Monday, August 31, 2015

Booze Freedom!

This Canadian election may produce some good policy after all.  How so, you ask?  Booze!

Canadian liquor laws are, um, lousy.  There are heaps of barriers to inter-provincial trade, so much so that a guy is fighting the good fight after getting caught buying cases of sweet Quebec beer and then taking them back to his home across provincial lines.  And now the Quebec commission recommends the end the liquor monopoly so that people can get their wine and liquor from someplace other than a provincial liquor story with high prices and lousy selection.

Stephen Harper was asked about these laws and called them "ridiculous."  So, at least one of the five daily questions produced something definitive.  So, I am now hoping that Trudeau and Mulcair try to outbid Harper on booze freedom--that Canadians should be able to buy beer without restriction as much of the best microbrew is in places like Quebec and British Columbia (although this weekend's craft beerfest in Ottawa was most promising).  That wine and liquor should be sold competitively rather than via state monopolies. 

I expect some pandering to go on, as most Canadians are not fans of the status quo.  Ok, this may be wishful thinking, but I cannot help but think that we will see some outbidding on the issue of booze freedom! 
If modernization means freedom, then woot!

End of Summer of 2015.

Today marks the end of my summer.  I am lucky enough that my summer started way back in late April when I turned in my grades for last winter's classes (in Canada, we have fall and winter terms because ... there is no spring?).  But tomorrow the fall begins as NPSIA has its orientation and then classes start on Wednesday.

How did summer of 2015 go?  Professionally, quite well.  I spent April and May presenting and then doing research in Brussels and the Netherlands respectively.  I spent the first part of June CPSA-ing it up since it was in Ottawa.  Good to see various friends in the Canadian IR business, and got an inside peak at a government effort that I cannot discuss.  Had a quick trip to DC right after that for a Bridging the Gap conference, which was so much fun that I wish I was an attendee rather than a speaker.  I spent June and July getting a piece published at International Journal on the state of Canadian IR, revising a piece on the state of Grand Theory in IR, and revising the first article from the Steve/Dave/Phil project on legislatures and militaries that we presented in Amsterdam.  I spent August applying for fellowships to supplement my sabbatical in 2016-17.  I am about halfway through that, and it was fun to start making connections with folks in Japan (I am likely to spend sometime in Japan for the project, but how much time depends on the fellowship I get or don't get).   I also worked on our APSA paper on Emergent Diasporas.  And, suitably last, I worked on the last stages of three books--entitling and then proofing Adapting in the Dust, proofing the revised version of For Kin or Country, and planning the book launch of the Canada Among Nations volume. 

Not too shabby.  Of course, much of the heavy lifting for some of this stuff was carried by co-authors (thanks Phil, Dave, Erin, and Kathleen) and research assistant (thanks Uri). 

We academic mourn the end of summer not because we hate teaching: most of us don't hate teaching and actually much teaching happens in the summer.  We just call it advising.  No, it is the loss of control over our time.  Meetings and classes do make it harder for us to juggle the various projects.  I have a couple of fellowship applications to finish, a major grant to work on, and more research projects to finish off, but that will be a bit more stressful.

Ah, and there will be less of that other summer stuff as well.  We greatly enjoyed US winning the Women's World Cup after watching a game in Ottawa.  We had a great trip to Cape Cod.  I had a heap of ultimate (twice a week),
discovered new bike paths near me (I stop biking when it gets cold, so I have about six more weeks), and long evenings to hang out with the neighbors.  As the days get shorter and colder, all of that starts to end.  I only got a couple of weeks with my daughter this summer since she interned in Toronto, which meant more packing and more driving (ug), but those weeks were the best of the summer.  And she is gone until November.  Alas.

Anyhow, I had a great and sometimes beardless summer.  Time to forward to the new classes chock full of interesting students.  As always, this song is the soundtrack to nostalgic reflections about the summer gone by.

Deficit of Thinking

The Canadian election might seem to be turning on the question of deficits.  Stephen Harper has done a nice job both of changing the discourse (maybe, I was not paying attention before I moved here) and of setting a trap for the competing parties.

There is nothing wrong with running a deficit.

Really.  Advanced democracies do it all the time, and I still think Keynes was right that trying to eliminate deficits during/near a recession is a dumb thing to do.  Canada is facing a recession so cutting government spending is probably a dumb thing to do.  But Harper has been committed to balancing the budget and finally go there, sort of, this year.

Woot?  Well, it depends on what one thinks about the tax rates here and where the money is spent.  But advanced democracies can run modest deficits (Canada is not Greece, far from it) and not have big problems.  I whine about the taxes I pay in Canada, but the taxes are not as high as in Europe and people seemed to be fine when the GST (sales tax) was a bit higher.  Harper cut taxes because he believes in tax cuts and because it allows him to justify cutting the government.  This has been bad for my business because my school produces qualified folks to work in government agencies.  Many of those agencies have been frozen for quite some time, and that means our government agencies are doing less stuff well (see the various stories about the treatment of Veterans, a real weakness for the Conservatives this time around).  Anyhow, the series of tax cuts and such has created a trap for the opposition since any new programs should mean new tax increases, and Harper has done a nice job of redefining the discourse to make tax increases anathema (Reagan-esque).

