Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What Do I think of Defence Review Thus Far

The Mackenzie Institute interviewed me about the Defence Review, so here I opine about whether it is real, what is it about and what may come out of it:

Monday, May 30, 2016

Good Habits Are Hard to Come By

Big data is hot these days.  Well, my latest works would not qualify--as they are mostly small datasets.  But damn, it reminds me that I never learned good data management skills.  So, it took far longer than it should have to post the data for my most two recent publications on my website

If you are interested in either the counter-IS coalition or the state of IR scholarship in Canada (especially the distinctions between the big three schools and the rest), check out the papers and links to data and such at the link above.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Teflon Candidate? Hardly

Lots of folks talking about Trump and how nothing sticks to him.  Please.  The man has the worst unfavorables of any modern candidate.  He is widely detested.  Sure, white men might be divided about him, but the rest of the population (the majority of the voting public) finds him to be awful, awful, awful.

Yes, the polls have narrowed, as they do when one candidate has sown up the nomination while the other candidate has all but done so.  The basic reality of the American electorate is that more than forty percent will vote for any Republican candidate, even Trump, especially against someone who the party has demonized since before I finished my dissertation (a long, long time ago).  Sure, Trump gets heaps of free media coverage, but much of that coverage is, indeed, quite critical.  More and more outlets are fact-checking and pointing out that Trump is a lying sack of arrogance. 

The Republicans had two problems that Hillary Clinton does not: they wanted to appeal to the same white supremacist/xenophobic/misogynist groups as Trump so they could not call him out on those things; and they could not criticize Trump's policy stances since he was mostly outbidding them.

Yes, Trump presents some challenges that other candidates would not, but he has no experience as a politician other than competing in a very large field of weak candidates (who are now proven cowards [Rubio and Christie, I am talking about you guys]).  He alienates people quite easily as he is thin-skinned, defensive, offensive, and ignorant.  Yes, that plays to some audiences, but it hurts him elsewhere.

There will be no convincing move to the center to appeal to Democrat-leaners or Republican-leaners, as he cannot discipline himself to stick to a message, especially a message that reaches out to people who are not white males.  I expect far more misogyny as he attacks HRC, and I don't expect him to say anything more convincing than "I love Hispanics" one day and then attack a judge for being an Mexican the next.

So, teflon candidate?  Please.  That might have been Bill Clinton, a draft-dodging, multiple-affair having governor from the 49th most successful state.  And geez, that drove the GOP crazy.  But Trump?  No.  Widely reviled.

Things may go wrong and he could win if Bernie Sanders and his supporters betray their values and don't support Trump's opponent.  But not teflon.  He reeks of hate, fear, and failure. So, NYT, stop making him appear to be something that he is not.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Oppressed Oberlin

I have gotten a bunch of emails, tweets, and facebook messages all pointing me at the same New Yorker story about Oberlin.  As an alum of Oberlin, I am very familiar with all the aspects of this story:
  • the holier than thou far left folks who see oppression and offense everywhere who then want to, um, oppress others
  • the real problems facing a place that tries to be diverse and tolerant
  • the smug media who love to generalize about all of academia from the selected samplings of some not entirely representative students who are at a school that is not at all representative
  • the basic "these kids" stuff that Dan Drezner delineates so well. [No, Dan, you do not have to fear about how Williams will be covered because the reporters know that they will always have Oberlin when they want to tell a story about those crazy kids]
I kept refusing to read the article because I knew it would be painful. Why?  First, I identify with Oberlin, so attacks upon it are attacks upon my self-esteem (I have read enough social psychology to understand this process).  Second, I knew that the article would take the most annoying stuff uttered by some young students and run with that, rather than put it into context.  There are plenty of Obies now as there were then in my time who were not far left.  Sure, the place is super-liberal, but many of those liberals have both real concerns about the existence of white supremacy and other challenges but also real concern that one can go too far.  Third, I knew that the discussion of this story would distract people from some of the legitimate concerns of the folks involved.

As an Obie, I am familiar with the salient events of the past year or so--the list of demands (which appall me as an academic--tenure to be granted or denied by the whims of some selection of mobilized students), the anti-semitic writings of a prof, and the responses of the administration and on and on.  I knew that this stuff would get played in the most annoying ways possible.

Let me take one example: the part of students wanting no sub-C grades.  There is so much wrong about this particular point.  First, the students were not demanding the end of sub-C grades forever--they just wanted these grades not to count during a particularly turbulent semester, and had an historical precedent (the spring of Kent State--which is not that far away from Oberlin) that suggested this is not an unrealistic policy.  Second, I have no clue why the students would demand this since Oberlin's grading system already wipes out an sub-C minus grades (maybe they just wanted to get rid of C-'s for the year?).  That's right--if you get a grade below C-, you get a "No Entry" which means it disappears from the transcript.  The point of this is to encourage students to take risks and experiment.  In my time, this was the system, and students tended not to bail on the final in hopes of turning a C into an NE--I wish I had done so for Micro-economics.  This one bit of the story thus illustrates why the students are so confusing--why are they seeking something they already have--and how the outsiders have no clue about Oberlin.
Update: In 2004, the school changed the grading system so that sub C-'s would remain as real grades.  Too bad.  I liked the old system as it was very Oberlin--encourage experimentation.  I guess pass/nopass still facilitates that somewhat.

