Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Professor's New Year

Indeed.  Even as 2014 will be a year where one book comes out and I finish the other early in the year (like maybe January?), I will still be looking for money to fund the next project.  And then the one after that and so on.  Not every hunk of research requires grant money, but pretty much every book project does.  The two books of this year were essentially funded by one grant, and I am hoping to do something like that again. 

I guess I could be the tenured full prof who stops producing, but I got about twenty years to go, and it would be a boring twenty years if I didn't keep on keeping on.

Anyhow, may y'all have a 2014 chock full of acceptances by grant agencies, journals, book publishers, and everyone else from whom we want acceptance.

Shameless Tour 2014

I am doing something a bit different this time around with my third book: heaps of promotion.  It is not just about endless tweets and blog posts, but actual talking about the book hither and yon.  A combination of super-interesting material, more resources (the endowed chair is handy and comfy), better networks and all that mean many opportunities to see me talk about NATO, Afghanistan and Libya (we snuck in Libya into the book since we didn't finish fast enough). 

Anyhow, this page lists the talks I will be giving in Ottawa and beyond (as far away as Sydney).  If you would like for me to visit your town/college/think tank/whatever, let me know as I am doing my best to "disseminate" the knowledge created by this multi-year research endeavor. 

I do hope to add Toronto and San Diego to the list but those are up in the air.  Anyhow, I hope to see both normal and virtual friends along the way. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Play Me a Song Tonight

I was too busy seeing my predictions come true last night on the field in Dallas to watch the Kennedy Center Honors, but the joy of the DVR is that I could watch the part I wanted to see today: the Billy Joel part.  They saved him for the last part of the show, which makes sense since his music was most widely shared by the old and the not so old in the audience.

I was really moved to watch Billy be really moved by the performances, as he always made music that touched me.  Yeah, some folks think he is schmaltzy but then again, so am I.  While his oldest stuff is the most well known and most played, I have also really enjoyed his later stuff.  Each of his last few albums came out at a time where my mood and the songs on the album matched quite well, especially the sequence of the The Bridge to Stormfront to River of Dreams.
  • The Bridge came out while I was in college.  "Running on Ice" indeed.  "Temptation" yep.
  • Storm Front came out while I was in grad school, studying IR, so "We Didn't Start the Fire" made a whole lot of sense and became a song I used often in the first day or two of Intro to IR years later.  "Downeaster Alexa" about the decline of fishing was timely for me as I was just learning about collective action problems.  "I Go to Extremes" captured much of what I was feeling at the time--elation and frustration, joy and not so much. "Shameless"?  Yeah.
  • River of Dreams came out as I was finishing grad school and starting my first job.  And "No Man's Land" hit me right when I was working at a place that did not want me.  "Shades of Gray" spoke to me for a variety of reasons, both in terms of IR and personally.  "Lullabye" became a bit more relevant a few years later.

My first instinct upon coming home after one of my biggest career setbacks was to blast one of his songs.  Now, in my year of declaring success, The River of Dreams has been in my mind more often than not.  I just wonder what could have been--what music he might have produced in the latter Aughts when I was trying to move on.

Watching the show was a heap of fun to see Michelle Obama, Snoop Dog (or whatever), Anna Kendrick and others bop along to Billy Joel's songs as sung by the dude from Panic at the Disco, Don Henley, Garth Brooks, and Rufus Wainwright.  And, of course, it got mighty misty when the Vietnam Vets came out to sing with Brooks Goodnight Saigon, which has renewed relevance in a time of PTSD as America's latest longest war comes to some kind of end.

My fave Billy Joel song at the moment is Matter of Trust.  I hadn't seen the video of it until today, so I am so struck that it is depicted here as a song about a community (a NY one, of course).  Given the role he played in the aftermath of 9/11 and again after the storms last year, I should not be surprised that this song, which I thought was about relationships, turned to be about something else as well.  For a man so troubled in his own life, it seems strangely appropriate that his music got me through some of the more difficult parts of my life.  Thanks, Billy.

Come to think of it, this might be my favorite still:

Unpacking Unpopularity

CNN reports a poll that shows that Americans really do not like the Afghanistan war.  Is this surprising?  No, as we have a report this weekend indicating that the war will largely be for naught.

The problem I have with this piece is the context-less-ness.  It asserts that the war has a lower approval rating of any other American war.  That the war in Afghanistan has lower approval than Iraq or Vietnam.  Not to mention, um, the American Civil War, where not only was most of the South opposed to the US's war but much of the North as well. 

Anyhow, one would have to dig into the data to really get at this.  Since I have letters of recommendation to write, a few remaining papers to grade and other such stuff, let me just suggest a few things.

