Friday, December 31, 2010

By Your Command

I always do what my readers want.  Steve Greene wanted me to blog about grade inflation, as reported in the NYT, so here I am. Grades are going up.  This is neither bad nor good.  Done.

So, Steve G., what kind of grade would give you me for that?  What?!  I deserve more.  I worked really hard at that blog entry.  I did all of the reading and everything.

Actually, I may not be the best person to talk about such stuff.  At a school where grade DEflation is the rule and in a department where some of my colleagues will allot 3 and only 3 A's to a class of 300, I tend to be the pushover.  My Intro class averaged a borderline B+.  Of course, this might be due to a bunch of folks fleeing somewhere along the way, so perhaps it would have been a B.  Still, that is high by historical standards for an Intro course.  The average for my upper division class was a more solid B+ this time around.

What are my standards for an A?  That student did the work, understood the stuff, and demonstrated an ability to think about the stuff in discussions and in written work.  The problem I have at McGill is that the undergrads really do the work, really think about it, and can articulate their views very well.  Not only that, but they demand to be challenged.  My first teaching evals told me that my course was too easy, that the exams did not challenge them and that they knew more than I thought.  Well, I had based my courses on my prior experience where the students did not have as strong backgrounds, did not see higher education as much more than a certification for the future job, and were pretty happy with a B.  So, I had to change things up when I came here.

The article suggests that profs grade easier to get better evaluations, but I am not so sure.  First, tough profs who do a good job get fine evals.  Second, profs care less about their evals and more about their time.  So, the real grade inflator would be profs choosing the easy way out to avoid whiny students complaining about grades.  Again, I am lucky in that McGill students seem to be less whiny than those elsewhere.  There are still grade complaints, and they can add up if the class has 600 students.  But I don't give relatively high grades to avoid whiny students, at least not consciously.  I give grades to students based on what I think they deserve.  I don't think I should give students lesser grades if they do all that I expect.  And I don't think it is right to give Cs to students who do all the work, try really hard and just don't get it as well as the others.  I reserve C's and lower grades for students who do not do the work.

The funny thing is that I have never received instructions or expectations from on high about what averages I should target.  Of course, it I were to receive something like that, I am not sure how well it would work.  I just finished the first few episodes of season three of The Wire, where senior police officers encourage those lower in the chain to fudge the statistics by charging people for misdemeanors rather than felonies to keep the serious crime rate down.

The other challenge is that this really is a many player prisoner's dilemma or collective action problem: if my school is tough and everyone else is easy, then our students will be at a competitive disadvantage for admission to grad school.  Perhaps this is doing them a favor since grad school may not be the right choice these days.  Still, it may be unfair.  So, in my letters of recommendation, I do note that McGill does have a grade deflation.  Whether that matters or not, I do not know.

Ok, Steve G., what is my grade for this post?  B?  B+?  Whiiiiiiinnnnnnne!

Blogging Resolutions

Dan Drezner has once again inspired me by his post--nine tendencies among foreign policy commentators of which he would like to see less.  The good news is that I am not guilty of most of these tendencies:
  • talking about existential threats (although our shared Zombie interest would fall into that category); 
  • using irrational to describe Iran or North Korea (I save that for media outlets that put on failures like Michael Brown of formerly FEMA fame);
  • thinking that wikileaks is just like a newspaper.  I like Drezner's take: an NGO with a quixotic leader who really doesn't like the U.S. government... which makes Wikileaks like a lot of other NGOs."  I tink more IR work could be on NGOs that are not such happy ones (too much focus on Amnesty International, not enough focus on the malevolent ones).
  • I find the argument about Obama and American exceptionalism silly so number four does not apply.
  • I tend not to focus on American grand strategy so number five does not apply.
  • Ditto for number six.
  • I do not see Palin as a harbinger of anything besides the demise of the Republican party, so we can move on.
  • I am not opposed to numbers in IR.  Indeed, I use them when they support my argument when someone else has gathered handy data I ask questions  which can be addressed through quantitative analysis.
  • His last refers to zombies.  Check.
Ok, so what should I resolve to do better in 2011 in blog (my personal resolutions focus more on the usual diet, exercise, listening better stuff)?
  • Perhaps I should read an entire article before I start drafting some spewage.  I have found lately that my post needs much revising to make semi-coherent when I realize that the piece I am reading anticipated my criticisms.  Or, more likely, I failed to see where the argument was going.
  • I need to do a bit more work and try to apply some of my background to some of the current events, rather than jumping on an easy target, like the latest Republican Homophobe to be outed.
  • Less name-calling (Stephen Harper is a weenie).
  • Less harping on Quebec nationalism, until the PQ and its ilk give me an excuse (I would take odds on this resolution being busted the soonest).
  • I have tended to obsess about Afghanistan for a variety of reasons.  Ten days there in 2007 does not make me an expert.  I should focus more on what other countries are doing in Afghanistan, which is something I can discuss rather than corruption/Karzai.
  • I resolve that my readers will answer the "Ask the Reader" questions that I occasionally post (might as well resolve to do something that I cannot do).
Suggestion for a better year of spew?  Cannot spend any more time on Lost.  No Mad Men for eight months.  So, what should I do?

Oh, and Happy New Year!  We only have 365 days until 2012.  And that is the year the world ends. So, let's get to it.

End of 2010: Lessons Learned

What have we (or I) have learned during the last year of the Aughts or the first year of the Teens, depending on how one counts?
  • Failure seems to be the best way to get ahead (see Sarah Palin).
  • George Bush has more class than Rumsfeld or Cheney, by staying off of the scene.  Of course, he could just be engrossed in a really good comic book.
  • 3D is not going to work as profit sauce, added to movies that do not need it to increase the ticket prices.
  • Obama might be really smart after all.  Was the burst during the lame duck session too little too late or was it a showcase in how to get the Republicans to hang themselves?  I don't know, but I do think that the Republicans are going to have a hard time since the institutions and expectations will be working against them now, rather than for them.
  • Karzai is corrupt.  Oh, we knew that.  We have learned that there are few, if any, levers to get Karzai to help out much
  • I am a sucker for a superhero tv show/movie/whatever.  While The Cape is getting mixed reviews, I am very much looking forward to it.  
  • I am really going to miss current research project when it ends hopefully sometime in the middle of 2011 as it kicks ass, not just in terms of the substance, but in terms of where I get to go to do the work (2010: Canberra, Sydney, Wellington, Copenhagen; 2011: Brussels, The Hague and in between) and to talk about it (2010: Konstanz, Northwestern, Mt. Holyoke, Laval; 2011: Monterrey).
  • Concussions are changing football and will continue to do so.
  • Quebec nationalism is not going to away anytime soon.
  • There is much, much more to learn about beer.
  • My efforts to coin terms do not go very far.
  • The Zombie fad is not just hard to kill, but seems to be spreading.  Even scholars are attempting to understand the International Relations of Zombies.
  • Narcissistic crusaders can be really annoying, especially when they are so hypocritical as to demand openness everywhere except by themselves (yes, Assange is a db and then some).
  • That using a list of past posts is always an easy way to come up with a blog post when one is lacking imagination or simply lazy.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

German Extroverts?

The NYT has an interesting editorial saluting Germany for altering the composition of its armed forces that will double the number of troops that can be deployed abroad.  Of course, just because 14,000 troops will be deploy-able does not mean that they will be deployed or, if deployed, that they will be effective.  To be sure, the German forces in Afghanistan have had more ability to do stuff, like shoot first, than they could before.  Still, Germany is not sending troops to Southern Afghanistan.  Only now does the argument that these troops are needed in the North bear weight with the insurgents shifting there to evade the American/British/Canadian/Danish/Australians in the south.

