Sunday, October 31, 2010

Another SNL Idea

After wasting Jon Hamm (who actually does a decent Robin Williams imitation!), I have an idea for an SNL sketch. Actually, it is an idea for an entire episode of SNL: a series of sketched aimed at understanding the mystery of why SNL sucks so much these days.  One theme could be that Lorne Michaels needs to have bad shows in order to get rid of old talent. Every other sketch would be paired with a behind the scenes sketch showing the crazy dynamics that produced poorly conceived bits and the reluctance to retire old bits that used to be funny, such as the two singers improvising during the Update.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Game Theory and the Rally For Sanity

I watched most of the Rally for Sanity online.  It was both more and less interesting than I was expecting.  Not too many big surprises except that the number of Muslims on stage may have come close to tying the number of Jews.  And the big surprise was which Muslims: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.  Very striking.

What did I find most interesting?  Jon Stewart's closing speech.  He did two things (well more than two, but two that struck me more): he highlighted a key identity that unifies most Americans and, not so coincidentally, brought up tit for tat.  First, he showed a bunch of drivers in a traffic jam, probably trying to merge to get through the tunnel going under Baltimore Harbor (I don't think there is another tunnel in the DC area).  He was using the common experience of driving to help bring people together, and it is something that unifies most Americans (except for a subsection of urban dwellers).  As cowboys were a central part of American identity in the past, driving is a central part of what it means to be an American today.  So, this identity move by Stewart was pretty sharp and interesting.

And it led to the second--I go, you go, I go, you go .....  That Stewart suggested as a key standard/expectation of reasonable-ness--reciprocity.  If we only treated each other as we wanted to be treated?  Wow.  Yes, the golden rule is in most (all?) the major religions.  It is also the way to play prisoner's dilemma if the fear is not too great.  That is, if you can take a leap of faith in the first round of a repeated prisoner's dilemma, it makes sense to trust and cooperate the first turn, and the reciprocate on every turn thereafter.  If you cheat on me in the first round, I will punish you by cheating in the second round.  This is the old fashioned (1980's, 1990's IO literature) way to get to cooperation.  The cumulative gains of cooperation down the road, if we care enough about the future, overwhelm the short term gains of cheating.

Of course, reciprocity can produce cooperation or enduring conflict, as doing what the other guy did can mean punishing them after they have punished you.  Pakistan and India as the exemplar.

Still, the American political system could use a bit more positive reciprocity, and, as a defining characteristic of reasonable-ness and sanity, not too bad.

PS.  Good to see that the Flying Spaghetti Monster made it.

Terrorist Incident of the Week

I don't know much about Yemen, but this Princeton grad student seems to have a clue or two.  Check out this blog.

The Smaller You Are

The less influence you have.  So the Canadians at Camp Nathan Smith, site of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team [PRT], have lost control over the TVs, which now show less hockey and more baseball, basketball and football. This is a natural evolution, as influence on the ground is tied to two things--size and willingness to do stuff.  Canada has had more influence in Afghanistan than Germany or Italy with a smaller force because it was more willing to do the hard work and go to the dangerous places (fewer caveats). 

But that influence is coming to an end with 2011 in sight and with the Americans surging into the South.  The Canadians have been just as willing to get into the fight as the Americans but now they are dwarfed.  Not just dwarfed but on their way out.  As a result, the balance of authority has tipped in Kandahar, as we knew it would.  The Canadians cannot really complain much, as this has been the choice of their politicians. Plus, despite some modest frictions, the US and Canadian militaries get along pretty well, perhaps even better than the Army/Marine comparison used by one of the American officers in the article

Holy Trick or Treat, Batman!

Today is the 15th anniversary of the last referendum in Quebec.  Oops.  The most recent one.   Not last, unfortunately.  I cannot help but be amused that the previous referendum took place the day before Halloween. 

The Montreal Gazette has a series of stories and some polls about where things stand today.  The main article seems just a bit alarmist, arguing that the choice of in or out next time will be shaped by how little Canada can reform, as demonstrated by a lack of Canadian willingness to bend more.  This ignores countervailing pressures and dynamics: that Quebec has gotten much of what it has wanted so it is not that clear what is left to gain; that the numbers used about Anglophone and Allophone (native language is neither English nor French) support ignore the changes in population size (more Allophones should mean more "Non" voters). 

Indeed, the politician with the most to lose/win in a sovereignty debate, Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Quebecois, is running away from promises of a referendum as soon as possible.  That suggests that she knows that running on a referendum platform may actually be a vote-loser. 

The paper also had a set of survey results about whether folks in Canada identify themselves with the country, their province, both, neither and about a bunch of words: Canada, secession, separatism, federalism, sovereignty, nationalism.  The strangest result: that nationalism is viewed most positively.  I guess that might be cause Quebec nationalists and Canadian nationalists can both see nationalism as a good thing.  And in a time where Harper promises to defend Canada first, especially the Arctic, nationalism is apparently in.  I would never have guessed that nationalism as a word would be so popular. 

Likewise, sovereignty plays pretty well across all groups, although better Francophones than others.  In the survey, the words were used without context apparently, so some folks could read sovereignty as referring to the Arctic rather than Quebec.  But separatism and secession do pretty poorly among all groups, especially English speakers and allophones (separatism is more popular among French speakers and less popular among English speakers and allophones compared to secession).  This, of course, means that framing of the debate and of questions is key.  If the next referendum is viewed as a choice of sovereignty, whatever that means, it could possibly win while anything defined as separ

The Clarity Act is supposed to make framing harder--the referendum language is likely to be less confusing than last time (hard not to be).  The key limitation of this particular survey is that it is just about words, not about political programs, promised positions, or pithy politicians.  A referendum would be a huge political battle with stakes, and that would focus almost entirely on where the Francophone public stands on the issue.  English speakers and Allophones are unlikely to vote for Oui, regardless of whether the question invokes separatism or sovereignty.

I do not really fear a yes vote in a referendum--I think it is unlikely to win as the dynamics of the past 15 years have largely gone in Quebec's direction, reducing the passion and the perceived need for independence.  I just fear a referendum because it will be a very costly distraction from everything else: crumbling infrastructure, the future of health care, the problem of high taxes, etc.  It will waste time and money, and feed the extreme nationalists on either end of the spectrum.  For what?  To remind Canada that Quebec is a pain the collective rear end?  I think Canadians know that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Giants Have An Edge

They Can't Stop Believin' (Steve Perry appears 45 seconds into the video).

And, yes, I am rooting for the Giants--I am glad that the Rangers beat the Yankees and love that Nolan Ryan still brings the heat when he does the ceremonial first pitch, but they are still Bush's team.

Canadians and The Future of the Military, part 2 (or 6)

"An undersized force, comprised almost entirely of under-equipped soldiers from developing countries, can't do everything," writes Laura Seay, a political scientist and Africa specialist at Morehouse College in Atlanta. "The UN in Congo is burdened with an almost impossible task." 
 This quote reveals the contradictions in thinking about UN peacekeeping effort.  Is it that the resources are insufficient or is that the task is "almost impossible."  This article, which posits Congo, as the potential next mission for the Canadian Forces, ignores my quote earlier in the week--that this kind of effort would involve significant combat.  Peacekeeping can work, as the article names a bunch of successful examples, but there are many reasons why the more powerful countries have largely stayed out of the Congo.  Of course, part of it is that these countries are already over-stretched by Afghanistan (and Iraq) and other missions.  But part of it is that Congo is a very, very difficult terrain with very little government capacity.

There are good reasons to intervene there:

Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and former UN special envoy in Africa, believes that Canada could provide crucial assets for the Congo mission.
"The Congo is just desperate for peacekeepers, and Canada is well-suited to make a significant contribution in what is possibly the worst place in the world for women, and one of the worst conflict areas on the planet. It would restore us to the international position that we should hold."
Making a contribution.  Hmmm.  Where have I heard that before?  Possibly the worst place for women?  Sounds familiar?  Worst conflict areas?  Sounds like Afghanistan to me. 

