Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Always Learning!

Today was another pretty amazing day in paradise!  I have not been blogging as I have been very busy and very tired, but I thought I would post what I learned today. 

I learned there are two kinds of lava: a'a and the other kind (the former is the darker, rockier; the latter is the smoother, river-ier [front and back in this pic]).

I learned that Kona pie has disappeared from Hawaii's dessert menus thus far. And that is very sad.  I enjoyed it (graham cracker crust, kona coffee ice cream, stuff) greatly long ago.... but so far, no find.

I learned that there has been much lava flowing since we were last here.  The spot where the lava crossed the road (not unlike the chicken) is now much more encased in lava than 20 years ago.

I learned that we could not see as much of the main caldera (volcano crater) as the old viewing platform got crushed by flying rock.  Plus the clouds of sulfur gas make that part of the area un-wise for tourists.   Well, closed for tourists.  Despite understanding that volcanos are all about change, we were quite surprised to see geologic/geographic realities changing since 20 years ago.  My wife realized that our marriage is older than the rocks we desperately tried to hold back:

We learned that the Saddle Road is not even a little bit treacherous.  Sure, some fun curves at first but mostly just an interesting drive through the island between mountains and through so many micro-climates.

Oh, and you can tell the locals vs. the tourists--the former drive at or below the speed limits.  the latter?  Not so much.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Best Excuse For Not Blogging

I am running away from smoke monsters, polar bears, and other menaces of the South Pacific.  So, don't expect much blogging this week.
I hope you are enjoying your holidays as much I am enjoying mine.  Aloha. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Narcissism in 2012

McKayla is probably not impressed by this post either
Time for ye olde year in review in Spew.

The posts that got the most hits here in 2012 (unless something changes in the next ten days or so) have been:
  1. Self-Hating Political Scientist, where I was most critical of someone on the left for lining up with the folks on the right to oppose US funding of political science.
  2. Hogwarts Houses: a post I wrote in 2009 that still gets heaps of hits (probably the briefest of hits because of Harry Potter fans ending up in the wrong place)
  3. Game of Thrones and US politics--just a widely distributed picture.  My only post in the top twenty that has zero Steve added.
  4. Going Old School, ranking of Star Wars, from 2010, showing that Star Wars is almost as good google bait as Harry Potter.
  5. Present and Future of IR: I entered a debate about the future of my field, and was relatively optimistic.
  6. Not Alone in Narcissism: I talk about a bunch of survey work done by the TRIP project at William and Mary.  Little did I know that I would be sucked into the vortex of navel-gazing!
  7. School's Out, Let's Talk about School: about whether one should go to grad school, even a policy school.  I entered a debate on twitter about this stuff.
  8. Meme This-- a deadlink!
  9. Most Important Question of Our Time: The classic would you rather fight 100 duck-size horses or one horse sized duck?
  10. Politicology, No Thanks.  An extension of post numero uno.
  11. Back to the Past: Montreal student strike goes on a tangent when satirists invoke Mao.
  12. When It's Time to Change--a 2011 post announcing my move to Carleton and Ottawa.
  13. Sex or Gender--pondering sexual harassment in academia.
  14. Purposes of Comprehensive Exams.  Apparently a lot folks care about comps?!
  15. APSA Boycott.  Overcome by events.  Best example of how writing blogposts can change my mind.  Started out as a justification for attending but became reasoning for why I was not attending.
  16. Guide to ISA in Montreal (another old post)
  17. Wuffle's Law--that any new ranking will improve the status of the institution of person recommending the new ranking
  18. Guide to SD ISA
  19. Rules for Writing CVs: combined narcissism with public service!
  20. Decision Time, Phd Style: Link to a Duck piece on deciding on grad schools.
What unifies these posts?  As it turns out, writing about my profession seems to get some attention (1, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20).  Pop culture references lead to probably a heap of mistaken hits that continue to occur.  I was sorry to not see two of my favorite posts (here and here) using the Avengers movie to spew about IR rank highly.

Anyhow, it is has been a fun blogging year, even if my output at the Spew has declined a good bit.

I hope you and yours have had a great year.  I have been very lucky this year--a great trip to Orlando, a pretty painless move to a great place, Princeton University Press is going to publish the much mentioned NATO and Afghanistan book, I am only six months behind on my next book project, and as this post hits, I will be flying someplace warmer than Ottawa.

I hope you have the very best winterfest and a happy new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Obama's Christmas List and New Year's Resolutions

My latest at Current Intelligence although it may not be all that current or all that intelligent:

Supply Mismanagement

Supply Management is the name given to agricultural protectionism in Canada.  It has made the news since some folks sought to use the inflated prices to their advantage by stealing some syrup (ok, a lake of syrup) and then sell nearby to make a killing.  Sure, I wanted a Breaking Bad type story, but what we got was a story about protectionism.

Canada, a country that loves equality in theory and in rhetoric, has a system in place where the few gouge the many.  Sure, agricultural protection exists in most places to varying degrees, but the systems in place in Canada seem especially bad.  They are focused on maple (as we have seen), poultry and dairy, so that prices for milk, cheese, eggs and chicken are significantly elevated.  Sucks to be poor or lower middle class in such a situation.  But politicians here are just as chicken (yes, I went there) as those in the US who are afraid of the sugar industry. 

By calling it supply management, the government does its best Orwell but is fooling fewer and fewer people these days.  I doubt that it will change soon, but it is becoming increasingly clear that supply management is an obstacle to international trade negotiations as well as a burden that most of Canada must suffer to protect "small" farmers. 

It is a lousy way to manage agriculture and the industry around it, but path dependence is a bitch.  Changing this policy will mean upsetting powerful lobbies, so I don't expect significant change in the near future.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Qualifications for Being US SecDef

It seems to be that to be Secretary of Defense, the key qualification is that you want to slay all of Israel's adversaries, right?  Heaps of news about criticisms of Chuck Hagel for not being sufficiently pro-Israel.  But since when is it the Secretary of Defense's job to manage relations with Israel?  Given that the fiscal challenges the US is facing, it might not be on the top ten of the SecDef priorties.  Let's listicle, shall we?
  1. Right-sizing the American military budget.  Clearly, the past decade has led to some very bad habits, in addition to the inherent tendencies in the institution, so that spending more and more on less and less is not sustainable.  So, just figuring out what the US can afford is job 1.
  2. Figuring out how to balance present commitments/conflicts versus future threats.  The first item was guns vs butter.  The second step is: which kinds of guns?  Those needed in the counter-insurgency fights or those that might be needed some day against China?  Robert Gates had to push and push for the USAF to focus a bit on drones.  These questions are not settled.
  3. How to manage the military in peacetime?  For most of the current generation of enlisted folks and much of the officer corps, there is little experience in garrison.  The past ten years have been very much focused on being at war.  What happens when there is not a deployment on the horizon?
  4. We have some general problems about our generals.  The Petraeus fiasco (yes, pun intended as Fiasco is the title to a very good book written by a Petraeus fan about poor generals  [and politicians] ) may reveal much since he was supposedly the best.  He might still have been, but his behavior in Afghanistan and since raises questions.  General Allen and his email with Jill Kelley raises the same questions.
  5. What is the role of DoD in the drone war?
  6. How do we deploy Special Operations forces in places where the US is not supposedly at war? The secret squirrels do not like oversight, and SecDef has far more ability to oversee these folks than the people in Congress.
  7. F-35?  This goes back to item one and two--guns versus butter, which kind of war we plan to fight, and then the big challenge--quantity versus quality.
  8. Concussion, post-traumatic stress, and the costs of health care.  The military budget may be crowded out by spending on health care.  The health care costs are increasing for a variety of reasons, but two legit ones are taking concussions more seriously and taking PTSD more seriously.
  9. The Academy problem.  Lots of spending on officer education but heaps of problems here--that the USAF Academy has been essentially captured by a religious group, that West Point may be facing the same challenge as well. 
  10. If there is a foreign relations problem for the SecDef, the first one is not Israel but managing the US relationship with NATO given the burden-sharing problems inherent in alliances and amplified by the varying ways that democracies do civil-military relations.
All of these are more central to the SecDef's job than Israel.  And to be clear, Hagel is not anti-semitic as far as we can tell.  He just is not willing to launch a war every other day to counter all of Israel's threats.   One can be critical of Israel, of Netanyahu, of AIPAC without hating Israel.  All countries vary over time in how perfect they are.  Oh wait, no country is perfect, and Israel's imperfections are quite clear.  No, the Palestinians have not been ideal partners either, but Israeli policies are made with Israel in mind first and foremost.  American policies should be similar: with America first and foremost.  That does not make me anti-semitic or anti-Israel.  Just an American with my priorities in the right place. 

So, if Hagel is been blasted by those who think we should identify American interests as being defined by Israel, then that means that I want Hagel to take the job, even if I would prefer to have a Democratic in the job.  It turns out that the end of 2012, beginning of 2013 is "Obama Must Stick to His Positions" Season.

A Pun-Tastic Crime Enters the Dessert Phase

The eagle stuff may or may not be faked, but there was, indeed, a maple heist up here. 

Monumental maple mugging!!

Eagles? No, It is the Health Care!

People wonder why I moved from Montreal with its hip and lively folks and from the Harvard of the North, McGill, to the squarest city, Ottawa, and to Carleton which is far less famous.

The answer of the day would appear to be death from above:

No, we did not move because of the threat of eagles grabbing my kid (teenagers are probably a bit too big).  One of the major drivers was a dissatisfaction with everything the Quebec government touched, which is quite a lot.  One of these things is health care.  When people lauded the Canadian health care system and compare it to the American one, I always scoffed, saying that health care is not national but provincial.  And today I had my first encounter with the Ontario health care system (well, besides the Children's ER), and I have to say, damn, I am glad I moved to Ontario.  I might have to start admiring the Canadian health care system....

I didn't have to wait past my appointment time to be seen, the doctor met with me while the blood pressure machine was still cycling, the clinic was clean, the doctor was friendly and engaged.  The pharmacy next door was super-helpful.&  It was like I was in fantasy medical treatment land.  Sure, this is just one encounter, and perhaps it will suck in the future.  But the juxtaposition between my old health care in Montreal (free in price and free in quality as in quality-free) and my new setup here is night and day. 
*  Next door to the pharmacy?  The Beer Store!

So, keep in mind that when you hear "Canadian health care", it really does vary by province.  If your kid gets picked up and dropped by an eagle, I hope it happens in some place other than Quebec. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Seasons Greetings to You from Sam and Anne

NSFW but very funny.  Sam and Anne are most amusing. 

But Anne wins in my book, because I have no interest in seeing her movie--too depressing.

Balloons That Get Too Much Air ~ Pacific NATO

Player A: Alex, I would like over-expansion for $400, please.
Alex: Balloons, NATO, Tires

Player B: What are things that will pop when they are enlarged too much?

This piece argues stretches the NATO concept to the point where it might burst.  NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but people love the idea of a Global NATO or a Pacific NATO.  As if adding either members or responsibilities is unproblematic.  In a time of fiscal austerity, one would think expansion is a bad idea.  In the aftermath (well, soon, it is not yet "after") of an unpopular, unsuccessful extended campaign that had severe burden-sharing problems, increasing NATO's realm of responsibility seems unlikely in the extreme.

Getting NATO to agree to modest steps to protect a key member (Turkey) as it faces a civil war next door is hard enough.  Which countries in the Pacific would count as being sufficiently important for NATO efforts?  All of them?  Probably not.  So, who counts?  Already, NATO is contemplating adding Georgia to NATO, when it is hardly an Atlantic country (the Med counts) nor a European one if you trust the geographers.  Worse, a security guarantee from NATO might encourage Georgia to over-step in its handling of its various ethnic and Russian issues.