How many helicopters does Germany have in Afghanistan now?  How many will htey deploy in future scenarios?  There are lots of ways to limit the risks to one's troops, with caveats being just one of them.  So having more troops to deploy (only 14k?!)  is significant, but coalition politics will limit where these folks are sent, how much freedom of action they will have on the ground, and how much other stuff will be deployed with them so that they might make a difference.  Sending them to Sudan, for instance, with eight or ten helicopters would be a symbolic effort, but unlikely to make a huge difference on the ground.

Still, the NYT is right to give:
Most of the credit for pushing these changes ... to Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Since taking over a scandal-plagued ministry last year, he has refashioned German military doctrines to fit the new requirements of the post-cold-war world.
I am just suggesting that we will have to wait and see if the changes in Berlin show up on the battlefields of today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Too Soon?

Best way to end the year--catching up with old Robot Chicken.  This one completely took my breath away--as in laughing so hard I could not breathe.  I cannot make it work in Canada, but perhaps you can in the U.S.

Sensible Americans?

A new poll from Angus Reid (pdf) finds that over two thirds of Americans think Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon but only a quarter of those polled believe military force is warranted to stop them.  (Real Clear World is the source, a blog with which I am unfamiliar)
Perhaps this is just war fatigue rather than a sophisticated understanding of the limits of the use of force.  But I will take it.  We face few good choices with Iran, and dropping bombs is not even in the realm of lesser evils at this stage.  It would be bad, bad, bad policy, since they would be unlikely to make much of a difference, and Iran does have alternatives to hurt the US (Strait of Hormuz, encouraging Hezbollah to become more aggressive, etc).

Anyhow, I will take good news where I find it, and I am glad to see that the US public is not thrilled about a third war in Asia. 

Receivership: Oy!

Lingua Franca speaks of a topic that most folks would like to avoid: receivership--when a university no longer trusts a department to be run by folks inside the department.
But whenever a department exhibits a pronounced failure to agree on a curriculum or on which new professors to hire, a crisis arises. When the department is not meeting its responsibilities to the university, the rationale for faculty self-governance is suddenly put in question. Often, personal and ideological conflicts bring a department to this precipice.
Obviously, the failures to agree on hiring or on courses (really, courses?) are obviously caused by something else.  The personal and ideological conflicts gets closer to the heart of the matter.  It is, I think no accident, that generational struggles are at the heart of some of this.  After a particularly contentious meeting at TTU, I pointed out to a senior faculty member that the vote taken reflected almost perfectly the division between junior and senior faculty.  The senior faculty member had not noticed, but then junior faculty tend to be more aware of such stuff since they are far more vulnerable.

This discussion also omits something else--that professors are not born administrators or even trained to do administration.  Being a department chair or department head is a very difficult job, involving all kinds of skills and attributes that are usually not considered when hiring someone to join a department as a professor.
Standing in front of their classrooms hadn't given them any meeting-management train ing or personnel-management skills

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CSI for Cheating

Interesting piece in NYT today about a company that uses advanced statistical forensics to figure out whether students/schools are cheating on standardized exams.  I am not a big fan of distrusting students (I don't submit my students papers to to detect plagiarism), but I do not mind the use of stats to figure out how prevalent cheating is on the big tests. 

Testing at the high school level and below can be quite problematic because schools and states have created incentives for better scores, sometimes leading to cheating by teachers to save their jobs, get awards, and help their school (the first Freakonomics book documented this pretty well).  So, having a check on this makes sense. 

I guess I am glad that market competition not only fosters companies that seek to help students cheat but also helps combat cheating.  The first thing I thought about when I saw this piece was: arms race.  The competition between cheater and detector will continue.  I am afraid that this article does reveal some of the ways in which cheating is detected so that the cheaters can evade detection.  Still, I am pretty sure that both sides still have stuff up their sleeves.

Non-Surprise of the End of the Year

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the presence of any U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of 2011, saying his new government and the country's security forces were capable of confronting any remaining threats to Iraq's security, sovereignty and unity.  WSJ
This is hardly surprising.  Iraqi nationalism requires any politician to say that the Americans must go, even if privately they would prefer that the US soldiers stick around.  Because the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated by the Bush Administration sets an end-date, the Iraqis would have to make a positive decision to keep the Americans around.  This is not going to happen.  If the SOFA had an option that the US could deploy (think in terms of a sports contract--does the team or the player have the option to continue the contract?), then perhaps the Iraqis would be able to go along with it.

But, of course, there is the US side of things as well.   Obama cannot backtrack on his commitment to get down to zero.  This is one of his key campaign promises and his base really, really wants out of Iraq.  He can claim credit at the end of 2011 (just before the new election year) for following through on his word and that of the Bush administration.  Thus, even if Maliki had been more willing to keep American soldiers around, it takes two to perform this particular dance, and Obama would not be dancing. 

The bigger question is whether Iraq will unravel when the Americans leave.  I am not so sure.  Iraqi nationalism does seem to be putting some breaks on the influence of Iran, but the real question is not so much whether the Sadrists join the government but how the government treats the Sunnis.  The Awakening folks already feel betrayed and at risk.  So, it is hard to be wildly optimistic.  Perhaps the Americans just got a decent interval between their exit and Iraqi collapse.  Or the Iraqis will muddle through.  I don't think the experts know, and I am certainly no expert on this.  What I do know is that the key is going to be the behavior of the security forces--do they use force disproportionately against the Sunnis?  The Kurds?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Speaking of Movies and Lists

IMDB has a list of the movies for 2011that are most anticipated.

I am surprised that this did not make the top twenty: silly take on the quest with a kick-ass Natalie Portman?

My top ten would be:
  1. Harry Potter and the end of the series.  As they say: natch!
  2. Cowboys and Aliens.  Interesting combo.
  3. Green Lantern.  Ryan Reynolds and his abs take on non-yellow evil.
  4. Hangover II ( Bill Clinton is in the credits!) or perhaps Cedar Rapids
  5. Your Highness (see above link)
  6. Suckerpunch.  Funky. 
  7. X-Men: First Class.  Let's see if they can revive the franchise.
  8. Green Hornet 
  9. Take Me Home Tonight.  Token romantic comedy with folks I like (Topher Grace to out-skinny Jay Baruchel?)
  10. Captain America/Thor--a draw since I really don't know if either one can really work, but am willing to see how it plays out (plus Sam Jackson will appear in each as Nick Fury).
And your take?

Here are the top 25 from imdb:

War/Military Movies

You can find a list of war movies at
A very good list, but missing:
  • Guns of Navarone (sequel was not as good, even with Harrison Ford), 
  • Where Eagles Dare (Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood do a mostly faithful version of the Alistair MacLean book); 
  • Final Countdown (fun movie considering the What If of a modern US nuclear powered aircraft carrier showing up in Dec. 1941); 
  • Defiance; 
  • All's Quiet on the Western Front; 
  • Paths of Glory (Kirk Douglas and the problem of mutinies in WWI
    What am I missing?

    My favorites are:
    1. Guns of Navarone (WW2, 1961)
    2. Final Countdown (WW2 time travel, 1980)
    3. A Bridge Too Far (WW2, 1977)
    4. Catch-22 (WW2, satire, Italy, 1970) 
    5. The Dirty Dozen (WW2, 1967)
    6. Dr. Strangelove (Cold War, 1964)
    7. The Great Escape (WW2, 1963)
    8. Kelly’s Heroes (WW2, comedy, 1970)
    9. The Longest Day (WW2, Normandy invasion, 1962)
    10. MASH (Korea, comedy, 1972)
    11. Patton (WW2, 1970)
    12. Saving Private Ryan (WW2, 1998)
    Movies I need to see:
    1. The Battle of Algiers (Algeria, urban warfare, 1966)
    2. Black Book (Netherlands reistance, WW2, 2006)
    3. The Charge of the Light Brigade (Crimean, 1968)
    4. Das Boot (WW2, 1981)--seen pieces of it but not the entire movie
    5. Gallipoli (WW1, 1981)--saw it long ago, but remember none of it.
    6. Lawrence of Arabia (WW1, 1962)--yes, sad, but true.  Have never seen it. 
    7. Zulu (Boer War, 1964)

    What Good Are the Americans For?

