Friday, August 18, 2017

Obi-Wan and Steve Bannon

I have always thought that Obi-Wan had overrated himself, telling Darth Vader: "If you strike me, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."  What does Obi-Wan do after that confrontation?
  • Ghost Obi-Wan provides some modest guidance to Luke as he makes the Death Star run: "use the force."
  • Ghost Obi-Wan tells Luke to go to Dagobah.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan told Luke not to go to Bespin.  Oops.
  • Ghost Obi-Wan explains to Luke why he lied about Vader--from a certain point of view.
  • and that's about it.  Not so impressive.
So, now we have folks saying that Bannon will be more powerful as he would be unchained outside of the White House.  How was he unchained?  How was he restrained?  Probably not so much.

The advantages of Bannon being out of the White House:
  1. The symbolism of Bannon in the WH is awful--a white supremacist and otherwise awful person in the White House.  One less is at least one less.
  2.  Bannon will have less info.  He could still get intel leaked to him, and Trump can tell him whatever he wants, but he will be further from the seat of power and all that flows through it. Trump simply cannot be on the phone with Bannon all the time, so Bannon will have some distance.  Less access is a good thing.
  3. Trump tends to listen to the last person who talks to him.  That will not be Bannon as often.  He will simply not be in his ear as much.  Sure, Bannon can try to trigger Trump via Breitbart or Fox, but it is not the same as whispering in his ear.
Bannon is not irrelevant now, but he is less relevant.  He can rabble rouse outside the White House, but he was doing that anyway.  Unchained?  Please.

Anyhow, this is a win--not a huge win, not a game changing win, but a win.  Trump is still President and still a white supremacist.  So, the battles continue, but this is a good day and we must take these good things when they happen as there are more shitstorms ahead and more pain to be inflicted on the American people and our allies.

So Many Labels, But All White

I was listening to the Pod Saves America podcast on Charlottesville, and one of the speakers argued that the Alt Right is a thing since they are the white supremacists who consider themselves above and different from Nazis (swastikas are bad for PR) and KKK (we are not rednecks), etc.  Yet the Alt Right are clearly racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and misogynist.  The broader label that applies to them all? White supremacist.  Sure, that glosses over all of the other hates they have, but all that stuff seems to travel together. 

Anyhow, I made this to illustrate:

The Alt Right may be a separate group from the others (or not, hard to tell, as some Nazis wear khakis).  But they are all white supremacists, which means they all need to be confronted, mocked, and marginalized.  That the Alt Right folks may wear nicer clothes does not make them more acceptable.  That they are not rednecks does not make them more acceptable.  They are all ... deplorable. The key is not so much converting them, although there are folks who have been able to do that one on one.  The key is to make it politically painful for those in power or running for office to appeal to/play to these people.  The goal is to return them to the criminals that many of them are, to make them isolated and irrelevant racists rather than empowered terrorists and militias who are encouraged by the President and his party. 

It will not be easy, and there is no one right way to do it.  Sometimes, it will mean turning the spotlight away, sometimes it will mean confronting, and sometimes it may mean, yes, violence.  I am not a pacifist so I can't tell folks to turn one's cheek as the Nazis swing their clubs.  I do think the best way for the most part is non-violence, but defense may be necessary at times.  Fleeing may be necessary at times.  But one of the core logics of ethnic conflict is that when the extremists are outnumbered, they tend to go away. Riots happen where the rioters of ethnic group x outnumber the other ethnic groups in that area.  So, the best way to deal with these folks is to show up.  But with the white supremacists being armed to the teeth, this can be hard to do.  So, I really have no ideas except to call out those who are white supremacists, such as:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rebel Rabble

As much of a fan as I am of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars, I can't help but notice that The Rebel, a far right media enterprise in Canada, might be named after the Confederacy more than the good guys in Star Wars.

Here's the thing: if one is a southerner in the US, one might plausibly claim that a stars & bars patch or flag might have some other meaning than white supremacy.  One could pick up some affinity via osmosis, relatives, peer pressure, bad history teachers, whatever.  I tend not to buy that excuse, but I can see how it might mitigate things a bit. 

However, if one is attaching oneself to the Confederacy while living in Canada, Europe or any place other than the old South, one is attaching oneself to white supremacy deliberately.  And, yes, Confederacy = White Supremacy as the movement was based on the idea that whites can/should own black people (read any of the articles of secession), making it the highest form of White Supremacy (borrowing a smidge of Lenin).  So, yes, affinity for Confederacy and its symbols means affinity for White Supremacy, and, yes, all that almost always comes with it--anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia and even misogyny. 

The outlet is now trying to distance itself from white supremacy, but it may have a hard time doing so.  Why? Because it has long been more than a smidge racist.  Stephanie Carvin pointed it out quite clearly today:
The skittles, as folks might remember, were reference to the "poisonous" Muslims among the Syrian refugees.  So, yeah, not so cool.

And the folks jumping of the Rebel ship now should still be considered tainted by their previous association since its racism and other fatal flaws are nothing new.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Certainties in the Uncertainty Engine: Vain, Greedy, and Racist

I have been arguing for quite some time that Trump is an uncertainty engine, but there are a few key consistencies that have long been true and actually pretty obvious. He is greedy, he is vain, he is lazy and ignorant, he doth project too much, and, yes, he is a white supremacist. 

Trump has long discriminated against African Americans going back to the lawsuits over discriminating in rental housing in NYC in the 1970s.  He criticized his casino employees for having Black accountants rather than Jews.  His birtherism was grounded in racism.  His campaign kicked off by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists.  He often calls immigrants animals.  Oh, and it is probably not an accident that he has surrounded himself with white supremacists:
  • Jeff Sessions who was too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s (more than a few GOP Senators agreed with the Democrats) but sufficiently racist to be Attorney General;
  • Stephen Miller, who was reviled for his racism and xenophobia going way back to when he was in high school;
  • Steve Bannon, who is often said not to be really racist, but just uses racism as a political strategy.  Sure, go ahead and try to make that distinction.  I don't buy it.  Not at all.  
So, as I tweeted, there really are two Trump's Razors to explain his behavior.  The first, as enunciated by John Scalzi: “ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts” and that answer is likely correct." The second: Trump is a white supremacist, so he picks policies that favor whites over all other groups (African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Native Americans, etc.).  Is he anti-semitic? Perhaps not in beliefs but certainly in who he allies with.  For those who tut-tut and say that Trump can't hate Jews because his daughter married one and some of his grandchildren are Jewish, I scoff and I scorn. And I point out this, of course:

Trump will not be impeached because of his white supremacy as the GOP relies on it to stay in power.  But perhaps people will stop calling out the Democrats' identity politics given that Trump's and the GOP's white identity politics is now a wee bit more obvious to all.  Or not.

What to do?  See something, say something, of course.  Call out the white supremacy, rather than referring to alt-right or other glosses.  Put pressure on any and all politicians to take a stand so that we can identify who needs our opposition and our support.  Put pressure on the media to stop the false equivalence machines--perhaps Trump's latest statements will at least put those machines on pause.

 It will take more than just 2018 and 2020, as this stuff is not new, but Trump has given these deplorable people cover and permission.  We need to return to a time where these people were ashamed and embarrassed and marginalized.  As always, the only way out is through.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reacting During Limited Computer Access: Nazis? I Hate These Guys

I haven't seen much coverage of the Nazi in Charlotteville, as internet access has been intermittent.  However, I have seen enough to be disgusted and impressed and confused, mostly confused. Disgusted that these hateful assholes are getting any benefit from the various false equivalence machines.  Impressed by those who are protesting despite much risk to themselves.

And confused: should we make fun of the douchebros?  Should we post memes reminding us all that the Americans died to defeat Nazism?  Should we keep in mind that the US was built on white supremacy in its purest form--slavery?  Is it UnAmerican to carry flags with the swastika on them despite the US history of racism?  The answer to all these questions is the same: hells yes. 

We should:
  • mock these guys.  We should diminish them as their cause is pathetic.  That whites are now sharing more and more power and resources and privilege with non-whites is a good thing--that makes the US a better place to live, a stronger economy, and all the rest.  These douchebros are not oppressed.  They just fear that those who gain more power might abuse it as these guys have and would--the problem of projecting too much. 
  • remember US history--the good stuff and the bad.  Yes, the US helped to defeat the Nazis (via a coalition, by the way).  It is one of the best things the US has ever done if the US did it slowly and reluctantly at first.  The US could have chosen Nazism in the 1930s, but turned away from that, from America Firsters and the rest.  But as Obama kept saying, the history of America is an effort to perfect the union--which still suffers from the legacies of slavery, which still incubates white supremacy and other forms of hate, and which still gives too much cover to the allies of the hateful.
We, indeed, have an administration full of white supremacists from Sessions to Bannon to Miller to Trump.  These folks and their incitement have given the douchebros of white supremacy the confidence to come out and voice their hate.  How to counter that? Other than eventually defeating Trump, we need to call out the white supremacy.  Fuck this white nationalism, alt-right bullshit--if they adopt Nazi slogans and symbols, then let's call them Nazis with no modifiers.  Let's remember what the Nazis wrought not just to neighboring countries to but to Germany itself--utter destruction.  Let's remember their targets: Jews, gays, the left, the disabled, and on and on.  While Islamophobes may find the Trump's islamophobia appealing, the brown Islamophobes should keep in mind that white supremacy is for whites only.  Eventually, the non-white Islamophobes will be treated the same as all non-whites.

The good news is that we have Republicans heaping much scorn on the Nazis.  The bad news is that, as both George RR Martin and Brett Freidman would say, words are wind.  We should pressure Congress to put more $ and more investigations into fighting white supremacist terrorism.  Let's get Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and the others to put money where their mouths are. 

Oh, and let's drop the whole bullshit that the Dems lose because they play with identity politics.  White identity politics is white supremacy politics, something that both parties have played with but one party now relies so very heavily on it that their President refuses to clearly condemn the white supremacists.

Hopefully, this will all be resolved by the time our ship docks, but I doubt it. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Dissertation ideas for Americanists

I had a dream last night about a dissertation idea--yep, even up in Alaska, I can't escape the profession in my dreams.  Anyhow, my idea, theory-less as it may be: it would be cool to do network analyses (which are probably no longer the rage) of Trump before the campaign and now.  It would be interesting to see where these various arsonists came from (whenever I say arsonist, I mean Trump cabinet secretaries), and who they were linked to before and now. 

It may not be much, but it could be fun.

As an old prof (Mr. Neil of Oberlin) used to say, "this, I give you for free."  And it might be worth exactly as much as it costs in this case.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Travel Suggestions and Blog Interruption

Time for the annual Saideman gathering, this time far away from any of the usual places--we will be seeing the water of a different coast from a different direction--cruising to Alaska.  I expect little wifi, so probably not much blogging for the next 9-10 days. 

But the journey thus far has been..... frustrating.  Weather disrupted connections, then mechanical problems disrupted connection, so we abandoned Air Canada for the last leg, only to rent the wrong vehicle (the keys worked!). 

But we made it so here are some suggestions, given our experience:
  • If one is going on a cruise, always pad the front of the trip by a few days so that one does not literally miss the boat.  The flight attendants along the way appreciated that we were not that stressed for time since we had enough time built in.  I have flown next to enough panicked cruise goers to know better than to try to time things too tightly.
  • When waiting online (three hours plus) for a service person, make some calls: to one's frequent flyer airline to see if they can help even if you are not on their system for this leg; to get a hotel room since they were going out fast (thanks, priceline!); etc.
  • Travel apps--to find out the status of flights and such.
  • Must keep status--we were able to enjoy lounges (my daughter discovered free booze she could serve herself!).  Not necessary but definitely made the odysssey (lots of references to Odysseus on this journey)
  • Be nice to the car rental people who are swamped, especially after the last person was nasty.  
  • Get a NEXUS card if you can--we saved probably 2-3 hours on the drive from Vancouver to Seattle as they had a special lane and then three open NEXUS booths.  Woot!
Oh and check the receipt after turning in the rental car--it was for $3000 for a day's drive?  The rental guy basically made my day by saying: that's in Canadian dollars, so no biggie.  Um, yes, biggie.  Error fixed, but that was a fun way to end two difficult days of travel to just get to the right city on the West Coast.

Anyhow, enjoy your early August, as I will be eating too much, hanging out with a herd of nieces (and one token nephew), and hopefully seeing bears and otters and whales and Grizzly Adams.

Points? F No

No, this is not a post to regret the demise of @Midnight, which I will surely miss.  It is a very short post about the immigration law being bandied about.

As I have been traveling, I have only seen glimpses, but the general idea is to adopt an Aussie or Canadian style system where applicants are rated by various attributes and those scoring high get to be admitted. I have seen folks quibble with the point system--liberal arts degrees count for bumpkus.

My quick take is: it is fine for other countries to do this, but it betrays the history, identity and essence of the US to say that folks who don't speak English, who don't have a lot of skills and don't have a lot of money can't be admitted.  I would bet that most Americans (except Native Americans) have relatively poor ancestors who didn't speak English make the journey to the US way back when.  Immigration was and remains one of the things that makes the US truly exceptional (there are other immigration nations but few of them). 

Bouts of xenophobia and restrictions on immigration are regular occurrences, which often lead to much regret.  I know that Stephen Miller  and the rest of the Trumpsters want to betray pretty much all American ideals, but we don't have to go along with it.  This law is being generated by white supremacists, who may be disguising their hate for non-whites with details, but the objectives are clear.  So, let's focus on the intent and not the specifics, shall we?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Sadie Out

Today, I announced at PSR that I am out.
No joke. I am going on a largely wifi-less vacation next week, so it makes sense to use that as a point of departure as any.
Moderating here has become far more time intensive over the past year, and, as one of my friends put it, there is far more noise and less useful signal here. I have had a hard time focusing on my work over that time frame thanks to the daily crises in DC, so I need to cut out some of the noise. Also, on the occasion of my recent birthday, I resolved to have more positivity in my life--that I was getting to be too whiny on the ultimate field. The same applies for my internet life. One could say that I am just not as comfortable as I used to be.
This will be a chance for a natural experiment or two to test the claims that I have never believed--either that this place would collapse without my lending it whatever legitimacy I gave it or that the marketplace of ideas will function adequately.
Over the years, I have enjoyed many of the conversations and give and take. This place has inspired me to think about a variety of aspects of the profession, so I am grateful for that.
Anyhow, if folks want to ask me stuff, rather than go to the Ask Sadie thread, you can find me via twitter or email. I wish y'all heaps of tenure track jobs and publications in the 20 top 3 IR journals. Good luck!

Moderating became too much of a slog as the election and folks linking to PSR at some of the more toxic places on the internet led to far more crap than before.  We shall see if I can still be easily trolled when I am no longer spending much time there. 

Update: That the place crashed for a while after I posted my message was a fun coincidence, but I had nothing to do with that. One consistent false belief over the years was that I have any technical ability to run that place or do anything more complicated than pushing delete buttons.

Trump's Frustration With Afghanistan

I absolutely get why Trump is frustrated with the war in Afghanistan.  The Taliban, even if they are more fragmented than we tend to appreciate, are doing quite well, and the Afghanistan government is not performing well despite the departure of Karzai.  When Obama spent much of 2009 considering whether to surge or not, I was most ambivalent for many reasons.  Was Afghanistan similar enough to Iraq (where the surge seemed to work)? Wasn't the primary challenge political and not military?

So, I see where Trump is coming from.  Of course, his reasoning and his analogies are flawed (Afghanistan ain't a restaurant).  And that gets to the big problem now: he is uniquely unsuited to come up with an alternative policy.  He has a short attention span and hates to listen to bad news.  Afghanistan requires focus and a willingness to see both progress and falling backwards.  Trump has allowed/encouraged Tillerson to gut State, when, again, the primary challenge in Afghanistan is political: not just about improving governance by Ghani and his administration but also figuring how to negotiate with the Taliban AND how to get the various outside actors (Pakistan primarily but also Russia, China, Iran and India) to coordinate enough to provide a conducive environment. 

I have no idea if General Nicholson should be fired.  I do know that replacing generals every year or so has not been good for the war effort as each one has a different strategy.  This means that no strategy is really ever implemented fully, that the folks in the ground get whipsawed by the changes in rules and priorities. 

On the other hand, Mattis arguing that we are losing because we do not have the right strategy may seem to miss the point.  As a former general, he sees the key to winning and losing to be about getting the right strategy--the right set of plans that have various lines of effort coordinated to reach a desired endstate (yep, that is how they speak).  Endstate means goal or final desired outcome.  But is it about picking the right set of plans?  Or is it that we outsiders have, dare I say it, limited influence?  That the actors on the ground have more at stake, longer time horizons, and more influence? 

Whatever strategy the US and its allies choose, the folks on the ground will be deciding whether to bet their lives on the Afghan government, on the Taliban or on staying on the fence.  It is not clear that we can affect those decisions that much.  We didn't influence them that much when there were more than a hundred thousand troops on the ground, so why expect more influence now.  Indeed, Jason Lyall's work seems to suggest that we are damned no matter what we do. The outsiders get blamed for what the Taliban does.  Oh crap.

Until we have some humility about what the outsiders can do, no strategy is going to be "the right strategy."  So, yeah, Trump should be frustrated.  But he lacks the capacity to think long and hard and reality-based.  Thus, I don't expect a significant improvement.  Perhaps he will call for the end to the US effort there, but addressing that is a blog post for another day. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Rankest of Rankings

I am easily trolled. I am also a narcissist.  So, when the various folks at PSR ponder whether I suck or truly suck (where do I rank among IR scholars), I can't help but respond.  I resisted mightily for all of ten hours or so.  The smart troll sucked me in when asking whether I thought I was close to Peter Katzeinstein or Dan Drezner.  I responded thusly: "thanks for the giggle."  But it got me thinking about all this stuff.  Yes, the folks there obsess about relative standing of departments, fields, journals, presses, and, yes, scholars.  Here, I have long been a skeptic about ranking such stuff, even as I rank movies and books (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc).

But the post got me thinking about stuff.  I have always recognized that:
  • the bigger names are those who do grand theory. I don't do grand theory, and as I found it while testing some hypotheses, few people do--tis a niche enterprise (see International Studies Review sometime in 2018 or see this post and related links).
  • there is always a bigger fish--Qui-Jon said so
  • my work is eclectic so I have not spent my career focused on a single argument that would cause me to stand out more.  Instead, I have pursued questions that interest me, which has taken me from the IR of ethnic conflict to the domestic politics of ethnic conflict to civil war to alliance politics to comparative civil-military relations.  This has probably impeded my productivity as it would be easier not to have to review new literatures with each project.
  • my career has been a constant stream of surprises--never expected to live in Texas or Canada, never expected to spend time in the Pentagon or go to Afghanistan, etc.
I suggested that on the spectrum of IR scholars, I was somewhere between Katzenstein and the average IR scholar.  This then led to a charge of arrogance since I suggested I might be above average.  Oh gosh!

The key is this: I think my work has been worthwhile.  I don't need to think I am the "best" or whatever.  I just have to like the stuff I have done--that I have asked interesting questions, developed appropriate research designs and explored the issues creatively and perhaps even diligently.  Do I think that someone will find out that I am a fraud? Of course, as most of us have some sort of imposter syndrome.  I listened to a podcast this week where Charlize Theron admitted to having imposter syndrome even after getting an Oscar.  Wow.  So, if she can, we certainly can and do.

Of course, I seek the respect of my peers because self-esteem is a thing.  And alas, Donald Horowitz taught me a while back via his excellent book that the logic of invidious comparisons mean that self-esteem often hinges on tearing down others.  So, I get why these folks want to argue that I am but a minor player, that I don't deserve to have an endowed chair and so on.  It makes them feel better.  My happiness bums them out.  Oops.

Anyhow, this is what I posted there:
This entire conversation about where I rank is kind of silly. I know I am not a big name, and I am ok with that. I don't do grand theory which is what most of the big names do, but very few people do grand theory (as my TRIP piece in ISR in 2018 will demonstrate). I have averaged pretty good but not great output--an article plus something else (book chapter or policy paper) a year plus a book every six years or so.
I would like to have been more productive, and I still aim to get stuff in the best journals. But I am happy with where I am at. My career has not been anything like what I expected--I am not teaching at a SLAC, I never expected to be in Texas, the Pentagon or Canada. I think I made a good contribution to an area that was not very visible--the IR of ethnic conflict. I am now working in areas that are more mainstream (civil-military relations, alliance stuff), and the work is quite interesting.
I used to obsess about prestige, but it turns out that moving from one of the best known places in the English speaking world (that is in a French speaking province) to a place that has less prestige has benefits--fewer requests to write tenure/promotion letters. Looking back, I have few regrets. Even six years in the flatlands of West Texas meant making great friends for a lifetime plus it was a short commute, a brand new house, and nearby good pediatric ER care that we used quite a bit.
So, yeah, I ain't Katzenstein, and I am not Drezner. However, I do have a sweet gig in a national capital full of nice, smart, interesting people in and out of government, and I live only 12 minutes from the frisbee fields. 
Where do I rank? Here:

Of course, the right answer is don't feed the trolls .... 

Lame Duck? Twain Redux

Folks are already writing epitaphs and lame duck columns for Trump in the aftermath of the failure to pass health care.  Puh-lease.  Yes, these folks have a point or two, but we are far closer to the beginning than the end.  Sure, the Democrats can block some stuff, but have they blocked a major appointment yet? No.  Sure, Flake of Arizona is writing nice columns about the decline of conservativism to flog his book, but his voting record is still very, very pro-Trump (95%!).

First, to be clear, health care was McConnell's failure, not Trump's.  Trump put in no effort (he is lazy) and knew nothing about it (because he is lazy and ignorant).  He just wanted a win, any win.  Which makes this argument about Trump being lame or whatever remind me of the post-game punditry in the middle of a playoff series where everybody generalizes from the most recent game to forecast the series--overreacting nearly all of the time.  Oh, team x won game 1, so they will definitely win the series, oh but after game 2, team y won, so expect them to take it, and then ....

Second, some other legislation might be easier--that the Democrats may break unity or the GOP Senators may remain united on stuff that is not so wildly unpopular as gutting health care.  Perhaps tax reform seems hard now, but there might be a package that unifies the hard right with regular right wing and might get a Manchin or two.

Third, Trump's biggest legacies that will keep creating and implementing awful policies are already in place.  His team of arsonists are already burning down much of the US government--Sessions is pursuing voter suppression (#voterfraudfraud), pushing against affirmative action and empowering white supremacy; Tillerson is gutting State; DeVos is doing her best to destroy not just the Dept of Education but educational opportunities across the US; Zinke is burning down the parks and all stuff Interior; Pruitt is determined to break the EPA and much environmental regulation.  Not to mention Gosuck (spelling error is intentional) who will be with us long after Trump is gone.  These administrators are doing two things at once: undermining the capacity of the US to govern itself AND hurting the lives of ordinary Americans.  Even if Trump just played golf for the rest of his administration (and that would be an expensive relief as he tends not to tweet stuff that might prompt a war), these folks are doing damage every single day.  If Trump were somehow leave the scene (resign, get sick, be diagnosed, etc), Pence would keep most of the folks around, and they would continue to commit arson.

Fourth, as some have noted, Trump is still doing foreign policy stuff--with apparently an aim to "fix" the Iran and North Korea problems ASAP.  Which may very well mean a couple more wars with little clue about their endgames and, yes, more nails in the coffin of US-led multilateral liberal international order.

As folks (we call him Spew Brother) warned me about complacency last summer and fall, we need to continue to stay alert.  Trump is not going to be impeached anytime soon no matter what smoking guns Mueller comes up with.  Or, or that matter, the smoking gun we already have--the Don Jr/Jared/Manafort meeting with Russians in Trump Tower!  25th Amendment?  Nope.  

Alastair Moody said it best:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Veteran Position

One of the interesting developments in this political season is that a number of new entrants for Congressional races across the countries are veterans running as Democrats.  My natsec friends who know some of these folks are thrilled. 

I am of two minds:
A)  We are more likely to see informed oversight over the military with more veterans since they have a strong interest in such stuff, and there are, otherwise, not so many direct rewards or incentives to take oversight seriously. If I was not fried from driving a long distance today, I would find the Feaver/Gelpi stuff that addresses the opinions of vets and their role as Congressfolks (as well as other folks who look at such stuff). 

B) Veterans are veterans.... and?  While volunteering to do such service is impressive on its own in a time without a draft,  it actually says little else about judgment.  Plenty of former soldiers/sailors/marines/aviators are smart and wise, but plenty are less so.  And values?  Values vary.  So, we need to learn more about each one rather than just vote for a vet because they are a vet. 

but.... I am thrilled to see these folks line up for the Dems given how the GOP has pissed away its reputation as the serious National Security party given how they screwed up in 2003 and now have a pro-Russia administration that seems keen on undermining US national security in more ways that I would have imagined last fall. 

I do think the future of the Democratic party is bright with vets and scientists and others seeking to serve the public--they may help to challenge the existing beliefs about politicians being corrupt and out for their own aggrandizement.  Public service by military folks, bureaucrats, and politicians is necessary for the country to run and thrive.  We need to increase respect for these folks or else we will get more Trumps and more misery.  Democracy is not just for the people but of the people. 

There are many ways to serve the country, and doing double duty via military service and political office is admirable.  However, we need to take care to not just use military experience as the shorthand to wisdom--Flynn has shown us that doing well in the military may not be at all correlated with being a good public servant. 

With those cautions in mind, this is hell of an ad:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Prof Poaching?

The Canada 150 program has been quite controversial, as it is yet another attempt by the Canadian government to concentrate resources in the academic world--heaps of money for a few folks.  Yet the timing makes a great deal of sense--try to attract smart people from the US and UK when their political systems are in disarray.  It does not mean a disregard for Canadians in Canada, but it does mean tradeoffs--spend dollars on who for what reason? 

I am a product of earlier efforts of this kind--the Canada Research Chairs program was an effort by the federal government to bypass the provinces (who own the universities) and bring back lost Canadians as well as foreigners.  My job at McGill was a CRC position--I had a title, a course release and some fungible funds.  So, I took a paycut to come to Canada.  While I didn't stay at McGill longer than the CRC term (the junior version was for five years, renewable once, so I stayed there ten years), I have stayed in Canada. I'd like to think it has worked out pretty well for Canada as I have published, trained students, done heaps of outreach, and brought in some decent dollars to the places I have worked.  But I recognize that there was a tradeoff then--that money could have gone to Canadian scholars to foster their research.

Criticizing the new program for focusing resources away from Canadian scholars in Canada is a reasonable argument.  An unreasonable argument is "it is possible universities may be forced to select professors from second- or third-rate international institutions." 

One of the best ways to attract great scholars is to poach them precisely from places that are not so highly ranked.  Just because a scholar is at a school with a lesser reputation does not mean the scholar is not great.  The academic job market is not perfect, so many terrific people end up in places that are not so terrific.  Indeed, the past decade or two of bad job markets insures that there are people who consider themselves to be underplaced--and they are exactly the people who are most likely to consider moving to a different country.  Try to steal from Stanford and you will have a hard time--the prof will be happy with their students and their pay and their situation and, yes, Stanford would outbid.  But get people from outside the top ten in the US, and you will find folks who would be thrilled to have diligent Canadian students, a better shot at grant money (SSHRC is 20-25%, NSF is 6% or so for political scientists), and a less insane political situation.

So, one can raise good questions about whether it makes sense to focus resources on a few (150, probably mostly science/tech/math/engineering) at mostly the top schools, but the strategy of poaching, especially now, is not a bad idea.  Go ahead and criticize the Canada 150 program--I feel very ambivalent about it myself--but make good, informed arguments.  Indeed, perhaps look back at the CRC program and ask whether Canada got its money's worth.  Oops, too late for that as the program is being rushed.  Now that is a worthwhile criticism.

General Misery

I have been railing against Trump's reliance on retired and active (McMaster) generals even longer than this administration has been around, and now Trump has named John Kelly Chief of Staff.  I am not a fan of this move as I am not a fan of too many generals nor am I a fan of Kelly. 

For the latter: Kelly has been pretty enthusiastic in enforcing Trump's anti-immigrant efforts even when the guidance is vague or likely illegal (see Sally Yates!). He could have sought clarifications before implementing or implemented this stuff more humanely (see another Marine general role model--Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford).  I really don't know Kelly very well, but the fact that Trump seems to love him implicates him in my view, given what Trump loves--mindless loyalty. 

Back to the theme of too many generals, what is it about Kelly and retired generals that Trump likes so much?  Is it his insecurity which leads to too much admiration for folks in uniform?  Is Trump in love with the authority they radiate?  Is it that they obey so very well and leak so very little? Is it that Trump really does like authoritarian rule and generals are usually handy for that?  Of course, a key factor is that Trump's circle of trust is very narrow, so he is going to pick folks who have already been admitted rather than look wider.  This is not so unusual for a chief of staff job. 

The big question is who is the next head of the Department of Homeland Security?  Is it an effort to move Sessions from Justice? Rudy Guliani? I have no idea.  After all, I didn't bet on Priebus getting booted even though the odds were not bad.  All I know is that the choice will be awful, because one of the few consistencies for this Uncertainty Engine as President is that Trump finds the worst people, usually arsonists who want to burn down their agencies.  In the case of DHS, we are less likely to get an arsonist and more likely to get someone who wants to use its agencies to repress immigrants and the rest of the folks.

So far, with the exception of McCain's vote, ruthless pessimism seems to be the best approach, and the changes over this week don't suggest otherwise.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Rank Rankings, Narcissist Edition

I was reminded when posting on FB that I have a new graphic on my blog:

I was notified that the Semi-Spew is on a list of top one hundred poli sci blogs.  Really!  Not only that but I am fifth on the list????!!!  Of course, I have long been skeptical of rankings and have no clue about the methodology that has me ranked ahead of many more influential, smarter blogs, such as,,, and others.  Indeed, the list is a hodgepodge of journal/press sites, professional associations, units of schools, etc.

But I would like to thank the academy, my agents, my team, my personal assistant, the little people (students), my producer, our screen-writer, and my publicist...... oh, and my wife, Mrs. Spew.

There's No Party Like a Cold War Party

Russia is retaliating for American sanctions by limiting the staff and travel and such of American diplomats in Moscow.  So I tweeted the title to this post, so it raises the question: is this really a cold war?

Similarities to the good old days (ok, bad old days for most, good for a cranky troll):
  • NATO is hip again!  The gnashing of teeth about whether it should exist is mostly over, except in Trump's mind (and Putin's).
  • We have tripwires and nuclear threats.
  • We have the aforementioned tit-for-tat.
  • Proxy wars--Syria is very familiar, if more complex than the old proxy wars.
  • Planes buzzing planes and ships.
What is different?
  • The Russia-US relationship is not the axis upon which the world turns.  Heaps of stuff going outside of US-Russia.
  • China is more powerful, more relevant than Russia in most areas other than election meddling.
  • Russia's conventional threat is only to the Baltics (and maybe Sweden) and not for Germany/France, which leads to not quite as much effort by the West Europeans.
  • Whatever North Korea does, it is not guided by/influenced/etc by Russia.
  • Most of the clusterfuck in the Mideast is not driven by Russia.  Nope, it is mostly Shia v. Sunni, Saudi Arabia vs Iran.  
  • The biggest threat to the world is not nuclear war between the US and Russia but climate change.
 I could go on with each list.  That it is cold war-ish with Russia does mean that some plays in the old cold war playbook are relevant again--tripwires and extended deterrence and sanctions. But it is not cold war enough that the US can focus on Russia or see the world through the lens of conflict with Russia.  Oh, and during the Cold War, the White House was not occupied with the Soviet Union's best pal.  Ah, the mole hunters of the past would be aghast at the Oval Office being occupied by a fellow traveler/useful idiot/whatever Trump is.

When applying analogies, one must remember what pieces of the old dynamics apply and which ones don't.  Cold war-ish is not cold war.  But it is also not all unicorns, rainbows and happiness.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

P-A FTW! Either That or Process Matters

Yep, no process, no policy, no implementation.  I wrote yesterday that Trump's transgender in the military "policy" would depend on how the military would feel about implementation.  Well, from the very top, the attitude is: wait and see.  More than that: a smidge of contempt seems to be in the reaction:
Dunford has informed service members that there will be "no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines."
"In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect," Dunford wrote in a memo to the military that was obtained by CNN. "As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions."CNN (I would have cited NYT but they don't let me cut and paste!)
If Dunford were General (ret.) Kelly of Homeland Security, he might have taken the tweet and ran with it, as Kelly enforced an immigrant ban with very little backing it up.  Dunford, like the other active senior officers, has opposed kicking transgender people out even as they hem and haw on how to deal with recruiting.  So, this agent has preferences that are distinct from the principal and, as a result, does not imagine what the tweet actually means, but instead asks for the paperwork to be done.

And, yes, DC runs on paperwork .... or Word docs shipped around town as attachments to emails (yes, on the classified servers mostly).  Since Mattis has thus far been silent (did he say anything while I was at Costco?), Dunford went ahead and interpreted how far he could go and went pretty far.  I had some responses on twitter asking for him to do more.  Such folks don't understand civil-military relations--that civilian control of the military means that the civilians have the right to be wrong (which they are here), that the military must obey clear orders.  But they can fudge implementation if the orders are not clear or are not handed down through the chain of command.  Dunford could have started a process to weed out the transgender soldiers, sailors, marines and aviators, but chose not to do so.  This is kind of a work-to-rule thing, where resistance of this form is merely following the rules.  Trump would need to find another general who is more enthused about discrimination to get faster action.  Firing a Chairman for this?  Unlikely.

Finally, it is good to see someone indicate that a tweet may be a policy direction but is not a policy itself.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I So Want a Crisis in Civil-Military Relations

I write much about how it is important for the military to follow the civilians with the civilians having the right to be wrong.  Today?  Not so much.  I don't expect the military to contradict Trump directly on banning transgender people.  I am not going to bet on Mattis doing anything.

What do I hope for?  Principal-agency theory.  Huh?  There are lots of questions about this policy that was announced in a tweet.  The big one is this: who will be going through the personnel of the US armed forces to kick out the transgender soldiers, sailors, marines, air force folks (have not yet found a non-gendered substitute for airman)? When orders come on down from on high, how will implementation play out?  P-A theory starts with the idea that the agents (the folks lower down on the chain of command) have more information than the principals (el Presidente for Life Trump).  So, they can choose to be enthusiastic and follow the orders and then some, doing too much (consider the ICE folks).  Or they can choose to shirk and do less:  "Oops, found no transgender here!"

While the new "policy" is awful, it is not clear what will happen.  My best guess is that enforcement will be uneven.  The Marines will probably be enthused in general because, well, they have been the most regressive branch of the services.   Special Operations?  Probably will ignore this rule as they tend to ignore many rules, and there has been at least one transgender special operator who came out in the last year.  The more folks know people who are x, the more accepting they are (I think).  Will there be much oversight over this new policy?  Will Congress make sure that the discrimination machine is in high gear?  Probably not as they are too busy trying and failing to pass legislation. Will the Office of the Secretary of Defense spend much time monitoring this?  Still understaffed and overwhelmed.  So, yeah, officers can shirk.  Will they?  I have no idea.

And yes, the impact is beyond the military, as Trump gives yet more license to those who hate and fear to bully those who are vulnerable.  He did it last night with his speech about immigrant "animals" and he did it this morning with his tweets.  Trump continues to surprise me with how thoroughly awful he is--my imagination can't keep up with him.

Yes, this is another day where Trump's awfulness makes me have to try to figure out which conflicting values I want to fight for and which to compromise: tolerance/acceptance/freedom for LGBTQ or good civil-military relations?  Kind of like the feeling one gets when saying Sessions should stay for the rule of law.  I guess I can compromise my focus on civil-military relations since that is headed into the toilet anyway, as Trump's speech to the sailors last week indicated.  Oh and his constant reference to "his generals."

No matter what Trump does, he finds a way to destroy institutions and norms. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Better to Gamble Than Cry?

Time for that semi-regular Semi-Spew post: how to bet in the Age of Trump!  I asked the sportsbetting folks about the latest odds now that Spicey is gone.  So, check out the odds and my take on how to bet below:

Which of these Donald Trump appointees will be the next to leave their current job (fired or resigned)?
Jeff Sessions:+250
Reince Priebus: +450
Steve Bannon: +450
H.R. McMaster: +950
Jared Kushner: +1250
Kellyanne Conway: +1250
Rex Tillerson: +1750
John F. Kelly: +2500
Steven Mnuchin: +2500
Nikki Haley: +5500
James Mattis: +3500
Rick Perry: +3500
Wilbur Ross: +3500
Scott Pruitt: +3500
Alexander Acosta: +4500
Betsy DeVoss: +4500
Ben Carson: +4500
Sonny Perdue: +4500
Elaine Chao: +4500
Tom Price: +4500
Ryan Zinke: +5500
Mike Pence: +7500

Seems pretty clear that, yes, Sessions is the favorite to go next.  Priebus is facing some serious pressure from the Mooch.  I think Bannon's odds are wishful thinking--he has secured himself again after being at risk for a while.  McMaster is probably secure for a while--he can be irrelevant forever... I'd be tempted to bet on Tillerson--he got his tax break and then found out that running State into the ground gets him a lot of unwanted attention.  I don't think there are any long shots beyond Tillerson that make any sense.

So, of all these choices, I would place my bets on Jeff (so frustrated that Trump makes me want him to stay so that Mueller doesn't get fired) and Rex.  So, I'd place $100 on Sessions to win $250 and $100 on Tillerson to win $1750.

There are also bets about impeachment and indictments:
Year that Donald Trump will be impeached
2017: +500
2018: +650
2019: +900
2020: +2500
2021 or later/no impeachment: -450
Strange odds, as I would think the most likely time for it (and thus the lower chance to win would be 2019 with a potentially Democratic Congress). 
I'd bet, however, $450 to win $100 that Trump isn't impeached at all.

Will Michael Flynn be indicted or charged with a crime by 11:59 PM EST on December 31, 2017?
Yes: +300
No: -450
Will Jared Kushner be indicted or charged with a crime by 11:59 PM EST on December 31, 2017?
Yes: +300
No: -450
Will Carter Page be indicted or charged with a crime by 11:59 PM EST on December 31, 2017?
Yes: +700
No: -850
Will Donald Trump Jr. be indicted or charged with a crime by 11:59 PM EST on December 31, 2017?
Yes: +300
No: -450
Will Paul Manafort be indicted or charged with a crime by 11:59 PM EST on December 31, 2017?
Yes: +450
No: -600
Hmmmm, tempted to bet no on all since Trump might try to fire Mueller before any indictments are filed.  If I had to bet, I would bet on Manafort being indicted.  Good odds (4.5 to 1), less likely to roll (he'd be risking his life with Putin).  Flynn?  Likely to roll over.  Kushner?  Probably but not in 2017.  Page?  Oh baby! The risk here is that he rolls over and doesn't get indicted, but he might just tell all the first chance he gets even without a deal--he is that dumb.  Don Jr.?  Ok, why not?  Something to root for!

Anyhow, just some ideas on a wet Ottawa day.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Professional Ultimate? Yes, Please

I went to my second professional ultimate game last night (first time reported here).  It was the final game of the season for the Ottawa Outlaws, and was at a far more convenient location.  So, I felt compelled to see how my favorite sport is doing.   From the crowds I saw, it is doing pretty well.  Nice mix of ages--lots of kids and teens, some old frisbee vets.

 The Ottawa Outlaws were in green, and NY Empire were in white.  I overheard folks taking about how there were multiple professional leagues, but one collapsed. This led to the merger of the NY folks, so they have a heap of talent.  They had two guys were dominated the skies--making many good defense plays and out-skying (out-jumping) the Ottawa players who had no such mutants playing for them.
 It was a great day for it--not much wind--just enough to make it interesting, and, thankfully no rain.  The play was very impressive in terms of athleticism--lots of layouts, impressive throws (one 3/4 of the field hammer--upside down for a score).  Like last time, turnovers kill.  The Outlaws were sloppy early on, so NY could get a four point lead.  They mostly traded points the rest of the way.

 NY Empire played zone defense a few times, which explains why so many white uniforms are near one green guy with the disk.
 One of the big differences is not so much between professional and amateur but between men's and mixed (co-ed): the men's game involves far more hucking.  That is, far more long throws and somewhat less working up the field with shorter passes.

Once again, half time involved letting the kids on the field for some throwing.

This is what it looks like:


I look forward to seeing the game and the league evolve further next year.  The championships are in Montreal at the end of August, by the way.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Desperate Times for Canada's Conservatives?

I have not been a fan of how the Conservative Party has played the Khadr stuff the past couple of weeks. I get it--this is unpopular, so let's bash the Liberals.  But that is all that it is: unpopular.  Paying off Khadr is, alas, not wrong given how the courts have ruled in this case and in similar cases.  Pursuing the case further is dumb bordering on crazy--why spend more and more money on lawyers just to prolong the inevitable?  Reminds me of the classic tale of resentful soon-to-be-ex-spouses (not mine) delaying on finalizing a divorce because they are resentful and petty.  It might feel good, but it does no good.

My colleague Stephanie Carvin has done a heroic job writing about this and replying to the hordes on twitter who hate that the government is doing this.  To argue that Trudeau wants to pay Khahr off is silly.  It is abundantly clear that the Trudeau government is pretty much constrained by the rule of law and by the requirement to do stuff that fosters "peace, order and good government."

My problem today is not that this decision is unlikable--which it is.  No, my problem is that the Conservatives are so desperate to take shots at Trudeau that they are undermining the Canadian national interest.  How so?  Michelle Rempell went on Fox to rile up the Americans as Trudeau is paying off a guy who "killed" Americans.  Why?  How many Canadians watch Fox?  Not many. How many American Presidents watch Fox religiously?  How many American Presidents are easily triggered by what he sees on Fox?  Yeah, it is hard not to think that the Conservatives are trying to sabotage the rather successful effort of the Trudeau government to manage the Trump problem.

Why?  What good is it to cause Trump to become outraged at Canada?  To undermine the sustained, organized, intelligent, determined effort by this government to not break relations with the US?  At a time where the US is already pushing hard on NAFTA and other issues of concern to Canadians?

Trudeau is right to argue that it is one thing to disagree with stuff within Canada, but another to try to bring the debate into the White House via Fox.  Andrew Scheer, the new leader of the CPC, has thus far not distinguished himself.  This is not a good look, sir. How about thinking about Canada's interest for a second rather than the short-sighted interest of the CPC to take PMJT down a few percentage points in the polls? Oh, sorry, too much to ask.

I am too old to think that politics stops at the water's edge (that would be the Great Lakes in this case).  But playing with explosives is not too bright.  But desperate parties call for desperate measures.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Pardon Me!

Ok, sorry for that title.  And, the obvious caveat is that I am not a lawyer, so I don't know what I am talking about (remember, this is the Semi-Spew). But here's my various thoughts on the pardon news and the likelihood of firing Mueller:
  • My only surprise that it is has taken this long for Trump to get curious about pardons except he is the most incurious person I have ever seen in government or anywhere else.
  • Seems pretty clear that Trump can pardon damned near anybody but he can't block impeachment via pardon.  
  • Pardons are more complicated than people think:
    • Those who are pardoned lose their 5th amendment rights as they can't incriminate themselves anymore on the issue for which they were pardoned.  So, pardoning too soon might mean Manafort/Don Jr/Kusher/whoever can't invoke 5th.  Oh, and if they then lie, well, that is a new crime and that would require a new pardon.... Oy.
    • Presidents can only pardon federal crimes, so New York (which much of the shenanigans happened) could go to town on crimes that passed through there, I believe.  
    • Pardons will affect voters and not in good ways.  Maybe not a lot, but might tilt stuff and make a wave election in 2018 more likely.  It will also make it harder for Trump to get stuff through the Senate, especially appointing the next Attorney General and other Justice folks.
  •  But, yes, impeachment is not going to happen.  Paul Ryan will simply not surrender agenda control of the house, so it does not even matter if one could scrounge some GOP reps who would be willing to vote that way.  Same for Senate--McConnell would not let it happen.  Agenda control is a thing.  
  • Firing Mueller would energize the other investigations even if it stops the special prosecutor within DOJ.  Oh, and who fires him?  Yeah, a constitutional crisis if Trump tries to do it himself.  If he asks Sessions, will Sessions do it?  Maybe despite being recused.  Will Rosenstein?  Probably not.
  • Of course, all of this thought about how to stop the investigation might make one think that Trump is guilty as hell.  But, of course, guilt has nothing to do with it.  It is about the GOP and what they think they need to do to get their stuff passed (not looking good), to avoid being investigated themselves (Russians interfered with House/Senate races), avoid being primaried, and all that. 
So, six months of Trump Presidency, and this is where we are:
  1. Arsonists burning down damn near every agency (Tillerson, Sessions, Price, etc)
  2. Civilian control of the military is shaky since DoD is still understaffed and helmed by a very recently retired general who still seems to think like one
  3. Escalations in most wars
  4. A major dispute among our "allies" in the war against ISIS
  5. Turkey competing hard to be a worse ally than Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.
  6. Voter suppression efforts at the federal level.
  7. Sessions reversing a ton of stuff at DoJ so that we are doing incredibly dumb stuff
  8. Tourism industry is getting beaten up as folks are going elsewhere
  9. US has given up leadership in the world.
  10. Trade disputes with damn near every country.
  11. No hope for climate change policies or any environmental regulation.
I could go on, but this is why I have not posted for the past two days--too damned depressing.

Anyhow, I am sorry. Pardon me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Gender and Syllabi: A Progress Report.

Many threads in the past two days on gender and race and citations.  That what ends up being cited and being on syllabi tends to be the product of not so much merit but merit plus path dependence plus other stuff going on, which means women and minorities are under-represented (see this storify that has the threads by Paul Musgrave and Dan Nexon).  Similar dynamics tend to apply regarding syllabi--women are under-represented.*
*  I focus on women here, because I am not sure how to do a better job of adding minorities to my syllabi.  Simply put, it is far easier to identify women (although not always) than minorities via names if I don't know the people. 

I focus on this rather than citations since I just finished the syllabus to one of my classes: Civil-Military Relations.  For the past couple of years, I have been more aware of this stuff, so I have tried to improve the gender balance on my syllabi.  Unlike journal articles where the editors might extend the word count to improve the gender balance (h/t to Dan Nexon, see the storify), a syllabus is more or less a zero-sum game.  I can't add tons of new readings and expect the students to read them all (the iron law of reading assignments--the more you assign, the less they read).  So, some folks do get dropped from required to recommended as I seek to improve the gender balance.  I don't aim for 50%--I just aim for more.

For the stuff I teach, it tends to be not that hard to find stuff written by women.  For some aspects/weeks, it is easier than others right now.  Alliances?  Not a problem with folks like Patricia Weitsman, Sarah Kreps, and others.  For Canadian defence, tis harder.  Counting pieces of required reading by whether is one or more women involved (solo or co-author), my syllabus is 37% women.  I used Jane Summer's tool to see how this syllabus does: it says the authors are 28% women, 1.5% Asian, 9.2% Black, 4.2% Hispanic and 83% White.  I have to get the syllabus into the library so I will send it as is, but in the next year, I will keep an eye out for work that is in this area from groups that are less represented.
Update: Using, I have found a bunch of women doing civil-military stuff--mostly junior profs and grad students, so I will be revising my syllabus a bit.

Why? Because it is the least I can do.  It does not involve much work--mostly awareness and a smidge of self-awareness.  Students are less likely to model themselves after people who are dissimilar to them, so I think it is a good thing to try.  Also, when it comes to syllabi, some folks are more likely to get promoted if they can prove that their work is used in syllabi around the world.  Tis harder now as many syllabi are on gated coursework sites (blackboard, webct), but not impossible.  Anyhow, it seems like the right thing to do.  And yes, working on this is a good way to procrastinate on the article I need to finish for the APSA meeting in late August.* 

* The deadline for that (August 14th) is silly and according to this survey likely to be disrespected. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Casualties and Rules

The latest numbers show that the US air campaign against ISIS is killing more civilians under Trump than it did under Obama.  Should we blame Trump?  Sure, but perhaps not entirely.  I think several factors may be at work:
  • urban warfare is just brutal.  No way around it.  The offensive to take Mosul has reminded folks of the line from Vietnam: "we had to destroy it in order to save it."
  • US troops are now deployed in Syria, which means air strikes to protect them.  The Special Operations Forces training/assisting the Syrian allies are few in number and thus vulnerable.  The Marines and others deployed to provide artillery and other support are also relatively few in number and vulnerable.  So, when various forces--ISIS, Iranians, Assad's forces, etc--get close, air strikes happen.  And I am guessing the rules governing airstrikes to protect US troops at risk are probably different from the rules governing attacks on ISIS bases, etc.
  • Trump.  Mattis and others have insisted that the rules haven't changed.  Maybe not, but rules are always interpreted.  One can bend the rules for a friend (as in the case of interpreting caveats in Afghanistan back in the day).  One may strictly interpret the rules (zero tolerance or whatever) if one is being watched very carefully by a superior (a principal, an overseer) especially when being caught has consequences. In Afghanistan, various Dutch officers liberally interpreted the rules because they knew there would be little risk of punishment, for example (again, see the book).  So, the Trump effects here are:
    • Trump has signaled via his statements that he does not care about civilian casualties.
    • Trump has delegated pretty much everything to the military--there is probably no concern that the National Security Council folks are watching, unlike during the Obama administration.
    • Trump himself breaks all the rules, so as a role model, he inspires .... less strict observance of the rules.
War is constantly a gray area--if the rules say that a strike should not happen if it puts 15 people at risk (just an example as the rules of engagement are classified), then does the person calling in the airstrike say that there are 14 or 16?  Lots of estimates with big +/- uncertainty.  So, it is hard to judge.  But the trends do seem to be pretty significant.  Lots of things are in play, but I'd bet that the US armed forces a wee bit less careful now than when they were concerned they were being watched closely.  It is just basic human behavior (and principal-agent dynamics).               

Senior Women in Academia: Few or Feared?

This piece is deservedly getting much attention. In my prior jobs, I have seen men disparage some senior women as being crazy bitches (Berdahl's phrase but one that, alas, has been used widely).  On the other hand, damn near all of the friction/tension/conflict I have witnessed in my academic travels (four universities, two in the US, two in Canada) have been caused by men.  This is mostly but not entirely a numbers problem combined with confirmation bias.

The numbers problem is this: there have always been very few women in senior spots in the places I have worked.  There were one full and one associate at UVM, one associate at TTU, one full and associate at McGill, and one or two associates at NPSIA when I started at each institution.  So, there were few women to be viewed as mentors by junior women, and few women to be seen as crazy bitches.  But since there are few of them, whatever they do is noticed more than what the masses of men do. 

Which leads to the confirmation bias problem: that when one has a bad experience with a female senior faculty member, it gets remembered and reinforces the stereotype more than when one has a bad experience with a male senior faculty member.  Are there senior women out there that are nasty/arrogant/difficult/whatever and do not support those who came after them?  Absolutely.  Friends have told me tales. However, I have heard far more tales and certainly have experienced far more hostility from men in the business. 

All of this is, of course, anecdata.  So, I will focus on the anecdata I know best--the women at each stop along the way as well as those I have met at conferences who are institution-builders, who are excellent mentors to male and female graduate students and junior faculty, who support their peers bigly.  The ones that come to mind immediately are: Lisa Martin at UCSD (now at Wisconsin), Cherie Maestas at TTU (now at UNC Charlotte); Juliet Johnson at McGill, Sara Mitchell via ISA conferences (she's at Iowa), Stefanie Von Hlatky in the Canadian and NATO world (she's at Queens) and Stephanie Carvin at NPSIA.  Many other women have played important roles in at these places and elsewhere, and I am most grateful to all to all of them. The good news is that these and other women are doing a great job of mentoring the next generation.  The key is to find the holes in the leaky pipeline and plug them (which, funnily enough, several of these folks are doing).

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Game of Thrones Returns: Place Your Bets

The joy of blogging about proposition bets is I know get regular emails from a guy who represents on various possible wagers.  Mostly, I have noticed stuff on who may last or not in the Trump administration, but the most recent one was regarding Game of Thrones: who wins, who dies, etc.  They took a fan survey to develop the basic expectations and then set the odds.

So, of course, on the eve of the penultimate season, I have thoughts.  So, below are the odds with my comments (with spoilers for those who have not watched the sixth season):

Thursday, July 13, 2017

D&D and the GOP

I have often posted here and on twitter about how that keen insight from Dungeons and Dragons character attributes applies so well: that intelligence and wisdom are two distinct characteristics.*  One can very smart but not every wise or can be wise but not very smart.  Given Jeff Sessions saying on his SF-86 form (the form one fills out to get/keep a security clearance) that he had not met any representatives of any foreign government over the previous seven years, I had to conclude that he is not very wise.  I am not sure he is all that smart either, but he certainty is not wise as defined by D&D:
Wisdom describes a character’s willpower, common sense, perception, and intuition. Intelligence determines how well your character learns and reasons
The scores range from 3-18 for humans (other species in the D&D universe can go above 18 if I remember correctly.  Anyhow, I thought it would be fun to imagine the character sheets for key political players these days, and, please correct me if I am wrong or come up with better takes than this.

Donald Trump
Race: Half-orc.  (Like Voldemort, this case of mixed parentage has bred xenophobia) Dwarf (Peter Trumbore convinced me this fits better: "Avarice, boorishness, and xenophobia are all classic traits of the dwarves. As is clannish behavior."
Alignment: Chaotic Evil (Chaos vs Law reflects freedom/adaptability/flexibility vs. honor/authority/reliability/trustworthiness; Good/Neutral/Evil reflects altruism/respect for life/respect for dignity vs harming/oppressing/etc)
Class: Thief (Duh)
Strength: 15       Donald has crushed some hands in his day.
Dexterity: 18      He can act quickly and spin quite a bit.
Constitution: 6   He tires easily.
Intelligence:  7   He really does not like to learn.
Wisdom: 12        He has some sense and intuition--he can figure out a crowd.
Charisma: 18      (orce of personality, persuasiveness, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and physical attractiveness)  I don't get it, but he does have a powerful personality, he persuades people despite being utterly full of bs, and so on.

Jeff Sessions, who inspired this post.
Race: Elf (Duh)
Alignment: Lawful? Evil.  That he has very fixed principles about who should be ruling and who should be serving.
Class:  Cleric, pretty sure he might be able to control the undead.  Instead of healing, he causes pain and suffering.
Strength:  11
Dexterity: 15
Constitution: 18  He seems to have much stamina as he works really hard to destroy the Justice system
Intelligence: 14  He has learned how to be better at being a racist
Wisdom:  9        That SF-86 is just unwise.
Charisma:   6      He is definitely not likable.

Jared KushnerRace: Human child
Alignment: Chaotic Evil.  He is just an opportunist, who is imitating his father by selling out his brother-in-law.
Class: Wizard but level 1. He has little magic and is less effective in combat.
Strength:  7
Dexterity: 6       He seems have lousy reflexes, does not really act quickly.  Does he act at all?
Constitution: 7  Seems sickly
Intelligence:  5  Needed father's help to get into Harvard.  Any evidence thus far of learning?
Wisdom: 10      He is not very wise, but his efforts to deflect responsibility seem to be working so he may be craftier than he seems.
Charisma:  14   While unlikable from a distance, it is hard to understand his ability to float through life thus far.  People around him keep giving me more chances, so I guess he has some magnetism.

Don Jr.
Race: Human (I apologize on behalf of all humans for what he does).
Alignment: Chaotic Evil. He wants to be his dad.
Class: Thief (but of low skill)
Strength: 8
Dexterity: 5     He can't help but trip all over himself
Intelligence:  4
Wisdom:  3  Did you see him tweet?
Charisma:  5  Ewwwwwww!


Race: Half-Elf
Alignment: Neutral evil
Class: Wizard   She can cast spells, no doubt about that.
Strength:  13
Dexterity: 16    She can move so swiftly and dance so well that none of the shit her family creates seems to stick to her.
Constitution:  17   She seems to have all of the family's stamina.  She keeps at it, when one would expect her to run or hide.
Intelligence: 16  Among this group, she is a genius.
Wisdom: 12  She is wise relative to her family but just to them.
Charism:  17  She is pretty and seems to get folks to do her bidding again and again (see Drezner's post)

This has taken more time than it should (I had to research the atttributes, classes and such), so I will just summarize a few Dems:
Bill Clinton:  INT 17, WIS  5, CHR 18, Chaotic Neutral
Hillary Clinton: INT 16, WIS 8, CHR 10 (good in small groups, bad in crowds), Neutral Good (persuaded by JTL)
Barak Obama: INT 18, WIS 14, CHR 18, Lawful Good
Bernie Sanders: INT 14, WIS 15, CHR 16, Chaotic Good/Neutral (not sure)
Joe Biden:   INT  14, WIS 9, CHR 17, Chaotic Good

* I have not played D&D in many decades so I am probably not the best person to be doing this.  However, I called this place "Semi-Spew" which could be interpreted as half-assed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Progress? Some But Not Enough

Today is "Follow Women of Color Wednesday" on twitter, an effort to help promote those who are often marginalized and get them more of a twitter following.  It has been interesting to watch over the course of the day. 

Here's my contribution to the twitter conversation:

I added Cesi Cruz and Wendy Wong later, as I had inadvertently left them off as they have not been tweeting much lately.  These women fit into three groups: former students (I supervised Aisha and Jessica TD, I was on Cesi's MA committee), former UCSD students (Wendy and Jessica Weiss Chen) and Tanisha.  Tanisha does stuff that touches my work so we have bumped into each other a few times, and are now friends. Nearly all of these folks are junior, which makes sense since there are so few women of color who are senior and fewer senior people are on twitter.  That these are the only names that came to mind show that my networks are mighty white (I could rattle off a number of white women who I know, who I follow on twitter, and who I hang out with).

 Most of the women mentioned by other people are folks I don't know--either because they are in fields of political science distant from my research (American Politics, Political Theory) or focus on specific parts of the world that have largely been outside of my zone (Africa, Asia, Latin America).   Or if I were better read (I am way behind on reading the various journals, sabbatical didn't solve that), perhaps more of these names would be familiar.
Anyhow, this may speak to an on-going problem: that either by interest or by the implicit/explicit biases of the profession, many non-white scholars end up researching and teaching areas of the world that are related to their ethnic/racial background rather than focusing on broader issues in IR.  Wendy and Tanisha are exceptions as their research agendas do not focus on places that they might be associated with.  I do know from conversations with some of these folks along with conversations with Christian Davenport, one of the few African-Americans doing general Comparative Politics, that these expectations still exist. 

I don't know whether or how such stuff should change (I don't want to force people to become generalists or research themes I care about), but I could not help but notice the patterns today.  Maybe that is my own confirmation bias and my ignorance of the work of many of the women mentioned today.  Maybe not.  I write here and then share my thoughts so that folks can correct me if my perceptions are wrong.  Am I wrong?

Ads? Never mind.

I asked yesterday on twitter and here if folks minded my having ads on the blog.

Most don't mind/don't care.  And then I checked what blogger would expect my income to be, and, well, it is what I originally expected.  Not worth the hassle (tax forms? annoying 9% of my readers, etc.)

So, never mind.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


I don't know how much money I would make, probably a pittance, but I am thinking of having blogspot post ads on ye olde Spew. Would this be annoying or not a big deal? 

Let me know.


Survey Says: Critical Thinking Is Inconvenient

The survey of GOP attitudes about higher education is getting heaps of play and deservedly so (see this tweetstorm that shows how recent the change is and how it is by folks who, surprise, didn't go to college).  It is striking that colleges and universities would be so widely feared (yes, feared), given that higher ed has been a key source of: economic growth, upward mobility (until lately, I guess), innovation and bad movies about lecherous professors.  I am not going to document the war on college as Dan Drezner has done a fine job of it.  It might be an exaggeration that the right have demonized universities, extrapolating whatever happens at Oberlin to make it seem like universities are left-wing mind-control machines.  But it ain't far off.

To be clear, this is not that new, as roughly twenty years ago, I encountered a group of freshpeople who had been warned about the darkness that awaited them at university: that THEY teach evolution here (at Texas Tech).  I didn't expect these students to be the harbinger of things to come, but in a sense they were.  The right-wing media with assists from the mainstream have done much to demonize colleges and universities. Yes, more profs are to the left of center than to the right.  Yes, students leave university with changed attitudes and believes because they get exposed to different ideas and an abundance of facts and to, gasp, different people from their hometown.  They leave... more educated (but not more left wing).

And that is the threat and that is what is feared: the GOP and its allies have moved away from principled stances on the issues and rely more heavily on fear (all parties rely on some fear-mongering, but the emphasis and the targets vary and matter).  What is the best cure for ignorance and fear?  Most folks say education.  So, yeah, warring on college over the past twenty years makes sense, as the GOP, facing an inability to appeal to the next generation via ideas, has to try to deny them the training and knowledge that might make it harder for the party to peddle its toxic brew.

While colleges and universities could serve the public better, it is important to remember that many of them are public institutions, and their problems are often the product of bad public policy.*  Much of the increased expense of universities is due to states providing less support for state-run universities.  That the debt burden on students and graduates is a public policy problem, that could be ameliorated if politicians were willing to do something about it.

Oh and about those pesky protests that alienate the right: we had them in the 1960s yet universities remained engines of growth and innovation for the following decades anyway.  So, yeah, this is another example of the GOP/Fox/etc undermining American institutions because it is good for the party even as it is bad for the country.  A familiar dynamic in a book I co-authored, but one that is more destructive in the US than we could have guessed.

*  Dan mentions a natural experiment about folks choosing not to go to college.  I would argue that there has already been a public policy impact--the decline of state support for universities.  Only late in the game have some (Arnold Schwarzenegger!) realized that more money going to prisons than universities might just be a bad idea.