Day: September 17, 2010

Book Blegging

Loyal Duck readers, I was hoping you might be able to help me out.

Do you have any recommendations for books about the inventive ways that people (scientists, designers, business folk, etc) have evaluated hard to test subjects? I am looking for something that is less about methodology, per se, and more about testing ideas in a practical way where either the environment or subject matter makes testing difficult (thinking here of astrophysics, for example). I am not looking for something that looks at the subject from a philosophical standpoint, but is more of a collection of examples that highlight the inventive ways people have gone about testing hypotheses in practical ways.

For example, I am thinking here of Shapiro’s famous observational test of general relativity (the Shapiro Delay), or the discovery of Neptune.

Hopefully this makes some sense. Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance!


Toward a Post-Zombie IR

While I was on my working leave, Foreign Policy asked me to write a response to Dan Drezner’s “Night of the Living Wonks. They published it, in abridged form, about a month ago under the title of “America’s Triumph over the Zombie Horde”. Predictably, they misspelled my name.

What few people know, however, is that my typically skewed sense of priorities drove me to write not one, but two responses.

For our readers’ edification, and to mark my return to blogging, I give you my other, heretofore suppressed, take on Dan Drezner’s article.

Toward a Post-Zombie IR 
Daniel Drezner deserves much praise for his courageous attempt to bring rigor to our understanding of the Zombie apocalypse. From the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the Alpha Draconis threat, international relations theorists have a poor track record of anticipating major developments in world politics. Drezner’s brief account provides much for readers to chew on, and I look forward to his book-length analysis of the Zombie menace. But it also suffers from a number of problems. Chief among them is its failure to challenge a central bias of international-relations theory.  
Realism, liberalism, and other major frameworks assume that world politics is a realm exclusively populated by homo sapiens sapiens. This human-centrism has long prevented us from recognizing, let alone making sense of, non-human actors in world politics: whether dolphins, whales, or malevolent subterranean reptiles. It also renders these frameworks unable to adequately account for the impact on world politics of homo coprophagus somnambulus. 
What, then, would a post-Zombie international relations theory look like? It would attempt to capture the subjectivity of reanimated corpses, starting with ethnographic data from George Romero’s later films and from Shaun of the Dead. It would recognize that Zombies are more than flesh-eating ghouls: they have the capacity to hunger, to shamble, and to chart their own destiny. Post-Zombie IR would provide a potent critique of the xenophobia lurking behind the genocidal violence characterizing interaction between the two species. In time, it would provide a basis for negotiation and mutual recognition. With the aid of the critical tools provided by post-Zombie IR, we might one day look into the glassy, decaying eyes of our former friends and neighbors, and see that we are all the victims of the hegemonic discourse of late-capitalism’s incessant consumerism. After all, Zombies only seek to eat our brains; the contemporary global order devours our souls.

Driving Parents Crazy: Why are some violent radicals fathers?

My blogging has been light lately as I have been on the road travelling a lot. This recent period has had me travelling like something of a crazy person with trips all over the Centre/East Coast of North America.

Part of this trip included some time in Ottawa, where it was some interesting times. The week before I arrived there was a series of dramatic arrests here against individuals suspected of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks against the city. These are individuals who, from most media accounts, were largely raised in Canada and subsequently became radicalized.

This is not the first series of arrests that have been carried out by Canadian police and intelligence services in recent years. The case of the Toronto 18 (although only 11 were eventually charged) – seems to be similar in the sense that it was a bunch of individuals that became radicalized and eventually tried to carry out terrorist acts in Toronto. Although their efforts were almost comically bad – and full of screw-ups along the way – the plot to blow up Toronto office buildings was not really anything to laugh about.

This is kind of old news now, but a couple of thoughts on this latest series of arrests – with the caveat of course that I am no terrorism expert.

I suppose the main thing that has caught my attention is that one of the suspects, Khurram Sher, has young children. Initially, I found this somewhat shocking – but upon reflection I realized that this is not unlike recent London bombers (in the 7/7 attacks and the attempts of 21/7 ) – some of whom were married and some with children. And some of the lead suspects in the Toronto 18 case also had children.

I’ve been asking terrorism researching friends why this might be. Apparently the appropriate question is why, in these cases does having children not provide an “insulating” factor against radicalization? If there is some kind of parenting instinct, why is it not enough to overcome or prevent some individuals from wanting to carry out violent acts?

Based on some brief conversations, I’m not sure there is a straightforward answer. One explanation is that violent radicals have often married young and, naturally, have had children as a result. So in this sense it may just be something that has happened along the way, or during the process of violent radicalization.

Perhaps more interestingly it was also suggested to me that there is some research to support the idea that the women in the lives of violent radicals – such as their wives – may play a role in encouraging them to act. Kind of like a bad version of Macbeth, I guess. But in that case the question about the insulating effect of children then applies to the women as well – why don’t children discourage them from encouraging violent radicalism? Why would they prefer that their husbands act than their children to have a father?

But upon some (very light) investigation into this – it seems as though many women who actually execute terrorist acts (as opposed to only encouraging) are mothers as well. This is particularly the case with the Black Widdows of Chechnya where women are often in their mid-20s and may have 2-3 children. A depressing thought.

Another interesting question to come off of this is if there is a difference between fathers in the Middle East in harsh circumstances (such as Palestine) and Western radicals? While I could imagine that being the son/daughter/wife of a “martyr” might convey (however perversely) a certain social status in the Occupied Territories, would this hold true for the Canadian Muslim community (who have been very quick to denounce the supposed plot on a national level)?

I would be very interested in suggestions for research in this area. I’m fairly certain that if I asked my parents I would get some kind of sarcastic comment about myself and my brother being enough to drive anyone crazy. However, I have to think that there is more social-scientific research out there that doesn’t involve parental sarcasm.

This video of one of the London bombers holding his infant daughter is pretty chilling. He is literally making a video for her – spelling out exactly what he was about to do and that she should pray for him in heaven. I don’t like to think of myself as overly sentimental – but you would think that having kids would discourage someone from actively harming themselves?


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