    Well, for the Canadians, their surge into Southern Afghanistan went a long way to reducing the risks faced by the Canadians.  By providing the critical mass required to be reasonably effective, the Americans allowed the Canadians to be less over-extend and more focused.  This led to less dangerous missions in distant locales, more local knowledge, and better relations with the people.  And the impact of this: less casualties.
    Our fatality rate is at its lowest since we arrived in Kandahar in 2006. We had half as many fatalities in 2010 as 2006. The surge of 30,000 American troops into Kandahar allowed the Canadian Forces to concentrate on two districts, winning increasing confidence from the local population and holding ground. The result, in part, is higher reporting of IED locations by Afghans, which helped lower Canadian casualties.”  Toronto Sun
     Too bad the Canadians are getting out of Kandahar just as things are getting safer and the effort is becoming more effective.  I am still ambivalent about the likelihood of success of the larger effort, but I do think it is unfortunate that the Canadians are going to be leaving just as things are turning in a better direction and just as the mission finally is being appropriately resourced (or almost). 

    The funny thing is that the Canadians stuck through hard times but will not be able to take advantage of what will be more productive times ahead.

    File Under Wikileaks Not Just For Laughs

    Will wikileaks get anyone killed?  This story suggests that the possibility is more than a fantasy.*  While we can be entertained by some of the leaks, and others might be useful for revealing significant stuff, the indiscriminate dumping of all of this stuff onto the net may end up doing far more harm than good.  Assange can dress up his efforts in as self-righteous gloss as possible, but it seems more lazy than path-breaking to just dump stuff online.  Editing, vetting, selecting--these would take time and effort.  So, instead, Assange can play the role of anarchist when he is just lazy, looking for fame and fortune.  He is no Daniel Ellsberg, who did some hard work and faced the possibility of hard time, even if Ellsberg says nice things about him.

    Oh, and Ellsberg was not a (insert epithet here).  The ironies pile up as Assange has no problem revealing anything about anyone else but his friends in the media are far more discrete:

    The Guardian, which first published portions of the police report, left this out; the reporter who did so originally brokered the deal with Wikileaks and has been described as a friend of Assange's, and his own editor said he had "left out a lot of graphic and damaging material in the allegations [about Assanage's sexual offenses] because he thought it would be too cruel to publish them.") Jezebel

    HT to

    Sunday, December 26, 2010

    Tournament of War: Anyone?

    Long ago, I saw a cartoon or graphic which displayed a tournament bracket.  It was not of sports teams but of countries who have engaged in war.  The semi-finals of US v. Vietnam and USSR v. Afghanistan produced the finale of Vietnam vs. Afghanistan.  I cannot find it on the net, but here is my rough effort to remember it.

    Anyone have the original gif/jpg file or something like it?  Want to make suggestions about how to revise it?

    More Football on a Sunday Full of Football

    It just may be the case that icing the kicker works.  Check out this article which suggests about a14% reduction in likelihood that a kicker will make a field goal after the opposition calls a timeout.  Perhaps not too surprising* that a bit of an intervention into a routine causes an impact.  To be clear, the change is one from 80% to 66% so the kicker is still  more likely to make the kick, making it appear that icing does not work.  This study suggests that this is one thing that an opposing coach can do to affect the game. 

    Of course, given how poor many coaches do time/clock management, many may not have any timeouts left at the end of the game.  I am always stunned to see a QB call a timeout in the second half when a delay of game penalty is about to be called.  This leads to a question that can only be answered by football's equivalent of sabremetricians: is 5 yards, the penalty for delay of game, of more or less value than the 14% reduction in the opposing kicker's field goal completion rate?  My guess is probably yes, but it would take some math to figure it out.  Wasted timeouts, of course, not only affect the chances of icing a kicker but lots of other endgame issues. 

    Anyhow, something to think about in this penultimate week of the season.

    *What is more surprising is that a piece by an adjunct prof at a liberal arts college gets such prominent play in the NYT.  But that speaks more to my biases.

    If You Cannot Count on the NFL

    To Set a good example, then it makes sense to start at the other end.  For football to continue to exist in something like its present state, changes need to happen to reduce, but not eliminate, risks.
    So Hosea runs camps that focus on one skill — tackling with your head up instead of down, and away from contact — and gives individual instruction to players in and around Los Angeles. As football careens through its dark cloud of head injuries, Hosea sees himself as saving more than the players’ ability to walk and think. He sees it as saving the sport, one youngster at a time
    Training players at an early age might lead to fewer NFL players complaining that the new rules go against years of training and experience.

    Of course, the first step should have been mandatory safer helmets.  Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers is returning this week after a concussion which he helped cause by not sliding on a run, and the coverage all mentioned his silly-looking but safer helmet.  All of the players should be wearing helmets with padding on the outside--they would be less dangerous as weapons and more protective.  Inevitable for this to happen but not necessarily soon. 

    But training to tackle more safely is also overdue:
    “When a kid gets paralyzed or dies, it’s not an accident — the injuries happen because people never teach kids how to tackle the right way,” Hosea told about 20 rapt campers before a session this month. “Everyone’s talking about head injury awareness, awareness, awareness. What are you going to do about it? It drives me absolutely crazy. It’s time for this to stop!” 
     Attitudes are only beginning to change:
    “A lot of youth coaches have no idea how to teach tackling — they say to just put a helmet in the numbers or light the other guy up,” said Jeff Leets, whose seventh-grade son, Zack, is a defensive end and devoted Hosea pupil from nearby Torrance. “They have the caveman element and don’t want to be told their way is wrong or that their way is unsafe. Or they simply don’t know. It’s sad — you’ve got babies in your hands, man.”
     What is clear?  We need more Bobby Hosea's, willing to teach a better way, and we need more coaches willing to listen and learn.  Otherwise, football's future might be dim.

    Saturday, December 25, 2010

    Presents I Received in 2010

    This morning I must wait for my sister-in-law to arrive with her kids and her guy before we can open our presents.  But the year has been chock full of gifts that I will spend some of the timing waiting (and waiting) thinking of those I have already received:
    • A kick-ass research project that is interesting in and of itself but has also led to some terrific opportunities this past year:
      • talks at Laval University, Mt. Holyoke, Northwestern, and Konstanz;
      • grants from  Canada and NATO to fund:
      • travel to Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark to research the book;
      • and a publication in ISQ in 2012.
    • a bunch of co-authors on a variety of projects, pushing me to think harder and differently;
    • the aforementioned travel.  I have gone to places I have never been before, meeting interesting people and seeing some fantastic sights.  I am very, very lucky.
    • two graduate students getting heaps of success in a very tough job market;
    • the usual helping of interesting and engaging McGill undergrads;
    • four seasons of ultimate even as I get slower and gimpier;
    • a pretty fun winter of skiing with a daughter who is now skiing almost as fast as me;
    • an aforementioned daughter who is now almost fifteen but only embarrassed by me much of the time (as opposed to all of the time) and still willing to hang with her dad some of the time;
    • an ever-increasing group of friends and colleagues who challenge and support me;
    • and a wife who puts up with my time spent on the internet spewing about all kinds of things.
    I hope your presents provide you with as much joy as mine already have.

