Friday, May 31, 2013

Steve's Guide to Conference Proposals

A twitter friend of mine was trying to figure out how to put together his proposal for the International Studies Association's Annual Meeting.  The ISA has gotten into a nasty habit of having a really early deadline.  So, folks are thinking about it today since the deadline is tomorrow.  I have had a fair amount of experience on the other end, organizing the program for the Foreign Policy section of the APSA about a decade ago, doing the Ethnicity, Nationalism and Migration section of the ISA [ENMISA] a few years back, and then this masochism year of the Foreign Policy Analysis section of the ISA this past spring and the International Security section (with Idean Salehyan) of the APSA for the meeting in September.  So, I have opinions (no surprise to anyone): 

To be sure, my opinions are not universally shared so take what I say with a big grain of salt.  With that caveat (I love saying caveat these days), here are my basic rules of conference proposals:
  • If you can organize an entire panel, complete with chair and discussant, do so, as it will save the program organizer work.  Plus the panel will be more coherent. Not all panel submissions are accepted but I am pretty sure the rate of success is higher than for lone paper submissions. 
    • If organizing a panel, have a mix of people--not all grad students from the same department.  This actually gives you an excuse to network and meet new people.  Identify who does work that is related to what you are doing, and invite them to the panel.  Don't be afraid to invite junior AND senior faculty from other places.  Many will thank you for taking the lead, saving them from doing the work or risking a lone submission.  Ask your adviser or friends for suggestions and even help in getting a discussant (usually cannot be and should not be a graduate student).  The bigger the name, the more likely the panel will be accepted.*  People like to get a big name to be chair but I never understand that--the chair just keeps the panel running on time (or not). 
    • If you are on an organized panel, do not also submit the paper individually.  You can submit a different paper but do not do the same one twice--more work for everyone.
*  Why?  Because panel allocations for future years tend to be driven by attendance (ISA is revising its allocation policy this year so this may be less true), and people tend to go to the panels with the bigger names.  The bigger names are not always smarter but they tend to be more articulate, which makes for a better panel.  Some folks are know to be excellent discussants, which are a rare commodity.  They may or may not have big names. Another reason is that program organizers may be more anxious about rejecting a big name.
  •  Whether you put together a panel or just submit a paper, you have to provide a description of the panel.  Try to keep it short and clear.  Some program organizers get hundreds of submissions (FPA gets around 500 papers and I forget how many panels).  If you have an overly long abstract, it sends a signal that your paper might be very long (I have been a discussant for papers over fifty pages on a few occasions--not fun), and that your presentation may go long.  
    • So, keep it simple: what is the question, why is it important, what is your answer, how do you propose to test it (that might just be four sentences!).
    • The paper is not going to be written until many months from now so you don't have to go into great detail.  If you look at articles in journals, notice the abstracts--150-200 words that explain what the paper is.  That is the goal (again, this is for poli sci/international studies, I have no clue about history or sociology or econ or whatever else).  
    • Aim for a title that is clear about the topic but not incredibly boring.  
  • Some people get really into linking the paper to the grand theme of the conference.  For APSA and ISA (I cannot say about other ones), you don't have to match the big theme to get on the program.  It can help but pay a bit more attention to the call for the papers that the particular section posts (if they do).  Even then, it is better to have a coherent, interesting paper idea than one that is a mess because you tried to tie it to some broader theme that does not fit.   
  • Do make sure you send it to the right two sections (other associations may have one or three options), with the preferred section first. Do not just submit it to one.
That really is about it.  Perhaps too late.

The Internet is a Strange Place

The internet is just a heap of fun.  Check out this Sam Jackson story.  Yet more fun is when we can do some comparative analysis.  This list of the ten top controversial wikipedia posts by language has gotten some play, so I thought I would ponder it a bit.
You can read the paper.  I will get to that eventually, but I thought it would be fun to point out some stuff anyway.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

False Fears and Harsh Realities

For some reason, folks seem to fear being falsely accused of sexual harassment, that careers are destroyed when kindness is misinterpreted.  Sure, I keep my office door open, especially when a student wants it closed to discuss a plagiarized paper.  But the reality I have seen through my nearly twenty years (!) in the business is that the problem is not the false accusations but the relative impunity that the predators have.

Those who harass students, as far as I have observed, either do not get punished at all or are so lightly punished that it appears that they get off scot free.  Indeed, at one stop along my travels, I was told "they let us screw the students" as it were a perk.  And at that place, a predator was given special treatment by the blind senior faculty, creating such a poisoned environment that one had a hard time cracking down on academic offenses.

So, when I see folks worrying about false accusations (poli sci rumor sites), I am flummoxed--how can the ranks of the falsely accused be so large that neither my friends nor I have met any of these folks?*
* Sure, it can happen, but not with great frequency. 

This mythology is not only disturbing but destructive.  That women (it always seems to be about women who make false accusations according to the fearful) are excluded from meals or drinks because they might "get the wrong idea" is harmful to their careers.  They don't get to participate in as much networking because of the fear of fearful men who worry about false accusations (I do fear that some folks use this fear to justify excluding women).  There is a relatively easy solution--if one is that worried, invite more than one student to join you for lunch or for a beer at a conference. 

I really have never worried about my grad students accusing me of anything.  I treat them with respect, and they thus respect me.  Working with undergrads can be a bit more complicated so I would drink with larger groups of them at the end of a term.  Again, no problems--respect breeds respect.  Fear, on the other hand, leads to anger and all that the little green guy asserted.

