Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Afghanistan is Hip Again?

I was on Canadian TV last night to talk about Afghanistan, as they anticipated that Trump would talk about it and about sending more troops there.

This is what we got:
Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.
 Wow, that clarifies everything! What are the new rules of engagement?  There is so much wrong packed into this one sentence that I am tempted to post a certain pic:

Ok, not everything is wrong--the Afghan security forces (when some of them are not raping kids) are pretty damned heroic.  They have been paying a huge price and have not yet broken.  But if the rules of engagement are looser, rather than tighter, what this really means is almost certainly more civilian casualties, and that will probably undermine the effort.  Sure, Afghanistan is a damned if you, damned if you don't place as the work of Jason Lyall indicates.  Also, the folks who pushed for tighter rules and less collateral damage included the generals.  Stan McChrystal had many faults, but his push for courageous restraint was probably one of the most significant contributions he made--that sometimes it is better not to shoot at a high value target if it means lots of civilian casualties and waiting for another day and less problematic opportunity makes sense.

Trump's line about artificial timelines is not wrong either but not entirely right.  Because having no deadlines, and even more importantly, no strategy and no clear desired outcomes means that this is, indeed, a forever war. When will the US be ready to leave Afghanistan?  What conditions will permit it?  Is the US effort really doing anything that, dare I say it, hastens the day that they can leave? 

The whole "We don't tell our enemies our plans" thing has always grated at me.  It is one of those incredibly dumb Trumpisms that he gets addicted to.  No, we have never told our enemies our plans (although Trump does tend to tell our adversaries about our intelligence programs and those of our allies), but having a plan is a good thing even if they are not always realized.  Again, what is the strategy here?  While specific tactics should be secret, to get everyone moving in the same direction towards a desired goal (the military would say endstate), the major players all need to know what the strategy is--the Afghan government, the allies, the State Department, USAID, um, the military, etc.

Anyhow, no explanation or even description of the escalation of numbers of troops, just a hint that the use of force is escalating.  Is this a bad thing?  The old rule that one should never want to be mentioned in the State of the Union probably does not apply here, since Afghanistan should be a priority but is being treated as a throwaway line.  And, yes, it suggests that we are throwing away the lives of those wounded or killed there without much thought.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Is It Time to Panic Now? Um, Yeah

My favorite pics lately have been this

 and this

Recent events have moved from concerned and alarmed to frightened.  About what?
About war with North Korea.  The two bits of news that have increased my level of fear:
  • Today's news story that Victor Cha, the man Trump chose to be Ambassador to the Republic Of Korea, was dropped because he was critical of war plans, such as punching North Korea in the nose.  Yeah, they wanted an expert, the expert said this was a bad idea, so they dumped the expert and not the bad idea.  Max Fisher indicated that he had thought the war talk was a bluff, but this suggested otherwise.  I indicated via twitter that the Trump WH will have a hard time finding someone who recommends war and is willing to move to Seoul, which is the primary target for a North Korean response.
  • Trump mused that he'd really like a uniting event to help reduce the divisiveness in the US.  Putting aside how blindingly un-self-aware he is, that his entire campaign and Presidency are not just divisive but deliberately so, this raises the possibility of Trump seeking out a 9/11 or a Gulf of Tonkin or some other event that causes Americans to come together.  He didn't say wag the dog, but he seems familiar enough with the idea.  
Put those two things together, along with Trump's belief that American ballistic missile defense (whose motto should be "Hope is Our Plan"), and, yeah, I am very, very worried.  A strike against North Korea will not end there--there will be a response and it will kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Koreans and then Japanese plus Americans in the region.  Oh, and it will cause tremendous turmoil in the world economy.... What Trump doesn't get is that if he starts this, there will be no rally around him.  He will get the blame for starting a war that is quite avoidable.

So, what should be my go-to pic now?
Because all is not well.

Update: Given that the Korean crisis got more play than nearly anything else and it hints at regime change (depraved character of the regime as the core issue), I am now thinking war is more likely than not.  Not good.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mama, Don't Let Your Kids Grow Up to Be PhD Students Anymore

This graphic was circulated today:
Media preview
Oh my.  The job market was not good before 2008 (has it been "good" at any point since the recession of 1992-93?), but the most recent trends suggest things are getting worse.  A much smaller hunk of folks are getting placed in tenure track positions--from 40 percent (which ain't great) down to 25ish percent.

This all raises some big questions:
  1. Have many (any?) departments reduced how many graduate students they admit?
  2. Have many (any?) departments engaged in serious efforts to train their graduate students for non-academic jobs?
  3. Have many (any?) departments engaged in serious efforts to place their graduate students for non-academic jobs?
  4. Have universities stopped creating new PhD programs in political science and adjacent programs?
I have no idea, but I have little confidence that things have changed much, given what I have seen.

NPSIA aims to produce policy-oriented folks for non-academic jobs BUT the history of the program seems to be that graduate students come here expecting to get placed in academic jobs.  Not great.  One reason I left my previous job is that I didn't want to be producing heaps of new Phds as the market for them crashes.  Sure, damn near all of them got tenure track positions, but I saw the writing on the wall.  I do have Phd students now--but fewer of them and I am very clear about their job prospects.   Oh, and leaving McG means writing far fewer recommendation letters for students who want to ignore my advice about pursuing Phds.

Sure, folks can still succeed, but the odds have changed and our guild is not really adapting very well.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

New Classroom Experience: Too Cool for School?

