Monday, November 20, 2017

If Fox Listened to Ben Parker?

With great power comes great responsibility.  That is what Ben Parker told Peter, and that combined with heaps of guilt produced a mighty (entertaining) superhero.  And it leads me to wonder: given that Fox has managed to become a Trump inception machine:
how would Fox use this power if it were, you know, responsible?

Would Fox focus on trivial stories like a football player sitting or kneeling for the anthem?  The upside is that this directs Trump's antagonism away from any issues that might create conflict with North Korea or push for any policies that harm millions of Americans.  On the downside, he gets to plander to his racist base.

How about essentially streaming Morgan Fairchild's twitter feed since it often has calls to rescue animals?  Good, but she is also a sharp consumer and retweeter of analyses of national security, and that stuff might set off the fragile Donald Trump.

How about criticisms of Habitat for Humanity (not that it deserves any)?  This would allow Trump to play to his worst instincts by insulting a past president, but might also get him to insist on doing more/better for the homeless?

I am taking ideas: if you could control Fox's output so that you can manipulate Trump, what would you program?


Friday, November 17, 2017

Grants, Journalism and Anti-Intellectualism

Tweets like this are super-annoying:

This one tweet does not have a heap of context, but it seems to have some contempt for philosophy.  Another tweet by Akin sends a similar message:

As a social scientist, I get defensive about criticisms of agencies that fund social science.  Even if the implicit criticism is of Philosophy, which is not my area of interest/work (indeed, I often complained at my old job about how the political philosophers were far more successful in empire building than the IR types). 

Anyhow, throwing out titles without context is a fun twitter game, but does not really tell you much about the project. 
Was "Double Hats, Double Trouble: Understanding the Problem of Delegation in Multilateral Military Intervention" something that could be mocked on twitter?  Yes, and yet it produced a project that ended up being well published (the usual indicator of success) and was of much interest to the policy world (another indicator)
Sure, I have my own problems with grant review committees (when they don't give me money), but they read the whole proposal and not just the title.   What it smacks of is anti-intellectualism--that these high falutin' thinkers are focused on abstract stuff rather than real problems so why are they getting money?

Perhaps I am overreacting because I saw how this game was played in the US where politicians would play it and then try to gut the National Science Foundation.  Mostly because we political scientists would ask questions about how and why they did their jobs the way they did.  Ooops.  Whether Akin is consciously trying to provide aid and comfort and info to the enemies of social science and the humanities (SSHRC stands for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) is not clear, but the effect may be the same.

Why be so defensive, Steve?  Surely, more info is good.  Yeah, it is, but presented in this way, it can create problematic perceptions of the realities of grant funding.  And then folks might try to either cut it or micromanage it.  Which leads to a basic Saideman response: if attacked, respond.  I am not a pacifist in the online debates of stuff--if you don't respond, you are letting the other side dominate the debate.  What good is that? [Which means I am easily trolled]

The basic idea of funding the social sciences and the humanities is that more knowledge about why we behave (social sciences) and what we value (humanities) and how we think (both) and what we create (both) is a public good, and governments help to facilitate public goods. While I am not opposed to private financing of research, it can be problematic (drug companies won't want info released about the harm their drugs might cause) and because Canada's tax laws don't provide much incentives for charitable giving, there is not much private money from foundations.

There are good questions to ask about Canada's funding of research.  For instance, SSHRC went from providing many smaller grants to providing fewer but larger grants.  Has this led to more research?  Better outcomes?  There has been a tendency to reserve more and more money for specific topics?  What has been the effect of that?  Listing grants by their titles is not going to lead to these kinds of questions being asked.

I am sure Akin doesn't want to do away with SSHRC, and twitter is not a friendly media for nuanced conversations, but ripping through a bunch of projects based on their titles tends to send a message.  Whether it is intentional or not, the message "Ottawa wastes its money on pointy head intellectuals" seems to be the one that is being sent.  Not good.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pod Saves STEM America

I am a big fan of Pod Saves America--the Obama Bros podcast.  Yet they annoyed me greatly today.  Yes, they are rightly upset that the GOP tax "reform" is going to raise heaps of taxes on graduate students.  But, no, it is not just about physicists and engineers.  Tommy Vietor must be too sleep deprived due to his new puppy (understanble) when he said that this is not about Philosophy doctorates.  Dude, the social sciences and humanities are important too.

Yeah, I rail against having too many PhDs produced and I love picking on philosophers, but changing the tax code to screw over grad students hurts not just the STEM folks who get all of the love, but everyone one.  As Neil Degrasse Tyson reminds us with some of his incredibly dumb tweets, to do hard science right, we need the social sciences and humanities.

The GOP tax "reform" plan is short-sighted in a number of ways--gutting the hard sciences may be more obvious and more politically marketable, but the rest of the disciplines matter.  So, yeah, not good, Tommy and pals, not good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Canada's Peacekeeping Move--A Hot Take

So, Canada's big commitment to the UN and peacekeeping consists not of a 600 battlegroup put into harm's way but "enablers".  That is, Canada is proposing to provide helicopters,* transport aircraft, a quick reaction force (which could be risky if they are sent to a place where quick reactions are needed), some money, trainers.
* The article lists a helo with some guns on it as an attack helicopter.  No.  If the UN calls it such things, the UN is wrong.  Let's not exaggerate what is being done.

It is probably underwhelming for many observers.  It is clearly a much less dangerous endeavor (although still some risk) than sending troops into a semi-counterinsurgency mission in Mali or a peacekeeping operation in Congo or South Sudan.

Will this make Canada more competitive for the UN Security Council seat?  No.  Sure, helping lots of countries a little might impress many countries, but not putting any skin in the game (a phrase I would have used even before a recent conversation with a retired general where it came up) means not being that impressive. The good news is that Norway has even fewer troops dedicated to PKOs at this time.  The bad news is that Ireland has more, despite having a smaller military.  Norway almost certainly gives more aid as a percentage of their budget than Canada does, so, um, good luck with the seat.

To be clear, it is not just about the seat.  The question is--how does this effort advance Canada's interests in the world?  Does it mean that Canada gets a seat at meetings?  Well, it probably will not be kicked out of this week's meetings in Vancouver....  But it will be at the kids' tables at the next rounds of UN meetings on peacekeeping because being present in small numbers in lots of places will not give it any heft anywhere.  As someone reminded me on twitter, 600 troops in one spot would not have done the trick either.

How do I feel about this?  Lukewarm.  It is a smart move from the standpoint of domestic politics--there will less risk here than doing something more significant.  The Conservatives can't really outbid them on peacekeeping.  The NDP?  They can try, I suppose, but it probably will not get much traction.  Canada will make a contribution, so woot for the international relations side?  Meh.  Will Canada be making a difference?  A modest one, I guess.

Perhaps I will have a less hot but more complete take as this thing gets clearer.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Real Conservatives?

One of my frustrations with the way we talk these days is that much of the GOP is no longer conservative in any real meaning of the term since they don't seek to conserve that which worked in the past, that which was good.  Indeed, today's GOP is mostly abetting the burning down of basic institutions and norms via their support for Trump, Ryan, and McConnell.

So, when I see conservative types who I used to find quite problematic--David Frum, Jennifer Rubin and others--saying stuff that is smart and right, I have to recognize it.  This morning, Frum had a series of tweets:



That a conservative is realizing that more folks speaking out at a traditional behavior is something to recognize. To me, it means that the terms of the debate are shifting to places that favor progressives.  Yeah, it is not good that it takes the Trump era and Harvey Weinstein-ian revelations about abuses, but as Frum points out, that stuff is not new.  What may be new is a growing consensus that this abuse of power is wrong and that we need to take seriously those who report such abuses.

