Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Early Tweet of the Week: Grading Edition

I just loved this tweet so it is the early favorite for tweet of the week:

Fear-mongering or Good Advice

I had a long twitter conversation yesterday with Sarah Kendzior about a piece we both read at the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  She considered the various pieces of advice a bad idea as the academic survival guide seemed to suggest that profs need to be worried and cautious in order to get tenure. 

My take was that the advice as actually quite good--aimed at providing folks with useful strategies for avoiding some serious mistakes while they pursue their research and manage their career. 

The obvious question would be: do folks really need such advice to avoid sabotaging their career?  Do they need to be told to have multiple mentors, get outside feedback, that perfection is the enemy of the good enough, to take criticism seriously and revise seriously before resubmitting, and so on?  Well, Florian Bieber just posted the lessons he learned as an editor of Nationalities Papers.  The key bits of advice are at the end:
  • Revise a draft and have a friend read it
  • Never submit the article at the same time with two journals (it happened in one case and both Nationalities Papers and the other journal rejected it)
  • Don’t plagiarize (it can ruin your career and reputation)
  • Be patient with the reviewers
  • Never respond immediately if you get negative reviews (always sleep over it). It will not just make editors less unhappy, it will also help your chances of remaining on good terms with the journal.
  • Don’t blame the editor or send insulting emails (they don’t help, believe me)
  • Most articles require revisions (often major revisions, this is not the exception, but the rule)
  • Don’t be discouraged and revise (most articles that are submitted, but not published, are due to authors not revising their articles).
  • Don’t just think about getting published, but also on getting read and cited. Just getting published does not translate into much readership considering the large volume of academic publications.
You would think that folks would know this without having to be told or that they got this kind of advice in grad school, but no, folks think you can insult editors apparently.  We should not be surprised--the list of topics and requests for advice on the various rumor boards indicate that people are not getting advice or they are not listening.  Am I surprised that some folks have crappy advisers?  Um, no.  Most of us are not as lucky as Harry Potter, and even he faced a series of potentially lousy advisers.

The point here is that the academic enterprise is stressful enough--that it is hard to get that first tenure track position and that tenure is an up or out decision.  There is no fear mongering needed (although I am probably guilty of it myself).  Much common sense is required, but often common sense is not all that common or as intuitive as we would like to think.  People will still sabotage themselves as some people are just self-destructive, but if we can reduce that by a bit with some unsolicited advice, shouldn't we?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Early Self-Promotion Day!

Strange day.  I was not looking to find pre-order information for my next couple of pubs but I found them nonetheless.

The much awaited (by me anyway) book with David Auerswald, "NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone," is available for pre-order at Amazon.  Yep, you can order it now for delivery in December, which either means a great gift for Mother's Day or an early plan for your special Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa present to a loved one or two or dozen. No, no cover yet.  We are awaiting the publisher's graphic geniuses since Dave and I have no artistic abilities.

The second pub of mine, a book chapter in a volume on Nationalism and War edited by John Hall and Siniša Malešević, is coming out much sooner--May.  You can pre-order that as well.  Good for Mother's Day, Father's Day or graduation day!

One of the hardest parts of being an academic writer is the waiting for the stuff to come out.  Never too soon to get excited!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lists Are Like Rankings--Everybody's Got One

PM posted at Duck of Minerva 15 Must-Read books for Poli Sci Students.  The overlap between his list and my list is, well, mighty thin: Hendrik Spruyt's The Sovereign State and Its Competitors and Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War.   I like Michael Ross's other work but have not read his
Oil Curse book.
If the premise is to give students a hint of what academic poli sci really is and also to get them into "the systematic study of politics," I would have a somewhat different list focused more on Comparative Politics and IR (since I deftly avoided American Politics at all levels until I had to teach it).  I would have a shorter list simply because the more you assign, the less folks read.  So, what are my top twelve books (ten below plus the two above) to get people into Poli Sci, either as undergrads starting out or for summer reading for those who are unlikely to go to grad school (especially if they listen to us).