I have had some strange distractions in my classes over the past twenty five years, but today a new one.  Sure, I had a student answer and continue a phone call when cell phones were rare (I speculated aloud that he might be a drug dealer).  I had a student try to have a grand romantic gesture in my 600 person class.  Once, a tour guide took a group of prospective students through my class as I was lecturing.  But today was the first time I threatened to call security and eventually did.

I was teaching a seminar on US Foreign Policy, which is essentially about distractions these days. The door has a glass floor to ceiling window looking out on the hallway.  A girl somewhere between 13-16 decided to put her face up to the glass and then yell at the class.  She then walked away and then came back with two friends who didn't participate but didn't not participate if that makes sense.  I got up, and told her I was going to call security (I had never made that threat in my classroom nor elsewhere in my life).  She said, ooo, go ahead, but then skedaddled. The class returned to the topic after a minute or two of being puzzled.

After class, I called Security, and they said someone else had also complained but more timely so.  The Security folks dealt with these troublemakers--how? I have no idea.  On the scale of distraction, disruption and danger, this was a 2.  When I told Mrs. Spew, she got most concerned because she has read enough stories of violence in American classroom.  And, yes, Canadian classrooms have seen violence.  There was no violence here, just super immature people being super-bored.  But it was a first, and, hopefully, I go another 25 years or so before it happens again.

If only I could insta-meme in the classroom:

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

What Are You Implying? Policy, Dammit!

I spent the weekend in suburban NYC for a Social Science Research Council Abe Fellows retreat, and it was great to get much feedback from folks with far more expertise on Japan.  It was also nice to have an opportunity to meet the people I have been emailing ever since I applied for the fellowship.  They were also very helpful, and I am grateful for the opportunity. 

One of the sessions focused on deriving policy implications from one's work, and this session was helpful but had the same problem as most stuff on policy implications.  Before I get to that, I should note that there has been a heap of discussion in person and online lately about whether we should be asking folks to develop policy implications from their work.  My basic stance: if there are policy implications, then, yes, develop and express them.  If the work is too theoretical or too early in its development, then no.  And, of course, I just gave an assignment to my PhD seminar to develop policy implications even though they are just starting out, so, yeah, that rule does not seem to apply so much when I am teaching.

Anyhow, the fundamental problem with figuring out policy implications is not distilling what one's findings say about what kinds of policies should be developed.  No, the problem is developing these implications so that someone in power will find them interesting and attractive.  For instance, the classic policy implication for much ethnic conflict/intra-state conflict work is: prevention is less costly, more effective and less problematic than intervention after the violence starts.  Okey dokey.  The problem is: who gets credit for preventing something?  Which media outlets like to cover non-events?  Hey, look, no violence in this country this month!  The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Violence spent a great deal of effort to argue that prevention was more effective, more efficacious, and more strategically sound than not preventing and yet ... we underinvest in prevention. On the other hand, experts said that austerity is good--governments should spend less--and this got picked up by right wing parties since it fit their ideology and their preferred policies.  Was it smart/good for their societies?  I think not.  But the policy implications of this economic work were bought by those who wanted to buy them.

So, how does one develop policy implications that politicians will find attractive?  That is the trick, and I haven't figured it out despite being 25 or so years into my career (and caring about policy implications a bit more since 2002).  In my current project on legislative oversight of armed forces, I think I know why legislators pay less attention to overseeing the armed forces in most democracies although the research is still underway--does anyone vote for a representative/Senator/parliamentarian based on their performance in overseeing the armed forces?  Probably not too many folks, so it is understandable that legislators don't put much effort into it (as far as we can tell thus far).  What we will have to figure out by the end of the project is why it would be in the interest of politicians to care about it--not just in the interest of their country but in the interest of their party and in the interest of the individuals who would be doing oversight.

That's the trick.  Once I figure that out, the next step is to figure out how to get the policy made, not just advocated.  Oh my.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Retreat! Ssh, Steve

I am in the wilds of suburban NYC as one of the parts of an SSRC-Abe Fellowship is to participate in a retreat.  It is all chatham house, not for attribution, but the discussions aren't really political or controversial--they are aimed at improving our work.

A fun and different way to workshop:
  1. Everyone circulates five page summaries of their work beforehand
  2. Person presents what is not in their five pager--larger context, what challenges were faced, what gaps remain.  Person then must remain silent for rest of the session (yes, I had to be quiet for about thirty-forty minutes even though it was my stuff being discussed.  No, silence is not a Steve strength).
  3. Discussant number one asks questions about the substance of the work and discussant number two asks questions about the methodology.  Neither discussant is an expert on the person's stuff although there are some overlaps (although not so much for my work. If I had been doing rice politics....).
  4. Today/tonight, person comes up with responses
  5. Tomorrow, person gives short responses to previous day comments, and then leads discussion of the group about the project.
The retreat has talks by keynote speaker, by journalists who are Abe-Journalism fellows, a discussion about engaging policy folks, and other stuff.

So far, tis a very informative and engaging workshop.  I am mostly offline so the whole government shutdown/mass protests is barely in view.  Having sketchy wifi turns out to be a good thing.  I should have lousier wifi at home, and I might get more work done although probably an angry wife.... life is full of tradeoffs.

