Sunday, March 31, 2024

Why Does It Take So Long to Publish Academic Books?

Today, I assembled all of the chapters of the Dave, Phil, and Steve book, and it came a day after someone asked Phil on the old social media site why it took so long.  So, a timely question for a still timely book (we hope).  It is also a fair one, as this book has taken longer than any of my other projects.  It took me eight years to turn my dissertation into a book, but much of that time was focusing on other stuff (job hunting, moving, learning how to teach, moving again, pumping out articles since my tenure case was going to rest more on articles than books) and not on the actual book.  My second book came out seven years after my first, and that is a bit deceptive since I spent one of those years in the Pentagon doing no research except one trip to Budapest.  My third book came out six years after the third. My fourth, a spinoff of the third, came out two years later, and it might have been a year faster if not for one picky reviewer who wanted me to cite his unpublished work.  This book, my fifth!, will be coming out nine or ten years after my previous book, depending on the vagaries of the academic publishing process (see below)

I have two sets of answers to this question--some inherent in the academic research and publishing enterprise and some specific to the project. Let's dispense with the dynamics that were specific to this project before I discuss why it takes so long to publish any academic book.

Just to remind folks, the book compares 15 democracies to assess what role their legislatures play in overseeing their armed forces.  Spoiler alert!  Not as much as most would expect!  The cases include countries in five continents (no African cases, no Antarctic ones). 

This book:

  • Did I mention 15 countries?  Yeah, that's a lot.  Medium n research (where one does case studies over a number of cases) is no joke.  One of us visited each country (except those where we reside) at least once and a few we went back a few times (Germany and Japan for me, UK and France, I think, for Phil).  That took time, and we had to do that either during sabbaticals, during summer breaks, or squeezed in where we could.
  • One of the challenges of doing 15 countries is that we didn't team up and visit the same ones together.  So, we very much had the classic problem represented by this cartoon.  It took us some time to figure out our results.
  • There was a pandemic.  Yeah, that.   Phil has small kids, so he was severely impacted (Ontario did perhaps the worst job in Canada of managing the pandemic and its impact on schools).  Dave faced a variety of challenges at his workplace (National Defense University) and at home due to the pandemic.  I was generally in a state of distraction for the first year or two of Covid, not because of family problems (Hollywood Spew handled the pandemic on her own and did so brilliantly. We could worry from afar, but her situation did involve me on any kind of regular, interruptive basis)
  • This project coincided with our launching of the CDSN, and I cannot lie and say it did not affect the attention I put into this project.

So, yeah, this was not a speedy project, but few academic books are super quick.  Why?  Let's go through the steps.

  1. Come up with a researchable idea.  This can be quick, but even the best ideas take longer than the shower than inspired them as one has to figure out the question, what the answer might be, whether it has already been asked and answered (our aim is to generate new knowledge, not just repeat someone else's project--replication is a thing but it won't get folks tenure, fortune, or glory), whether it is feasible, and whether one can do it (it might be feasible by somebody but not by the specific scholar due to skill/time/money limitations).
  2. If it requires some funding, then one needs to apply for a grant, which can take a significant amount of time.  In my experience, it takes several months to write a good grant and then several more to get the results.  In Canada, for the social sciences, the main funder (SSHRC) has a deadline of October and then informs us of the results in April.  So, the grant process can take about nine months if one is successful on the first shot (I have tended to be successful on the first time around but not always).  
  3. The research.  To do a serious, book length project requires some serious work, whether that is dwelling in the archives, building datasets, traveling to one spot for an extended period of time, or, like us, visiting a number of places.  And we have to do this while balancing the other parts of professing--teaching, service, engagement, etc. (For a more recent and exhausive and thoughtful version of the "what do profs do," see Paul Musgrave's take).  Most of the research for this project was done over four years.  This is why I tell folks to publish their dissertation work, as throwing away 2-4 years of research is a really bad idea even if one is tired of one's dissertation.  
  4. The writing.  Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes not so much.  One can write while doing the research, and then revise afterwards, but it still takes significant time.  Unlike the research, we often can only be done during breaks from teaching, one can write the results while doing the other prof responsibilities.  But that depends on one's teaching load, class sizes, teaching assistants (or not), and so forth.  Again, this is why summers are so important and why profs flip out when asked what they are doing with the summer off.  When collaborating, the writing takes both less and more time.  In this project, we each wrote up the cases that we had studied, but so I didn't have to write the British or Nordic cases.  But then we had to put in a lot of work to revise so that it looked like one person wrote the book, not three (we shall see if readers agree), and we had to do a lot of writing/revising for the jointly written stuff--the intro, the theory, the conclusion.  
  5. The submitting.  We had to contact a number of publishers, asking them to consider the book, they would then get back to us.  In general, the next step is for a publisher ask to see it, then they have to find reviewers, and then the reviewers have to read it and give their views.  This general takes between three months and a year (yes, it can take a lot of time).  The editor then communicates the reviews and then .... hopefully tells us to write a response letter.
  6. For my first first and third books, the reviews were positive, so I/we just had to write a letter explaining how we will incorporate the feedback into the revisions--a plan--and then that plan would go to the editorial board.  It might take a month or two or three (I forget) for the board to get back and say they will publish the book.  As long as the reviewers are not too demanding, these revisions might just take a couple of months.
    1. Ah, but the reviewers may not be that happy.  For my second book, the first press sent out an examination of the international dynamics of ethnic conflict to at least one comparativist, who wanted a very different book, one looking at the longer dynamics rather than a snapshot of 1990s dynamics.  Since that was not something Bill nor I were willing to do, we had to move to another publisher, so that review process took another several months.  For my fourth book, one of the reviewers again wanted a different book, a more traditional, academic, theory-focused book with, ug, more lit review.  My intent was to tell the Canadian public about what we could learn from the Afghanistan war.  So, the editor asked me to revise and he found another reviewer.  So, that added something like six months.  Did these delays make for a better book?  In the first case, no, as the book didn't change much as the primary review was quite unhelpful.  In the second case, somewhat.  I have generally found article rejection to be more productive, leading to better work, than book rejection.  But that is just my experience.
  7. Once the manuscript is accepted and sent off to the publisher, it will then take about a year before the book is published.  Part of the time is spent copy-editing, which is desperately needed.  The proofs always come back at an inconvenient time and a short fuse.
  8. Then the book is done and it is time to promote it

