Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Comparison as the Thief of Joy: Military Spending Edition

The quote "comparison is the thief of joy" is all about envy, right?  Because the comparative method has given much joy to me over the years and much career success.  Plus my students loved my comparing of apples and oranges.

Anyhow, I saw this figure today and I could not help but think comparatively:

Monday, December 17, 2018

Social Media Etiquette from ... Me?

Today reminded me that there is much unstated expectations about how to behave online, and, yes, it may be strange coming from me that there are indeed norms or etiquette.

I once long ago suggested that my behavior is different on twitter vs. facebook, but that more or less converged.  Still, I treat that stuff differenly than I how I do Slack and differently from how I do email.  So, here's a semi-random list of things I have been reminded of the past couple of days and other stuff that comes to mind:
  • When someone asks to connect via email to someone else, ask that someone else first rather than just email the two (or more parties).  I learned this particular rule this week after I violated it--I hadn't realized it was a thing.
  • Don't tag 30 people every time you post on twitter or facebook.  If people follow you, they follow you, and if they don't they don't.  Only tag a bunch of people if you are promoting them.  Yes, I do link to my blog on facebook, but I don't tag anyone unless they inspired the post or I am building on something they said.
  • Don't live tweet an event unless you either ask permission or it is something that is clearly being publicized.  If the organizers promote an event-specific hashtag or if the press are present or it is being televized, I count that as consent.  A job talk?  Nope.
  • Don't DM people on twitter your tweets. Again, if they follow you, they will probably see it.  People tend to consider their DM space like their email space--something for those who are invited. Pretend you are a vampire and only enter if they invite you in and only come bearing that which they expect--not unsolicited tweets.  Which kills this vampire analogy.
  • Don't complain if other people curse.  Indeed, if you don't like someone's twitter style, don't follow them
  • And if you want to debate academics, see this guide by Phil Lagassé
  • Update: I forgot a related rule--it is perfectly reasonable to use twitter's virtual connections to introduce yourself to someone you have not met before.   

I will probably come up with more as other suggest stuff that I missed.  But most of this is just stuff that came up in the past few days.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

It Wouldn't Be A Wonderful Life But It Would Be Better

SNL had a sketch last night that took It's a Wonderful Life and applied it to Trump--that if he had lost the Presidency, everyone would be happier, including a divorced Melania (was that the part that got him to tweet about show?).  With us approaching two years of this stuff and my teaching US Foreign Policy again in a few weeks, it may be time to ponder how things would be different.

Before I start, the first thing to keep in mind is that no one would have this timeline in mind, no one could imagine how incredibly awful it would be, so plenty of folks would be upset at the HRC administration, not realizing the dark path they avoided.  The space-time continuum is like that.

To be clear, much would be the same as the President has only so much agency.  I would think the economy would not be that different, except it would not be overheating due to a giant tax cut--we'd probably have had a shutdown or sequestration--and there would be no tariff wars with allies or China.  So, soybean farmers would be bitter about Trump losing, not realizing what they would have lost.

Let's start there: relations with China would not be that different as HRC would be having the same kind of ongoing tension as Obama did, without China thinking that HRC was as much of a paper tiger as Trump.  There would be no tariff war, and HRC would be trying to get China to help with North Korea and probably failing.

Russia?  That is the one thing that is certain--relations would be much, much worse.  HRC would know what the Russians did, as she would actually read the intel reports.  We might actually have seen a concerted executive effort (but not legislative) to deal with Russian interference in the election.

Saudi Arabia?  Probably not that different--the elites of both parties have been too forgiving of the Saudis.  Certainly no orb petting, and no, the Saudis would not have been given the greenlight to target Qatar.  But the US would have been supporting the war in Yemen, as Obama did.  So, not great, Roberta.

Europe?  While HRC would not be as popular as Obama, there would not be much tension with Merkel, Macron, and even May.  It would mostly be business as usual as HRC tried not to let Brexit damage US relations with the continent.  There would be some fussing about 2% and NATO, but it would not be the obsession of every summit.  It would be the occasional annoyance it always has been.  The G-7s would get much less coverage as there would be much less expected drama.  NATO would not be doing much differently, it would just have more confidence that the US would show up.