Again, NATO has a hard enough time dealing with problems close to home.  Is it going to get consensus on stuff around the world? With smaller and more constrained militaries?  Good luck with that.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Academic Prank Du Jour

I enjoyed this especially as I inteviewed at this school a long time ago.  It was one of the stranger experiences since none of the folks in the department (four of them) had apparently interviewed anybody since the 1960s (and this was 1994 or so).

Any, frickin awesome.

(H/T to hotclicks)

Tenure is ...

Today, there is a thread at Political Science Job Rumor's pondering "Tenure is..."

Which reminded me of this.  Ok, not so much the Peanuts version, but the camp version.  Every summer, I think, the end of the summer camp season would have a show where a version of this song would be sung but with it being about the camp, "Camp Airy is" and would list all the things that Camp Airy was.  Of course, the idea that Camp Airy = Happiness would be implied.

Well, tenure is not always happiness but is often the case:
  • Tenure is relative immunity from dysfunctional senior faculty (so glad, so so glad that I didn't accept the first offer at my last job--hey, why don't you start without tenure).
  • Tenure is less stress.  More work, but less stress as job security is a beautiful thing.
  • Tenure is more work.  At places where junior faculty are protected from service, well, the protection ends.  Regardless, people expect more, such as tenure reviews (which I am doing now because it is more fun than finishing grading, which is like saying that being punched in the gut is more fun than being punched in the groin).  
  • Tenure is freedom to write what you want where you want how you want. Folks tell me that they will start blogging once they are tenured.  I actually doubt that folks got denied tenure for blogging, but there is no doubt that people can be less discreet after tenure (still, so glad that twitter and blogs did not exist when I was untenured)
  • Tenure is more work.  Bears repeating--students will seek out more supervision from tenured than untenured faculty.
  • Tenure is sabbaticals.  Only at elite and rich places are profs eligible for sabbaticals before tenure.
  • Tenure is more work--only tenured folks can be chairs (except at insane places) or directors of programs (ditto).
  • Tenure is limited movement.  Fewer job ads for tenured folk, compared tenure-track positions.  One can move, but not so easily.
  • Tenure is having to judge other people's cases.  Not just in tenure letters but in one's own department.  Voting to deny tenure is incredibly hard but sometimes necessary thing to do.  Writing a negative tenure letter is an incredibly hard but sometimes necessary thing to do.  No joy in that stuff at all.
  • Tenure is no.  That is, tenure means you can say no a bit more often.  It also means both the need to say no in order to get things done and heaps of pressure to say yes.
Tenure is not nirvana, but it ain't bad either.  It is what nearly all aspiring academics seek.  I am very happy to have it (made great use of it the past several years in my previous position), and I am lucky/thrilled that nearly all of my former PhD students are on the tenure track.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Looking on the Bright Side: Mayanopocalypse

McFadden has some more goodness:

Doing What We Can

There is no response to the events in Newtown that will eliminate the murder of children and those that protect them.  All we can do is make these events less likely and less catastrophic when they do happen.  I am not an expert on gun control, but I understand only too well that politics is the art of the possible.  We have reached a moment in time where some stuff might actually be possible.... too many spree shootings this year (although one is, of course, too many).

To be clear, just like the terrorism fight should be more than just about killing terrorists, reducing these kinds of events requires a multidimensional approach.  When folks were juxtaposing gun control and improved mental health care as alternatives, I tweeted something that got re-tweeted a bunch:

People I don't know tweeted me as they saw the re-tweets.  Many seemed to agree wholeheartedly.  Others asserted that gun rights are gun rights.  My take on the latter is simply this: no rights are absolute.  They are regulated (well-regulated militia, right?) so that the rights of the individual and the conflicting rights of other individuals are addressed.  You can be punished for yelling fire in a crowded theater despite the first amendment's declaration of free speech.  Same is true for slander and libel, same is true for revealing government secrets. 

I would not propose to ban guns.  It is unrealistic.  I would simply propose that we ban any weapon that requires a magazine to work--rifles and handguns.  I would ban magazines.  Why?  Because one does not need to rapidly reload to hunt, to sport, to ward off an intruder.  The capacity to shoot many bullets is only good for killing heaps of people.  Who needs to do that? Sure, one could use a revolver quickly and re-load quickly, or toss aside the expended revolver and then use another one but this would still be slower than swapping in fresh magazines which are designed for exactly that purpose--to reload quickly.  One would need five revolvers to equal the capacity of the magazine in the rifle that killed the kids and their teachers.    And the killer would still be that much slower. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Managing Risks, Not Avoiding Tradeoffs

My latest at CIC, where I try as much as possible to emphasize that the first step for the twelve stepper needing to address their military procurement problems is to admit that tradeoffs exist and that risks exist with the focus having to be on managing risks.

So, here is my trivia question for the day: since the end of the Cold War, have there been more relatively problem free military procurement programs than successful peace operations/interventions?  For Canada?  For the US? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Impressive, Most Impressive

I spent this afternoon at a workshop on Ethnic Politics.  I was most impressed with the participants--most of whom are finishing PhDs or very junior professors.  I felt like I was playing ultimate--nearly everyone else is much younger and faster than I am.  

Anyhow, the quality of work people are doing these days is incredible.  Very clever research designs, fundamentally important questions, very challenging research designs. 

My favorite part--there was a paper on Alien Rule (like colonialism, occupation, etc.--not ET type aliens), and one of the examples thrown out was receivership in the academic world.  I was thrilled, as I experienced several years of receivership at Texas Tech.  Good times.

Anyhow, not much blogging today or tomorrow. 

Where You Sit ...

The old saw in bureaucratic politics is "where you stand depends on where you sit."  That is, your positions you take on various issues depends on your interests as defined by where you sit in the bureaucracy.  Well, this piece at gives this an entirely different meaning.  It is a pretty sharp attack on Petraeus and Broadwell for what their relationship did to those outside of their friends and families. 

It may or may not be fair to say that Broadwell got far higher than her qualities should have allowed--what expertise did she really have?  I don't know since I don't know her.  But there is a very revealing bit in the piece: that Broadwell did not seem to care about the effects of her presence on Petraeus's helicopter rides around Afghanistan.  If one studies the NATO mission to Afghanistan, one thing becomes quite clear--that countries did not deploy enough helicopters to Afghanistan  The seats on each helicopter are quite finite, so if you are taking a seat on one, you are very much preventing someone else from occupying that seat.  But Broadwell did not seem to be aware:
In Kabul, for example, Broadwell went along on so many "battlefield circulations" -- Petraeus's trips to visit subordinate commands aboard helicopters where seats were scarce -- that one staff member asked her if she could stay behind just occasionally, to leave room for officers who were actually working the issues to be discussed. "The general wants me along," the officer told me she replied.
In December 2007, I was part of a group of academics (opinion-leaders we were called--oh my) that went to Kabul and Kandahar.  We flew into Kandahar from Dubai (we can say it now that Dubai kicked out the Canadians from their supposedly secret Camp Mirage) and then were going to fly to Kabul for the first part of the trip.  Our plane was full (including a bunch of NATO folks out of uniform unless uniform meant beards--special ops folks), and an American office was telling the Afghan general or colonel he was mentoring he would have to leave behind some of his staff.  Yes, we were squeezing out some of the Afghans NATO was working with.  I felt bad about this, that it said something about the mission, but then I got on the plane for Kabul. 

It was a finite opportunity for me--I felt bad but went ahead.  Broadwell seems not to have cared at all.  Maybe that is being unfair, but Petraeus seemed not to care as he knew damn well how limited the helo seats were, and that the more his officers saw of the country, the better the advice he would receive.  But somehow having one's hagiographer on board was of greater priority.  Lovely.

Plus this all makes any assertion that the affair only happened after he returned stateside to be an utter croc of poo pond.

Arizona Questions

 I am staying in Tempe, Arizona for a workshop, and my comparative analysis bell got run on the way to breakfast.  Yes, I had to walk outside to go to the hotel restaurant because, well, it is Arizona and there is hardly ever inclement weather, I guess?  Reminds me of the malls in San Diego. 

Anyhow, which is more Arizona-y: orange trees in the middle of a hotel's courtyard?
Or an outdoor fireplace in the courtyard?

Of course, I am just glad to see palm trees (reminds me of visiting SD as a prospective grad student).

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bring the Ethnic Stuff Back In

The over-used, super-cliched phrase in poli sci titles--Bring Back something that never left.  Well, I have been focused almost entirely on NATO and civil-military relations since I published my second book (For Kin or Country with the non-terrorist Bill Ayres).  The past four years or so have been a bit of a change of direction from my work on the IR of ethnic conflict. 

Butt I did have a project (with Erin Jenne and Kathleen Cunningham) going on for much of this period--collecting data on diasporas to figure out why some diasporas mobilize and lobby and/or support extremism and others do not.  The dataset on just the US case is still incomplete, but we are getting there.  This workshop involves a bunch of papers on different ethnic politics topics, so it is immersion back in that stuff that was so much the focus of my first fifteen years or so of my career.  Should be interesting.

And what better place to do that than Arizona?  No ethnic politics here?  Hmmm.  My first time in the Phoenix/Tempe area, as my previous trips were mostly through Arizona to graduate school (stopping by the Grand Canyon) and from grad school to my first job.  Arrived at night so I will have to wait to see what this place looks like.

Anyhow, more ethnic politics ahead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The IR of XKCD

Those Poor Canadians

Best take on the hockey lockout thus far.  Those poor Canadians.

Best TV of 2012

AFI had their list of movies and tv shows of 2012.  As I will be traveling much in the next two weeks, let me get to the TV list now.  Yesterday, I just listed the movies I liked the most and the least.  Today, maybe I can actually put the TV shows in order?  Hmmm, that is a challenge.  Oh, and a key caveat--I have not gotten FX up here in Canada so I cannot list this season of Homeland or the third season of Justified.  I just the DVDs of the first season of Homeland and will soon get the third season of Justified.  And, yes, that means leaving Louie off of my lists.  Sorry.  Yes, I am very sorry I have not seen any Louie.  To be rectified.  Oh, yes, spoilers:

Why I Live on the Edge of Ottawa

I hate scraping my car's windows clear of ice and snow.  Ten years of this in Montreal was more than enough.  So, I am loving my two car garage (and also parking garage at work). 

West Point Sucks, Too?

I have long hammered away at the problems of the US Air Force Academy as it apparently has become more of an outpost of evangelicization than a training center for the best and brightest in the US Air Force.  It is only fair then that I blast West Point, the US Army's academy for similar sins.  This piece indicates that it is not just the aspiring pilots and missleers who forget what this nation and its constitution stands for, but also the folks on the ground. 
While there are certainly numerous problems with the developmental program at West Point and all service academies, the tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. The sparse leaders who object to these egregious violations are relegated to the position of silent bystanders, because they understand all too well the potential ramifications of publically expressing their loyalty to the laws of our country.
Pretty brave to give up one's future and potentially be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It is appalling that the educational branches of the US military have been taken over by those who have a perverted understanding of religion and of the US Constitution.   Maybe this guy will make a difference, leading to a change of the culture of the institution.  Maybe not.  The more stories I hear like this, the more I begin to think that folks like Tom Ricks are right for perhaps the wrong reasons--perhaps it is time to end the academies.  It certainly seems to be the case that these places are fostering ignorance rather than educating the next generations of military officers.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Breaking Up is Hard to .....Show on Sesame Street

Here is a video (thanks, Jezebel) which has Sesame Street talking about divorce:

Wow! Funny that this happens after the ones on HIV/AIDS, death and other stuff. 

