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 http://womenalsoknowstuff.com/experts-by-area/, 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 sportsbettingexperts.com 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!

Ivanka 

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

Ads?

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.

Thanks,

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. 









Sunday, July 9, 2017

G20: Worse Than Expected?

Was the G20 Worse than Expected?  Well, that really depends on what one expected.  Did we expect a Climate Change agreement that all but the US supported?  Probably.  Could we have expected the US to produce a document that wrongly labels China as the Republic of China (that is, Taiwan)? Sure, the Trump Administration is both understaffed and full of amateurs.  Could we have expected that Trump would get along best with Putin? Absolutely.  That his meeting with Putin would go on so long that they would send in Melania hoping to end the meeting?  No.  That this meeting would only include Putin, Trump, Lavrov, Tillerson and the translators?  Um, no.  The debate ahead of time was Fiona Hill or no Fiona Hill (the expert on NSC and not a fan of Putin) not that McMaster and others would not be in the room.  Could we have expected Ivanka to sit in for Donald at a G20 meeting because he is a child who can't stand long, boring meetings?  Yes.

While the NATO meeting and G7 last month were shocking to many, this G20 just did something that everyone kind of expected: Trump handed over leadership of the international order to pretty much anyone who would take it.  Any other Republican President would have probably tried to develop a G20 statement on North Korea, but that would have required work and a view that international cooperation is a good thing.  There are few constants when it comes to Trump: he is always lazy, incurious, paranoid (no staff for the meeting with Putin because of leak paranoia), hostile to cooperation, and racist. 

America First does indeed mean America alone (sorry, McMaster but your spin doth suck).  When talking to my IR colleagues, we have a hard time figuring out if this has happened before: that the leader of the international order surrenders their role voluntarily.  The closest example would be the British after World War I, and that was largely driven by their inability, not a matter of disinterest or hostility.  Instead, the Trump Administration is giving up US influence (Make American Less Great) and getting nothing in exchange.  Opposing TPP meant the effort to contain China economically fails without getting anything for it. Wandering around the G20 with everybody looking to other partnerships means the US will now be at a trade advantage.  The EU-Japan deal combined with finally enacting CETA (Canada-EU) means that goods of those involved will face lower barriers than American goods, which means American companies are now disadvantaged.  Again, not good.

We saw two domestic dynamics become international ones:
  • the donut theory of working around Trump.  Just as Trudeau has been working every angle in US politics to protect American interests, most of the G20 put their efforts towards working around Trump rather than the US leading.
  • manipulate Trump as best you can.  His aides do it, so why shouldn't foreign leaders?  My only concern is that the successful Canadian campaign will eventually get noticed (they aren't shy about taking credit) and then lead to Trump acting out. 
Could the G20 have gone worse?  Sure.  Trump didn't punch anyone.  But we don't know what was said in the meeting with Putin, other than the different views about how much Trump pushed Putin on Russia's interventions in the US election. 

On the bright side for the Canadians, Trudeau did very well.  While Conservatives in Canada don't like the selfies and photo ops at home, having a Canadian leader who is very popular around the world is a good thing for the country.  Especially in the age of Trump but even before that, Canada was getting more notice and attention at this fora because Trudeau is well liked (I hate the Canada is back lingo because Harper engaged in much cooperation even if he was not as enthused about multilateralism).  This means that Canada is at the big table most of the time these days rather than left at the kid's table or on the outside looking in. And it becomes easier for countries to make, ratify and implement agreements with Canada since their leaders don't have to worry about seeing standing next to Trudeau--very much the opposite.  Indeed, we shall see over the next couple of years, politicians avoiding Trump and attacking him for domestic political purposes (see Macron, Merkel), but the opposite for Trudeau.  Being next to Trudeau is good for domestic politics in many countries.  This means, yes, Trudeau is a Canadian asset.  What this government does with this increase in "soft power" remains to be seen and the opposition can surely oppose, but the increased heft is a good thing if you think that Canada should make a difference in the world.

So, a good G20 for Canada and an awful one for the US.  Make Canada Great and make America less relevant.  Woot?





Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, I Can Rank Any Series Any Time

Of all the comic book characters, Spider-man was always my favorite.  X-Men was my favorite team, but Spidey was the one I most enjoyed.  So, yeah, we saw the new Spider-Man movie--Homecoming--the night it came out.  It is no spoiler to say that it was terrific.  The most thoroughly fun of all the Spideys, but is it the best?  Swing to the spoiler-filled rankings below:

Thursday, July 6, 2017

G20 Preview: Damned If I Know

One media outlet was looking for my take on what to expect from this G20 meeting in Germany.  My quick answer: I have no idea.  Usually, these things are semi scripted so you know what agreements are likely to be endorsed.  But in the Age of Trump, the US does no homework, it does not set the agenda, and it does not follow an agenda.  For Trump's meeting with Putin, there is no agenda.  His aides have said that it will be up to whatever Trump wants to talk about at the time the meeting starts.

So, no, not easy to make predictions.  I will say that one basic dynamic is key to understand: Trump does not see America's partners as friends or as, well, partners, but as competitors.  When he met with South Korea's President in the shadow of North Korea's missile tests, he pushed on trade deficits.  When Trump sees Merkel, he mostly focuses on Germany's trade surplus (and his misogyny).  Don't expect much cooperation or new initiatives. 

The thing to watch is how the others work around Trump. Do they confront, which seems to be Merkel's plan?  Do they pander or try to assuage Trump?  That would be Trudeau's preference.  What will the 19 do?  Will they allow China to dominate? 

Who will defend the international order?  Not Trump.  What is the best way to do that?  No idea, but I am guessing that Trudeau may have the right idea.

Anyhow, this is going to be a train wreck, which means we don't know where the derailed cars will land.  And yes, the Uncertainty Engine is operating in high gear.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

North Korea, ICBM's and Lousy Policy Alternatives

The toughest thing for folks to accept is that there are often no good policy solutions to a key problem.  North Korea has been that problem for at least two decades.  With the new test where North Korea has proven it can build and launch successfully intercontinental ballistic missiles, there is now greater pressure to do something.

But what is that something and what are the risks?  This is where the Trump administration scares me the most.  Talk of regime change and denuclearization are seriously alarming (see this thread)..  Why has North Korea pursued nuclear weapons? For status, maybe.  Because it fears that outsiders want to change who rules?  Absolutely.  What use are nuclear weapons?  To deter attacks, of course.

Could the US launch a strike to disarm North Korea's limited missile force?  Maybe.  But that would not eliminate North Korea's ability to do much harm--via artillery and maybe even invasion of South Korea.  Whatever mistakes the US makes, South Korea will pay.  There are just too many artillery batteries too close to Seoul for the US to expect any conflict not to have potentially huge risks.
Even the most limited strike risks staggering casualties, because North Korea could retaliate with the thousands of artillery pieces it has positioned along its border with the South. Though the arsenal is of limited range and could be destroyed in days, the United States defense secretary, Jim Mattis, recently warned that if North Korea used it, it “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.” NYT

And, of course, there is no guarantee that a first strike would eliminate North Korea's small nuclear capability, which would put Tokyo in play as well.  So, a first strike might risk hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Koreans and Japanese.

This puts us back into a familiar and uncomfortable reality--nuclear deterrence.  We are deterred from attacking North Korea, and North Korea, as long as it believes a first strike is not imminent, is deterred from attacking the US and its allies. But if it fears a first strike, it may launch first because it might fear the US could decapitate the regime and eliminate much of its arsenal.  This "use or lose" situation is very, very dangerous.  This makes talk of denuclearization and decapitation destabilizing.

I was called a coward last night on twitter by someone who thinks nuclear disarmament is the preferred option.  Is it cowardly to be realistic?  We are not going to get North Korea (or China or Russia or France or Israel or India or Pakistan or the US) to give up its nuclear arms. Believing otherwise, especially in the age of Trump, is foolish.  Also foolish is thinking that using force will produce a good outcome.  It sucks that we do not have good policy options, but this is nothing new.  For twenty years, the US has wanted to strike North Korea and has been deterred by the threats it poses to the neighbors.  For the entire cold war (and to this day), we have had to tolerate the reality of mutual assured destruction--that threatening each other is the worst policy option except for all of the others.  I'd love to find a way out, but I can't see one.

So, when it comes to North Korea, we must focus not on denuclearization but on deterrence and containment.  Unfortunately, the US is currently led by amateurs with no empathy, which means they have a hard time understanding how their signals will be received.  Which means I am scared.






Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Canada is Better

I hate, hate, hate it when folks smugly compare Canada to the US and say Canada is better or vice versa.  Both are generally quite great places, and vary across time and place and among people, so most Canada > US arguments or US > Canada arguments are dumb.  But I can't help myself today. Why?  Rule of Law.   How so?

Today, word came out at the Liberal government is going to apologize to and pay Omar Khadar $10 million plus for not doing enough for him when the Americans were torturing him.  Trudeau is paying for the sins of his predecessors--Chretien, Martin and Harper, and there are no votes to be gained for doing so.  Compelled by a court decision, the government is paying out a heap of cash to a guy who belongs to an unlikable family.  But pay Trudeau will because that is what the rule of law requires

At this moment, the rule of law is probably under greater attack than any time since when?  The Civil War?  Trump has consistently blasted the courts for daring to rule against him.  He defies the Constitution by taking cash from foreign governments.  His people craft executive orders with very little concern for the law.  The latest?  That when the Supreme Court rules that the immigrant ban (the Muslim ban) can be allowed to be enacted under specific limits--those with a bona fide connection to the US must be allowed in--Trump's administration tailors the notion of bona fide much, much more narrowly than the Court seemed to indicate.  Which means more lawsuits, more appeals and more rulings. 

Eventually, somebody bringing the emoulements case will be considered to have standing (my bet is on Maryland and DC), and then we shall see what happens. The problem is that we have serious doubts that Trump will obey a court order.  That his family is above the law, as Kushner still has a security clearance despite his Russian dalliances, that Trump still owns a hotel on federal property, and on and on. 

So, on this Fourth of July, I can't help but marvel at the juxtaposition--a government doing what is right even though it is bad politics because that is what the law demands versus an administration that is beyond the law thanks to a feckless GOP.  It ain't a good look, America.

Fourth of July: Petition Bigly

Each Fourth of July I post about how strange it is to be an American outside of the US.  Last summer was the first time I was both Canadian and American for the Fourth of July.  Since then, I have occasionally gotten some pushback on twitter for commenting on American politics by those who are Trump cultists (and some Bernie bros as well, who might have also been Russian bots).  So, I am tempted to write about how un-American this current administration is, best exemplified by the news that the US is too weak and vulnerable to allow kids doing science projects to go to events in the US.  But I shall resist because ... this past six months has demonstrated that the Spirit of the Revolution is still alive and well.

Tis ironic that the far right has been citing Jefferson and making noises for years but now all that patriotic stuff about Petitions, Redress, and protests best describe:
  • those who marched the day after the inauguaration all around the US and beyond on behalf of women
  • all those lawyers and others who showed up at airports to protest the Muslim ban
  • all those who have attended town halls and confronted their representatives with righteous indignation
  • all those who have called their Representatives and Senators to register their opposistion to Ryancare/Trumpcare/Wealthcare
I can go on, as there have been many moments of inspiration, many acts of resistance that can serve as what, as a Shiny City on a Hill, as a beacon of hope maybe.  I have no doubt that things will get worse before they get better, especially with a likely opening in the Supreme Court, with more #voterfraudfraud ahead, and with real crises waiting for an underprepared, understaffed, and deliberately destructive administration.  But what this day reminds me is that Americans are pesky folks who are very skeptical of authority, that much of public opinion lines up against Trump, Ryan, and McConnell.  The US has bounced back from recessions, a depression or two, failed wars, and even a civil war.  The costs are often high, and what drives me crazy now is how much of the current mess is a series of unforced errrors.  Still, the US has shown a great capacity to recover because its citizens, including immigrants, are feisty and determined.

So, on this Fourth of July, I take inspiration from those who fought an Empire with a little help (ok, lots of help) from some friends.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

First Amendment Includes Vets?

Sometimes we overlearn lessons.  One of the key lessons from the Vietnam era is that we should not crap on the troops--that we should support them, as they are not responsible for the big decisions.  Yet, as I have argued here often (perhaps yearly), the support our troops mantra does our troops and our country a disservice.  It has become a dynamic where we venerate the troops and veterans and hold them above everyone else.  The thing is: the United States is not a military regime but a democracy, which means that the most basic principles put civilians above the military.  And which civilians?

This tweet starts a storm that provides a hint:
If one examines the First Amendment, one will note that veterans and troops are not mentioned at all.  Who is?  The Press.  Because freedom of the press is fundamental to the maintenance of democracy.  Indeed, all that stuff packed into the first amendment are the most fundamental to the operation of a democratic political system: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly (that means protest to those who are upset at protests), freedom to petition the government (protest gets listed twice!), and that whole separation of church and state.  These come first for a reason--the system will not operate without these freedoms.  The other parts of the Bill of Rights are also important with 2-8 focused on preventing the government from oppressing the people.  I wonder if the founders were at it today would they include something about civilian control of the military?  Or did they just always assume it and would continue to assume it?

Because this veneration of the military is problematic. The idea that we should just trust the generals to make the decisions ignores the very basic reality that democracies only function when there is civilian control of the military.  While we can focus on Trump's attacks on the media and on the #voterfraudfraud efforts to disenfranchise people, I am not sure this other attack on democracy is getting sufficient attention.  Delegating damn near all important decisions either to the generals and admirals or to someone who retired a couple of years ago but still has a military mindset is an abdication of responsibility.  We may get some solace from this because anything that takes decisions out of Trump's hands would seem to be a good thing.  But this is the tyranny of low expectations--that we end up accepting things that are awful, that are destructive of democracy because a supremely unqualified person (who might be compromised by the Russians) is now president.

I say all this in anticipation of the Fourth of July.  I am sure that folks will use this occasion to say nice things about the troops, which would be all well and good if we did not already have ample occasions to do so.  The Fourth of July should be about the Declaration of Independence, about what the revolution was fought for (not just lower taxes and perhaps ignoring smuggling laws), and, yes, the Constitutions and what it stands for.  While this past year or so has reminded us that America's civic nationalism is not as civic and far more ethnic than I would like, what should bind us all together is not that we love our armed forces but that we are skeptical of authority, that we support all kinds of liberties, and that we have much work to do to perfect the union.

So, yes, I think we need to hold our troops accountable as we hold any agent of the government.  Yes, they take great risks on our behalf, but they can also do great damage in our name.  So, let's make sure they get the best health care during and after their service, but let's also not treat them like gods to be worshiped.  Let's instead hold their leadership, civilian and military, responsible for good decisions and bad, so that the sacrifices the troops pay are as few as possible and are worth it.  Escalating damn near every war we are currently involved in is probably not a good way to proceed.  And having the media pay heaps of attention to each of these wars is the best way to assure that whatever escalations get scrutinized, that the strategies and tactics are the most appropriate for advancing the national interest.  Sure, we'd like Congress to do the job of oversight, but they are usually only compelled to do so when the shiny spotlight of the media is on an issue, such as torture in Iraq's prisons.

On Tuesday, let's think of those who make our democracy function and protect our liberties at home--the media, the defense lawyers, the judges (the ones who don't screw up), those who serve in juries, the groups that seek to protect the weak and to maintain our institutions (the ACLU is looking mighty good these days), and, yes, those who research and educate about democracy.  The Trump era makes it abundantly clear that we cannot and should not take for granted that our institutions will operate.  Those institutions only work when individuals and groups support them.  While the media may have screwed up its coverage of the election, we need to support them now as they are necessary for the fight to protect our democracy, more so than probably at any other point in American history.






Saturday, July 1, 2017

Canada Day 150!

Woot for Canada, 150 years old!!  Really? Well, it depends on who you talk to.  The date refers to the signing of the British North America Act unified most of what is now Canada into the Confederation (sorry, New Foundland, better late than never, eh?).  But it gets confusing since that was not independence day, which some would consider in 1982 when the British "patriated" the Constitution.  I have no idea what that really means, except, hey, constitutional revision is your problem, iceheads!  Oh, and the previous government kept considering the War of 1812 to be the first major military victory of Canada even though, well, Canada did not really serve as an actor in the conflict.  Some would point to Vimy in 1917 when the Canadian forces in World War I first served as an independent unit (even though they were still under British command).

My knowledge of Canadian history is not that great.  So, instead, I will celebrate Canada by listing 150 great things about this place that is now home to me, Mrs. Spew and sometimes College Spew (Maclean's list is here)--and in no particular order.
  1. That polite thing is not entirely a stereotype.  We have found Canadians to be friendly even when our ability to speak one of the two official languages ain't great.
  2. Great skiing!
  3. The center of the political system is decidedly to the left of the American center.
  4. Same sex marriage before everyone else.
  5. While I used to tease my Quebec friends that my health care was better in Texas than in Quebec (it was) due to good insurance, I realize that even lousy provincial health care (tis a myth that it is a national program here) is better than the mess in the US these days.
  6. Such warm and vibrant ultimate frisbee communities!
  7. Sharp students!  
  8. Ottawa!!! Five years and counting of a great place to live and to do International Relations.
  9. Generous funding for research (even if it is not as easy as it once was and even as bigger grants are tougher)
  10. Not so much populism or xenophobia (although I think Canada also got lucky with timing)
  11. Wide and deep immigrant community which not only helps to serve as a brake on xenophobia but also means great food.
  12. Great beer! 
  13. A very engaging military--I have pretty much talked to damn near every officer I sought out, and nearly all of those conversations were very candid.
  14. A nearly as engaging foreign affairs department that changes its name almost as often as Japan changes defense ministers.  Ok, not that often.  
  15. Great comedy: Just For Laughs, all those comedians exported to the US, etc.
  16. Rush!  I am most un-Canadian in that this is the Canadian band I like the most.
  17. The others also rock: Bryan Adams, Triumph, Barenaked Ladies, Arcade Fire, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Sum 41, Marianas Trench, and, of course, Neil Young.
  18. Wolverine!
  19. Poutine
  20. Kids in the Hall
  21. Goon.
  22. Meatballs (the movie)
  23. Maple anything (except the cartel)
  24. Montreal.
  25. Orphan Black.
  26. Trudeau is so pretty
  27. Astronaut Chris Hadfield
  28. Toronto
  29. Granville Island and that city around it.
  30. Whistler.
  31. Shwarma & shish taouk
  32. Maple covered snow on a stick
  33. Beaver tail (the snack)
  34. Wacky drive-thru animal safari place where you feed the beasts from your open windows.  We haf no lawsuits ici!
  35. NPSIA: Today is the fifth anniversary of my start there!  Woot!
  36. Canadian Tuxedo.
  37. Juno and Vimy and poppies
  38. That amazing thing where the Dutch remember the Canadian role in liberating the Netherlands every year, even seventy plus years later.
  39. Kingston and Queens, which used to be my Canadian home away from Canadian home.
  40. Quebec's game-y cuisine.
  41. A Tim Hortons in Kandahar!
  42.  One of these days I will see the aurora borealis. 
  43. The first Captain of the Enterprise
  44. The Canadian media: I have had heaps of great interactions with newspaper reporters, radio hosts, and tv folks.  They get heaps of abuse, but they work really hard. 
  45. The whole Dominion of Canada thing resonates for fans of Deep Space Nine.
  46. The Canada as home to refugees thing might get overplayed, but still Canada's welcoming of the Syrian refugees last year was both smart and good.
  47. The Canadian government is chock full of smart and interesting people--I know because many of my friends are these people.
  48. Robin Sparkles
  49. Canada has provided me with two great jobs. 
  50. Good Cop, Bon Cop







  51. Another 100 things I am currently forgetting.
 Happy Canada 150 Day, folks!  
I am very glad to be a Canadian for two years, 
a resident for 15, and a fan for life.