Monday, February 29, 2016

Calling on the STU

Last night, I had a bit of a flashback.  This was circulating online:

It is one of the emails that Hillary Clinton had on her unclassified server at home or wherever she kept it.  Folks note that while the question is not really a classfied type secret, any email answer would probably:  "Um, he wants to talk about x, Madame Secretary." 

It was a flashback to me as I had one classified phone call in my year in the Pentagon in 2001-2002: to clarify some stuff with the NATO Stabilization Force (the mission in Bosnia that was originally IFOR but renamed to meet the promise of being done in a year). In every other communication that was not in person, the classified matters were discussed via SIPRINET--the secret internet that links classified computers around the world.  And the info on this net was swapped in a couple of ways, but mostly by using Outlook to send email attachments of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint around the world and around the DC area.  Indeed, that policy by Microsoft documents was one of my biggest surprises.

Anyhow, talking on the secure phone, or STU, was a bit of a pain, since you had to arrange a time via email or phone that both parties would be next to their STU.  Most offices had a STU--it was a special phone--and not more than one.  Some places had a STU to share among offices.  

So, in 2001 or 2002, I had to call the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of SFOR who turned out to be ... General David Petraeus.  I forget the substance of the conversation, nor could I discuss it now if I could.  But I did remember the name when he became visible as a commander of the 101st Airborne Division as it fought in 2003 in iraq.

I tweeted online that Petraeus just loves talking on the STU since he talked with both me and HRC.... but really he was doing his job then and later.  He just forgot about taking classified matters seriously when he was sleeping with Paula Broadwell. 

I do wish that HRC had never gotten into the business of  doing classified work on on unclassified computer networks.  Oy.

Of course, the appropriate song for all of this is:

Epiphany Du Jour: No Female Bosses For Me?

I saw a tweet:

And it made me realize something:  I have never been in a department that had a female chairperson or department head.  There have been female deans, but a single woman has been my direct supervisor.  That is, the departments (UVM, TTU, McG, and Carleton) are 0 for 7.  To be fair, when TTU's poli sci department was in receivership, the outside chair was, um, influenced by a junior female faculty member, and she did a great job trying to get him to avoid the dumb mistakes he was inclined to make.

What to make of this record?  A friend on twitter jokingly blamed me, but, for those who don't know, chairs are picked by the deans with or without the support of the department.  Who are usually the candidates?  The full professors who have not yet done it.  When there are none of those or those that have not done it were overlooked for a reason, then the dean will look to associate professors, which can be dicey since the fulls have a big vote on whether associate professors can be full professors.  And, yes, in small departments, junior faculty are sometimes asked.  I met one of those while I was in Quebec two weeks ago.  As long as the department has little say on that person's tenure, then ok, I guess.

Anyhow, one reason why I have had no female chairs is that the leaky pipeline and path dependence has meant few women have been sufficiently senior while I was at the various places.  Both UVM and McG had some kind of problem with promoting people to full (I don't know the deets on the former but experienced it in the latter), so that limited the pool.  At TTU, the most senior female was not yet full, if I remember correctly.  At McGill, the one female full prof had done it a long time ago.  The person who would have been the best chair was hired as an associate while I was there and was not promoted to full until after I left, and she was smart enough not to be chair while associate. At my current spot, there are no women who are full professors.

Yow. Yes, even as we do a better job of producing more female Phds and hiring women at the junior level, there are still not enough women who have gotten tenure and then promoted to full to provide a pool of potential chair candidates.  At least not when I was at these various places.  The leaky pipeline refers to the problem of women dropping out or behind, through a variety of reasons including insufficient support while bearing children, not getting cited enough (there is bias in citations), not getting good teaching evals if those affect promotion (evals are biased), women get buried in greater service obligations, and so on.  Not great at all.

Is there anything else going on?  Did the various deans avoid selecting women to be chairs in poli sci departments in which I have worked?    Not as far as I can tell.  [Update: a friend has told me that she has been in several departments where the faculty vote and women get repeatedly overlooked--which shows the limits of my experience].  In one, there had been women who served on that capacity before my time (McG).  I think there might have been a female Director of NPSIA in its past.  I do think it is about the relative lack of women at the higher ranks.  The other possibility, of course, is that departments run by women have not hired me.  So, it could be about me, I suppose, but I doubt it.

The tweet above suggests that male feminists may not be sincere about wanting a female boss.  All I can say is that I definitely would have preferred some female chairs in my career.  I have only had two very good to excellent chairs in my career, so the average male chair is meh at best.  Most of the women I have known, especially two "most likely to be chair" candidates would have been superior.  And yes, they would be far better than I would be.  Note that I have yet to be chair, so make of that what you will.

Anyhow, there has been much progress, and I do have some female friends who chair departments, but there is much more progress to be made.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Free Speech, Conspiracy Crap, Anti-Semitism and Oberlin

A caveat: I have not followed closely the events at Oberlin nor have I been back in quite a while.

But people are asking me my take on my alma mater as a professor, as an alum, as someone who posts stuff online quite a bit, and perhaps someone who was raised Jewish (I am not a believer).  So, what is the story and what is my take?

Seems like there is a lot of tension at Oberlin about Palestine and about anti-semitism and various other overlapping identity conflicts that are coming to a head with one prof in the middle: Joy Karega, who is an Assistant Professor Rhetoric and Composition.  She has posted various things on her facebook page that are quite offensive to many folks, including supporting 9/11 truther stuff and suggesting Israel was behind the various attacks in Paris.

I am not going to be the first to hang Karega even though I am deeply, deeply hostile to 9/11 truther crap.  Why not?  First, I am not a big fan of taking people's facebook posts and using them to get people fired (although I can be prone to schadenfreude).  Posting on a personal page is distinct from teaching in the classroom or publishing in public outlets.  Second, even teaching/publishing is obviously protected by academic freedom--that professors should be allowed to be provocative.  I have never been confident about whether that applies to stuff that is clearly/factually wrong--like the anti-vaxxer teaching stuff in health classes at U of Toronto.

So what should Oberlin do?  Not fire her, for one.  Although insta-promotion of her (as was apparently on the list of demands that student protesters put together) is also a bad idea.  She should be promoted and kept or dismissed based on whether she is a good teacher and researcher or not.  One can have controversial views and still do those things well.  I do have concerns when people go outside their lane (oops, guilty), so what does a writing prof know about terrorism?  The school has issued statements disassociating from Karega's statements while acknowledging her right to her (awful, awful, awful) views.

The list of things people are raising are a mix.  That the Kosher Halal co-op got kicked out of the student co-op association is strange, but I lack info about the dynamics.  Does the school have any oversight over the co-op association?  It may not, and thus be powerless.  What was the reason for this expulsion?  I find this complaint to be an important one, and that as an alum, I would like to know more about it.

