Monday, February 19, 2018

Trump as Worst President?

Tis Presidents' Day in the US (the name of the holiday in Canada varies by province--Family Day in Ontario, I think), so folks are trying to figure out if Trump is the worst President in US history.  Too soon?  Maybe.

Tis fair for Silver to think that Trump hasn't done enough damage yet.  Those at the bottom of the list tend to be those who broke the country: Buchanan as the last president before the civil war, Andrew Johnson who screwed up Reconstruction, Harding who helped give us the Great Depression.  Thus far, nothing as bad as the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Great Depression have happened.

But to be fair, those dead Presidents were only partially responsible--they had tons of help (I am not so sure about Johnson--I don't know Reconstruction politics that well).  Harding had heaps of help from Coolidge, Hoover and Congress.  Buchanan was one of many who helped bring the US to the brink of civil war.

One could ask about individual contributions of awful (I am omitting the tax cut since he had heaps of help with that), and this is where Trump really shines:
  • Undermining every norm about conflicts of interest and seeking to profit off of the presidency.  Has any President engaged in more corrupt behavior in their first year?
  • Appointing an agent of a foreign country (at least one, maybe two) to be National Security Adviser.
  • Refusing to fight Russian meddling with American elections.
  • Speaking of elections, Trump has tried to encourage more voter suppression but his own incompetence may have harmed that effort.
  • Obstructing justice early and often.
  • Appointing a retrograde racist to be Attorney General (yes, the Senate is guilty of letting that happen, so not just Trump).
  • Undermining civilian control of the military by appointing active and very recently retired generals to many significant posts and delegating responsibility for major decisions to those in uniform.
  • Attempting to make the Justice Department a biased participant in American politics.
  • Leaving the US understaffed in key areas at a time of significant crisis (who is the Ambassador to South Korea?).
  • Lying every damned day about everything as well documented by Daniel Dale.
  • Brinksmanship with North Korea.  Yes, North Korea is a hard problem, but it is far closer to a boil now than a year ago, and much of that is on Trump and his statements.
  • His condoning/encouraging of white supremacy (one reason why Woodrow Wilson is overrated).
  • Spilling secrets that allies have collected, creating great mistrust of the US.
Sure, none of this involves war (yet), economic hardship (yet), or civil strife (depends on how you count the number of minorities beaten and killed over the past two years).  So, maybe Trump has not presided over the worst times in American history, but he has almost certainty committed the most and potentially some of the gravest unforced effors.  But, yes, recency bias is a thing.

So, it may be too soon to put Trump at the very bottom of the list, but he is properly rated if he is near the bottom. Again, it depends on whether it is about the individual or about the Presidency and the era.  Which is why survey questions are hard to write, and the answers are often hard to interpret.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tenure Letters and Cohort Comparisons: This Way Lies Confusion

Tenure and promotion letters are one of the services academics do when once they get past tenure themselves.  I have blogged in the past about whether or not to write these letters, so today's post is about a frequent challenge when writing such letters: some (many?) provosts/deans/whoevers ask the letter writers to compare the candidate to the candidate's cohort--other people in the same area of research who have been at it for a similar time.*
*This post only addresses research since outside letters can only speak to research and because my only experience has been in research universities.

This request poses both practical and normative challenges.  The practical challenge is this: how does one know who the comparative cohort is?  As far as I know, there is no handy search engine that will pop out names of people in a subfield or research area sorted by year of PhD completion.  I don't have an encyclopedic memory for who finished in what year, nor, because I am far behind in my journal reading, really know who is doing what.  Reading all of the materials is extra work enough without systematically going through "peer institutions"** and identifying folks in the relevant subfield who are at the same stage of their career. I posted on facebook, essentially asking my IR friends for names of folks who would be in this person's cohort.  Instead of giving me names (ok, one or two people did), this led to a long and interesting discussion of the entire exercise of comparing.
**  One of the basic problems in all of this is that every Dean/Provost has an inflated sense of what their institution is, so the list of peer institutions is quite small--the Ivies, the top public schools and a few others.  It does help me, however, that I moved from a school seen as peer (McGill) to one that is not (Carleton), so I get fewer requests now than I did at the old place.  Woot.

The folks arguing for comparing to a cohort argued this was one of the most valuable pieces of information in the letter since everyone mostly writes super positive letters lest their few criticism arm those who are opposed to a candidate for whatever reason (not infrequently illegitimate ones like sexism, racism, animus, retaliation, etc).  More importantly, some folks argued that to evaluate a candidate, they should be compared to their peers.***  This is what many letter requesters want, and some even name specific scholars (usually the most well known/cited/productive).   Even if focused on a person's contributions sans comparison, competition ultimately enters as one evaluates the quality of the presses in which the candidate publishes, the selectivity of the journals in which their work appears, citation counts and h-indexes are essentially comparative and so on.

***One friend argued with me that competitiveness is productive, that folks who are competitive will be motivated to continue to publish after tenure, and that those who are not motivated by comparing themselves to others are likely to become deadwood.  I think curiosity and professionalism bred into us is sufficient, but I am sufficiently ego-driven that I see something to that argument.

But this raises a question of what is the point of being a scholar, of being promoted and tenured?  To be better than others?  Or to be productive, to make a significant contribution?  What difference does it make if candidate x is not as productive as the most productive people in the discipline?  Not everyone can be above average.  Perhaps the idea is only to tenure/promote people who are above the people who are at the average level of productivity?  How I write the letter depends on how I see the profession, and while there is a heap of competition in it--to get into grad school, to get grants/fellowships, to get into the more selective journals and presses, to get jobs--I think the larger enterprise is not competitive. It is about making contributions to knowledge, building on the work of others (past and present).  That co-authoring, for instance, and other forms of collaboration should not be penalized (I wrote the linked post in the aftermath of my co-authored work being dismissed by my senior colleagues because .... motivated bias, so that post might be a bit strident).  Moreoever, as one friend argued, relative comparisons may be unfair when there is a heap of bias--in who gets cited, who gets published in the top presses, etc. 

The tenure/promotion letter, in my view, is about addressing whether this person has made a contribution and is likely to continue to make a contribution. To me, these are absolute questions, not relative ones.  Which is why most of the letter is about what the person has researched and written and what their stuff contributes rather than the bean counts and comparisons with cohorts.  When asked to compare, I try to do so because, like saying no to the request, not following the instructions can be seen as criticism. But I don't like it, and I have a hard time because I do not have a good grasp of who is in the cohort.  So, what else do I do?  I whine here about it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Long Gestating Kushner Rant

I have not really blogged much about Jared Kushner because it seems so unnecessary---that it is patently obvious that Kushner is unqualifed and, yes, a security risk.  But he is still around, still being given too much responsibility, and still threatening American national security.  Oh, and demonstrating why there are laws and norms against nepotism.

What experience does Jared Kushner have to be a White House operative?  Crickets.  Badly managing a business is not a background for this job.  The only experience he has is being married to a Trump.

What experience does Kushner have to help facilitate Mideast piece?  Being Jewish is not experience.

What experience does Kushner have to be Trump's emissary?  Ok, he's related to Trump, but he has no foreign policy experience.   He has no background on Saudi Arabia or China besides perhaps liking despots?

What experience does Kushner have to help with the opoid crisis? Nada.

What experience does he have reforming government agencies?  Or with Veteran's Affairs?

The only experience that seems relevant is amassing foreign debt.  Which has led to him revising his security clearance paperwork several times.  As the folks at Pod Saves America reminded us this week, lying on the form is a felony.  Which, of course, then would make Jared ineligible to get a security clearance.  Yet he has kept having access to the most secret info, and according to one story I saw, he asks more often than anyone else for the classified info.

Combining Kushner's lack of knowledge with how easily blackmailed he might be, there is no way any semi-normal administration would put him anywhere near the centers of power.  Because Kushner is married to the daughter of a President who does not care about norms, standards, rules, etc, Kushner is where he is.  He should have been kicked out of the West Wing on day one.  It would have been better for all concerned had he and Ivanka (another thoroughly inexperienced amateur) stayed in New York.  But that would require judgment about capability and culpability and vulnerability rather than loyalty tests.

Here we are, John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, trying to marginalize the President's son-in-law.... At least, we will have a reminder for the next fifty years that nepotism is a bad idea.   Oh joy.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther: The Most Meaningful Marvel Movie

Mrs. Spew and I went to the first showing of Black Panther last night, and we were not disappointed.  Since most folks have not yet seen it, only go beyond the break if you don't mind being spoiled or were able to see the movie pretty quickly.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Guidelines for NATO Spending: Inputs, not Outputs or Outcomes

I tend to complain a lot about the NATO 2% expectation--that members are supposed to spend 2% of their GDP on defense stuff, which probably makes more more Canadian than anything else I do (I don't skate or watch hockey much).  This is aspirational and countries are supposed to reach it by 2024.  I have written much about why this is problematic (it tends to make Greece look good, which is a clue; doing is more important than spending, etc), but today I want to focus on the heart of the matter: 2% is a measure of input and nothing else.

The basic idea is if we all spend a significant hunk of money, we will get more defense than if we spend somewhat less money.  But spending more money on defense may not improve NATO's ability to field effective armies, navies and air forces.  For many members, spending more could simply mean spending more on personnel, which might lead to a more capable force or it might not.  There are additional NATO goals which get far less coverage, which are aimed at persuading members to spend significant hunks of cash on capital--building ships, planes, tanks and other equipment.  Again, this is a focus on input.  Spending more on equipment does not necessarily mean getting better or more equipment.  It could simply mean more waste.

The funny thing is that the US is pushing Belgium to buy the F35, suggesting that this would help them get to 2%.  Buying a super-expensive plane may or may not improve Belgian military performance, but it might get Belgium off of the free-rider list?  I am trying to remember a similar example of being so focused on inputs that they become more important than outcomes, but can't at the moment.*

Sure, we tend to focus on inputs or even outputs because they are easier to measure, and in NATO dynamics, are things about which it is easier to come to a consensus.  It is hard to measure outcomes like readiness and effectiveness.  Also, big numbers are not secret whereas actual military capability--what can a country really do--might have to be covered in secret sauce.  But what really matters is whether NATO can fight better (against others, not against each other) or not.  Spending more might help, but it might not, depending on where the money goes.  When countries underperform, is it because they underspend or because they have restrictive rules or because they have lousy strategies (who could that be?) or because their procurement processes are busted (hello Canada!) or because the adversary gets a vote?

One last semi-related point: asking the Western democracies to spend more on defense after encouraging austerity post-2008 is a hard sell, and, yes, domestic politics is a thing.  After years of saying that spending must be cut on social programs because debt is the supreme evil, saying that the first priority now must be defense is just not going to fly, especially with all of the complex coalitions that are barely governing so many members of the alliance.

So, as we keep invoking 2%, let's keep in mind that many countries will never reach it, as it would require more than a few to increase defense spending by 50-100% AND it allows us to ignore the bigger challenges of how to foster greater effectiveness and readiness.

* The only thing I can come up with would be examples from the Soviet Union of meeting five year plan targets by building huge non-usable things that helped reach the goals measured by weight like one really ball-bearing or something like that.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Oscars 2018

I think I saw more of the nominees than in a normal year with fish sex Shape of Water being the last of the Oscar movies I will see in the theater.  Next week is Black Panther and then the rest of the summer movies of 2018 (summer is earlier than ever).  So, what would I vote for?

Best Movie:
Get Out.  It was the movie that did and will stick with me.  It had the most interesting and surprising premise.  It was multidimensional--funny, scary, moving, meaningful.  Number two is hard as Dunkirk was an amazing movie--very creative in its own way, very much the epic of the year.  But Shape of Water was also very multidimensional--Cold War spy thriller, sci-fi fish out of water (sorry), and romance.  Oh, and fish sex.  I saw Dunkirk a while ago so it is hard to compare with Shape of Water.  I did pay heaps of attention to the direction and editing of both, probably because of my daughter, Intern Spew, and her nascent film career.  Three Billboards was quite good and moving, but the racist redemption thing kind of took me out of the movie a bit.  Lady Bird?  Incredibly well acted but not all that special to me.  Sorry.

No vote for Best Actor as I saw only one of those--Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out.

Best Actress:
Frances McDormand was just a force.  Sally Hawkins comes close because she was so very good, so very expressive despite not being able to talk.  Saoirse Ronan was very good, but the role was not that special. 

Best Supporting Actor:
Despite the whole problematic redemptive racist thing, Rockwell pulled it off really well.  Jenkins was very good in Shape, but didn't help to make the movie.  Harrelson was fine in a small role--moving, but replaceable.

Best Supporting Actress:
Metcalf in a runaway.  Ok, I only saw two of the nominees, and Olivia Spencer was very good but again the movie didn't hang at all on her.  Metcalf helped to make Lady Bird be a notable flick.

Best movie should get best director, but I am inclined to give the writing award to Jordan Peele and the directing to either Nolan or del Toro since their movies were harder, more epic.  Hmmm.  Good thing I don't have a vote.

Best Original Screenplay:
Get Out.  It had better writing and a more interesting plot than the others--I saw all five of the nominees.

Best Adapted:
Logan.... only one I saw.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

What is Wrong With Mattis/Trump Dynamics? Let Me Count The Ways

The WashPo put out a great piece last night that is getting a lot of attention, asking whether Mattis can "check an impulsive president and still retain his trust?"  Lots of great details into the dynamics within American civil-military relations as the US barrels towards another war or two.  And the piece absolutely drives me nuts.  There is so much wrong both about how the US is operating and how the press is depicting the bizarro world we are now in, so I decided to enumerate my problems with both the facts that are reported and how they are reported:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Civil-Military Relations: Trump's Ego and All That

The big squirrel du jour last night was that Trump is actually getting the US military to plan a parade.  Sure, Trump admired the French military parade when he visited during Bastille Day, but we thought he might not remember.  Turns out that his memory of his own words is very bad, but his memory about things that makes him hard feel good about himself is a bit more robust.  So, planning is underway for the US military to have a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.  Which will certainly do much ironic and not so ironic damage to the street.

