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: