Friday, July 31, 2015

How to Lose Thirty Years Without Much Effort?

Ta da:
Why did I shave off my beard?  'Lil Steve wants to know.  And since this blog has always been an outlet for my narcissism, Spewing about my shaving seems like the least I could do.

The timing seemed right:
  • I just hit a near-round number so I wanted to see what I look like in my youngest form possible (that is, without doing the necessary dieting and exercise to get me back to my wrestling weight class of old);
  • I had arranged a small party with my family (including Displaced Intern Spew!) and friends to celebrate both Steve-fest and the passing of the Canadian Citizenship test.
    • The last time I set up an event on the same day as a test was when I had my first car date the evening of the day I took the test to get my driver's license!  I am pretty sure that my relationship with Canada will work out better than my relationship with that young lady.
    • My Ottawa friends had never seen me sans beard so it was fun to watch their reactions.
  • I am going to be seeing my mother soon, and she prefer her baby to not have gray all over his face.  Makes her feel younger.  So, the very least I can do for her.
So, 'lil Steve, that's the story.

Oh, and the two-fisted drinking?  I love a good sampler at a brew pub, especially when they let me choose the four to six beers that go into the sampler.  Thanks, Mill Street!  If only their schnitzel came on a stick!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cartoon of the Week

I saw this on twitter and had to post it here so that I can find it again--advice conservatives never give themselves:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Canadian, eh?

Today, my family took the Canadian Citizenship test, and we all passed.  We got notice about 17 days ago or so, so we have been cramming from the Discover Canada guide quite seriously.  I figured I would do fine, but I did get tense and butterfly-ish as the exams were being handed out. 

I cannot say what the questions were--the warnings about not posting such info on social media seemed aimed directly at me--but the intra-family comparisons indicated that I got the harder questions.  Maybe, maybe not.  But I got all the questions right and so did Mrs. Spew.  College Spew did fine, but did not study nearly as much.  I didn't mind the studying since I learned some stuff that I didn't know.  It was also fun to come up with ways to remember things like:
  • the Northwest Territories are not the most Northwest--that would be Yukon.
  • Yellowknife is the capital of NWT because there is no Y in Northwest, and Whitehorse is the capital of Yukon Territory because there is no Y in Whitehorse.  
  • the question that gave me the most concern was one about ... hockey.  Really.  I had not really read the guide carefully with regard to hockey since I was cocky about my hockey knowledge. 

After the test, we had to wait to get our results from the interviewer.  I thought the interviewer was going to test our ability to speak in one of the two official languages, but he was more concerned about my work--that I had proof of my job.  Which was not part of the documents I was required to send last fall nor listed as among the docs I needed today.  I guess I could have got online on my phone to get to my salary stubs.  Other than that, I just had to sign a form saying that I am not a war criminal or any other kind of evil-doer.  Well, indicated/convicted evil-doer. 

All we have to do now is wait for the invite to the ceremony.  At the ceremony, we get our Citizenship certificates and swear an oath to the Queen. This really is the hardest part of the process besides the $ and the effort to identify all the times we have been out of Canada over the past five years (my research and talks came back to bite me on that).  Why is it hard?  Because as an American, the idea of swearing allegiance to a monarch is, um, icky.  However, it is easier if I buy the idea that it is not swearing allegiance to the person but to the symbol, to the Canadian nation.  And, yes, I would be swearing to Queen Elizabeth of Canada, not QE of England.  And, yes, much better than swearing to Charles.  I would, of course, swear allegiance to Kate, but that is something else.

Anyhow, time to celebrate our near-Canadian-ness!  Woot, eh!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Measuring Progress is Difficult

It is often very hard to figure out what an event means.  Today, there is a report of Canadian Lt. Colonel being prosecuted for sexual assault.  But the assaults took place from 1998-2007.  So, is this delayed justice showing how slow, bureaucratic and broken the process is?  Or is it a sign of new times?  That the decision (or the announcement) happened very shortly after a new Chief of Defence Staff took over?   With a message of taking this stuff seriously?

The reality is it is probably a mix--something should have happened long before now, but a new boss with a clear priority on this might be pushing the case forward.  And yes, the CDS has a role in this because he has the job of enforcing discipline with the Canadian Armed Forces, not the Deputy Minister and not the Minister of Defence.  This is squarely in General Vance's area of responsibility. 

If we see more prosecutions in the next month or two (and announced via David Pugliese), then it will be clearly a sign that a change is underway.  

A Pander Bear?

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democrat Party and leader of the opposition (one question I will get right), is getting flak today for calling Toronto Canada's most important city.

Why is this problematic?  After all, Toronto is the biggest city by far, it has the most economic weight, it has a heap of cultural weight, and on and on.  But since he is running for Prime Minister (yeah, I know, there is no vote for PM but for individual MP's but tell that to all of the relevant political actors in Canada--the voters, the candidates, the media), saying such a thing does not play well in any other place that might see itself as a most important city.  Since all politics is ultimately local, that means everywhere else that is not Toronto.

My bigger problems with Mulcair's pandering without restraint are on Quebec and supply management.
  • The NDP's stances on Quebec have been most problematic since they tend to want to give Quebec the easiest out possible--50% plus one--with none of the Clarity Act standing in the way.  Why? Because NDP's base is in Quebec.
  • While all the parties are pandering to the overly entitled dairy industry, Mulcair's stance has seemed to indicate that he would not reform at all, even at risk of Canada getting kicked out of the big trade negotiations.
The lesson, as always:

Monday, July 27, 2015

More on Supply Management

I went shopping today, which is enough to deepen my hostility to supply management.  How so?

