Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Canada Expands Its War: Qomments

The Nerdist broadcast has a thing called Qomments--questions and comments.  Which pretty much captures what this post on the news du jour. 
  • Does it matter that Canada has no legal cover for this?  This is the first time I know of (and I am no Canadian military historian) where Canada is engaged in combat (by planes, if not by SOF-ish adventures) without either an international resolution (UN or NATO or both) or an invitation by the country to be protected. 
  • Is the kind of bombing in Syria different than that which is going to happen now in Iraq?  That is, not that there are no targets left in Iraq but if the fighting shifts into the cities, such as Mosul, there may be different risks--more risks of hitting civilians.  Is the Syrian air campaign seen as cleaner?  I have no idea.
  • The plan in Iraq is clear but hard--try to get the existing government to make deals with the Sunnis that bind them better than the last time.  Not easy at all but an exit path.  Bombing helps keep ISIS down, but lasting stability requires a deal of some kind.  Syria?  I have no idea.  Bomb ISIS helps Assad, but not bombing ISIS in Syria helps ISIS in Iraq.  Damn. 
    • I hate talk of exit strategies because it means you are far more focused on the getting out rather than the doing.  But there is some need for some idea of what the strategy is here besides whacking moles.  Attrition is probably not going to work too well.
  • I do prefer renewing this thing a year at a time rather than every six months.  Not just because the media time suck is then less frequent, but because none of the actors involved benefit from the spin cycle being that frequent.
  • What will happen to public opinion now that the mission is expanded to Syria?  The recent poll does not ask this.  Given that ISIS is mighty unpopular here, especially after the events of October in Quebec and Ottawa, the best guess is that the public is not going to mind so much as long as it does not mean much more risk.  Which gets back to whether the air strikes in Syria are qualitatively different than those in Iraq?
  • I am not thrilled that there is not much of a learning curve when it comes to the language about ground forces: "Canada will not be participating in ground combat operations."  I prefer the American language about enduring offensive operations.  CANSOF are going to be doing combat, as they have already done so.  They have fought when fired upon and put themselves into places where such stuff happens.  They have participated in the air campaign by lasing ISIS targets, which means they are abetting combat from the ground.  So, "ground combat ops" is a lousy description of what they are not doing.  What they are not doing is engaging in an enduring offensive effort.  If they want to foreswear raids (something that the American language clearly permits), then they can say that.  Oy.
Just one key certainty: humility.  Canada's contribution is meaningful but it is not going to swing outcomes by themselves.

Monday, March 23, 2015

More Hours in the Classroom

It is time for that ritual post--responding to those who think that being a professor means we work 10 hours a week.  One of my earliest posts compared a prof to an iceberg in that much of what we do is unseen (and that we destroy ships).  An op-ed in a Canadian newspaper (which was so awful it does not deserve linking) made the claim that our teaching is only ten hours a week and that we should not do the research stuff that much.  More significantly, the governor of Wisconsin, a state known for its excellent institutions of higher education, has been saying that profs need to teach  more classes and do more work.

Before I start: a caveat--I teach a 2/1 load--two courses one semester and one course the other as I buy out one class a year with the funds that come with my endowed chair.  So, I am a particularly poor situation to make any arguments since I am in the classrooms less than my colleagues.  But I am self-aware, not humble, so I will argue anyway about these claims. 