      I'd Like an Aircraft Carrier for Christmas

      Today's Washington Post seemed to be focused on arms sales.  And that brings me back to what could have been.  My first dissertation topic (yes, kids, topics change) was on arms sales, so it was a nice blast from the past to see not one but two articles on arms sales in the Christmas day edition.
      1. Front page story that China's military technological development is a bit uneven.  So much so that they have to buy planes of various kinds from Russia.
      2. Russia, in turn, is buying warships from France.  Amphibious ships, that is.  Which raises the question of where does Russia need to send troops across water?  Georgia, of course, says: us! 
      What a strange world we live in now!?   Russia is now a NATO partner so France can sell warships to Russia (although not fighter planes that no one wants).  France can sell ships to Russia since it is unlikely that Russia would use the new amphibious ships to invade Normandy, but it does raise a few questions given Russia's relatively recent behavior towards Georgia.  Of course, selling off a smaller country to appease a bigger one would not be a first for France.  This is part of a larger process of trying to direct Russia towards better relations with the West, but I am not sure if this is going to work if NATO continues to extend membership processes to Ukraine and Georgia (which I am against, not because of Russian opposition, but because such a move weakens the essential meaning of NATO--an attack upon one is an attack upon all, caveats or not).  Anyhow, so the West is now selling significant military equipment to Russia, but only such stuff that really does not threaten the seller.

      Meanwhile, Russia's export business seems to be pretty dependent on China, and China is pretty dependent on the Russian aerospace industry.  This is the case despite the reality that China and Russia ought to be rivals, given the usual theories of IR (proximity, changing power, etc. should make each the greatest threat of the other).  Yet commerce seems to triumph over security concerns.  Some might see Russia and China allying against the US which is a bigger threat to both.  I guess it depends on US diplomacy to convince these countries that the US is not that big of a threat so that the divides between them become more obvious and important.  Another way to look at this is as a test of IR theory--do countries balance against threats or power?  The US has more power, but it is limited from being a big threat in Asia (even if we have abridge the classic line from "never fight a land war in Asia" to "never fight more than two land wars in Asia").  And now that the US is less threatening in a post-Bush age of overcommitted militaries and budget deficits, I would think that Russia and China would see each other as the big threats.  Yet Russia sells all kinds of planes that extend China's power (fighters, airlift, inflight refueling).

      Interesting times indeed.

      Friday, December 24, 2010

      The Future is Here

      The Electric Car, that is.  See the NYT review of GM's effort--the Chevy Volt!  I still worry about maintenance, but the car seems the perfect combo of electricity first, gas second, to get real miles and real speed and real savings.  Canadians are concerned about battery performance in the frickin' cold, so that will be a test.  But the more I delay buying the next car, the more likely it is that it will be an electric one.

      2010 in Review: Books

      I don't have a very long list of favorite fiction for the year, as most of my fiction reading is focused on my favorite authors' latest stuff: Robert B. Parker died, but left enough manuscripts behind that his lost will begin to be felt next year; John Sanford has two mystery/thriller series based in Minnesota--Prey and Virgil Flowers; Carl Hiaassen; and a few others.

      I rarely read Stephen King because I am not really a horror fan (despite my Zombie inclinations), but when I do (like in the case of Eye of the Dragon), I really enjoy his books.  So, it was not a surprise that I got into his massive tome: Under The Dome.  It was pretty dark, of course, but this tale a town cut off from the rest of the world due to a mysterious invisible dome had heaps of interesting politics, corruption, and heroics.  Just a fun read.  The second diversion into horror was Joe Hill's Horns.  Hill is, well, King's son.  He is very talented, and this tale of a guy who wakes up one day with horns and special powers was fun and engaging.  Will need to re-read.

      The discovery of the year was Lee Child, who writes wonderfully tense thrillers.  Jack Reacher, his protagonist, is an ex-military police, who is smart and tough.  He's a drifter who keeps wondering into trouble.  The adversaries are often involved in much bigger endeavors than we might expect--terrorism, trafficking of people, counterfeiting, etc.  The government is usually a difficult obstacle to overcome rather than an ally.  It was terrific to discover an author who had already written about a dozen books. That allowed me to spend the summer reading the entire series thanks in part to my family bringing their copies of his books to our summer vacation.  I am now caught up and will have to wait for the yearly thriller.

      I also consumed Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series as my new young adult series.

      The next author on my desk is Michael Connelly.  I am 76 pages into Black Echo, which is pretty good, but not nearly as addictive as Lee Child.

      Enjoying America!

      In the US, I can access Hulu stuff!

      HT to Dan Drezner for his FB post of this SNL short.

      The Future of Canada in Afghanistan

      Good piece with some smart thoughts by leading Canadian political scientists on the new training mission in Afghanistan.  The trio of Bland, Paris and Hampson give a good idea of the sources of the new mission (the realization that Obama and pals would be mighty miffed), the risks (non-combat does not mean no casualties), and the uncertainties.  The only modification I would make is that I am pretty damned certain that the training will not be out in the field.  While Afghanistan would certainly benefit by Canadians playing the role of Observers/Mentors/Liaisons (Omelets), that is not going to happen.  All the behind the wire stuff is language that essentially means that Canadians will return to the days of being heavily caveated--restricted from going out in the field.

      Is Paris right that there are risks of IEDs hitting convoys?  Yes, but the roads being traveled will be far safer, and they will be over shorter distances if the promise of being in or near Kabul are kept.  Another risk, currently unadvertised, is that you might find Canadians in British or American units as part of exchange programs (just as CDS Natynczyk went to Iraq with the American units in 2003) in harm's way.  But the risks are going to be dramatically lower.  I think the only real risk to the government is if there are Canadians harmed who are not where they are supposed to be.  If the government breaks its promise or if the promises are poorly implemented, then a loss or two would be a big deal.  If a convey from Kabul to someplace close by gets hit, I think that will not be as problematic as this article suggests.

      But I have been wrong before, and the folks cited in this piece are quite sharp....

      Strange Things Happen at Night

      I almost always miss nighttime astronomic events as my beauty sleep is really important.  Thanks to the miracle that is the internet, I don't miss out as much as I used to miss out.  And I would not have had such a soundtrack for the event either.

      Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

      HT to PT

      Thursday, December 23, 2010

      Great Advice for Dissertation Students

      Gary King has posted online a pdf file with some really good advice for grad students, such as:
      1. "Dissertations are useless 5 minutes after the defense and so don’t write a
        dissertation, write a book or a series of articles; they will qualify fine as
        a dissertation. (& don’t ever use the word “dissertation” in the text) "  Or thesis.  I hate it when a student refers to a dissertation as a thesis.  The idea is that the dissertation is a bad draft of a good book.
      2. "Do not go to dissertation defenses (except your own!!); they are a waste
        of time. Go to all the job talks you can and imagine you’ll be in their
        place soon."  McGill students tend to go to defenses.  Yuck.  I understand they want to support their pals, but double yuck.  No need to see that particular sausage get made.
      3. "Rigorously organize your work to answer the key question. Ruthlessly
        remove any point, section, or paragraph that does not directly answer
        this question or address your argument. (You don’t have to delete these,
        which can cause separation anxiety! Just put them in a folder for other
        projects.)"  Absolutely--if it does not fit, kill it.  
      4. "Do not write a literature review. Those people have their own books and
        dissertations where they make their points; they don’t get to be in your
        work unless they help you make your point." Hallelujah!!  Lit reviews kill brain cells--that's a fact.  You need to refer to work to show how others have gotten the question or answer or both wrong.  To build your theory, but not just to prove that you read a lot of stuff. 

       Good stuff.  Check it out.

