Thursday, August 16, 2018

Afghanistan Retrospective Book and Review

I got a copy of General (ret.) David Fraser's book on Operation Medusa several weeks ago, and have been reading it in my spare time.  I have some thoughts, of course, as I have written much about Canada and Afghanistan.  I also have some caveats--I am not an expert on battles nor did I spend much time in Afghanistan (8 days).  But I have interviewed people, including Fraser, who were involved in the battle or were there afterwards.  So, take what I have to say with a grain of salt. 

First, the book is engaging and interesting.  It covers the battle and not much else--not a whole lot of context for the whys and the aftermath, but that is fine. The book presents itself in a very uncritical, patriotic manner--that the general led brave men and women in a difficult fight, and the book is more or less a tribute to those folks. 

Second, the book is not very self-reflective--again, it is not that kind of book.  While Fraser admits that not everything went well, he does not really elaborate on what he could have done better.  He is critical of others, and when there are mentions of arguments with subordinates about tactics, he argues this is natural, rather than maybe not listening to those who understand the local conditions better?  I have heard enough over the past ten years or so in Ottawa and elsewhere that I am pretty sure this book is rubbing some key folks the wrong way. 

Third, one could read into it what you want.  Any discussions of surprises or intelligence problems could be seen as criticism of the current Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan who was the key intel officer for Fraser's team.  Or it could be that Fraser didn't listen well or that the situation was too fluid, so it was not really anybody's mistake.

Fourth, the story reminds me of the most important military problem in Afghanistan in 2006--size. Yeah, caveats and all that, but the big problem was simply not enough troops on the ground.  One company had responsibility for Zhari, Panjwayi and Maywand?  A company is about a hundred soldiers.  That is not Fraser's fault, but is something that, along with all kinds of other basic stuff (giving the President too much power, Karzais being a bad group of "allies", Pakistan, etc), made victory very difficult.

Fifth, Fraser's attitude about NATO is both strange and informative.  It is strange in that he keeps appreciating the Americans, the Brits, UK, and such while blasting NATO but those folks are there as part of a NATO mission.  What is informative is his depticiton of the Danes being unwilling on page 138.  I got the Danish side of the story when I was working on the Dave and Steve book. The Danes were quite willing to go into the fight--spent most of the war in the one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan--where the poppies grow in Helmand--but they pushed back against Fraser. Why?  Because he was trying to treat their recon vehicle like a tank or armored vehicle--he wanted it on the front lines, whereas the Danes viewed this system as good for being on the edge of the battle to provide info.  So, perhaps Fraser didn't know how to handle some allies or didn't listen well?   I get being frustrated that the Germans and French didn't show up, and that NATO ROE were less friendly, less flexible than the American ones (speaking of which, he claims credit for making sure the wounded would get treated within one "golden" hour--but that was a NATO-wide policy, not his innovation or initiative).  This stuff mattered, but Fraser's job in 2006 was to be the NATO commander and not just the Canadian one.  He wore two hats, and one he mismanaged. 

Sixth, a key challenge in reading this book is that one of the central complains about Fraser is hard to evaluate from Ottawa in 2018.  There was a plan to engage in bombardment of the Taliban compounds for three days, but Fraser called that off.  He says that it was not doing much damage since the Taliban were dug in and underground.  Folks who served there suggest otherwise.  I am in no position to adjudicate this, but I didn't find Fraser's explanation very convincing.  This is a sore spot that he could have addressed better. Similarly, I heard that the basic plans were unimaginative and were repeated, which Fraser's narrative contradicts.  I'd like to have someone who served in the battle speak up and clarify this. 

The funny thing is that when I interviewed Fraser in 2007, I was focused on figuring out the NATO side of things and he wanted to lecture me on "effects-based operations."  The notion that any military plan should figure out what the likely effects are in the short, medium and long term.  That Kandahar didn't fall then and hasn't fallen does speak to the importance of both Medusa and the Canadian effort in Kandahar.  I am tempted to go on a tangent about a recent Macleans piece that seems to want to make the Canadians the good guys and the Americans the bad guys, but that is a Spew for another day. 