First, $4 a liter for milk.


$10 for a big block of monterrey jack.... or any other cheese.  Two problems with this: the price and the selection.  $10 is way too much.  But most of the cheese is in this very big size, so that means that I have to pay a lot and then use about half or a bit more and then the rest turns blue before I can finish it.

And that is the problem with cartels--they limit price AND selection--as they game the products to maximize their profits without the fear of competition.  With competition, I might get a better selection of sizes and I might get a better price.  With a government sanctioned cartel?  Neither.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mach and Cheese: When Media Outlets Become Spokespeople for Lobbies

I tried to resist but I could not: this piece on Supply Management is such an utter crock of shit.  The big question is: why has the CBC become the sock puppet of the dairy industry?  A piece entitled "Why politicians defend farm marketing boards" ignores the political logic (more on that below), so what does the piece actually do?  As economist Stephen Gordon tweeted:
We can go through the list one by one, I suppose.
  • No bailouts?  Nope, supply management is not a bailout, which is a temporary effort to save a failing business/sector.  Instead, it is yearly (or is it monthly?) subsidy essentially since restricted supply increases prices despite what this set of talking points asserts.  Check out the price of cheese: $5-7 for a small block?  Really?  
    • "Price comparisons for food can be fraught due to variable factors like transportation costs and retail competitiveness"  Sure, this is true especially when there is no competition!!!  This is what a cartel is all about--setting prices high and then denying it.  Don't compare prices because ...ooops, they would show that Canadians are paying more.
  • Food sovereignty?  This point is absolutely stupid.  It says that export foods like beef and pork and grain can fall on hard times ... but dairy does not.  Wait, have the Canadian beef/pork/grain industries disappeared?  Have their farmers given up and moved to the cities for alternative careers?  No. NO!  So, why should dairy be special.  Oops.
    • The point about perishables actually makes it clear why dairy will not disappear--Canada will not be importing milk from cheaper producers anytime soon since the stuff spoils.
  • Sustaining the little guy?  One could do that without providing bonanzas, I suppose.  But if we let the market work its magic (and its destruction) elsewhere in the economy, why are dairy farmer so super-special?  Why protect them and not small bookstore owners?  Oh, because if we protected all small businesses from competition, we would pay more and get less.  Got it.
  • Trade threats are empty?  Yes, other countries have barriers, which they may lower if Canada lowers its barriers.  Ooops.  Got to give to get.
  • Who needs votes?  The basic point is that politicians pander to the dairy farmers and will continue to do so regardless of party.  Why?  Ask Machiavelli:
`` We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state.  For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders.  This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favoured by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience.  Hence it is that, whenever the opponents of the new order of things have the opportunity to attack it, they will do it with the zeal of partisans, whilst the others defend it but feebly, so that it is dangerous to rely upon the latter.'' 
So, yeah, supply management is not going away, especially when the mainstream media outlets parrot their talking points.

UPDATE: This got tweeted later in the day:

Scary or Entertaining? The GOP Pool of Candidates

Sure, we can laugh and enjoy the spectacle (been a while since I posted about schadenfreude):
Brian McFadden, NYT

But, damn, democracy works best if there are at least two decent choices when one votes.  Competition is supposed to bring out the best (it can also bring out ethnic outbidding, alas).  But who is the most Reasonable Republican?  And can the RR win the nomination?  I am not a huge Hilary Clinton fan, but I could imagine four-eight years of an HRC presidency.  I find it hard to believe that one of these GOP candidates might be President.  Of course, all the talk is about Trump these days, but he will crash and burn at some point--no votes have thus far been cast.

I almost want to see Biden run, as I think I would prefer him to everyone else.  Oh well.  The good news is that I don't have to make jokes about fleeing to Canada, eh?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Senate Complications

Folks are arguing that unicameralism (one legislative body) is fine, citing Scandanavian examples:
Which is fine.  These countries are well governed.  However, they are not that similar to Canada in that they have very homogeneous populations and not a bit of federalism.  The Canadian Senate, like the American Senate and probably the Australian Senate, are aimed at producing representation from federal units.  This can be both good and bad.  We can get into the pro's and con's at some point. 

But the point here is simply that Canada, despite being mostly cold and very northern, is not that similar to these countries.  Indeed, combined, their populations are smaller than Canada and any kind of union of them would probably include a federal design that insured that each unit would have representation--a Senate.  So, the simplistic comparison needs more work to show why the institutions that work great for homogeneous societies with unitary parliaments apply to heterogeneous, federal countries. 

Now, if one was arguing proportional representation vs. first past the post, that would be interesting.

21st Century Reading and Reviewing

I try to save paper these days by reviewing manuscripts via PDFs on my computer or my tablet.  It also makes it easier to read stuff while traveling--both to read on a plan and to carry less paper around.

The biggest challenge in doing this is the habit/standard of people putting their tables/figures at the back of the document and having endnotes and not footnotes.  I know most of the blame for this goes to journals which require such formatting, although that is changing (thanks Dan at ISQ).

So, I am going to be annoying and ask my students/friends who give me stuff to read to format it the way I want it--intext figures/tables and footnotes.  Sorry, but the line is drawn here and no further.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Harper's Big Strategic Mistake?

The story du jour in Canada is the effort by Stephen Harper to get rid of the Senate.  How so?  By not fulfilling his obligation to name new Senators.  He says this would get folks serious about reforming the Senate.  The problem is that any constitutional amendment would need to be approved by every single province--and with Quebec always having some demands of its own, such consensus is highly, highly unlikely.

