anglos have no place to go.
Of course, not being constructive does not mean one is destructive or considered destructive.  That would be an interesting question to ask: are Anglophones a destructive influence on Quebec politics?  Certainly, the majority of potential voters consider the Liberals to be a bad thing according to current polls (with PQ getting over 30% and CAQ at around 25%).  Given that the Liberals need their Anglophone voters (despite selling them out on a regular basis) to stay in power, it is not hard to see how those opposed to Charest and the Liberal party might identify the key Anglo constituency is not constructive.  Given that they would see Charest losing power as constructive, the Anglos ain't constructive.

So, either way you look at it, this particular finding is not surprising.  It has multiple meanings, of course, and we can draw whatever implications we want.  Which is why polls like this are like Rorschach tests--we see what we want to see.  I see a powerless bloc of voters.  Others see a key constituency of a government that sucks.

Yes, the Charest government sucks.  But a PQ government would suck more, especially for Anglos.  Hence the dilemma.

Demography of US Politics

This piece has a very good take on how changing demographics has altered what it takes to win in the US at the Presidential level.  The gist is that Romney can have a relative landslide among whites and still lose if Obama maintains enough turnout and support among non-whites.  The piece tries to be even handed by saying that the GOP forfeits the White House if it cannot appeal to non-whites, but that the Dems will have problems with Congress until it can get enough white support.  Sure, this makes some sense.  But I have a couple of points that could not fit into a tweet or two:

The piece tends to make equivalent a party failing to get more than 20% of non-whites with a party that might get 40% of whites.  What I mean by this is that the GOP appears to be have far more problems appealing to non-whites than the Dems have of appealing to whites.  In any US election at the national level, the outcome is going, the loser is going to get somewhere around 40-49% of the vote (McGovern and Goldwater were in the high 30's).  So, losing some but not all whites is not so damning as the GOP being so miserable about non-white votes. 

Ok, let me be clearer: I think it is abhorrent but normal for one party to be essentially quite racist in its appeal.  The Democrats may often be feeble and divided, but that comes with being a bigger tent.  The party aims to be a multiethnic party.  This might offend some whites, but the party is not anti-white (at least not if one sees reality as it is, not as they fear it to be). 

To be clear, as a political scientist, I understand that the Republican strategy used to make sense--get enough whites and you can win.  But not anymore.  By alienating Hispanics who often have similar values to Republican voters (especially on social issues like abortion), the Republicans gave up California years ago.  That is bad electoral math.  And that math is going to get worse than this article suggests because the demographic shifts have not stopped.  Whites will not lose their plurality status, but they will lose their majority status in many states.  Texas Republicans understand this a bit better, sort of, that if they alienate the Hispanics there, state elections will start to be competitive. 

I understand that lots of the passion and polemics of the last few years (the Tea Party) are a response to the realization that white folks are going to have to share power with non-whites.  This is not a horrible thing, but actually the continued realization of the American dream and the challenges of diversity.  It used to be the case that folks feared the Irish vote and the Italian vote, and so on, but now those immigrant communities are seen as Americans and as worthy targets of vote-seekers.  The Democrats lost the South in the 1960s by supporting civil rights---it was costly in the short and medium term, but history was on their side.  Obama is the beneficiary of the politicians doing what was right back then. 

The Republicans, unless they change course, will be on the wrong side of history.  When Sarah Palin indicated that she just wanted the support of her "Real America," I was fine with that since white, rural America is not only short of 50% but shrinking.  The Republicans will have to face a reckoning at some point--allow some of its members to move back to the middle and to appeal to minorities or become irrelevant.  Not today but soon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Finger-pointing After Afghanistan

Actually, my latest CIC post is finger-pointing while folks are still in Afghanistan.  So easy to blame-cast, often misses the point.

It Is All Academi-c!

I posted a while back on the name-changing of the most famous private security company--Blackwater.  Because it had not only embarassed itself, but caused a major politico-military crisis for the US in Fallujah, Blackwater re-named itself Xe.  This did not last long (perhaps copyright problems with the handy website that helps people figure out exchange rates).  So, they renamed themselves Academi.  In my previous post, I suggested alternative names, but Academi seems to be sticking.

