Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sequestration and Professional Military Education

Sure, this meme is played out, but I had to post this for a couple of reasons:
  1. My job as Program Chair for the Foreign Policy Analysis section of this week's ISA has become a bit more complicated with profs at the various War Colleges and government officials dropping out due to sequestration.
  2. My co-author will be unable to attend the ISA either, so we cannot chat about the joys of having our book in the publication process.

Some inside baseball here, but you get the drift:

H/T to Andrew Exum for the tweeted link.

Silly Sunday: Wedge This!

As always, Brian MacFadden brings the heat.  The last panel is most instructive:

Why not try to be broadly appealing?  If not to the entire country, at least in ways that do not demonize segments of the society?  Eventually, the GOP will develop a learning curve.  But not right now, not with FOX setting the talking points.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Silly Sunday A Day Early

So much goodness in a video game ad. Such a great riff on a Classic classic Star Trek episode

Twitter Fight Club 2013: The Finalest Fouriest

Yep, I made it to the final four in Twitter Fight Club 2013!  What are the secrets to my success thus far?  Well, without giving too much information away to help my adversary on Monday, I would have to say the keys thus far have been:
  • Avoiding some of the toughest twitters who got knocked out before I had to face them.  There were tough potential matchups.  For instance, @joshuafoust is quite a killer twitter fighter, but I did not fight him in the Elite Eight as he was flying during that day's competition.  The guy I did face, @azelin, was mighty tough, but Josh would have been brutal.  In my next round, I could have faced Ann-Marie "Having it all" Slaughter, which would have been tough as one of her books has more citations than my entire career's worth of work.  She is incredibly well known and did get into the pits with us for some twitter fighting.  Instead, I am facing @JimmySky, who I have followed for quite some time.  He has about the same number of followers and has blogged, so he is a familiar foe.
  • My day job is easier than other folks in terms of time management--I could spend heaps of time twittering this week because I had few meetings.  Other folks had serious time commitments.  It does mean I am behind in ISA preparations, but one has to have priorities.  
  • Experience: last year I faced several tough foes before losing to @will_mccants.  The battle with Will last year was a heap of fun (he was in town this week so we had a great time with a few folks during a meat-ful dinner), and he is a twitter fighter par excellence.  Indeed, he went on to win last year.  So, I grew stronger for the experience.  I also faced this year someone I beat last year, @gregorydjohnsen, so I was on familiar ground with that one.  
The funny thing is that I just wanted to make the Elite Eight.  This would tie my showing last year, and it would allow me to move on to my work.  But I am a competitive person, so I cannot throw a match, and there is much joy in success.  So, even though a win on Monday would put me in a final day of competition DURING the ISA, I will still go for the jugular.  Indeed, I have prepared a variety of tactics and tools to deploy.  I may still lose, but it will be an entertaining fight, perhaps one of the most entertaining matches of this tournament.

On Monday, vote for me! I will put the link here and also on twitter and facebook.  It will be my last chance at victory this year, as there can be only one winner of this contest and that is @texasinafrica.  She is the Lebron James of this year's tourney--can do it all, and if you get in her way, she will dunk on you.  Anyhow, do follow #tfc13 Monday and the Wednesday for the last two rounds of competition.  I will do my best to make Monday interesting, and if it works out, I will be tweeting from the San Francisco Hilton bar on Wednesday.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Handy Guide to Passover

Twitterfightclub is perhaps only slightly harder to explain to outsiders than Passover to non-Jews.  I spent many a week eating dry flat bread.  I didn't know it would pay off (as I do not believe), but made last night's Raising Hope extra-special.

Enjoy their guide to Passover via a musical:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Harper's Folly

What is up with the Harper government pulling Canada out of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification?  Is he that vexed by climate change politics?  Oh, no, it is just poorly spent money.  Given that everyone belongs except Canada (194 countries to answer the trivia question of how many countries there are) now, why take this step of putting Canada in to the "pro-desertification" camp?

Sure, that is unfair, but given that much of Harper's politics is us or them, with us or against us (anyone remember his party's take on those opposed to his party's take on internet regulation--calling opponents of the effort supporters of child p-orn), then if you are against the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, does not that make you pro-desert?  Just asking.

This reminds so much of the penny-wise, pound-foolish effort by Rumsfeld to get the US out of every overseas obligation, no matter how much political capital might be gained by stationing a few folks in East Timor or whatever.  

Is this because of climate change?
The meeting would have forced Canada to confront scientific analysis on the effects of climate change, droughts and encroaching deserts. The Harper government has been vilified an as outlier on climate change policy in past international meetings.
Maybe, but that is still damned silly.  Canada is going to face criticism on climate change whether it belongs to this organization or not.  Actually more so now.   Perhaps the government is either still feeling hurt because Canada did not get into last round of the UN Security Council or perhaps this is part of a larger effort to spurn multilateralism, which is such a Liberal value

While the money involved might seem like a lot, compared to the political capital now burned by being THE ONLY country to pull out, this is just heaps of dumb.  Even if you want to protect miners, the oil industry and what not, there are better ways than this.  But figuring out the diplomatic costs of this would require consulting someone .... like the folks at Foreign Affairs.  And that is just not the way this government operates.

Just Say No: Grad School Sans Funding

Spring (where it exists) is the time of year when applicants to PhD programs find out the outcome and decide where, if any place, to go.  While there are many factors that one must take into account, including what might happen if your preferred adviser leaves (Will Moore's take and mine), there is something far more fundamental: are you going to get funding?*  If the answer is no, then the decision is painful but easy: don't go.
*  This post is inspired by a question asked at Political Science Job Rumors.  Even if the poster was really trolling, it is an important question.
While much of the discussion can and should center on the accumulation of debt and the uncertain job market at the end of the degree, I will focus on just one aspect.  If you are not funded, you will have to compete with other graduate students for whatever scraps of funding there are.  This will create a most unfortunate environment where your peers are not collaborators but competitors.

When I was finishing grad school (where I had guaranteed funding for four years), I would meet people from grad programs where only some folks were funded.  Their experiences and mine were night and day.  They tended to hate some or many of their colleagues, whereas I found my peers at UCSD to be an incredibly supportive community.  To be sure, it was not just about funding, but we are social scientists and incentives do matter, shaping the culture of a place. 

We played soccer (although I sucked), basketball (I really sucked), and softball (I was more than a dead pull hitter--3rd base coaches beware), and we played poker (I am no longer the fish I was then).  We helped each other through comprehensive exams.  We gave each other feedback on our dissertations and on our practice job talks.  Oh, and we celebrated each other's big moments (that would be bachelor parties).  While I do not fully remember my own bachelor party, I do appreciate that they threw it for me and took care of me, both in getting me drunk and dealing with the resulting corpse afterwards. 

While I was eager to get out of grad school and start making real money ($25k at my first job--woot!), I knew I would miss not just the beaches, the weather and the sea lions of San Diego but these folks.  Luckily, I have managed to keep in touch with many of them, including co-authoring the NATO and Afghanistan book with one of them.

But this gets to the larger point--grad school is not just learning in the classroom but the development of a safety net and a network of friends in the discipline.  If you go to a program where everyone has to compete with each other for funding, you not only face an ugly five or seven years, but a disadvantage for the rest of your career.  I can always call or email one of my friends from grad school (or even successive generations since we all have good will towards the larger community) if I have a question or need a hand on something.  Those that go to grad school where funding is not guaranteed for all do not.