Maybe I am just looking for stuff to be optimistic about as rebellions are built on hope and all that.  But if I nod my head and agree with the folks with whom I have disagreed, I need to recognize that.  We are not going to get to the changes we want by not recognizing the positive shifts by folks "on the other side."  While turning out the base is apparently the key to electoral success, the long term survival of our political system depend not just on winning elections but building consensus across the political system on basic values and norms.

As Trump reminds us, the US political system works when folks follow the norms and not just are bound by institutions.  I don't know if there was a magical time where most folks followed the norms, but I do think we have had far more violations of late (McConnell and the Supreme Court seat).  So, if conservatives and progressives can agree on some stuff, it probably makes things better especially when the conservatives are moving towards the progressives.  College Senior Spew would say it ain't fast enough, and she'd be right.  But I will take some progress at this point, as the past year has seemed to be one of damn near infinite regress.




Saturday, November 11, 2017

Canada's Pursuit of Security Council Seat: Going, Going, Gone

I have long been skeptical of the chances that Canada would get the coveted United Nations Security Council seat that the Trudeau government has been seeking.  Canada entered the fray way too late and is competing against countries (Norway, Ireland) who not only have better bona fides as contributors to UN stuff, but have ruffled fewer feathers.  Perhaps making a big play at doing heaps more might have helped Canada some.  Clearly, setting up high expectations and then going way under them will not help.

And that is where we are.  Canada's promise to do more peacekeeping is now a promise to do more training of peacekeepers and providing some key logistical support.  This makes a great deal of sense in that this is all stuff Canada can provide, that the UN needs, and exposes Canadian troops to less risk.  But there is the rub: less risk means less commitment, impressing the UN voters less.

I long argued that doing more in Afghanistan meant more influence, even if that became a hard thing to measure or prove.  I am pretty sure that doing less will mean less influence, although losing the UNSC vote will be overdetermined, so I will again lack good evidence for my claim (good thing the editor and peer reviewers of my blog posts are pretty forgiving). 

I think that realizing that modern peacekeeping is really hard is fine, that perhaps none of the missions that were proposed made sense or were too dangerous or were too unlikely to succeed.  The government may be making a good decision, but it will probably message it poorly.  Yes, Canada will be contributing, but not nearly as much as those are putting their own people at significant risk.  So, let's not get too high falutin about this new PKO effort.

Of the campaign promises Trudeau made, this was perhaps the most pie crusty of the promises--easily made, easily broken.  I doubt that voters will care much in 2019 that this promise was broken.  Others will matter more, such as electoral reform.  So, yeah, perhaps a good decision with poor messaging and few real lasting consequences domestically.  Woot?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Identification and Those We Admire: Sexual Assault/Harassment Edition

One of the most impactful influential books I have ever read is Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict.  I didn't take any psychology in college to my everlasting regret, so what I have learned about psychology I have gotten from political scientists who borrow parts of it, such as Robert Jervis and cognitive psych.  Well, Horowitz taught me about social psychology, with the key dynamic here is how our self-esteem partly hinges on those we identify with.  As those people and groups do well, our self-esteem goes up and when they do poorly, our self esteem goes down.

Which is one reason, I guess, that people have a hard time when those they admire turn out to be awful human beings.  For me, this week, this is about Louis CK and Kevin Spacey.  I feel awful that these guys treated people so badly.  I had seen stuff over the years that indicated that both did stuff that was problematic, but I didn't want to face the reality because it would diminish not just my view of them but of myself, I think.   I think this is one reason why folks are reluctant to believe.  This, of course, is in addition to rape culture and everything else in our society. 

I think I feel kind of icky--grossed out, a bit queasy, and sad.  Not just because I have some empathy for those who had to deal with the sexual assaults and harassment committed by CK, Spacey, and all the rest, but because I feel bad about myself. 

On the other hand, that Roy Moore is a pedophilia probably elevates my self-esteem as Horowitz also taught me about the logic of invidious comparison.  That when the other group does poorly, I feel better by comparison.  So, the revelations about someone who was already thoroughly awful makes his whole group look bad (and the reactions of much of the GOP make the group look really bad), making my group feel good.  And, yeah, we don't want to hear about Bill Clinton because it will harsh our buzz about Moore and the GOP.  Unfortunately, these awful people are in all groups, parties, vocations, locations, etc.  So, the boosts to our self-esteem are likely to be temporary as we eventually realize that we (whatever the "we/us" is) have our own assholes who hurt people. 

Obviously, there is much more to these dynamics, but I do think that the logic of invidious comparison is at work here as well.  Anyhow, just overthinking the week's events as I remove the works of Kevin Spacey and Louis CK* from my Netflix lists of what to watch next.
* While Louis CK's apology was better than most, it was still forced by the events of the last few days even as he had ample opportunities over the years to come clean.  So, good but not good enough and way too damn late.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Who to Call About McMess?

I got a comment on my previous post about who folks should contact if they want to blow the whistle on McGill's sexual harassers.  I don't know the McG procedures they have these days, and I won't really trust them until we see someone be visibly punished for their behavior (again, confidentiality tends to protect the perpetrator more than the survivors).  So, my response to that comment is to provide a series of names/contact info of journalists of all kinds who have contacted me about this story (you will note that most didn't end up writing much probably because they could not get any survivors on the record).

Anyhow, here's what I got:
McGill Tribute Editor: Alexandra Harvey <alexandra.harvey@mail.mcgill.ca>
McGill Daily News:  <news@mcgilldaily.com>  The reporter was Marina Cupido--I don't know if she is still there.
Vice: Hilary Beaumont <hilary.beaumont@vice.com>
Maclean's: Martin Patriquin <Martin.Patriquin@rci.rogers.com>, 514.843.2964

The first one listed is based on a very recent conversation.  The other ones are older, so they have probably moved on.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Permission Structures and Social Change

Here I go thinking about stuff about which I know not.... I heard the phrase permission structure on a Pod Saves America podcast, which makes sense since it is an Obama thing.  As far as I can tell, it is a social dynamic where expectations/norms/behavior tend to make it easier for people to act.  Like, hey, vote for a Black guy?  Well, maybe now because other folks I agree with say so...