 Let's do the math: a year to get started (to come up with the idea, to get the grant), at least two years to do the research, one year to write and revise, six months if one is lucky in the review process, and one year to publish: 4.5 years.  For this book, we finished just outside the money the first year we applied for a grant from SSHRC. They tell you where you ranked in the competition, and we were exactly one spot out of getting funded. The next year?  We finished first.  So, that delayed the book by a year.  We then got the money and started traveling--from 2016 to early 2020.  My last bit of fieldwork was a bit of follow up in Berlin in January of 2020 to get a better array of interviews with legislators.  Phil and Dave had some plans to do more fieldwork, but the pandemic ended those plans.  Phil and I did do some zoom interviews to finish up the Canadian case.  So, four years of research.  The writing took, gasp, three years essentially with much of the progress made last summer as we all had "free" time at the same moment so we could revise, send to a co-author, get some revisions quickly, send to the next co-author, get some more revisions and accepted changes, and then back to the first co-author.  

So, that would be eight years thus far from 2015 to 2023.  2024 is for hopefully getting through the publication process. Wish us luck for a speedy, positive experience so that the book is accepted this summer/fall, which would mean a publication date of 2025.  Which would mean ten years from the start and nine years from my last book.  

Good thing I am a full professor and don't need this book for promotion.  It does go to show that there is a hell of a lot of pressure to get a book done at places where one needs a book (and usually a good book at a good to great press) to get tenure.  As mentioned above, this is possible only if one is building from one's dissertation, where much of the research and writing has been done.  In my case, I added a case study (Yugoslavia) which had started and "ended" while I was working on the dissertation and then learning how to teach in my first job.*  And I added some quant work as mixed methods was starting to become the thing, and I had discovered folks had collected data that I could use (thanks to Ted Gurr and the folks at the Minorities at Risk project).  

Anyhow, this could all be read as a rationalization for why it took so long to write this book, but I think it is also a handy example for understanding why academics don't pump out books as fast as Robert B. Parker did in the old days.  We are faster than George RR Martin, so there's that.

 * Never study a moving object.  While I thought much about the Yugoslav case while writing my dissertation as the country broke apart the month I defended my dissertation proposal, I could only really study it once the war ended in 1995. 



Friday, March 29, 2024

Alpine for a Reason

Today, I spent much time thinking of Helmut Von Moltke and Mike Tyson.  The former, a Prussian general, said "no plan survives contact with the enemy."  The latter said: "everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."  The skiing equivalent is that one can have a plan for the ski day, but it often does not survive contact with the snow and with the conditions.

Even looking away from the
mountains, Lech is pretty

Today, I wanted to do more of Lech, the biggest part of the various ski areas in the region that are part of the White ring.  And, well, it didn't work out so well.  Due to wind (I guess) and dangerous snow conditions (the morning started with explosions or artillery fire), the various ski areas in this region were operating at less than half capacity.  The lifts only went part way or only on one side (had I stayed at Zurs, I would have only been able to ski on the bottom half of one side).  Which meant a few things:

  • I couldn't retrace my steps on the second half of the White Ring.  I wanted to try it again with better visibility and fresh snow, but the lifts to that area and within that area were all closed.
  • The lift lines were longer and they don't set up long queues here, so a large mob has to merge into lines of four or six.  I didn't have to wait too long, but I am spoiled by my experiences this year.
  • The slopes had more traffic--instead of being distributed all over the mountain, the crowds were all in the same places.  Which made me a bit nervous as my ability to stop was impinged by the spring snow.

So, I ended my ski day early with my thighs quaking but my knees intact.  I had a good time, but didn't really get the fully experience.  To be fair, it took me several visits to Whistler to get to most of it including some of the very best runs, as they had been closed during previous visits.  

Which means I am now a bit conflicted about next year--with another three months in Berlin for my second half of the Humboldt experience, I will definitely ski some Alps again.  But the question will be whether to try this area again and enjoy it more as it will be earlier with hopefully better conditions and with much greater local knowledge or try Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, Slovenia (?), or some other part of Austria.  Due to the overabundance of German (Franconian) food last week and Austrian food this week, the decision next year might be driven by culinary factors (Italy!).

 I ranked my fave ski days and areas after the Japan trip.  I don't really have to revise the former list, as I enjoyed myself but not as much as I did on those key days.  A large part of that is that I do enjoy skiing with other folks, and I was solo this time.  No ski buddy in the Austrian Alps.

Re the top places I have ever skied, I think this place--Zurs/Lech/Zug/etc fit in at 5th.

  1. Whistler and it remains not so close
  2. Niseko---just so much fun terrain including widely spaced trees and shrubs and a great gully and fun steeps.
  3. Lake Louise
  4. Copper
  5. Alberg Austrian Alps
  6. Alta
  7. Sunshine
  8. Rusutsu
  9. Jay Peak 
  10. Tremblant

Why?  It has a heap of terrain, which is great.  Not much in the way of tree skiing as most of the places are above the tree line.  The hard pack meant that I did not go off-piste much, and there is a lot of great terrain off of the groomed trails, but not for me this time.  The White Ring and other versions of it are pretty special.  But with such flat light and mixed snow, it got into my head so that I couldn't it enjoy as much as I would have liked.  I have enjoyed my trips to Whistler and Lake Louise in part because of I have a good understanding of those places--where to ski, where to avoid.  Here, I didn't have to avoid bumps much, but I did get stuck in some flat areas akin to Sunshine, and I only developed a sense of preferable runs when... they were all inaccessible.  Oh, and Niseko has this place beat in terms of food options as well.  And, no, no souvenirs because they don't have souvenir shops here, and the t-shirts cost 80 euros.  One last big complaint: they need better trail maps because every single map--on the app, printed out, the big signs at the ski areas insisted on having all of the different areas on the same map.  Which meant the scale was wrong, and it was hard to distinguish trails from each other.

I have no regrets as I had a good time and my body survived the experience.  I wish the conditions were better and the maps were a little more helpful, but I had fun even as I flopped around far more than usual.  My one fall today was trying to stop at a restaurant near the top end of a chairlift.  I just laughed.  

And here is a shot of the Lech ski area from inside that restaurant

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Skiing is So Psychological

One of my basic rules of skiing is that if the mountain gets in my head, my skiing turns to shit.  Well, it was one of those days.  I had an ambitious plan--to complete the White Ring, which connects Zurs to Zug to Lech to Stubenbach and then back to Zurs.  The map below is incredibly deceptive.  It makes it seem like the longest route was through Lech.  Pretty sure it was not.

This sign showed that
a) I was on the right path--the white ring
b) the path was hard--a red diamond
(see yesterday's post about Euro signs)
The first leg, which seems kind of short took probably half of the time--it was quite a long, incredibly downhill set of runs.  I had read enough to know this was the most challenging section--could have been worse if the snow was more moguly or icy.  Instead, it was a mix of fresh stuff and pretty hard stuff.  It was pretty clear so visibility was not a problem.  Instead, it was mostly the deep steep and narrow
traverses.  I let the mountain get in my head, so I lost my form and skied mostly in survival mode--lots of sliding and turning to keep my speed down.  It wasn't harder than trails I have done elsewhere, but it really did feel like I was doing down the mountain side, which made me nervous about my speed and control.  And it went on and on and on, and down and down.  So, I sweated a lot, my legs didn't tire, but my lungs did.  I fell maybe once or twice, mostly trying to stop.  Nothing traumatic.

Near the top of the endless decline is a spot
where one can climb to the right to get a
great view. Um, no thanks.  The round
thing on the right is the Ring
View of the run down to Zug
from the gondola on the
opposite side.  I skied from that notch
at the top all the way down
And then I got to Zug. I sat on a spare chairlift bench and rested for about ten minutes and then took the lift to the top.  There, I was greated by a rope tow---a horizontal one to get from the lift to the top of Lech.  It was fine although different from any rope tow I had done before--and I have mostly avoided any kind of lift that involves dragging (until today x 2).  Once there, I was able to take a very long (but not as long as the map suggests) ride down from the top of Lech to nearly the bottom.  I took a break at the first sign of cafeteria where I embraced my addictions:

 The strudel was pretty good.  Not life changing but definitely much needed after the exertion to get there.

The luxurious heated/leather seated lift to start
the adventure had a pictogram to explain when
the safety bar and the protective hood would
automatically lift.
Once done with my snack, I skied to the bottom of Lech, and it is a pretty neat place.  A river runs through it, so I had to carry my skis across the bridge and over to the gondola.  It was a huge, 30 person or so, gondola.  Today was definitely my day for experiencing pretty much every kind of ski lift: 2 person chair, 4 person chair, hooded/heated/leather chair (see the pic), small gondola, huge gondola, rope town, t-bar (always so much fun--their scarcity these downs shows their evolutionary inferiority).  Anyhow, I chatted with the gondola operator since I was squeezed in next time.   Several Brits were signing various songs, which apparently is not normal.  Maybe they had a nip early in the day?  The gondola took us to the top and other side of the mountain range, and the reviews said the next run (blue, so it was easy) was scenic.  Not with the snow that was falling.  Again, I used the trick of following the neon people to stay on course.  The signs were good enough that going off the edge was not a problem, but following people would tell me where the dips were since the light was so flat, it was hard to tell what the pitch of the slope is.  Anyhow, despite the vision challenge, this was a fun run and I might do it again tomorrow, depending on the snow/visibility conditions.  

My hotel has the BEST ski lockers--
the things holding up the boots and
mittens are air dryers.  So, my boots,
helmet, and gloves should be dry
tomorrow.  My coat?  We shall see.
At the bottom was, alas, the aforementioned t-bar.  I have little practice with them (deliberately so), but managed to do ok.  It went up higher than I was expecting.  So, then I had a nice long but not so visible blue run to the bottom of a lift I had taken yesterday, which meant I was back at Zurs.  I forgot how high up it went, so it turns out that my last run was much longer than I was expecting.  Which gave me enough time and space to have one last fall in the wettest snow.  So, I am hoping my jacket dries by tomorrow.  

The good news is that the visibility problems today (unlike yesterday) were due to fresh snow.  So, the conditions should be good for my last day here.  The big question is whether I go back to Lech (by bus) and ski some terrain their or just use the accumulated local knowledge to ski Zurs.  

Oh, back to the psychology of skiing, having so much time alone while doing all of this and sitting on the lifts had me thinking about and being frustrated by letting this stuff get into my head.  I didn't have that problem playing ultimate--I never really choked, as I was always pretty confident in my throws and my ability to see the field. 
I did remember a notable moment long ago--the finals for my weight class in the middle school/high school inter-scholastic tourney.  I choked, losing to a guy I had beaten earlier in the season.  That was the only time that happened, as I won pretty much all of the tourneys at camp despite usually (always?) being the underdog.