Yeah, we've had military parades before but mostly after military victories.  Because Trump seems to be an autocrat-wannabe and also because he seeks to cut lots of useful stuff in the budget (like the Centers for Disease Control doing much work in the world to prevent epidemics from becoming pandemics--strange for a germophobe to do that), this expensive enterprise to make him feel good is being read as part of that larger destruction of democratic norms.

Which gets me to civil-military relations.  An essential but mostly overlooked ingredient for democracy is civilian control of the military.  This is always a difficult relationship since the two sides have very different perspectives and cultures and all the rest.  The concern in much of the literature on it is whether the military will "shirk"--do more or less than it is supposed to do.  For instance, a few months ago, it became known that the various branches of the armed forces were not informing the National Gun Registry folks about the domestic abuse and other crimes committed by soldiers, sailors, marines, airpeople.  Much of the literature is focused on how the civilians can create structures and activities to make sure that the military folks do what they are supposed to do.  Indeed, that is the heart of the Steve/Dave/Phil project that has taken me to Brazil, Japan and elsewhere.

What this literature only sometimes addresses is when the civilians are the ones deliberately screwing things up.  We have much less civilian control of the military right now because Trump has delegated most of the decision-making to the folks in uniform and to a guy who was in uniform until just a few years ago.  That was not good, but now we have the President seeking to have the military be more clearly part of the effort to prop up an unpopular government as he calls normal opposition to his regime "treason."  This is all awful, and it is all dangerous.

Building norms and institutions takes generations, but destroying them does not.  Trump is doing much damage to civil-military relations, making the crises under Obama or Bush or Clinton seem incredibly trivial.  The next President and next SecDef will have to do much work to salvage the relationship between the civilians in charge and the military.

There is one hope, but, well, not much of one: Congress can refuse to authorize the money for this.  But given how willing Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and majorities of Republicans in both houses are willing to sell out everything, I am not optimistic that Congress will play its role in American civil-military relations.  As it turns out, the original driving force of the big project was my idealization of Congressional oversight that might be just as dead as the rest of American political norms.

Finally, the only military parade I want to see is this one:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Canada Cyber Defence: Uninformed, Wild Speculation

I was chatting with a defense attache today, and he asked me a question about Canada: why hasn't Canada developed much of a cyber-defence capability yet?  Given that cyber threats are the most significant dangers to Canada (we are too far away from everyone for conventional military threats and most nukes will just pass over, oops), this is a puzzle.  I hate not answering questions, so here are my wild guesses, and you can let me know which you think makes the most sense:

1) Standard bureaucratic politics: neither the army, air force, nor navy wanted to spend money/personnel on cyber since it would mean taking away from the activities/equipment that they have long seen as priorities.  The only way to develop cyber capabilities is to have new money, which is ultimately what the Defence Policy Review (aka SSE for Strong, Secure, Engaged).
2) Canadian defence procurement doth suck muchly.  The SSE and the Liberal government budgeted money for new personnel and stuff to do cyber stuff.  So, yeah, we shall how long that takes to happen.  I feel like blaming Treasury Board because, well, I don't really understand it, but they seem to not like spending money.
3) Canada lacks a good imagination of the possible.  When we hear discussion of cyber and the CAF, the discussion ends up focusing on how can one have soldiers who compute?  Do we have to have the same physical standards for the cyber warriors as for the normal kind?  How about considering how the other advanced democracies do it?  The National Security Agency is owned by the Department of Defense, but is mostly a civvie agency if I am not mistaken.  Perhaps the DND cyber warriors could be civilians?  I have no idea really, but how about seeing how other countries have done it.
4) I do think that Canadians are worried about privacy and about the government having too much capability.  There was concern and questions about the cyber offensive stuff in the SSE.  So, maybe the politicians are slow because they think this stuff is unpopular?

As I said, I am wildly speculating.  Given where Canada is now on this at a time where Canadian institutions (including Carleton) are getting hit by cyber attacks, should we expect more out of the government?  If so, why is it (and previous governments) underperforming?  

Monday, February 5, 2018

Worst Advice for Grad Students?

After a brief glance at twitter this morning, I am tempted to run a contest: what is the worst advice to give a graduate student (other than to pursue a PhD, that is)?

What inspired this?

I don't think I ever told my students to work long hours.  Maybe I set goals for them that implied working longer hours, but I never told them to work 60 hours a week (my TA's might be nodding their heads but not my research assistants as my vague instructions never required long hours).  The whole "work smarter, not harder/longer" may seem trite and easy to say, but, in my humble experience, the biggest challenge to being productive was not the time put in but being productive in the time spent.  That focus is the problem, not hours. 

In my case, I definitely have a focus problem, not a time problem. I have never been one for putting in long hours.  Indeed, in my first teaching gig, I did work on Saturdays sometimes.... for those weeks where I skied on Thursdays (where was I this Friday?).  Ever since, my weekend work, a few hours here or there, not a matter of working entire weekend days, has mostly been grading and reviewing and some catching up in my reading, but that does not make me hit 60 hours because I have rarely worked nine to five on weekdays.  

Of course, it depends on what you count.  I do travel on weekends for interview research so that the weekdays are as efficient as possible, but I never have had an interview week that is pure interviews from morning to night.  While I do fill some of that time with transcription and planning, some of that time in foreign capitals ends up being empty .... which means tourism.  Conferences?  Those can be long days, but playing poker or drinking with friends after the panels? Is that work?  Not really. 

Getting back to graduate students, it really depends on their lives--what other competition is there for their time, how much progress they have made compared to the clock on their funding, etc.  Students fall short of making good progress in the program do so not because they are failing to overwork, but because they:
  • took on too many other responsibilities (working in student government, agreed to do service type stuff long before they should have, etc.  Saying no is really hard for academics but especially for grad students).  Of course, there are very demanding disciplines that require tons of time in labs so YMMV. 
  • could not figure out their research question.
  • had a hard time sticking to one question (juggling multiple projects is not something I recommend for anyone pre-tenure and especially not while in grad school).
  • had a hard time getting funding to do the research.
  • have a hard time working independently.
Yeah, I get it--that with a tougher job market, grad students need to publish while they are in school and that increases the workload.  So, I am not saying they never go over 40 hours.  But I would never tell a student to expect to average 60 hours a week.  Sometimes, one's load might go up that high, but at other times, one can't focus and one puts in under 40.  The academic life means that it is up to each individual how to figure out how much time to put into various things.  Early in one's career, course prep takes more time.  Later, course prep takes far less time, but one has to do more advising of advanced grad students or more administration or more service.  Which means that I tend to read far less than I would like.

And, no, I don't count time I put into blogging and twitter as work time because you may have noticed that my lack of focus definitely applies here--much of my online social media stuff has nothing to do with work.  When someone asks me to write for them, well, that is work.  Writing for myself?  Mostly fun, sometimes free therapy.