What does this mean for the company?  Why this name?  I have a few guesses:
  • Perhaps the company sought to get out of the bodyguarding business and focus more on pontificating?
  • Perhaps it felt the time was right to open up a PhD program in crisis mis-management and collateral damage maximization?
  • Perhaps it felt its skills at getting government contracts with no accountability would be better used in the art of gaining grants?
  • Perhaps its leaders felt more comfortable in tweed with elbow patches rather than camoflauge?
  • Perhaps the organization thought that profs, despite widely depicted as lechs, would be a reputational step up from out-of-control mercenaries?
  • Perhaps recklessly killing bystanders has inspired these folks to pursue the life of the mind instead?  Hard to kill somebody by mistake in my business, although I have done it a few times.
What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Students Really As Consumers

I am not a big fan of For Profit higher education.  Of course, I have a dog in this fight (sorry), as one could imagine a world where these entities take over higher education, making it harder for me and my kind (that would be my grad students) to get and keep jobs.

Instead of spewing my biased spew, I will let Garry Trudeau take the floor:

These schools have been ripping people (especially Veterans) off big-time.  Not good.

Anyhow, I look forward to the rest of the week as the story continues at Doonesbury.

Curing Writer's Bloc With ...

From here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Great Moments in Electoral Hypocrisy

Driving back and forth to Quebec this summer to take my daughter to and from her summer camp (multiple sessions) is exhausting.  Today, however, it was somewhat uplifting.  My daughter brought me much joy.  How so?  She spotted a Parti Quebecois poster and was most scornful of the slogan:

Pourquoi?  Because "A Nous de Choisir" is pretty much antithetical to what the PQ stands for.  The phrase means "We Have to Choose" essentially, but this is the PQ, whose program contains heaps of un-choices.  That if they are elected, they will apply Bill 101 rules that prevent Francophones and Immigrants from going to English public schools to younger and older folks.  To day care and to CEGEP (the public/free junior college/pre-university stuff between high school and college).  So, choose the party that is against choice.  Unless by choice, one means never taking yes (getting what you want) or no (nope, folks do not want independence) for answers.

It reminds me, of course, if you decide not to choose, you still have made a choice.

So, my teen found the poster to be most snort-worthy.  I could not be prouder.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Let the Comedians Lead

Check out this interview with Chris Rock.   He has just a very sane perspective about things, including how to deal with internet hysteria: "Just because there’s an alarm going doesn’t mean it’s a fire."  Just because people are making a lot of noise on twitter or elsewhere does not mean something is a crisis or a storm or whatever.  For Rock, the question is: are the fans of person x (Daniel Tosh, Tracy Morgan, whoever) upset?  If not, then it is not much of a problem.

I am a big fan of putting the panic button just a bit further out of reach, so that we do not smack it too often.  The case of the week is clearly Chik-fil-a.  It is within anyone's right be to homophobic and self-righteous.*  It is within anyone's right to boycott or support a firm run by a guy who is homophobic and self-righteous.**  It is certainly fine for someone to boycott firms that donate to anti-gay causes.
*  I was always put off by the very vocal "hey, we don't work Sundays" policy that reminded me of how narrow-minded people could be since Sabbaths vary, but that is just me.
**  And yes, I think it is homophobic and self-righteous because it requires the usual selective reading of the Bible which has all kinds of obsolete crap in it that we ignore, including slavery and horrific rules of war and so on. 

But it is clearly wrong for Mayors to say that Chick-fil-a is not welcome in their towns since that would be a violation of a homophobic chicken kingpin's rights.  People can boycott because they are offended by someone's speech--the first amendment does not restrict offense.  But it does restrict government from punishing people and firms (since firms are apparently people, too) for saying stupid stuff.

More importantly, this convoluted controversy of the week distracted people from the big story: A Bush appointee ruled that the Defense Against Marriage Act is unconstitutional.  Turns out equal protection under the law means something.

I will try not to use all of Chris Rock's writings as totemic, but the idea that we should chill a bit when folks over-react to stuff is pretty darned good advice.