I really don't expect the Harper government to send significant numbers of troops to Congo:
  • it would be expensive at a time of budget cutting;
  • he has learned that it is easier to control what the military says than what it does, so having it do more goes against Harper's control freak-ness;
  • such a mission could become unpopular quite quickly as the CF starts taking casualties and has to kill people;
  • none of the big allies will be joining Canada, and despite the article's claims that Canada has heaps of stuff that it can add to the mixture, Canadian Forces are too small and have other limitations that require them to deploy with other capable countries.
Once again, the imagined use of a military seems much more attractive than the current effort.  

Social Science is Social

I just came back from a quick trip to Northwestern University.  I was presenting a very rough draft of a chapter of the book in progress (tentative title: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone: NATO in Afghanistan) with David Auerswald.  The audience was relatively small--about ten profs, graduate students and undergrads.  But there was a very good critical mass there, and they provided heaps of good suggestions for how to revise the paper and, as a result, improve the book. 

I have participated in a couple of book workshops where folks read someone's manuscript and together they leap upon the author, providing constructive criticism.  My role in those occasions was as outside critic brought in to provide comments.  I always envied the authors even as they were being subjecting to body-blows to their egos, as the comments would make their work that much better. 

It was very helpful to get a small dose of that experience.  And it reminds me that I need to finish a piece that addresses vetting--but in the policy community.  These encounters energize my work almost as well as a good deadline.

Specialize in the Impossible

With Waking Dead starting on Halloween, the next series that I am eagerly anticipating is The Cape.  Hopefully, it will disappoint (as No Ordinary Family has).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Military Takes Concussions Seriously

As I am traveling, I got to see a USA Today story about the new US military policy on concussions.  We are now taking soldiers, marines, sailors, and air folks (not so much) out of duty if they have a concussion.  With the bombs bursting in air and all, this is not an insignificant number of folks.  Should help generate better understanding of concussions.  But entire units might have to be pulled off the line after a major battle with close artillery/air support, right?  The article cites a retired general about the tradeoffs between readiness and caring for the troops.  I guess the numbers are small enough (although plenty of troops affected) that this is not that severe a problem---we are not losing entire units to the concussion doctors. 

Still, with better equipment and medical care, brain injuries are becoming a much bigger part of the post-combat health challenge.  This is good news in some ways--folks are surviving that would not have done so 10, 20, 50 years ago.  But the explosiveness of the new generations of IEDs (improvised bombs) also plays a role here. 

This story combined with the effort to cut suicides in the army reveals that these wars are more than just about KIA--the toll is high and getting higher still.

Most Transparently Deceptive Quote of the Week by a General

Lt. General Leslie declined an invitation to give his opinion on the Conservative government’s controversial plan to spend billions on state-of-the-art fighter jets. “That is the realm of the political,” he said. “And you don’t want your generals delving into politics while they are in uniform.”
This from a man whose job is now to figure out where to cut the Canadian Forces?!  I have met General Leslie and he is far brighter than this quote makes him appear to be.  He is clearly trying to stay out of fire on the issue of F-35s.  Yet, any general is political, particularly those at the upper echelons, as they make decisions with significant implications and must be aware of whose support they need and who they are going to effect.  

Cutting bases, reducing staff, and such all have significant impacts.  Bases in rural areas are seen as jobs providers.  HQ staff in Ottawa have some power of their own and may resist cuts.  I do fully expect that the Security and Defence Forum, which provides linkages between the military and the academic community will be cut severely or entirely.  Less money and coordination for outside folks to think about defence issues.  Not good. But SDF does not have powerful backers, compared with F35s, bases, the staffs of generals....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yet Another Animated Conversation Between Prof and Aspirant  It starts slowly but gets better.  Mostly it applies to Americanists but enough in it for other poli sci types.

I gave a talk a little while ago at Northwestern and got great comments.  One of the profs thanked me for sending our undergrads there for their PhD program.  I had to break the news that I am discouraging folks....

On the bright side, I got great comments from the profs and grad students here, so my work will be much better (if I heed them).

Holy Principal-Agent Problems

Whether intended or not, it seems that the effort to take out the middle level commanders of the Taliban is creating some significant challenges for the Taliban leaders.  The guys (captured or killed) are replaced pretty quickly apparently, but the new generation may not be as easy to control as the previous one. 

In P-A terms (I am an amateur on p-a theory, but increasingly use it for the NATO-A-stan projects), leaders need to select agents to do their bidding and then the problem becomes one of making sure those agents do what they are supposed to do.  The first way to ensure that the agent complies with the principal's intent is to select agents who mostly closely share interests/attitudes/etc. with the principals.  One would expect that the first agents selected would be those that have the closest ties/views of the leadership.  As those agents are captured or killed, then the bosses will have to select agents who are not as close.  It would not make sense to start with agents who do not share as many views or ties, so elimination of the old does suggest that the new ones will be less control-able.

The second way to resolve the principal-agent problem is to shape the discretion of the agents.  Given the nature of insurgency and the terrain (as compared to the dynamics of multilateral counter-insurgency), it is probably quite difficult to impose restrictions (caveats) on the insurgents.

The third way is to conduct oversight.  To monitor closely the agents.  Well, in this case, it looks like the monitors may get killed by the agents:
But the new cohort increasingly decides how these beliefs are imposed on the ground: recently the Quetta Shura sent a Muslim scholar to chastise a group of youthful commanders in Paktia Province who were not following Mullah Omar’s directives; they promptly killed him.
The fourth way is to reward/punish agents when they comply or not.  The challenge for the Taliban leaders is that their capabilities in Afghanistan are mostly on the punitive side of things, and it is not clear that they pose as much of a threat to their local commanders as NATO is.

Is the decline of Taliban control over its agents and the potential fragmentation a good or bad thing?  I vote for both.  It might make the Taliban a bit more enthused about settling the conflict before they lose control as the NYT piece indicates.  But it makes it much harder for any decision to settle to be implemented.  Rather than killing one snake, we may find ourselves trying to kill a hydra.  Not good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bags of Money, Indeed

Transparency International just came out with its new report on corruption around the world. TI is well known for this stuff, and, although it has some challenges (reputational ranking always does), it is close to the best we have.  So, the good news is that the US is 22, with a low level of corruption compared to most of the world, falling behind many of the places I have visited lately: Denmark, New Zealand tied at number one (with Singapore), Netherlands (coming soon), Australia (8), Germany (15), UK (20) along with Canada (even with Quebec?), the Nordic countries (cold weather breeds transparency and integrity?).  And Afghanistan is not even the worst country.  It is the third worst, with Somalia (worst) and Myanmar (Burma) ahead/behind. Iraq is just better than Afghanistan.

Failed/failing/post-conflict states tend to quite poorly--whether they have more corruption or worse reputations is not clear.  On the other hand, Bosnia and Kosovo are 91 and 110, much better than I would have expected.

Of the other major powers, China is 78 and Russia, oh my, is 154, making it the most corrupt country in Europe (worse than Belarus, Ukraine, and others) and only a bit better than Venezuela (164) and tied with Cambodia, Kenya, Laos and a bunch of other countries.

One last fun fact--Italy has the worst score in Western Europe, so sure it makes sense that it had the lead role in improving Afghanistan's judiciary.

So, Karzai is not the only one with bags of money.  Check out the website--lots of interesting findings.

Zombies and Jedis Oh My

Mrs Spew has found great ways to waste my time. 