When People Are Like Cars

The classic dynamic is for one's car to make a noise everywhere except when it is at the mechanic's.  Well, this dynamic has led to some ambivalence.  I suddenly got some back pain the other day, and I am in the strange position of almost hoping that it sticks around for my doctor's appointment tomorrow.  If not, then it will be hard to discuss it and figure out what to do.  Other than, do not bend.  And yes, of course, I have been dropping more crap the past two days than usual, so more bending. 

The good news is that I am enjoying some over the counter back med, which should mean that the fourth chapter of my next book should be more fun to read.

Good times!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Coming Out of the IR Theory Closet

I am a constructivist.  There, I said it.  Ok, not in my work, but in my thinking about the profession.  Huh?

I have always had a bit of an identity crisis as an IR scholar (some would think of me as a comparativist, but that is wrong and beside the point): Liberal IR theory as enunciated by Andrew Moravcsik seemed to fit me best: I focused on patterns of interests.*  But as many critics have suggested, that is pretty damned broad.  At the TRIP workshop last week, I realized something that I always kind of knew: my work fits into the non-paradigmatic box.  Nearly all of my work is focused on understanding particular questions and problems and then figuring how how domestic institutions/dynamics are likely to shape how countries react to such problems.  I take seriously IR theories and try to apply them, but usually always find that the domestic dynamics matter more.  During the presentations, I dug through the TRIP Journal Article dataset and found my stuff coded as non-paradigmatic. 
* To be clear, I am also a Realist in the sense that I think that power often determines outcomes (but not interests).  Ken Waltz did much to shape my view of the world, but structural realism is so indeterminate  there is plenty of room for folks like me to operate.  Indeed, my students, grad and undergrad, have often been confused about where I stand (and that is probably a good thing in my case).

So, how am I a constructivist?  Well, when it comes to the profession, I think that much of what we face is intersubjective--that the realities we face are social ones, that norms, expectations, that which we value are shaped by the social system in which we inhabit and that our actions reproduce and reinforce this social system.  The social system can change as we change what we value and how we act. 

What does this mean?  Well, for instance, when one engages in peer review of a manuscript for a journal or press, it hardly ever comes with any kind of explicit instructions.  The idea is to give one's assessment of the article/book based on one's idea of "good work" and what belongs in the press or journal.  The first part is what you more or less get in grad school.  The second part?  Damned if I know where it comes from.  People (by which I mean me) use different standards for an article submitted to International Organization versus Bob's Journal of IR.  While one may use roughly the same criteria for methodology (or not), one is likely to focus on the contribution, the uniqueness, the heft of a piece for IO than for BJIR (Bob's Journal of IR). 

While we may quibble about which journals/presses are ranked the highest, we largely share an understanding of what "belongs" in each journal.  This guides our submissions--it may not be that APSR rejects heaps of case study work but that people who write cases submit elsewhere due to expectations.  It also guides how we review stuff.

While I spend a heap of time here dismissing rankings, the reality is that our perceptions of what is good (journals, presses, universities, grad programs, whatever) is socially constructed.  We do not really spend heaps of time taking seriously objective metrics (those who complain about citation counts have not spent that much time in hiring and tenure/promotion meetings), but go with our beliefs about the various hierarchies.  What makes Harvard the number one school in the world in various programs?  Mostly our shared perception.  Is it the best place to get a PhD in Poli Sci?  Depends on what best means, as the label really helps people get hired elsewhere, but best set of profs in every subfield of political science?  Probably not.  But as long as many people share this belief, Harvard will have a position in the social structure that gives it more heft, more influence, more resources so that it does have the impact of being number one.  Which then reinforces everyone's views (ok, nearly everyone).

Is anarchy what we make of it, as Wendt claims?  I am not so sure.  Is the IR profession what we make of it?  Absolutely.  I will be revising my TRIP paper as it needs much work (thanks to the comments of peers), but the constructivist view of the profession will remain.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Being Pro Military is Not Always Pro-Military

My latest at CIC where I argue that the Harper government's compulsion to appear to be pro-military (keeping the force the same size, buying the equipment they promised to buy) is going to hurt the Canadian Forces due to deeper than needed cuts in operations, training and maintenance.  Hollow?  Hollooooow?  Hollooooow?  That would be me suggesting that echo sound of a hollow military, but the funny thing is that the American concern about hollowing out a military does not seem to travel north.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Draft a New Draft

Today is Memorial Day in this U.S., which leads to all kinds of silly debates about whether this holiday celebrates just the dead killed in America's wars or the Veterans as well since there is Veteran's Day in November (which is Armistice Day everywhere else).

The other silly debate that seems to occur around this time is about the draft.  Karl Eikenberry (former US general and then Ambassador to Afghanistan) and David Kennedy (retired history prof) wrote a NYT op-ed about the state of US civ-mil and what to do about it, including ... bring back the draft.  Oy.

First, to be clear, there are, always have been and always will be civil-military tensions, and these tensions can be productive but sometimes destructive.  The civilians and military have always distinct beliefs about the other, leading to misperceptions, complaints, and such.  It is natural although I wonder if it is not that different from how ordinary police or FBI folks view their civilian masters.

Anyhow, the piece talks about the widening gap between the civilian and military worlds, starting with the end of the draft.  Of course, this raises a question--was there a gap or were there tensions before 1973 when the draft ended?  Given how Jack Kennedy felt after the Bay of Pigs and how LBJ felt as the Vietnam war progressed, um, yes.  Of course, the really interesting Cold War moment of civ-mil tensions is when Eisenhower spoke out against the military-industrial complex, but what kind of military experience did Ike have?  If that is not sufficient to remind folks of the enduring gap-ness (draft or no draft), read Amy Zegart's book on the politics surrounding the creation of American national security institutions in the aftermath of WWII.  It is chock full of very conflictual dynamics between the civilians (many of whom fought in WWII) and the branches of the military as they fought among, between and within over the institutions that would make national security policy.

