Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween and the New Star Wars

Only natural to consider the combination of Star Wars and Disney on this night of nights:

And, yes, those are Canadian mickey mouse ears....

The Corruption Tax

The investigation into the Montreal construction-corruption industry has implicated the Mayor.  Shocking?  Nay.  Excuse me, non.  I love that the Mayor's lawyer is now trying to challenge the witness.  That is going to keep him in business because it is not about challenging one witness  but the stream of witnesses.  So Mayor Tremblay is avoiding various appearances.  That makes him a gutless weenie.  If he is innocent (ha!), he should stand up for himself.  If he is not, then, well, suck it up.

The timing, of course, could not be worse, as Tremblay is proposing a tax hike. Since the government seems to be utterly corrupt, wasting huge amounts on crappy infrastructure programs, one would think that instead of raising taxes, the city could just agree to waste less of it.... at least while the corruption investigation is going on.

Tremblay is a disgrace, but he is not alone--this is a long term problem touching all of the major parties.  But the good news is that we can focus on nationalism in the next election and ignore the countability problems, right?

Disney Stars/Star Disneys Continued

I posted yesterday my preferences for which pieces of the expanded universe made sense possible directions for the new Disney Star Wars effort.

This post here does a nice job of raising some issues about my speculation and suggesting some general rules of thumb (more women, please).  I also like John Scalzi's take.

The reality is that we have no idea what will happen.  We should set our expectations on medium.  Disney has done a very good job with Marvel and Pixar properties, the Star Wars universe has heaps of potential, and so on.

The big question is how much did Disney have to promise to Lucas--use his old ideas, keep the old canon, or just sally forth bravely and boldly?  I don't know.  So, we can have several years of speculation before the big movie hits in 2015.  I know I will see whatever is produced.  I am an optimistic sucker. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Future of Star Wars

Perhaps my twitter feed reflects the greatest selection bias in my life as it became instantly obsessed with the next Star Wars movie(s) with Disney's purchase of Lucasfilms.  Of course, Howard the Duck 2 jokes also occurred, but now I have to ponder the American Graffiti remakes or do I?  Hmm.

Anyway, the discussion online focused mostly on which parts of the expanded universe canon would provide the stories for the new movies: the stuff that happens long, long ago, hundreds if not thousands of years before the Skywalkers that we have come to know and love or hate; the stuff that happens before, during, after the prequels (a reboot would be lovely, yes?); the stuff immediately after Return of the Jedi; or the stuff that happens after that.

Alyssa Rosenberg reviews some of the possibilities, arguing that the Thrawn trilogy would be best, that Rogue Squadron would be second best (with her so far), the Yuuzhan Vong would be good too (wrong); Legacy of the Force would be fine (ick), and the various non-series would be of mixed value. 

Ok, spoilers below if you have not read the books:

New Guy Same as the Old Guy

Canada has a new military chief and he kind of sounds like the old ones despite being an air force kind of guy.  Check out my latest at CIC.

Compare and Contrast

The Globe and Mail had Canadian ex-pats list a series of things that the US government does better than the Canadian (just government, so we cannot focus on crappy TV ads during major sporting events or the painfully excessive focus on hockey)), and Jacob Levy prompted me to blog about it.  Again, I am a sucker for a troll (although Jacob is more elf than troll). I find this challenge far easier than another one on facebook--name one thing that Romney would do better than Obama (or if you are a Romney fan, which I am clearly not, then one thing Obama would do better than Romney).

The article was about Canadian ex-pats living in the US, and how the US is better, so I should and will write the reverse--what Canada does better than the US.  However, I cannot help but comment on the list that was in the paper first and what it missed. 

What did the Canadian ex-pats list?
  • US selects Senators better.  Yes, appointments suck.  But US Senate has a few problems, including tyranny of the minority (abuse of filibuster), giving too much power to states with few people which means that farmers end up having far more power than they should, and the whole expensiveness of campaigns that is endemic and epidemic.  
  • US Postal system.  Indeed, Canada Post seems to operate by ox-cart and does not buy into the whole deliver no matter what the conditions (unlike the schools which close rarely).
  • Respect for nature and history?  Hmmm.  National Park Service does rock, the museums on the Mall are fantastic, but these things do get politicized just a bit.
  • The lack of party discipline.  Yes and no.  I do want my representative to represent as opposed to be a stooge for the party, but it does facilitate pork-barrel politics.  I guess I have to prefer non-discipline since, well, I am not disciplined. But I see the pro's and con's on either side.
  • Universities: US has a better range from elite and small to big and wide.  Sure.  But as someone with a 16 year old, the Canadian model is much cheaper and thus more attractive right now.  Still, McGill as an elite Canadian school had way too many huge classes and big ones even for seniors.  The Liberal Arts college is a big American strength.
What did these Canadians miss?  MEANS-TESTING.  One of the big Canadian problems is the insistence on equity so that a rich person pays the same tuition as a poor person, that the child care in Quebec is $7 per day for anyone who can find a spot, whether the parents are well off or not, which often means less advantaged folks paying more for the unsubsidized spots.  They also missed Mexican food--much better Mexican and Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex and whatever in US than in Canada.  But offset to a degree by plethora of other options (as the Avengers found out, shwarma is mighty good).

Ok, as an American ex-pat in Canada, what does Canada do better?  The obvious answer would be health care--well, sort of.  What is great about Canadian health care is you walk in, you get the care, and you leave without thinking about payments.  The waiting can be incredibly annoying and getting a GP can be tough (but I guess it is tough these days in parts of the US as well).  Canadian health care is not great nor perfect nor even really much better than the US for those who are insured, but family finances are out of the picture for the most part.

Accountability is better in Canada.  Really?  Ok, sort of.  I have deep misgivings with the powerlessness of parliamentary committees, but the comparison between Somalia and Abu Ghraib is startling.  The Canadians may have over-reacted a bit (and definitely got distracted over detainees in Afghanistan), but there were real consequences for not just the soldiers on the ground but all the way up the chain of command with generals being punished, with the Chief of Defence Staff being fired, Ministers of Defence were fired, and a regiment being disbanded.  Who got punished for Abu Ghraib? Some folks on the ground, the local commander but not the commander of the Iraq mission (Sanchez, who whined about not getting a fourth star), not the commanders above and certainly not Rumsfeld. 

I need to get back to work trying to get more Canadian grant $$ (where the public money is better than the US public money--NSF has a far higher rejection rate; but the private money in the US is better--Carnegie Corp, Ford Foundation, etc.).

What other issues do we dare to compare and see who does better?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dissertation Defense Defense

Nice piece discussing the dissertation defense.  Great timing for me since this seems to be a fall chock full of them--the third and last is in about two weeks.  Sure, I will have a fresh batch in a few years (I think I am now on five dissertation committees at Carleton, one for each month I have been in Ottawa?!!  Not a sustainable trend)> 

The only point that I would add is this: students can have a rougher time in the defense if the timing is driven more by deadlines than by readiness.  Some students find themselves in situations where they must defend by a certain time, either because they got a job that requires a PhD and not an ABD (All but dissertation) or because their grad school has got a hard deadline.  I had a friend who was in the first situation--his last summer of grad school was not fun, at least if one goes by the circles under his eyes at the time.  The latter situation is perhaps more common these days as grad schools insist more and more on hard deadlines.  Of course, a student who runs into these deadlines has already got a problem or two .....

Anyhow, I do think the piece does an excellent job of defending a ritual even as I am usually skeptical of traditional things.

