Sunday, September 30, 2018

My Doctrine Doctrine: Overthinking Trump's Foreign Policy

One of the most annoying (to me) tendencies is for folks to postulate that an administration has a doctrine or grand strategy.  Obama's "don't do stupid shit" was not a doctrine but a starting point for thinking about things.  Bush did have more of a doctrine than most--regime change of adversaries plus continued support for multilateral economic order, if I remember correctly.  We can go on to other Presidents and look at what their stances were called and question their coherence.

Speaking of incoherence, there was a piece in Foreign Affairs (I can't read due to gates) that called Trump's foreign policy: Illiberal Hegemony.  I agree with the former but not the latter and I disagree with the premise.  A) There ain't no doctine; B) Hegemony is something specific, and Trump ain't doing it. 

So, re A:

Paul Staniland reminded me on twitter that there are consistencies: pro-Israel, anti-Iran.  I would add hostility to allies and mercantilist to his core.  But that is not a doctrine.  Those are tendencies, not a coherent world view nor is it a strategy, grand or otherwise.  To be strategic, one has to do a couple of things:
1) Determine one's goals
2) Figure out the best ways to reach those goals and what capabilties and commitments are required.  3) Maybe consider whether the means are sufficient for the ends, and shed commitments and capabilities that are unnecessary or less necessary (yeah, call me idealistic as this doesn't happen much).
4) Oh yeah, that other definition of strategic: consider what the other folks want and then figure out how to get them to do what you want, given what they want. In other words, be as smart as my dead dog.

Sure, the Trump administration has put out the required documents, but is its behavior doing any of this?  Hell and no.  Flipping and flopping on Taiwan and China, risking war with North Korea and now stating his love?  Trump is so very transactional and so very short-term oriented that there is no way he can be strategic or, yes, disciplined enough to have a doctrine.   Again, what are the ends, what are the threats, what are the means to reach the ends and deal with the threats?  Good luck figuring that out.

Regarding B, what do we mean by hegemonic?  If we drop leadership, I am not sure what is left.  Not all coercion is hegemonic and not all hegemony is coercive.  Bullying Canada is not hegemonic.  Ceding lots of issues and regions to China is certainly not hegemonic.  The reason why Hegemonic is being discussed is because we used to think that the way for the various pieces of the international order (I would add cites but I have to check out of my hotel room) to be created and maybe maintained--some set of rules/expectations on trade, exchange rates, etc--required a dominant player to pay the costs and provide the coercion.  The US did this post-World War II, and it was a Liberal Hegemony since it had free trade at its core.  If Nazi Germany had won the war, it would have had a hegemony of its own, far less liberal, far more coercive. 

But Trump is not trying to have the US impose illiberal rules on the world and build institutions that facilitate American dominance.  He is opposed to rules, and he burns down institutions.  That, along with white supremacy and mercantilism, are the few pieces of consistency, but are neither doctrine nor hegemony.  Withdrawing from institutions and not replacing them with new ones is not hegemony/domination/leadership.  It is only partly isolationism.

If I had to call this administration's stance a particular thing, it might be Malevolent Incompetence or, or  Embedded Narcissism.  But hegemony? No.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Los Angeles: Lessons Learned with and without The Heir

Holy Furnicular:
Mrs. Spew wondered what was worth the trip?
Yes, we had fun at Universal, but then we had to go and try out other parts of LA.  So, yesterday, we visited downtown and the Griffith Observatory.  Driving around LA is like walking around Boston as I knew Boston from the Robert B. Parker Spenser novels, and LA seems familiar thanks to Michael Connelly's Bosch books--we saw Angel Flight and have been driving past Echo Park, for example.  That I happened to drive through Florence and Normandie after picking up our rental car--well, that was on google maps. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Butterbeer Revelations Amid the Sunshine

Have I said how much I love LA?  Because my daughter works full-time, Mrs. Spew and I spent our first day in LA at Universal Studios.  We had a heap of fun, doing every attraction and ride except the kids' splashzone and the Olivander wand show (long line, not that interesting, did it before).  It was our first time back at Harry Potterland since we sold the house in Montreal.