Back to grant-writing.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Granting, Not Blogging

Just a quick note to explain the blogging silence: this August is major grant application month.  The CDSN effort continues.  It involved a meeting last week that took much time and effort to organize, and the meeting went very well.  Which now means much time and effort to take the feedback we received and build that into the many different pieces of the application.  So, I will still blog, but don't expect as much for the next few weeks or so.  Likewise, I am spending less time on twitter--making occasional forays.  I probably should do this more often, but the imperatives of the grant writing schedule plus other obligations are forcing a concentration of effort that is unlikely to be sustained once the deadline is passed.

and if the past as any predictor of the future, when I say I won't blog much, I end up breaking that promise almost immediately.

Enjoy the last days of summer as academics panic about the declining days to get our non-teaching work done.

Monday, August 6, 2018

NATO, the US and that Whole Article V Thing

A friend asked me: "Why do you believe that the US would actually follow through on an Article V both in the Trump Era and at any other point?"  Good question.  Part A is easy: I think I have written enough about believing that Trump would not follow through on the US commitment to defend its allies.  Indeed, I have written many times that Trump's US would likely block consensus since there is no automaticity to the invoking of Article V.

The question is whether in the past or future the US would keep a semi-incredible commitment--to make great sacrifices, including potentially Chicago for Berlin, Seattle for Paris, etc?  There is plenty of work on this as it has been studied repeatedly over the years.  Because I am lazy, forgetful, and not subject to peer review (the joy of blogging), I will simply assert:

Vietnam, man.  

Huh?  The US lost 57,000 lives and then some in Vietnam, a place it really did not care about, a place where it had no history, in large part because of a concern that failing to support an ally there would have ramifications elsewhere.  While academics can debate whether reputation and credibility matter, the US under many presidents has acted as if it does.  That the US got seriously involved in Bosnia in 1995 precisely because Clinton had made a promise to allies--25k troops to help get you out... which turned into 25k troops to quell the conflict and keep its allies in but under NATO, not the UN. 

The design of tripwires--during the Cold War and now--were designed to create sufficient stakes to make it hard for a President not to act.  During the Cold War, it was not just 200,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators, but also their spouses and kids.  Lots of hostages to make sure the US would respond AND to make the adversary and the allies believe the US would respond.  These days, the tripwire is far thinner but still exists.  Not families but still enough troops to make their deaths an act that would draw in the US. 

There is one big difference between the Cold War and now, other than that whole Trump thing.  During the Cold War, far more authority was delegated to the NATO commander--SACEUR (always an American) so that they could respond quickly.  These days, SACEUR has much less authority to act before a decision is made at the North Atlantic Council--NATO's decision-making body.  So, yes, Trump can prevent NATO from acting as whole.  However, in a crisis, if there are German, British, and Canadian troops in harm's way, my guess is that many will respond with or without NATO orders.  The Americans?  Now we have doubts about them, and, yeah, it would be hell of a crisis in US civil-military relations as the troops would want to fire at the Russians attacking America's allies.  How that gets resolved?  Damned if I know.

So, sure, the promise was always a hard one to believe and a hard one to carry out, but the US did as much as it could to make it credible until ... it elected Donald Trump.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Advice For The First Year Professor