I cannot be clearer: if the choice is a PhD program without funding or not going to grad school, I strongly, strongly advise not going to grad school.  Try again next year, do stuff to improve your application (get an MA that might lead to better recommendations and grades), or seek an alternative path.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How Syria Is Unlike Libya

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO is unlikely to intervene in Syria.  He argued that the differences between the two include:
"In Libya we took responsibility for the operation based on a United Nations mandate to protect the Libyan population against attacks from its own government...and we had active support from the countries in the region," he said.
"None of these conditions are fulfilled in Syria, there is no United Nations mandate, there is no call on NATO to intervene in Syria, even the opposition in Syria does not ask for a foreign military intervention," he said.
Of course, the lack of a UN mandate did not stop NATO when it came to Kosovo, and I am sure there are opposition folks who would like a foreign military intervention.

What else is different?  I can think of three:
  • Syria is not producing the same kind of threat of refugees to Western Europe that Libya did.  No folks washing up on Italian and French shores to motivate those that fear the rise of xenophobia.
  • Austerity, austerity, austerity.  The easiest way to cut budgets is not to spend on new operations.  These things get very expensive, especially if boots on the ground might be necessary.  Given the chemical weapons in Syria, more boots would be necessary than in Libya (a few SOF boots/sneakers). Hollande is proposing to cut the French military quite severely.  Sarkozy, he is not.
  • Syria is after. Folks learn and adjust.  Not all learning leads to more.  Sometimes learning leads to less.  Libya has had a variety of consequences that some folks might want to avoid--Mali, Benghazi, etc.
So, these are both fruit, apples and oranges that are highly comparable, but we ought not to expect same old, same old NATO intervention.  Countries discriminate in international relations, they really do.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Applicant Anxiety

Will Moore has an interesting post (deceptive title):Will Professor X Leave to Take a Job Elsewhere?  He argues that students applying to grad school should not worry that much about whether a prof they want to work with might leave.  Will argues that the concern should not be whether the prof might leave, but whether the prof might take the student with her if she leaves for a better place.  That is an interesting take on the question. 

I honestly do not know how many profs "take" their students with them.  Will may have brought his students along with him.  When I moved, the students stayed put but I stayed on the dissertation committees to the bitter or not so bitter end.  I did have three students close to finishing when I moved last summer (all defended last fall in dissertation-defense-athon 2012), but I did not have any more junior students.  Why? Well, mostly because I already had more than my fair share of students at my old job but also because I was planning to leave and did not want to leave folks behind.

Still, as admitted students ponder which school to go to (and think twice, given all that we have all said about the difficult job market), I would focus less on individual stars and more on department depth and breadth.  Why?
  1. Your interests might change so that the best adviser might be someone different.
  2. The person who you think might be a terrific adviser is actually a lousy one-- I was not the person most of my PhD students intended to work with when they decided to go there.
  3. The person might leave, retire, retire in place (stop accepting new students) or die.  
  4. Many of your classes, most in fact, will not be with your expected adviser.
  5. You learn as much or more from your peers (who are learning from other folks) as you do from your adviser.  I avoided the Americanist profs in grad school, but learned much from my peers who were Americanists.  And this helped in getting different sorts of feedback on my dissertation, on giving me some ideas via osmosis when I had to teach an American politics class in my second job, and it helped give me some understanding of principal-agency theory when I need it the most.
In all things, I have and always will be a portfolio guy.  Rather than putting all my eggs in one basket, I spread them around. I do quant and I do qual.  I write books and journal articles.  This is as much by accident as by design, but I tend to be risk averse so I would recommend taking seriously the breadth of a program rather than just the one star that might work with you.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Coffee on the Right Side of History

The CEO of Starbucks basically told someone who was objecting to the stance of supporting marriage equality to invest elsewhere if he/she is so offended:

(h/T Gawker).

I will feel less guilty now for wasting $$ at Starbucks on the coffee frappucino bottles.
Woot! (Just wish Costco had the twelve pack last week).

Montreal is not Unique

American infrastructure is in bad shape.  If only we needed a justification for spending, like, say a weak recovery from a recession.

It is sad for so many reasons, not just the low interest rates, but also because austerity is a crappy idea that is doing far more damage than good. A bit of pump-priming the economy now and the resulting growth would do more to address the long term deficit than cutting programs now and watching the economy sink back into recession.  The job picture would look pretty terrific if we had not fired so many government employees over the past few years.  Keynes must be rolling over in his grave.

Round Two, TFC13, Re-Match

I competed against Greg Johnsen last year in twitter fight club.  Despite being the lower seed (12 to his 5), I won and went on to ride the momentum to the elite eight.  Greg is a tough match, despite is ABD-ness, as he has a book that has gotten heaps of press, he does heaps of media and has 2x as many twitter followers as I.  Yemen must be really popular. 

Here is the tale of the Twape as provided by a reservist currently hanging out in Kandahar.  Thanks, Mark.
The competition is Monday (I am pretty sure).  My strategy?  Well, I can harp on his graduate student-ness like I did in the first round this year and last year (why do I get all the grad students?), but that seems a bit played out.  I have changed my twitter picture to a more competitive pose.  This is appropriate both because Game of Thrones kicks off next week and because my post at e-IR is getting some good notices. 

I will, as usual, pander to the judges (in the first round, one wanted puns and puns he got), deploy as much snark as possible, provide a heap of tweets so that the volume makes up for quality, and try to engage my followers as much as possible.  So, if you want to help me, ask me questions or send me links tomorrow (maybe Tuesday), so that I can prove how engaging I can be. 

I need a new war cry.  "Spoon!" is a bit played out as well.  "Winter is Coming" is a bit out of date.  "Winter is still here" is just not that menacing.  Pathetic and true, yes.  "For those with job security, arise!"  Hmm, that has potential.  Anyway, if you have suggestions for war cries, mottos, sigils, and what not, let me know.  The key is to vote and vote often.  The main site for TFC13 is here, and the new round of voting begins Monday at 9am-ish.

I will see you on the twitter battlefield tomorrow.  To the winner comes fortune and glory.  Ok, glory.  Ok, a bobblehead. 

Pondering the End of the World (War Z)

Just watched the latest World War Z trailer:

Book spoiler or two below

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Looking Back on the Academic Job Market

I realized this morning that my first spring of job-related anxiety was exactly twenty years ago.  I then realized that despite the job security that comes with tenure, I have been on the job market for more than half of my career!  Three years to find the first tenure track position, then four years to get out of Lubbock, and then five years to make the next move.

Anyhow, looking back, I discovered some interesting patterns.  In my earlier years, I often lost to none of the above even when I gave good or excellent job talks (that would be Maryland in 1998).*  Departments decided that my competitors and me were not good enough, so they tried again the following year. 
*  I know it was an excellent talk because that one experience lead to several key invitations--to play a role in a major research project, to take part in a cool edited volume, and so on.  I did not get the job because I was too junior and had not done any quantitative work (which is why they brought me in last).  Since the job was supposed to focus on a major data project, this was a problem.  The funny thing is that I ended up doing a heap of work with that dataset and still am working on it.
I cannot fault these departments as they hired great people ultimately.  I then went through a string of job talks where I gave good talks but lost to people who somehow "fit" better.  In these cases, if one counts pubs and citations as evidence, well, they made decisions that did not work out so well.

I do not always handle pressure well.  I am pretty certain which of my talks were choke-jobs, and the two* I am thinking of were places that seemed to be ideal jobs--great jobs in great locations--the jobs I wanted the most.  As events revealed, the first one was a mediocre job in a great location, but the second?  Ah well, it got even better.
*  I did not always give a great performance, but I am pretty sure that I only completely blew it twice.  Observers may suggest otherwise.  
I have handled logistical disasters well.  That is, when I gave my talk at Texas Tech, my bag did not make the same flight as myself.  I did get my suit in time for the talk, but it gave me humorous material for the interviews.  When I gave my talk at Carleton, the old building lost power.  The good news is that it happened during the interviews but not the talk itself.  So, when we returned from lunch to give the talk, there was power and I did not have to do hand puppets to replace my slides.