First, to explain the low approval rating, might I suggest that a key factor is timing.  Afghanistan was before but now after Iraq.  So, it is a bit of an unfair comparison as the US has been at war for about 12 years.  The years of Iraq casualties and controversy have no doubt depressed Americans' attitudes towards war in general with the Afghanistan war being the current one.  Plus Karzai and his anti-US tirades probably does not help.  US had lousy allies before (we sure know how to pick them) but they tend not to be so loud about why our help is not what they want. 

Second, when a war has a time limit, as this one does (2014!), it takes the air out of the sails of anyone advocating more war.  

Third, these polls are one indicator of a war's unpopularity.  But I would suggest another: how many big protests have there been against this war?  Crickets.  There was far more mobilization against Vietnam in any single month in the late 1960s than over the past twelve years against the Afghanistan war.  We are sick and tired of war, but visible, demonstrated disapproval?  Not so much.

So, yeah, we are now looking back at the war and are not so thrilled with how it went.  The big names attached to the war--McC and Petraeus are besmirched.  Our ally in the region did its best to help the other side.  The waste in dollars is only beginning to be documented now.  The toll in human lives will only increases with PTSD and suicides being far more public and well known that similar results of previous wars.  Karzai is Karzai and all that.

Americans should not be super-happy about the war, but most unpopular?  Only by a very narrow definition.

Irresolution 2014

Over at the Duck, Megan McKenzie lists five academic resolutions that she is unlikely to keep:
  1. don't go to the polisci rumors webpage
  2. don't take redeyes to conferences
  3. don't share conference hotel rooms
  4. figure out how to file expenses
  5. take the money for book reviews rather than the book credits publishers offer.
My immediate reactions are:
  1. I need to keep going back to PSR until someone figures out the mystery of why I post there.
  2. I don't take redeyes to save on hotels/flights, but will be taking the mother of all redeyes this year---Australia to participate in a book workshop but also to present my book, to get a chance at United Gold, and to go to a beach in March.
  3. How else can I maintain privileged access to the chocolate chip cookies Bill Ayres brings to the ISA?  I have found good conference buddies so this is not a problem.
  4. Not so much figuring out how to file but staying on top of this stuff, especially with so much travel ahead this year.
  5. I avoid this problem by not reviewing books for presses except for quite rarely.  I get enough requests to do tenure reviews (crap, there is another one on my desk) that they tend to crowd out my book review time.
So, what am I resolving to do more/less in 2014?
  1. More self-promotion.  You might not think that is possible, but I want the new book with Dave to sell well and to have an impact.  So, I am going to blog/tweet/speak as much as I can.  I am mighty proud of our work on this, and I genuinely think this book is interesting (see the blurbs).  So, I will have no shame (as if I had any before) about promoting. it.
  2. Return to my old email habits.  I used to respond instantly and file immediately.  Now, I go through the pile on a weekly basis.  Need to go back to the old ways.  I also need to do a better job of reading people's stuff, returning comments, returning reviews in a timely manner.
  3. Say no more often.  This is on Megan's list from the previous year.  I am way over-committed, so that I am behind on a bunch of stuff.  With the two books done and nearly done, I can go back to some article projects that have been sitting around for far too long.  But while I do that, I need to resist the urge to say yes to other stuff, whether that is new research projects, more reviews of more stuff or whatever.  I hope to un-bury in 2014 so I can be less guilty in 2015 and also have a bunch of stuff under review. 
  4. Remain focused on declaring success.  Despite the aforementioned guilt, I had a very good 2013 and part of that was recognizing I was having a very good 2013.  I continue to love my new job (even as it is less new), new neighbors, new house, new city, and new frisbee teams. 
  5. Stop smoking.  Ok, I don't smoke.  This one is easy.
  6. Write less?  I am already committed to too many outlets, including this one.  So, I resolve to try not to write as much online stuff and be ok with averaging fewer posts per month. 
  7. Listen better.  I am a lousy listener. 
  8. Read more.  I am way behind on reading journal articles, relevant books and so on.  
  9. Be ok with not fulfilling these resolutions.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Accurate Predictions in 2013

Ok, just this one.  I made it after Philly went up by eight points.  And, no, I didn't know that Dallas was only one for three in previous attempts. 

Anyhow, as an East Coast person (an elitist some might say), I take much schadenfreude in the sufferings of the Dallas Cowboys.  One of the best things about my time in Lubbock was that it was during a very bad period for the Cowboys, so every Monday Dallas Morning News was just wonderfully sad.

Sports can just be a gut punch despite the meaningless of it all.  It all goes back to Donald Horowitz and the social psychology he borrowed....

