Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Next Fights

My previous post was on focusing on the policy victory and not the games down the road.  But there are other fights to be had.  This map from the NYT illustrates the challenge:

It did not translate that well, but the idea here is where there are "laws protecting against sexual orientation- and gender-identity based discrimination" in public sector employment, private sector employment, housing and public accommodations  respectively.  The pattern is obvious--best to be in the Northeast or West or mid-midwest (Min, Wis, Iowa, Illinois).

Much room to perfect the union.... alas.

It's About the Policies, Stupid!

Bill Clinton famously had the line "It's About the Economy, Stupid!" from James Carville when he ran for President.  I am reminded of that as I see tweets and stories about people wondering whether this last week of great victories for various progressive causes--the lowering of the Confederate flag, the decision that keeps Obamacare intact, the fair housing decision, and the Marriage Equality decision--might hurt the Democrats in the next elections.  The idea is that the disgruntled Conservatives can mobilize their base better with all of these accumulated grievances whereas the left may not show up because they got what they wanted.

And I just want to yell "FFS!!!"  Why?  Because we choose politicians and parties to get the policies we want that affect people's lives.  This past week, in the shadows of the awful event in Charleston and subsequent arsons of black churches elsewhere, was a great week for the policies people have been fighting for.  So, these are wins that affect people's lives and not pyrrhic victories.  Embrace and enjoy the progress.

Oh, and, by the way, one of the points I made a few days ago is that winning some battles can give us hope.  That it may actually encourage some more activism since victory is now seen as being possible.  The union is far short of being perfect, that the task of perfecting the union goes on and on. 

Again, I think the next fight is to reverse #voterfraudfraud as well as to do something to improve the quality of policing and confidence in the police, which probably means focusing on restraint.  Is the glass half full or half empty?  The answer, as always, is yes.  But let's enjoy this week and use it to think about making improvements rather than worrying that better policy might undermine a smidge the political strategies of tomorrow.

Learning the Art of Having No Shame

Twitter folks were surprised last night to find that two of the actors behind the Iraq war are going to be teaching a course: "The War in Iraq: A Study in Decision-Making".  The two "profs": are Lewis Libby and Paul Wolfowitz.  Libby was convicted of perjury as he was partially responsible for outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent since her husband, Joseph Wilson, did not rubber stamp some of the more than questionable evidence that Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons.  Wolfowitz was the number two guy at the Pentagon and chief cheerleader of the Iraq war.  While I am appalled at the hubris involved in this "course," I am not surprised since these folks have long demonstrated that they lack self-awareness and lack shame.  

So, I asked what would folks ask if they were in this class?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Footie FTW!

Today was my first time at a real soccer game: Women's World Cup in Ottawa Quarter-Finals with USA vs China.  I wanted to see one game over the course of this series, and gambled that the quarterfinals would provide me with the best chance to see the USA or Canada.  And it worked out.  I went to the game with my niece, a colleague and his wife.  We had a great time as the US won!!  Not a bad way to celebrate marriage equality day.  The highlights are here.

Anthem Time to Start
Despite the 1-0 score, the game was  dominated by the American women.  They kept the ball in the Chinese side of the field.  They could not finish, as they kicked and headed many chances over the cross bar.  This was very frustrating, but it seemed inevitable that the US would score.  And they did on a great cross and header.

Another frustrating header

I am not a soccer expert as I don't even watch much on TV except for the years where the World Cup (Men and Women) and occasionally the Olympics are on.  But the one thing I did notice that was seconded by my more knowledgeable colleague, David Long, is that the American forward was out of position nearly the entire game.  She was almost always offsides which helped to stifle more than a few attacks.

End of game handshake line
Julie Johnston stuck out, dominating on defense and making many good plays on offense, including the cross that produced the goal.  Indeed, the American defense lived up to its billing.  It will be interesting to see if they can handle the German attack.

Besides some soccer lessons, I also learned that standing up at a game is forbidden, more or less.  I got poked by the woman behind me whenever I stood up.  And I only stood up when the folks in front of me stood up.  Very strange. 

My wife, my niece and I spent the afternoon walking around downtown Ottawa as I played tour guide to them.  Twas a fun day, and I did enjoy standing in front of a Supreme Court today even if it was not the right one.  Great day for the USA with greater justice and equal protection for all and then a nice win to put some icing on the cake.

A Method By Any Other Name

One of my big pet peeves is when a person using quantitative methods refers to their stuff as "empirical", suggesting that other methods are not empirical but somehow imaginary.  This is an oldie but a goodie in the olde methods wars because empirical means:
Empirical evidence (also empirical data, sense experience, empirical knowledge, or the a posteriori) is a source of knowledge acquired by means of observation or experimentation. The term comes from the Greek word for experience... Notice there is nothing in there about counting and using math.  There are folks in my school who do this, but it is not their fault--they are economists (we cannot hold such folks responsible for their social skills [just teasing]).  In political science, this still happens, and mostly because of old habits, I think.  

