Saturday, March 31, 2012

Flying Drive By

I am on the way to San Diego today for the International Studies Meeting, so again  iwill just post a few quick reactions/thoughts here unless my planes have wifi.

  • People have asked why would I leave dynamic Montreal for "boring" Ottawa, and others suggested that I buy a house in less expensive Gatineau, which is in Quebec just across the river from Ottawa.  Well, today's Gazette reminds me of some of the reasons why this move was an easy decision even if Ottawa and Ontario are not utopias:
    • The big story is that the city lost a heap of money hosting swimming championships, and the Mayor's excuse is: we didn't pay that much attention.  Wow.  You spend heaps of effort to attract major sporting event, but not so much on implementation.  Lovely.
    • The provincial Liberals are being the pandering cowards that we have come to know and not love: the attrition strategy to reduce the incredibly large Quebec civil service is being waived for one department: the folks responsible for policing the use of French in Quebec. Or more accurately, policing the use of English.  So, about 70 new jobs for this office--about a 28% increase in jobs for this office while other stuff is still getting slashed.  Because this office is more important?  
    • Pierre Curzi, formerly of the PQ, tabled his proposals for protecting French via providing less public service bilingually.  This goes along with the recent controversy in Huntington where the Mayor sought to provide services in French and English since 40% plus of his constituents are Anglophones.
    • I have never felt any real hostility due to my linguistic limitations in Quebec, but the politics here does a nice job of making me feel as if I don't belong.  I do fear for Quebec's future--that the PQ will come back into power at some point and may be pushed by their more radical members to do stupid things.  The Liberals have shown that they do not really care about their Anglophone voters, so their being in power is not so swell either.  
  • I experienced something new this morning: a request from a journal to review an article with a specific mention that a major figure in the field recommended me for the review.  This tactic of playing to my vanity may have worked.  I was going to say no as I am quite busy, but now I am not so sure.  Am I so easily played?  Probably.  That and the deadline is two more weeks  than the current trend of 4 weeks (used to be 2-3 months).
  • I am starting to think about putting a word limit on the papers I will read as a discussant for conferences.  18,000 words seems a bit much for a conference paper.  Such papers are usually considered to be first drafts for journal article submissions, and no journal I know of publishes articles that long.  Usually the max is 8,000 to 12,000 words.  Such folks will find that the iron law of undergrad reading applies here--the more one is asked to read, the less that gets read.  I hope this is not a trend because a clear ISA trend is to build panels of 5-6 papers when it used to have four.  Yes, people drop, but a panel of five papers is just too much for the discussant and way too much for the audience.  I guess the idea is to max participation and minimize micro-panels after too much defection, but it might be at the expense of the quality of panels.  We shall see how things go this time around.  It is too bad as there are many terrific panels on the program this year, but the thought of enduring six separate presentations is a bit of a deterrent.
Clear skies to all flocking to San Diego and don't forget your sunscreen!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Not All Cinderella's Get the Ring

Alas, my streak through the Twitter Fight Club came to an end.  Fighting Will McCants was quite challenging.  First, he was awake.  Second, he was attentive.  Third, he did not think the fight was beneath him.  He also benefited from the hate folks have for Glenn Greenwald who has targeted Will.  The old enemy of my enemy thing.  My usual strategy of using pop culture references was matched well by Will's similar expertise in the lighter side of things.

We did not really argue about policy, and neither of us had a heavy day of discussion national security stuff.  I did get into some NATO stuff, but not too much. 

Anyhow, I may have alienated a few followers by ramping up the frequency of my posts, but that was more than matched by the new followers I gained through the process.  I kept battling people with many more twitter followers, and other folks observed the battle.  I drove less away than one might expect. 

More importantly, I got two things out of this (aside from temporarily quenching my thirst for any kind of validation I can find):
  • I have expanded the number of folks I follow on twitter.  Through the contest, I ended up reading the tweets of competitors I faced, other people in the tourney, and judges (to suck up to the latter).  These folks are quite sharp and interesting, and many present views that I may have filtered out previously.  So, I will be getting more info about more parts of the world from people with whom I don't always agree.
  • I made some valuable contacts along the way.  Hopefully, my next book will play a bit further in policy circles now that I "know" more people in such networks.
Yes, it was a bit of time suck during a time frame where I could use less distractions, but I had fun, other folks had fun, and only a few egos were bruised along the way.

I was just glad to make it into the tourney.  That I lasted as long as I did was mostly about luck (my first three opponents were a grad student, a journalist who forgot there was competition that day, and a muckraker who had more important things to do than tangle with me).  But I do have a competitive gene or two--I want to win or at least endure.  I knew I was going to lose this round--my opponent was sharp, well known, liked, and active.  But to make it to the "Elite Eight" definitely Exceeded Expectations.

Now back to more blogging about more relevant stuff like Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, and ultimate.  Actually, next week is probably a light week thanks to ISA in San Diego.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blogging Drive By

I have been off my game blogging-wise the past few days.  Between the rigors of Twitter Fight Club (vote for me!), preparing for the ISA (including arranging some ultimate!), and the details of selling/buying houses and getting movers arranged, the blogging been a lower priority.  So, just some quick hit and runs:
  • I had a column at The Canadian International Council that applies what I learned about NATO to its new plan for Smart Defense.  The post basically argues that Canada should be wary about Smart Defense as a key part of it is coordinating defense planning where NATO countries each specialize, relying on other countries to provide capabilities that one does not develop oneself.  This would economize certainly as duplication is reduced.  BUT it would mean that on the battlefield, when you need a critical niche filled that you don't have, you better hope that the allies show up.  Lesson of Bosnia/Kosovo/Afghanistan/Libya (and other multilateral interventions) is that allies are, dare I say it?, unreliable.  
    • Phil Lagasse pushed me on this: Canada always partners, so what am I suggesting?  I am suggesting that Canada know that specialization means risk, and that risks need to be managed not avoided and not ignored.  So, Canada should only deploy in a multinational effort if the most reliable folks are involved or if less help is needed.  So, Libya made sense since Canada acted after the air defenses were already brought down, more or less, and Canada brought its own refueling planes.  This is very different from going to Kandahar with no helicopters and hoping to catch heaps of rides.
    • The real implication of this is the same one I have been harp(er)ing on for years: Canada can afford maybe two modern branches of their military, not three.  So, pick two and fund them well so there is less dependence (not complete independence, of course).
  • A survey written by, well, protagonists is being used by Quebec nationalists to say that there is a problem that only independence can solve. A pretty crap-tastic survey.  Anyhow, the QC nationalists are like Republicans and taxes.  For American conservatives these days, the best solution to any problem is a tax cut: recession? cut taxes! too much money going into the government?  cut taxes!  The month ends in a y?  cut taxes!  It does not end in a y?  Cut taxes.  Anyhow, now that Marois has been her party into submission, folks are continuing to be sick of Charest and the provincial Liberals, Legault's new party is not as desirable now that it has actually come into existence and started taking stands, it looks like the PQ might do well in the next election.  I doubt that it will be very soon, and I am hoping to get out of this province before it happens.
  • The New Democratic Party has a new leader, Thomas Mulcair.  When I was researching the NATO and Afghanistan book (next final deadline--next month), I came across a series of left-wing parties in Europe that realized that to be taken seriously, they had to ditch knee-jerk very left stances on things like NATO and even the US.  Mulcair and the NDP do not seem to think that they need to modernize their foreign policy stances and move to the center.  Nope, as this post at CIC indicates, emphasizing anti-Americanism and even relying on advisers who recommend a Canadian-Russian entente to deal with the American threat to the Arctic, the new NDP leader does not seem to think that foreign policy moderation might affect electability.
    • I just don't understand how standing with Putin against the US is an attractive policy to anyway.  Yes, the US is closer, and there is a bit of friction over a variety of issues.  But there is far more cooperation and mutual benefit that gets taken for granted.  And heaps of interdependence.  
    • Also, last time I checked, Putin is just a bit further to the right than Obama.  
    • So, if foreign policy matters at all, and it may not, the NDP may be choosing to stay out of power for the medium term.  Very nice of them to give the Liberals some breathing space and room to take back the folks who are centrists and slightly left of center.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ultimate at the ISA

Due to popular demand, I have organized a time and a place for an informal game of Ultimate.  As the picture below shows, there is a field next to the hotel that we can use for a quick game.  All you need to bring are white and dark shirts and your enthusiasm.  I will provide the frisbees and the field markers. No cleats, please.  This will be a spirited but low intensity game. 