You may not think I am an expert on Canada's constitution, but I have been studying the Citizenship Guide for nearly two weeks, so I am on top of this [Um, no, I am not].*
*  My stance on the Senate: I am pro-reform, not abolition.  Why?  Because the Senators should be elected, so that they are accountable  Why not abolish?  Because it would be nice to have some folks in the Parliament Buildings whose agendas are not completely controlled by party leaders and especially the PM.  Of course, elected Senators might have some party loyalty .... Hmmm, anyhow, that is my stance as un-finished as it might be.

Senate-bashing is popular these days due to a variety of scandals, including one that ultimately implicated Harper's closest advisers.  And this might be seen as a play for NDP support given that this is an NDP stance and to put the Liberals in an awkward spot of defending the status quo. 

I have not read heaps of stuff on this, but I have a question: Harper has left a bunch of Senate seats unfilled, so if the NDP win, they could nominate a whole bunch of Senators at once, going from zero (right?) to a healthy percentage.  This is not quite like an American President ending his term without filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, but it is not that different either.  Obviously, the big difference is that the Surpreme Court in the US is far more influential than the Canadian Senate.  So, perhaps the risk is minor, but I would almost vote for the NDP (if my citizenship comes through in time--it will be close!) just to get to this outcome.  Sure, Thomas Mulcair as the new Prime Minister might have to look a bit hypocritical in filling a Senate that he bashed, but he could honestly say that he would be meeting his constitutional obligations.

For a far smarter take on this stuff, see this interview with Emmet Macfarlane.

An Appropriately Short Discussion of a Tiny Super-Hero

We saw Ant-Man last night, and I have few small thoughts about a surprisingly delightful movie (spoilers beyond the break):

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Holy Deadline, Batman!

Not to fear, Robin, as we have the Bat-procrasination gas handy in our utility belt.

The APSA has announced that the deadline for submitting papers to the online repository for the forthcoming conference is August 4th.  The conference starts September 2nd.  Um, whuck?

In the old days, one had to mail the papers to one's discussant and fellow panelists a few weeks ahead so that they could get the paper and have a week or two to read it before the conference.  With the development of online paper banks and email, the expectation tends to be (varies by person and by standards set by each panel chair/discussant) to have the paper to the key person (the discussant) a week ahead of time so that they can read the papers.  

I have never, ever received papers or posted papers online a month ahead of time.  Why?  Because August is for finishing the paper!  Moreover, I would not read the papers three weeks ahead of time since I would want them reasonably fresh in my mind. 

So, APSA is setting a deadline that most will surely miss.  I asked the APSA twitter account if they could report/collect data on the volume of papers submitted by the deadline versus after.  My guess is that most are submitted within 10 days of the conference.  Not to mention that some don't post their papers because they fear plagiarism/getting scooped.*
* I have already written about this fear elsewhere.  The key logic: if you want to be cited, post. 
All I ask as a discussant is to get the paper to me at least a few days before I leave for the conference.  I may read some papers on the plane, but that is my choice.  I will certainly not read papers at the conference, as the conference is for going to panels, meeting up with friends/colleagues/co-authors/etc.  Spending a conference in a hotel room reading papers that were submitted too late is not my idea of a well spent conference.

My general rule is to be considerate--reading these papers is not the only thing the discussant has on his/her plate.  So make their job easier by giving them some time, but not necessarily an entire month.  Also, don't give them a paper that is one hundred pages (someone did that to me).  As in all things, reciprocity/golden rule and all that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ex-Pat Voting

The big news in Canada is that a court ruled that Canadians living outside of Canada should lose their ability to vote in elections long enough.  As an ex-pat living in Canada and as a scholar who has pondered voting rights for outsiders, I am conflicted.

On the one hand, voting is the very basic right of citizenship.
On the other, if one is not paying taxes and not otherwise involved in political outcomes back home, it is not clear that one should have a say.
On a third hand, politicians may have preferences, based on what they think the voting inclinations of the outsiders might be.  Some Hungarian politicians wanted to give citizenship to the Hungarians abroad in part because it was soft irredentism but mostly because they figured that these people would vote for their party (Fidesz).

To be clear, voting rights should not be decided by politicians with skin in the game, as they tend to do things like #voterfraudfraud to disenfranchise those inclined to vote against them.  So, strike/amputate that third hand.

As an American in Canada, I have voted in most major American elections since I left the US.  Why?  I still do American tax forms, so I think I have a stake in the system (US is fairly exceptional in making ex-pats pay taxes on foreign income).  Also, I still identify strongly as an American.  Some point this year, my identity will get complicated as I will be a dual citizen and will eventually vote in Canadian elections.  Should I stop voting at that point in American elections?  I am not sure.  I see the point that outsiders should not be involved.  However, I find that rights matter more than optics or even that which feels just a bit inappropriate.  Since I think that voting rights are the most basic rights, the most fundamental right, and I worry about politicians playing #voterfraudfraud, I guess I stand on the side of the Canadian ex-pats living in the US and wanting to vote in Canadian election.

It will be interesting to see how these decisions in Canada play out as they go higher up in the court system.  

Update: after engaging in some twitter discussion, I realized that my stance is more absolute.  There is only one class for citizenship.  Creating second class citizenship is just inherently problematic.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Unbreakable Vows

I have mentioned before the concept of unbreakable vow.  It comes from Harry Potter: that when two wizards agree and the spell is cast, they are tied to each other and breaking the vow leads to death on the part of the person breaking the vow.  Well, that seems like a bit much.  But the idea is sound and relevant.

