Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Gender and Syllabi: A Progress Report.

Many threads in the past two days on gender and race and citations.  That what ends up being cited and being on syllabi tends to be the product of not so much merit but merit plus path dependence plus other stuff going on, which means women and minorities are under-represented (see this storify that has the threads by Paul Musgrave and Dan Nexon).  Similar dynamics tend to apply regarding syllabi--women are under-represented.*
*  I focus on women here, because I am not sure how to do a better job of adding minorities to my syllabi.  Simply put, it is far easier to identify women (although not always) than minorities via names if I don't know the people. 

I focus on this rather than citations since I just finished the syllabus to one of my classes: Civil-Military Relations.  For the past couple of years, I have been more aware of this stuff, so I have tried to improve the gender balance on my syllabi.  Unlike journal articles where the editors might extend the word count to improve the gender balance (h/t to Dan Nexon, see the storify), a syllabus is more or less a zero-sum game.  I can't add tons of new readings and expect the students to read them all (the iron law of reading assignments--the more you assign, the less they read).  So, some folks do get dropped from required to recommended as I seek to improve the gender balance.  I don't aim for 50%--I just aim for more.

For the stuff I teach, it tends to be not that hard to find stuff written by women.  For some aspects/weeks, it is easier than others right now.  Alliances?  Not a problem with folks like Patricia Weitsman, Sarah Kreps, and others.  For Canadian defence, tis harder.  Counting pieces of required reading by whether is one or more women involved (solo or co-author), my syllabus is 37% women.  I used Jane Summer's tool to see how this syllabus does: it says the authors are 28% women, 1.5% Asian, 9.2% Black, 4.2% Hispanic and 83% White.  I have to get the syllabus into the library so I will send it as is, but in the next year, I will keep an eye out for work that is in this area from groups that are less represented.
Update: Using http://womenalsoknowstuff.com/experts-by-area/, I have found a bunch of women doing civil-military stuff--mostly junior profs and grad students, so I will be revising my syllabus a bit.

Why? Because it is the least I can do.  It does not involve much work--mostly awareness and a smidge of self-awareness.  Students are less likely to model themselves after people who are dissimilar to them, so I think it is a good thing to try.  Also, when it comes to syllabi, some folks are more likely to get promoted if they can prove that their work is used in syllabi around the world.  Tis harder now as many syllabi are on gated coursework sites (blackboard, webct), but not impossible.  Anyhow, it seems like the right thing to do.  And yes, working on this is a good way to procrastinate on the article I need to finish for the APSA meeting in late August.* 

* The deadline for that (August 14th) is silly and according to this survey likely to be disrespected. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Casualties and Rules

The latest numbers show that the US air campaign against ISIS is killing more civilians under Trump than it did under Obama.  Should we blame Trump?  Sure, but perhaps not entirely.  I think several factors may be at work:
  • urban warfare is just brutal.  No way around it.  The offensive to take Mosul has reminded folks of the line from Vietnam: "we had to destroy it in order to save it."
  • US troops are now deployed in Syria, which means air strikes to protect them.  The Special Operations Forces training/assisting the Syrian allies are few in number and thus vulnerable.  The Marines and others deployed to provide artillery and other support are also relatively few in number and vulnerable.  So, when various forces--ISIS, Iranians, Assad's forces, etc--get close, air strikes happen.  And I am guessing the rules governing airstrikes to protect US troops at risk are probably different from the rules governing attacks on ISIS bases, etc.
  • Trump.  Mattis and others have insisted that the rules haven't changed.  Maybe not, but rules are always interpreted.  One can bend the rules for a friend (as in the case of interpreting caveats in Afghanistan back in the day).  One may strictly interpret the rules (zero tolerance or whatever) if one is being watched very carefully by a superior (a principal, an overseer) especially when being caught has consequences. In Afghanistan, various Dutch officers liberally interpreted the rules because they knew there would be little risk of punishment, for example (again, see the book).  So, the Trump effects here are:
    • Trump has signaled via his statements that he does not care about civilian casualties.
    • Trump has delegated pretty much everything to the military--there is probably no concern that the National Security Council folks are watching, unlike during the Obama administration.
    • Trump himself breaks all the rules, so as a role model, he inspires .... less strict observance of the rules.
War is constantly a gray area--if the rules say that a strike should not happen if it puts 15 people at risk (just an example as the rules of engagement are classified), then does the person calling in the airstrike say that there are 14 or 16?  Lots of estimates with big +/- uncertainty.  So, it is hard to judge.  But the trends do seem to be pretty significant.  Lots of things are in play, but I'd bet that the US armed forces a wee bit less careful now than when they were concerned they were being watched closely.  It is just basic human behavior (and principal-agent dynamics).               

Senior Women in Academia: Few or Feared?

This piece is deservedly getting much attention. In my prior jobs, I have seen men disparage some senior women as being crazy bitches (Berdahl's phrase but one that, alas, has been used widely).  On the other hand, damn near all of the friction/tension/conflict I have witnessed in my academic travels (four universities, two in the US, two in Canada) have been caused by men.  This is mostly but not entirely a numbers problem combined with confirmation bias.

The numbers problem is this: there have always been very few women in senior spots in the places I have worked.  There were one full and one associate at UVM, one associate at TTU, one full and associate at McGill, and one or two associates at NPSIA when I started at each institution.  So, there were few women to be viewed as mentors by junior women, and few women to be seen as crazy bitches.  But since there are few of them, whatever they do is noticed more than what the masses of men do. 

Which leads to the confirmation bias problem: that when one has a bad experience with a female senior faculty member, it gets remembered and reinforces the stereotype more than when one has a bad experience with a male senior faculty member.  Are there senior women out there that are nasty/arrogant/difficult/whatever and do not support those who came after them?  Absolutely.  Friends have told me tales. However, I have heard far more tales and certainly have experienced far more hostility from men in the business. 

All of this is, of course, anecdata.  So, I will focus on the anecdata I know best--the women at each stop along the way as well as those I have met at conferences who are institution-builders, who are excellent mentors to male and female graduate students and junior faculty, who support their peers bigly.  The ones that come to mind immediately are: Lisa Martin at UCSD (now at Wisconsin), Cherie Maestas at TTU (now at UNC Charlotte); Juliet Johnson at McGill, Sara Mitchell via ISA conferences (she's at Iowa), Stefanie Von Hlatky in the Canadian and NATO world (she's at Queens) and Stephanie Carvin at NPSIA.  Many other women have played important roles in at these places and elsewhere, and I am most grateful to all to all of them. The good news is that these and other women are doing a great job of mentoring the next generation.  The key is to find the holes in the leaky pipeline and plug them (which, funnily enough, several of these folks are doing).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Game of Thrones Returns: Place Your Bets

The joy of blogging about proposition bets is I know get regular emails from a guy who represents sportsbettingexperts.com on various possible wagers.  Mostly, I have noticed stuff on who may last or not in the Trump administration, but the most recent one was regarding Game of Thrones: who wins, who dies, etc.  They took a fan survey to develop the basic expectations and then set the odds.

So, of course, on the eve of the penultimate season, I have thoughts.  So, below are the odds with my comments (with spoilers for those who have not watched the sixth season):

Thursday, July 13, 2017

D&D and the GOP

I have often posted here and on twitter about how that keen insight from Dungeons and Dragons character attributes applies so well: that intelligence and wisdom are two distinct characteristics.*  One can very smart but not every wise or can be wise but not very smart.  Given Jeff Sessions saying on his SF-86 form (the form one fills out to get/keep a security clearance) that he had not met any representatives of any foreign government over the previous seven years, I had to conclude that he is not very wise.  I am not sure he is all that smart either, but he certainty is not wise as defined by D&D:
Wisdom describes a character’s willpower, common sense, perception, and intuition. Intelligence determines how well your character learns and reasons
The scores range from 3-18 for humans (other species in the D&D universe can go above 18 if I remember correctly.  Anyhow, I thought it would be fun to imagine the character sheets for key political players these days, and, please correct me if I am wrong or come up with better takes than this.

Donald Trump
Race: Half-orc.  (Like Voldemort, this case of mixed parentage has bred xenophobia) Dwarf (Peter Trumbore convinced me this fits better: "Avarice, boorishness, and xenophobia are all classic traits of the dwarves. As is clannish behavior."
Alignment: Chaotic Evil (Chaos vs Law reflects freedom/adaptability/flexibility vs. honor/authority/reliability/trustworthiness; Good/Neutral/Evil reflects altruism/respect for life/respect for dignity vs harming/oppressing/etc)
Class: Thief (Duh)
Strength: 15       Donald has crushed some hands in his day.
Dexterity: 18      He can act quickly and spin quite a bit.
Constitution: 6   He tires easily.
Intelligence:  7   He really does not like to learn.
Wisdom: 12        He has some sense and intuition--he can figure out a crowd.
Charisma: 18      (orce of personality, persuasiveness, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and physical attractiveness)  I don't get it, but he does have a powerful personality, he persuades people despite being utterly full of bs, and so on.

Jeff Sessions, who inspired this post.
Race: Elf (Duh)
Alignment: Lawful? Evil.  That he has very fixed principles about who should be ruling and who should be serving.
Class:  Cleric, pretty sure he might be able to control the undead.  Instead of healing, he causes pain and suffering.
Strength:  11
Dexterity: 15
Constitution: 18  He seems to have much stamina as he works really hard to destroy the Justice system
Intelligence: 14  He has learned how to be better at being a racist
Wisdom:  9        That SF-86 is just unwise.
Charisma:   6      He is definitely not likable.

Jared KushnerRace: Human child
Alignment: Chaotic Evil.  He is just an opportunist, who is imitating his father by selling out his brother-in-law.
Class: Wizard but level 1. He has little magic and is less effective in combat.
Strength:  7
Dexterity: 6       He seems have lousy reflexes, does not really act quickly.  Does he act at all?
Constitution: 7  Seems sickly
Intelligence:  5  Needed father's help to get into Harvard.  Any evidence thus far of learning?
Wisdom: 10      He is not very wise, but his efforts to deflect responsibility seem to be working so he may be craftier than he seems.
Charisma:  14   While unlikable from a distance, it is hard to understand his ability to float through life thus far.  People around him keep giving me more chances, so I guess he has some magnetism.

Don Jr.
Race: Human (I apologize on behalf of all humans for what he does).
Alignment: Chaotic Evil. He wants to be his dad.
Class: Thief (but of low skill)
Strength: 8
Dexterity: 5     He can't help but trip all over himself
Intelligence:  4
Wisdom:  3  Did you see him tweet?
Charisma:  5  Ewwwwwww!


Race: Half-Elf
Alignment: Neutral evil
Class: Wizard   She can cast spells, no doubt about that.
Strength:  13
Dexterity: 16    She can move so swiftly and dance so well that none of the shit her family creates seems to stick to her.
Constitution:  17   She seems to have all of the family's stamina.  She keeps at it, when one would expect her to run or hide.
Intelligence: 16  Among this group, she is a genius.
Wisdom: 12  She is wise relative to her family but just to them.
Charism:  17  She is pretty and seems to get folks to do her bidding again and again (see Drezner's post)

This has taken more time than it should (I had to research the atttributes, classes and such), so I will just summarize a few Dems:
Bill Clinton:  INT 17, WIS  5, CHR 18, Chaotic Neutral
Hillary Clinton: INT 16, WIS 8, CHR 10 (good in small groups, bad in crowds), Neutral Good (persuaded by JTL)
Barak Obama: INT 18, WIS 14, CHR 18, Lawful Good
Bernie Sanders: INT 14, WIS 15, CHR 16, Chaotic Good/Neutral (not sure)
Joe Biden:   INT  14, WIS 9, CHR 17, Chaotic Good

* I have not played D&D in many decades so I am probably not the best person to be doing this.  However, I called this place "Semi-Spew" which could be interpreted as half-assed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Progress? Some But Not Enough

Today is "Follow Women of Color Wednesday" on twitter, an effort to help promote those who are often marginalized and get them more of a twitter following.  It has been interesting to watch over the course of the day. 

Here's my contribution to the twitter conversation:

I added Cesi Cruz and Wendy Wong later, as I had inadvertently left them off as they have not been tweeting much lately.  These women fit into three groups: former students (I supervised Aisha and Jessica TD, I was on Cesi's MA committee), former UCSD students (Wendy and Jessica Weiss Chen) and Tanisha.  Tanisha does stuff that touches my work so we have bumped into each other a few times, and are now friends. Nearly all of these folks are junior, which makes sense since there are so few women of color who are senior and fewer senior people are on twitter.  That these are the only names that came to mind show that my networks are mighty white (I could rattle off a number of white women who I know, who I follow on twitter, and who I hang out with).

 Most of the women mentioned by other people are folks I don't know--either because they are in fields of political science distant from my research (American Politics, Political Theory) or focus on specific parts of the world that have largely been outside of my zone (Africa, Asia, Latin America).   Or if I were better read (I am way behind on reading the various journals, sabbatical didn't solve that), perhaps more of these names would be familiar.
Anyhow, this may speak to an on-going problem: that either by interest or by the implicit/explicit biases of the profession, many non-white scholars end up researching and teaching areas of the world that are related to their ethnic/racial background rather than focusing on broader issues in IR.  Wendy and Tanisha are exceptions as their research agendas do not focus on places that they might be associated with.  I do know from conversations with some of these folks along with conversations with Christian Davenport, one of the few African-Americans doing general Comparative Politics, that these expectations still exist. 

I don't know whether or how such stuff should change (I don't want to force people to become generalists or research themes I care about), but I could not help but notice the patterns today.  Maybe that is my own confirmation bias and my ignorance of the work of many of the women mentioned today.  Maybe not.  I write here and then share my thoughts so that folks can correct me if my perceptions are wrong.  Am I wrong?

Ads? Never mind.

I asked yesterday on twitter and here if folks minded my having ads on the blog.

Most don't mind/don't care.  And then I checked what blogger would expect my income to be, and, well, it is what I originally expected.  Not worth the hassle (tax forms? annoying 9% of my readers, etc.)

So, never mind.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


I don't know how much money I would make, probably a pittance, but I am thinking of having blogspot post ads on ye olde Spew. Would this be annoying or not a big deal? 

Let me know.


Survey Says: Critical Thinking Is Inconvenient

The survey of GOP attitudes about higher education is getting heaps of play and deservedly so (see this tweetstorm that shows how recent the change is and how it is by folks who, surprise, didn't go to college).  It is striking that colleges and universities would be so widely feared (yes, feared), given that higher ed has been a key source of: economic growth, upward mobility (until lately, I guess), innovation and bad movies about lecherous professors.  I am not going to document the war on college as Dan Drezner has done a fine job of it.  It might be an exaggeration that the right have demonized universities, extrapolating whatever happens at Oberlin to make it seem like universities are left-wing mind-control machines.  But it ain't far off.

To be clear, this is not that new, as roughly twenty years ago, I encountered a group of freshpeople who had been warned about the darkness that awaited them at university: that THEY teach evolution here (at Texas Tech).  I didn't expect these students to be the harbinger of things to come, but in a sense they were.  The right-wing media with assists from the mainstream have done much to demonize colleges and universities. Yes, more profs are to the left of center than to the right.  Yes, students leave university with changed attitudes and believes because they get exposed to different ideas and an abundance of facts and to, gasp, different people from their hometown.  They leave... more educated (but not more left wing).

And that is the threat and that is what is feared: the GOP and its allies have moved away from principled stances on the issues and rely more heavily on fear (all parties rely on some fear-mongering, but the emphasis and the targets vary and matter).  What is the best cure for ignorance and fear?  Most folks say education.  So, yeah, warring on college over the past twenty years makes sense, as the GOP, facing an inability to appeal to the next generation via ideas, has to try to deny them the training and knowledge that might make it harder for the party to peddle its toxic brew.

While colleges and universities could serve the public better, it is important to remember that many of them are public institutions, and their problems are often the product of bad public policy.*  Much of the increased expense of universities is due to states providing less support for state-run universities.  That the debt burden on students and graduates is a public policy problem, that could be ameliorated if politicians were willing to do something about it.

Oh and about those pesky protests that alienate the right: we had them in the 1960s yet universities remained engines of growth and innovation for the following decades anyway.  So, yeah, this is another example of the GOP/Fox/etc undermining American institutions because it is good for the party even as it is bad for the country.  A familiar dynamic in a book I co-authored, but one that is more destructive in the US than we could have guessed.

*  Dan mentions a natural experiment about folks choosing not to go to college.  I would argue that there has already been a public policy impact--the decline of state support for universities.  Only late in the game have some (Arnold Schwarzenegger!) realized that more money going to prisons than universities might just be a bad idea. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

G20: Worse Than Expected?

Was the G20 Worse than Expected?  Well, that really depends on what one expected.  Did we expect a Climate Change agreement that all but the US supported?  Probably.  Could we have expected the US to produce a document that wrongly labels China as the Republic of China (that is, Taiwan)? Sure, the Trump Administration is both understaffed and full of amateurs.  Could we have expected that Trump would get along best with Putin? Absolutely.  That his meeting with Putin would go on so long that they would send in Melania hoping to end the meeting?  No.  That this meeting would only include Putin, Trump, Lavrov, Tillerson and the translators?  Um, no.  The debate ahead of time was Fiona Hill or no Fiona Hill (the expert on NSC and not a fan of Putin) not that McMaster and others would not be in the room.  Could we have expected Ivanka to sit in for Donald at a G20 meeting because he is a child who can't stand long, boring meetings?  Yes.

While the NATO meeting and G7 last month were shocking to many, this G20 just did something that everyone kind of expected: Trump handed over leadership of the international order to pretty much anyone who would take it.  Any other Republican President would have probably tried to develop a G20 statement on North Korea, but that would have required work and a view that international cooperation is a good thing.  There are few constants when it comes to Trump: he is always lazy, incurious, paranoid (no staff for the meeting with Putin because of leak paranoia), hostile to cooperation, and racist. 

America First does indeed mean America alone (sorry, McMaster but your spin doth suck).  When talking to my IR colleagues, we have a hard time figuring out if this has happened before: that the leader of the international order surrenders their role voluntarily.  The closest example would be the British after World War I, and that was largely driven by their inability, not a matter of disinterest or hostility.  Instead, the Trump Administration is giving up US influence (Make American Less Great) and getting nothing in exchange.  Opposing TPP meant the effort to contain China economically fails without getting anything for it. Wandering around the G20 with everybody looking to other partnerships means the US will now be at a trade advantage.  The EU-Japan deal combined with finally enacting CETA (Canada-EU) means that goods of those involved will face lower barriers than American goods, which means American companies are now disadvantaged.  Again, not good.

We saw two domestic dynamics become international ones:
  • the donut theory of working around Trump.  Just as Trudeau has been working every angle in US politics to protect American interests, most of the G20 put their efforts towards working around Trump rather than the US leading.
  • manipulate Trump as best you can.  His aides do it, so why shouldn't foreign leaders?  My only concern is that the successful Canadian campaign will eventually get noticed (they aren't shy about taking credit) and then lead to Trump acting out. 
Could the G20 have gone worse?  Sure.  Trump didn't punch anyone.  But we don't know what was said in the meeting with Putin, other than the different views about how much Trump pushed Putin on Russia's interventions in the US election. 

On the bright side for the Canadians, Trudeau did very well.  While Conservatives in Canada don't like the selfies and photo ops at home, having a Canadian leader who is very popular around the world is a good thing for the country.  Especially in the age of Trump but even before that, Canada was getting more notice and attention at this fora because Trudeau is well liked (I hate the Canada is back lingo because Harper engaged in much cooperation even if he was not as enthused about multilateralism).  This means that Canada is at the big table most of the time these days rather than left at the kid's table or on the outside looking in. And it becomes easier for countries to make, ratify and implement agreements with Canada since their leaders don't have to worry about seeing standing next to Trudeau--very much the opposite.  Indeed, we shall see over the next couple of years, politicians avoiding Trump and attacking him for domestic political purposes (see Macron, Merkel), but the opposite for Trudeau.  Being next to Trudeau is good for domestic politics in many countries.  This means, yes, Trudeau is a Canadian asset.  What this government does with this increase in "soft power" remains to be seen and the opposition can surely oppose, but the increased heft is a good thing if you think that Canada should make a difference in the world.

So, a good G20 for Canada and an awful one for the US.  Make Canada Great and make America less relevant.  Woot?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, I Can Rank Any Series Any Time

Of all the comic book characters, Spider-man was always my favorite.  X-Men was my favorite team, but Spidey was the one I most enjoyed.  So, yeah, we saw the new Spider-Man movie--Homecoming--the night it came out.  It is no spoiler to say that it was terrific.  The most thoroughly fun of all the Spideys, but is it the best?  Swing to the spoiler-filled rankings below:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

G20 Preview: Damned If I Know

One media outlet was looking for my take on what to expect from this G20 meeting in Germany.  My quick answer: I have no idea.  Usually, these things are semi scripted so you know what agreements are likely to be endorsed.  But in the Age of Trump, the US does no homework, it does not set the agenda, and it does not follow an agenda.  For Trump's meeting with Putin, there is no agenda.  His aides have said that it will be up to whatever Trump wants to talk about at the time the meeting starts.

So, no, not easy to make predictions.  I will say that one basic dynamic is key to understand: Trump does not see America's partners as friends or as, well, partners, but as competitors.  When he met with South Korea's President in the shadow of North Korea's missile tests, he pushed on trade deficits.  When Trump sees Merkel, he mostly focuses on Germany's trade surplus (and his misogyny).  Don't expect much cooperation or new initiatives. 

The thing to watch is how the others work around Trump. Do they confront, which seems to be Merkel's plan?  Do they pander or try to assuage Trump?  That would be Trudeau's preference.  What will the 19 do?  Will they allow China to dominate? 

Who will defend the international order?  Not Trump.  What is the best way to do that?  No idea, but I am guessing that Trudeau may have the right idea.

Anyhow, this is going to be a train wreck, which means we don't know where the derailed cars will land.  And yes, the Uncertainty Engine is operating in high gear.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

North Korea, ICBM's and Lousy Policy Alternatives

The toughest thing for folks to accept is that there are often no good policy solutions to a key problem.  North Korea has been that problem for at least two decades.  With the new test where North Korea has proven it can build and launch successfully intercontinental ballistic missiles, there is now greater pressure to do something.

But what is that something and what are the risks?  This is where the Trump administration scares me the most.  Talk of regime change and denuclearization are seriously alarming (see this thread)..  Why has North Korea pursued nuclear weapons? For status, maybe.  Because it fears that outsiders want to change who rules?  Absolutely.  What use are nuclear weapons?  To deter attacks, of course.

Could the US launch a strike to disarm North Korea's limited missile force?  Maybe.  But that would not eliminate North Korea's ability to do much harm--via artillery and maybe even invasion of South Korea.  Whatever mistakes the US makes, South Korea will pay.  There are just too many artillery batteries too close to Seoul for the US to expect any conflict not to have potentially huge risks.
Even the most limited strike risks staggering casualties, because North Korea could retaliate with the thousands of artillery pieces it has positioned along its border with the South. Though the arsenal is of limited range and could be destroyed in days, the United States defense secretary, Jim Mattis, recently warned that if North Korea used it, it “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” NYT

And, of course, there is no guarantee that a first strike would eliminate North Korea's small nuclear capability, which would put Tokyo in play as well.  So, a first strike might risk hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Koreans and Japanese.

This puts us back into a familiar and uncomfortable reality--nuclear deterrence.  We are deterred from attacking North Korea, and North Korea, as long as it believes a first strike is not imminent, is deterred from attacking the US and its allies. But if it fears a first strike, it may launch first because it might fear the US could decapitate the regime and eliminate much of its arsenal.  This "use or lose" situation is very, very dangerous.  This makes talk of denuclearization and decapitation destabilizing.

I was called a coward last night on twitter by someone who thinks nuclear disarmament is the preferred option.  Is it cowardly to be realistic?  We are not going to get North Korea (or China or Russia or France or Israel or India or Pakistan or the US) to give up its nuclear arms. Believing otherwise, especially in the age of Trump, is foolish.  Also foolish is thinking that using force will produce a good outcome.  It sucks that we do not have good policy options, but this is nothing new.  For twenty years, the US has wanted to strike North Korea and has been deterred by the threats it poses to the neighbors.  For the entire cold war (and to this day), we have had to tolerate the reality of mutual assured destruction--that threatening each other is the worst policy option except for all of the others.  I'd love to find a way out, but I can't see one.

So, when it comes to North Korea, we must focus not on denuclearization but on deterrence and containment.  Unfortunately, the US is currently led by amateurs with no empathy, which means they have a hard time understanding how their signals will be received.  Which means I am scared.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Canada is Better

I hate, hate, hate it when folks smugly compare Canada to the US and say Canada is better or vice versa.  Both are generally quite great places, and vary across time and place and among people, so most Canada > US arguments or US > Canada arguments are dumb.  But I can't help myself today. Why?  Rule of Law.   How so?

Today, word came out at the Liberal government is going to apologize to and pay Omar Khadar $10 million plus for not doing enough for him when the Americans were torturing him.  Trudeau is paying for the sins of his predecessors--Chretien, Martin and Harper, and there are no votes to be gained for doing so.  Compelled by a court decision, the government is paying out a heap of cash to a guy who belongs to an unlikable family.  But pay Trudeau will because that is what the rule of law requires

At this moment, the rule of law is probably under greater attack than any time since when?  The Civil War?  Trump has consistently blasted the courts for daring to rule against him.  He defies the Constitution by taking cash from foreign governments.  His people craft executive orders with very little concern for the law.  The latest?  That when the Supreme Court rules that the immigrant ban (the Muslim ban) can be allowed to be enacted under specific limits--those with a bona fide connection to the US must be allowed in--Trump's administration tailors the notion of bona fide much, much more narrowly than the Court seemed to indicate.  Which means more lawsuits, more appeals and more rulings. 

Eventually, somebody bringing the emoulements case will be considered to have standing (my bet is on Maryland and DC), and then we shall see what happens. The problem is that we have serious doubts that Trump will obey a court order.  That his family is above the law, as Kushner still has a security clearance despite his Russian dalliances, that Trump still owns a hotel on federal property, and on and on. 

So, on this Fourth of July, I can't help but marvel at the juxtaposition--a government doing what is right even though it is bad politics because that is what the law demands versus an administration that is beyond the law thanks to a feckless GOP.  It ain't a good look, America.

Fourth of July: Petition Bigly

Each Fourth of July I post about how strange it is to be an American outside of the US.  Last summer was the first time I was both Canadian and American for the Fourth of July.  Since then, I have occasionally gotten some pushback on twitter for commenting on American politics by those who are Trump cultists (and some Bernie bros as well, who might have also been Russian bots).  So, I am tempted to write about how un-American this current administration is, best exemplified by the news that the US is too weak and vulnerable to allow kids doing science projects to go to events in the US.  But I shall resist because ... this past six months has demonstrated that the Spirit of the Revolution is still alive and well.

Tis ironic that the far right has been citing Jefferson and making noises for years but now all that patriotic stuff about Petitions, Redress, and protests best describe:
  • those who marched the day after the inauguaration all around the US and beyond on behalf of women
  • all those lawyers and others who showed up at airports to protest the Muslim ban
  • all those who have attended town halls and confronted their representatives with righteous indignation
  • all those who have called their Representatives and Senators to register their opposistion to Ryancare/Trumpcare/Wealthcare
I can go on, as there have been many moments of inspiration, many acts of resistance that can serve as what, as a Shiny City on a Hill, as a beacon of hope maybe.  I have no doubt that things will get worse before they get better, especially with a likely opening in the Supreme Court, with more #voterfraudfraud ahead, and with real crises waiting for an underprepared, understaffed, and deliberately destructive administration.  But what this day reminds me is that Americans are pesky folks who are very skeptical of authority, that much of public opinion lines up against Trump, Ryan, and McConnell.  The US has bounced back from recessions, a depression or two, failed wars, and even a civil war.  The costs are often high, and what drives me crazy now is how much of the current mess is a series of unforced errrors.  Still, the US has shown a great capacity to recover because its citizens, including immigrants, are feisty and determined.

So, on this Fourth of July, I take inspiration from those who fought an Empire with a little help (ok, lots of help) from some friends.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

First Amendment Includes Vets?

Sometimes we overlearn lessons.  One of the key lessons from the Vietnam era is that we should not crap on the troops--that we should support them, as they are not responsible for the big decisions.  Yet, as I have argued here often (perhaps yearly), the support our troops mantra does our troops and our country a disservice.  It has become a dynamic where we venerate the troops and veterans and hold them above everyone else.  The thing is: the United States is not a military regime but a democracy, which means that the most basic principles put civilians above the military.  And which civilians?

This tweet starts a storm that provides a hint:
If one examines the First Amendment, one will note that veterans and troops are not mentioned at all.  Who is?  The Press.  Because freedom of the press is fundamental to the maintenance of democracy.  Indeed, all that stuff packed into the first amendment are the most fundamental to the operation of a democratic political system: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly (that means protest to those who are upset at protests), freedom to petition the government (protest gets listed twice!), and that whole separation of church and state.  These come first for a reason--the system will not operate without these freedoms.  The other parts of the Bill of Rights are also important with 2-8 focused on preventing the government from oppressing the people.  I wonder if the founders were at it today would they include something about civilian control of the military?  Or did they just always assume it and would continue to assume it?

Because this veneration of the military is problematic. The idea that we should just trust the generals to make the decisions ignores the very basic reality that democracies only function when there is civilian control of the military.  While we can focus on Trump's attacks on the media and on the #voterfraudfraud efforts to disenfranchise people, I am not sure this other attack on democracy is getting sufficient attention.  Delegating damn near all important decisions either to the generals and admirals or to someone who retired a couple of years ago but still has a military mindset is an abdication of responsibility.  We may get some solace from this because anything that takes decisions out of Trump's hands would seem to be a good thing.  But this is the tyranny of low expectations--that we end up accepting things that are awful, that are destructive of democracy because a supremely unqualified person (who might be compromised by the Russians) is now president.

I say all this in anticipation of the Fourth of July.  I am sure that folks will use this occasion to say nice things about the troops, which would be all well and good if we did not already have ample occasions to do so.  The Fourth of July should be about the Declaration of Independence, about what the revolution was fought for (not just lower taxes and perhaps ignoring smuggling laws), and, yes, the Constitutions and what it stands for.  While this past year or so has reminded us that America's civic nationalism is not as civic and far more ethnic than I would like, what should bind us all together is not that we love our armed forces but that we are skeptical of authority, that we support all kinds of liberties, and that we have much work to do to perfect the union.

So, yes, I think we need to hold our troops accountable as we hold any agent of the government.  Yes, they take great risks on our behalf, but they can also do great damage in our name.  So, let's make sure they get the best health care during and after their service, but let's also not treat them like gods to be worshiped.  Let's instead hold their leadership, civilian and military, responsible for good decisions and bad, so that the sacrifices the troops pay are as few as possible and are worth it.  Escalating damn near every war we are currently involved in is probably not a good way to proceed.  And having the media pay heaps of attention to each of these wars is the best way to assure that whatever escalations get scrutinized, that the strategies and tactics are the most appropriate for advancing the national interest.  Sure, we'd like Congress to do the job of oversight, but they are usually only compelled to do so when the shiny spotlight of the media is on an issue, such as torture in Iraq's prisons.

On Tuesday, let's think of those who make our democracy function and protect our liberties at home--the media, the defense lawyers, the judges (the ones who don't screw up), those who serve in juries, the groups that seek to protect the weak and to maintain our institutions (the ACLU is looking mighty good these days), and, yes, those who research and educate about democracy.  The Trump era makes it abundantly clear that we cannot and should not take for granted that our institutions will operate.  Those institutions only work when individuals and groups support them.  While the media may have screwed up its coverage of the election, we need to support them now as they are necessary for the fight to protect our democracy, more so than probably at any other point in American history.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Canada Day 150!

Woot for Canada, 150 years old!!  Really? Well, it depends on who you talk to.  The date refers to the signing of the British North America Act unified most of what is now Canada into the Confederation (sorry, New Foundland, better late than never, eh?).  But it gets confusing since that was not independence day, which some would consider in 1982 when the British "patriated" the Constitution.  I have no idea what that really means, except, hey, constitutional revision is your problem, iceheads!  Oh, and the previous government kept considering the War of 1812 to be the first major military victory of Canada even though, well, Canada did not really serve as an actor in the conflict.  Some would point to Vimy in 1917 when the Canadian forces in World War I first served as an independent unit (even though they were still under British command).

My knowledge of Canadian history is not that great.  So, instead, I will celebrate Canada by listing 150 great things about this place that is now home to me, Mrs. Spew and sometimes College Spew (Maclean's list is here)--and in no particular order.
  1. That polite thing is not entirely a stereotype.  We have found Canadians to be friendly even when our ability to speak one of the two official languages ain't great.
  2. Great skiing!
  3. The center of the political system is decidedly to the left of the American center.
  4. Same sex marriage before everyone else.
  5. While I used to tease my Quebec friends that my health care was better in Texas than in Quebec (it was) due to good insurance, I realize that even lousy provincial health care (tis a myth that it is a national program here) is better than the mess in the US these days.
  6. Such warm and vibrant ultimate frisbee communities!
  7. Sharp students!  
  8. Ottawa!!! Five years and counting of a great place to live and to do International Relations.
  9. Generous funding for research (even if it is not as easy as it once was and even as bigger grants are tougher)
  10. Not so much populism or xenophobia (although I think Canada also got lucky with timing)
  11. Wide and deep immigrant community which not only helps to serve as a brake on xenophobia but also means great food.
  12. Great beer! 
  13. A very engaging military--I have pretty much talked to damn near every officer I sought out, and nearly all of those conversations were very candid.
  14. A nearly as engaging foreign affairs department that changes its name almost as often as Japan changes defense ministers.  Ok, not that often.  
  15. Great comedy: Just For Laughs, all those comedians exported to the US, etc.
  16. Rush!  I am most un-Canadian in that this is the Canadian band I like the most.
  17. The others also rock: Bryan Adams, Triumph, Barenaked Ladies, Arcade Fire, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Sum 41, Marianas Trench, and, of course, Neil Young.
  18. Wolverine!
  19. Poutine
  20. Kids in the Hall
  21. Goon.
  22. Meatballs (the movie)
  23. Maple anything (except the cartel)
  24. Montreal.
  25. Orphan Black.
  26. Trudeau is so pretty
  27. Astronaut Chris Hadfield
  28. Toronto
  29. Granville Island and that city around it.
  30. Whistler.
  31. Shwarma & shish taouk
  32. Maple covered snow on a stick
  33. Beaver tail (the snack)
  34. Wacky drive-thru animal safari place where you feed the beasts from your open windows.  We haf no lawsuits ici!
  35. NPSIA: Today is the fifth anniversary of my start there!  Woot!
  36. Canadian Tuxedo.
  37. Juno and Vimy and poppies
  38. That amazing thing where the Dutch remember the Canadian role in liberating the Netherlands every year, even seventy plus years later.
  39. Kingston and Queens, which used to be my Canadian home away from Canadian home.
  40. Quebec's game-y cuisine.
  41. A Tim Hortons in Kandahar!
  42.  One of these days I will see the aurora borealis. 
  43. The first Captain of the Enterprise
  44. The Canadian media: I have had heaps of great interactions with newspaper reporters, radio hosts, and tv folks.  They get heaps of abuse, but they work really hard. 
  45. The whole Dominion of Canada thing resonates for fans of Deep Space Nine.
  46. The Canada as home to refugees thing might get overplayed, but still Canada's welcoming of the Syrian refugees last year was both smart and good.
  47. The Canadian government is chock full of smart and interesting people--I know because many of my friends are these people.
  48. Robin Sparkles
  49. Canada has provided me with two great jobs. 
  50. Good Cop, Bon Cop

  51. Another 100 things I am currently forgetting.
 Happy Canada 150 Day, folks!  
I am very glad to be a Canadian for two years, 
a resident for 15, and a fan for life.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Mission Accomplished, Sort of?

Today is the last day of my sabbatical.  It was an amazing year full of much travel, great food, and, yes, super-productive research.  It was also an incredibly frustrating year, with me falling far short of what I had hoped to achieve.

Last summer, I did what most academics do before their sabbatical: set forth a set of wildly unrealistic goals (blue means things I have achieved mostly or entirely; red means things I have failed mostly or entirely; pink means stuff I made some progress on):
  1. The focus of the year is making progress on the Dave and Phil and Steve project: understanding the varying roles played by legislatures in their countries' civil-military relations....
    1. I will be spending October and part of January in Japan asking politicians, officials, and military officers about their roles and perceptions.... 
    2. I will be going to South Korea and Brazil for shorter trips to do the same thing.  I hope to squeeze in a trip to Argentina and Chile. 
  2. A secondary focus is on completing a bunch of smaller projects that have been mostly sitting on a shelf:
    1. What do Canadian IR academics think of gaps between the academic and policy worlds?
    2. I have long had an idea about bureaucratic politics from my year in the Pentagon that I just never got around to articulating.
    3. Finish an R&R or two.
  3. Apply for a Partnership grant that would link Canadian academics, defence scientists in government, Canadian military institutions, and private actors
  4. Read.  During my first sabbatical, I tended to grab anything I found interesting in two areas: civil war stuff (Kalyvas, Weinstein, etc.) and the mess in Iraq
The good news is that we made a heap of progress on the big project.  The trips to Japan were very productive, and I learned a great deal in Brazil.  My colleagues continued on their parts of the project.  Of course, we kept getting asked when this book would be done, and, well, the academic publication process is not speedy so even if we had all the research done, it would still be a couple of years.  And we don't have the research done.  The impeachment disease meant I could not go to South Korea.  Instead, I went back to Japan and got what I needed to complete that case study. It really was too much to expect for me to do the other South American cases.  Each case study needs time to prepare the ground--finding research assistants/translators, reading the relevant literature, doing the travel and then writing up the results (I still need to write up the Brazil stuff).  I did write a paper on the Japan case and present it in Hong Kong, and will spend the summer revising it.

I did make some progress on a series of articles, just not the ones I specified in my post last year.  The academic gap paper will have to wait for the next round of data collection.  The long gestating bureaucratic politics paper will be written this fall/winter.  So, not much progress on that.  On the other hand, I did revise a few pieces.  One co-authored project on electoral institutions and ethnic conflict was revised and rejected (rejection is inherent in the enterprise, a sabbatical theme), and is now being revised again (one co-author on this project is no longer with us, which also impeded progress).  My piece on the apparent demise of Grand Theory (it hasn't demised, it has regressed to its mean) has been in the R&R spin cycle all year long, so much work on it and not much progress.  But hopefully the latest revisions will seal the deal.

I did spend a great deal of time and effort on the SSHRC partnership grant.  These things are highly competitive, so it was always a gamble.  I just got back the reviews, and, well, I am not pleased.  We will revise again.  The big challenge in this kind of partnership grant is that we (my co-PIs, the Carleton staffers, and I) have to nag lots of people to do a heap of online forms and uploading.  So, that is the real bummer--that we have to nag yet again.  Not good.  However, the effort to apply for money to build a network has, well, built a network.  We made significant progress that will benefit the Canadian defence scholarship community whether SSHRC eventually funds us or not.  Still, a huge disappointment.

Reading?  Ah, damn.  Not much progress there at all.  I was hoping to catch up on the journals and on a bunch of interesting books.  I will try harder this summer to make progress there, and a broken computer may help in that (if I can't write, I can read more?).  For this particular goal, I blame partly my lack of discipline, but I also blame Trump.  It used to be that I could ignore what POTUS was doing for days/weeks at a time.  These days, I wake up, have to spend some time figuring out the tweet of the night/morning and whatever other shitshows have been spawned.  By the time I get that figured out, there is another one and then another one, and then it is time to make dinner.  It is not just me as academic journals reported a decline in submissions this spring, as those of us whose job it is to understand politics (international, comparative or American) are very busy trying to stay on top of things.  With so much uncertainty and flux from day to day, it takes far more time than it previously did just to stay in place--to know what is going on.  We need to know for our classes, for our public outreach, and for our research.  I can't lay all the blame at Trump's feet--again, part of it is my lack of discipline.  But this has been a bad year to have a sabbatical since I did end up using much of my thinking/reading/writing time just trying to figure out the day's events.

Overall, it was a very good year.  I had tremendous opportunities, I met amazing people in different parts of the world (I didn't even mention going to Mumbai for a few talks for a few days!) and I learned a great deal not just about my research agenda but other stuff
  • Japanese history, 
  • the dynamics of teen sumo wrestling, 
  • that there is a lot of crying in Kabuki
  • the differences in coverage of the British and Japanese occupations of Hong Kong
  • the radical juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in Mumbai and Rio
  • the stunning tendency of the Japanese to give everything style, 
  • that I still love California (and Disneyland),  
  • I love a good bath
  • much about sake
  • and much more.
 I am very, very lucky.  I should complain less, as I love my job and I loved my sabbatical even if I didn't get as much done as I would like.  I think I will be refreshed when I go back to the classroom in the fall, and, yes, I will pretend that my sabbatical extends until the end of August.
For now, she says it better than I do:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

General Decline

Stories over the past couple of days indicate lots of problems with the state of US civil-military relations. 

We have an active general, HR McMaster, not just doing the job of coordinating US foreign policy as National Security Adviser, but also serving as advocate and cheerleader for this administration.  As a result, he is just losing credibility by the hour. The idea that Trump's stance towards Europe is "tough love" is utter crap.  And because McMaster still is a 3 star general, his huckstering for Trump not only dimishes himself and the office of NSAdviser, but also raises questions about the military and its politicization.  This is the danger in having an active officer in this role--now we have folks in uniform defending this administration, when their job is to defend the Constitution and the country.

Then there is Mattis who mostly disappeared this week when the White House was speaking out about chemical weapons in Syria and Central Command was unconcerned.  Tis the job of the SecDef to manage the relationship between the civilians in the executive branch and the combatant commands/commanders around the world.  Eventually he caught up to events, but that was a long 12 hours or so if there was anyone connecting the civilians to the military.  So, yeah, we have a bit of a crisis in US civ-mil. 

The story about Qatar, where Mattis and Tillerson saw the political and military equities at work and found themselves sidelined by .... Jared Kushner, is not all that revealing but does remind us of the basic reality: folks who bet and continue to bet on the "adults" are foolish. 

I was at an event this week where someone was not happy with my line on this, and said I should be optimistic about Trump and his gang of generals.  I laughed in his face. We are in for a tough four years, and being overly optimistic is probably not a good way to proceed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Harry Potter's 20 Years Old

Where it all started: one of the places JK wrote the first books
They did a great job with Hogwarts at WWofHP
Well, Harry is much older by now, but the first book came out June 26, 1997.  Woot!  As readers here know, I am pretty obsessed with Harry Potter.  Not only have I ranked the books, reviewed the movies and even read the play (College Spew could see it in London, but I have not), but I see the books as presenting a philosophy of life I can believe in

Sure, some folks crap on the series and say we should not refer to it when engaging in resistance, but I say nay to that.  Indeed, the series has become so burnished into our collective imaginations that countries will compete in accusations about who is on Voldemort's side.  And I have found it very handy for making analogies for IR including alliances.

Butter beer FTW! (Frozen is the best)

HP will be of enduring value even if only for the citations.  I am not sure how long I will use it in my teaching, but it will play longer than most pieces of pop culture as each generation of kids will be re-introduced. Which means more endless debates about who should have ended up with whom: I am on TeamGinny.

Also of enduring value?  Butter beer!  Not to mention Harry Potter tourism.  We can't wait to go back to HP world, which was great even before it got expanded.  Oh, and perhaps one of the greatest contributions of HP?  We have JK Rowling as the twitter fighter extraordinaire.

Edinburgh cemetery with some names that inspired JK

 Oh, and my most with the most hits is thanks to HP since one of my first posts addressed the house selection thing.

On my way to Hogwarts!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pet Professor in Film Peeve

I saw a tweet about a movie about a prof, and, of course, it is about his relationship with a student.  FFS.  So, I tweeted thusly:
I got lots of agreement and some pushback, with some saying that there is still plenty of profs pursuing all kinds of relationships with students.  I get that, as that has been a source of much Spewing here.  Indeed, predatory sexual relationships with grad students have been a central plot line in two of the four places I worked.  still, the norms have changed--this stuff is not seen as ok as it used to be, even as some profs can end up marrying their students even in the present day and so forth.

But, damn it, isn't there another story to be told about professor life besides this one?  I guess the fundamental problem is that our professor lives are just not that interesting.  Sure, the story of a bumbling chair and the divide between junior and senior faculty would have made for a better TV show than movie--Hogan's Heroes in Lubbock!?  There has been a movie or two about department politics and tenure that have not focused on sleeping with students, but these are rare.  Oh, and tenure politics are so obscure for mainstream audiences that such movies have to do heaps of explaining or do stupid stuff like making tenure seem like a zero sum game between two profs.

When is it ok to focus on prof-student relationships?  Obviously, when it is done creatively, intelligently and entertainingly is the right answer.... but since that does not happen much, I'd say I don't mind it so much when:
  • When the movie is set in an earlier time, when the norms had not yet changed.  Also, when the butt you see is Donald Sutherland's.
  • The target of the romantic attraction is a student of roughly similar age as the prof, so it is not so skeevy.  Indeed, when the woman is played by Marisa Tomei, I can't really get upset.
  • Perhaps when the skeevy prof faces serious consequences?  Nah, that would be too unrealistic.
One of the problems with having so many prof movies focus on this dynamic is that it may reverse the taboo--that it makes normal that which should not be normal. 

Anyhow, perhaps Hollywood should learn that the most successful professor movies of all time did not involve any sex/romance between professor and student:

Ok, some profs were incompetent, corrupt,
or murderous, but no sexual stuff here.
Sure, students crushed on Prof. Jones,
but that is as afar as it went.
Sure, he puts his students in harm's way

To be fair, a bit of this is confirmation bias as various lists of best movie profs have plenty that don't sleep with their students (Good Will Hunting, etc). So, it can be done, but, lazy writers can rely on this trope... I just don't have to watch.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Time Flies: Five Years in Ottawa

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the move to Ottawa and to Carleton.  It has worked out better than we imagined.  To be sure, this one had an advantage over all the other moves--it was the first time we moved to a place where we knew people and had many friends.  Last night's party for Roland and Katie Paris reminded me of that, as Roland was one of the friends who was so very enthused for our move and welcomed us.

So, what do I love about Ottawa and Carleton after five years?
  •  It is so much fun to be an IR scholar in a national capital. 
    • I get to meet with people in and near government all the time.
    • I regular meet diplomats and defense attach├ęs so I get perspectives from around the world.
    • There are many interesting events that inform me about stuff directly in my research agenda, directly relevant for my teaching and then stuff that ain't either but is most fascinating.
    • Interviews with military officers, politicians and others are easier to arrange. 
    • There is a dynamic density of folks who are interested in this stuff.
    • My students often have fascinating backgrounds and experiences as they have often done some time in government.
  • Ottawa may have fewer options for comedy or food than Montreal, but it is so much easier to enjoy such stuff.  Traffic is supposed to be bad, but it is not.  We say yes far more than we used to when things come up since it is easier to get to and enjoy whatever is going on.  I love the Byward Market, which is a great place to have a beer with a government official (who might just spill interesting stuff).  
  • It is far easier to the public engagement stuff, including TV and radio, here as I can into downtown and home pretty quickly.  That Ottawa is the national capital also means I get to engage with journalists all the time--this is not just about self-promotion but about learning stuff from them
  • We live in a very neighorhood-y neighborhood, where the folks actually know each other and look out for each other's kids.  Oh, and I have a two car garage so I don't have to scrape my car all winter long (and Carleton has covered parking, woot!).  And now a Costco is only five minutes away!  People call my neighborhood Barrhaven Farhaven since it is 30 minutes from downtown.  Which is about 50-67% of the time I needed to get into downtown in Montreal. While we could use more/better selection of restaurants out here, I have everything else I need.
  • Frisbee is only 12 minutes away most of the time!  And the leagues here are very friendly, chock full of the usual assortment of silly players.  The big difference between this frisbee community and previous ones (other than proximity)?  More beer after games!
  • NPSIA has turned out to be an even better place to work than I expected.  
    • Perhaps hiring my friends (ok, I was excluded from those searches) has something to do with it.  I have also developed friendships with most of my colleagues, and we have managed to resolve the 10-25% problem very well.
    • The students are quite bright and have pushed me to teach differently--MA policy students don't need/want the same kind of classes as Phd students.  I do miss teaching undergrads, and I do have more grading than I had in my previous job.  
    • However, I am also no longer the adviser of last resort (my last job had several scholars in areas near mine who were inferior advisors for one reason or another).  So, I have fewer PhD students, so my guilt about potentially producing many folks who might end up underemployed is diminished.
    • I had one of the best "bosses" in my career for the past five years in Dane Rowlands.  I am sure that his successor, Teddy Samy, will be great.  
    • Our dean, Andre Plourde, has been super-supportive, and his staff have been of great
      assistance to me.  Indeed, one of the key strengths of Carleton has been consistent efforts to recognize people for their contributions. I definitely feel not just welcome here, but appreciated.  And that goes a long, long way to making me happy and appreciative.
    • There is a Tim Horton's in our building!
I am sure I am forgetting stuff, but the key is that we are very happy.  The five years have flown by as they have been full of interesting experiences, much fun with friends, excellent beer, and heaps of frisbee.  So, thanks, Ottawanians for making me and mine so welcome. 

Self-Promotion in IR: Necessary?

Dan Nexon had an epic tweetstorm about the need to self-promote yesterday which got many responses.  The basic gist, I believe, is: academic work does not often speak for itself. That once you publish something, there is so much out there that unless you promote it, the work will just disappear.  That self-promotion is necessary. 

As readers of the Semi-Spew could guess, I don't disagree.  I don't think there is a single best way to promote one's work.  I use a portfolio approach (or a shotgun approach), where I try to share my stuff in a variety of ways.  Sure, I tweet and I blog (the twitter conversation sure pooh-poohed blogs, but the Semi-Spew and posts I put up elsewhere certainly get more eyeballs than most academic articles). But I also do conventional media, appear at conferences, give talks, chat folks up.

My list of things I don't do to self-promote is easier to write than the stuff that I do.
1. I don't email blast folks about what I have been doing. 
I don't regard email as a broadcasting system, but as a way to communicate professional and/or personally with individuals and small groups about stuff.  But mostly not self-promotion.  Sure, I do inform some folks about things I am doing via email, but that is mostly chit-chat and not efforts to get folks to read my stuff.

Why seek to share one's stuff?  Fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory.  Actually, no.  For younger folks, it is about survival--that tenure letters, invitations to workshops and small conferences, networking opportunities all are better if folks know who you are and what you are doing.  For older folks like myself, who have few moves left and no more promotions, it is something else.  For me, as I receive government money for my salary and for my grants, I feel obligated to disseminate my work (many grants require "knowledge mobilization plans).

Most importantly, as a scholar, I feel that it is not enough to "create knowledge" (that high falutin' phrase always triggers me a smidge)--that once one has an idea, part of the job is to share it. With students, with peers, with relevant audiences.  So, it is not just about self-interest but about identity, obligation and norms. It really is in the job title: professor.  To profess means to say or to declare (the online definitions then include "sometimes falsely" which is not supposed to be what professors do). Our job is to learn and then to share what we learn. So, self-promotion is not just about advancing one's career, although that is certainty part of it, but it is also about doing the job.

There is much one can say about this basic challenge--that academic work does not speak for itself--so this conversation will continue.   The one thing I would add is that it is not just about self-promotion but other-promotion.  I don't read as much as I should, but when I find stuff that I like, that impacts me, I do promote it.  Especially, these days, if the work is by folks who are underrepresented.  Hence my lists of best books that often tend to be focused on the contributions of female scholars.

Can there be such a thing as too much self-promotion?  Probably, but the current debate suggests that the bigger problem is too little self-promotion.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sniping, Combat and Civilian Control of the Military

I hinted at some politics when discussing the longest recorded sniper shot in history.  That the Liberal government might not love this news because it would remind folks that there are Canadians engaged in combat in Iraq.  And now, ta da:
In a letter Friday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, [NDP leader Thomas] Mulcair says the incident "seriously calls into question your government's claim that Canadian forces are not involved in direct combat in Iraq."
"Will you now confirm that Canadian troops have engaged in ground combat since your government took office?" he wrote. "Why have you not declared that the current military operation is now a combat mission? Why has there been no debate in the House of Commons regarding this change of mission?"
As I tweeted last night, Mulcair is both right and wrong on this stuff. 

Wrong? Because this government and the prior one have already said that they would allow the limited use of force in defense of Canadian troops and of their allies.  One shot, one kill (although we don't know how many attempted shots were taken) is about as limited a use of force that one can deploy.  Had the Canadian Special Operations Forces [CANSOF] called in an airstrike, it would not have been news (painting targets is so last year in terms of controversies), but it would have been more destructive.  Sure, it sounds offensive to shoot somebody 3.5 kilometers (or 6 CN towers or 58 hockey rinks) away, but it appears to be the case that a pre-emptive effort did .... pre-empt an attack.  While folks can argue whether pre-emption is defensive or not as much as they would like, on the battlefield, shooting first is definitely preferable to shooting second.  So, I don't have any quibbles or qualms about this.

Right? Because the government partially created this trap they have fallen into.  That is, the Liberals said that this is not a combat mission yet troops are killing and being killed.  This is something that many democracies now do--try to minimize the effort, inevitably creating a credibility gap.  The truth of the matter is CANSOF do not seem to be engaged in regular, continued, conventional combat operations, but they are frequently in a position where they are at risk and may have to use force.  The government could have done a better job of defining this, just as the previous government should have, so that criticisms like Mulcair's have less substance.

The bigger problem, something that Mulcair probably does not want to discuss, is that this kind of shallow discussion of what is and is not combat covers up for an ugly reality in Canadian politics: the opposition really does not know what is going on and there are only two elected people in Canada who do know what is going on--the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. 
As Phil and I argue, it pays off more in Canadian politics (and elsewhere as our project with Dave is proving) to be deliberately ignorant but be able to speak a lot than to know much and oversee carefully.  The NDP can try to paint the Liberals as hawks and liars to get those lost NDP voters without having to seriously consider how they would act while in power and without having any responsibility of knowing what they are talking about. Woot!
The new Security oversight committee may have the ability to get information about CANSOF operations, but I doubt that it will, as the entire focus of that reform has been on intel gathering.  As a result, we are stuck with dumb debates, a blind opposition, and occasional bursts of silliness.

While our project is not complete, my bias going into it is that I think that governments and militaries would act better knowing that their secret stuff would be known by a select group of politicians--both backbenchers in the governing party and opposition members--so they anticipate and avoid doing things that are illegal, unwise, or deservedly unpopular (we can unpack that category some other time).  So far, I have not yet seen in other countries (Brazil, Japan for me; Australia, New Zealand, France for Phil; various Nordic countries for Dave) that ignorance is bliss.  That is, less oversight is less oversight, and while it might seem desirable if we define oversight as micromanagement, it actually is not good for civilian control of the military and it is not good for military effectiveness and efficiency.  In sum, NOT GOOD.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Impeachment Steve Update

So far, the record is as follows:
  1. I plan to research Brazil's civil-military relations in April 2016, but impeachment happens so I can't talk to folks there.
  2. I do go to Brazil in May 2017 and as I finish research in Brasilia, the President is accused of bribing people who voted in last year's impeachment process (and it is on tape). Protests ensue.
  3. I plan to research South Korea's civil-military relations in June 2017, but go to Japan instead since South Korea is a mess after its impeachment process plays out.
  4. While in Japan, legislation is passed to allow the Emperor to abdicate.  Not impeachment but a change in the symbolic executive.

So, of course, my friends ask me to spend time in the US to, you know, facilitate Trump's impeachment.  Since I have visited the US on a regular basis, we can come to two possible conclusions:
  • My impact has been impressive, as we are only 150 or so days in, and we have had heaps and heaps of impeachment talk. See what progress we have made, with my visits to drop off/pick up my daughter at college and flying through on the way to other places and so forth!
  • The process only works if I do research in the US.  I have not done so yet as one of my collaborators on this project has written books on Congress and national security, so it makes little sense for me to do any of that case study. Still, Dave has agreed that the greater good means I should do some of the work, so maybe I will.  Probably not until 2018-19 since: 

Anyhow, don't be so impatient.  Spreading impeachment fairy dust takes time.