The McGill experience was first where they came looking for me,* meeting me at APSA to talk up the place and assure me that I would not be teaching in French.  I had fun during the talk as a student had brought  a copy of my book to it.  I grabbed it and used it as a prop.  It was not a hard choice--so much so that McGill low-balled me into taking a paycut to move.  Sure, I got a fancy title and a research fund, but exchange rates (and the taxes!) meant less disposable income after the move.  But there was no going back to Tech.  And then exchange rates swung, and suddenly I was making more than if I had stayed at Tech (except for those aforementioned taxes).
 * The second time a place sought me out might have been really cool except the job disappeared after my interview and just before the decision was to be made.  Budget cuts made at the very highest level and quite suddenly.

After a few years, it was time to get out of Quebec.  It took longer than I had hoped, including nearly exhausting the number of places to get an academic job near DC.  So, I applied for the job at Carleton, gave a good job talk despite/because of the aforementioned power failure, and got the job.  And I am pretty thrilled. It has been a very busy year and moving requires time and adjustments especially as I moved to a policy school.  This has meant revising old courses and teaching news.  Not so easy or as fun as just walking in and giving my Intro to IR show as I did at McGill, but it has been rewarding already.

Do I plan to go on the market anytime soon?  Nay.  I think I have found some stability for a change.   However, I never expected to work in Texas, Quebec or Ontario, so I have no idea where this academic journey will take me and my family.  I do not regret the path that I have taken.  Sure, I could have published in grad school and perhaps avoided the stress of the years in Burlington and Lubbock, but I made good friends in both. Moreover, UVM gave me a good environment in which to learn how to teach, so that I could focus on getting publications out in the next job.  Tech was great in that I had plenty of time to get research done and out the door.  McGill was great in that I had great students, some terrific colleagues, and heaps of money to do some truly fascinating research with heaps of travel to Eastern Europe for my second book and heaps of travel around the world for my third. 

So, after twenty years in the profession, spending more than half of them seeking to move, I am expecting to that all of my job market watching efforts will be on behalf of my students.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Simplest Budget Math

It seems to me that the defining characteristic of a budget is that it involves ...  numbers.

Surprisingly, the budget makes no mention of the Defence Department at all.  Recent government estimates project a major cut in defence spending to $18 billion next year from $20.7 billion.  That’s a 13 per cent cut, yet the budget does not address where this money will come from …. (source via

The Canadian "budget" was released yesterday, but it is only a "budget" and not a budget, as far as I can tell, since it does not actually say how many $ will be spent on defence, for instance.  While there was a big surprise that the Canadian International Development Agency was to be folded into the Dept of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, there were no specifics about what the defence budget would actually be.

I am taking more umbrage than usual because I was on TV this week talking about the estimated defence cuts, and will feel mighty foolish if they do not materialize.  I am also simply confused: how can the government make the media wait around all day long for the release of the budget and not include numbers?! 

So, this non-budget did highlight some policy changes.  First, the aforementioned merging of CIDA with DFAIT.  I am not as upset as my development friends since I never thought that development assistance could or should be  detached from the national interest.  Many CIDA $ went to Afghanistan, even though CIDA's priorities were elsewhere, as Canada's priority was Afghanistan.  Sure, that money might have fostered more sustainable development elsewhere, but the first job of Canadian tax dollars is to work for Canadian national interests.  Second, the big question is whether this will really save any money.  Since they are not reducing the number of Ministers (and thus overhead), it is not clear whether there will be much money saved.  My experience has been that when you cut one headquarters and merge its stuff with another, you just get a bigger headquarters with some modest cuts (I do feel bad for the middle level CIDA folks dwelling in uncertainty right now).  When the US cut Joint Forces Command, suddenly the Joint Staff more than doubled in size.  Hmmmm.  This one change will get heaps of play.

Another thing mentioned in the "budget" is more of an emphasis on using the defence budget (once one exists) as industrial policy--to focus spending on developing Canadian industries.  This sounds fine, but if Canada has been spending defence $ elsewhere, it has been because those producers have been viewed as less expensive and more efficient.  Sure, debatable.  Focusing spending on domestic producers makes sense for nationalism and for domestic politics (more pork at home), but does not make much sense at a time of austerity.  The domestic stuff will cost more, so you will get less bang for the buck, not more.  This is a point I made on TV.  Not a great time to be engaging in protectionism/industrial policy. 

But we really do not know what to think yet since the "budget" will remain a "budget" until we know the numbers. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Big or Small Exception

The Coburn Amendment to restrict NSF funding on Political Science research, also known as the Senate Unaccountability Act, has a pretty large exception: research can be funded if it serves the national security or economic interests of the U.S. 

My first take on this is that this will simply add one page to an NSF application (which contains many forms/pages): Justify how your proposal relates to national security or the economy.  While some have speculated that this means money will flow away from American Politics and towards International Relations and Comparative Politics, I am not so sure.*  Yes, it is to justify the study of Militarized Interstate Disputes or Failed States under these criteria.  Sure, studying International Political Economy or Comparative Political Economy will fit into this exception quite easily.
* I have applied to the NSF a few times unsuccessfully on grants dealing with the comparative and international politics of ethnic conflict. So, more money for me with this bill?  Woot?

How about studies that focus on whether politicians represent their constituents' interests?  Or the politics of climate change?  These studies were the ones originally cited by the most visibily hostile folks (as opposed to Harry Reid who apparently is the most invisibly hostile until yesterday).  I don't think it would take much work for an articulate grant-writer to suggest how climate change is an issue that affects the economy, or that democratic representation might have national security implications (do democracies that dis-serve their publics have more coups/riots/etc?). 

Perhaps the Democrats folded once this exception was built in because they understood that the amendment thus became meaningless?  I am not sure they are that clever.  Ultmately, two things will shape the impact of yesterday's vote: (a) if the House also passes similar language and it remains in the legislation after the conference of the two Houses massage the differences of the bills; and (b) if passed in this form, it will matter if there is intense oversight and if the NSF director is a weenie.  Regarding the latter: the NSF Director has to certify each Poli Sci (and no other subfield) grant addresses national security or the economy.  The Director may choose to read this liberally or narrowly.  The Congress may engage in heaps of oversight to make sure that the Director reads the exceptions narrowly.  But if this is all symbolic politics, I am not sure Flake or Coburn will waste their time on this.  Maybe.  They have seem to think it plays well thus far.

I do suspect that one reaction is for Political Scientists to add token Sociologists to their grants and apply to the Sociology wing of the NSF....  If Congress only understood Principal-Agent dynamics, moral hazard and the like, they would understand that this is not the end of the story.  But ignorance may be bliss for the Senators.  Otherwise, why not fund research into how they do their jobs?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Democrats are Weenies

The Senate Democrats are weenies.  Why?  Because not only did they let the GOP propose an amendment that would cut or restrict NSF funding for political science (and only political science) research, but they let it be a voice vote.  What does that mean?  We do not have a record of who can be blamed for voting with the forces of ignorance. 

The double unaccountability to this: (a) political science research is one way to assess how politicians are doing their jobs [indeed, some of the opponents of Poli Sci research cite exactly those studies that ponder whether politicians represent their constituents] so cutting this undermines accountability; and (b) a voice vote limits our ability to blame individual Senators. 

Brilliant.  Democracy in action.  No wonder Americans have a great deal of contempt for their national legislature.

TFC13: Vote for Me

Today and tomorrow mark the first round of Twitter Fight Club 2013 (hashtagtfc13).  Vote for me!

I am facing a sharp guy, Ryan Evans, who was trained at King's College and is now in the DC area, working on a variety of National Security areas.  He is working on his dissertation, which continues the trend I faced last year--fighting the ABDs of the world.  Given my basic inclination to help such vulnerable folks, I have to fight my instincts and try to out tweet them with snark, with blogposts, and with silliness.