2013: Heaps of Writing

I just explored my blog's 2013 to see what did well (got hits and/or comments).  I did not check out which posts got the least amount of interest--I don't have that kind of time (the snow needs shoveling).  I wanted to write about all of my writing, but the Spew stuff took up enough space that I thought I would address my 2013 of writing for CIC, PV@G, and Duck here.

CIC:  I have really enjoyed writing for Canadian International Council.  It tends to be a bit of a challenge as I try to write weekly, and topics sometimes elude me when it is my turn to contribute to CIC each week.  But I like engaging the Canadian public about Canada's role in the world, Canadian defence issues, and general IR stuff.  I don't get the hits data, so I have to go with likes/RTs/+1's, so here is the post that got the most love from the readers this year:
  • When Canada's Irrelevance is a Good Thing.  I thought this was perhaps my most obnoxious piece, which means that the audience may not be reinforcing my best tendencies.  But the point here was that Canada's less than insightful stance on Iran was irrelevant.  So, good news!
  •  My piece that got the most comments was on Canadian defence contracting and my frustration with the trend towards emphasizing defence spending as industrial policy (jobs) even if it means more expensive (which means fewer, less capabile) ships, planes, whatevers.
  • My piece on Hyperbole Overload got a heap of comments and likes/RTs/+1's.  I took offense at those applying the resource curse argument to the case of Canada.  Yes, the oil industry is very powerful in Canada, but it does not fit the concepts that people want to apply.  Canada's economy and political systems are are far more institutionalized than those who fit the resource curse argument, so the development of oil here matters, but does not warp the system as much as some folks would like to argue.
  • This piece takes issue with the idea that Canadian academics are not engaging the public.  This nostalgia was just confirmation bias covered in smug sauce--these kids today .... 
  • I liked this piece "Are We Going to War in Mali?" as it did a couple of things I like to do--beat up on those who stretch concepts beyond their breaking points (see Hyperbole Overload above) and do something that the government often refuses to do--be clear about what is going on.

Duck of Minerva:
My stuff at the Duck tends to be bipolar--silly videos posted on Fridays as part of Friday Nerd Blogging (I take turns more or less with Charli Carpenter on this) and rants about the profession.  Some IR leaks through as well.
Not a bad year, I think.  My output there was not so consistent, but I think the stuff I did post at the Duck was pretty interesting, including many posts getting comments.  Indeed, far more comments here on average than at the Spew.  It might be my selection criteria (I try not to post at the Duck every glimmer of an idea that pops in my head) or the community of readers or both.

Political Violence at a Glance:
I tend to focus mostly on separatism and alliance stuff here, as I think this is a place for my more serious take on that which is most costly--violence.

Random online stuff:
I was asked to think about Game of Thrones and what it says about popular understandings of IR for e-IR--an online compendium of stuff on IR.  It was apparently the most shared entry of 2013.  Woot!

2013 was a very interesting year, and pretty productive if online verbiage counts.  Thanks for reading, sharing and commenting on my stuff.  May your 2014 be peaceful, fun, and chock full of social science.

2013 Spew In Review

I don't know if I wrote more in 2013 than in any other year, but it sure felt like it.  I did average fewer blog posts at The Spew, but kept up a four columns a month average at Canadian International Council, relatively frequent posts at the Duck of Minerva, occasional posts at Political Violence at a Glance, the cross-posts at NPSIA's blog, a few other random online posts during the year, one book (the Canada one as the NATO one was in process), one grant app, lots of letters of recommendations, multiple tenure reviews, and other stuff that is currently escaping  my memory.  I do think that this was the year that I started thinking of myself as a writer, even though I have been writing for as long as I have been professing--2013 marked twenty years of that--or even longer really--due to my dissertation.

So, I thought I would consider some of the highlights of my year in writing.  Consider this a classic case of narcissism that helped to spur the origins of this blog.  I start with the Spew here and then my next post will be on the other stuff.