  1. Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action.  It is fundamental--why do large groups lose and small groups win?  Why do we fail to cooperate or under-provide? 
  2. Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in Intl Politics. The book that should teach us humility.  That the world is a confusing place, one that we have to perceive and not just process as we get conflicting signals all the time.  The perceptions we make may be systematically biased.  The book also shows how we can profit by stealing from other social sciences.
  3. Robert Gilpin, War and Change.  Simply a fun, fun book that takes Realism and applies it in a most Marxist kind of way.  I wish this was the Realist that got the biggest play beyond the 1980s besides Waltz. 
  4. Deborah Avant, Political Institutions and Military Change.  Combines civil-military relations with principal agency theory to compare and contrast the US and the UK in their cold war wars in Southeast Asia.  Sure, this means that we have two books by folks with whom I went to grad school (Hendrik being the other), but Debbi wrote a fun book that affected my thinking and also showed to the UCSD-haters that the school could produce some sharp work in International Security. 
  5. Jeremy Weinstein, Inside Rebellion.  Just an amazing book on the dynamics of civil wars, showing how to do lit reviews in ways that are not boring, how to build an argument and test it in different ways, to present a series of case studies that both interest the reader and make a convincing case.  That one of my students targeted it for her dissertation is just more evidence that this book gets heaps of respect.
  6. Jonathan Mercer, Reputation and International Politics.  Changed the way I think about reputation and where it comes from.  Definitely builds from Jervis so this might seem like duplication, but Jervis presents a series of cognitive biases, while Mercer shows how you can take one bit of social psych to develop predictions in a most interesting way.  
  7. Kelly Greenhill, Weapons of Mass Migration. This book just thrilled me and continues to have much relevance with Libya and Syria.  She argues that weak countries have a potential weapon against stronger ones--the ability to force some of their citizens to flee, producing refugee crises in the recipient states.  This book convinced me to look at the world and key dynamics in ways that I had not considered. 
  8. Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire.  Snyder might not consider himself to be a Liberal, but this seemed like a very Liberal theory of international conflict: that states are more likely to go to war when an elite cartel is in power.  You may or may not buy the historical accounts, but the argument itself is provocative and interesting.  If I didn't recommend this book, I would have recommended Ideology of the Offensive as Snyder is the most interesting of the security scholars revisiting old wars.
  9. Dan Drezner, Theory of International Politics and Zombies.  This is, indeed, summer reading.  And it gets anyone who is curious about IR Theory at all to see how it can be extended.  Yes, to a fictional war, but once we move into the fictional world, we can then see how the various theories can be extended to other realities--alternative pasts and potential futures.  One of the hardest things to get folks to do is to think theoretically--how do we take this theory from context A and move it to context B?  Does the theory help in explaining the different context?  By making it fun, Drezner makes it deceptively easier to think theoretically.
  10. Donald Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict.  I guess I am a sucker for applying social psych to politics, but this book is an exhaustive effort to understand ethnic conflict.  One can just read pieces and find heaps and heaps of testable hypotheses.  
UPDATE:  I wrote the list at home rather than at work where my books hang out.  So, two omissions:
11.  Alexrod's Evolution of Cooperation which is a fun read and gets to a key distinction in IR between repeated PD where trust/cooperation can emerge .
12.  Cynthia Enloe's Bananas, Beaches and Bases, as the feminist approach to IR that most shook my brain and intrigued me.*
* Speaking of feminism, I tried to find an earlier blog post where I came up with a list of a heap of my favorite books by female IR scholars, but I could not find it.  Maybe the old boys network nuked that post?

There is no critical IR here, as, well, the point of this list is to interest undergrads and engage hobbyists.  I am not a fan of critical IR as it is, to me, hardly ever interesting/readable and never really useful for understanding the world.  Sorry, but them's my biases and it is my list ;)

I have more current stuff on my "to read" list so take this list with a big grain of salt, but I do think that each of these have and will continue to have enduring relevance.

PM also lists two movies.  For the IR scholar, I would recommend Classic Star Trek which had a heap of episodes that have un-subtle applications, Battlestar Galatica for its Civil-Military Relations, and, as afar as movies go, I would recommend three to start: Wag the Dog, Doctor Strangelove, and  No Man's Land (about Bosnia and the lameness of the UN).  But I could (and probably have) spend endless posts on movies and television that are fun for political science fans.

Epic Fail, Indeed! Congressional Style

Brian McFadden is brutally on target this week:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Yuck, You Have Some Policy Experience on Your Suit!?

I posted about professors and the policy world over at Duck of Minerva, and one of the responses repeated an oft-told myth that having policy experience is bad for one's career.  I have no stats to back me up, but my impression is that having some policy experience is not harmful to one's academic progress. 