All Folks Applying to Grad School

As part of an on-going theme, check out this video:

The conversation in the above video is absolutely brutal but pretty on target.  I have had students ask for recommendations who have taken my 600 student Intro class.  Oy!  And I have had students with B-'s ask for recommendations.  It was actually easier to say now to the latter category than the former.

Yep, it is the sequel to the one on law school. I have five students on the academic job market this fall.  It appears that this year is better than last, but that is like saying that a mild heart attack is not as bad as a severe stroke.  So far, two of my students have gotten some opportunities, but it is too early to see how they play out.  As I have said before, mama, don't let you kids grow up to be grad students

Of course, I have a crappy imagination, so if my readers can provide me with answers to the question the undergrads always ask me now, I would greatly appreciate it.  The question is: if not law school or grad school, then what?  I don't know.  Police, rodeo, firefighter, astronaut?  One reason why I stayed in grad school is that I could not imagine doing anything else.  Luckily, I was able to find a job and then another.  And it is the right occupation for me--it is not as nearly negative as the video makes it out to be.  Perhaps that is partly the difference between social science and the humanities.  So, it is not quite that miserable to be a prof.  Indeed, it can be a very good job.  But it is not as easy to get one (and it was not easy at all to win a ticket to 6 years in Lubbock) as it was. 

HT to Jacob Levy.

A Little Truth for a Change

A Parti Quebec politician said something that folks had dared not say: that separatism (sovereignty-ism, whatever) gives Quebec leverage when bargaining with the federal folks.  Of course.  We scholars of ethnic conflict and separatism have long considered separatism to be in part or in whole about groups bargaining for more.  Erin Jenne, a friend and co-author, has written a bunch of stuff that essentially considers the claims groups make to be a function of their bargaining leverage--that they demand more when they have more relative power. 

Of course, a basic assumption for the bargaining approach is ... insincerity.  The claims depend on bargaining power, not on the severity of grievances or what people genuinely about.  Ooops. 

And the quick thought here is: Quebec already has heaps of bargaining power, so the separatism that is so distracting (should the PQ focus on a referendum or good governance? should the Liberals in Quebec act like weak nationalists or weak federalists?) could be dropped.  Quebec has the second largest city in Canada and, due to past agreements, has a disproportionate share of seats in the Canadian parliament.  So, if one wants to win a majority at the national level, one needs to do well in Quebec.  Republicans can win the Presidency without California but it is hard.  Canadian parties have a very, very hard time winning a majority without Quebec (thus far, not so much).  So, there is already real bargaining power. 

The question at the end of the day is whether the additional leverage due to the stands on sovereignty/separation really buy Quebec that much more than its relative weight at the national level.  And what the costs of the separatist nationalism might be.  The reality might be that the net benefits of separatism have already been accumulated, and that the present sovereignty effort is not getting Quebeckers that much additional stuff and might not be worth it, given the nationalism tax we pay and pay.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mything and Missing ROTC

Interesting piece on the politics and policies of ROTC in the US--reserved officer training corps where folks go to college on Uncle Sam's Dime but get additional training in exchange for serving as officers in the US armed forces.  This has been one of the major sources of American officers.  With increased criticisms of US military academies (see Tom Ricks's stuff), ROTC provides one of the alternatives. 

There has been much positioning about whether elite schools have rebuffed ROTC or not.  This piece suggests that it has mostly been the military, rather than the Ivies, that have been responsible for their absence from certain campuses.  It argues that the ROTC folks have not been willing to meet academic standards yet have demanded academic credits, resulting in their movement to less regulated environments in the South and West. 

It is more complicated than that, of course.  Andrew Exum, who tweets as abumuqawama, asserted that it is also cheaper to move out of the northeast and towards regions where recruiting is easier. I would ponder as well whether the Ivy-types might have been more willing to bargain hard because their constituents were less enthused about ROTC. 

Any way you slice it, it appears to be the case that the ROTC debate is largely misguided.  It should be focused on the gains to the universities and the military, the costs, and the required compromises to make it work.  ROTC is clearly an important pathway for military leadership, and perhaps a healthier one since it requires less segregation than the academies (which have a variety of pathologies).

Canadians and The Future of the Military

The Globe and Mail is running a series of stories on the future of the Canadian military, and, if public opinion matters, the future is bleak.  Why?

First, funding for the military is going to take a backseat to all of the other priorities.  I cannot argue with Canadians that say that health care, jobs, and such should be higher priorities, but in a time of budget squeezing, the implications are quite clear--significant cuts are in the Canadian Forces' future.  I just hope they end up being more rational than the cuts being made by the UK

Second, there is a big mismatch between what Canadians want and what they will get.  The poll shows that the highest priority for the Canadian Forces would be UN peacekeeping.  My sole but pithy quote in the piece essentially suggests that any future peacekeeping will involve significant combat--causing and taking casualties.  So, the next time the CF is deployed, the Canadians will be surprised that they will be doing something like what they were doing in Afghanistan.  Which leads to the third reason why the future of the CF is bleak

This strong opposition to anything like Afghanistan is understandable, as it has been a costly mission in terms of lives lost and damaged as well as Canadian dollars with no certain success.  Yet if the military is an instrument of foreign policy (which it is), then the CF effort in Afghanistan has been a success by impressing allies, demonstrating commitment to multilateral organizations (NATO and the UN), and practicing the need to adapt in difficult conditions.  Canadian Forces have done very well in Afghanistan, particularly in comparison to both caveated allies (Germany, Italy) and reckless friends (US).  This has bought some influence, although Canada's departure reduces the leverage gained from this effort.

Again, the problem is that future missions, peace-keeping or not, are more likely to look something like Afghanistan (such as Darfur) than like Cyrpus.  If Canada puts its limited $$ into planes and ships to defend the Arctic, it is likely to mean more under-equipped army guys put into harm's way once CA politicians forget that foreign deployments are vote drains.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why NBC is Broken

But a “Walking Dead” pilot script did not get far at NBC. “On the face of it they got excited,” Mr. Darabont said. “‘Oh my God, a zombie show!’ Then I wrote the script and handed it to them. And they said, ‘Oh my God, this is a zombie show.’ ”
They don't know what they want.  Zombies are hot these days, from IR theory to movies, and they have the guy behind Shawshank Redemption.  But, of course, they say no, as the show would be far too interesting for network tv.  AMC, once again, figures it out.
The end result is a series that aspires to convey the same level of human desperation as AMC’s other signature shows, but with more decaying flesh, exploding body parts and devoured horses.

When Does Corruption Hurt?

When Karzai's deputy is in the bag, the Iranian bag.  I have pondered here and there whether particular forms of corruption are more damaging to the effort in Afghanistan.  I guess we can be pretty clear that when the guy with the President's ear is selling out to the Iranians, that is a pretty bad form of corruption. 

Talk about bad neighborhoods.

SNL Spiral

Not a good sign when the only marginally good skits are after Weekend Update.  They need to drop Fred Armistead as their Obama now that they have someone who can do a funny (as opposed to unfunny) imitation--Jay Pharoah.  More importantly, they could use new writers and new bits.  Sure, Emma Stone as Lindsay Lohan was a natural, but entirely wasted as part of the incredibly lame and exhausted View show.  They are clearly going to the Jon Hamm well next week since they know that he can bring the funny even in a badly written sketch.  It would be even better to have Hamm on the show if they give him stuff to do. 

My wife asks why we still watch this show?  Inertia?  The good news is that the DVR allows us to skim through and get beyond the really bad parts.  This is not my first rant about the show.  The frustrating thing is that the talent level of the new folks is quite high, but they are not being used effectively. There are hints of good things ahead, but they need to move past the old and tired skits and imitations.  Bring on the new folks.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Titles With New Meanings

Ties that Divide?  Indeed.  Check out this NYT story* about the subtle use of neckties to distance Iraq from Iran.  