The NDP, which perceives that it is weak on this issue, has promised to balance the budget immediately, more or less, despite having a program chock full of spending promises.  How can they accomplish this without raising taxes?  My guess: cutting the military budget despite their promises not to do so.  They surely would kill the F-35, extending the endless procurement process with a new competition leading to ... maybe the Super-Hornet.  Which would not save that much money ultimately.  Surely, the National Shipbuilding program, as messed up as it is, will go on since votes in Halifax and Vancouver depend on it (another Harper trap, which trapped himself).

The Liberals?  After bashing Harper for deficits, the party is now embracing its destiny by promising deficits via more infrastructure spending.  Woot!  No, really, woot!  Why?  Because I still believe in Keynes.  And Canada could use some serious infrastructure improvement--the railroads are only not a mess if you use the US as a basis of comparison, the bridges (and not just in Montreal) need a heap of work and so on. Of course, the infrastructure spending is more of an excuse to spend money at this point than targeting specific projects.  And that is ok.  I found the previous Liberal discussion of deficits to be annoying, so I have to salute them when they choose to acknowledge the obvious.

Again, I am not a political economist or a budget expert.  All I do know is that foolish devotion to hitting a balanced budget is just that... foolish.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Scott Walker Disqualifies Himself

Scott Walker fell into a trap, being asked about his take on the border with Mexico in the competitive xenophobic outbidding that is the GOP campaign right now, was pushed to consider a parallel program up north--a wall between Canada and the US.  He said it should be considered.

Um, only as a dumb question, maybe.  Canada is not the only one who benefits from the biggest bilateral trade relationship, for one thing.  The second is: damn, it is mighty long border, especially if you include the lines between Alaska and the Yukon Territory.  Would Walker propose a Trump-like "hey, the Canadians could pay for it?" kind of idea.  The answer would be f no, eh!

No terrorists have successfully launched attacks on the US after coming through Canada.  One guy got caught at the border.  And, no the 9/11 folks did not come through Canada.  So, if that fear is driving any of this, then that is more stupidity/ignorance.

The bright side:
Lots of Game of Thrones references.  Good times.  Oh, and Walker has shown that he is dim.  He would not be the first dim president, but the last dim one did enough damage to teach us all a lesson, right?

The Canadians must feel ambivalent about this: oh, crap, a wall?  That would mess up our economy.  Oh, but at least the American politicians and media thought to mention us.  As I always tell folks here, better to be omitted from the State of the Union and other speeches than to be included in the list of problems for the US. 

In sum, FFS, can the GOP produce a decent candidate?

End of Season: Definitively Middling

Not a score, I think, as the defender seems to be in the way
Today was the end of the season playoffs, and we were consistently inconsistent.  Our first game was much like many of our losses and ties--lots of carelessness with the disk, few cuts to get open, much frustration.  Our second game was much like most of our wins--we played smart, moved the disk backwards and sideways to get off of the sideline and re-set the stall count.  So, we finished in the middle of our division, and our division is in the middle of our league. 

Twas a very fun season.  I missed a bunch of games due to travel and injury (my hammie is fine!).  My teams could have played better, but we could have played worse.  Both teams (Mondays and Wednesday) had the right spirit, and led to much beer. 

Swinging the disk sideways is almost always the right choice.

I was glad to end it on a good game for the team and myself: I had more layouts in this one game that in any game this season, I outskied another guy (I had four or five inches on him), and my throws were mostly on.  And best of all, one of my layouts was on defense, always delightful.  And, no, I didn't then immediately throw it away, so I was able to avoid the perils of the Conservation of Greatness (a very good play is usually followed by a bad play due to adrenalin, etc).

I have no pictures of me and my diving, as my videographer is getting schooled and playing ultimate.

I have signed up for fall ultimate so I will be sticking with it for a while longer.  Indeed, I am already looking forward to next summer's ultimate with this team and my other one.  No, I didn't think I would still be playing at this age, but as long as I can get open and as long as I can huck it, I will keep playing.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Whine Du Jour

I am not a fan of people who need to talk to me to sell me stuff.  Send me a letter and I will consider it. 

My union (I am still new to the whole union thing as my previous academic outposts were not unionized) apparently has a deal with an insurance company that gives me a modest bit of benefits.  Well, if I sign up for them.  And there is the hitch: the insurance company needs to send someone to my house to sign me up for these benefits. 

What are these benefits? A very modest accidental death/disability insurance and discount on glasses.  It was the latter that interested me as I have AD/D via my employer (perhaps due to the hard bargaining of my union ... or not as I had such stuff in other places). 

So, I stupidly agreed to meet with the salesperson to sign up, knowing that there would be some sort of pitch for additional benefits that I would have to pay for.  And that is what we got.  I wanted to cut to the chase to find out what these "permanent" "benefits" would be, but that would require more dancing through the script than I wanted to hear.  The price turned out to be 5% of my yearly income for benefits that we never quite got to. 

Oh, and those benefits that I was supposed to get? Well, the glasses coupon is only good for 2015, and I would have to go through this needs analysis/salespitch every year to keep getting that benefit.  Turns out my time is sufficiently valuable and that I am sufficiently impatient that I am willing to forgo the savings on my glasses so that I do not have to hear this pitch.

Sorry, salesperson, but since I was coerced into hearing what you had to say (to get benefits, need to meet with person in person), I was cranky to begin with and the script you had must made me crankier.

Oh, and union, crappy deal.  Thanks.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Awakening?