The Joy of Tenure

A friend (H/T to Will) posted this on my previous post, but I wanted to put it in a post to make it easier to see for all:

Of course, this is bit of an exaggeration ....

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Conspiracy Theory Du Jour and the Rise of the Trolls

I went nearly four years from when Sarah Palin was nominated to be GOP's candidate for Vice President without really stirring up the ire of her fans.  At least, not in ways that I noticed.  But now I have started getting tweets from folks who are big fans apparently.  And they are putting out some bait for me.  Knowing this, I take it anyway.  Why? Because I have not been blogging as much and have been pretty appalled at the leaps of logic and stunning omissions of the latest stuff.

What is the latest?  That apparently Obama should be impeached for the events in Benghazi or for covering up the "true" story, whatever that is.

The basic idea here is that Obama deserves impeaching more than Nixon and more than Clinton.  I would almost say half-right--that Obama's continuation of Bush's extensions of executive authority might make Obama more worthy of impeachment than Clinton who only perjured a bit in a legal process that little do with acts committed as President.  Almost. 

Anyhow, let's rank the acts and see which is most problematic (in temporal order so as not to give the game away):
  • Forming a secret group of folks to undermine the 1972 election through a variety of tricks and dirty deeds, and then firing various officials who sincerely want to investigate.
  • Lying about adultery.
  • Being President when the US is not omnipotent.  
Hmm, seems like the first is the worst and the last is the least in terms of abuse of the office.  We don't know the full story about what happened in Libya, but the most credible tale of events is that there was a heap of conflicting information and the Obama Administration could not wait to make annoucements until there was certainty. 

Ah, but four people died, which means that Obama committed heinous acts far worse than Nixon or Clinton.  Hmmm, if impeachment processes kicked in because an American President got people killed, then what would the ordering be?

Elections Close to Halloween: Coincidence?

Brian MacFadden, the Sunday NYT Cartoonist, reminds me of a basic question: trick or treat!

Focusing directly on Halloween, his year, I did not wear my traditional cowsuit for the fall season game of ultimate closest to Halloween.  So, for the sake of nostalgia:
I do miss these silly folks even though I found fun ultimate in Ottawa, it is not quite as silly.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss: Let Me Count The Ways

This ad makes me laugh, cringe and sigh at the same time:

The Democrat is clearly seen as being an inferior choice because:
  • he has multiple degrees
  • he was educated abroad and then continued to work abroad
  • he supports cap and trade
  • he worked in Washington (where I believe the winner of this race will also work, so experience is not a good thing, eh?)
  • he threw an awesome party (what is wrong with corn dogs?).
I get why the GOP is playing up the guy's environmental credentials as being a bad thing, but the whole "ooo, he got too much education from those darned foreigners" is just appalling.  More education may not always be a good thing, but it is not a disqualification either for higher office.  And getting some perspective by being educated outside the US and by working in DC?  Jeez.

Ignorance is bliss precisely because more knowledge would indicate how much the GOP is betraying the interests of its supporters.

While I often complain about the inferior commercials on Canadian TV (the same Canadian Tire ad every 10 minutes or less), a key advantage to living here is missing most of the political ads during US election seasons.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Today, in the Ottawa Citizen, there was a feature story about where to go in case of a Zombie outbreak and whether Ottawa would do well or poorly in such an event.  This story was tied to a Zombie-walk today.  Hence the title to this post--tis the best of times as the Z-silliness spreads like a virus.  But it is the worst of times, as I am buried in work so that I cannot spare the time to venture out to watch or even join the shuffling and moaning*
*  Is that as pejorative for Zombies as Palin's "shuck and jive" for the President?  Probably Not.
By Halloween, I need to:
  • review a book manuscript (late), 
  • review an article (late), 
  • revise a memo to go the publisher to explain how my co-author and I will respond to the positive yet contradictory reviews of our book manuscript (confusing and also fits the title of the post well), 
  • prepare for class on Monday, 
  • write and post the paper assignment (very late), 
  • start the new NPSIA blog (ok, overdue and going to be kicked down the road), 
  • make progress on the massive (in terms of documents, not in terms of $) grant proposal, 
  • write a batch of letters of recommendation.
Talk about trick or treat!  Again, I love my job and it allows me to a lot of fun stuff (Dublin and London last month, Phoenix in December, etc., but oy!  Anyhow, expect light blogging except for occasional whining.  It could be worse, Ottawa could be hit by a hurricane this weekend.  Good luck to the East Coast.  Oh, and good luck to those in swing states that have to endure a heap of political ads.  The end is near!  To the election season and perhaps to everything if we don't prepare for the Zombies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Race and Reading the Results

We must be getting close to election day as people are now thinking about how to interpret the results.  Some are saying that if Obama wins despite failing to attract widespread support among whites (white males?), then it is not a real mandate.  One could, of course, flip that around--that a candidate who wins with little support among non-whites has a shaky mandate. 

Let's ponder this for a second--what is more troubling: a candidate who only gets 35%-40% of white votes or a candidate who cannot attract more than 20-25% of non-white support?  Given that whites are no longer a dominant majority in the country, failing to get support from non-whites means that one is not representing or at least not attractive to a large hunk of Americans.  And isn't alienating the least powerful who have lesser means of recourse less problematic than being not very appealing to whites, who are over-represented in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, on the Supreme Court, at the tops of government agencies and the heads of corporations?

Again, it goes back to this: we have a homogeneous party and a candidate that appeals to that homogeneity and a heterogeneous party with a candidate that appeals to a heterogeneous audience.  Why is doing somewhat better among whites so much more important than doing much worse among non-whites?  Isn't the President supposed to represent all of us and not just ... 53%  Ooops. 

One funny thing is that Obama will probably get in the aggregate more white votes and more white male votes than Clinton did because the population is larger and there is not a third candidate to split the votes. 

The second funny thing, from the standpoint of the research on ethnic politics, is that scholars such as Donald Horowitz have been advocating for institutions that aggregate votes in ways that make sure that winning candidates appeal beyond their ethnic group.  Does the electoral college have that effect?  Given today's demographics, it basically does. 

Ultimately, it comes down to this, if Obama gets more votes, then he has a mandate because non-white votes should count as much in terms of legitimacy as white votes (the old 3/5's rule was wiped off the Constitution awhile ago).  If Obama falls short of a majority of votes but wins via the electoral college, then the white man's rules set up long ago when only white males with property had a say will bite the white men of today on their respective asses. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

When A Party Goes Too Far

I remember the good, old days when the Republicans, in their opposition to abortion, would make exceptions for rape and incest.  They knew that however controversial abortion in general is, that there was a national consensus that women should not be forced to have children produced by rape or abortion.

But then the party seems to be captured by its very, very far right, so Akin and others are dragging Romney down by alienating women, by reminding people that the social conservativism of the GOP is not just about being a good Catholic or evangelical Christian but about reversing 50-100 years of progress.  Check out

Of course, these folks are pretty darned averse to reality.  I just got in a quick twitter conversation with someone who was quibbling with my take on Sarah Palin's latest utterances--using shuck and jive to talk about the President.  I engaged this person until I checked their twitter profile which referred to the Oppressed Majority.  Oh yeah, whites are very oppressed in the United States.  Sure.  Well, as a white guy who grew up in the US, I cannot say that I have been oppressed for my whiteness or my male-ness.  Anyone who claims that white men are oppressed in the US is so divorced from reality that they are not worth engaging.  

