Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving For a Mixed Year

2017 has been a mighty rough year politically, but it has been a pretty great year for me and my family, so I still have much to be grateful for.

My daughter continues to thrive at college, making amazing films despite the stress of having unpaid labor in front of and behind the camera.  So, perhaps the scenes with lots of extras may not be quite as crowded, and the shooting schedule gets to be a bit, um, stretched out.  But the work is most impressive.  I am also thankful for the wonderful community of friends who helped get her through various challenges over the years including the month or so that she was in between driver's licenses.

We finally resolved the Leaky Cauldron problem as Mrs. Spew's tenacity in landing a contractor paid off.  The house is not only drier but looking brighter with a lighter coat of paint. 

The entire Saideman family celebrated my Dad's 90th birthday by taking a cruise to Alaska.  Sure, getting to Seattle was most challenging, but we got to enjoy that city as well.  The ship had great food and staff, and the sights were amazing.  The only downside was my repeated finishing just out of the money in the poker tourneys.

I am grateful not just to Carleton for the sabbatical but for its continuing ability to foster a supportive community.  Even though I was not around much this past year, I still very much appreciated my colleagues at NPSIA and what a great place it is.  I am also grateful for those who funded my ample (ok, more than ample) travel this year--SSRC, SSHRC, the Paterson family, etc.  2017 has seen me do research in Japan and Brazil--both trips were successful and enjoyable, full of insightful people, great food and beautiful scenery.  I got to go to Mumbai, Honk Kong and Las Vegas for presentations, so I am most thankful for those opportunities. 

I am very thankful for my co-authors who not only make my work better, but take it into new directions.  I am also grateful for the virtual communities I have via social media.  Sure, facebook helped the Russians flip the election, and twitter gives far more visibility to the truly awful, but these and other social media help me remain connected to old friends, make new ones, and learn much from people I would otherwise not know. 

I would be more grateful for this hotel's internet if it was not so flaky.  If it improves, I will add pictures to this post.  And maybe some other stuff for which I am grateful.  I do know that I am quite likely personally and professionally, so I will give much thanks as I eat pie and candied yams this afternoon. 

I hope you and yours have a great thanksgiving, and that the next year will be a bountiful one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Justice Delayed Better than None at All

Ratko Mladic was convicted by ICTY (the Intl Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia) of committing genocide at Srebrenica.  That was not his only crime against humanity, as he led the Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian war, and those forces did many, many bad things--and he was convicted for many of those as well..  At Srebrenica, 7000 Muslim men were killed simply because they were Muslim men.  Very much an act of genocide.   And yeah, it took 22 years for Mladic to be convicted.  He had to be found, and he was running free i Serbia for much of this time, despite suspicions he was still in Bosnia.  That Serbia gave him up was significant progress for that country.  This conviction is still more progress.  There were bad guys on all sides, but he was the biggest and the baddest with the possible exceptions of Slobodan Milosevic who died while on trial by ICTY and Radovan Karadzic (was found earlier and convicted).

While much is well known about the genocide at Srebrenica, a few things are less well known and always get my attention:
  • The Dutch government fell in 2002 due to a report that came out that criticized the Dutch performance in 1995.  Yes, a seven year delay but I find it remarkable that a government would fall for something that happened early and... was mostly not their fault.  It was mostly the UN's fault for not allowing NATO planes to strike the Bosnian Serbs that were attacking "safe areas" that were supposed to be under UN protection.  To use force, NATO and UN officials had to agree--a dual key system.  And, no, the UN guy failed to give his consent.  It is more complicated than that, of course, but more blood is on the UN's hands on this than on the Netherlands's.
  • The Canadians were in Srebrenica before the Dutch but chose to re-deploy so that they would not be present during something like what happened.  So, yeah, the Canadians owe a bit of an unknown debt to the Dutch for taking the hit for the team.
  • The chase for PIFWC's (persons indicted for war crimes) took longer not just because of Serbia hiding some but also
    • the US didn't try to fulfill this key part of the NATO Stabilization Force mandate in its sectors because Bill Clinton told his commanders that the highest priority was force protection--that the US not experience another Blackhawk Down and suffer casualties in a peacekeeping op.  Since chasing PIFWCs was something that could lead to confrontations, riots and such, the US military avoided doing it for a while
    • When they did start, it was done by Special Operations, so I would get kicked out of the room when this stuff was discussed in 2001-2002 as it was above my Top Secret clearance level.
    • That when these searches did happen, it seemed that the French forces in the NATO mission would alert the Bosnian Serbs.  In the name of getting the support of the local authorities but perhaps more likely helping the side with which they had some historical affinity.  Oops.  
One conclusion, of course, is that multilateral peacekeeping is hard.  Originally, the Dave and Steve NATO book was going to cover Bosnia and Kosovo, but Afghanistan ate the book (the Libya chapter fell in our laps, more or less).  So, we would have covered some of these challenges.