Anyhow, it got in my head when I was talking with Mrs. Spew about the Harvey Weinstein story.  Something may or may not be changing--we shall see if what has happened the past few weeks with Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others will stick or not.  But it seems to me that two things have changed:
  1. While there had been some stories and complaints and even jokes about Harvey Weinstein for years, the big news story that had both a big name or two (Ashley Judd) and breadth (more than a few specific stories) essentially gave people permission to speak out about Weinstein and then other men and the Hollywood culture in general.  I am not saying people need permission to speak out, but the environment became more permissive--that it would be ok to tell one's story and not face as much disbelief or victim-blaming as in the past.  Yes, there is some safety in numbers, with more and more folks telling their stories, sharing their horrific experiences, it became easier (although not easy).  The Metoo stuff online provided some accelerant, so we now have a cascade (I should be citing Timur Kuran here).  The Cosby story didn't have the same effect even though the story generated a mini-permission structure for women to come out about Cosby (the pattern of a few women leading to a cascade of many since now they would be believed) perhaps because Cosby was no longer at the top of the power structure.  Taking down a relatively powerful figure in the industry created a permissive environment to come out against James Toback, Kevin Spacey and others.
  2. Maybe, just maybe, a second thing might also be happening: the previous permission structure that made it ok and easy for relatively powerful men to prey upon actresses and others in Hollyood maybe breaking.  For how long was the casting couch an unfortunate but expected obstacle that one had to overcome, one way or another, to get a role and to stay in the business?  The men saw it as an entitlement and the women and men (thanks, Kevin Spacey for reminding us that one can be a creep regardless of orientation) beneath them as legitimate prey.  It maybe the case that these norms--these standards--are changing so that the powerful will not see it as their right, that their companies may be less willing to protect, foster and even feed them.  The economic consequences of harboring these folks may help to break this particular permission structure.  I hope so....
Which gets me to the phone call du jour.  Student journalists at McGill are pursuing the story of sexual harassment there, and wanted to get my take since I have been vocal about it.  One of the challenges McGill faces is this: the current batch of administrators say that they are more serious and will listen to the students who file complaints, but why should students believe them?  Thus far, they have not observed any profs paying any price for their behavior.  The permission structure has not visibly changed: those who complain cannot detect any justice, any ramifications, any consequences for the perpetrators.  Yes, the school will say that folks have faced consequences but it is all confidential, so trust us.  Um, no. Permission structures don't changed based on one set of actors saying "believe me."  People have to see that something has changed.  Weinstein lost his job, that his studio is in deep trouble, that police and prosecutors are looking into him have made a big difference (whether it lasts or not, I have no idea).  If McGill and other universities want to be taken seriously, they may want to fire a serial sexual harasser or two.  Well, if they want to be seen as caring more about their students than about their reputation, which, ironically, would improve their reputation.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on this, as I am way outside of my expertise and just thinking aloud.  Does this make sense?



NATO, Latvia and The Joy That is Trump

This afternoon, I went to a lunch roundtable with a visiting Latvian dignatary, organized by the MacDonald-Laurier Institute.  It was held under Chatham House rule, so I can only report what I said and what I learned, not what individual folks said.  As I am a cheerleader for the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence effort in the Baltics (I would rather Putin have fewer opportunities for a fait accompli), I tend to get invites.  And I learn stuff, which is good because I am endlessly curious.

What did I learn today?
  • I hadn't realized that twenty of NATO's twenty-nine countries have sent contingents to the Baltics. Which raises the classic question: who isn't?  When I have some time, I will figure that out.
  • I heard something I had not heard before: Trump's uncertainty might be a good thing.  That is, Putin likes to play the madman game to intimidate folks, but Trump is more sincerely a madman (not put in those words).  In my one chance to ask a question, I pushed back on this--that what NATO needs is certainty.  Which then led to:
  • Yep, the folks in Europe still hang their hopes on the generals--Mattis, McMaster and Kelly.  Followers of the Semi-Spew would guess that I pushed back hard on this. Yes, I did, noting that McMaster has been a bit more optimistic about military options in Korea, which means he is less credible.  Oh and that Kelly is awful, awful, awful.  That Mattis might have be wiser and more constrained, but Trump doesn't always listen.  Anyhow, I think this is wishful thinking--that we can hope that the generals can contain Trump, but given the lack of real alternatives, it is one that folks are going to hold on to.
  • That Latvia is lucky to have gotten Canada as its framework partner.  The British?  Not so reliable after Brexit--who knows what military capabilities they are going to sacrifice as a declining pound bites them big-time.  Germany?  The Germans are infected by Schroeder disease--that the past Chancellor is now in bed with Putin, and there are concerns that there are others in the German political system with financial interests in Russia.  Canada?  A good transatlantic partner that has always done serious things when needed--Vimy, Dieppe, etc.
  • That a big NATO presence, one that RAND recommended, would be bad.  That the current NATO force is not a real threat to Russia, but if you put in 7 brigades, they will come up with offensive war plans.  That deterrence worked in West Berlin with a very light force. 
  • That if Russia were to engage in war, they would find themselves cut off from the European markets and from shipping lanes--the Baltic Sea and Black Sea would be blocked.  Interesting.
  • Estonia and Latvia do seem to have the rules of engagement that I thought--if they see "little green men" Russian provocateurs, they will shoot them.  The question I didn't ask is: is that authority pre-delegated to the local troops?
  • Smartest thing: EU is the greatest threat to Putin, not NATO.  Because countries seeking to join the west and be more successful economically, such as Belarus, raise more risks for Putin's domestic politics.
  • In terms of who to hang out with, the Latvians prefer to be among the Nordics than Central European countries.
Overall, a very interesting lunch.  Thanks, MacLI!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Starting Points Revisited

A friend asked her friends for copies of their dissertation proposals as she teaches her graduate students how to propose.  So, I skimmed mine as I was attaching it to an email to her.  The timing of all of this is pretty good, since one of the classes I am teaching this semester is aimed at getting NPSIA's students to the starting line of their dissertation--a completed proposal.

As I skimmed, I had some reactions. 
  • Damn, that was a long time ago.  I defended the proposal in June of 1991 so it seems very dated.  It starts thusly:
The capture of the capital of Ethiopia by Eritrean separatists and other groups may lead to an unprecedented event in Africa: a successful secession.  A similar event may be occurring in Somalia as rebels have taken control of the northern part of the country, declaring independence as the new sovereign state of Somaliland.  Meanwhile, Yugoslavia's breakdown seems imminent as Hungary provides small arms to Croatian separatists.    Finally, though the Gulf War ended, the Kurdish struggle for autonomy has continued.  These events demonstrate the tenacity of ethnic conflict and the nature of such conflicts to draw in other states.  In the post-Cold War era, the international consequences of ethnic conflict need to be studied. 
"Yugoslavia's breakdown seems imminent...."  Maybe.  "Kurdish struggle for autonomy has continued.  What is old is new again.  I have to say the last line of the intro para is about as perceptive as anything I have ever written.  Indeed, the IR of ethnic conflict was about to become a thing, and I said so in 1991.  I have gotten a lot wrong (facebook reminds me that I predicted the outcome of the 2016 on this date last year).
  • So much use of the L word: literature.  Ug.  Since then, I have become a forceful advocate for not thinking about one's lit review as a lit review but as building blocks.  I didn't know better.  I was so young.
  • In my attempt to be a good social scientist, I came up with a 3x3, not quite realizing that a 2x2 was what I needed:
 

  •  Looking back, I realize that I have remained very wedded to two core logics that were the starting point of my dissertation: that when two parties compete for the same group, it will lead to outbidding and thus extreme stances on policies (political Units per Communal Group > 1) AND when a party seeks support from multiple ethnic groups (one political unit and multiple CGs), the party will have to moderate its claims and avoid appeals to a single group.  Indeed, much of my understanding of last year's election harks back to these two ethnic political logics that apparently have shaped my destiny.
  • The methodology section was a pack of pie crust promises!  
    • No quant study.  Indeed, numbers only came back into my work a few years after I finished my dissertation as I discovered a collection of data that would be of much help--the Minorities at Risk Dataset.
    • My proposed list of case studies was far from what I did.  I proposed studying a bunch of individual countries over time to see what varied.  What I did mostly was study a handful of secessionist crises and compare how a dozen or more countries reacted to the particular crisis... with one exception.  I did study Somalia's support for irredentism over time, which dropped out of the book but became an article.
Anyhow, it is time for me to read a former student's book manuscript, based on her dissertation which I do remember, based on her proposal, of which I have little memory.

Thanks for joining me in today's trip via the wayback machine.



Friday, November 3, 2017

If This is the Upside Down ...

Thanks to a tweet by Michael Cohen (speechboy columnist, not the lawyer for Trump), I started to think about what it would mean if this were the Upside Down.  But to discuss that, I need to invoke the Spoilers break since I have seen Stranger Things 2 and you might not have:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Thinking about Combat/Not Combat

This article has pushed me to think a bit more about the whole combat/not combat thing. Democratic leaders these days seem to want to convince their publics after Afghanistan (as if Afghanistan is not still a thing) that their militaries are doing heaps of stuff but not combat. 