I was tempted to write about the Liberals' embracing of deficits but this is far more fun:

A video posted by Star Wars (@starwars) on

Scholars Supporting Iran Deal

Politico has the public letter signed by a bunch of Middle East and IR scholars.  My first reaction is that I agree with Chomsky and Mearsheimer?  Yuck.  Then I see that I agree with Chenoweth and Jervis!  Woot!

Howeverr, I don't really agree with the entirety of the letter, as I am not sure this agreement will stabilize the Mideast much (where is Marc Lynch's signature? Nope).  But the deal itself is a good one--arms control to limit proliferation is good, and that US opposing a multilateral deal is bad.

I definitely believe that diplomacy and not more force is required here.  Our military options suck and have lots of nasty 2nd/3rd order effects ... not to mention that the past 15 years in the Mideast should have taught us something about the limits of the use of force.

I am not sure talking with Iran will tame it, but rejecting this agreement will certainly not contain it.

What does surprise me about this letter is that it could have gotten far more signatures had it been circulated wider.  Ah, but academic networks are funky things.

The really big question is: if the agreement goes through, will Mearsheimer finally feel like folks are listening to him, that he really matters, and that he can feel better about his role in the world?  Or will he still think the Israeli lobby is behind everything and that politicians lie and all that?  Ironically, this suggests that we may see a key hypothesis to be tested!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Challenge of University Governance

I am in the midst of a twitter argument with a Canadian expert on universities.  He started his series of tweets thusly:

And I jumped in quickly mispeled anticipation:
 Anyway, I teach via analogy all the time, so I cannot complain when folks use analogies, but it made me realize a problem folks have when they seek to run universities: that faculty are not ordinary employees.

How so?  It is not that employees elsewhere are not smart or highly educated.  No, it is that university professors are hired to be curious and critical.  These two attributes are baked into the job description.  Sure, there are issues of faculty governance as well, that make analogies with corporations or non-profits problematic, but it all starts, alas, with the reality that the agents in this principal-agent relationship are fundamentally different creatures. 

This requires the principals (the president, the board, whoever) to be aware of this difference.  Also, the principals need to be aware that universities often have "employees"with expertise in an inconvenient area (such as the one in this question).  Which combined with that built-in curiosity and critical outlook means that they will get burned if they ignore/deny/squelch such folks.  After all, one of the iron laws of academic life is that if you tell a professor to shut up, they will just get louder.

So, if you run a university, you may think it is like a corporation or a non-profit, and there might be much insight to be gained from thinking that way.  But then you might forget that the folks you are running are not the same--that the faculty are inherently pesky creatures. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dropping Off the Kid and Watching Others Drop

Was offline for most of the day driving to my daughter's college to drop her off.  We got lucky in that it only rained for part of the drive and it was not too hot.  Plus she is no longer on the third floor.

After meeting her friends, we took her to a gorge, as the town is famous for them. 

Just a beautiful hike with some mildly illegal activity:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lead This!

There was a piece in the NYT that seemed to suggest a "rainbow coalition" is supporting Trump.  Well, yes and no.  In the polls, there are more folks from a variety of segments of the GOP (or general) population indicating support for Trump than for anyone else in the rest of the GOP field:
Embedded image permalink

What does lead mean?  It means having more people polled indicating support for Trump than for any of the alternatives.  Which, in the case of these polls, means getting something like 20-25% support from these various segments.  So, lead?  Yes.  But a rainbow coalition?  Even a bizarro rainbow coalition?  No.  That suggests something a bit more sustainable, a bit more popular.  A different way to pitch these polls is that an overwhelming majority of these segments either within the GOP or within the population at large prefer anybody else to Trump.

But the media love this story because it gets eyeballs, links, etc, and so they give Trump heaps of uncritical attention.  And, by the way, as others have shown, Trump's "popularity" is mostly a creature of media attention.

So, yeah, Trump "leads" but he is also widely opposed because he is, well, despicable.  That the most of the rest of the field are racing to the bottom, pandering to be dumber/more xenophobic is on them, as George Will nicely argued:
Most of Donald Trump’s normally loquacious rivals are swaggeringly eager to confront Vladimir Putin but are too invertebrate — Lindsey Graham is an honorable exception — to voice robust disgust with Trump and the spirit of, the police measures necessary for and the cruelties that would accompany his policy. The policy is: “They’ve got to go.”
Had to get that out of my system.  Just a reminder: one can lead but still be a loser.  And that is a word that Trump is very familiar with: loser.

GOP Pander Bears

This whole race to the bottom in the GOP shows how gutless these candidates are.  Selling out to outbid Trump?  Pathetic.
Nicely illustrated by Brian McFadden of the NYT:

I tweeted this morning thusly:
And as the rest of the candidates chase Trump to the bottom, they not only get dumber but more racist.  As always, this is good for the Democratic Party and bad for Democracy.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Inside Out: The Feels So Fine

Last night, I took my daughter to see Inside Out.  I had seen it earlier in the summer, but Soph Spew needed to see it before she goes back to college (and, yes, we have already given many of her old toys away a la Toy Story 3).

It was great to see the movie again.  It was fun to see my daughter's reactions, including to:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Evergreen Post Invoking D&D

I thought I had blogged about this before, but I cannot seem to find the post.  Anyhow:

One of the most important contributions of Dungeons and Dragons (and perhaps whatever its founders borrowed from elsewhere) are the attributes that are key aspects of a character's background: strength, wisdom, intelligence, charisma, dexterity, and constitution.  Well, three of them actually stand out: wisdom, intelligence and charisma.