As August accelerates and academics panic as their summer dreams/plans meet the harsh reality that one usually does not get done all that they want to do, it is time to give unsolicited advice to the new folks.  For great advice on how to manage one's mental and emotional well-being, see this thread.  I have some more tactical advice about expectations and getting through the first year, as I remember making the same mistake three times on the first day of teaching.
  • Be Realistic: you will not be able to produce as much research as you hope because your first time teaching on your own requires a great deal of time.  If you can get stuff out and under review before the semester starts, that would be great (note that summer expectation also meets the crashing reality of the time suck that a move almost always is).  
  • Be Competent: the first year is not the time to perfect your class.  You will put much effort into creating lectures, developing seminar strategies, figuring out what to assign (more on that in a moment), and everything else that comes with teaching.  You will get better with experience.  The focus should be, in my not so humble opinion, is to aim for clarity and coherence.  Being entertaining/dynamic/exciting comes later.  Labor intensive teaching tactics (simulations is what comes to mind to me) can be incorporated after you get the basics together.  If you don't burden yourself with too much work, then you can let your excitement for the material shine through, and that is what really engages most of the students--that you think this stuff is interesting.
    • The caveat here is that you teach at a liberal arts college, teaching expectations will be higher so always, always, always consult those around you for the local standards and expectations.
  • Be Conservative: don't assign the students piles and piles of readings you have not read before, and don't assign them piles and piles of assignments that you will have to grade.  Again, try to stay within the local standards, but remember, whatever they have to write, you have to grade (unless you have lots of teaching assistants--which is a good but sometimes challenging complication--as we are not trained to be managers of people).  Think about the timing of assignments--make sure you do right by the students and by you--don't assign stuff to be due the day after Thanksgiving, for instance.  Do give the students plenty of time to do the assignments.
  • Be Realistic re Courseware: The learning curve for you and for your students of your campus's crappy version of electronic teaching tools is steeper than it should be.  I have yet to meet a prof who is thrilled with how their system works.  Don't assume it will work well for you--be prepared to have alternative ways to deliver content/assignments/etc, and don't rely too heavily on the system until you have some experience with it.
  • Be Communicative: Talk to colleagues (find at least one you feel comfortable talking to) about what works, what does not, tendencies, tactics, and all that.  Experience matters, and you, at this moment, have little or none in general and definitely none at this place.  Talk to your students as well--check in and see if things are going well.  If the class looks confused, then go slower, give more examples and come back to that stuff again.
  • Be Calm: Unexpected stuff happens--I still get surprised by stuff in the classroom after twenty plus years.  I have had students answer phones and leave the class to finish the conversation.  I have had a guy try to make a romantic gesture to a student in a 600 person class in mid-lecture.  A campus tour guide led a group of 20 or so people through my class in mid-lecture.  When this stuff happens, you will realize the best way to react to it ... five minutes to three hours after it happened.  
  • Be Kind: Be nice to the staff in your department and at your university.  They are not servants but valuable colleagues whose jobs you really do not want.  They can make or break you over the long run.  If you are rude or obnoxious or dismissive in the first year, you are likely to pay for it even if you revise your behavior later.  Also, it is the right thing to do.
  • Be Focused (thanks, Phil): Say no when you can to stuff that takes away from research and teaching.  Everyone has to do service, but do what is expected of assistant profs at your place, not what is expected of associate or full profs.  That is, don't agree to serve on admin heavy campus committees or those of the profession when your local department does not care.  Don't join edited volume projects that take you away from your main research unless the networking opportunities are very good.  You will have more demands on your time than you thought possible.  So, say yes when you have to, say no when you don't.
 There is more advice to give, but one of the iron laws of teaching is that the more reading assign, the less the students will do.  The first year is going to be hard as you will face lots of competing demands for your time.  The advice above may sound like I don't care about teaching, but it is mostly about how to get started without inundating oneself.  Not drowning is the first step towards competitive swimming.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

A Pieceful Approach to Any Big Writing Project

There was a discussion on twitter that I mostly missed due to my adventures in Philly (three steak sandwiches and counting!) about advice on how to complete a dissertation.  I have a basic piece of advice that applies more broadly: don't think of it as writing a dissertation on any given day (I have said some of this before).

Nope.  Instead, think of it as writing a piece.  Not a chapter, not half of a chapter, but a piece.  The first step is outlining the dissertation--figure out what the chapters will be.  Yes, you can change the outline and will.  Then outline the chapter you want to write--sections, sub-sections and even sub-sub-sections.  Then try on any given day to write a sub-sub-section.  That way, you have a reasonable goal which will either be finished or half-finished.  As opposed to the daunting challenge of: oh, I am writing a book today. 

If you know you have to write a specific piece, then you can do all the prep work aimed at writing that piece--doing the research, marshaling the notes and conceiving of the piece as a coherent section that has an explicit purpose.  That way, when you write it, you know what you are trying to do.  And once written, you will be able to answer the key question--does this piece fit into the larger project?  Because  there is the most fundamental challenge of dissertation/book writing: only putting in that which is relevant.  If you know what the piece's purpose is, and that is what the organizing of the outline will define, then you will know whether it fits or not into the larger argument of the book.

I don't count words per day.  I count pieces.  Often, it is one piece per day, sometimes more than that, depending on the size of the piece, its complexity, my state of mind, how much time I have, and all that.