How so?  When I agree to supervise a PhD student, I know I am making a career-long contract, if not lifetime.  That the student will be looking to me for advice during and long after the PhD, and that I will be called upon to write letters of recommendation not just when they apply for post-docs and for their first jobs but long down the road. 

How do I know this?  Because even at my level as a senior scholar (yes, I know I am getting close to a pivotal age when "senior scholar" just sounds old to me), I keep going back to the well, to ask my adviser and other mentors for letters.  As my next sabbatical is a bit more than a year away and is only partially funded, the search for additional funding has commenced, and with that, the need to ask for yet another round of favors.  I cannot really return the favor for these folks... all I can do is pay it forward and also be nice to their students.  And that I do.

So, thanks to the mensches of IR.  I have been fortunate, and I don't take it for granted.  Now, excuse me as I have a draft article to read, written by a former graduate student.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Beer Comparisons

This post by Frances Woolley is most interesting, arguing that some economic institutional differences help to explain why American beer is so varied with much swill produced by the big companies and better stuff by microbrews (so far, so good) compared to the large beer companies in Canada which produce better beer.  Ooops.  This is where I jump off of the beer-wagon.

I am loathe to criticize anything Canadian these days as my citizenship test is less than two weeks away, BUT big Canadian beer companies produce mediocre beer AND small Canadian micro-brews make excellent beer.

Canada and the US are apples and apples when we compare them in terms of beer (and most other things except political institutions, sorry, Canada).  How so?  Not only do both countries have big swill and small breweries cranking out the good stuff, but the liquor industries of both countries wish that they could engage in both intra- and inter- federal-unit trade without so many restrictions.

I have a hard time getting beer from Quebec and British Columbia in Ontario since trade is restrained by mystifying regulations.  Same apparently is the case in the U.S.  In Ontario, beer is sold by The Beer Store (province-sanctified chain owned by big beer producers) and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (state liquor store equivalent).  Their rules make it hard for smaller producers to get shelf space, not to mention provincial regs that limit how many outposts (brew pubs) that one can open.  I remember that Pennsylvania had similarly strange and restrictive rules--beer distributors for beer, state stores for liquor. 

So, there may be some differences, as I do think that some of the mass Canadian beer (Alexander Keith's, Sleeman) is better than the mass American beer (ug), but the two markets are probably far more similar than different, especially if we want to add various European countries to our comparisons.

I had resisted writing this post, but the alternative was to read some graduate student stuff.  So, there you go.

Iran Arguments: Cartoon or Reality

Brian McFadden of the NYT does a nice job of illustrating many of the ant-Iran deal arguments.

There is apparently not enough room for the "if Obama tried harder, we could have gotten a better deal" argument.  Still, woot for McFadden.

Vance and Sexual Harassment

There has been a fair amount written about the new Chief of Defence Staff General Jon Vance, including this, but people are overlooking a key episode: his career was upended slightly by sexual harassment.  After Vance completed his tour in Afghanistan, he came home and started a new job within the Canadian Forces.  After several months, he was compelled to return to Afghanistan because his successor, Daniel Menard, got fired for sleeping with his subordinates.  Because of the need to find someone who was already prepped to run that important job quickly, Vance was asked to go back.  He got to witness what happens to a command climate when a poor example is set. 

So, as Vance addresses this key issue in the Canadian Forces, he is even likelier to take it more seriously than his predecessor. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pre-Primary Panic Pause, Please

The "news" of today is that Trump is a contemptible human being because he mocked John McCain's military service.  Why is this news?  Because the media has flocked to covering Trump because he says stuff that is, um, newsworthy.  Well, newsworthy in the sense that people will click on stories to find out what outrageous thing he said now. 

Yes, Trump is doing great in the polls, which means the media can say that they are just covering the top candidate, as if they had nothing to do making him that.  They helped by covering him far more than the other candidates (I dare anyone to do a content analysis and tell me that he hasn't gotten more than 1/17 of the GOP candidate coverage).  Name recognition plus media attention might just impact the polls.

The key here is that no one has voted and no one is voting any time soon.  The endless campaign is on, but the voting is not yet here.  So, the media has to cover something.  And watching Trump bloviate is good for clicks/ratings/whatever.  But when the time comes to vote, chances are that Trump, no matter how well he appeals to the xenophobes, will decline in the polls because... he is a contemptible human being. 

Four years ago, I saw GOP candidate after candidate rise and fall.  I said then what I say again today: I wish I knew how to short a market so that I could make money off of the decline of Trump in the days ahead. 

But this is not just about Trump.  It is about the reality that the media hop and skip to the hot candidate, making them hotter than they really are.  With a list of candidates longer than the arm of the average journalist, the editors have to make decisions about what to cover.  This is, of course, always the case, but with so many candidates, each twitch of coverage has an impact on which candidate gets even more coverage.  Lots of piling on here.

But the reality is that we don't know anything yet about who is going to win or lose (well, except that Trump is not going to win).  So, let's just take a breath and chill out on our hot summer days.  Oh, and if you are a democrat, it is your turn to enjoy the schadenfreude.  Woot!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ironies of IR: The Friend of My Enemy is ... Confused

Lots of debate about the Iran deal.  I spent way too much time arguing back and forth with a relative who insisted that the US could have gotten a better deal.  I wish David Lake had written this sharp post before I got engaged in that argument since David* said it for me. 
*  David Lake came to UCSD a year or two before I left, so people sometimes think that he was my adviser, especially since I appeared in a volume he co-edited just a few years later.  I don't mind since David is very well-respected by most folks in the field, because my approach to IR is not that dissimilar, and because he actually has been super-helpful to me over the years, including inviting on board that first edited volume.
Whether the deal is good or bad is one question.  Another question is to consider what impact various actors had.  And I want to pick on Netanyahu.  Why?  Because it is so easy?  Because I am delighted to see him angry and frustrated?  Perhaps.