There is work in political science that is not empirical: game theory, formal modeling, political theory.  But most of the work published is empirical in one way or another.  Similarly, some folks will use the word systematic as if to suggest all quantitative work is systematic and all non-quant is not.  Believe me, as I have reviewed much quant stuff (and written some), not all of it is that systematic.  And much work using comparative case studies is quite systematic and some not.  Systematic is a variable, not a constant, for any method.  Same goes for rigorous (thanks to @alb202) for reminding me of that one.

This is, of course, mostly a debate for grad students, as mature political scientists realize that each method has strengths and weaknesses, and that the best work often involves mixing methods.  Indeed, the one trend I noticed over the past ten years or so of the job market is that many of the most successful candidates are those that use multiple methods.  

My career path has crossed the supposed quant/qual barrier, as my early work was entirely qualitative (comparative case studies) and then I found a handy dataset for asking a variety of questions, producing some of my most cited work, and then I found myself doing more qualitative work as I interviewed military officers, government officials and others about their country's Afghanistan operations.  My current projects, as I ramp up the next big qualitative project, include a bunch of different quant projects of varying degrees of complexity (the heavy lifting of the quant techniques is being done by younger, savvier co-authors).

Maybe I am too dismissive, perhaps the quant/qual wars are taking place somewhere outside of the PSR threads.  There are probably departments where the fight still resonates quite a bit.   From my vantage point, where I see glimpses of the job market, and where jobs are the most precious resource in our business, the mixed methods folks doing so well is very suggestive to me.  It is certainly the case that journals have certain tendencies (that the very scarce resource that is an APSR article is still distributed in a particular way).   The good news is that the quant and qual people can join together in being threatened by the experiment zealots.... or they could until a few weeks ago.

All I know is that when I hear empirical, it makes me think of the key move the Realists made in IR, as they try to define everything as as Idealist.  There are lots of names in this game, and lots of gaming of names.  Which means I can invoke Omar.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Slipping Down that Slippery Slope

Of course, we now see people saying that taking the Confederate flag down is starting us down a slippery slope.  My response: slippery slope is a dumb argument.  How so?

First, while there are waves and momentum in politics, there are plenty of discrete decisions to be had.  That making one decision does not make anything else automatic.  Even precedent-setting Supreme Court decisions do not necessarily knock down all dominoes, as there can (and always is) resistance to implementation, varied interpretations, the possibility of new legislation, and, of course, new SC decisions that modify or reverse the precedent. 

So, anyone saying that taking down the confederate flag will lead to its banishment is simply wrong.  The 1st amendment will stand in the way, big time.  And rightly so.  People can say what they want, even if it is stuff we find offensive.  We can ban the confederate flag from public spaces in a limited way--that governments should not hoist a symbol of slavery.  But people will still be able to carry their personal flags, their confederate fanny packs and belt buckles and whatever wherever they go (the Nazis can march in Skokie, etc). Oh, and people can point at them and say "traitors" as that is there right, too.  Oh, and the Fox stuff of the next step being the American flag is just so silly.  Just count how many candidates for President do not wear a flag pin.  Exactly.

Second, sometimes sliding down a slippery slope can be fun.  I mean, have you seen my skiing pictures?  If this week's events lead to the renaming of military bases away from Confederate generals and towards Medal of Honor winners or other American heroes, that is a win.  If we take down busts of KKK leaders from State Houses (Tennessee seems to be in the act of doing that), that is a win. If we stop venerating those who led the fight to uphold slavery, that is a win

None of this solves or fixes racism either in the South or the North, but one aspect of institutional racism has been the whitewashing of history, making heroes out of those who engaged in treason in support of one of the most awful "technologies" or "strategies" or economic processes or whatever you want to call slavery.  Slavery has been and always will be America's original sin. 

When folks like Lincoln and Obama say that we need to keep striving to perfect the union, it means both that the country will never be perfect but that the effort to improve it must always continue.  I have gotten into arguments with Mrs. Spew and College Spew about "progress"--that things are better.  To be clear, they have also gotten worse--mass incarceration to name the most egregious regression.  But I harp on progress because things have gotten better, not to say that the effort needs to stop but that the fight can and should go on since it is not hopeless.  That improvements can be made.  No single decision, vote, or law will be the one that means the fight is over, that the war is won.  But those individual wins not only can improve the conditions of those who have been oppressed and discriminated against but also might just give some momentum for the next battle.

For instance, I hope this week's progress can provide some energy as we need to fight #voterfraudfraud both because it is evil and because it gets in the way of making yet more progress.  Better representation is fundamental as politicians do respond to voters and not just big interest groups and big lobbies, as we have seen this past week.