What do I mean by a piece?  A few examples from my stuff (since it is what I know best):
  • Ties That Divide had chapters on how many countries reacted to each particular secessionist crisis.  So, a piece would be how country x reacted to the crisis--South Africa and Katanga or Germany and Yugoslavia.  A second piece would be the politics of country x.  
  • NATO in Afghanistan had several case study chapters which followed the same pattern: what did the Dutch do in Afghanistan and what were the restrictions they faced would be one piece and the politics that explained such patterns would be the second piece.  
Things to keep in mind:
  1. Not all pieces can be done in a single session, but they require far fewer sessions of writing than a book or a chapters 
  2. Pieces are disposable!  Just because you learned something does not mean it belongs in the dissertation, so you may end up writing something that is not useful for this project.  However, don't delete it entirely--put it somewhere else on your harddrive because it might be useful for another project. See my Egg theory of writing.
  3. This only works if you have either a conscious or unconscious outline of the project.  
  4. It can create a choppy draft as you have a bunch of pieces.  You will need to revise to make it flow.  I am still very choppy in my writing. I'd like to think I am clear and organized, but smooth?  Maybe not.
  5. The aim of writing a dissertation or pieces is not to have a perfect document, but to have something that can be revised into something that is a decent draft of a book/article/dissertation.  Which will be revised again and maybe circulated and then revised again.  Easier to revise than write.
  6. There really are no rules so ignore this if it does not work for you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

You Say You Want a Revolution...

The alt-righters, white supremacists, gun nutters and all those on the far right have harshed my enjoyment of Philadelphia and its heaps of Revolutionary History.  How so?  Because these folks tend to take the symbols and words of the Revolutionaries and twist them.  I wanted to buy a postcard at the Franklin Museum of the classic divided/united snake, but I know that they use the don't tread on me stuff for their own "hey, we should be able to mess with everyone else without retribution or consequences" thing.  Likewise, the Declaration of Independence is so cool--consent of the governed and all that--but they like Jefferson's tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants.... when they are the tyrant-wannabees.

Still, I enjoyed the Museum of the Revolutionary War until we got kicked out--some kind of emergency that caused them to evacuate.  I was super-bummed because I was just getting to the part of the Revolution that was least covered in all of the classes/movies/etc: the part after the Declaration and before Yorktown. 

Here's some stuff I saw on the streets of Philly and then in the Museum (and it belongs not just in a museum, sorry, Indiana):
Love this

Of course, Ben was the one who said it
Sounds about right

True dat

Whataboutism? No,
honesty about propaganda


They covered the less covered history pretty well

The Canadian Campaign!!!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Donald Trump's Horcruxes: Do We Need Psychological Detectives?

Lots of discussion about Trump's horcruxes after his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was destroyed.  This is all entertaining and good but somewhat problematic.  Sure, Trump is evil like Voldemort in some key ways:
Trump                                           Voldemort
White Supremacist                        Pure blood over muggles and mixed blood folks
Short temper                                  Short temper
Sells out loyalists                          Sells out (kills) loyalists, sorry, Snape
Has crappy allies                           Has crappy allies
Facilitated by craven (Fudge)       Facilitated by craven (GOP)
Media empower him                     Media empower him (Skeeter, Daily Prophet)

So, I get it.  BUT, here's a big but: Voldemort truly was strategic, developing plans and schemes that had multiple steps building towards clear goals.  Trump?  Not so much. 

But the real question is: do we need to engage in the same kind of psychological investigation and detective work that Dumbledore and then Harry practiced to determine where Voldy put pieces of his soul to understand Trump's decision-making? 

Voldemort was attached to key relics that had magical power and symbolism--Hufflepuff's cup, Ravenclaw's diadem, Gaunt's ring, Slytherin's locket, plus the snake, the diary, and, oops, Harry.  And he mostly hid them well and with protection.  See Dumbledore's hand.  Ick. 

Trump?  The first thing to consider is that Trump need not have seven--that was Voldemort's attachment to a number with magic resonance.   We'd have to figure out how many pieces of Trump's soul he wants to split off (assuming he ever had a soul to begin with).  Since Trump has such a lousy memory, I doubt he would want more than three or four, but he might create more because he forgot about previous ones.  See, Trump is hard to figure out.   So, the horcrux hunter would just have to keep trying to find them until they think they have done enough...  tricky.  I think more investigation into Trump's background would be required to figure out the number. 