The year in Spew's highlights would have to be:
  • Why I didn't Quit Academia: With so many people so depressed about the professorial life/ambition, I responded to a call for the other side.  It got nearly a thousand hits here and more then at the Duck.  Not entirely a popular post, since many folks got out, but it was not a bad time for me to reflect, as I mentioned above, 2013 marked 20 years since my first year on the job market and my first (albeit temporary) job.
  • My Favorite Recent-ish Poli Sci Books: I had a secret agenda with this piece that was not so secret.  That it got a heap of hits was a great outcome, given what I was trying to do. 
  • The Draft for the Breaking Bad Game: It did not go perfectly, but using my blog as a place where folks could make their draft picks made this the most commented post of the year.  Kind of gamed, of course.  But it was a fun game with heaps of related posts, tweets and facebook comments along the way.  So, it belongs on any list of my year in blogging.  Thanks players.  Next game would have to be Mad Men's endgame, right?  How does one develop a game about that?
  • Rules for Twitter, Maybe?   This piece was a highlight for two reasons--it produced an extended conversation in the comments between myself and the person who wrote the piece that triggered my post; and there is heaps of uncertainty about how to tweet.  Lots of folks want to suggest rules.  I am not sure what kind of rules make sense--this piece puzzled that out.
  • Public Outreach and Tenure Decisions.  This post addressed a controversial tenure denial (although most are controversial), as people over-estimate often the role of public outreach stuff in how one is rewarded in academia.  I think it is important (one of the reasons I have been writing so much), but that it is just one facet of a less key component (service).  My key argument here is that doing lots of media stuff may have little or nothing to do with the quality of one's work but availability and randomness.  Tenure is and should be about the research and the teaching with the mix of that stuff varying depending on the nature of the institution.
  • Top Ten Signs That You Might Be An Elite Condescender:  I was encouraged by twitter friends to respond to a Stephen Walt post, and I ended up diving deeply into my snark reservoir.  Got more than 2k hits, which say something (probably not good) about what gets attention online.
  • Applying IR Theory To Iron Man 3.  I enjoy a good application of IR to pop culture, especially a hunk of Marvel.
  • My three days of responses to a set of Max Fisher posts at the Washington Post on research on xenophobia.  My first piece got the second hits in 2013.  The second piece was among my year's most viewed posts as well.  The third? Way above average.  Apparently, my trilogy is like many---declining returns.  Seriously though, I was very jazzed about this set of posts not just because it got heaps of attention but that attention came in larger part from outside academia.  Plus it was stuff that allowed me to summon years of my thinking on this stuff and apply it to current debates and to de-myth a broad audience. Definitely the blogging highlight of the year.
  • Mama, Don't Let Your Kids Become Political Scientists:   I looked at some figures APSA produced about the academic job markets for the past few years, got depressed and posted this.  It might help us understand the venom at the Political Science Rumors site.
  • Adjuncting Mystery: I asked why do people adjunct, giving how little it pays.  Wow! This piece got the most hits of anything I wrote in 2013, as it got mentioned by Sarah Kendzior at Al Jazeera.  It also got nearly thirty comments of conversation.  
  • Leaving Grand Theorists Behind: This piece takes on an article that Mearsheimer and Walt were circulating.  I was initially reluctant to engage with it, as I would have to read the entire thing.  Lots of my best/most cited posts (best and most cited are probably not the same thing) are ones that I start with reluctance.  Apparently, lots of people really care about IR theory OR they just like a good fight.
  • My 2013 started with a post about gallons of milk coming in bags or jugs.  A silly way to start the year but it led to some fun stuff along the way.

The apparent trend here is that I get the most hits when I write about the profession rather than when I write about pretty much anything else.  Which makes sense since the profession is my network and stuff that gets my network excited gets more attention.  Still, I was glad to see that some of the stuff I wrote this year on the actual stuff (ethnic conflict, for instance) hit more eyeballs.  Also, a significant hunk of the stuff on this list was written in response to people asking me on twitter or elsewhere to write, so my friends know well what I can write about. 

Anyhow, the year in Spew was less voluminous than in previous years, but I did write some stuff this year that contributed to some important conversations.  Which makes it all worthwhile.

Friday, December 27, 2013

You Need To Flee To A More Relevant Place

In my scarce minutes online at Starbucks (my mother-in-law lacks wifi and the neighbors are rude enough to protect theirs from e-poachers), I saw a tweet reproduced at the Duck, and it inspired this tweet:

My point here is simply--you might expect more intervention by Western countries if they were feeling the brunt of the refugee flow.  They would act to end the conflict, or try to, to limit the flow.  Remember France and Libya?  Yeah.  So, the problem for Syria's people is that they are not making it far enough to countries that could leverage NATO and the US into acting.

Not a great New Year's resolution to resolve to flee farther, is it?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Squirrels Massing!

My mother-in-law feeds the local squirrels.  You would think this might just lead to a few fat squirrels.  Nay, there is now a squirrel army laying siege outside her home.

These are just the scouts.  Given that squirrels have long been a running theme here at the Spew for any distraction, let me be clear--this is not a distraction.  The war is coming!  If you don't hear from me in the new year, you can guess that my family and I succumbed to the Squirrel Menace.  Save yourselves!

Oh, and enjoy your winterfest, whatever form/flavor it takes!