The big insight, of course, is that wisdom and intelligence are distinct attributes.  Someone can be smart but use their intelligence poorly.  Or someone can be very wise about making choices even if they are not that good at understanding stuff.  We usually notice cases of the former, as I did today when someone was tweeting about the Brady/NFL story.  That someone on the NFL's side was smart but not particularly wise.  That might be giving the NFL far more credit than it deserves, but it might still be applicable. 

I was thinking of the charisma score as well (Trump has heaps of charisma, alas, to enough audiences.  Rick Santorum?  Not so much).  That there a D&D inspired insult: zero charisma.  This means that one is utterly repulsive and cannot persuade people essentially.  The phrase even inspired a movie!   I have occasionally been tempted to hurl this insult at some folks, but have refrained.

The other attributes are also handy for thinking about the politics of our time as well as sports and other stuff, so maybe I will play with them in a future post.  Anyhow, I will be coming back to this post again and again when I want to point out something that is smart but not wise or when someone is utterly lacking in appeal or persuasiveness. 

Do More? Do More What?

I got into a twitter conversation with a frustrated friend of mine who is appalled by the loss of life in Syria.  He is frustrated that we are not doing more to stop the bleeding.  My response: tell me what we could do.  I have long argued here that the Mideast is the land of lousy policy alternatives and that the key lesson from the past 15 years of war there is of humility.  That the locals have far stronger incentives and any solution that is lasting requires the local folks do all the heavy lifting--governing, providing security, etc. 

Anyhow, I thought to reply today in two ways: consider my war record and then consider what can be done now. 
  • Iraq 2003: I was against the war.  Knew the folks behind it were bad at their jobs, saw it as a distraction from Afghanistan, thought it was just a bad idea.
  • Iraq 2007 surge: I think I was ambivalent because I bought the COIN logic but distrusted the Bush administration.
  • Afghanistan surge 2010: I was weakly for it, as it seemed like we owed it to ourselves and to Afghanistan to try to do it right--commit the resources that it needed and give it a chance.  Much ambivalence because Karzai and Pakistan were doing best to undermine the effort.
  • Libya: I was for it, since there seemed to be a viable actor on the ground to whom we could give air support.  Ooops.
  • Iran: folks in Bush administration kept leaking plans for bombing, and I kept being opposed.
  • Syria: largely opposed because I just didn't see a way through that didn't require a 10-20 year commitment that was simply not in the cards.  Also, remember, it blew up as the US was still heavily committed/exhausted by Afghanistan and had just left Iraq.
So, what can we do in Syria now?  Any real intervention that would stop Assad from killing people and stop ISIS from killing people would require the US to kill a lot of people.  Yes, the US because no one else has enough deployable troops to make a difference except for ... Turkey (which seems to be intent on killing Kurds more than anything else).  Invading Syria would be hard work, but might be do-able.  But keeping it at peace?  That would require a large occupation force for how long?  And how many casualties would the American people tolerate? 

Syria would be a very complicated peace-enforcing/state-building mission that would be very, very expensive and very, very violent.  Would the outcome be better than the current one?  I am not so sure.  So, we could get a high level of violence, perhaps more in the form of car bombs and IEDs and sniping than barrel bombs, but with outsiders paying a far higher price.

As always, it comes down to politics, and I just don't see a political settlement at the moment and little that outsiders can do to foster one given that Assad is fighting for his life with the help of Iran and Russia and that ISIS is not going to go away very easily.

Outsiders can do more to relieve the suffering of those who flee.  But what else can we do?
  • No Fly Zone?  Right now the air campaign against ISIS in Syria is facilitated by Assad's willingness to let this happen.  If we want to shoot down Syrian planes and helicopters, the airspace gets more dangerous.  That is ok if you acknowledge the tradeoff, but it is a cost to doing business differently.
  • Safe havens?  Would require some conquest to establish "safe" places, and we learned from Bosnia that save havens become targets and resolve very little.
  • Attack Assad?  We could launch strikes and perhaps land troops to get rid of the Assad regime, as Assad is the best recruiter ISIS has.  But then what?  ISIS takes over since our moderate opposition folks have not really amounted to anything there.
  • Conquer and occupy?  Thanks but no thanks.
So, the problem is not that there are lousy policy alternatives but that the various choices are awful, awful, awful.  And none are attractive enough that leaders can build domestic and international coalitions to sustain such efforts.

There are limits to power.  It is time we acknowledge that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Iron Laws of University Life

I was about to blog about the timing of proofs as I got two batches today (one book, one chapter) just as things are heating up with a conference ahead, classes starting soon, meetings starting to pile up and the old August "I must get everything out" pressure building up.  And then I realized that I have a certain tendency to name "Iron Laws."  So, I thought I would collect them here and use this post for future reference.