The BDS movement is a real challenge, as students are rightly (in my view) upset about the treatment of Palestinians in Israel and Netanyahu's awful policies BUT both the BDS program (boycotting Israeli universities) and the way it is often conveyed (via threats) are not great.  Still, while Obie Jews can be upset that there were protests during Rosh Hashanah, that is the price of liberty.  People can choose to protest at times that are highly visible, and one just has to deal with that.  So, it might create tension, but I actually don't think this is worthy of complaint--protests on high holidays are just something to deal with.  Now, if there were efforts to block entrances to chapels, that is problematic.  My basic stance as always is that your freedoms are your freedoms unless they impact my freedoms, and then we have to figure stuff out.

One key part the matter is this: one can be anti-Israel without being anti-Jewish; one can be Jewish and not be pro-Israel; one can be pro-Israel and either Jewish or not (I do think that the demise of the one state solution is forcing Israel into the position of being Jewish or democratic but not both). But the reality is that this stuff gets tangled fast.  So, Jews think that folks who are critical of Israel are critical of Jews, and that is sometimes but not always the case.  That Karega cites Louis Farrakahn approvingly puts her on the wrong side of that line, that she approves of conspiracy theory that puts the Jews and/or Israel behind many events puts her on the wrong side of that line.  The protesters at Oberlin?  I have no idea.

What I do remember about my days in Oberlin is that protesters ranged from well informed and thoughtful to knee-jerk and determined to be divisive.  So, I cannot generalize about the students of today.  I know that the college is in a difficult spot, as the African-American students have some serious concerns (I am not a fan of their list of demands), that the Jewish students have serious concerns, and those who are concerned about the Palestinians have legitimate concerns.  Figuring out ways to take all of this seriously without upsetting any one group or violating someone's academic freedom is not easy at all.

All I can say is that I am one embarrassed Obie, but I am used to that, as the student activism is passionate and often finds itself directed in both productive ways and in silly ways.

Trump and His Band of Racists

This last 24 hours has been something for the campaign.  Trump retweets a Mussolini quote and then goes on TV and refused to condemn the KKK.  He either knows the white supremacists are a key constituency that he cannot dump quite yet or he actually believes the shit he spews. In either case, this stance is going a wee bit too far.

Not just too far in terms of decency but too far in doing what most politicians due in primaries vs general elections--run to the extreme during the primary and then move back to the center for the general election.  It is always a bit tricky since one leaves a path of statements that can be used by the opposition to raise questions about the sincerity of the more centered stances.

Well, this time, things are different.  Trump has gone so far to the right, embracing all forms of hate and xenophobia, that he will have the KKK and other white supremacists tied to him in the fall.  This not only means that he will not get many votes from African-American voters, but also he will have a hard time getting votes from Latinos (nice move, accusing a judge of being biased for being "Spanish"), Asian-Americans (no fans of the KKK and white supremacists), and other minorities except those who really hate Muslims.

While the number of "independents" are exaggerated in the US political system--most people lean either GOP or Democratic--these stances will alienate many of these folks in the middle.  Yes, Trump might get some racist whites who tend to vote Democratic, but he is going to lose most of the middle and that will make up for it.

Oh, and people were worried about minority turnout in a post-Obama election?  Pretty sure that Trump's white supremacism is going to help with that.  Another note on turnout--folks were pointing out that the rate of turnout is higher in GOP primaries than in the Democratic one.  Well, duh.  It might be meaningful, but it might also be that a two person race with someone who is largely a sure thing is going to draw less than a wildly entertaining many candidate race.

We shall see.  This campaign has proven me wrong quite a bit.  But it is hard to believe that a man who is widely reviled for everything he stands for is going to beat a woman who has withstood attacks for decades and seems the stronger for it. Of course, I am still going to figure out how much to charge the American refugees who want to live in my basement.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Really Important Reality TV Show

I figure that if Trump wins the GOP nomination, which is looking increasingly likely despite everything I predicted/believed/hoped, the big question is this: who is his VP?

I am guessing that Trump will create a reality TV show to figure out who will be his running mate.  But regardless of the mechanism by which he chooses a VP nominee, the big question is who is it.

Why?  Because I would bet that a Trump Presidency would not last four years.  If Congress would try to impeach Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky perjury trap, I am sure that Trump would do something far more suitable for impeachment.  Impeaching Trump is something that the Dems and GOP could agree upon in both House and Senate even if Trump does not give them cause.  And he almost surely would.

I wonder if the Vegas folks are doing the research to come up with an over/under on how long a Trump Presidency would go before impeachment proceedings would start.  If the line is anything over 1.5 years, I would bet the under big time.

So, what happens after a short-lived Trump Presidency?  Depends on who the VP is.  The ratings for that reality TV show are going to be yuuuuge, given that this is the biggest question of the summer.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Grateful Prof

Yesterday was a pretty amazing day.  First, the local CBC morning radio program talked to me about my book.  The interview was really good as the host, Hallie, did a nice job of building on the pre-interview but in a very natural way.  I was able to talk about the book and link it to recent events.

Then I did the @FPAtakeover tweetup. The second event in the Steve promota-palooza involved getting access to the @FPACarleton twitter account--their idea, not mine--and respond to questions.  I storified it (see the link).  The topics ranged from the book to Iraq/Syria/ISIS to how many Tim Horton's are on Carleton's campus (5).  It seemed to go well and the FPA folks seemed to be delighted.

 And then I had the Author Meets Readers book launch at Irene's pub.  This was very well attended. Karen Schwartz, the Associate Dean of FPA, mc'ed.  The participants were myself, Phil Lagassé of the U of Ottawa, retired LTG Stu Beare, and Ambassador Elissa Golberg.  Stu asked the audience about their ties to the mission, and more than half knew someone who lost "life or limb."  That created a very moving context for the conversation.  Phil took me to task for expecting too much from our politicians, who are only responding to the incentives--that we the public are to blame ultimately.  Elissa criticized the book for repeating some myths about the civilian side of things.  I was quite grateful to all three for taking the book seriously and coming to the event armed with their perspectives.  

I am grateful to the FPA folks for setting up the latter two events and the media relations Carleton for setting up the first event as well as some other stuff.  I said during my intro that FPA at Carleton has given me far more support, encouragement, recognition and assistance than any other Dean's office in my career, and it is not even close.

It was a stimulating day, and it was great to get folks engaged in discussions about the stuff that I have been studying and writing about for years.  Indeed, while I do not intend on writing another book on Afghanistan (two is enough), I may end up doing some more research to fill in some holes.

Thanks to one and all for a great day!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Happy Anniversary, Access to Information Request

Facebook reminded me of some interesting timing--that today is not just the Ottawa book launch of Adapting in the Dust but also the third anniversary of the rejection of my access to information request regarding the lessons learned effort.