I have always been a big believer in work-life balance, that seeing a movie the night before a big exam or a defense is a good way to de-stress.  Sure, I wish I could be more productive, but that is not about putting more time in, but being more focused when I am trying to work. Speaking of which, time to get back to the big grant application.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ski Strategery

Longtime followers of the Semi-Spew will know that I like to give talks at universities near ski areas in wintertime.  This time, I gave a talk at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary on what we can learn from Afghanistan.  And I learned much both from those who attended and from someone who couldn't make it to the talk but did attend the dinner (my first real convo with someone inside the Harper government!)

More importantly, I got to ski at Lake Louise.   My previous talk here about four years ago led to a different ski area--Sunshine.  I think I prefer Lake Louise, although I couldn't see much of it because it was snowing both days.  Indeed, both days, but especially the first, made for some challenging skiing since I could not see well at various times.

Given that I was talking about lessons learned when Canada was under much pressure in Afghanistan, what did I learn during two hard skiing days?
  • The Skier's dilemma (at least for me): Clear skies with great views OR poor views but fresh snow.
  • Learning to ski in the mountains (hills) of Pennsylvania trained me to ski on ice, not fresh snow.  I am not good on plentiful fresh snow, especially when the carving of predecessors turns a blue cruiser into a mogul field
  • I still skate like an American, as there were some flat parts and I tend to skate them poorly.
  • Some ski run names are very apt.  I finished Marmot (a rodent) run right before lunch.  While at lunch, a marmot came up to the lodge.  Glad I didn't ski Wolverine today.
  • That being single is a big advantage (although I miss my favorite skiing partner--Intern Spew), even though the lift lines were never very long--non-existent yesterday and fairly quick today.
  • More importantly, I learned being in a gondola with five bros can be fun, as they were amusing and one of them was carrying skiing juice.  That would be, in this case, jaegermeister, and yes, he was a German skiing with four North Americans.  
  • I can be too slow with a camera--one chair lift goes past a tree festooned with bras of all kinds.  It seemed photo-worthy, but each day I was on that lift once, so I didn't react fast enough either day. Rats.
  • I learned that the ski bums of Canada tend to be from Australia or New Zealand with a few Brits mixed in.  I remember this from my last trip, but I had forgotten.  
  • Banff is a pretty sweet place.  Sure, it has lots of touristy stuff, but lots of restaurants to choose from, amazing views, apparently bountiful public spaces/services, and nice folks.
  • I now get why folks who own Jeep Wranglers don't clear snow off of them as well as I can off of my car.  I had little choice at the airport, and this brand new Jeep is an interesting drive.  
I am very lucky that I can do this, that my teaching schedule this term (M/W) gives me the chance to take off just when the slopes are getting sweet.  It will probably be the only skiing I do this year, as the places closer to home have been cycling between rain/snow/melting/freezing and I am too old to mess with ice.

Oh, and one of the cool things about being on the slopes for two days is I am mostly out of the loop about whatever Trump is doing and how incredibly dumb the Nunes memo is.  Ok, I caught some of the tweets of along these lines:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Rooting for Bad Civilian-Military Relations/

Reading this story about Korea war planning is giving me chills. 
 But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.
 Are we supposed to be happy that the Pentagon under Mattis and Dunford are trying not to give an options to Trump that he might choose to use force?  Yeah, the tyranny of low standards means I am now rooting for the Pentagon to defy the White House.  Still, even if there is no war, lasting damage to American civil-military relations may ensue.  I mean, I am glad that there really are some adults in the room:
The Pentagon has a different view. Mr. Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., argue forcefully for using diplomacy. They have repeatedly warned, in meetings and on video conference calls, that there are few, if any, military options that would not provoke retaliation from North Korea, according to officials at the Defense Department.
 I want Mattis to push back against Trump's apparent desire for war.  So, woot, I guess.  But dumping Victor Cha still scares me.

I will be on the slopes tomorrow, so, um, good luck!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Afghanistan is Hip Again?

I was on Canadian TV last night to talk about Afghanistan, as they anticipated that Trump would talk about it and about sending more troops there.

This is what we got:
Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.
 Wow, that clarifies everything! What are the new rules of engagement?  There is so much wrong packed into this one sentence that I am tempted to post a certain pic:

Ok, not everything is wrong--the Afghan security forces (when some of them are not raping kids) are pretty damned heroic.  They have been paying a huge price and have not yet broken.  But if the rules of engagement are looser, rather than tighter, what this really means is almost certainly more civilian casualties, and that will probably undermine the effort.  Sure, Afghanistan is a damned if you, damned if you don't place as the work of Jason Lyall indicates.  Also, the folks who pushed for tighter rules and less collateral damage included the generals.  Stan McChrystal had many faults, but his push for courageous restraint was probably one of the most significant contributions he made--that sometimes it is better not to shoot at a high value target if it means lots of civilian casualties and waiting for another day and less problematic opportunity makes sense.

Trump's line about artificial timelines is not wrong either but not entirely right.  Because having no deadlines, and even more importantly, no strategy and no clear desired outcomes means that this is, indeed, a forever war. When will the US be ready to leave Afghanistan?  What conditions will permit it?  Is the US effort really doing anything that, dare I say it, hastens the day that they can leave? 

The whole "We don't tell our enemies our plans" thing has always grated at me.  It is one of those incredibly dumb Trumpisms that he gets addicted to.  No, we have never told our enemies our plans (although Trump does tend to tell our adversaries about our intelligence programs and those of our allies), but having a plan is a good thing even if they are not always realized.  Again, what is the strategy here?  While specific tactics should be secret, to get everyone moving in the same direction towards a desired goal (the military would say endstate), the major players all need to know what the strategy is--the Afghan government, the allies, the State Department, USAID, um, the military, etc.

Anyhow, no explanation or even description of the escalation of numbers of troops, just a hint that the use of force is escalating.  Is this a bad thing?  The old rule that one should never want to be mentioned in the State of the Union probably does not apply here, since Afghanistan should be a priority but is being treated as a throwaway line.  And, yes, it suggests that we are throwing away the lives of those wounded or killed there without much thought.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Is It Time to Panic Now? Um, Yeah

My favorite pics lately have been this

 and this

Recent events have moved from concerned and alarmed to frightened.  About what?
About war with North Korea.  The two bits of news that have increased my level of fear:
  • Today's news story that Victor Cha, the man Trump chose to be Ambassador to the Republic Of Korea, was dropped because he was critical of war plans, such as punching North Korea in the nose.  Yeah, they wanted an expert, the expert said this was a bad idea, so they dumped the expert and not the bad idea.  Max Fisher indicated that he had thought the war talk was a bluff, but this suggested otherwise.  I indicated via twitter that the Trump WH will have a hard time finding someone who recommends war and is willing to move to Seoul, which is the primary target for a North Korean response.
  • Trump mused that he'd really like a uniting event to help reduce the divisiveness in the US.  Putting aside how blindingly un-self-aware he is, that his entire campaign and Presidency are not just divisive but deliberately so, this raises the possibility of Trump seeking out a 9/11 or a Gulf of Tonkin or some other event that causes Americans to come together.  He didn't say wag the dog, but he seems familiar enough with the idea.  
Put those two things together, along with Trump's belief that American ballistic missile defense (whose motto should be "Hope is Our Plan"), and, yeah, I am very, very worried.  A strike against North Korea will not end there--there will be a response and it will kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Koreans and then Japanese plus Americans in the region.  Oh, and it will cause tremendous turmoil in the world economy.... What Trump doesn't get is that if he starts this, there will be no rally around him.  He will get the blame for starting a war that is quite avoidable.