      Jon Stewart Rocks

      I saw that wonderful, blistering piece where Stewart showed the hypocrisy of Republicans who had wrapped themselves up in 9/11 patriotism voting against health care benefits for 9/11 responders.
      "I can't wait for them to take to the floor to talk about why their party hates first responders,"
      Did this tip the political balance?  Maybe
      John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation who connected Stewart with the first responders who came on the show, says moving the bill toward passage has been a team effort. But he credits Stewart for its recent progress: "What Jon Stewart did was he literally shamed conventional media and the U.S. government into doing the right thing." 
      Maybe not, but it sure was a blast to see the hypocrisy displayed.

      Seasonal Silliness

      Seasons greetings from a galaxy far, far away:

      A Sign of the Times

      It is a sign of the times when Obama engages in a great deal of effort to get a treaty ratified, one where the entire Foreign Policy establishment supports, and it is seen as a big gamble.  Obama was not only able to get past SecDefs and SecStates from both parties, but he got Bush Sr and NATO's European members to support the bill.  As Fred Kaplan argued, this was pure politics--that the Republicans had no real gripes about it but were seeking to defeat an "Obama" effort.  It revealed that the GOP leadership (Kyl and McConnell) had lost their minds over this and, as a result, lost some credibility.  Obama realized he could not work with Kyl who kept changing the goalposts while the kicker was on the field (reminds me of some people I know), and Obama's team was able to work around Kyl/McConnell.  I am not going to say that they were emasculated by this effort, but they sure have less influence today than last week.

      Things will only get harder with the new Senate and House, but Obama is learning how to divide the GOP and win when he tries really hard.  He is also learning that his Senate majority leader can be as much a hindrance as a help, antagonizing voters on the treaty with DADT.  Well, we ended up with both, so it is good news now  And now, Obama is seen as being effective.  What a way to close out the year!

      When Experience Might Be Better than Some Book Learnin'

      I love that Star's & Stripes is pondering the shortage of folks going through the Ranger School pipeline because so many guys have been getting experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I learned in my year in the Pentagon that lots of army guys would go through Ranger school to get the tab (badge that goes on their shoulder) and then never serve in a Ranger unit.  It was a status thing.  Now, lots of folks apparently are not going to the school since they are seen real combat, heaps of it.  They don't need simulations of combat, they don't need to learn combat skills at school.  They are getting it under fire. 

      While there are lots of stories raising questions about how the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan may be breaking the military due to folks being over-extended and stressed out, this kind of story is actually a bit of the positive side--that the US military has heaps of combat (and non-combat) experience, that the next generation of leaders (those who stay in) will have a better background for what they have seen and done.  Worrying about too few folks in Ranger School is a good problem to have as it is not really a problem, unless one's ego is invested in tabs on shoulders.

      By the way, I never got my Acronym tab or my Powerpoint tab.  I earned them, but never got the stuff to sew on to my suit shoulders.

      Wednesday, December 22, 2010

      Happy Holidays

      Was welcomed at my mother in law's by some unencrypted wifi and this wonderful instructional video from SVH:

      the only downside--the hairstyles do not seem as period appropriate as the clothes.  Still, heaps of Zombie holiday fun!
      I navel gazed the other day at trends for my blog.  What could be a more wonderfully narcissistic way to end a year of narcissistic blogging? And yes, I did this in April when I had a full year of blogging under my belt, but I am now moving to the calendar year.

      The posts that got the most hits (biased by those posts that had a break and are thus measured differently than those sans break):
      1. Hogwarts Houses from July 2009.  JK is still more popular than ever, and references to her work get attention.
      2. Lost League Draft: pushed to the top by the need for players to reload to find who got drafted as the draft went along.
      3. Transport Debate.  Discussion spawned by Big Bang Theory about coolest form of transport. 
      4. Mila Oh Tribute.  Mila had a lot of friends in Montreal and on the net.
      5. Ranking Star Wars.  George Lucas's contribution will always lead to more hits.  Will need to think about trilogies in the new year.
      6. Resources in Afghanistan.  Funny thing is this post about an article about lots of minerals in Afghanistan got picked up by right wing bloggers.  Very confusing.
      7. Devil Replies.  Lots of folks enjoyed this re-posting of a mock letter by Satan to Pat Robertson after Pat blamed the Haitian disasters on a past dealw tih the devil.
      8. You Know You Have Made It.  Re-posting of a video where the Simpsons mock McGill and mock the whole idea of being the Harvard of Canada or the something of something.
      9. Lost Fantasy Game.  More lost game stuff.

      Top Ten Countries Visiting My Blog:  the big surprise would be Hungary at #5 but I have a pal at Central European University so she may be bumping up the stats.  Given how little I talk about Brazil or anything in Latin America, I am surprised but pleased about the hits coming from Brazil.
      1. Canada
      2. US
      3. UK
      4. Australia
      5. Hungary
      6. Spain
      7. India
      8. Germany
      9. Brazil
      10. France
      1. Direct--folks who put in
      2. Google: no surprise.
      3. Blogger: no surprise since it hosts the site.
      4. Facebook: no surprise since I link frequently from my FB status.
      5. Twitter: I have increasingly tweeted links to the blog.
      6. My home page
      7. Poli Sci Rumor Mill: I am one of the few folks on this site that self-identify.
      8.  Dan Drezner has one of the most popular IR scholar sites on the web and has a somewhat similar sensibility (Zombies), so when he links to me, it boosts my hits a lot.
      9. Jacob Levy.  Colleague at McGill who is prominent political theorist.  We have in common ... geekery.
      10. Chowhound.  Entirely due to Mila Oh's wide circle of friends.
      11. Bing.  Another search engine.
       Non-Saideman search words:  My favorite is number ten. 
      1. Hogwarts houses
      2. Lost
      3. Superhero city banned in Utah
      4. Ranking Star Wars Movies
      5. Quebec bill 101
      6. List of Obsolete items
      7. Worst American generals
      8. Patriotic Militia of Quebec
      9. South Africa World Cup Aftermath
      10. Cheesy Quotes
      Most Comments on non-Lost related Posts:
      1. Canada Might Have Undercurrent of Anti-Americanism 9
      2. Another Crisis Excuse 7
      3. Confused About GOP Strategy 6
      4. Threats and Responses 6
      5. Sucking Up is Sucking More  5
      6. Civil War Revisited 5
      It has been a fun year of spewing.  I did run out of energy and ideas towards the end of the year (hence heaps of lists about the year).  With the repeal of DADT and the end of Lost, I am not sure what I will have to Spew about in 2011.  To be sure, the world remains an interesting place and I will aim to think a bit more (and remove the typos more) as I post about IR, civil-military relations, ethnic conflict and pop culture in the new year.  As always, I am open to suggestions.

      Happy holidays and safe travels.

        Lame Who?

        A traveling day and uncertain wifi down the road, so just a quick thought or two:
        • DADT repealed
        • START to be ratified
        • a budget deal that does heaps for stimulus.
        I guess Obama can get some stuff done after all.  Oh, and he managed to save the car industry, regulate banking, avoid another Great Depression, pass historic health care.  Other stuff has been disappointing, but his critics need to remember that institutions matter, and he cannot rule by fiat.  The next two years will be interesting as the GOP will have to face concerns about governability or face replaying Newt Gingrich's mistakes from 1994-5. 

        Tuesday, December 21, 2010

        2010 in Review: Favorite Posts

        What can be more narcissistic than reading a year of one's own posts?  I don't know, but writing about a year of one's own blog posts may count.  I went through my last year of pondering and spewing and came up with these as some of my faves for a variety of reasons.
        As I reviewed the posts, I realized that I had several recurring themes: concussions, education in English in Quebec, the academic job market, confirmation bias, Lost, Mad Men, Zombies as always, DADT, and corruption in Afghanistan and the Karzai challenge.  With the end of Lost and the repeal of DADT, it is very likely that my blogging volume will decline.