* Apologies for not giving the proper hat tip, as I went through a pile of links last night after my trip to Vermont, and only checked out the stories this morning.  So, I cannot give credit where it is due.  My bad.

Why Canadian Subs Don't Work

Because the previous owners (the British) cannot drive:

Everything Reduced But the Fun

The Spew kid and I drove down to Burlington, VT yesterday to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company's Complete World of Sports Abridged.  My wife and I became fans of the RSC a long time ago, and saw their American History show while we were living in Virginia.
Our daughter has picked up our love for this wacky trio (the company has several sets of trios that go out and perform their various plays), re-watching a DVD of their original show--all of Shakespeare's works in ninety minutes.  She even used their book on Shakespeare for a class project a couple of years ago. We also download their podcasts (available on iTunes), which not only promote the RSC but also educate us about the realities of the theater life.  I never had the guts to follow my love of acting (unless you include my lectures to 600 students), and these podcasts inform me that I probably made the right choice.
The challenge is that the RSC has not been to Montreal in quite some time, so when we heard they were taking their newest show to Burlington, we grabbed some tickets and hopped on the highway.

We were not disappointed. The show was very, very entertaining, covering sports on all continents (yes, Antarctica too, although that was an obvious reach) and over history.  They did omit ultimate frisbee, but I will forgive them for that due to their depiction of "Extreme Curling."  The pace and the energy was pretty amazing.  They skewered sports broadcasting as well as the sports being covered.  The coach had a book of coach clich├ęs.  I guess my favorite bit was when the athlete was doing the promo for the United Way and happened to mention his required 500 hours of community service and the Palin School for Wayward Girls. 

The show, as they always say, is not ad-libbed but very much written down.  Well, except for the Vermont references and the moment where Austin Tichenor lost it.  The crowd loved it, especially when they were teased for being a lousy audience.  Definitely worth the drive down, especially since we were able to buy their DVD of the American History show and get it signed.  What could be more fun than a night of silly intellectuals with heaps of physical comedy and one pretty impressive fight song (or three?)?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Artificial Turf: Slip or Slide?

Soccer (aka Football everywhere beyond North America) is starting to adopt artificial turf.  I first played ultimate on turf regularly my first winter in Montreal on the new version--field turf.  For me, the biggest downside is that my shoes, my car, my bag and my house now get lots of little black pellets from the field.  In these kinds of fields, old tires are shredded and the result is spread across the field to simulate dirt, I guess.  I dive all the time, and don't get too scraped up.  However, that might just because I now wear various forms of UnderArmour to protect my hips (used to get nasty scrapes on grass or turn when I dive) and elbows (I have scars from the years of hitting the same spots again and again) rather than the improvement in turf.

I do think my ankles ache more after a night on field turf, but I know my knees and ankles are better off on a flat surface than the bumpy/hole-y grass fields we play on.  I guess I don't want to see natural grass go away, but I don't mind playing on good fake turf either.  And for winters, there is no substitute. 

Rights on Sale?

One last rant (for the time being) about the language and education fracas here in Quebec.  The Liberals shoved through Bill 115 that creates a process that allows people otherwise unentitled to English public schools in Quebec (immigrants, Francophones) buy going to unsubsidized private school for three years and then going through a process by which their sincerity is assessed--whether English is their genuine pathway. 

The Parti Quebecois opposed it and vows to get rid of it as soon as they are in power (which is inevitable, given how long the Liberals have been in office and how much they have mis-governed).  The PQ argues that this means that rights are for sale.  The interesting thing here, for me anyway, is that this implicitly recognizes that the choice is defined as rights for sale (via private schools) or the denial of rights.  Ooops.  The PQ cannot be in the position of saying that they are denying people rights.  So, they have to cover up their real position in class conflict sauce (is class conflict sauce just denial sauce with a few extra ingredients?). 

The funny thing is that I have been both writing and lecturing the past few days about veto points--the idea (Tsebelis) that with more players having the ability to say no, the harder it is to reach agreement.  This makes any existing agreements much harder to change.  The joy and the pain of parliamentary government (especially British-style, ironically enough) is that all you need to do to change lots of stuff is have a simple majority in seats.  So, I have no doubt that the PQ will repeal Bill 115 when it gets into power.  I am not a huge fan of the bill, as I view it as the Liberals selling out their Anglophone and immigrant constituents (not to mention principals perhaps).  I don't have to imagine the PQ doing worse as they have already promised to do so--removing the English private school option entirely for immigrants.  I am just hoping that the political process takes long enough that my daughter is out of high school before she gets kicked out of her school. 

The irony is that I am mighty upset about how the US Senate operates these days, with a super-majority required to get anything done, but I would love to have a super-majority requirement for the big decisions in Quebec.  Unfortunately, requiring more than fifty percent plus one only applies to leadership battles within the PQ.

Deja Vu Day at the Spew

In other news, the US may have to cut off aid to Pakistani military units implicated in war crimes.  Congress requires it, as the Leahy amendment, named after Senator Leahy of Vermont*, restricts $$$ going to military to military interactions with war criminals essentially.  During my year in the Pentagon, I was curious about the role played by Congress in the US foreign policy process.  It seemed largely invisible, but then things like the Leahy amendment would remind me that the decisions made about US interactions around the world are constrained by laws (rule of law oh my!).

During my time on the Bosnia desk, the Leahy amendment was of serious concern, as we were trying to develop better relations with the militaries of Bosnia (two-ish--Bosnian Federation and Serbian entity or RS).  A key element was to have more interactions since the belief was that mil to mil engagement helps to socialize the other guy's military into western practices and values, including civilian control.  A key part of the process in the cases of Bosnia and Serbia was vetting the units and individuals involved to make sure no money was being spent on interacting with folks who engaged in war crimes. 

So, now this legislation is coming back into play.  The Obama Administration cannot choose to ignore the war crimes being committed by its allies, no matter how inconvenient, due to this old but still relevant law.    Plus Leahy is still around to take it seriously:
“I told the White House that I have real concerns about the Pakistani military’s actions, and I’m not going to close my eyes to it because of our national interests in Pakistan,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the author of the amendment, said Wednesday from his home in Vermont. “If the law is going to have teeth, it has to be taken seriously. Pakistan’s military leaders have made encouraging statements about addressing these issues, but this requires more than statements.”
Of course, it may seem hypocritical for the US to try to enforce standards of conduct after Abu Ghraib, rendition and all the rest.  It reveals the limits of Congress: regulations over how to spend money are very binding, but forcing the US govt to follow its own standards is harder.  Especially when Congress actually acts now to prevent the US from doing what is right--such as closing Guantanamo.

*  I did see Sen. Leahy one time while living in Vermont when we were at the same restaurant (Vermont is a small state).  And, yes, his head actually looks bigger in person. I almost felt its gravitational force.

PIFWC's and Red Lines

A PIFWC is a person indicted for war crimes.  A red line is a key condition that must be satisfied.  Together, during my time in the Pentagon, this jargon served as a key limit on interactions with Serbia.  Unless Serbia helped with the capturing of key PIFWCs, especially Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the US would not be able to develop complete relations with Serbia, and this also applied to NATO and EU, preventing Serbia's admission.  Kardzic is now at the Hague, but the NYT reminds us that Mladic is still hiding in Serbia

The article talks about the tradeoffs between moving on and the commitment to human rights.  Among his many crimes, Mladic was on the scene and in command at Srebenica, where the Bosnia Serbs overran a UN safe area (oxymoron?) and selected out and executed thousands of Muslim men and boys.   

If the EU lets in Serbia without Mladic being turned over, I guess that is the last nail in conditionality's coffin.  That is, I (with Bill Ayres) have argued in my second book and elsewhere that these conditions for applicants to NATO and the EU are not as strict as often asserted.  Cyprus got into the EU without setting its border dispute.  Romania and Bulgaria got in despite having severely flawed rule of law (that is, big time corruption problems).  Letting in Serbia even if it handed over Mladic is questionable since it probably does not mean many of the other enunciated standards (border disputes, anyone?  Oh yeah, that Kosovo thing.  Never mind). 
Although the European Union halted accession talks in 2006 when Serbia failed to arrest Mr. Mladic, Dutch diplomats say they are now the lone holdouts for an arrest as a prerequisite for resuming the discussions. They are hoping to forestall action until December, when Mr. Brammertz issues his annual report evaluating Serbia’s effort in the manhunt. In the last few days, to the consternation of some E.U. officials, he has called for more aggressiveness.
Why are the Dutch holding the line on this?  Because their units were present in Srebrenic in 1995 and got to witness genocide up close and the Dutch feel a responsibility for the event, having failed to prevent or stop it.  A report about Srebrenica caused a Dutch government to collapse in 2002.  So, the Dutch take Srebrenica more seriously than the rest of the EU. 

Is it right to delay admission based on the plight of just one guy?  Perhaps not.  But perhaps it is if the pursuit is inhibited by parts of the government, raising questions about the extent of civilian control of the military.  That is an essential ingredient of democracy, so I guess it really depends not just on the sincerity of Serb promises but the quality of Serbian democracy. 
“This game has been going on now for five to six years,” a Western diplomat said. “They are either waiting for him to die — a stroke or kidney problems — or hoping to get into the European Union without doing anything.”
I actually think the conditions should matter, just that they have not.  I'd like to see Serbia kept out until it demonstrates enough control over its own security apparatus, and sending Mladic to The Hague would be a suitable demonstration.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Pathway to More Civility?

How do we get people to observe the norms of our society, like no butting in line?

Hmm, perhaps that might be a tad extreme.

Limited Progress on Concussions

Alan Schwarz continues his excellent work on the concussion and football story.  This time, he focuses on the helmet industry, and we are not surprised to find that there is little regulation here. Much needs to be changed, like how teams practice, how the media covers the big hits, but helmets would seem to be a logical first step, especially for the kids.  No brainer, really (pardon the pun).  Much progress on awareness the past year or so, in large part to Schwarz.  Still much room for improvement on everything else. 

The story is pretty disturbing as some companies will just wait for new standards and see that as acceptable, while standards-setter is waiting, apparently, for a perfect understanding before moving forward, that a tradeoff between skull fractures and concussions (which may or may not exist) is an excuse for doing nothing now.
Art Chou, vice president of Rawlings, agreed: “We’re not in the standards-making business. We make equipment focused on standards given to us.” Chou also serves on the Nocsae board.
Oy!  This is juxtaposed with other companies that say they are on the cutting edge on this but might be making exaggerated claims, such as Ridelll.  I think I would buy the exaggerator's helmet rather than one from the complacent companies. 
Along with Riddell, the company most emphasizing concussion safety is Xenith, whose X1 model is making inroads among high schools, colleges and the N.F.L. The X1 features a radical new design: air-filled shock absorbers that attempt to withstand a wider range of forces than traditional foam. Xenith’s founder and president, the former Harvard quarterback Vin Ferrara, said the Nocsae standard had discouraged innovation among other companies and was “wholly inadequate” for modern football.
This is where government should play a role--that regulation is required when the market does not operate so well.  Especially when the ignorance is vast:
The fact that helmets are held to no standard regarding concussions surprised almost every one of dozens of people interviewed for this article, from coaches and parents to doctors and league officials. Even one member of the Nocsae board, Grant Teaff — who represents the American Football Coaches Association — said he was unaware of it.
 When we ponder who is doing the regulating, this kind of news should not surprise us, but does nonetheless:
Nocsae’s annual budget of about $1.7 million is funded mostly by sporting-goods manufacturers whose products bear the Nocsae seal of approval. The largest share of that comes from football helmet makers and reconditioners.
 Lovely.  No wonder no progress is being made.  My curiosity is thus satisfied.  No more info is required to figure out why we have no concussion standards for football helmets.  Makes me glad that my kid does not play football--I can understand why we have cheap and crappy helmets and why we will be stuck with them for the near future.

Progress? In COIN, Hard to Tell

Stories are coming out of Kandahar that the latest effort is pushing the insurgents back into Pakistan.  It does sound like this is an improved effort (interesting but not surprising that no Canadians are mentioned in the NYT article).  But there has always been little doubt that NATO can force the Taliban out of a particular hole.  The challenge is keeping them out. 
A Taliban fighter reached by telephone, who spoke to a reporter only on condition that he not be named, confirmed that the insurgents had pulled back but would seek to reinfiltrate once the main push was over. “We are not there anymore, we are not preparing to fight a big battle, but we are waiting,” he said. “We are waiting until this force has been exhausted and has done all they are supposed to do, and later on our fighters will re-enter the area.”
 The real issue is the longer term effort to protect the population and develop some kind of competence.  The series at Slate on training the police does not give one much confidence.

Still, to be fair, this stuff takes time, so it may be the case that progress is being made.  But the larger question remains--will the US and its pals hang out long enough to make a lasting difference. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Typical Americanist Hegemony

My pal, little Steve, posted about 10 Things Political Scientists Know, from an article on that topic.  It includes:
  • Parties matter.
  • Independents aren't as independent as one would think.
  • Elections are mostly about the economy and other basic stuff, not so much campaigns.
  • The will of the people does not exist nor are there really mandates.
While there is some generic poli sci stuff here, the only real comparative stuff is on Duverger's law: the type of electoral system largely influences the number of parties.  My big complaint--the framing of the paper as it is not about what Political Scientists know but what Americanists know.  That is, it is about what scholars of American politics "know".  Not scholars of International Relations, Political Theory or Comparative Politics (or Public Admin or Public Policy, who we often exclude from our definition of Political Science).  This is not uncommon since Americanists tend to see themselves as The Discipline with everyone else as hangers on.  Of course, it is really the reverse.  The US is just a single case in the study of comparative politics, and the US is just one country in IR, even it is the most important one due to its relative power. 

I grew up (that is, went to grad school) where the Americanists were particularly imperialistic in attitude--that their theories and approaches should and will be applied everywhere.  While their smugness made life uncomfortable at times, it was actually productive, as their tools tended to be quite handy for understanding a variety of comparative and IR questions.  I find myself know regretting not taking American Politics at UCSD as I am now applying principal-agency theory to NATO.  Ok, not regretting that much, but it could have helped.

Anyway, we could come up with a top ten list for each subfield.  Since I do IR, what are ten things that IR types know? Hmmmn.  In no special order:
  1. War is not rational except when it is.  That is, war is costly so losers should give in before they lose.  So, we need to focus on incentives to misrepresent, the difficulty of credible commitments, and whether the stakes are divisible or not.
  2. War is about territory.  Mostly about the ethnic/linguistic/identity content of such territory, but territorial disputes are at the heart of wars.
  3. There is no world government.  That is really important.  We disagree on the implications, but anarchy is key.
  4. Alliances are far more problematic than people think.  Allies are not always so helpful.
  5. Cooperation is really hard, as temptations to cheat are everywhere.  Yet it happens all the time.  Is life just one big prisoner's dilemma?  Maybe.
  6. Power matters.  Scholars disagree if power determines the national interest, but outcomes are largely shaped by power differentials.
  7. But war is not always won by the side with the biggest and mostest.  Asymmetries in power are often overwhelmed by asymmetries of interest.
  8. Democracies do not fight much with each other.  There is discrimination in IR as democracies tend to resolve their disputes amongst themselves.
  9. All politics is local--politicians' destinies are mostly determined at home.  Domestic politics matters a great deal, and the politics really does not stop at the water's edge.
  10. IR scholars are easily annoyed by Americanists.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who is the New Mr. C?

With the passing of Tom Bosley, I pondered with my family about the changes in TV.  Mr. C was the ideal and iconic father of the 1970s (yes, the show was set in the 1950's, but you know what I mean).  We have several contenders for the 1960's, but I would choose Mr. Brady--so many kids, so many problems, so many haircuts.  Bill Cosby's character is such an obvious choice for the 1980's.  It gets harder in the 1990's, but I would choose John Goodman's character in Roseanne.  But what about since then?  Which father is the one that is seen as both ideal and iconic for the Aughts?  Tony Soprano is clearly an iconic father, but hardly ideal.  Ray of Everybody Loves Raymond was on a popular show, but did anyone see him as being a positive and widely appreciated dad?  Freaks and Geeks was way too underviewed and ran too short for Joe Flaherty's character to make it.

Two things happened in the past 10 years or so: TV fragmented and family sitcoms largely disappeared.  We have so many more channels and programs that no one show will be nearly as influential as the Brady Bunch, Happy Days or Roseanne were.  Plus the popular comedies are relationship shows (Friends, How I Met Your Mother) or workplace comedies (The Office, 30 Rock), not family sitcoms.  Perhaps we will have more in the Teens with Modern Family and its imitators.  Of course, which father is most likely to be an icon in Modern Family?  Probably Cam!  Wouldn't that be something--a gay man as the iconic father!

So, I ask the readers, who is your favorite TV father of the Aughts? 

Crystalizing Moments

I was struck today about how long term problems suddenly become addressed in a semi-sudden (or apparently so) surge of collective action.  The trigger for my thinking: purple tights.  Not a reference to one of my favorite picture books when my kid was younger.  Nope, my kid is wearing purple tights to school tomorrow since she is allowed/encouraged to accessorize with purple stuff tomorrow as part of an anti-bullying and especially anti-bullying of gay people campaign.  As I discussed with her, teenage gays committing suicide is not new at all, but has become a bigger cause this fall after some publicized suicides and new energy given to the tolerance movement. 

The anti-concussion effort in the National Football League (which I have discussed repeatedly here) has gained new energy this week after a series of particularly nasty helmet-to-helmet hits.  Now the question is not so much keeping guys off the field (although the Tuesday Morning QB suggests that some should not return anytime soon at all) but penalizing the hitters with suspensions.  Even Rodney Harrison, who was an exceptionally hard-hitter as a safety (an ironic position name), has come out for more suspensions and penalties.  The NFL seems to be a bit more serious this week, but we shall see.  The league and the media still glorify the really hard hits.  While I think I understand that a hard hit can lead to a fumble or a dropped ball, perhaps football can still be football without quite this level of crunching.  We shall see.

Mine safety is also getting a bit more attention.  The Chilean story, an amazing one, is not the first time that miners have been at risk.  It is an incredibly dangerous occupation.  It does seem that there is a bit of momentum pushing back against deregulation. 

Anyhow, for all of the flaws of Gladwell's work, there do seem to be tipping points--that changes in attitudes, awareness and/or political power can produce some significant changes in the politics of things.  Of course, I am hoping that the US does not tip so far the wrong way in reaction to these harsh economic times....

Non-Strategic Thinking UK style

Ok, so the Canadians may not have thought that seriously about what the F-35 would be used for.  Well, as I discussed earlier, the Brits seem to be cutting their military without thinking that hard about for which purposes they might use their armed forces.  And now it gets worse.  They are making such deep cuts in their army that they will no longer be so special--that they will not be able to put more than a brigade into a long-lasting commitment.  This makes them pretty ordinary to the US, which will ultimately have significant repercussions for British influence.  Hard choices must be made, certainly.  Not clear that having carriers but no ability to sustain land operations makes a lot of sense.  Perhaps the UK is moving back to being only a naval power, like it used to be a long time ago.  Of course, having a 25 ship navy with carriers sans planes may not be much of a naval power either. 

All Students Looking for a Law School Recommendation

Watch this:

I have so many students seeking recommendations for law school.  I wish this video would deter them. It will not.  My efforts to dissuade them (in person or via my blog) almost always fail.  Of course, it may be because i provide few good alternatives.

HT to Dan Drezner's tweet for this.

Surging and Talking

This op-ed suggests that the surge in Afghanistan is working--that there is significant pressure on the Taliban in Afghanistan.  It also suggests that the Taliban have already calculated that whatever Obama decides next year, it is not going to mean a large or complete withdrawal.  Together, this means that this is the time to talk to the Taliban, as they are now in a position of increasing weakness.

Hmmm.  I do think that one does need to talk to the adversary, as civil wars end in two ways usually---decisive victory or a negotiated settlement and the former is simply not going to happen.  But, I find it a bit hard to believe that the Taliban is convinced of the resolve of the US.  American allies are unsure, particularly Karzai, so I am not so sure that the enemy is expecting the US to stick around for a long time.

On the other hand, other dynamics might be mattering:
Personal connections, which have been essential to the cohesion of the movement, have been broken by the deaths of many mid-ranking commanders and their replacement by younger and lesser-known successors. Regional and local commanders have become more independent and less likely to follow orders that go against their personal interests; for example, in the way that they raise and use money, often keeping it for themselves rather than passing it back to their leaders for redistribution. Following Afghan tradition, local commanders are building independent fiefs that they will be reluctant to relinquish.
This is good news and bad.  Fragmentation of the Taliban would make it somewhat more likely that pieces of it will turn and settle with the government, especially if they are mostly interested in being bought off.  But as the new generation of scholarship on civil war indicates, the more actors one has to bargain with, the longer the war lasts.

Of course, the real question is what would the Taliban elements need in an settlement?  Slots in government?  Just payoffs?  Just hunks of Afghanistan?  The devil is more than in just the details but in the major pieces of any agreement: what happens to the foreigners (NATO and AQ)? how is power alloted? who gets to keep what weapons?  How is the government altered.

None of these are easy questions, and, as someone at a conference I was at this weekend remarked, these kinds of negotiations take years.  Will the US and its allies be able to keep up the pressure, if such pressure is already sufficient?  The article asserts that the current level of pressure is sufficient.  I am not so sure, and I am more doubtful that it can be maintained.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Story of the Week to Follow: A-Stan Police Reform

At Slate, Christopher Beam is doing several stories on efforts to build an Afghan National Police.  This is one of  the big keys to success or failure in Afghanistan.  The police have been a huge problem in Afghanistan (even worse than you can imagine) with not just corruption in the form of bribes but abuse of power.  This article depicts the challenges pretty well
 The ANPs could use the help. They have a reputation as the delinquents of the Afghan National Security Forces. Schooling levels are low. Corruption abounds. Drugs and misbehavior are commonplace. It's no secret why: When the Taliban fell to coalition forces in late 2001, the new government's priority was national security, which meant beefing up the Afghan National Army. The ANA thus got its pick of Afghanistan's best warriors. Unlike the Army, which has a long pre-Taliban history, the ANP was starting from scratch. And in many ways, it still is.
 Germany agreed to lead the ANP effort at first, which, to me, is kind of a joke since the Germans could not operate in the South or East.  And in the North, they can only mentor the ANP on base, which is pretty ineffective.

The MPs, on the other hand, seem to be suited for the task:
Military police, by contrast, are built for diplomacy, he says. They work in police departments back home. They're used to community policing—going on patrols, maintaining a presence in the neighborhood, asking folks what the police could be doing better, and generally getting to know the people they're protecting. In theory, they're ideal counterinsurgents.
 Well, actually, the MPs are not ideal counterinsurgents--the local police, if they are good, are the ideal COIN-operators.  Which makes this effort so important.

Keep following this series this week.  I know I will.

*  I like the five S's for encountering potential threats, reminds me of the five d's of dodgeball.
** Interesting take of where the MPs are in the military hierarchy.  Reminds me of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child (damn addicting series of thrillers).

All We Need is Love?

Pondering Sonny and Cher:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reaping What You Sow

The Awakening is, as many of expected, starting to fall apart.  The Sunnis who turned against the Extremists and sided with the US during the Surge are now starting to return to the Extremists.  Why?  There are many arguments, but the clearest reason to do so is that they do not trust the Iraqi government. 
"The defections have been driven in part by frustration with the Shiite-led government, which Awakening members say is intent on destroying them, as well as by pressure from Al Qaeda. The exodus has accelerated since Iraq’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in March, which have left Sunnis uncertain of retaining what little political influence they have and which appear to have provided Al Qaeda new opportunities to lure back fighters"
As I have been saying for years, the question is how will the majority treat the minority?  And as I have been arguing more recently, the question is not so much of state capacity (what the government can do) but restraint and assurance--can governments assure the populace that it will not be a threat?  The Iraqi government has been breaking promises made to the Sunnis that switched sides.  This bodes poorly for the future of Iraq, and there is little the US or anyone else can do now to get the Iraqi government to change course.

This Week in Dysfunctional Quebec Politics

I missed several days of Quebec news while hanging out at Mount Holyoke for a conference on "Building Coalitions to Build States."  And a theme emerges: none of the parties here look too good.
  • Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois (the separatist party that runs at the federal level) was in DC, trying to sell his cause with the twin messages of the inevitability of a successful referendum on independence and on how good it would be for the US.  The coverage suggests that he was not terribly convincing on either score.  Regarding the latter, it has been historically the case that American leaders have wanted to stay out of this issue, but have also indicated that they would prefer for Canada to stick together.  Quebec separatists tend to forget that the American Civil War continues to make secession rather unpopular.
  • The Parti Quebecois (the provincial separatist party) was riding high until this week.  News of a potential third party emerging proved to be most distressing.  A possible center-right Francophone party immediately polled as well as the PQ.  The striking thing is that the new party would be essentially putting separatism away, trying to focus on governance.  That a non-separatist Francophone party would immediately divide the PQ vote suggests that much of the support for the PQ is not about separatism but (justified) frustration with the province's Liberal Party.  This means that pushing on separatism would actually not be the way to go.  Hmmm.
  • Which brings us to the Liberals of Quebec.  They have called a special session of the National Assembly to push through the reforms to the language laws governing education (which I have discussed frequently here).  One columnist here has tried to figure out whether this tactic reflects that the party is sneaky or stupid, arguing for the former.  That is, did the Liberals screw up the legislative calendar or are they trying to sneak the legislation through in a way that minimizes controversy?  I would argue it is a mix of both, as they have to figure out a way to sell out their Anglophone supporters not too obviously without providing too much meat for the PQ to chew over.  The Liberals have clearly governed too long, making everyone tired of them, and looking for a change.  The problem, as the discussion above suggests, is that the alternative (the PQ) is not very attractive.  
While the political ads in the US (I saw more than a few while in Massachusetts) are pretty depressing, I find voting there to be far less depressing than if I had the right to vote here. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It Could Be Worse: We Could Be British

The budget crises at American and Canadian colleges and universities could be worse--the British are cutting not just to the bone but beyond.   80% cuts in government support for higher ed?  And suddenly?  Expect more classes in North American to be taught in British accents.  But, of course, they will face steep competition from already glutted job markets.  What will become of UK schools?  Tuition hikes are inevitable.  If the govt refuses to lift caps on tuition while doing this, then it is hard to imagine the damage done to their universities. 

While cuts anywhere hurt, it has been made abundantly clear over the years, that money spent on higher education is a sound investment, leading to growth in the neighborhood as well as building intellectual capital for the next generation.  These cuts basically mean that the UK is going to undermine its future far worse than what has been happening on my side of the Atlantic.

All I can say is good luck to my friends in these nasty times.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Too Many Tests?

Check out this site.  It depicts the nuclear bomb explosions over time.  Pretty dramatic.

A Stranger in a Strange Land

I am at a conference at Mount Holyoke, an all-women's school nestled in the hills and trees of western Massachusetts.  As I walked around yesterday during one of the short breaks, I was very aware of being a distinct minority on campus.  I rarely saw any other males while I was walking around.  I did see many more campus cop cars than I usually do on an average college campus, but could not tell if the cops were males or females.  But I did wonder why the patrols were so frequent.  My self-centered-ness made me think that they might have been eyeing me as I was an anomaly. 

The funny thing is that, despite the constant vigilance (Mad-Eye Moody's catchphrase, or, at least, his imitator's) potentially aimed against me, I feel more secure than normal.  I left my computer bag in the conference room when we went off to lunch rather than being paranoid about the possibility of theft.  Why I am so "chill" about computer security?
  • It might just be the idyllic quality that this beautiful small college generates a relaxed attitude about security. 
  • Or it might be an unconscious idea that women are not as acquisitive (thief-ish) as males.  
  • Or it might be that with my use of dropbox (, I don't really worry anymore since my data exists somewhere else.  But I love my new laptop, so its theft would be a drag. 
I don't know.  Too many explanations, not enough observations.  Classic social science challenge.

All I do know is that this is an incredibly beautiful campus: lakes, creeks, trees in full fall color, hills, nice buildings, huge campus for a small liberal arts college.  And the students are very smart.  A few of them joined us last night for the reception and dinner.  They asked sharp questions.  In sum, an impressive place, even with frequent police patrols. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You Know You Have Made It When

The Simpsons disses you:

I don't mind this at all, since an attitude that McGill is the Harvard of Canada does no one any favors except the t-shirt makers.  As I have said before, the students are terrific at McGill and I would match them with those anywhere else.  But thinking that a school is already number 1 tends to create an attitude that changes are not required.  Why fix what isn't broken?  Um, because you can do better.  Instead, there tends to be a satisfaction with how things have always been done because, hey, we are the Harvard of Canada.

So, if the Simpsons can just shake this attitude just a bit, it would be a good thing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ask The Reader: Canada and the Security Council

Much blaming now for who messed up Canada's application to be on the UN Security Council.  I scoffed yesterday, as I fell back on my UN-skepticism.  But before asking the reading about the relevance of this all, we might want to think why Canada fell short in votes. 
Possibilities include:
  • Domestic disunity.  I find this pretty dubious, as most voting countries probably were not aware of Ignatieff's stance.
  • Friends of Dubai: The timing of the vote is pretty bad, given the conflict with the UAE over Emirates Airlines and Camp Mirage.  
  • Countries at sea level: Canada has not been making progress on the reduction of global warming emissions.  Indeed, it has gotten worse, rather than better.
  • Opponents of Canada's Arctic Sovereignty: Russia, Denmark, maybe Norway.
  • Friends of Portugal: Lots of finger-pointing here but it was a competition for votes and Portugal might have done something right, rather than Canada doing something wrong.  EU membership has its privileges, including getting support from members, those aspiring to membership, and those that just want to get on the EU's good side.
The question is, though, aside from the blow to Canada's collective ego, what is lost by not being on the UNSC?  That is my question to the readers, as I am blinded by my UN-skepticism.

Too Little, Too Late?

It is 2010, and it seems that only now that there are adequate trainers on the ground in Afghanistan.  It has always been the case that the Afghan Army and Police would require a massive investment to even have a chance of success.  But many opportunities and time were lost.  And doing it faster is not necessarily doing it better.
 Early this year, the Pentagon and senior Afghan and American officers in Kabul insisted that the complex operation to re-establish a government presence in Marja, a Taliban stronghold, was “Afghan led.”  It was not. And many Afghan units, by the accounts of many Americans present, performed poorly. Some units openly shirked combat duty — refusing to patrol, or sending a bare minimum of soldiers on American patrols, sometimes only a pair of soldiers to accompany an American platoon. The remaining Afghans stayed behind, lounging in the relative safety of outposts the Americans secured.
It has always been a tough, tough mission given the starting point of an illiterate pool of potential recruits.  This story provides a pretty even-handed perspective.   The frustrating thing is that people are asking for patience now, but nine years have elapsed.  It is not their fault that much of that time was wasted, but the reality is that patience has its limits.  It will be interesting to see what comes of the next review--how realistic it is and what choices become available to Obama. 

