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.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Canada's Pursuit of Security Council Seat: Going, Going, Gone

I have long been skeptical of the chances that Canada would get the coveted United Nations Security Council seat that the Trudeau government has been seeking.  Canada entered the fray way too late and is competing against countries (Norway, Ireland) who not only have better bona fides as contributors to UN stuff, but have ruffled fewer feathers.  Perhaps making a big play at doing heaps more might have helped Canada some.  Clearly, setting up high expectations and then going way under them will not help.

And that is where we are.  Canada's promise to do more peacekeeping is now a promise to do more training of peacekeepers and providing some key logistical support.  This makes a great deal of sense in that this is all stuff Canada can provide, that the UN needs, and exposes Canadian troops to less risk.  But there is the rub: less risk means less commitment, impressing the UN voters less.

I long argued that doing more in Afghanistan meant more influence, even if that became a hard thing to measure or prove.  I am pretty sure that doing less will mean less influence, although losing the UNSC vote will be overdetermined, so I will again lack good evidence for my claim (good thing the editor and peer reviewers of my blog posts are pretty forgiving). 

I think that realizing that modern peacekeeping is really hard is fine, that perhaps none of the missions that were proposed made sense or were too dangerous or were too unlikely to succeed.  The government may be making a good decision, but it will probably message it poorly.  Yes, Canada will be contributing, but not nearly as much as those are putting their own people at significant risk.  So, let's not get too high falutin about this new PKO effort.

Of the campaign promises Trudeau made, this was perhaps the most pie crusty of the promises--easily made, easily broken.  I doubt that voters will care much in 2019 that this promise was broken.  Others will matter more, such as electoral reform.  So, yeah, perhaps a good decision with poor messaging and few real lasting consequences domestically.  Woot?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Identification and Those We Admire: Sexual Assault/Harassment Edition

One of the most impactful influential books I have ever read is Donald Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict.  I didn't take any psychology in college to my everlasting regret, so what I have learned about psychology I have gotten from political scientists who borrow parts of it, such as Robert Jervis and cognitive psych.  Well, Horowitz taught me about social psychology, with the key dynamic here is how our self-esteem partly hinges on those we identify with.  As those people and groups do well, our self-esteem goes up and when they do poorly, our self esteem goes down.

Which is one reason, I guess, that people have a hard time when those they admire turn out to be awful human beings.  For me, this week, this is about Louis CK and Kevin Spacey.  I feel awful that these guys treated people so badly.  I had seen stuff over the years that indicated that both did stuff that was problematic, but I didn't want to face the reality because it would diminish not just my view of them but of myself, I think.   I think this is one reason why folks are reluctant to believe.  This, of course, is in addition to rape culture and everything else in our society. 

I think I feel kind of icky--grossed out, a bit queasy, and sad.  Not just because I have some empathy for those who had to deal with the sexual assaults and harassment committed by CK, Spacey, and all the rest, but because I feel bad about myself. 

On the other hand, that Roy Moore is a pedophilia probably elevates my self-esteem as Horowitz also taught me about the logic of invidious comparison.  That when the other group does poorly, I feel better by comparison.  So, the revelations about someone who was already thoroughly awful makes his whole group look bad (and the reactions of much of the GOP make the group look really bad), making my group feel good.  And, yeah, we don't want to hear about Bill Clinton because it will harsh our buzz about Moore and the GOP.  Unfortunately, these awful people are in all groups, parties, vocations, locations, etc.  So, the boosts to our self-esteem are likely to be temporary as we eventually realize that we (whatever the "we/us" is) have our own assholes who hurt people. 

Obviously, there is much more to these dynamics, but I do think that the logic of invidious comparison is at work here as well.  Anyhow, just overthinking the week's events as I remove the works of Kevin Spacey and Louis CK* from my Netflix lists of what to watch next.
* While Louis CK's apology was better than most, it was still forced by the events of the last few days even as he had ample opportunities over the years to come clean.  So, good but not good enough and way too damn late.