Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Ship Has Sailed

J.L. Granatstein has a strong piece arguing that Canada should not be resurrecting the long dead ship-building industry via the recapitalization of the Royal Canadian Navy and Coast Guard.  He is dead on, arguing both buying foreign-made ships will be far cheaper and that future governments are likely cancel expensive programs.  So, better to buy the cheaper foreign stuff and get good replacements now than spend years and billions of dollars on ships that may not be completed.

A key point he makes is that if Canada bought foreign ships, there would still be Canadian jobs to be had for putting into the ships various technologies.  The problem is it is one thing to say: new foreign-built ships with a few thousand domestic jobs.  It is another thing to say: let's cancel the contracts which have 15k jobs attached and then buy cheaper foreign ships with a few thousand domestic jobs.  Path dependence is a bitch, and reversing course now would be very costly politically. 

What makes sense for Canada does not make sense for the Conservative Party, alas.  So, while Granatstein is right in his analysis, it really does not matter.  Defence procurement as industrial policy--propping up Canadian industry--means more wasted tax dollars on less capability.  The government that claims to be careful stewards of Canadian tax dollars is going to make the choice that is best for them politically--getting votes in British Columbia and Nova Scotia--and bad for teh budgets of tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Secession Is Either Meaningful Or It Ain't

I have mentioned before the tendency (a.k.a. rule #1) for those advocating secession from advanced democracies to promise that the enterprise will be relatively cost-free.  Why?  Because they need votes to win a referendum, and if they can just promise unicorns and candy, or just promise better identity protection (French, Scottish, whatever), without the new country having to start from scratch, they might get more votes.

But the reality is this: if you become an independent country, you are no longer part of the old one.  Yeah, that is pretty much true by definition, but the idea that you can keep the good stuff and dump the bad stuff is just not reality-based.  The rump country will treat the citizens of the new country like ... foreigners.  As much as we get heaps of integration (NAFTA, EU), those invisible lines between countries mean something.

So, the latest "surprise" is that if Scotland leaves the UK, it will no longer be covered/part of MI-5, MI-6, the Five Eyes (the intel sharing community much in the news lately---US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), etc.  I have already discussed the need for the Scottish separatists to start changing their tunes on NATO and nukes.

Of course, the UK folks have an incentive to make independence appear to be more costly and to diminish the apparent benefits of leaving while making sticking around more attractive.  The reality is that most of the clubs that the Scots (or the Quebeckers) would suddendly find themselves out of would eventually let them back in.  Ok, most of them but not all, as the parliaments and Prime Ministers would no longer have any incentive to play to the audiences that are now outside their country.  Scotland would get back into NATO, but I am not sure how many UK tax dollars would be spent on helping Scotland be secure via various UK intel services.  Maybe some but certainly less than the status quo ante.

Perhaps I am status quo-biased, but in these kinds of arguments about leaving while keeping the goodies, I tend to find the host state more credible than the pie crust promising secessionists.  Becoming independent has costs.  The problem that separatists in advanced democracies generally have is this: the democracy is not that oppressive (or is at all oppressive), so the benefits of becoming independent are not nearly as bountiful.  The costs, then, become important.  In other places, where one is seceding from a brutal, repressive, unrepresentative government, then no one argues about which organizations or services will remain intact.  The idea is to get out regardless of the residual benefits because the costs of remaining are quite significant. 

The funny thing is that the separatists get caught in a dilemma--they have to argue that secession will be meaningful to attract the more passionate nationalists but then they also have to ague that it will not matter that much to get the softer nationalists who care about identity but not so much that they want to sacrifice much. 

Make Mine Marvel ... Always

I just saw the trailer for the next X-Men Movie: Days of Future Past.... Wow!

I have always been a Marvel guy, entertained by the DC movies but far less into them.  The Dark Knight stuff had some great acting (Heath Ledger) but the stories made no sense.  I am not sure if this one will make sense either, but the trailer has already moved me.  Perhaps because I remember the graphic novel that inspires it, maybe because "patience is not my strong suit" either.

All I know is that I know where I will be in late May 2014---making mine Marvel.  Excelsior!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Story of My (Ultimate) Life

This song and video captures a significant part of my ultimate game--choosing the lower percentage play with the long pass:

I could huck more, but I could probably huck less.  I guess that is true for all of us.

Multilateralism is Hard

Here is my Political Violence at a Glance piece that summarizes part of my presentation last week in Halifax. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why I Didn't Quit Academia

There have been a spate of posts about why folks have quit academia.... so much so that Dan Drezner issued a challenge:
So, I decided to figure out why I did not quit.  Sure, looking backwards from where things stand now, it would have been a mistake to quit.  Things have worked out really well for me, but that was hardly foreseeable and there were a couple of points along the way where quitting might have made sense:
  • It took me three years to land a tenure track position, enduring a second  year of VAP-ing (being a visiting assistant professor) at a place where I had lost the competition for the TT position in my first year.  A year of dead man walking was not entirely super.
  • I had a TT position in a dysfunctional department in a place I didn't want to live.  I spent several years trying to leave, but did not cash in on the few interviews I was able to get each of my last few years there.
  • While on a fellowship in DC, I could have bailed, but I did not look for any policy jobs in the DC area.
  • I spent several years trying to get out of Quebec, but did not consider seriously quitting the academy
The reality is that I never really seriously considered quitting, although that would have become a serious consideration had I not gotten the TT job in the middle of my third year on the market.  Why didn't I quit or think about it seriously when things looked bad.?
  1. I never had to adjunct.  I can barely imagine how folks can endure adjuncting for any lenght of time.
  2. I have a crappy imagination?  In grad school, when I tried to imagine alternative career paths, I came up with no realistic options: I could be a policeman, a firefighter, etc.  I just didn't think I could do anything else.  Turns out that there is nothing else I would rather do.
  3. I am risk averse: I'd rather live where I would not want to live and profess and have a certain paycheck than try to do something with far less job security.
  4. I really, really like this job.
Yep, even as a VAP in a department containing a few hostiles, I really liked teaching, I really enjoyed researching stuff that I found interesting, and I really liked being in control over what I was doing when I was doing it.  This business has a lot of constraints---well, one big one: you cannot choose where you live.  But you can control pretty much everything else.  