I blew a lot of material over the past couple of days due to my ire of Iraq, including a nice run of tweets yesterday borrowing the "you might be a redneck"with "you might be arrogant" while referring to all kinds of Rummy/Cheney/Feith/Wolfowitz arguments such as:

So, my strategy today?  Tweet early and often.  And ask my followers here, my friends on facebook and my twitter followers to vote, to vote and to vote some more.  My goal is to make the round of 16, which means beating Ryan and then beating a competitor from last year.  But more on that if I get past the first round. 

Yes, it is a huge waste of time, but not just good fun--I met a lot of interesting folks this way and expanded my universe.  Enjoy the jousting!

Tail to Teeth Math

On TV last night (and taped on Monday), I was asked about the effort to re-allocate spending from the tail to the teeth of the Canadian Forces.  That is, move people and spending from headquarters to the field, port, airfield, etc.  This makes a great deal of sense, and I applaud Andrew Leslie, former three star general, for pushing this.

But I have a basic math question: if the challenge du jour is not just being more efficient but actually cutting spending, then I am not sure how moving people around cuts spending.  The big costs for any modern military in a democracy are personnel (pay, benefits, health care) and the big capital projects.  Moving people from HQ to the field does not reduce costs but shift where people are doing their work.  It may make all kinds of sense, but unless one sells off the Ottawa real estate they inhabit (or DC, London, Paris, etc), there are no or little reductions in spending.

In Canada, the government has pretty much told the military that personnel will not be cut, and that they will continue to pursue the new fighter planes (F35 or something else) and re-build the navy.  This way, they can say they are still strong on the military, but putting these limits in place means that the costs will come from operations (no significant missions soon), training, readiness and so on.

Again, this allows the government to say they are strong on the military while doing a far better job of hollowing out the military than the sequester threatens to do in the US.  While there is much to criticize from across the board cuts, at least the cuts in numbers and big projects means that the US Army will not be losing 22% of its readiness funding (I hope).

So, the big question for military folks is this: am I wrong? Does moving people around actually save a heap of money?  I am pretty sure that the only way to really save money is to cut numbers and stuff.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We Can Dream, Can't We?

H/T to Gawker for posting this:

The Newest Superhero

Avenging Uterus!  I think AU donned his/her/its cape initially due to the menace of Republicans who were clueless about the impact of rape upon procreation.  Here, our hero addresses the story of the week: the Steubenville rapes (one victim, multiple offenders) and the reaction to it:

My hero!

Turning a Do Not Do List into a Checklist

Here is what Rumsfeld anticipated in October 2002 with my thoughts in color:

SUBJECT: Iraq: An Illustrative List of Potential Problems to be Considered and Addressed
Following is an illustrative list of the types of problems that could result from a conflict with Iraq. It is offered simply as a checklist so that they are part of the deliberations.
1. If US seeks UN approval, it could fail; and without a UN mandate, potential coalition partners may be unwilling to participate.
Ya think?  While I tend to poo-poo the UN, not getting support from major allies (Canada, France, Germany) was very problematic.  Made the war's legitimacy suspect from the get-go.
2. A failure to answer this question could erode support: "If the US pre-empts in one country, does it mean it will pre-empt in all other terrorist states?"
Indeed, the Iranian proliferation problem is in part due to questions in Iranian minds about US intent.
3. US could fail to restrain Israel, and, if Israel entered the conflict, it could broaden into a Middle East war.
This problem didn't happen. Ok.  Israel is unrestrained in other ways (settlements) that are more very counter-productive to American interests.  Plus there is the gathering sense that Israel is trying to provoke an American attack on Iran.
4. Syria and Iran could decide to support Iraq, complicating the war.
Well, they supported insurgents that did heaps of damage to Americans (I raised a question in class yesterday--did Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq kill/maim more Americans than Pakistani support for insurgents in Afghanistan?).
5. Turkish military could move on the Kurds or the Northern Iraqi oil fields.
Yes, no.
6. The Arab street could erupt, particularly if the war is long, destabilizing friendly countries neighboring Iraq—Jordan, Saudi Arabia, GCC states, Pakistan, etc.
A little bit.
7. While the US is engaged in Iraq, another rogue state could take advantage of US preoccupation—North Korea, Iran, PRC in the Taiwan Straits, other?
How about China?  And Iran didn't have to take advantage--it got handed predominance in the region by the US.
8. While preoccupied with Iraq, the US might feel compelled to ignore serious proliferation or other machinations by North Korea, Russia, PRC, Pakistan, India, etc., and thereby seem to tacitly approve and acquiesce in unacceptable behavior, to the detriment of US influence in the world.
Well, the war in Iraq did make the war in Afghanistan harder (doing more with less), which increased reliance on Pakistan ....Not a good thing.
9. Preoccupation with Iraq for a long period could lead to US inattentiveness and diminished influence in South Asia, which could lead to a conflict between nuclear armed states.
See previous comment
10. Oil disruption could cause international shock waves, and with South America already in distress.
Oil prices did go up.  Not great, but not horrible besides empowering Putin's Russia and Chavez.
11. Iraqi intelligence services, which have a global presence, including in the US, could strike the US, our allies, and/or deployed forces in unconventional ways.
No, we did most of the damage to ourselves.
12. Countries will approach the US with unexpected demands in exchange for their support (an Israeli request for us to release Jonathan Pollard, Russia asking for free play in the Pankisi Gorge, etc.), which, if the US accepts, will weaken US credibility.
Well, sure.
13. US could fail to find WMD on the ground in Iraq and be unpersuasive to the world.
There you go.  So, then it looks a lot like a war for oil.
14. There could be higher-than-expected collateral damage—Iraqi civilian deaths.
Much more, but that's ok. Americans do not care so much.  The rest of the world?  A bit more.
15. There could be higher-than-expected US and coalition deaths from Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction against coalition forces in Iraq, Kuwait, and/or Israel.
No WMD, no problemos.
16. US could fail to find Saddam Hussein and face problems similar to the difficulty in not finding UBL [Osama bin Laden] and [Mullah] Omar.
Nope, we got him. Weee.
17. US could fail to manage post-Saddam Hussein Iraq successfully, with the result that it could fracture into two or three pieces, to the detriment of the Middle East and the benefit of Iran.
Oh boy.  Indeed, we could fail to manage Iraq successfully.  Indeed, I am pretty sure the lack of planning had something to do with this and Rummy blocked most of the planning.
18. The dollar cost of the effort could prove to be greater than expected and the contributions from other nations minimal.
Indeed, two trillion dollars perhaps?  Wasted dollars, wasted lives.
19. Rather than having the post-Saddam effort require two to four years, it could take eight to 10 years, thereby absorbing US leadership, military, and financial resources.
Eight is about on target.
20. US alienation from countries in the EU and the UN could grow to levels sufficient to make our historic post-World War II relationships irretrievable, with the charge of US unilateralism becoming so embedded in the world’s mind that it leads to a diminution of US influence in the world.
Lost influence?  Yes.  Irretrievable?  Only kinda, sorta.
21. US focus on Iraq could weaken our effort in the Global War on Terrorism, leading to terrorist attacks against the US or Europe, including a WMD attack in the US that theoretically might have been avoided.
Well, it did harm the war on terrorism but no WMD on US.  Woot!
22. World reaction against "pre-emption" or "anticipatory self-defense" could inhibit US ability to engage in the future.
23. Adverse reaction to the US could result in the US losing military basing rights in the Gulf and other Muslim countries.
Nope, no lost bases.  Just lost credibility.
24. Recruiting and financing for terrorist networks could take a dramatic upward turn from successful information operations by our enemies, positioning the US as anti-Muslim.
Indeed.  Glad Rummy thought of it.  Too bad it did not dissuade the administration
25. The US will learn, to our surprise, a number of the "unknown unknowns," the gaps in our intelligence knowledge, for example: Iraqi WMD programs could be several years more advanced than we assessed; Iraqi capabilities of which we were unaware may exist, such as UAVs, jamming, cyber attacks, etc.; others one might imagine!
Or they might not have any capabilities at all.
26. Fortress Baghdad could prove to be long and unpleasant for all.
Nope, twas quick.
27. Iraq could experience ethnic strife among Sunni, Shia, and Kurds.
Ya think?  Just a bit?  
28. Iraq could use chemical weapons against the Shia and blame the US.
29. Iraq could successfully best us in public relations and persuade the world that the war is against Muslims.
Well, it was, kind of.
Note: It is possible of course to prepare a similar illustrative list of all the potential problems that need to be considered if there is no regime change in Iraq.
 I don't think I ever said Rumsfeld was dumb.  Just incredibly arrogant.  He knew what the risks might be.  He just didn't think that they were that important.  Or that he would pay the costs if the gamble did not pay off.  Just those missing brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, or just missing limbs, headache-free existences, and so on.  The costs for this war will continue to accrue for the Americans who went and for the Iraqis for generations.