So, this song goes out to the retrograde GOP who find themselves alienating not just a minority such as African-Americans or Hispanics but a majority--women:

Considering the Challenge

So, our favorite (meaning least favorite) non-expert on politics (who will go un-named here so to avoid giving him unnecessary hits on the web) provided a bounty of $5 million to anyone who can dig up President Obama's college transcripts and passport.  Besides yet another unfortunate moment where the media pay attention to an uber-hack who is a specialist in gaining attention for himself no matter how little substance he brings to the table, it raises the question of what he would hope to find?  Bad grades, thus confirming suspicions that this very smart, very articulate, very studious president made his way through life via affirmative action?  What about the passport?  That he traveled abroad?  I think we know that. 

Of course, even if such information existed, this is not quite the October shocker that he would be hoping for because one of the powers of incumbency is to make far less relevant one's distant track-record.  Draft-dodging and Vietnam protests mattered in 1992 for Clinton, but in 1996?  Nope, it is the most recent four years that matter most for any incumbent running for re-election. 

Still, given that Obama clearly is quite capable and probably did very well in college without much affirmative action along the way, what embarrassing information could we find on his college transcript?
  • Obama took "Cultural Relevance of Star Trek".  Oh, that was me.  Never mind.
  • Obama got a C in gym, as he was downgrading for only shooting 3 pointers?
  • Obama took some courses in an area called "Liberal Arts."  Really!?  Gasp!
  • Obama got an A in a class where they had to read Marx, thus proving that Obama is a Marxist.
  • Obama got an A- in macroeconomics, proving that he actually does not know everything about the national economy.
  • Obama did really well in Chemistry, so he might just be able to make meth.
  • Obama aced a course on religion, which means that he might actually believe that there might be more than one way to worship.
  • Obama learned French in college, making him likely to be a cheese-eating surrender monkey.
  • Obama did well in Drama, which means that everything he says is a lie.
What is on his passport that could be incriminating?
  • That Obama traveled beyond the borders of the US so he is not entirely ignorant of the world around him?  How embarrassing?
  • That Obama visited France, making him more likely to be a cheese eating surrender monkey?
  • That Obama visited a country where there are some Muslims, confirming his secret Muslim-ness?
  • That Obama prefers Euro-Disney to the parks in the US, making him a traitor, violating the very fabric of Americana?
  • That Obama has only been to Israel a few times, rather than visiting every year since that is where Mecca is (hey, The Donald is not a good geography student)?
  • That Obama visited China so he must be the Manchurian candidate?

Of course, Stephen Colbert is on top of this (hee, hee):
For a donation of $1 million to the charity of Trump's choice, the blackmailing billionaire must submit his mouth to a dipping from Colbert's balls.
"Nothing would make me happier than to write this check," said Colbert. "And nothing would make America happier than have something going into your mouth than coming out of it."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Token Post on a Busy Day

After the last game of the fall ultimate frisbee season, we had beers at a local pub (see beer tangent below), and we ended up talking US politics.  I knew before but the math really hit me (must have been the beer): Obama is going to going to get super-majorities of the votes of Hispanics and African-Americans AND he is way ahead among female voters.  So, it seems that white males will have to vote overwhelmingly for Romney and turn out far more.

Then a twitter friend mentioned #voterfraudfraud.  Yes, I know and have long known that the GOP is trying to offset the Democratic advantages of being a big tent with multiethnic/multiracial/multireligious/pan-gender/multi-sexuality constituencies via voter suppression.  Still, voter suppression should not yet show up in the polls which make this race kind of even.

I would still bet that the GOP will be increasingly marginalized in future elections as the demographics continue to shift against them unless the party learns to reach out to non-white folks and non-male folks. 

Or they can keep talking about rape in the most offensive ways possible. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I am a Millionaire?

Check out the US census data on education:
Pathways After a Bachelor's Degree  - Social Science image [Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Ok, life time earnings....  But, of course, this is if you get a tenure track position ....  So, I would prefer to see a chart that did a probability estimate or a range of incomes depending on outcomes...

Bad History, Bad Geography

Romney apparently convinced enough people that he didn't suck last night.  Well, that is because Americans:
(a) don't care about foreign policy;
(b) don't know history;
(c) don't know geography;
(d) all of the above.

It is well established that foreign policy tends not to sway the voter.  So, perhaps voters might not care that much so last night's Mitt-tastrophe.  So, it does not count for much.

Or, it could be that Americans are easily impressed by historical comparisons--US Navy is now smaller than it was in 1916.  So glad that Obama spiked that stupid comparison with his horses and bayonets line.  Yes, we still have horses and yes we still have bayonets, but when we measure American power, these are not relevant today.  Romney could be a bit smarter and point to the reality that a shrinking US Navy raises a question about the imbalance between capabilities and commitments.  That we either need to expand capabilities or shrink commitments (I vote for the latter).  But the 1916 Navy line is just stupid squared.

But Americans also must be ignorant about geography given Romney's line about Iran needing Syria to get to the sea:
Hey  Iran? How you gonna get to the sea if Syria falls to the rebels  huh?  Yeah! You ll have to use...
 (H/t to for tweeting the link to this).  Iran may need Syria but for access to the Med?  Depends on relations with Egypt, does it not?  Just dumb.  But if you don't know that the Persian Gulf is next to Iran (and that Iran used to be known as Persia), then you might forget that Iran is already next to a heap of sea.  I guess all those previous naval confrontations recently and in the 1980s did not jog any memories. 

Of course, my vote is for all of the above.  Damn.

The song is wrong--not such a wonderful world it would be:

Speaking of CIC

Check out my latest post there--arguing that Canada is better off for being omitted from last night's debate.  Comment there or here.

Proud to be in the CIC Club

Last night, there was an award ceremony for Canadian Online Publishing, and the folks with whom I am associated, the Canadian International Council (at did very well.  They won for best online only series of articles on the future of fighting for Canada and came in second in their category for best online-publication.  The roundtable, where my stuff goes, was a finalist but not a winner:

As the saying goes, it is an honor just to be nominated.  And I am sincere--I am thrilled to be part of this great effort that CIC has been running, that I am in great company, and I am very proud of the work they have been doing. 

Kiddie Concussions

The concussion story that has become central to the NFL (and I have blogged about from time to time) has made its way through college and high school sports.  That we still have not gotten smart about concussions and the youngest football players is simply appalling:
But the game, an obvious mismatch between teams from neighboring towns in central Massachusetts, went on, with Southbridge building a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. The game went on without the officials intervening. It went on despite the fact that the Braves, with three of their players already knocked out of the game, no longer had the required number of players to participate.
Even with what are known as “mercy rules” — regulations designed to limit a dominant team’s ability to run up scores — the touchdowns kept coming, and so did the concussions. When the game ended, the final score was 52-0, and five preadolescent boys had head injuries, the last hurt on the final play of the game.
Sure, kids were taken out and not sent back into the game, but the damage just accumulated.  I guess the best way to put this into perspective is when we repeatedly here NFL players say that they will not let their kids play football.  They know the damage it causes, they were willing to incur said damage because they wanted to improve the lot of their families (although much of the money can be lost--still waiting to see the ESPN 30 for 30 doc "Broke"), but they don't want their kids to go through it.

At least, this time, there were some consequences for the grownups:
Late last week, league officials suspended the coaches for both teams for the rest of the season. The referees who oversaw the game were barred from officiating any more contests in the Central Massachusetts Pop Warner league, and the presidents of both programs were put on probation.
Probably only because this story hit the news.