Assuming three or four, the question then is where?  Trump is not as crafty as Voldemort, and, indeed he probably would broadcast the locations.  But he distrusts.  So, fol have said Pence's brain is a horcrux, but Trump doesn't trust Pence nor care that much about him.    So, probably not.  Ivanka?  Is Ivanka kind of like Voldemort's snake?  He clearly has much affection for her (too much!), just as Voldemort seemed to have some affection for the snake.  And Trump does keep her nearby.

The second probable location would be Trump's bed--he hates sleeping away from home.  He always cranky on the road, so that is my guess.  Unless Trump Tower in NYC is a horcrux?  But I am not sure any pieces of Trump's soul are big enough to make for a building-sized horcrux.  Tough call.

The third probable location might be his remote control.  He is so attached to television that he would probably put a piece of his soul in the object that controls his tv.  Sure, this could be lost or stolen easily, but then again, Trump ain't that bright and tends to hand his enemies (Mueller) the weapons they need to destroy him.  "Oh, you  need a vorpal sword containing basilick poison?  Don't reach into that hat. Just take mine."

The fourth?  Again, not sure Trump can count to four (the most certain way to tell if Trump is lying is if he mentions a number), but just in case, I think the fourth horcrux might be the pee tape, and, yes, it is out of his control.  Ooops.  So, the Russian threat may be more serious than just embarassing him by releasing the tape, but destroying it and one key shred of Trump's soul.

Of course, all of this assumes Trump had a soul at some point, and that is really the part of this entire discussion that is least realistic.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Worst Targeted Advertising: "Family Values" Edition

I get lots of PR stuff, perhaps because of my blogging.  Anyhow, I got this today:

For Immediate Release
July 26, 2018

Deborah Hamilton, Hamilton Strategies,, 610.584.1096, ext. 102, or Emily Brunner, ext. 100

Breaking: Jim Jordan to Run for House Speaker

American Family Association Says Jordan Has a Proven Track Record with a Convictional Vision to Restore and Defend the Constitutional Republic

TUPELO, Miss.—The American Family Association (AFA, is spreading the word today about the proven qualifications of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for the Speaker of the House post.

Jordan, a member of the Freedom Caucus, announced today that he will run for the Speaker position soon to be vacated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“Paul Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election opens the highest leadership position in Congress,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon today in an Action Alert to AFA’s 1 million-plus friends and supporters. “It will be the rank-and-file members of Congress who will select Ryan’s replacement as Speaker.”

Several other names have surfaced as Ryan’s replacement, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

“McCarthy and Scalise are Ryan’s top lieutenants,” Wildmon added. “They are establishment Republicans who will continue business as usual. The next Speaker of the House must be a great leader, not just a good one. Congress needs a Speaker who has a proven track record with a convictional vision of greatness to restore and defend the constitutional republic of the United States of America. Jim Jordan displays such qualities.”

AFA Action’s legislative score card shows both McCarthy and Scalise score much lower than Jordan on issues such as spending, abortion, Planned Parenthood and filibuster support. Jordan also has a 99 percent composite score from other social and fiscal conservative groups, compared to 64 percent for McCarthy and 70 percent for Scalise.

“Congressional conservatives should not make behind-the-scenes deals with current leadership on who the next Speaker will be,” Wildmon added. “Instead, House Republicans need to select Jim Jordan, a proven conservative Speaker.”

AFA representatives are available to conduct immediate breaking news interviews via its LTN line at AFA studio headquarters. Contact for more information or call 610.584.1096, ext. 102.

 So, how did I respond?
"Jim Jordan? The guy who let kids get molested and didn't say anything? Funny way to be pro-family."

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How to Explain the Academic Job Market to Non-Academics?

