Month: September 2013 (Page 1 of 5)

Game of Chicken and the US Government Shutdown: What Game Theory Can Tell Us About Likely Outcomes

As I’m sure all astute Duck readers are aware, today marks a critical day in the US House and Senate – if no deal is struck today on a spending bill, the US government will shut down at one minute after midnight on Tuesday morning.  The issue at the heart of the controversy: a series of amendments to the spending bill that concern the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”).  In general, House Republicans are in favor of the amendments; Senate Democrats are against the amendments.   So, both sides are holding firm to their stance on the amendments in hopes that the other side caves in before tomorrow.  What are the likely outcomes of this situation?

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Monday Linkage

kitten_gun_20091116_1758924905Gunmen killed scores of students in their sleep at Yobe State College of Agriculture in Nigeria early Sunday morning.

via Adam Jones on FB, it is interesting to note this massacre was reportedly sex-selective, with only young males targeted – what Jones has referred to elsewhere as ‘gendercidal‘.

The NYTimes’ Sunday expose on accidental guns deaths and children is a sickening, horrifying read sure to galvanize attention but is almost too sweeping to grasp. Two key points almost hidden among the anecdotes of gross parental neglect in leaving guns lying around for children to shoot each other with: a) absence of a federal standard for coding and tracking accidental v. intentional gun deaths makes it difficult to have an informed debate weighing public health costs against citizen safety concerns and b) “safety training” for children about guns doesn’t seem to work, at least with boys: experimental trials as well as anecdotal evidence shows boys will pick up and handle guns where they find them, and pressure one another to do so, regardless of safety training.

The Guardian reported Thursday on slave-like conditions among migrant workers building infrastructure for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar: workers are dying of heart attacks in the desert heat for lack of water, have had their passports confiscated and are being beaten and refused pay if they complain. FIFA organizers as well as many human rights organizations are “appalled,” but debate still seems focused less on the conditions of workers and whether Qatar should thus have its bid revoked, but rather on whether the tournament itself should be held in winter so the athletes don’t have to suffer in the heat.

The Boston Globe reports on vaccinations, measles and health security. In other health-and-human-security news, important information for soccer moms everywhere: driving causes problems with the pelvis and ovaries (according to Saudi Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan).

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons asks “where is the red line on nukes?”

For International Peace Day last week, volunteers stenciled 9,000 fallen bodies on Normandy Beach.

Finally, a neglected human rights campaign in need of an NGO advocate? John Botto has written a manifesto against mustache discrimination. Continue reading

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Big Brother meets Network Analysis?

A story in the New York Times this morning suggests that the National Security Agency has been analyzing our social networks through email and phone call records, apparently accomplishing “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata” of American citizens and foreign citizens alike.  This network analysis uses not only contact data but GPS tracking to understand not only how we relate but how we move in relationship to each other.

From the description in the article, the methods that the NSA uses seem to be very similar to those that political science is using, in Michael Ward, Katherine Stovel, and Audrey Sacks’ words, to locate the “holy grail” of  “effectively analyzing the interdependence and flows of influence among individuals, groups, and institutions,” a sea-change in the field.

I’m not arguing that we as political scientists have culpability in this (these methods did not originate in our field by any stretch of the imagination). But I am interested – if network analysis does the cool things it does for our work, what does it do for the work of those whose job is to watch and monitor us?

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Why is the International Community Protecting the Wrong Norm in Syria?

syria26n-webFormer Duck guest blogger Betcy Jose has published an excellent Foreign Affairs Snapshot pointing out the irony of a robust norm enforcement operation in Syria to protect the chemical weapons taboo, while perversely ignoring, even permitting, the violation of a far more foundational norm: the norm of civilian immunity.

The whole piece is great but I especially liked the “puzzle” paragraph:

Today, civilian immunity arguably ranks among the most important norms that the global community wants to protect. And that is what makes discussions about Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons so puzzling. Much of the debate about U.S. military strikes stressed the importance of preserving the taboo on chemical weapons, which were banned in part because of their indiscriminate nature: They are difficult to control and can harm civilians who are not the intended targets… In Syria’s case, it appears that the Syrian regime aimed to kill civilians with its alleged chemical attack on the suburbs of Damascus last month. Hardly anyone concludes that the civilian deaths were simply collateral damage in an operation meant to take out the rebels. Therefore, examining the civilian deaths through the lens of the norm against the use of chemical weapons is wrongheaded. Civilians died because Syria violated the taboo against deliberate attacks on civilians. Some have even suggested that the general lack of global condemnation following other intentional attacks on Syrian civilians might have paved the way for this most recent atrocity. If that is so, the international community should expend as much effort (if not more) protecting the civilian immunity norm as it is protecting the chemical weapons taboo. Doing so could serve double duty, preventing these kinds of targeted attacks on civilians, as well as the use of chemical weapons in such attacks.