You Play or You Die .... Or You Go Viral

As it turns out, my biggest contribution to IR theory this year was ... silly:

E-IR is an online archive of international relations theory stuff, and I wrote a piece on what game of Thrones and reactions to it says about how non-specialists think about IR.  And it was apparently a popular post.  If only each of these folks who read it buy the Dave and Steve book (Dave has his copies!)...

Anyhow, pretty cool.  We shall see soon enough what season 4 (third book, part two) does to how people think of the IR in Westeros and beyond.  

May your new year be full of white walkers!  Or not.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Better Endings? Theriously Thor

Spoilers for those who have not seen Thor 2.  Fun otherwise:

and, yes, more timed blogs to pop while I am wifi-less.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Silliness: Shattered Edition

While our house is guarded by vigilant cat-sitters and a nasty cat, we are on the road in the land where wifi is protected except at that wonderful place known as Starbucks.

So, here is my silliness posted before I left:

Enjoy the holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Wild and Crazy Guys

I am so confused... I thought these wild and crazy guys were East Europeans in the US

But apparently the real wild and crazy guys are in the USAF as they visit Eastern Europe.  MG Carey was not just an USAF a-hole, but the guy in charge of multiple nuclear-armed bomber wings.  And he gets drunk and obnoxious on the way to and in Russia while on US government business.

I am sure this is just one bad apple and says nothing about the barrel from which he came, right?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tenure, Shmenure

I might have to re-think this whole life choice.  Tenure is supposed to mean more than just job security--that it is about academic freedom.  To teach and research in ways that may not always be popular and certainly in ways that are not politically desirable.  Yet in the past couple of weeks, we have seen that tenure may not be all that it is cracked up to be.

The more famous case right now is at U of Colorado at Boulder where a prof seems to have been retired a wee bit early because of how she was teaching prostitution.  To be clear, the topic is quite germane (this was not a math class) as she is a sociologist teaching about deviance.  The particular method seemed like an interesting demonstration that included role play (nothing graphic or sexual), but somebody complained and the university became a bunch of weenies who would not stand behind their professor.  Not that surprising.  Awful, but not that surprising.

What does surprise me is this: U of Kansas's Board of Regents approved a policy that would govern how profs and staff use social media--even social media that is not owned/performed on university equipment on university time apparently.  The university can now suspend or fire someone who "improperly uses social media, including Facebook, Twitter and other sites." WTF?  Just for inciting violence right?  Nay:
i. directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace;
ii. when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interests of the University;
iii.discloses without authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or
iv. subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide service,
To be clear, i and iii make sense to me.  If you incite violence, then a public institution should be able to fire you, even if you do it on your time.  If you disclose info about students and such online, then, yes, that is an abuse of your power, and you should be fired.  But ii and iv trouble me a great deal.

I really don't know what ii means but it seems to mean that the university can fire a prof or staff who blogs, tweets, facebooks or whatevers any criticism of the university (since the university's best interest is defined by itself to look wonderful and error-free) or their own political views.  This is counter to everything I know about academic governance and .... personal freedom.  Given that Kansas is a public institution, this is essentially saying that an agent of the state can fire state employees for pretty much any reason that the university defines as its own best interests.

iv also troubles me since any university administrator can take anything and twist into something that "adversely affects the university."  Again, this is not about someone running naked through the halls or beating students or whatever, but posting stuff on social media.  Like a blog ... like this one.  Oh crap.  I am sorry, almighty masters of profs everywhere.  I shall sin no more.  From now on, I will vet each blog post here with the authoritarians authorities responsible for vetting my every utterance.  On the positive side, this would give administrators more reason to hire more administrators to monitor all social media and run the various processes to fire deviant professors (and by deviant, I mean those that might utter criticisms of their employers from time to time on the internet).  Does the phone count as social media because perhaps universities should tap professor's phones, even their private cell phones, too?

What makes universities the valuable places they are to the public is that they are places where ideas are exchanged freely and frequently.  Social media helps make our stuff get out further beyond the walls of our campuses.  This is a good thing.  If it means that folks sometimes say cranky stuff, suck it up.  Be mature and responsible institutions that can handle a little dissent.  Otherwise, you risk squelching much of the value added of these knowledge-creation/dissemination places (or whatever they are called these days). 

If this policy stays in place, will U of Kansas's best and brightest exit to places where tenure still means something?  I sure hope so.  Just don't go to Colorado since they are nervous nillies there about sex.  Good thing marijuana is legal there....

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/12/18/4701383/regents-approve-policy-for-using.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Afghanistan is Not the Hotel California

"You can check out anytime, you can never leave?"  Not for the American military.  President Karzai may be operating under the belief that Afghanistan is too important for the Americans to up and leave.   That the U.S. is bluffing.  If so, he really sucks at history. 