This topic came up on twitter--how do we get our friends and relatives to understand the academic job market?  My first take: don't bother.  It can get really confusing really fast.  I consider my family well-educated, yet deep into my career, my mother thought that my appearances on TV and radio would help me get another job.  Nope. Given that job market season is approaching (sorry!),* here's my listicle of things you have to explain:
  1. The Adjusted Bar Closing rule: you can't go home, but you can't stay here.  Few grad programs will hire their own products at all, and very, very few hire their own students straight out of grad school.
  2. "You can control what you do, but you can't control where you do it" rule.  That academia mostly provides a lot of autonomy about what you research, how you research it, what you teach and how you teach it (military schools are a big exception here and perhaps other places), but the tradeoff is that you have very, very little control over where you do it.  I compare myself to the flotsam and jetsam that gets washed ashore by the vagaries of the tides. That may be too much but close.  I had one student who only wanted to live/work in one spot on the Earth.... and she got it.  But that is far, far, far from the norm.
  3. The Rummy rule: you have to go with the job market you have, not the one you wish for.  Again, not completely true, but almost: job listings exist and you react.  You cannot cause a job to come into being.  Each year, there are only so many spots in one's area of expertise.   
    1. Fads are a thing.  When I was first coming out, "new topics in International Relations" were hot.  I thought I was in good shape since the IR of ethnic conflict was new-ish.  But I ended up being behind all of the hot IR of the Environment folks.  Seriously, the same four or five people got most of the interviews, and then the job market settled once the first few decided where to go.  Feel sorry for those who were studying the Soviet Union in 1990.  Feel good for those who study trade wars these days.
    2. Which gets to something that has been tweeted lately: 
  4. The Networking Rule: Networking matters, but not the kind of networking that civvies think.  How many folks have heard: well, I know someone who knows the Dean of Engineering, they can put in a good word for you?  Nope, those kinds of contacts are utterly irrelevant.  It does help if one's adviser or oneself has some relationship with professors in the department one is seeking employment.  As one progresses in one's career, having a wider network can help.  How much is up for dispute.
  5. "It Just Doesn't Matter" Rule:  Most of what people think matters doesn't.  While this varies as places vary in how much they care about teaching, what matters most of the time is some combo of ability to publish, being seen as smart, being articulate (that does not mean being a good teacher), and that prestige thing.  Let's break this down.
    1. Publications uber alles: most places want to hire people who can get tenure and who can advance the reputation of the place.  Even at teaching schools, if you can't get published, you can't get tenure.  And with very competitive markets, even those places will be able to compare strong teachers with meh publication records with strong teachers with good publication records and choose the latter.  At research universities, it is all about the pubs.  How do you know someone will publish in volume and in quality (at the more visible, selective spots)?  Past performance.  And, yes, we get this wrong a lot.  To get a job interview, one's CV should have some indication that one is going to publish.
    2. Being seen as smart.  I remember the word "Smart" being used a whole lot in job searches of yore.  Yes, anyone with a PhD might be bright, but some folks are seen as smarter--that they ask really interesting questions, they have a strong ability to think theoretically, they have sharp methods skills.  This "smart" thing is mostly socially constructed--that if the community of people think someone is smart, well, then they are.  A topic for another post someday.
    3. Being articulate--can you talk about your stuff very clearly and persuasively?  I am fundamentally convinced that some of the most influential people in the discipline are not those with the smartest arguments or best research, but are best at articulating them.
    4. Oh, and prestige matters.  Sorry, but the students from Harvard and their ilk get heaps of play in the job market just because of their school's name.  Is there a correlation between prestige of a place and the quality of the student (that they are smart and well trained)?  Um, not always.  The worst talks I have seen are those by folks from the schools with the best reputations---because mediocre students from lesser schools don't get invited to job talks but lesser students from big name schools do.  A selection effect.   
  6. Any Given Sunday Rule: While everything else matters, what one does during the job talk is most important.  Not everyone in the department will read the file (most people will not).  They will vote in large part on what they see at the job talk and perhaps the other interactions they have (one on one chats, committee interrogations of candidates [I have only experienced that a few times], meals).  So, one can do good work, be prepared, and yet, well, choke.  And one can give that same exact talk brilliantly a week later.  I had a talk deep into my career where I didn't present the independent variables slide and then brain-farted about what my IVs were.  Probably because the person before asked: "so, your topic explains why war happens, so what?"  Anyhow, job talks matter far more than they should, kind of like athletes performing great at the combine (the event where various measurements are taken), as performance in the job and performance in a job talk are not entirely related.
  7. Arrow Rules: Yep, Arrow's Paradox plays a big role in who gets the offer.  Sure, sometimes, one candidate is superior on all measures in obvious ways.  However, in many cases, there are multiple attributes that people are considering, and you will get different outcomes depending on which attributes are more salient at a given meeting.  And this is where department politics comes in--is there someone advocating for your candidacy?  Are there folks advocating against your candidacy?  Yep, politics can matter.  Less so if the other 1-3 candidates blew their job talks.
So, good luck conveying this to your friends and family.