So, what should be my go-to pic now?
Because all is not well.

Update: Given that the Korean crisis got more play than nearly anything else and it hints at regime change (depraved character of the regime as the core issue), I am now thinking war is more likely than not.  Not good.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mama, Don't Let Your Kids Grow Up to Be PhD Students Anymore

This graphic was circulated today:
Media preview
Oh my.  The job market was not good before 2008 (has it been "good" at any point since the recession of 1992-93?), but the most recent trends suggest things are getting worse.  A much smaller hunk of folks are getting placed in tenure track positions--from 40 percent (which ain't great) down to 25ish percent.

This all raises some big questions:
  1. Have many (any?) departments reduced how many graduate students they admit?
  2. Have many (any?) departments engaged in serious efforts to train their graduate students for non-academic jobs?
  3. Have many (any?) departments engaged in serious efforts to place their graduate students for non-academic jobs?
  4. Have universities stopped creating new PhD programs in political science and adjacent programs?
I have no idea, but I have little confidence that things have changed much, given what I have seen.

NPSIA aims to produce policy-oriented folks for non-academic jobs BUT the history of the program seems to be that graduate students come here expecting to get placed in academic jobs.  Not great.  One reason I left my previous job is that I didn't want to be producing heaps of new Phds as the market for them crashes.  Sure, damn near all of them got tenure track positions, but I saw the writing on the wall.  I do have Phd students now--but fewer of them and I am very clear about their job prospects.   Oh, and leaving McG means writing far fewer recommendation letters for students who want to ignore my advice about pursuing Phds.

Sure, folks can still succeed, but the odds have changed and our guild is not really adapting very well.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

New Classroom Experience: Too Cool for School?

I have had some strange distractions in my classes over the past twenty five years, but today a new one.  Sure, I had a student answer and continue a phone call when cell phones were rare (I speculated aloud that he might be a drug dealer).  I had a student try to have a grand romantic gesture in my 600 person class.  Once, a tour guide took a group of prospective students through my class as I was lecturing.  But today was the first time I threatened to call security and eventually did.

I was teaching a seminar on US Foreign Policy, which is essentially about distractions these days. The door has a glass floor to ceiling window looking out on the hallway.  A girl somewhere between 13-16 decided to put her face up to the glass and then yell at the class.  She then walked away and then came back with two friends who didn't participate but didn't not participate if that makes sense.  I got up, and told her I was going to call security (I had never made that threat in my classroom nor elsewhere in my life).  She said, ooo, go ahead, but then skedaddled. The class returned to the topic after a minute or two of being puzzled.

After class, I called Security, and they said someone else had also complained but more timely so.  The Security folks dealt with these troublemakers--how? I have no idea.  On the scale of distraction, disruption and danger, this was a 2.  When I told Mrs. Spew, she got most concerned because she has read enough stories of violence in American classroom.  And, yes, Canadian classrooms have seen violence.  There was no violence here, just super immature people being super-bored.  But it was a first, and, hopefully, I go another 25 years or so before it happens again.

If only I could insta-meme in the classroom:

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

What Are You Implying? Policy, Dammit!

I spent the weekend in suburban NYC for a Social Science Research Council Abe Fellows retreat, and it was great to get much feedback from folks with far more expertise on Japan.  It was also nice to have an opportunity to meet the people I have been emailing ever since I applied for the fellowship.  They were also very helpful, and I am grateful for the opportunity. 

One of the sessions focused on deriving policy implications from one's work, and this session was helpful but had the same problem as most stuff on policy implications.  Before I get to that, I should note that there has been a heap of discussion in person and online lately about whether we should be asking folks to develop policy implications from their work.  My basic stance: if there are policy implications, then, yes, develop and express them.  If the work is too theoretical or too early in its development, then no.  And, of course, I just gave an assignment to my PhD seminar to develop policy implications even though they are just starting out, so, yeah, that rule does not seem to apply so much when I am teaching.

Anyhow, the fundamental problem with figuring out policy implications is not distilling what one's findings say about what kinds of policies should be developed.  No, the problem is developing these implications so that someone in power will find them interesting and attractive.  For instance, the classic policy implication for much ethnic conflict/intra-state conflict work is: prevention is less costly, more effective and less problematic than intervention after the violence starts.  Okey dokey.  The problem is: who gets credit for preventing something?  Which media outlets like to cover non-events?  Hey, look, no violence in this country this month!  The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Violence spent a great deal of effort to argue that prevention was more effective, more efficacious, and more strategically sound than not preventing and yet ... we underinvest in prevention. On the other hand, experts said that austerity is good--governments should spend less--and this got picked up by right wing parties since it fit their ideology and their preferred policies.  Was it smart/good for their societies?  I think not.  But the policy implications of this economic work were bought by those who wanted to buy them.

So, how does one develop policy implications that politicians will find attractive?  That is the trick, and I haven't figured it out despite being 25 or so years into my career (and caring about policy implications a bit more since 2002).  In my current project on legislative oversight of armed forces, I think I know why legislators pay less attention to overseeing the armed forces in most democracies although the research is still underway--does anyone vote for a representative/Senator/parliamentarian based on their performance in overseeing the armed forces?  Probably not too many folks, so it is understandable that legislators don't put much effort into it (as far as we can tell thus far).  What we will have to figure out by the end of the project is why it would be in the interest of politicians to care about it--not just in the interest of their country but in the interest of their party and in the interest of the individuals who would be doing oversight.

That's the trick.  Once I figure that out, the next step is to figure out how to get the policy made, not just advocated.  Oh my.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Retreat! Ssh, Steve

I am in the wilds of suburban NYC as one of the parts of an SSRC-Abe Fellowship is to participate in a retreat.  It is all chatham house, not for attribution, but the discussions aren't really political or controversial--they are aimed at improving our work.

A fun and different way to workshop:
  1. Everyone circulates five page summaries of their work beforehand
  2. Person presents what is not in their five pager--larger context, what challenges were faced, what gaps remain.  Person then must remain silent for rest of the session (yes, I had to be quiet for about thirty-forty minutes even though it was my stuff being discussed.  No, silence is not a Steve strength).
  3. Discussant number one asks questions about the substance of the work and discussant number two asks questions about the methodology.  Neither discussant is an expert on the person's stuff although there are some overlaps (although not so much for my work. If I had been doing rice politics....).
  4. Today/tonight, person comes up with responses
  5. Tomorrow, person gives short responses to previous day comments, and then leads discussion of the group about the project.
The retreat has talks by keynote speaker, by journalists who are Abe-Journalism fellows, a discussion about engaging policy folks, and other stuff.

So far, tis a very informative and engaging workshop.  I am mostly offline so the whole government shutdown/mass protests is barely in view.  Having sketchy wifi turns out to be a good thing.  I should have lousier wifi at home, and I might get more work done although probably an angry wife.... life is full of tradeoffs.