The first American move after every conflict is to go home.  The exception was World War II, where the Americans participated in the occupation of German and Japan (ok, and the Philippines).  Vietnam?  All we were looking for was a "decent interval" between when the US left and when South Vietnam collapsed.  Sure, there was the hope that American air support and other assistance could keep the North Vietnamese from winning, but Congress was not so enthused and limited how much assistance could be given.  Afghanistan should not rely on any sunk costs argument since the U.S. spent far more of its blood in Vietnam (almost 25x).

Iraq?  Well, as the Iraqis are now telling the Afghans, don't think too much of yourselves.  “Don’t be under the illusion that no matter what you do the Americans are here to stay,” Mr. Zebari told Mr. Karzai. “People used to say that about the American presence in Iraq, too. But they were eager to leave, and they will be eager to leave your country as well.”  Iraq has been far more important to the US due to its oil, its position relative to Iran and so on.  Yet we left.

What Karzai and other Afghans seem to forget is that the U.S. has only cared about Afghanistan when it fit into a larger conflict.  The US supported the opponents of the Soviet invasion as part of the Cold War.  Once the Soviets left, the US didn't think twice about Afghanistan until 9/11.  Ok, that might be an exaggeration--the US might have had a thought or two, but certainly did not care much about Afghanistan. 

The on-going intervention?  It is not that we care about Afghanistan but that we cared about Al Qaeda and its tendency to set up in failed states.  We also cared that instability in Afghanistan might be bad for Pakistan.  Now that we realize that Pakistan is a major source of that instability, well, little reason to stick around.

What Karzai and other believers in America's endless devotion to Afghanistan seem to ignore is that whole domestic politics thing where folks are tired of war.  They also are missing the conversation where the folks who have the tough argument are the supporters of continued involvement.  It is easy in the US to argue that it is time to go.  The hard argument is to try to argue that it is worth additional money and lives to hang out in a part of the world that has never been in the American sphere of interests (I need to figure out that argument myself). 

Central Asia is almost entirely irrelevant to the US.  South Asia?  Just preventing a Pakistan-Indian war (particularly now that both have nuclear weapons).  Otherwise, these places are peripheral.  Sure,  more than a decade of war might lead one to believe otherwise.  But if Karzai thinks that the US really and truly cares about Afghanistan, then perhaps he is smoking some of the pot that grows so tall in his country.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gold Medal in Trolling

I know that lots of folks are frustrated with President Obama but you gotta love his finger in the eye approach to the Winter Olympics in Russia.  Given that the homophobic policies in Russia have become so prominent, it was a question of whether Obama would confront or dodge.  Well, he's not going but he is sending a delegation including two of the most prominent gay American athletes: Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano.  And the latter knows just what to do, at least according to this song:

I wonder who Obama would have sent to the 1980 games had he had the chance?  Hmmm.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Dan Drezner is moving from blogging daily to column-ing weekly at Foreignpolicy.com.  This is a noteworthy event in the blogosphere as Dan was one of the very first IR scholars to blog.  As such, he was a role model that we all followed/ripped off.  He was generous with his advice when I asked him about blogging, and his blog was the one that shaped my imagination for what I would do here.  Do not blame him, of course, for all of the tangents and such here.  But whatever I do well here does owe quite a bit to Dan as I probably would never have started without his pioneering effort.  And I would have far less traffic.  In my first few years of blogging, whenever Dan would link to my blog, my hits would increase by an order of magnitude or two.  So, he definitely helped to get my stuff more exposure as he did for other new bloggers.

More than a few posts here have been direct responses to what Dan wrote on his blog.  The good news is that Dan is not going away.  I fully expect him to remain quite active on twitter (where he inspired posts like this), and his weekly columns will continue to provide some conversation-worthy stuff.  But I will miss his daily stuff despite the fact that my first reaction to his posts were often "damn, I wish I had done that first" or "damn, I wish I have written this." 

Again, Dan is not dead, so this is not a eulogy.  Instead, it is simply recognition that his efforts have shaped the second and third generations of IR bloggers.  The IR blogosphere will bear his stamp long into the future (until either the zombies or machines end it all).

And I have a sneaky suspicion that the move from blogger to columnist might just mean something like this:

Next beer, Dan, is on me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Song-Video for Adults

Oh my, just a smidge NSFW but delightful:

Not that my winterfest will resemble any of this.  Really.

Who You Calling a 'Phobe?

