Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Spew in Review

Last week, I went through the stats of the Spew to see which posts got attention, which ones got comments, and how people found me here.  Today, on the last day in 2014, as I seek to break up the reading of many fellowship applications that I am reviewing, I want to review the year in Spew more directly--what were the topics I covered as the year progressed, which predictions were right and wrong, and so on.

This blog started more than five years ago as an exercise in narcissism.  With the publication of the new book, it became more than that--it became a platform for self-promotion!  Woot! Anyhow, the year was mighty good to me even as the world was crumbling.  Ok, to be clear, the world catching fire was good for my business--demonstrating the relevance of the new book since it covered the role of alliances and coalitions in managing hotspots and reminding us of the relevance of irredentism and xenophobia (thanks Putin).  I had much to write about over the year.  Let's take a look:

A Wired Candidate

Blogging, like comedy, is all about timing.  I just started re-watching The Wire as Frosh Spew has never seen it.  And then this hits twitter:
The answers come quickly:  Omar?  Bunny Colvin?  Slim Charles?  One of the Sobotkas?  The Greek?  Ziggy (no, that was Jeb's brother). 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Harry Potter and the Endless Re-watch

The combination of HP on multiple channels in multiple countries and my nasty cold meant a heap of Harry Potter on TV the past few days.  I watched the first two movies in the US on Disney Family, part of the third and all of the fourth on Space in Canada, and the last four movies via our DVDs.  Time well spent.  I, of course, remembered the story and the deviations from the books pretty well, but some details and some reactions stood out.  My cold has wiped out my memories of the previous watching, but Erin Simpson (@charlie_simpson) has several nice tweets (as did I) during the festivities (she was watching independently from me, but our conversations crossed streams not unlike the magic emanating from dueling wands).*
* Ok, that is a bit much.  Blame my cold or the incredibly dusty room in which I watched the final Harry Potter movie (until the next one).  Oh, and some folks seemed surprised that folks who study national security love Harry Potter.  They must be new to my feed/blog.
 JK Rowling is a mean woman, as my wife always argues with heaps of death, gratuitous and not so much in the last book/movies.  One of the shocks this time was how much collateral damage Harry, Ron, and Hermione cause at Gringotts.  I blame the movie producers, as the book does not have heaps of goblins falling to their deaths or getting burned.  That was all prior to Voldy showing up, and were consequences of their assault on the bank.  They are as or more complicit in their deaths as Luke is with the construction workers on the Death Star.

I will always feel a chill when McGonagall orders Hogwarts to defend itself.  Maggie Smith was the underrated most valuable player of the entire series. 

I found it very appropriate that it was Hermione that knocked the werewolf off of Lavender Brown, her former romantic rival.  Poor Lavender.  Speaking of dead female Gryffindors, I guess I hadn't noticed that it was Parvarti Patil who Padma and Trewlawney were covering in the Great Hall during the timeout in the battle.  Again, JK is a mean woman....

As Erin noted on twitter, they really needed to do some contacts work or better casting--if it is all about Harry having Lily's eyes, make sure that Lily's eyes look a bit like Harry's, right?  Young Lily?  Not so much?  Older Lily? Maybe.

It got very dusty during the Snape memories scene--the series really is about love over hate.  Not just Harry vs. Voldy but also Snape vs. ... Snape.  The dusty conditions continued during the resurrection stone scene.

Always, always pause during the Voldy hugging Draco scene.


Neville's speech is great--watching the movies all over again, it is great to see Neville's progress from shy, awkward kid to hunk/hero.  My nieces have a severe love for this guy.

Two questions remain at the end.  Well, many as Erin was hardly satisfied by the 19 years later epilogue.  The first question is: would Harry really become an auror?  Would he continue to be fighting dark magic users?  Seems to me he had his fill by the end of the seventh book, that he had completed his mission and earned a peaceful life (to deal with his PTSD).  I like that JK had Ginny becoming a Quidditch player and then Q-reporter.  I guess Harry could not pursue quidditch after this, but perhaps a more apt occupation might have been ... professor?  Isn't Harry's best destiny to follow Dumbledore?  Harry's happiest moments in a dark year (Order of Phoenix) was teaching defense against dark arts to his friends.  He delighted in their success.  It seems to me that he would have been ideal to occupy that post for more than just one year at Hogwarts.  And publish or perish pales in comparison to dueling with the Dark Lord.

The other question my daughter raised this evening: how did the Potters get that big stack of cash in their vault at Gringotts?  How did this family become so wealthy?  I joked that a family with an invisibility cloak handed down from one generation to the next would have ways of making money.  She was shocked that I would suggest that the Potters were a family of thieves.  Maybe not.  Just an old wizarding family with a big vault and a big cloak....   Pretty sure that while Harry broke the wand (in the movie, buried with Dumbledore in the book) and gave up the stone, the cloak stays in the family.  Anyhow, something to ponder as my daughter and I turn to a completely different epic take--that of Baltimore.


Ending the War? No, But More Than Just A New Name.

I didn't blog yesterday about the declaration of ISAF's end because I am still addled by a winter cold, but had some stray tweets that I would like to bring together today.

  1. The war, obviously is not over.  It is not even over for the Americans since the US is leaving 11,000 troops in Afghanistan.  While most are doing training and providing logistics, some are Special Operations Forces, and will be allowed to engage in combat.  So, this is might mean the end of US (and other outside) conventional forces engaged in combat in Afghanistan, but it is not the end of combat for the US and other SOF providers.
  2. This is not the first time that a mission has changed rather than ended.  The classic case is Bosnia, which went from the Implementation Force [IFOR] to the Stabilization Force [SFOR] after the first year, so that Bill Clinton's promise of a one year mission could be bet; and then it went from SFOR to European Force [EUFOR] to keep the promise that NATO went in to Bosnia together and would leave together even if it really meant that the US and Canada were leaving and the Europeans were stuck.  So, yes, missions changing names to give lip service to promises is nothing new.  The moves in Afghanistan this month are very significant indeed, but the desire to meet various promises means overselling the meaning of yesterday.  Resolute Support is NATO's new name for its continued role here, which is a lousy name, but looks good compared to the American replacement of OEF with OFS (oh for F's sake?): Operation Freedom's Sentinel. 
  3. Which leads to more overselling.  We have plenty of speeches talking about completing the mission, accomplishing goals, and so on.  Obviously, Afghanistan is not in great shape, with 2014 being a year of many civilian casualties and much bleeding by the Afghan security forces.  It is not clear whether they can keep it up.  But one must say nice stuff as one takes down flags and hands over bases and such.  It may be the case that the Afghan forces can hold the line (as it were).  We don't know.  For most countries involved, the mission was more about supporting an ally than about accomplishing something in Afghanistan.  For these countries, the mission was mostly a success.  
  4. Yesterday is similar to and distinct from the end of the US effort in Iraq in 2011.  We are leaving mid-war with the future very much uncertain, so that is similar.  But the US is not really leaving, as the 11lk left in country will be doing meaningful stuff, unlike the complete departure in Iraq in 2011.  One of the reasons I resist calling the effort in Afghanistan an occupation is that the intervention there, contra to Iraq, had much more support from key parts of the country.  So, the politicians in Afghanistan were actually trying to get their leader to agree to keeping the Americans around for as long as possible, which is very much distinct from Iraq, where it was politically impossible to support a continued American presence.  It is just frustrating that it seems like Afghanistan got the President it needed way late in the game (too early to tell, of course).
  5. Finally, and most self-centeredly, yes, NATO and Afghanistan is still relevant.  Why?  Because I say so.  No, because the dynamics in the book apply to alliance efforts elsewhere and to coalitions everywhere (such as in the skies over Iraq and Syria), not to mention the comparative civil-military relations of advanced democracies are still in play and always will be.