I have long argued that the Bush folks took the list of things not to do and turned them into a check list of things to do.  This list that Rummy came up with is very much what I had in mind, as the Invasion and Occupation decisions made all of the bad things on this list more possible, rather than less, except for that whole WMD thing.  Oops.

Discuss This!

I have been asked about discussant tips: how to serve as a discussant on a panel at the ISA or APSA or the like. I am not a fantastic discussant, although I have seen a few over the years.  So, I have some ideas about how to do the job (here is another take).

First, keep to your time.  The audience has been pretty patient and want to ask questions.  You are in the way of that.  However, you are also far more likely to have read the paper and be equipped to ask good questions, so do not surrender your time either.

Second, if there are ways that the papers talk together, suggest what they are and what each paper could gain from the others.  If the papers are completely unrelated (happens all the time, especially at the ISA), do not force it.  If the papers do not engage each other, then do not make them do so. 

Third, consider what would make the papers better.  Not what would the paper look like if you wrote it (a favorite stance by discussants and commenters at job talks).  But what are a few things the author could do to make the argument more compelling, the research design better, the findings clearer, whatever.  Just two or three suggestions/criticisms per paper.  If there is a common weakness in the papers, then you can use that in your general discussion rather than repeating 3-6 times.

Fourth, people tend to rush through conclusions, so you might want to suggest what the policy implications might be or where the next step in the research should go. 

Be fair. 
  • Do not expect a paper to be more than what the author wants it to be. 
  • Give each paper equal time. Just because one paper is better than another or is written by a bigger name does not mean that you should play favorites.
  • Again, be brief.  Do not try to provide the same kind of review that one does when reviewing manuscripts for journals--not enough time.  There is also an audience out there. 
I tend to write a heap of comments down and then only use a few each, so I give a copy of my notes to the paper givers.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Polls and the Wars

This piece at the Washington Post has a bunch of interesting survey questions.  Can you guess the one question where I line up with the Republicans?  Check below:

Tis the Season for Twitter Fight Club

Yep, I will be inundating my twitter feed with posts aimed at Twitter Fight Club again over the next few weeks (hashtag tfc13).  Why?  Because it is fun, it plays to my addictive/competitive side, and, dare I say it, it is actually productive.  Really.

What is twitter fight club?  It is a tournament style competition (akin to the March Madness of American college basketball) where 64 folks who tweet on international security issues compete in a series of head to head matches until there is just one left.  Last year was my first year as a participant, and I would have been the Cinderalla story except for this guy:
@stcolumbia, the precocious undergrad whose soul has not yet been crushed by the working world, the 12 seed who has sneak-attacked a series of higher seeds on the way up.
I was also seeded twelfth, defeating a prominent yet ABD scholar on Yemen, a journalist, and the big name at Wired's Danger Room who had no time to tweet/compete before falling to the Patron Saint of the Terrorism Cottage Industry (tm), Will McCants, after making it into the elite eight. 

How was this productive?
  • Mostly because following the event over the past couple of years pointed me towards the twitter-ing of some really interesting people all around the world.  Thanks to TFC, I now follow folks who work in Australia, Indonesia, and other points similarly distant as well as many DC folks.  
  • Partly because it raised my twitter profile so that I know have more followers, including some opinion leaders.  
  • Partly because I can know contact some of these folks and ask them pesky questions. 
  • Partly to hone my snark.  You only improve by learning from the best.  And given that I got bested, there are definitely folks from which to learn.
Yes, this bracket thing is actually a network thing.  And it is free.  Well, depends on how you consider the time spent and the eyeballs drained of fluid. 

So, expect more tweets over the next couple of weeks, more blog posts to give my tweets content, and more posts tracking the competition.

May the Snark Be In Your Favor.

A Traitorous Bridge Too Far

It is that time of year again.  No, not just twitter fight club (see next post).  No, it is the time of year where Israeli folks and their friends try to convince the US to release Jonathan Pollard, a convicted traitor.  As I have discussed here before, it comes down to this: you do the crime, you do the time.  You betray your country on behalf of another one, then expect to enjoy a prison cell for the rest of your life. 

If Israeli politicians want to waste their country's political capital on this issue, go right ahead.  If they want to use this issue to demonstrate back home, that they are strong defenders of Israel's interests, go ahead.  But if they want to be successful in their policies, pick another policy.  I sincerely doubt that this administration will cave into the pander-pressure.  Why didn't Pollard's allies raise the issue during Hagel's confirmation?  Or Kerry's?  Pardons are the President's business, sure, but the Senators had no problems extending the line of questioning beyond Hagel's area of responsibility.  Perhaps siding with traitors is a bridge too far?

Anyhow, I am not going to waste more time on it.  I will let the fans of traitors do that.

F35 in Numbers

The F-35 is a wonder to behold.  Ok, the costs, not so much the plane:

Damn.  Ok, this raises a few questions:
  1. Which five states are not getting any F-35 money?  What does it say about their senators?  Hmmm.
  2. I wonder what the over/under should be on the total buy.  Cut from 2,852 to 2,443 so far.  I would have to guess that the over/under would be set at 2100.  And I would probably bet the under.  But if set at 2000, I might bet the over.  Hmmm.  Any guesses.
  3. I bet that the actual number of jobs is lower than 260k.  Why should we believe Lockheed on those numbers when every other number has been, ahem, revised?  
  4. Does the F-35 revise the old government calculation: a billion here, a billion here, soon you are talking about real money?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mything Iraq: The Invasion Was Swell

There are two related myths that drive the Iraq disaster deniers--the defenders of the Bush Administration--that the real problem was not the invasion but the aftermath.  "The invasion was swell, but the mission crept into an occupation and that was the big mistake."  Check out the discussion at on this especially the claims made by Doug Feith.  I address the second claim elsewhere --that the US could have and should have avoided occupation*, but will address the first part here--that the invasion was dandy.
*  This, I guess, allows these folks to them be blameless for screwing up the occupation.  I mean, Doug Feith, really?  Really?  REALLY?

Again, the fans of the invasion argue that everything was going well until somehow the U.S. ended up owning Iraq and had to figure out what to do with it.  This ignores the reality that the invasion itself was a huge mess.  Yes, the U.S. military was able to overcome the limitations imposed by Rumsfeld (a small force, micromanaged from DC), bad weather, and the realization that helicopters are really vulnerable to get to Baghdad and not have to lay siege.  So, that all went well.  Well, sort of.