Still, parents remain stupid:
Yet even as the Southbridge team pummeled Tantasqua that day, parents on the losing side of the field wanted their sons to soldier on. “We were trying to play a football game,” one parent of a Tantasqua player wrote in an e-mail. “Every kid who was out there wanted to play and not give up. "
The parents need to be adults and realize that there is a mismatch and end the game.
It’s shocking there were five concussions diagnosed because it means there were probably many more,” said Chris Nowinski, president of the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit organization involved in research on brain trauma among athletes and members of the military. “And with a roster that small, the kids might have felt pressure to keep playing.”
Speaking generally about youth coaches, he said, “If you consider the coach is a fool, there are no rules that are foolproof.”
 I am not sure that the NFL will cease to exist because of the concussion problem, but I would not invest in the future of the Pop Warner football leagues.  Sooner or later, these teams are going toget smaller and smaller as parents realize what they are risking.  A few lawsuits and poof. 

I have had one concussion from frisbee--I ran into a tree throwing the disk around a courtyard.  Otherwise, it has been all ankles and scrapes.  If I had one recommendation for sports directors and parents, it would be to switch from expensive and dangerous football to cheap and safe ultimate frisbee.  Alas, it will not happen soon enough.

Bayonets (continued)

Ok, this is a bit of piling on, but I so, so, so hated the 1916 Navy line that Romney had been using that my delight about horses and bayonets cannot really be topped.  The problem, of course, is that we do not have any good material on modern weapons vs 1916 navies.  We do, however, have one of modern navy vs 1941 navy:

The Final Countdown is a classic time travel movie--if you are commander of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier with modern technology--F14's, early warning planes, air to air missiles and all the rest--do you stop the Japanese fleet the day before Pearl Harbor?

If Romney had seen this movie, he might not have spent so much effort talking about a 1916 Navy?  Of course, the real story is that more ships = more jobs, just as Obama's discussion of cheap tires from China was really aimed at Akron, Ohio.

Still, if you have a line that is "tendentious" at best and you over-use it, be prepared to have it thrown back in your face.  Indeed, the big failure that Obama made the first debate was not to anticipate the pivot by Romney back to the middle.  Last night, Romney failed to anticipate the likely criticisms, perhaps waiting for another callback to 47%.  As we submit articles and manuscripts to journals and presses, we academics try to anticipate and defuse the likely criticisms.  We never can anticipate all of them, of course, but somebody should have gamed out the 1916 Navy line in debate practice.  Oh well, we knew that Romney would be a poor academic, right?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Obama's Punch

I did love this moment even if some folks felt it was too hostile:

Because Obama called Romney on the biggest B.S. line of the defense issues--that the number of ships means bumpkus.  What matters is what they can do and where they can do it. 

So, Obama threw out this line for the foreign policy twitterati, if not for the voters of Ohio (that would be the cheap Chinese tires reference).

Canadian Surprises, Vice Versa Edition

I posted the other a list of some of the ways that Canada surprised me when I moved here, and one of my twitter friends suggested that people ought to consider the reverse:

Nobody has taken the bait, so I, as a self-aware narcissist, am willing to jump into the breech.  So, what might have surprised Canadians about me?
  1. When I moved here, I did not intend to study Canada.  No, the Canada Research Chair was entirely a title applied to a range of people getting new academic slots in Canada.  When I moved, I was still working mostly on irredentism, which Canada never really seemed to matter.  Has Canada ever lost territory that it seeks to reclaim?  None that I am aware of.  My focus on NATO and Afghanistan occurred a good few years into my time here, and Canada emerged as a case partly out of convenience (Ottawa was close, and I was able to get good access) and due to the variation--Canada's behavior varied.
  2. As a scholar of separatism, I entirely ignored the Quebec case in my work.  Why?  Not comparable since it was never violent enough to the other cases (Katanga, Biafra, end of Yugoslavia).  
  3. That I have not published on Quebec since arriving.  Sure, I blog about Quebec's separatist politics all the time, but I have never written anything for an academic outlet.  Why not? Well, one of the primary advantages of blogging is not having to read heaps of literature to make it past peer review.  And, geez, there is a ton of work (some of it quite good, some of it incredibly boring) on Quebec's efforts at independence.  Writing for an academic outlet would mean having to digest those materials.  Also, in my academic work, most of my writings on separatism are quantitative--what are the correlates of greater or lesser separatism.  Quebec certainly fits into some but not all of what I found (concentration, concentration, concentration), but I only have opinionated stuff to say about Quebec, not so much what Quebec says about the causes or dynamics of separatism.
  4. That I spend a heap of time and space here at the Spew on stuff that I have very little background (crowns, scepters, etc).
  5. That I still do not put extra "u"s everywhere, that I am wildly inconsistent about defense vs defence (actually I try to use defence when talking about Canada and defense the rest of the time), that I still use college more than university, and I still use the in front of hospital.
This is just a start.  What else has surprised the Canadians about me?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Academic Job Market and the Draft

No, not conscription (see what I did there), but sports drafts where teams take turns picking the next generation of superstars/busts.

I am inspired to think about this as October is when anxiety of academic job aspirants begins to spiral.  The thread du jour is whether the job market is "fair."  As some get heaps of love and attention, others do not, leading them to ponder their fate.  But if we think about the job market as a draft* (despite the fact that there really is no set order of who goes first), then some stuff makes sense:
* Am focusing on NFL and NBA as they are better known (well, Canadians obsess about the NHL but who else, am I right?)
  • First, and the most important: just because one invests heaps of time and effort in figuring out who to draft, it does not mean that teams/schools end up making the best choices.  Past performance (with varying and often conflicting indicators) is not always going to lead to choosing the best candidates.  Indeed, sports teams invest millions of dollars and heaps of expertise when they seek to draft talent, but often make big mistakes.  Ryan Leaf? Greg Oden?  The list of draft busts is huge.  Universities invest far less resources--instead of dedicating individuals to scout, assess and advise, academic departments--with busy members of the department squeezing in the job search in their spare time.  So, busts should be even more likely in the academic job market, right?  Unless expertise is a bad thing, and that kind of goes against everything we stand for.
  • Second, teams will vary in whether they draft to fill in specific holes in their lineup or will draft the best available athlete.  Academic departments will also vary in whether they focus most on fit or whether they want the scholar with the best perceived trajectory. 
  • Third, even if we focus on best available athlete, we will vary in what we consider to be most important: raw athleticism, displayed skill, football IQ, etc.  For academics, for many but not all schools, it is about the publications--will they publish high quality stuff in sufficient quantity?  Some places will value (overvalue?) someone with one great idea that could shake the field and be highly cited, highly visible, but it may be the case that the idea is incredibly hard to execute/finish/publish.  It may also be the case that a scholar may have just one very good idea but will not be able to move beyond that.  Other places (most) will value publications, but pubs in grad school may or may not be a good indicator of publications down the road (anybody study that?).  Perhaps it is about skills--that certain skill sets are associated with better chance of publication (high tech quant, formal modeling, whatever).
  • Fourth, if we focus on fit, well, different folks will have different perceptions about fit.  For some sports teams, there is one decision-maker who makes the call on this stuff, so there is a clear assessment of what the team needs and what kinds of players satisfy those needs.  For others, each draft decision is a battle of conflicting views.  Well, in the academic world, we are much closer to the latter than the former--each job decision is competition among folks with their own ideas of about what the department needs and who best fits.  A department can actually have the same fight several times: who belongs on the short list of people to be most seriously considered, who to bring in for an interview, the Q&A period can be a competition as well, and then the committee and department meetings about whom to hire.  
  • Fifth, players are often drafted onto teams for whom they do not want to play.  In sports, this is because the worst teams get the best draft slots.  In the academic world, it is because people end up taking a lousy job (however defined) that is preferable to unemployment.  This usually means that the player has to play well in the first several years of their career so that they can become a free agent and then try to sign with a team that they like (low tax place like Florida or Texas, a more competitive team with more resources (Yankees? hee, hee), etc.  Well, in the academic world, if one does very well, by publishing enough interesting (cited) stuff in the better outlets, one can get offers and move beyond their starting point.  
Sure, this analogy has its limits, but the key point is still valid: the academic job market is inefficient.  Good scholars often do not end up at the "better" places and often the "better" places hire people who end up producing very little.  If it happens in sports where the inputs and track records are far more obvious, where the outputs are far easier to measure, and where much more resources are dedicated to the task, then, of course, it will happen in the academic world.  So, is it unfair?  I have no idea since we can find 150 political theory job candidates to disagree about what is fair and unfair. 