Anyhow, how about a little divorce to go with the pre-holiday stress?  And, no, this post has nothing to with my earlier post today.

Movies of the Year?

AFI put out there list of top movies and TV shows.  I have not seen most of them (partly because I cannot see movies that are not released), but not a huge fan of the list.  We did not see as many movies as usual because of the demise of Blockbuster ( works ok but hard to see recent stuff), netflix Canada's selection sucks); great TV so going out is less attractive (AMC/HBO lead to year around Sunday nights at home); and watching old series and movies on DVD (my daughter keeps insisting I watch Buffy rather than catch up on the stuff we have DVR'ed).

So, anyway, the list AFI has is:

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

I have seen Argo and Dark Knight Rises.  Argo was a very, very good film.  DKR?  Not so much.  The plot was stupid, chock full of holes.  The characters had very little depth or coherence.  The only positive part of the movie (other than being able to make fun of Bane's voice) was Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle/Catlady.  Otherwise, bleh. 

What would be my top ten movies--ones that I have seen?
Avengers--one of the best comic book movies. Nice blend of humor and action. Best Hulk yet, good Captain America stuff, heaps of material for blogging (here and here)
Ted--Perhaps uneven but caused some of the most intense intenstinal pain for making me laugh really hard.
Wreck It Ralph--Pixar-esque.  Fun, nostalgic, but not as good as the best Pixar stuff.
Argo--Interesting combo of politics, bad clothing and less than optimal haircuts.
21 Jump Street--surprisingly funny.
Looper--a time travel movie that takes serious time travel.  Plus a great Bruce Willis imitation.
The Campaign--fun satire of our political system. 
Cabin in the Woods--Not a perfect movie, but a wonderful take on the old cabin in the woods horror movie.
Goon--in a winter without hockey, this is a very entertaining hockey movie.

Movies that were good but not great:
Hunger Games--entertaining but the book was better.
Brave--not up to Pixar standards but still good.
Chronicle--best of the found footage movies.  Hey, what if we had superpowers and we were teenagers?  We would do stupid things....

Biggest disappointments:
Dark Knight Rises
Skyfall--not bad, just not good.

Movies I wish I had seen:
Red Tails--might not be great but I wish I had seen it.
Moonrise Kingdom--people say nice things.

Movies that were just as mediocre as I was expecting:
Acts of Valor--awful acting, but interesting action.
American Reunion--the fourth movie of silly series.  For the completion fixation.
Bourne Legacy--Renner was good, but movie was unnecessary.
Rock of Ages (truly an airplane movie)--for those who remember the songs.

Movies that were better than expected but not terrific:
Snow White and the Huntsman (of course, whole new meaning once you realize that Kristen Stewart slept with the director despite his wife playing her mother [I think])
Five Year Engagement--best ice-scraping scene.
Spider-man--heaps of fun with great chemistry between the leads, but entirely unnecessary.

What is a Man To Do?

I usually pooh pooh the complaints of men who are "oppressed" but I am wary of this whole "Mansplaining" thing.  Yes, men can be pompous and condescending, but we need to be clear that not all explanations are pompous and condescending just because they are uttered by a male.  And women can be pompous and condescending as well.

In the Spew household, we take turns--I am pompous about International Relations, Mrs. Spew tends to condescend about all things literary (jeez, I hope she does not read this post), and Teen Spew is pompous whenever her parents comment on pop culture aimed at those under 40 30 20. 

Seriously though, yes, unrequested explanations can be annoying, but as we converse with each other about whatever, must we always be as or more focused on the filter than on the conversation?  Of course, I have said stupid things or presumed about stuff.  But if mansplaining is a sin, I wonder who can cast the first stone?  Certainly not I, but also certainly not most of the women I know either.  I want my friends who are wise and knowledgeable to explain stuff.  I raise lots of questions (deliberately or otherwise) when I chat with folks, and I want them to point out stuff that they know better than I. 

Sure, it can be a bit much when one person dominates the conversation (unless that person is me), so as in everything else, moderate is the key.  Everyone will "mansplain"--they key is not to be rude.  But didn't we already know that?

And if you consider this post to be a heap of mansplaining, um, oops?

Fun in Weapons Procurement

The British are spending more money on new attack subs, but what I find notable are the names.  See if you can pick out the false ones: Ambush, Audacious, Articulate, Astute, Aardvark, Artful, Absinthe, Absent.

Friday, December 7, 2012

To Buy or not to Fly

The F-35 indecision in Canada is getting heaps of press.  See for a nice survey of some of the pieces.  I have written a piece for a new outlet (well, new to me), but my basic take on this is:
About time!  Not only have the costs become unsustainable but so have the contradictions in the policy.  Saying the short-ranged, single engine plane is for Arctic Sovereignty when it was designed with multilateral military operations mind has always been a problem for the Harper government.  Why need a stealth aircraft which is designed to penetrate airspace to defend the homeland?  Sure, it might be handy but hardly necessary.  And the reality of stealth is $$$.  I remember all the stories in the 1980's and 1990's about special hangars to protect the skins of the US stealth fighters and bombers.  Note that whenever the US uses the stealth bomber, they fly out of the US and never base abroad.  This has everything to do with the difficult maintenance that these kinds of planes require.*
* No, I am not an expert on military aircraft, so take what I say with a grain of invisible salt.
The Harper government should not be criticized for changing its mind, if it indeed does so.  Learning should not be punished.  However, having a messed up procurement process can and should be criticized.  The problems with the F-35 are not just Canadian ones, of course, as the spiral has been driven by American designs, but how the Canadians have dealt with the F-35 seems not to be that different from other flawed processes.

Of course, if the reports are true and Canada turns away from the F-35, this will have a big impact on the rest of the consortium of F-35 buyers: the costs of buying the plane will go up due to economics of scale in reverse AND the costs of defecting from the program go down as fave US ally Canada opened the door by doing first.

I will have more to say about this in various places over the next few days, so let me know what I am getting wrong.