Anyhow, happy Mladic Conviction Day!  Better late than never.

Monday, November 20, 2017

If Fox Listened to Ben Parker?

With great power comes great responsibility.  That is what Ben Parker told Peter, and that combined with heaps of guilt produced a mighty (entertaining) superhero.  And it leads me to wonder: given that Fox has managed to become a Trump inception machine:
how would Fox use this power if it were, you know, responsible?

Would Fox focus on trivial stories like a football player sitting or kneeling for the anthem?  The upside is that this directs Trump's antagonism away from any issues that might create conflict with North Korea or push for any policies that harm millions of Americans.  On the downside, he gets to plander to his racist base.

How about essentially streaming Morgan Fairchild's twitter feed since it often has calls to rescue animals?  Good, but she is also a sharp consumer and retweeter of analyses of national security, and that stuff might set off the fragile Donald Trump.

How about criticisms of Habitat for Humanity (not that it deserves any)?  This would allow Trump to play to his worst instincts by insulting a past president, but might also get him to insist on doing more/better for the homeless?

I am taking ideas: if you could control Fox's output so that you can manipulate Trump, what would you program?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Grants, Journalism and Anti-Intellectualism

Tweets like this are super-annoying:

This one tweet does not have a heap of context, but it seems to have some contempt for philosophy.  Another tweet by Akin sends a similar message:

As a social scientist, I get defensive about criticisms of agencies that fund social science.  Even if the implicit criticism is of Philosophy, which is not my area of interest/work (indeed, I often complained at my old job about how the political philosophers were far more successful in empire building than the IR types). 

Anyhow, throwing out titles without context is a fun twitter game, but does not really tell you much about the project. 
Was "Double Hats, Double Trouble: Understanding the Problem of Delegation in Multilateral Military Intervention" something that could be mocked on twitter?  Yes, and yet it produced a project that ended up being well published (the usual indicator of success) and was of much interest to the policy world (another indicator)
Sure, I have my own problems with grant review committees (when they don't give me money), but they read the whole proposal and not just the title.   What it smacks of is anti-intellectualism--that these high falutin' thinkers are focused on abstract stuff rather than real problems so why are they getting money?

Perhaps I am overreacting because I saw how this game was played in the US where politicians would play it and then try to gut the National Science Foundation.  Mostly because we political scientists would ask questions about how and why they did their jobs the way they did.  Ooops.  Whether Akin is consciously trying to provide aid and comfort and info to the enemies of social science and the humanities (SSHRC stands for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) is not clear, but the effect may be the same.

Why be so defensive, Steve?  Surely, more info is good.  Yeah, it is, but presented in this way, it can create problematic perceptions of the realities of grant funding.  And then folks might try to either cut it or micromanage it.  Which leads to a basic Saideman response: if attacked, respond.  I am not a pacifist in the online debates of stuff--if you don't respond, you are letting the other side dominate the debate.  What good is that? [Which means I am easily trolled]

The basic idea of funding the social sciences and the humanities is that more knowledge about why we behave (social sciences) and what we value (humanities) and how we think (both) and what we create (both) is a public good, and governments help to facilitate public goods. While I am not opposed to private financing of research, it can be problematic (drug companies won't want info released about the harm their drugs might cause) and because Canada's tax laws don't provide much incentives for charitable giving, there is not much private money from foundations.

There are good questions to ask about Canada's funding of research.  For instance, SSHRC went from providing many smaller grants to providing fewer but larger grants.  Has this led to more research?  Better outcomes?  There has been a tendency to reserve more and more money for specific topics?  What has been the effect of that?  Listing grants by their titles is not going to lead to these kinds of questions being asked.

I am sure Akin doesn't want to do away with SSHRC, and twitter is not a friendly media for nuanced conversations, but ripping through a bunch of projects based on their titles tends to send a message.  Whether it is intentional or not, the message "Ottawa wastes its money on pointy head intellectuals" seems to be the one that is being sent.  Not good.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pod Saves STEM America

I am a big fan of Pod Saves America--the Obama Bros podcast.  Yet they annoyed me greatly today.  Yes, they are rightly upset that the GOP tax "reform" is going to raise heaps of taxes on graduate students.  But, no, it is not just about physicists and engineers.  Tommy Vietor must be too sleep deprived due to his new puppy (understanble) when he said that this is not about Philosophy doctorates.  Dude, the social sciences and humanities are important too.

