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 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.