The point is this: the end of the draft may matter significantly, but let us not over-rate it.  A couple of other draft-related points:
  • to get enough Americans through the military to raise the rate of participation of the society, one would either need to expand the military significantly or have a large hunk of the armed forces open up spots for draftees, meaning less professionals at work.  The problem with this is that in the increasingly high tech military the US has got, expertise kind of matters.  Sure, draftees are good for infantry (although that is more high tech now and expertise is still valued), but for many of the other occupations?  For a one to three year term?  Hmmm.
  • it would save money (which might be a hidden agenda) if the US did not have to spend so much money recruiting and retaining people.
  • it ain't gonna happen.  Good luck getting enough Congress-people to vote for a draft.  Unless there is a real danger, like Mexico or Canada becomes an enemy of the US, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the American people will let their kids be subject to the draft again.  Ignoring the politics of the draft is pretty much required by anyone who advocates it.  But ignorance is not bliss.
  • the military as a means to get out of poverty is seen as a bad thing here.  Um, why?  The reality has been that the infantry is not where the poor folks tend to go--this article relies on outdated beliefs from Vietnam.  Update: see here for some basic stats of who is in the military.
 The op-ed then goes on to argue that technology has insulated the public from the military.  A smaller military plus drones means indifference, apparently.  But, spare me.  Technology goes in both directions.  Twitter, tumblr, blogs, email, facebook, and all the rest means that the soldiers in the field are constantly engaged with the public back home, and any one back home who is interested can get far more information about the wars than in days of yore.  It does not mean that people have clarity.  No, they are stuck in the fog of war, just like anyone else, especially in these counter-insurgencies which have far less clarity than a conventional battlefield.*
* I am reading the third book in Rick Atkinson's trilogy about the US in the European theater of WWII, and fog of war is a pretty accurate term, given the confusion of much stuff by all side, even in this most conventional of wars.
I am confused about the part about the military doing too much beyond the battlefield.  The COIN/development stuff means that the military is working more and more with the civilians (whole of government and all that).  Does that not lead to a smaller gap?

The only good part in this piece is the idea of forcing the government to pay for wars as they have them--raise taxes to send troops abroad into combat and you might just find less troops being sent into harm's way. This gets to one of the basic ideas of the democratic peace stuff--if the population pays for war, less war. But again, hard to get this kind of thing to be enacted without providing escape clauses.

This is a good day to ruminate about how to improve the US military and its relationship with the American people and with the government.  Unfortunately, this op-ed does not really enhance the conversation.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


I spent today, the day after a two day conference in Williamsburg, checking out Jamestown where America began.  I could not help but think of a few things while going through both the Jamestown Settlement Museum which has re-creations of the first colony and the actual site of Jamestown  which has much archaeology going on:
  • Not much has changed.  There was many conflict among the settlers that threatened the colony's survival, making today's politics seem a bit less toxic.  Ok, almost.
  • Lost has enduring relevance.  Jamestown was located on the shore amidst a swamp, which made clean water really challenging to get.  Not unlike the first season of Lost where Jack discovered fresh water but most folks wanted to stay on the beach.  Maybe Lost is really Jamestown, complete with conflict and then cooperation and then conflict with the Others--the Indians.
Anyhow, I learned much and remembered stuff that I learned but had forgotten.  I had forgotten how Jamestown nearly failed, with less than forty of the one hundred plus surviving the first year.  The location of the settlement was aimed for optimal defense-ability but the very factors that made it easy to defend also made it easy to contain via siege.  The starvation the first year or two was as much about being unable to venture out for food given the Powhatan conflict as the weather. 

I was surprised to see how well the museums addressed the origins of slavery in the U.S., just a bit over a decade after Jamestown was founded.  English privateers were able to capture some Africans and then sell them to the colony, so America's original sin was earlier than I remembered.  

I was also surprised to learn that another American stain was partly responsible for the success of the colony: tobacco.  That the colony was not a profitable enterprise for anyone until they figured out how to grow tobacco, and that led to folks getting rich pretty quickly (1620s). 

One last surprise--that the archaeology and forensics going on today seem to be relatively new.  I would have expected bodies to have been dug up long before recent times.  But the archaelogical effort is going on now, with the recent discovery of cannibalism: Jane.

Oh, and it was pretty damn cold.  I had the chance to buy some fleece jackets or a rain jacket at a nearby outlet shopping center, but did not.  So, I have been pretty cold the past couple of days.  I don't remember ever being this cold in late May in the middle of the East Coast. 

Still, I had a great time at the workshop (with lessons learned to be reported tomorrow), and hanging out with some old friends from grad school.  I guess with Jamestown and Yorktown (after the book workshop here 1.5 years ago), the next place I must visit is .... Gettysburg, right?

PhD as Street Cred?

Dilbert has a reasonable take on the exaggeration of expertise that comes with some PhDs:

Friday, May 24, 2013

TRIP Workshop, Day 2: Electric Bugaloo

Second and final day of the TRIP workshop. I posted yesterday a series of live tweets, so I am doing that again for today's panels. Since I presented first, I didn't live tweet mine and my attention to my iPad and twitter was a bit sporadic. oops.

Overall, I learned a great deal not just about the profession but how people vary in what they see, what kinds of questions they ask when the look at the same data as myself, and about the next generation of scholars.  I was not the oldest person in the room but I was closer to that than to the youngest folks.  And the young ones are sharp, as sharp as kniiiiiiives.  Several were former William and Mary students that were turned onto IR by Mike Tierney, Sue Peterson and others at W&M.  This is the kind of place I wanted to teach when I got my PhD, and while I am quite happy with my career, I cannot help but be jealous of Mike and the W&M faculty.