*  All of this applies maybe to US/Canada and only to Poli Sci. I have no idea how other disciplines work or how it works elsewhere.  All I know is that the UK is strange.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Let Confirmation Bias Be Your Guide: Irregular Immigration Edition

Two dynamics are combining to make Canadian politics unpleasant:
  1. Trump's unleashing of ICE and other agencies against immigrants has created a trickle or a flood (more on that below) of people crossing into Canada from the United States.
  2. There are some on the right wing of Canadian politics that seek to emulate Trump, Fox/Breitbart, and various folks in Europe--focusing more on mostly imaginary threats and using various images to provoke racial animus and xenophobia.
So I tweeted thusly:

I got some pushback, which made me realize that the trickle is not a flood, but a smidge more than than a trickle.  The official statistics indicate that 47k folks have crossed the border to seek asylum in Canada.  Oh wait, that is from 2011-2018.  This year, the number is 9,500 and last year was 11,400.  Is that a trickle or a flood?

It obviously depends on one's priors--those who think that any irregular immigration (illegal is a term that opponents use to demonize these folks, irregular is the government term) is bad will see 9.5k and get most upset.  For those who think that Canada should be haven for those who are oppressed, then 9.5 is not that bad.  To be clear, this is for Canada--1.6k for Ontario where Doug Ford is making a stink.  Can Ontario absorb 1.6k (this year) or 6k (last year) refugees?  Yeah. If they all came to Ottawa or Oshawa, that would be quite significant.  If they all went to Toronto?  A blip. 

While Canada is not a big country population-wise, its current population is roughly the same as California.  California faced much bigger flows of immigrants, and it did spark some xenophobia.  The stances the Republican Party took back in the late 1980s and early 1990s still hurt the party in the state today. 

The question today is whether playing up a minor challenge into a provincial priority will pay off for Doug Ford and pay off for the Conservative Party [CPC] as they ramp up the efforts to defeat Trudeau in 2019.  I don't know enough about Canadian politics to hazard a bad prediction.  I would say that the last election in part turned on the CPC's desperate effort at the end to play up xenophobia.  It worked to hurt the NDP, but that gave Trudeau and the Liberals more room to run in Quebec.  The question this time is where will the xenophobes go?  By picking a Sikh to lead the NDP, the NDP may have given those fearful of any non-Catholic symbols cause to vote elsewhere.  But I am not sure they will go Liberal.  Trudeau has broken promises that mattered to some of those folks--electoral reform being one of them.  However, Andrew Scheer and the CPC right now are not that good at making appeals of their own.  Hmmm.

The larger question is this: will Doug Ford, Rebel media (think Breitbart married Fox and produced a less intelligent kid), and the CPC gain traction via white supremacy?  Given that Ontario is very multiethnic and multiculturalism is something that still has some weight across Canada AND being smugly different from the US is a key to Canadian identity, trying to be Trumpian may produce a backlash.  That is my guess and it might be wishful thinking. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Thanks to Donald Trump, people are now questioning whether it makes sense for the US to be in an alliance with a bunch of European countries (and Canada, too!).  Last week, a tweet went around comparing NATO to vaccines--that preventative measures work so well that people start forgetting why we developed them and then only find out that not investing in such efforts leads to the stuff that they were designed to prevent.  So, let's consider both NATO's intended and unintended benefits that continue to make it a smart investment. 

NATO was formed to prevent yet another war in Europe.  After World War II and with the rise of the Soviet Union, it seemed to make sense to develop a collective effort to deter conflict and to defend like-minded countries in Europe and North America. Rather than developing a series of bilateral agreements with many different countries, the US and its friends in Europe formed a multilateral defensive alliance. The whole "an attack upon one is an attack upon all" is the heart of it.