UPDATE: Check out my post at Atlantic Council 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

NATO, Patriots, Missiles, Oh My

I have been engaged in a twitter conversation with Roland Paris about the quick German decision to send Patriot missiles to Turkey to protect from Syrian planes/missiles.  I registered a bit of surprise in all of this and noted that maybe this was Merkl compensating for her overreaction in the other direction over Libya. Roland indicated that since these missiles are for defensive purposes, it was not so problematic. 

But I have a few thoughts that I could not squeeze into tweets:
  1. I am curious about the text of the NATO agreement since NATO agreements tend to be fairly loose and let the participant countries impose restraints (such as caveats).  
  2. In 2009, when NATO was considering deployments of AWACS planes to Afghanistan to help control the airspace, much of the German debate considered these planes to be defensive, that they would not be assisting Operation Enduring Freedom (the counter-terrorist part of the mission), and so on, but most of these views about what the AWACS would be doing were largely, well, imaginary.  The planes would be coordinating other planes in the airspace including those engaged in more aggressive missions or else the airspace would be uncoordinated and the planes would be relatively irrelevant.  
  3. Once the Dutch (more in a second), Germans, and Americans send their Patriot systems to Turkey, one or more of these countries can choose at any time to "re-flag" their contingent so that they operate under national control.  So, if the US decides that it wants its Patriots to engage Syrian planes and missiles that are aimed at Syrian targets, it can choose to do so even if NATO has a restrictive OPLAN (operations plan).  I have had interesting conversations with sailors about ships being under NATO command until it becomes inconvenient, the ships become re-flagged as not under NATO command, do what they have to do, and then re-flag.  Again, I am curious about the OPLAN that NATO has or will be writing, as the devil is a bit more in the details despite what SACEUR may be saying about "defensive" orientations.
  4. For me, the interesting thing will be to watch the Dutch, as their past decisions about NATO deployments tend to be entertaining in a car-crash kind of way--that the parties do not necessarily know how they will vote until the day of the vote.  I would guess that they will need an Article 100 letter that specifies how the Dutch contingent will act and so on.  
All of this bears close watching even as most of us now have to do a pile of grading.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Texas Secede? We Wish?

I love a good short video laying out the truths, convenient or otherwise:

The Texans would always tell me they could because they were extra-special.  But no.  Plus the Texas secessionist movement that existed when I lived there had its embassy in a trailer in Texas.  The big mistake is not the trailer but the location--you put the embassy in another country.  Jeez.

Anyhow, this whole Texas secession thing now is just a small minority of sore losers.  Anyone can vote on silly petitions on the White House website.  For a while, there was one insisting that we build a death star... Really.  Now that is a healthy dose of perspective sauce.

Elitism in Hiring!? Shocking!

The latest news is old news: that the top programs in Political Science dominate the hiring process.  Apparently, the top eleven programs are responsible for filling fifty percent of the tenured/tenure track positions at the hundred plus research institutions.*  Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Michigan fill about 20%.  The others in the top 11 in 2009 (the year that was used) are Yale, Berkeley, Columbia, UCSD (where I got my degree), Duke, MIT, UCLA, and Chicago.  Yes, those with significant math skills will note that is actually 12 schools because the last two tied for 11th.
* Note this study only applies to the schools that produce new PhDs, not to liberal arts colleges and not to other universities that do not have PhD programs (not does it include schools outside the US).  So, the folks getting PhDs from schools below the top ten may be getting employment in non-R1s.  Still, to be clear, the academic job market in general sucks bigtime these days with more PhDs being produced than tenure track positions.

I am pretty ambivalent about this hunk of research.  When I went to grad school UCSD was not in the top ten, and so I always eyed reputational stuff with a critical eye but was also suspicious that people were getting the cool jobs because of the brands on their degrees.  

First, reputation: this measurement of top-ness is, dare I say it, endogenous.  The US News ranking is based on surveys of academics about which programs they think are the best ones.  Perhaps these top schools are ranked so high because they have placed their students so well rather than the reverse.  Some of these are also very, very big compared to the rest, so that both their reputation and their placement records are partly a function of size and not quality.  So, on the one hand, this finding should not be at all surprising or even that awful--the big programs that place their students have excellent reputations.  

Second, on the other hand, brand-names or labels tend to gain weight that may not always be deserved.  When I was struggling on the job market as a newbie PhD, I noticed that some folks from the places with the better brands (UCSD was not yet a top ten program at the time or even top tweny?) seemed to get all the interviews, and they seemed to be invited to all the reindeer games (post-docs, edited volumes, etc).  And I saw plenty of bad job talks given by people who had brand names from the best schools.  At the time, it was clear that the best schools had some of the sharpest profs and admitted the smartest students, but varied quite widely in how seriously they trained their students.  Some schools (that would be Harvard) noticeably had extreme variation in how prepared their students were to give job talks, not to mention do research. I have no idea if this is true now because I have not been in departments doing massive amounts of hiring lately (and I was not paying close attention my last few years at McG).  I did notice at McGill a definite trend--Princeton uber alles.  But we hired great people, so that didn't suck too much.  I did try to make sure we didn't go overboard in that dangerously orange direction.

I did notice the people who did get the interviews and who did get the jobs and the post-docs.  And there were and continue to be plenty of folks who received multiple opportunities because they passed through one vetting process (getting into a top school), so the next vetting process (for grants, for post-docs, for jobs) relies on the earlier vetters.  Many of these folks did flame out eventually.  