I have endured more bad department chairs than good ones, yet the nature of the job means that they can only do so much damage.  In my previous job, the chair and I had a very hostile relationship, but there was only so much he could do to me.  I could still engage in the research that thrilled me (see theforthcoming  book), I could still teach sharp students and do it in a fun way (no Halloween costumes this year, alas), and I could still do the service stuff for the discipline. 

All along the way, I have depended on smart, sweet people who helped me get through the hard times.  Indeed, I have had a heap of fun along the way, with many lunches, poker games, parties, and other interactions that made the going easier.  I so enjoy going to conferences as these provide opportunities to catch up with the folks who were so very supportive.  

So, why didn't I quit?  The job itself is very sweet if one values the freedom to engage one's curiosity and delights in exchanging ideas with young people (ug, that makes me sound old).  Combine  with the amazing people that I have worked with, drinked with, teased, been teased by, and so on, and it is easier to see why I have not looked to the exit.

Humility Seems Like a Good Idea

I awoke this morning to find folks on twitter upset that Susan Rice's review of US Middle East policy excluded large swaths of the US policy apparatus.  Given that I am still in the midst of writing (if in the midst means the piece has been on a shelf for a few years) about how the broken Bush process helped to facilitate really awful decisions, it will be hypocritical of me to say here: the outcome is create, who cares about the process.

Why?  Because the review calls for modesty in US aims in the Middle East and is an effort to make the region much less the focal point of the US foreign policy.  Both make a great deal of sense to me, the non-Mideast expert (I am waiting for Marc Lynch to address this stuff as he is both an expert and someone usually tapped by this White House to consult on such matters).  I have long been frustrated that the Mideast seems to be the part of the world getting the most attention, crowding out damn near everything else.  Sure, Iran is important and so is Israel, but are they more important than China?  Is the threat of nuclear war greater here or in South Asia? 

The second part, modesty, in both means and goals also makes great sense, even if it were not a time of austerity and sequestration.  The use of force has its limits, and the US has experienced heaps of blowback over the years for its interventions.  Getting to democracy is really hard, but should still be a goal but not The Goal.

I do love the take of the critics:
  • "Critics say the retooled policy will not shield the United States from the hazards of the Middle East. By holding back, they say, the United States risks being buffeted by crisis after crisis."  As if that has not already been the case since  1973 if not 1956.
  • Richard Haas is quoted: “But here [Egypt], the administration is largely silent and seems uncertain as to what to do.”As if there is a right way to proceed.  Really?  Sure, the US policy towards Egypt could be a bit more assertive--more penalties for the coup-sters--but it is a case where any effort the US extends is likely to taint whoever we are trying to help. "Do no harm" seems to be a good starting principle.
“There’s a whole world out there,” Ms. Rice said, “and we’ve got interests and opportunities in that whole world.” 


Sunday Silliness: Fake Grad School Ad

This is pretty brutal yet amusing:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Xenophobia's Standard Target: Europe's Roma

Efforts to save a child from the Roma family that stole her were proven to be ill-founded since the girl was proven to be, via DNA, just a wee bit related to the Roma family.  Some folks have discussed the new animus towards the Roma, which just means that they don't know much about Europe. 

The Roma were among the groups most targeted and devastated during the Holocaust.  So, fear and violence aimed at them is nothing new.  More recently, we have seen xenophobes throughout Europe feel as if they can target the Roma these days, since everybody hates them, in lieu of targeting Jews (who you are not supposed to hate/who are too few in most parts to matter/who are too powerful to offend). 

As nationalists consider their checklists of whom it is safe to hate, three groups have remained on such lists: immigrants, Muslims, and Roma.  Ok, checklists do not really exist (as far as I know), but there is a general sense that hating certain groups and not others is good for business, in the business of playing up xenophobia to gain votes. 

Here is a figure we used on the Steve and Bill book that illustrates xenophobia and how the Roma fit in:

"Institutul pentru Politici Publica 2003, 36.  The original figure contains data about other groups as well (Arabs, Chinese, Blacks, Lesbians, Muslims), but I extracted the most relevant ones as well as Homosexuals as they are the focus of the most extreme views. "

The point in the figure is that Roma are the most hated group in Romania except for homosexuals.  As such, they are a convenient target and not just in Romania.

So, when I saw the reports this past week, I only surprised when folks seemed to suggest that anti-Roma fears, attitudes and behavior are somehow novel.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Presenting Research in Halifax

I spent yesterday yakking and yakking about my work to very friendly audiences in Halifax.  The Canadian International Council-Halifax branch and the folks at Dalhousie's Center for Foreign Policy Studies brought me out.  It was my first time in Halifax in about ten years (my very first Canadian Political Science Association meeting was in Halifax). 