We shall see how much of what has changed this week will stick.  But if we can put the Confederate stuff where it belongs, in a museum, and revise the revised histories, then this momentum (a.k.a. slippery slope) will be not only a fun ride but an important dynamic in the longer struggle.  You can call it a slippery slope, but I will call it progress.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Frisking Trends

Lately, it seems like every time I fly, I get that extra special attention--the very hands on frisking of, um, everything.  I have always looked vaguely semitic, and so I am used to patterns like getting my bag checked more during some periods of my time at the Pentagon than others--certain MP units seemed to give me more attention than other units.

But why get frisked more now?  I have not become more clearly mideastern.  Indeed, I am aging out of the group of likely terrorists.  But the news of the day gave me an aha! moment:

Or it may just be that the security folks found this old photo (sorry for the lousy scan but the frame is hard to open up):

Everything in Moderation Including Anger

There is a lot of discussion in the aftermath of Charleston about forgiveness.  The relatives of the victims immediately forgave the perpetrator, which was most impressive.  My friend, Bill Ayres, wrote a sharp piece on forgiveness.  Much of the arguments here tend to that anger is destructive to those who have been victimized, and that it is better to let go then let anger poison oneself.  Indeed, the classic saying (by Buddha or not):

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

There is much to that.  I am a big fan of this particular view:

But I want to push back just a bit.  Alcohol can be a poison if too much is imbibed, but is not so bad in moderation.  How about the same for anger?  Might anger be useful?  Might it be a potentially positive force?  I am thinking of political mobilization (not that I have read much of that literature)--that being outraged and offended gets people off of their couches and out in the streets.

I have not seen Inside Out yet, but I think I am comfortable with the idea that emotions can co-exist. That Anger might co-exist with Love, so that one can be motivated to engage in peaceful dissent, maybe?  There are other ways to motivate action, and anger can, of course, lead to the dark side, but passion can be directed towards turning out the vote, for getting folks to ignore the costs of collective action and ignore the logic of free-riding.

Maybe this is all rationalization since I suck at letting go.  I am trying to let go of a key long held resent since the subject has reflected and admitted much remorse even if the behavior has not entirely changed.  I am reaching the point of being able to forgive and let go the anger towards this person.  On the other hand, I still feel anger and will refuse to forgive former colleagues who continue to act in the same old ways.  For me, I guess, forgiveness requires that there is learning and remorse... (and I am not alone) which means I am not able to forgive the murderer of nine people last week.  So, perhaps I can only think of focusing my anger in positive ways since I cannot let go.

Just like the U.S. is a work in progress, so am I...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Symbol Change is More Than Symbolic Change

Now that we see some real momentum in people pulling down the confederate flag (and yes, pedants, it has another name, but if this annoys one racists, woot!) we have people pooh-poohing this sea change.

It is just a symbol, they say.  This is not real change.  Well, if it is so trivial why do people think it is so important?  Politics is just like symbols--intersubjective.  That is, we as a society give meaning to stuff, and that meaning resonates.  It shapes perceptions of what is permissible, what is impermissible.  Tomorrow, African Americans will still be overrepresented in our prisons, and more African American men will be killed by cops in the days and months ahead.  Taking down the flag does not remove guns from any racist, nor is Walmart ceasing to sell guns.

BUT this really is a learning moment--that norms of society are shifting, recognizing that racism still exists in a big way, that a key symbol of racism is not to be tolerated, that the myths about the Civil War are to be busted again and again until people get it.  This will not eliminate racism nor the racists, but it is creating political mobilization and not just among the haters who have been mobilized since a multiracial man with a foreign name became President. 

While we can debate how much progress has or has not been made and what needs to be done next, removing the symbols of hate helps remove the signal sent that it is ok to discriminate, that it is ok to exclude, that it is ok to hate openly.  The metaphor I am struggling with is one of insurgency--that the insurgents need a sea in which to swim.  That they need support from the populace.  Changing attitudes and providing a clearer view of what is acceptable may make more transparent the sea in which white supremacists swim, making it harder to hide.  Maybe the next time a friend obsesses about race, his friends might say--you know, he might hurt someone, I should tell someone, instead of saying, well, we all make racist jokes.  Maybe not. 