I think the combo of unfamiliar equipment (the rental helmet in particular didn't fit well), very mixed snow conditions, limited visibility at times, and the aforementioned steep narrow traverses all caused me to think rather than just ski.  I never did any mindfulness or meditation stuff, so I have no skills to push this stuff out.  I will try tomorrow to just focus on getting into rhythm.  
Even so, I had a great time, and am enjoying this completely different ski experience.



Wednesday, March 27, 2024

So Many Alps, So Little Information

A sign indicating that the
shortcut to shorten a long
trudge would be a bad idea.
 Since I am spending much of the winter/spring in Europe, I thought I would do something I have never done before: Alp!  I am spending three days on the slopes of the Austrian Alps, pretty close to Switzerland and Lichtenstein: Zürs!  It is part of a complex of several towns/cities/villages/reports/ski areas, which is mostly terrific, but presents one major complication: they

provide a single trail map (even on the app) of all of the places, so that it is really hard to navigate the slopes at any specific place.  My modus operandi on my first day was to just take as many lifts to as many peaks near Zürs as possible.  I got lucky with my choice way back when as this area is higher up than other places, so it has less slush/spring snow and more good snow.  However, it has not been perfect.

Today was very much a Goldilocks day: some snow was too soft (slush), some snow was too hard (ice/hard pack) and some was just right.  My Japan trip was pretty much all terrific snow so I am spoiled.  The challenge here is that it is much harder to control one's speed on two kinds of snow: spring and ice.  So, yeah, it was a hard day of skiing.  One of the strange things here is that there are a lot of places to go off trail but still ski on reasonable, ungroomed slopes and few people choose to do that.  I understood why after trying a bit as the snow that is ungroomed is mostly quite hard--it ain't the fluffy stuff that is easy to ski through.  Overall, I figured stuff out even as the visibility varied.   I only fell a couple of times, but my skiing was tested much of the day.

Oh and I violated Steve's #1 rule of skiing: no last runs.  That is, quit before one is tired.  I was pretty exhausted early in part because the added difficulty of skiing on both super hard and super soft snow and in part because I have no idea how to navigate this place and ended up having to trudge quite a distance.  So, I went back to my room, napped, had lunch, and then wanted to try the gondola that was closed earlier in the day.  It took me to .... another gondola, so I went pretty high (most lifts seem to be aimed at getting one to the top of a peak).  The way down was mostly narrow traverses mixed with wider steepish descents, and the snow was meh.  The big problem was that the visibility was awful.  So, I adopted a family of skiers who wore neon jackets.  I stayed right behind them so I wouldn't ski off the edge.  They went down carefully (their kids were all pretty great skiers) and I slid behind them.  Once things cleared up half way down, they put on the jets and then I fell into a very wet patch of snow.  

Those dark spots on the trail below are people--
so, yeah, quite a bit of a traverse to go that way. 
I went the other way.
I did get a good sample of the slopes/peaks nearest to me, so, depending on the conditions tomorrow (it is snowing now but Lech, a nearby area, is apparently a sea of slush), I may try to do the White Ring tomorrow.  It involves skiing and riding lifts from place to place to place (clockwise).  I did a bit of it today, but it would require going further beyond where I have skied thus far.  The good news is that there is a free bus in case I get too tired or find a trail that is beyond what I can do.

Speaking of which, oh, the coding system here is confusing.  In the US and Canada, green is easy, blue is intermediate, black diamond is hard, double black is super hard, and triple black is downright crazy.  While each place rates the slopes themselves, so the ratings are mostly relative to each ski resort, I tend to be able to do all blues and some blacks. My basic rule of thumb is I can do steep as long as it is wide and not bumpy and I will avoid bumps most of the time, even if the run is relatively flat and wide.

The only lift line of any size today--
took about 10 minutes

My hotel from the middle of the slope.
There are lifts behind and in front on slopes
facing each other.  I did both today, a good mix
of runs on both sides.

 Here and in the rest of Europe, the ratings are blue for easy, red for intermediate, red routes as opposed to red trails/runs are pretty hard, and then there are a few blacks.  The reds here varied from pretty straightforward blue cruiser type runs to narrow, steep runs (which were harder due to ice or slush), and occasional bumps.  And because the trail map kind of sucks, I just have to guess from what I can see from where I am standing and from what I saw on the lift up.  I didn't make any massive mistakes, but I did find myself at the bottom of a peak that is behind the peak that is the main one near my hotel, and that bottom didn't have a lift taking me to the top. I had to skate/trudge for quite a distance, including some uphill to get to a blue run that took me back to the base and to my hotel.  

Overall, it was a fun day of skiing, and I look forward to two more. I may keep the days short to keep my body intact.  

How does this place rate to the other places I have skiied?  It definitely rivals and may beat Lake Louise and Whistler for views--the Alps are so Alpine!  I haven't found runs that I love as much as I love a few key ones at both W and LL, but maybe tomorrow will reveal a few super fun runs.

The food situation is kind of funky as the one restaurant I tried is a restaurant and not a cafeteria.  So, good hot chocolate and pretzel.  Will see what kind of lunch I can find tomorrow.  

The hotel's theme is stay sexy. Not sure why
but, yes, my room was/is equipped with a condom!

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Bamberg and the Humboldts

 No, not a rock band, but my past few days of hanging out with super-smart folks and the folks who fund them and me.  The Humboldt Foundation held a meeting for awardees, which involved lots of Franconian food (oh my), several amazing lectures, and meeting these folks.  It is held in Bamberg where the spirit of Humboldt apparently lives.  Let me explain.

Despite Humboldt being a dead rich guy, the foundation is not what he created with his will, but by the German government to foster engagement with foreign scientists after World War II.  It funds, among other things, foreign scholars to spend time in Germany working with German scholars.  This foundation is why I am spending three months in Berlin this year and three months next year. The range of scholarship that is funded is pretty breathtaking, as our meeting includes philosophers and classisists (classics scholars, whatever they are called) and physicists and engineers and material scientists and folks in between.  I have been to such a multidisciplinary event although it did remind me of a conference in 1990ish where Dave and I served as rapporteurs but that was mostly physicists and nuclear engineers and the like.  

The program here involved opening presentations about Bamberg and Humboldt, lectures on optical networks, philosophical rationality, climate change, and the human genome and mutation (now the X-men are on my mind).  We also had small group organized by discipline-ish.  My group of 20 covered the humanities and social sciences.  And we had some excellent meals that exemplified the food of this region (heavy, really heavy).  

I was my first real European rail trip since my college days (except for some trips between Amsterdam and the Hague), and, yowza, are the rails smooth here.  Great tank country.  Anyhow, I got here a bit early on the first day so I walked around the town.  Bamberg is, well, really old and mostly undamaged.  It was founded around 1070 as the home to Holy Roman emperor types, and it was not bombed in World War II, which makes for a really amazing old city.  It is famous for a specific kind of beer: smokey!

The first evening started with a bit of history about Humboldt.  He was one of two sons of a rich family, and he really, really wanted to explore and engage in some serious botany and other scientific investigations.  Which he did once his mother died.  He documented heaps of nature in Latin America and in Europe.  His scientific interests were all over the place, so naming this foundation after him makes a great deal of sense. Alex said once: "Knowledge and insight are the joy and entitlement of humankind."  Indeed.

The first section of the first morning was by Polina Bayvel of University College London on optical networks.  She did an excellent job of talking to folks who were a range of sharp hard physicists and curious social scientists--she made the optics of fiber and of the cloud and the internet most clear.  The history of philosophy and religion prof lost me.  

In the afternoon, our roundtable was partly aimed at introductions so that maybe folks might find some people to work with down the road. The person at the table closest to me was... a former colleague.  Vincent Pouloit, who was hired at McG in my sixth year or so there, is also here.  That was a fun surprise as neither of us knew we are Humboldting this year until we read the program for the event. The group talked a bit about a variety of issues affecting contemporary social science including AI in the classroom.

And then there was the award ceremony.  It was really touching to have every awardee introduced and given a certificate.  I will be most proud to frame it and put it on my office wall.  I felt very outclassed here as some of the folks here are making tremendous contributions to science, but I am, of course, quite proud to be among them.  

The meals, other than the heaviness of the food, have been the best part.  The first night our table happened to be me and a sociologist and three super enthusiastic physicists who so much loved talking about their stuff and using their hands like fighter pilots to explain their concepts.  Last night, as it was before the ceremony, there were some friends/guests of the Humbodlt Foundation at the dinner.  So, I sat next to a very inquisitive chemist who asked me about NATO and other stuff, and explained his work--zapping things with lasers including ... coffee!  

The first presentation of the second day was by Tiffany Shaw (a Canadian!) who talked about Predicting Climate Change.  It was a fascinating talk about some of the dynamics of climate change and where the uncertainty is.  Nope, no uncertainty about it being caused by humans and that it is getting worse.  One of the things I had not known is that the temperature change was essentially additive--that the temperatures are rising in a relatively linear fashion but the effect on precipitation is non-linear.  That means it is getting to get much, much wetter.  Oh my.  I asked a question about 2023 since she had it on her final slide but didn't talk about how last year was beyond the predictions or at least at the outer end of the range of predictions.  She suggested this year might actually not be quite as hot as there were some specific dynamics last year that were temporary that pushed things hotter than the general trends. She finished by saying how this was an exciting time to be doing this kind of work, which reminded me of how I left about doing the International Relations of Ethnic Conflict in the 1990s--exciting but scary and depressing.


The next presentation was about the genome and mutation.  The first big surprise is that most/all mutation is bad--making it more likely for someone to die.  And, well, that ran against all the years of X-Men and Homo Superior.  Magneto had the wrong idea about mutation?  It turns out that what we think about evolution is wrong--it is not really progressive and more by chance!  That mutations tend to be selected out in a large population (like yeast?!) but may remain in smaller populations like elephants these days or homonids way back when.   This nearly neutral model of evolution has really shook things up even as it has not made it out of the genome scholars and into the popular understanding.  

I didn't stick around for the q&a as I had to get to a pharmacy before it closed.  And then I explored more of Bamberg, going into various museums and super old buildings.

My quest for life-changing strudel continues, alas, without success. It was fine.



 We have one last dinner, and then tomorrow, I take the train back to Berlin to prepare for my next adventure: skiing in the Alps!  Hopefully, the wifi will be better in Zurs, but, of course, I will need it less as I will be out and about on many slopes and chair lifts!

Once again, I am thinking--better to be lucky than good.  This winter has been amazing--my time in Berlin and Vienna has been fantastic. I can now add my Bamberg adventure.  Just a terrific time, learning a lot, and enjoying the Humboldt Spirit™.







Sunday, March 17, 2024

Outbidding Oneself? Trump Competes with Himself?

 The entire idea of ethnic outbidding is that one is pushed by competition to ever more extreme promises.  In 2016, Trump was pushed by Cruz and others to ban Muslims, for instance, to prove that he was a better defender of white "Christians" and all that.  Ethnic outbidding is a well understood dynamic built from studying cases where multiple contenders for an homogeneous party each make extreme claims.

But, Steve, Trump doesn't face any competition from his own party.  That's right, his last significant opponent dropped out, and Nikki never really tried to outflank Trump to his right anyway.  Yet now Trump is promising bloodshed if he loses and has gone from calling all Mexicans rapists in 2016 to saying that refugees aren't human: "“They’re not people, in my opinion.” He later referred to them as “animals.”"  

I have to admit that the conventional poli sci tools can't account for this.  While Gary J (who was at UCSD during my time there) long ago argued that politicians are always running scared, always acting as if there is competition even when they have a safe seat, I think something a bit less rational is going on here. 

Here I go from amateur scholar of American politics to amateur psychologist.  Trump is an insecure narcissist who is always seeking louder and louder applause.  Notice that his most threatening rhetoric comes at his rallies.  Does he need these rallies?  No, as a pseudo-incumbent with followers threatening opponents with violence, Trump could run for Presidency without every leaving the golf course.  Sure, the rallies may be useful for some grifting, but he kept on doing his rallies mid-pandemic and again more rallies sans competition because he gets high off of the adulation.  He could just play his old hits--build a wall, ban Muslims, etc, but he wants the crowds (the mobs) to be loud and enthusiastic, so he finds new applause lines and pushes them when they get the desired reaction.

This is, of course, a guess, but I think a sound one.  The alternative is that he thinks that threatening yet ever more violence and ever more dehumanizing racist rhetoric will either cause more people to vote for him or deter folks from voting for Biden.  As someone who has mostly relied on rational choice assumptions, I simply don't think they work here.  There is a risk of outflanking oneself as greater extremism may turn out the extremists but turn off those who are not so extreme but dislike Biden or want more power for the GOP or want yet another supreme court seat.

There may be some crafty strategist manipulating Trump, but the way his claims tend to escalate when speaking off the cuff suggests otherwise.  It suggests a search for lines that will hit, causing the crowd to react, which then gives Trump the fix he needs.  It is not just all adderall. 

To be fair, he is right about one thing--there will be more violence.  Trump incites violence, so this is both a cause and a prediction.  The blood is and will be on his hands, on Fox's, and on the GOP's. 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Berlin 2024 Week Vier: Progress Accelerating

A bit of the wall near
the Canadian embassy
 Time flies when one is sabbaticalling in a foreign land.  Today marks a complete month in Europe with most of it in Berlin (just the one trip to Vienna thus far but that will change soon).  I had my first interviews for the project--it took a while to get started, but now the schedule is filling up.  And I got to present the project to the Hertie folks.  Oh and more walking and gawking and touristing. 

Usually, when I travel to a national capital to do fieldwork, I am there for a week or two, I try to fill up my schedule before or as I arrive, and then scamper around to meet as many people as possible.  This trip is different, of course, since I am here for three months this year and then again three months next year.  So, I prearranged an apartment and other living details but mostly waited to arrange the interviews until I got here.  Just before I started to get frustrated, I started getting appointments for this past week and the upcoming weeks.  I had an excellent conversation with a German air force officer and with a defence attache, and people have started to shower me with the names of interesting people to meet.  So, I will be doing coffee somewhere tomorrow (Sunday) with one such person and then my Monday will be quite full.  I have, of course, preconceptions of where Germany will fit in this project, but have already heard that some of that may be a bit off.  Good--I like learning.  

Speaking of learning, I presented my project to the Hertie folks.  They have a colloquium every two weeks, so I was invited to share my research, such as it is.  The project is in its very early stages, so the feedback can and will be most useful in directing the project.  I received a lot of very good questions, some of which we had not thought about.  It was a very helpful experience, and I hope to be able to do it again next year and see if we have made much progress.

I stayed in character and betrayed my character in the same day.  I saw this and ran away.  No, most of the milk here is in cartons.  I haven't gotten milk in a bag, although I have sometimes bought shelf-stable milk.  I still prefer to buy cold milk, but the shelf stuff was fine.  The betrayal was that the highly rated cookie store near me is vegan.  I had one wildly overpriced cookie, and it was good. I won't be going back mostly because of the price.  It was about 60% the cost of an amazing doner kebab sandwich I had a few minutes earlier, so I know where I will be investing my food splurge Euros.

I did do a spot of shopping as a need a luggage strap for my huge suitcase for the trip back in May.  So, the Mall of Berlin was tempting but not for the goods but because of this:

Yep, a three story slide.  If I wasn't wearing my nice clothes (I was in the neighborhood for an interview), I would have done it.  Maybe next time.

I am finally making progress on writing up the South Korean case study which is a mass of contradictions.  I have been doing some CDSN stuff--podcast recording, meetings, reporting.  So, the beat goes on.

I have been most successful at binging stuff--Masters of the Air is done, The Gentlemen was good except a meh ending, Damsel was a fun princess versus dragon (quite an excellent dragon) tale.  I have slowed my Buffy watching because, dare I say it, I don't find it that compelling.  I think my daughter will disown me....  oh well.

But in the next few weeks, the rhythm will change.  I will get on the road (or rails) more as the Humboldt folks have a meeting for us awardees in Bamberg, which is famous for smoky beer.  The following week I head off to the Alps (which will require planes, trains, and automoboiles) to see how Euro-skiing is different from my experiences elsewhere.  This year, I am doubling the continents where I have skied as I had done North and South America (Chile) in previous years, and Japan/Asia in January.  Very much looking forward to the next new skiing experience.

I will be spending this afternoon checking out a new (to me) neighborhood and food market.  Hope all is well over there.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Vienna Waited For Me?

 I spent roughly 48 hours in Vienna, as Erin Jenne, a friend and co-author, invited me to Central European University to give a talk about my ongoing research and to help her grade her class's poster presentations.  It was not my first time to Austria, as I did visit Salzburg during my Eurailpass summer long ago, but it was my first time to Vienna.  Indeed, I am pretty sure Vienna was the only European capital on this side of the former Iron Curtain that I had not visited other than Athens.  And I am pretty sure we will do Greece next year.

I am most grateful for the chance to present our work on both legislative and defense agency oversight over democratic armed forces, as I received a bunch of really good questions from both the audience in the room and those watching online that has already caused me to add a paragraph to our essentially complete book.  The ethnic conflict class was a blast to the past as Erin had teams of students compare pairs of situations, mostly across space but some over time, applying theories of ethnic conflict to understand the variation.  It exercised old brain muscles, as I have mostly left that stuff behind when I moved onto civil-military relations.

Speaking of ethnic conflict, CEU is in Vienna because it was kicked out of Budapest, Hungary.  George Soros, bogeyman of the far right, essentially pays for CEU, so Orban objected to the school and pushed it out.  It has only been a few years, but enough time has passed that the students of today don't really know the history of the prior situation.  Oh, and the place we ate at after my talk had the most unusual lamp:

Since both events were in the evening and my flight got pushed to the mid-afternoon on Friday, I had time to see the city.  On my first day of tourism, I hit the two museums near my hotel, both based in a prince's former set of palaces.  So, it was a two-for--seeing some great art and walking around a big palace or two.  And, yes, not only is Vienna chock full of massive buildings but a heap of palaces.  I aimed to walk around much of the historical center and accomplished that. 

Klimt's Kiss was the featured
piece at the first Belvedere palace
The second Belvedere palace
had Ukrainian art exhibited


Oh and I found the restaurant that was recommended to me.  I was looking for strudel and found it.

I had plenty of time before my flight to go to two more museums--one about the history of Vienna and a modern art museum.  I learned a lot about Vienna in a short period of time.  That there were huge divides between the left wing city and the countryside in the early 1900s that created much tension, for example.  I was surprised at how much anti-semitism was discussed, even going so far as to mention how Austrians tried to duck responsibility by considering themselves the first victims of the Nazis.

The wire cutters and wire here are from when Austria and Hungary cut the fences separating the two countries in 1989 which ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of communism and autocracy in Eastern Europe.

My timing was good as one of my fave artists had a special exhibit that started on this day I had to do some tourism.  I am not an expert on art, but, yes, I know what I like. Roy Lichtenstein's art has always resonated with me, partly because of my old hobby of collecting comic books, partly because I like art when it is colorful and dynamic, and partly because he had a great sense of humor.  I learned a bit more about him and that he had some sculptures.

This trip to Austria was the first of two this month as I am going to spend the end of the month skiing in the Austrian Alps, my first time skiing in Europe.  So, I predict more schnitzel and strudel in my near future.





Friday, March 8, 2024

Cranky Defence Critic And Threats Facing Canada

 I woke up in the middle of the night because I am old and I ate and drank too much.  I couldn't resist schnitzel and strudel as I am in Vienna for a talk and for some other shenanigans (more on that in another post).  And then I saw Phil Lagassé's post on the Conservatives and if they might spend on defence if elected.  On that general topic, I am a skeptic as I think the CPC cares more about deficits than about defence, and the place to cut the budget is, alas, defence.  That is where the money is.  This was true under Harper.  I don't know what Pierre Poilevre believes in, other than opportunism and pandering to the far right, but I don't think he will commit lots of money to get Canada to 2% of GDP (on the other hand, he could tank the economy, and that is the other way to get there).  Oh, and to be clear, I think we need to spend significantly more on the military--I am just not going to threat inflate to get us there.

Anyway, Phil said in his piece that we need to spend more to deal with the threat in the Arctic, and I had to scoff. Which led to a fun exchange in bluesky, reminiscent of the old days on twitter where we would argue and people thought we hated each other.  Hint: I don't co-author with people I don't like.  Ir don't co-author with the same person several times unless we get along very well.  But it is both fun and educational to push back against one of the very sharpest defence minds in Canada.

Specifically, Phil said: "Canadians know their Arctic is vulnerable."  And my ensuing commentary focused on that: what exactly is the threat to Canada from on high?  And should we consider this the most significant/dangerous threat?  My point is that it is way back in line.  Phil says we need to have better situational awareness up north.  My rejoinder is: no invasion coming, just some spy ships on the water and below it.  Others chimed in: more ships going through the northwest passage means more environmental stuff could go awry.  And, I agree.  But where does that line up in the threat picture?  

Here's my cranky, awakened with acid in my throat, ranking of the threats facing Canada. 

  1. Climate change: Canadians are paying a high price for the changing climate even if we could joke about being a beneficiary as our winters get mostly shorter.  Milder?  Variance is more certain than anything else.  Anyhow, people are dying in floods and fires, much property is being destroyed.  When I speak of threat, I think of real harms to Canadians, to the economy, to governance.  Climate change is first and it is not close.  I was mocked by someone via email when I said this on TV,  but I have never been a super lefty, green environmentalist type in my work.  It is just the reality that in dollar amounts and in lives, the warming planet is harming Canadians in a big way and it is only going to get worse. A recurring theme is that many of the threats either cannot or will not have the military as the lead agency.  This actually comes the closest given that the provinces underinvest in emergency management, knowing that the military will act if asked and won't present a bill.
  2. Pandemics: how many people were killed by covid in Canada?  Nearly 60,000, which is more than Canadians killed in all foreign wars combined if one leaves out WWI.  Plus many people now have long covid.  It did a heap of damage to the economy, and, if you care about deficits (I don't really), guess what blew a big hole in the budget? I am very glad the Liberal government poured a ton of money into the economy as we didn't have runs on food banks during the height of the pandemic.  I just wish Conservative-led provinces actually spent the money allotted to health care on.... health care.  Will covid be the last pandemic?  No.  Indeed, given what it has done to attitudes about vaccinations, quarantines, and masking, I doubt we will respond as well next time.  Scary, eh?  The military was called out because other agencies lacked capacity, but this was really a medical/scientific thing, so let's not allocate a ton of money to the military for pandemic preparedness.
  3. Cyber attacks.  Wars are distant, but cyber attacks are hitting Canadians every day, disrupting people's lives, hurting various businesses and public agencies, and pose a significant threat where some country could bring down our power or harm dams and more.  Is this the military's job?  Partially but not really.  We don't need people who are trained to fire weapons and ready to deploy abroad and all that stuff to fight a cyber war.  We need smart folks at well equipped desks.  We definitely need to have more money spent on the military to survive and thrive in a cyberwar environment, but the CAF is not really our answer to thwarting cyber attacks against the Canadian public.
  4. Far right violence.  We live in a time of increasing attacks by xenophobes, misogynists, homophobes, racists, anti-semities, Islamophobes, and white supremacists (these hates tend to travel together).  Yes, left wing extremists can have many of these attributes, but it is clear that the violence is almost entirely coming from the far right. These haters are doing real harm to Canadians right now, and the trend is in the wrong direction.  Can the military do anything about this?  I think the general rule of not having the military police the public is a very good idea.  Instead, the military's role is mostly to make sure it is not training the next generation of far right terrorists. 
  5. Disinformation.  This is, of course, related to the prior one, but it also involves foreign actors who are trying to tilt election outcomes.  We are increasingly living in a time where people can't trust what they see and hear, or they are trusting the wrong actors.  This leads to develop dangerous beliefs--like vaccines are poisonous, that the government in power is engaging in great, deliberate harm against its ideological opponents, and so forth,  While the Liberals have screwed up many things, they need some trust in government to operate on our behalf, just as the Conservatives or NDP would need people to trust in institutions.  The military should not be the primary actor at home on this either even as they engage in info ops abroad.
  6. People might I was joking about the increases in truck/SUV size being a threat, but more than 2000 people died in car accidents in 2023, and the trend is going up, even if one cuts the peak covid years from the dataset.
  7. North Korean missiles. While China and Russia have nuclear missiles, I have a bit more faith in the workings of deterrence and a bit less worried about accidental/deliberate first use.  North Korea would not have any reason to attack Canada, but I could imagine that their aim might be that good.  Of course, what is the CAF's role in this?  Providing warning that Vancouver is doomed and then helping to respond to the aftermath.  We have no defences against ballistic missiles nor will Canada have any such systems  anytime in the future.  I am a skeptic about American strategic defense (although tactical anti-missile systems seem to range from pretty good to amazing), but I do think Canada should join the US system as the ABM treaty is very dead.  This is a military job and would justify the massive investment in NORAD modernization.  Otherwise, it really is a system to warn us to give us a few minutes to kiss our loved ones goodbye.  Oh, and manage relations with the US.
  8. US relations!  The Canadian economy and its security crucially depend on the US, and, oh my, Canada will be so very, very fucked if Trump were to win. Democracies have lived beside authoritarian regimes before (hey, Finland!), but so much of Canada's position in the world relies on this huge market and this peaceful border and cooperation with the US.  When was the last time Canada fought abroad without the US beside its side?  UN missions?  Guess again as the UN relies heavily on American support to do its ops.  One could argue this would mean less wars for Canada--no more Afghanistans (which was purely to help its ally).  But Canada would be even at greater risk of being bullied by the China's and Saudi Arabia's of the world.  And, of course, by Trump himself.  But again, this is not the CAF's job to prevent or mitigate this.  If Trump is elected, most of the problems above get worse and this item zooms to the top.
  9. Maybe here goes: incomplete understanding of what is happening in the Arctic. Yes, that stuff up north is still Canada, but the threat to Canadians up there is not really that posed by Russia or China but by the lack of infrastructure and by the aforementioned climate change, pandemics, etc.

So, if the military is not needed for this stuff, or only needed for domestic emergency ops, why spend tens of billions on it?  Why increase spending?  It comes down to this: the military is an instrument of policy.  This means that it can and is used to further Canadian government objectives even if most of those objectives are not about thwarting threats to Canada.  Canada has consistent interests in the world for which the CAF is a key tool, such as helping to foster stability in Europe and Asia.  Canada, like the US, has learned that when those continents catch fire, it damages Canadian interests and hurts Canadians.  A war in the South China Sea with or without the Canadian navy would be catastrophic to the Canadian economy.  War west of Ukraine would also be quite damaging.  

NATO itself is an important interest that requires the Canadian military to invest in itself and in NATO missions.  Ultimately, Canadians want to do good in the world and want to support the international order, whether we call it liberal or rules-based or American hegemony or whatever.  Because we understand that Canadians have more influence within institutions than outside of them, that the rules have favored the Canadian economy, and helped the Canadian people to enjoy the fruits of international cooperation.

Ultimately, one wants a well armed, well trained, well staffed military to prepare for the worst.  In my ranking of threats, I focused on both likelihood of the threat being realized and the amount of harm that is likely if the threat happens.  Climate change is at the top because it is happening and is not going away and is going to do heaps of damage.  The threat in the Arctic is lower down because it is unlike that any foreign actor will attack that way and the damage they can do is not that great, again compared to everything else.

Oh, and what is also a threat?  Having an under-funded, unprepared, ill-equipped military sent off to war--that way lies tragedy.  So, yes, spend more, but let's not exaggerate where the threats are coming from and what the role of the military is.