The Canadian case gets quite confusing quickly.  Even after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pulled out the CF-18s that were dropping bombs on Iraq (and, oh yeah, five sorties in Syria), Canada was still doing several things that were combat-ish: special operators on the ground advising and assisting the Kurdish forces, refueling planes, flown by other countries, that would be dropping bombs, and the recon planes (the Auroras) that were collecting info that would be then used to provide targeting information.

All of these efforts involved facilitating the killing of ISIS troops.  Is it not combat when one is fueling a plane that drops bombs?  Is it not combat when one is providing targeting lists? Is it not combat when one is guiding ground forces to aim better so that they can kill more effectively? 
Perhaps it is only combat when one's forces are actually put in harm's way?  Well, the SOF were on the frontlines, more than folks had expected, and there were casualties, so combat?

I think the problem is that democratic leaders really want to tell their publics one of three different stories:
  1. We are not killing people.
  2. We are not at much risk of getting killed.
  3. This ain't Afghanistan--we aren't sending significant numbers of troops into battle.
The last is truthful, and perhaps the messaging should be--we are not engaged in conventional offensive combat ops.  That may be too long for a sound bite but does fit into a tweet.  Number 2 is a bit dicey--what is risk, how much risk is acceptable or expected?  The Defence Minister, Bill Graham, and the Chief of the Defence Staff, Rick Hillier, did travel across Canada, warning the public that Kandahar was riskier, more dangerous than previous missions, and that Canadians would die.  This amazing honesty may not have been strident enough, but at least it was clear--Canada was doing something different.  Number 1?  I do sometimes think politicians are trying to assure their publics that their forces are not doing anything harmful.... but these are wars, people are getting killed, and we are trying to make our side (which may change from day to day) become more lethal. Perhaps more precise and more restrained but definitely more deadly.  Is that uncomfortable?

What happens most of the time in not just the US or Canada is that politicians say--not combat.  It turns out that is a simple answer covering up all kinds of complex realities, so once things happen and the media pays attention, folks get confused quickly.  I tend to believe that more honesty and less denial up front is a good thing, but, then again, I have never run for office or been on a team helping someone do so.  What might be best for the mission might not be good domestic politics.  Which is perhaps the most normal thing about all of this.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

You Might Be a White Supremacist

Thanks to John Kelly's incredibly dumb comments about the American Civil War, I have been inspired to finally write a post that has been germinating for a while (and I am ripping off Jeff Foxworthy's "you might be a redneck routine.")
  • If you think that both sides of the US Civil War were honorable, you might be a white supremacist.
  • If you think that the civil war happened because the North didn't compromise enough (despite many historic compromises named things like "The Missouri Compromise"), you might be a white supremacist.
  • If you think there were fine people on both sides of Charlottesville, you might be a white supremacist.
  • If you take a vague executive order about a ban on Muslims and enthusiastically enforce it, you might be a white supremacist.
  • If you empower the immigration folks to violate a heap of norms (sick kids in hospitals?), then you might just be a white supremacist.
  • If you give Steve Bannon an office in the White House, you might be a white supremacist.
  • If you continue to have Stephen Miller involved in policy-making and speech-writing, you might be a white supremacist.
  • If you appoint a friend of the KKK as Attorney General, someone the 1980s GOP thought to be too racist to be a Federal Judge, you might be a white supremacist.
  • If you support disenfranchising minorities via voterfraudfraud, such as by appointing a known vote suppressing such as Kris Kobach as head of a voter suppression effort, you might just be a white supremacist.
  • If you target an NFL player for protesting police violence against minorities, you might just be a white supremacist.
I could and probably will go on....   but this gets the idea across even without referring to Trump's racial discrimination in rental housing or other older statements/behavior).

Update:
  • If you cannot denounce slavery, you might just be a white supremacist:




Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ottawa Rocks: Fall Break Interrupted Edition

Academics look forward to the various breaks so that they can get grading done, so that they can make progress on grants, so that they can revise and resubmit.  And we whine other folks schedule stuff during the breaks (I still have no idea why Carleton folks are so enthused about scheduling meetings during the summer).  So, yeah, I whined this week about all the stuff that was happening in town during Carleton's reading week.  BUT it was a great week, so let's take a quick scamper through the events and what I learned (because that is why I got in this business--I love learning new stuff):
  • On Wednesday, there was an event at Global Affairs Canada to launch a book on its recent history.  For those outside of Canada and for those who can't keep track of its ever-changing name, Global Affairs Canada is Canada's State Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In my fifteen years in Canada, it has been the Dept of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, then Dept of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (pronounced Defeated, no!), and now GAC (they hate that, referring to it as Global Affairs). 
    • Anyhow, the event kicked off with Jean Chretien talking about his foreign affairs experiences with some fun comparisons between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  I had never seen Chretien in person, and I can see why he did so well.  He was sharp, interesting, and semi-candid. And funny. 
    • Stefanie Von Hlatky, a good friend, and one of her graduate students, Sara Greco, presented an interesting take as did Adam Chappnick.  I ran off before the other papers as I do have grants to write. 
  • On Thursday, I attended three events in succession: a day long CGAI event on defence procurement, a talk by Dan Drezner, and a book launch by Aisha Ahmad, a former student.
    • As a CGAI Fellow, I feel obligated to attend their events.  As someone who does not study defence procurement but talks about it a lot anyway (it is the one defence issue that sucks up most of the oxygen in Canada [and elsewhere]), events like this are handy to catch up.  The consensus was unsurprising: procurement is broken and the big Defence Policy Review, which now goes by SSE--Stronger, Secure, Engaged, is unlikely to be completed as advertised.  Mostly because Canada lacks enough experts to do the procuring (hey, NPSIA students, here's a growing field for you!) but also because no defence policy has survived for twenty years.  Parties change, priorities change, the defense budget is the easiest thing to cut in hard times to get the budget less deficit-y.  My comeback to that would be: if the Liberals are re-elected, and that seems very likely, then we may not get 20 years of this policy but we might get enough to make it mostly stick.
    • I am probably developing the rep in town for asking the more obnoxious questions at these events.  I asked the Deputy Defence Minister about the contradiction between the talk of transparency and the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements.  She noticed that I did not like her answer much, but we had a pleasant exchange after the event (I need to avoid alienating everybody in defence given the partnership grant I am working on).  I asked another speaker--one from industry who was complaining about government--about whether their intra-industry competition undermines Canadian procurement, citing the example of two shipyards fighting over a contract, leaving the Vice Chief of Defence Staff suspended for probably a year or more....  I was far more dissatisfied by this guy's answer.  Anyhow, it was a very interesting day, and I learned much about how broken defence procurement is and why.
    • Dan Drezner was in town at the invitation of NPSIA and Phil Lagasse's Barton Chair.  Drezner did a great job of presenting his book on the Ideas Industry.  I read the first half of the book beforehand, so I knew mostly what was coming.  It was a very fascinating hour, causing me to re-think my role in the Idea Industry (I will blog when I finish the book about my sudden realization I am a public intellectual... definitely not a thought leader).
    • Best use of Dark Knight Rises






    • Then, I met Mrs. Spew at the War Museum to see Aisha Ahmad present her book, Islam & Co, which discusses the interactions between the Mosque and the Market which then leads some groups to lead proto-states out of state failure until the outsiders come in and pound them (Taliban, Islamic Courts of Somalia, ISIS).  We brimmed with pride as she did such a great job of presenting her work and making it so very meaningful.  The room was packed, and it was not a small room. She answered the questions deftly.   So, yeah, clear eyes, full hearts and all that.
  • On Friday, I spent the morning at Global Affairs again, but this time, I was the center of attention.  I was in their Policy Lab, presenting the lessons of Afghanistan as I saw them.  My one big regret is that I didn't get a chance to interview many of the attendees when I was writing my book since they had much on the ground experience.  Since they didn't throw things at me and stayed the entire time, I think I got it mostly right. I did say some controversial things about the politicians and about whole of government (a phrase used to describe efforts to try to overcome bureaucratic politics and usually fall short).
So, yeah, Ottawa is a great town for someone who studies International Relations even if it means getting far less work done during reading period.  Now I have to do the grading I didn't do this week if I can resist the siren call of Stranger Things 2.