The changes in the park had nothing to do with HP, as the HP stuff remained mostly the same--better merch, some better candies in HoneyDukes, but the rides were the same.  Three Broomsticks was not crowded.  Indeed, we probably worried too much about crowds.  We stayed at related hotel to get into the park early, and we bought express passes.  Both were handy, but not crucial.

The big difference?  No more  Marvel.  In 2012 in Florida, the Spider-man ride was the super-cool 3 or 4D ride.  This time, Transformers, and it was just not as good.  No pics with Captain America either.  The Simpsons ride was still as fun, and we had forgotten how fast the Mummy ride accelerates.  The Despicable Me ride was new and fun, as was the Kung Fu Panda show.  Each one required at least some water thrown at the riders, just to give each ride that extra dimension. 

Last time, we were pretty sure that frozen butterbeer was superior to cold butterbeer, but I think I have to change my mind on that.  Yummy, either way.  The Cauldron Cake was just a cupcake in a cauldron.  We definitely need to go back to Orlando since they doubled the HP stuff with material from the last three books--a Gringotts ride, as we predicted.

We did the Studio Tour, which we did the last time we were here.  They changed one of the events in the ride to go with Fast and Furious, but I was more excited to see some of the Good Place set.  The tour was also frustrating as our tram broke down.  We got pushed up a hill or two by a tow truck.  Also, being in the front of the second car meant we couldn't hear much of the narration--why haven't they gone electric?  It would also make the place quieter for filming.

Because it is Halloween season, they had stuff set up for evenings of frights. We didn't pay the extra ticket price to stick around.  But it did help to explain things like clowns on the War of the World's set:

The Waterworld show was more realistic now than the movie was then--too much climate change.  It was a very good show--heaps of cool action.

Yes, we bought a heap of merch for ourselves and our friends.  A great start to our trip, which, of course, began with a taco truck:

and, yes:

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Accusations Cascade Again: Two Key Dynamics Combine

When the personal and the political intersect: just as Brett Kavanaugh is facing several accusations now, a friend of mine reported to me about someone we know and how there is an accumulation of stories about that someone that broke the dam. We should not be surprised by these cascades:
  1. People are often consistent in their behavior.  A man who is apparently a belligerent drunk and has retrograde views about women and says "what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep" is unlikely to have been awful to just one woman.  In my voyages through academia, the guys who have been caught/accused of being sexual harassers did it not just once but repeatedly.  The combination of hard-wired personality flaw (putting it mildly) and impunity tends to mean, in my limited observation, tends to lead to the person doing the same stuff over and over and over again.  This could be applied to Al Franken with his form of sexual harassment--serious but not the level of sexual assault that Kavanaugh is being credibly accused of--and Bill Cosby, whose modus operandi was quite consistent.  While it is possible to engage in awful behavior just once, it is unlikely.
  2. I wrote last year about permission structures: that situations exist that make it harder or easier to come forward.  That once there is one or two accusations, people realize that they are not alone, that it is ok to come forward.  What this post missed is that people may start to come forward not just because they feel that they are more likely to believed and that something might actually be done, but because they find common cause with the initial accuser and want to buttress their legitimacy with their own story.  
Combine these two dynamics together, and you get cascades.  One accusation leads to another and then another because both the person in question has done awful things repeatedly and those who have been harmed in the past feel more empowered and more obligated to say something.

No, it is not a smear campaign, but the opening of a Pandora's box of one's awful past behavior.  Kind of hard to get closed.  There are, of course, three ways to avoid this: don't do awful shit; realize and show real remorse; or avoid the national spotlight rather than feeling entitled to the highest positions in the land.  Alas, those who have done awful things and have gotten away with it for years are unlikely to show real remorse or shy away from the highest offices.