Netanyahu has bitterly opposed not just this deal but pretty much the entire negotiations.  It seems that he would prefer for the US to fight yet another Mideast war, this time for Israel (and maybe Saudi Arabia).**   What has been the effect of this opposition?  Well, besides alienating Obama even further, it might just have made the deal more legitimate in the eyes of the Iranians.  Any Iranian politician, but especially those worried about hardliners, would have to ask themselves, if I make this deal, will it appear that we are caving into Israel?   That the deal is too soft?  That we should have negotiated harder with more super-willpower?  Netanyahu's opposition allows those in Iran to make the claim that the deal is so good for Iran that Israel is doing its best to oppose it.  Netanyahu is making it easier for the Iranians to make this deal.  Probably not his intention, but this is my guess (not being an expert on Iranian politics, but knowing something about the domestic politics of foreign policy). 
** How do those who argue that the Israel Lobby is all powerful in the US make sense of Obama choosing a course of action directly counter to Israel's preferences?  (When I say Israel, I mean Netanyahu, as we have seen a number of intel and security types in Israel be far less upset about this deal) 
Others may have made the same argument I am making here--I am too addled by frisbee injuries and reading too much meta-IR theory to remember where I have read what, so apologies if I am repeating what others have said.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Iran Deal: Placeholder

I have not read the details of the deal, as I am working on some stuff I need to get out and under review with summer slip, slip, slipping away.  So, let this post be a placeholder for the time when I have the time to think about this more.

My initial takes, however, are:

And, most seriously, war is always a lousy alternative and particularly in this case.  Oh, and the US is not bargaining alone with Iran--the sanctions require international support and the deal involves other actors.  Let's not forget those key aspects.

Oh and I posted on the initial deal here and here.  I don't think my views will change much once I read more about the agreement (since I am aware of my own vulnerability to confirmation bias).  Oh, and I don't give a rat's ass what Netanyahu says....

Monday, July 13, 2015

Testing, eh?

Last fall, my family finally did the paperwork to apply for Canadian citizenship. When we were looking to leave Montreal, our options were pretty open.  Moving to Ottawa meant a commitment to Canada... hence the application.  The mail to set the date for the exam came more quickly than expected with a shorter timeline: we take the test in two weeks.

When I reached out to my friends, their help was amusing and sometimes helpful (thanks, JTL). 

So far, I have been informed that the test contains some skills that are not mentioned in the guide, and as well some answers:

Skills tests:
  • "The best part of test is undoubtedly when you have to write five polite responses to American jokes about Canadian stereotypes." (thanks, KA) 
    • I believe the answer is always "sorry".
  • There is a French component (JTL is not always helpful). 
    • Mais non!
  • Be able to sing O Canada (thanks, SGS)
    • I know the beginning and end. Can I hum the middle?
  • The hands-on canoe skills part of the exam is pretty tricky. (thanks, LN)
    • As long as I don't have to be in the same canoe as my wife, I think we can both pass. 

Sticky issues:
  • Crown stuff.  I cannot let Phil Lagassé down!
  • I don't really sing well, so hopefully the singing test is just about getting 2/3s of the words right. 
  • Have to remember that the US was the bad guy in the War of 1812.  And I probably should not mention a tweep's theory that Phantom Menace was based on this war.
  • Upper Canada and Lower Canada are not what you think....

Answers (when in doubt):
  • Maple Syrup
  • Hockey
  • Wayne Gretzky
  • eh?
 The good news is that we might end up being Canadians by the end of the year (and remain Americans).  We will be too late for this election, which might be a good thing.  Oh and jury duty!

Of course, we will take any additional advice, hints, suggestions as we cram for the next two weeks. 

Contrasting Military Chiefs: US and Canada

The US and Canada are replacing their military chiefs at about the same time.   As each starts their term in office, observers can easily confuse what each can and cannot do.  The striking difference is that the US Chairman can speak but not act and the Canadian Chief can act but cannot speak quite as much.  Let me explain some of the differences and then some of the similarities.

The Canadian Chief of Defence Staff [CDS] is the commander of the Canadian Armed Forces.  He is the ultimate authority, essentially, writing the rules of engagement, firing subordinates if need be, and providing the operational commanders with their missions.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff commands the Joint Staff ... and that is about it.  His primary job is to serve as adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense.  He cannot order around the Combatant Commanders--the four star generals and admirals who command all of the US forces in their sector or function.

The CDS is appointed by the Prime Minister, and Parliament has no role in vetting him.  Which means he is only accountable to the Prime Minister, but is answerable to Parliament.  This answerability thing is actually quite limited since advice to cabinet is confidential.  So, the CDS can speak about what the Canadian Armed Forces are doing and can do, but not what the CDS told the Prime Minister about what should be done.

The Chairman is appointed by the President but must be confirmed by the Senate.  So, he is actually accountable to both the President and to Congress.  This means that he can and occasionally must speak more broadly, depending on the questions asked by those in Congress.

How are they similar?  Well, I used "he" a lot above since the American and Canadian military chiefs have been male.  The time for a female CDS/Chairman is coming as more women are getting promoted to higher levels and with more women getting more experience commanding in combat, those numbers should increase even more.  Still, not anytime soon.