Ironies of Presentations

Today, I am presenting a paper that tests the assertions in the famous Mearsheimer and Walt paper that laments, among other things, the apparent demise of Grand Theory.  My findings: Twain is damn smart.  You can check out a very rough draft with heaps of figures and tables.

Comments, suggestions, reactions would be most welcome.

Pondering Star Trek: Into Darkness

I saw ST: ID yesterday as part of the TRIP workshop, as the planned outing to a lake for canoeing or a hike met the reality of one of the longest and most powerful downpours I can remember (aside from those I played ultimate through).  And I left ST: ID wondering if it was really good or really bad.  So, look beyond the break for my first attempt to think it through.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

TRIP Workshop

I spent the morning and early afternoon at a workshop on the state of IR, run by the William and Mary folks who run the TRIP project.  Over the past decade, these folks have collected a bunch of data surveying IR profs and collecting information from the articles published in IR journals.  They are now seeking new eyes on the dataset, so a bunch of us have met to use the data and talk about it.  The papers today were most interesting, so I am repeating the live-tweets I sent out earlier today. *
* We finished early so that we could go hiking and be social, but the torrential rains meant Star Trek instead.  I don't yet have an IR angle on the movie, but may have something eventually.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Joy of Visiting the US

Aside from outlet shopping, one of the key things to look forward to is unimpeded access to fun stuff like this:

Even if it is damn embarrassing to the folks of Toronto.  Keep that in mind, it is a Toronto thing since those folks elected him.  Leave the rest of Canada out of it.  Just like only DC could be lamed for re-electing Marion Barry.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Top Ten Warning Signs of Elitist Condescension

Because of a certain column, twitter has suggested that I post a top ten list of signs you might be engaged in some elitist condescension:
Here is my attempt:
  1. The title includes a description of the target that is just a bit overstated, such as liberal imperialism.  Indeed, any blog post that includes imperialism in the title automatically qualifies (is this the Noam Chomsky rule of elite condescension?).
  2. Any post that tells people that they are whom they hate might qualify.  Such as telling liberal internationalists/interventionists that they are akin to neo-cons.
  3. Saying that you have no right to an opinion if you have never visited a place or speak the language.  When a generalist tell other generalists that they cannot discuss stuff unless they are an area expert, he/she just might be an elite condescender.
  4. Accusing your opponents of hypocrisy when many are not.  Saying that liberal interventionists do not condemn Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and other mis-deeds/abuses by the US seems just a bit inaccurate.  Plenty of liberal interventionists have been critical of the US and its allies.  Confusing liberal interventionists with neo-cons again?
  5. If you assert that believing that democracy can only work where there are no cleavages and that have much experience with democracy, you might be an elite condescender that ignores the progress democracy has made across the globe and the vast literature on democracy in plural societies, such as Lijphart, McGarry, Horowitz and the gang.
  6. If you accuse your opponents of having secret beliefs.
  7. If you suggest that your intellectual opponents might need a twelve-step program, you might be an elite condescender.
  8. Confusing hyperbole with good arguments.  Do liberal interventionists really say that staying out of Syria makes the US as bad as Assad? 
  9. You hold an endowed chair (damn, guilty!).
  10. At Harvard.
 The funny thing is that I agree with Walt's basic premise and its application to the case at hand:
decisions to intervene need to clear a very high bar and survive hardheaded questioning about what the use of force will actually accomplish 
But the message gets lost since it is covered in smug sauce.*  Again, I agree with Walt on the basic premise that intervention in Syria (and other places) is very hard and that some advocates underestimate the difficulties.  I have argued that the US has exceeded the war cap--that there has been too much intervention.  There is a reason why I have taken to calling the Mideast the Land of Lousy Alternatives. Of course, standing by has consequences, too.  Which is why I have gotten in the habit of posting this particularly song: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
*Yes, smug sauce, a new, somewhat bitter addition to Saideman's Sauces.  We know have Secret, Denial, Perspective, Awesome, Ignorance, Distraction (tastes like squirrel), and Scary.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Picking on Harvard

The Harvard students are revolting!  Ah, an easy joke. They are petitioning to demand an investigation into the now notorious dissertation of Jason Richwine.  Why?  Because Richwine wrote an awfully designed and executed dissertation?  No, it seems like they are protesting that the dissertation was/is just a bit racist--arguing that Latino immigrants have lower IQs and thus should be kept out.

The students' protests, I think, miss the point.  As much as I dislike Richwine's arguments, he is correct to argue that academic inquiry means that objectionable ideas can be pursued and can produce projects that lead to degrees, such as his Harvard doctorate.  After all, those who do research and find that being gay might be genetic and thus not a choice would have found much opposition decades ago.  We can figure out all kinds of work done in universities that seemed shocking to society at the time but was essentially progressive.  That Richwine's work is regressive in many ways does not mean we should create an environment where we vet ideas for whether they conform with what we think of appropriate work.

However, the students should be protesting ... that Harvard's standards might be questionable.  Dan Drezner and others have done the yeo-person's* work of reading the dissertation, so I will rely on their judgements.  Also, I will rely on the basic realities that race and IQ are both inherently problematic--both are hard to measure, both represent contested concepts, and both are far less fixed/immutable than those who tend to rely on them for their work.  So, it seems to be the case, given the nature of the project and how it has been executed (thanks, Dan, for taking that bullet and reading a dissertation you did not have to read), that the dissertation committee signed off on a crappy dissertation.**
* Obscure Oberlin reference.
** To be fair, supervising dissertations can be very hard, and often students are doing work at this at the edges of one's expertise.  The idea of having committees supervise dissertations is in part aimed at addressing this problem.  Still, I now have greater respect for the processes in Canada that have external examiners who are a key part of the process.