[There is real social science on cascades, starting with Timur Kuran, but I am not really building on it here]

Monday, September 24, 2018

Out of Power, Not Out of Canada

These snapped polls were on the way to Carleton and not far from
where a tornado touched down directly on the key substation--there are
apparently two in Ottawa.
While much of my blogging shortfall of late has been grant-writing induced, I was mostly offline since Friday afternoon due to a storm, complete with a couple of tornadoes, that ravaged Ottawa's power infrastructure as well as doing heaps of damage to a few neighborhoods.  No one I knew was harmed, and no one has yet died, which is pretty amazing given the pictures and the force--the first F3 tornado in 120 years and it went through some populated areas.

The timing was good and bad.  Good in that most of the blackout was over a weekend.  Bad in that Mrs. Spew and I are headed soon to visit Executive Assistant Spew in Hollywood, so the usual trip prep was inhibited.  Good in that it was a decent fall weekend--not hot or cold.  Also, I had just done the laundry, later in the week than usual thanks to my recent trip, so no problem running out of clothes.  And the costco trip just hours before the power outage meant lots of fresh bagels. 

We have also been going through a run of post-apocalyptic movies for some reason just before it happened and the first night since I had one on my ipad (two different mediocre movies called Extinction).  On the way back from Prague, I watched How It Ends, where a man and his father-in-law, Forrest Whitaker, travel from Chicago to Seattle after the west coast is hit by something and then the power goes out across the US.  As soon as the two sneak past the army blockade, they find themselves in an anarchic world of kill or be killed over gas and working cars.  Yeah, it took one day in the movie for things to break down.  Canada?  Did far better than that:
  • The only damage in our neighborhood was to a car that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The irony?  The car belongs to the guy who obsessively washes it every week.  He lost his back window, so even that is not too bad.
  • With the traffic lights dead, we had plenty of confusion but not conflict as four way stops are easy when it is two one lane roads meeting, but not when you toss in a couple of additional lanes and left turn lanes.  
  • And, yes, we drove. Not to tour the areas that were hit hard, but to get power and internet.  Our cell phones only had spotty access as the towers and other cell phone infrastructure apparently relies on power....  Who knew.  So, I would occasionally be able to get on twitter/facebook/etc to inform friends/relatives that we were ok--no zombies or cannibals spotted yet.  But we had to make a run to an island of stability and long food lines--Carleton.  So, we went to my workplace to charge all our devices and batteries, hangout on the internet for a bit, and grab some food. 
  • Saturday night, we went out to an area that had electricity to see a movie--Crazy Rich Asians--and the only restaurant that didn't have an hour wait was McDonalds.  We did not eat healthily.  We probably should have grilled at home--our neighbors did.
  • Our neighbor's kid had a hockey practice Saturday night at a rink very close to the epicenter of the storm, where our electrical substation got hit dead on.  But the rink had a generator, so they went and he practiced.  Because, damn it, the most valuable commodity in Canada is ice time.  
  • Last night, we still didn't know when power to our area would come back so our pal at work, Stephanie Carvin, let us shower and power up there. Better than at the nearby gym, which also had a generator, as people lined up in their bathrobes!
  • We were told that our meat and other frozen stuff would be good for 48 hours.  Alas, our power was out for 53 hours or so.  Out of an abundance of caution, much of our frig contents and some of our freezer contents will be going into dumpsters arranged by the city, as waiting until recycling/garbage day would lead to stinky neighborhoods.
  • I did learn that generators are loud as a few of our neighbors had them.  So are CO detectors without power.  I had to wrap one of ours up in a blanket and stuff it in our car so that the occasional beeping would not freak out our cat.
  • Facebook was actually a force for good, as the local community page produced much accurate information about when the power would come back, about the spoiled meat dumpsters and more.  
As far as weather emergencies go, this was not a bad one.  No deaths, some serious damage, but only a long weekend of inconvenience.  I whined a lot, because that is what I do.  But I got heaps of reading done (tenure file, new book for my class, fun stuff) as we were well armed with flashlights (Costco has good ones for cheap on a regular basis).  My biggest worry was that the server on which the big grant application rests might be messed up.  Nope, we lost access, but the data remained intact.

