Friday, January 31, 2014

Online Media Caucus: Its Time Has Come

The events of the last week within the International Studies Association indicate that there is much ignorance about social media and its role in 21st century IR scholarship and teaching.  On the bright side, the reactions to the ISA's misguided proposal demonstrated that there is a vibrant community of scholars who rely on "web 2.0" in a variety of ways.  This has led myself and others to conclude that the time has come for an Online Media Caucus to be formed within the ISA.  The head of each Caucus (like each section and region) has a seat and a vote at the meetings of the Governing Council, so the formation of this caucus would institutionalize representation of the online media community.

The initial leadership group will consist of myself as Chair , Amanda Murdie of U of Missouri- Columbia as Vice Chair and Bruce Jentleson of Duke University, Christian Davenport of U. of Michigan, and Laura Seay of Colby College serving as at-large officers.  These folks represent a range of experience in online media as well as a range of experiences in the profession.

It may be too late for this year's ISA meeting to gain approval, but we want to start the process now while our community is energized.  We need at least 50 members of the ISA to "sign" the petition (which is below).  All you have to do is email me at with OMC in the subject and with message text indicating your support of this petition.  Once the Caucus is established, members will have to pay a minor fee to support the activities of the Caucus--mainly the annual reception.  We are open to feedback about what people want an Online Media Caucus to do and how it should be structured.  The effort right now is just getting enough support so that we can be recognized and move forward.

Petition for the Establishment of an International Studies Association Online Media Caucus

The purpose of the “Online Media Caucus” is to promote:

  • The scholarly and pedagogical use of online media;
  • The study of the role of online media in international politics;
  • The interests of ISA members who make use of online media in their professional activities; and
  • The formation of traditional and virtual networks among ISA members active in the study, theory, and practice of online media.
The caucus will be organized in a manner consistent with ISA component units, with positions including a Chair, Vice-Chair (who will serve as program officer), and three at-large Members of the Executive Committee. Terms shall normally last for one year; in the year of the caucus’ establishment, officers shall serve for two-year terms.

The activities of the caucus shall include, but not be limited to:

  • The awarding  of commendations for (i) the practice of, and (ii) scholarship on, online media and international studies -- such as a book award, article award, blogging award(s), and so forth;
  • Holding panels, presentations, and events related to its core purposes; and
  • Maintaining online resources and virtual events consistent with its mission.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More Good Commercials

Watching the Super Bowl in Canada means missing many of the better commercials.  We end up being stuck with the same tired Canadian Tire ad played every other break if we are lucky.
So, I am glad I got to see this:

Satire, Beer and Anna Kendrick

What more could you ask for?

and a deliberately less professional blog post now that the battle is on chill mode.

Progress in the ISA Blog Situation

The President of the ISA, Harvey Starr, has indicated that he propose at the Executive Committee meeting in two months (at the start of the Annual Meeting) be referred to the Committee on Professional Rights and Responsibilities.  This may or may not be what the ExCom decides, and in any case this matter will be on the Governing Council's agenda.

I had circulated an email to the GC before Harvey's that suggested an ad hoc committee consider the issue, as (a) I had not thought about which ISA committee made sense for this; and (b) the ad hoc committee I described would have both folks who served as editors in the past and folks who partake of web 2.0 (bloggers, tweeters).  My idea was driven by the notion that the original proposal reflect a lack of experience with the blogging world.  I know some of the folks on the CPR&R committee, and I have a great deal of respect for them, so I am not entirely opposed to Starr's suggestion.  I still would prefer a committee to include people who have blogged.

Of course, the funny thing is this: my basic position is that the problems raised by the Ex Com are not unique to blogging but are generic--any outreach can become a controversial conversation that ISA may not want to be tied to--a TV interview, an op-ed in a newspaper, a blog post, a tweet, a public speech.  So, perhaps we don't need bloggers on the committee, because the issue is not really about blogging but about the larger challenge of having editors who are engaged with the world.

Anyhow, this is where things stand.  I will not be lobbying every GC member as I think the issue is not going to need a mass mobilization.  That and I received enough emails from GC members directly and enough that were circulated to the entire GC to convince me that I do not need to lobby them.  If a vote was held today on the initial proposal, I am pretty sure that we would win.  Of course, if I felt that there would be such a vote, I would do some more work to be sure of it.  But for now, I think we can stand down a bit and get back to the work of making fun of NYT and WashPo columnists and writing letters of recommendation and everything else we do.

Thanks again for all of your support--the outpouring has been pretty amazing.

State of Union Thoughts

I didn't watch the speech, but followed on twitter and then read the speech.

Canada was omitted again.  What a surprise!  Well, not so much.  Again, the speech focuses on the troublemakers and despite Stephen Harper's best efforts to be a pain in the ass with his more-supportive-of-Israel-than-Israelis-are stance, Canada is not causing much trouble.  And why should Obama mention Keystone?  More trouble than it is worth to bring up at the SOTU.
If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country. 
Big If.  Notice though that it is Afghan government not President Karzai, so I guess we might want until the election and see if the new President of Afghanistan is a bit less crazy more cooperative.

large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.
If this was a tweet, this would be a subtweet directed at the Bush Administration and points the finger at the Iraq decision, and rightly so.

I think the most important part was the reminder that American diplomacy can produce good outcomes without or without the deployment of force.  

Cory Remsburg had ten deployments to Afghanistan!  Much tweeting about how awful that is, and it is awful. Why?  Why does the same guy have to go back ten times?  Basically the S in SOF--special operations forces imply small.  Ye olde: not everyone can be special, because if everyone is, then no one is.  So, we relied heavily on SOF to do raids and such.  Very successful, I guess, at killing folks, but not sure whether that made a dent in the war.  Whack-a-mole it has been called.  It raises questions about how we do this stuff.  And whether to do this stuff.

I understand people's qualms about the use of a wounded soldier to illustrate a political point, but I do think this is a good political point to end a SOTU:
America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.
But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice and fairness and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.
I wish his administration followed through better on this stuff, such as regulating (but not ending) the NSA, like cutting back on the drone strikes even more (although not ending them entirely), and so on. 

Anyhow, those are my two cents on the SOTU 2014.

Process Matters!

I have long poo-poo'ed procedures and processes because I am impatient and prefer to get to the heart of the matter.  As it turns out, procedure matters.  The ISA blogging proposal, which I have discussed here and here, apparently did not go through normal procedures for an executive committee proposal.  How so?  Several emails flew throughout the night indicating that some ex-com members had not heard of this proposal until it was sent out to the entire Governing Council with the imprimatur of the Executive Committee.*  These folks are not pleased.
*  What might have happened is that there might have been some discussion at the ISA ex-com meeting at the American Political Science Association meeting last September, and that some ex-com members might not have been there (the non-North American ones at least).  If so, then it might be the case that there was poor/no circulation of what was discussed at that meeting to the rest of the ISA ex-com. 

This news is quite illuminating.  The proposal looked half-baked, and it turns out that it was half-baked.  It was incoherent and ill-advised precisely because there apparently was no full discussion to vet and refine the idea.  So, it is not just bad idea enters the machine and comes out bad.  It is a bad idea that did not get processed and remained bad. 

This does not mean that the fight is over--I am going to keep fighting until the proposal is withdrawn.  I am just more confident that the vote, if it happens, is likely to go our way. 

And, yes, the story made Inside Higher Ed.  Definitely does not make the ISA or this idea look good.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Following Up on the ISA Blogging Mess

I am most impressed with the reactions I have received from yesterday's blog about the ill-conceived ISA proposal about blogging.  I am not surprised that several Duck-sters entered the fray or that MonkeyCage kicked in their views.  That Will Opined?  Again, not a surprise. Lawyersgunsmoney? Of course, they fired away.  Tom Pepinsky joined in.  The twitterverse has been very supportive as well, which is also pretty predictable.  I do appreciate the web-based support--there has been very little support for the proposal and mostly just questions about what brought this on. 

But as some reminded me, the internet is a bit of an echo chamber--we should not be surprised that bloggers are outraged.  So, I am most pleased to have received a heap of email from folks around the world who are mighty miffed.  I cannot remember a previous post that received multiple emails.  And these folks are not entirely bloggers.  Indeed, some just happen to be voters in the governing council of the ISA.

And that is where we must go.  The proposal is just that.  And venting on the internet is fun (I love a good venting), but we need to do more than that.  The proposal itself must have been written by those who rarely read blogs, do not tweet and otherwise are social media averse.  The rest of the Governing Council?  I don't know what they do.  But we need to reach them.  Blogging, tweeting, and facebooking will help, but we need to do more than that.  I am asking for folks to email the Governing Council members to inform that that the proposal policy is poorly conceived, poorly written, and quite damaging if it becomes policy.  I don't know if the ISA messaging system works since I cannot message myself to test it.  So, you can either use their system or google the members and find their regular email addresses. 

The other thing you can do to help out is to either comment here or send me emails that present arguments that either I can wield or my allies can at the meeting in March.  What I mean by arguments is a bullet or two (as I did in my initial post) about why the proposal is problematic.

Just a caveat: I was interviewed today by a reporter for Inside Higher Education, and he pointed out that I serve on the editorial board of Foreign Policy Analysis, so it turns out that I might be impacted by this policy.  What is an editorial team?  Who is covered by this policy?  So, perhaps I am a bit more implicated by this policy than I thought. Anyhow, I appreciate any suggestions about how to proceed.  I clearly have not read enough of the social movements literature.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Are Blogs Inherently UnProfessional?

Is blogging inherently unprofessional?  Some people seem to think so, perhaps because they read my stuff, but there are plenty of bloggers far more professional than I.  As a member of the International Studies Association's Governing Council, I received the agenda today for this year's meeting.  I am on the council this year as I am the President of the Foreign Policy Analysis section, so this is my one year to hang out with the ISA muckety-mucks.  Anyhow, I was surprised to find a proposal that would force those who are involved in the editing of any of the various ISA journals to cease blogging.  Why?  Because it seems to be the case that blogging is inherently unprofessional.  Read the proposal below and then read my take on this proposal:

Ottawa Panel on Conservative Defence Policy

I participated on a panel last week at the University of Ottawa on "Conservative Defence Policy."  They taped it, so here it is:

Yes, I was perhaps the most vehement.  Not a surprise.  I have not watched the whole thing, so I don't know if the interaction with the insane guy was edited out or not.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

NATO in Afghanistan on Internet Talk Radio

I got the chance to talk about the Dave and Steve book with folks who run Midrats--an internet radio show.  Check it out:

More Military Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Midrats on BlogTalkRadio

I stumbled over the Norwegian story (I should have studied), but I think I found a good rhythm as things went along.  The hosts asked good questions, having read the book and having seen some of the stuff up close.

A fun experience.

New Media Meets Old Media

This afternoon, at 5pm, I will be on an internet radio talk show: Midrats.  Details are here.  It will be at 5pm eastern time.  I have done plenty of radio over the course of my career, but I don't think I have ever been on for an hour, and certainly never have done an internet radio show.  And to do what?  Talk about a book, which is pretty much as old as it gets, in terms of medium of communication. 

So, stop by and listen, you can even ask questions as it is a talk show.  And since it is radio, I don't have to worry about what my hair looks like.  Woot!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday Silliness: Swedish Caveats

I could have but did not go to Sweden to research the NATO in Afghanistan book.  Sweden is not in NATO, but did go to Afghanistan, just like several other countries.  But when it came time to figure out if membership mattered, I went to visit a couple of other non-members: Australia and New Zealand. 

Perhaps too bad, because life in Regional Command North with the Swedes might have been more interesting than we thought:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Greatest TV Openings: Desperate NY Apartment Hunting Edition

Adam Scott has done the world a huge favor by re-making classic openings of TV shows.  This time, he chose one of my all-time favorite short-lived TV shows: Bosum Buddies.  Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari were so very good and had such great chemistry that it did not need the cross-dressing stuff (which they tended to dump later on).  The intro combines Billy Joel with a variety of short bits displaying the talents and timing these guys had.  Turns out that Adam Scott and Paul Ruud were up to the task:

My wife probably liked the show simply because it is one of the very few to capture semi-realistically the challenges of finding an affordable place in NY (unlike, say, Friends).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Token Post/Tweet of the Day

Having finished a draft of my current book project, I am now struck by writer's bloc.  I have many short things to write for a variety of outlets to promote the NATO book, but the best I can do write now is a pithy tweet:
No, I am not a fan of Robert Kaplan's work (see here or here or here).

Oh wait, speaking of Kaplan, I forgot to mention anywhere this week my encounter with someone with regressive views of ethnicity and conflict.  I was part of a panel at the University of Ottawa on the defence policies of the Conservative government of Canada.  Fun stuff!  A guy in the front row asked us about the great threat posed to Canada by the increased Mexicanization of the U.S. and the likely civil war.  I scoffed and scorned as I linked him with Sam Huntington.  And he left.  Whoops.

Anyhow, I hope this snark helps kick start my writing engines, as book promotion requires more than just showing up in fun places.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

European Security and the NBA

One of the things I have marveled at over the past few years is how many professional sports trades are less about winning and more about getting under some kind of spending cap.  The NBA transaction wire is almost entirely about manipulating one's cap situation.  Why is this relevant for European security?  Because the Dutch military just made a deal to trade most of its armor (Leopard tanks) to Finland in exchange for money.  This is very much like many trades that seek to dump an expensive player in exchange for draft picks or contracts that can be dropped much sooner.

Perhaps the future of defence procurement will involve hiring the cap experts of the NFL and NBA, who know how to value talent and how to find places that will take expensive contracts off their hands.  Perhaps Canada will find a way to get someone else to take on the F-35 contract in exchange for .... hmmm ... a really good goalie or perhaps some draft picks.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Almost as Annoying as the PQ

The Quebec Liberals have always ... sucked.  They know that the anglophones and the allophones cannot really vote for the PQ much.  So, they have to compete with the PQ in pandering to the worst instincts of the majority.

So, we should not be surprised that the Liberals tried to split hairs and be slightly less xenophobic and only 98% as Islamophobic as the PQ with this stance: the only religious garments to be restricted are the chador, niqabs or burqas.  The pandering move is not just to Islamophobes but to feminists:
“We consider that the wearing of these three items of clothing by women is the instrumentalization of religion with the end goal of oppression and submission. We are applying this judgment,” Couillard said.
Um, maybe.  Maybe not.  Isn't it up to the women involved to assess for themselves?  Is forcing these women to lose their ability to work probably not a good one for their lives?  Remember, heaps and heaps of Quebec jobs are public jobs--teachers, day care workers, university employees, doctors, nurses, other medical jobs, and so on.  For many of these jobs, the public sector is their only potential employer.

So, let's give these women unemployment checks instead?  Is that a progressive move?

I firmly believe that tolerance is a better long term strategy for dealing with alienation.  Alienation, on the other hand, is a pretty good short to long term strategy if you want to alienate folks.  So, good work "Liberal" Party.

I did have a series of tweets where I tried to figure out what to call this move: splitting pander hairs? Semi-pander? Quasi-pander? Dodgy-pander?

All I do know is that the Liberals have done a fine job of betraying their principles (if they had any that matched the name of the party) and yet probably hurt their electoral chances as well.

Well done, PLQ, well done. 

My Favorite First Lady

Michelle Obama even makes the Miami Heat almost likeable--that is some amazing superpowers at work!

Mediocre Band of Mediocrity

I was inspired by a discussion on twitter this morning about those who seem to thwart progress in poli sci research, so I thought I would identify the members of the Mediocre Band of Mediocrity.*
* Yes, I am ripping off the Evil League of Evil (NFSW language)  As this is parody, it is ok.  Maybe.
  • Field Guardian: Self-appointed defender of the lines between subfields.
  • Meeting Extender: A member of a department who always has additional questions at the end of a meeting or has a deep need to comment on every agenda item no matter how unrelated it is to his/her situation. (H/T to Don't Follow Me)
  • Reviewer #3:  This reviewer has many tactics to block a potential publication, whether it is taking many months to review something, insisting on citing scholar x who is almost always reviewer #3, insisting that the author engage in methods that would require an entirely different project, and so on.  Sometimes goes by Worse Reviewer.  (H/T to Cullen).  This menace only exists thanks to:
  • Indecisive Editor: This challenge to progress is good at delaying decisions, whether that is finding reviewers, seeking additional reviews when the reviews at hand are actually sufficient, sending out an R&R resubmission to entirely new reviewers, and so on.  Reviewer #3 is Indecisive Editor's henchman, although, of course, there are some principal-agent problems.
  • Captain Pedant: This mediocre-doer is often confused with Meeting Extender, who is a natural ally.  But C.P. reeks havoc inside and outside of meetings, spending much time on secondary issues, debating arcane procedures rather than addressing the issue at hand.
  • Free Rider: Taking the logic of collective action's implications to be a way of life, this mediocrity has learned that it is better to be unreliable than to do one's share.
  • Prestige Pusher: Views the world through with very thick lenses, only taking note of those with rank, title, or noble birth (got their degree at a few key spots).  Confuses titles and lineage with wisdom and insight.

To be clear, these are really minor menaces who are mostly inconveniences.** This is not a complete list (I am open to nominations for other members of the MBM).  The good news is that they can be defeated or circumvented, but doing so requires more work than should be necessary. 

** I would include Predator Panda in this collection of rogues, but both he/she actually rips off South Park very blatantly AND is far more than mediocre.  The rest of the folks listed above may be inconvenient, narrow-minded, indecisive and so on but they are not nearly as harmful or as ... evil as those who prey upon their students.

Field Guardian: Brave Heroes of Yesteryear

In today's Political Violence at a Glance, Christian Davenport and Scott Gates address a key problem in the study of intra-state conflict--the inter-state people often don't take it that seriously.   I am not that surprised as I faced much hostility from some of my colleagues at a previous department (hint, that would be McGill) for daring to teach Civil War as a course.  That was a comparative politics class that I should not waste scarce IR time teaching, they argued.  One even would question anyone who suggested that intra-state conflict was an important issue in international security.  So, I have seen "Field Guardians" at work.

A Field Guardian is someone who seeks the field or subfield as sacrosanct--that the stuff inside the field or subfield should be studied without thinking or invoking or borrowing concepts and arguments and skills from other fields or subfields.  They see it as their job to protect the field or subfield from being tainted or diluted.  Their identity may even become wrapped up in the purity of their subfield--"we do not do that" whatever "that" is. 

To be sure, having fields and subfields is inevitable and even desirable as it helps us organize that which is common or common enough and facilitates conversations.  But they were never meant as barriers that must be guarded against the hordes of deviant thinkers.  One of the first hunks of IR theory I found most interesting was the work by Robert Jervis, who did many good things including helping IR folks get some clues about cognitive psychology.  But that required reaching out over the barriers between disciplines.  The fool?!  No, obviously not. 

Whenever I open up the front page of my old address book, I am reminded of this as I was trying to figure out my dissertation project on the IR of secession, and I had a brain wave that I wrote down--think about ethnicity.  Ever since my work has been at the juncture of IR and CP.  Even my latest work on NATO and Afghanistan very much relies on both subfields as it became an exercise not just in International Organization but in Comparative Civil-Military Relations.

Comparativists and IR folks do tend to see the world differently, as they are trained differently, as they are socialized differently and so on.  And this is not a bad thing, as we should not all have the same lenses--that way leads to big blind spots.  However, we need to build upon these differences, share the varying perspectives to see what one misses by focusing on a single perspective. 

The good news is that most of the really interesting work being done these days crosses sub-field lines, whether it is the stuff on civil war or political economy.  Many of these folks are young punks who have little respect for the self-appointed Field Guardians and are finding much success.  Yet old habits and institutionalized behaviors remain.  The key, of course, is to keep ask interesting questions and figure out which theoretical apparatus and methodologies are the most useful for the question at hand. 

To be sure, rebelling against the Field Guardians can have some costs if they happen to be reviewers of your article or book or if they are senior faculty at your institution.  But the primary reason to do this job is to pursue your curiosity to wherever it leads you, which means sometimes having to push back against those that have limited imaginations.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Self-Parody as Strategy?

This video demonstrates only too well the pile of ignorance that is driving support for the Charter of Xenophobia.  Turns out that people take their shoes off inside a mosque.  What is so very funny about this is that I have long joked about the Canadian custom--that one takes off their shoes upon entering a house up here.  Of course, it is a practical thing given the slush/snow/ice/mud that is present on our feet for 7-8 months of the year, but to have a Quebecker suggest some shock at shoe removal?  Gasp!

Anyhow, I am pretty sure Global TV highlighted this video to mock the proceedings.  Maybe not, but the women discussing her shocking trip to Morocco and what it revealed about Islam and Muslims does a pretty good job on its own of showing that the folks who are most upset are pretty damned ignorant and complaining about a non-problem. 

Maybe she is a spy working for the other side? 

H/T to JTL for highlighting this on twitter.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Alternative Covers for NATO in Afghanistan Book

This is not perfect but pretty amusing way to depict national styles:

H/T @2kdei

Could have been the cover for our book, but then our book would have been just a smidge more insulting.

Running Behind Is Better Than Running on Empty

I have already violated my resolution not to fall further behind.  No, I have not agreed to any new writing commitments (I have already been admonished by one co-author about her place in line).  But reviewing grants and articles?  Yes.

Which is why I am such a big fan of today's PhDcomics:

The alternative is probably this:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Comparative Occupation

I was a bit flummoxed yesterday on TV as Todd Van Der Heyden (who cameo-ed in the Channing Tatum White House hostage movie) asked me about Afghanistan as compared to the occupations of Japan and Germany.  I was caught off guard because I thought we had pretty much dispensed with those examples, but I guess I was wrong.  To be fair, the point Todd was making, that 13 years or so is not nearly enough to state-build/nation-build is absolutely right.  International forces are still on Bosnia and Kosovo, and we still have a ways to go with those.

Anyhow, I thought I would come up with a list of how Germany/Japan after World War II are distinct from Afghanistan, as I could only cover a couple of points on TV.
  • Unconditional surrender makes a big difference.  Americans, Brits, Canadians and others were not getting killed after World War II, so the publics and politicians were more patient (although to be fair, the active occupation stuff ended before thirteen years).
  • The neighbors were far more cooperative.... even the Soviet Union.  Sure, there was heaps of spying and perhaps some mild subversion, but the Soviet Union and its bloc were far better neighbors than Pakistan has been.  
  • Both Japan and Germany had industrial bases, while temporarily laid low, that one could build upon.
  • Same with civil society, more or less.
  • Neither Japan nor Germany had twenty years of civil war preceding the occupation.
  • The US was serious and committed from the start in 1945.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US government resisted the idea of nation-building, of state-building, of even planning for the day after the fall of Baghdad and perhaps for Kabul as well.
  • Karzai is no Adenauer.
Indeed, rather than most similar comparison, the cases of post-WWII occupation and post-9/11 efforts are really most different comparisons.  Some of the Bush folks looked back on the German/Japanese cases for inspiration--de-Ba'athification--even if they had no clue about how that stuff actually played out.  The post-WWII experience probably gave Americans (and others) a wee bit too much confidence about what the US can do.  Afghanistan and Iraq should diminish American hubris.  At least, I hope so.

To be clear, the US is not becoming isolationist, but it is becoming a bit more aware of its limitations.  That it cannot transform broken Mideast countries the way it helped to bring Germany and Japan both back to their feet and into the world of functioning democracies.  This should not lead us to deeply into paralysis (although it might), but being a bit more wary may not be a bad thing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hot Mess Indeed

I have been seeing various summaries of the Charter of Xenophobia hearings in Quebec, and this one is as good as any other.  What seems shocking to people is not so much that people are bigots but that they seem to willing to display it without any shame.

Well, I am, alas, unsurprised.  Why? Because this is not the first time we have been through this in Quebec.  A few years ago, a somewhat better intentioned but still flawed effort was made to figure out if there was a crisis in Quebec--were accommodations being made to include minorities (religious, ethnic--linguistic did not count) too much or not enough?  The Liberal Party initiated it, the hearings produced heaps of bigoted statements, but the panelists came up with the reasonable conclusion that there was no crisis--there was not too much accommodation and perhaps we ought to focus on tolerance (if I remember correctly).

This time, the effort is clearly way more cynical, as the PQ is seeking to divide the third party in the system.  This show trial hearing is aimed at rousing up enough support among those who are concerned about "Others" despite never encountering them (there is far more support for the Charter of Xenophobes outside of Montreal), so that the next election will lead to a PQ majority.  Either that or perhaps the bill passes with CAQ support and then faces problems in federal courts (although I am confused since it does not seem likely to pass muster in Quebec courts either).  If the federal courts rule against it, then the PQ has yet another reason to castigate federal institutions and press for secession.  Win-win?  Oy-oy.

Anyhow, this process is facilitating more hate in Quebec. Way to go, PQ!  Hot mess?  Indeed.

Steve's Big Media Day

Just funny how things come together:

  • TV spot on Afghanistan on CTV News Channel at 3:35 (will post the link to the video whenever I get it--here it is).
  • What about the future of multilateral warfare?  See my piece in the Globe and Mail.
  • My CIC column on the latest intra-Canadian food fight about the "is it worth it?" question.
I Dont Always - I Don't Always PuBlish Fun Books But WheN I DO, I Promote the Hell OUt of Them

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Professors and TV: the Challenge

Today, Russell Johnson died.  He was the Professor on Gilligan's Island.  Dan Drezner pondered if there has been a positively depicted prof on TV since.  Yes, but the pickings are slim.  It was fun to watch the nominations on twitter, but most were either PhDs who had not taught much (President Bartlett) or teachers who were not professors. When we have to settle for Big Bang Theory, which gets so much wrong about academia (the episodes about hiring, tenure and such cause me physical pain), then things are pretty sad.

Why is this the case?  One could argue that prof-ing is just not that interesting to outside observers unless one adds more than a hint of sex.  So, damn near every professorial appearance in TV and in movies involves profs bedding their students or vice versa.  While such stuff does happen (as I have ranted about elsewhere), it is not as prevalent as TV/movies would have folks believe.  So, it gets wildly exaggerated, but other than that one element, profs are temporary experts who show up, offer some expertise and then move on.  Except for animated shows (see the list).

The only times where universities and colleges appear on TV is when the high school kids graduate and then they need to all move to the same post-secondary institution (Buffy, for example).  Unless there is some good slaying to be had, there is simply not going to be much interest in professors, I guess.

So, let me change Dan's game slightly: can you come up with plots/stories/characters based in colleges/universities that do not involve either profs having sex with students or professors being evil (not that there is anything wrong with that)?  To be clear, I am asking not just for movies and tv shows that actually exist, but what kinds of plots/characters/stories can you come up with that would be worth a TV show or movie?  A bit easier today with the niche-ization of TV.  You don't have to get a huge audience, just one that can beat ... Killer Women

How To Destroy An Argument in One Move

The debate about the wars of the past decade are heating up.  In the US, there has been much heat between Marcus Luttrell (the Lone Survivor) and Jake Tapper about whether the SEALs and others died in vain [see this very direct piece on this question].  In Canada, Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail and Terry Glavin have been going at it over a piece written by Sean Maloney.  And to prove the stereotype that not all Canadians are not polite, Glavin needlessly cites Maloney as referring to "fop intellectuals."  This one move makes the entire piece seem even more strident, more pedantic and less credible that it already was.

I don't really know which "fop intellectuals" that Glavin/Maloney are referring to.  The key issues are that both "fop" and "intellectuals" are being used here as slurs.  The funny thing is that fop seems to be about clothing and not being effeminate (according to the online dictionaries), and that fops are " incapable of engaging in intellectual conversations, activities or thoughts (Wikipedia)."  Which makes the joint term an oxymoron.

So, I am confused about fop.  I am not so confused about intellectual.  Ah, yes, those folks who argue and think and research but do not "do".  When it is used as a slur, as it clearly is here, it attempts undermine those who engage in critical thinking.  Glavin is upset that people are asking the serious question (more than a meme): was it worth it?  It meaning Afghanistan.  A serious question that I am currently addressing in the final chapter of my next book (which I would be writing if I was not writing this).  It is more than a meme--such as an angry cat.  I actually think "it" was "worth" "it" after carefully considering how that question is constructed, so you would think that I would be on the same page as Glavin.  But no, I am not.

Any credibility he had popped as soon as he invoked fop and intellectual as slurs.  He may think this is less important than the rest of his argument, but whatever importance his argument might have had is covered by a particularly bitter distraction sauce--gamey squirrel?  I am not sure.  All I do know is that if you want to make a good argument, either come up with better ad hominen attacks or leave them out entirely.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Best Musical Take on Bridge Controversy

Oh my:

Jimmy and Bruce rock out!  "Longer than one of my damned shows!"

Under-reacting vs. Over-reacting

We are pretty familiar with the US efforts to deal with terrorism and that much security theater be over-reacting to the threat.  Yesterday, a person finally got a court decision to challenge the no-fly list as there might just be an absence of due process.  

Well, Canada seems to be under-reacting.  A guy is found with a pipe bomb as he tries to go through security at an airport.  The CATSA people take away the bomb and then let him board the plane and then don't call the police four days.  Um, oy!

I ask a simple question--isn't there some place in the middle between these two extremes that might make sense?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Canadians Are Just A Bit Hockey Crazy

Check out this video (thanks to CNNSI's hot clicks) for a backyard rink that is just a bit over the top:

and, no, I still don't watch any hockey unless I want to marvel at HDTV and the colors popping.

Quebec's Identity Politics Explained Articulately

No, not by me.  When you want a sharp, erudite, articulate take on identity politics, go to Jacob Levy, my former colleague (we fight about who is the other older brother in our relation of chain-pulling/teasing):

Jacob really says it so very well--that the PQ's strategy is to polarize the public and split the CAQ's voters.  The anchor was shocked that this is so calculated, and I guess I am, too.  Not that identity politics is a rational game of using identity cynically to stay in power and get more power (I have been believing that since I started my dissertation).  No, that the PQ is doing it well.  Recently, the party seemed to be incredibly inept.  But, aside from that whole "we cannot govern" thing, the party seems to have figured out how to put its opposition in a difficult spot.  And may win a majority soon.

So, this really is my morning of being thankful I left Quebec.

Duck and Cover, Montreal-Style

The more things change, the more they stay the same....  Montreal had yet another overpass shed yet more concrete on yet another car

This time, no one was hurt.  And this time, it was further to the west, much closer to where I used to live.  I would go under this overpass nearly anytime I went to play frisbee or head downtown.

The assurance is that the overpass, despite its crumbling, is safe so the highway can carry traffic again.  Of course, anyone who believes that should consult my craigslist offering of a bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell.

Why should we expect Quebec to take seriously this stuff when the PQ has done such an excellent job of providing a new, even more bitter version of distraction sauce--the Charter of Xenophobes Values?

Anyhow, I appreciate the reminder of one of the reasons why I left Montreal despite the good food and great friends.

Another reminder will be this afternoon when I lunch at the headquarters of the Dept of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.  The lunch guest heads a German think tank that was of great assistance to me, so I am glad to have the opportunity to meet with him and not have to drive two hours to do so.  I do, indeed, love Ottawa and all that it offers.  I would have moved even if I didn't fear the collapsing infrastructure of Montreal, but, as we are reminded yet again, my fears have a solid basis in reality, unlike the assurances of the Quebec highway folks.

Update: Montreal Gazette cartoon captures it

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Latest in Books I Have Not Read Myself

I got a call from a reported from the Canadian Press (AP-ish news, eh?) who asked me a bunch of questions about Gates's book and about Afghanistan.  I was late for class and had someone in my office, chatting about stuff, so I am not sure I gave the best answers I could.  But the story is pretty good for one of those where I had not yet read the book.  Check it out.

But it definitely fits a long tradition here at the Spew, distinguishing between books I have read and books I have read myself.  Gates's memoir is in the former category, and I will get to it eventually.

Best part is that it mentions the new book.  Alas, it does not mention that the book is co-authored.  Sorry, Dave.

Language Fun with Technology

You may have seen maps of Europe where a word is translated in to the national language of every country, and it reveals heaps of fun patterns.  Well, someone has crafted the app so that we can all make such maps.

My favorite.  Why?  Because even in France, they call email email.  In Quebec, with its insecurity, courrier or something like that.  I forget now that I have moved.

My second favorite.  Why?  Beer.  Very useful!

Anyhow, have fun and let me know if you find any amusing results.

Embrace the Market? What Role for Academics?

I have been tempted to post about the MLA meetings this year.  The Modern Language Assocation, as far as I can tell, is not just for linguistics but for the humanities in general.  These particular meetings have earned heaps of scorn for a variety of reasons (see here and here), but especially being especially tone deaf about the 21st century academic marketplace.

The first bit of news was that one department was telling prospective applicants that they would be informed if they had an interview at the conference with that department ... with five days notice. Which means paying exorbitant fees to fly to Chicago.  There was a whole lot of blogging and tweeting about this.  My first reaction was a smug superiority that while conference attendance is important for Political Scientists, one can engage in a job search without interviewing at the APSA or ISA meetings.  APSA has a meat market but it is not the make or break kind of thing--more departments and candidates selling themselves to each other.  Anyhow, the time has passed for extensive comment on this.

The second bit of news is more recent--that the report back from the MLA about how folks should react to the difficult market represents ... um.... a bit of cluelessness about how the world works.  Yes, there are more adjuncts and fewer tenure track jobs because there is less funding.  But like most good Marxists, the diagnosis is on target and the recommendations suck.  Tossing aside the ideas that perhaps we ought to reduce our output (if there is too much supply, then cut supply, right?), folks think we should have more programs or just keep steaming ahead.  When some scholars suggested that the humanities people ought to learn something about economics, I suggested that they ought to learn something about politics, too.  I don't think we are going to see big reversals in the cuts to funding anytime soon, so hoping for a good market in the near future is not in the cards.

Anyhow, a person responded to my tweets by essentially saying this is how markets work--that it is not up to us academics to figure this out but up to students to stop applying to grad school.  Sure, sure.  This is working so great for law schools now that folks figured out that massive debt plus fewer jobs is a bad recipe for a future.  Markets do work by punishing bad decisions--hey, you bought crappy medicine and it killed your kid, but that's ok because others will learn from your example and the company will eventually go out of business.  Woot!  Ok, we have governments to prevent that kind of thing.

The key difference between this market and a market for meatballs or chairs or software is that we are dealing with .... people.  That we get to know and care about the students, so we do not want to say at the end of the day: hey, you screwed up by coming here, thanks for your money, good luck with your life.  We do not want to see folks punished by the marketplace.  If we can change the marketplace a bit so that it is more humane (that we teach them other things to besides become research oriented profs), that it produces better outcomes (we reduce the supply so more of products of grad schools get those cool TT jobs), wouldn't that be swell?

Of course, those of us in the social sciences understand that there are huge political and economic obstacles and dynamics that get in the way.  Wishing for funds is not going to work.  Hoping that collective action appears and is powerful is not terribly realistic.  I am not sure what should be done, but Johns Hopkins just made moves to reduce its output.  I am not sure the drastic nature of the move is right.  I do think universities need to consider freezing or cutting the size of their graduate programs even as deans and provosts imagine having more and more grad programs even as they forget to fund them or do the market analysis to figure out if the folks can find jobs. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kicking Off the Book Tour

I will be talking about NATO and Afghanistan in a semi-book tour event on Wednesday.  Roland Paris of U of Ottawa and Lt. Gen (ret) Andrew Leslie could not get the book in time to engage it seriously, so we will just chat about the joy of multilateral operations in Afghanistan and maybe
Libya (chapter eight). 

Roland has written much about international intervention.  General Leslie served a long career in the Canadian Forces, including serving as Deputy Commander of ISAF and as Chief of the Army.

So, come on out on Wednesday to the Rainbow Room in the Byward Market  at 6pm for this CIC organized Politics in the Pub event.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Paradigms in Fighter Planes?

One of the dangers of twitter is that one can end up pontificating about something which is outside of one's expertise.  Latest example: I was RT-ing a piece that was critical of the F-35 and got this reaction:
At first, I was flummoxed.  Isn't the F-35 a plane made of various materials, one that can be broken if one drops something sufficiently heavy on it?  Yes, but much of the special-ness of the plane is not the design of the structure of the plane but the code that is going into it, that will allow it to do special stuff.

Ah.  Well, I get that.  Of course, this raises all other kinds of problems, which I always remember when I get a new computer (woot!)--that the new computer has new and different software issues.  It is faster and better than my old machine but is still buggy.  Making a plane so heavily reliant on complex software makes me very nervous.  Again, I am not an expert, but defense contracting over the past twenty years does not fill me full of faith.  Will the promises be kept?  Will the adversaries figure out ways to mitigate the advantages?

Of course, the argument is that if the adversary comes up with ways to fight the F-35, the code can be written and improved without having to build new planes.  Maybe.

All I really know is that this plane is very expensive, that its procurement process is very flawed, and that providing the adversary with only one plane to figure out does not seem that "strategic" to me.

Perhaps the fact that we have two competing faiths here--those that resolutely believe in the plane and those that resolutely do not believe in the plane--is the real problem.  Defense procurement should not be a matter of faith, right?