In the post, I mention a bunch of scholars who dipped their toes into the policy pool and yet managed thrive afterwards. In my experience, having the one year in the Pentagon has been obviously and measurably good for my career.  My competitor for the McGill job way back was also a CFR International Affairs Fellow--that it seems that having policy experience was seen as a qualification for the job.  I am pretty sure that my year in the US government also helped me get my current job since it is at a policy school.  The experience also opened up a series of questions that led to a major research project that has occupied much of the past several years, one for which I have received several grants and have published in prestigious places.  While the pubs are not super-policy oriented and I am still trying to get something published in a more policy-oriented outlet, my career has certainly thrived despite, nay, because of the taint of the policy world. 

It may be the case that it is hard for someone who has worked in the policy world a decade or two to make the transition to the academic world, as pubs do matter.  And if you publish all your work in policy oriented outlets, that may hurt one's tenure case.  But in general, I find it hard to believe that crossing into the other world for periods of time is damaging to one's career. 

Or am I wrong about that?  Are there cautionary tales of which I am unaware?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Good American Options for Syria

Um, I don't have any.  Suggestions?  Going on Canadian TV tomorrow to ponder US foreign policy as the red line of chemical weapons being used in Syria seems to have been crossed.

So, I repeat: does the US have any options?  Bueller?

Ignorance is Bliss, Canadian Edition

There is so much silliness in Canada's party politics, but the latest has the Prime Minister doubling down on ignorance.  Really.

Ok, the context is this: the newly selected Liberal leader, Justin Trudreau reacted to the events in Boston by saying something like, we need to take seriously the root causes. Well, it might have been poorly timed since the focus should have been on the investigation and on condolences.  So,  Prime Minister Stephen Harper, always eager to attack even on a relatively minor point, jumped on Trudeau, saying that this utterance represented an immaturity that makes Trudeau unfit to be PM.  To be sure, Trudeau does not exactly reek of maturity and preparedness, but then again, Harper came off sounding just a bit unreasonably strident.

Having made that first move that we should not be talking about root causes last week, Harper continued this week by saying this is not time to "commit sociology."  Actually, the "committing of sociology" never stopped.  There is much social science being applied to the question of the causes of terrorism, the causes of radicalization, testing theories about why dissent becomes violent, the recourse to and the effects of indiscriminate violence and so on.  Indeed, the Government of Canada (perhaps I should not say it ...) is funding the study of the root causes of terrorism both through the Social Science Humanities Research Council and via the Kanishka project, which is a fund that was created in the aftermath of the Air India disaster. 

It is perhaps typical of this government and this Prime Minister to portray the systematic pursuit of knowledge to be akin to a crime--when else does one commit x?  Making sociology seem like crime is, well, pretty criminal if fomenting ignorance is a crime.  Perhaps fomenting ignorance is not against Canadian laws but it is a crime against against common sense

Best Gif Ever

H/T Chris Blattman
and 2nd H/T Josh Foust

Tweet of the Week: Jenny and the Vs

For those not on twitter, here is the tweet of the week:

Yep, hoist by her own un-scientific petard.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ritual NATO Skepticism

The funny thing about writing a book on NATO and Afghanistan that is pretty critical of the alliance's performance is that I still end up being a NATO defender.  How so?  Well, whenever I see folks ponder the future of NATO, I get grumpy.  In the New York Times, there is a Room for Debate bit with five perspectives on the issue.  This seems like a semi-monthly exercise.  Google trends for "NATO end" produces this nice sine wave (although to be fair a bit more lately):

Too bad we don't have that capability yet for the 1990s.

Anyhow, it is moments like this when I realize that I am a Liberal Institutionalist a la Robert Keohane.  How so?  The alliance solves finesses a heap of transaction costs and represents a lot of sunk costs so that its members, however frustrated, are not going to end the alliance.  As I have said before, the Churchillian quote about democracy applies here: NATO might be the worst alliance save all the others.

What are the alternatives?  One of the pieces in the NYT posits the European Union.  I would laugh, but my cold-induced sore throat would not appreciate it.  The EU?  Since when has the EU come through in a major international security crisis?  The EU failed to manage the end of Yugoslavia, which required ... NATO to end the war in Bosnia and stop Serbia in Kosovo.  The E.U. found the Libyan thing to be a huge crisis as France backtracked on a fundamental part of the EU enterprise--open borders.  ESDP, the effort to build a European defense effort akin to NATO, has not gone anywhere.  Symbolic bi-national units have seen no action.  So, please.  EU? Nay.

Coalitions of the willing?  Well, yes, an ad hoc alliance can replace NATO, but such entities tend to have all the same problems of NATO with few of the advantages?  Legitimacy?  No.  Caveats?  Yes.  Mixed burden-sharing?  Yes.  Common training, doctrine, equipment? Only if a subset of NATO.