How else?  CDS's and Chairmen can range from being forward-leaning to acquiescent.  The Chairmen, Myers and Pace, under Donald Rumsfeld experienced "mind melds", where they basically sold out to Rummy's stances on the issues.  One could use many adjectives to describe the outgoing CDS but forward leaning is not one of them. 

The two new leaders, US Marine General Joe Dunford and Canadian Army General Jon Vance, may or may not be that similar as chiefs (time will tell), but they do have some similar attributes.  Both commanded in Afghanistan.  Both are generally viewed as relatively blunt and assertive.  Both have tough jobs ahead as they face more budgetary constraints in more complex times (the Cold War was more dangerous but far more simple).  Both have to deal with messed up procurement processes (a widely shared dynamic among democracies these days).  And both are starting their jobs during election season (although the US election is farther away, the campaign is very much underway).  Dunford's boss will certainly change during his term in office, and might happen to Vance and maybe not.

Anyhow, as each takes over their respective militaries, we need to keep in mind that despite the common title of CHOD (chief of defense, in the NATO parlance), they have somewhat different jobs and definitely different expectations.  The key commonality is that they will lead in interesting times.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Defensive? But of Course

I was reminded of an old post today and decided to re-post a key part of it:

What I do want to take issue with today is something much sillier and yet much more common: the criticism that one is being defensive.  I got that yesterday, and it does not hurt me.  It just annoys me greatly.   It always has annoyed me.  Why?  Because if one is attacked, one has two responses--ignore the attack or defend oneself. So, silence is certainly an option but not really a strength of mine.  Also, silence is often confused with condoning the accusation.  "If you didn't think it was right, why didn't you say anything?"  If you say anything, you are being defensive.  Damned if you, damned if you don't.

Of course, there is being defensive and there is being DEFENSIVE.  I remember one of my first talks at a conference, I tried to reply to every single comment and criticism rather than just picking and choosing a few of the relevant/salient/useful/harmful.  But the simple act of responding to riposte in one's direction to deflect the accusation and perhaps illuminate why the attack is flawed is defensive, right?  Why is being defensive wrong?  The answer: it is not.  If someone tries to spread rumors about you, and you then broadcast your view of the truth, is that problematic?  I think not.

The point of this particular Spew is just to suggest that if your best criticism is that someone is being "defensive," think again.  There are better justifications for dismissing my arguments than that. 

 Silence has never been a strength for me. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Revenge Reconsidered

I saw a tweet about Star Wars today and responded thusly:

The resulting discussion led me to re-watching Revenge of the Sith.  I haven't seen it in years, so I forgot how truly awful it is.  I guess I thought it was not bad because it was better than the other prequels, but damn it is bad.  The dialogue is awful, awful, awful.  The Anakin flitting back and forth between Palpatine and Jedi Council causes headaches, and I got lost counting how many different hairstyles Natalie Portman has in this movie.  It seems as if the rule is that she needs a different hairstyle in each and every scene.

I remembered that the action was good, which it kind of was.  Indeed, the action in the prequels is mostly good.  The start of Phantom Menace with Qui-jon and Obi Wan showing what real Jedi can do is just terrific, and the fight with Darth Maul at the end is very good.  In Clones, the stuff in the arena is quite good, so much so that the dialogue is not bad.  But then I realized watching RoS today that the action in the third movie is mostly ... dumb. 

  • the fight to save Palpatine at the start is undermined by the very fact that Palpatine staged all of this to manipulate Anakin.  I mean, Palpatine is seriously in danger unless he could bounce from a falling starship. 
  • Grievous is scary until he isn't.  Obi Wan literally disarms him one arm at a time.  How could this guy beat some many Jedi before this?  And he coughs?  Why does a droid have a lung condition or allergies?
  • Fighting on a volcanic planet?  Why are folks mining lava?  Why does Obi Wan maneuver himself further and further into the lava?  
 The other real problem with this movie is how it ends.  No, not just that Padme gives up on living just as she produces two kids that might just want a mother.  No, I mean, the last we see of the Emperor and Vader is their watching the Death Star being built.  It took 18 years or so to build the Death Star?  Who was their defense contractor?  Lockheed?

Anyhow, as we anticipate Star Wars VII with the latest stuff out of comic-con, people are thankful that George Lucas is not involved. Which is sad, since the original trilogy was his baby and was so very good. But the second trilogy was even more so, as he wrote and directed them, and boy did they suck.  I don't know if JJ Abrams can do better than the first trilogy, but I am fully confident that he can do better than the prequels (even if I am not a fan of his version of Star Trek).

I need to have some beer now to improve the bitter taste in my mouth.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tyranny of Low Expectations: Doing More Than the Annual Blog Post

Last night, I posted this about sexism in political science.  It has gotten a pretty strong response getting 10x as many hits (so far) as my usual post, lots of retweets by female political scientists, and some sharing on facebook.  The sharing on facebook came with props as my female political science friends were happy to see a senior male political scientist talk bluntly about this.  

These props/kudos made me feel squishy because it is not that hard to blog and notice on occasion that there is sexism in the poli sci business (as it is everywhere, one FB friend noted).  My female friends and former students (who I also consider to be friends) have put up with all kinds of crap over the years.  Indeed, the conversations sparked by last night's post has revealed a bit more of that stuff.  

So, besides from regularly posting about this stuff, which is pretty much the definition of the least one can do (unless one is doing nothing at all), what can a male political scientist do? 