Seemingly, the chemical weapons taboo is much more robust than the norm against killing civilians per se, given that it was so much more readily reinforced. Jose’s piece focuses on calling this out (quite rightly) as a moral inconsistency. But what explains this puzzle? How might we make sense of this in political terms, particularly if the chemical weapons taboo is based on the desire to avoid indiscriminate killing of civilians, as claimed by both the conventional scholarly wisdom and much mainstream political commentary. Continue reading

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Friday Morning Linkage

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A little late Friday morning reading:

And,

  • Canada’s prized Pearson Centre for Peacekeeping is closing its doors.  From Kevin McGarr, President and CEO of the Pearson Centre: “It is with sadness that I announce that the Pearson Centre is in the process of closing its operations. Details of the closure are being finalized and will be shared in due course. The Pearson Centre is fully committed to meeting its current obligations and we will be contacting clients and partners in the coming days to discuss specific projects and activities.”

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Thursday Morning Linkage

I was transfixed this week by the week’s events in Kenya, the attacks by Al-Shabaab on the Westgate shopping center that resulted in the deaths of at least 60 people. With friends just a stone’s throw away from that mall, it was hard to turn away from that unfolding set of events. So, this week, to give you some context, I’ve linked a number of stories that try to explain how the attack could have happened, why al-Shabaab appears intent on this kind of action, and what this means for security in East Africa.

At the same time as we have witnessed this horrific tragedy, there appears a positive opening between the United States and Iran, led by its interesting new president Rouhani. While no meeting occurred between the U.S. and Iran occurred at this week’s United Nations annual gathering of heads of state in New York, the prospects for progress in this space are better than they have been in a long time.

Beyond this, I link to additional stories on global health, including a new UNAIDS report that shows continued progress on stemming new infections as well a new £1bn pledge from the British government to the Global Fund.  Oh, and The Monkey Cage went live on the Washington Post site. Continue reading

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The Numbers Do Not Lie: People Don’t Like Numbers

Perhaps the first Monkey Cage post at the Washington Post presents some numbers that show that policy-makers tend not to like the higher tech kind of poli sci (or theory)  We knew this from previous TRIP reports and other studies, but still it is important to consider such stuff, especially given that quantitative work (in IR, anyway) is now about as prevalent as non-quant work.

One might be tempted to argue that we should stop or reduce quant work given that a key audience may not like it so much.  My first reaction was to think about baseball.  The rise of statistics to evaluate players–as depicted semi-accurately in the Moneyball book, a bit less accurately in the movie–was resisted by those in the game.  That did not mean that the numbers did not capture key dynamics.  Indeed,  knowing the results proved to be quite helpful to those who were willing to learn or hire people who understood them.

As someone who is far more comfortable with qualitiative work but has published some quant, I tend not to be as fearful of the rise of the (quant) machines as others but also see the point that the quant work has its limits.  In all things, I am a big fan of portolios and of diversity.  Just as professional baseball still relies on scouts to complement the numbers, the professionals in politics need both numbers and stories, quant and qual analyses.  After all, these politicians who do not like to read numbers sure as hell rely on them as they run for office via polling and market analyses.  Seems to me that they should keep on relying on numbers when they govern.

So, again, the answer is not to run against the latest in political science but find ways to make it digestible to both policy folks and general publics.  That this post appeared in the Monkey Cage as it starts its new life as part of the Washington Post is then especially appropriate.  The MC’s aim is to do precisely that–take poli sci and present it in ways that publics and policy folks can get easily without mastering the methods behind the analyses.  I do think that policy folks also will have increasingly stats-literate folks working for them, just as baseball and basketball teams hired the whiz kids who never played professionally but provided much insights with their scientific study of the games.