I get that the students have real concerns--that students of color feel that they have less support than they should.  In my time, there was some racist graffiti that was found on campus, which led to a day or two of activities including much discussion by the non-white students about what they were experiencing and I learned a great deal.  This self-examination is not a bad thing--one reason places like Oberlin want diverse student bodies is that we can all learn from each other about our varied experiences and perspectives in ways that don't require individual students to be asked "so, what do you as an African-American student can tell us about everyone of your race?"  At Texas Tech, I had very white classes with only one or two Latinos and African-Americans.  Each day, they knew that whatever they said would be taken as what their entire ethnic group believes, which is quite a burden.

These students have grown up at a time of both an African-American president and a resurgence of racism (birthers and all that), so it is understandable that they are confused, challenged and outraged.  One of the two major parties is in the process of nominating someone who appeals to white supremacists, misogynists and xenophobes.  These students have observed that the justice system in the US is unjust--mass incarceration, the deaths of many unarmed people of color at the hands of the police, and on and on.  If they were not outraged, then I would think that there is a significant problem.

What to do with that passion, that frustration?  That is hard to figure out.  On the bright side, I have recently learned that the Obies of my time are achieving great things: winning Pulitzer Prizesrebuilding schools, etc.  As always, I blame Lena Dunham (joking!)


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Engaging the Far Left

Yesterday, I got upset because a friend of mine was facing a series of homophobic attacks from folks who are fans of Bernie Sanders.  So, I wrote a few tweets that led to an hour long engagement with such folks.  The funny thing is that they proved my point:

The cascade of responses I got were, well, incredibly dumb.  What did I learn from the experience?
  • That the extremists have contempt for those who are close to the center.  I called myself a moderate to start this discussion, which might have been a bit deceptive since I am fairly liberal, just not knee-jerkingly so.  Anyhow, the venom for those who disagree with the Bernie fans is pretty intense.  That anything other than the purist of the faith is an immoral stance.   
  • The contradictions they are able to maintain is most impressive.  For some reason, the discussion focused much on HRC's support for the NATO campaign in Libya in 2011.  The criticism is that HRC is willing to kill "brown kids."
    • They don't seem to care about "brown kids" in the US as I mentioned Trump's threats--they criticized me for focusing on the domestic ones.  Sure, but they are focusing on the foreign ones--not clear which ones should matter more.  
    • They don't acknowledge that the choice faced in 2011 was not an easy one--that Qaddafi was threatening to kill many "brown kids" and adults.  Had NATO done nothing, we might have seem some serious mass killings.  And then HRC and Obama would have been criticized for not caring about these "brown kids."
  • That these folks suck at basic civics.  The Secretary of State is not in the chain of command.  Giving HRC heaps of responsibility for Libya is just problematic.  The better argument, which I offered them and they rejected, is that HRC has advocated for deeper, more forceful involvement in Syria, which is a BAD IDEA.  Again, the fixation with Libya was just puzzling to me.
  • That ideology blinds one to basic math.  Several believe that Bernie can still win, when the delegate count is very clearly in HRC's favor.
    • That these folks are so engaged in wishful thinking that they still think that the superdelegates can all turn around and vote for Bernie.  He would need a great majority of them, but he used to attack these folks.  As these people are the establishment of the Democratic Party, I was unclear why they would support someone who is not a Democrat.  The answer: because.  
    • Ok, the answer was more about how HRC cannot beat Trump because of the latest polls.  We already know that the new polls are not worth hanging much on.  But when I pondered the question of why the Superdelegates would go against not just the overall delegate count but also the popular vote, I got crickets.
  • That HRC is so awful that Trump is not so bad in comparison.  Not saying he is preferred by these folks, but I do expect the most passionate far left folks not to vote at all.  Which means they could live to enjoy the same level of regret that the Nader fans experienced after abetting Bush "who was just like Gore."  Yeah, sure, not after the Voting Rights Act got gutted, after Citizens United, after Iraq 2003, after Cheney and Rummy and all the rest.
  • That I should stop saying I am confused when I mean that a situation is morally complex and very difficult in practice or that they said something that is incoherent or contradictory. These folks leap on that as they see the world so clearly--it just does not happen to be the real one, but that does not matter to them. 
  • That some folks seeking to vote for the oldest candidate in the field can be hostile to folk with some gray hair (me).  The ageism was just a bit surprising.
  • That I am a sophist!  I think that earns me some long overdue political science points.
  • That these folks have the same level of histrionics about what HRC might do as the right had about what Obama might do: "video makers will be locked up, destruction of free speech."
  • That maybe these folks are Trump fans posing as Bernie fans?  That is my wife's guess, but I am not so sure. 
Anyhow, for months I have been watching a twitter friend who is far more conservative than I have these kinds of conversations with Trump fans, so I thought I would take a whack at it. What did it feel like?  It felt like that day back in Oberlin (no, I have not yet read the piece about intolerant left wing students at Oberlin) where the Oberlin Moderate Caucus (mostly folks slightly left of center that were not so knee-jerky left wing) raised money by offering up heated rhetoric and then serving as targets of eggs.  Yep, we gave people eggs to throw at us as penance for our less moderate colleagues.  Most folks asked to spout right wing ideology (supply side economics is terrific, more money for the Contras, whatever) and then they would throw eggs at us.  Not too many bruises but the suit I bought from a thrift store did not survive the experience.  Anyhow, I had my fun then and didn't repeat it. I will probably decide that I had my fun now, and will not wade into the waters of extremist left wing ideologues again. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Most Important Corpses