Syria?  Damned if I know.  It would still be a mess, and the US would still be involved.  HRC was not going to leave Syria.  

Canada?  Trudeau and his team might be wishing that they still had the bromance that was Justin and Barak, but there would have been no USMCA.  There might have been some tweaks to NAFTA, but not much.  The relationship would be fine if not effusive.

There would be few kids in cages and no Muslims bans.  The far right would have been empowered not by Trump's incitement but by his loss and their joint bitterness at HRC governing.

Sessions would not have been AG, nor any of the arsonists.  HRC would have probably picked a few compromised individuals so she would appear to be corrupt compared to Obama's perfect record and not compared to Trump's supremely awful record.  But the agencies would not be burning down.  State would have had good folks filling spots up and down rather than being a carcass.  DoD would have had non-military folks running the place including perhaps Michelle Flournoy as SecDef.   While the HRC administration would be occupied with its war with the GOP, the administration itself would be fairly functional.

People would be talking about crises in US civil-military relations, because HRC might be saying no to some military initiatives, maybe making some hard choices AND no one would know what it would be like under Trump. 

The GOP would have done well in the midterms as the party of the President always suffers, and we would have had two years of constant struggle between Congress and the President.  They probably would have let her have Garland appointed to SCOTUS or someone like Garland, since a permanent ban of Democratic appointees to the court might have been beyond the pale.  But maybe not.  We might have had two years of eight Justices instead.  There would have been no Kavanaugh battle as Kennedy probably would not have retired.

So, while much would have been better, the Democratic Party would probably be worse off.  Sanders and his folks would still be yammering loudly, and there would not have been a mass mobilization of talented folks seeking office at all levels.

Would it be a wonderful life?  No.  The partisan rancor would be intense.  HRC would have faced tough questions about how much to prosecute Trump and his gang, given that she might not want to appear to be punishing her political opponent.  But the US government would be functioning in between shutdowns, and our allies would not be in a permanent state of uncertainty and bitterness.  It would be better than it is, but it would not have been fun.  On the other hand, fewer kids in cages, the White House would not be operated by white supremacists, homophobia would not have the executive branch as an ally, and misogyny would not be the policy of the President.

And, yes, news cycles would be slower, twitter would be less relevant, and we would spend entire days and even maybe weeks not thinking about the President of the US.  And that would be wonderful.

Friday, December 14, 2018

About that Primacy Thing

Given many of my posts, one might think that I am not a Realist.  In some ways, I am and, in many ways, I am not.

I am writing this because I saw a tweet thread about "primacy" that was, um, greatly annoying.

This one thread reminds me how I am and am not a Realist.  Reading Ken Waltz's Theory of International Politics in grad school changed my career because I found his take (and I realized Later John Herz's, etc) on the security dilemma to be compelling.  I didn't need to study arms races because I found this simple idea--that the unilateral effort by a country to improve its security will threaten its neighbors/adversaries who will then respond in kind, leaving the first country worse off.  This idea made so much sense to me.  Yes, lots of folks have revised it, questioned it, developed it, but for my view of IR, Waltz said it and I buy it.

So, the pursuit of primacy is a bad idea because it will antagonize other states, make them redouble their efforts, causing the state pursuing primacy to expend yet more resources and yet find itself being ever more challenged and losing its advantage.

However, structural realism a la Waltz is indeterminate--multipolarity may be worse than bipolarity (I am not so sure) but it isn't always going to be the Germans and Japanese.  Brand includes this tweet:

Um, Japan is not the same country it was in 1936 and Germany is not what it was in 1939.  Domestic political institutions and dynamics matter greatly.  I am not worried about these countries becoming authoritarian regimes that seek to gobble up the neighbors.  I am worried that the US is becoming an authoritarian regime that will ... give up its role as a key stabilizer in international relations.

And, for those fans of Neo-Classical Realism, I am not one of you.  While I see some key Realist logics about the nature of IR, I find myself more persuaded by the roles played by interests and institutions at both levels.  I need to read more NCR, but the stuff I have read thus far makes me think that it is oxymoronic--neither classical nor realist.  That synthesis paves the way to incoherence.  But that is a fight for another day.