How about a global NATO?  Well, the bigger the organization, the harder it is to get consensus, right?  NATO has been able to act precisely because it has kept opponents outside of the organization, such as Russia over Kosovo and China over everything down the road.  Adding Japan and Australia and a few other select countries might make sense, but I am not sure how expanding NATO's role in the world fits with the reality that NATO members are spending less money on defense.

NATO will continue to be asked to do stuff that people never anticipated.  Remember, Yugoslavia was an "out of area operation."  Afghanistan?  Way the hell outside of Europe.  Libya?  Almost Europe.  It is true that everyone's budget cuts will make it harder to engage in and sustain operations, but the history of interoperability, the practice of interoperability, and the relatively common views of the world mean that NATO can be far more functional as a multilateral military enterprise than anything else.  There are no real rivals on the horizon.  Indeed, with the US spending less on defense (well, maybe) and looking to the Pacific, NATO will remain important as a security institution to manage affairs in and around Europe.  Why?  Because there is no one else.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Canada Is a Constitutional Monarchy!

 The Governor-General of Canada held an event at his residence, Rideau Hall, to give five Canadian scholars the Killam Awards.  These recognize senior scholars for their contributions to the world.  I was attending as one of the Killam Laureates this year is John McGarry.  John is one of the top scholars in the world on power-sharing--designing political institutions so that democracies can manage their divided societies.  He is most well known for his work on Northern Ireland, but his stuff has broader applicability.  Indeed, he now holds a UN position, in addition to his day job as a professor at Queen's University, helping to finesse the Cyprus situation among others.  He had me on his guest list, so I had to find a tux and be presentable.  That is John with me doing my best Harvey Weinstein impersonation. 

The event started with people coming in and waiting in a room as they set up the room where the awards were going to be given (not unlike the last seen of Star Wars or not).  Folks who know me would be surprised, but in a crowd where I know absolutely no one (John's wife, Margaret Moore, happened to be in China), I am kind of shy.  So, I looked around the room.  Then, we were corraled and sent into the room where there was a small stage set up and then rows of seats.

They had the Laureates come in last.  Well, second to last.  The Governor General, David Johnston (former head of McGill) and his wife came in.  He got to sit on the stage on a comfy seat in the middle of the stage, as if it were a throne.  The room itself reminded me of rooms I have seen in palaces in Europe--the decorations on the wall, the chandelier, everything.  On the wall behind the stage was a huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth, looking smashing, standing in front of a Canadian flag (yep, Queen of Canada Liz, not Queen of England Liz).  If that was not already making me feel out of place, I certainly was as each person who came on stage would first stand in front of GG and bow slightly.  Bowing!  Wow.  No curtseys, but what can you do.

Each Laureate was introduced by someone who knew them (mostly university administrators).  John gave a very nice speech about the difference between Canada's good history and Ireland's bad history--that the British treated the French Catholics of Quebec far better than the Irish Catholics, so that violence never had much support here and thus no need for the power-sharing institutions.  The talk by the earth sciences guy was also memorable as he basically condemned the current government's attitude/policies towards the sciences.  That support for science should return to focus on basic sciences and the support for curiosity, as our big findings have mostly been through serendipity rather than strategic research.

After that, there was a reception and then a buffet dinner with tables of food strewn throughout the hallways.  I ended up eating with students and grants people from Queen's thanks to hanging out with John.  They all tried to sell me on their school for my daughter.  They don't have to sell me--I am a big fan of Queen's and Kingston.  It was my favorite place in Canada before I moved to Ottawa.
In the Women's Lounge at Rideau Hall

After dinner, we got to tour some of the rooms of the residence including the greenhouse.  Very tasteful decorations with lots of modern art and then an amazing greenroom.  While I felt out of place until I was hanging with John's graduate students, it was a pretty neat night.  I got to wear a tux and experience the constitutional monarchy that is this weird place.  If only there were a crown or sceptre and my favorite monarchist and it would have been complete.

Overthinking Recent Pop Culture

Check out my post at Political Violence at a Glance to see me over-think the prisoner's dilemma as applied in Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Community.

Update: Check out Crooked Timber since they consider the problem of credible commitment as well with a different angle.