Secessionism is Hip Again: Catalonia Edition

When I started writing my dissertation long ago in a galaxy far away (early 1990s San Diego), I had a problem: each day there seemed to be a new secessionist crisis, which meant re-writing the intro chapter every day.  I eventually learned a key pro-tip: write a very drafty intro and then leave it behind and then re-write it LAST since the diss/article/book will inevitably change somewhat.  Anyhow, I am having deja vu, what with the Kurds and then the Catalans making news.

I have not studied the Catalans, and I have not been able to pay much attention because I have lots of other stuff getting my attention (yeah, full profs need to remember how to say no, pro-tip deux).  But I did write a bunch of stuff back when I was a junior prof that applies now.  While much of it was on the International Relations of Secession (see ye olde ties that divide or "Discrimination in IR"), I did do some data stuff on separatism.  One of the clearest findings then and now is this: groups that lose autonomy tend to be separatist.  Oh, and groups that lose their institutional means of expressing dissent may resort to violence.

So, while the Catalans may not have played this brilliantly, the government of Spain has been dumber.  There really was no reason for Spain to jump so hard and so fast on the Catalans.  Before the past several months, Catalans were ambivalent about secession.  How to reduce that ambivalence?  Revoke their autonomy and do other things to make the Catalans feel as if they cannot exert their voice in a democratic Spain.  What should Spain should have done?  Arrogant for me to say from my position of ignorance, but here I go: not much.  Spanish leaders should just not have recognized the referendum as happening.  "Oh, you guys are lining up to vote on something purely symbolic? How cute."

What has worked in Canada could have worked in Spain: give the separatists enough of what they want that it becomes hard for them to win a referendum.  Sure, sometimes you get a nail-biter, but it is easy to imagine what would have happened in 1995 if Canada had been heavy-handed.  Yes, more decentralization can lead to more demands and perhaps more separatism, but doing the opposite does so more quickly and, more importantly, can lead to violence.  As Spain shuts off the ability of the Catalans to win democratically, it would not be surprising if some Catalans became radicalized and started using violence.

Then again, unforced errors are all the rage these days: Brexit and Trump and now Spain v Catalonia.  So, we can pile on the Spaniards for messing this up, but damn our houses of glass are broken. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

All Over the World: Some Thoughts on US Troop Deployments

In the aftermath of the Niger ambush, folks are wondering where the US troops are.  Perhaps an easier question is where are they not?
I forget who linked to this document which lists, accurately or not,* where US service folks are serving (see this page for links to all kinds of related reports).
* Dave and I relied heavily on NATO placemats for the numbers in Afghanistan even as we were told, due to politics, that some countries deliberately over-estimated or under-estimated.
 I had a few reactions along the way, so here's some quick takes:
  • Someone needs to scrub this a bit, as it reports 1k US Marines in Austria and 4 in Australia. Given that the US very publicly has developed a relationship with Australia to train Marines there, I am pretty sure someone switched the two numbers.  
  • Bosnia has two American service members.  Almost certainly the Defense Attache and his/her assistant or an observer for EUFOR (European Force).  Which reminds me of how we all resolved the contradiction between "in together, out together" and "hasten the day we could leave" as the US and Canada left Bosnia when NATO's SFOR became EU's EUFOR.
  • There are 142 American service members in Canada (more than half USAF)?  This is probably a combo of NORAD stuff and exchange relationships. I joked "Holy Occupation" on twitter, but this is a pretty unsurprising number.
  • Two thousand in Djibouti.  Much drone and Special Ops probably run out of there.  China and Japan also have folks based there--pretty crowded for a small country.
  • 500 Marines in El Salvador?  Not sure what to make of that
  • 360 in Kosovo as the US, yes, is still in KFOR.  Interventions last a long time....
  • Iceland: 0.  Ah, backfill memories as the US used to have fighters and support aircraft based in Iceland.  Not anymore.
  • Georgia: 0.  No defense attache?
  • 127 Marines in Libya?  All guarding the embassy?  I have no idea.
  • 258 Marines in Norway?  Mighty cold.  But as a friend reminded me, US has pre-deployed equipment there, which means folks there to take care of it.  
  • Lithuania is not listed?
  • 112 in Poland?  This seems wrong as the US deployed a Brigade Combat Team (4k) to Poland and somewhat dispersed it in the region.  But the US is a Framework Nation of the Persistent Presence in Poland, so it has got to be more like 1k at the very least.
So, no, not a great list.  Especially since it lists Niger at 5.  Super-oops.

My takeaways:
  • The Marines are far busier than one would expect.
  • Past interventions lead traces.
  • We need a better list.
  • It reminded me of this song:






Sunday, October 22, 2017

Advising and Assisting: Lessons from Omelets

Omelets?  OMLT: Observer,  Mentor, Liaison Teams.  In Afghanistan, many (but not all, due to caveats)* NATO members and partners (the latter would be non-members like Australia, Sweden, Georgia, etc) would put small groups of troops into a larger Afghan unit to help mentor them and provide them with critical linkages to air support, artillery support, intel, and other stuff needed to make the Afghans more effective.  During the high point of the effort, from 2006-2013 or so, these OMET-ed Afghan units would go into battle alongside ISAF forces.  This is key because if the Afghan unit broke and ran, the small numbers of ISAF Omeleteers (yes, they were called omeleteers) would still have the protection of the ISAF battlegroup.
*  Some countries were reluctant to participate in OMLTS due to: higher risks--one's security still mostly depended on the Afghans or one might be present when Afghans commit war crimes--why the Danes, otherwise fairly aggressive and caveat-free, chose to OMLT only garrison units.  Oh, and many countries had rules about whether OMLTs could accompany their mentees outside the country's area of operations.
Why is this relevant?  Because these days, few places where "advising and assisting" is there such backup. Indeed, in Niger, there were not even American planes and helicopters nearby.  As hinted at  on the Bombshell podcast, this violated one of the fundamental rules in Afghanistan--that operations were not take place more than a hour from a major alliance medical facility. This meant helos, and if no helos, then no ops unless within a short drive of medical help.  Why? Because if you can get a wounded soldier/marine/whatever to a hospital within an hour, then they have a  high probability of living.  This is important because wounded soldiers don't count: that they don't get listed in Killed in Action totals (do you know how many of your country's military folks were wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq?  Probably not, but KIA, maybe); they don't make the news as much, and, yes, they don't semi-require the President or someone else to call/write the relatives. [Ok, overly cynical--golden hour rule is very important for making sure those hurt in harm's way have the best chance to survive their wounds]

Anyhow, those rules, like all rules, tend not to apply as strictly to Special Operations types.  Why?  Necessity--they go to places where there is not major allied infrastructure providing heaps of helos and hospitals.  Oh, and SOF means secret so when bad stuff happens, it is less likely to cause trouble back home.  As poker this week in Vegas reminded me, less likely does not mean impossible.  So, things went poorly in Niger and we have little idea what happened, but it is now news.