Quebec is a wonderful place, but its politicians really kind of suck.  The latest counter-move in the debate about who is a Quebecker and who is not is for some Quebec elites to complain of francophobia.  Celine Cooper has been writing a series of sharp op-eds on the Charter of Values and knocks this one out of the park

Yes, there has been a lot of venom aimed at the PQ government lately and its allies.  It is not that we hate French-speakers or that we hate Quebec.  Sure, I often say that I love Montreal but hate Quebec, but what I mean by that is not the people of Quebec but the governments that are elected and then govern so poorly.  The laws and policies emanating out of Quebec City range from mediocre to awful.  The Charter of Values is just awful--there is no threat here--it is just clever (and shameless) political strategy by the PQ to divide the CAQ.  It deserves to be attacked for what it is.

So, when folks attack the Charter of Values as being xenophobic (which it is), its supporters take it personally.  Which they should--supporters of xenophobic legislation should feel as if someone is thinking poorly of them--they are supporting hurtful, unnecessary, discriminatory policies.  So, if their self-esteem is taking a few shots, then it sucks to be them.  But these folks chose to support these awful policies. 

Want to feel better about yourself and your identity?  Celebrate who you are without diminishing others.  Yes, identity is about us and them, but focus more on the joys of being us and less on denigrating the Others.  Instead of telling religious minorities to change what they wear, how about promoting the wonderfulness of French Quebec?  This should not be that hard as Quebec has much to offer, and French Quebeckers have made many valuable contributions to art, to science, to politics, to Quebec, to Canada and to the world. 

Of course, focusing on the positive is not good politics--better to go negative, I guess.  But if you are going to go negative, develop a thicker skin.  Because people are not just going to take it, they are going to take your negativity and hurl it right back at you. 

Rudolph: Victim or Privileged?

That certainly spins one's usual view around.   I always identified with Rudolph not so much because of our red noses but because he was left out of the various reindeer games: antler archery, snow fighting, grand theft sled, elf chasing, and so on.  Like many teenagers, I felt left out.  And I never got over it.  Perhaps because I went to a grad school that was not so well networked (the profs where, the students not so much in my time), those feelings were reinforced.  So, when I get asked to join a particular group, such as bloggers at Duck of Minerva or Political Violence at a Glance, I pretty much always say yes. 

This tweet got me thinking just a bit:

The time has probably come to get over it.  I mean, grad school and walking around conferences looking for someone I recognized is now a half a lifetime ago.  Folks look to me as someone with networks and, dare I say it, privilege.  I have started taking seriously the idea that I should declare success and move on, so I will try to emulate Rudolph and soar ahead, leaving behind the resentments of old exclusion.

And I will start saying no when invited to do stuff.  My juggling act is a mess these days with balls and pins scattered everywhere.  My big resolution for 2014 is try to balance all of the commitments better.  Might mean less blogging, but my need to spew is often high and my restraint is almost always low.....

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Spew Book of the Year: Smuggler Nation

I have been meaning to post about a fun book for much of the year, but I procrastinated.  So, I can use the premise of this being the book of the year to finally blog about Peter Andreas's Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America.  The book really opened my eyes and changed my perspective on American history.  Andreas cites Tilly early as he asserts that smuggling made the nation and the nation made smuggling.  And then he is off to the races to show how the efforts to smuggle and the fights to stop smuggling interacted in ways that shaped US history and institutions.

The first insight that blew my mind was that the American Revolution was not so much about new legislation from London but a new effort to enforce old laws.  Americans had gotten rich* by violating various prohibitions, and then only sought to revolt from Britain when the British started to take such violations seriously.  That many of the folks who got rich off of smuggling ended up in positions of power reminds me of Andrea's earlier book, Blue Helmets, Black Markets, which focused on the impact of civil war and crime on Bosnia and its power structures.
*It was fun to see Providence and Brown University play such key roles in the old smuggling history as that is where Andreas works (and where some of my family resides). 

British mercantilism, like most restraints on trade, just provided folks with huge incentives to dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge the laws.  And creativity seems to increase with incentives.  Ye olde smugglers were pretty smart folks.  Of course, once the Revolution happened and a new government was founded, it had to try to restrict some of the trade as well, and found itself fighting the folks who funded some of the rebellion.  Good times.

The tale of American industrialization also changes quite significantly, as today's concerns about other folks ripping off American intellectual property can now be seen as chock full of irony, given how American entrepreneurs ripped off British technologies left and right.  This helps to underline a key theme in the book--the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The smuggling of smut in mid 1800s, with the boom in publishing, seems pretty familiar, with the internet having a similar impact.  This chapter was particularly fun to read, as the American fight against vice just seems even more ridiculous than the efforts to fight other smuggled goods.  Plus the image of Andreas studying old porn is just, well, amusing.