Is the Terrorist Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

The Tsarnaev brothers were clearly not criminal masterminds.... just criminals.  Mother Jones collected 11 Most Mystifying things the brothers did, ranging from what the younger brother wore to sticking around in Boston to running out of cash, and so on.  We will probably be able to add to the list as we learn more.  But for me, I don't know whether to feel more relief or more anxiety that these two guys were able to kill three people and injure more than a hundred people.  They were so, ahem, not bright, so does that tell us folks who do this kind of thing, self-radicalized terrorists can do some damage but not so comparable to an unregulated fertilizer distributor?  Or, if these anti-geniuses could do this much damage, what would happen if some sharp terrorists were atwork?

I can easily see either side of this.  The picture, I guess, is complicated enough that there are elements that should worry us and elements that should give us some solace.

In the worry category:
  • that the younger brother was easily turned from a pretty decent life as a middling student with plenty of friends to an ally of his more messed up brother.
  • that it only took two self-radicalized folks to disrupt the life of a city for nearly a week
  • that despite their obvious cognitive limitations, they were able to build a bunch of bombs that mostly worked
  • that they might not have been caught so soon if they were not such, well, idiots.

In the solace category:
  • the Boston medical and first responder community was so competent that all of the patients that reached the hospitals alive survived
  • that the terrorists would tracked down and contained within about 100 hours--the same amount of time it took the US to defeat Iraq in 1991.  We tend to be an impatient people, but that is some fast work. 
  • that perhaps brighter folks are less likely to do this kind of thing because they are smart enough to sense that they would get caught, that maybe it ain't worth it, that maybe the US really is not at war with Islam even if it is in wars in Muslim countries (Bosnia, Libya are essentially pro-Muslim interventions, right?), and so on.  I guess there are plenty of smart folks who are radicalized, but they may still be deterred.
  • perhaps more older brothers are not so messed up as to get their brothers involved in something so self-destructive.
Timothy McVeigh was much more destructive and not that much brighter.  So, is this progress?
I really have no clue how to think about this.  I am not an expert on terrorism or terrorists or radicalization or anything really related to this.  I am just a confused observer.  So, any clarity on this would be much appreciated, readers.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Camp Counselor as Political Career Prep

Do we need a super-counselor?
Canada is so cute sometimes.  The new leader of the Liberal party, Justin Trudeau, has been criticized for having a lame resume, including serving as a camp counselor.  So, the response then gets interesting--that being a camp counselor is excellent prep for being a Prime Minister.  Given my expertise in this area, as a camper for eight years and a counselor for three, I feel duty bound to weigh in. 

Hmmm.  Well, the first thing to remember about being a camp counselor is that the camp is there for you and not for the campers.  Yep, that's right.  Your task is to keep the kids entertained long enough so that you can hang with friends, go swimming, hiking, and generally prolonging one's adolescence while getting paid for it.  This, of course, included playing all kinds of pranks* on the kids.  This is perfect prep for politics because the reality is that the politicians end up focusing on the games in the capital and ambition and perhaps not so much on helping out the folks in the district/riding.
* I could hang a spoon off of my nose.  My campers wanted to imitate me, so I told them to dunk the spoons in spaghetti sauce and then put the spoons against their nose.  Ten seconds later, kids had red stains on their noses.  Tis the easiest and least traumatic prank I pulled or witnessed.
The second thing is that the biggest fights were over the distribution of scarce resources.  In this case, it was breakfast.  In addition to pancakes or eggs or whatever, we would have about a dozen or so small boxes of cereal ranging from sweet (frosted flakes, corn pops) to healthy.  So, allocating those on a regular basis required some system that seemed fair enough not to create fights every morning.  I forget what systems I used, but perhaps politicians could use similar ones to close military bases.

The third thing is that you had to figure out ways to get the kids to do what you wanted without it making it look like a chore.  So, when we had the occasional water balloon fight, the group of kids that picked up the most pieces of balloon afterwards would get a treat.  Yep, they cleaned up for a
token prize.  I don't know how the Republicans do it, but getting poor people to oppose welfare seems like a similar trick.  I guess the token prize is easy access to guns.

I am sure there are other lessons I learned as a camp counselor, but those are a good start.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Much buzz about Massive Open Online Courses.  The NYT has a column on it today.  I have to address it because MOOCs seem like a really cool idea, but pose some problems if when politicians and administrators  consider them as a panacea for solving some of the real challenges we face in higher education--spiraling tuition. 