Anyhow, compared to the storms hitting the US, we were ok.  And the Canadian politeness remained intact.  We might not have hit kill or be killed until day five or six, unlike how it works in the US according to the movies we had seen recently.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ignorance of the Ivory Tower: What Do the Profs Know About the Military

I woke up to find a piece that castigates the academic world for being ignorant about the armed forces.  My reaction was:

Tom Ricks, who posted this questionable piece, pushed back:
 I will try to be concise, but it will be hard.  I will first address Professor Adrian Lewis's claims about the state of the military these days.  I will then address the larger problem--that this generalization about academics and their expertise about the military is so very flawed.
  1. Sure, the US armed forces are smaller than during the Cold War. I can't insta-survey professors who study International Relations, but my guess is that most would already know that.  The real question is: do we have the right force at this moment?  Do we need to be spending ever so much more money on the US military?  There are good and reasonable arguments to be had on both sides of this question.
  2. War is awful, sure. Deterrence is far better than war.  But what does it take to deter American adversaries?  It could cost less than we spend given how much money is wasted in defense procurement, that the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not produced lasting outcomes, etc.  So, saying that our current force is cheaper than war says nothing about whether we are spending the right amount now.
  3. Ah, the spinoff argument. An oldie but a goodie. The question is not whether there are great spinoffs from military research, but whether money invested elsewhere might be as or more productive.  I have no idea since I am not a technology prof, but, again, I am sure we can find studies on either side.
  4. Who is arguing that military stuff doesn't wear out and/or become obsolete? 
  5. Defense industries employ lots of Americans and? I would like to think that the US spends money on defense to defend the US and its allies and not as a jobs program.  I have expressed elsewhere my annoyance about justifying Canadian defence spending via jobs.  Lots of ways for governments to create jobs--military spending just sells better politically.  It is not necessarily better.
  6. Sea lanes.  Sure, who is arguing that the US do away with a blue navy?
  7. Lewis mentions that the allies have "outsourced their security to the US", which I think is a particularly biased and relatively ignorant way to put it.  Do most spend less than the US?  Sure. Is it in American interests to foster stability in Europe and East Asia? Yeah.  Have the NATO allies bled and died for American causes? Hell yeah.  
Lewis concludes by saying that the his school and some of its faculty greatly support the armed forces, so #notallacademics.  So, let's start there: is it the job of academics to support the armed forces?  I don't think so.  Indeed, one of the big challenges of the past 20 years or so is that the mantra of "support our troops" has perhaps prevented us from asking critical questions about the performance of the US military (and the same applies to the Canadian armed forces and those of many democracies).  Only very recently have people started raising questions about the annual declaration made by the general exiting Afghanistan about how well that war is going. 

Are academics ignorant of the US armed forces?  Well, which academics?  I would not expect chemistry professors and creative writing professors to know much.  But how about those who study International Relations?  How about those who study Civil-Military Relations? One of the things to note is that Lewis is a Professor of History, which is significant as military and diplomatic history has been on retreat for quite sometime in the History discipline, so that might be a source of his frustration.  In Political Science and International Relations, however, civil-military relations and the study of security is on the rise. The last few conferences have seen more and more panels on civ-mil, and the last two decades have seen a big growth in the number of journals focusing on security issues, which means more people studying military stuff.

Almost two years ago, I was pushed by Tom Ricks to list good, relevant work that should be of interest to those who read military history, and I came up with a short list easily.  There is plenty of expertise on the US armed forces and those of other countries.  To give a related example, I am currently working on a major grant application that would fund a network that would bring together Canadian scholars who study defence (c for Canada) and security issues with the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, research centres across Canada, think tanks, and other actors.  It involves over 100 professors, and, yes, Canada is 1/10th the size of the US.  Can we extrapolate to suggest that a similar network in the US might have 1000?  Is there more interest in the US military in the US than the Canadian military in Canada?  Probably since, as Professor Lewis argued, there is a hell of lot of money and activity involving the US military.

My twitter feed has already gotten the usual pushback that privilege veterans as having exclusive or superior expertise to academics who have never served in the armed forces.  Now that is an ignorant argument, as it denies the expertise that can be generated through extensive study and analysis. A tree might have a really great understanding of itself and its immediate neighbors, but it will not have a great understanding of the forest or of other forests.

While veterans on twitter complain about academics not having military experience, I have met (anecdotal data!) many senior officers who search out for academic expertise because they know that knowing more is better than knowing less.  When Admiral (ret.) Stavridis was SACEUR, he passed around the PDF of the Dave and Steve NATO book because it shed light on what his officers were experiencing in Afghanistan.  Officers have this obsession with reading lists, including the retired general who was known as the Warrior Monk, because they understand that repeating old mistakes is a bad idea.

Which leads to the big question: who has the time and the incentive to systematically study the armed forces?  Not military folks who have day jobs.  Retired veterans may have the time, but do they have sufficient experience beyond their MOS and sufficient training to think and research rigorously?  Academics have the time, the training, and the curiosity to study the US (and other) armed forces. But not all academics, just those who are focused on this stuff.  It is a great tragedy that military history may be devalued these days, but, after meeting so many young civ-mil scholars over the past couple of years (check out the Naval War College for a secret stash), I can say that the present and future of the political science of the armed forces is in great shape. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

DC Sucketh Runneth Over

So, Henry Cavill is out as Superman.   John Rogers had a nice series of tweets explaining what Warner Brothers' problem is--they don't like the DC characters/universe, so they can't get into it and make it work.  The fun thing is the wild speculation on the next Superman.  And, of course, there is wagering.  I got an email from a sports book which gave the following odds:

Next Superman Actor
American Odds
Fractional Odds
Michael B. Jordan
Armie Hammer
Henry Golding
Benjamin Walker
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Will Smith
Tyler Hoechlin
Ryan Gosling
Nicholas Cage
Ben Affleck
Mark Wahlberg
Idris Elba

I think the odds on MBJ are way too low.  There is no way that he is almost even odds.  I think most of the names here are jokes, and I would definitely bet the field (that none of the above is the winner).

As a Marvel guy who loves the DC shows on TV, there seems to be a simple solution: get the TV people to make a movie or three.  But that is too damn obvious.

Anyhow, I will continue to make mine Marvel as the only Marvel movies I didn't like very much or at all were Thor 2, the Hulks, Age of Ultron.... and that's about it.  The TV shows are more of a mix.

And as Stan would say, Excelsior!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Unified US? Hard to Remember

I didn't think I was going to write a 9/11 post as I thought I have said pretty much everything over the years and that my feelings today are very similar to last year's second Angriest 9/11.  But then I was discussing with friends visits to NYC after that date.  Some still can't go to Ground Zero because it hurts so much.  I have been there, but the visit that struck me when thinking about it was a train ride to NYC in April of 2002.

As I have regaled many a time, I spent 2001-2002 in DC on a fellowship that put me in the Pentagon that year and on that fateful day.  The fellowship was funded by the Council on Foreign Relations, and every spring they have an event that brings recent/current crops of Fellows to meet the members and discuss what they learned.  So, I took the train from DC to NYC, and was stunned when I got off the train: all of the posters and signs sent by kids (and, I guess, adults) from all over the country.  These contained messages of love and condolences to New Yorkers who bore most (but not all) of the pain from the attacks on 9/11. 

What strikes me about that memory is that the US was not divided but actually quite unified.  We shared a single experience--watching the towers fall in NYC and seeing first responders giving up their lives either immediately (so many firefighters and cops died when the towers fell) or the long term (they willingly exposed themselves to toxins that have killed many of them).  It did bring us together but too briefly. 

Sure, the unity had a dark side--quick decisions to pass counterproductive laws like the Patriot Act and creating the Department of Fatherland Homeland Security.  But it brought people together. As much as I disliked Bush, he handled that day pretty well, including calling on Americans not to hate Muslims. 

Now?  The US is not as divided as it was during the Civil War, but, damn, it feels close.  Something like 35% of the US continues to drink Fox's and Trump's koolaid, ignoring the reality that is in front of them.  Willing to sell out the US for court seats and tax cuts, and I can't help but get angry.  The unity would surely not last--rallies around the flag do not last--but the divisiveness, particularly after Obama was elected and the GOP decided that fighting Obama on everything was more important than the national interest, has been so intense.  I know I am adding more to it by casting blame in one direction, but I can't help it.  One side is racist, xenophobic. and homophobic, elected a misogynist, and has been inciting violence while embracing Nazis.  There is no equivalance, no both sides are to blame here.  The Democrats have made mistakes, but their party hasn't fallen off the edge into the abyss of conspiracy theory and hate-mongering.  Fox has done its best to divide us, and it has worked.  We now have a President who makes no pretense of being the President of all Americans--he is just the President of his base. 

It didn't have to be this way--this was not inevitable.  As that noted philospher Albus Dumbledore said, there will come a time to choose between what is easy and what is right.  And, yes, the GOP and Fox chose the easy path.  In response, we must follow the harder path, to resist Trumpism and white supremacism.  Those who gave up their lives on 9/11 were of many races, religions, and even nationalities, and we owe it to them to live by the highest ideals of what the US can be, not the lowest appeals to our darkest past.

Of course, some might say I am politicizing 9/11.  Is seventeen years too soon?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Explaining Your Dissertation, Obama Edition

That this video came out this week is great timing: one of the things I seek to teach in my Dissertation Proposal Workshop that starts next week is to get the students to learn to explain their dissertation in the following increments:
  • one sentence: this is the most that many will want to hear at a cocktail party or in a cafe (not Obama, he wants more)
  • a minute: this is what one will have a chance when meeting other academics
  • five minutes: at a poster session or in a group of folks who are interested in the general topic
  • fifteen minutes: the average conference presentation length
  • thirty-forty minutes: the basic job talk length.
This guy did pretty well, given that President Obama is a former law prof, and is aware of the general topic.  That this guy is an English major, well, he's doomed, but he did fine for someone three chapters into a dissertation.

Where he muffed it?  Explaining his objective: the job market.  Too bad he didn't read my post last month.  I guess this was not the time and place to push back against the person hosting Obama who seemed to think one could stick around and get a job in the same state.  Good luck with that.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Just Do What?

I finally saw the big Nike ad.  When I first heard about it, I thought the uproar was about Kaepernick, but this reaction poll makes it clear that Nike really hit the racist nerves. Yeah, the Kaepernick anthem thing is about race, but so much discussion of it confuses the issue.  The figures in this article make it abundantly clear what is going on.

First, watch the video with the reaction info:

Note that the big dips are not just when Kaepernick shows up but when the ad features Lebron James and Serena Williams.  Why would they cause people to feel less positive?  One could guess it is about Lebron's political efforts but Serena? 

Then, look at the breakdowns:


 Turns out Gen x is nearly as racist as the boomers...  Not great.

And yes, our partisan polarization may just be about race:

 Deplorable, you might say. 

Clarifies things mightily.  The noise about Kaepernick is not about patriotism and the troops but part of a larger divide in our society.  I would like to see a similar analyses of Obama's speech yesterday, but I am pretty sure most of the lines would be so flat as to make the exercise pointless.

I don't think Nike was super-brave to do this ad, but I do appreciate the company for being smart enough to now where its market is (young and diverse).  The Democrats have a similar market, and I hope they are smart enough to figure out how to message to it.