Friday, November 30, 2012

When in doubt, Go with the dog

Ok, my mind has been fried by the completion of a very complicated grant application.  So, to celebrate and because I am too addled to post intelligent thoughts about Canada's out-Israel-is-our-pal-ing everyone, here is a seasonal video featuring the First Dog.

Woof, indeed. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

We are a Bad Guild (part seven)

The spat over policy vs. academic PhD-ness continues.  I wrote about it at CIC, arguing that the trends were in the right direction.  One of the protagonists in this conversation suggested that the academics were trying to limit entry into PhD programs because we want keep the value of the PhD high.  The old limit supply, increase value strategy.

If only we academics were so instrumental, but we suck as a guild.  We already let too many folks through our programs, failing fewer than we should at comprehensive exam time, and then letting many go on to complete their PhDs.  As a result, there are heaps of un- and under-employed PhDs who serve as a ready supply of labor as adjuncts, so universities can cut the number of tenure-track positions without worrying about who will teach the classes.  The under-employed supply of PhDs will be there, desperate to get some work. 

No, there are many reasons why we are not thrilled about the idea of the PhD being a merit badge, but protecting the value of our degrees is not one of them.  For me, teaching at all levels is more enjoyable/rewarding (even fun) when the students are engaged in the material because they are interested and not because they are looking to get a certain grade, to get a degree.  While it is understandable and fine for MA students to be focused on getting the degree, it is less fine for Phd students.

Why?  Because the PhD involves not just the analysis of existing work but the creation of knowledge.  Yes, it sounds high falutin and pretentious, but the PhD is a training process mean to produce people who can engage in long-term, original research.  It requires patience, persistence, and much thought.  One get subjected to heaps of criticism along the way.  It is hardly "fun" but the process is endurable if the researcher is interested and engaged in the research.  Same goes for those doing the advising--we want engaged students or else we are reading lengthy documents produced by a machine-like process.  If we wanted to do that, we would have become lawyers. 

The protagonist pushed back, saying with a bit of bite that we should be ok with having some un-fun days.  That work is work, essentially.  Indeed, this is why academics bitch about grading--it is not fun and feels a lot like work.  But advising dissertation students is not just a bit of work over class, but a sustained relationship and repeated readings of the same material.  Most of us got into the professor business because we find this stuff (IR for me) interesting.  We sacrifice much to be able to control what we do, including who we supervise.  Six years in Texas in my first job was one such sacrifice.  Not being able to have control over where I live is a key sacrifice.  That is the price I pay to have a career where the work is mostly interesting.  Why would I want to supervise work that the student considers to be just enough to get by rather than something that interests and animates them? 

It is a fun job with a heap of work involved.  Encouraging people to do PhDs to make them more marketable to policy audiences may make some sense (I am still not sure), but if it encourages people to see PhDs as merit badges rather than something more, then yuck. 

One more thing: in the past few years, many of us have tried to discourage students from pursuing PhDs because we don't want people to waste heaps of time and money.  It is not about protecting our jobs but about guilt about encouraging people to spend years working for us as Research and Teaching Assistants and then struggling to find a tenure track position. 

Sure, we can be self-centered, but strategic?  Hmmm... not so much.

Re-Thinking the War Cap

I posted a while back a rumination: what if the US were restricted from fighting more than two Mideast wars at a time?  This would be like a salary cap in sports.  But the problem with this analogy (ok, there are seventeen problems) is that a salary cap is part of a bargain with the players and among the owners.  With whom would the US negotiate such a cap?  With its allies?  Hey, we all agree we can only fight a couple of these wars in a certain period of time, right?  Or with the public: support the wars we are in and we will not get involved in any more until these are done?

Of course, the problem with a self-imposed cap is that countries in the Mideast may be then encouraged to be forces for instability, knowing the US is at the cap.  The reality, of course, is that the dual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated that there is a limit to how many wars the US can fight at one time, which meant that Iran could, for instance, be frisky. 

Perhaps a sports cap is not the best analogy, but a diet?  That is, the US resolves to become involved in less wars in the future?  This would certainly be the healthy choice for the country's economy.  Indeed, when people ask me about the US and NATO using force in Syria, my first thought is not efficacy but budgets--why would any country in this fiscal climate opt for a very expensive new budget item that might go on for years?  Alas, if only the Bush folks had thought about the budget in 2003.

Anyhow, with Iraq over (for the US) and Afghanistan ramping down (for the US and its allies, not so much for Afghans), leaders and pundits may think the US would be under the cap and encourage more interventions. So, perhaps my analogy really sucks.  What do you think?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Policy-Academic Divide Redux

See my latest CIC piece for my take on academic/policy divide.  Not getting worse, I say, perhaps getting better.

Red Dawn, Eh? Strategies and Tactics

Yesterday, I suggested that a Red Dawn with Canadians as the invaders would be more credible than one with North Koreans or Chinese.  I answered the why question--tis about hockey.  But this, of course, leaves wide open the question of how.  The Canadians, as good strategists (aside from the choice of living where it is cold), know that ends and means are tied together.  An invasion to take back hockey does not need to be an endless occupation.  But they need an exit strategy that reduces the chances that the pesky Americans invade to steal hockey back.  The good news on that score is that most Americans will not notice that anything is missing.

So, the parameters of the strategy are set by the goal of taking back hockey.  The Canadians only need to occupy key routes through the US to misplaced hockey teams--those in Arizona, Florida (2 teams!?), Tennessee, North Carolina, and California.  Note that the strategy would leave a few teams in the hot zone: The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim so as not to offend the awesome power that is Disney (Canadians like Star Wars and Toy Story too much to alienate these folks); the Dallas Stars (to keep alive the mythic affinity between Texas and Alberta).  The difficulty here is that all of these targets, except NHL headquarters in NYC, require traveling over long stretches of hostile terrain.  So, one of the keys to this is:

Timing: Winter!  Of course, not just because this is when Canadian passions will be at their height but because the Americans handle winter so poorly.  Indeed, a potential tactic might be to water the cold roads of the northern US to create icy roads that will limit the ability of the Americans to fight back on the key roads.  The Canadians could then patrol I-5 and I-95 and similar highways on skates.