But does it suck? Absolutely, the academic job market sucks, as it creates a huge amount of anxiety.  In October, for most political science job aspirants, one has very little control of one's fate.  The record is established, the CVs cannot be fudged much, the letters of recommendation are written, etc.  All one can do is wait and wait.  Actually, what one can do is (a) write and write so that one has a better record next year if things do not work out and even if they do; and (b) prepare the job talk in case one gets a shot.  Because one does have control over the talk itself, even if one has absolutely no control over how a department receives it.

Good luck.

Oh, Canada!

This post on the 11 things people don't know about Canada inspired me to ponder how has Canada surprised me over the past ten plus years.  Before I got the job offer and even after I accepted it and started the move to Canada, I hadn't put much thought into the whole "Canada" thing.  That made me a typical American, of course.  Sorry, but as someone put it to me in the past week, not being on the top of American minds may not be a bad thing.  Take a look at Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan.  American attention is not always a positive thing for the locals.  To be clear, I could repeat many of the eleven ones that were listed in the post cited above: Canada got its constitution only thirty years ago, the Queen still has a role (sort of), Canada is underpopulated.
  1. As I mentioned before, I was surprised my first day--that invisible line between the US and Canada really matters--my credit rating disappeared as I crossed it. 
  2. Canadians like the idea that Americans might flee north when an election produces an undesirable outcome.
  3. Not only does the parliamentary committee on defence lack security clearances, but the parliamentarians seem to prefer to be ignorant critics.
  4. The efforts to make Canadian history sexy always surprise me.
  5. Bags of milk.
  6. That its separatists are incredibly persistent but also amazingly non-violent (with one very brief exception).
  7. Winters are really, really, really long.  I knew that winters could get very cold and have heaps of snow (two years in Vermont taught me that), but I didn't really internalize the reality that winter ends in mid-late April (except for last year).  
  8. Fur.  I was surprised not just that Canadians wear fur, but criticism of the fur trade is taboo.
  9. Crown. Not the booze but the prerogatives and all that.  Catch my twitter feed on an average weekend morning, and I am exchanging barbs with about the role of the Crown as an institution in Canada. 
  10. Not how much attention hockey got, but how much attention the NFL gets when they have their own football league.  
  11. That you have to buy the rules of the road--not just in Quebec as I thought but also in Ontario.  In the US, states hand out the rules of the road so that we know which laws we are breaking.  Perhaps budget cuts have changed that. 
  12. I am surprised that folks think that one war has turned Canada into a warrior nation for good or bad.  Sure, Canadian Forces killed folks in Afghanistan (as they did elsewhere), but the country and its culture are hardly militarized.
I am sure I can think of more and will eventually post a part II.  What has surprised you about Canada?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Project Much? Understanding the VoterFraudFraud Obsession

I finally understand the GOP's obsession with voterfraudfraud.  They suspect the Democrats of doing voter fraud because they would do it.  Scratch that, the GOP is doing it.  So, if the GOP is doing it, shouldn't they be expecting the Democrats to do it, too?  Sure, it makes sense to pass legislation that might restrict the Democrats from doing voter fraud in ways they can while the GOP engages in voter fraud in ways that the legislation does not address. 

So, the GOP is only really guilty of projection rather than being entirely fraudulent in their accusations?  They may sincerely believe that everyone does it since they do?

I guess I am happy now that I understand that the Republicans are making accusations due to psychological processes of self-deception rather than being cynical about the political process. Or am I?  Are you?

Free Speech and All That

The guy who was the biggest troll on Reddit has been outed.  An abuser par excellence, he finds himself hoisted by his own petard.  Folks like this seem confused--free speech means free of consequences, right?  No, not right.  The 1st Amendment and all that stuff applies to government restrictions against speech--that government should not abridge speech with some notable exceptions. 

Ah, but if you are an asshole and people find out that you are an asshole, well, then they can shun you.  I am not sure they can fire you from your job, but that depends on the contract, doesn't it?  If one used employer resources, such as the employer's network, to be the troll, then it sucks to be you....  So, live by the hateful rants and you may find yourself outed and then facing a heap of wrath. 

I think many people are now enjoying something more than mere schadenfreude today... righteous indignation and satisfaction for what goes around comes around?

The internet is a net boon, no doubt, but the ability of people to post anonymously has been most challenging.  Yes, it can facilitate whistle-blowing, but it also gives people the chance to commit significant harm yet deny responsibility.  They can view their trolling as a game until they get caught.  So, all I can really say about this one guy is--about time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Faux Pas Du Jour

I read a piece by Michael Bérubé who used to hold the Paterno Chair of Literature at Penn State.  The piece talks about his decision to withdraw from that position.  The piece itself is quite thoughtful (I don't entirely agree with it, but he provides his perspective quite well).  I snarked on twitter that I was thought the story was less brave than it appeared to be since he was moving from one endowed chair to another--something one learns when one sees the mini-bio at the end of the piece. 

But the idea that he was being brave at all was my inference more than his implication, so my bad, not his.  He was expressing his experience and the tangled webs of perceptions and complications that surrounded the Penn State case.  I read into it that he was falling on his sword, but that was not his intention.

The discussion on his facebook page about this raises a key reality--those who accept endowed chairs with people's names on them never know what might arise.  Sure, chairs with names of dead people might seem to be advantaged because it is less likely that the name will acquire a taint due to some new behavior, but the dead can have their names sullied if we find out something new about them. 

To be sure, I didn't investigate Norman Paterson when I took up the Paterson Chair.  So, I should not be throwing stones, and for that, I am sorry.

With Friends Like These

Mitt Romney has made a bigger gaffe than talking about the women in binders (although that has more comedic potential, including here and here)*: making it appear that Tommy Franks will be a key adviser.  There has already been too much association between Romney and the foreign policy advisers of the Bush Administration that brought us the Iraq War.  And now, the architect? Oops, calling Franks an architect is like calling the guy who bungles his do-it-yourself home renovation project an architect.  You see, an architect has ... plans.  Not just to erect something but for that building to actually endure.  Franks and his no Phase IV plan?  Well, he didn't co-earn with Doug Feith the label of being the dumbest MF in DC for nothing.

So, Romney, who was just starting to pivot to the middle, grabs a hold of a general (and others, including Condi Rice) who signifies nothing but a move back to the neo-con that has brought us so much misery.  There are so many generals willing to endorse Romney (hey, more defense dollars is good, right, even if it undermines the foundation of American national security--the economy?), but Mitt chose to stand next to the one for which the policy analysts have the most contempt. 

Sure, it will not get the same kind of attention as the women in binders or the single moms who are the cause of gun violence (not matter that the summer's spree shooters came from two parent families).  But for those who pay attention to the national security side of things, well, yuck.