Update: Not all funny people are professional comedians:

Waking Up to The Nuclear Crisis

Very striking video by an expert on the Cuban Missile Crisis (H/T to Chris Albon for the link):

I am pretty much with it until the end.  Nuclear disarmament is a swell idea, but I am a firmer believer in the security dilemma and the complexity of International Relations.  A world without nukes would be interesting, but getting there from here?  I just don't see it.  I see less, as we move to a world of minimal deterrents, but none?  Nope. 

Fun way to wake up on a Sunday, eh?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Deja Vu Quebec Style

Watching the coverage of the summer election campaign in Quebec has, of course, spawned nightmares.  Of more corruption or of more separatism.  It reminds me of two recent elections: the 2007 provincial one and the more recent Montreal municipal election:

In 2007, three parties ran for election for the Quebec National Assembly (the state legislature to my American audience): the federalist Liberals who were the incumbents; the Parti Quebecois who were trying to run a less ethnic campaign, trying to get votes from recent immigrants; and the Action Democratique du Quebec, which was a center-right party that had formed to offer an economic alternative but focused in this election on xenophobia---anti-immigration. The party came in second, stealing more votes from the PQ than from the Liberals, but both more established parties realized that being pro-immigration was a vote loser but being xenophobic was cool.  And what is the best evidence of this?  The head of the PQ, Pauline Marois said this when taking over:
“Let’s stop being afraid. … Afraid to seem intolerant. … Afraid to speak of memory, of history, of people, of identity, of culture.”

In other words, xenophobia is hip.  Indeed, their platform reads as a "hey, if you were not alienated before by our insistence on French, you will be now" manifesto.  It would impose the language rules that currently exist for K-11 (no 12th grade) onto provincially subsidized day care and the CEGEPs (the free colleges that combine junior college with vocational stuff and serve to replace 12th grade and the first year of university).  They might even insist on Quebec citizenship with language fluency in order to do basic civil stuff.  Just awful, awful, awful.

So, I see visions of 2007 dancing in my head.  But I also see the 2009 Montreal municipal election as a good harbinger.  Or bad harbinger.  Why?  Three parties, none directly affiliated with the provincial ones (sort of).  One was led by the mayor, Gerald Tremblay, who had presided over a heap of corruption scandals.  Another was led by Louise Harel, whose number two had to drop out due to ties to corruption.  Harel had previously been a big cheese in the PQ and had launched the merger policy that had upset much of Montreal.  The PQ tends to run against Montreal since the voters are elsewhere, so having someone with a basically anti-Montreal record run for Mayor was kind of entertaining.  Anyhow, the third party was led by someone who was seen as a bit unstable.  So, a three-sided race, which led to the Mayor slipping back into power by getting 1/3 of the votes--such an overwhelming mandate, eh? 

So, the current election is really a four party race: the Liberals, who chose this time frame to avoid the corruption investigation in the fall; the PQ, who are returning to their bread and butter of xenophobia and separatism but also trying to capitalize on the student protests (even though the students are not too popular); the CAQ, a new party that replaced the ADQ as the standard bearer for arguing ambiguously about pushing the separatism can down the road while focusing on improving the economy; and Quebec Solidaire, a party that claims to be more faithfully left wing and separatist than the PQ.  Which could make it quite likely that either the PQ or the Liberals form a minority government.  Which might not be a bad outcome since the PQ could not really push forward a referendum with the CAQ and Liberals having enough votes to resist that.  And the Liberals, if they are returned to power with just a plurality of seats, well, then they can stumble along for a while.

H/T to

Anyhow, 2012 will probably be a mix of 2007 and 2009.  Except for one thing--I am no longer in Quebec.  So, I can be more entertained than upset, although I realize that Quebec has a great ability to export its dysfunctionality.  If the PQ win, they plan to demand a series of things that they cannot get, hoping to mobilize the Quebec population.  This may work even though everyone knows that this is a deliberate strategy, but it may not work because people are sick of the separatism.  

Good times.  Well, good times for my friends at McGill who can analyze this stuff.  And good times for my family, now happily ensconsced in Ottawa where the tunnels do not collapse and where the frisbee fields are not far, far away across fragile bridges.