The US forces were advising and assisting the Nigeriens and got ambushed.  One of the tricky things about this stuff is advising and assisting often means combat--killing and being killed, wounding and being wounded.  But they fall short of conventional combat operations, so publics and medias and politicians get confused about whether this is combat or not.  Anyhow, because there are few civilians in the proper jobs at State and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, this administration probably didn't really know who was in Niger and what they were doing.  So, more abdication of responsibility to the military.... and when the military is left alone, they may engage in risky or careless behavior.  Such as falling into rituals and habits that allow the adversaries to plan ambushes, for instance.

Again, we don't know much.  What we do know is that this US administration needs to staff up and start engaging in oversight.  Instead, they have engaged in blamecasting with a Congresswoman.  Not good.  Did this administration learn from the failed Yemen raid early in their term?  Does not seem so. All we do know is that Congress and the media need to ask tough questions of four star generals, active and retired, to figure out what went wrong, what can be learned, and how will stuff like this be less likely in the future.  To be clear, whenever a country has thousands of troops strewn through the world, advising and assisting militaries in and near conflict zones, bad stuff will occasionally happen.  But we would like to have confidence that much is being done to minimize risks, maximize effectiveness, and perhaps be able to communicate these activities to democratic publics.  And who has such confidence these days?





Friday, October 20, 2017

Always Tis What You Do: GOP edition

I am a Potter-ite as I have said many times, with the key creed being:
It is our choices ... that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.  Chamber of Secrets.
While I have been traveling (and not yet gambling) this week, I have missed the chance to spew about much stuff.   So, I have a hot take or two:
  • We really should not be surprised by Kelly lying about Congresswoman Wilson.  Kelly was awful at DHS, amplifying or encouraging or at least not mitigating the Muslim ban way back in February.  Under his administration, ICE felt unshackled to engage in all kinds of awful tactics against people who presented no threat to the US.  And then he chooses to lie and attack rather than apologize for his master's inability to convey any empathy.  So, yeah, tis your choices, John Kelly. [I do thank him for presenting yet more evidence that there are too many ex-generals in this administration]
  • Lots of talk of George W. Bush subtweeting Trump in his speech critical of nativism and protectionism.  That is a choice and a good one, but then again, he also showed up to campaign for a truly awful candidate for governor in Virginia.  Maybe we ought not expect Bush to criticize GOP candidates, but he did choose to support him.
  • McMaster?  He keeps on talking about denuclearization and military options, which is scaring the crap out of me.  Because a war with North Korea, the only way to denuclearize NK, would be catastrophic for South Korea, Japan, North Koreans, and, oh, yeah, the international economy.  He also keeps showing up on TV spinning for Trump--another choice that is harmful especially for civilian-military relations since he is still an active member of the US Army.
  • Mattis says we shouldn't be asking questions about the Niger ambush?  Oversight of the military is not just your job, sir.  It involves Congress, and because Congress operates via fire alarms (they wait for someone to report a problem and then respond), the media play a vital role in civilian control of the military.  I continue to think Mattis is overrated because he is better than the rest.  That ain't saying much these days.
  • Trump?  His choices continually suck.
We know the character of the folks in this administration.  Maybe some day, we will find out that Kelly, Mattis and McMaster prevented worse things from happening, but I can't really count on that. All I see are the choices they make, and that tells me enough.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

False and Real Patriotism

This administration lives in a bizarro universe and so does, alas, much of the media.  The latest?

For the past couple of months, the false focus of what it means to be an American and a patriot has been on whether one stands or kneels during the anthem at sporting events.  The real focus should be on how this administration is so hostile to minority ethnic groups and immigrants (see the latest survey that has Trump wildly unpopular among non-whites).  Keeping green card holders out of the army?  What the hell? 

One could focus simply on the irrationality of this--that with most younger Americans being unqualified/disqualified (mostly due to physical fitness), one would think that taking in those who are willing and able to serve would make sense.

More importantly, what is more patriotic than being willing to fight and die for one's adopted country?  Actually serving is far more important than standing during the anthem.  One is a real contribution and, as Trump reminded a soldier's widow, a potentially risky thing to do.  The other? Purely symbolic and actually has got little to do with being a patriot, as dissent is just as American, if not more so, than standing during a song. 

I have been blogging less lately because many of my entries would simply be FFS.  For fuck sake.  Why?  Because this administration is so often full of shit, so shameless that hypocrisy seems to a badge of honor.  Who is the better patriot?  Colin Kaepernick or Donald Trump? It ain't close.  Not at all.  Kaepernick knows that sacrificing self for political change is worth the cost.   Trump only knows sacrificing others for personal aggrandizement and ego.

Twas 1775 when Samuel Johnson said: "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."  Indeed.



Monday, October 16, 2017

Quebec and Xenophobia: the Liberals are Illiberal

Quebeckers get upset when accused of being racist or xenophobic, but then the government of Quebec proposes to deny public services to those who cover their face.
The controversial legislation would effectively ban public workers — including doctors, nurses, teachers and daycare workers — as well as those receiving a service from the government, from wearing the niqab, burka or any other face covering.
 This is very clearly aimed at Muslim women wearing burkas and niqabs and not at those who endure the Canadian winter via fleecy balaclavas.  Why?  Because it is good politics--there is no real threat of face covered folks--just the imagined threat and taking a stance that tells one's base that one is with them by being against the other. 

It makes me want to resurrect an old meme of mine: the xenophobic squirrel.

I will need to find the old pic and make new ones for the PLQ (Quebec Liberal Party) as most of my old ones were aimed at the Parti Quebecois.

They call it religious neutrality.  I call it Islamophobia.  And, of course, the opposition parties in Quebec say it isn't enough.

This does remind me that the national and provincial parties are not the same entities, as Trudeau and the NDP refused to go along with this kind of crap two yeas ago.  It cost the NDP bigly, but not Trudeau.  I wonder if anyone will ask him about this, and whether he will dodge or not.  




Friday, October 13, 2017

Hostile Work Environments

In this space, I have frequently railed against sexual harassers, including outing one at my old place.  Why?  First, much sympathy for those who are directly victimized as it can derail careers and create great pain.  Second, it is simply wrong.  But third, and the topic du jour, is that it creates a hostile work environment.  That seems abstract, and when I first heard that phrase a couple of decades ago, I had no idea what it means.  Now?  Absolutely, I do.

When I was at Texas Tech, there was an assistant prof who slept with multiple grad students, as in at the same exact time and place.  It poisoned pretty much everything:
  • it poisoned faculty-student relations as junior faculty realized that they could not spend any non-office time with students since one of our colleagues was using such opportunities to prey.
  • it poisoned student-student relations as students thought that those who were sleeping with faculty were getting special treatment in terms of grades and protection from both the harasser (probably) and the rest of the faculty (probably not).  
  • it poisoned senior-junior faculty relations as the seniors were oblivious and wanted to give the guy special treatment that the rest of us would not get (they literally said that) while the junior faculty were outraged both by the predator and the special treatment he was getting. 
  • it poisoned the future of the department since getting him fired for being absent without leave took the new department chair's time and health as he had to fight insiders who wanted to keep an AWOL sexual harasser (he eventually was fired, although I am sure he became someone else's problem). 
At McGill, the sexual harassment by one guy over decades:
  • derailed the careers of many young women interested in Mideast studies and peacebuilding.
  • created tensions among the grad students because some didn't know, some didn't believe and some didn't know what to do. 
  • created resentment by those faculty in the know towards the administration that barely slapped a wrist.
  • fostered tensions within the faculty between those in the know and the predator that remained inside the department.
My list for McGill is different because the dynamics were a bit less central to everything.  Why?  Because the predator was not an ally of other senior faculty, that the predator involved fewer students in all the stuff he was up to (the students at McGill did not vote in faculty meetings in numbers that were larger than the junior faculty), because McGill was not nearly as poorly administered at all levels as TTU despite my problems with a chair who knew nothing, heard nothing, etc.