So is the label everything?  No, as a poker player, I am reminded that when 50% of the folks are from the top 11 school, that also means that 50% are not.  That schools rise and fall a bit (UCSD moved up, other schools have moved down) means that brand-names are not destiny, although it seems like that at times.  Moreover, to be clear, some of this vetting does work quite well.  Over the years, I have bumped into heaps of grad students from the top programs, and most of them have been very smart, very interesting, and very well-trained.  Some klunkers to be sure, but there is a bit of logic to elitism--the places with the most money tend to get the professors with the best reputations (not always earned, not always paid off), that the programs with the most money and best reputations can get the better graduate students, so that many of the best students end up working with many of the best professors, which means they end up doing some of the best work.*
* Yes, this concept of best is tricky, illusive and gives us much to argue over, but unless one buys into a kindergarten view of political science, some work is better than others, that the Incredibles were right--if everything is special, nothing is.
Back to the other 50%: I have bumped to a number of folks over time who were not trained at a top ten school who did really interesting work that makes me think.  Texas Tech, ranked 92nd at the time out of 108, did send its very best student to the University of Georgia where he has thrived over the years.  Why?  Because he had some good ideas, trained with a great scholar, and worked his ass off.

And back to that UCSD story: one of the key things in its rise was hiring some scholars who were underplaced but doing great work.  As my friend who trained the future Georgia faculty member always said, it is about the work, about the work, about the work.  

So, yes, there is elitism in academia.  Some of it is unearned, some of it is earned, and a heap of it is endogenous--that schools that do really well in training their students end up with better rankings.

A Bridge Too Far?

This title was inevitable given which episode of Band of Brothers I watched last night.

Anyway, check out my post at CIC where I put some responsibility on the academic/policy gap on the shoulders of the policy-makers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NATO Patriots?

I was somewhat surprised that NATO was authorizing the sending of Patriot missiles to Turkey.  Why?  Two reasons: the US could send Patriot missiles to Turkey any time it likes; and NATO has not been that enthused about supporting Turkey.  I also didn't realize that NATO had Patriots as dedicated assets, more or less.  Sure, NATO has AWACS planes that are jointly staffed and funded, but Patriots?  Ok, I guess so.

Anyway, the US and Turkey chose to go the NATO route, when the US could have deployed a US battery in Turkey just as it has in the past in Israel and elsewhere.  Instead, getting a NATO vote to deploy the missiles to Turkey means that European countries have given some kind of consent and commitment that otherwise would not have existed.  That is the value added.  Since the commander of NATO [SACEUR] is an American (always has been)--Admiral Stavridis--this is not a dual key kind of system where Turkey needs to get another vote through the North Atlantic Council.  Stavridis can say yay or nay on his own (with significant guidance from DC--via the US Secretary of Defense). 

The Patriots are meant to defend Turkey from Syrian missiles and planes BUT they can also create bubbles of threat to Syrian planes over Syrian territory.  That is not NATO's intent, but, well, these things have a way of becoming more interesting than designed.

Interesting times ahead.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What I Didn't Know about the Prof Business

In the recent conversations about Policy PhDs and such, one of the frequent assertions was that people  going into PhD programs had no idea what they were getting into.  Why do we assert such things?  All I can say is that I had no clue not just about what was involved in a PhD program, but also what was involved in being a prof.  Let me review some of my beliefs and the realities I have experienced over the past two decades.*
* I will leave aside the job market stuff (like not controlling where I would live).
  • Despite warnings from my adviser at Oberlin, I thought profs spent much of their time reading cool books.  Yes, I had the intellectual curiosity that the posts of the past week posit as a requirement for the pursuit of a PhD, but I was not sufficiently curious to do the research ahead of time.  I really spend a very small portion of my time reading cool books about International Relations.  Of the non-grading, non-supervising, non-internet reading I do, most of it is of academic articles and books I need to read for my research and teaching.  While much of that stuff can be quite interesting, a good portion is essentially required reading--what I need to read to get the literature right so that reviewers do not poop all over my stuff. 
  • The funny thing is that I did not really think of myself as a writer or that I enjoyed writing while in college.  What was I thinking?  I guess I was thinking I was going to spend most of my time teaching? So much of my non-grading, non-supervising time is spent writing, and, as this blog illustrates, I actually don't mind writing anymore.  Indeed, I like it.  So, I have found multiple media in which to write and write.  
  • Of course, I spend a heap of time talking.  That is playing to my strength--not that I am good at it, but I do like to talk.  And always have.  But I didn't expect to be doing media stuff when I went to grad school.  Nor did I do that much of it until I got to McGill and especially when I started doing stuff on Afghanistan.  
  • I never expected to spend significant amount of my time either chasing or administering money.  Grant writing can take a heap of time.  I spent most of my fall on a major development grant (which means that the big bucks would be after we prove ourselves and spend much time with a second application).  And a big grant can be like a dog that catches the car it has been chasing--what now?  Well, if I get the grant, I will be spending much time accounting for the spending.  In my ninth and tenth years at McGill, I was still filing annual reports about a grant that built a lab several years earlier.  Oy.
  • When one watches a prof depicted in TV or movies, they get two things wrong,* one being that movie/TV profs never do any administrative stuff.  Meetings, committees, reviewing stuff for journals, for presses, etc.  I remember in grad school asking my adviser how I can get in on the article reviewing business.  He wisely said do not rush it.  I have viewed it like shaving--when you are growing up, you want to start shaving as soon as you can (well, for guys, mostly), but then you wish you didn't have to. 
*Yes, the other involves sex with students.  As I discuss elsewhere, the movies/TV get this wrong as well but perhaps more destructively so.
  • I didn't realize how social the entire enterprise is.  That while we largely work alone in our offices, not only do we co-author a heap more than I expected, but also that we are constantly reviewing and being reviewed by folks in one's intellectual community.  
To be clear, I love my job and my profession.  I could not imagine doing anything else (which is one of the key reasons why I stayed in grad school--I have a lousy imagination about the alternatives).  I am sure that it is true for most careers that what we expect and what we experience are two different things.