We can continue to think of ways to improve our dissemination of the knowledge we create.  Sorry, the grant I am writing this month requires a knowledge mobilization plan so this jargon is inescapable right now.  But I don’t mind thinking about such stuff–if I want public money (Canadian money in this case), I should and do accept the responsibility of trying to figure out how I will share my findings beyond the academy.  This responsibility does not shape the methods I choose to study the stuff, but it does mean I will take seriously how I plan to communicate what I learn.

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Research Primer for Religion and IR

Michael Desch and Daniel Philpott at Notre Dame have concluded their two-year Mellon funded working group on religion and IR and published their final report titled Religion and International Relations: A Primer for Research.  Desch, in his introduction (titled: “The Coming Reformation of Religion in International Affairs? The Demise of the Secularization Thesis and the Rise of New Thinking About Religion”), starts with a puzzle expressed by working group participant Timothy Shah: “religion has become one of the most influential factors in world affairs in the last generation but remains one of the least examined factors in the professional study and practice of world affairs.”

Why is this? In addressing this question, the working group focused on three broad set of questions: What is religion and how should we study it in international relations? How can religion broaden our understanding of international relations? and, what should be the core of the future research agenda for religion and international relations?
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NGOs: Chemical Weapons are the Least of Syrian Civilians’ Concerns

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Action on Armed Violence is circulating some terrific info-graphs and advocacy videos documenting civilian harms from various conventional weapons in Syria:

By even the most cautious estimates, explosive weapons have killed and injured tens of thousands of people in Syria. They are thought to be responsible for about 40% of deaths in the conflict.

Crucially, civilians are overwhelmingly the victims of this group of deadly weapons, which includes rockets, mortars, tank shells, and air-dropped bombs. In Syria, more than 90% of the casualties of explosive weapons have been civilians.

And while the horrifying effects of chemical weapons have been dominating headlines in the last month, rockets, mortars and artillery are continuing to kill more and more people on daily basis. Just last week, 11 people died when a plane fired missiles into a field hospital in northern Aleppo province.

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The Problem with Grand Strategy: Preemptive Cyber War with China

land see air duckGrand Strategy is an arcane and misapplied concept.  Developing a Grand Strategy to deal with China that focuses on cyber capabilities is a dangerous move that will have large repercussions for the international system.   The National Interest recently hosted a debate about the merits of the Air Sea Battle strategy versus the Offshore Control strategy.  Here, I focus on the newly developed Air Sea Battle strategy since it is likely the more troubling of the two strategies due to its focus on offensive cyber capabilities.

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Monday morning links

  • The international news continues to be dominated by Saturday’s terrorist attack at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The coverage of the attacks in most major newspapers has been excellent (and peppered with first-person reflections) due to the large number of reporters and photojournalists who are based in Nairobi. Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility via Twitter, and Twitter struggled to deactivate its feeds. The immediate demand was the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia, where they have been assisting AU forces and the interim Somali government since October 2011. More discussion after the jump.
  • Taliban suicide bombers attacked a Christian church in Peshawar yesterday, killing at least 78. It’s the most deadly attack in the history of Pakistan’s Christian community. In Nigeria, government officials announced that Islamist group Boko Haram was responsible for 159 deaths in Borno State, one of the three northeastern states currently under a state of emergency. Boko Haram also allegedly launched a major attack in the capital, Abuja, but eyewitnesses claim that alleged Boko fighters were unarmed squatters.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel scored a huge victory in elections yesterday. The Christian Democrats’ 42 percent of the vote was the strongest conservative showing in over 20 years. There’s some background on the election at the Monkey Cage. Continue reading
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Women and the residential fellowship: a few thoughts

In my email inbox last week was a notification of a fellowship opportunity.  Since I have a sabbatical coming up shortly—okay, in a couple of years, but time flies, right?—I eagerly skimmed the details.  It’s a fellowship squarely in my field.  The funding is pretty generous, probably enough to help me buy out some extra time at my institution, and finish the damn book that is core to my next promotion.  But at the end of the description, there sat the deal-breaker: “visiting scholars are expected to be in residence for the entire year.”

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And on that note…

It seems altogether appropriate to me that my last Duck post should be a post about pedagogy. The more years I spend in this business, the more convinced I am that our area of greatest impact, and the place where our academic vocations are most clearly on display, is the classroom. Whether in-person or virtual, hi-tech or low-tech, as a permanent member of a faculty or as a visitor coming in to guest-teach or participate in a single class session, the most unique and valuable thing that we do is to craft spaces for learning, and set up encounters of many sorts: encounters between students and teacher, encounters between students and readings, encounters between students and students, encounters between students and the world in all of its multifluous and grotesque majesty. “Uncomfortable facts” are our stock in trade, and helping students confront the limits of their perspectives and be thus made uncomfortable is our greatest good.

You may disagree. You may not think that classroom teaching is as central to the academic vocation as I do. You may think that my veneration of classroom teaching is unrealistically romantic, crypto-conservative, elitist, and perhaps even downright irresponsible given the challenges facing the world. So be it. While I am more than happy to continue a contentious conversion with any of you about this, we’ll have to do it in another forum than this one, because as we move closer to the date at which the new ISQ editorial team — of which I am a part, albeit a new and innovative part as my role on the team is to build out a revised web presence for the journal rather than being a traditional editor — takes on formal responsibilities for the journal, I hereby announce my resignation as a permanent contributing member of the Duck of Minerva.

As I do so, I will confess that I stand in awe of what this blog has become. In the beginning it was Dan, Rodger, Bill, and me, largely talking among ourselves in public. And look at it now: a large, intellectually diverse team, topics ranging from the extremely policy-relevant to the extremely geekily abstract (and sometimes both at once!), an institution that plays some indefinite but important role in the world of scholarly IR practice. I confess that I am a bad blogger; I write essays rather than posts, I free-ride on others’ work in putting up “morning linkage” posts, and I sometimes ignore other posts out there on the ‘Net when I put up my own thoughts. And I want to thank my colleagues here for being better at this than I am, but allowing me to be part of the community, and having a space to make my contributions. I take all of those lessons with me into the brave new world of a new web presence for ISQ, and I am convinced that my experience here will make me better able to help shape at least a corner of the online scholarly world to come.

Thank you all, and I’ll see you around the ‘Net, around at conferences, and around the world as long as I keep being fortunate enough to get invitations to come visit interesting academic places! Continue reading

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Friday Morning Linkage

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And,

  • Here’s another cool data visualization site — this one on global migration patterns.
  • Malcolm Gladwell looks at some interesting data on relative student performance across colleges and universities in STEM fields and concludes that students shouldn’t go to the top college they get into.

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What if Iran Did Get the Bomb?

Casual observation suggests that the two most common answers to the question above are: 1) there’s a very good chance that they’d start a nuclear war with Israel; and 2) there’s no real reason to think any other state would be impacted in any significant way. I find both unpersuasive for reasons I’ll discuss below.

nukeiran

Before I do, though, let me get something out of the way—in this post, I will argue neither for nor against the use of force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To answer questions of what should be done, one must not only draw upon some set of beliefs about the likely consequences of the available options, but one’s value judgments about the outcomes and the costs likely to be incurred along the way to producing them. I’m willing to try to persuade you to change your views about the likely consequences of certain outcomes, but I’m going to keep my value judgments to myself.

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Podcasting Killed the Lecturing Star

The first video ever played on MTV, back when MTV played music videos most of the time, was the one-hit wonder “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. A lament about how new technology ended the career of a singer who was well-adapted to the production standards and genre constraints of an earlier era, the song recounts an irreversible process:

In my mind and in my car
We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far
Pictures came and broke your heart
Put the blame on VTR

Maybe this rings a faint bell for some of you. In any case, for a quick refresher, you can watch the whole thing here.

The great irony of MTV using this to launch an entirely new avenue for experiencing music (music videos weren’t new in 1981, but the idea of a basic cable channel that showed basically nothing but such videos was quite new) is that it took The Buggles’ tragic tale and drew from it, at least by implication, a silver lining: the end of the radio era was the condition of possibility for the video era, and the experience of music was thereby enhanced and transformed. Radio stars might die, but music would survive and thrive.