The government engaged in a serious effort to figure out what we can learn from the Afghanistan campaign, and then buried it.  Why?  Because learning lessons means admitting mistakes and the previous government would not dare do that.  Yes, the rejection cited advice to cabinet and embarrassing allies, but the Info Commissioner's website makes it clear that one can appeal such grounds.  Alas, the appeal is three year's old.  Perhaps the new government will let not just me but the rest of the government see this document.  I just need to find my old rejection letter before I call up the appeals folks.

Anyhow, this rejection helped to motivate me to write the new book, as I decided that we needed to figure out the lessons and share them if the government was too cowardly to do so.

Hopefully, folks won't mind going through the slush to Irene's Pub at 5:30 for the Author Meets Reader panel--Phil Lagassé (U of Ottawa), Stu Beare (former commander of all Canadian operations) and Elissa Golberg (former Representative of Canada in Kandahar).  

Today's song, despite the snow/rain/slush is:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Original Sin in Afghanistan

The commander of Canadian Forces in Kandahar in 2006, David Fraser, just said that it was a mistake to take down the Taliban.  Wow.  He argues that the alliance/coalition should have told the Taliban to step aside while US/UK/France/Canadian/etc forces hunted for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

How would that have worked?  "Excuse me, I see a spot of AQ in Kandahar, don't mind us as we traipse through your heartland."  Um, ok.  Given that the Taliban's legitimacy was based on adherence to not just Islam of a particular kind but of Pashtunwali, which means taking care of those who one is hosting, it is hard to see the Taliban not minding the outsiders coming through the country.

Oh, and how would the US and others have planned ops in a Taliban-run Afghanistan while chasing AQ?  Gambling that they would not be attacked by Taliban forces while chasing AQ?  Sure.

I have been preaching humility here for some time--that intervention is hard precisely because it involves building on/trusting the locals to do some serious governance stuff.  But the circumstances of 2001 were distinct from Iraq 2003 or Syria 2016.  There are some original sins, but I am not sure that taking out the Taliban was one of them.

Original sin #1: Foisting on Afghanistan institutions that made little sense and did not build on years of study of building governance in ethnically divided society.  Empowering a single president and making sure that all provincial and district leaders were more beholden to the dude in Kabul than to their own people?  Not good.

Original sin #2: The US obsessing about Iraq, which created a security void in Afghanistan that ISAF only started filling in 2005 when it began to rotate out of Kabul and into the rest of the country.  Once the Taliban was on the run, the US and its allies should have tried to do in 2002 what it did in 2009-2010--surge, provide some governance, start the training of the Afghan army and police as the clock had started on the patience of the democratic publics.

Original sin #3: Doing anything that caused the US/NATO/whoever effort to depend on Pakistan.  Having no leverage on Pakistan and Pakistan having heaps of leverage was death to the mission.

Some of this is easy to say from the perspective of 2016, but sins 1 and 2 were pretty damned obvious way back when and there were people upset at them, as they foresaw the problems that these sins would create.

There is one other thing to consider before buying into Fraser's argument: the Taliban were awful, awful, awful--despite the violence of the past 15 years, Afghans are arguably better off.  Infant mortality is down, there was little violence in the cities until recently, the economy grew, etc.  Anyone buying into humanitarian norms such as responsibility to protect would find the idea of letting the Taliban stick around to be anathema.

But, Fraser is right about one thing--regime change is damned hard.

[and yes, there are sins that we and others committed before 9/11--ignoring Afghanistan after the Soviets left, the Soviets invading, etc, but this is focused on the post 9/11 sins]

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Silly Season in Ottawa Regarding the Military Mission

Apparently, post-election, post-honeymoon Ottawa is the silly season.  How so?  Lots of silly commentary about the Liberal Party and its various stances.  Because not much has happened yet, people have to find stories where none exist or stretch things.  My favorite examples from yesterday and my reactions:

  • Folks noticed that Roland Paris, who is now Senior Adviser on International Affairs to the Prime Minister, wrote a blog post last winter critical of the Conservatives' stance on the Iraq mission, and much of that post still applies to the Liberals today: that we are not doing combat in Iraq but combat-ish stuff. 
    • First, I noted that Trudeau picking an adviser that does not always agree with him might just be a good thing.
    • Second, yes, the Liberals have the same stance that was criticized earlier because the joy of Westminster politics is to gainsay rather than focus on real issues.  The clear line that both the Liberals and Conservatives have chosen: no Canadian conventional operations on the ground.  That is what we tend to conceive as combat, but obviously combat is a fuzzier term--does it include the trainers returning fire if they are fired upon?  
    • Third, the piece notes (and in my issue of the paper highlights) Roland's support for the air mission that Trudeau opposed.  Again, one picks the smartest folks who can help out, not the most like-minded, unless one wants group think.
    • Now, admittedly, Roland is a friend, but I am not so much defending him as pondering how silly the coverage is.  Of course, Trudeau will have advisers who might have said something that disagrees with the current stance.  The only way to insure complete message management would be to either only pick people either have always agreed completely or have never written or said anything... or engage in time travel to shut them up and force convergence.  One of the big boons of the new government is precisely that they are not engaged in strict message management--that they will engage folks on twitter and actually talk about stuff in public without being highly scripted.
  • Andrew Potter, of the Ottawa Citizen, tweeted out "That's embarrassing" in response to the statement by Chief of Defence Staff Jon Vance saying that Canadian troops doing the training would have air cover provided by other countries.  
    • Not really.  I posed a question on twitter: other than the past year plus in Iraq, when was the last time Canadian troops on the ground relied on the Royal Canadian Air Force for air support--planes, not helicopters.  The answer: World War II.  In Afghanistan, Canada always had air support provided by other allies--the US, the British, the Dutch, whoever was flying fighter-bombers were there to help out allies.
    • Thus, this is not just nothing new, but the norm.
So, yeah, not a great day for commentary on all things Canadian military stuff.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Quebec Trip Report

Other than much challenging weather on the way out of Ottawa, the trip went quite well.  I had two great but very different days of skiing and had interesting conversations with two very different audiences. 

The crowd at Laval were mostly graduate students and faculty, while the audience at Bishop's was mostly undergrads with a few faculty sprinkled in.  Both groups asked sharp questions.  The latter group had a big advantage: the bookstore had copies of my book and brought a bunch to sell!
At both stops, I got to spend time with my former PhD students, which I discussed here.

The ski days were different.  Massif had a thin layer of snow over a hard surface, which meant very fast runs.  Jay Peak, where I have skied a few times but not very recently, had much ice before yesterday but then got a bunch of snow the night before and then much precipitation throughout the day.  The top was closed due to winds, which was very Jay-ish.  Still plenty of excellent blue cruising terrain which much fresh snow.  The challenge was not speed, but sight--that it alternated between snow, freezing rain and maybe some rain.  So, I looked like this:
And the visibility looked like this:
Oh, and Jay had the more familiar food (unlike Massif): egg/bacon bagel sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, burgers and chocolate milk.  The big shock at Jay was the development of the base area--completely unrecognizable from the road as they built hotels/restaurants/indoor waterpark around the old cafeteria/base area.

The book tour continues this week with my taking over the @fpacarleton twitter feed Thursday morning (Feb 25th) at 11:30 and the Author Meets Readers event at Irene's Pub at 5:30 on the same day.  A week later, I will have multiple talks in Vancouver.  After that, we shall see but I expect to make it to Toronto and Calgary at some point.

De-Mything the Tenured Professor

I have been seeing lots of retweeting of Stephen Walt's post on How to Get Tenure.*  There is some truth to what he says, but it is also much more narrowly applicable than he suggests.  Why?  Chicago/Harvard (where he has worked) are atypical,** where attaining tenure is rare and difficult.  He acknowledges the narrowness of his experience but not the exceptions that these places are. At most colleges and universities in the US and Canada, tenure is not that difficult to achieve--failing to get tenure is the exception.  Instead, the real challenge is getting that first tenure-track position, something that has become increasingly difficult over the years.
* I missed much of the discussion as I was on the road during my school's winter break, skiing and presenting Adapting in the Dust to a couple of universities in Quebec (not simultaneously).
** I was once asked to write a tenure/promotion letter for a candidate at Harvard, and I was given eight names or so and asked whether this candidate was equal to or better than these eight names--all people at the very tippy top of the profession in terms of impact/citation count/reputation.  No other place for whom I have written letters have been that specific about the comparables.
A key caveat here: one of the Iron Laws of Academia, the Iron Law of Hostility and Favoritism, is that merit only matters when there are forces within the department/school that are determined to deny promotion/tenure or determined to grant promotion/tenure.  If folks are arrayed against you, it does not matter what you do.  If folks are arrayed in favor of you, then you don't even have to check that much of the list.  Sorry, but that is the reality.  There are checks and balances--outside letters and committees/officials up the university chain of command--but they can fail.

One more disclaimer: I have taught mostly in research-oriented programs: one near the bottom of the food chain in the US, one at the top of the rankings in Canada, and a university that is ranked in the middle but within the premier international affairs policy school.  But I have not taught at a liberal arts college, in part because I blew one or two of the few chances I had to get positions at such places (and also that Iron Law above came into effect once or twice).

Ok, with those caveats out of the way, let's go through Walt's listicle:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Video Killed the Radio Star?

Laval University taped my book talk yesterday:

You can get some of the highlights of the book in this presentation.  I didn't spoil the entire book, which is only $10 or less via e-book and about $20 at UTP or Amazon.

The next book talk is in Ottawa of all places (where is the skiing?) as part of Carleton's Author Meets Readers program (and International Writers week or something like that).  The ad for that event and another, go here:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Upside of Advising

I whine a lot about advising, like this recent post, but today and tomorrow remind me that it is actually one of the cooler parts of the job.  Today, I gave a talk at Laval University, and got to watch one of my former students, Jonathan Paquin, in action.  He has, like many folks, taken on more than he should but he is thriving in a place that is perfect for him.  I also bumped into another former McG student, who was not one of mine, but a student of a colleagues, and it was great to see her doing well, too.  Tomorrow, I present at Bishop's University, where another former student works--Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brûlé--is hosting me. 

Sure, I can lean on my old students to host me for book talks, but the real joy is watching these folks be the professors that they wanted to be--to attain good jobs and then do the stuff--teach, research, heaps of service and all that.  I have seen some of my other students in their prof-jobs, and each time I am kind of thrilled to see them succeed.  The road they travel is tough--and I tend to make it tougher by providing lots more questions than answers.  To see them thrive is just immensely satisfying, and I am very, very proud even as I know that their success has much, much, much more to do with them and not so much with me.  But I can take credit for their success anyway.

As always, I am most proud of Team Steve.  This book tour is not just chock full of skiing and good eating and fun book presentations, but of checking in with some members of the Team.  Glad to see they are doing well.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fair vs. Unfair Criticism/Comments

One of the general rules of decency for job talks that frequently gets violated is to ask questions that push the candidate within the scope/framework that the candidate has chosen.  Instead, what frequently happens is this kind of question: "why didn't you do the project the way I would have done the project?"  

Why am I talking about this?  Because I am miffed.  I have had a bit of a problem with Windows 10, which has been mostly good thus far.  It tends to want to do things when I connect my phone.  All I want to do is charge my phone and sometimes move some files around.  I don't want to be asked repeatedly about W10 looking for files or wanting to set something up.  I griped about it, and, inevitable as the sun coming up, someone said: get a mac.

My basic answer: fuck off.  I have what I have, which ain't a mac.  I need to fix what I have and not spend heaps on apple products.  That is what my daughter is for.  Oh, and me, too, with my ipad and ipod. 

If someone complains while being on a Delta flight, telling them to use airline x is not of much help.  Indeed, I use United, which gets a heap of abuse and rightly so.  But it works for me plus heaps of path dependence.

So, the internet/twitter rule should be: help the person with what they have and don't evangelize about your favorite kind of system. 

Getting Faster or Just Getting Older

Today, I skied at Massif de Charlevoix.  It is a big mountain on the edge of the St. Laurence River, which often makes one feel as if they are skiing into the river.  The day was surprisingly good--I feared ice after rain at my hotel 60km down the road.  The ungroomed runs were not open, but I am a groomed cruising kind of skier, so no big deal.  The snow was very, very fast, so I was often skiing a wee bit faster than I am comfortable with.  Maybe I am getting older so that my tolerance for skiing super-fast has declined.  Or maybe the hard pack snow was just super quick.  Either way, it was a fast day of skiing. 

Not very crowded most of the time and no lift lines.  So, a good day.  A couple of things were a bit odd:
  • First ski area that had no chocolate milk.  Sure, it had hot chocolate, but a Saideman skiing tradition is chocolate milk at the end of the day.
  • First ski area not to have donuts or stuff like it.  Pastry-less ski morning?  Sacre bleu!
  • A rare place where the major entrance and chalet is at the top and not the bottom.  This was fine except the chalet at the bottom was deceptive--no food served between 10-11--which lulled me into thinking that there would be food around lunchtime.  Nope, closed on weekdays I guess.
  • No hamburgers/hotdogs/hot sandwiches either.  The food was fine, but a different selection from other places I have skied in North America, including places in Quebec.
 And, yes, I am skiing in the middle of the week--tis Carleton's winter break so I have no guilt.  Tomorrow I present Adapting in the Dust at Laval and then Friday at Bishop's and then maybe a smidge of skiing on Saturday before I come up and see what the big storm did to my neighborhood.