[Update: Bring your sun block: Sun in SD is deceptively strong]

I am staying at the Hilton if you need to contact me (Steve Saideman) to ask questions.

So, meet us at 11am, Monday, April 2nd, in the field between the Hilton Bayfront Hotel and the Convention Center.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Twitter Fight Club, Round 3: 12 vs 1

I survived round two of Twitter Fight Club.  Once again, I lost on the popular vote but was close enough that winning the judges support put me over the top.  Am I disturbed by the parallels between my performance here and George W. Bush's electoral college triumph over the popular vote in 2000?  Um, yeah, but so what? I won, I won?  I get to go to the Sweet 16. 

Appropriately, as I go further into Twitter Fight Club, the competition gets tougher and tougher.  I now face Spencer Ackerman or @attackerman.  He has more than 18,000 followers (twelve times as many as I do) on twitter, and he posts at a very prominent web-column at Wired: the Danger Room.  Which means I cannot even use "Danger is my middle name" line.  Given his reputation at being, well, a bit pugnacious, I cannot depend on him sleeping through the competition like my last adversary.  Even if he does, he probably tweets in his sleep (yes, this guy tweets more than I do--hard to believe but true).  His current avatar is Charlton Heston as Moses.  So, let's set expectations on my winning tomorrow on low

So, what are my strengths vis-a-vis Ackerman?  Well, the idea of strengths always reminds me of the fake Mad-Eye Moody asking Harry Potter about his strengths.  Harry says: I don't have any; Fake Moody says "If I say you have strengths, you have strengths."  But alas, I cannot fly a broom nearly as well as Harry Potter, so what are my strengths.  Well, compared to Ackerma:

Hmmm, what else?  Well, being the rookie in this competition,  12th seed against a 1st seed, I have gumption, grit, and what else?

Ok, spunk is perhaps undervalued.  One player in the tournament suggested that I model myself after the Fantastic Four who faced the planet destroyer Galactus and beat him.

Unfortunately, this movie sucked, and I don't know how I can expect to change the mind of the Silver Surfer so that he can help me out.  Plus Jessica Alba is better when she is not blond.

Ok, I think I have figured out my strengths relative to my opponent tomorrow: content-free since 2003?  Can silly surpass swagger?  Tune into tomorrow to find out.  Oh, and vote for me, damn it!

PS  I hope the voters don't mind wasting heaps of minutes watching the videos I post.

College Costs

I just want to point out a link that provides the facts, the trends, all those pesky number things that show pretty clearly that my people are not the ones causing the escalation in the cost of a university education.  Nope, apparently it is administrative bloat.  And for American public universities, also declining support by states. 

The key here is that university costs are not being driven by my thirst for outrageous pay nor a proliferation of professors.

Grass is Always Greener?

I love our new house.  It is in a suburban neighborhood that apparently gets much abuse from the internet:

To be clear, when my students in Montreal question why I would want to move from exciting Montreal to boring Ottawa and perhaps even more boring Barrhaven, I have to remind them that I am not looking for downtown fun.  So, I take the above video with good humor.  The choice is bigger house with two car garage and so on or small house that costs more and is beaten up..

I find the rebuttal amusing as well:

H/T to Jennifer S.

The Present and Future of IR

Dan Nexon posted an excellent rant pointing to some of the key problems in the field of International Relations.  I tend to be a glass is half full kind of guy so I see the concerns but do not find them as problematic as Dan portrays.

Yes, the job market and the stodgy profs and the review processes push students to develop quantitative skills (I learned my quant skills on the streets, alas), but I do not lament the trend away from the big paradigm debates.  Sure, they were fun and entertaining, but when folks worry about our added value, perhaps the move to mid-range theory and more policy-relevance is not entirely bad.