So, what else am I forgetting about expectations vs. realities of the life of the professor?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thin Benches and Who Thinned Them

Ironic quote of the month (and it is only December 2nd):
“It is ludicrous,” said Eliot Cohen, a historian and senior State Department official in the George W. Bush administration. “The military’s bench was appallingly thin.”+
Cohen wrote one of the most important books on civil-military relations, arguing that civilians occasionally have to intervene pretty deeply into military affairs since war is too important to be left to the generals.  He uses cases of Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill and Ben-Gurion to prove his point.  The irony is this: Cohen served in the Bush Administration which took the lessons of his book way too far.  Rumsfeld's deep and dangerous micromanagement was far more than what was needed and pretty destructive to civil-military relations.  The exodus of key officers as the Iraq war approached might have been exactly those generals who would have been on the bench for key jobs a few years later.

Whether these particular generals would have been terrific or not, having Rummy and his crew for six formative years definitely shaped who got promoted, who got the plum assignments, who did not and who left.  There  are certainly other explanations for a shallow bench so we cannot all blame Rummy and his crew.  But Cohen was very much involved in an administration that had a hand in the shaping of today's military and who was available to run ISAF when McChrystal ran his mouth one too many times.  Petraeus was the right candidate at the time not just because there was a shallow bench but he was seen as both good at the task--counter-insurgency and played well to the domestic audience.  Not too many three star generals around anyway, not too many of them had extensive experience thinking and then doing COIN, and how many of those actually had good reputations in the US so that the switch would be relatively easy at home?

Maybe Petraeus was not the perfect guy to run ISAF, but it is not clear that the US armed forces would have had plenty anyway given the circumstances and given the conventional aversion to COIN.  So, there is something to what Cohen suggests, but we have to keep in mind ... you go to war with the military you have, not the one you want to have.  But we also have to keep in mind who is responsible for the military you have....

Christmas Presents?

I have become a big fan of Brian McFadden and his Sunday NYT cartoons:

The Secession Solution: Congo Edition

In yesterday's NYT, J. Peter Pham argued that we should let the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) fall apart--that separatism would somehow make things better.  While the government has had problems governing the entire country, most of the problems that Pham cites in the piece are not about different ethnic groups with different preferences, but about poor leaders and the challenges of having too much in the way of minerals (the resource curse and all that). 

The militias he refers to as protectors?  Well, these folks are the threat, and it is not clear how allowing several of them to have their own countries will make them any less rapacious.  Yes, DRC is an artificial state, but so are most countries in the world (Japan, the Koreas not so much). 

To be clear, as a scholar of separatism and its international relations, I am not opposed to DRC falling apart due to precedent setting (I tend to believe that precedents do not matter that much).  It is just not clear in this article how secession would solve any of Congo's problems.  Would the smaller hunks be that much easier to govern since they would still be big, landlocked, mineral-rich, and so on?  The Africanists on my twitter feed think this particular "solution" is no solution at all. 

If the piece was about recognizing Somaliland, I would take a different stance as separatism can be a reasonable approach under some circumstances ... like if Texas was willing to pay of its share of the national debt as it left the US ;)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Don't Tell Me the Odds

This morning I got into an extended twitter conversation about lotteries. Why?  Well, because the big powerball lottery led to a NYT oped that asserted that lotteries are bad for the winners, too. The timing was pretty funny since I just saw the author, Joe Nocera, on the 30 for 30 ESPN documentary, Broke,* which focused on athletes blowing their windfalls. 

*  I couldn't sleep last night, not due to the stress my daughter was feeling on the eve of her first SAT exam but because of a backache.  Oy.  So, I watched the doc we had on the DVR.
So, I tweeted a link to the piece thusly:

For the entire conversation, go to this storified account. The main contention that Steven Metz was making was that the very slim hope offered by the lotteries provides psychic benefits that I cannot understand since I have never felt the despair of being so poor and helpless.  True, I have not.  However, I have a relative or two that has been, and I wouldn't want them to be putting money on a con.

Yes, a con.  Steven argued that my labeling lotteries a con was elitist essentially, but what I have read over the years has only convinced me that lotteries are cons.  That they advertise that winning is quite possible and even probably, they play to the innumerate and the desperate, and when people do well, the odds are changed to reduce the probability of winning.  Getting to a jackpot of $500 million is not an accident, but a result of reducing the payoffs of getting some but not all of the numbers. 

I am not a scholar in this area, so I don't know of studies that show how innumerate people are (although the performance of the pollsters inside the GOP and support for the anti-Nate Silvers are suggestive) or how much psychic benefit there is from the very slenderest of hopes.  I did watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (first ep of season three), where the demons suggest that their strange factory (not explained) was close enough to hell since without hope, all there is is despair. 

But my basic take is that governments should not be peddling false hope, but actually real hope by engaging in policies that reach out to those in the worst situations, to provide some ways out of their conditions or at least provide material comfort.  My aforementioned relative or two got some assistance from governments (food stamps, housing assistance, subsidized day-care and the like) which made it possible to endure the challenges.  It did not guarantee a way out, but it provided some hope that they could do well enough to survive and climb out a bit of the desperate straights of their lives.

The only argument that I found at all convincing is that if governments get out of lotteries, then organized crime will get back into the numbers racket. This led to folks chiming in on the differences between government run cons and private but legal cons.  I would rather have legalized gambling, including lotteries, than have government spend money raised by lotteries and by taxes convincing people to engage in bad gambles.

I am not a libertarian, but I am gambler.  My game is poker, and I would rather the governments of the US allow poker than lotteries, because the odds are better.  Sure, skill allows those who are better to prey upon the less skilled, but at least there is a potential to learn and improve one's game.  There is no way to learn and improve one's play in lotteries except not to play.  Yet governments hypocritically argue that online gambling can breed addictive behavior.  Um, yes, it can and does, but lotteries do that as well. 

Others in the conversation distinguished between governments doing something, prohibiting something and staying away from something (legalizing but not running).  I am not a moral theorist, and no one should take me seriously when I make moral claims.  But this is my blog and I can do what I want with it, including arguing that state-run lotteries are pretty abhorrent, that there are better ways for governments to alleviate despair and that gambling (including lotteries) should be legal but not state-run.