The author, AJ Jacobs, has a nice pithy take and looks at some of the important stuff as he took 11 different courses via MOOC.  The article is interesting and engaging, but I am afraid it suffers from grade inflation.  How so?  Well, other than convenience, nearly all of the other grades given (except for the profs who get a B+) are below a B yet the final grade is a B. 

The profs get a B+ as they are interesting, organized, and knowledgeable.  Rock on for the profs!  Jacobs does worry:
MOOCs are creating a breed of A-list celebrity professors who have lopsided sway over the landscape of ideas. I pity the offline teachers. I fear one of the casualties of these online courses might be the biodiversity of the academic ecosystem.

Fed Foibles

Now that those responsible for the bombs at the Boston Marathon are dead or captured, folks are going to question the FBI's handling of the case.  The two big questions du jour are: why did they lose track of the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and was it necessary to shut down Boston for nearly 24 hours?

I am actually pretty sympathetic about the FBI's plight.  It is easy to criticize them for not following Tsarnaev after they were warned by Russia.  Yet, the FBI gets lots of tips about a lot of people so they investigated and moved on when they did not find much.  Did Tsarnaev do anything since 2011 that should have caught the eyes of the FBI?  Well, when we know where he got the guns (oops, still problems getting gun purchases under control), and if there were any special components for the bombs, then we can see if there is reason to criticize the FBI.  If the bombs were built from ordinary stuff, then it is hard to see an FBI agent playing close attention to Tsarnaev pulling the alarm after a purchase of a few pressure cookers.  I guess what I am trying to say is: if the FBI kept him under close observation, would they have been able to detect the bomb plot?  Given that it was a two brother operation (unless it was more than that), even closely watching him might not have been good enough.  Even if tailed by the Feds, going to the Marathon with a backpack would not have triggered any alarms, right?

Regarding the shutdown of Boston, I see both sides of the argument.  That the police and FBI mitigated risks by keeping people out of harm's way while they tried to track this guy down.  But it does send bad signals about what a couple of "losers" (using the uncle's term) can do to a city.  I don't think there were easy, clear choices.  The cops/Feds could have gone either way, and chose to remove the lockdown after less than 24 hours.  It did remind me of the US closing the border with Canada on 9/11, which was a very costly move and an overreaction.  We need responses that are between all and nothing.  I think it would have made sense to keep the greater Watertown area locked down and allowed the rest of Boston to continue their lives, but it is easy for me to say from my safe bunker beyond the Wall.

So, I am reluctant to point fingers and place blame for these moves.  I think other FBI moves, where they entrap folks, might not be so wonderful.  I do think we need to fight terrorism as one crime problem but not THE crime problem and certainly not as a military problem in the US.  That is, stick the younger brother in the civilian courts, try him for murder and put him away for life.

To be clear, my emotions on this are running against my brain.  Learning that the younger brother may have killed the older brother by running him over provided me with a certain degree of satisfaction.  That the younger brother may end up feeling guilty for killing his brother makes me somewhat happy, as it seems pretty clear that he was not feeling so guilty about the three people he helped to kill on Monday and the many he helped maim.  Sucks to be him right now. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

TFC13 and More in Retrospect

I had the chance to do something online that I had never done before.  That's right: bloggingheads!
It is a chance for two people to converse and have it recorded.  The process is more complicated than I care to describe, but the key thing is that I was invited to participate.  And with whom?  The woman who crushed in in Twitter Fight Club's Finale this year: Laura Seay of Morehouse College now and Colby College next fall.

I fiddled too much with my headphones, but it was a fun experience.  We talked about TFC, the academic job market, and a bit on secession and irredentism in Africa.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Multi Media Day For Steve

I have two pieces in various outlets today:
 Check them out and let me know what you think.

More Info Is Not Always More Insight

Beware of folks considering themselves experts on Chechnya, Dagestan, and on these bozos.  We don't know much.  I was up throughout the night (thanks to icky cold) and got to watch as the scanners said the bombers were two other guys (with names, webstuff and all the rest).  The key real facts are these: one of the two suspected bombers is dead (no crying here), the other is on the run, the police/FBI have much better info now about who these guys are and ....   that is about it. 

My twitter feed of national security experts is not looking forward to heaps of folks posing as experts.  There are a few, but not too many.  So, it is easy to get sucked into the coverage (as I did), but more info in this case is not always better info.  The good news is there is damn little we can do about it with or without good info, except to worry about our friends in the area that have to stay inside today while the hunt continues. 

If you want to follow the sharpest, skeptical folks on twitter, check out @intelwire for good info judiciously distrbuted, @Joshuafoust for caution, @realjeffreyross for needed humor, @dandrezner for the stranded Boston academic take, @caidid for another Bostonian national security perspective.