*  The bright side of the 21st century: instant snark.  This tumblr and other stuff appeared even before the debate ended.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Pride, More Trains

In a continuing series this fall, I am posting again about taking the train to Montreal to attend a dissertation defense.  First, I have to say how thrilled I was that I approached by a couple of undergrads after being on campus for less than five second.  They remembered my big Intro to IR class fondly and wanted to see how I was doing.  Once again, the McG undergrads moved me.  Another student came up to me after the defense as well. 

Anyhow, it was Theo McLauchlin's turn to defend his work.  I served on his dissertation committee.  I am not his adviser, although I plan to take credit for Theo's work for the next twenty years or so.  I first got to know Theo when he took my honors seminar my second year at McGill.  That class was a blast full of really smart, really engaged, really interesting students (some of whom I still manage to follow via facebook).  One of my grievances about the place was that I had not been given the opportunity to teach that class again.  Anyhow, Theo rocked that class, and then went away for his M.A.  He came back for his PhD, and turned out to be incredibly helpful and supportive to the rest of his cohort. 

The irony of his loyalty is that Theo's dissertation is on desertion--when and why do folks flee their side of a civil war to go home or join the other side.  It involved laborious diligent data collection as he found heaps of information on old papers in Spanish archives.  His argument, building both coercive and cooperative means to get folks to do what they might otherwise not do--keep fighting in hard times, was a compelling read.  Indeed, Theo has proven his stuff is sufficiently compelling to get published into of the very best (selective/visible) journals around: Journal of Conflict Resolution and Comparative Politics.  He handled his defense with aplomb.  He even threw up a slide instantaneously when asked a question about interactions among his variables. I am sure he will rock more than a few job talks in the near future.

I enjoyed meeting his family over beers afterwards.  I had met his wife before, but glad to have a chance to chat with her some more afterwards.  Funny that she knows one of my pals in Ottawa, but then again that pal is one of the most networked cupcake makers I know.  Anyhow, it was a great day to be in Montreal.  My ex-colleagues and ex-students remarked how relaxed and happy I am now.  Perhaps it is because I took a day off from a killer grant application. 

Anyhow, you can go home again, if only briefly.  And, yes, I have one defense to attend--next month.

The Past USAFA Awful-er Than Present?

I have posted here before about my concerns about the evangelization of the US Air Force Academy.  That is, cadets and others view the USAFA as an outpost of a very specific definition of Christianity rather than as a military academy aimed at teaching the next generation of US Air Force officers (training them to think!!!). 

Well, one of the opponents of a sectarian USAFA is Mikey Weinstein, who was told by some folks not to attend his 35th reunion since he is a force for evil.  See this letter.  It is disturbing on so many levels, including the need apparently to distinguish insincere "born again evangelicals" from "spirit-filled born-again" folks. Their notion of spirit is so filled of hate and contempt that it is pretty much the antithesis of spirit as we mean it in ultimate frisbee--where friendly competition is emphasized.  Nor can these folks dance with the appropriate spirit fingers unless they are holding up on only their middle fingers.

I jest, but the idea that a guy who graduated from one's school (a public institution, not a private religious college) is told to not attend his reunion because he "worships" the Constitution "as an idol in place of the Son of God."  Again, this is the UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY we are talking about, not a school founded by a devout Christian (that would be John F. Oberlin). 

I knew that the present and recent past of the USAFA was disturbing because of the effort to establish a religious hegemony over the place, but 35th reunion problems reminds us this is a deep and long history of a challenged public institution. 

I am glad that Mikey is going back and I am glad he is speaking to the Secular Students.  I hope the overly religious and intolerant folks get just a bit of reflux as they watch him attend his reunion.  I am not praying that they die--I am just engaging in some wishful thinking that they are uncomfortable--that their intolerance poisons themselves just a wee bit.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Limited blogging

My computer is in the shop. Since iPads blogspot utility is lousy I will infrequently for next two days . However I may experiment with voice blogging which seems to be pretty cool.

Tomorrow back to Montréal for my second to last dissertation defense. My second last student I cannot take full credit for him as I'm only on his committee but theo McLauchlin's dissertation on desertion and civil war does rock the body that rocks the party or rocks the party that rocks the body.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Exchange Relationships and the Realities of Alliances

It was reported today that there are Canadians serving in Kandahar!  Gasp!  Yes, Prime Minister Harper had promised to get out of Kandahar and never to come back.  Yet, there are Canadian Forces in Kandahar apparently.  How could this be?  Canada has exchange relationships with its allies, especially the US, UK and Australia.  So, Canada sends its officers to work in the militaries of its friends and vice versa.  The idea is to learn how the allies operate and to develop relationships that might be handy on the battlefield some day.  I bumped into a British officer in June of 2011 at the Canadian fighter base in Quebec.  The pilot had served in the Canadian squadron over Libya as he just happened to be in the unit that was first deployed to that mission.

Canada did not always respect such arrangements.  It apparently pulled its sailors out of British ships that were sailing towards the Falklands Islands way back in 1982.  Because these officers that were being exchanged were actually doing real work in legitimate billets, their sudden absence was a big problem for the Brits.  So, in 2003, when the Canadians had officers in American units headed towards Iraq, Prime Minister Jean Chretien did not yank them out. Most notably, the Deputy Commander of III Corps, based at Fort Hood, was none other than Lt. General Walt Natyncyzk, who later became the Vice Chief of Defence Staff and then the Chief of Defence Staff--the commander of the Canadian Forces.

The Iraq deployment was particularly controversial given the stance Canada had taken on the war.  In the current case, this was a war Canada agreed to fight and has agreed to continue to stick around.  So, when the opposition feigns shock:
NDP defence critic Jack Harris said it shouldn't be permitted and the fact the soldiers and air crew are on a secondment doesn't make any difference.
"I believe it's contrary to the Parliamentary motion," Harris said. "It is a decision of this country that they're not going to participate, and their participation in the combat mission in Afghanistan is ended. That means no Canadian troops."
All I can say is: give me a break. If the NDP wants to be seen as a mainstream party with a decent amount of expertise on defence policy, then they need to pick their scraps better.  This is not a deliberate effort by the Canadian government to evade the will of Parliament, but a happenstance that occurs from time to time if one wants to be engaged in multilateral defence efforts.  Should the government have been more transparent about this?  Of course, but this government does not do transparency easily or by habit.  Still, the NDP should not complain about this.  There are much bigger fish to fry in the realm of Canadian defence policy, and experts on contemporary militaries take these kinds of exchange relations/complexities as quite normal.  So, my recommendation is: be more expert by being more chill about these kinds of things, and then people will take you more seriously on more important issues and more serious violations of parliament's intent.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cuban Missile Crisis redux

Apparently, the way to celebrate a 50th anniversary is to poo-poo:
I have seen other tweets along the same vein.  Leslie Gelb has an interesting post, arguing that we have the history wrong since the US did make a big concession: essentially trading missiles in Turkey for the Soviet missiles to be withdrawn from Cuba.  This is not really news since we have long known about this, but he has a point that the "do not compromise" stance that was apparent (if not real) might have been important for a generation or two.

For me, I think the Cuban Missile Crisis, whether or not it "explains" current events, is super-important for a variety of reasons, including:
  • It was the closest we came to nuclear war.  Thus, it does have implications for today.  How much practice do we have at nuclear crisis management?  How many experiences can we look back upon and use to figure out likely reactions and likely mistakes?  More than one, but the one here is the most documented.  So, we should keep on learning from it.  What has been amazing is how much the various participants have been willing to meet with scholars over the years to figure this out.
  • Speaking of which, it was well documented.  Rarely do you have a case study where you have heaps of information from more than one side, but we have essentially all three sides (US, Soviet, Cuban) on this one.  
  • Shouldn't we study non-war as much as we study war?
  • It was a key turning point in the Cold War, which may seem like it has faded into history but is still relevant.  The Soviet Union is gone, but there are plenty of other dyads--pairs of countries--locked into Cold Wars. 
  • It may have been the first time Mutants changed history in a big way.
 So, excuse me if I think that however flawed our original understanding of this crisis might have been, looking back in the rear view mirror at this one makes heaps of sense to me.  But then again, perhaps I am captured by Cold War nostalgia since a scholar who claimed we would miss the cold war is in Ottawa this week.

Update: See Amy Zegart for a strong piece on how to learn from the intel failures of the crisis.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Free Speech and Its Limits

I am not a specialist in legal anything.  I did see that Terry Jones, asshole extraordinaire, got stopped at the Canadian border and was not allowed to come into the country to spread his ill-informed, ill-intentioned hate.  As an American living in Canada, I am ambivalent about this.  Free speech should be utterly unfettered, my American upbringing demands. We should allow anyone to say anything as we should be smart enough to ignore those who are wrong, have ill will, or are crazy (or all three in the case of Jones).  Infringing on speech is too risky--who sets the lines and all of that.

Well, in Canada, speech is not so free.  It is fairly free, but hate speech faces greater restrictions up here.  If anyone meets the standards of hate speech, it is Terry Jones and his Koran burning provocations.  So, if you have laws about hate speech, then you keep out the Terry Jones of the world.  Otherwise, such laws are utterly arbitrary or utterly meaningless.

So, bad law applied well?

Nobel Peace Prize for Indecision

The European Union just was named this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner.  My daughter, Kid Spew, was most confused, thinking this was a joke.  Her reaction was that there are so many people out there more deserving, and then she started listing them off.  Good thing we arrived at school where I had to drop her off....

There will be many posts today and tomorrow and down the road lauding or lambasting this decision (for example, see Drezner's which appeared while I was writing this), so why I should I add my voice to those of the critics?  Because I have writer's bloc?  Sure, but also because I have long been a Euro-skeptic when it came to European foreign policy.  That, and I have to explain my morning's tweets, including: "I guess the Nobel folks think there really is a European Union foreign policy?"

First, to be sure, the EU has been doing good stuff, and perhaps this is a reward for cementing the long peace.  The problem is that it is hardly clear that the EU has really kept the peace in Europe especially between Germany and France.  Which led to my second tweet: 

If you want to give the EU an award for keeping the post-war peace, it should be behind NATO in line.

Second, perhaps the EU is deserving for cementing the transition from post-communism to joyous stable democracy in Eastern Europe in the 1990s.  Sure, but this is somewhat problematic, as:
(a) the EU's contribution is overrated, as it let countries in regardless of how well they did on the conditions (including all kinds of democratic criteria);  (b) it omits NATO's role again; and (c) Hungary is making those democratic gains seem just a wee bit temporary.

Third, when the EU has been confronted with a problem of war and peace, people suddenly realize it is a composite of countries with varying interests and commitments and not a single foreign policy-producing entity.  The EU failed its first big test when Yugoslavia fell apart. Its recognition of Slovenia and Croatia did not cause anything really but demonstrated that conditions did not matter more than intra-EU wrangling since Macedonia met the conditions more than Croatia.  The EU split over Iraq 2003, and did not do much more than twitch over Libya.  So, the EU's record as a force for peace beyond its members is pretty lame.  

My daughter's take seems to be the right one:sure, the EU is a fine organization, but aren't there those actors that have done more and need more legitimation than the EU?  Naming Obama before he did anything as President was a mistake and so is this.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Zombies or Grants

Zombies, of course:

H/T to the master of Social Science of Zombies Dan Drezner

Blame Canada, part 75

The naval officer (make that Royal Canadian Naval officer) who gave heaps of intelligence to the Russians, Jeffrey Delisle, pled guilty yesterday.  And it is times like this that I am not sure whether I have gone native or I am just reacting sensibly to hypocrisy.  Yes, the Americans are upset that a Canadian leaked heaps of stuff, since Canada is one of the five I's club: the five countries that share heaps (not all) intelligence.  These would be US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.  Yep, the Anglosphere actually exists (less important for Smart Defence, I asserted in London on Monday). 

Yes, it did damage US national security interests since the Russians learned more about not just what the 5 I's know about also how they know it.  But the US can hardly get too miffed given Wikileaks, which was a similarly huge data dump where a low ranking military person was able to search and grab whatever they wanted without much interference. 

Plus people tend to have short memories--the US has had plenty of spies in its own agencies including Aldrich Ames (CIA) and Robert Hanssen (FBI).  The Brits can hardly complain (Kim Philby, anyone?).  Spying happens.  Yes, these folks should be found sooner, but as the US learned, mole hunts can be just as destructive as intel leaks.  The search for spies can distract and can ruin careers, so again there are tradeoffs. 

The funny thing for me is, due to my rampant narcissism, how I react to it.  I get mighty miffed when the US is holier than thou.  Would I have reacted the same way before I moved to Canada ten years ago?  Probably, but not so sure.

When Satire is Predictable Yet Still Fun

Check out Jimmy Fallon's Mr. Romney's Neighborhood (H/T to Roger Ebert):

Some/several of the jokes are quite predictable (the jackets being the first one), but still quite delightful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

All Science is Social

When I say that all science is social, I mean it in two ways:
  1. That it is not enough to produce research, we must persuade others that our research is interesting, relevant and convincing.  If a scientist conducts an experiment in the woods and nobody hears/sees it, then does the research exist?  Just a bit.  No, you need to persuade others by being clear about the question, by situating where it fits in the broader scheme of things, by justifying the research design, by explaining the research, by developing the implications, etc.
  2. That research improves when one gets feedback.  That getting comments, suggestions, criticisms and such are a crucial part of the process.
Which is why I feel justified about my jaunt across the pond to Dublin and London.  I presented three different slices of my research: the new diaspora project that is just in the data collection phase; the theory and findings of the NATO and Afghanistan project; and the implications of the NATO project for its efforts to engage in "Smart Defense."  I received very useful comments during and after each presentation, even as each presentation was quite different in how much feedback I/we had already received.  The diaspora project has rarely seen the light of day (one previous conference presentation), and the data collection has been the major effort.  The theory/findings of the Dave&Steve NATO project has been presented a heap of times, but that does not stop smart students and faculty in Ireland from asking questions that push the work just a bit further. 

The Smart Defense was the second time I presented that, and received very interesting suggestions--so much so that I am now inspired to write the first draft of a paper.  Yes, the last presentation (you can see the slides here) was based on some thoughts about our conclusion and then organizing what I thought about Smart Defense.  It apparently did not suck too much.

There is more to my desperate desire for attention besides narcissism: that when other folks focus on my work, I tend to learn a great deal and the work gets better.  Many folks are critical of the journal/book/grant review processes, which can be flawed, but I do appreciate the comments (well, most of them) that I get along the way. 

Of course, I will always cherish the guy who commented on the Irredentism book, saying we didn't go back far enough--not back to 1389 but back to the ancient Egyptians--to understand 1990s Europe.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Missions Accomplished! Beer and Dissemination

Part of display outside Churchill during WWII exhibit near my hotel.  So, of course, it raises the question whether my trip to Dublin and London was worthwhile.  The answer, even if we omit the tourism and the beer, is clearly very much so. 