  • The Iron Law of Publishing, as suggested above: academic proofs will always arrive at the most inconvenient time.  They always seem to have short fuses, like two weeks.  Oy.
  • The Iron Law of Publishing Perceptions: academics make far less money from their publishing efforts than people think.
  • The Iron Law of Dissertations (and applies to much else): Just because you learned something does not mean it belongs in the dissertation.
  • The Iron Law of Academic Reading: the more you assign, the less the students will read.
  • The Iron Law of Administration: when all else is being cut, administration grows.  When all is growing, administration grows faster.
  • The Iron Law of Instructions: There will always be something like ten percent of the class that simply cannot follow instructions.  Asking them to sort themselves is a mistake since they are unaware AND will not follow the sorting rule correctly.
  • The Iron Law of Meetings: There will always be individuals who will need to say something even if there is no need for them to say anything.  I had a pact in my first TT job with another junior faculty member that we would kick the other if one of us spoke up at a meeting.  It does seem to be the case that there will always be some people who enjoy meetings and enjoy making them last longer. (H/T to PF for reminding me of this)
  • And, of course, the Iron Law of Blogging: If you tell an academic not to blog about something, they are very likely to blog about it.
Alas, Saideman's Law does not qualify for Iron Law status because it is rarely observed. Which, upon reflection, casts some doubt on the Iron Law of Dissertations, but I will keep it for now because perhaps if I call it so, it will be so, and we desperately need dissertations that do not contain that which is not needed.

I am sure I will be adding to this over time and re-posting it.  I am open to suggestions.

More on the Art and Science of Dean-ing

I really don't know that much about the opportunities and constraints Deans face, despite speculating wildly about such folks yesterday.  So, I am glad that a Dean responded to my post yesterday thusly:
In general, I think deans have as much discretion as the provost and president give them.  But it generally varies by issue and by priority.  There are some issues where you have absolutely no discretion and are expected to carry out upper-admin's wishes even if your faculty disagree (that doesn't mean that you can't argue for a different solution behind the scenes, but once you've lost the argument, it's over).  There are other issues where your discretion is almost total.  Faculty sometimes forget that deans are middle managers, and that upper administration sets the broader policy and strategic goals, as they should.
I suspect that there are probably differences between inside and outside deans.  While it's not universally true (and probably less true at the R1s), outside deans are usually brought in to solve a problem or to be a change agent.  Neither augurs well for their popularity with the troops, at least initially.  In a way that chairs don't, deans have to balance the good of the institution against the best interests of the college, something that faculty rarely appreciate unless the balance goes their way. 
I am inclined to believe that, in general, administrators (academic and otherwise) are popular when times are good and unpopular when times are bad, even when the circumstances are beyond their control.  Think presidential approval ratings: no president is popular during a recession; but when times are good, everyone loves you.  That's probably why you're seeing a lot more no-confidence votes coming out of universities lately, given the financial condition of many states and the stinginess of many legislatures.
I think the best you can do as dean is to be as honest and transparent as possible (even when that means telling people that you can't talk about certain matters), and to treat everyone fairly and with respect.  Just as important, deans can't become part of the drama, something which often frustrates the faculty when things don't go their way.  I have been accused of rolling over for the administration in cases where I definitely did not, simply because I refused to take my internal disagreements with my bosses public (something which would be bad for both the college and, of course, for me).
The other bit involving the Berdahl story involves the administration's relationship with its trustees and benefactors.  One of the great administrative challenges can be protecting faculty who do or say outrageous things (or are perceived by trustees as having done so).  Sometimes this involves appearing to be tough in hopes that the situation will blow over and the trustee in question will move on to other things.  That may have been what they were trying to do at UBC, but Berdahl either didn't want to play along or didn't realize what the administration was up to.  Or maybe they were being just as heavy-handed as she imagines; who knows?  I've never had a case that went complete off the rails, but I have sympathy for administrators in that situation.  Whatever one thinks of Phyllis Wise at Illinois, she was in a completely no-win situation with Salaita, and to the people who say that she should have stood up for principle and all that, I would answer (and not disingenuously), "What are you willing to risk your career over?"  For administrators in at-will positions, this is not a rhetorical question.  "What hill do you choose to die on?" is a question that tenured faculty never have to face.
A very valuable perspective.  As I said, I have been lucky to have mostly very good deans and very few poor ones.  Perhaps places to a better job of selecting deans than chairs (I have had only two excellent chairs and, yes, one of them is my current chair/director).

The UBC debate continues, reminding me of a twitter conversation I had today about the NFL/Brady context:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thinking about Deaning

I have had only limited interactions with Deans in my career.  I have met them when interviewing for jobs, I have tended to see their impact via the interpretations espoused by my various Chairs, and I have bumped in them at various events.  So, I cannot speak with great certainty about what a Dean is supposed to do.

But I have been thinking about that as I ponder the UBC story, as a key and somewhat underplayed element has been the role of the middle level management folks, the Deans, in pressuring the professor.  Lots of attention on the guy at the top and the professor getting pressed after blogging about stuff, but the Deans?  Not so much, not yet.

And this raises the question: are Deans supposed to thoughtlessly transmit the dictats of the higher ups?  Are they just transformers in the sense of electricity: to step up the input and intensify as the flow of criticism passes through them to those under them?

Because I have read too much Principal-Agency Theory, and co-authored a book on discretion on the Afghanistan battlefield, I tend to think that management folks have discretion and competing interests.  Yes, the bosses at the top have heaps of power, but the managers in the middle must take seriously not just the bosses but also the interests of those below them.  After all, if they lose credibility and legitimacy with those "under their command," then they lose the ability to lead and will eventually face crises that may lead to their replacement. 

So, it seems to be that Deans probably have some discretion about how to interpret the messages from on high, and that this discretion can vary over time, among institutions and within institutions.  Besides the variance in actual discretion, the question then focuses on how profs use that discretion. 

My favorite case of this is from my old employer: Texas Tech.  When the Chancellor wanted to put a disgraced Bush official on the faculty, the Dean of the Law School said hell no.  When the Chancellor then asked the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a person who thought receivership was such a cool idea that she swapped the chairs of two departments that were not terribly dysfunctional.  This Dean said, sure and twice on Sundays!  So, TTU got a bit of a black eye on the media for paying a Bush failure to teach Political Science.  Two deans behaved differently, partly because of relative power and prestige and partly out of inclination.

Coming back to UBC, Berdahl details how she was "pulled aside by our newly-appointed Associate Dean of Equity and Diversity during a conversation I was enjoying with colleagues."  Yep, the Dean responsible for Equity and Diversity saw that his/her job was to undermine both by pressuring faculty.  Can any UBC prof consider this Associate Dean to have any legitimacy after selling out his or her mission due to pressure from the Board?  I would think not.

So, as UBC goes forward, I hope the attention does not focus solely on the very top as things are broken in the middle as well.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Worry About Online Media and Academic Freedom?

Um, because academic administrations have lousy instincts?  I have gotten involved in this whole online media intersecting with academic freedom mostly by accident--the ISA mess last year.  I am not an expert on academic freedom, nor am I an expert on the use of online media.  So, I could imagine a university representative being upset at me as an employee trashing their academic freedom/social media politicies and it not being entirely illegitimate (however, I would still do it and expect to be tolerated...).

On the other hand, observing a university that hired someone who specializes in the organizational dynamics of diversity and gender that then tried to silence that person who happened to comment on that university's organizational dynamics of diversity and gender does make me want to comment about academic freedom and be glad that I am involved in an organized effort (the ISA's Online Media Caucus) that aims to improve the climate for those who use online media.

The university is UBC, the blogger is Jennifer Berdahl, who is a full professor and Montablano Professor of Leadership Studies: Gender and University (I thought my old title at McGill was a mouthful).  She blogged about the firing/resignation/whatever of UBC President Arvind Gupta.  Her post was admittedly speculative, but applied her expertise on organization dynamics to the situation with some knowledge based on her interactions with the man.  Her analysis of "masculinity contest" might have offended some folks, but was not an insult hurled without thought but a concept from scholarship in this area that applied well.  Kind of like when I talk about NATO and apply it to other realms.

The bigwigs associated with the departure of Gupta were not pleased, including the guy whose name is attached to Berdahl's position--Montablano, the chair of the board of governors.  Um, oops.  He apparently called her and then put pressure on lower administrators to put pressure on her.  This was stupid because telling a blogger to shut up about, especially one who is applying their expertise painfully to the institution in which they reside, is likely to lead to yet more blogging.   So, Berdahl wrote this post that explains how UBC is attempting to create a chilling environment.

Should Berdahl have spoken up?  Hell yes.  Again, this stuff she wrote about is what she has been studying for quite some time.  It was what she was hired to do.  If it is inconvenient that she is using her expertise to make sense of (for herself and for others) her own institution, then suck it up.

The proper move by UBC would have been to take its lumps and move on.  Academic freedom means facilitating an environment for scholars to do their stuff, even it makes one uncomfy.  Trying to squelch the scholar is much like the cover up being worse than the crime--it only gets much attention, more spotlights and makes the university look defensive and inept.

Actually, the proper move by the university would have been to heed Berdahl and reflected on what caused the President to leave, which essentially cost the university hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

I am lucky in that no administrator has put pressure on me for what I say online.  Really.  I have given Carleton University little cause to do so since I have not had that many posts complaining about stuff (except their handling of the Political Management file as I moved here).  Indeed, my posts have tended to compliment the institution for handling difficult issues.  I probably gave McGill some cause along the way, but most of my ire there was focused on the province and not university administration.  Most of my complaints were somewhat veiled with references to inept Sergeant Schultz and various discussions about promotion standards (I might have gotten more outspoken after I left).

Anyhow, I often joke about how tenure and full prof-ness mean that I can do whatever I want.  Maybe not.  But I do think that we need to pay a great deal of attention to administrators who worry more about the noises profs make, especially when they use their hard-earned expertise to reveal some warts about the institution, than doing what is right.  The internet scares administrators because the messages cannot be contained, and stuff can go viral.  The best way to make sure stuff goes viral is to clamp down on the messengers.  The internet may still be new-ish to these administrators, but they need to catch up and catch up fast, because they do more damage to a university' reputation than the random or not so random blogger.

Update: More news has come out since I posted this on my blog. The UBC Board of Governors met secret to talk about this, including a public relations firm in the deliberations. This led to a statement that indicated that there would be an inquiry about the possible effort to silence Berdahl. The faculty association has indicated a lack of confidence in Montablano. News has come out that perhaps the President was pressured to resign because a bundle was spent on renovating his residence (mostly the spaces used for public events).

The Social Science of Sucking Up

Hypothesis: There is a curvilinear relationship between sucking up and professor approval.
Literature Review: None. [This is the ultimate joy of blogging--no lit review requirements]
Theory: A little goes a long way, and a long way goes a little.  A little bit of sucking up lets the professor know you exist, learn your name and think you are attentive and studious.  A lot of sucking up makes the professor think that the student is being strategic rather than studious and that too much sucking up can be time-draining and annoyance-increasing.  
Data:  Two plus decades of teaching
Research Ethics Board Clearance: None.  Oops.
Findings:  See figure 1.1*

*  Figure is actually from here.

The vertical axis measures professor approval, the horizontal access is the sucking up effort.