There were two events and then some.  The first one was a very large roundtable where I suggested a variety of patterns that might be called "Multilateral Mistakes" because I like alliteration and it was a good way to get people to attend. The talk was really not just the bad things that NATO did but putting the Afghanistan mission into perspective.  Little did I do know that Canada's most recent Ambassador to Afghanistan was going to be in the room.  He actually did not disagree too much with what I said although he did raise a good point--saying success or failure at this point is just a wee bit problematic.  Anyhow, I am going to write up a summary of what I said and post at Political Violence at a Glance and will link here when I do.

After that talk, I had a couple of hours to do some tourism, so I took many pics of the Citadel--a British fort built to keep out the Americans and everyone else.  Never actually faced a significant
attack. It was a good break and a beautiful if breezy day.

I then had a ten minute radio hit on a Halifax station to discuss NATO, Canad and Afghanistan. 

After dinner with some Dal grad students, I participated in the Politics in the Pub in Halifax, again organized by CIC-Halifax.  I got a heap of interesting questions about Canada/Afghanistan and other stuff after suggesting a few themes about Refusing to Learn.

Refusing to learn?  Yes, that Canada (and others) may choose not to learn any lessons from Afghanistan.  Why not?  First, the mantra right now is: we are never doing "this" again, and thus far, we have not--no boots on the ground in Libya, no Syrian op.  But the reality is that at some point some politician is going to ask some military to do some intervention.  Perhaps not full out COIN in a place as challenging as Afghanistan, but some kind of military effort that will probably require coordination with civilians.  Maybe it will be another Haiti mission, perhaps response a tsunami like disaster, or something else, but it will happen again. 

If only the government did a lessons learned exercise after leaving Kandahar.... Oh, wait, it did!  But after getting heaps of feedback across the government, the report got buried.  It is probably next to this: 

I filed an Access of Information request but instead of just getting a heavily redacted government (DND/CF are far more generous in what they give--mildly redacted docs), I got stoned.  Nope, could not get it.  So, I have started an appeal process that is likely to take a couple of years.  The problem here is not my inconvenience (my book wins either way) but that a lessons learned process requires at least three steps: Learn, Disseminate, Adapt.  But if you refuse to disseminate, you are not going change how you operate because you cannot adapt/adopt lessons that you do not know. 

I finished the day with a poker game with a friend and his students.  I didn't win.... perhaps I have learned the wrong lessons.

Anyhow, a great day in a friendly and interesting place.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Joy of the 21st Century: Video Edition

So much talent out there, so much easier to make stuff with decent production values.  Not easy but easier:
The shorter video imagines the Disney Princesses as Black Ops folks:

The longer takes the original Star Trek and extends it.  The faithfulness is amazing.

This stuff is not that new--just new to me.

Internet: Bane or Boon?

This says it so well:

I love

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is Name-Calling History?

I still see folks call something gay in various online foras (mostly online poker games), and I find it so very strange.  I know my attitudes changed from when I was a teen, but alas not all folks mature (not that I am all that mature).

Still, I think this cartoon illustrates this dynamic quite well.  H/T to PT for pointing out the Oatmeal stuff du jour.

Germany and NATO Reform? Please

Germany gets far more grief than it should for under-performing in Afghanistan.  Italy, Hungary, Turkey and others had as or more restrictive caveats.  Greece sent the most token of forces.  The US was entirely distracted by Iraq for many years, and then kept rotating commanders of ISAF as if they were tires (sorry, time to change to winter tires up in Canada).  The British troops kept getting in way over their heads.  The Canadians and the Dutch pulled out of combat before everyone else--so much for "in together, out together."

However, it takes a lot of chutzpah for Germany to propose reforms to NATO.  Given that Germany opted entirely out of the last NATO operation in the waters near and the skies over Libya, perhaps German officials should keep their hands down for now.  Their idea?  That NATO will divide into clusters centered around one of the larger powers.  Who would that be?  Given past patterns, such as the Balkans where the five biggest contributors--the QUINT--shaped policy for the rest, the clusters would be centered around the US, UK, France, Italy and Germany. 

Who would want to be in the German cluster?  How about those countries that do not plan on showing up or show up with restrictive rules on what they can do? Of course, it could be worse--one could be in the Italian cluster, where indecision and unpredictability is the piatto del giorno

There is something to this.  Friends and I are in the middle of writing a piece about NATO's Smart Defense effort, whereby countries try to coordinate their procurement so that there is less overlap/duplication and more interdependence and specialization.  We are skeptics about the success of Smart Defense, but if there is going to be such specialization, it probably should be by those sharing language political systems.  According to the forthcoming Dave and Steve book, countries that share similar domestic political institutions should plan together since they are likely tobe similarly restricted or unrestricted down the road:  US and France; UK and Canada; Germans, Italians, Hungarians, and Dutch.

Still, after a decade of Germans largely disappointing the rest of the alliance (we had higher expectations about the Germany military than the Italian or the Spanish or the Hungarian), perhaps the German foreign minister should keep his seat and let those who bore more of the burdens dominate the conversation.  Even if the Germans were right, their political capital in NATO is pretty close to zero.  If this were the EU, then, sure, yak away. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Dilemma of the Self-Interested Scholar

Those who study conflict may occasionally get at least a small jolt of excitement and satisfaction when their topic of interest becomes more relevant as violence increases.  No harm done, just a bit of guilt.   I am sure the Germans have a term that schadenfreude-esque. 