So much of the Harvey Weinstein stuff is familiar to me.
  • There are folks at McGill who remain silent because of confidentiality agreements that were imposed--so journalists know that something happened (and is still happening) but can't write stories with out names and testimony (I have been approached several times over the past year or two).   As someone who was never officially in the loop, I never had to agree to such a pledge. 
  • Others fear saying stuff because of potential lawsuits--my post last year led some folks to speculate when I would get sued.  Not yet.  
  • The community of victims is far larger than folks think--I am not surprised that Weinstein did this over and over again for decades.  He felt entitled and empowered by his own impunity.  That is very familiar given that the harassers I have known are not one-time guys who fell in love or in deep like or had crushes on one amazing student.  Nope, they kept preying upon those who were vulnerable because they could. Again, confidentiality does not protect the future victims.
While sexual harassment happens to most women at some point, it may or not happen everywhere.  I wasn't at Vermont long enough to see anything or hear about anything.  On the other hand, I was at McGill for ten years and only now am hearing about other people (thanks to my post of last year).  At Carleton?  So far, so good.  It does not seem to be a hostile work environment.  Sure, we have some faculty members who are less than optimal colleagues, but so far, I have not heard anything.  That does not mean that it hasn't happened or isn't happening because, as I have seen elsewhere, the predators often do stuff outside of view and are often protected by conspiracies of silence.  I hope this bad stuff isn't going on where I work now, but the odds are not in our favor, given that this is more prevalent than I would like even if it is less prevalent than how Hollywood tends to portray academia.

I remember folks saying that universities could not have policies on faculty-grad student romance since you can't legislate against love. So many of our profs were married to other profs who they had met when one was faculty and the other was a student.  I call bullshit on that. Yes, romance can happen, but if one has feelings for a student, wait until they are not a student.  I think general policies in this case are needed because the damage done to individuals and communities can be so deep and so lasting that it is worth deferring or even denying a few real relationships. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Proud and Humbled

I was in Toronto yesterday for an awards ceremony.  Aisha Ahmad, one of my Phd students from my time at McGill, was receiving an award for best article on an international security topic in 2016.  She was supposed to heave received it last winter at the ISA meeting in Baltimore, but that took place shortly after Trump announced his Muslim ban.  So, I accepted the award on her behalf, and we decided to hold an event in Toronto to recognize her.

Of course, Aisha decided to take advantage of the moment by doing two things: schooling us on doing research and on highlighting her students.  After big IR poohbah Robert Keohane (whose last name gets mispronounced more frequently and in more ways than mine) had a few comment and insights, Aisha discussed positionality in research, especially in fieldwork, making it clear that everyone has a distinct position from where they ask questions, but it seems that only brown folks and women folks tend to be asked about their position and how it affects their work.  She had a great example from real life as her white male colleagues interviewed the same guy she did on the same day but in a different context and got a very different perspective of that same guy.  Really very clarifying discussion. 

Aisha then had a series of her students--undergrad and grad--to discuss their work briefly, and they knocked our socks off.  I have always been impressed with her diligence and her dedication, but mentioning that would have turned my Harry Potter reference (three d's of disapparition) into a Dodgeball reference (five d's of dodgeball).

After she talked, Barnett Rubin moderated, David Dewitt and I said a few things.  David talked about Aisha's article and spiffy new book. I talked about Aisha and how truly impressive she is and how far she has come.  The path has not been easy for her, but she has walked it (or ran it, I guess) with grace and fire. 

I have much pride for her excellence, but I am also humbled because she works so much harder than I do/did, is so much more diligent and passionate about the work, and is just rocking the profession. I joked that I will take all credit for her success, as is my right as her supervisor, but, we know the truth--it is all Aisha. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Texas Tech and Guns

I finished watching some fun TV to find that there has been a shooting at Texas Tech, where I taught from 1995-2002 (well, until 2001, but was technically still employed until summer of 2002).  We don't know much yet, but I can't help but think about a few things:
  1. The Texas legislature decided to allow guns on campus despite the opposition of university police departments across the state and, well, common sense.
  2. The first person to pay the price for this is a campus cop, and the student seems to have problems.  The cops were visiting the student to do a welfare check.  So yeah.
  3. The slogan at TTU, instead of hook 'em or gig 'em or whatever, is Guns Up!  
I am glad that my remaining friends at TTU and everyone else except the cop and the kid are ok.  The kid's life is destroyed, and the cop is gone and his family is ripped apart.  But there's more freedom with heaps of guns, so there's that.

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh?

I was away last Canadian Thanksgiving, and, yes, I am still giving thanks for that terrific time last year (facebook reminds me I took a bus tour to Mt. Fuji last year and encountered ninjas along the way).  So, I don't think I properly gave thanks last year.  Moreover, with the past year of US politics, well, it makes Canada's joys stand out just a wee bit more in stark relief.  So, let me give thanks:
  • I am thankful for the great group of friends I have in Ottawa, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and elsewhere in Canada.  Some stereotypes are actually true--most Canadians I have met are friendly and polite and funny.  We truly feel at home.
  • I am thankful for the two cool jobs I had.  I loved teaching at McGill, and miss the students who went there as well as most of my former colleagues.  It was a great opportunity, and I will always be thankful for it.  Carleton has been mighty, mighty good, with five years flying by.  Sure, I ended up hiring my friends (ok, not so much as I got bounced off of the committees when my friends got short-listed), which makes the place even better, but I felt very welcome even before that.  And the folks at the Dean's Office have recognized my contributions (of course, I then end up doing more stuff for them ...hmmmm).
  • I am thankful to Canada's grant agencies as they have funded my research, which has included a lot of sweet travel around Canada and far, far beyond.  The forms are not fun, and the big partnership grant is a tough nut to crack, but my research ambitions have been very high ever since I moved here since I can get funding to the work I want to do.
  • I am thankful for being in a national capital.  Studying international relations, especially defense and national security stuff, is so much more fun and interesting when one is close to the action (or non-action).  I regularly meet military officers, diplomats, officials across the government, ambassadors and personnel representing their countries to Canada, media folks, and on and on.  It is just so very interesting.  As a deeply curious person, I enjoy this so very much.
  • I am so very thankful for being able to continue to play in a very vibrant, friendly ultimate frisbee community which owns its own fields only 12 minutes from my house. I am, of course, thankful the chance to play so much in Montreal as well.  
  • I am thankful for the great skiing although I doubt I will be returning to Whistler this winter.  Maybe Banff if I am lucky.
  • I am thankful that the 2015 election went the way it did.  Perhaps because the Conservatives had been in power for ten years or so, incumbent fatigue led Canada to move left instead of right, bucking the future trend.  The Liberals are not perfect, nor is Justin Trudeau, but damn near all of my friends would trade their government for the Canadian one in a heartbeat.  I have had the chance to give them my feedback more directly from time to time, and it is an homor to be asked to do so. I do gripe about them, but the Liberals made their big move around this time two years ago when the Conservatives shifted to an Islamophobic stance and the Liberals, as well as the NDP, refused to go along.  That the NDP is now led by a Sikh makes me more inclined to take them seriously in the future.  The multiculturalism of Canadian politics is a tonic these days as I watch the White Supremacist in Chief degrade American politics.
  • I was going to be thankful that I can get the new Star Trek on TV weekly without having to pay CBS streaming, but, well, the show is not that good.
  • I am thankful for better snow removal service!  It took some trying, but we finally found a reliable company. 
I am sure there is more, but I have some class prep to do for tomorrow.  To sum up, I am very grateful that the job market washed us up on these friendly shores.  Not what I expected at all when I started my PhD, but I am very, very lucky.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Tyranny of Low Expectations, Episode 75

I have lost track of how many times I have complained about how lauded James Mattis is, but here I go again.  I saw this:
Sure, Mattis doing great compared to Tillerson, but that is like saying that I am a sprinter when compared to a decomposing corpse.  I cried on twitter:

What evidence do we have that Mattis doing a great job?