But that ignores the classic Clausewitz line that war is politics by other means, and we had plenty of politics in 2002-2003 that went quite poorly.  First, no weapons of mass destruction.  No real programs either.  Fans of the war like to glide past the reality that the supposed justification of the war was, well, just a wee bit empty.  Sure, the Bush folks wanted the war and wanted Hussein dead (mission accomplished indeed), but the entire war was justified not by Saddam's brutality to his own people (our concern about that is selective and inconsistent), not by bringing democracy to the region, or whatever else.  It was about WMD.  But nada.  Oops.  I remember being asked before the invasion what would happen if they found nothing, and I remember being at a loss of words.  Yes, me at a loss of words.  Hard to imagine.  Because even though I opposed the war, I figured that they could at least find some weapons program stuff, perhaps some chemicals or biological materials.  Nope.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

ISA Blogging

If you are headed to the ISA, go to this event.  Meet me and a bunch of other bloggers who blog IR (broadly defined).
Blog Reception Draft

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Good Grilling

The US military deserves a good grilling for its handling of sexual assault, and Senator Gillibrand did a nice job here:

Her two key points:
  • what does success look like?  Given the existing reality that there are tens of thousands of sexual assaults and only two hundred or so are prosecuted, it seems like the status quo is not so terrific--good order and discipline?  
  • if the court martial rules x and the "convening authority" says not x, then we have a contradiction, right?
Together, these points are used to attack the key dynamic here--that the senior officer has complete authority to throw out convictions. It may be the case that there are good arguments to be made about unity of command or whatever, but clearly the system as it is currently designed is not working well in this area.  To say otherwise is to be in denial.

And, yes, given my previous rants about the US Air Force, I am most pleased to see it take the hit here.

Learning is Good But ...

Senator Rob Portman is getting praise today for switching his position on same sex marriage.  Woot!  He changed his mind once he learned his son is gay and that he should have the chance for lifetime love and all that.  How sweet!

I cannot help but be annoyed.  Not that he changed his mind.  That is swell.  Learning/evolution is great, but if our politicians can only learn from short-range empathy--when one's kin is involved--then I really am not that impressed.  Yes, it can take a heap of time for people to learn and adjust, realizing that they are on the wrong side of history.  Clinton just admitted last week that he was wrong to sign the DOMA legislation, but he was an opportunist then and now.  I doubt he thought DOMA was right, and his change of heart has less to do with gay relatives and more to do with not being President in 1994.

Must we assign one gay person to be a family member to each politician opposed to gay marriage?  What does this say about our larger political system?  Didn't we manage to get laws reversed on inter-racial marriage without politicians suddenly realizing they had black kids or kids in love with black kids?

Again, this is great that we have one more politician on the right side of history.  But the causal process here says something to me that does not fill me full of joy and happiness.  I wish our politicians had more empathy for those who they did not know.  But I guess I will settle for whatever it takes.

This tweet expresses my views better than I can:

Armed and Dangerous?

Moving to Canada in 2002 means I keep learning about stuff in mid-story.  The latest news is that the Canadian Forces are being re-branded as the Canadian Armed Forces.  I never really knew where the old CF name came from, but it turns out that Prime Minister Chretien dropped the Armed from the original CAF.*  The easy joke would be that as he cut the military's budget, he also saved money by reducing their name.  But one can speculate about soft power and peacekeeping and all that.
* Correction: CF has been used prior to Chretien (thanks to Phil Lagasse for pointing this out to me).

The relevance is that the Conservatives are now using CAF again.  The key piece of legislation on Canadian defence stuff, the National Defence Act, apparently allows for both, so either name will do.  CAF plays well in the defence community as "“it does, in our small circle within the armed forces and those who are around it, give a sense of what we’re actually about.”"  During the early days of the Afghanistan effort, journalists would ask if the CF were trained for combat.  The answer, of course, was yes, combat was their day job.  So, I see the point that reminding folks about the A might not be a bad idea.

However, after so many years of killing and being killed in and near Kandahar, the CF has pretty well established it is a combat force, so there is little need to re-brand.  Still, with budget cuts and Harper's own inclinations to manage risk (message management?), there is little chance of significant combat (unless dropping bombs on those who cannot reply in kind counts) in the near future.  Perhaps there is a greater need for a CAF in an era of no deployments.

My preference? Well, I like the CF as it is.  The Forces sounds pretty cool to me and distinct.  Other countries have armed forces--Canada simply has the Forces.  But then again, I am new here compared to these institutions, and I have a keen fondness for Star Wars, so "Force" sounds good to me.

Bad At Chicken

For the past couple of weeks, we have seen story after story about how awful, how capricious, how counter-productive the cuts of sequestration are.  Well, yeah.  Of course.  The idea was to create a chicken game where both sides (Obama and the GOP in Congress) would be forced to compromise (swerve) rather than crash. 

But it didn't work.  They failed to compromise so we are the survivors of the car crash.  One problem here, and a foreseeable one, is that repetition (iteration) in Prisoner's Dilemma provides incentives for cooperation, but not so much so for Chicken if I remember correctly.  If you know you are going to playing Chicken over and over again with the same player, it makes sense to be insane/uncooperative in the first round so that you can the other side to give in then and all the way down the road. 

Of course, the other problem is that these two player games ignore the fact that there are games within games.  The GOP is divided, and faces the prospect of primary races against folks even less reasonable (hard to imagine?).  So, each Republican must position themselves as unwilling to compromise for fear of losing to some candidate who never had to make a decision that had consequences.  Lovely. 

So, I raise two possibilities: that the future of the game casts an unfortunate shadow on today's game or that the other games--the outbidding primary process--make the rational play for one's narrow concerns be irrational for the collective. 

If it is simply the case that these folks do not know how to play chicken, I provide this video to illustrate:

However, from outside observers, it looks more like this:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Worst Union of Them All?

Would you believe that there are public servants who have contempt for the public they serve?  Ok, not so hard to believe.  And given that unions often exaggerate the worst tendencies/preferences of a minority of a group, we perhaps should not be surprised when the Quebec civil servants union displays much contempt for the Angophone minority.  The QC union representing those working in government want essentially to eliminate any obligation/instinct to assist the Anglophones dealing with tax problems or otherwise work in English with those who are not comfortable in French. 
“What emerges from these few testimonials is the obligation for frontline staff to provide services in English under pressure from citizens,” the union wrote.  “While they should feel supported by their immediate superiors [in insisting on working in French], employees fear the warnings and penalties that could follow.”  As the union sees it, a “shameful bilingualism” is invading the civil service, and union president Lucie Martineau said the Parti Québécois government’s Bill 14, which updates the language charter known as Bill 101, does not go nearly far enough to correct things. ...
What is remarkable is that the union representing civil service workers has enthusiastically joined a campaign aimed explicitly at reducing service to citizens.
“We must repair the gaping holes left by Bill 101 that allowed rampant bilingualism to infiltrate the public administration,” the union wrote.
WTF?  Oh, the joy of tyranny of the majority.  The people who serve the public do not want to serve a chunk of the public.  Lovely.   It is one thing to ask a public service to start learning a language to catch up to a new group of people who have moved into the country.  It is another to say: you know the folks who have lived here for centuries?  Screw them.

The funny thing is that Quebec's bilingualism always seemed quite selective to me--very bilingual when it wanted my money (tax forms, parking/speeding tickets) and very unilingual when it came to grant applications and the like.  Why would Quebec want to make it harder for Anglophones to pay their taxes?  

To lobby to deny Anglophones from getting government services?   Just awful.  Democracy is such a wonderful thing, but we need basic protections to protect the minority from the majority.  Quebec does not seem to care about tyranny of the majority when they are the relative majority. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So Much Squee!

I am not blogging much this week, as I am accompanying Teen Spew as she checks out Ontario universities.  Today was Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.  It is my Canadian home away from away from home--my third most visited Canadian city/town.  The folks were friendly and informative.  They made a great impression.  We shall see what becomes of it.

But instead of any real thought, all I can do is provide this:

chock full of cuteness, not unlike the students at Queen's trying so hard to impress (and succeeding).

On to Toronto!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Too Many Political Scientists?