But how will the Canadians defeat the US military?  First, by encouraging the US to continue to stress its forces in distant Mideast wars.  Notice Stephen Harper's more hostile than thou approach to Iran.  Second, the deployment of increasing numbers of Tim Horton's franchises should help to slow the American response by, well, encouraging American obesity.  Third, Canada co-commands NORAD--the North American Aerospace Defense Command.  They could use the positions here to confuse the Americans--to insist that the first wave (and only wave, given the numbers of CF helos and planes) of attacks are merely Canadian geese migrating south.  If the attack is timed with the Super Bowl (akin to Israel's Yom Kippur?), then the Americans will be taken by surprise.

The big question is: could they hold the highways for a week or so while the trucks run down, grab the Panthers, the Hurricanes, the Coyotes, and the other misplaced teams, before enough resistance builds?*  Well, the US is late to most wars it fights, so it might just work.
* The Canadian special ops units would be focused on Gary Bettman and the NHL HQ in NYC. 

As long as the Canadians do not insist on changing American signs to add extra "u"'s and changing lots of "s"'s to "c"s (as in defence), the Americans may not even notice.  The Canadian troops would be trained to speak in more declarative sentences and cut the "eh's" so that the Americans would just assume that the uniformed folks are just American troops with less equipment.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Red Dawn, Eh?

I was reading a review of the Red Dawn remake in Entertainment Weekly, and it said that "the aggressors could have easily been Indonesian, or Cambodian, or any foreigners, really for all that politics matter ..." and it struck me: why not Canadians, eh?

Sure, the invasion fears, outside of South Park, are all in the opposite direction--that the US would invade Canada in search of maple, beer, oil and water.  But aside from that whole 34 million vs 315 million plus population ratio problem, isn't a Canadian invasion just more realistic?

The advantages of a Red Dawn with Canadians as the enemy:
  1. Geography in so many ways.  No need to come up with a falling dominoes through Mexico story (RD original) or figure out how the North Koreans or Chinese manage to leap the Pacific (RD remake).  The Canadians are just right next door with no real defenses along the border.  Also, you could shoot the film in Canada since they have much practice at imitating American cities and towns.
  2. Casting: heaps of Canadians in Hollywood so getting folks who can talk in a Canadian accent would be easy.  
  3. No worries about offending anyone.  Substituting North Koreans for Chinese by just switching a few flags around is probably pretty offensive to both Chinese and Koreans, bu the movie-makers did the switch to avoid offending a very large market.Would Canadians get offended about being seeing as the aggressive invaders?  Nah, they would just be happy not to be ignored.
  1. Is it hard to believe that the Canadians could be so aggressive?  Just start the movie with some selected hockey brawls and hockey-related riots.  It would be hard to depict credibly Canadians being willing to torture the Americans, but if the kids insult the seal fur industry enough, you can probably see some genuine Canadian rage.
  2. That 34 million vs. 300+ million problem?  Well, this would just make the insurgency that much more believable, right?  If you need a good ratio to win a counter-insurgency, then the outnumbered Canadian aggressors can be credibly defeated by the American high school kids.
The Big Challenge:
What would motivate a Canadian invasion of the US?  They cannot bring the warmer weather north, and they have their own oil ...  Perhaps some Canadian singer or movie star is mistreated by the American tabloids, resulting in a crisis?  No, the answer is actually obvious.  The Canadians, frustrated at the damage that the American-dominated National Hockey League has done to their beloved sport, seek to take over the US, so that they can gain control of the NHL, end the lockout and bring back the lost franchises that are melting away in Arizona and Florida and elsewhere.

I will leave the key plot points and tactics for next time, but how does this sound so far?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dissertations as Merit Badges

Today, there was an interesting conversation (or dueling lectures) between Dan Drezner and Joshua Foust about PhDs as necessary for advancement in the policy world.  Dan uses the Paula Broadwell story to discuss the problem that occurs when people seek a PhD because they think it is necessary for advancement in a policy career.  This is a problem because the capabilities and tactics used to advance professionally in the policy world may have little to do with what it takes to excel in grad classes, pass comprehensive exams, and especially complete a dissertation to get a PhD.

Josh points out that many folks in DC highly prize a PhD as it serves to separate individuals from the masses--those who may have been more willing to spend half a decade or more to fulfill the arcane random rigorous requirements of a PhD program to get their merit badge in PhD-ing.  These folks then get jobs that other folks who are just as smart or even smarter on policy issues cannot get.

Dan has probably faced way too many folks who seek graduate degrees as stamps on their list of qualifications rather than the pursuit of knowledge.  An MA is a professional degree for the policy-maker but most PhDs are not that.  They require patience, analytical rigor, the ability to think theoretically, to be open to criticism, and so on.  So, he has seen those who are in it just for the stamp flounder and fail.  Josh has seen too many people who have an extra credential that does not really give them extra qualification.

The problem is that both are right--the system is gamed to provide incentives for folks who otherwise would not want to spend a few years developing skills and then applying them to a particular question while facing a barrage of criticism along the way to go through this experience.  So, we get people who should not be pursuing PhDs doing so because the particular job market makes it seem logical.

This should not be all that new to us--we who study politics often see incentives that lead to sub-optimal behavior, whether we are game theorists or not.  Job markets are not efficient in these areas.  As I have blogged before, even where there are huge amounts of dollars at risk and significant amounts of expertise deployed to discern quality in the hiring process, mistakes are made all the time.  If NFL teams often make poor choices, it should not be surprising that policy employers (think tanks, lobbyists, whoever else exists in a national capital to affect public policy) rely on inexpensive (for them) but unreliable shortcuts for sorting job candidates, such as the PhD merit badge.

So, I really do not see Dan and Josh being in disagreement.  They just exist and work in different parts of the process and see the dysfunctions from different angles. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Pie Crust Promise? Nay!

Mary Poppins made a deep impact on my family.  Why?  Because when Teen Spew was merely Toddler Spew, she had surgery and so we ended up watching Mary Poppins over and over and over again.  Not a bad choice by her or for us since it is a long movie and a good one.  So, we saw fewer iterations of it than we would have of a typical disney movie.  Still, I saw enough of it that it burned itself into my brain--it became the handy example of a run on a bank and the phrase "Pie Crust Promise" became an article title for a piece I co-wrote on the limits of NATO/EU conditionality (not to mention how many times I put the phrase in the title of blog posts).

Anyhow, I am getting sappy this Thanksgiving.  When Mary Poppins showed up on the tv, I got a little misty, remembering the tough week or two in the aftermath of the operation.  It was not life-threatening, just stress-inducing.  Then I was amused as the kid came down to watch with me and marveled at my recall of not just the lyrics but the dialogue in general. 