Oh, and I didn't see any moose on the way to or fro despite/because of the special moose fence along the side of the road. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Advanced Driving Lessons: Heaps of Snow Edition

I have been driving in ice and snow for not just the fourteen years in Canada but the two years in Vermont and occasional winter conditions elsewhere.  Today's drive from Ottawa to Quebec City reminded me of the basics, but also taught me a thing or two that I had either forgotten or had not quite learned before (grading causes brain damage).

Sure, don't brake but control speed via the gas is fundamental.  Given folks plenty of room so that one has reaction time is key.  One of my faves: if possible, get ahead of the crowd so that their mistakes become irrelevant.

At least five drivers (I lost count) didn't master these basics since I drove past at least that many cars that had slid off the road. 

The new lesson related to passing when only one lane is mostly clear.  The tricky part is that passing trucks do help develop good tracks to follow, so following the passing truck to pass the slow cars makes sense.  But if the truck moves over, then the easy track ends.  Which raises the question of how close to follow the truck?  The answer: not that close. So, I had to be behind overly slow cars (slow is safe, super-slow can actually be dangerous as congestion is very bad---leads to braking and then breaking). 

Twas an interesting drive for the first part of the day, taking twice as long as it should.  Not too much slipping and sliding and skidding, but definitely potential for it.  I am here in Quebec to give two book talks and squeeze in some skiing on my winter break (tis our week-long break this week).  So, I was ambivalent about the snow storm--made driving harder but might improve the ski conditions ... except that there was also freezing rain.

We shall see tomorrow... hopefully I will have some nice skiing pics of me flying almost into the St. Laurence River.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Secret of Being Supervised, Academic Edition

Writing a large project in graduate school, whether it is a master's research paper or a PhD dissertation, is an endurance race.  Plenty of people know and get that--that it is a marathon and not a spring.  But the race is not just with oneself but with one's adviser.  How so?

Supervision largely entails this cycle of: discuss the project with the student, read a draft, recommend revisions, read the revisions, recommend more revisions, read the revised revisions, etc.  When does the supervisor tell the student that the work has been sufficiently revised and is ready for defense/approval?  Perhaps when the work is perfect?  Nope.  Perfection is the enemy of the good enough.  What does good enough look like?  Well, it looks like one thing early on in the project and often looks like something else at the end.

Why? Attrition or exhaustion.  The supervisor will often find that the marginal utility of reading another draft or the student revising another draft declines, sometimes quite sharply.  It can decline because the student anticipates the likely problems and writes a terrific draft OR it can decline quite sharply if there is a realization that not much is going to change. 

Students vary in how they play this race, and most are unaware of the fact that it is a race.  Professors, on the other hand, are often too aware of this dynamic.  Perhaps I am being too whiny since this month surprisingly became major research project reading month for me with multiple students giving me stuff to read all at the same time.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Transitions Can Be Hard: Canadian Edition

One of my Ottawa friends had an excellent analysis of the challenges the new Canadian government is facing after a decade out of power and with the previous government having far stricter control of everything.  Oh, and this also proves that one can saw a lot in a dozen tweets:

Friday, February 12, 2016

Other/Self Promotion

Tis a strange moment today where I was taping an ad for Carleton University's Faculty of Public Affairs to promote two events that will promote my new book (have you heard of it?).  Both events are on February 25th.  The first is virtual: I take over the @fpacarleton twitter account and respond to questions from 11:30-1:30.  I am thinking of having this account recommend heaps of raises!  The second event is Author Meets Readers, a panel discussion about the new book with three experts: Phil Lagassé of U of Ottawa, Ambassador Elissa Golberg (who was the senior rep for Canada in Kandahar--the RoCK), and Lt. Gen.  (ret) Stu Beare (former commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command).  This will be at Irene's Pub at 5:30-7.

While I was typing this, one of my former students posted this on facebook:
Oh, and this talk is a day after this one.  So, my Winter Break will be full of talk in Quebec.

UPDATE: The video is now available

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Kurdish Complications

Now that Canada has decided to continue to train and support the Kurds in Iraq along with the Iraqi government, the question of the future of the Kurds is being questioned.  Indeed, yesterday, I received a phone call from a magazine in Kurdistan asking me about referendums and why some secessionist movements get to become states and others do not.  My short answer: "fair ain't got nothing to do with it" which could probably use a bit of nuance.  This is not just a Canadian issue but one for all of the countries intervening (or not intervening) in Iraq and Syria.

The one thing I do know and am very confident about is this: vulnerability to secession does not deter other countries from recognizing an independent Kurdish state.  Sorry, I know this is the conventional wisdom (as presented in this piece), but the conventional wisdom has always been wrong and always will be wrong.  How do I know that?  Well, see my first book, see this article, and this one, too.  Perhaps notice which countries recognized Kosovo (hint: Canada).  Oh, and check out Russia's foreign policy, given that it is vulnerable to secession yet have been sponsoring separatists frequently and enthusiastically.  And yes, countries can be irredentist even as they face separatist movements at home.

Canada, as the story linked above indicates, that despite arming and training Iraq's Kurds, wants these Kurds to stay in Iraq.  Why?  Two primary reasons: a) Turkey is an ally, and Turkey fears that an independent Kurdistan in Iraq and/or Syria would strengthen the Kurdish separatists in Turkey;* b) most solutions to the Iraq political problems need the Kurds.  Sure, there are folks who advocate partition of Iraq into three hunks of territory, but partition is never as easy or as beneficial as the advocates argue.   Having the Kurds in along with the Sunnis to balance the Shiites might just be key ingredients in some shot of power-sharing deal.  Of course, that is hard when the Shiites have been pretty committed to crushing the Sunnis (which is why the Sunnis have chosen the less bad alternative of ISIS).  But in the long run, Iraq will need a political solution that is not just handing over the largest part of it to Iran to the Shiites.
*  While I am a committed skeptic about how contagious ethnic conflict can be, one of the few ways that ethnic conflict travels is among ethnic kin who are separatist.  See also this.
So, Canada is aiding a group but not promoting its eventual aims.  Not that new, but definitely tricky.  The article from the National Post makes clear that Canada has been clear to all sides about its stance.  Which is the same stance as the rest of the coalition.

Of course, there is another Kurdish problem: we are sinking resources into training the Kurds, but their aims (other than independence) are quite limited.  They don't want to fight to win territory that they cannot keep.  And the downside of being the most reliable force in the region is that they have won most of the territory they claim.  It is not clear that they can do much more to push ISIS back into Syria.  Oops.