Update: I ended up writing a longer version of this for the Globe and Mail.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

We Need More Silliness This Week

It has been an awful week, so here is some HP silliness

Yep, heaps of child endangerment abound. 

Deja Vu Cubed in 30 Thirty Years?

So, the US may be leaving the MRAPS behind in Afghanistan.  These vehicles were developed to drive over roads laden with IEDs (improvised landmines).  What should the Afghans do with them?

My suggestion is to park them next to the old Soviet tanks:

I took this photo when my group of Canadian tourists went off of the base in Kandahar for a quick trip across the road to the dead Soviet tank yard in December 2007.  Plenty of space for some MRAPS.

Not a Good Day for Much Media

H/T to http://www.jmberger.com a.k.a @intelwire who provided the best twitter feed with the sanest, most judicious take on things.

Sweetly Inevitable

Much news the past few days about the bursting bubble of the cupcake boom.  I have two reactions: a lack of surprise and horror.  Why am I not surprised?  Because it seemed unlikely that a one product business model, especially one that was so caloric, would be sustainable in the long run.  In discussions with Mrs. Spew, the closest comparison was Cinnabon, which is also fundamentally an unhealthy one product enterprise.  But there are few competitors to Cinnabon and it did not expand at the rate that I have observed (no stats here) the cupcake stores expanded.  "Crumbs now has 67 locations, nearly double the number it had less than two years ago."  Doubling?  Not a good business strategy for a luxury item.  I am glad to see that Magnolia's (NYC's most prominent cupcake company) did not over-expand and continues to do well.

But I do have some horror at the schadenfreude.
I asked Buzzfeed Food's Rachel Sanders how she felt the cupcake had impacted U.S. culture. "This is getting a little deep, but I believe they tap into our American cultural tendency toward selfishness and emotional isolation," she typed to me via Gchat. "Like, what other culture needs a kind of cake that is literally impossible to share; if you even try it just disintegrates into crumbs and sadness? You are going to be alone forever, so go ahead and carbo-load."
This is just ridiculous.  The only person I have ever seen buying just one cupcake for oneself in a cupcake store was ... me.  Otherwise, people would go to the store together, pick out different ones and then nosh together.  Or, they would be buying a bunch to share with friends.  Indeed, what is easier to distribute an office party or a picnic?  A cake you have to slice, a pie that needs plates, or a bunch of cupcakes?

I have a friend who makes heaps of cupcakes to send good will, friendship, and love.  She does cakes as well, but the cupcakes provide a bit more creativity as each cupcake can have a slightly different design even if they fit into a larger theme, such as Harry Potter as you see to the right and below. Indeed, isn't that what makes cupcakes a potentially perfectly North American food: harmony in diversity?  If you are a Star Trek fan, you would be thinking of IDIC: infinite diversity in infinite combinations.  The joy of cupcakes is simply logical.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cowards Called Out

One of the best things about Game of Thrones as that the books expanded my vocabulary so that I have an appropriate word to use to describe the Senators who voted against sensible albeit limited gun control: craven.   But don't listen/read me.  Rely on Gabby Giffords for articulating the real meaning of fear and of cowardice.

More Hope, Less Fear

This video from the other side of the world is nice solace--that not all legislators are fear-mongering idiots or cowards in the face of a powerful lobby:

Yep, gay people can now marry in New Zealand.  Rock on, Kiwis!

Best Solution to Media Derp-a-thon

Hard to blog today as I was so very distracted by the derp-a-thon that was today's media coverage of the events in Boston.  The suspect is either white or not white (which led to great tweets using pics from that classic Trek episode--see to the right), arrested or not, and so on.  Then we get the US Senate going against 92% of Americans on background checks for buying guns.  Lovely.

So, what to do?  Watch this wonderful deleted scene by Patton Oswalt while on Parks & Rec.

This is really his week after the great FB post after the attacks.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mama, What Do These Poli Sci Job Numbers Really Mean?

The post yesterday of figures detailing the trends in poli sci jobs got a huge number of hits and more than a few questions.