To be clear, I come at this with my own biases and limitations.  I don't have a good sense of who the "hot" job candidates were this year, getting heaps of interviews at the top places. In many years, these are the folks with high tech skills, but it seemed to me that the trend has been focusing on folks with interesting questions and challenging research designs where the challenge may be as much in travel to dangerous places as it is about high tech math.  Again, I am not in the loop so much so maybe Dan is correct. 

I have always lived betwixt and between: I engage in quantitative work when I have questions that can be asked in a large N kind of way and when I can build or borrow a dataset to ask it, but my skills are limited.  I do case studies much of the time, but never the same places as I am not an expert on any place in particular.  So, quant folks may see me as a pretender, and area studies folks may see me as a tourist.  As a result, I have long valued diversity in efforts and argued for portfolio approaches by individuals and institutions--develop a broad set of skills and expertise so that one is equipped to address a range of issues.  Students ought to have quantitative training if only so that they can read and critically assess what others are doing.  More importantly, they may find that they end up having questions that can be addressed with the study of a dataset.  I wish I had spent more time (going off to summer programs at Michigan or elsewhere) to master these techniques. 

Anyhow, my view on the job market is critical shaped by how my students have done.  To be sure, none of them got jobs or interviews at Harvard or Stanford, but over the past ten years, all but one got tenure track positions, and they are a mix of folks with quant projects, with case studies or both.  The student that got the most interviews had no numbers in her dissertation (although she had some training) but had a very cool project, few pubs, and great teaching evals.

I worry less about intellectual closure than Dan because I have some observation bias: I notice the grad students I meet at conferences (including next week in San Diego for the ISA) who knock my socks off with really interesting ideas and with research that impresses me.  Some of it involves experiments (the hot trend that is now facing a backlash), some of it involves creative use of existing datasets or hard work in building new ones, and some of it involves interesting comparisons or in depth case studies.

The real test of a department is whether it fosters or squashes curiosity.  People apply to and then endure the joys Phd programs with low wages and high uncertainty because they are very interested in politics.  The job of a Phd program is give students skill sets, to sharper their analytical abilities, and then help them find and define research-able projects.  I have no doubt that there are programs that focus far more on methods than on developing their students' curiosity.  I do believe that Dan is right that there are systemic pressures that matter in all of this.

Dan is right to raise questions about what we are asking of our students--finish fast, publish before you leave and get heaps of skills along the way.  Does make it hard to just sit and think.  On the other hand, I don't remember things being that different twenty years ago (has it been that long? oh yes!): we thought hard the first few years in and around classes, but then we focused on our dissertations.  I guess one of the questions I ponder is how much of this is really that new at all.  The positivists won a long time ago.  But there has always been room for folks who don't do that stuff.  Constructivists may not be doing as well on the market right now (I have no idea), but they did rock the market, the journals, the presses, and the post-docs for much of the past twenty years.  I remember seeing a senior constructivist complaining how oppressed his clan was at a time when much of the commanding heights of the IR economy were in their hands (if not in the hands of the oppressed realists who do case studies and complain about game theory and quant predominance).

To give two examples of the state of IR right now, I look at McGill's two recent hires in IR.  One has published heaps of constructivism (not soft constructivism but not entirely opaque post-modernism) in heaps of places--major journals, major presses, and has had no problems getting grant money.  The other does high tech IPE and has published multiple times in major journals.  They demonstrate that there is more than one way to survive the anarchy that is the academic profession, just as there is usually more than one way for countries to survive and thrive.  My students, as I said, have proven the same thing: despite the pressures, one can still get good jobs in this field by doing interesting work even if it lacks numbers.

The lower risk, higher probability path is, of course, using quantitative methods, but that works best if one is engaged in the important questions of the day.  I do think that the fetish for methods wave has passed by in most places now, but I am now generalizing out of my ass as I have not been on search committees anywhere else.  To conclude, Dan has raised heaps of important issues, but I am not so sure the situation is quite as dire as he portrays.  Of course, it is easy for me to say so--I have tenure and a new job awaiting me in Ottawa, one that I got by presenting some really fun case study stuff (see the new issue of ISQ or wait until we get our book out in the next year or so).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Universities Are Universal?