Why do I raise this now?  Because I guess I am relieved that the realization that Scottish independence is not going to happen is becoming clear too late--too late for a conference in which I am participating next month in Scotland.  I would hate to miss an opportunity to go to Scotland (never been there), so I am glad that interest in the referendum remains high despite the probable outcome.  Sure, things could change, but given how easy it is for the No folks to make it clear that a big political change has uncertainty and likely costs, and how hard it is for the Yes folks to make clear the benefits of secession, I would bet on No.  I would also bet on this not going away, as the losers are likely to try again.  At least, that is what I learned from Quebec.

Of course, this likely outcome makes it easier for me to take the stance at the conference that I had been planning anyway--that whatever happens in Scotland will not really change anything for anyone who is not in the UK.  I will post my argument (in op-ed form as requested by the organizers) here or a link to it here after the conference.

The key, of course, is that this conference and the effort at independence gives me the excuse to say over and over again for the next month:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Waltzing with the Greats

Jon Western attended a memorial dedicated to one of my very favorite and certainly most influential IR scholars--Ken Waltz--and reported what he learned.  From the testimonies, Western reports what makes a great scholar.  Nearly all of this is great advice for any scholar, particularly those who do IR, but not all of it.

The advice includes very solid stuff:
  • being good at IR requires reading more than IR.  Waltz rlied on Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf.  I rely on Avengers, Footloose, etc.
  • quality scholarship takes time--one book every decade for Waltz.  This has led some folks to wonder if Waltz could get tenure today.  The answer is: yes.  Waltz's first book was an improved version of his dissertation, and it came out with the normal time frame for tenure.  Obviously, if Waltz had to deal with today's constraints, he would have published an article or two based on the diss, they would have been in the most selective journals, and he would have been widely cited.  Good enough for tenure.  There are plenty of folks who get jobs without pubs still--but who have much promise. Waltz would have been fine in today's world.  
  • great scholarship requires a community of folks--that what we do is a very social social science.  Indeed.
  • take a position and defend it, refine it, but do not caveat it or nuance it into meaningless.
  • be professional--criticize the work, not the people.  Indeed, I could definitely do better on this score, although most of my animus tends to be reserved for folks who have crappy definitions of what it means to be professional.
  • learn to write well.  Waltz was concise, and we should all aim to be so as well.  Yep, still working on that one.
The only part that I disagree with is the first point in the piece: "ask big and important questions."  Yes on the latter, not so much on the former.  Not all of us should be asking the biggest of questions.  There are plenty of important questions and not all of them are big ones.  Waltz did engage in the biggest ones, but we are not all grand theorists nor should we all try.  The world is a complex place with many puzzles to be explained at all levels of analysis and across a variety of sub-fields.  If we only address the big ones, we end up dismissing everything else.  Indeed, one of the ways in which Waltz was abused was to claim that anything other than systemic (not systematic) work is reductionist and thus not worthy of study.  Waltz may not have said such, but those who interpreted him tended to think so. 

Much of the way I think about the world comes from Waltz's work.  Indeed, I tend to find his stuff to answer some of the big questions that I originally wanted to answer--my essay for my grad school applications focused on why there are arms races.  I found his discussion of the security dilemma enough to address that, so I have moved on. In reading Western's piece, I was glad to learn that my one experience of Waltz in person was typical--the man was smart, engaging and decent.  Waltz should be emulated but not imitated. 

Cognition Day At The Spew: Making War on The War On Mythology

Speaking of cognition, how about those concussions?  I was surprised (although I should not have been) when I was in a bookstore while in the US last week.  On the same book display as the PBS documentary-related book on concussions were books entitled "The War on Football."  The book apparently argues that there are folks attacking football with lousy science--that the concussion problem is over-stated and under-scienced.

Given this morning's theme of confirmation bias, I pretty much refused to take seriously this argument.  I did keep up with the concussion story for quite some time (mostly the Alan Schwartz pieces in the NYT) with many Spews about it.  So, I was definitely motivated to be biased against a book that fought back against the semi-new consensus that concussions in football (and other sports) is a serious, serious problem.

My second gut reaction was to dismiss the book because I hate, hate, hate, the phrase "The War on ...."  If you want me to dismiss or ignore something, just put that in the title.  There is no War on Christmas, for instance, despite the best efforts of some folks to argue otherwise.  Perhaps I am biased since "the War on" seems to be more of a right-wing kind of thing.  Indeed, hitting the link to this author's site indicates that author, Daniel Flynn, writes right-wing books with troll-baiting titles like Why the Left Hates America.  So, now I am really disposed against taking this argument seriously.  The Deadspin coverage is pretty fair, I think, to Flynn's argument.  In the end, it is skeptical about the moral wonderful-ness of football, which seems to be a key to Flynn's perspective.

Anyhow, is there a war on football?  What would a war on football look like?  I do believe there is now more serious criticism of football and the dangers it presents to those who play it.  Is this a "war"?  This gets to the heart of the matter--calling science that raises questions and suggests reforms as a war may be good rhetoric for mobilizing the defenders but really is just a call for more ignorance. 

Yes, I get it that this may be what Flynn is trying to do--mobilize the defenders--but a "War on Football" is just deceptive and ultimately silly.  Revealing that concussions produced by ordinary football, especially practices, is not a war but the product of science and journalism.  A war is when people shoot guns in an organized manner.  Or at least use coercion.  Thus far, I have not seen much coercion in the football concussion effort--just folks seeking to understand whether there is causation that goes with correlation and whether the correlations hold up. 

Until someone really uses coercion in this or in any other area where there is a supposed W"ar On", my cognitive biases are going to direct my eyes and buy book buying dollars elsewhere.

Recurring Themes Recur for a Reason

One of the recurring themes here at the Spew is that of confirmation bias--that people pay attention to that which they want/expect to hear/see and ignore that which does not fit their pre-existing bias.  I am self-aware enough of this to understand that confirmation bias is probably a key reason why I like this NYT op-ed on .... confirmation bias.

Of course, this is a far more nuanced and specific take on the issue than my rambling, so don't listen to me.  I am not an expert on any dimension of psychology especially the fields that I tend to cite but not read--cognitive and social.  But then again, according to this piece, it is best not to listen to the most confident doctors but those who have doubts--they tend to be more reliable.

If that is the case, then perhaps you should listen to me about the things with which I feel the least confident.  This would include:
  • International political economy
  • Hockey
  • Women/girls and the pursuit thereof
  • Advanced quantitative methods
  • Discretion.  That is being discreet.  On the other hand, the forthcoming book focuses on why folks give their underlines more or less discretion, so I can fake confidence there.
  • Defense on the ultimate field.  I am very confident about throwing, but defending?  Not so much.  
  • Jumping.  I have never been confident in my vertical ability and wildly overconfident in my horizontal efforts (diving).
  • Duration of civil war.  I think I have a decent to good grasp on the causes of internal conflict but not so much on what causes them to endure or not.
  • Running discussions in small classes.  I am far more confident, however unjustly so, about my ability to lecture.
  • Cakes.  I am probably too confident about making pies and cookies, but not so much cakes.  Good thing is that I do know someone who is a cupcake magician.
  • Judicial politics.  I don't study Congress (well, not until the next project) or Parliament, but I probably think too much of my ability to understand such stuff, but I am entirely unsure of how/why various Supreme Courts decide/operate.
  • Dancing.  I can neither dance nor judge it.  Nor sing.  Nor do anything in the creative arts with the possible exception of acting.  
  • Serious fiction.  I don't read the stuff that wins Nobel Prizes in Literature. 
Anyhow, the key lesson of the NYT piece is that one must think for themselves--do not turn off one's brain when listening to experts especially those telling you want you want to hear.  Of course, this means that you should probably ignore this post.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Steve's on Bloggingheads

Bloggingheads is an institution on the web where two folks chat and then it is recorded for the world (whoever is interested, that is) to see.  Foreign Entanglements is the show that Robert Farley of U of Kentucky's Patterson School (my Paterson school does not have enough funding for two T's), and we chatted about the forthcoming Dave and Steve book and then about Tom Clancy's legacy.  However, glitches led to the loss of the first part of the conversation, so here is just the part about Tom Clancy and his impact on civ-mil.

Is First Best? Another Post on Canada-EU Trade Agreement

I am not a scholar of International Political Economy, nor do I play one on TV, but I do have a few quibbles about how the new trade agreement between Canada and the EU is being discussed.  I already posted on the Cheese issue.  The second thing getting played up today is that this is the first trade agreement between a member of the G8 and the EU.  Let's examine that one. 

First, the G8 (group of eight) includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, and the US.  Since France, Germany, Italy and the UK are members of the EU, Canada has only beaten out Japan, Russia, and the US.  Woot!  Maybe still impressive but not so sure.

Second, since an agreement is the result of a bargaining process, being the first to conclude an agreement can mean several things:
  • The agreement deals with less controversial, less combative, less conflictual issues, so an agreement could be reached faster.
  • The Canadian government had a great deal of leverage so it brought the EU to its collective knees faster.
  • The Canadian government was in a clear position of weakness and conceded whatever it is that the EU wanted quickly (cheesy concessions?).
  • The other governments interacting with the EU may have other things on their mind
    • Japan: recovering from the Tsunami
    • US: the joy that has been budget politics
    • Russia: um, Putin is more focused on appearing shirtless and such?
The simple point here is that being first may be either meaningless--that there was no race so coming in first is irrelevant; or it may actually be a bad thing, as Canada could have conceded far more for far less.

To be clear, I am not opposed to a free trade agreement.  Indeed, I am a big fan of lowering barriers especially between advanced countries.  I would like cheaper European products, and the Canadian markets would be better off with more competition and less collusion.  I am just taking shots at a silly way to portray the agreement. The big questions are: who wins, who loses, and how and NOT who is first.  

Blessed Are the Cheese Makers

Canada is apparently concluding a major trade agreement with the European Union.  The aspect getting the most play?  Some reduction in the protectionist walls that keep out foreign cheese.  Yes, in a 21st century trade agreement with an organization representing most of the advanced economies of the world, the Canadians are most interested in the impact on the cheese sector.

Why?  Because Canada has something called supply management, which really is a wonderfully Orwellian phrase for "dairy protectionist racket."  Yes, milk, dairy and eggs are much more costly in Canada as foreign products are restricted from entry, and the number of domestic producers is also apparently restricted.  So, a small block of mozzarella (3x5x.75 inches) is over $5.  This set of policies is incredibly anti-consumer, yet the pandering towards the dairy industry has largely kept this set of policies intact regardless of the party in power.

But now, as part of its new pro-consumer stance, the Conservatives have apparently negotiated a deal that might make a small dent on the cheese industry (not sure how eggs/milk will be affected), and so there is much rejoicing in the land.

To celebrate, I am importing into Canada a documentary about cheese, including many foreign forms:

Even when the stakes (cheeses, not steaks) are so obviously in favor of the larger number of voters, change is hard.  Why?  Because Machiavelli was right:
It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Squirrel? No, Chicken

I have not posted much on the budgetary politics in the US of late.  Was it too depressing?  Was I too busy checking out US universities for Teen Spew?  Was it too depressing?  Were grant applications taking more of my time?  Was it too depressing?  Did I have nothing to say?  Well, I think it was too depressing.  I am not an Americanist, but that has never stopped me before.  This time, I just didn't want to watch the train wreck.  It was, of course, hard to avoid, but I managed at least not to write much about it. 

Now we can move on ... until this happens all over again in January.  The question is whether the Republicans have a learning curve or not.  I am not very confident that they do.  After all, budgetary crises are just as addictive as oreos.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ultimate > Beach Volleyball

It turns out that more Americans play ultimate than many other sports including beach volleyball, track & field, field hockey, lacrosse and rubgy:
Sure, this is less than basketball, baseball, and soccer and just a bit less than hockey.  Not too shabby.  I am pretty sure that ultimate is the sport of the future--far fewer concussions than some other sports and lots cheaper equipment. Oh, and it is a heap of fun with far fewer nasty coaches.

First Step Is

The first step is admitting you have a problem.  Well, thanks to this piece, I am more at ease admitting that I am addicted to oreos.  Particularly when they are stuffed double.  I have been able to quit my addiction but only with the intervention of loved ones and, yes, I occasionally relapse.  I am just glad I can go to OA and get support from other oreo-addicted folks.

Breaking Bad Game Retrospective

For those who played the game, a key bit of information that is nice to know:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Marx and Blueprints

Dan Drezner has a good post today on how Marx had much to say that is applicable today even if Marx had little in the way of prescriptions.  However, Drezner missed a key opportunity to provide a link that might explain this well:

[I am not sure if this works since I cannot watch it in Canada, but the Americans should be able to enjoy it]

Monday, October 14, 2013

Firing Wolverine

Fun preview of Pete Holmes show:

We enjoy his appearances on the Doug Loves Movies podcast.  So, we hope his post-Conan show does ok.  We do love a good X-satire.

Happy Thanksgiving (Canadian)!

Yes, tis time for yet another Canadian thanksgiving, where we give thanks for what?  Well, for not celebrating Columbus so directly given his role in ... genocide, I guess.  Instead, we can just give thanks, sans pilgrims, for all that is wonderful about Canada.  Otherwise, what is the difference between Canadian and US Thanksgiving?

h/t to Max Fisher for this video

Yep, it is earlier.  That's about it, as far as I can tell.  Oh, and since it is only a three day weekend, there is far less travel.  Canadians marvel at how far Americans will travel to have some turkey and argue over pie.  I don't know if Canadians are less mobile in their lives than Americans, but it does not seem to be the case that this holiday serves to bring together families that are stretched out.

Nor does it appear, in my ten years of close observation and analysis, to be part of that Great American Compromise: splitting Thanksgiving and the Winter Break (Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, whatever) holidays between the two sets of in-laws.  For instance, my family spends almost every (American) Thanksgiving with the Saideman clan (our slogan happens to be: if it is not repeatedly argued, its crap!) and nearly every Christmas with my wife's wifi-less family (the slogan seems to be: what is it with all the folks spending time staring at computer screens). 

As ex-pats living in Canada, we get an extra Thanksgiving each year.  Right now, I am giving thanks for how wonderful Teen Spew has become as a travel partner, given that we just finished our third college tour.  This one was in and near the City of Angels, and we had a delightful time with very little traffic, heaps of wonderfully complex highways, great food (not all of it was Mexican), one fun drive along Mulholland Drive, and many friendly folks along the way.  The irony is that although we have much to be thankful for this year (have you seen the new book cover?), our return via redeye flight combined with sick wife/mom we left behind means that we may be having pizza on thisThanksgiving.

Anyhow, to you and yours, have a very happy Canadian Thanksgiving (which means patiently waiting in line).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The State of the Union: It Does Not Suck

With so much attention on the DC dysfunction and the polarization of the country by parties, it is easy to forget that the American people are pretty damned helpful when they are not shooting each other.

This weekend ends the second major college tour for Teen Spew.  We received much assistance along the way this time as we traveled in the LA area, just as we had many conversations with friendly folks in the state of New York.  Not only did a friend's daughter put my daughter up for one night back east, but two sets of friends found students who gave us tours for those places we wanted to tour on weekends.  Big universities out west seem to keep their admissions office closed on Saturdays, not to mention Sundays, so we needed help for our four day, four U trip.  And we got it.

Moreover, as we navigate strange colleges/universities and their towns/cities, we encountered many friendly folks along the way.  We got some cool insights, some shared tales, and some great service.

This adventure is not yet over, as we have one more East Coast trip and one more Canadian trip.  I am looking forward to these adventures as the more folks we meet, the more good experiences we have.  I guess it is a good thing my kid is no interested in DC where we might bump into Congress people.

Anyhow, it is easy to see the negative stuff out there, but the country is pretty resilient and people do help each other.  Even helping out the wacky ex-pats from up north.

Evolution and the Rise of Bad Boy Success

The NY Times has an op-ed piece by some folks who used some fancy modeling to argue that the preference of girls/women for bad boys is a product of evolution.  The basic argument is that where there is pretty common behavior across a species, there might be an evolutionary logic to it.  They essentially argue that unlike any other species, the parents of the potential reproducers matter, as they want their kids to succeed.  So, when their girls marry lousy guys, they will subsidize those girls more to ensure the success of the family/genes.  This then gives either incentives for girls to mate with the bad boys or provides a moral hazard situation where bad choices are insured.

Sure, this has an intuitive appeal to those of us who are not bad boys and found ourselves losing in the dating games to such guys.  Actually, I am pretty sure in my case in my teen years that losing was over-determined--desperation does not smell good.  Anyhow, this piece will get heaps of play, and it should do so for one reason and not so much for another.

The bright side of this piece is that scientists were able to take their hunk of abstract research published someplace peer reviewed and turn it into a digestible hunk that ended up in a visible place.  This is a good model for dissemination (knowledge mobilization). 

The dark side of this piece is that agent-based modeling conducted in this piece (it is not based on actual research into the past but a computer simulation) depends entirely on the various assumptions built in.  So, it can convey interesting stuff, but it is not real evidence in any conventional sense.  I have seen some really good versions of this stuff for ethnic conflict research, and it can, like formal modeling, develop and delineate some interesting dynamics.  But I am still a skeptic about such efforts serving as evidence--what is logically true may not be empirically true.  Lots of stuff muck up the machine. 

[Teen Spew argues that this study is written by folks who lacked confidence to approach girls.  The real phenomenon is that girls are attracted to confidence, which  bad boys often have in abundance.]

I would find a study that focuses on height to be more persuasive since that is an evolutionarily irrelevant quality today but perhaps is now hard wired after millenia of women mating with the men who could get the low hanging fruit and then the less hanging stuff.

Sunday Silliness: Spoiler Wars

Yow, heaps of spoilers in this trailer:

I teased Teen Spew yesterday that as we walked through the George Lucas building in the School of Cinematic Arts at USC that this was the first time that we both were assuredly walking where Lucas (and Speilberg) had stepped.  She was more impressed with other features, so the goosebumps were all mine.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Who Deserves Article V?

I had a fun exchange on twitter this morning about NATO and who is worthy of being defended by the rest.  It was partly driven by this post and partly by responses to a post that @natosource was retweeting (will link to storif-ed version once I get that together).
 The problem that Roberts is identifying is burden-sharing--that the US spends far more money on military capability than its allies so NATO countries end up having shortfalls.  The US then has to help so that the allies can perform on the battlefield.

Yep, this is certainly true, but there are so many problems with this kind of thinking, that I only addressed a few in the twitter exchange.   One thing that I omitted is that much of US defending spending has nothing to do with NATO--as it has military interests outside of the alliance.  So, if one wanted a fair spending metric, then the US budget would have to be adjusted to drop out the stuff that does not go to NATO-related efforts.

The bigger issue is that spending as % of GDP is one metric but not necessarily the most important one.  What does it measure?  Well, spending as a percentage of GDP so it is comparable, but some countries may spend less but better or spend more but inefficiently or might have a military that is larger than one would expect given their GDP.  Size of economy might say something about ability to pay but once you factor in all kinds of other things such as conscripts vs all volunteer force (the latter is more expensive), kinds of technologies, mix of services, and on and on, % of GDP is a limited measure.

This is similar to the metrics problem in Afghanistan--we had a lot of measures of stuff, but which ones mattered?  Who knows?  So, should it be that countries that deploy more forces to missions get more street cred?  Well, Germany and Italy sent more troops but heavily restricted them whereas Denmark sent a larger percentage of the troops they have and they bled at a higher rate, so ....?

I included this table in the twitter conversation:

A different way to think of this is: who needs NATO more?  Those at greatest risk those near the Big Bear (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Norway )or near the Mideast (Turkey)?  Or would that be the countries that keep getting NATO sucked into out of area operations--the US (Afghanistan, Bosnia) and the UK and France (Bosnia, Libya)?

Article V refers to the commitment to defend each member, as each country deems necessary (which means every country can do as little or as much as it wants).  But who is worthy of that commitment?  Well, obviously, those countries that the US wants to defend and is able to get other countries to commit to defend.  It is not about ability to pay but of political relevance and value.  Oh, and the reality that it is hard to exclude Luxembourg and other countries surrounded by NATO countries from the security that NATO provides (Switzerland is funky that way). 

This is why I get miffed whenever Georgia is brought into this stuff.  It is hard enough to believe that the US and much of NATO would show up to defend Latvia.... which is why NATO countries take turns flying over the Baltics--to remind the Baltics and Russia of the commitment represented by Article V of the NATO treaty.  We don't do the same with Poland or Hungary or Spain because the commitment is pretty credible without such stuff.  But Georgia? 

Anyhow, the NATO commitment should apply to those countries that are in NATO--which is obvious, of course, but that membership represents not those willing to pay but the list of countries that the US and its friends care enough about (in Europe) to make a credible, binding commitment. 

Free-riding, burden-sharing, and the like will always exist in any multilateral military endeavor.  So too will differential effort in wartime.  Civil-military relations does not stop when the firing starts, so caveats and the other restrictions I have been studying for the past few years will always exist.  The trick is in managing them.  Threatening expulsion or the erosion of the Article V commitment is not the way to handle such problems.  Instead, suffering through these issues, and figuring out selective incentives and political engagement are the ... dare I say it ... the way forward.

The Incredibles Disease: NATO edition

When NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen travels to NATO capitals, he must rah-rah the country he is visiting.  So, please ignore the positive attitudes he is tweeting while in Greece today.  Check out what he said and my first reaction:
Oy. What has Greece done for NATO lately?  As in the past ten years or so?  In Afghanistan, Greece won the award for the most token contingent.  For much of the mission, it has about fifteen troops in Afghanistan.  Not too good for one of the largest militaries in NATO.  Eventually, over one hundred Greek soldiers were involved somewhere in Afghanistan, making it just about reach the commitments made by far smaller countries--Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.  Only Iceland did worse. 

Greece did better during the Libyan effort--participating in the naval embargo... which was just about the least one could do unless one did nothing at all (Germany, Poland). 

On the political side, the Greeks, along with their frenemies nearby in Turkey, do their best to hold up much progress over a variety of issues due to their disagreements with each other.  Good times. 

So, when Rasmussen extols the virtues of the Greeks, I cannot help but think of The Incredibles: if everyone is special, no one is.  Alas, the job of the Secretary General involves this cheerleading which does little to enhance his credibility.  I guess if everybody understands the game, we can all distinguish between this empty cheerleading and more substantive stuff that the SG might say, right?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Big Puzzle of College Tours: My Emerging Flora/Fauna Obsession

 Spending a few days in LA, checking out colleges and giving a talk at Pomona College.  The funny thing is that in these college trips, I tend to focus on the trees. 



 Our tour was taunted by this squirrel--the loudest one I have ever encountered.

Not a tree but a funky cactus--heaps of interesting cacti at Pitzer.

Reminds me of when I visited San Diego as a prospective grad student--I took heaps of pics of palm trees. 

I may not want my daughter to go to school so far away, but I could not blame her if she did.  The bright side of tectonic instability is some beautiful scenery--lots of hills, mountains, canyons--which makes for fun drives.  Once again, as I wander around California, I wonder why I left.  Sure, there is that employment thing, but I do love Southern California--the weather today was just wonderful, and there is much excellent Mexican food ahead.  It probably goes without saying but blogging/tweeting will be light.

All I can say is that I get mighty comfy out here:
All I know is that if I taught out here, my classes would be outside all the time. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When Hope is a Plan: Canadian Defence Version

The Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence just rolled out their new effort to "renew" defence by finding better ways of doing things so that the money saved $750 million or more per year can be spent on training, operations and other kinds of readiness stuff.  This sounds terrific, but, given how poor these folks are at basic accounting, I have to wonder if this is not making the basic sin in football and war: confusing hope for a plan.

There are two items in the renewal package that together make me doubt how successful this endeavor will be--the personnel numbers and the transparency stuff.  First, the plan suggests that there will be no cuts in CF personnel nor will civilian employees be let go.  The plan is for attrition (retirements, people quitting) to have some impact on the numbers. This is where the plan =  hope.  Will there be enough retirements by the right kind of people in the right spots that will be eliminated?  Yes, one can shift slots around to a degree, but it may be the case that retirees will not be just folks from redundant positions or those with fungible skills.  More clearly, no cuts in the CF personnel means that there will be limited savings.  Why?  Because that is one of the biggest budget items.  Every effort to protect this government's stance that the CF will not face any personnel cuts is another effort that dodges some of the real issues.  No wonder the defence workers unions are just a little worried.

The second item focuses on transparency.  Whose?  The CF's or DND's?  Given that the plan thus far is really quite vague on the personnel question, and given that this government hates transparency in all things, I nearly laughed out loud when I read that section of the plan:
A culture of openness and trust is defined by the presence of honesty, transparency, and open dialogue. It is an essential component for organizations where separate elements are expected to operate independently, yet be mutually supporting. It relies on information being readily shared, and having a common commitment to serve the interests of the greater organization over personal or localized interests. It is particularly important to renewal when initiatives require cross-functional coordination and support in order to succeed.
Maybe this is a promise for the folks in DND to be honest with each other, but past practice suggests progress here would be more than renewal--it would be revolutionary.  I mean, this is an organization where its revised webpage eliminates (as far as I can tell) a relatively simple and non-controversial source of information--the biographies of senior officers.  It was, until recently, quite easy to find the basic bio of any Canadian Colonel/Captain (Navy) or General/Admiral.  This was handy when I was interviewing folks as I could find out who served where and in what roles.  Now, I dare you to find the bios for the officers who are not the very top commanders or those who are in comms & electronics (searches only get folks in those two categories).

Anyhow, this renewal plan is a bit better than that of the Underwear Gnomes, but maybe not that much better.  Compare the DND plan
Step 1: Create a plan and roll it out
Step 2: Hope that these processes lead to spending cuts
Step 3: Savings!
with the Underwear Gnomes' strategy

My plan for cutting defence spending would be to have each unit in the Canadian Forces and in the Department of National Defence create a Dungeons and Dragons character, and then whoever survives a series of adventures gets to keep the treasure and weapons they collect along the way.  Ok, maybe not so realistic, but it would be wildly entertaining.