Anyhow, when anyone pushes for American primacy, remember that the US got into this position by accident--the collapse of the USSR.  It was fun while it lasted (well, sometimes), but maintaining it requires lots of things to happen that aren't going to happen.  So, rather than pursuing it, the US should get used to the basic realities of International Relations--one can be first among equals, but the quest to dominate ends in horror and tears.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Trump Rules

Trump sadly has been president for enough time that we can identify the rules of Trump Dynamics:
  1. Whenever Trump accuses someone of something, it is because this is how he would behave--it is all projection.  He is an awful person so he thinks everyone else is awful, too, and then blames their behavior on what would be motivating him in that position.
  2. Whenever Trump uses a number, it is wrong.  Because you have to read and pay attention to learn the specific value of things.  So, any number, especially ten, is going to be wrong.
  3. If there is money involved, it has been used/distributed/etc in some way, there will be something sketchy involved.  The stories of late about where the Trump inauguration money went inspired this rule, but we should have known this when the Trump Foundation news was reported by David Fahrenthold in the lead up to the election.  
  4. If Trump appoints someone, they will be awful--incompetent, evil, or both.
  5. Trump will not take responsibility--the buck stops somewhere else, always.
  6. The brand is everything--so, anything to erase the brand of others and replace with one related to him.  NAFTA didn't change much, but now it has a new name, USMCA, so Trump erased Obama's brand and replaced it with his own.
  7. If there is an opportunity for Trump to say something inappropriate, he will do so.
  8. And, yes, like the second law of Thermodynamics, everything trends towards entropy.
I am sure there are other rules, but as I started another one, I realized it was a combo of 1 and 4.  What have I forgotten?

Myth-Busting Trends in IR, Finally Published

Other than my books, I think I have blogged about one particular article (open access, pre-publication version here) more than any other: a piece that examines whether the gods of IR are correct that their kind is disappearing.  It finally moved from "First View" or "Early View" to Published, appearing in the December 2018 issue of International Studies Review!

Of all the stuff I have written, this has the clearest origins.  John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt circulated a working paper that argued that increased professionalism via the focus on citation counts had led to the demise of grand theory and the rise of hypothesis testing.  I reacted rather strongly to that piece via blogpost.  The irony is that their piece produced a series of testable hypotheses, which were begging to be tested.  And so I did, with the help of TRIP data about what is published (a dataset on IR articles), about attitudes (their surveys of what people think about the field and teach), and citations.

What did I find?  That grand IR theory, however defined, was never something that lots of scholars did. Rather it has always been something that only a small percentage of the IR professors did, it was only a small percentage of what appeared in the major journals, and that it peaked in the mid-90s.  So, when people think that there has been a decline, there really has mostly been a regression to the mean and that maybe prospect theory applies here--people perceive a loss due to a particular reference point and then, well, overreact to that reference point.* 

*The problem with this hypothesis is that certain of these folks were wildly overreacting to their losses when they were at the peak of their powers.
To be clear, this was not just the misperception of M&W but of the field as surveys of attitudes tended to show that folks think of Realism, Liberalism, and Constructivism dominate the literature even though much of what is written is "non-paradigmatic."

I also busted a related myth.  One could also read their piece as being a screed against quantitative work, but only in recent years are the numbers of quantitative articles starting to exceed (but not erase) the numbers of qualitative pieces in the major journals.

I also addressed the concern raised that the "professionalization" provides disincentives to do grand theory.  In the piece, M&W suggest essentially that to get hired and promoted, one needs more citations (which might be true), as opposed to the past where some other force mattered more (their original paper referred to a lamentation of the end of the Old Boys Network, Ido Oren in his piece more directly laments the days where a phone call to/from Waltz or Keohane was all that mattered--my piece also targets some of his assertions about funding).  The data on citation counts shows that actually grand theory stuff gets more citations, so not so much of a disincentive, eh?

I argue but do not really test that other stuff led to some trends and changes--mobilization by specific groups in the discipline to create more journals, more sections of conferences and ultimately more outlets for more different kinds of stuff.  That the discipline of IR is may be more diverse now not because the structure imposed constraints and incentives on the agents, but that the agents (individual scholars organizing collectively) did stuff to change the structure.  Lots of implied irony in this piece.  The funny thing is that Mearsheimer and Walt were participants in one of those efforts--the perestroika movement to diversity the American Political Science Review, which led to a new journal.

Another reason to discuss this piece is that its journey shows that publication ain't easy but tenacity can win the day.  It got desk rejected twice, including at the journal that published the special issue where the original piece appeared.  At ISR, it was R&R'ed four times!  Part of that was my fault for misreading the instructions of the editors, and part of that was just the way the editorial process played out.  But I wanted to note this as I see on twitter people want to know more about survivor bias (which I definitely have).

I used to scoff at time spent navel-gazing at the discipline, but that was mostly efforts to re-rank one's one department.  Now, I do some of this navel-gazing because I do think perceptions matter, and it is better to bust myths to counter arguments about how things were better in the good old days.  I am firmly convinced that the profession of IR is better, stronger, more interesting, more relevant than it once was. But then again, I think diversity is a good thing.  Maybe as some in that special EJIS volume argue we no longer talk to each other as much, that the common conversation has suffered.  I think we can figure out ways to improve the conversation without squelching dissent and without returning to a mythical ideal past.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Applying for Phd Programs: The Big Question

I saw this tweet today, and I felt an urge to spew:

Each year, I get emails from random aspiring grad students and so do my peers.  Many think that I/we hold the key to getting admitted to our programs.  Nope, not in most of the US and Canada.  Maybe elsewhere, but for most US/Canadian poli sci/IR programs, there are committees and admissions directors, and most faculty are not on them.  Yet there is a belief that one wants to nail down a supervisor before arriving.  Partly the applications are to blame since they generally ask who would want to work with. 

To be clear, no one should bet their career on a single individual that they aspire to work with before they arrive.  As Paul suggests, supervisors might leave. They may die, they may hate you.  They may... be a lousy supervisor.

Here's the thing--having a big name in the field or even a medium name is mostly not correlated with how good of a supervisor they are.  One makes one's name mostly on the basis of quality and quantity and impact of research, not on how well one's students do.  Eventually, the word may get out for some folks---that their students are well-trained and successful--but unless you are at someplace that is plugged in, you may not learn who those people are.  Also, it is not always clear that even in those cases the supervisor has much of a role in that.  It really depends on stuff that is un-knowable from outside:
  • Does the potential supervisor sexually harass his or her students?
  • Does the potential supervisor let others do most of the supervising and then take credit for the outcomes?
  • Does the potential supervisor give little feedback so that many of his/her students flail and fail but those that succeed make the supervisor look great?  I mean, darwinian processes often produce super adaptations.
  • Does the potential supervisor have great students because the program does a great job of selecting students and then training them well?
The only way to learn who is and who is not a good supervisor is to go to a graduate program and spend time there and talk to other students.  They will not tell you much of the truth in a one day open house. Alas, the best way to learn is to enter the program and keep one's eyes and ears open.  And then select a supervisor that works for your personality.  It is not just about interests and expertise but compatibility.  At least, that's my opinion.  Grad school is too long and too painful to deliberately chose a supervisor that is going to lead to a painful process.  And, in my mind, that relationship is not just for a couple of years but a lifetime contract

One other aspect: one's training takes place both within the confines of the superviser-advisee relationship and beyond.  Classes, training, comps all involve other people.  So, the best way to manage all of this is to go to a program that has the best combo of depth and breadth in one's area of interests (big interests like field, not specific interests like one's research question) so that you can survive and thrive if your adviser leaves or if the one you expect to work with ends up truly sucking.  I am suggesting that one be strategic--figure out as best you can the available choices, and pick the program that offers the least risks and the greatest gains.  Whether you choose to maximize potential gains or minimize risks when there are tradeoffs is up to you.   But being aware of the tradeoffs is key.