Let's consider this a challenge: if folks want us to teach more, what do they want us to do less?  Because, yes, Virginia, Scott Walker, most profs work 40 or more hours a week as it is.  So, if you want us to do more time in the classroom, we are going to do less of something else.  Just tell us what you want us to do less of:
  • Teaching:  Yep, we could spend more time in the classroom and less time teaching.  How does that make sense?  
    • One of the biggest time commitments is to the supervision of undergraduates and grad students.  At liberal arts colleges, they spend far more time supervising each individual undergrad.  At most universities, one can spend a fair amount of time supervising various kinds of undergrad theses.  In my previous job, I did some of that, and it takes time.  I did supervise a bunch of PhD students and still do some of that, and I now supervise MA students in greater volume.
      • Maybe we should have fewer graduate students, which would reduce how much time we spend on supervision.  But that is a decision that should be made directly and not through the back door of higher teaching loads. 
    • One could spend less time preparing lectures and seminar discussions.  Yes, this actually does take time.  The more classes you teach, the more prep work that is required.  Sure, over the course of time, each class is mostly prepped.  But in most disciplines, there is new stuff to learn to teach, so we need to read books, journals, newspapers, and other media through we learn stuff.  Yes, we keep learning.... if we have the time. 
    • One could reduce the time spent on teaching by having more multiple choice exams.  There is room in the academic enterprise for these things, but they do not really test thinking as much as they test memorization (at least as far as I have been able to design such tests).  To really educate the next generation to think better, we need to see it on paper--via papers and essay exams.  Which means grading, which takes time.  More classes mean less time for grading.
  • Research: This is usually the target of the teach more crowd.  Why?  Because research is useless?
    • No.  It is not.    I have argued elsewhere that teaching and research inform each other.
    • One example of the relevance of social science research that is often targeted.  There has been much scholarship on what kinds of political institutions make ethnic conflict more or less problematic.  While there is much about the relative success story of South Africa, one key ingredient is that they brought in the experts--the academics--who studied such stuff and asked how they should design their constitution.  Afghanistan? No, not at all.  
    • If you take a look at the map around UCSD (the place I know best, but true elsewhere too), you will see that it is damn near surrounded by bio-tech and information technology companies.  Tis no accident.  
    • I am currently reading a book on a key moment in Canadian history: the Normandy campaign.  Why is this relevant?  Because it shapes how Canada sees its military and others see it, which might just shape the role it plays in future multilateral military operations.
    • The reality is that universities are the epitome of economic multipliers--money goes in, and it spurs the local economy... more so than prisons or military bases.  And much of that is related to the spinoffs from research.
    • It is certainly true that not all basic research turns into tangible economic outcomes, and that private actors can do research, too.  But much of what private actors do is subsidized by government one way or another.  Plus the accidental discoveries of random academics often have huge value-added.  And are often, of course, inconvenient for the powerful.  Which is why the freedom to engage in whatever research one wants (within limits--no longer experimenting on students that much anymore) is so very key.  That government labs and private labs are unlikely to produce that inconvenient stuff that is often so important in the long run.
    • Via grant-writing, we are expected to raise money for our research--much of that money does not end up in our pockets.  Actually, none of it does.  Much of it funds graduate programs, some of it funds travel/equipment, and much of it funds universities via "indirect costs" that never go through the professor's account.  
  • Service:  Much of that research stuff and that teaching stuff requires service to function.  
    • We need people to spend time reviewing manuscripts (articles, books, chapters) so that we can be sure they are worthy of dissemination via reviewed outlets.   I often say that I don't work that much on weekends, but then I realize I do most of my article reviewing on weekends.  I am probably not the only one.
    • We spend much time evaluating ourselves so that we only hire, promote and tenure those who are deserving.  This takes a tremendous amount of time--reading files, writing recommendations, listening to talks, etc.
    • Speaking of recommendations, not sure if it goes here or under teaching, but if you ask folks to teach more, they might have less time to write letters of recommendation for their students.  Which might hurt their employability.  Oops.
    • We are expected do outreach more and more--give talks to folks in the community, actually do community service, speak to the media not just to provide expertise but raise the visibility of our university, engage in social media to promote ourselves and thus our university, etc.  If we are in the classroom for more hours, we would have to cut back on this. 
    • Self-govern.  Sure, we could have more administrators hired to do much of our self-government for us, but that would require more money.  So, if we teach more, are you going to hire more administrators to do the self-governance that we would not have time for?  Maybe.  
I could go on, but the point here is clear--you want profs to do more time in the classroom, it will come at some cost--less time doing supervision, less time bringing in grant money and producing new knowledge, and less time doing the service that makes this academic enterprise work.  

Could I teach more and still be productive?  Sure, but I would have to do less stuff--I would have to say no to more students who need me to be a second or third reader on their theses and dissertations.  I would have to say no to public engagement.  The fundamental fallacy of the past decade or two of management has been that we can do more with less.  The reality, as Dave Perry put it for his analysis of the Canadian Forces budget, is that we would have to do less with less.  Indeed, with more teaching slots going to adjuncts, the research/supervision/service load is increasingly concentrated on the smaller number of tenure track folks. 

To argue that professors are wasting heaps of time is to engage in the same kind of fantasy that we can cut government budgets by reducing the number of civil servants without losing any service.  Most of the people in government jobs are doing something real.  Most, although certainly not all, professors are working pretty hard.  The idea of waste allows one to dodge the real tradeoff--if you want more of x, expect less of y.  But that tradeoff is quite real.  So, just be honest, and tell us what we should do less of in exchange for more classroom hours.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gallows Humor

Literally--humor about executions that point at the hypocrisy of the US and its politicians, again H/T to Brian MacFadden and the NYT:

If you cannot laugh about it, you can only cry about it...  The satire here is excellent for emphasizing the damn near universal hypocrisy on this.

Twitter Fighting

Many of the players in this year's tourney, including many on #TeamSpew, are new to the game.  The basic instructions are at http://www.twitterfightclub.com/.  But what does it mean to twitter fight in TFC15?  Each round of the tourney, each player will face another player and they must out-tweet them to both the public at large and a panel of judges.

Yes, it is in part a popularity contest, which is why I tended to draft twitter-ers who have more followers.  But the people with huge followings often do not engage in the game seriously, so they often don't win the votes of the judges.

So, again, what does out-tweet mean?
  1. Well, it can be volume.  That was certainly one of the strategies I used, as I could be online tweeting while doing my regular academic stuff more than some of the folks I played against who had jobs that took them away from twitter/computer and certainly those who were flying (pre-wifi in the skies those days of yesterday [two years ago]). 
  2. It can be insight/utility.  That is, one tweets stuff in one's area of expertise to produce high quality tweets--helping people to learn about that area.
  3. It should involve engagement--that the twitter fighter engages the adversary, the judges and those following the players.  Twitter is far more interactive than blogs (indeed, some judges discount links to blogs), and so to be a good twitter fighter, one should be engaging those who follow you.  Some judges will test the twitter fighters by asking questions or offering challenges.  One would be wise to follow the judges of your round for at least the day of that round. [Yes, some ego stroking might be involved]
  4. Funny but not brutal snark is a key ingredient.  The idea of this tourney is to have banter among those doing national security stuff.  So, funny tweets or strategies (someone came up with a fake twitter account of @exumAM's beard).  In my last couple of rounds in my finalist campaign, I came up with some meme-ish graphics that were fun (at least to me):

 I have already seen a number of players make amusing boasts and offering challenges.  The key is to keep things in the spirit of the game.  I have made more than a few friends and some valuable connections with the people who defeated me, those who I beat, and those who were in other parts of the brackets.  Twitter fight club may seem like a time suck, but it has been very, very good to me.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Star Wars: Space Only

Someone has edited the end of Return of the Jedi to be just the space stuff

 And it is just fantastic.  It ramps up the tension far more than the three sided battle--on Endor; between Luke, Daddy, and the Emperor; and the space stuff.   But, well, the rest of the stuff was kind of necessary.

Still, the interplay among the various elements in space is far more compelling than the space battle that opens Revenge of the Sith.  There, it is just Anakin and Obi-wan.  Here, so much more with stakes one cares about.

Once again, the internet is a magical place and this is why I am on twitter.

H/T to @cblatts

Friday, March 20, 2015

Twitter Fight Club 2015: The Draft!

As one of the recent finalists of Twitter Fight Club (I was second in 2013), I have the honor having one of the sections of the bracket named after me AND I get to play a role in the seeding.

Today, at 5pm, the past four finalists will take turns "drafting" the 64 people in the game.  The first four people picked will be #1 seeds, the second four people picked will be #2 seeds, and so on. This takes a bit of work out of the hands of organizer of TFC: Caitlin Fitzgerald.  Given how much work she does for this month-ish of silliness, snark, and networking, it is very least we could do.

How will I choose?  I have financed a team of data analysts from a variety of places (you know, 538, Silicon Valley, Michigan's ICPSR, Wall Street, etc) to develop an algorithm that takes into account the competitor's klout, tweet volume, number of followers and experience in previous twitter fight clubs.  I then take the subsequent ranking and move people up and down based on the quality and quantity of snark I have witnessed, their actual day jobs (working for media outlets > first year grad students), and a variety of idiosyncratic factors.  For instance, there is one player who blocks me and whom I block. I will not be drafting that player. 

I will be picking third in a snake-style draft--1 2 3 4 4 3 2 1 1 2 3 4, etc.  At the end of the tourney, the drafter who picks best (there are points for each picked player that survives each round) will be declared the winner.  I have come close to winning not just the tourney but the bracket part of the competition.  But I don't really expect to win here.  If I do, well, woot for me!

And, yes, I am releasing my strategy ahead of the draft because the other drafters are not privvy to the particular algorithm or how I have modified even that secret formula based on fairly random factors. 

Oh, and how do I know that my algorithm has face validity?  Because it results in @Hayesbrown being ranked first.  And he is the favorite heading in.  I start with chalk but will not stick to it.

Do follow the fun today at 5pm EDT at #TFC15.

When Iraq is Easier

I wrote last week that the "Russian front" was far easier than the Mideast for the US and its allies because it did not involve state/nation-building/counter-insurgency.  All the US and NATO has to do is credibly commit to those inside the alliance and hold the line against Russia.  Not easy but easier than building stable political systems in the Mideast.

Well, next week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to announce Canada's next steps in the region and the "Syria" word has been mentioned.  So, I thought I would take a moment to ponder the differences between Iraq and Syria.  And the first thought is .... Iraq is easier.  How so?

When people talk of endgames, strategies, and exits, there actually is a real set of answers for Iraq and damn near none for Syria.  There is a recognized, semi-viable government in Iraq.  Unfortunately, it has been led by Shiites who have been using their positions to make up for the years of repression and oppression by Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government.  Oh, and their religious identity makes Iran their most appealing ally.  Good times.  Still, this basic reality that there is something there in Baghdad means that there are ways out for the US and its allies.  Not easy at all but the potential way out of the quagmire: strengthening the military and police of Iraq so that they can provide security AND the hard part--somehow the government becomes more interested in not harming the Sunnis who are not part of ISIS or any other insurgency. 

Sure, that is not easy but compare it to Syria.  What is the way out of Syria?  Um..... Yeah.  There is no viable opposition that is not ISIS, AND the government is just impossibly illegitimate.  What does victory look like in Syria?  Damned if I know.  I have no clue about how to get from here to there.  The key point here is that Syria is just very, very complex.  Hitting ISIS helps Assad, which is something most folks do not want to do.  Hitting Assad helps ISIS.  Oy.  Helping the other opponents of Assad has helped ISIS since these folks tend to lose and then give up their stuff to ISIS. 

The other difference for Canada's big decision next week is that Iraq is legal--government welcomed all of us in, and intervening in Syria is not so much.  No UN resolution, no NATO consensus, no government asking for help.  Not sure this matters that much to Harper, but it matters to the Canadian public to a degree.  Would Syria be a bridge too far?  Probably not as long as the casualties stayed where they are now (one killed, three wounded). 

I cannot guess what Harper will announce in a few days, although I have little doubt that Canadian Forces, in a non-convetional form, will be sticking around for a while longer in the Mideast--bombing in Iraq, SOF training plus in Iraq at the very least.  Doing more?  Maybe, but I would still bet against conventional forces doing counterinsurgency stuff.  No Kandahar II for this government.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Progress Means Procrastination

That wonderful academic moment where you figure out the paper/chapter that is due soon is, alas, quickly followed by the urgency to procrastinate, such as with this fun game I learned via @midnight: http://www.googlefeud.com/

and what have I learned?  That I suck at this game.

Hope you procrastinate well!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It is All About the Small Pleasures

It is important to smell the roses and all that.  And it is important to enjoy some good snark:

Of course, the U of Tennessee undermining tenure is pretty ugly, but gallows humor has a purpose--to take a bit of the pain out these kinds of things.

Either you laugh or you cry, and I choose to laugh.

Thinking/talking about Social Media and Research

I was asked to participate at a Carleton workshop on social media and research.  I live-tweeted it, so that means I can storify it.  I missed the opportunity to vine it, snapchat it, pinterest it, and otherwise social media it.

It was useful to get me thinking about how others think about this stuff and things I tend not to think  about: ethics for one....

I am thinking of coming up with a twitter 101/FAQ.  Let me know if you have any suggested entries.

I could either do that or scout my draft picks for twitter fight club 2015.

The Dark Timeline Gets Darker: Bibi Returns

I am not a Mideast or Israel expert (I have religiously avoided studying Israel/Palestine in my career--too much literature to read, too much emotion to wade through), but my understanding of ethnic politics leads to a few thoughts that converge with Marc Lynch's tweet yesterday:
What can we conclude from what happened in this campaign and with this outcome?  Simply that Israel is screwed.  Netanyahu successfully "gambled for resurrection" by running as if Obama was his opponent, by outbidding his opponents in demonizing the Arab voters, and by taking the two-state solution off of the table. 

Give Bibi props as it worked.  And it demonstrates something that we political scientists have known far too well and for too long--that which is good for the short term, that which is good for the politician is often bad, very bad for the country.  Indeed, the Bill and Steve book (which needs to have the new intro be an etch-a-sketch so that we can add new irredentism news these days) is entitled For Kin or Country for a reason. 

No good can come of the stances that Netanyahu took in the last days of the election.  His move to deny a two-state solution was an essentially irredentist one--that Israel will be larger, containing the Jews outside the traditional boundaries and bring in the historical (Biblical, I guess) territories.  The problem, of course, is that this will mean that Israel will continue to contain an ever increasing population that is not Jewish.

People have long pondered whether Israel will remain democratic or Jewish, but that it could not be both.  If a large hunk of the population cannot vote, then Israel will not be truly democratic.  If they can, then they will vote and erode the Jewish character of the state.  The two state solution was a way to avoid this fork in the road.  Instead, Netanyahu pushed on the accelerator and the choice seems have been made last night.

I had a bit of hope, as I thought that the increased Arab vote (those residing in the 1947 boundaries can vote) could be a critical coalition partner that would lure at least one major party to engage in a multi-ethnic appeal.  But Netanyahu has proved, I think, that he can win by going the other way.  It is always hard for the multi-ethnic party to compete with the ethnic outbidder, but not impossible.

It seems like enough of Israel has chosen its destiny.... a very difficult and dangerous future where its most powerful ally is alienated, where the task of governing hostile territories becomes not just part of Israel's past but an integral part of its future, and where the values of many are sacrificed due to fear.  Israelis have often felt friendless before, but now they are governed yet again by someone who is making friendlessness both a strategy and a goal it seems.

Tis a dark timeline indeed.