I was on twitter today talking with some folks about what Canada might promise at the Warsaw Summit, with the focus on who is going to provide the troops for the four battalions that will be based in the Baltics and Poland.  The conversation went into a bunch of directions, so I had an epiphany while shopping--it is not about proximity or folks who have ties to the Baltics--it is about whose corpses would have the greatest international political relevance.

The basing of NATO troops in the East (the Eastern Front is what people are calling it) is all about two things: reassuring the allies and deterring Russia.  And, no, the forces to be deployed would not stop a Russian invasion.  Just like the old days, the point of the troops would be to serve as a tripwire--that any invasion of West Germany in the Cold War would almost automatically produce an American/West European response because any such invasion would kill Americans and Brits and Canadians and on and on.

Four battalions/one brigade is not a lot of troops and divided among four countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland) means that there is actually not a very complicated force generation problem.  The current commitments thus far are one American battalion, one German, one British (I think), and one TBA.  Today's conversation was about Norway and Denmark possibly jointly providing the fourth, with, of course, other NATO countries sending smaller numbers to complement the bigger American, German, and British units. 

For me, going back to whose dead bodies are most important, I would like to see US, UK, Germany and France make the bigger commitments.  Why?  Three of those countries have nuclear weapons and all four are the major decision-makers at NATO.  France and Germany are often viewed as the most reluctant to assent to various decisions (France, which is always sensitive to the costs it pays; Germany, because it does not want to provoke Russia and has a bit of a history problem).  One could imagine a scenario where some NATO soldiers have been harmed, and then a decision has to be made at the North Atlantic Council (NATO's decision-making body).  Since there is no automaticity to Article V, we would want those countries who have the greatest heft and most likely tendency to block action to have a direct stake in the form of soldiers who are hit in the first wave.

Tying French and German hands as well as tying British and American hands would be important both to assure the Baltics AND to send a clear signal to Russia that an attack would lead to World War III via an uncertain but potentially uncontrollable process that starts with a Russian attack on territory held by Americans, Germans, Brits, French and others.  Italians?  Not so important?  Canadians?  Only important to those who study/pundit Canadian defence (guilty!). 

It is brutal but necessary to think in these terms--what would it take to deter Russia?  Which countries matter to Russia's decision-making?  How do we make the commitment to escalate credible?  Politicians are more likely to react if their soldiers have been harmed than if the soldiers of their allies have been harmed.  So, tripwire that has the usual major force contribution countries present and accounted for.  

Broken Internal Economies

I am a big fan of Carleton, and have been quite happy here as my fourth year nears its end.  But of course there is a but. 

But its internal economy is broken.  There are some departments/units/whatever that charge for their services and their space, and the rest of the university has to find money to pay.  The most annoying example of this: that my building was built to be a platform for outreach, but we have to find money within our budgets to pay for using that space most of the time.  Not only that, but we have to pay fairly high fees for audio-visual services, for set-up and all the rest.  If we want to provide some parking for our guests, we have to pay for that and the rates are comparable to downtown Ottawa and we are not in downtown Ottawa.  This means, of course, that it often makes more sense to hold events at downtown hotels.  Or not hold them at all.

In some cases, this makes sense.  It makes sense to charge for printing services since there is a real cost to each thing printed, and it creates disincentives for printing too much stuff (seeing the printing services folks advertise across campus is annoying since they have a monopoly, so why waste our money on that?).  In other cases, it does not and is quite frustrating.  When I thought about podcasting with a pal, we went to the journalism school to see if they could help out.  They told us that they have to pay hourly wages for their technician, which was understandable, and also pay for the space.  Ooops.  So, that stopped our inquiry right there since we didn't expect to make any money from podcasting, and if we did, didn't want it to go to someone else's space income.

Those with resources that others need can charge a price for them.  Those without such desired resources have to use, in most cases, externally generated funds to cover this stuff--grant money.  Instead of it going to graduate and undergraduate students for their research assistance (the major category in which much grant money is directed), it goes to those who have something to sell.

I whine, of course, because I ain't got nothing to sell in this internal market.  I was tempted to make meth, but that didn't work out so well for Walter White.  After the conversation with the J school that proved to be unproductive, I thought I might charge their students who seek to interview me for their assignments.  But taking out my grumpiness on the students would be wrong.

