Friday, October 24, 2014

AMA Deja Vu

Yesterday, I did a reddit Ask Me Anything for a second time.  This one was supposed to focus on Canada and Iraq, and mostly did so.  Too much so, perhaps as it was more on the Iraq end of things where my expertise is less and not so much on the stuff shaping Canada's positions (where I feel a bit more comfortable.

No horse-duck vs. duck horse question, but I was asked:
"Who would be a better Prime Minister: HAL9000 or Skynet?"  My answer was two-fold:
a) Whichever one could be unplugged (although Mrs. Spew said HAL was better as long as he was not threatened with unplugging).
b) I went with a third candidate: Joshua, from Wargames.  It had a learning curve--the only way to win is not to play either tic tac toe or Global Thermonuclear War.

Anyhow, check out the transcript.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meme Busting, Canada Edition

We all have many reactions to yesterday's event in Ottawa.  The one that is currently driving me crazy is that Canada lost its innocence this week.  As if Canada was a baby or a virgin.  It tweeted thusly:

To be innocent means one of two things: either Canada had never engaged in anything bad or violent or whatever OR it means that Canada had not been attacked before.  Both are wrong.

Canada has a history of going to war with its allies.  Indeed, yesterday's attack was at the National War Memorial dedicated to the memory of those soldiers who perished in World War I.  This moving cartoon illustrates the reality quite well:

Bruce MacKinnon, Chronicle Herald
World War I, World War II, Korea, multiple peacekeeping episodes that were more violent than advertised, and then Afghanistan, Libya and now Iraq.  Canada is not new to the experience of having its soldiers die, nor is it new that their soldiers have killed.  So, Canada lost its innocence under that definition a long, long time ago.

And Canada has experienced terrorism.  Indeed, the Air India bombing had far more casualties than any American brush with terrorism before 9/11 (pretty sure about that).  Parliament had been attacked before, Islamist groups had planned attacks like this, and there are other examples of political violence.

My hope is that because Canada has experienced such stuff before, that it will not overreact.  My colleague, Jeremy Littlewood, has a nice post on that

What is truly annoying is that this almost makes me sound like Glenn Greenwald who wrote an utter piece of crap that came out just before yesterday's attacks, almost celebrating the attack on Monday.  I agree that Canada was not "innocent" before these events.  But that is not the same thing as saying Canada "deserved" it or taking a perverse delight as Greenwald seems to do in his piece.  I attack that dreck in my CIC post.

Anyway, I would like to kill this meme, but know that is impossible.  And there are more important things that deserve our focus--figuring out how to deal with these lone disturbed people who become attached to extremists.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Tough Day in Ottawa

Today, Ottawa, my adopted hometown, faced a mighty difficult test and performed quite well.  There were much rumors about multiple attacks that didn't take place at a nearby hotel and mall, just like that day in DC where the media reported that there was a car bomb at the State Department (and I had just told my wife that I was headed there). 

I followed it on twitter rather than TV, which might have been a mistake since the TV coverage turned out to be great. But the media folks on twitter were also sharp.  I have met more than a few during my time here, and I have much respect for them. 

There was much uncertainty for quite some time with a press conference producing no new insights at all.  I am getting ready to watch the Prime Minister's address.

There will be much criticism of the security folks since this guy got into the building, but he was killed before he could do much damage.  By whom?  By the guy responsible for security, the Sergeant at Arms, apparently.  Former Mountie and all that. 

I am going to run now, but I had two tweets that went pretty viral today, and I feel pretty good about them now:

I will have more thoughts tomorrow as we learn more about this event and how it relates to Tuesday's attack (or not).

My List of Canadian Journalists

With today's events, I am posting my twitter list of Canadian journalists including many who are on or even in this story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Canada's Half-Full/Empty Glass

Yesterday, an apparently radicalized recent convert drove his car into a couple of Canadian Forces soldiers.  This is the first successful attack by a "homegrown" Islamist extremist.*
* I had a quick conversation this morning with my colleague, Jez Littlewood, who is our terrorism expert, that informs this post.  One should go to him for an informed take on these events. 

The good news is that only one person was killed.  The second soldier was not as seriously hurt. 

The bad news is that a guy who only converted in the past year or so decided to engage in violence. 

The good news is that he was apparently "known" to the authorities. 

The bad news is that this attack might have been inspired by "Inspire" magazine, which is an Islamist extremist publication that has encouraged their readers to engage in such attacks. 

The good news is that this might represent progress in counter-terrorism--that Inspire and its kin are pushing for low level violence because the organizations have been pressured enough by a variety of efforts that they cannot plan and stage bigger attacks. 

The bad news is that this event was first known across Canada via a planted question in Question Period, quickly politicizing it.  Perhaps this is because an election is less than a year away, perhaps it is because the government wants to pass some counter-terrorism legislation.

The good news is that the reports indicate that the opposition did not really bite, that Mulcair treated the story well.

The bad news is that this is not the first example of this kind of low level attack, with Australia and UK having very small scale attacks in the past year by knife-wielding extremists.