First, yes, this looks like a cycle, but without the data before 2002, it is hard to tell whether the low or the high numbers are the more normal ones.  If it is a boom and bust cycle, rather than a spike with a more enduring trend downwards, it still sucks for those who emerge from grad school during the bottom of the cycle.  Spending a few years adjuncting or even temp VAP-ing (visiting assistant professor) does not usually help one's credentials much: more teaching experience is helpful but usually at the cost of research productivity.  Moving takes time and effort, which limits how much one can do research.  Plus all the effort to constantly search for jobs is another distraction.  Which means that even if the market improves, one who did not get lucky immediately is likely to be competing with the new generation of finishing students who do not look used/dated/old and the more productive members of the your cohort who are looking to move as they might have been underplaced.  So, the point here is that even if this is cyclical, it sucks to be at the wrong part of the cycle in a very path dependent, career influencing way.

Second, the numbers are jobs listed, not jobs filled.  Not every job gets filled.  Indeed, I have lost on more than a few occasions to "none of the above."  So, the numbers indicate the best possible outcome, but really the number of jobs filled is going to be lower across the board and particularly so in years where the economy worsens.  The jobs that are advertised in July, August, and September may not exist a few months later.  This happens in Canada as well--I had a great interview experience a few years ago, and the job disappeared the day before the committee was going to decide.  So, these numbers are (with the exception of the last set of data) optimistic to a fault.

Third, that last set of numbers is just a bit deceptive, as it is only the numbers for most but not all of 2012-2013's job market.  Given how front-loaded the job market is, we can expect that the real numbers at the end of the academic year will be in between the dip of 2009-2010 and the semi-peak of 2011-12.  So, this makes the trend harder to detect.

Fourth, I am too lazy to get the numbers for PhDs produced in political science over this range, but these numbers in APSA figures only really gain meaning if we know how percentage of new PhDs are getting jobs and what kinds of jobs they are getting.

Fifth, the hardest part to convey is this: the second figure that breaks things down by subfield is illusory.  How so?  There may have been 122 jobs in IR in 2011-12, but most candidates are not competitive for most of these jobs.  Huh?  Well, if one does International Security, then one is not a real competitor for most International Political Economy jobs.  Even worse, if you do IPE, you may not be competitive for all IPE jobs as you do trade but some of these jobs are focused on the financial side of things.  And this is true for most jobs--that the actual job description (which does not always constraint the search committees) is narrower.  So, there may be only a handful of jobs that one might really be competitive for.
Sure, you may think: hey, I do stuff that crosses boundaries so that I am even more attractive.  Maybe.  I have been living at the juncture of IR and Comparative my entire career.  I know what I think I am, and I know what my record now demonstrates (IR, baby), but when I started out, the comparativists would not be interested in me since I was not a true comparativist (lousy language skills, not any real field work), and the IR people would look at me and wonder why I cared about the literature on ethnic politics.  Indeed, saying that I was doing Security broadly defined way back when was pretty much a red flag to a large hunk of the IR security community.
Anyhow, the point is that the numbers of jobs in a subfield again represent a maximum that is a bit unrealistic.  This is before factoring in other stuff, like location.

Sixth, we can have lots of anecdotes about people doing well on the market.  Only one of my students has not gotten a tenure track position, so in my experience, there is no problem, right?  To be clear, I did not select my students based on whether they were competitive on the market.  They chose me for a variety of reasons, and I had much less to do with their getting good jobs than their passionate pursuit of interesting questions.  But the point is that I could think that there is no problem.  But the numbers are speaking to me, and they say this: DON'T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL.  Sorry.

For a similar opinion, see Dan Drezner's post

One of many reasons why I left McG to come to NPSIA is that I feel less morally compromised being in an enterprise aimed at producing the next generation of policy-makers than the next generation of professors.  Yes, the Canadian policy market has also crashed, but government will inevitably grow again.  Academia?  Not so much.


I posted my weekly column today at CIC on the Boston attacks.  It is too soon to speculate, but I had a hard time thinking about anything else right now.  So, I discuss the realities of the situation--we cannot stop every single person who wants to commit such acts every single time, so we must be resilient in the face of such awful events.  The ways that folks near and far reacted to the attack give some solace. 

Your thoughts are welcome either here or at CIC (or both). 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mama, Don't Let Your Kids Become Political Scientists

A long running theme here at the Spew has been the challenges of the political science job market, sometimes illustrated.  Alas we now have data.  Why the alas?  Because the data is damned depressing (only political science jobs in these figures).

To be clear, that peak in 2006-2007 probably represents a bit of an anomaly--recovery from the previously big dip in hiring in the aftermath of the tech bubble and 9/11 induced shocks to endowments, state budgets and the rest.  Still, this looks like a double dip recession, right?  2009-2010 and now.