Thanks to an incredibly dumb op-ed about the wages of professors and the time they spend doing their jobs, I got sucked into a twitter discussion about public funding of universities.  Given that the students of Quebec are striking and protesting because they feel the public should fund the entirely of their education, and given the occasional ramblings of a Senator about the National Science Foundation, this is hardly an, dare I say it, academic question.

To be clear, I admit: the business model of higher education is broken.  I doubt you will find too many academics to disagree.  We have spiraling costs that are pricing our product (especially in the US) at rates that our students cannot afford (again, Quebec?  Ha!). 

Anyhow, the question was raised about whether and what research should the public fund.  I have already argued elsewhere that research and teaching are fundamentally intertwined.  But the question is: which kinds of research should the public fund?  My first take is, of course, as an academic to say: heaps of it.  Universities exist to create and disseminate knowledge.  This knowledge is a public good--while journals tend to be annoying, the reality is that the ideas, the findings, the studies get released and shared.  Not all of this improves the world, some research leads nowhere (hence the word--re-search).  But the general idea is that we are trying to study pretty much everything because understanding is superior to ignorance.

And it turns out to be a good deal for society.  Most universities are associated with economic dynamism--where biotechnology firms and computer businesses develop and so on.  Studies (by the those damned self-interested academics) have tended to find that money spent on universities are a far better multiplier than prisons, for example.

But my twitter buddy raised the question of where the money should go?  Shouldn't the public decide what kinds of stuff gets funded adn what does not?  And the answer is: it already does.  More money goes to the hard sciences, engineering, medical schools, and business schools than to literature departments, music and dance programs, anthropology, and the rest.  Professors who work in the former fields get paid more than those in the latter.  More grants go to the former than the latter.  Sure, we could spend even less on this other stuff because it may not have as clear a connection to the economy, but, of course, that would mean we are ignoring one of America's export industries--Hollywood.  American movies, television shows, music, and books sell very well abroad, so should we not fund programs for the arts, just for pure economic reasons?

We can try to target certain sectors (although putting such decisions in the hands of politicians may not be wise), but the reality is that we don't know what parts of the economy will need the most research and knowledge in twenty or thirty years.  Money will move to whatever is hot.  Middle East studies today, economic integration fifteen years ago, the Soviet Union thirty years ago, and so on.   May not be wise to be fickle, but we really don't know what we are going to need.  For instance, the US army found that anthropologists might help them figure out Afghanistan.  Of course, don't blame the Anthropologists for  the mission not working out so well.  The point is that more knowledge is better than less, that understanding the world around us is a public good, and one of the essential jobs of government is to provide public goods.

Yes, private actors can fund some of this stuff, and will continue to do so.  But a reliance only on the private sector will mean short-sighted decisions about what is relevant and profitable today.  One of America's greatest assets has been its university system, where ideas are fostered, where individuals can rise above their beginnings, and where I can paid to tweet and blog. Oh, wait, I don't.  Never mind.

Betting on Hunger Games

My family saw the movie on Saturday, as my daughter turned my wife on to these books.  I started reading the first one the day before the movie.  Fun stuff.  I enjoyed the movie but have a fundamental question about how realistic the book/movie is.  Spoilers below.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

When Educated People are Dumb

In today's Washington Post, a newspaper that continues to get heaps of criticism for lame op-eds, there is a piece that suggests that professors are overpaid and under-worked.  Um, maybe.  Depending on one's standards, but ignorance or mendacity in the piece is breath-taking.  Luckily, Robert Farley could breathe enough to post a very good response which I cross-post here (as I am too busy finishing one paper for the ISA next week, reviewing an article for a journal, and then re-grading some papers to write my own response):

Stupid or Lying: Wildly Overpaid Faculty Edition

The Kaplan Test Prep Daily has determined that American faculty are overpaid:
But college costs have risen faster than inflation for three decades and, at roughly 25 percent of the average household’s income, now strain the budgets of most middle-class families. They impose an unprecedented debt burden on graduates and place college out of reach for many. This makes President Obama’s recent statement that college is “an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford” an especially urgent message.
As a career-long academic and former university chancellor, I support this position. But I disagree with the next assumption, that the answer to rising college costs is to throw more public money into the system. In fact, increased public support has probably facilitated rising tuitions. Overlooked in the debate are reforms for outmoded employment policies that overcompensate faculty for inefficient teaching schedules.
Right; the reason for the increase in college tuition is “insufficient teaching schedules,” not the massive increase in administrative costs. This is helpful; we now know that David Levy is lying about cause and effect, and can adjust our expectations for the rest of the op-ed. This is aggravated by a second (obvious) fallacy; the “insufficient” teaching time is almost invariably made up for by cheap, temporary, low cost adjunct faculty, lecturers, and grad students. Having senior faculty double their teaching load wouldn’t have faculty costs; it would simply push out the very low cost workers we now hire to fix the “shortfall.”
Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.
Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.
Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions.
Okay, so two possibilities. The first is that Levy is too stupid or ignorant to appreciate that faculty positions at most private universities and “state colleges” do in fact include research requirements, and that salaries at institutions that don’t have a research requirement are considerably lower than those at research institutions. I’ll allow it’s possible that the man is either a moron, or is ignorant of the basic structure of the profession. The other (more likely) possibility is that he’s simply lying, and expects his audience to know nary a thing about the actual structure of faculty compensation in the United States.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Twitter Fight Club, Round 2

My victory pic: my opponent is the little gator with much potential
I continue to be the underdog.  Sure, I beat a Princeton grad student, @gregorydjohnsen who studies Yemen in round 1.  Just barely, as his narrow lead in the popular vote was overcome by the assessment of the judges.  I successfully
  • used my hidden Oberlin ties to one judge, 
  • relied on the affection of another judge (an alcoholic UAV) for poutine, 
  • overcame a backlash against my series of avatars,
Given that the judges are the equivalent of the electoral college, I guess that makes me the George W. Bush of Twitter Fight Club in 2012. Hmmm.  I will take what I can get. 

In the second round, I face #4 seed: Gregg Carlstrom a.k.a. @glcarlstrom.  Oh my.  He is a reporter for Al Jazeera and has ten times as many followers as I do.  In the first round, I was able to use my proven record of tweeting in quantity to overcome my adversary.  In this second round, my opponent not only has a record of tweeting frequently but with, dare I say it, substance.  Sure, I probably have an advantage in snark, but how do I attack a legitimate reporter who focuses on an important area of the world that I have rarely studied?

My avatar, a pic of me in a Harry Potter robe and a wand ready to duel did not play well--the judges included folks hostile to Harry Potter.  Yes, such folks exist.  But are the next set of judges as flawed?  Moreover, an athlete does not change much when he or she is successful--superstition requires one to wear the same jersey or jockstrap, and this pic is my equivalent of a jockstrap.

Ok, I have settled the question of garb.  But how do I attack a Mideast journalist, besides hope that there is no news in the region on Monday?  Well, I am not one to confuse hope with a plan.  So, I will prep a few blog posts tomorrow to unleash on Monday, demonstrating my expertise where it exceeds my opponent's: academia and perhaps pop culture.  I will have to get all Katniss on him, and hope that he makes some kind of mistake.

The one advantage I have is being in position, as they say in poker: the time zone difference favors me, I think.  He will be posting before me, but then going to bed (if journalists ever sleep).  I will be able to build momentum in the afternoon and evening. 

Oh, and I have one more advantage: this really is an exercise in competitive narcissism.  Need I say more?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Serious Video, Somber Message

Sam Jackson brings it:

And, I have to say that I had no idea at all that the NRA had managed to get a bunch of states to pass laws that made it easier for people to mis-use their guns. 

Patience Can Pay

Finally, Mad Men is back.  I forgot so much, but this helps remind us what happened last time around:

Such a great time for TV with this and then Game of Thrones back next week. 

The Latest in Recruitment

Check out the latest US Marines Recruitment video:

Ok, so it's a Katy Perry video.  But the Marines facilitated it.  We are definitely in the 21st century.  Oh, and we know KP is dangerous because she is wearing a hoodie.

What I Will Miss Most

The students.  McGill students are clearly the very best part of the institution, even when they leave me on the cutting room floor:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Guide to San Diego for ISA 2012

I posted a guide for ISA travelers to Montreal last year, and I thought I would do so again for San Diego.  Sure, I don't live there, and my info from grad school is extremely dated.  So, instead, I will make a few general, timeless suggestions and then hand over to a more recent graduate of UCSD: Cullen Hendrix of William and Mary.  I then add a list of tips from a current student, Chris C, who posted on my page.  If you have any suggestions, let me know and I will add them.

Steve's timeless tips:
San Diego is a great town, but it lacks mass transport other than a slow, slow trolley. The trolley will take you to Tijuana and to La Jolla, but the best way to get around San Diego is a car.  The good news is that this year's ISA is in a very different neighborhood than ISA's of the past--which was a hotel area devoid of anything but hotels.  Now, it is downtown, next to the Gaslamp district and the baseball stadium.  Seaport Village, a shopping centre on the water, is in walking distance.  

Anyhow, if you can get on the road, the standard places to go, and justly so, are 
  • Coronado--the ride on the bridge to the peninsula is worth the trip. The Hotel Del Coronado is beautiful, expensive and locale of many a movie, including, if I remember correctly, Some Like It Hot.
  • La Jolla--yes, lots of rich people and tourists, but good restaurants with great views, a nice walk along the waterfront.  Del Mar, further up the coast, also has rich people, fewer tourists, and the coast drive between the two is very sweet.  Plus you go by UCSD along the way.
  • Pacific Beach/Mission Beach--they have a long boardwalk where folks ride/skate/walk.  And surfers to watch (does not matter the weather).
  • Balboa Park is more than just the zoo.  It has museums, restaurants and the site where I got married.  I hope it does not rain as much on you as it did on us that day.
  • If you are bringing kids, the zoo, wild animal park, sea world, Legoland (up the coast) are all standard destinations.  If you can only do one, I would recommend the Wild Animal Park since it is quite distinct from the average zoo.  
 [Update: I forgot to mention--sun block is actually a very good idea--sun is deceptively strong even in late March/early April]
Anyhow, my info is out of date, so pay attention to:

Cullen's take

Oh, San Diego. I’ve missed you. I spent years there as a graduate student. I spent my first summer after my first year on the job there. I met my wife there. I’m pretty sure I left claw marks on the floorboards of my apartment as they dragged me out of there. I promised Steve I would come up with some recommendations for things to eat/drink in San Diego. Here goes. I should preface this by noting that my wife and I were vegans most of our time there, so references to meat joints (but not seafood) are second-hand.

Here are some thoughts about food/booze options in the Gaslamp/East Village (where the conference hotel is located), Hillcrest (midtown’s unofficial capital), and North Park/South Park (up-and-coming neighborhood). Those were my haunts – there's a lot of other stuff out there, too.


The Gaslamp/East Village area used to a pretty hardscrabble area, with muggings and stabbings rather commonplace. Nowadays, the only meat getting skewered in the neighborhood is at tourist-oriented churrascarias. The downtown arrival of Petco Park has brought lots of nightlife and dining to the neighborhood. The Gaslamp is long on dining/drinking options but relativelyshort on character. However, there are some tasty bites to be had and fun/interesting people-watching to be done.

Food – There’s a ton to choose from. Those looking to skip morning panels and enjoy a leisurely breakfast/brunch could do a lot worse than the Mission (1250 J St). Make sure to try the rosemary toast. For something far off the beaten path, try Pokez (947 E Street), a true San Diego punk-rock institution. It’s a must-go for vegetarians and people who used to have a 7Seconds and/or Bad Brains patches on their jackets. Grad students (really anyone on a budget) who want to try some sushi should check out Sushi Deli 2 (135 Broadway); expect long lines at dinnertime. If you are thinking somewhat more upscale and don’t mind the idea of cooking your own steak, try the Gaslamp Strip Club. I don't eat meat, but I’ve never had a bad experience at a Cohn restaurant ( Searsucker (611 5th Avenue) has tasty food and a good-looking crowd, and Oceanaire (400 J Street) has some of the best seafood downtown.

Booze – Most of the bars in this area are interchangeable variations on the following themes: pseudo-Irish sports bars, upscale lounges/nightclubs, and nondescript chain restaurant bars (think Yard House). Monkeypaw Brewing (805 16th St) breaks the mold by serving hearty beers – both their own and other local breweries’ (Ballast Point, Green Flash). The only true dive bar in the area is Star Bar (423 E St). Not for the faint of heart. There’s Stingaree (454 6th Avenue) if you feel like having a true nightclub experience, i.e., high cover charge, high-priced drinks, guys/gals way out of a political scientist’s league.