Thus, the real question about Harvard's reputation right now is not about the kinds of ideas being researched but the quality of the work that gets the Harvard imprimatur.  Harvard's reputation as the best university in the US (or close to it in the various rankings) depends not just on having lots of smart people hanging around Cambridge but making sure that the people who leave with the Harvard degree are well trained via the usual procedures--passing tests, writing good theses, and defending dissertations successfully.  If people can get through without adhering to the standards of the discipline (whatever it may be), then this raises questions about the value of the Harvard degree.  And students who pay huge amounts of money and/or who have worked really, really hard to get into and succeed at Harvard should care about that.  All they have done has either been to pursue excellence for its own reward or to get the stamp on their forehead that says Harvard.

The reality is that Harvard's faculty is chock full of really smart people, but really smart people are not always right and do not always do the best work.  I spent last week engaged in a series of conversations about work on ethnic tolerance and diversity because the mainstream media had picked up some Harvard studies and thought them to be good  in part because the Harvard sauce on it lent it legitimacy.  In this conversation, I took issue with a key aspect of work done by two incredibly smart and well-regarded Stanford scholars.  Just because I respect these folks a lot does not mean I buy everything they say. 

So, perhaps there is good news about this Richwine mess--that folks will not automatically assume that the research produced by those at Harvard or trained by Harvard folks is anything close to perfect or definitive.  That, however, is bad news for those students now at Harvard.  Oops.

Reviewing the Last Battle

I read a book review that inspired me to Kindle The Last Battle, by Stephen Harding, which documents one of the last WWII battles in Europe. The story apparently is well known in Europe, but never got that much play in the US. A bunch of French politicians were being held by the Germans in Austria at Schloss Itter, and in the waning days of the war, it looked like they might get executed.  A small group of daring US soldiers, combined with Austrian resistance and, more strikingly, German soldiers held off the SS troops long enough for relief to arrive.  So, you have Americans and Germans and old French soldiers and politicians fighting alongside each other after Hitler's death and when everyone thinks the war is over.

The book  was an interesting read, but definitely felt like it had a lot of padding.  It is only about 170 pages plus footnotes and bibliography and such, yet the beginning of the book was kind of slow at the start with more background than seemed necessary.  The problem for any author is that the battle itself was less than a day from when the firing started to when the relief arrived. So, there is not that much of a story to tell in a book. 

Still, the story was quite interesting and told well.  A couple of interesting pieces to the story:
  • Relief was complicated by the drawing of lines on the map--that one of the units attempting to relieve the castle was entering into the area of responsibility of another American unit, and the commander did not want to do that for fear of friendly fire.  Damn those arbitrary lines.
  • The book documents very well the conflicts among the French prisoners: Edouard Daladier vs. Paul Reynaud, General Maurice Gamelin vs General Maxime Weygand and others.  The stories of these and the other French prisoners (with one exception, Jean Borotra, who played a pivotal role in the battle) hating each other and acting childish were striking.  Indeed, they were stupidly disobeying instructions from the American commander.  As the battle was joined, they put themselves in harm's way, ultimately getting one of the key German officers killed.  With leaders like this, it becomes very clear why the French lost the war so quickly in 1940 and why they were so poorly prepared before that.
    • This gets to a basic gripe I have about Barry Posen's Sources of Military Doctrine.  It was a very influential book in Security Studies in the late 1980s, but the basic argument did not match the reality.  Trying to combine bureaucratic politics with structural realism, Posen argued that countries generally produced poor innovative military doctrine due to bureaucratic politics.  Only when countries face severe external threats do the politicians interfere to force militaries to adapt.  This sounds fine and good, but who faced the most severe threat in the mid to late 1930's?  France, of course.  But it adapted poorly, if outcomes are any measure.  What explains why France adapted poorly?  Not bureaucratic politics but domestic politics--unstable coalition politics led to short lived governments.  Of course, given the quality of the men leading France at the time, as revealed by this book, I am not sure a longer lasting government led by any of these guys would have been any good. 
  • One note for the Canadian folks: a few journalists jumped onto the various American relief convoys because they knew a good story when they saw one, including one young Canadian: Rene Levesque!  He, of course, went on to lead Quebec separatists in the 1970s and has a very windy street named for him in Montreal.  His efforts to get the story were mostly stymied by Daladier and Reynaud who wanted to save their stories for their memoirs, which were mostly aimed at blasting each other and whoever else for whom they had much resentment.  
In a WWII tale of much heroism, initiative, luck and guts about the efforts of the Americans, the "good" Germans, and the Austrians,* the French come off looking the worst.  Of course.
*  I have always been less than thrilled with the Austrian perspective on the war--as the first victims of the Nazis --as too many were way too enthused about Anchluss, Hilter, the SS and all of that.  But in this book, there was apparently a resistance movement that did help to make a difference at the very end of the war.

Is Obama The New Nixon?

That is, is he too obsessed with leaks and probably using the DoJ inappropriately?  I don't really know, although I do think that this is not Watergate.  Still, I find all of this a bit disturbing, so here's a good take on it:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Taking a Compliment is Hard

Despite constantly fishing for compliments, I have always felt awkward when receiving them.  I don't think this is entirely a gender thing, although it could be my feminine side:

Comparative Xenophobia, part III: The Quickening

Over the past couple of days, Max Fisher has posted a few maps and some commentary about global comparisons of ethnic tolerance  and diversity.  This led to as series of spews as I had more than a few thoughts about this stuff, which Fisher was kind enough to summarize back at his Washington Post blog.