Andreas moves on to discuss people smuggling--Chinese--that again has parallels today.  Then booze with prohibition.  Andreas does a great job of showing the interplay between public outcries, legislation, increased enforcement and the perverse impacts on smuggling--changing routes and techniques but not really impacting the flow very much.  This all leads to the drug war.

The futility of stopping smuggling raises a key question--should drugs be legalized to eliminate the incentives & crime that come with smuggling illicit goods?  That seems to be one key conclusion to draw from the book.  I talked to Peter at the APSA meeting, and he indicated that complete legalization is not the way to go, but that the focus needs to be on the demand side more than the supply side (I may be quoting him unfairly, but then again, this post promotes his book, so I doubt that he would mind).

It is, naturally, a pretty depressing take on things, as the US invests more and more effort (money, personnel, distractions) and gets very little out of it, as the drugs, antiquities, technologies, bodies, and other illicit trade continues.  The enforcement efforts lead to a bigger US government but not a more effective one and in some ways a more repressive one.  And this just provides more incentives for folks on the other side to organize and exploit.

I do like Andrea's plea at the end: "We need to take a deep breath.  The sky is not falling."  The urge to do something just to do something needs to be resisted.  Indeed.  Alas, the domestic political incentives have not changed much, so his pleas are unlikely to be heard.

Sunday Silliness: Make Mine Gryffindor

Mrs. Spew found this:

and yes, make mine (that is, Mrs. Spew) Gryffindor

Friday, December 13, 2013

Facebook Status: Recognized But It's Complicated

Facebook has granted Kosovo recognition as an independent country.  This puts Facebook behind the United States, Canada, and many other countries but ahead of Spain, Russia, Serbia and other laggards.  Of course, now Serbia and Kosovo contest the meaning of this, with at least one Serb suggesting that “Tomorrow they will say that the Smurfs and hobbits have recognized them.”  Yet there is something to all of this. 

To be honest, it makes me glad that I finished my dissertation twenty years ago.  I studied why countries vary in their support of secessionist efforts, including giving recognition.  To do so today would now mean tracking key internet outlets?  Oy.  Of course, this is not the only case where computer companies have to deal with political disputes: Macedonia or FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. 

Anyway, how can we make sense of this?  Well, much of this comes down to the dynamics of identification.  One of the books that changed the way I look at pretty much everything is Donald Horowitz’s Ethnic Groups in Conflict and his discussion of the logic of invidious comparison.   The core of it is that one’s self-esteem depends critically on the status of the groups to which one belongs.  As these groups rise and fall, so does one’s self-esteem, which can lead to jealousy, anger, hatred and all that other stuff that Yoda warned us about. 

Recognition is a competitive exercise in this context, as a recognition of a group’s state-ness improves how members of the group view themselves, and the relevant Other feels diminished by this recognition.  So, Kosovars (Albanians) are thrilled to receive recognition as it makes them feel better about themselves, their ethnic group and their country.  Serbs are upset because any elevation of Kosovar identity diminishes their own since group self-esteem is significantly shaped not by one’s absolute status but how one’s group compares with others and especially the Other. 

To be clear, recognition is more than about self-esteem and identification.  It means normal relations can ensue.  It is far easier to develop trade agreements and apply international law and all that other stuff in international relations with a “like” entity.  States have all kinds of rules and procedures for their relations with states.  These rules do not apply, and the standard operating procedures do not work the same when dealing with non-states.  So, Kosovo craves recognition as it would provide much more normalcy in its relations with the world. 

In its fight to be recognized, Kosovo will take what it can get.  It might not be getting recognition soon from the European Union, but it has now achieved recognition from one of the most important actors in our world of social media.  Facebook is not the only social media network, but it is one of the biggest and it does connect with much of the world, especially the richer parts.  So, its recognition has heaps of value for the self-esteem of Kosovars AND more, as social media/networking are connected to the material world of trade, investments and more. 

While we often joke about networking being not-working, that our time online is wasted in these virtual worlds—Facebook, Twitter, World of Warcraft, whatever, the reality is that people often take their online connections and build on them in the real world.  Perhaps if enough Kosovars develop Facebook friendships in Spain or in other recognition hold-outs, they might be able be able to develop allies in those countries that will push for recognition.  I am not saying that is a plan but perhaps an aspiration. 

Academics are just starting to try to figure out how this virtual world of social media impact politics, so we cannot say that Facebook recognition will lead to more states recognizing Kosovo.  It certainly will not lead to less.  For now, we can simply understand this as yet another battle among Albanians and Serbs  in their competitive self-esteem contest.  And this is one that the Kosovars have won.  Serbia’s losing streak continues even in the virtual world of social media.