Anyhow, that is what I am doing while everyone else is protesting or complaining about the media's coverage of the shutdown.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Advising, Phd Topics and Fads

In the past couple of days, an academic issue has played out on twitter: are advisers doing a disservice to students and to the creation of knowledge by warning them off of topics that are deemed less relevant, less in the moment?  Damned if I know.

On the one hand, I have heard plenty of tales of former/current students elsewhere that say that they were interested in a topic but their adviser told them it was not so relevant or interesting, and then the world changed.  One reason I don't remember telling students not to do a topic (besides the fact that I have a lousy memory) is that I am not confident about making predictions about what is going to be hot in International Relations in five years.  My own dissertation started as a theoretical puzzle about the nature of sovereignty.  As it evolved, it turned to focus on the international relations of secession, and it just so happened that countries started falling apart.  There was nothing strategic about what I was doing.  Oh, and when I was on the market, my focus on this tended to be trumped by those doing the IR of the environment if departments were focused on "new threats, new stuff."

Anyhow, the key to warning students away from untrendy topics is that one must have some confidence about what such stuff is.  And I don't have that confidence.

On the other hand, a scholar I respect insists that trendiness influences job prospects, and I can't argue with that:
I have seen folks who do hip stuff get more attention.  But the question is this: is it the topic or the framing?  Or the methods?  If it is about framing, then it is up to the Phd student to frame their topic in a way that interests people.  I do think much of the success of some folks in this business is really, dare I say it, about marketing.  

I do think Sara is right about methods: that methods fads are real, are far more predictable, and have real impacts on publish-ability and job market success.  So, in guiding grad students, I tend not to tell them what to study, but I do tell them how to study it and, yes, how to frame it.

There are advisors out there that are much more directive: study this, use this theory, and use this method.  I am not comfortable with that:
  1. I don't need them to use my theoretical approach to bring me fortune and glory.  Indeed, I had one student whose dissertation was squarely aimed against my work.  In other words, it is not disciples I seek.
  2. The dissertation is not a three or five year thing, but usually a ten year thing--it is what one works on during grad school and is the focus of much publication effort in the run up to tenure (or whatever the person does after grad school).  So, the student better be passionately interested in it. 
  3. If we tell our students not to do x, then x becomes under-explored.  Which means that we have a lesser understanding of that, and that is bad from a standpoint of knowledge creation.  And if one wants to be strategic, if you buy moneyball logics, then it makes sense to study under-valued stuff because there is less risk of being scooped, of being crowded out.
  4. The most important skill for a scholar and the hardest part of grad school is figuring out what to research.  That's what makes dissertation proposal writing so painful--coming up with an idea that is interesting to both oneself and the larger community.  As we progress in our career, this is what we need to do again and again.  Imposing one's will on a student about their topic seems to be a bad way to help someone become an independent scholar. 
  5. And, of course, if one wants one's work to be enduring, focusing on something faddish seems like a bad bet but focusing on making a solid contribution to our understanding of something significant seems to be the way to go.
So, Sara and I will differ on this, especially when it comes to fads about topics (not about the importance of methods fads).  But we both agree that having an incredibly loud and distinct laugh is best, so there's that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Vets and Good Candidates

One of the striking ongoing dynamics in the US is that there seem to be not just more veterans running for office but running for the Democrats:

The joy of politics is anticipation: that one is likely to get "better" candidates" when the winds are blowing in your direction and not so much when they are not.  I didn't read much of a friend's work on this stuff (she is an Americanist, I am not), but I got some via osmosis.  So, we see veteran GOP politicians retiring before the 2018 election.  My reaction has been to post this:

As in, tis a clue!!!  That the GOP is in for a tough, tough election year.  Midterms are always tough for the party that is in power, and with much Trump nausea, more so.  We saw last night another long term state level seat (Wisconsin) go Dem.

We are seeing many more folks seeing to run for the Dems, including the aforementioned veterans. I do think more candidates and more competition is a good thing.  I am a bit more agnostic about whether former soldiers, sailors, marines, and airfolks (actually, not so many USAF vets) make for good representatives.  Some vets are smart and have good values, and others don't--being a veteran does not mean one is a good or bad person or representative.

However, there are two things here that make me be pleased by this:
1)  In most democracies, there is little incentive for elected politicians to care about serious oversight over the armed forces.  In the US, there are some--that there are heaps of dollars that can be directed to one's district.  But the larger pattern among democracies, at least as far as our initial research suggests, is that veterans tend to care more and can be pretty critical (see this and this and I need to do more reading).  They experienced military life and know that generals and admirals are not always right/wise/smart/good.  They are also often skeptical of the civilians in DoD and of defense contractors.  So, for this alone, the increased numbers of vets running for office is a good thing.
2) Until 2003 or so, the Republican Party tended to dominate the surveys of "Which party is stronger on national security?"  Screwing up Iraq bigly did much damage to that.  Having a team of politicians that are sharp on national security matters may help the Democrats perpetuate this advantage.

So, yes, woot for vets running for Democratic nominations, but a modest one since military experience does not automatically mean someone is going to be a good politician.

Update: Turns out I wrote this a day or two too late:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trump is a Racist ... And?