I promised in the initial post to get to the relationship between economic freedom and tolerance that was a key issue raised in the first piece on tolerance.  I got distracted by the second post, but now I can try to remember what I was thinking two days ago.

Fisher reports that the study he is analyzing finds that economic freedom has no correlation with racial tolerance but does with tolerance of homosexuals.  So, we have two separate findings--do they have a common logic?  It depends on what one considers to be the sources of racism versus the sources of homophobia.  Do all forms of discrimination and animus have the same logic?  Maybe, maybe not. 

Some caveats:
  • I am not an expert on homophobia, so I am going to have to speculate a bit.  Yes, I should do a heap of reading, but my blog is not my day job.  
  • The data on tolerance may be flaky as the various Fisher and Spew posts suggest.
  • The data on economic freedom is from institutes that are ideologically committed to less government.  It does not mean that their data is necessarily wrong, but it is something to keep in mind.
The Fisher posts do not include a map of the Economic Freedom stuff, so here it is:

Fraser Institute,

So a few comments on this data.  Note that the US and the Scandinavian countries are in the same category.  This tends to run against what libertarians generally think--as the social democracies of Europe tend to have much more government intervention in the economy.  All I can say is that a map having Sweden and the US in the same category tells me that the economic freedom that is meant here is not that which tends to jibe with popular views of that concept.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Comparative Xenophobia, part II

I had intended to address the relationship between economic freedom and tolerance that was part of Max Fisher's post yesterday, but his post today pushed a couple of buttons that require a quick reaction.

To be clear, I am a big fan of Max Fisher and his infographics.  They make me think, and I could always use more of that.  He is quite judicious in today's post on ethnic diversity that the diversity and conflict (yesterday's map, sort of) do not line up neatly.  And he does deploy the key "money quote":
In general, it does not matter for our purposes whether ethnic differences reflect physical attributes of groups (skin color, facial features) or long-lasting social conventions (language, marriage within the group, cultural norms) or simple social definition (self-identification, identification by outsiders).* When people persistently identify with a particular group, they form potential interest groups that can be manipulated by political leaders, who often choose to mobilize some coalition of ethnic groups (“us”) to the exclusion of others (“them”). Politicians also sometimes can mobilize support by singling out some groups for persecution, where hatred of the minority group is complementary to some policy the politician wishes to pursue.
* I do appreciate the idea that the kind of identity does not matter so much (my view of ethnicity includes religion as well as race, language, and kinship as potential shared attributes that tie the group), although one could argue that certain kinds of divides have somewhat different dynamics.

This is why I show in my ethnic conflict classes both the classic Star Trek episode (black/white vs white/black and the Babylon 5 episode where ethnicity is randomly assigned (purple vs. green) via scarves pulled out of a box.  Ethnicity is not primordial (sorry, Robert Kaplan), but constructed with social and political meaning that is attached but changes over time due to politics and context.  This money paragraph that Fisher quotes basically sets up the puzzles of the contemporary study of ethnic conflict: when do people support politicians who use identity to divide and to coordinate and when do they not?  Not all appeals based on ethnicity work (David Duke, anyone?).

So, heaps of good stuff in this piece, especially the end.  I just want to address to conventional wisdoms that come up that are problematic.  That is, they are my pet peeves.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Comparative Xenophobia, part I

Yesterday, the Washington Post put up this map based on World Values data and other information:

The variable is "share that answered 'people of another race' when asked to pick from groups of people they would not want as neighbors."  This makes it appear that India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Nigeria are the most racist countries.  The article mentions a heap of appropriate caveats.  Mine is this: I could not find this question in the dataset quickly as the dataset is vast.*  Heaps and heaps of variables.  So, I am going to be guessing a bit here, but as a xenophobia kind of guy, I have a few thoughts:
Max Fisher, who wrote the WashPo piece responded to my tweets with more info about the data, so I may explore it further later today or tomorrow, depending on if I need to be distracted from the stuff that has actual deadlines.  Yet more proof that twitter rocks, as I would never have called up Fisher nor would have he have responded this quickly to a semi-random question.  
  • The first thing is that the question is not so much whether people are more or less tolerant of different races but that among the various factors that might shape one's intolerance towards neighbors, race is the most cited.  It may be that a place is very racist but is even more homophobic or sectarian or whatever.  There are are many ways to hate or to target intolerance, so it may just be that a particularly hateful place is just somewhat more intolerant of groups who are distinct by a cleavage other than race.
  • Second, in some places, when one is asked this question, they may think of a single race, perhaps the Vietnamese think of the Chinese but not of other races.  So, it may not be that the people are very racist in general--they just hate one group that is defined by race.
  • Third, living nearby is a moderate test of the question of tolerance.  Can you work with group x? Can be friends?  Can have in the family?  Oh, yes, that is a tougher test of tolerance.  Check out the figure of a series of questions asked of Romanians:

Institutul pentru Politici Publica (Institute on Public Policy). 2003. Intoleranţă, Discriminare Autoritarism: În Opinia Publică (Intolerance, Discrimination and Authoritarianism in Public Opinion), Bucharest: Institute on Public Policy.  I had translation help and then used this figure in my book with Bill Ayres.

What this illustrates is there are varying degrees of tolerance.  And I wonder from looking at the WashPo infographic whether we would have seen very different results if the question had been friends/family rather than live nearby.  Still, given that the US did well on this despite much segregration, perhaps this question is a suitable test.