But that is why I keep calling this region the land of lousy policy alternatives.  As for the Kurds, I do feel for them in a big way.  They have been betrayed many times before.  This time, we are being honest and using them for what we see as the greater good.  And they are using us for their interests.  As always, the hard part in these interventions is figuring out how to align the interests of those who live there with those of the interveners.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When Politics Punditry Imitates Sports Punditry

In recent years, I began to notice that in sports with best of seven games playoff series, the folks who cover the sport (hockey, baseball, football)* tend to react to the most recent game as if it will determine the outcome.  Each time a different team wins, the pundits tend to suggest that the attributes of the most recent game tell everything we need to know about the series and that the previous games matter very little.  And then at the end of the series, one could look back at who wins and the patterns are usually not determined by what happened most recently but those that recur over the series.
* The same is kind of true in soccer's World Cup as each game in the preliminary rounds has the same short memory panic dynamic.

So, here we are, Iowa does not matter, NH has changed the entire course of the election.  Until the next primary, which will erase most of the patterns/dynamics imputed to the NH outcome, and on and on.

Part of this is probably driven by the need to fill 24 hours of content each day.  Part of this is that it is more exciting if every new competition is the most important ... until the next one.  But just perhaps, in politics, like in sports, the previous outcomes might matter some and the games to be played might matter as well.  Sure, in this competition, the early competitions are not irrelevant as the weaker candidates find their money drying up and exit the race.  The bets placed by the campaign financiers do matter, and as they swing, they impact the staying power of those who remain.

But so few delegates have been selected by the least representative states.  We can read much into the campaigns as the Clinton appeal has been, um, limited, and the appeal of hate/Trump is more than reasonable people can stand.  But there are far more games to be played, and the outcome is probably not going to be determined by the most recent primary.

Momentum probably does matter a bit more in politics than in sports, but is overrated in both.  Instead, it really is, at this stage, about the campaigns and the candidates, who have strengths and weaknesses.  And we know mostly what they are.  Rubio's weaknesses became more apparent, but authenticity and trust versus electability is not a new theme in the Democratic race.  So, there is some learning and some updating, but please can we have a wee bit of perspective after each primary?

Ok, I am asking for too much.  Sorry.

I Have Been Social Media-ed

Wow, yesterday was a pretty strange day for me on social media.  I have been engaged in blogging and on twitter since 2009 and am a self-appointed leader of a group that advocates Online Media yet I was surprised by yesterday's events.

What happened?  A friend and colleague, Stephanie Carvin, criticized the government's new stance on the anti-ISIS campaign, and Gerry Butts, one of two principal advisers to Prime Minister Trudeau responded to her.  Since Gerry and I have been chatting on twitter off and on since last summer, I jumped in and this happened.

Gerry and I exchanged tweets as I sought more clarification about why the CF-18s are being withdrawn and he kept saying that this was well explained.  The conversation was respectful and interesting.  And it was not a skirmish nor was it heated (geez, CBC, chillax, it is not your first day on twitter).

Folks were amazed that a member of this government was willing to engage a couple of scholars on twitter for a while.  I am too, as the old government would never do such a thing.  And perhaps reasonably so given what happened next.  For the rest of the day, I accumulated not just new twitter followers (yeah!) but many tweets sent to both me and to Gerry that were either nasty towards him or to me or to both of us.  Our respectful conversation led to a lot of disrespectful partisans attacking one of us.

This is not my first day on twitter so it was not that surprising, but Ron Burgundy said it best:

Indeed, it did.  Good thing Gerry has a thick skin and that I mostly do so as well (years on political science rumor sites as the only non-anonymous moderator has trained me well for taking fire from random internet people).

I hope yesterday's experience does not deter the government from engaging folks via social media.  This government is far more engaging and accessible than the previous one (I was invited to a roundtable at Global Affairs Canada on Monday to discuss Canadian aid policies for Afghanistan so it is not just social media engagement that is going on), and it is a good thing.

Of course, my favorite tweet exchange in all of this was:

A Quick Few Frequently Asked Questions about Canadian Military Training

The past two days have been pretty interesting in Canadian defence and foreign policy as the Prime Minister announced that Canada would focus on training in Iraq while taking out some (not all)* of the planes dedicated to the bombing effort.
* I had been advocating that the government keep at least the recon (Aurora) and refueling (Polaris) planes as they are, in the military jargon, low-density/high demand enablers.  In other words, there are few of them and they have much valued added. Glad to see the government keep them there, even if it adds a soupcon of incoherence since they are integral to the bombing effort.
There have been many questions raised about the training effort and many opinions offered.  So, I'd like to offer a few answers.  To be clear, I am not an expert on the specific skills to be transmitted or the nature of the training exercises, except in terms of the broadest categories.

Q: Does this mean this is a combat mission?
A: Not really.  The defense minister was more straightforward than the previous government that doing training at or near the front lines means that our troops may come into contact with the adversary and will be prepared to return fire.  But the CAF trainers will not be deliberately seeking out contact with the adversary.  That is the bright shiny line, rather than combat or not combat.  The Canadian planes will still be facilitating combat, so Canadians will still be involved with combat.  Confusing, but Canadian troops, special operations forces or otherwise, will not be seeking out combat.  As far as we know (SOF folks are supposed to be secret so I cannot speak to the entirety of their mission).

Q: Is this training like that the CAF did in Afghanistan?
A: Depends on the when and where.  In Kabul from 2011-2014, yes.  In Kandahar from 2005-2011, no.  While Canadian troops were in Kandahar, a key part of the effort was to embed small numbers of Canadian troops into battalion-ish sized formations of Afghans (these 600 or so units were called Kandaks).  These trainers were called Omelets for the acronym Observer, Mentor, Liaison Teams [OMLT or ELMO in French], and they played a very important role in training and facilitating the combat efforts of the local forces (see the France section of this book).