So, my tip to parents out there--if you have to divert your kids with TV/movies, MP could not be a better choice.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Best Thread at Poli Sci Rumor Mill?

Check out this new thread at the long reviled website dedicated to Political Science Job Rumors and to insulting people.  The core idea is that it is hard to explain our enterprise, our profession to those outside of it.  So, what analogy best applies?  I like the athlete analogy--the stars can dictate the terms, the middle range folks go where they have to (drafted, traded), and most folks aspire but do not make it.

What is your best analogy for the professor profession?

Being Belatedly Thankful

My latest at CIC: I relied on the old "I have no good ideas so why not go with a holiday-themed column even though Canada's Thanksgiving was last month" tactic.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Notes from the Road this Thanksgiving

On the long drive from Ottawa to DC, the Spew Family listened to podcasts (Greg Proops, Doug Benson, Nerdist) to make the time fly by, more or less.  So, between the podcasts and being trapped with each other for nine hours, we had a few thoughts and revelations along the way:

  • We learned that the word for a group of cheetahs approaches a "murder of crows" for best collective noun--a coalition of cheetahs!  This is so incredibly ironic, because as we know from the study of coalitions in either the domestic form or the international form, speedy is usually not the adjective that comes to mind.  A coalition of cheetahs would be like using Politburo to describe a group of young capitalists.  
  • Mrs. Spew worries a great deal about the catsitter/housesitter getting to the house the first day of any trip, so I pondered whether she had an over-active anxiety gland.   And, sure, there is going to be a gland or two that endocrinologists will consider an "anxiety gland" but I just like the idea of a gland pumping out anxiety as a wired, biological response to various stimuli.
  • We stopped at the Cozy Restaurant on the way to DC.  This is an old-fashioned (including the prices) spot that campers would often visit on their way to and/or from the summer camp I spent all of my teens (and a bit more).  It is also located close to the President's retreat--Camp David, so they have a mini-museum there.  So, we spent a few minutes while waiting for the main course checking it out. The last time I ate at the Cozy?  1986--my last summer as a counselor, and we had our end of the year banquet there.  
One last bit of Thanksgiving gratitude--free wifi at Starbucks!  Thanks.  Sure, I buy a drink to ease my guilt at using their wifi, so it makes sense for them. 

Anyhow, again, enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Oy, Thanksgiving

As I hit the road, here is a neo-classic take on the holiday:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Year Deserving Much Thanks

This has been a pretty amazing year, so I have much to be thankful for.  As I am behind on nearly everything thanks to the grant application that ate my semester, let's just go to the list:
  • The move went so well.  Aside from the movers forgetting to put the door back on the hinges (and I had quick heartburn as I looked for the pins), it really was pretty simple and easy.  We now have a great new house in a very friendly neighborhood.  It only took me a couple of days to find a new ultimate team or two.  And the only boxes left to be unpacked are awaiting bookshelves as we have too many books (yes, very surprising).
  • I am very thankful for the friends we left behind.  My kid realized in her last month in Montreal that she really developed an excellent network of friends, as they gave her some great going-away celebrations.  Same for me.  I am thankful for the folks I left behind.  I was incredibly touched by the surprise pickup ultimate game.  A bunch of folks showed up to play an extra game with me before I left town.  
  • I am very thankful for my new job.  I really like the new setup at Carleton.  I can get to meetings with government types in fifteen minutes, and the real challenge is figuring out what not to do, given all of the events in town.  Indeed, I am being asked to more (including a business lunch on Monday where I got to hang out with business types), which helps to explain why I have been blogging less.
  • I am very thankful that all of my McGill grad students successfully defended their dissertations.  It meant a long fall of train trips to Montreal and back, but it was nice to see them (AA, TM, JT) finish, and it was nice not to have to work on their stuff anymore ;0.  I am already accumulating commitments to Carleton graduate students in my School of International Affairs, but also in the Political Science dept and the School of Public Policy and Administration.
  • I am very grateful for my friends in Ottawa.  This is the first time I moved to place where I actually knew a few people, and it has been terrific.  Not only has it been fun to hang out with them, but they have also introduced me to new, interesting folks.  
  • I am very, very, very thrilled that the oft-mentioned Dave and Steve book on NATO and Afghanistan passed muster at a prestigious university press, so it should be out in 2013 hopefully.  I would be more thrilled about my book contract for my next book on learning about Canada from its experience in Afghanistan (with a really cool title), but the grant that ate my fall also ate my my progress on this project.
  • I am very thankful I got out of Quebec before the PQ took power although it would have been nice to have been around when the Mayor got knocked out of office and replaced by an Anglophone!  Oh well.  
  • I am very thankful Hurricane Sandy only inconvenienced but did not harm my family spread across the Northeast.
  • I am very, very grateful that my wife and daughter, the Spews, are enjoying their new home. Moving a family can be problematic, but they were great sports.  
  • I am thankful that #voterfraudfraud ended up being counter-productive.
While there are many challenges ahead for the US, Canada and everyone else, I have much to be thankful for this year.  I hope folks enjoy their turkeys, their pies, and their families.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yeah, Math!

I love the victory lap!

Best Dissertation Analogy Ever

I chatting with a NPSIA grad student, and we were joking about what it takes to complete a dissertation.  I said exhaustion--that after drafts go back and forth and comments get sent to the student, the professors agree to hold a defense because they are tired of the dissertation, and the student finally revises as they desired because he/she is tired of getting the same set of comments over and over again. 

But the student had an appropriate analogy from the civil war termination literature--mutually hurting stalemate!  Civil wars end in one of two ways generally--somebody has a decisive victory, leading the other side to surrender (Nigeria/Biafra) or the situation becomes one where both (hence the mutual) sides are facing significant pain as long as the conflict endures (hence the hurting) and neither side sees it as likely that they can win in the near or medium term (hence the stalemate).  Once both sides realize that neither can win and the pain accumulates, then they can start to talk. Of course, this does not guarantee that the two sides will agree to a peace.

Well, a dissertation is done when both sides think it is done, that further tinkering is unlikely to improve it substantially.  Actually, to be fair, all of the dissertations I have read the past few years are victories--that they end is apparent because the question has been asked, an answer has been posed, the research has been done to demonstrate whether the answer is credible/convincing or not, and the implications have been developed.  But sometimes, it does become a matter of exhaustion/stalemate.  And then something matters here that does not matter in a real civil war--there are rules about time of degree for many/all grad schools and penalties that are enforceable and credible become relevant.  Sure, outside actors can also promise such things to end a civil war, but they are often not all that credible.  On the other hand, someone can take longer to finish a dissertation if they get outside assistance that reduces the hurting part of the stalemate, like a spouse with a very good income....

Any thoughts about the advantages/limitations of this analogy?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Out of the Comfort Zone

It was a strange day for the residents of Spew-ville.  I was asked by the folks at Carleton to attend the Canadian-American Business Council event in Ottawa.  Carleton had paid for half a table, and wanted me to be one of the folks who attended.  While I am applying for a grant to build a Canadian network of folks who do/study civil-military relations, I am not that great a network-er, especially in a crowd of business folks.  At conferences, I almost always network sideways or down, so I only inadvertently am connected with any of the bigger names in the profession.

Anyhow, it was an interesting event that I had to cut short because of a class in the afternoon (meaning that I missed my first chance to be in the same room as Canada's Prime Minister--Stephen Harper). The first major event was where the two Ambassadors and a former Ambassador chatted about US-Canadian relations and the election.  I seem to be in the same room as the US Ambassador every other week these days.  Anyhow, I was strongly tempted to ask these folks how long the street cred Canada earned the hard way will last, how long is the American memory, but I forgot what I wanted to ask.  Perhaps because I was still thinking about the song they used to introduce the panel.

The next speaker, Jim Prentiss, who used to be in government and is now Vice Chairman of CIBC (bank), spoke about US-Canadian trade relations, and argued, pretty convincingly, that relying solely on the US market to sell one's energy stuff is a bad idea.  It means Canada ends up earning less.  Anyhow, interesting times ahead. 

Then off to lunch.  Which was remarkable in the sense that I have some remarks about it.  They had four of the Governor-Generals Foot Guards march in the flags.  Then they had a guy sing both national anthems.  I could not help but note the strange juxtaposition of a guy singing a song inspired by a key battle of the War of 1812 (which the Canadian government pays for ads on TV about the US invading Canada [before Canada existed]) with Canadian uniformed folks with guns behind the singer.  Hmmm.  That kind of activated my American nationalism just a bit.  Then my multicultural Canadian nationalism was activated when the Canadian national anthem was song sans francais.  Usually, folks since part of it in French and part in English, but not today.  Holy faux pas!

The first lunchtime keynoter was the Chairman and CEO of Imperial, who indicated that the anti-oil and anti-oil sands folks didn't know what they were talking about, given new technological developments.  I was thinking of fracking and of oil flowing out of a broken platform in the Gulf, so I was not too persuaded.  I had to leave during the discussion with Nancy Gibbs, who wrote a fun book about the The Presidents Club--how the ex-Presidents work with current ones.  But class was a-calling.  Nice to be able to zip from this interesting event to my office in about ten minutes.  Ottawa rocks.  Gently.

Overall, I was completely out of my comfort zone, but enjoyed the strange experience.  But this tale explains why blogging has, well, limited today.  Also, I was prepping my Thanksgiving thanks posts here and at CIC that will go up Wednesday and Thursday respectively (yes, different posts for different audiences, but same gimmick for those short of imagination/inspiration).

Oh, one last note--the Toy Story song was not the only odd choice.  They played this a couple of times:

They "used to"?  Is this a slap at the British or the US or both?  Should have been Vertigo, given how I was feeling.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Closer to the Finish Line

Yesterday, my co-author, David Auerswald, and I got the news: the NATO and Afghanistan (with a spot of Libya) book got the go-ahead from the editorial board of the university press to which we submitted the manuscript.  I will name it later, once we actually have the contract in our hands. 

We were doing happy dances yesterday as this is the product of several years of work, many trips abroad, over two hundred interviews, heaps of drafts flying across the internet back and forth between Dave and myself, multiple talks around the world, not to mention heaps of blog posts. 

Some folks are not impressed?
But these folks have high standards.  The non-gold medalists and the non-Presidents are pretty thrilled with this outcome.  So much so that I went on an epic twitter rant once I realized that Band of Brothers was on TV.  See the thread for how the two connect:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Losing is Normal, Suck It Up

Teen Spew was outraged this morning when she saw that Romney was blaming his loss to Obama on the latter's gift-giving to segments of the population, such as free contraception to young women.  I didn't need to prompt her--she readily pointed out that big tax cuts were gifts, too.  So proud am I.

Anyhow, the theme of the past week, other than generals being generally irresponsible, is the same as four years ago.  The Republicans are sore losers.  Sure, losing sucks, and the Democrats didn't enjoy losing in 2000 (where they had some right to complain given how it played out) or in 2004.  But all the talk of secession, the blamecasting towards people who dared to vote their interests, and all the rest speaks to a general problem with the Republican Party--they suck at losing.  Four years ago, the Republicans vowed to deny Obama success even if it mean hurting the country.  Now the GOP is already opposing potential replacements for Hilary Clinton (who used to inspire such ire).  They are arguing about mandates when Obama got a majority of the popular vote and of the electoral college (never mind that they would have been upset with him winning just the electoral college, which would have been like Bush's first victory).

The problem here is this: democracy works when people accept losing.  We measure whether a new democracy is real or not by whether it has gone through one or two successful transitions in power.  In a majoritarian system like the US, usually somewhere between 40 and 49 percent of the voted for the losing Presidential candidate. So, a good large hunk of the country is always unhappy, but which candidate actually credibly claimed to care about the other side?  Obama's acceptance speech was not just to his voters.  Romney's 47% comment and the incredibly appropriate outcome of 47% of the vote reflect something else. 

Am I surprised that the GOP are sore losers?  No.  I remember four years ago.  I am curious about who will win the arguments in the aftermath
  • those that argue that the party should not narrow-cast to white men, that the country is more than just white folks, and that a real national party needs to appeal broadly; or
  • those who argue that they had a bad candidate, that the media was unfair, or that Romney was not conservative enough.
Given how the Senate races went and how the propositions played out (being for gay marriage is not bad for one's political success anymore), I know what I think happened.  But will the GOP learn and really change?  I have my doubts.

The funny thing is that being a sore loser is unAmerican.  Americans lose all the time, but they don't give up.  They adjust, change, adapt.  In most wars, especially the ones of which we are most proud, the Americans lose early, learn and then win.  The American Revolution consisted of mostly losing battles until Saratoga.  World War II was a frickin' disaster with Pearl Harbor and then defeat at Kasserine.   The favorite American stories are those of folks who get knocked down and then get back up.  Rocky lost the big fight in the first movie, for instance.  Some day, the GOP will return to being a center-right alternative of responsible folks.  But I think that is in the long term. In the short term, the blame-casting will continue and the learning curve will be shallow unless they accept losing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Perhaps the Most Useful Movie of All Time

A football broadcast relying heavily on Princess Bride?  You don't say.  Inconceivable?  No, plenty conceivable:

h/t to Jezebel

Grant-Writing Equals Non-Blogging

I had a beer with a visitor to Ottawa last night--Ottawa's own Roland Paris, who has been in Paris for a sabbatical.  He complimented me on the speed of my writing as we chatted about stuff, like how far behind I am on my next book project.  Anyhow, I was amused by the comment, as this fall has been a long slog through a grant-writing effort.  It has crowded out the book and heaps of other stuff, including the volume here at the Spew. 

Hence this post--explaining why this is the token post du jour.  Got to get back to the grant.  More on that later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lose an Election and Cry Secessionism

Or just cry, you silly sore losers.  The spate of secessionist petitions shows mostly that Republicans are sore losers (and some other folks, too).  When we speak of contagion/diffusion--how do things spread, and the claim is made that secessionism might be contagious, we need to be about what it is we are seeing right now: an online petition.  Which is a long ways away from being a secessionist movement, which is a long ways away from being a real political entity with any relevance.

There has been a long-lasting separatist campaign in Texas by a small group of folks.  How do we know not to take them seriously?  Their embassy is a trailer .... in Texas.  If you are going to secede, then the embassy needs to go outside one's territory, right?

Anyhow, not only have I studied secession--the causes and the international relations of--but I have lived in Texas and in Quebec, so I have both scholarly and real life experience with secession.  What we see here is nothing more than a small percentage of folks (as in under 1% if the link above is correct) doing the very absolute minimum.  That is, they don't have to leave their couches and they are exposed to no risk. 

So, let's pour some perspective sauce on all of this.  Quebec has been pursuing secession for the past thirty-five years or so, and are not getting much closer.  The Quebeckers at least have the advantage of a real identity divide--language.   And with heaps of institutional support.  The US is still run for and by white folks, white Christian folks, and Obama's election just means that minorities had their say. The reality is that the internet, when combined with a media that needed to fill some time on its 24 hour networks (until the Petraeus mess hit the waves), amplifies all of this--but, to quote that Shakespeare guy, it is sound and fury signifying nothing.  I will let you folks consider who the idiot is in all of this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Last But Not the Least

Today was my last train to dissertation defence-land.  I went back to McGill for my last McG PhD student's defense.  Jessica Trisko was the final but not the least of my students.  Despite the fact that I had been pretty impressed all the way along, I was even more at the defense.  She not only explained what she did and did not do in her effort to understand how foreign aid can be diverted to facilitate repression, but she displayed a mastery of the data and of the cases. 

The work required a mighty slog through some ugly datasets and some creative work to put it all together.  She displayed diligence and determination along the way. The dissertation was quite interesting to read, and I learned much from her and her work.  Like most of her predecessors, Jessica asked interesting questions that took her far from my expertise.  As I said earlier this fall about another student, I don't need to promote Jessica as she has a tenure track position.  I am simply most proud of her, and I am looking forward to her doing great things.

To mark the occasion, I took a few pics of McGill.  I don't know when I will be going there again.  I knew I was going to have three return trips this fall, but that is over now.  The funny thing is that today was the first day they were holding job talks/interviews to replace me.  If only I had known, I would have crashed the job talk and asked pesky questions..... Alas. 

Fourth generation civ-mil?

I am applying for a grant to build a Canadian Civil-Military Relations network this month, and now I have a thorny problem.  Given the space restraints on the various documents, do I have to explain that what I don't mean by civil-military relations are the affairs, email-exchanges and other linkages between four star generals such as Petraeus (former) and Allen (current) and various women (Broadwell, Kelley, etc)? 

When we speak of civil-military relations, we can think of three generations:
  1. The first focused on coups and the threat militaries posed to democracies
  2. The second focused on how democracies control their militaries and whether there are gaps between the two groups.
  3. The newest focuses on getting the military and civilians to work together well in a "comprehensive approach" or "whole of government effort" as counter-insurgency or state-building is pursued.  
  4. Officers messing around with civilians.
 Oy. The latest news, that General Allen of ISAF and designated to become the head of NATO's military arm (SACEUR), indicates that someone has dropped a big bottle of distraction sauce, causing it to spray in every direction.  The FBI clearly needs to distract folks from the fact that this whole thing happened because a woman getting some threatening emails asked an FBI friend who appears to be quite ideologically biased to look into things.  It does explain why Eric Cantor got involved, but not why he behaved so responsibly.

Anyhow, it looks like I am going to have to explain what civil-military relations is NOT for the next year or three.  Oy squared.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Voterfraudfraud in Retrospect

We were so focused on voter id laws and the rest that might keep people away from the polls we (at least I) did not consider the simple strategy of delay:

Oh my, what a coincidence!  Or not.  I was worried that voter suppression could tilt a state or two (Florida was so close again), but I do think that the lines showed determination.  I think people believed that the efforts to suppress their vote should not stand, and so they stood and stood and stood in line and in defiance. 

I can only thank those folks for being so determined.  Maybe the GOP will learn it is better to earn their vote than their distrust via voterfraudfraud efforts. Or not.

Petraeus and the Modern Military

The criticism of David Petraeus will continue for quite some time.  And deservedly so.  He made a piss poor choice, undermining his ability to lead and serve as a role model.  People, especially his adversaries in the military, will use this to attack not just the man but the policies he promoted.  And it gets complicated because Petraeus did provoke the occasional crisis in civil-military relations.  He engaged the Sunni Awakening before the US had a policy on it, so he made policy without guidance or permission from above.

Anyhow, the point here is that counter-insurgency is coming under attack because it has not "worked" in Afghanistan, and it was not as responsible for joy and happiness in Iraq.  Heaps of folks in the US Army and outside of it are not big fans of COIN.  Why?  Partly because it threatens budgets if you don't need big tanks and bombers.  Partly because it threatens identities--capital intensive warfare is the American way of war.  Partly because COIN is complicated and appropriate for some circumstances and not others.  Partly because there is no single way to execute a counter-insurgency campaign.

What made Petraeus such an improvement was his ability to think and adjust.  The new counter-insurgency doctrine may not have been perfect, but it was the process that mattered.  He brought together smart people across a variety of disciplines including civilians to re-think how the Army does counter-insurgency.  He had studied the lessons of Vietnam, but did not just blindly apply those.  Again, his version of COIN may have been lucky rather than good as it interacted with the Sunni Awakening in ways that gave the US a temporary advantage.  But previous US military leaders showed no such ability to think outside the box. 

The real challenge is that US conventional military supremacy means that most of the US's adversaries are not going to fight conventionally.  Those that do, such as Hussein (twice!), are defeated but then leave behind tough political and military questions about what to do next.  So, we need to have folks in charge who think and plan and adjust and adapt.  Petraeus did that very well in Iraq in 2003 as the ground campaign ended and the aftermath became the problem.  He did it very well in 2007 with the surge.  Not sure how well Petraeus did in Afghanistan since there are a lot of things going on and I am still confused about how much success actually happened.

It is always so easy to confuse the person with the public relations.  It is particularly the case when success is so hard to measure.  As much as Petraeus has let us all down with his affair (and his being a lousy dissertation adviser), I still think how he conducted the missions he was given--conducting peace ops in Bosnia in 2002, Iraq in 2003/07, the doctrine writing in between the Iraq stints--made a difference and a positive one.  Not flawless by any stretch, but better than most of the American generals.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Expecting a Learning Curve?

Should we expect the Republicans to learn from their losses this week?  No.  Well, maybe.  Ok, some will learn but will it change the behavior of the party?  Well, the first bit of evidence would be no.  John Boehner is claiming that the GOP win in the House, keeping control, is a mandate.  Given that more folks voted for the Democrats but successful gerrymandering meant that the GOP got more seats, this is a thin mandate indeed.

But my doubt about GOP learning/reform is more driven by my Marxist understanding of politics.  That is, who controls the commanding heights of the Republican political economy?  That is, who has the money, who controls the institutions, and what are the incentives for change?   Reality-based conservatives, an increasingly rare species, are noting that FOX and other GOP outlets are somewhat to blame.  Is it like that FOX and talk radio and other conservative outlets will moderate their tone as they realize that the center of the political system is to the left of where they stand?  Unlikely.  So, the agenda-setting and issue-framing on the right will still be on the waaaay right.

Will the Koch brothers and other deep pockets who support the farthest right folks learn?  Hmmmm.  I am not an expert on these folks, so I cannot say for sure.

Gerrymandering has also created some incentives for always heading to the right.

My vote, as always, is also for cognitive closure.  People can and will draw out whatever lessons they want, such as:
I am sure we will hear more excuses.  Sure, some of the fundamentals that political scientists care so much about pointed to an Obama re-election, so perhaps the GOP and its fans can take solace in the idea that no candidate would have won.  But there are a few problems with this:
  • the vote distributions of ethnic groups, where even Cuban-Americans voted more for Obama than for Romney, an historic reversal;
  • the losses by the rape boys and the victories of the female Democrats for a number of Senate seats;
  • the passage of a pro-tax proposition in California; the passage of pro-same sex propositions elsewhere.
So, yes, Obama only won the popular vote for a few million votes (which kills the whole non-mandate thing), but he did so when unemployment is quite high, where the popularity of the Afghanistan war has declined, a month after a messy foreign policy crisis (Benghazi), and when the average family is just treading water as post-recession growth has been weak.  Seems like ripe conditions for a one-term presidency.  But no.  The GOP lost.  Given that they are sore losers, I doubt that they will take it well and learn.  It took a long time for the Democrats to learn, and they didn't really have to fight the folks controlling the key resources and institutions in the same way.

Sex and the Academy

Among his many parting gifts, David Petreaus reminds us that dissertation advisers can abuse their authority with a bit more immunity than CIA directors.  Yes, Petraeus not only slept with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, but his student as he apparently had served as one of her dissertation advisers.  This led me to tweet that the difference between a CIA director and a professor is that the former loses his/her job if he/she gets caught sleeping with a subordinate.

My blog has long protested the depiction in popular culture of professors as leches, that nearly every professor in TV and movies seems to be pursuing sexual relationships with their students.  The problem is that while nearly all professors do not engage in this behavior, there are, of course, some who do.  Worse, they often get away with it.

In my academic travels, I have been at a couple of places where predators existed, taking advantage of their relative power and the apparent sex appeal that comes with the job of professor (at least, this is what our pop culture suggests).  These predator profs largely got away with their behavior, which, indeed, created hostile working environments not just for those that they pursued but also for many other folks in the programs.  One of these did get his wrist slapped, but whatever symbolic punishments levied were only temporary.

Tenure should not protect such individuals.  Indeed, it really does not, as one of the individuals was not yet tenured but protected by senior professors.  The other was protected by the university, essentially, as it was afraid of lawsuits.  Perhaps other schools take this stuff more seriously.

To get back to Petraeus, he seemed like a perfect candidate for teaching at Princeton, where he got his PhD.  I am curious about whether the particular sin that cost him his career in government service will get in the way of getting a university job.  His predecessor in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, who went on to Yale, insulted his superiors and showed that he was bad at Public Relations.  These are not sins in the academy but perhaps requirements.  Petraeus, on the other hand, proved that he not only unfit to be CIA director but also unfit to profess.  Will Petraeus get an academic post anyway?  I would not bet against it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who is Reality Averse Now?

I didn't watch the election coverage on FOX the other night, as there is only so much schadenfreude that I can consume.  But this take by Jon Stewart is delightful:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Not A Bad Speech

The problem with President Obama is he keeps setting expectations so high so that when he falls short, he disappoints so much.  If he was only seen as inarticulate at GW Bush, then we would not expect so much.
Oh well, I do like this speech:

I will be busy with a conference in town the next couple of days, but I do have some thoughts that I will try to articulate.  The good news is that no one expects me to be as articulate as the President.

2012 Post-Mortem

Wow.  The funny thing is that while I am pleased about Obama winning, I am even more pleased that the folks who embraced reality kicked the asses of the reality-averse.  Not just Nate Silver, but that the rape wonder twins lost elections that they should have won. 

Yesterday, I pondered whether I was sucked in by wishful thinking (hey, I thought Mondale might win in 1984), but that bit of doubt perhaps reflected a bit more concern about reality and possible bias than what we have seen from the GOP.  Why did I place my "faith" in the Democrats yesterday?  Because I had seen enough policy and polls that suggested that the Republicans effectively alienated damn near all non-white folks with their stances, and that women would turn out and vote for the anti-rape party.  My biggest concern: would resentment against voterfraudfraud efforts compensate for successful voter suppression.  It seems that it did.

I think it was most appropriate in this year of Republicans taking the most awful stands on women that the Senate will have more women than ever. 

I cannot write much now as I have to run to school to participate in a panel on the election--what does this election mean for US-Canadian relations?  Not much really, as neither candidate was really promising anything sweeping in this direction, but odds are now lower that Canada will be fighting alongside the US in yet another Mideast war.

If the folks in the GOP who argue that they were not Conservative enough win, then perhaps the Libertarians will get their wish--to be the second party of the US as a more Conservative GOP can only become more marginalized.  While it might be hard for the Dems to win three times in a row, if the GOP continues to alienate growing demographics, if it fails to suppress enough votes, if it continues to follow Palin's dream of being the party of white rural America, it might indeed become a third party.   I doubt it because money matters and there is a enough of a base to keep the 3rd parties at bay (white evangelicals), but if the economy is better in four years and the wars are behind us, I would not bet against it.  Especially if the GOP has such a disastrous primary race like it did this time.  Sure, there will be better candidates out there but will they be able to overcome the party's primary process?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Big Test

Today/tonight/tomorrow serves as a big test.  Well, big test to this narcissist.  Will the election verify the logics, arguments and facts as I have seen them over the past year or three?  Or will everything I believed be revealed to be the product of wishful thinking? 

I have long believed that the Republicans were hurting themselves with their xenophobia, that their non-Romney competition was going to hurt them, that Obama was fundamentally a more appealing candidate (Mrs. Spew would say his abs are quite appealing), that Obama has shown many times a keen ability to give his opponents enough rope to hang themselves (how about that Navy of 1916 comparison now?) 

Of course, I could have been just motivated by my bias to believe that Obama would win.  If he wins, that might mean that I was biased but accidentally right.  Or if he loses, it could mean that I actually was right about much of the stuff, but underestimated the super-pacs, Obama's mis-steps or the success of the GOP's strategy to deny Obama many policy victories.

The funny thing is that I will, of course, read into tonight's outcome whatever what I want to read into them, so suggesting that this is any kind of test is deceptive.  The only real tests tonight are: is Nate Silver on target? Will the Secretaries of State fail in their jobs?  and will the GOP exceed expectations and not be sore losers?

Clean Government?

Last night, the Mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay, resigned from his office in disgrace as the corruption scandal led directly to him.  No, thus far there is no proof that he took cash, just that he would leave the room when it was clear the topic would come up, rather than tackling it.  And this reminds me of the non-story in this election down in the US: there has been no significant corruption accusations/investigations the past four years.  Given how enthusiastically the GOP pursued the Clintons, you know if there was any hint of smoke, they would be throwing gasoline on it. 

I am not saying that Romney would be corrupt or tolerate corruption.  We have no idea, but we do know that we have seem some good governance over the past four years.  Sure, more executive power over-reach (not going to change with Romney), much frustration with handling of Congress (Romney might be less frustrated but I am pretty sure I would prefer him frustrated), and so on.  But the relative success of FEMA and the response to Hurricane Sandy combined with the non-corruption non-scandals suggests that even as we are confused by the events in Libya, we have a government in the US right now that does not suck that much.  Isn't that something to vote for?

Good luck to those who have to stand in lines today to exercise their basic freedom. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hate the Player and the Game

The Mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay, is currently giving a speech where he hopefully will resign.  He started by saying that his dad told/ him:
"My father told me to never get into politics because it was dirty, and I would be destroyed."

And my reaction is: I pity the fool who blames the game.  At no point did this Mayor ever seem at all sincere about fighting corruption.  The scandal led to his door.  He made his bucks so no sympathy for him now.  He played the game, he won, and now he has lost.  Suck it up, take some personal responsibility and then get off the stage.  Oh, and maybe donate some cash to something worthy.

Tremblay leaves as he governed--oblivious to the end.

Pondering the Electoral College

I was asked today about the electoral college [EC], and I am clearly a bit biased this week since if there is a popular vote/electoral college conflict, the EC will be favoring my preferred candidate.  But I do think that the EC, which had somewhat different aims and effects centuries ago, is not a bad thing. 

Why? Well, as a scholar of ethnic conflict, I am familiar with debates about electoral institutions and especially those that advocate vote-pooling--those that compel candidates to reach out beyond a narrow constituency.  Given the interaction of demographics and the electoral college, a candidate has to do amazingly well to win when appealing only to whites folks.  Over time, the popular vote may end up being the same way, but the electoral college combined with everything else means that states with significant diversity (Virginia, Florida, Colorado, etc) are key.  If it was just about the popular vote, then one could try to really run up the score in a few big states and ignore large swaths of the country.  Yes, there is a focus only on swing states this month, but we got these states defined as such by the interaction of demographics and the electoral college.  And these are mostly medium sized, fairly representative states, forcing the politicians to make broader, rather than narrower, appeals.  NC, Ohio, CO, Nevada, Florida are a good mix of places.  

Yes, it does have one bad effect--it makes the Secretaries of State of a few places very powerful and increases the temptation to engage in voter suppression, but I prefer the court cases to focus on a few states rather than on the entire country, which would be the case in a close popular vote, right?

Again, I am biased in this and not just because I strongly prefer Obama to Romney but also because I think appealing to a wider demographic base is better than appealing to just one group.  Better to assure the many than scare the fewer; better to be broadly representative than to be the white man's man. 

Tomorrow will be interesting, and not just about the Presidency.  The GOP may have gone so far to the right that it may have lost a shot at winning the Senate.  How cool would that be?  Very cool.  Of course, the next question will be what lessons to learn from this, and I am confident that in the short term the GOP will blame Romney, non-existent voterfraud, the media, Hurricane Sandy, but will not revisit its strategies and its appeal to a narrowing base.  Learning is not inevitable.  In a Darwinian survival of the fittest, adaptation does not have to happen.  The less fit (those with narrow appeal) can be marginalized, just as the Great Powers of the past may still exist but are no longer all that relevant (Sweden, Portugal, Spain, etc.).

Secretary of Whuck?

I will always be indebted to 30 Rock for dissseminating the word Whuck, which is how one pronounces WTF.  Anyhow, this is relevant right now as people noticed this weekend (and before) that many states seem to be confused about how to administer an election.  It is kind of like when the Montreal train system had problems dealing with snow and cold--as if winter was something new to Montreal.  By this point in time, US elections should be pretty damned efficient--every 2 years for more than two centuries.  But as the long lines indicated, we still don't do it well.