This gets to something I have been thinking about. This murderer's friends knew he was a flaming racist, but thought that making jokes and threats was no big deal.  My hope is that the sea change in attitudes (not of everyone but of opinion leaders, corporations, and media coverage) makes it just a bit harder for white supremacists to be comfortable.  Because I do believe the US is fighting a counter-insurgency against white supremacists who have killed far more Americans since 1995 than Muslim Americans have. UPDATE: See NYT piece that makes this last point

Winning a counter-insurgency requires identifying the enemy and discriminating in the use of coercion against those who are aiming to do violence.  The reactions to the events of last week have been real and substantial even if they seem symbolic.  There is far more to be done, but far more has happened in the last few days than I expected.  South Carolina may fail to move the confederate flag, but Sears, Walmart and others have changed policies that will be very hard to change back.  Yes, white supremacists can find confederate flag suppliers elsewhere, but the message is being sent.  That the South needs to figure out how to celebrate its heritage, whatever that is, without the hate that is inherent in the confederate flag.  It is awful that it took the loss of nine lives to make a dent in the complacency.  No doubt about it, but it would be worse if the complacency continued after the nine murders.

I am not sure this post is all that coherent, but I am pretty stirred up these days. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Jazzed About Footie!

I always root for USA in World Cup games, and have watched probably more USWNT (the women) than the men ... because I am a sucker for a winning team, I guess.  Anyhow, I am mighty jazzed as my gamble has played out.

This year's Women's World Cup is in Canada with games in Montreal, Moncton, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and ... Ottawa.  The semis and finals are elsewhere, but one of the quarterfinals would be in Ottawa, so when I was choosing to buy tickets, I went with the quarters rather than the round that is playing today/yesterday/tomorrow.  I figured with four games, the chances of getting US or Canada would be pretty good. 

And thanks to tonight's effort, I get to go the game with a relative and friends to see USA vs China: to determine whether the declining hegemon or the rising power have what it takes to go further. 

The rest of the games also have fun IR implications:
  • England vs Canada: see who gets to wear the Crown and gets to keep the corgis for four years!
  • German vs. France: obviously, WWI, WWII and a bunch of other conflicts.  I only wish that they could join together to play Greece.
  • Australia vs. Netherlands: partners in Uruzgan, combatants in Canada  OR
  • Australia vs. Japan: WWII Redux.
Still much fun ahead.  The world has caught up to the best teams, so the teams that could romp before have tough games ahead.  I will enjoy the game on Friday, Win or Lose Win!

USA! USA!!  USA!!!

Partition Rant-A-Thon

Apparently, people are advocating partition of Iraq.  Maybe.  But before we do that, we need to consider some stuff, like the logic of partition:


I have said much of this before, so here are the key links: the quick partition anti-pitch; my take on it being bad for Iraq; and Kelsey's storify.

Great Moments in the US Supreme Court

I don't study the US Supreme Court, but so tempted now:


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Calling It What It Is

The NYT addresses the GOP's problems with the Confederate Flag*:
The carefully calibrated answers were a vivid illustration of the challenge Republicans face in attempting, simultaneously, to broaden their party’s appeal to minorities while also energizing those white conservatives who are uneasy about what they see as bowing to political correctness.
Bowing to political correctness?  Hmmmm.  How about wanting to have its cake and eat it too?  That is, the GOP has long relied on racists to gain and stay in office.  The problem the party faces is the demographic decline of white people in the country.  I have said since 2008 that I am happy with Sarah Palin's desire to represent Real America since that means appealing to declining group.  So, how does the GOP deal with losing the demographic battle?  Obvious, #voterfraudfraud is a key strategy--try to make sure that the folks who are less likely to vote Republican are not allowed to vote.

How about appealing to minorities?  Well, that risks losing one's base.  Who are some of these people in this base that might flee a more open GOP?  Those who are "uneasy about what they see as bowing to political correctness."  Those who are comfortable with symbols drenched in racism and violence.  The safer (gut-less) strategy is to demure and to focus on the "religious" nature of the crime rather than the roles played by racism, misogyny, and guns. 

The Democrats have long been guilty of taking the votes of African-Americans for granted, as they should have done more again and again.  But as long as the GOP continues to be more concerned with "white conservatives who are uneasy," African-Americans know where they must vote.  As do other minorities.  Florida has been up for grabs precisely because the GOP has lost its grip on Cuban-Americans. 

The political science I know tells me that it is easier to be the homogeneous party that uses ethnic appeals to outbid the multi-ethnic party.  But it also tells me that numbers matter, and the numbers are not in the GOP's favor.  Their grip on local and state-level governments is a problem, but they are going to have significant problems at the national level until they face the reality that the math is against them and also that their own values (if they are as "Christian" as they say they are) are against them. 

So, until the GOP stops pandering to the racists, I am going to be comfortable considering them to be the party of racists, just as I consider them the party of misogyny.... even if the Democrats do not cover themselves in glory on this stuff.  There are differences between the parties, real ones, on these issues. 

* Pedants like to say that the flag in question is not the Confederate Flag but the Battle Flag of the Army of Virginia or whatever.  Sorry, but we live in an intersubjective world--and this flag has become to be known as the Confederate Flag by both its fans and its haters. Otherwise, why would it be THE flag to fly over Confederate Memorials and Cemeteries?  So, don't bother correcting me on this.