I have not blogged about Trump's shithole shitstorm.  Why not?  Because we have known for a long, long time that Trump is a racist.
  • We know that his father was a member of the KKK.  
  • We know that Trump was sued twice by the US government for discriminating against African-Americans in his rental properties.  
  • We know that he relied on racial stereotypes when it came to hiring practices for his casinos--Jews, not Blacks, should be accountants.
  • We know that he was so very focused on the kids of color who were accused of raping a white woman in central park.
  • We know that he was an obsessive birther.
  • We know that he started off his campaign by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.
  • We know that he sought a ban against all Muslims (Islamophobia/xenophobia go along with racism damn near most of the time, sorry Indian Americans).
  • We know that he has repeatedly used slurs towards Native Americans.
  • We know that he thought a judge of Mexican descent could not be impartial.
  • We know that he retweeted stuff from a guy whose twitter handle is "white genocide."
  • We know that he said that both sides at Charlottesville include fine people.  Yeah, some Nazis are fine.
  • We know that he thinks that a woman of Korean descent who gave an intel brief on Pakistan should be working on North Korea.
  • We know that Trump has appointed and hired racists: Jeff Sessions (too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s, just racist enough to be Attorney General now), Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and, oh yeah, John Kelly (retired generals can be xenophobes).  
So, what is new about Trump's statements?  They are slightly more offensive than previous statements, and, well, yes, the countries in question are seriously and rightfully upset.

I guess what matters here is that this happens to be the event that gives people in the media to say what we have always known--that Trump is a racist.  That the permission structure has changed--that it is no longer seen as taboo to say that the Emperor is wearing no clothes--that Trump is a racist.  Of course, Trump will deny being a racist, but the entire discourse now makes it clear that he is a racist and that this is not normal.  Yeah, we have had presidents who had racist attitudes, but what we say and do in 2018 is a bit different than what acceptable behind closed doors (Nixon) or what was legislated in the 1920s (I just learned that Harding and Coolidge were awful in ways I had not known or at least remembered).

My frustration is, of course, that it took this long and this many events for folks to start saying what was already quite clear--that Trump is a racist.  He is not consistent about many things--he often switches his stances based on the last person who talks to him (or gives him particular flavors of Starbust candies?)--but his racism has been perhaps his most consistent attribute, other than his greed.

So, yeah, woot for folks calling Trump out as the white supremacist that he has long been.  This is significant.  But let's not overrate the moment either as it is not clear that it will change people's behavior for very long. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What To Do With 15 Minutes?

The false alarm in Hawaii yesterday raised that very classic question: if you only had a few minutes to live, what would you do?  Tweet, of course.  Well, other than that?

It depends on where I am and who I am with.  If I am alone but near chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon buns, well, I gorge.  Same goes for beer.  Reflux be damned.  If alone, I would call Mrs. Spew and College Spew.  If at home with Mrs. Spew, we would try to reach our kid and tell her how proud we have been, and that we are sad that we will not see the stuff that she creates (or would have created if we are all going to die).    And then I would look for some beer. 

The story yesterday raised the other choice: to try to survive or not.  I got into an argument online about whether folks were overreacting by putting their kids into the storm drains (concrete is not a bad choice), and I thought it might be an overreaction or a dangerous reaction.  I had friends online saying that they would have gone to the roof to watch the missiles come in because who wants to live after that.  This is assuming, of course, the missiles are carrying nuclear weapons.  If they are conventional, they can be survived by most folks (the storm drain would then be a not bad idea).  If they are carrying biological or chemical weapons, again, most people will survive.  And if you are in Hawaii, and the inbound missiles are from North Korea, then the odds are not bad that the missiles will hit water. 

Which leads to the most important thing we must do if we have 5, 15 or 30 minutes of warning... wait.  Just wait before panicking as thus far all alarms of nuclear attacks have been false, and most alarms about missiles have been false unless one lives in Israel, Iran, Iraq, and a few other places.  And if it happens to be the one time a nuclear weapon is falling on your head, tweet at me afterwards to tell me I am wrong. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Canada's Broken Defence Procurment: Time to Blame the Industry

David Pugliese does an amazing job of documenting the VCDS Mark Norman story about the investigation into his leaking of cabinet confidences.  There is much to the story, and it says much about the state of Canadian politics.  I'd just like to focus on one element of it: the defence contractors.

Whatever Norman's relationship with Davie, a Quebec shipbuilding firm, the key actor here that really starts the controversy is Irving, the shipbuilding firm that has gotten the lion's share of recent defence dollars.  It is responsible for both the Arctic Offshore Patrol ships and the new frigates.  The Seaspan company, on the west coast, is building the rest--supply ships, icebreakers, etc.  Because the RCN's supply ships were falling apart, the idea was to have a ship leased, reconfigured and used until Seaspan could produce the supply ships it is supposed to build.

Ah, but Irving complained, saying that the process was unfair, sole-sourced.  This is kind of funny (and sad) that Irving was not satisfied with winning the big competition, but felt compelled to screw with the minor contract going to the company that had lost the big competitions.  Maybe Irving would be better at this?  Oh wait, Irving is behind schedule on its ships, and a key challenge is it does not (I seem to remember) have enough dry dock space to work on many ships at once.  So, this important immediate need would either be put at the end of the line or it would force the other stuff to be delayed further.  A key thing to keep in mind about defence procurement is that delays mean heaps of money as defence inflation is a thing.  So, Irving butts in, causes a kerfuffle.  Seaspan joins in because it only has the second most number of ships to be built and second most amount of money heading its way (even as its own shipbuilding schedule is, of course, delayed).

The politics are complex, but since Davie is in Quebec, its premier (governor) was able to put enough pressure on the Liberal government to keep the program going, so ... ta da!  The ship in question is almost ready. 

The ruthless competition by one or two contractors to screw the third has spilled over into the leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces with Mark Norman in limbo for more than a year now.  Perhaps it is appropriate that his case should be as delayed as the typical procurement project, but the government should make a damned decision--to charge him or not.  That is actually the easy part of this (which is being bungled).  The hard part is to get Irving to be satisfied with damn near most of the dollars and not seek all of them.

While we can blame successive governments for screwing defence procurement up in a big way, they have had much help from the defence industry.  I have heard multiple reps from defence firms complain about government, and they are right.  But much of the blood or red ink is on their hands.  Maybe they don't need to follow the Japanese example of taking turns (Mitsubishi builds a sub in year 1, Kawasaki in year 2, M in year 3, K in year 4, etc).  But they do need to figure out how to live with each other and perhaps come up with rules of engagement so that they don't imperial Canadian defence and they don't burn officers who are just trying to get their people decent kit.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

PSR and Sexual Harassment: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

Political Science Rumors made the academic news at Inside Higher Ed with some quotes from anonymous moderators.  In its lifespan, PSR had only one non-anonymous moderator: me.  I dropped out last summer mostly because the signal to noise ratio had changed over the years, making the place less valuable and thus the time spent on it less worthwhile.  Oh, and trying to delete the worst stuff just took far more time.  The topic of sexual harassment was a tricky one, so here's how it evolved for me as a moderator of that place.

The starting point for much moderation, besides stuff that was blatantly sexist/racist/homophobic which were easy deletions for me (I got increasing flak over the years for cutting this stuff, but it seemed like a no-brainer for most of it), is that attacks on individuals should be deleted.  At first, this was a rule about attacks on grad students and junior faculty, with the notion that senior faculty were less vulnerable, but much of the community at the time pushed back saying that no one should suffer attacks, especially the way this place tends to pile on.

But what is an attack?  Accusations of sexual harassment were a lightning rod, with a noted philosopher getting much attention (not in our field, but close enough, I guess).  I tended to delete stuff about non-political scientists because of the PS in the PSR.  But the larger question was challenging--does one allow anonymous accusations to stay?  I never could figure this out as I could see the merits of folks outing sexual harassers, given how difficult it is to pursue complaints within universities and the backlashes that can ensue (see the Rebecca Gill case in the article above).  But it seemed problematic as well to let anonymous accusations stay on the board.

And then I posted on my own blog about a sexual harasser at my old place.  This led to a long discussion at PSR about many things, including my apparent hypocrisy of posting an accusation while deleting those at PSR.  Because I knew beyond a reasonable doubt the case in question and because I was not doing it anonymously, I left comfortable (that word has a special meaning for my place at PSR that goes back to its origins) doing one thing on my blog and another thing at PSR.

I think I would behave some differently now as the #metoo movement has educated me a bit about the tradeoffs and challenges.  I would let the accusations stand, and I would delete those who seek to trash the accuser when they are known.  There are, apparently, threads attacking Gill, and I am not surprised.  I would have deleted those posts and threads that attack her personally and tried to keep those that address the challenge of how to deal with sexual harassment in the discipline.

I don't go to the site much anyone, although I do look in from time to time to see if the testable hypotheses hold up (would the place lose credibility and disappear without me, would the marketplace of ideas work without my interference).  And what I find is that I am glad I left--the place has not disappeared, but I do think that the current moderators are not quite as aggressive as I was in getting rid of the crap.  It was always a losing battle, but it seems to be worse now.

In the twitter discussion this morning, folks have called for APSA to provide its own discussion board.  Well, one does exist:   And it has not gotten any traction.  I don't have any solutions, just my experience that this stuff is really hard.  Anonymity does provide some protection for those who want to out those who do harm, but also gives much protection for those who want to do harm.  Definitely a dual-edged sword, and after several years, I never did figure out how best to shield the community enough but not too much. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

California is as California Does

Ah, to be in California when it is winter back east.  Yesterday was our one day for tourism.  Today, I am taking my daughter to meet some folks I know via real life and via twitter.  Both are in "the industry" with the aims of me meeting folks I have wanted to chat with and of my daughter getting a few glimpses into this thing they call Hollywood.  Tomorrow, I go home and my daughter ... goes on. 

So, what did we do with our one afternoon?  I had to go a beach, any beach, given the weather back home.  We did Santa Monica the last time we were here (checking out Cali universities four years ago), so we went to Venice.  Which, of course, was super-funky. 

I learned much and a few questions:
  • I learned not to stop at the first public parking opportunity as that turned out to be twice the cost of places I could have parked.
  • Dogs.  So many dogs.  My daughter and her friend love dogs, so they enjoyed the vast variety of dogs.
  • California's diversity is just amazing.  Just so many people from so many different backgrounds.
  • And no cops.  Jessica's pal noticed that she had not seen any police officers in Venice.   Sure, there were a few clearly troubled homeless people, but no or few police officers.
  • Public bathrooms with no door locks means, um, waiting until people emerge.
  • Peruvian food is quite good.
  • Several storefronts promising to help people get their medicinal marijuana documents.  What happens to them now that such stuff is unnecessary in California (unless Jeff Sessions gets in the way)?
  • The politics were a strange mix--several anti-Trump booths but the t-shirt shops had a heap of misogynist shirts...
  • California drivers are alert and aggressive. I remember that.  I don't remember their hostility to folks in front of them backing up.  I surprised my daughter by getting super angry at a women in a Trader Joe's parking lot who parked in a spot that my daughter was currently half-occupying.  My kid was trying to correct her parking and this woman would not let her.  Several other times we faced challenges when trying to back up--Californians are simply too impatient.  On the other hand, beer at the TJ's?  Oh why can't we have nice things like this in Ottawa?
 As always, when I am in California, I wonder why I left, knowing that the answer is always the same--the jobs were elsewhere.  Oh well.  I think my daughter will be exasperated by the traffic but will fall in love with the place.  Hopefully, it will fall in love (or, at least, employment) with her.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Deathrace2018, Final Day: Canyons, Canyons and Lessons Learned

We finished the drive with a very colorful day: the Grand Canyon is well named.  The last time I was here, we stopped for just a few minutes.  This time, we spent more than an hour, which is still not much, but we had someplace to be.

The digital age means taking tons of pics with no thought about film or developing costs.  So, these are just a few of the many pics.  The sun broke through from time to time so the different light made a big difference on the colors of the canyon and how they popped.
After five days of driving, of endless podcasts (thanks Doug Loves Movies for keeping us both awake, various sports podcasts for keeping me awake and her asleep, and various podcasts of my daughter's choosing that didn't prove to be very soothing to me), of many welcome to state x signs (we have an incomplete collection since it seemed to be the case that the co-pilot/photographer was asleep when we crossed into a new state about half the time), of many unhealthy breakfasts,

we have some realizations and some enduring questions.  The latter include:
  • what is as a safety corridor?  Seems to be a southwest highway thing, but I have no idea what they mean.
  • what is Bearizona and did we miss something really cool?
  • when can I find the time to come back and hike the canyon?  Probably not until after my ankle heals.
 What did we learn from this endless drive?
  • That there is a lot of empty in California, just like in Canada, but it is a coastal/inland thing in CAf and a border or not thing in CAd.
  • That California will always feel like home to me--the shopping, the morning fog, the open architecture, the overly complicated designs of apartment complexes, and, yes, the Mexican food.
  • That the US contains so much, so many different but yet similar places.  One of the key problems with Trump is that America never stopped being Great.  A drive across makes that abundantly clear.
  • Indeed, the diversity that one sees in this kind of trip is something to be appreciated, not feared.
We were exhausted by the end and just a wee bit sore, but I am glad to have helped my daughter make the transition to the next stage of her life.  Of course, the great food, heaps of milkshakes and other sweets, fun encounters, and some tourism made the drive far more pleasant.  Oh, and, yeah, her car will get mighty dusty when she drops me off as I make my way to my home, leaving her in her new home.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Deathrace 2018, Day 4: Mesas, Dinosaurs, Chiles, and Eagles

Our fourth and penultimate day of driving was the most full of sights, great food, and, yes, tourism.

Our day started in Amarillo, where we went to a bakery for breakfast where I had the best French toast this side of Tokyo.  Given the proximity to Lubbock, we were not surprised that the houses looked like those in Lubbock, but the deja vu was still pretty intense.  And then there was the cadillac ranch.

On the road, we stopped at a souvenir stand/gas station.  And saw this:

Bam!  Lots of other stuff as well, including a real stuffed buffalo... only $20k

A big highlight was seeing a couple of twitter friends in Albuquerque: Kelsey Atherton and AlyMay Atherton.  We ate a great New Mexican restaurant whose green chiles woke us up.
We also discovered that jay walking--very dangerous jay walking--is a thing in Alb-q.  Folks would walk across a six lane road without much care.

The silliest part of the trip and the first real tangent off of the path, because I am an Eagles fan, was Winslow, AZ:

Which meant that the theme song today can only be:

Tomorrow: the Grand Canyon and then the roadtrip ends in LA.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Day 3 of Deathrace 2018: Cows and Coming Home

Hump day of the trip (the middle day of a five day drive) passed quickly as the weather was good, the cows were many, and the signs were mostly boring.  We must have seen a couple thousand cows of various types.  

The wackiest sign was unintentionally so, unlike the previous day's: The Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum.  I was not expecting it so we didn't get a picture of it.  Given that Franks was known as the dumbest m-f-er in DC along with Doug Feith (their competition was intense and bitter),  and that Franks seemed to be a kiss up, kick down kind of guy, that he has a leadership institute seemed to perfect.... perfectly amusing. 

The big change in the driving started in Oklahoma and continued in Texas---the prominent traffic signs were about keeping the left lane open for super fast driving.  Weeee!  Yes, we made very good time.  The sunset went on forever since the land was so flat:

We saw my brother in Tulsa, as he has been living there the past few years.  Indeed, the day was very much a family day as we finished the drive in Amarillo, where Jessica's maternal grandfather was from.  Oh, and Jessica is .... a Texas, born in Lubbock.  However, we did not engage in a nostalgia trip to that town because it is about 1.5-2 hours off of the past west and on the way to nowhere.  It would have been fun to go back and see the place, but the only deviation from our driving will be on the last day--to the Grand Canyon. 

Our theme song could have been this, but instead we went with:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Democracy Protection Act

Caveat: I do IR, but have been writing about #voterfraudfraud for a quite some time.  I don't much about election laws or the division of responsibilities between the feds and the states over the conduct of elections.  So, take the following with a huge grain of salt:

When the Democrats come back into power, if Trump/GOP don't utterly subvert American democracy, one of their first steps should be to protect American democracy from threats both foreign and domestic.  We could call it a new Voter Rights Act because that is the heart of it, but whatever sells is fine with me.  The key ingredients:
  1. Proper investigation of what happened in all races, not just Presidential, in terms of foreign interference.
  2. Require for federal elections that machines have protections against hacking and produce paper results that can be verified and that produce a receipt for voters showing how they voted so that they know that their votes will be counted appropriately.
  3. Require all presidential candidates to submit federal tax returns for the previous 20 years (apparently the norms are not sufficient).
  4. Restore voting rights for felons.  Given how justice is unequally distributed, depriving felons of voting rights is voter suppression.
  5. Move federal election days to Saturdays (I am not a fan of mandatory votes--freedom means not having to vote, and mandatory vote is unlikely to pass anyway).  
  6. Require that all precincts in a state have the same hours/facilities as the ones with the best access (most favored nation logic applied to local voting rules).
  7. Require that any new law that affects voting have no worse than a neutral effect on the franchise--that is, any new law will make it easier to vote, not harder.  That any effort to impose voter id requirements is accompanied by policies/funding that make it easier for potential voters to get such id.
  8. Work on constitutional amendment to require non-partisan, expert-advised panels to decide how to draw electoral districts within states (I think that is what it will take--and unlikely to pass so Dems should vow to work at the state level on this and the rest of this stuff).
  9. Constitutional amendment effort to reverse Citizen United and allow for reasonable regulation of campaign finance.  Ok, promise and work on it--tis very tough.
  10. Enforce existing laws to prevent voter intimidation (Alabama reminds us of this).
The aim here is not to make sure Dems win every election from now on, but to create a set of rules that maximize the possibility that people can vote.  Oh, and if it forces the GOP to appeal to minority voters, that would be a good thing.  While it could be seen as gaming the vote for the Dems just as the GOP has gamed voter suppression so that they can win the election, the basic moral stance is an obvious one--who is against facilitating the franchise?  Racists and autocrats.  Any citation of voter fraud is cover for that since the risk has clearly been far more that folks are disenfranchised rather than elections swung by voter fraud.

I am probably forgetting stuff since  I am addled by days of driving up and down and now across.  What else should be included?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Day 2 of Deathrace 2018: Funniest Signs Yet

The big surprise of day 2?  Perhaps driving through the arch!  Ok, nearly so.  When I drove around St. Louis on two of the previous trips, I didn't come close.  So, I didn't expect to see it this time, but we apparently took a different route.  It was nicely lit up by the sun.

Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were dwarfed by the most excelle signage in Missouri:
  • Uranus Fudge Factory.  Really.  
  • One advertising live video of Jesse James.  Whuck?
  • There is a chain of gas stations which, um, make Sheetz seem positively decent.

The funny thing about this drive is that Jessica gets the blowing snow each day (n of 2), and I get ... clear skies and roads.  Lucky me.  Her car has handled things well, although our vision is somewhat impaired by her piles of stuff.   We pass the time by listening to podcasts (mine involve sports, Doug Loves Movies, TV Avalanche and hers are much more political and lefty). And chatting some and listening to some music.

Anyhow, so far so good, 2/5s of the way.  Tomorrow is Oklahoma and my brother and then we return to Texas, as my daughter is a born texan!  Her Amarillo relatives have all passed, but we shall stay there anyway before we look for Walter White in Albuq the next day.

Oh, and the ankle is not happy, but we manage.  
Today's theme song:

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Deathrace 2018, Day 1: Ankles Go First

So, yeah, who would have bet on the first casualty of this roadtrip to be my ankle?  I slipped and sprained it on our garage steps carrying the very last load of stuff (the super-fragile stuff, of course) to the car.  Ouch.  Good thing it is my left ankle and the car is an automatic.
Yes, vitamin I (Ibuprofen), elevation, ice.  Oy.  No frisbee for me for a while... not that I was going to....

Besides that, the only other challenge was lake effect snow as we approached Buffalo.  Turns out scoffing at lake effect snow after experiencing sea of Japan effect snow might have been a mistake.  My daughter was driving that leg and handled it well.

Otherwise, it was fun to reach Ohio, back to home for four years in the mid 80s.  Our route partially converged with the route I took many times for frisbee tourneys at Ohio State, Wooster, Dennison and points south. 

The oddest sign thus far: a cheesebarn.

I taught my daughter a key driving tip: always pour out the top 10-20% of the tea/coffee/covefefe one gets along the way as they are always overly full. 

We had a great dinner at a Turkish place in NW Columbus.

Onto Indiana, Illinois and Missouri tomorrow

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Anniversaries

I had fun with this last year so what events happened in years ago* ending in 3 or 8 (since we care only about 5's and 10's):

1918:  World War I ended.   Woot!  The Flu epidemic.... not so woot.  I just learned that (at least one) one of my great aunts died due to this epidemic.
1928:  First regular TV programming!  Kellogg-Briand Pact outlaws aggressive war, so everything was cool after that (yeah, folks now say it was super-influential, but this is a snarky semi-spew).  King Zog is a thing!
1938: First ski tow in the US.  Woot! Anchluss!  Not woot.  Sudentenland.  Nuremberg Laws. Kristalllnatch.  Perhaps 1938 will remain worse than 2018.  War of the Worlds broadcast.
1948:  The Marshall Plan! Perhaps the smartest foreign policy in US history while spawning bad analogies for at least seventy years. WHO?  Yeah, WHO.  Ok, International Organization humor is inherently lame. Berlin Airlift and the cold war gets mighty toasty.  Truman ends segregation in the US military... which echoes very strongly these days.
1958:  The first Saideman of my generation is born, and immediately is handed responsibility for taking care of our parents sixty years later.  Some irredentism via United Arab Republic--some said it wouldn't last.  The Avro debuts, demonstrating that Canadian defence procurement has been broken for more than 60 years.  Alaska becomes a state, making Palin jokes possible way down the road.
1968:  Did anything happen this year?  Probably not. Let's move on.
1973:   UK, Ireland, Denmark enter EEC.  45 years later, um, yeah.  US part of Vietnam war ends, sort of. Last Laugh-In... one of the first shows I remember.  My family movies to Miami ... and we don't like it.  Heaps of Watergate, including the firing of special prosecutor.... which may just be a precedent we re-visit in 2018.  The more things change, eh?  Mets are most mediocre team to win the World Series?
1978: Panama Canal is turned over to Panama.  Prop 13 in California starts run of bad ideas becoming bad policy, making a great state somewhat less great.  Grease and a summer camp counselor get me started on that drug that is rock and roll.  Oh and Olivia Newton John... oh my.  Camp David Accords negotiated on the same mountain as the place I spent that summer and many others.  Jimmy Carter signs a law allowing homebrewing of beer, making him the bestest President.
1983: Internet starts.  Return of the Jedi!  Dragon's Lair which is brought back to relevance by Stranger Things 2.  Invasion of Grenada, providing heaps of fun stories about inter-service inoperability.
1988: My first drive from coast to coast with the future Mrs. Spew as I start grad school at UCSD.  I spent much of the fall wondering whether I should stick around with the lack of any idea of anything plus the cool cohort of folks helping to keep me around.  Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq-Iran war ends, leading to decades of peace and stability... alas not so much.
1993: I finish my dissertation and get a temp job at U of Vermont, leading to the second cross country drive (seems like a theme this year).  Deep Space 9 debuts.  Kim Campbell becomes Canada's first female Prime Minister and first Prime Minister to follow me on twitter.... decades later.  ICTY is created.  Blackhawk Down, shaping views and limiting policy options ever since.  EU becomes a thing... for a while.
1998: and burning Mary Poppins into our brains until the end of time.  Good Friday Agreement ends th Toddler Spew has surgery, making parents blearye troubles... until Brexit potentially screws that up.  House forwards articles of Impeachment against Bill Clinton for lying about an affair.  Oopsie doopsie. He committed far graver sins, and this effort in 1998 makes the GOP dodging of responsibility in 2017 (and, I am predicting 2018) especially appalling.
2003: US invades Iraq with heaps of arrogance and not much of a plan.  Good thing the consequences were mild and short-lived.  We lose the Columbia, damn.  Second Congo War ends... kind of. 
2008: For Kin and Country is published, woot!  Financial crisis hurts sales of aforementioned book?  Kosovo declares independence, inducing much confirmation bias among separatists.  Russia and Georgia have a short war.  Obama wins, creating expectations he can't possibly meet. 
2013: Snowden... oy.

I guess my attitudes towards the current time frame have shaped what I noticed and expect to be meaningful anniversaries.   I promise to be more fun as wingman to my daughter as we drive across North America. 

* Funny how this song came on my computer while I started writing this. 

Big Moves and Less Blogging?

I am going to squeeze out a few posts today as I didn't quite wrap up my blog year the way I usually do since I had much grading to finish and because I am helping my daughter move to LA this week.  Yep, driving across the continent in mid-winter.  I have done this drive a few times with this year being the 30th anniversary of the first (when I started grad school in San Diego), so it is familiar.  We don't have much time to stop and engage in tourism (sorry Frozen Niagara Falls), but we will take a gander at the Grand Canyon and stop in a Route 66 town before that one bit of tourism.  Oh, and we might just take it easy and check out a street corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Why is College Spew going to LA?  To become Intern Spew.  She's a film-maker, and she is going to where much of that is done.  She may return to Canada to Toronto or Vancouver at some point, but right now LA is the place.  I watched her senior thesis the other day, and again was most impressed.  A very ambitious project that was quite moving and a nice twist on "the gang must get together and save the failing bar" tale.  The hard part was not getting the use of a bar but of corraling the actors and crew.  Volunteering means you have nothing to lose... by shirking one's commitment.  But she managed anyway.

The hard part for this trip is squeezing everything into one car.  My spatial geometry skills will be tested.  We have enough podcasts and other stuff downloaded to keep us entertained.  I may even review a journal article along the way.  I also have to do the reading for my first class since I get back the day before classes start.  I will have two days in LA to get her settled and then I have to get back to winter and teaching.  

As I said, I have done this before, but I was younger and more nimble. On the other hand, I didn't have the internet nor smartphones the last three or four times I crossed the continent (NY->SD, SD->UVM, UVM->TTU, TTU->Virginia).  That will make restaurant choice and hotel arranging easier.  And, yes, I hope to take pics and video along the way which I will try to post nightly to chart the adventure. 

I am pretty sure she will be sick of me by the end of the drive.  That make it easier on her when I leave, but, well, it ain't going to be easy on me.  Time to invoke Sunrise, Sunset and all that.

or I could just: