Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ten Years of Spew: Am I Running Out?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of Saideman's Semi-Spew!  Time flies when one is ranting about civil-military relations, ethnic conflict, Harry Potter, NATO, US politics, Canadian politics and all sorts of stuff.  Blogging has been very, very good to me, as it helped me pre-write my book on Canada and Afghanistan, it helped me get grants that had knowledge mobilization (sharing ideas) as a key criterion, it helped me get my ideas out beyond the narrow confines of the ivory tower as pieces were cross-posted or heavily quoted in Vox, the Globe and Mail, and the Washington Post, it has led to a ruckus or two, and more.  It hasn't gotten me fired (yet) and may have even played a role in my getting the job I have now since public engagement is a thing at NPSIA and something they reward at Carleton.

I started out writing mostly for myself--to get my ideas out of my head to examine them--kind of like a pensieve.  Then, I started sharing my posts on facebook and then twitter (tis no accident I joined twitter a few months after starting the blog).  I never had any discipline about what I wrote about and would only cross-post at Duck of Minerva if I found a post to be "duck-worthy."  I do blog less than I did, mostly because of two things: I have said stuff before so I just re-post rather than re-write AND I often now get out of my system what I need via twitter.

For this anniversary post, I was tempted to invoke one of my very first posts, where I took a question asked of President Obama and answered it for myself--what surprised me, troubled me, enchanted me and humbled me about blogging for these past ten years.  But then I realized I have already done that.
One consistency over time has been that when people meet me and say that they read my blog, I get embarassed.  Because I write so much stuff that is half-baked, I worry that they remember the truly under-cooked or overly silly stuff.  But recently I have realized that some of my posts do have some value--useful advice for the job market, educating people about how NATO really works, highlighting the work of sharp women in the field, calling out sexual harassment--so now I try not to blush and just appreciate the sentiment. 

So, I just hope we can all keep ...

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Game of Thrones Pool of Life, Confused Edition

See below the break for spoilers, but we really won't know who lived until next week (and no preview, right?)

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sandbagging, Ottawa-Style

Flooding is a seasonal thing, apparently.  There were floods in 2017 and now again in 2019.  The bad news is that they happen too often.  The good news is that it allows for learning.  It was very clear today that folks learned from two years ago.  How so?  The instructions to volunteers were clear, the places where the filling of sandbags took place had enough stuff (they ran out of bags two years ago), and there were innovations.  Such as:
The cones funnel the sand into the bag, and they are at the right height for people just to shift their shovels.

One ends up having one of three jobs--shovel, hold/move the bags to and from the cones, or tie them.  There was no one telling the volunteers where to go or what to do once they were dropped off, so I found myself at a secondary pile. I started by tying the bags, but I sucked at it--the strings were not easy to work with--easily broken.  So, I moved to being a bagger.  I mostly sat on a bundle of sandbags, grabbing loose ones, moving it under the cone, and then moving the semi-full (you don't fill them 100% or else no one can move them around) bag behind me for someone else to tie.  The folks who tied the bags and others would then move the bags into the backs of trucks and on to trailers they were towing.

I got into a good rhythm with one shoveler for most of the morning and one tie-er.  There were some folks who joined us or who took over various positions.  There were a bunch of kids who were doing similar work.  Oh, and not everyone had the cone system--they were just shoveling directly into bags.  We had our pile of sand re-filled two or three times. The job got much harder once all of the big bags of bags were broken down as I don't do so well kneeling.  Sure, I bent the knee, but I could not keep it up for long.