Anyhow, that is what I am doing while everyone else is protesting or complaining about the media's coverage of the shutdown.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Advising, Phd Topics and Fads

In the past couple of days, an academic issue has played out on twitter: are advisers doing a disservice to students and to the creation of knowledge by warning them off of topics that are deemed less relevant, less in the moment?  Damned if I know.

On the one hand, I have heard plenty of tales of former/current students elsewhere that say that they were interested in a topic but their adviser told them it was not so relevant or interesting, and then the world changed.  One reason I don't remember telling students not to do a topic (besides the fact that I have a lousy memory) is that I am not confident about making predictions about what is going to be hot in International Relations in five years.  My own dissertation started as a theoretical puzzle about the nature of sovereignty.  As it evolved, it turned to focus on the international relations of secession, and it just so happened that countries started falling apart.  There was nothing strategic about what I was doing.  Oh, and when I was on the market, my focus on this tended to be trumped by those doing the IR of the environment if departments were focused on "new threats, new stuff."

Anyhow, the key to warning students away from untrendy topics is that one must have some confidence about what such stuff is.  And I don't have that confidence.

On the other hand, a scholar I respect insists that trendiness influences job prospects, and I can't argue with that:
I have seen folks who do hip stuff get more attention.  But the question is this: is it the topic or the framing?  Or the methods?  If it is about framing, then it is up to the Phd student to frame their topic in a way that interests people.  I do think much of the success of some folks in this business is really, dare I say it, about marketing.  

I do think Sara is right about methods: that methods fads are real, are far more predictable, and have real impacts on publish-ability and job market success.  So, in guiding grad students, I tend not to tell them what to study, but I do tell them how to study it and, yes, how to frame it.

There are advisors out there that are much more directive: study this, use this theory, and use this method.  I am not comfortable with that:
  1. I don't need them to use my theoretical approach to bring me fortune and glory.  Indeed, I had one student whose dissertation was squarely aimed against my work.  In other words, it is not disciples I seek.
  2. The dissertation is not a three or five year thing, but usually a ten year thing--it is what one works on during grad school and is the focus of much publication effort in the run up to tenure (or whatever the person does after grad school).  So, the student better be passionately interested in it. 
  3. If we tell our students not to do x, then x becomes under-explored.  Which means that we have a lesser understanding of that, and that is bad from a standpoint of knowledge creation.  And if one wants to be strategic, if you buy moneyball logics, then it makes sense to study under-valued stuff because there is less risk of being scooped, of being crowded out.
  4. The most important skill for a scholar and the hardest part of grad school is figuring out what to research.  That's what makes dissertation proposal writing so painful--coming up with an idea that is interesting to both oneself and the larger community.  As we progress in our career, this is what we need to do again and again.  Imposing one's will on a student about their topic seems to be a bad way to help someone become an independent scholar. 
  5. And, of course, if one wants one's work to be enduring, focusing on something faddish seems like a bad bet but focusing on making a solid contribution to our understanding of something significant seems to be the way to go.
So, Sara and I will differ on this, especially when it comes to fads about topics (not about the importance of methods fads).  But we both agree that having an incredibly loud and distinct laugh is best, so there's that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Vets and Good Candidates

One of the striking ongoing dynamics in the US is that there seem to be not just more veterans running for office but running for the Democrats:

The joy of politics is anticipation: that one is likely to get "better" candidates" when the winds are blowing in your direction and not so much when they are not.  I didn't read much of a friend's work on this stuff (she is an Americanist, I am not), but I got some via osmosis.  So, we see veteran GOP politicians retiring before the 2018 election.  My reaction has been to post this:

As in, tis a clue!!!  That the GOP is in for a tough, tough election year.  Midterms are always tough for the party that is in power, and with much Trump nausea, more so.  We saw last night another long term state level seat (Wisconsin) go Dem.

We are seeing many more folks seeing to run for the Dems, including the aforementioned veterans. I do think more candidates and more competition is a good thing.  I am a bit more agnostic about whether former soldiers, sailors, marines, and airfolks (actually, not so many USAF vets) make for good representatives.  Some vets are smart and have good values, and others don't--being a veteran does not mean one is a good or bad person or representative.

However, there are two things here that make me be pleased by this:
1)  In most democracies, there is little incentive for elected politicians to care about serious oversight over the armed forces.  In the US, there are some--that there are heaps of dollars that can be directed to one's district.  But the larger pattern among democracies, at least as far as our initial research suggests, is that veterans tend to care more and can be pretty critical (see this and this and I need to do more reading).  They experienced military life and know that generals and admirals are not always right/wise/smart/good.  They are also often skeptical of the civilians in DoD and of defense contractors.  So, for this alone, the increased numbers of vets running for office is a good thing.
2) Until 2003 or so, the Republican Party tended to dominate the surveys of "Which party is stronger on national security?"  Screwing up Iraq bigly did much damage to that.  Having a team of politicians that are sharp on national security matters may help the Democrats perpetuate this advantage.

So, yes, woot for vets running for Democratic nominations, but a modest one since military experience does not automatically mean someone is going to be a good politician.

Update: Turns out I wrote this a day or two too late:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trump is a Racist ... And?

I have not blogged about Trump's shithole shitstorm.  Why not?  Because we have known for a long, long time that Trump is a racist.
  • We know that his father was a member of the KKK.  
  • We know that Trump was sued twice by the US government for discriminating against African-Americans in his rental properties.  
  • We know that he relied on racial stereotypes when it came to hiring practices for his casinos--Jews, not Blacks, should be accountants.
  • We know that he was so very focused on the kids of color who were accused of raping a white woman in central park.
  • We know that he was an obsessive birther.
  • We know that he started off his campaign by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.
  • We know that he sought a ban against all Muslims (Islamophobia/xenophobia go along with racism damn near most of the time, sorry Indian Americans).
  • We know that he has repeatedly used slurs towards Native Americans.
  • We know that he thought a judge of Mexican descent could not be impartial.
  • We know that he retweeted stuff from a guy whose twitter handle is "white genocide."
  • We know that he said that both sides at Charlottesville include fine people.  Yeah, some Nazis are fine.
  • We know that he thinks that a woman of Korean descent who gave an intel brief on Pakistan should be working on North Korea.
  • We know that Trump has appointed and hired racists: Jeff Sessions (too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s, just racist enough to be Attorney General now), Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and, oh yeah, John Kelly (retired generals can be xenophobes).  
So, what is new about Trump's statements?  They are slightly more offensive than previous statements, and, well, yes, the countries in question are seriously and rightfully upset.

I guess what matters here is that this happens to be the event that gives people in the media to say what we have always known--that Trump is a racist.  That the permission structure has changed--that it is no longer seen as taboo to say that the Emperor is wearing no clothes--that Trump is a racist.  Of course, Trump will deny being a racist, but the entire discourse now makes it clear that he is a racist and that this is not normal.  Yeah, we have had presidents who had racist attitudes, but what we say and do in 2018 is a bit different than what acceptable behind closed doors (Nixon) or what was legislated in the 1920s (I just learned that Harding and Coolidge were awful in ways I had not known or at least remembered).