Thriller Writing: Politics and Editing

There was some discussion of Tom Clancy's work last night on twitter, and whether it was his right wing politics that made his latter books bad.  I would say two factors mattered as much or more for him and for many authors in this genre, which were then exacerbated by his right-wing politics.

The challenge for thriller authors, as opposed to mystery authors, is that one often needs some political dynamics to kick off and then complicate the crisis.  And politics is, perhaps like sex, hard to write in a way that is semi-realistic and yet still interesting.  It is no accident that Hunt for Red October is Clancy's best book--it has the least amount of political machinery required to move things along.  Red Storm Rising has a modest amount of incredibly stupid politics--that Soviet response to the loss of some oil production facilities would be to invade Europe so that it could invade the Mideast--but these political dynamics are mostly out the way early. 

The problem is that as the Jack Ryan series goes on, he gets deeper and deeper into politics, and politics is required to move things along more and more.  And Clancy sucked at politics.  Not just right-wing-ness, but just stupid, simplistic, often racist takes. 

The second factor that kicked in mightily is that big name authors get edited less and less as their success gets bigger and bigger.  Knowing what we know about Clancy, there is no doubt that as he became quite popular, his editors probably stopped doing much editing.  This is something my wife, a freelance editor, has long believed about most successful authors, knowing what she knows from the inside of the business.  I will always admire her big name clients for wanting her to work on their stuff--that they wanted to write the best they could and knew that more help was better than no feedback. 

Anyhow, Clancy (and others) could not write politics, and Clancy (and others) became less edited over time.  Once Clancy made Ryan President, the politics became ... unintentional humor.  And I stopped reading Clancy.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Twitter Outage Ambivalence

I often whine about losing access to the internet when I stay with my in-laws over the holidays.  This year was no exception, except that my forays to Starbucks was more limited due to a nasty cold that still plagues me.

This year I am more ambivalent.  I am still very much driven by the fear of missing out on stuff-- my self-diagnosed most significant neuroses.  Being off the net means that I am missing stuff that is going on--conversations on facebook and twitter, news at various places, silly stories at the usual websites, etc.  On the other hand, I was kind of glad not to be sucked into some discussions (whether civil-military relations applies to the NYC cop situation).  I do find myself being weak--being easy to troll, having a hard time avoiding engaging in arguments that I see in my feed.

Having a technological barrier that imposes costs (no wifi at the in-laws) can both be boon and bane.  I read and reviewed all the papers in the volume I am co-editing.   So, there's that.  I also plowed through a bunch of Michael Connelly mysteries.  But I missed my snark outlet.  It was nice to be able to tweet this morning this:
Of course, the big bane is that I do enjoy being connected to my friends, and hate being disconnected.  If I was healthy and could spend time at brew pubs over the holidays, maybe that would have lessened this sense of disconnection.  Instead, I was stuck.

Anyway, I am back, and ready to think aloud on the internet again.  Probably not a good thing ;-)

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

If I had a Time Machine

Nearly all time travel sagas seem to assert that the real timeline is less bad than the alternatives, so that even whacking Hitler in 1937 produces worse outcomes than WWII, genocide, and the rest.  Putting that aside, if we could go back in time, averting WWII would seem to be number one on most lists.  But would else would be in the top ten?  I ponder this as it is the 35th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which has begotten incredibly misery for nearly all involved:
  • USSR would have collapsed anyway, but perhaps slower and with less costs imposed upon the generation that fought the war;
  • the Afghans--paid a huge price during the Soviet invasion, during the civil war, under the Taliban and since 9/11
  • the US: 9/11 might have happened anyway, but maybe not.  Without the generaiton of a generation or two of jihadists, maybe Al Qaeda does not develop as far, as big, as ambitious....  Who is Bin Laden if there is no Soviet occupation?
  • Canada/Europe: ISAF was not fun for anyone.
The only actor that may have benefited from the Soviet invasoin might be the ISIS of Pakistan--as it empowered, forced the US to be dependent on Pakistan, and on and on.

so, what are the key decision points where I would direct a handy time machine?*  The assumption here is one can only change one thing.
* I am focusing only on 20th century and beyond, as we got really good at doing really bad stuff with industrialization AND moving too far back in time is likely to stress out the flux capacitor. 
  1. Pre-WWII, naturally.
  2. Pre-WWI--if I remember correctly, the toll there was higher.  Plus it set in motion the USSR.  Russia was in deep need of a revolution, but a Communist one?  Yuck.
  3. Vietnam off-ramp.  This would save a million lives or so in Vietnam, not to mention other places the US bombed.  And if it could avert the killing fields in Cambodia, yeah.
  4. Avoiding Afghanistan.
  5. Iraq 2003.
  6. I don't know enough about China's Cultural Revolution, but since everything is big in China, big bad repression is really big.  Probably should be higher up.  
  7. Six Day War: find a better ending so that it does not breed more and more conflict.
  8. Prevent the killing of MLK: not sure how things would have worked out, but I'd like to think things would have been better with him than without him.
  9. Provide Al Gore with better campaign advice....
  10. Keep coke out of the Met's clubhouse  in the mid 1980s.
Climate change and stuff like that is harder to dodge with a time machine.....  so that is my top eight or nine (the 10th is a joke).  What is your top ten?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy NSFW Holidays

There is so much good TV these days, so let's go with one of the best shows giving us some holiday cheer:

Art Imitating Life, Stats Edition

I have long joked that I learned stats on the streets, as I did not leave grad school with a heap of experience or understanding of how to actually do quantitative analyses. 

Turns out that I am not alone:
Unlike @ResearchMark, I don't mind talking about it.

Blogging to be light while I reside with my computer-less, wifi-less mother-in-law over the holidays.   May the holidays and the New Year be happy and chock full of fun stats for you and yours!




Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who Surrended In This Cyber Battle?

I am not a cyber expert, so take this with a grain of salt and consult Brandon Valeriano.

But anyone who says anything about the US submitting to North Korean blackmail (or whoever) seems to be making a fundamental mistake--Sony and the movie theater chains are not the US government nor do they represent the American people.

Maybe it is my twitter feed, but I have seen no one ... NO ONE... saying that yanking The Interview and then Team America out of the movie theaters is a good idea.  Media corporations often show very little courage when faced with pressure, so the Sony, Paramount, and the movie chains caved quickly.  That should not be that surprising given behavior in the past. 

But these are private actors, and thus far we have had no evidence that the US government told them to dodge, duck, dive, dip or dodge.  The US government has few options in its dealings with North Korea precisely because North Korea is a very isolated country by its own choice.  So, how do you sanction someone with which you have little/no trade?  There are no bank accounts to freeze.  And the US is already putting whatever pressure it can on North Korea to address other issues--its various aggressions towards South Korea, its missile and nuclear weapons programs, its role in the proliferation of these systems, etc.

We can hate what has happened, but the appeasement, the surrender to blackmail, this was not government policy.  We can find things wrong with the US stance on this or that, but this is corporate cowardice.  Point the finger where it belongs.

Anybody Got a Learning Curve to Spare?

This tweet has me miffed this morning:

This statement could be true, but it is likely to cause more problems for the military than solve.  That is, it is unlikely that no civilians were harmed in the 1.3k strikes.  So why say "none"?  All it takes is for one to make General Terry look like a liar. 

The tendency to be overly optimistic and to downplay mistakes creates credibility gaps.  It may cause people to doubt not just the immediate statement but whatever else the military says.

So, I really wish  General Terry and other military officers to be a little less "we make no mistakes" and a bit more " we are doing really well but we are not perfect." 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Movies of 2015

Tis time to rank the year's stuff.  I have not posted as much pop culture stuff in 2014 (at least as far as I can remember) as I have been so busy flogging the book and doing other stuff.
  1. The movie that surprised me the most, made me laugh the hardest, and nearly caused the entire family to have rib-muscle pulls was:  The Lego Movie.  Indeed, Everything is Awesome.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy.  Pretty close to the Lego Movie, but not quite as surprising.  A heap of fun, great action, great raccoon, great Groot.  
  3. Captain America Winter Soldier.  Great action and major shift in the Marvel Universe. 
  4. The second most surprising movie was The Edge of Tomorrow.  Not quite as terrific as CapAmerica 2: More Captain, Less America, but quite good.  And Team Spew loves Emily Blunt.
  5. X-Men Days of Future Past.  A hard movie to make, but they did a very good job with a very crowded movie.   More Kitty would have been better, but I understand the choice to rely on the dude with claws.
  6. Top Five.  Just saw it--found it provocative and very funny in short bursts.  Some great performances.
  7. The Monuments Men.  Got treated poorly, but showed a dimension of the war of which I was previously ignorant.
  8.  Godzilla was entertaining.
Didn't see that many movies this year.  We tended to save the comedies for watching at home and then forgot to catch them.  Lots of travel got in the way, I suppose. I did watch many bad movies on planes this year, as I tried a new strategy of watching movies I would otherwise never see.  It worked. 

Speaking of bad movies, I guess the worst movies I saw were 3 Days to Kill and the Jack Ryan movie.

The movie I most want to see, having missed it?  Zombeavers?  Dead Snow 2? Life After Beth? YEs, more zombie movies....

Blogging in 2014

If there is one clear trend in my blogging, it is that I am doing less of it.  Why?  Mostly because I am fried from having committed not just to other online outlets but that I have been juggling (and dropping) too many projects/responsibilities.  Since blogging is purely voluntary, it tends to take the hit when I am busy. 

Still, it was an interesting year, so I will review it via the most trafficked posts, the most commented posts and then whatever I fancy:
  1. Navel-gazing might be the theme of the year as the most visited post was one about blogging:  is blogging inherently unprofessional. This post went viral (well, for one of my posts), got re-posted at Duck of Minerva and a bunch of other places.  It hit a chord not just because I was fighting the Man as embodied by the ISA, but that it seemed most strange to most people that an organization representing the profession of IR scholars would diminish blogging.  Seems so 2003.  The good news is that the proposal I fought got put on ice.
  2. The second most popular post was one that took a quote from the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about a plan to invade Canada and ran with it.  People always seem to enjoy speculation about an American invasion of Canada.
  3. I spent the year promoting the NATO and Afghanistan book, so I cannot help but be very pleased that my third most visited page was the playlist.  Yep, I crafted a list of songs that fit thematically with the chapters of the book.  With the forthcoming publication of the paperback (with new intro) of For Kin or Country, I will have to come up with another playlist, I guess.
  4. A 2013 piece is actually fourth: I wrote about comparative xenophobia that still seems to be getting traction. It was an attempt to address a WashPo blog post about polls about racism and tolerance, and I guess those topics are still relevant in 2014.
  5. I find it strange that a short post explaining an acronym, for your situational awareness, keeps getting hits even though it was posted in 2011.
  6. An old post (2013) pondering why adjunct profs stay in the business keeps getting hits as well.
  7. An old post (2013) that considers people paying for academic job market advice and rejects the idea that anyone should pay.  Well, the job market still sucks, advisers still underperform and yet it is still a bad idea to pay a person for advice when there are plenty of people offering advice for free (this blog and Duck of Minerva, for instance).
  8. An old post (2011) about whether to go to grad school or not.
  9. I got into an argument with Tom Ricks of foreignpolicy.com about whether scholarship on international security is policy relevant.  I said: hell, yes!
  10. An old post (2013): mama, don't let your kids become political scientists.  This presented some APSA charts showing how dismal the job market is in my field.
The next most popular page is one promoting the book.  Woot! 


What can we conclude from this?  That my best days of blogging are far behind me, with four pre-2014 posts in my top ten for this year?  That the most popular posts are those that are most depressing about academia?  Hmmm.

I tend not to get many comments on my posts.  The ones getting the most comments:
  1. The post on American invasion plans not only got much traffic but much discussion. 
  2. Are blogs inherently unprofessional got much discussion too
  3. A pox on both their houses:  hardly surprising that a rare post on Israel-Palestine gets some folks commenting.
  4. An exchange on the sham-tastic referendum in Crimea
  5. A progress report on the ISA blog situation
How do people find their way to my blog?  The first three are a magnitude more traffic-producing than the rest.
  1. Twitter
  2. Directly (whatever that means)
  3. Google
  4. Facebook
  5. Poli Sci Rumors
  6. The BBC.  Really? 
  7. Duck of Minerva
  8. My page at www.stevesaideman.com
  9. Lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com
  10. Outsidethebeltway.com
The next biggest sources are Aljazeera.com, washingtonpost.com, bing, ricks.foreignpolicy.com, Political Violence at a Glance, and The Globe and Mail.

I hope to re-gain momentum in 2015, but may need help from my readers.  Poke me, prod me, getting me thinking.  And thanks for reading, sharing, and commenting on my stuff this year.  I never expected to have much of an audience---that this was supposed to me just thinking aloud.  Have a great 2015.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Embracing the Pyromania of The Festival of Lights

I tend not to write about Judaism here, as I have a pretty ambivalent relationship with the religion in which I was born and the ethnic identity that I cannot escape.  But it has come up a lot the past few days and with Hanukkah starting tonight, it felt time to have a few thoughts on Jewish stuff for a change.

First, the big news, of course is this:
JK Rowling had been asked if there were any Jews in the world of Harry Potter.  That she could only come up with one seems a bit low, but then again, one kid out of the named characters is not that bad, since Jews are about .5% of the British population. Given stereotypes about Jews being smart and clever and all that, of course, the one Jew is on the house dedicated to the brainy kids at Hogwarts.  So, is JK playing with stereotypes?  Maybe so, but the odds are really one in four anyway.

Second, my favorite tweet of the day was this:

Yep, taking the dreidel song and using it to make fun of Putin's problems is just fantastic.

Ok, the real discussion over the past day has been this Vox post about whether one should expect Muslims to always disavow and condemn acts by Muslims.  I posted on my fb page, and it led to a really interesting discussion about what we expect of ourselves and of others.  A Jewish contributor suggested that it is the job of Jews to condemn fellow Jews for doing stuff that besmirches the religion, but perhaps it is not fair to expect that of others.  My stance is a pretty belligerent one: acts by individuals are acts by individuals and should not be read as saying anything about the identity they claim to represent, and that we should not expect anyone to have to condemn the acts of members of their group.  Of course, this wildly contradicts much of my work on ethnic conflict that assumes that groups act as groups.  Oops.   I will have to square that circle someday.

Anyhow, on this first night of the most socially constructed holiday (Hanukkah was never really that much of a holiday until Jews had to develop an event to compete with Christmas--at least that is far as I know), if you are celebrating the festivities, enjoy your pyromania.  I certainly did as I grew up.  And enjoy the family, the fun, the latkes and the gifts--which, contrary to stereotypes and jokes, are not just socks and underwear.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Virtual Path Dependence

Saw this figure tonight from the Washington Post (thanks Theo F)--top twenty websites since 1996:



Multi-tasking Empathy?

Australia is going through a difficult situation today as a self-described sheik/lunatic has taken hostages.  There is something positive going on: a movement with the hashtag #illridewithyou.  The idea is that Aussies are calling out to those who wear religious garb and saying that if you are worried or concerned that you might get some backlash, that they would join that person's commute.

This makes a great deal of sense since events like these bring out the bigots--who tend to be ignorant, of course.  In the aftermath of 9/11, I remember a Sikh (not a Muslim) who got attacked because some ignorant bigot attacked.  As Australia already has a problem with anti-immigrant fear/hate/xenophobia, it is likely that some yahoo will attack a Muslim or a Sikh or some other Other.  So, this is really the perfect time for this spontaneously generated movement.

One of my twitter followers disagrees, arguing that people should be caring about the hostages who are still in crisis.  My response: does this person have a spouse and a kid or two kids?  Because I am pretty sure you can care about two or more things at once.  And people should care both about the people who are in harm's way and the people who are in harm's way: the hostages and those who share some identities with the perpetrator.  Our hearts are big enough, right?




Sunday, December 14, 2014

Torture Apologists?

Brian McFadden is throwing with heat this morning:

Re the last panel, I have mixed opinions about drone strikes.  I am appalled and ashamed that the US tortured.  I also understand that it does not work at all. 

Drone strikes?  If one is at war, then why not discriminately target those who are using force against you and your allies?  I hate the signature strike type missions (where a set of behaviors makes someone a target), but targeted killings?  I prefer targeted killings to untargeted killings (which is what we would call Pakistan's counter-insurgency tactics).  Drones are just one form of targeted killings by the way--they just have bad PR.  People killed from a missile launched from an F-15 are just as dead. 

The issues here are complex, but when I think of drone strikes or targeted killings, I think about the alternatives.  When it comes to torture, this is not required.  Why?  Because torture is wrong, it does not work, and it undermines US security in numerous ways.  One does not have to be a pacifist to abhor torture. 

Revise and Resubmit Your Headline

Something was wrong on the internet yesterday.  Really!  I saw this article and was provoked:
The article itself had a very interesting discussion of what the Canadian Special Operations Forces are doing in Iraq.  The title annoyed me greatly.  For one, the article was mostly about the SOF and not about an extension.  For another, this is not really news.  That is, the status quo since the vote was taken a few months ago is that the mission would be for six months with the possibility (probability IMHO) of renewal, just as Canada renewed its participation in the Libya mission twice and just as (albeit more controversially) the Kandahar mission was renewed twice--in 2006 and 2008.

When I went back to look at the piece later, its headline had changed to this:
Other than the title change, it is pretty much the same article.  Indeed, the link still has the old title.  Does that mean that someone at the G&M was listening to me?  Or that a different editor got his/her hands on the article?  Or that Steven Chase complained when his article was headlined incorrectly?  I have no idea.

The bigger news here really is that the SOF talked to a reporter and actually gave more than vague answers.  Unlike US SOF (especially SEALs), the Canadian SOF tend not to talk and the media tend not to cover them closely.  So, this is quite interesting in and of itself.  One could wonder whether the SOF folks were asked to be more transparent by the government (unlikely, given this government) or were speaking out anyway because they felt like it (maybe, maybe not).  The other key item here is what they are doing/where they are doing it--not on the frontlines, mostly training a specific set of skills to improve the Kurds' ability to fight.  Not mentoring/embedding on the battlefield, and certainly not running and killing daesh fighters (unlike the British SOF).

The lesson here is, as always, the writer of the article does not write the headline.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Travel Observations, edition 37

On my way back to Ottawa after a productive few days in The Hague.  What have I learned/re-learned/observed?
  • My habit of watching bad movies on flights works out pretty well.  Stuff that I really want to see I will see with Mrs Spew via netflix or our Canadian movie channel.  Bad stuff?  Probably not, so why not see Hercules, Into the Storm, Maze Runners, The Other Woman, and their ilk?  They are not good movies but they are entertaining/diverting.  Indeed, Leslie Mann proved yet again that she is very funny.  
  • I remain a big fan of Nexus (had the right passport this time) as it allowed me to GOES through the passport line in Newark quickly.  Also love being TSA prescreened---keeping shoes on, computer in bag, belt on body--so much less trouble.  On the other hand, the US Embassy in Ottawa has done too good of a job promoting NEXUS as the machines in Canada had a long line (maybe two machines are not quite enough).
  • Time while traveling is relative but still felt wrong to booze up at the lounge (gold status pays off!) in Amsterdam.  On the other hand, a beer garden for lunch in Newark?  Please... with a nice view of NYC.
  • I remain a big fan of Indonesian food which I almost only get in the Netherlands--not much in Ottawa or in Montreal.  
  • Something always happens when I am gone.  We have had furnaces crap out. This time, not just a heap of snow (Mrs. Spew got by without New Snowblower 101), but also possessed toilets, gurgling not unlike the fireswamp.  Thus far, no ROUS's but we shall see.
  • I lost a second neck pillow.  Damn, must staple these things to the back of my head. 
  • Oh, I am finally giving into electronic submissions of papers.  The final paper for my Civ-Mil class was due the day I landed in Amsterdam, so I had the students send them to me via email as pdfs.  I found it actually easier to whip through the grading of about half while flying back, as I could read them on my ipad (which I no longer have to turn off when taking off and landing).  
  I do need to keep learning, as I do keep on traveling.  As soon as I got home, I got a new invite to go to Belgium in April.  I will not be driving around Brussels this time.... that is one lesson I learned from the last time.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ferguson Funnies: oh Why did SNL Not Use This?

Pretty sharp take on Ferguson got left on the cutting room floor (also known as youtube these days):


Too soon?  Not for the song at the end....

Assess This! Pondering Progress and its Discontents

I am in the lovely city of The Hague for a couple of days for the final workshop of the ISAF Strategic Assessment Capability folks.   With ISAF wrapping things up and turning the international effort over to something else in Afghanistan, this is the last time these folks are meeting to consider how to measure progress in this complex effort. 
Taking pics of NATO meetings is apparently one item to indicate progress: we met!
I wrote a short paper that does not really assess progress--I do not focus on discussing changes in metrics or which metrics to use--but posits a series of challenges inherent in NATO, in domestic politics of democracies, and in counter-insurgency that make progress pretty damned hard.  I am linking to the paper, but be forewarned--it is rough, relatively cite-free and lit review-less. 

The basic claims are these:
  • that NATO operates in certain ways that cause problems
    • that opt-out clauses are hard-wired into NATO as one could not get decisions that require consensus if such decisions actually required countries to obey without reserverations/opting out.
    • that alliances tend create divisions of labor--in terms of both geographic areas of responsibility and functional ones--that create a variety of unhelpful dynamics.
    • that NATO had never done much of the governance/development work before--Bosnia and Kosovo had other agencies leading in these areas.  
  • that domestic politics within each country have dynamics that cannot be avoided
    • that bureaucracies have different cultures of delegation so that the locus of decision making for one might be in the field and another in the national capital, making "synching" damned near impossible.
    • there is a desire to pick specific goals so that progress can be assessed but counter-insurgency requires adaptation.  But adapting means to opposition parties that one is "moving the goalposts"
    • the need to prove to domestic audiences that one is making a difference might mean designing signature projects but that cuts against making projects in Afghanistan look like they were Afghan-led, designed.
    • most members had no experience in expeditionary efforts, so their civilians sent into the field may not have had proper insurance policies, making it hard to go outside the wire (same was true for Polish military)
    • that getting competing bureaucracies to work together requires attention at the very highest levels (President/PM), but Afghanistan was never anyone's top priority.  Thus, attention was hard to sustain especially once financial crisis of 2008 hit.
  •  that Counter-insurgency is really, really hard
    • especially when the countries never dedicate enough troops to the effort
    • especially when countries refuse to agree that COIN is what they were doing
    • especially when the local allies have their own agendas
      • The Karzais were lousy clientelists--they should have given some of the "rents" to folks they disliked to keep them on board. 
Again, the paper is brief but might be of interest. 
      •  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dutch Travels for a NATO workshop

I am in/at The Hague for a two day workshop on what we can learn about ISAF's performance in Afghanistan.  I had no idea there was a NATO office in this city until last month.  I remember seeing SACEUR Craddock (the military head of NATO) complaining in 2008 about having confusing metrics (measures) about progress.  Apparently, his response to that was to create this office.

It is my second time here, as I interviewed Dutch officials/officers/etc in January 2011 for the NATO book.  Last night, I had dinner with two professors who teach at the Dutch military academy, who were most helpful over the past few years.  One of the best parts of writing a book is giving copies to those who were of assistance.  We met in Leiden, where the Pilgrims hung out between England and Plymouth.

One of the interesting happenstances of the NATO project has been that researching and talking about it has led me to a bunch of interesting historical places.  I got to speak about Afghanistan in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, which is near Plymouth Rock.  So, this book project took  me to both the departure and landing of the Pilgrims.  Funny that.

What have I learned/re-learned thus far?
  • I don't remember this city being as bike crazy as it apparently is--very Copenhagen-ish.  I am amazed I have not been hit.  
  • My favorite Dutch word is rijsttafel--refers to rice table---where you get a pile of tapas like dishes at an Indonesian restaurant.
  • I felt like the movie "The Birds" was inspired by a scene here.  Last night, I walked past the loudest trees--populated by so many very loud birds. 
  • I have seen ads for kickassmas, but have not yet had a chance to search for it. Hmm.
Gotta run to my workshop.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Upside to Lame Duck-ness

This first part of Obama's appearance on the Colbert Report is just a hunk of brilliance:

Probably impossible before the midterm but Obama is definitely acting as if he has fewer constraints.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Is Bureaucrat a Slur?

I got into an argument online today about cuts to the Canadian dept that deals with veterans.  I was noting/summarizing this piece by Murray Brewster that connected some dots: that there have been significant cuts on the personnel of this agency and especially in the parts that are responsible for processing claims AND the Auditor-General criticized the agency for processing claims slowly. 

The government and its friend on twitter claimed that with the cuts in bureaucrats, there would be more money for veterans.  As if the people being cut were not doing anything useful.  See, these were not government workers being cut but bureaucrats and bureaucrats are useless people who just take government money and don't do any kind of work that is needed.

Yeah, so I realized that bureaucrat can be a slur--that it demonizes those in an organization who might not be out in front producing the widgets, policies or, ahem, students/research that are highly valued.  They just happen to be pretty important for the functioning of the enterprise. 

Sure, I have complained about university admin a bunch, and have joined the multitudes of faculty who wonder why more and more money seems to go to folks who are not doing the stuff that is the essential purpose of the organization--teaching/research.  But we need to think clearly about the various kinds of positions that organizations fill:
  • that bloat at the highest levels can be quite problematic since these people make the decisions and they rarely decide to cut themselves and their kind;
  • that there is all kinds of middle level management and some manage and direct and others are more concerned with maintaining their jobs;
  • but the largest number of folks are exactly those whose job it is to implement the policies of the organization.  In this case, evaluate the claims of veterans and direct resources when the claims are legitimate. 
It is easy to claim that one is cutting the positions of faceless, wasteful bureaucrats, but the reality is that we have created governments to do stuff--administrate justice (um, not so much in the US lately), build and maintain infrastructure like roads, bridges, and dams, regulate various parts of the economy, and on and on.  While some parties want small government, most people want government to provide the services that they expect government to provide.  If the government has no staff, it cannot do the stuff people want.  Tis basic stuff.  But it gets to the key point--cutting government workers will mean less service at some point.  There is only so much "waste". 

This government is very, very focused on cutting personnel both to fulfill its promise of a balanced budget and because it is ideologically committed to smaller government.  Fair enough.  But cuts come with consequences, and when called out, they have to deny, deflect, dodge, dive and deny (the five d's of government).  And if the media and Auditors-General catch them and point out the consequences, it might help us to remember that the folks doing the government's business are not just "bureaucrats" but, dare I say it?, public servants.

Sunday Silliness: The Goldilocks Problem of Policing

What I like about this Brian McFadden cartoon is that it shows not just the racism that seems to be in play, but that neither running away or escalation make sense:



I got a wee bit of flack when I tweeted that cops should be less hair-triggery when confronting someone.  That is, that because the alleged bad guys may not hit the target so assuredly, perhaps it is best for the cops to wait a bit longer to see if the alleged bad guys are actually armed and actually bad guys. 

It was perhaps a bit glib, but the basic idea remains: if cops approach situations with hair triggers and have little accountability for their actions, then it is up to the citizens to send only signals of submission and peace.  That is problematic because, as I have said before, the burden of risk in this interaction shifts from those paid by the state, trained by the state and armed by the state to the citizens.  Avoiding getting shot is not a part of a citizen's day job, but the careful deployment of force is a part of a police officer's job.  With that job comes significant risks.   That is the simple reality, and efforts to reduce those risks should not come at the expense of the citizens. 

So, have them wear more armor, arm them with less lethal means, and certainly train them better but do not give them rules of engagement that become akin to shoot first, ask questions later.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Who is the Normal and Who Is the Weird?

I finally got around to reading this piece entitled "Examining the US Military's Long, Weird, Star Wars Fascination."  I guess we should not blame the title on the author, since one could also call it: "cool ways that Star Wars has affected our thinking."

The article does not really document that there is anything "weird" in this.  How is the US military distinct from American culture in its interest in Star Wars?  No data here.  We do know from its ubiquity in pop culture, that Star Wars is not just a military thing.  So, how can we call it weird? 

Also, how fascinated is the military?  Yes, some people in the military are fascinated, and some folks use Star Wars as useful analogy to explain stuff, but how deeply/broadly does the US military indulge in SW stuff?  The examples here are just a bit problematic:
  • Naming hand prosthetics after Luke.  No, this is not the military but a company making the product;
  • An article using lessons about overreliance on expensive technology--ok, using pop culture to as an analogy makes sense to me. 
  • Laser cannons.  Ok, this one might qualify if Star Wars was the first to popularize laser weapons, but noooo, hardly.  Also, the text here is about the media call these new laser-cannons Star Wars-laser cannon.  Last I checked, the media ain't the military.  So, who is fascinated?
  • Kids and parents and random folks wearing Star Wars stuff and playacting?  Apparently, no one involved in this article has gone to a Comic Convention and seen the cosplay.  We could only expect no Star Wars stuff being enjoyed by US military personnel if the gap between the military and society was so vast that the SW stuff did not cross over.
  • They call the old guy who headed a Net Assessment Office "Yoda".
  • Reagan?  Really? Last I checked Reagan was a civilian.
 So, yes, Star Wars is everywhere, it connects us, it binds us, it is ... akin to the force.  Saying the US military is weird or fascinated is just silly.  Many of us are fascinated by Star War, and thus we are giddy after the release of the teaser.


The Spew Reading Recommendations, Dec 2014.

I don't read that much sci-fi/fantasy, as my fun reading is mostly mysteries and thrillers--Robert B. Parker, John Sandford, Lee Child, Carl Hiaassen--but I am accruing a list of must reads that just got a new addition.

When I read World War Z by Max Brooks, I immediately and enthusiastically told everyone I knew to read it, and everyone that did enjoyed the book (the movie?  meh).  When I read Redshirts by John Scalzi, I pretty much did the same thing.  This year I read The Girl with All the Gifts, a zombie book that blew my mind, and have been recommending it.

Now?  The Martian by Andy Weir.  An astronaut gets stranded on Mars.  And then what?  The story is funny and gripping.  Murphy's Law apparently works on Mars as well.  If you have not read it, read it.  It is a fast and fun read.  Reading it in the aftermath of the Orion mission was just perfect timing.

So, it makes a great holiday gift.  And, no, I have no stock in the publisher and I don't know Weir.  I just know a very good book when I read one. 

And if you have not read WWZ, Redshirts or Girl with All The Gifts, read them now.  Right now!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Who is Doing What in Counter-Isis Campaign?

The Atlantic Council has an interesting graphic about the missions in/over Syria/Iraq.  It is a bit hard to read.  The parts most interesting to me include:


With the footnote for Qatar indicating that it is patrolling but not striking.   This would suggest that the rest of the countries are striking.... And I would not be so sure about that: have Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and UAE done more than a token strike?



So, the division of labor remains as we understood it: US and Arab allies engaged against Syrian targets; US and NATO allies/partner (Australia is a frequent partner) plus Iraq engaging targets in Iraq.  Note that while the big picture I link to has all 28 NATO members participating, only seven NATO countries are engaged in airstrikes--one less than Libya.  The differences?  No Norway or Italy this time but the Dutch are now dropping bombs, which they didn't do the last time. 

Finally:

The US, unlike Libya, is doing the overwhelming majority of the strikes.  Is 63 non-US strikes divvied up by five Arab countries token or more than token? Hmm.  Eight non-US countries have 126 strikes among them--15 or so per. 

It is certainly an allied effort as the Atlantic Council graphics depict, with other countries contributing money and training for the Kurds, Iraq, and even for some Syrian forces.  But some notable omissions even in those less "kinetic"/risky efforts: that Turkey has only given humanitarian aid, for instance.

Some of this will change as the mission goes on and on.  Will Canada stop after six months?  I don't think so.  And no, that would not count as mission creep to keep on doing what it is doing now.

The Rise of the Right

I forget who asked me over Thanksgiving, but someone was puzzled by the rise of the far right, especially Nazi-types in places that experienced the Nazis.

Well, for Greece, the answer is obvious:
What more do you need to know?  In really harsh economic times, people turn to blaming others and supporting politicians who do so.  People were surprised by the rise of xenophobia in Finland, for instance, but this figure would make that seem a bit less puzzling.  An interesting study for a comparativist would be to see where the far right did less well during these difficult times and perhaps where the far right is doing better than they should (UK, Germany). 

Of course, this is just about the state of the national economy--it does not speak to inequality within these economies nor to anything else.  Still, pretty damned instructive.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Teaser Analysis: The Snark Awakens

I have been asked for my thoughts about the new Star Wars trailer. 


My first reactions are these:

Who Matters in an Ad Hoc Coalition?

Who sets the agenda for multilateral military operations?  I am curious because the coalition engaged in the anti-ISIS effort had a meeting and I pondered thusly:
What do I mean by this?  When NATO was heavily involved in the Balkans, not every member mattered equally.  The five biggest force contributors met to discuss "the way ahead" and their agreements then framed the agenda for the NATO meetings.  The QUINT, as they were called, were the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy.  During my year on the Joint Staff, I organized the dinner for one of these meetings.  The fun part?  The program was supposed to read "QUINT DINNER" but I was not clear enough, so they printed "QUINT SPACE DINNER."  Good thing I never actually served in the military or my lack of attention to detail might get someone killed.

In Afghanistan, one could guess the group was similar--those who had responsibility for one of the Regional Commands: Germany, Italy, the UK/Canada/Dutch rotation, and the US (pretty sure running Regional Command-Capital didn't get Turkey to the table).  However, given that Germany and Italy had rather significant restrictions on what their contingents could do (those caveats that were much of the focus of our book), I am pretty sure that Germany and Italy might have been in the room but at the kids' table.  In other words, I am pretty sure that the decision-making for much of the effort was driven by the US (as always) with the UK and Canada having some voice since they were fighting in some of the toughest and most important spots in the country.  That is, it was not just about size but about what one was doing.

In the anti-ISIS fight?  The list is so long that it makes clear that many of these folks do not matter when it comes to the decision-making.  So, who is at the adults' table?  I have no certainty, but I have some guesses: US, UK, France, maybe Saudi Arabia (due to its regional heft), and UAE (for willing to bomb Syria--a rare commodity).  The kids' table would probably include Canada, Denmark, Belgium, the Dutch, and others that have engaged in significant airstrikes plus Kuwait and Qatar for providing key bases.  The rest are left outside at the dinner, but allowed to show up when the pictures are taken to show that the coalition is as broad as possible. 

The point is: the big meetings are for show and for ratifying the decisions made by smaller groups.  Who exactly is in the smaller group this time?  I made some guesses, but someone else will have to do the fieldwork to figure this one out.  My plate is full and not just with turkey, stuffing, apple pie and more stuffing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tenure Peace Theory? More Like TP Myth

The Georgetown Heckler has a tremendous post about the takeover by Realists who have conquered the Liberals in the Poli Sci dept.  It is a heap of fun, as it is very playful with both IR theory and the professors in the department (oh where is Dan Nexon?).  However, it has one problem:
"Most ascribe to the “tenured peace theory” which maintains that tenured professors, though on average not less violent than non-tenured professors, will nevertheless not fight with one another. With nothing to gain from each other and recognizing the legitimacy that tenure confers, there will be no cause for conflict between the parties, so the theory holds."
Please, Liberals are not naive, although that is the accusation made by many realists.  Liberalism in IR theory focuses largely on whether the pattern of interests leads to cooperation or conflict.  Democratic peace theory fits into this larger approach precisely because there are logics about accountability, norms and transparency that make conflict costly.  Two countries with such properties are less likely to fight.

We Liberals would not apply Democratic Peace Theory to tenured faculty precisely because there is not much in the way of accountability or transparency for the tenured.  Conflict is not that costly because no tenured jobs are at risk.  Plenty of departments have decades of virulent conflict among tenure faculty precisely because the combatants do not pay much of a price for their behavior--although bystanders (grad students, un-tenured faculty, job candidates) frequently pay a heavy price indeed.

A core Liberal logic is tit for tat--that mutual cooperation can emerge when reciprocity is deployed.  That a cooperative act leads to a cooperative response and on and on.  The idea is that the long relationship of cooperation will outweigh the short-term temptations of cheating and conflict.  The problem is that reciprocity has a dark side--that one should reward cooperation with cooperation and conflict with conflict.  So, one can easily spark a series of unending recriminations even if we stick within the Liberal world.  One does not need to be a Realist to understand or expect conflict.

So, I salute the Georgetown Hecklers for their great work, but find their "Tenured Peace Theory" to be a mockery of good Liberal IR theory.  And, yes, I have engaged in much empirical work, examining tenured conflict theory.  In each of my first three departments, there were tenured folks who had no problem sparking conflict with each other.  As any good Liberal would expect, there was plenty of both conflict and cooperation. 

Born at the Right Time?

I have often wondered what might have been if I was born a few years later or earlier.  Of course, that exercise has an obvious answer--I prefer the time I was born since it allowed me to meet and marry the wonderful Mrs. Spew, and I would not want to re-play the genetic lottery that produced the terrific person that is Baby Infant Kid Teen College Spew. Still, I do wonder.  Tonight, the question resolved itself forever.  How so?  Let me consider how moving forward or backwards slightly in time would have changed things:

Professionally
  • Earlier:  If was born a few years to a decade or two earlier, the academic job market would have been less competitive.  I came out of grad school as the market shifted due to the early 90s recession and due to the proliferation of grad programs/students.  The price I paid was six years in Lubbock.  Well, I could have avoided that if I was a better job candidate as well.  On the other hand, my career has worked out pretty well
    • a fantastic cohort of grad students at UCSD who made the experience far more pleasant than others have experienced elsewhere; 
    • two years of temping in Vermont gave me time to learn how to teach plus heaps of skiing and I loved Burlington; 
    • I hated Lubbock but enjoyed the cohort of junior faculty (the prisoners of war job market) who have become wildly entertaining lifetime friends plus I had plenty of time to establish a research record that led to the fellowship and to the next job; 
    • ten years in Montreal that were mostly positive; and now a terrific job in a cool city with heaps of friends.  
    • Plus if I was born earlier, I would have had to do more of my writing on a typewriter rather than a computer. 
  • Later:  If I was born later, I would have had to compete in an even nastier job market against super-qualified people.  I also would have been far more distracted by the internet while I was working on my tenure case.
  • Judgement: I was born at the right time professionally.
Frisbee:
  • Earlier: If I had been born a few years earlier, my ultimate experience would have been pretty much the same.  More than that, and there would not have been much college ultimate as it started at Oberlin (and elsewhere) in 1976 or so.
  • Later: At the time I was in college, the best athletes played other sports.  These days, the level of athleticism of the college ultimate players is just amazing.  Tonight, I played with the NPSIA grad students who were mildly athletic, similar to the players I played with in college thirty years ago (yes, tis thirty years since I started playing collegiate ultimate but that is a post for another time).  The team we played against consisted of the students who play with the Carleton U. ultimate frisbee team.  They are incredibly athletic--so very quick, can jump really high, and already quite skilled.  So, if I was born much later, I too might have picked up better ultimate skills before going to college, but I would not have gotten much playing time.  I have never been as quick as these kids are, so I would have spent much less time playing ultimate with the intercollegiate team.
  • Judgement: On this score along, I was born at the right time.
So, yeah, I was born at the right time... and this does not even include being a teenager as Star Wars and Raiders came out.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Very Fascist Thanksgiving

It has been a delightful thanksgiving, chock full of great food and fun family teasing.  I could not help but notice a theme in this weekend's entertainment--the latest Hunger Games movie [modest spoilers below] and the Lego Movie. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: Busy But Grateful

I think this November has been the most over-committed of my academic career, so I am grateful that the stakes of missing deadlines are low for me right now.  Because I am so busy and beat, I am only going to give thanks for stuff that is new-ish in 2014 and link to last year's Thanks for all of the usual stuff for which I am very, very grateful.
  • I am grateful that I had a heap of fun on multiple trips last winter/spring with my daughter as she was testing out various colleges/universities.  We had much fun, great food, good tourism and even got some skiing in (Whistler!).
  • Which leads to the next thanks:  I am very thankful that Frosh Spew has landed on her feet, embracing her new school, engaging in many activities and organizations, and even doing well in her classes.  We miss her a great deal, so I am most thankful to skype and facetime for making it a bit easier on us.  
  • I am grateful to Mrs. Spew for doing much of the work in preparing the kid for life.  Frosh Spew's success is mostly due to the work they did together, the patterns they set early on when she had piles of homework in first, second, third grade and so on.  I will take credit for Frosh Spew's ultimate frisbee-ness.  Mrs. Spew has a lousy forehand.
  • I am quite grateful to my co-authors--who have been most patient with my past year of over-commitment.  I am especially thankful to Dave Auerswald, as I have had a heap of fun promoting our book this year.  I have talked about it from one end of Canada to another, across the US (especially where there is good skiing) and even all the way to Australia.  That one project has really been terrific not just for my career but for my frequent flier miles and tourism.  Indeed, I have a new trip to The Hague coming up in two weeks to figure out why the civ-mil side of things (coordinating efforts across the "whole of government") tends not to go well. 
  • I am grateful to Vladimir Putin for making irredentism and the Steve and Bill book, For Kin or Country, hip again.  So much so that our publisher needed a new intro for a paperback version coming out in 2015.  Woot?
In sum, I am very lucky and very thankful.   I hope you and yours have a great Thanksgiving and clear skies/roads to and from.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Canadian Institute For Military Veteran Health Research

Blogging is light this week--partly due to travel, partly due to burnout.  But I did want to mention what I was doing yesterday.  I was attending a meeting of the CIMVHR (see title for the full name), as Carleton is a partner in this network.  It is doing amazing work, seeking to advance research on a variety of issues affecting both active military people and veterans. 

This week's meeting was chock full of announcements related to new sources of funding to make this partnership sustainable.  The network demonstrates the power of harnessing academic institutions across Canada along with government ones.  Not only are they supporting research, they are essentially creating political heft.

How so?  I think it is no accident that the Minister of National Defence announced new commitments for military mental health care, $200 million over three years, the day before the conference kicked off.  The network's big event served as a focal point for both media and politicians as they must confront the well-being of the people put in harm's way. 

Thus far, the network has focused on medical/therapeutic/hard science kind of stuff.  I don't do health care policy kind of research, but I am sure that the next iterations will have more work on the politics and policy of this stuff.

Anyhow, I was most impressed by how the organizers, Alice Aiken and Stephanie Bélangér, have been able to build this organization so very quickly and to make a big impact.  So much for academia being irrelevant.  And so much for the idea that women cannot lead and make a difference in important areas of policy.  I am proud to be part of this network, if only as an observer and hopeful imitator.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rebel Economics

There was a question raised at PSR about the financing of rebels.  Well, not just any rebels but the Rebel Alliance.  This is a good question to ask, as the 1990s and 2000s raised heaps of questions about the role of financing in civil wars--how do insurgencies and other rebellions fund their operations.  The early answer was diamonds and other lootable resources:  other minerals, lumber, drugs (poppies in Afghanistan, for instance).  So, much study went into asking whether the prescence of such resources were associated with more conflict.  Not so much really, although duration of conflict, somewhat.

The stance of the economists making these arguments was that grievances are ubiquitous but that financing varies.  Since rebellions are not so frequent, maybe it has more to do with funding and not so much with grievances.   The problem is that funding requires not the existence of resources but just enterpreneurs.  How so?  Lootable resources requires little imagination, but rebels often have much at stake, and can imagine all kinds of ways to finance their efforts.  Such as?
  • Smuggling.  Even if you don't have stuff to smuggle, you may have location, location, location.  So, smuggling of drugs, girls and women, cigarettes, etc were a key source of income for various groups in the Balkans.  Proximity to Europe was sufficient.
  • Diasporas, ethnic kin, and the like minded.  Lots of money flows from people who left the homeland.  Similarly, those who share identity but are not from the homeland--those who speak the same language, share the same religion, are of the same/similar race--may contribute money, equipment and personnel to the cause. During the cold war, one sure way to get funding was to put a red star on your helmet if you were fighting an American ally or call the US if your adversaries could be called Communists.
  • Kidnapping.  This can be a big $ kind of business.  One of the frustrations the US has with its allies is a willingness to pay big bucks.  All the US does is trade prisoners... ooops. 
  • Protection.  Organized criminals are not the only ones who run protection rackets--insurgencies engage in the same kind of enterprise: donate and you will not be harmed.  Tilly made this clear a while back.  The Viet Cong taxed the people in the areas they controlled with their punishment for tax evasion being just a bit more "kinetic" than the penalties the IRS imposes.
So, you don't really need lootable resources--you just need relatives, location, a willingness to engage in crime or coercion.  The problem is that the Rebel Alliance was a high-minded effort by principled people to fight an evil empire.  I am sure their Jedi allies would object to kidnapping for profit, for instance.

Given that the Rebels required a constant supply of non-Imperial ships (they could not just steal from the Empire as the Empire did not use X-wings, Y-wings, A-wings and the like), they had to have money from somewhere.  Sure, they allied with smugglers (Han, Chewie and their pals), but did they rely on smuggling glitterstim and other forms of drugs to fund the alliance?  Not so clear.  They may have tried to work with the Hutts, but that was very tricky business.

It is clear that ethnic ties mattered.  That the Empire, always human-centric and xenophobic, abused certain species.  The Wookies, who had been enslaved, were most willing to lend their resources to the cause.  The big ships were mostly made by the Mon Calamari, who had joined the alliance at the beckoning of their kin, Admiral Ackbar.   They were conducive to such appeals because they too had been abused by the Empire.

The history of the Alliance contains no stories of kidnapping for profit (for romance? That is something else), but it is pretty clear they relied on protection rackets--taxing the systems that they freed from the Empire.  That might look like state-building to some, but it looks like organized crime-style protection rackets to those who are fighting the rebels.

Clearly, there is a need for more fieldwork to examine the archives of the Rebel Alliance to assess how they funded themselves.  Not every major figure in the alliance had the wealth of a planet and the property that comes with royalty to help finance the effort (and unless one counts mining concessions, exploded planets are not so helpful for funding a rebellion).  Some were just farmers from planets far off the beaten path (although that path seems to be well traveled nonetheless).