I am waiting.... Sure, Mattis hasn't sucked up to Trump, and Trump seems to pay him much respect because Trump has a fetish for guys in uniforms.  But how are things at the Pentagon?  How are our wars going? 

So far, heaps of accidents--ships crashing, soldiers dying in training.  The US forces around the world are killing more civilians.  Every war seems to be escalating.  The US military's response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico has been slow.  Oh, and how is the state of US civilian-military relations?  Trump seems to have abdicated responsibility, which is actually bad from a civ-mil standpoint.  He keeps referring to "his generals."  Meanwhile, the generals are speaking truth to power in front of Congress, saying that they don't want a transgender ban, that they don't support Trump's other policies, but Trump keeps doing those things anyway. Oh, and the anti-immigration efforts of the White House keep on harming the US military's ability to recruit.

So, how is Mattis doing a great job?  Is it because we don't know how much worse it might be if he were not around?  That counterfactual can only work for so long.  Maybe someday we will get memoirs that identify exactly which bad options Mattis preventing Trump from choosing.  Maybe.  Right now, it is an aritcle of faith that Mattis is restraining Trump.  The big test is right in front of us: if Trump decertifies Iran, then we can say that Mattis is not nearly as powerful as folks have thought.  If Trump pulls back, I will try to stop my screams about Mattis being overrated. 




Sexual Harassment and Politics

Upon the anniversary of the Access Hollywood tape that should have ended Trump's candidacy, we have GOP folks criticizing the Democrats for hanging out with and taking money from Harvey Weinstein (not Harvey Feirstein).  Hypocrisy is not new in politics.  Do the Dem's critics have a point?

Probably.  Sure, it is not quite as bad to hang with a sexual harasser than be one, Donald.  But if the the various Dems who buddied up to Weinstein knew of his history of sexual harassment, then they ought to be criticized.  It is not just the right thing to do but also good politics--because the party that says it stands for women should stand for women.  It is pretty simple.  I doubt that Obama knew of Weinstein's history because he sent his daughter to work there, but I have no idea how well known Weinstein's reputation was outside of Hollywood.

The problem is that when someone does this kind of stuff, there is a conspiracy of silence--that many people know but don't tell, so that newcomers don't know and then find out the bad way.  When I outed one of my former colleagues as a serial sexual harasser, a few things happened:
  • Plenty of former students registered their non-surprise and shared their stories.
  • Plenty of colleagues of the harasser registered their surprise--yep, despite decades of engaging in this behavior and despite many graduate students knowing and warning others about it, faculty were in the dark.
  • I started getting stories from students, past and present, about other harassers about whom I had no idea.  
So, yeah, I am willing to give the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, but I am aware of my party bias.  Still, I am also pretty sure that word about Weinstein was out.  So, I am not giving them much benefit of the doubt.  They should all run away and condemn.  Not just because he is now politically toxic, but also to send a message that even if you are powerful, you are not immune from the consequences.

And, yes, I feel strongly about this because I have seen students harmed by sexual harassment and departments' cultures poisoned by it.  This stuff is not going away, as power -> entitlement --> exploitation/coercion --> damage.  

Oh, and if the GOP folks get high and mighty, it is just a sham given that they ran away from and ran back to Trump in days.  Trump's latest stance on women's issues--allowing states to cut birth control from insurance programs--should remind us that whatever sins the Democrats have on women's issues, they pale in comparison to the misogynist in chief.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

National Security Generalists and Learning the Lessons From Lost Wars

A friend posted this piece on facebook: "Why Nerds Should Not Be In Charge of War."  It draws from the new PBS Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick to argue that it happened because of the prominent role played by "generalists."  Yes, Robert McNamara and his gang of Whiz Kids are mighty arrogant, and they have much blame to share for the war.  Indeed, McNamara, unlike certain other arrogant former SecDefs, has spent the time since trying to grapple with what he had wrought.  There is something to the idea that we need folks involved who are regional experts.  Indeed, there has been much debate about whether we political scientists did area studies wrong by insisting on generalizable theory and advanced methods. 

But as a national security generalist, I am mildly miffed at the, dare I say it, generalizations made about the generalists. "Generalism breeds (unwarranted) confidence and certitude."  Um, maybe if you focus on Kissinger and McNamara, but there are plenty of generalists who are constantly worried about not knowing enough about a place, wondering when we will get called out for being the imposters that we think we are. 

The funny thing is that I read this piece only a few days after participating on a panel on the Kurdish referendum at a think tank in DC.  I have no Kurdish credentials--all I have are the lessons I have learned about the general dynamics of separatism (pretty much everything I was doing before I moved towards doing NATO stuff and civil-military relations).  The other panelists were a Kurd who had a sharp understanding of the politics of the area and a Middle East expert who knew much about the regional dynamics.  I felt very much like an outsider, but, as it turns out, the organizer had the right idea because I could put the specific situation into a broader context to highlight how the Kurdish situation compares and contrasts with other separatist movements.  The audience, mostly of folks who are less generalist and more area studies, actually dug what I was doing.  It turns out that those who do this Mideast stuff rarely get a chance to see the forest for all of the trees, and I got to provide them with a view of the forest, which helped them understand the specific trees better.

So, let's not burn all national security generalists for the sins of some of the most powerful of our kind.  We do need to take seriously how to foster and encourage area studies as funding of such training and work has declined.  The good news is that I have seen plenty of next generation scholars who mix general lens with specific expertise including but not exclusively my students.  Last week, I engaged in a discussion on twitter about how much area specific knowledge is necessary, and my answer to that question was to make sure generalists like myself converse with the area experts. To be clear, we need to have more occasions where the generalists and the specialists meet so that we are all both educated and humbled.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Fool and His Beard

Tis a beautiful day in DC.  I was originally supposed to fly home from Latvia via DC yesterday, but was invited to participate in an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (not that other CSIS) on the Kurdish referendum.  I laid over... but my bag did not.  So much for my clever plan (usually I have to pickup my bag and check through customs when I fly from someplace else into the US and then onto Canada, not htis time).  So, I had to go to CVS today, and had an epiphany:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Latvia? Yep

I trekked to Latvia today for the Riga Security Conference.  Why?  Because my interest for NATO didn't stop when the book got published.  This conference will hopefully help me get started on a spring project--interviewing folks about the deployments of NATO troops to the Baltics.  I already have one interview lined up.  Plus I want to get the perspectives of the folks from this region for my teaching, my research and my punditry.

What have I learned thus far?
  • Kristaps Porzingis, who plays for the Knicks, seems to be the only relevant sports hero around here.
  • Cobbletones are hard on the feet.
  • The old town is very pretty.  
  • Too many choices for restaurants.
  • Oh, and I was too tired to hang out until 7pm for the Oktoberbest stuff to start.  The big question is whether I can stay up till 10pm--jet lag is a thing.




This restaurant buys beef from someplace that plays music
for the cows!


View from my hotel's rooftop bar