Why not? There may be many reasons, including the reality that something done every two years is not frequent enough for people to remember the lessons learned from the last time.  But I think reason number one is that most people have no clue who is responsible in their state and thus just vote party line for the Secretary of State.  Hilary Clinton is not in charge of elections, and the name of her office may confuse people when they see it on the ballot--that their state's Secretary of State is its head diplomat???  So, party line voting on "minor" offices may be the case (I speak from complete ignorance as I do not study this stuff) when it comes to this office that determines electoral outcomes. 

What does this remind me of?  When Lenin and the other big thinkers in the Bolsheviks thought they should give the personnel job to Stalin since that was beneath them.  Good times.  Or not.

So, if you have not voted yet, vote for the incumbent Secretary of State if the voting process is going well and if you do not see much effort to suppress the vote.  If the voting process is going poorly, if your effort to vote was made more difficult by how it was administered, for goodness sake, VOTE AGAINST THE INCUMBENT SECRETARY OF STATE.  Oh, and also vote against the governors/mayors/representatives/senators in your state that seek to suppress the vote.  Denying the right to vote means many things, but for certain it means that the folks engaged in such efforts think that they cannot win on the basis of the soundness of their programs.   They must resort to selecting out of the voting pool those who would vote against them.  That makes such folks unworthy... unworthy of your vote and unworthy to govern.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Last Chance fo Election Comedy?

I have become a big fan of Brian MacFadden--the Sunday NYT cartoonist--party fraud!!!!  No, partyfraudfraud!

Comedic Supremacy

That the funnier, more talented people are on Obama's side may not be a good reason to vote for Obama, but I will  take it:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Random Number or Real List?

I just tweeted the following:
 If you have to depend on Michael Brown to be the critic of Obama's reaction to Sandy, you have at least seven problems.
What did I mean by that?  Is there at least seven problems?  Hmmm, now that I have tweeted it, it is time to enumerate, right? Or is it just that I have fifteen minutes to waste before the reception at this hotel in Kingston for folks studying Armed Forces and Society (Civil-Military Relations).

Given that Michael Brown was the FEMA head who did New Orleans and the rest of the areas hit by Katrina few favors eight years ago, here are the seven (or as many as I can invent in fifteen minutes).
  1. By putting "Heck of a job" Brownie on your program as a critic of the current effort, you are actually demonstrating that there may be few, if any, credible critics of the effort.  This is like having Michael Dukakis criticize your campaign appearances.  
  2. By putting Brownie on your show, you are reminding people of how badly the last Republican administration handled natural disasters.  If your goal (and it is Fox's) is to help the Republicans, putting Brownie on your network is not helping your goal.
  3. By putting Brownie on your network, you are reducing the credibility of your entire network by at least 9%.  He has less significantly less credibility than the average guest on a Fox program, and that is saying something.  
  4. If your network license to operate depends on appearing not to be partisan and tied to a single party (yeah, right), this one appearance is enough to convince anyone that your network is in the bag for one party.
  5. Brownie is such a proven idiot, it might shake the credulousness of some of the Fox viewers who otherwise believe the conspiracy crap.
  6. Putting Brownie on your network means that you are freakin' desperate.  This might be repeated 1 & 2 & 3, but it cannot be emphasized enough.  It is like having Donald Trump on your network talking about fiscal responsibility (or anything else).  
  7. Can a Fox jump a shark? 

Obama and the Whack-Jobs

This is getting some attention today.  Nice illustration of the strange set of beliefs about this guy.  I remember a Colonel who was teaching at the US Army War College was most concerned that Obama was like Hitler--that he spoke too well and was persuasive to too many people.  Given that we know have four years of evidence about how he governs (pretty moderately, not as liberal as liberals would like, borrowing a health care plan from Romney/Heritage Institute), this figure really just shows how reality averse people can be.  The latest dust up with Nate Silver is yet more evidence that a certain hunk of people prefer their own realities even if they are the sole occupants of said universes.

Good times?  Um, no.  Our country functions better when the two major parties are run by adults who have different values but live in the same world.  All I can think of these days is the Barney Frank response:

Pondering the Un-Read VII: Ricks and Generals

Tom Ricks seems to drive some of my twitter friends a bit crazy.  Still, I am curious about what people think about Ricks's argument in his new book, which I have not yet read.  I have read an excerpt and I have seen enough of Ricks's posts to get the gist:
American generals have been under-performing for decades as they might be good at tactical (and perhaps even operational) thinking but are lousy at creative, strategic thinking.  Ricks blames a change in the culture of the US Army, as generals now have incentives to be mediocre.  There is no punishment for strategic failure--with some folks who fail getting promoted, such as my former boss at J-5, George Casey, who did not do great in Iraq but moved onto the Army's highest post--Chief of Staff.

Having not read the book and not being an expert on the generals of today (but having a heap of contempt for Tommy Franks), I open the question to y'all: do we coddle the generals of today, can we remove them and then re-use them, would it make a difference?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Whose Media Is It, Anyway?

I had a post-Halloween conversation with a neighbor this morning (yes, we had something like 200 kids go through our neighborhood!), and he brought up Fox news and his shock at how partisan it is. Then I saw this on twitter:

It reminds me that Rupert Murdoch is a foreigner.  How so?  The conventional North American understanding of the media--TV, newspapers--is that the news outlets are supposed to be relatively non-partisan, with some columnists providing spin and biased perspectives but the news was the news.  However, in Europe and apparently Australia (I am guessing here), media outlets are tied to parties, so that they present their slant on the news, so the Guardian is known as being a left-wing paper, for instance.  Murdoch, as an Aussie with imperial aspirations, gives us a Fox News that is very much in the European and Australian tradition, tied to one party so that talking points seem to be identical, and, yes, having their talking heads campaign for Romney.  Fox pretends to be as biased or unbiased as other North American outlets.  CNN is still trying, more or less, to play it the old way as are the network TV news outlets.  The latter because they are more tied to old notions of broadcasting rather than niche-casting, I guess.  MSNBC thinks it is like Fox, I guess.

Anyhow, the challenge of all this is that we have expectations for Fox that Fox does not really care about, but Fox does pay lip service to being neutral to fit into the American tradition.  I guess Fox is here to stay, so I can only be mildly amused at the irony that the foreign way of doing media sells itself as being more American than the native forms that are truer to traditional, American media norms.  Yep, Fox News is really quite foreign.  Oh well.