To be clear, it is a defensive alliance so if the uppity Montenegrins (jeez, Trump is dumb) try to start a war, there is no compulsion for the US or anyone else to fight.  Yes, alliances have twin challenges--fears of entrapment and fears of abandonment. That an ally may suck you into a war you do not want to fight or may not help you if war comes (Glenn SnyderPatricia Weitsman).  NATO, unlike Trump's fever dreams, mitigates the first problem--that NATO operates by consensus, so if an ally wants to suck you in, you can say no.  And, thanks to the key clause in Article V, "each country responds as each deems necessary," even if you go along with a declaration of Article V, any/all countries can opt out.  See the Dave and Steve book. Also, we have plenty of practice at not getting sucked into wars started by members thanks to Greece and Turkey (however, the other members may point to the US sucking them into unwanted wars--Iraq and Afghanistan).*

The first big question is easily answered: is it in American interests to invest in peace in Europe?  Hells yeah.  WWI and WWII were very expensive enterprises, and war has only gotten more destructive.  While Trump thinks of these countries as rivals and competitors, the reality is that European countries and Canada have contributed greatly to American interests via preventing war in Europe--that American firms have a secure market to sell to, to invest in, and so on. 

The multilateral nature of the alliance--each country agreeing to the collective defense of all members--has benefits that can be best illustrated by looking at East Asia.  Japan and South Korea cannot agree with each other on very much, so instead of an East Asian alliance system, the US had a much harder time and a more expensive effort.  The US has to work to separate relationships again and again and again, and the level of ROK/Japanese interoperability is mighty low as a result. 

Ok, that's the obvious NATO is a collective effort to defend stuff argument.  The second and unintended aspect is that Robert Keohane was right--that once an organization exists, countries will maintain it as it continues to facilitate cooperation.  NATO has not just been helpful for the United States in preventing war in Europe, it has also facilitated American interests in other ways.  Let's listicle, shall we:
  1. NATO ended one civil war that the UN and EU failed to manage (Bosnia) and stopped ethnic cleansing (Kosovo) that could have destabilized an entire region.
  2. Despite my criticisms of NATO conditionality, it is the case that NATO helped the transition of East European countries to democracy by encouraging/developing the civilian control of their various militaries--note that whatever movements being made to autocracy are not being led by anyone's armed forces in the region (Vachudova, Epstein).
  3. Flying AWACS planes over American cities in the aftermath of 9/11
  4. NATO has had fleets doing counter-terrorism and counter-piracy work.  We don't hear much about them, but they have been pretty effective.
  5. NATO held the fort in Afghanistan while the US was distracted by its Iraq adventure.  The allies were very much doing the US a favor at the costs of more than a thousand lives of their soldiers (many private contractors as well, but their lives don't count) and billions of dollars, Euros and other currencies.  That the war was complicated by caveats (see Dave and Steve book) does not mean that allies did not contribute and did not pay for it, yes, even the Germans.  That Afghanistan hasn't worked out that great is much less about caveats and allied contributions and much more about American bad decisions and, well, third party counter-insurgency being really hard (Simpson)
  6. Stopping a mass killing before it happened, and, yes, doing a smidge of regime change in Libya.
  7. Providing a market for American arms manufacturers.  Oh yeah, that whole technical interoperability tends to mean buy American.  Nice coincidence, right?
I am sure I am leaving stuff out.  The general point is that after the end of the Cold War, NATO didn't disappear.  Instead, its members found other uses for it, since it had a handy set of capabilities (managing an air campaign over Libya illustrated that).  It also made for very cooperative relations that spilled over to other areas.  Yes, being part of a multilateral alliance meant compromises--that the US didn't always get what it wanted, but it has always been very much a force and power multiplier--the US had more influence, not less, in Europe and beyond. 

It would be dumb to throw it away, especially when its original purpose--defending against the enemy to the east--is now quite relevant again.  But Trump is dumb and speaking of being compromised ....  Anyhow, NATO has an instrument of American influence and power.  If one tosses it aside, well, it is because one is either too dumb to see it or uninterested in having the US remain influential.  Which one is Trump?

* No, 2003 did not involve NATO, but members of NATO faced great pressure to join that effort and many did so.