Yeah, I rail against having too many PhDs produced and I love picking on philosophers, but changing the tax code to screw over grad students hurts not just the STEM folks who get all of the love, but everyone one.  As Neil Degrasse Tyson reminds us with some of his incredibly dumb tweets, to do hard science right, we need the social sciences and humanities.

The GOP tax "reform" plan is short-sighted in a number of ways--gutting the hard sciences may be more obvious and more politically marketable, but the rest of the disciplines matter.  So, yeah, not good, Tommy and pals, not good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Canada's Peacekeeping Move--A Hot Take

So, Canada's big commitment to the UN and peacekeeping consists not of a 600 battlegroup put into harm's way but "enablers".  That is, Canada is proposing to provide helicopters,* transport aircraft, a quick reaction force (which could be risky if they are sent to a place where quick reactions are needed), some money, trainers.
* The article lists a helo with some guns on it as an attack helicopter.  No.  If the UN calls it such things, the UN is wrong.  Let's not exaggerate what is being done.

It is probably underwhelming for many observers.  It is clearly a much less dangerous endeavor (although still some risk) than sending troops into a semi-counterinsurgency mission in Mali or a peacekeeping operation in Congo or South Sudan.

Will this make Canada more competitive for the UN Security Council seat?  No.  Sure, helping lots of countries a little might impress many countries, but not putting any skin in the game (a phrase I would have used even before a recent conversation with a retired general where it came up) means not being that impressive. The good news is that Norway has even fewer troops dedicated to PKOs at this time.  The bad news is that Ireland has more, despite having a smaller military.  Norway almost certainly gives more aid as a percentage of their budget than Canada does, so, um, good luck with the seat.

To be clear, it is not just about the seat.  The question is--how does this effort advance Canada's interests in the world?  Does it mean that Canada gets a seat at meetings?  Well, it probably will not be kicked out of this week's meetings in Vancouver....  But it will be at the kids' tables at the next rounds of UN meetings on peacekeeping because being present in small numbers in lots of places will not give it any heft anywhere.  As someone reminded me on twitter, 600 troops in one spot would not have done the trick either.

How do I feel about this?  Lukewarm.  It is a smart move from the standpoint of domestic politics--there will less risk here than doing something more significant.  The Conservatives can't really outbid them on peacekeeping.  The NDP?  They can try, I suppose, but it probably will not get much traction.  Canada will make a contribution, so woot for the international relations side?  Meh.  Will Canada be making a difference?  A modest one, I guess.

Perhaps I will have a less hot but more complete take as this thing gets clearer.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Real Conservatives?

One of my frustrations with the way we talk these days is that much of the GOP is no longer conservative in any real meaning of the term since they don't seek to conserve that which worked in the past, that which was good.  Indeed, today's GOP is mostly abetting the burning down of basic institutions and norms via their support for Trump, Ryan, and McConnell.

So, when I see conservative types who I used to find quite problematic--David Frum, Jennifer Rubin and others--saying stuff that is smart and right, I have to recognize it.  This morning, Frum had a series of tweets:

That a conservative is realizing that more folks speaking out at a traditional behavior is something to recognize. To me, it means that the terms of the debate are shifting to places that favor progressives.  Yeah, it is not good that it takes the Trump era and Harvey Weinstein-ian revelations about abuses, but as Frum points out, that stuff is not new.  What may be new is a growing consensus that this abuse of power is wrong and that we need to take seriously those who report such abuses.

Maybe I am just looking for stuff to be optimistic about as rebellions are built on hope and all that.  But if I nod my head and agree with the folks with whom I have disagreed, I need to recognize that.  We are not going to get to the changes we want by not recognizing the positive shifts by folks "on the other side."  While turning out the base is apparently the key to electoral success, the long term survival of our political system depend not just on winning elections but building consensus across the political system on basic values and norms.

As Trump reminds us, the US political system works when folks follow the norms and not just are bound by institutions.  I don't know if there was a magical time where most folks followed the norms, but I do think we have had far more violations of late (McConnell and the Supreme Court seat).  So, if conservatives and progressives can agree on some stuff, it probably makes things better especially when the conservatives are moving towards the progressives.  College Senior Spew would say it ain't fast enough, and she'd be right.  But I will take some progress at this point, as the past year has seemed to be one of damn near infinite regress.