That I am reminded of my old post and energized to write this new one in August is not good.  My fb post with hashtag of ‪#‎syllabuswillbereadybythefirstdayofclass‬ got heaps of support from my academic colleagues, so I think I am on to something here.

Policy recommendation:  Don't nag your professor even if it is to demonstrate studiousness.
Theory implications: More work is required to ascertain the variables that make sucking up more or less effective.  The study here does not take into account timing, frequency, or various sucking up strategies. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cola Science

Brian McFadden takes some excellent shots at Coca-Cola, which has become the new Tobacco Institute, fostering pseudo-science to disguise the harm it is doing:

I am swearing off Coca-Cola products (as much as one can) because I hate this kind of pseudo-science crap.  Also, because I need to lose weight, and soda is, by far, the easiest thing to give up.

From the Playground to International Relations

I was helping my daughter with her homework--throwing drills from her college ultimate team--this afternoon, and I was reminded of something that may (or may not) apply to IR.

As we were leaving the field, a small boy and small girl were running back to the playground, having dodged our disks.  The girl was ahead of the boy, so the boy shouted "we are not in a race."

Why?  Because he was behind and was going to lose the race, so he declared that the competition did not exist.  The person behind often declares it is not a race, and the person in front tends not to listen to the person that is behind.

How does this work in IR?  The most obvious application would be arms races (races are races?).  The current arms race between China and the US is kind of like this: China accumulates and the US insists that it is not in an arms race.  That increased numbers and some increases in technology do not affect the game.  Of course, China is in the same position with its neighborhood, as it insists it is not in a race as pretty much everyone else is buying submarines, to provide some anti-access/area denial capabilities of their own.

The same goes for the international economy: that as China rises, the US denies that there is a race for economic supremacy....  Maybe.

Anyhow, I was inspired on the playground, and like any good kid, I have lost my train of thought.  So, any better examples of this "I am winning the race--it is not a race!" phenomenon?

My Quick Take on HRC's Email Stuff

So very typical of a Clinton.  To act in a way counter to the normal procedure, get caught, deny, and then string out the controversy.  I am having flashbacks after flashbacks of all of the minor controversies of the Clinton Administration.  I seem to remember that HRC's instincts back then were to withhold information, just making things worse.  I had much sympathy for the Clintons back then since the unrelenting Starr investigations, including perjury traps over a stupid affair, justified a protective stance of some kind.  The difference is that Travel-Gate was far less significant than a Secretary of State using a private, unsecured email address and server.  I have no idea what her initial motivation was, but she should have learned something from her eight years in the White House other than how best to control information.

It is not just astoundingly poor judgment but reminds me of why I was not a fan of HRC eight years ago.  Not just too much baggage but just poor instincts.  The problem now is that it is late in the game and the alternatives are pretty bleak.  I would love for alternative candidate to appear who could win the general election, even if it would deny my mother's dream to see a woman in the White House.  That will happen some day, and probably with HRC, but I think she would be a mediocre president.  Too much entitlement, too much secrecy, too few commitments to real policy solutions.

Yet the GOP shit-show primary campaign means that I will take the bad over the worse, especially with the GOP having control of both houses.  I don't feel good about the likely choice I will have to make, and HRC is making me feel worse about it all the time.  The bad news is that the Canadian election is also one of figuring out the least bad option.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Canadian Politics is Strange, Example 17

One of the strangest things I have seen in Canadian politics is that government officials have to go into silent running during election campaigns.  During the 2011 election, I got an additional speaking opportunity at Bridgewater State College near Boston and really near Plymouth Rock) because the Consul General was not allowed to speak during the election campaign.  I found this really strange.

I am reminded of this because I got a phone call as I was in the middle of moving Intern Spew home.  Murray Brewster of The Canadian Press was seeking my views on the reduction in media engagement by the Canadian Forces in the midst of the Iraq/Syria bombing campaign.

My first reaction: was it even possible to reduce the level of media access from the current level of damned little access

My second reaction was: crap, I have to find a parking spot across the street from my daughter's building. 

My third reaction was: war does not stop for campaigns, so it is not clear why basic information about the war should stop.  Yes, the Canadian Armed Forces are essentially government officials, and their declaring of success might be seen as their taking a side in the election (with the party that has cut them deeply and lied about it).  But I didn't find this to be that problematic for a few reasons:
  • There is not much of a risk of a real big declaration of success over the next 70 days or so.  The bombing, which is already at a pretty low level (Canada is apparently involved in 2-3% of the sorties), is not going to produce a major change that can be pointed to as SUCCESS.
  • The Canadian public is not that attentive to the campaign since there are no ramp ceremonies.
  • The Canadian public is sufficiently mature to consider the situation--that the war is not going to end anytime soon, that their stances on it and on the parties' stances are probably not going to change much in two months, and that the government's strategy is meh.
My fourth reaction is: wouldn't the government want this mission in the headlines?  It helps to distinguish the government from the opposition parties; it would give Justin Trudeau more opportunities to embarrass himself; and it would fit the larger pattern of Harper's election strategy of emphasizing fear and the need to rally around the "adult" in the room.

Anyhow, the real lesson as always is that Canadian politics makes me feel like this guy:

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tenure Contested Again

Folks like to attack tenure because, as some suggest, people are jealous of our job security.  The idea of lifetime employment seems problematic to many, and there are real tradeoffs between academic freedom and accountability.  I cannot deny that.  What I can deny is the argument that we do not need the job security that tenure requires because academic freedom is not threatened.