Q: Why Aren't the CAF embedding and training at and beyond the front?
A: Why aren't the CAF omelet-eering as they did in Kandahar (see here for a piece advocating such)?  I would suggest three reasons.
  • When Afghan units with Canadian mentors went into battle in and near Kandahar, there were Canadian units going into those same battles.  If something went wrong, like the mentored Kandak broke and fled, there would still be very reliable forces nearby to make sure that the small numbers of mentors would not be surrounded, captured and perhaps killed.  There are no Canadian battlegroups to accompany mentored Kurdish or Iraqi regular units.  So, sending OMLT like units into battle with the local forces would be a big, big risk.
  • Which gets to the second problem: there is probably much less trust in Iraq.  While Canada did not suffer from green on blue attacks in Afghanistan where the trained attack the trainers, that possibility is quite present in Iraq. More importantly, Iraqi units have broken and fled when attacked by ISIS, so doing some embedded mentoring now with them (and their Iranian pals) requires more trust than we have.
  • Speaking of the Iranians, a third problem happens when one embeds with local units: one might be present amidst war crimes.  The Danes were reluctant to do OMLTs in Afghanistan because they were worried that the Afghan army units might commit atrocities, and then the Danish trainers would appear to be complicit (see the aforementioned book).  The risks are much, much higher since the Shia dominated Iraqi government has engaged in significant ethnic cleansing AND they are reliant on Iranian-backed militias (and perhaps some Iranian forces).  Not good.
Q: Why not embed with the Kurds?
Yes, we find the Kurds to be more reliable.  But again, they will not be accompanied by Canadian battlegroups so still probably much legitimate concern about what might happen.  One other thing: we are nearly at the end of the line for the Kurds--that they are unlikely to fight for territory that they don't see as Kurdish.  Which means that since they have retaken most of the territory that they see as theirs, they will not be doing much of the fighting in Iraq down the road.  So, it may not make that much sense to invest a lot and to risk a lot for the Kurds. 

Q: Training is the long term solution?
No, not really.  The government is not lying about this, but somewhat missing the point.  Because the long term solution is about governance--that the Iraqi government needs to decide to work with the Sunnis (and Kurds) to share power, so that the Sunni population no longer sees ISIS as a least worst alternative to the Iraqi government.  That is the solution to the Iraqi front.  The Americans have had damned little leverage on this whether they had 100,000 troops in theatre or none, so Canada cannot really influence this (humility is a big theme for me these days despite my endless book promotion).
Oh, and we have very little to build on in Syria, but this training effort is aimed solely at the Iraqi front.

Q: So, we shouldn't train?
No, we should.  It is the least we can do.  It is actually something that Canadians do quite well.  The units Canada trained in Afghanistan seemed to have performed quite well (Kandahar has not fallen yet while, um, Kunduz, did).  The war against ISIS is not an easy one, and if our goal is to degrade ISIS and we are unwilling to send large conventional forces of our own, it does make sense to make the local forces better so that they can confront ISIS.  Just don't expect miracles.

Of course, the best primer for army training is this short video:

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


I have been hearing a certain refrain lately--that folks should not politicize national security.  Um, what does that mean?  To be clear, I am critical of politicians too when they get too, um, political, as the Queens folks will learn today in my talk about my new book.

To be clear, anything a government does is political, as politics is about making decisions to allocate stuff for the political system (close enough to the standard definition).  But we tend to think of someone playing politics with an issue when they take a public stand in favor or against a particular policy in ways that are seen as playing to the audience rather than focused on the merits of the policy.

This is a really hard distinction that I tried to figure out as part of a paper on legislative oversight on the Canadian military: is the oversight effort mostly about scoring points in the larger political game or is it about trying to criticize government policies in order for the country to do better?  Sure, the folks in the mix will have their strong opinions about this, making it hard to judge, but there are clues.

How about switching policies just because one loses power?  The Liberal opposition to the war in Afghanistan after it started that mission and then lost power reeks of politicization rather than sincere oversight aimed at the national interest. 

Canada's Conservatives calling the new Iraq/Syria policy incoherent is not far off.  Making a bigger deal about running out on allies is more about point scoring since the Conservative government fled Kandahar in mid-war, so just a wee bit of hypocrisy here.

Is the oversight effort focused on individuals or on the activities of government? In the US, the Benghazi hearings can be juxtaposed with the various mid1970s hearings that revealed much about what the CIA had been doing.  I am not sure how to come up with a good measure of heat vs. light generated by oversight, but the contrast is pretty sharp.

This is something I am just getting into and I need to do more reading, but the key point today is that the label "politicize" is pretty meaningless on its own.  It is ok and normal for the various parties to take issue with what the government of the day is doing, even on national security issues, if the claims/concerns have merit.  Arguing that Canada's current stance is puzzling is not reckless politicization (or else I would be guilty too).  Just opposing for the sake of opposing, akin to the classic argument sketch, is politicization that does not advance things much.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Learning Lessons From Afghanistan: Canadian Aid in 2016

In my new book (super cheap via kindle!), I am most unkind to the late, not so lamented CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency).  Why?  Partly because they would not talk to me, partly because the agency was so centrally managed it could not adapt to events in Afghanistan that well.

Since then, CIDA was merged into Foreign Affairs so that it is now one big Global Affairs Canada.  Which is much better than DFATD but not as good as simply FA.

Anyhow, today I was invited to be part of a workshop on the future of Canadian assistance to Afghanistan.  I didn't have much to say since I am not an expert on aid (and I didn't learn that much over the years since CIDA people would not talk to me).  But I was most impressed that GAC officials had organized a series of roundtables with academics, former military officers, former aid officials, consultants, non-governmental organization reps, etc. to discuss the next steps.

GAC officials working on aid issues (and thus doing what used to be CIDA stuff) were reaching out and seeking outside expertise.  I cannot say what we discussed due to Chatham House rules, except the consensus seemed to be for continued Canadian support for Afghanistan.  I certainly made that argument given that few countries are more needy (Afghanistan still lists among the worst off countries), and Canada developed expertise in this one place that should not go to waste.  Not a sunk cost argument but a built up expertise argument.

Anyhow, I was most impressed that these folks were reaching out.  Hard to imagine that happening in the latter Harper years.  We still need to learn the lessons of Afghanistan for a variety of reasons, including figuring out the next steps in Afghanistan.  My book is part of that effort, but we need to also have the government release its own lessons learned exercise (I need to appeal again in my failed bid for an Access of Information request).

Oh, and I also requested that the government stop archiving websites, which makes it harder to find stuff.  The web is big--no need to archive websites.  Keep the links alive, I say!

Trudeau's New Anti-ISIS Policy

The new policy is entirely unsurprising even if it is, um, not entirely coherent.
Taking the CF-18s out meets the campaign promise, but is poorly explained.
Keeping the Auroras (recon) and Polaris (refueling) planes means Canada is doing stuff that is valued by the allies and is helpful ... by facilitating the bombing done by others.
Training the Iraqis and Kurds more than they have been doing so thus far?  Sure. 

The key problem in all of this is that we still don't have a good explanation for this stance.  Saying that bombing is good in the short term but not long term does not really explain why Trudeau opposed the bombing when it started.  It worked in the short term by containing and reversing ISIS's gains.  Ooops.  And if it does not make sense in the long term, why support the allied effort to bomb?  As others have argued, Canada is now doing everything in the bombing campaign except for dropping bombs. 

My problem is not with the actual policies but with the explanations.  If Trudeau is just trying to keep a campaign promise, he still needs a better explanation.  And there are abundant ones out there:
  • that any military effort is costly, so it makes to develop the mix that provides the best effects for the dollars and that to train more means we need to bomb less--due to budget constraints.
  • that the CF-18s are already at the end of their lives so we need to be careful about overusing them (given the need to do more flying over the Baltics thanks to Russia).  Flying less over Syria/Iraq now means that they can keep flying while we figure out how to replace them. 
  • that much of the bombing in the near future will be in the cities of Iraq, and we do not want to have our pilots responsible for civilian casualties.  We would rather train the local forces to be more discriminating.  Not a great answer, but not an awful one either.
None of these explanations are super happy, but they do make sense in the larger scheme of things.  A pacifist answer will not, ahem, fly with Canadians (see recent surveys favoring Canadian participation in bombing) especially after the attacks in Ottawa in October of 2014.  The short run vs. long argument is problematic because every day we live in the short run....

But to be clear, the Conservatives are going to say a lot of stuff about this, and they will benefit from having a short memory.   How so?  They will forget that they, the Conservatives, ran Canada out of Kandahar while the allies were still fighting and taking casualties in Afghanistan.  That was far more problematic than this--a battlegroup and the rest of the stuff was far more valuable than 6 CF-18s.

So, expect much histronics.  I wish either party or both would take a mature stance on this issue, but as my new book depicts, expecting such is unrealistic.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Echo Chamber? Only When Confronting the Incredibly Stupid

One of the best ways to piss me off is to dismiss expertise via calling experts "elites."  So, I woke up with this
 What was Mark reacting to? Ah, the folks who study national security find Ted Cruz's references to carpet-bombing to be appalling.  Not just from a moral standpoint, but from a standpoint of, dare I say it, expertise and experience: that we know that indiscriminate bombing does not work.  Bombing German cities did not reduce the economic production of the Nazi war machine until the last few months (one could say it served to distract German resources, but then again, the bombers were a distraction from allied resources and efforts as well).  Carpet bombing Vietnam was somewhat useful in bargaining but did not defeat the Viet Cong nor Vietnam.  Oh, and carpet bombing Cambodia?  Not good.  These experiences have created a consensus on the issue of carpet bombing by those who take national security seriously.

Is this consensus an echo chamber?  Probably not since the folks who study national security disagree on damn near everything, whether that is partition (not a fan, but many are), counterinsurgency strategies (contrast the Exums of the world with the Fousts), the effectiveness of drones, and on and on.  Cruz just happened to hit one of the few things upon which most national security folks agree--that carpet bombing is such a bad idea that it creates a consensus.  Indeed, I told Mark that it was really strange that he wanted to "die" on this particular hill....

This does not mean that there is a consensus on how to fight ISIL or on the efficacy of targeted bombing.  But those are different issues.

The broader problem with Mark's statement is the implication that those who study national security are wimpy effete elites--the reference to pinky extended wine glass holding.  Besides the fact that many of us prefer beer to wine, this statement is problematic because it suggests that manly men who are not wine-swillers are better judges of national security (I spent the earlier part of yesterday tweeting the twitter handles of a bunch of smart women who do international security stuff).  This is akin to, but perhaps not identical, to the frequent argument that only those with military experience can judge national security issues.  I always find this problematic precisely because we are better off having both military and civilian experts on this stuff--that civilian expertise serves as a check on the military.  Indeed, civilian control of the military, a fundamental aspect of modern democracy, requires voices outside of the military to provide some perspectives on the issues.  Otherwise, you just get Presidents and Prime Ministers simply doing what the Generals and Admirals want, and that is not always good (despite the Presidential candidates saying that they will exactly that--just listen to the military folks).

Perhaps there is a consensus these days among national security elites: that the Republican Party is producing presidential candidates who are mostly or entirely ignorant about national security, which leads to stupid statements and problematic stances.  It used to be the case that the Democrats were the party where ignorance of all that is military was a badge of honor.  These days, it is the GOP, and I would much prefer it if both parties saw expertise in these issues as a good thing, rather than something to disparage.  Because I know that calling something elite these days is supposed to be an insult.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Downside of Middle Age

Today, I learned that yet another man who played an important role at my summer camp long ago has died.  Ben Wenglin, who was the camp's mail man, died this week.  He was such a sweet man, who made a big impact despite having a pretty small yet central role.  Since I was a long time camper and one of the few who spent eight weeks (rather than the usual two or four) each summer there, we got to know each other a bit.  I didn't know that he had gotten hurt in World War II as one of Merrill's Marauders (predecessor to the modern Ranger Regiment), but that is something that tends to only be revealed at times like this.

Ben is the third man from that key part of my life to die in the past few years.  The math makes sense--camp was almost forty years ago, so the middle aged men who shaped that place are now departing.  Damn.

I have been lucky since I have lost few people (other than grandparents), but that is changing as I reach 50 soon.  When I talk to my friends, I find that most of them are dealing with sick parents or have recently lost one.  So, we are entering a time frame where losses begin to mount.  I am not looking forward to that part of getting older.

Life has been very good to me.  I am glad that we now have this social media stuff so that I can connect with those who were important to me long ago and find out the fates of those who mad ea difference in my life.  Ben, Mike, and Ed made such an impact not just on me but on generations of boys who went to that camp.  I am sad that they are gone, but glad that they were recognized and appreciated not just by me but by everyone who passed through Thurmont, Maryland in the 1970s-1980s.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My Iowa Gap

I haven't blogged about Iowa.  Why? Partly because I was in Japan last week, and partly because I would like to put Iowa in proper context by ignoring Iowa. 

Going first does not mean that Iowa selects the winners.  It does mean we get folks pandering to farmers, which is so good for the national interest except that it is awful in pretty much every way.  Otherwise, Iowa's impact is to affect the funders--who should they stop betting on?  Jeb! should be gone soon since his performance was pathetic, but this generation of his family has a shallow learning curve.  Rand has already gotten out.  The rest of the field should clear out, leaving the oh-so-joyful triumvirate of Trump, Rubio and Cruz.  Lovely. 

The GOP outcome only proves slightly less than the Dem outcome that this is all about expectations and the sports-like punditry.  I get driven crazy during various playoffs, where the opinions flip after every game if the outcome is different from game to game.  It might just be that a three point outcome in one basketball game should not shift expectations that much.  Well, the same here: if this were a poll, all of the results are solidly in the margin of error.  The closeness of the results really means we cannot read much in the way of momentum or anything about the outcomes elsewhere (especially since Iowa is not representative of anything and its caucus system is certainly not the normal way delegates are distributed). 

I have to run to class, but my major point I'd like to make about Iowa is: so glad it is over and let's not think too much about its meaning.  On to NH, another not so representative state that also does not pick winners but does help to pick losers.  Once NH is over, the awful ads that we sometimes get via our Canadian feeds will disappear for a while, and that will be progress.