First, obviously, is to be professional in professional settings.  Treat women with respect (and men, too).  The most obvious application of this rule:  the women who are grad students (or undergrads) in one's program are not targets of one's affection/lust.  If one is attracted, wait until they graduate or find some other person or object for one's fascination.  When professors hit on students in their program, little good can come from it.  Yes, our mentors might have done it (my old grad program had several married couples consisting of mentors/former mentorees), but we don't drunk drive as much either.  Norms have changed as we have learned about the damage the previously accepted behavior has caused.  Speaking of the less one could do, refraining from preying upon students is pretty damned easy.

Second, in semi-professional settings, treat the women as you would treat the men.  Include/exclude by the same rules--I don't invite strange men to the semi-annual poker games and I would not invite strange women. I do invite my male and female friends to the poker games.  The gender representation is still skewed but not as much as it once was.  There is much reported fear about socializing with women outside of work as there is much fear about sexual harassment accusations/lawsuits.  There are two obvious answers to that:  (1) go out in mixed groups; (2) trust the people you hang out with.  I have had beers with individual students and junior faculty, male and female, at conferences and have thought nothing of it.  I have not gotten exceedingly drunk while hanging out with women who are not my wife.  Not really that hard.  On the other hand, I did not let the accused plagiarist close the door to my office when she wanted to speak to me about her case (which I was not allowed to speak about anyway) since I had reason to distrust that individual.

Third, listen.  I said something silly once and my student reminded me of the larger context, and I made sure not to make the same kind of remark again.  My learning curve may be shallow, but it exists--we can all learn if we listen.  Oh, and listen to the men, too, and either call out or distance from men who do bad stuff.  There are limits due to concerns about slander/libel (I always forget the distinction), but if anyone asks me about the conditions about the places I used to work, I will tell them.  And if I find out about problems where I am currently working, I will work up the chain of command to find a way to deal with such issues. 

Fourth, include.  Given the number of sharp women in political science, it does not take that much thought to come up with a panel proposal that includes women, a syllabus that includes work by women, a list of favorite books that includes women, to cite the work of women in one's lit review. 

Fifth, listen.  It bears repeating (like deja vu does in Inside Out).  Women are often put in difficult spots when they encounter a problem since many of the powerful people are male and because a public process by which they might lodge a complaint could do them more career harm than to the perpetrators.  

Sixth, support women when they have proposals to improve the profession.  The debate this year has been the timing of APSA--that the conference is family and women-unfriendly by being over Labor Day weekend.  My kid is in college, so it does not matter to me.  But it matters, so I should support their efforts. 

Seventh, when put in positions to do stuff, do the right thing.  Most academics end up cycling into various decision-making positions--chair, director of graduate studies, whatever.  When in the those positions, do all of the above and figure out ways to help the women in your area of responsibility mitigate the burdens of the past as well as the lousy folks who are still around.

Since I saw Inside Out before I finished this post, I am now thinking about emotions, and I guess the one to emphasize here is: empathy.  Have some empathy for others--women as well as others who are less represented in political science.  It is the very least one can do, I think.

And, readers, please let me know what else we can do to improve things.  I am thinking more about personal behavior and less about policy changes, but I am open to suggestions.  My list here is not very deep, so any suggestions would be most helpful.  As always, my imagination is pretty narrow.  I tend to generalize from my experience, and I have not experienced being without privilege in this business.  So, more feedback here is more welcome.

Taking on Sexual Harassment in Canadian Armed Forces

This story suggests that there are divides within CAF over CDS Lawson's stance on harassment: "lack of leadership!"  That there are conflicting imperatives to fight sexual harassment but to be quiet.  The Chief of the Navy apparently has been much clearer to his sailors.  Given Lawson's initial reaction, his then bungled statement, and this apparent leadership division, I am not surprised that the top brass are "literally counting the days until he leaves."

I can speak to a bit of this as I have some junior officer friends who faced a real challenge: that the roll out of the report was met with no new instructions for how to communicate to the troops.  My friends chose to talk directly to their subordinates about the report, and then found themselves hanging out to dry as their superiors were like "hey, wait, we don't have guidance."

Given that this military, so proud of mission command in Afghanistan--delegating to the commanders on the ground, does not know how to operate when it comes to these issues, it is definitely time for some new leadership. While much can be structural/institutional/cultural, the reality of modern militaries is that the chain of command matters a great deal.  So, although real, quality leadership is not a magic elixir, it can produce far more change and reform than a change in bosses in other realms (such as academia).

General Jon Vance's job was always going to be tough.  It is up for debate whether it is now easier (easier to do better than his predecessor) or harder (more messes to clean up). I vote for harder.

Pet Peeve Du Jour

One of my biggest pet peeves when I hear politician and pundits talk about threats to US or Canadian or whatever security, the phrase existential threat is often stretched to the point of meaninglessness.  There are many threats to security, and they range from minor/modest to severe to, ultimately, existential. 

Climate change might be an existential threat to low lying island countries such as the Maldives.  It is not an existential threat to the US or Canada.  Sorry, it just isn't.  Something that presents significant harm does not threaten the existence of the United States or Canada. 

Nuclear annihilation is an existential threat.  Which is why I concurred with General Dunford in his testimony today when he said Russia is an existential threat.  Why?  Russia has enough nuclear weapons to lay waste to North America AND our relations are such that we have more than a just a bit of concern.  Putin has been making nuclear threats to American allies--ones where the US has a commitment to defend.  That defense is ultimately tied to a nuclear umbrella.  So, yeah, Russia is an existential threat.  France has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the U.S., but is not a threat, existential or otherwise.

China has enough nuclear weapons at this point that it is probably an existential threat as well.  Right now, its assertiveness is troubling, and could start a process that could lead to things getting out of control.  But China is not issuing nuclear threats left and right.

Iran is not an existential threat to the US or Canada.  Even if Iran had a handful of nuclear weapons, they would not have a delivery system that would pose an existential threat to the US.  Ye olde feare of a nuke in a suitcase is not an existential threat--again, harm is not equal to threatening existence.  Sure, it would be an existential threat to Israel, but that is distinct from being an existential threat to the US.  How is this different from Russia's threat to the Baltics?  Iran ain't Russia, and the US does not have an Article V type treaty with Israel. 

Cyber?  Costly, inconvenient but not existential unless the hackers can turn the computers into Terminators.

Terrorism?  ISIS?  Not existential threats.  Even if ISIS were able to get its hands on a nuclear weapon, that would not be an existential threat.  The threat to the existence of some people (say, residents of NYC) is not the same as the threat to the existence of the US.

Alien invasion?  Well, if they have the aims of those depicted in Independence Day, then yes, that would be an existential threat.  A meteor of sufficient size to lay waste to the planet?  Hell yes!

So, we need to address the serious threats, such as cyber stuff and Iran and climate change, but we need to keep things in perspective: they don't threaten the existence of the US or Canada.  Calling them existential threats is fear-mongering.  We have enough to be concerned about without inflating threats.  That is how we got into Iraq in the first place, more or less.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sexism in Political Science: Fact or Fact?

There is a discussion on PSR about sexism in political science, with most folks concurring that it is still an issue with some deniers pointing out that support groups for women are exclusive, too.  Um, yeah.  How to address such discussions?  I go to my standard operating procedure: what have I seen over the years?  The answer: a heap of sexism which has not gone away.

First, there is the repeated myth that jobs are gamed for women and minorities, which explains why white men don't get jobs.  Of course, this defines all women and minorities who do get jobs as less qualified.  The problem with this myth is that it is not true.  I cannot speak for the other subfields, but my work with the TRIP data indicates that IR scholars are mostly white (80*%) and mostly male (70%), and that these numbers have only changed modestly since they started doing TRIP surveys ten years ago.  You would think that if most of the jobs were going to women and minorities, the numbers would have swung.  I also would not have much in the way of male friends in the business that are my age or younger if women were always or mostly beating the men.
      In my career, I have lost many job competitions and I cannot think of one where an inferior woman beat me out.  I have mostly lost to males, including some I consider superior to me, some that are my equals and a few that I would consider to have inferior records at the time.   Indeed, most of the job searches I remember, I was competing against other men, including my first and second tenure-track/tenured jobs.
     The repetition of this myth helps to foster sexism by allowing the men who share it to consider the women (and minorities) as inferiors who did not earn their jobs.  Indeed, I originally came out on PSR as myself to de-myth a job search my department was running--that we were only looking for females for a particular job search. 

Second, while sitting in various departments, I have seen plenty of sexism.  At my first tenure track job:
  • one faculty member was sleeping with multiple female grad students, creating a very hostile work environment for all;  I was told  that one of the perks of the job was "they let you screw the students here." 
  • one faculty member said at a job search meeting that a female candidate did not need the job because her husband had a job;
  • every sexual harassment workshop for the department was trivialized by some of the older males.  
      At my next job, there was a serial sexual harasser.  I had heard about him before I got there, and then another incident happened.  Because it was all covered in confidentiality, only a few faculty (and all of the grad students at the time) learned of it.  There was a concerted effort to make sure this guy would not serve as adviser to any grad students and especially females.  That effort has apparently dissipated as I recently learned that he is serving as an adviser to female grad students again.  Somewhat less problematic was that we had a speaker series that seemed to invite only males with the occasional token female sprinkled in.  The one year I ran it, I found several female scholars who presented excellent talks and one token male who did great as well.

Third, almost always when I see a list of a person's favorite books recommended on some blog, it has somewhere between zero and one females.  Which is why I wrote this post a while back which took little time to write since most of my favorite books are by women.  Similarly, we see plenty of panels and workshops that have few, if any, women, such as the most recent Aspen Forum.

Fourth, we actually have some IR scholars lamenting the end of the Old Boy's Network.  Note Boy's and not Girls or Kids or whatever.  These folks sit in powerful positions.

Fifth, I also see my female friends be far more burdened by service (there was a recent graph flying around the internet demonstrating that women and minorities do far more service than white men).  Since there are relatively fewer women and minorities who are tenured or Full, they tend to get hit with lots of requests as people want a balance or representation on committees, among letter-writers, whatever.  Good intentions that lead to bad outcomes since service goes unrewarded.

Sixth, I have seen far more attacks at PSR on women for their looks, for their relationships, for daring to beat a man out in a job competition and more.  I don't think that PSR is representative of the discipline, but it does shape attitudes and perceptions.  I don't think the profession is as hostile to women as it used to be, but PSR often makes the case that not much has changed (the evidence would be more obvious if the moderators didn't delete many of the offending posts and threads).

Seventh, women get paid less, promoted less despite/because of doing more service, and get less research money.  Thanks to Page Fortna for reminding me of this (in the comments). 

I am sure there is plenty of sexism that I didn't observe as it did not affect me directly, and I tend to be oblivious.  The reality is that path dependence is a bastard--making it harder to compensate for the sins of the past.  Of course, there are still plenty of sinners still around as I have discovered in my academic travels.  There has been progress, as there are more women who are successful and have gotten tenure, but there are still plenty of impediments and enough men with lousy attitudes/beliefs.  Which is why we need some vigilance when people put forth the old BS.