Oh really?  While Tom Nichols focuses mostly on the tyranny of being subject to the teaching evaluations of entitled students, my concern remains administrators and politicians.  Why?  Because these folks tend to be, ahem, craven.  They bend quickly to pressures from voters/politicians/lobbies.  Academics often will research stuff that is inconvenient: that global warming is happening and caused by humans; that evolution is more than just a theory; that politicians might behave in ways that voters might not like; that there are principal-agent problems all around us; and on and on. 

A key feature of the 21st century is the ease of registering discontent via social media.  That individuals can say stuff in the classroom or online that gets taken out of context and spun up so that administrators do things like deny a person a job that they have been promised (Salaita), set up policies to punish people who tweet things that are undesired by the state (Kansas), and on and on.  It is no accident, I think, that we have had a series of cases where universities have been uncomfortable with the social media activities of their professors.  Yet universities and grant agencies want professors to engage in wider dissemination of their work via social media.  This circle can only be squared if professors do not fear for their jobs.  Tenure provides that protection.

If the complaint is that the end of retirement ages means that we have heaps of profs over 70, then there are ways to fix that: merit increases (unless budgets are fixed)*, carefully designed post tenure review that limits exposure to the whims and fears of administrators, increased teaching loads, etc. 
* I am not a fan of the combination of tenure and unions because it tends to take away the ability for institutions to develop incentives--merit increases--to reward and punish those who have job security.

Any "fix" will have tradeoffs.  At a time where one politician seeking the Presidency has apparently sought to fire academics who disagree with him (that would be Scott Walker), we ought to be careful about threatening academic freedom.  The ability for stuff to go viral means that we all need to be careful before overreacting.  The best way to insure that professors continue to operate at the edges of our knowledge, pushing the boundaries of what we know, is to make sure that they don't have to watch their backs.  The threat, as we have seen, is real.  Lawsuits may ultimate protect us, but I prefer to have a handier shield that enables us to do what we are supposed to do: teach, think, and write freely.

Embedded Troops?

The outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Odierno sayeth:

Not great, Bob.... Why?
  1. Anybody remember those green on blue attacks?  How would we guarantee that the Iraqis that the US would be training would not harm the trainers?
  2.  What happens if an Iraqi unit with Americans embedded was at risk of being overrun?  Anticipating that, the US would have to deploy a Quick Reaction Force [QRF] or three to be ready to extract the Americans.  Which would also mean helicopters and other assets.  Which would increase the size of the force, the costs associated in both blood and treasure and the political responsibility back home.  
I am a big fan of embedding, as I think the Observer, Mentor, Liaison Teams [OMLTs or omelets) in Afghanistan significantly enhanced the Afghan Security Forces.  But that was in a context where the various OMLT providers had battlegroups and heaps of American support in case of emergency.  Oh, and all this stuff is only good for helping folks fight, not for developing a political solution which has not been forthcoming in Iraq or Syria.  Oops.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Driving Lessons: Sticking the Landing

Learn how to drive stick in five minutes:

Let's just say there are two people in my life who could use this video.  I was lucky enough to have access to a manual transmission car when I was 16: my mom's Datsun 310 if I remember correctly.  I had a heap of practice when my mom was out of town for a weekend.  And then I had it, more or less.

Which was a good thing since early in my driving days I got a job as a valet!  I parked cars for a firm that sent out valets to events like weddings or whatever.  I learned through that process that cars, especially high end vehicles, had funky ways to get the key out of the ignition (not so important these days), to get into reverse, and some other stuff.  The firm that hired me was, well, stupid since I only had a few months of experience.  But I didn't scratch or dent anything or race the car a la Ferris Bueller (My mom knew of my using her car, but she didn't seem to recall my being a valet--things you learn on vacation with the family).

The one memorable event was at the Philly Art Museum, where we parked cars all over the grounds.  Heaps of high end vehicles, so that was my first porsche (and perhaps only) to drive.  I didn't park Brook Shields' car (she was at the height of her fame... and of her height and of her eyebrows), but I did end up walking right by her. 

My most recent stick experience was driving in the low countries during the fieldwork of 2011: from Brussels to Arnhem to the Hague to Brunnsum to Maastricht to Bastogne to Luxembourg to Vimy to Brussels.  The hardest part was at the start--figuring out how to get the car into reverse--I had to push down.  The old valet lessons were too long ago, off in the memories with Bingbong.

I have only had one experience of driving on the other side of the road, about two years back in Scotland in the highlands in search of the MacLeods.  Tiny roads, big rental SUV, two conflict scholars to tease me along the way.  Not too problematic except for starting to go the wrong way on two roundabouts on the way home. 

Driving to frisbee games in Montreal tested that love, although it often helped me hone my parallel parking skilz.  On Friday, I go for a long drive to pick up Intern Spew, but I don't mind as I will have my podcasts to keep me awake on the way there and the daughter to ride shotgun on the way home. 

I still love driving.  I love the independence it gave me long ago, and I understand how the old folks I know are reluctant to give it up.  I will probably have to be pried from my car at some point.  Which is appropriate since much of my early driving was in a car that was taken away from my grandmother:
Image result for buick electra 1971
Not my car but a picture of the make/model that I had.

Ah, the USS Obieland.... I kind of miss it--great acceleration, big seats, huge trunk.  Great for moving to and from college and camp.  Anyhow, see you on the road.