Go with the Flow

A federal judge has ruled against Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Given that the Obama Administration has not and will not be able to get the policy changed via legislation (due to an out of touch Congress), it would seem that that the best course of action is to let this stand rather than appeal.  Thus far, the Obama folks have defended a bunch of policies that they originally seemed to oppose.  This time, just maybe, they can let a good decision stand.

I will be very confused if the Obama legal folks choose otherwise.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bad Day for Canadian Diplomacy

Canada starts the day with news that the UAE is serious about using its waning leverage over Camp Mirage to get more landing slots for Emirates Airline.  Then, it fails to get enough votes to beat Portugal, so the quest for a UN Security Council slot fails.  PM Harper blames the Liberal opposition for not being united enough.  Sure.

So, this may cause some angst up here.  My take is that the UNSC is only a big deal if you make it one.  While Canadians tend to care a great deal more about the UN than Americans (except for those who think it controls black helicopters), the UNSC is significant but not always relevant.  How would Canada cash in there, other than ego-wise?  If it has to sell out a bunch of policy positions to get on the Security Council, then the question would be if it is worth more than what is sold.  It is not a tradeoff-free situation.  Since only the big five have vetoes, the temp members have limited influence: anything that gets past all of the big five is going to be relatively uncontroversial so that Canada's vote would not be that important.  Getting a super-majority in the SC is likely if the big five agree.  And if they don't and one vetoes, then a super-majority does not matter.

Does this mean that the world hates Canada?  No.  Does it mean that Portugal has more friends in the world?  Not so sure.  The Canadian effort seems to have been late and inept, and perhaps, just perhaps Canadian diplomats did not sell out where the Portuguese did.  We will need more info to judge, but this is not nearly as important as the media will make it out to be.

Of course, I am a UN-skeptic, so take this with a grain of salt if you will.

The Plane! The Planes!

The combination of trade dispute/military basing agreement between Canada and the United Arab Emirates just got that much visible today when the UAE denied a C-17 carrying the Canadian Minister of Defence and Chief of Defence Staff from landing.  The dispute is this: Canada has leased a base in Dubai--Camp Mirage--and the UAE will only renew the agreement if Canada allows the national airline of the UAE to have many more landing slots at Canadian airports.  The Emirates airline wants to fly more regularly to Toronto as well as having flights into Vancouver and Calgary.  The fear is that it would ultimate replace Air Canada as a major link to the Mideast and perhaps even more locally as Toronto might become a hub for Emirates flights around North America. 

The interesting thing is how much hardball the UAE is playing.  They are antagonizing a country with which they have had good relations on a core security issue--a logistics base for operations in Afghanistan--to promote their national airline.  While a colleague joked about how Emirates replacing Air Canada would be a win for the Canadian flying public, I am not surprised that Canada is being stubborn.  Just as the UAE is promoting its national airline, Canada is protecting its national airline.  And now the UAE has gone one step further by denying the landing of the senior military leadership even though there is still about a month left on the lease.  I don't see Canada caving in now that it has been slapped in its collective face. 

Perhaps the UAE is pushing so hard now because they understand that its leverage is expiring.  Once the Canadians depart Afghanistan in 2011, Camp Mirage will not be relevant any longer for Canada.  It is unlikely that the UAE would do this to other space-consumers in and near Dubai--the US--since they have other interests, including their own security.

This is an interesting case, as it turns things around.  Usually, economic carrots are promised to get progress on a security issue, like when the US promised the Soviet Union better access to American markets in exchange for progress on a variety of Detente issues  (arms control, Helsinki Accords, etc).  Or countries will receive economic assistance in exchange for basing rights.  Here, the priority is the other way around--promising a security benefit in exchange for compromise on an economic issue.  Linkage in the past has been a mixed bag, as countries may get offended by the bribery/extortion implications.  Still, this is a very interesting case.  Bears watching not just for those of us who use Air Canada or have hung out overnight at Camp Mirage but for IR scholars who care about how security and economic issues bump into each other.

*  When I was part of a group of Canadian scholars flown to Afghanistan via Camp Mirage, we were not supposed to identify to others where the base was located, even though it was listed as being in Dubai in Wikipedia.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tales in Bureaucratic Politics

To keep two new carrier projects, the British Navy is proposing very deep cuts.  So deep that the carriers may not have any planes to launch.  This leads to all kinds of speculation--like building big carriers and then either using them for helos (which will not operate too well if anyone else has planes) or just have them standby in mothballs.  Contracts are a bitch, apparently.  Seems like the need to make a hard choice is making it hard to make a decent choice.  Hard decisions do not have to be bad ones, but that seems to be the only ones being taken seriously right now.

HT to Pete Trumbore for linking to this.

Star Trek Is So Classic

Captain Kirk explains that "We the People" applies to everyone--whether we like them or not.  Gosh, yes, Canadian over-actor, gosh, yes!

Football Play that Bests Resembes a University's Administration

Worst onside kick ever?  Perhaps. 

Why Don't I Post Much About Baseball?

Because I am a Mets fan, having lived my first several years of my life in the shadow of Shea Stadium and having Tom Seaver as my favorite player.  And it has been a frustrating few years with the best hitter letting strike three slide by and then repeated September collapses.  Now, they are making a clean sweep of the decision-makers and seeing the team for what it is, perhaps, rather than what we hope it to be. 

Aside from getting a great general manager, I have one suggest to borrow from the Phoenix Suns: invest in a much better training and medical staff.  The Mets have had repeated conflicts with their players and have had little success keeping people off of the injured list.  Perhaps if they can find folks who are as skilled as those that have kept Steve Nash on the court, the Mets might have a shot to endure 162 games and then some.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What do South Park and Mad Man Have in Common?


You Have The Right to What, Eh?

Not to a lawyer in Canada apparently.  You have the right to an attorney, to call one after being arrested, to consult with one, but you do not have the right to have one present while being questioned.  Given what we know about coercion and confessions, this decision is deeply troubling. 

The judges were ruling in three separate cases in which suspects had asked in mid-interrogation to speak to their lawyers again.  They said that suspects should be allowed to consult again with a lawyer only if something happens in the interrogation room to change their situation dramatically.
Remind me not to get arrested in Canada.  We already know that people will confess after long hours of interrogation, but this does not produce justice.  Well, that is if justice means getting the right person as opposed to getting just anyone. 

I look forward to my more legally-educated colleagues to rant about this decision, as I am no expert on the law.  But I think I am in good company in thinking that this ruling stinks. 

Sometimes the Realists are Right

SecDef Gates is in Vietnam, holding talks that partially (mainly?) focus on how to respond to the rising Chinese challenge.  The US and Vietnam have some differences, although much fewer than a decade or two ago, but their relationship is now quite normalized.  Some tiffs over human rights perhaps, but there is much in common--specifically that China is not only getting more powerful but it is exercising that power in threatening ways.
The defense secretary’s expected arguments to China are clear: Beijing’s dash to become a global economic power requires it to honor accepted standards for sharing oceans and airspace, and harassment of ships and airplanes in international lanes off its shores benefits none and will only harm Beijing’s long-term interests.
The shared threat is not the only reason that the US and Vietnam can put behind the past--that has been in process for quite some time.  But it does make the past even more irrelevant and more in the background.