Of course, universities have to allocate space and other scarce resources, but charging units for that stuff is problematic.  I'd like to see fake money allocated to all the units (Carleton Bucks!) and then folks could use the resources until they max out or can apply for more bucks if the projects are for the Greater Good.  This would be complicated at first, but the new system would not serve as a deterrent to doing the stuff that the university wants us to do, such as outreach. 

Carleton is not alone in this, as university administrators across North America (the world?) have learned that one way to deal with budgetary pressures is to try to extract grant money to pay for stuff.  In the US, there is a more obvious way this is done--universities set a rate for "indirect" costs, which means that when you apply for a grant, you get x plus y, with y being the money going to the university for the indirect costs of the research--electricity, sewage, heating, whatever else.  Canadian schools get something like this as well, but it is not so explicit.  In the US, some of the indirect flows back down to the units, but most is kept at higher levels to pay for stuff. 

The key with any financial system is to figure out how to design it so that it incentivizes the things that are desirable and disincentivizes things that are less desirable.  The problem with the current system at Carleton is it creates disincentives for doing some of the stuff the university wants us to do.  Oh well, I probably should have asked my favorite Carleton economist/former Associate Dean how this works, but I am afraid she might have charged me for her services.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Project Much? Understanding the Latest NSFW Obsessions

Last night, on twitter, I learned some new lingo.  I had been seeing on cuck mentioned a lot on a conservative academic's twitter feed and seeing it elsewhere, but was mostly confused about the origins of cuckservative.  Pegging? That was new to me.  The common theme, of course, is emasculation. Obviously, what is going on here is that the utterer/twitter-er/whatever is insulting someone by suggesting that their wife is sleeping with someone else or one is being penetrated by one's wife--that the person is less of a man because of their political opinions.  And maybe calling someone gay or an f* is not as acceptable so these people have had to get more creative?  (I guess there must be sociologists already on this stuff, looking at trends of insults).
*I don't want my blog posts to be searchable by epithet

This may not be an entirely right-wing thing--my guess is that the misogynists among the Bernie bros are probably saying similar stuff.  Why?  Tis in the title: these folks are projecting.  They want to make men (mostly) feel bad by suggesting that they are lousy men.  Why?  I am no feminist scholar (I am a feminist, just not a scholar who uses feminist theories/methods), I guess this people are themselves feeling emasculated.  This may be why this campaign seems to be gamer-gate in a different arena. 

Of course, some will note that women use these terms as well.  Sure, but much of the volume seems to be from males.  Of course, when women are the target, the language is not about cucks and the like, but the usual misogynist vocab and, of course, threats (the woman with whom Justin Trudeau made contact in "elbowgate" or parliamess is now being hit by the barrage of internet insults because fans of Liberals can also be illiberal).
The extreme political stances are chock full of hate--hate for women, hate for those who support women, hate for African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Jews, Latinos, LGBT, and Muslims (and Sikhs because ignorant people are easily confused).  And the US now has a candidate who has successfully been stoking these flames of hate to get to the nomination of a major party.

Lots of stuff is being written on why this is coming out from under the rocks now, but it has always been there, of course.  Racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia are not new.  The internet has made it possible for groups of losers (those who either lost in life or feel they are losing their advantages over others) to gain an outsized voice by directing attacks at specific people, especially women and minorities.  It is not just the anonymity of the web as plenty of idiots gave away their identities when attacking the Nevada Democratic Chairwoman, but anonymity does have a role, of course.  As does Donald Trump who has been inciting hate for the past year (more than that since he was a birther for quite some time, but more so lately), leading to hate crimes quite directly.

And, yes, this stuff is intensifying because these folks have been losing the big political battles.  They rail at Social Justice Warriors precisely because gays are now more accepted, that transgender people are now being treated more positively (a long way to go, of course), that women are breaking through some glass ceilings, and, yes, we have a black President.  Whenever I see someone use the SJW, I assume that they are a gamer-gate kind of misogynist because if one is on the opposite side of a social justice warrior, does that not make the person a fan of injustice?

So, what can I conclude from this rambling rant? That it sucks to be a loser?  That much of the hate is venom spewed by those on the wrong side of history?  That those who use cuck and other terms to denigrate the masculinity of their opponents have small hands and peni?  I guess we cannot dismiss these folks because they can and do resort to violence, but perhaps we can remember that they are losing, that their losing is a source of their animus, and that we need to keep winning the battles that improve the opportunities for all.  And if the losers do not want to partake in a better society, we need to marginalize them and the politicians who tolerate or empower them.  Which, of course, means vote against Trump.  

Update: I forgot one of my key points: there are all kinds of men with all kinds of ways to be a man, so these folks have a very specific idea of what is it is to be a man.  And, the irony is that their cowardice--attacking folks online, using lame insults rather than good arguments--actually contradicts their ideal John Wayne-esque kind of manhood.  But then again, their efforts to emasculate others emasculates themselves more than anyone else.

Gate-Ghazi or is it Ghazi-Gate? We Be Lazy

I have long been annoyed by the lazy way in which every new scandal gets a -gate attached to it.  Yes, there was Watergate, but that was more than forty years ago.  Can we move on?  Oh, -ghazi?  Hells, no!  For one thing, it is not a scandal.  For another, it is just -gate in slightly new clothes.

How about we come up with new words to describe each new scandal or story?  How about some creativity, media folks?  It is not that hard.  For instance, the big story in Canada is that Justin Trudeau grabbed the Conservative whip (the guy responsible for organizing the Conservatives in parliament) to drag him to get a vote started, and he bumped into a female MP from the NDP party.  Instead of elbow-gate, how about parlia-mess?  Far more descriptive, IMHO.

So, here's my plea: how about we move on from 1973 and develop story-specific names.  We have all kinds of meme-skilz sharpened by a decade of twitter and facebook.  So, let's deploy these skilz to come up with more creative ways to label the latest political controversy.  And, by the way, if Trump were to win, we would need a damn near infinite supply of labels.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

How Much Tripwire Is Enough?

The latest pre-Warsaw Summit noise suggests that NATO will be deploying permanently continuously something like four or five battalions, totaling three thousand troops or so in the Baltics and Poland.
 The idea is not that these troops would be enough to stop a Russian invasion, but that they would be sufficient to serve as a tripwire.  That a Russian attack would mean combat with NATO forces and thus dead Americans, Brits, Germans and others.  This would then tie the hands of American, British, and German leaders, making the commitment to stay in the fight and perhaps escalate more credible--more believable.

This is important since Vladimir Putin is an opportunist who likes faits accompli--moving first and then putting the onus for making major costly decisions onto the other side.  This basing of troops would put the onus for risking World War III back onto Putin.  He would thus be deterred. 

This was the Cold War playbook, and it seems to make sense today.  Some questions arise:
  • Will this provoke Russia?  Yes, but doing nothing is provocative in a different and scarier way.
  • Is this enough?  Certainly, the old stance of 20 soldiers each in six different outposts signaled something short of a significant commitment, and might not produce enough casualties in a conflict to commit the leaders of NATO countries.  Is 3000?  I don't know, but it might be good enough.  I would prefer 10k, as a couple of brigades are more visible than a few battalions.  But I don't get a vote on this.
  • What about the rest of NATO?  Each formation is likely to include forces from the rest of the alliance and the whispers thus far suggest that the fourth battalion would be led by someone that is not the US/UK/Germany.  
We will be seeing more stories like this as the Warsaw Summit in July gets closer.  The summit itself is not a place where big decisions are made, but announced.  NATO summits serve like conferences for professors--setting artificial deadlines so that folks produce the papers they promise.  So, the decisions will be made in the lead up to the summit and then announced there.  So, expect more stories about the stuff that is likely to be the substance of the summit's "decisions."

Evergreen Post: Who Is the Proxy We Can Count On?

Yesterday, I had the chance to speak to a group of Global Affairs Canada (Canada's State Dept that changes its name every few years) who were taking a short course on security issues.  My job was to discuss the various flavors of multilateralism that Canada can choose from--NATO, coalitions of the willing, UN--when intervening around the world.  Of course, I talked the most about NATO since that is the one that I know the most.

Anyhow, in the course of conversation, one of "favorite" topics came up: in reaction to a question about Responsibility to Protect (a UN 'norm' that Canada promoted), I suggested that we have two choices when an R2P situation arises: regime change or come up with some kind of deal that leads to power-sharing or its alternatives.  And the regime change option is mostly dead these days because we have learned that we are good at breaking regimes but not replacing them.

I have been calling for humility lately precisely because the lessons of Afghanistan and Libya include: the local leaders appointed or sponsored or supported by the outsiders have their own agendas.  Whenever I hear folks criticize Obama and others over Syria, I ask: who should we have supported and how? What are the alternatives to ISIS or Assad?  The Kurds?  That gets complicated fast and only resolves who rules in relatively small spots, not in the entire countries of Syria or Iraq. 

The good news is that folks are more aware of this problem.  Hence an article on the next steps in Libya with the basic question being asked: who do we send the arms to?  Good start, but even if we find suitable proxies, how do know or ensure that they use the weapons in ways that we intend?

As always, we have lousy choices.  As long as we know they are lousy, we can go in with eyes wide open and try to figure out who we can support, what kind of support would be least problematic if it gets into the wrong hands (hence no ground to air missiles), and perhaps what measures to take to incentivize our "friends" to do what we would like and not do what we would dislike.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thanks, Ben Schiff

This month, my adviser at Oberlin, Ben Schiff, retires.  I was not able to make it to Oberlin to give thanks, perhaps make a few jokes, and wish him well give him thanks.  So, I will do what I always do--talk about it here.

I only took two classes with Ben, as I discovered Political Science and IR late in my frosh year and he was on sabbatical during my second year at Oberlin.  When he returned, I took his Mideast Politics class and then his seminar.  I was disappointed at first that he had changed his seminar topic from Arms Sales to Refugees.  It reflected his changing research interests, but I had been more interested in the old arms sales topic.  Of course, that might have been a good thing since a friend I knew had his paper disrupted towards the end of the semester as he had been studying the "successful" arms embargo against Iran just as it came out that the US via Iran-Contra was selling arms to Iran.  Ooops. 

Anyhow, the refugee course was new to Ben, reflecting a desire to continue to pursue his curiosity wherever it took him.  This helped inspire not just my career but how I pursued it.  Ben went from studying the International Atomic Energy Agency to refugees to the International Criminal Court.  Perhaps as a result, my worked has also bumped around from topic to topic, depending on what intrigued me, rather than specializing in one thing for my career. 

Ben was far better than I have ever been in running a seminar.  It was a good group to be sure, as Obies are pretty sharp folks and like to argue about everything discuss stuff.  In the Politics of the Mideast Class, or whatever it was called, we had a paper assignment which was actually two papers--to argue the issues from the Israeli standpoint and from the Palestinian standpoint: Schmuel Saideman vs. Steve Said.  I thought I was pretty clever.  Maybe I wasn't, but I only remember a few assignments from my undergraduate days, and this was one of them.  I also remember Ben's appeal to foster discussion--that classroom discussions were low risk environments (as opposed to conversations around a boardroom table or government meeting), so have at it.

While Ben shaped some of my views of both IR and teaching, perhaps the contribution I can most clearly identify to my career is that he gave great advice to a panicked senior who was looking at grad schools.  "Check out UCSD.  Sure, the folks there are pretty arrogant, but they are also quite sharp."  I would not have applied to UCSD if not for Ben's advice, and I would not have gotten in without his recommendation.  His assistance that year definitely changed my life, as that choice forever dominated my destiny.

Ben turned out to be a great adviser to the next generation of IR scholars.  Oberlin has a grand tradition of producing not just Phds and not just Phds in Political Science, but in IR: Kenneth Waltz, Robert Jervis and Scott Sagan all went to Oberlin.  The folks who Ben mentored may not have as big names, but I am pretty proud to be in the same company as George Shambaugh, Audie Klotz, and, my classmate, Beth DeSombre. 

Congrats on your retirement, Ben.  Oberlin will miss you, and I will certainly miss our occasional coffees at random ISA's over the years.

Selling Out, Academic Publishing Edition

Yesterday, news quickly spread that the Social Science Research Network was bought by Elsevier.  This quickly caused an uproar on twitter.  Why?  The SSRN was established to provide a place for social scientists to share their work in progress.  Elsevier is one of the most rapacious rent-seeking profitable publishes of academic journals.

Elsevier charges large amounts of money to universities so that universities can provide access to bundles of journals (the de-bundling movement in cable might remind folks that bundling is not an altruistic strategy by those facing little competition).  These publications are "gated" in that one can only access via a subscription.  The "good news" is that a scholar can pay Elsevier or another one of its ilk to permanently (more or less) provide open access to an article one has published--the scholar only has to pay Elsevier a thousand more or dollars for that.

In short, Elsevier and other journal publishers are the enemy of open access (amazing how many people on the internet came up with that exact phrase at the same time).  SSRN assured folks on the internet that their policies would not change (much?).  Ok, but even if SSRN does not change much, if the deal helps Elsevier, it is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, right?  Which makes SSRN selling out .... academic treason, right?

Elsevier's profit seeking is simply bad for academia.
  • Escalating prices for subscriptions crowds out other spending by university libraries so they have to buy fewer books (bad for academics who either want access to books or have libraries buy their books) and makes universities have to choose which journals to carry or drop.
  • The high and gloriously unjustified price for un-gating a single article, combined with grants requiring more access, means diverting grant money to Elsevier and its ilk rather than spending on graduate students, post-docs, books, research materials, etc.
  • The non-academic world has limited means to access this articles, which makes it a bit harder to be relevant.
  • and on and on.
The good news is that the internet facilitates collective action that might ultimately lead to online journals that supplant the highly ranked yet highly expensive journals that are bundled by one of a few major academic publishers.
The bad news is that Elsevier and its fellow oligopolists can try to buy out the various contenders, just as they did with SSRN, to maintain their shared monopoly of academic publishing.
The good news is that others will arise who might have some principles and choose not to sell out to the enemy.

Oh, and here is some of my twitter interactions with SSRN yesterday:

Which reminds me: I need to go to my SSRN account and remove my paper (alas, two earlier papers were uploaded while I was at McGill, and I don't know how to access that account since it is tied to an email account that no longer exists).  Sorry to make it harder for folks to get my stuff, but I am not going to help those who give aid and comfort to the enemy.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

That Time of Year

Nice take on the commencement speeches of various politicians by Brian McFadden of the NYT:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Potentially Radical Departure

For quite some time, I have been thinking of writing a book that reflected my take as an American ex-pat in Canada.  Not an academic book but not a fictional account.  Instead, hopefully humorous observations about Canada and its differences from its southern neighbor: A Yankee on Thin Ice.  As I drove to and from my daughter's college the past couple of days (hence the low spewage this week), I had an epiphany--that American interest in Canada is peaking!  Perhaps my potential book might be too late to capitalize on this heightened attention, but it did give me an intro chapter/section/whatever:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Informal Defence Review, part II

Again, I cannot attribute what other folks said at the informal meeting with two of the Advisory Board members, besides what I said, but here are some of my reactions:
  • I was somewhat wrong about my initial reaction to the announcement of the Defence Review Roundtables. I was upset that Ottawa was left out, but it turns out that they did anticipate correctly that the experts in Ottawa would get multiple opportunities to engage the review folks.  Yellowknife?  Still makes no sense, but skipping Ottawa is not as problematic as I thought.  
  • Any discussion of defence stuff here tends to center on keeping Canada's military a "full spectrum, flexible, combat capable" force.  This is the pushback language if anyone suggests that Canada specialize in some stuff and drop some missions and capabilities.  The joy of this construction is that it conflates combat with flexible and suggests that any specialization would mean that the CAF could not do combat.  It is, of course, wrong, but it works in short arguments.  The reality is that few countries in the world have a full spectrum military: the US, and maybe Russia and China. Only the US can do everything, and everyone else has to choose what they cannot/will not do.  China does not really have strategic bombers, Russia does not have the capacity it once had to do strategic airlift, etc.  France?  UK?  They can do more stuff than Canada, but not as much as they could. 
  • There was much discussion about how can one do a defence review without knowing how much the government intends to spend.  So, we had some folks advocate for the military to have everything it wants/thinks it needs.  I pushed against that.  I wish I had advocated the following:
"Do the defence review like the way the military puts together a position: posit three possible options of high risk, medium risk and low risk with the budget being less than it is for the high risk option, about where it is now with the medium risk option and increased with the low risk option."
  •  The room was mostly male, mostly white, and mostly older than me.  Which speaks to the need to do something about fostering a new generation of Canadian defence experts (my plan over the next few years, SSHRC willing).  
    • On the bright side, the Advisory Panel consists of two men and two women.
 Overall, the conversation was reasoned, informed, and interesting.  I have no idea what the panelists will recommend, other than reading/buying my book.

I, of course, did conclude my comments with a reference to:

"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"

Informal Defence Review, part I

Today, I got a chance to participate in a meeting with two of the members of the Advisory Panel for the Canadian Defence Review: Margaret Purdy and Gen. (ret.) Ray Henault.  I am a big fan of Purdy as she keeps plugging my book!

Anyhow, the event was organized by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute (the defence contractors association).  The attendees and presenters were mostly ex-military, but the audience included a couple of senators, individuals who had served in government and those continuing to serve.  It was a Chatham House event, so I cannot say who said what except I can say what I said.  So, below is my statement, more or less, as I riffed a bit.  I will write another post that contains my reactions (hence the part I above). 

Here is what I said in my five minutes:

            As the new government considers Canada’s defence in a challenging world, there are many topics to address.  While others will focus on threats, I think one way to organize the discussion is to focus on what the money is spent on—equipment, operations and personnel.  The media and the parliament tend to focus almost entirely on the procurement of equipment.  I might guess that much of the discussion at the various roundtables will be as well, so I will focus elsewhere—on operations and on personnel.  My points will be simple ones—that NATO drives Canadian operations, that readiness is often overlooked, and that the size of the CAF is something that needs to be considered. 
            First, my observation of this Liberal government is that NATO is an afterthought.  The focus on UN and peacekeeping fits with Liberal values and is aimed at reversing the efforts of the previous government.  In their defence platform, NATO was only briefly discussed.  But the reality is that whenever NATO engages in an operation, Canada shows up and expends a great deal of effort: Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya, and now the reassurance mission.  Canada has opted out of coalitions of the willing, and there are too many UN missions so Canada has to pick and choose.  But with NATO, Canada participates, so the review should consult NATO and consider what the alliance will need from Canada down the road.  My guess is that the Canadian Armed Forces will be disappointed—that NATO will not demand a full spectrum military but perhaps want Canada to focus on some things Canada does well, even if it means doing other stuff less.  Which things/stuff?  The people in Brussels and Mons may have some answers to those questions.  The British consulted with NATO extensively during their recent review.  I hope this review does the same.
            Second, one of the big differences between American and Canadian debates about military spending is that you don’t hear the word “hollow” much up here.  In the US, there is always the concern that there is not enough spending on training, maintenance and operations, that the military will be big but not capable.  In Canada, most of the discussion is on procurement.  But we need to think seriously about how operations/maintenance/training is funded as that determines readiness—can Canada fight well when it has to?  Despite being out of Afghanistan, Canada faces a pretty high pace of operations—rotating into and out of Eastern Europe on a regular basis as part of NATO’s reassurance missions, supporting the training mission in Iraq.  But when the budget gets squeezed, it almost always comes out of readiness, as procurement has its own calendar and as personnel costs are seen as fixed. 
            This leads me to my third point: personnel costs are nearly 50% of the budget. So, any defence decisions should take seriously this part of the budget.  I am not saying that we need to cut pay or benefits, but that the size of the force is a key constraint that cannot be ignored.  If one assumes that Canadians will not want more money spent on defence or that this government is unlikely to do so, then the size of the force is a key consideration for whatever is planned.  A related trend is this: with every defence program becoming more and more expensive, Canada will buy less.  The next fighter plane purchase will certainly lead to fewer planes than the original F-18 procurement.  The shipbuilding program is not going to lead to fifteen ships.  So, we are likely to need fewer pilots and fewer sailors.  To keep the intra-CAF peace and also to face the current budgetary reality, cutting the Army’s size down a bit is probably a least worst solution. 
            I do think that the best decision would be for Canada to spend more on its military, but I recognize that this is a non-starter.  Whatever increases will probably not catch up to inflation.  I also recognize that Canada will continue to spend more and get less due to the insistence on buying Canadian built equipment even when better/less expensive stuff is available.  Given these trends, the CAF is in for hard times ahead—expected to keep up the pace of operations while avoiding hard decisions about priorities.  Perhaps the Defence Review will lead to some difficult decisions actually being confronted.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Pop Culture and IR: What I Do And Why

Today, twitter erupted (well, in my corner) about the use of pop culture to discuss international relations. Folks were pondering who could serve on a panel criticizing the use of pop culture and IR.  I came up as a potential defender of the faith tactic strategy form.

My answer: hell no.  Why?  Because when it comes to pop culture and IR, this tends to be my attitude:
Here's where I piss off the two very distinct sides: those that very seriously apply the meanings and uses of pop culture to understand the text of international relations and those that criticize them.  How so?  I am of the "geeking out" category (thanks to Dan Nexon for this category of pop culture and IRing).  I throw one at the other, sometimes pop culture at IR and sometimes IR at pop culture, to illustrate something interesting to me, to play with concepts and see how they are or can be applied.  I am never thinking about anything particularly deep, I am never doing this stuff with a great deal of nuance or methodological care. 

I do it because it is fun for me to do it, and I do it because I think it can make accessible concepts in IR that may not be so accessible otherwise.  I am not trying to prove anything or establish anything other than that I think I can be clever.  And I fail at that much of the time. 

As I discussed on twitter, my choice of name for this blog is not entirely accidently and not entirely driven by my thirst for alliteration.  The stuff here is Spew--me thinking out loud.  It is Semi in that it is not fully thought out.  For some relevant examples,

When I use pop culture in my teaching, it is aimed at providing examples or illustrations of dynamics quickly and engagingly
So, I don't want to participate in an anti-pop culture and IR panel because it simply would not be fun for me.

And, oh, by the way, if the various players in IR use pop culture to explain/justify what they are doing, maybe we do need to pay attention to it a bit.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Trump and the GOP: Not Such a Bad Match

I have been arguing this morning with GOP folks who seek to disown responsibility for Trump--that it is about the Democrats playing up identity politics and folks who voted in open primaries.  Turns out a picture is more than 1000 words:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Who Guards the Guardians? Not the UN

Every time I think I am out, they pull me back in.  No, not leading the mafia.  Principal-agent theory.  Yep, and I blame Stan Lee.  How so?  I saw the new Captain America: Civil Wars movie... explanation below the break:

Professional Ultimate Witnessed!

Last night was the opening game of the American Ultimate Disk League in Ottawa--the Ottawa Outlaws vs. the Montreal Royals.  They played for this first game of the season in the big football/soccer stadium in town.  They had free tickets for those who play in Ottawa's ultimate leagues so I took a colleague, David Long, who had introduced me to curling--turnabout is fair play!

So, how is professional ultimate different from regular ultimate?  In more ways than I expected:
  • in normal ultimate, violations and fouls are self-called and usually lead to do-overs.  In the professional game, there are referees, and violations and fouls can lead to ten yard gains or losses or even turnovers (traveling is a turnover!).  
  • the professional game consists of four quarters, twelve minutes each, with the clock stopping after every score.  This means that the game is high scoring and longer than the normal ultimate game--about 2.5 hours last night.  In normal ultimate, games are either up to 15 or 18 or 21 or they are whoever scores the most in an hour or hour and a half.  

  • There is entertainment during the halftime: kids playing ultimate.

    Otherwise, the game is mostly the same.  The offensive strategies (mostly horizontal but some vertical stacks) with heaps of hucks and the defensive strategies (a bit of zone but mostly man to man with some forcing to one side going on) were basically the same.  The key, as always, is the team that turns over the disk less wins.  According to the program, the Royals did well last year despite having a high rate of turnovers, and last night the turnovers killed them.  Some bad choices, some bad throws, and some very bad choices.  Both sides showed impressive athleticism and effort, and the game was very entertaining to both me and David.  Is it more fun to watch than Curling? For me, absolutely ;)

    I have played with and against a few of the Montreal Royals players over the years.  This makes professional ultimate completely different from other sports, as very few ordinary folks get to be on the same field as people who end up being pro's.  Could I play with these guys now?  Alas, no.  My throws are probably almost as good as these guys (and probably my throws were close to as good as these guys a few years ago), but there is no way I would get open on a regular basis nor nor would I be able to cover any of these guys for more than a second.  

    For video of one point of the game, go here.  And, yes, I will probably be going to more professional ultimate games, both to support the enterprise and because it is a fun game to watch.