Hillcrest/University Heights

Hillcrest is the self-acknowledged gay neighborhood of San Diego. It’s also one of our favorite neighborhoods for its walkability, shopping options, and diversity of high quality and accessibly priced food and drink. You can spend a lot of money if you like, but you certainly don’t have to.

Food – Amarin (3843 Richmond Street) is my favorite Thai restaurant, period. We both dream about it at night. It’s her standard for penang curry, and their art salad (marinated mock duck, green beans, broccoli, and eggplant) is what I’ll request from the warden if I ever wind up on death row. Khyber Pass (523 University Avenue) is Afghan food (my wife made me put this on the list – I’m required to do nothing further. OK, fine. It’s tasty). Sushi Ono (1236 University Avenue) is our favorite place to get sushi in the midtown area. Many of the chefs are total bros but know their stuff.  El Zarape (4642 Park Boulevard) is the best fast-food Mexican you are likely to find, and fairly regularly win best fish tacos awards from the San Diego Reader. Mama Testa’s (1417 University Ave) is on the main drag and also very popular. For breakfast, Big City Bagel (1010 University Ave) does a reasonable facsimile of a New York bagel shop (tofu cream cheese  and all).

Booze - Drinking options are plentiful and reasonably down-to-Earth (compared to the Gaslamp, anyway). The Alibi (1403 UniversityAve) is a decent neighborhood/pseudo-divey bar, Wine Steals (1243 University Avenue) offers reasonably priced wine by the bottle and tapas, and Mo’s (308 University) pumps out burgers and loud music for a mostly gay crowd. If you are willing to make the trek over to sample El Zarape, I highly recommend stopping in for a drink at Small Bar (4628 Park Boulevard).

Strike That!

H/T McGill Memes
Many campuses in Quebec are on "strike" and some departments at McGill are in strike. To be clear, the strikes involve students who are protesting an increase in tuition planned by the Quebec government after years and years and years of tuition freezes and then very modest increases.

Mrs. Spew is flummoxed.   Not that the students don't have something to complain about (she is more sympathetic than I), but that employees strike.  Students, on the other hand, are paying money (modest as it may be in Quebec right now) for their education and then some are saying--we will not partake of this thing for which we have paid.  So, a walk out: yes.  A strike?  Hmm.

For me this raises all kinds of issues to over-think.  My colleague, Jacob Levy, has been tweeting and otherwise discussing a basic problem at McGill: the students of the Faculty of Arts (for Americans, that would be the College of Arts) voted against a strike.  Some sub-units decided to have their own votes: English majors, Social Work (I think), Women's Studies (I think).  The French literature folks are also on strike, but I am not sure if their focus is on tuition or something else (we already know about my French skills).  Anyhow, Jacob raised the issue of the legitimacy of representation: who can say yes or no and the inconsistencies involved.

For me, I have a similar view, but as a scholar of separatism, I focus on how it tells us much about the problem of self-determination.  Who is the self that is entitled to vote on being self-governed?  The problem is, of course, of infinite divisibility.  I am, of course, taking perverse joy in seeing Quebec's political dynamics play out on this smaller stage: the refusal to take no for an answer; the willingness to pursue the smallest audience that will say yes, and so on.

Anyhow, I did have a pop quiz today.  I hope no English majors, Social work folks, Women's Studies students, etc. were harmed.

Meanwhile, we are getting daily notices from McGill about protests/marches/etc.  Since some of these have turned just a tad violent, I cannot complain too much about McG's defensiveness.  I do find the discussions to be lacking perspective, comparing the tuition battle to the civil rights movement, for instance.  But the students already lost a heap of support by blocking a major bridge (perhaps the only one on the south short that is not likely to collapse) during rush hour.  Attention might be good, but antagonizing everyone?  I think not.

I am addled by seemingly semi-daily drives to Ottawa to prep the move and by the pressures of twitterfightclub, so this may have rambled more than usual.