I presented the diaspora project (collecting data on potential diasporas in the US and then the rest of the advanced democracies to determine why some groups mobilize and others do not) at LSE to a group of folks who study ethnicity and nationalism.  The project could best be described as immature or incomplete.  So, the audience had a heap of questions that forced me to think about the choices we have made and some issues we had not considered.  So, very valuable feedback. 

In Dublin, I presented a finished project--the Dave and Steve book on NATO and Afghanistan.  The good news is that we will have a chance to revise after we get the reviews back from the publisher because the folks in Dublin asked some good questions that we ought to address.  At King's College, I presented the implications of the book for NATO's future--that the plans to coordinate procurement under "Smart Defense" are, well, a bit problematic.  Again, the folks there provided very useful comments. 

There was also some networking with and without beer (ok, mostly entirely with beer). 

And the tourism was not bad either:

I had an hour and the Globe was between my breakfast meeting and my hotel.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Afghanistan in Rear View Mirror

Too soon, really, since most countries engaged in Afghanistan are still there, even the Dutch and Canadians who left in one form (combat) and came back in another (training).  As I was traveling from Dublin to London, twitter was chock full of Afghanistan war anniversary commentary--that the US started its campaign on October 7th, 2001.  Here is my quick take (as I am about to start Steve-talk-apooloza in London [evacuations have apparently begun)].

First, yes, eleven years is a long time.  It is longer than two world wars combined (especially the US's shorter involvements in those conflicts), but it is not as long as the American effort in Vietnam.  More importantly, these comparisons are both instructive and confusing.  They are confusing because the US has committed far less of its attention, its military capability, and everything else to Afghanistan.  US forces briefly peaked at something over 100,000.  The US had five times that in Vietnam.  While the US has spent billions and billions, the spending again pales compared to previous wars as a share of GDP.  The US should have been more committed to the effort in 2003-2009, but it was distracted by Iraq. We have lots of ifs, but it does seem pretty certain that being distracted and undercommitted mattered a great deal. 

Second, someone noted on twitter that the Afghans are not really marking this anniversary.   Why should they?  Their war started in ... 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded.  After the USSR left after doing incredible damage, civil war broke out that did not end with the rise of the Taliban.  It might have ended in 2001 since 9/11 was preceded by the assassination of the Northern Alliance's most significant leader, Massoud, two days earlier.  So, 11 years of the US hanging around is not quite as significant as 42 years of violence. 

Off to my morning meeting!  Cheerio!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dublin Day 3: Howth and Whiskey

In my last full day in Dublin and the only one I could dedicate entirely to tourism, I went to Howth and then learned much about whiskey.

Howth is a town on the coastline with some really cool cliffs and views.

Then I went to the Jameson distillery tour (unlike Guinness, this site does not really produce).  I got to be on the panel of tasters, comparing the thrice distilled Jameson to the twice distilled Scotch (Johnnie Walker) to the once distilled Jack Daniel's.  Twas an educational experience.  I am just sorry there is no Bailey's tour.  Of the three Irish drinks, I think I prefer Bailey's > Guinness > Whiskey.  Oh well.

Tomorrow I go to London so that I can present two different talks on Monday:  my progress on diaspora research (not much) and the implications of the Steve and Dave book on caveats for NATO's smart defense (not good). 

Enjoy Canadian Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, and fall in general.  I do love my job.

Friday, October 5, 2012

NATO is Inconceivable

When people talk about NATO and Article V (an attack upon one equals an attack upon all), I am reminded of the lines from Princess Bride:
Sicilian: Inconceivable!
Ingo: You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means.

Same with Article V.  See my latest at CIC.

Dublin Day 2

I spent yesterday walking to the Guinness storehouse, taking the tour and walking back.  I got to see much of the town.  Since I have a talk this afternoon, I squeezed in a quick walk across the river (Liffey) to see the other side, including the Post Office, the Garden of Remembrance, and the Writers' Museum.  So here are stray thoughts and observations along the way:

The Post Office is an important site since it was a pivotal location during the 1916 Easter Rising.  Sounds strange that the Post Office would be relevant since it is not on the Junta gameboard until one remembers that the Post Office was also a telegraphy center. I really don't know much of the history of the Rising or the war the Irish fought to become independent.  Good thing I found a graphic novel of the 1916 events.  Darkest ending of any graphic novel I have ever read.
  • Most notable in the Declaration issued during the Rising: mention of exiled Irish in America and their support.  Leaping Diasporas!  
  • I do like the use of usurpation in the declaration.  Reminds me of something.
The next stop was the Garden of Remembrance.  A very nice memorial to those who died during the war of independence.  It is most appropriate that the writing on the wall is only in Irish.  Every else in town, the signs are either bilingual or only in English (a Quebec separatist's nightmare).  The design was very similar to some of the cemeteries and memorials I saw in Europe commemorating those who died in one of the World Wars.

Across the street from the Garden is the Writers' Museum.  Joyce, Shaw, Wilde are the ones I know the best.  Pithy bunch.  Ironic that Dublin celebrates them so since many of the writers featured in the museum spent little time in Ireland and wrote much that seemed critical.  Joyce had a hard time getting Dubliners published in Ireland.  I had not realized that Bram Stoker was from here as well. 

  • I really liked the line about the English giving a language to the Irish that they used as a weapon against the British as so many Irish writers dominated the Anglosphere including their playing around with English words/grammar/conventions.
  • The funny thing about walking into a Writers' Museum (the first one, I believe, in my many travels around the globe) is that I realized not only am I married to an aspiring writer but I am one as well.  This should be obvious, given not just the blog but the books and articles and such, but I have never really identified myself as such.  Obviously, I am not in the same class as Joyce and his pals except for the basic notion of putting words to paper and then having them published.  I have often thought of myself as teacher, lecturer, researcher but writer?  Hmmmm.  Probably says something about my writing.  
Other random observations:
  • For a country having deep economic problems, Dublin seems lively and robust.  Lots of people walking around, with lots of restaurants (including froo-froo cupcake places) doing quite well, and lots of stores that seem to be thriving.  I did see some dilapidated areas close to the Guinness storehouse, but this hardly feels like a place spiraling downwards.
  • The streets are covered with students shilling for a variety of charities.  Never saw this many kids asking folks to "support cancer" or fund hospitals or whatever.
  • As a college town, Dublin seems like a great place to be.  The stuff does not seem too expensive, and the place is swarming with young folks.  We shall see in about two hours how brutal they are to visiting speakers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Ok, so celebrities have no real moral authority to tell us what to do, but some can make us think not just about doing the right thing (registering/voting) but also about the good kind of herpes.  Thanks, Sarah:

Travel-Induced Blogging Shortage

I am in Ireland!  I have three talks to give over the next few days in Dublin and London so I was mostly off the net yesterday.  I missed the debate.  Well, I didn't see it, but I didn't really miss anything.

So far, mission accomplished:
 I learned much about Guinness beer.  What a huge building/tour!!  Still, I have noticed a strong correlation between fun and taste.  My favorite beer factory tour thus far was Alexander Keith's in Halifax.  We were led around by folks pretending it was the same time frame as when AK founded the company.  And I like AK more than Guinness.  Just not a Stout fan.  Still, a fun time, and the stew was great.

Maybe I will blog about US politics or about Turkey's border issue with Syria.  Or not.  I have got to remember how to sleep in a plane.  Oy.