The challenge in all of this is that governments and publics need to react but not overreact to these events.  Any loss of life is a tragedy, but we need to have some perspective on all of this.  My good news/bad news list illustrates this reality--concern is required but let's not give into the terror that ISIS, Al Qaeda and other groups want to create.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Placement Incentives and All That

A twitter conversation about the job market took an unexpected turn where someone argued that there were few incentives for professors and departments to care about the placement of their graduate students.  I was flummoxed.  It didn't make sense to me, either as a supervisor of grad students or as a member of various departments  So, let me explain this at both levels--the department and the supervisor.

But before I start, two caveats: 
  • the outcome of a job candidate is not determined entirely by the placement efforts of individuals and departments--there are both the individual candidate's qualities and performance in play and the politics of the hiring department.
  • there are departments and individual advisers who suck at this.  
OK, the department logic is pretty simple: the reputation of a department hangs on a few things, with the placement of their grad students being a key ingredient.  If departments do not place their students, the word does get out to a degree, making it harder (although not impossible) to attract good graduate students.  It might also make it harder to hire faculty since people tend to prefer to be at places with upward trajectories.  It is also something that Deans care about, as they prefer to have departments that do well in the rankings than departments that do poorly.  They can direct resources to and away from departments, so their concern about rankings is important.

Sunday Silliness: Robo-Surgeon General

If only we had such a robot, everything would be swell-ish

by Brian McFadden of the NYT

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Helpful Review Vs. Not

The boon and bane of our academic enterprise is that we get feedback all the time on our work.  Our work is better for it--that the hack-iest stuff I read is always stuff that is not submitted to any kind of refereeing process and relies instead on editors who seem to be blind to the hack-ness.

The bane is that, well, rejection and criticism can not only delay publication but also hurt feelings.  Today's particular focus is on reviews that focus on stuff that one "should have cited."

I am thinking of this because I got teased today after I griped:

What is the Saideman Helpfulness Standard©?  Well, this specific discussion was about the citations a reviewer asked me to include in my work.  I was highly annoyed because I had to spend time reading a bunch of stuff that did not change my outlook or add new information.  I did find thus far one citation that was useful, but the rest were not. 

So, the SHS is this:
  • does the recommended citation compel the author to better defend the originality of the argument?  That is, if this argument has been made before, the author should justify why it is worth making again.
  • does the citation provide an argument that must be addressed?
  • does the citation provide information that the piece (article/book) could use to strengthen the argument?
  • does the citation provide information that challenges the arguments of the article/book?
What is the SUS (Saideman Unhelpfulness Standard©)?
  • a citation that provides information or arguments that the author has already addressed,
  • a citation that is a slightly different version of a piece that is already cited.  For instance, saying that one should cite Saideman and Auerswald 2012 even though the work cites Auerswald and Saideman 2014 (the latter is more comprehensive than the former).  This would make sense if one wants more citations--the former is an article which citation indexes capture well, and the latter is a book.  Why add more cites if the basic argument/info is already included in stuff that is already cited?
What is the SSUS (Saideman Super Unhelpful Standard©)?
  • Citations of unpublished works. Yes, the internet is a miracle, but there are limits to one what can do when writing an article.
  • Citations of works that come out after the work under review has been submitted for review.  Until we perfect time travel, this is what we call a party foul.  It is perfectly fine for a reviewer to suggest how new work could improve the piece under review, but cannot expect that omitting this newest stuff should be grounds for rejecting the manuscript.
  • Citations of the reviewer's work.  Yes, I have sometimes criticized a piece I was reviewing for not citing me, but I always feel awkward about it and only do it when the author(s) are ignoring not just me but a key argument that they should be addressing. 

I am sure I am forgetting stuff that fits into these three categories (is there a fourth category?), so let me know what I am missing, including stuff I should have cited.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Realism Has Many Flavors

A friend posted on facebook a partial answer from a student: "Realism has many flavors."  And my response was: of course, it does.
  • Classic Realism tastes like sherry because ye olde Realists reclined in ye olde academe, chock full of tweed and sherry hours.
  • Structural Realism tastes like beer (note: this is a change from my original fb post) as it takes a bit of getting used to.  Which kind of beer?  A stout, most assuredly because it is has a bitter taste, just like the security dilemma.
  • Offensive Realism tastes like stale cigarettes.  Why?  Because it is offensive.
  • Defensive Realism tastes like structural realism but perhaps a sweeter beer like a trappist beer. 
  • Neoclassical Realism tastes like sherry but has a strong vinegar taste.  Why?  Because it is actually aged classic realism.
The good news is there are plenty of new flavors as people come up with new variants of realism or resurrect old ones.

Unintentional Comedy: Message Management Edition

I wrote a piece for CIC today on how the Harper government's efforts to create fear in Ottawa--do not talk to the media or else--leads to perhaps more messes than otherwise.  Yep, media is scary: boo!

Check it out and comment there or here.