At the biggest pile, there was also more media because the Prime Minister showed up:
He is just to the left of the security guy who is staring at my back and at the guy who took the picture (the shoveler I worked with).  Some folks didn't really want Trudeau there.  Most of us didn't mind.  I thought it made sense for Trudeau to show that he was engaged in this crisis, helping out, and providing an opportunity for the media to show what we were all doing. [UPDATE: since this has become slightly controversial, I should note that his appearance was a blip--we had tons of volunteers and other folks working hard before/during/after his appearance and the piles of sand were mostly maxed out in terms of how many people could work on them.  PMJT only slowed us down long enough to take a pic, and given how physical the work was, taking a minute break was hardly a bad thing]

I had never volunteered for anything like this before.  I probably will again, as this area will flood again. And because I feel like I owe Ottawa something.  This is my second favorite place I have lived (hard to compete with San Diego, what with no winter there and all). The town has been very, very good to me, helping me do my work, being full of interesting people, having a vibrant ultimate community that includes leagues for geezers (grandmasters is the correct term), and being so very welcoming to us.  It is the first place I have ever moved where I knew people ahead of time and was joining friends.

Sure, it rained on us, and, yes, it snowed on us, and it got windy at times.  My shoveler occasionally threw sand on me, and I have a couple of blisters and many sore muscles.  But I feel really good about contributing to the sandbag building.  On our way out, we passed by homes that were using these sandbags to protect them.

Ok, the CBC took that photo since I was on the wrong side of the bus as it shuttled us back to the base where I had parked my car.  That base was chock full of people looking to join the effort.  The effort will continue tomorrow and perhaps beyond that.

Oh and the last time I was this close to so many light armored vehicles was Kandahar:
Most of the army folks were at a very large pile of sand, but some were spread out helping to coordinate. 

Anyhow, I highly recommend joining in on such efforts.  It is not only a good thing to do, but, it makes you feel good

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Game of Thrones Pool of Life: Fans Served Daily

Ok, one last episode sans death and destruction, but lots of foreshadowing.  So, below, a quick revision of the guesses given the moves made today. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Thinking About Textbooks

This story about a possible corruption case at Arizona State has me looking back and forwards

Of course, the accusation could be without merit.  I am sure journalists in Arizona will pursue this, and I doubt that the Provost in question will have covered his tracks very well if he is guilty. 

I retweeted the story and got some responses, including folks arguing the entire textbook game is rigged with folks using their own or their colleagues' expensive texts.  Well, I have done so a few times, in both ways that I don't feel guilty about and those in which I do:
  • I have used my own books in my grad classes--which are too small (along with low rate of royalties) to be motivated by profit.  In these classes, I have taught about stuff I know well--what I have reseached--so using my books makes sense.  I had a prof (Arend Lijphart) who would assign his books and then say he would give the profits to charity.  His books did far better than mine, so, no, I did not get much or give much to charity.
  • In my first tenure track job, I had to teach a course way, way outside my expertise--American and Texas Public Policy--I did use my colleagues' text.  Why?  For two reasons: they had banked questions for multiple choice exams based on their book, and I had no experience in writing such exam; AND I did the old trick for teaching a new class of using a decent text to assign the students and an excellent text for myself to build lectures.  Plus I figured I could ask these colleagues for help as I went along.  They made money off of my students, but I didn't feel pressure from them.  Nope, not even as a junior colleague did I think strategically about sucking up for tenure (I have never been good at that).  But I can see how this would be questionable.
  • More problematically, our department had a workbook, designed to be used once, for this same class.  The idea was that each new class of students would buy this book, generating income for the department to support the various things the department did (events, travel for grad students, whatever).  But the book was, well, crappy.  So, yeah, I participated in a morally compromising course requirement.  I didn't blow the whistle because it was not too onerous and it was the one job I could get at the time.  I stopped assigning this text once I realized it was not very good.  I have no idea if they developed successors.
Since then, I have mostly avoided using textbooks--assigning monographs and articles instead--and I tend to pay attention to the prices of the books (I have never assigned a book that costs more than $100 and avoid those that cost over $50).  These days, it is a bit less problematic where I am at since the library provides electronic access to most, if not all, of the books I assign.

The story above had three distinct parts to it that are disturbing:
  1. The university requiring all classes at a certain level use the same text/digital partner.  While individual profs can make mistakes and can also be corrupt, one key component of academic freedom for me is getting to choose what I do in my classroom.  What I teach, how I teach it, with what materials is up to me.  This is a big difference between university life and K-12.
  2. Setting a specific quota for failing students is incredibly unfair and even brutal.  Putting aside the costs of texts for a second, re-taking classes is an onerous consequence for a Provost needing a baseline (if the accusations are true)--this is a big opportunity cost, not to mention causing some students to fail and leave the program.  Which has a lifetime cost attached.
  3. The prof got fired.  The university is already saying "we can't talk about it, but the guy committed multiple infractions" to slime the guy.  
To be fair, we have no idea if the accusations are true.  However, it tends to ring true AND I tend to believe academic institutions care more about money than their students these days.  So, we will just have to watch and wait and see what comes of this.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

So Much Supervision, So Much Learned

Today, I was updating my spreadsheet listing all of the students I have or am supervising.  Yesterday, an MA student defended her paper with distinction, and her work gets me apparently to sixty.  That when I entered her info into my spreadsheet, I realized that I have supervised successfully sixty undergraduates, masters students, and PhD students over the years.  This is probably a bit of an undercount since I might have forgotten to update the list with those students where I was the second or third person on the committee.  The total does not include those who did not complete their project for one reason or another.  That number is around ten or so--and is shaky since some students simply switched advisers, others had never really committed to me (and me to them) in terms of advising, but some simply didn't finish. 

I don't know if sixty is a "good" or "bad" number for someone teaching for 25 years at research universities.  I am sure some of my peers have done far more, and others have done far less.  All I know is that it has been a lot of work and a lot of satisfaction.  I do whine about reading many drafts of the same thing, that I have unwrapped many an onion, that I am tired of endless lit reviews, and so on.  But this supervision thing is worth it. 
First, I learn a lot.  I got in this business because I am deeply curious, but I am also very busy and have limited time to study stuff.  My students end up studying stuff that is mostly beyond what I study--different regions, different periods of time, different dynamics, different perspectives, etc.  So, I always learn from these supervisions, and that is cool.  So very cool. 
Second, it really is fun and rewarding to watch and sometimes help younger folks develop, challenge themselves, and see them puzzle through and then figure out the questions they pose and the answers they discover. 
Third, I create an empire of mini-me's.  Actually, nope, that does not happen.  My students often take issue with my work and push back pretty hard.  I don't tell them what to study or how to study it.  I mostly just poke holes in their ideas until their ideas are better developed.  Ok, third, their success makes me feel good.  This is the stuff of job satisfaction.  When teaching regular classes, the evals will always contain at least a few (and sometimes more than that) negative reviews, so one can always walk away noting those (negativity bias is a thing I learned today, thanks, Dan!).  But when a supervision ends (it often never does), the feelings are almost always satisfaction and pride.  Hence my page dedicated to TeamSteve.  Once again, to be clear, the work they have done is theirs, so I don't want to take too much credit for it.  I just like to bask in their success.

This supervision thing is a big part of what we do, but it is not in the classroom.  So, those who ask how many hours we spend in the classroom = teaching are missing the point.  Indeed, they are only noticing the tip of the iceberg.  That kind of sounds negative, as I really do mean it when I say that this is very much one of the best parts of the job.  Even if it does involve a heap of lit reviews along the way.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Alliances Are Hard: GoT Version

I saw this tweet and could not help but respond:

Given that I have written about both Game of Thrones and alliance politics, I have to enter this discussion.  Spoilers dwell below as we get into this:

Game of Thrones Pool of Life: Scene Setting Changes Little

As usual, the first episode sets the scenes and moves the chess pieces around. Not much more than that.  So, the only significant death was of a boy that we didn't really care about.  Should have realized he was dead boy walking when he was featured so much early--Chekov's casualty.

So, what did this episode mean for our game?  See my previous post today for the players and their choices.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Pre-Game of Thrones Pool of Life

Just as we anticipate tonight's premiere of the last season of Game of Thrones, GRRMartin hits us with this:


Last time, I reported the draft:

Today, I want to report the tiebreakers

Interesting choices.  The second tie breaker only kicks in if either Dany sits on the throne at the end or if No one does.  If the former, then then the key tie break is number of dragons.  If there are no dragons left, then the next tiebreaker comes into play with Arya's bloodthirstiness playing a huge role.  If three dragons are left, then Art wins via Price is Right Rules--closest without going over.

If no one sits on the throne, then only the second tie breaker matters as Wendy can only then win if all dragons are dead with Caitlin winning in any other circumstance.

What to do if Jon and Dany sit on the throne at the end?   Hmm, I guess we would have a three way tie between Elliot, Art, and Sara with Elliot and Sara potentially having to go to the third tiebreaker if one dragon is left alive at the end.

Lots of good guesses here.  I look forward to belatedly watching tonight's episode (thanks to ultimate).  Enjoy the carnage!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

When "Conservatives" Give Cover to White Nationalists, Canadian edition

One of the strange-nesses of Canadian politics is that there is an unelected Senate.  Usually, I argue that the Senate should be elected and have a more significant role.  And then there are days like today:
I am pleased that Foreign Minister Freeland pushed back hard, but I am disappointed that she had to do so.  Housakos is giving aid and comfort to white supremacists by dismissing the threat they pose.  There are two things to push back against here--the threat and the international support.

First, Canadians have been killed and beaten by white supremacists in Toronto and Quebec and elsewhere, and this rising movement threatens to do more of the same.  How much Islamist extremist violence has there been in Canada the past few years?  The same is true in the US--white nationalists are more of a threat than Islamist extremists.  See here for a set of analyses from TSAS--the key network in Canada on these issues.  People panic about cyber, and hacking is an important issue.  But you can recover from hacking, those who are murdered by white supremacists can't come back.  So, yeah, white supremacy is a threat to Canada.

Second, yes, it received support from outside Canada.  There is plenty of evidence of transnational white supremacy--that the latest shooters seem to cite the guy who killed so many kids in Norway.  But if you want to take about state sponsors, we have two at least (leaving out Hungary, Poland, and, yes, Israel, thanks to Bibi, for their Holocaust denial): Russia and the US.  It is a matter of Russian policy to be supporting white nationalism in the West--it is part of their efforts to undermine western democracy.  While the US may not have a formal policy of supporting white supremacy in Canada, the white nationalists in the White House--Trump and Miller--are definitely encouraging and inspiring these people to come out and be unashamed in their hatred.  While much bigotry is part of Canada and its history (notice the "secularlism" effort in Quebec), there is no doubt that Trump is creating a friendlier environment.  And the far right media in the US and Canada are more than just a bit acquainted with each other.

Andrew Scheer has been playing footsy with Faith Goldy, with Rebel media, and with other elements of the far right.  I would have to look back and see how much of this started before Maxime Bernier started his People's Party (which is not so surprisingly chock full of deplorables) which might be scaring the Conservative Party a bit.  But given the Rebel influence, I think this embrace of the far right is not so new. 

Anyhow, the reality is that the far right of Canada is infused with white nationalism, and, as a result, Conservative politicians like Housakos are willing to give cover to them. 

So, yeah, the Conservatives in Canada have a big problem.  And it may cause them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory if they keep at it.  Only one thing is certain--more Canadians will be harmed by white nationalism.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ultimate Survey

A facebook friend had a status today of an old ultimate team questionnaire.  As I recover from Sunday's game (soreness takes longer and longer to go away), I thought I would post my answers because, hey, it is my blog.

  • # of tournaments:  If one combines league-ending tourneys with travel-competition, something around 50. 
  • ACL surgery: no.  Worst ultimate injury is nasty sprained ankle.  Worst frisbee injury is concussion after running into a tree while tossing the disk during orientation when I was an RC (RA in other places) at Oberlin.
  • Ultimate Idol: Probably Jean-Levy Champagne.  So tall, so quick, great skills and athleticism and owner of at least one of the professional ultimate teams. 
  • Kids: 1.  Glad she played ultimate in her teen years and first few years of college.  Understandable that other interests took over, alas.
  • Favourite throw: Inside out flick and outside in flick.  I love throwing the disk with curves.  Least favourite throw to throw or receive--hammer.  Wildly over-used--people forget what a backhand can do. 
  • Ultimate goal: "Keep playing until I'm dead."  This is what my FB friend said, and I wouldn't change it.  It used to be: play until I reach 40.  Then 50.  Now?  60. 
  • Favourite post-ultimate snack: Chocolate milk if I am alone, beer if with my team.
  • O or D?: O     No question about that although laying out to block a pass is the thing that gets me most energized, most excited.  But I am so much better on Offense than Defense, and it has always been thus.

Should there be any other questions on this ultimate questionnaire? Hmmm.
  • Favorite team:  General Admission although I loved learning and playing with the Obie teams (whose names kept on changing)
  • Favorite form of ultimate: I kind of miss five on five on the width of a field with sub on the fly, but that might be conflating form with team (GA).  
  • Silliest form of ultimate played: hex-ultimate--2 on 2 on 2 with two disks on an hexagonal field.  Three teams, two disks, first to score gets the point, with nice collective action problems built into the game.
  • Favorite frisbee memory: laying out backwards to catch Gabe's crappy hammer in the endzone to break the tie and put Oberlin ahead of Ohio State back in 1983 or 1984.
  • Favorite frisbee video?  This one: 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Game of Thrones Pool of Life, the Draft

How did the Game of Thrones Pool of Life draft go?  Well, let's see what people chose and we can make fun of them.  I will, as I have in past games, suggest who has the best odds to win.

  1. Rob is likely to last longer than his namesake, as he drafted Sam, Tyrion and Yara.
  2. Sara couldn't attend but chose Gilly, Brienne of Tarth and Bran.  
  3. Wendy chose Sansa, Lyanna Mormont (who was on many lists) and Bronn.
  4. Brandon was also absent, but had a strong list that went deeper than most: Varys, Podrick, ArchMaester Ebrose
  5. Art picked Dany, Missandei, and Drogon.  He wins big or loses big since Dany and Drogon, well, fly together.
  6. Caitlin joined us late and chose Arya, Gendry, and Greyworm
  7. Elliot, the Patriots apparently of this league with the last draftpick, chose Jon, Cersei, and Sam's kid.
So, quite a mix with some folks panicking as their turn came around and others with an eye to the long game.

Let's take a closer look and here's my guesses:
  • Rob is likely to get 3 points--everyone thinks that Sam has to live to chronicle the wars.  Will Theon rescue Yara is the big question.  I think he will die trying, but so will she.  The Iron Islands are a tough miserable place, but that could be a big three point swing for Rob.  Tyrion?  Will Jon/Dany need him after the wars?  The thing is--he is the most fun to write for, which keeps characters alive (I just heard that in a podcast, I think, about Madmen).  So, Rob, with his favorable draft position used his sharp consulting skills and is a co-favorite to win.
  • Sara is in pretty good chap with Gilly being mostly out of harm's way.  Brienne is likely to die in battle since she is going to be at the front.  However, she is a hell of a fighter, so Sara, too, has a good chance. Bran?  Ah, that is a puzzler.  He could die because, well, he sucks in a fight and three-eyed ravens do die.  But he is superpowerful and it seems that despite how much the showrunners do not like him, compared to how GRRMartin feels about him, he could play a key role.  Right now, I think Sara is a favorite to get 6 points.
  • Wendy went for the kid fighter, but as my wife would put it, GRRMartin is a bad man and so are these showrunners.  We have seen great leadership skills from Lyanna but fighting?  Nope, she is no Arya.  She might be more like Dobby  Sansa?  She is quite a survivor, so I would not bet against her.  She will also be less exposed as she is not a fighter, and Brienne and Arya will both defender her.  Bronn, however, is dead meat.  Sure, he is, as Caitlin put it, a cockroach.  But he has sided with Cersei and that will not end well.  My guess is that Wendy has one player left at the end (who then dies in the X-Men movie this summer and then lives and then dies because that is what Phoenixes do).
  • Brandon went with some interesting choices.  Varys is a survivor and is not a fighter, so he will not be in harm's way very much, although the conversation he had with the Red Witch is suggestive--that death is nigh for him.  Podrick is going to die, as his greatest skill is in the brother and not on the battlefield.  Ebrose?  He might be a one-pointer as we are unlikely to see much of him now that Sam is no longer at the Citadel.  So, Brandon is in good position to finish second or third.
  • Caitlin faced a diminished draft pool, but made some clever choices.  Ayra is very skilled and his armed with a Valyrian weapon.  That combo is promising, but, then again, do we want a sociopath to survive?  Hmmm.  Not sure.  Gendry is strong and needs to get his hammer back.  But he has to die since he is a rival claimant to the throne.  Sorry.  Greyworm is going to die--the questions are only where and by whom.  Since he is not really that interesting of a character (he does not speak many funny lines), I expect him to die fighting the dead.  So, Caitlin would be lucky to end up with three points.
  • Finally, Elliot, who made a great choice and an awful one and then a good one.  Jon has a very good chance to survive, since as my wife reminds me, this is a Song of Ice and Fire and either Jon is the Ice to Dany's Fire, or he is Ice and Fire since his parents were Starks and Tarygareans.  He commands a Dire Wolf and is liked by dragons.  The big question no one raised is the status of Ghost.  Damn.  Anyhow, great last choice in the first round.  However, Elliot then made the worst choice--there is no way Cersei is going to live.  She is fated by prophecy to die and most likely by Jamie's hand.  Who will then die.  And then Sam's kid.  There is a good chance that Sam's kid survives to tell the tale to the next generation.  So, Elliot, despite a poor draft position and an incredibly poor second round pick, is in good shape to finish near the top.  
  • Oops, I omitted Art, probably because he is going to win?  Either TeamDany wins all the way with Dany, Missy and Drogon surviving and ruling or all die.  There is no in between.  This is like picking a top QB and his wide receivers--they all do well or all do poorly.  Again, a song of Ice and Fire with Queen Fire sticking around to the end?  Hmmm.
Given that there is a good chance that two or more players will end up with two of their characters each left alive, we have a good chance at a tie.  So, between tonight and the start of the first episode, each player must submit to me via email or DM or raven or whatever their answers to the three tiebreakers:
Tie breaker #1: who sits on the Iron Throne at the end?
Tie breaker #2: how many dragons are alive at the end?  And, yes, undead dragons count as alive if they are not really, really dead. 
Tie breaker #3: how many people does Arya assassinate in the final season (not including battle scenes because, damn, that would be hard)?  Oh, and Price is Right Rules: closest without going over!
So, that's where things stand.  Enjoy the week of suspense and get ready for a thrilling set of Sunday nights.  I will be posting late each Sunday night/Monday morning since my ultimate frisbee league does not end until May 5th, and then I will be in Germany for two weeks of research.

Enjoy the ride!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

NATO, Churchil, and Keohane: Happy 70th Anniversary

Today is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  It is also perhaps the bumpiest big date for the organization in some time, if not ever, thanks to the hostility shown to it by the President of the United States.  This is quite a turnaround given that the US has been the primary driver behind most NATO endeavors.  Two questions come to the fore in any anniversary: what has life been like so far and will it continue?

To be clear, NATO is imperfect, which is where Churchill comes in.  Just as Churchill said that democracies are the worst form of government except for all of the others, NATO is the worst form of multilateral military organizations except for all of the others.  There is uneven burden-sharing, but that is inherent in alliances and we have known that since the 1960s.  NATO endeavors often leave one with much regret--that Kosovo had broader ramifications (although I still think US-Russian relations would be awful these days), that Libya proved that regime change requires more than bombing a government into submission, that Afghanistan has not worked out that great.  And, yes, countries opt into and out of whatever they want--they impose restrictions on their missions

Yet, NATO has helped to provide stability and security in Europe, the requirements for prosperity not just there but elsewhere.  There is little doubt that NATO helped to deter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which then gave Western Europe the time and space to rebound from World War II.  These days, despite much trouble within (rise of authoritarianism), NATO still plays a vital role in deterring Russia. Ukraine and the Baltics have had very different experiences since 2014 (and even before) thanks to where the lines between NATO and non-NATO.  That old line about NATO keeping the US in, the Soviets (Russians) out, and Germany down has long been in Meatloaf's territory--two out of three ain't bad.  Yes, we want more German leadership these days, if the we are Americans.  The Europeans?  Hmmm. 

We take for granted those things that prevent.  In the past decade or two, we have seen a movement against vaccines as we have forgotten the toll taken by various diseases.  As we see now, investing in prevention is better than having figure out and pay for cures.  The same applies to European security--NATO has required a massive investment to produce credible security guarantees.  This is a cost paid for not just in dollars and euros but in blood.  Most countries joined the NATO effort in Afghanistan not because they wanted to help Afghans but because they wanted to meet their alliance obligations and keep NATO a going concern. 

The alternative to NATO is yet more expensive--countries would have to do far more to defend themselves, including perhaps investing in nuclear weapons OR they would have to succumb not necessarily to Russian invasions but to Russian coercion.  And anybody watching what has happened to Russia's neighbors since 1991 and to Ukraine since 2014 should take seriously that Russia would coerce and destabilize.  One could argue it was the extension of NATO to Russia's borders that started all of this, but that would require one to forget what Russia has done in its Near Abroad even before Kosovo.  And it would require one to forget that damn near all of the American tanks were headed out of Europe in early 2014, and European defence budgets were spiraling down.

Moving on to the future, it is important to remember that NATO has had repeated existential crises and yet remains with us.  It found new missions after the end of the cold war--stopping genocide in Bosnia and facilitating the expansion of democracy (civilian control of the military) to Eastern Europe.  It now engages not just in counter-terrorism via a fleet in the Mediterranean but also counter-piracy in the Red Sea and beyond.  The Enhanced Forward Presence effort in the Baltics is a return to the old deterrence playbook.  All of this demonstrates something that I scoffed at in grad school--Keohane was right!  Institutions are hard to create, so folks will keep around older ones and adapt them rather than build new ones. 

NATO is the most institutionalized alliance in history.  Its members know what is expected of them, which makes it easier to figure out what to do and where they fit.  Canada has a far easier time managing its European relations than its Pacific ones because Canadian officials know where the country fits into Europe.  It has no similar place in Asia despite being a country with two (or three) coasts.  The formal equality combined with informal procedures, habits and norms help to ensure that NATO members can exert some influence in how they do their international relations. 

So, on this 70th anniversary, I raise a glass not just to toast my best book (thanks, Dave) but to honor those who have done the heavy lifting to help build a better world.  It hasn't always worked so well, but I doubt anyone could have done much better.

Monday, April 1, 2019

GoT Draft: That Which Is Dead Can Never Die

Greetings from Winterfell!  The Game of Thrones Pool of Life begins!  I have randomized the players (thanks to a handy deck of cards), so the draft order is as follows:
  1. Rob, a friend from high school, and self-employed business consultant.  Yes, he is a smart one who may outthink the others or maybe himself
  2. Sara, a political scientist with either the first or second most obnoxious laugh in the business.  She has keen quantitative analysis skills, but it is not clear how they will help here.  
  3. Wendy, a high school friend who is now a lawyer in Florida.  She is used to all kinds of craziness, so she will be well-suited for this competition.
  4. Brandon, an expert on cyber-warfare which is, of course, useless here, but he did spend much time in Scotland, so he knows much about drinking and swordplay.
  5. Art, another high school friend, is a doctor, so he will be ready to heal thyself.
  6. Caitlin, a twitter friend who ran twitterfightclub (yes, you are allowed to and encouraged to talk about it), so she has more game than the rest of you combined.
  7. Elliot, a frisbee teammate and now engineer for a start up.  He runs pretty good for a guy with a bad hip, and he was willing to leave a secure government job so he has got spunk.  

Tis a snake draft: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-1-2-3-4-5-6-7.

To be held April 8th at 8pm eastern time here at the blog via the comments section (update--it will be done on my fb page and then I will report results and snark on my blog).  Folks can tweet me or message me their choices along the way if they can't access the comments or don't want to do so.  If they can't attend, they can send me their list of preferred draft picks--they should come up with 21 names in the order they want to draft them.

All players will send to me privately (email or messenger or DM) their choices for the tiebreakers:
Tie breaker #1: who sits on the Iron Throne at the end?
Tie breaker #2: how many dragons are alive at the end?  And, yes, undead dragons count as alive if they are not really, really dead. 
Tie breaker #3: how many people does Arya assassinate in the final season (not including battle scenes because, damn, that would be hard)?  Oh, and Price is Right Rules: closest without going over!

That's it for now.  After the draft, I will post the list of the draft picks and the tiebreaker answers.  Oh, and mock those who choose poorly.

See you next week in this space!

Anniversary of the end of Canada's War in Afghanistan

Markers for those Canadians who lost their lives in Afghanistna
NATO is still in Afghanistan sans Canada.  Five years ago, Canada ended its military role, although the big change was four years earlier when Canadian troops moved out of Kandahar and started the training mission elsewhere.  Still, it is an important anniversary. 

To my surprise, Afghanistan has not yet fallen to either coup or the Taliban.  It, however, is suffering mightily from civil war, and the US is keeping the Afghan government mostly out of the negotiations with the Taliban.  So, the war goes on. 

As we look back, there is a lot of regret.  I have seen many folks saying that the war should never have happened--if we had given the Taliban more time, then they might have turned over Bin Laden.  I don't really think so.  Others say we could have just chased AQ out and then left Afghanistan to its own devices.  I think the examples of Libya and Syria suggest that is not a great counterfactual either.  I do think that the US starting another war and becoming distracted by that, combined with designing a dumb constitution, were the big fatal errors. 

That will do the trick
I tried to answer some of the big questions about how Canada did in my book--Adapting in the Dust (now less than C$10 in either paperback or e-book).  Why did Canada join the effort?  Simply put: an ally was attacked.  Why did Canada keep going back?  Because Canada wants to be a good ally even when it is hard.  Did the military have too much influence over the big decision?  No, it was Paul Martin's to make, and I am pretty sure most other PM's would have done the same thing.  The bureaucracy mostly recommended the Kandahar deployment, not just Rick Hillier.  Did the parties handle the conflict well?  Nope.  Should we be surprised?  Not really.  Did Canada manage its mission well--did whole of government work?  Better than most countries but not that great. 

I do think Canada needs to put stuff in comparative perspective--all of the countries involved faced the same challenge regarding detainees, for instance.  A key myth--that Canada was alone in Kandahar--did no one any favors. 

I still wonder whether Canadians began opposing the mission because of the costs paid by the Canadian troops, because of what the Canadian troops were doing (combat), or because of the end of elite consensus (my personal fave based on the academic literature on casualty aversion). 

We can learn a lot from this experience.  Alas, the government did not, with a pathetic ten page document that wasted a lot of effort to come up with pablum which they then hid not just from the public but from the rest of government.  The good news is that, dare I say it, this is a job for academics.   Not just me but also folks like Boucher and Nossal

Canadians will always be unsatisifed with this mission, and rightly so.  The troops, the diplomats, the aid workers and others made a contribution, a difference, while they were there.  But they faced tremendously difficult decisions, had to compromise their values, and only had limited ability to change things.  I wish they had had better political leadership.  And I hope the next time, the political system handles things better .... although I doubt it.