Check out this figure:
Law and Courts

Will Moore (who posted the link first), Christopher Zorn and I have been tweeting about this.  To me, this looks awful, given how the academic job market has been, especially of late.  Will suggests this is a post 9/11 thing, which implies that more interest in government, government jobs and such may be playing a role here.  Christopher suggests that the numbers include folks entering MPA programs--Master's in Public Administration.  This depresses me further, because we have seen heaps of government job cuts the past few years. 

What is going on?  I have no clue, but the bump from 2008 to 2009/10 levels might be as folks flee the law school market.  We know that one is collapsing.  Overall, we have seen a near-doubling of people in MA/MPA/PhD programs in Political Science/Public Administration in a bit more than a decade.  Does the Dept of Homeland Security require MA's?  Department of Defense?  Are these all new military officers needing some extra PME (professional military education) in the enlarged military? 

I surely hope that this MA figure is really just that--MA figures and do not stand for a similarly upward trend in political science PhD students.  That would suck bigtime for the profession.  Given the stability in Anthro and Sociology along with the relatively steady increase in Econ students, it could very well be that the big change is at the MA level and not the PhD level.

Ah, too much and too little information all at once.  Any better guesses than mine?  And yes, that would be any guess.

Paying for Academic Job Market Advice? Just Say No

How do we know the job market is broken for academics?  Because people are willing to spend money hiring advisers.  Really.  This article documents the costs of being on the market these days.  To be clear, this piece is deceptive and unrepresentative.  But as a result, it is representative.  Huh?  How does that make any sense?

Because the academic job market is so tough, it is poorly understood, and people then perhaps over-think what it takes to succeed.  Plus some stuff has changed, some has not.

First, let's talk about the biggest expense: conference travel.  In some fields (not political science), going to the national conference is a must as there are interviews there that weed out many folks or even perhaps choose the winning candidate (I have no idea how those fields operate).  The reality is that whether one is marketing at a conference or not, going to conferences is the cost of being a professional professor.  Aspirants need to go to learn how to profess--how to present research, what research is hot, to network outside of the presentation rooms, etc.  Going to the interviews should be just one part of a much larger and essentially required event.  The change may be that there might be less $$$ support for students to go to such events.  My students got some money from my departments, but did pay a fair amount themselves.  They tried to save money (sometimes) by splitting rooms, staying off-site, etc.  Universities have cut travel support for professors as well as for students, so getting grant money or covering the costs oneself (tax deduction) is a way of life.  If you don't want to go to conferences, don't join the profession which is an inherently social enterprise.  Sorry, but that is just the reality.

Second, do NOT pay for advice.  Your adviser should be advising you.  Whether your adviser is up to the task or not, there are other sources of free advice--peers, past graduates, other professors in the department, people you have met at conferences or even twitter pals (I provided some advice this year to a twitter pal who got a new job, and I am most pleased with the outcome).*
*To be clear, the person deserved the new job--I doubt my advice had anything to do with his/her success.
The reality is that there is actually less mystery to the process, so that a paid adviser really is not going to pierce the veil of the job market much better than other folks.  Sure, you can buy a book or two, but do not pay an adviser.  That is, unless you give me chocolate chip cookies or good beer.  I am cheap that way (no wine, please).

Third, interfolio apparently sucks.  The per cost adds up.  The bad news is that universities used to cover these costs--my packages of recommendation letters and transcripts were sent out by UCSD long after I left.  These days, with budget cuts, departments do this less.  The good news is that more departments now accept letters via online systems or email, so it makes it easier for a recommender to send out a bunch of letters.  Just do not give profs the job of mailing stuff--we suck at envelopes, mailing and other basic tasks that require being organized. 

Fourth, don't major in English lit. Someone entering a Phd program in English lit in the 21st century should know that the job market in that field will be mighty tough.  Sorry, but it is true.  I worry about political science aplenty, and caution students who want to head on to grad school.  I wonder what English profs are telling aspirants other than RUN AWAY.

Am I blaming the victim here?  There is plenty of blame to go around--that universities have followed incentives to produce more PhDs while cutting back on tenure track positions;' that departments work on many things but often not so much on getting their students placed; that plenty of professors are truly crappy advisers, refusing to read their students' stuff, giving lousy, out of date advice for the job market, and committing other crimes and misdemeanors; and students will often obsess about that which they cannot control instead of doing what they can.

What can students do?  Work really hard, publishing before they go on the market.  Work creatively, so that their ideas stand out.  Be as well trained as possible so that one has the appropriate tools for the question (and I am a firm believer that the question determines the tools).  Take a look at the CVs of those who get jobs--not just the content but the style, and check out the helpful blogs on such stuff.  Seek out advice from many sources, not just one.  If your adviser sucks, get a new one.  Either formally or informally.  Build networks of friends in your department and beyond so that you can get advice and not just groupthink.  Do not believe what you read at the job rumor sites.

The academic job market is hard, it takes a great deal of patience, it requires a heap of self-awareness, confidence (well, faked confidence that is short of arrogance), luck and more.  I am so glad I am not coming out of grad school today as the competition is mighty stiff.  I did finish my PhD at a really bad time (just not as bad as this time), it took me three years to find a tenure track position, and it was in Lubbock.  But my journey has been a rewarding one, ultimately.  Even it took three years to find any ultimate in Lubbock.

Good luck.


The Walking Prisoner's Dilemma

Last night, the Walking Dead embraced the prison the crew has been inhabiting for some time by simulating the Prisoner's Dilemma. 

Spoilers below

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday SIlliness: Game of Thrones Edition

Why have children?  Well, eventually it pays off.  In this case, my daughter found this:

Next Steps in VoterFraudFraud

Doonesbury says it so well:

Yep, if you cannot appeal beyond a narrowing portion of the electorate, change the electorate.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday Silliness: Dating in the 21st Century

Mucho glad I am not single for many reasons (including some that have to do with Mrs. Spew), but here is another one:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Writing For Free: It's Academic

The topic of writing and compensation has seemed to become a bit viral in the past week or two.  In the pundit/analyst-sphere, the Atlantic took some hits from folks for asking for pieces for free or nearly free.  See this exchange between a freelance writer and the magazine/outlet and then see this piece for a good set of links.  In the book world, this has come up a bit differently.  Apparently, Random House has a few imprints that have new contracts that eliminate advances and ask the writers to wait for their share of the profits once the book's unspecified/unrestricted costs are all covered.  John Scalzi (who wrote the uber-wonderful Redshirts) is not pleased.

I see much merits in Scalzi's arguments and those by the freelance writers who feel exploited.  Yet I write for free.  I write a lot for free.  Sure, the Spew is free.  I have not set this up for ads as I don't expect to have enough traffic to make sense to advertise.  Sure, the academic journals we publish in do not pay us.*  I am just glad I am not paying to have my stuff published in journals--in some fields, the journals do charge a price for submitting pieces. Journal of Politics did that for a while--a nominal fee that was quite galling.  I would not expect to be paid to publish in journals since we are supposed to be disseminating our knowledge via scientific outlets.  Publishing is essentially a job requirement, so my day job pays me to write and to publish, so I get paid for my writing that way. 
* There is a big movement these days to ungate the academic journals, which I do think is swell.  However, as a sidenote to this Spew, I would just say that this would not really lead to heaps of non-academic engagement.  Our journal articles are written for academic audiences.  If we want non-academics to understand what our articles are about, we need to do other stuff, like blog, to convey our findings.  Non-academics are not going to read fairly indigestible stuff even it becomes free and ungated.
When it comes to books, I am one for four in getting advances (not the first book and not the new ones).  One could argue that books are like journal articles--disseminating knowledge and a job requirement.  More importantly, we academics are desperate to get our works published in the best, most visible presses.  So, we sell our work for cheap.  Not for free, as we do eventually get paid, but since our sales are so low (measured in hundreds, perhaps a few thousand unless we write about Zombies or otherwise produce a hot textbook) that the amounts are often very small indeed.  Kind of hard to demand advances if the book ekes out only a small profit.