The larger point is that hate is a many, uh, splendored thing.  Ok, not so splendored.  But it is complex, so we cannot just look at it and say that Indians are the most racist folks.  Race, as we have been reminded in the past week thanks to a particularly problematic dissertation, is a very fuzzy thing.  So the WashPo graphic is interesting and provocative but not conclusive.

I will consider the second part of the article, the relationship between economic freedom and various kinds of tolerance, later (today or tomorrow).


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Trek Travesty

Rankings are always so rank.  But they are blog-bait.  I liked Yglesias's post on the new movie versus the tv shows, and then he had to screw it up somewhat with his ranking of ST stuff.  So, let's get to the re-ranking:*

* Note, I am not involved in ST, so Wuffle's Law does not apply.

First, the movies. Y has ST II: Wrath of Khan first, which is indisputable, but ST VI Undiscovered Country before ST IV: Voyage Home?  Really?  I guess one can debate that, but ST: The Motion Picture deserves to be last for the simple fact that this slowest, most unoriginal, most boring Trek movie should have killed the re-birth of the franchise.  I dare anyone to watch the movie again.  Ug.

Second, the TV series. He has Next Generation > Deep Space Nine > Voyager > Original Series > Enterprise.  Really?  Voyager is better than Classic Trek?  I dare anyone to name an episode of Voyager that they can remember by name or even by description.  City on The Edge of Forever, Let that be Your Final Battlefield (a standard for my ethnic conflict classes), Naked Time, Trouble with Tribbles, Devil in the Dark, Amok Time, Omega Glory, and so on.  Sure, there was heaps of cheese and some truly awful (Spock's Brain), but many thoughtful, interesting, challenging episodes.  What do I remember about Voyager?  That it was damned annoying.  Next Generation had better acting and effects than the Original Trek, but its length meant that it had uneven parts, like whenever the writers got lazy and had a holodeck adventure.  One ep of that would have been fine.  Having the occasional B  or C plot would have been fine, but way too often it was used because writers were lacking in imagination. A mysterious but wise bartender?  Um, ok. DS9 was excellent most of the time.  Enterprise?  I stopped watching after a few episodes, but it apparently got better.  My ranking would be   Classic Trek for its highlights and not for its Spock Brain-iness > TNG (which took about two seasons to figure itself out, just remember how Troi started out) > DS9 (bonus points for Quark)  > Enterprise (because it caused me less pain) > Voyager.

Third, the Episode rankings is just wrong in so many ways.   Four of the best ten are Voyager or Enterprise?  I think not.

Fourth, villians.  Q was heaps of fun, and Gul Dukat and Khan were epic in their ways.  I actually think the Borg are over-rated.  Started out good but got over-used.  Lore?  Really?  Evil data?  Thanks but no thanks.

Fifth, best crew members: the list here is Spock > Data > Worf > Kira > McCoy > Riker > The Doctor > Hoshi Sato (?) > Geordi > Dax.  Ug.  The top five are probably right, although one could reorder them a bit.  Riker?  He was pretty vanilla until the last couple of seasons, if I remember correctly.  The Doctor?  Yes and no.  The actor was great and snarky, but the premise and then how he got used?  Not so much.  I think the list is missing one Scottie, is it not?  I would change the bottom five of this list to be Scottie > Dax > Odo > Geordi > the average of Sulu/Chekhov.

No ranking of the Captains?  Picard > Kirk > Sisko > Scott Bakula (for Quantum Leap street cred if nothing else) > Janeway.

Update: I caught my typo but so sad that my fingers typed work and not Worf at first.  Probably guilt-induced.

Double Blind or Doubly Annoying

Lots of people whine about the refereeing process of academic publications.  For most academics, to be published in a refereed journal or press is pretty much the focus of research efforts.  Refereed journals are seen as having higher standards and thus more prestige than those that just have editors make the decisions.  Grants work usually in a similar process where the committee relies on external reviewers.  Promotion as well depends on external letter writers.

Anyhow, why whine about it?  If you cannot persuade two or three scholars, then why should you expect the piece to persuade readers of the journal where you want the piece placed? 

Well, reviewers often do not read the stuff that closely so they end up asking you to do stuff that you have already addressed.  Or they have their own prejudices and are not willing to simply answer the key question: does this work provide a significant contribution?  Which breaks down into: does it ask a question that has not been answered adequately before, is the theory coherent, are the methods appropriate and well executed, do the findings make sense, etc.

You can get crappy reviewers, of course, as illustrated by this:
H/t to Justin Wolfers who found this in  "A model of lazy banks", by Manove, Padilla, and Pagano, RAND 32(4)]

Of course, often the problem is with oneself: that the reviewers could not discern the brilliance of my argument because I did not make it well enough.  That, of course, the topic is important because, well, it is, damn it! 

I just got back the evaluation of a big grant proposal that did not get funded.  The eval I got was just a score sheet and not with any real comments.  I would hope that the comments would have been useful.  The scoresheet?  Not much at all.

The reality is that being an academic, even a successful one, means a heap of rejection.   Science, social or otherwise, means trying, getting turned down, revising, and revising some more.  Most of the time, when one submits to a journal, one is hoping for a revise and resubmit [R&R].  I have had only one experience where I got an acceptance immediately, and that was for a paper that had been through the R&R process twice at another journal before it got shot down.

If one takes seriously the feedback, the work should improve, even if the feedback is sometimes lame.  My frustration this week is that I really did not get sufficient feedback to improve the grant application to try again.  Still, I will try again.  Oh, and if I got real feedback, I probably would have whined about it, but then I woudl ahve gone ahead with revising with the feedback in mind.

Trek Omissions

Matt Yglesias has written a great piece on the Trek universe.  He went further and bolder than I ever did, as I have seen all of the movies but missed some episodes of Deep Space Nine, gave up after a while on Voyager, and only watched a few episodes of Enterprise.  His views are not terribly controversial (the holodeck was lazy writer crack), but he puts all of the shows into a good context and one that raises a big challenge for the new movies.  The first JJ Abrams ST movie was thrilling but tossed aside the entire universe that had been previously created with the time travel stuff.  This led to fun stuff, like Spock + Uhura, but it means that this timeline lacks the richness of created by the decades of previous stuff. 

Yglesias calls for a new TV show: "It’s a scandal that the golden age of niche television is passing us by without any representation from the franchise that practically invented niche television."  And I agree, but now JJ Abrams may have screwed that up--if there were to be a TV show, in which universe would it exist?  How would a TV series fit with this on-going movie series?  I don't know. 

All I do know is this: I hope the third movie in the new series is not "Into More Darkness" because, as I have said before, darkness for the sake of darkness is just darkness.  I am already not looking forward to the fact that the next set of Marvel movies are covered in dark sauce--Thor: the Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (it is darker in winter, right?). 

So, if a new Trek series were to be Star Trek: The Dark Days, count me out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Progress Report

I love a good infographic and this one shows how pathetic the US is in terms of women in Congress
Modification of the last infographic. Congressladies + men = still a ways to go.
Source: Office of the Clerk

Of course, the Democrats are way head of the GOP but still not that representative of the population.
H/T to Mrs Spew for putting it on her FB page and to this website for its origin.

Stunned into Silence?

I have not blogged about the various scandals/stories/whatevers plaguing the Obama administration.  I am more surprised by the IRS stuff than the Department of Justice stuff because I have long hated how DoJ has operated under Obama.  I had hoped/expected that Obama would reverse the trends under the various awful Attorney Generals that served Bush, but those hopes have been dashed. 

And, yes, I am using hope quite deliberately here.  I know that lots of stuff is constrained by a hostile Congress, but that is not an excuse for the misuse of prosecutorial discretion over the past four plus years.  Why not go after the bankers after they caused such economic harm?  Why the paranoia about leaks?  It is DC, shit happens, so just accept it and move on. 

This stuff is way outside of my expertise, so all I can do is gnash my teeth and look away.  I don't think most of this stuff is as bad as what the Bush folks did, but it is certainly not what I expect out of this or any President.  Count me among the severely disappointed.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Grandest of Grand Theorists

Much debate these days about the place of grand theory in the scholarship of IR.  One thing we cannot debate is the centrality of Ken Waltz's work.  A few words about Waltz's work are in order since he passed away yesterday.*

*  See this post by Dan Nexon, which is an excellent start for the inevitable and much warranted appreciation of a great IR scholar.

He produced two of the most important books in the business.  One of the ways you can tell someone was truly terrific is how the ideas seem so much like common sense after the person wrote them but not so much before.  Man, The State, and War was a simple book that made a simple point--that we can look at different levels of analysis and see very different causes of war.  He gamed the book, of course, favoring the third level of analysis--the systemic level--setting the stage for the second book.  MSW was and still remains assigned in heaps of intro to IR classes, as it is quite readable, refers to heaps of political theory that students read for other reasons in other classes, and just gets one primed to think about IR.

The second book, Theory of International Politics, shaped the field ever since.  It is still relevant more than thirty years later, casting a huge shadow on all subsequent IR theory.  I think only Wendt's Social Theory has a similar level of ambition and impact.  Keohane and Nye's Power and Interdependence is almost as influential but not nearly as ambitious in terms of making us think differently about the world.

I realized in grad school when I did a supplementary reading course that Waltz was not creating stuff out of thin air but building on John Herz and others.  Still, Waltz's TIP is simply THE book that IR scholars must read if they want to be IR scholars.  I can think of many over-rated books that one can skip or just read the article version.  But you have to read TIP or read most of it as it appears in Neo-Realism and Its Critics.

My work has mostly been at the level of what Waltz would call Foreign Policy and not IR.  Why?  In part because I could see some of Waltz's limitations but had no clue how to do it better.  And, seriously, only one Realist has come close to Waltz in doing Realism at the systemic level as well as Waltz, and that would be Robert Gilpin and his book, War and Change.  The problem with Waltz is that he had a great theory for explaining continuity but not change.  Still, Waltz's arguments apply in a post-cold war world.

The one piece I always required in my Intro to IR classes were the latest versions of "hey, the spread of nuclear weapons might not be so bad" argument.  I didn't buy it, but the logic was fun to engage.

Four personal points:
  1. Waltz got his undergrad degree from Oberlin, so I always found a bit more pride in my Obie id given that it was shared with the God of IR Theory.
  2. When I prepared for my comprehensive exam in IR, I studied with a friend who was a political theorist. He  would simply ask of any reading we did: What Would Waltz Say?  And it was a very useful way for a non-IR person to see the entire field in a coherent way.
  3. When I took my first IR class in grad school, it happened in my second quarter there.  The first quarter was methods and political theory and other stuff, and I was left wondering if I should stay in grad school.  Nothing interested me that much and I didn't feel competent.  But once I got my hands on MSW and TIP, I re-fell in love with IR and had fewer existential crises about my graduate school career.
  4. I had dinner with Ken Waltz when he visited Montreal for a talk at Concordia (I think).  All I remember was that he was very kind and very engaged.  If I can be half as engaged at 80+, I will be most happy.  And if I can have 1/20th the influence that Waltz had, then I would be most thrilled indeed.