And always, always only go to a PhD program in the US or Canada if the program offers you a four or five year deal that provides semi-adequate funding.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Happy phd-versary

As I was moving stuff around my home office, I glanced at my PhD, and realized today is my Phd's anniversary:*

*  Yes, Pete Wilson, a Republican who helped turn California into a Blue state due to the failed effort to use xenophobia for political purposes, signed my PhD as governor.  Pretty perfect given my research interests.

I have been Ph-D-ing for 25 years. Looking back, I find that those five years have made such a deep impact on me, in many ways more so than college (other than that finding a life-partner thing).  How I think about the world, how I think about my profession, how I think about comprehensive exams, how I teach graduate students, how I miss San Diego, how I eat Mexican food, how I think about pets since we got my favorite dog there, how I remember bachelor parties (or try to), etc, so much of that comes from those five years.

I have never felt that having a Phd means one is brilliant or smart.*  Just perseverant and, as the degree says, able to do original research.  The hard parts of getting a PhD are: coming up a question that is feasible to answer and that has not been answered satisfactorily before, figuring out one's approach to it, writing it all up (the actual doing of research is not so hard, I think), and responding well to critical feedback.  Our profession tends to assume that if you can do this once, you can do it again and again, which makes the PhD the basic minimum to profess at most places.  While that may not be true, the reverse is: if you can't pull off an original research project in graduate school, where one has a supervisor and hopefully a supportive cohort and role models, you almost certainly can't do it elsewhere, especially if you have other major commitments.
*  And yes, I find it incredibly annoying that the intellectual arms race depicted on superhero shows and elsewhere has the smart person in the room having many more PhDs than anyone else.  More PhDs is not more brilliant, just more unrealistic.  Sorry, Mr. Fantastic, and sorry, Felicity Smoke.
Getting back to that original question thing, I remember it was once very hard to think of an original question.  What I proposed in my application to grad school did not survive impact with grad school classes--something to do with arms races, as Ken Waltz and the security dilemma satisfied my curiosity on that stuff.  I did start thinking really big--about the meaning of sovereignty--what matters more the norms about the inviolability of boundaries or the independence of governments? Is the IR of secession distinct from the IR of revolution?  I ended up focusing on the former since I found the work in that area to be unsatisfying.  I never got back to the big question, although I recently got invited to join a project that might just get me back to that.

Anyhow, once I had that one question, I was able to pursue it, but, at first, I had a hard time thinking what to do next, which was not great for job talks as "what is the next project" is always asked.  Eventually, I started being able to see lots more questions, so many that I have left many of those on the shelf.  Having different experiences, like the year on the Joint Staff, have produced questions in completely different areas.  My dissertation did haunt me for a good fifteen years after grad school, but I never really focused on the same part of the world or on the same issues.  My questions kept taking me further and further away from where I started, leaving me a jack of many trades (and a reviewer of many areas) and a master of none.

I might have been more productive if I had stuck with the same stuff--no need for additional literatures to master and reviewers to persuade--but I have always been driven by my curiosity and not by what was strategically sound for my career.  It has worked out wonderfully for me even though I had no grand plan, no imagination of living in Texas or Canada, no expectation to be working on alliances or civil-military relations.

And, yes, I have survivor bias, as others who were similarly unstrategic may not have survived the Darwinian job markets of the past 25 years.  So, I am not sure I am a great role model for how to build a career.  All I really know is this: I got into this business because I am a very, very curious person, and this profession allows me to pursue my curiosity wherever it goes.  It does not allow me to choose where to live with complete freedom, but it does allow me to study what I want for as long as I want.  And yes, to talk about whatever I want for as long as anyone wants to hear me.

Could I imagine doing anything else?  Well, in grad school, when I had doubts about doing this stuff, I would ponder being a firefighter or a policeman or some other fantasy from when I was a kid.  Because maybe I knew that there was no other way for me than this way.  Sure feels like that now.  Either that or I have a crappy imagination about what else I could have done.

So, on this 25th anniversary of my PhD, all I can do is be grateful for the badge that allows me to do what I am best suited for and what I enjoy the most--thinking, reading, teaching, talking, and, yes, writing.