As I read the discussion thread that unfolded underneath my brief pedagogical query from a few weeks ago, and kept composing replies in my head that I couldn’t make the time for amidst the chaos of the opening week of the semester (and no, APSA had nothing to do with it, since I don’t go to APSA these days…but that’s material for another post entirely), I kept coming back to the thought that there was something of the sentiment of this song in many of the replies, and something of MTV’s ironic deployment of the song in my reaction. I would submit that podcasting has killed the lecturing star already, although news of that death has yet to reach all corners of the academy. Large live lecturing, like churning one’s own butter or properly loading a flintlock musket, is a historical curiosity, perhaps something one might expect to see in museums or at Renaissance Festivals being practiced as a hobby, but not in the heart of a university. But this death of the lecturer is also an opportunity for teaching, much as MTV was an opportunity for music — not wholly positive, not wholly negative, but different. And ignoring that difference, which we can keep doing in the academy for a while because of our tenuous-but-still-extant-in-many-quarters isolation from broader socioeconomic trends, is not a strategy for continuing to educate the students who keep filling up our classrooms and our campuses. Continue reading

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What Is Policy Relevance, and (How) Should We Reward International Relations Scholars for It?

The subfield of international relations seems to suffer from an inferiority complex. While most subfields of political science do their research and trust that the results are relevant to policy for a good reason, many an international relations scholar complains that the subfield is not relevant enough. The latest example is Campbell and Desch, who worry that rankings of departments are biased against policy relevance in international relations scholarship. Not surprisingly, Stephen Walt chose the bandwagoning strategy in this case (gated content, sorry).

While I don’t worry about rankings too much (I am perfectly capable of judging the quality of academic research myself, thank you very much), I do agree with some of their claims. It is odd to exclude books from consideration in a ranking, given that many of the major ideas in international relations scholarship are presented in books even today (for examples of epic books that have changed our field for so much better, see here and here). Exclusion of interdisciplinary journals from consideration is also highly problematic, since solving the world’s most pressing problems require a combination of social and natural sciences.

Where I strongly disagree with Campbell and Desch is on the inclusion of non-peer reviewed work in the evaluation of departments and scholars. Publishing in Foreign Affairs, they believe we should reward publication in outlets that do not use peer review, such as… *drum rolls*… Foreign Affairs:

“One cut at trying to rank programs by the presence of their faculty in non-academic publications involved factoring in Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy articles.

This seems wrong to me. Academics work at universities as scientists. Our research differs from that being produced by think thanks in that academic research must survive peer review by other scholars, and this peer review is based on scientific criteria such as theoretical innovation, the quality of the research design, and contribution to knowledge. Academics have only one advantage, and that is the scientific method. If it were not for the scientific method, I would not pay any attention to academic commentary. I have many good friends who work for think thanks, and they are much better informed about current events than I am. That is their advantage. But my research is more systematic than theirs, and that is my advantage. Both types of researchers are needed.

What about policy relevance? Are my standards a recipe for irrelevance and obscurity, as some claim? No, they are not. Good scientific research on important topics is almost by definition relevant to policy. The world is full of non-governmental organizations, social movements, and governments that desperately need rigorous research to improve their programs and policies. Academic policy relevance should be defined as the ability to use the scientific method to contribute to policy formulation. Insightful commentary based on a gut feeling or authority is not academic policy relevance. It results from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the role of academic institutions is in the global society. International relations scholars who feel the need to comment on current events based on their personal views or experiences can do so, but their policy relevance must be evaluated based on their ability to use the scientific method to add value.

I would not mind publishing in Foreign Affairs myself. I certainly would not mind if my academic salary were increased for all of my reports, consulting, and field projects that are changing the world out there even as I write this. I spend a lot of time doing policy relevant research, and I can point out to real change without using misleading proxies such as my name in Foreign Affairs or the number of times my corny jokes have been tweeted. But as an academic, I am more than happy to subject my work to peer review. If my arguments are logically flawed or my identification strategy weak, I should not be rewarded just because some policymaker out there wants to justify a policy by referring to an Ivy League academic who is of the same opinion. International scholars should work harder than ever before to do the kind of research that survives the difficult process of peer review. While peer review is capricious and the outcome noisy, I believe truly excellent and policy relevant research will find its way to a good journal.

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Thursday Morning Linkage

After last week’s diplomatic overtures on Syria, we’ve entered a period of relative calm and back to our mixed bag of stories of interest. NPR is running a fabulous series on Brazil in the lead up to the World Cup, which is also timely since the Brazilian president cancelled her plans to visit the United States as a result of U.S. spying on her and other Brazilians, a revelation that came out of the Snowden affair.

In other news, I’m going to link to stories on Chinese extraordinary measures to address pollution, how much energy electricity your average refrigerator uses, Nathan Jensen’s cautionary tale on the peer review process, a story on poverty tourists in South Africa, and more from international politics and academia!

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