How about the medium that started this conversation--online magazines (and perhaps also print journalism)?  I am cutting back a bit on how much I do for free.  I post regularly at a few blogs that are free, and I have a regular column at CIC which does pay a bit.  I tend not to submit op-eds to newspapers anymore since CIC is a good outlet, they pay and newspapers do not.  And newspapers are uncertain and take forever to get back to you.  I will occasionally write for free for an outlet if it has an audience I want to reach.  I just got invited to write for a military-industrial complex magazine, and it will be fun to send an uncomfortable opinion in that direction.

So, I do feel a bit of guilt providing free content at a time when freelancers are under heaps of pressure.  But there is a big difference between those folks and myself.  Dissemination is part of my day job, and reaching beyond academic audiences is now an increasingly significant expectation.  Still, I will try to be conscious about not giving my writing free to outlets that are likely to be exploitative (Huffington, anyone?). 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Les Xenophobes

Sure, I have written about the upside of xenophobia (that hate of others might serve as a brake on war if the consequence of that war might be the inclusions of many "others" into one's political system).  But I am not a fan of it, especially when it is so very unnecessary.

Are the Anglophones of Quebec a threat to French in Quebec?  No.  The threat to French would be things like the internet, the U.S., and the 21st century economy.  So, see if the following changes to Bill 101 make any sense at all for protecting French from these forces:

Courtesy of the CBC
How does any of this protect French?  Oh, making it harder for Francophones to learn English in CEGEPs (the free colleges in between high school and university) will make it harder to compete in the world economy, but will it do anything else?  Will giving yet more powers to the language police prevent Quebeckers from being stuff at (the Canadian version of  The reality is that French does dominate the marketing of goods in Quebec, although folks can still buy stuff in English.  And, yes, microwave machines may have on and off switches. 

This is just stupid on a stick.  But it probably plays well to the PQ's non-Montreal base. 

Have I said lately how glad I am to have left Quebec?  Probably.  And, yes, Quebec was a significant part of why I left McGill.  Not the entire reason as Carleton/NPSIA is a great place for me to do my work, that Ottawa has many attractions, but, yes, I did not enjoy this particular dimension of Quebec.  Moreover, this nationalist politics not only had implications for the marketplace, but for the entire political system.  The PQ has long competed not on providing good public service but on nationalist issues, which provided a very nice environment for corruption to grow and for the infrastructure of Montreal to fall apart.  There are so many ways that this language politics stuff sucks even if it kind of makes sense from a cynical "how to we best breed ignorance and thus support for our party" kind of way.

I do believe there is a French phrase for all of this: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Breaking Bad, 1995 style credits

As the time approaches for the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, I am sure we will be seeing more things like this:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Counter-What? Not Very Intuitive

This article discusses the importance of doing counter-intuitive work in the social sciences:
We love our counterintuitive findings. And for fields such as psychology, they’re almost a necessity. If new conclusions already gel with our beliefs, goes the common refrain, why was precious taxpayer money ever wasted on the study in the first place? (I find the prospect of a society populated by commenters on most social science articles chilling.) Never mind that because our beliefs are not immune to prevailing worldviews, what we find intuitive has almost certainly been shaped by the past observations of—you guessed it—social scientists. And never mind that despite the ease with which new findings morph into old news, many established psychological phenomena still aren’t intuitive.
The counterintuitive has its place. But our love affair comes at a cost. It leaves little room in the public consciousness for social scientific work that is incremental, for work that shores up and teases apart, for work that complicates, for work on the boundary conditions—those fragile social and mental habitats upon which decisions turn. In other words, it leaves little room for most of social science.
Excellent points.  The pressure to be counter-intuitive can be counter-productive, as one twists their work to present it as "surprising... ta da!"  Looking back, I have found myself socialized into thinking being counter-intuitive is the uber-thing.  My first book found that ethnic ties drove foreign policy towards ethnic conflict elsewhere.  Not exactly surprising.  Yet that was not the conventional wisdom back in the day.  Nay, the conventional wisdom was that countries did not support secessionist movements elsewhere if they faced such folks at home.  People still buy that crap, which means they didn't buy my book.

Adventures in Mentoring

After presenting my take on Smart Defence yesterday at the U of Toronto, I spent this morning chatting with a friend's grad student. It has been awhile since I gave my advice to a phd student about how to approach the job market, as my last bunch is employed, and my new ones are not close to being done.
This chat reminded me of the iron law of dissertations: just because you learned something does not mean it belongs in the dissertation.  In this case, it applied to me-- not everything I learned while researching the NATO-Afghanistan book belonged in that book.... Or my next one but the next one will definitely make use of some of that stuff.  

 The biggest point that I emphasized was that one must always keep in mind the short and long games at the same time.  That the publication process is a long one so if one just focuses on what it takes to do well next fall, one might not submit stuff now to help improve one's record for the following fall in case one is not successful.  Better to spend a few weeks now to polish a piece and submit it so that it sits on someone else's desk rather than on one's own.

In the course of this conversation, I realized that my last three students did not do what I recommended (PUBLISH much) before they went on the market.  Then I had lunch with one of the these folks, who was just returning from some place dangerous and, more importantly, chock full of really interesting questions and ideas.  I don't know how I avoided stifling her creative curiosity or that of her sisters-in-crimeresearch, but I am pretty sure that was the key to their success.  That they zestfully pursue interesting questions in ways that knock the socks off of folks.

  I am lucky enough to take credit for their success, not to mention being wildly entertained by their adventures since leaving the nest. Makes the wading through reams of rough drafts of chapters, even (yuck) lit reviews, worth it.

Rank Rankings continued

I have never been a big fan of rankings of universities and programs, but I will take responsibility for this one.  You see, last year McGill was ranked 25th in the world and now it is 31st.  What changed?  I left.  Sure, I thought that my departure might cause McG to move down one spot in the rankings, maybe two, but six?  Wow. I would say I am sorry, but I am loving Carleton and Ottawa.

Seriously though, this change is both irrelevant and significant.  They are irrelevant as they will not affect anything directly--it will not change the students that apply, it will not affect the school's ability to hire faculty and so on.  Rankings matter most to media and to the administrative folks. 

The rankings are significant because McGill is under stress--that the funding system in Quebec is more broken than funding of universities in the rest of North America--and that is saying something.  The attempt to raise tuition failed when the Liberals lost the election to the pandering Parti Quebecois.  The PQ has now found out that the entitled student movement will fight even token increases.  Of course, the funny thing is that these students are not fighting cuts in how much Quebec spends on universities.  Which directly contradicts the premise of a free higher university education--that dream depends on more government money (which comes from unicorns, I guess) going to universities, not less.  Anyhow, McGill does face a very dark future, as it must face more and more cuts even in the middle of the fiscal year, and with members of the PQ saying ominous things about balancing university spending (less for McGill, in other words). 

The reality is that not that much changed in who taught at McGill (other than my departure) between last year and this year, not much changed in the quality/quantity of research, not much changed in the quality of the students (the students there are terrific).  But the reputation of six schools improved relatively to McGill.  The thing to keep in mind here is that reputation is (dare I say it?) a social construction.  It is not real in the sense that x number of pubs plus x number of Phds plus whatever other factors produce rank x.  No, it is about how the community of the rankers feel about the various universities.  Usually, we do not see much dramatic change from year to year because people do not change their opinions much and do not tend to do much research when they face such surveys.  But McG has been in the news--the protests, the cuts, how Quebec and the PQ are aiming directly at this island of English excellence--so it may have swayed some perceptions. 

The really important thing is that the cuts will continue---and they will affect the quality of the place, perceived by the world or not.  And that is sad and unfortunate and unnecessary.  But who said that Quebec public policy was anything but sad and unfortunate .....