My frustration is, of course, that it took this long and this many events for folks to start saying what was already quite clear--that Trump is a racist.  He is not consistent about many things--he often switches his stances based on the last person who talks to him (or gives him particular flavors of Starbust candies?)--but his racism has been perhaps his most consistent attribute, other than his greed.

So, yeah, woot for folks calling Trump out as the white supremacist that he has long been.  This is significant.  But let's not overrate the moment either as it is not clear that it will change people's behavior for very long. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What To Do With 15 Minutes?

The false alarm in Hawaii yesterday raised that very classic question: if you only had a few minutes to live, what would you do?  Tweet, of course.  Well, other than that?

It depends on where I am and who I am with.  If I am alone but near chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon buns, well, I gorge.  Same goes for beer.  Reflux be damned.  If alone, I would call Mrs. Spew and College Spew.  If at home with Mrs. Spew, we would try to reach our kid and tell her how proud we have been, and that we are sad that we will not see the stuff that she creates (or would have created if we are all going to die).    And then I would look for some beer. 

The story yesterday raised the other choice: to try to survive or not.  I got into an argument online about whether folks were overreacting by putting their kids into the storm drains (concrete is not a bad choice), and I thought it might be an overreaction or a dangerous reaction.  I had friends online saying that they would have gone to the roof to watch the missiles come in because who wants to live after that.  This is assuming, of course, the missiles are carrying nuclear weapons.  If they are conventional, they can be survived by most folks (the storm drain would then be a not bad idea).  If they are carrying biological or chemical weapons, again, most people will survive.  And if you are in Hawaii, and the inbound missiles are from North Korea, then the odds are not bad that the missiles will hit water. 

Which leads to the most important thing we must do if we have 5, 15 or 30 minutes of warning... wait.  Just wait before panicking as thus far all alarms of nuclear attacks have been false, and most alarms about missiles have been false unless one lives in Israel, Iran, Iraq, and a few other places.  And if it happens to be the one time a nuclear weapon is falling on your head, tweet at me afterwards to tell me I am wrong. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Canada's Broken Defence Procurment: Time to Blame the Industry

David Pugliese does an amazing job of documenting the VCDS Mark Norman story about the investigation into his leaking of cabinet confidences.  There is much to the story, and it says much about the state of Canadian politics.  I'd just like to focus on one element of it: the defence contractors.

Whatever Norman's relationship with Davie, a Quebec shipbuilding firm, the key actor here that really starts the controversy is Irving, the shipbuilding firm that has gotten the lion's share of recent defence dollars.  It is responsible for both the Arctic Offshore Patrol ships and the new frigates.  The Seaspan company, on the west coast, is building the rest--supply ships, icebreakers, etc.  Because the RCN's supply ships were falling apart, the idea was to have a ship leased, reconfigured and used until Seaspan could produce the supply ships it is supposed to build.

Ah, but Irving complained, saying that the process was unfair, sole-sourced.  This is kind of funny (and sad) that Irving was not satisfied with winning the big competition, but felt compelled to screw with the minor contract going to the company that had lost the big competitions.  Maybe Irving would be better at this?  Oh wait, Irving is behind schedule on its ships, and a key challenge is it does not (I seem to remember) have enough dry dock space to work on many ships at once.  So, this important immediate need would either be put at the end of the line or it would force the other stuff to be delayed further.  A key thing to keep in mind about defence procurement is that delays mean heaps of money as defence inflation is a thing.  So, Irving butts in, causes a kerfuffle.  Seaspan joins in because it only has the second most number of ships to be built and second most amount of money heading its way (even as its own shipbuilding schedule is, of course, delayed).

The politics are complex, but since Davie is in Quebec, its premier (governor) was able to put enough pressure on the Liberal government to keep the program going, so ... ta da!  The ship in question is almost ready. 

The ruthless competition by one or two contractors to screw the third has spilled over into the leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces with Mark Norman in limbo for more than a year now.  Perhaps it is appropriate that his case should be as delayed as the typical procurement project, but the government should make a damned decision--to charge him or not.  That is actually the easy part of this (which is being bungled).  The hard part is to get Irving to be satisfied with damn near most of the dollars and not seek all of them.

While we can blame successive governments for screwing defence procurement up in a big way, they have had much help from the defence industry.  I have heard multiple reps from defence firms complain about government, and they are right.  But much of the blood or red ink is on their hands.  Maybe they don't need to follow the Japanese example of taking turns (Mitsubishi builds a sub in year 1, Kawasaki in year 2, M in year 3, K in year 4, etc).  But they do need to figure out how to live with each other and perhaps come up with rules of engagement so that they don't imperial Canadian defence and they don't burn officers who are just trying to get their people decent kit.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

PSR and Sexual Harassment: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

Political Science Rumors made the academic news at Inside Higher Ed with some quotes from anonymous moderators.  In its lifespan, PSR had only one non-anonymous moderator: me.  I dropped out last summer mostly because the signal to noise ratio had changed over the years, making the place less valuable and thus the time spent on it less worthwhile.  Oh, and trying to delete the worst stuff just took far more time.  The topic of sexual harassment was a tricky one, so here's how it evolved for me as a moderator of that place.

The starting point for much moderation, besides stuff that was blatantly sexist/racist/homophobic which were easy deletions for me (I got increasing flak over the years for cutting this stuff, but it seemed like a no-brainer for most of it), is that attacks on individuals should be deleted.  At first, this was a rule about attacks on grad students and junior faculty, with the notion that senior faculty were less vulnerable, but much of the community at the time pushed back saying that no one should suffer attacks, especially the way this place tends to pile on.

But what is an attack?  Accusations of sexual harassment were a lightning rod, with a noted philosopher getting much attention (not in our field, but close enough, I guess).  I tended to delete stuff about non-political scientists because of the PS in the PSR.  But the larger question was challenging--does one allow anonymous accusations to stay?  I never could figure this out as I could see the merits of folks outing sexual harassers, given how difficult it is to pursue complaints within universities and the backlashes that can ensue (see the Rebecca Gill case in the article above).  But it seemed problematic as well to let anonymous accusations stay on the board.

And then I posted on my own blog about a sexual harasser at my old place.  This led to a long discussion at PSR about many things, including my apparent hypocrisy of posting an accusation while deleting those at PSR.  Because I knew beyond a reasonable doubt the case in question and because I was not doing it anonymously, I left comfortable (that word has a special meaning for my place at PSR that goes back to its origins) doing one thing on my blog and another thing at PSR.

I think I would behave some differently now as the #metoo movement has educated me a bit about the tradeoffs and challenges.  I would let the accusations stand, and I would delete those who seek to trash the accuser when they are known.  There are, apparently, threads attacking Gill, and I am not surprised.  I would have deleted those posts and threads that attack her personally and tried to keep those that address the challenge of how to deal with sexual harassment in the discipline.

I don't go to the site much anyone, although I do look in from time to time to see if the testable hypotheses hold up (would the place lose credibility and disappear without me, would the marketplace of ideas work without my interference).  And what I find is that I am glad I left--the place has not disappeared, but I do think that the current moderators are not quite as aggressive as I was in getting rid of the crap.  It was always a losing battle, but it seems to be worse now.