        One last list: Lowlights of the year.
        Ok, only one item--it was a pretty good year: Australia, New Zealand, Copenhagen, Zurich, Konstanz, plus talks in the US and Canada. My daughter is skiing really well and her ultimate is now pretty good.  If only we could get a couple of hoverboards ....

        2010 in Review: TV

        As much as I enjoy movies, I am very much a child of TV.  When I was young, it was a matter of watching endless re-runs of Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island and Hogan's Heroes.*  With so many channels producing so much great stuff these days (and heaps of crap as well), the 21st century is not a bad place to live.

        Living in Canada does pose some constraints--no FX, no TNT, and we don't get the US Showtime shows at the same time or in as predictable time slots. So, no Not Men of a Certain Age, Justified, Terriers, or Louie.  We only started getting AMC reliably last year, so I have not started watching Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy, preferring to get the DVDs and catch up--next summer's project.

        There are some shows that I like a great deal but did not make the list.  I just don't have enough time to watch the Daily Show and Colbert on a regular basis and still get the beauty sleep I need.  Also, these are the two shows that the internet does the best job of distributing--getting links to the best clips.  The only problem is that living in Canada means I cannot access those clips but have to hunt through the crappy Comedy Network website for the right clip.  Still, I can get what I want w/o watching every night.

        Also not on my list are shows that I still enjoy greatly but had uneven seasons such as How I Met Your Mother and The Office.  Smallville inspired a post about when to quit a show, so I cannot possibly put it my top ten even though the fall has been much better than the Zod-ful spring.  The show is better off for having a spring end-date.  There are almost no new shows on my top ten list, as No Ordinary Family has been disappointing, but still fun enough to follow; the Cape has not yet made it to air; and Hawaii Five-O is fun but so shallow that it does not merit inclusion below.  I didn't get into Treme or Boardwalk Empire.  Both are well done, but I just didn't find either compelling enough to stick around.  That I play ultimate on Sunday evenings most of the year probably also hurt.  I was willing to tape and watch Mad Men obsessively but not these.

        So, my favorite shows of the past year are:
        10. Walking Dead: It would have shambled further up the list but we only had six episodes of this Zombie greatness.  The show was terrific, with excellent production values, lots of good drama, action and even some comedy.  I look forward to next season
        9. Mentalist: Heaps and heaps of smugness deployed to amuse and entertain.  Simon Baker is terrific in this, and it is a nice tart ending to a night of comedy.
        8. Chuck: Who says you have to keep couples apart to keep the tension alive?  Bringing Chuck and Sarah together has not hurt the show.  The comedy is still high, and the action quite good.  Plus Timothy Dalton is a great villain.
        7.  Modern Family: I haven't watched enough episodes, but each one I watch is pretty terrific.  Lots of different comedic combinations all working well.
        6.  Friday Night Lights: Simply one of the best acted dramas on TV.  I am so glad I left Texas, but I still love this show for how well these characters are drawn and then acted.  Clear Eyes, Full hearts, Can't Lose, indeed.  I have not seen any of the final season yet as we do not have DirectTV. 
        5.  The Pacific: Just an amazing production.  As others have said, this is quite  different mini-series than Band of Brothers in that you do not feel that you are part of a group of guys who want from Curahee to Austria, but instead was on the sideline witnessing combat at its most intense and at the highest level of brutality.  BoB had one or two episodes of such intensity (Bastogne and the Breaking Point), but Pacific had about seven or so.  Plus we had more aftermath.  It did a great job of telling the story of battles that we had never really seen before.  BoB did great even though we have had a ton of movies on D-Day and Market Garden and the rest of the European war.
        4.  Community: The best combo of funny and heart on TV.  Plus as a pop culture fan, I love the references and meta-ness of it all.
        3.  Lost: If I measured favorites by how much I blogged about shows, this would be first.  And it would have been had not it been for the other two shows.
        2.  Mad Men: Simply a terrific season. Each character had a fully developed arc building on the previous years, whether it was pregnant Joanie, the failure that is Roger Sterling, the joy to behold that is Peggy, or Don Draper's journey from misery to mistake (unless marrying Megan works out).

        Monday, December 20, 2010

        Secessionistly Speaking

        Quebecers may ponder why I am so hostile to secession.  As a scholar of the phenomenon, I should be dispassionate.  And it is true that I do find that secession may be the appropriate way to go if one is facing heaps of repression (Bangladesh, for instance).  But perhaps my tendency to be critical of secession lays in my political socialization.  That is, I was raised in the US--in the North.  So, when I hear secession, just perhaps I am hostile because I think of the US Civil War where the animating grievance was slavery states' rights slavery (not the first time I have spewed about this).

        This article alerts us to the reality that the next five years we will be seeing 150th anniversaries of key Civil War events.  Today's event:
        ON Dec. 20, 1860, 169 men — politicians and people of property — met in the ballroom of St. Andrew’s Hall in Charleston, S.C. After hours of debate, they issued the 158-word “Ordinance of Secession,” which repealed the consent of South Carolina to the Constitution and declared the state to be an independent country. Four days later, the same group drafted a seven-page “Declaration of the Immediate Causes,” explaining why they had decided to split the Union.
        why did the South secede?  I can testify about the South under oath. I was born and raised there, and 12 men in my family fought for the Confederacy; two of them were killed. And since I was a boy, the answer I’ve heard to this question, from Virginia to Louisiana (from whites, never from blacks), is this: “The War Between the States was about states’ rights. It was not about slavery.”.... But a look through the declaration of causes written by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that followed it out of the Union — which, taken together, paint a kind of self-portrait of the Confederacy — reveals a different story. From Georgia to Texas, each state said the reason it was getting out was that the awful Northern states were threatening to do away with slavery.
        South Carolina: “The non-slaveholding states ... have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery” and “have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes.”
        How dare they consider the ownership of human beings to be sinful! 

        Whenever folks talk about the US Civil War and omit slavery, my radar is activated.  Yes, there were other differences between North and South, but the objection to Lincoln as president centered around his stance on slavery.*  People have called slavery as America's original sin, and there is no doubt that is true.  Anything that whitewashes** the horror that Americans directed against a group of people because of the color of their kin is simply appalling.

        So, while I have some remorse that the US held onto the South (especially around election times), the fight against slavery was worth it, even if it took another hundred years or so to finish the process (civil rights acts of the 1960s).  I would not mind the South seceding now, on the other hand.

        To be fair, Quebec separatists are not slave owners so their claims are more legitimate than the American Southerners in 1860.  But that ain't saying much at all.

        *  According to some people, Lincoln fought against slavery as part of a larger battle against Vampires.
        ** I used the term whitewash as I went back and forth between this post and the article and then found that the article concluded with that term.  Plagiarism or two people facing the same lie and calling it what it is?

        2010 in Review: Movies

        What is a good way to come up with some posts to make up for the broken modem-induced shortage lately?  Start to think about the past year.  And my first thought was: I haven't really seen that many movies this year, so can I come up with a top ten list?  My second thought was: damn, I have seen a ton of movies, although mostly via Ye Olde Blockbuster Shoppe.  Third thought: pretty easy.  I went through a website that had the list of movies for this year and just separating out the ones I like the most produced the following list of ten (in order of descending desire to see again pretty darn soon). 

        1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part I: My review is here.  It took out the draggiest parts of the book, kept most of the fun scenes, added a few really great touches, and made the movie theater sniff a great deal at the end. 
        2. Scotty Pilgrim: I just want a t-shirt from the Vegan Academy.  Just a heap of fun.  Now I need to read the comic book a bit to see how well the movie got the book.
        3. Kick-ass: Compelling take on the dream of being a super-hero sans skills.  This and Defendor (with Woody Harrelson) show that being a hero is a very tough gig. 
        4. Easy A: Teen trash movie of the year.  Although the irony is that there was little sex and heaps of fake/non-sex.  I just loved the premise and seeing Emma Stone rock a Scarlet A.  Best use of a great book since Ten Things I Hate About You?
        5. Toy Story 3: Best ending of a trilogy since the Matrix?  Ok, we can do better than that.  Best ending of a trilogy since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Oh, they made a fourth Indiana Jones movie?  Ok, best ending of a trilogy since Return of the Jedi.  How about that?  Woody or Dobby for the most tears jerked in a semi-kids movie?
        6. How to Train Your Dragon: In any other year, this would have been the best animated "sort of for kids but also for adults" movie, but TS3 takes that cake. Just a fun, fun ride.
        7. Hot Tub Time Machine: Adult trash movie of the year.  Great to get John Cusack flashing back to the mid-1980s when his career started.  And I don't include this hear because the future Mrs. Don Draper is top-less.  Really.  Just one of the funniest movies of the year.
        8. She's Out of My League.  Jay Baruchel as a TSA employee, a "5" or "6" getting a "10" makes us like TSA folks.  That is, until we get groped.
        9. Despicable Me: A villain with a big heart after three orphaned girls enter his life.  Sweet, funny, nice take on super-villainy, including nepotism at Lehman Brothers Bank of Evil.
        10. Inception: I enjoyed it greatly, did a great job of ramping up the tension.  But does not re-play that great, at least to me.  Rented it last week for my daughter, and found spots boring instead of tense since I knew what was going to happen next.
        11. I forgot to mention Avatar.  Hmm, what does that say?  Well, whenever the expert in warfare decides to have a front attack by the insurgents against the high tech folks, I always have to give a lower grade.
        To be clear, not all comic movies or realizations of teen books made my top ten.  I enjoyed Iron Man 2 and Percy Jackson but they were not as much fun as the movies above.  Sorceror's Apprentice was more fun than I thought it would be.  Prince of Persia was not as bad as I thought.  Jonah Hex, eh.

        Worst Movie of the Year--that I Saw: MacGruber.

        Movie Most Different from the Book: Green Zone.  "Adapted" from Imperial Life in the Emerald City is a great book about the failures of the Occupation of Iraq.  Green Zone was a fun but entirely unrealistic movie about the search for WMD and the failure to find them. 

        Wish I had Seen: Piranha 3d, Tangled, Red, Survival of the Dead, Devil, The Town, Megamind, Buried, Social Network, the Kids are Alright, Love & Other Drugs, Hereafter.  Most of these came out late this year so I will be seeing them on DVD in the spring.  Survival of the Dead will be for the weekend my wife is busy--she is not as big a fan of the Zombie movies.

        Movie on my DVR That I am Looking Forward to the Most: Restrepo

        Movies I am Most Glad I Missed: Grown Ups, Eat Pray Love

        I am open to argument.  What did I miss or over/under-value?

        Some HolidayThoughts from Starbucks

        The part we needed for our modem arrived home this morning, but I am still at Starbucks. Why?  I am nervous that the part will only fix part of the problem (the power supply), and if I go home and find out that there is another problem with the modem, then I will be home and wifi-less again.  So, I am catching up on email and news before I go home again.  And thinking about the holidays:
        • Why is Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is coming to town" not on iTunes?  Why is it underplayed on the radio when compared to everything else?
        • Alas, I just realized that the magical rest stop in Pennsylvania with the Cinnabons and great layout is actually not on the pash to DC but to the Delaware beaches.  
        • With such a great tour of the Mall last year, I need to figure out additional sights to see in DC.  Definitely will check out the Spy Museum and will still go back to parts of Smithsonian we blew through before.  Where else?
        • Interesting timing for this article by Ricky Gervais that is flying around the internet. "imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living."
        • I already have my new year's resolution decided---so I am eating now before it kicks in.
        Now, back to home to see if the modem works .... [it does!]

        Sunday, December 19, 2010

        DADT Finally Repealed

        A semi-sensible Senate?!  Who would have thunk it?  Amazing what can be accomplished when public opinion, the senior military folks, and history are all on the same side.

        Oh, and all the folks who said we should not do that mid-war are just looking for an excuse (with perhaps the exception of General Casey who continues his record as a general disappointment*) since the US is going to be in the middle of a war for a while to come.

        As others have noted, the key stat from the survey of military folks is this: those folks who have served with people they know to be gay do not have a problem with it.  Ignorance is not only bliss but also the source of bad policy.

        In a short time, this new reality will largely be taken for granted except for the occasional story played up by FOX or a politician who is grandstanding.

        * General Casey was the director of the division of the Joint Staff when I was in the Pentagon.  He was pretty impressive, but has demonstrated since then a pretty shallow learning curve.  He subscribed to the theory that US forces in Iraq only served as an irritant so he wanted the force there to be small and ineffective.  He didn't really buy into the logic of COIN.  And then he became Army Chief of Staff, his current post, where he supported the government, sort of, while saying that DADT would be better repealed in peacetime.  So, I am not so impressed.

        PS  Fitures such interesting and important news happens while my modem is down.  Still only reaching the net when I am at Starbucks or other source of free wifi.  Will post about a non-internet lifestyle once I have my connection fixed or my fix connected.  Hint--lots of Wii.

        Friday, December 17, 2010

        Light Blogging Alert

        The power supply to our modem is dead, I guess.  So, our house will be internet-less for the weeks and perhaps then some.  So, I will not be blogging unless I escape to a cafe with wifi (like right now).  This might be good practice for me if there is no unencrypted wifi near my mother-in-law's house over the holidays.

        Feel free to comment here with suggestions of topics for me to rant about when I get back to a reliable connection.

        A Fair Assessment

        The NYT has a short piece reviewing the Obama review of Afghanistan.  It suggests that the analysis itself is a compromise of contradictions.  To me that is not so much a problem but an accurate reflection of reality.  Fighting in the South is going better, but governance is not moving ahead.  The piece suggests a critical problem:
        The candidates that Mr. Karzai supported did less well than expected, raising further questions about whether he is losing his base — and by extension, whether the United State is losing its.
        Yes, the US is siding with Karzai and his merry band of kleptocrats.  But given that Karzai's government is the elected one, we are very much stuck.  Even as we try to build institutions, rather than perhaps bet on individuals (although the article's discussion of NATO seeking to keep/change governors may be about individuals rather than institutions), we end being associated with individuals--Karzai.  What alternative do the US and NATO have?  A coup?  No, that is not an option (didn't work so well in Vietnam, but that does not mean it cannot be a backup plan).  As much as we want to focus on the local level and ignore Kabul, the governors are selected by Kabul--by Karzai.  Stuck squared.

        So, we should not be surprised that there are contradictions both because the situation is confounding and because there are different political actors with competing preferences about what the US should be doing in Afghanistan.  To say that this review does not provide clarity (as the NYT editorial indicates) is to miss the point--imposing clarity on a situation that is hardly clear may be more problematic.  Nor should we be surprised that there are not clear ideas about how to handle Pakistan either.  Again, there are real limits to American power.  Getting Pakistan to do what the US wants illustrates these limits pretty well.  Like Karzai, if Pakistan is pushed too hard, the results are likely to be very counter-productive.

        We didn't choose Afghanistan, it chose us.  But the war in Iraq was such a tremendous diversion and distraction that we not only lost opportunities but became that much more dependent on Pakistan.  Obama simply cannot start from scratch.  He faces a series of bad choices.  Which is the least bad?  I don't know.

        Don't Ask, Just Tell Me When It is Over

        The ups and downs of DADT repeal are just incredibly frustrating.  To have 57 votes and it not be enough is just astounding.  Richard Lugar: Where are you on this?  You are a conservative Republican of the old school--not nuts!  And a voice of sanity on Defense Issues, more or less.  You should be on the correct side of history here.  We long ago gave up on McCain.  Good to see the Maine Senators are finally deviating a bit from the "all Obama progress must fail" mode. 

        Interesting that only by taking the vote on DADT alone as opposed to folded into a bigger bill might we make progress here.  What does this really tell us?  That Harry Reid is a crappy Majority leader.  Well, we already knew that.  But focusing on DADT alone allows Senators the clear choice--side with the majority of public opinion, with the Chairman and the SecDef (we can ignore the retrograde Marine Commandant), and with history or do not.

        I am now firmly in Yoda's camp: do or do not.  There is no try left.

        Thursday, December 16, 2010

        Ask the Reader: What Did I Do?

        I just love this changing gif.  My caption would be: I voted for Nader?  What is yours?

        Animal Planet Theory of International Relations

        While having a beer with my Teaching Assistants from my Intro to IR class, a couple recommended that I blog about my Animal Planet Theory of IR.  Since they have done so much work for me, and because they let me drink some of the beer I bought for them, I shall do as they ask:

        Variants of realism argue that the environment among countries is very much a Darwinian struggle of survival of the fittest.  Those countries that fail to compete are eliminated from the system or, at the very least, are made irrelevant and subservient.  The problem is that the folks making such arguments either haven't had small children or did not watch TV with them.

        When my daughter was younger, she watched a heap of Animal Planet shows, and the thing one quickly realizes is that even in a harsh world where there are predators everywhere (some folks in IR question whether predators need to exist in order for anarchy to be so nasty and for security dilemmas to develop), there are a myriad of strategies and endowments that allow heaps of different species to survive and thrive, if not dominate.
        • Speed can be handy (Cheetahs)
        • You can be slow if you have a shell (turtles, snails).
        • You can be poisonous (heaps of spiders, snakes, etc).
        • You can just appear to be poisonous (red frogs).
        And so on.  You get the idea--that there is not one single way to survive but many.  This points to a key problem in most Realist theorizing--that there is a single best way to adapt to international pressures.  Certainly, Realists are right in that international pressures do push countries around, and they are right that countries that fail to adapt will become marginalized and even conquered (Poland disappeared from the maps of Europe for the entire 19th century).  Yet, countries can choose a variety of strategies to adapt to international pressures.

        In the 1980's, there was much debate about who adjusted well to the international economic shocks of the 1970's, especially higher oil prices (Between Power and Plenty).  The new conventional wisdom was that governments that could best resist societal pressures (France, Japan) adapted better than those that cannot (US).  However, over time, it become clear that the US strategy of letting the market force much of the adaptation was not a bad way to go (Irony of State Strength).  The point is that there are a variety of tradeoffs that outside pressures may impose, but how one manages those tradeoffs will vary. 

        We need other elements to produce predictions and explanations for the choices countries make, since there is more than one way to skin a cat or to survive in the international system.  I am not the first IR scholar to say that Realism is indeterminate.  I am just the first one to invoke Animal Planet to make that point. 

        Duck and Cover Was Right?

        The Obama administration is trying to figure out how to educate the public about a tricky truth: that getting indoors in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear explosion significant improves the chances of surviving.  The first burst of radiation is apparently the big threat, after the immediate explosion and fires I would guess, so avoiding that is key. 
        For people who survive the initial blast, the main advice is to fight the impulse to run and instead seek shelter from lethal radioactivity. Even a few hours of protection, officials say, can greatly increase survival rates.
        There is already information the web to advise folks, but how do you tell the public not to panic in the face of a nuclear explosion without panicking them about the possibility of a nuclear explosion?  Instead, politics plays its usual role:
        “Public education is key,” Daniel J. Kaniewski, a security expert at George Washington University, said in an interview. “But it’s easier for communities to buy equipment — and look for tech solutions — because there’s Homeland Security money and no shortage of contractors to supply the silver bullet.”
        The agenda hit a speed bump. Las Vegas was to star in the nation’s first live exercise meant to simulate a terrorist attack with an atom bomb, the test involving about 10,000 emergency responders. But casinos and businesses protested, as did Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. He told the federal authorities that it would scare away tourists. Late last year, the administration backed down. “Politics overtook preparedness,” said Mr. Kaniewski of George Washington University.
        The risk of a terrorist attack using a nuclear device is still seen as very, very unlikely.  So, the question becomes--how much to invest in a low probability?

        I have a recommendation: break out the old Cold War materials:

        Progressively Confused

        “To tell you the truth, the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar, the Taliban member said. A midlevel commander who has been with the movement since its founding in 1994 and knows it well, he was interviewed by telephone on the condition that his name not be used.
        The NYT has a nice blend of articles this morning on Afghanistan to cover the new review of Afghanistan.  There is a piece showing that the surge into Kandahar is having a positive effect, there is a piece showing that Kunduz's situation is spiraling downwards, and there is an article that discusses the review and the plan to start reducing American troops in the summer. 

        What all this shows is (a) Afghanistan is complicated; (b) the American domestic politics of this effort is even more so.  The Republicans want Obama to stick it out either because they think it is in the national interest or because they want him to fight with his base and be stuck with the Afghan mission (now that he is largely out of the Iraq business).  The Democrats, always seeking to destroy their own, are anti-war now (where were they in 2003?), pushing for a withdrawal.  Obama will make a token reduction to keep his promise, but not much more than that, as the Afghans are hardly ready.  Indeed, the whole idea of Afghanization of the war effort is challenged by events in Kunduz.  The idea was to start with replacing ISAF forces with Afghan ones in the more stable districts.  While Kunduz was not at the very top of the list of likely spots for such a transition, it was far closer to the top than the bottom.

        Indeed, the effectiveness of the surge thus far into Kandahar makes it hard to justify reductions now--more Americans on the ground do make a difference.  For much of the campaign (from 2006 onwards), there were too few troops, mostly Canadians, to do more than to hold downtown Kandahar and poke at the Taliban.  Now there are enough to actually do more than clear, but to hold and build as they say.  Of course, the big problems remain very, very challenging with little or no progress: poppies, Pakistan and governance.  More troops cannot address those, but less troops can exacerbate these challenges.

        I think we need another year at this level more or less to see if we can turn more of the tide to provide the government with some breathing space, but the less Karzai does, the more I see the effort to be to create a decent interval between the time the US and its allies depart and when the civil war begins anew.  Because it comes down to governance, and Karzai and his pals are just not doing enough.

        My inexpert opinion is one of ambivalence.  I see the challenges ahead pretty clearly, but I am concerned about the consequences of a departure.  The big question at the end of the day really is the stability and direction of Pakistan.  Is staying in Afghanistan better or worse for Pakistan's stability?  Because the truth of it is that Afghanistan only matters beyond its borders in terms of the exporting of heroin and of terrorism.  But domestic politics in the US plus the lack of credibility of any Taliban-esque government not to mess around with Pakistan or beyond make it very difficult to leave.  Plus, just as in Vietnam, we would be creating an opportunity for mass killings in our wake. 

        Oh, and the NYT wants Obama to get the Pakistanis to do more to curb the Taliban on their side of the border.  Great advice.  Ok, it is not advice since the NYT does not tell Obama how to do this.  The reality is that the US has limited leverage.  If only we could cast an imperius curse to get the Pakistans to do our bidding.  But we do not have magical powers, alas.

        So, that is my progress report.  What is yours?