In the twitter discussion this morning, folks have called for APSA to provide its own discussion board.  Well, one does exist:   And it has not gotten any traction.  I don't have any solutions, just my experience that this stuff is really hard.  Anonymity does provide some protection for those who want to out those who do harm, but also gives much protection for those who want to do harm.  Definitely a dual-edged sword, and after several years, I never did figure out how best to shield the community enough but not too much. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

California is as California Does

Ah, to be in California when it is winter back east.  Yesterday was our one day for tourism.  Today, I am taking my daughter to meet some folks I know via real life and via twitter.  Both are in "the industry" with the aims of me meeting folks I have wanted to chat with and of my daughter getting a few glimpses into this thing they call Hollywood.  Tomorrow, I go home and my daughter ... goes on. 

So, what did we do with our one afternoon?  I had to go a beach, any beach, given the weather back home.  We did Santa Monica the last time we were here (checking out Cali universities four years ago), so we went to Venice.  Which, of course, was super-funky. 

I learned much and a few questions:
  • I learned not to stop at the first public parking opportunity as that turned out to be twice the cost of places I could have parked.
  • Dogs.  So many dogs.  My daughter and her friend love dogs, so they enjoyed the vast variety of dogs.
  • California's diversity is just amazing.  Just so many people from so many different backgrounds.
  • And no cops.  Jessica's pal noticed that she had not seen any police officers in Venice.   Sure, there were a few clearly troubled homeless people, but no or few police officers.
  • Public bathrooms with no door locks means, um, waiting until people emerge.
  • Peruvian food is quite good.
  • Several storefronts promising to help people get their medicinal marijuana documents.  What happens to them now that such stuff is unnecessary in California (unless Jeff Sessions gets in the way)?
  • The politics were a strange mix--several anti-Trump booths but the t-shirt shops had a heap of misogynist shirts...
  • California drivers are alert and aggressive. I remember that.  I don't remember their hostility to folks in front of them backing up.  I surprised my daughter by getting super angry at a women in a Trader Joe's parking lot who parked in a spot that my daughter was currently half-occupying.  My kid was trying to correct her parking and this woman would not let her.  Several other times we faced challenges when trying to back up--Californians are simply too impatient.  On the other hand, beer at the TJ's?  Oh why can't we have nice things like this in Ottawa?
 As always, when I am in California, I wonder why I left, knowing that the answer is always the same--the jobs were elsewhere.  Oh well.  I think my daughter will be exasperated by the traffic but will fall in love with the place.  Hopefully, it will fall in love (or, at least, employment) with her.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Deathrace2018, Final Day: Canyons, Canyons and Lessons Learned

We finished the drive with a very colorful day: the Grand Canyon is well named.  The last time I was here, we stopped for just a few minutes.  This time, we spent more than an hour, which is still not much, but we had someplace to be.

The digital age means taking tons of pics with no thought about film or developing costs.  So, these are just a few of the many pics.  The sun broke through from time to time so the different light made a big difference on the colors of the canyon and how they popped.
After five days of driving, of endless podcasts (thanks Doug Loves Movies for keeping us both awake, various sports podcasts for keeping me awake and her asleep, and various podcasts of my daughter's choosing that didn't prove to be very soothing to me), of many welcome to state x signs (we have an incomplete collection since it seemed to be the case that the co-pilot/photographer was asleep when we crossed into a new state about half the time), of many unhealthy breakfasts,

we have some realizations and some enduring questions.  The latter include:
  • what is as a safety corridor?  Seems to be a southwest highway thing, but I have no idea what they mean.
  • what is Bearizona and did we miss something really cool?
  • when can I find the time to come back and hike the canyon?  Probably not until after my ankle heals.
 What did we learn from this endless drive?
  • That there is a lot of empty in California, just like in Canada, but it is a coastal/inland thing in CAf and a border or not thing in CAd.
  • That California will always feel like home to me--the shopping, the morning fog, the open architecture, the overly complicated designs of apartment complexes, and, yes, the Mexican food.
  • That the US contains so much, so many different but yet similar places.  One of the key problems with Trump is that America never stopped being Great.  A drive across makes that abundantly clear.
  • Indeed, the diversity that one sees in this kind of trip is something to be appreciated, not feared.
We were exhausted by the end and just a wee bit sore, but I am glad to have helped my daughter make the transition to the next stage of her life.  Of course, the great food, heaps of milkshakes and other sweets, fun encounters, and some tourism made the drive far more pleasant.  Oh, and, yeah, her car will get mighty dusty when she drops me off as I make my way to my home, leaving her in her new home.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Deathrace 2018, Day 4: Mesas, Dinosaurs, Chiles, and Eagles

Our fourth and penultimate day of driving was the most full of sights, great food, and, yes, tourism.

Our day started in Amarillo, where we went to a bakery for breakfast where I had the best French toast this side of Tokyo.  Given the proximity to Lubbock, we were not surprised that the houses looked like those in Lubbock, but the deja vu was still pretty intense.  And then there was the cadillac ranch.

On the road, we stopped at a souvenir stand/gas station.  And saw this:

Bam!  Lots of other stuff as well, including a real stuffed buffalo... only $20k

A big highlight was seeing a couple of twitter friends in Albuquerque: Kelsey Atherton and AlyMay Atherton.  We ate a great New Mexican restaurant whose green chiles woke us up.
We also discovered that jay walking--very dangerous jay walking--is a thing in Alb-q.  Folks would walk across a six lane road without much care.

The silliest part of the trip and the first real tangent off of the path, because I am an Eagles fan, was Winslow, AZ:

Which meant that the theme song today can only be:

Tomorrow: the Grand Canyon and then the roadtrip ends in LA.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Day 3 of Deathrace 2018: Cows and Coming Home

Hump day of the trip (the middle day of a five day drive) passed quickly as the weather was good, the cows were many, and the signs were mostly boring.  We must have seen a couple thousand cows of various types.  

The wackiest sign was unintentionally so, unlike the previous day's: The Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum.  I was not expecting it so we didn't get a picture of it.  Given that Franks was known as the dumbest m-f-er in DC along with Doug Feith (their competition was intense and bitter),  and that Franks seemed to be a kiss up, kick down kind of guy, that he has a leadership institute seemed to perfect.... perfectly amusing. 

The big change in the driving started in Oklahoma and continued in Texas---the prominent traffic signs were about keeping the left lane open for super fast driving.  Weeee!  Yes, we made very good time.  The sunset went on forever since the land was so flat:

We saw my brother in Tulsa, as he has been living there the past few years.  Indeed, the day was very much a family day as we finished the drive in Amarillo, where Jessica's maternal grandfather was from.  Oh, and Jessica is .... a Texas, born in Lubbock.  However, we did not engage in a nostalgia trip to that town because it is about 1.5-2 hours off of the past west and on the way to nowhere.  It would have been fun to go back and see the place, but the only deviation from our driving will be on the last day--to the Grand Canyon. 

Our theme song could have been this, but instead we went with: