Author: Brian Rathbun (Page 2 of 5)

Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging: For Those About to Teach!

This is me with Rick Allen, the drummer for Def Leppard who lost his arm in the 1980s but retooled his drum kit and life to adjust to his injury. He now runs the Raven Drum Foundation, which focuses on helping veterans with PTSD and other mental and physical injuries heal as they return home. Through drumming. Pounding the hell out of something and not someone seems like a brilliant idea. It inspired me to write a post on the virtues of heavy metal. And it makes me look cool to people who like “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” which I am sure is a huge part of the clientele of this blog. That’s right, mother*&ers.  I roll with some serious ballers out here in LA. Well actually one of my student’s spouse works for Rick and I have just me him this once. But Tommy Lee and I are tight. Jesus, I need a hair cut. I look just like….Rick Allen.

I have said many times that I am not a nerd, and I have other ways of using pop culture to bring my points home. Rather than science fiction or fantasy, I propose using heavy metal, although I suppose that one could argue that heavy metal IS fantasy. But I am not talking about that crap – that hair metal bullshit. I am talking about real metal. Consider the utility of Iron Maiden. 

If you want to give a lecture on how Britain overcame the odds through technological innovation in WWII by developing Spitfires to counter German bombers, go with “Aces High.” 

There goes the siren that warns of the air raid,
Then comes the sound of the guns sending flak.
Out for the scramble we’ve got to get airborne,
Got to get up for the coming attack.

Jump in the cockpit and start up the engines,
Remove all the wheelblocks there’s no time to waste.
Gathering speed as we head down the runway,
Got to get airborne before it’s too late.

Bandits at 8 O’clock move in behind us,
Ten ME-109’s out of the sun.
Ascending and turning our spitfires to face them,
Heading straight for them I press down my guns.

Or how about the futility of trench warfare in WWI? The Trooper.

You’ll take my life but I’ll take yours too
You’ll fire your musket but I’ll run you through
So when you’re waiting for the next attack
You’d better stand there’s no turning back

The bugle sounds as the charge begins
But on this battlefield no one wins
The smell of acrid smoke and horses’ breath
As you plunge into a certain death

Of the nuclear arms race? Try Metallica’s “Fight Fire with Fire.”

Dangers of nuclear holocaust
Do unto others as they have done to you
But what the hell is this world coming to?
Blow the universe into nothingness
Nuclear warfare shall lay us to rest

Fight fire with fire
Ending is near
Fight fire with fire
Bursting with fear

We all shall die

Metallica is also good for the construction of enemy images.  Consider “Disposable Heroes.

Soldier boy, made of clay
Now an empty shell
Twenty one, only son
but he served us well
Bred to kill, not to care
Do just as we say
Finished here, Greeting Death
He’s yours to take away

Back to the front
You will do what I say, when I say
Back to the front
You will die when I say, you must die
Back to the front
You coward
You servant
You blindman

Leave it to Black Sabbath, good working class boys, to point out how war’s burden is borne disproportionately by the masses, not the elites, in a Marxist/rationalist fashion. The classic, “War Pigs.”

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction Sorcerers of death’s construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind

Poisoning their brainwashed minds Oh lord yeah!
Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

Metal speaks to real phenomenon. It does more than use fantasy characters and scenarios as analogies for real life. In short, Harry Potter is for pussies. That’s right, Nexon. I said it. What are you going to do about it?


Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging Early: When Sports and International Relations Meet, the Dumbest Things Happen

I am headed out to Coachella this Thursday for three days of music in the desert. Well, two days. I am too old to make it all the way through, and I have to teach on Monday. In any case, I thought I would offer this Friday anti-nerd blogging column a little early in the week. For those of you teaching or taking classes on the semester system, it is that time of year that you are very, very tired. You need the break a bit in advance.

The MLB team, the Marlins, just suspended their manager, Ozzie Guillen, for complimentary comments he made about Fidel Castro. The Marlins play in Miami where they have this little minority constituency that seems to gets its way from time to time. Or every time.

Please do not look to this man for foreign policy insight. This should be self-evident

I am going to go out on a limb and say that anything that a professional baseball player, or even coach, says about politics does not matter whatsoever. Ozzie Guillen is clearly something of an idiot, but this is something that we should expect of our athletes. Even cherish. Let’s apply that same rule to every sport. In general there should be no penalty for what people who know nothing about politics say about politics, even if they are in the public eye. So we can forgive the Dixie Chicks, Kanye West, and even Ted Nugent. We can make fun of them, call them ignorant. Indeed we should. But for them to lose their job over it, even if just for a few days, is very, very dumb. The guy should not even have to apologize. If everyone had to say sorry for being an idiot, there would not be much time left over. I have now just satisfied my lifelong ambition to mention Ted Nugent in a blog.

Guillen isn’t a leftist, communist revolutionary, or an apologist for dictatorial regimes. He simply admires, he says, Castro for his amazing staying power. Despite being an international and domestic pariah he has held on to power for decades (Castro, not Guillen). In other words, Guillen appreciates that Castro is a tough and stubborn son-of-a-bitch. I think we can all agree that, even if we not quite call it a merit, Castro is indeed a tough and stubborn son-of-a-bitch. I find this whole event somewhat funny in that it has transpired at a moment in American politics in which the greatest asset for a political figure, at least voters claim, is principled conviction and an unwillingness to back down.

In general, I think that the American public needs to take a really big collective breath and chill the f*ck out about what people say. It is far more important what people do. Does Ozzie Guillen diddle little boys? Not that we know of? Then let’s all just shut the f*ck up.

The same goes for politics. If Rick Santorum calls Mitt Romney “the worst possible candidate,” it should not be news because it does not matter. It does not tell us anything about either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney except that they probably don’t like each other. Duh. It just seems to me that we all are all on the constant look-out for something that offends us. We want to be outraged. What does that say about us? What’s with the axe to grind? I say let the offense come to us. And let’s wait for something really offensive.We can blame it on the news media, but my guess is the first thing we all tweet, facebook, etc., is dumb shit like this. They only do it because we watch it.

In other words, the public needs to be more like IR scholars, who don’t give two shits about rhetoric and talk. I think this is actually a big, big problem, and it is something that some are trying to correct like Ron Krebs, Stacie Goddard, Jennifer Mitzen, Jarrod Hayes and Patrick T. Jackson. But for our own domestic politics, we would do well to heed the lesson that so much of this is unimportant fluff.

OK, off to hang out with the hipster doofi. Lates.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #15 — The Thrill of the Hunt

The big cats in political scientists like to hunt big game, the book contract at a “major university press.” Landing such a catch can feed oneself and his or her cubs for a long time, even for a lifetime. The “book at a major university press” can get you tenure. You will never have to eat again.

Book editors are wily prey, however, and have adapted to their dangerous environment through a number of clever strategies, the most important of which is not answering their email. Another behavioral modification to survive in this Darwinian world of eat-or-be-eaten is the platitude. “This book is not for us, but I am sure it will find a good home. Please consider us an outlet for your future work.”

Increasingly rare in the wild, political scientists have an organized game park — the conference book room. There they can stalk their prey in an environment somewhat approximating a natural environment, with editors surrounded by their press’ books in a book stall. They are sitting ducks. To escape, these wily creatures have been known to use their weakest as shield. Editorial assistants look just like book editors and can distract hungry academics just long enough for book editors to escape. Lured by the business trip to San Diego, these poor, young, ambitious employees are sacrificed in the interests of their bosses.

Poor, poor Chuck Myers. Against David Lake he did not stand a chance.

Press representatives have no choice though but to participate in these academic safaris as the hunters hold exclusive control over their main food source – the book that actually sells. Book editors are foragers in a scarce, overpopulated world, the camels of the academic desert. Over time, they have developed strong stomachs capable of digesting book prospectuses that at one time would have been impossible to consume. They have even been known to publish books about zombies in times of true desperation and starvation. To protect themselves from noxious odors, the most advanced editors have no sense of smell. Others simply hold their nose. It is a dog-eat-dog world.

Not all hunters stalk in the same way. Some charge headstrong into the fight, brandishing their prospectus in one hand while shielding, to the degree they can, their greatest vulnerability – their sense of self-esteem. More experienced political scientists generally prefer a more delicate dance that requires more effort but has a greater chance of success. They browse books, ask about the family, lulling the editor into a false sense of security. Then they pounce. “I have a book you might be interested in.”

Editors are not completely defenseless, however. If they cannot hide, they can counterattack through the right of exclusive review. This turns the tables, holding off the author’s strike for months, sometimes even years. The hunter has become the hunted. Press reps also engage in diversionary tactics. “I think that Cambridge might be interested in this book.” There is no loyalty among book editors. It is every press for itself. John Haslam might suffer a brutal attack, but Roger Haydon lives another day. It is just business. That’s all.

There is fierce competition among academics for access to this increasingly scarce commodity ,of course. If one browses the book stall too long, an interloper can step in. The political scientist must bide his time and circle back around later. By this time the carcass might be picked clean and other sources must be sought out. Academics live on borrowed time. The tenure clock is ticking. The stomach is growling. With the stags all gone, they must lower their sights – the rabbit, otherwise known as the commercial press. While not as nourishing, it can give the political scientist the strength to fight another day.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #14 — Fantasy Role-Playing, or Game Theory

Political scientists like fantasy role-playing games. But this does not mean they are simple nerds. They like a particularly elegant and sophisticated escapism called game theory. While it might seem obscure and overly complicated at first, you can grasp game theory and impress your political scientist friends with a very simple insight — game theory is just like Dungeons & Dragons.

Like Dungeons & Dragons, game theory players embark upon imaginary adventures in which they interact with others in situations never before seen in the real world. The game theorist operates as the dungeon master, setting up a stylized environment in which players cooperate and compete over some prize such as being elected, winning a missile crisis, or maintaining a fixed exchange rate system. He, always he, sets up the game tree or matrix that describes the actions that are possible at different moments in the adventure or campaign and gives them their powers like the ability to veto or escalate. The outcomes are based on probabilities, although game theorists do not use dodecahedron dice. And like Dungeons & Dragons, the outcome is of no consequence for understanding the actual world around us.

Game theorists believe that active use of imagination clarifies complex situations and concepts. They point out that simple games like Chicken, the Prisoner’s Dilemma or the Battle of the Sexes are apt metaphors that help us understand any number of strategic interactions in the real world. It is unclear how game theorists came about the inspiration for those games, as no game theorist has ever talked to a girl, much less been forced to choose between a romantic beach or mountain holiday. Their interactions with the opposite sex generally revolve around Japanese anime. And they aren’t exactly James Dean or hardened felons either.

Bargaining must have broken down due to incentives to dissemble. Dragons do indeed have a hard time making credible commitments as they make the offense dominant.

Game theory is sometimes called formal modeling, which is an unfortunate term, as no game theorist has ever worn a tuxedo, ever. They are generally pleased to find some sweatpants at the bottom of the laundry basket without a stain. And game theorists avoid having their picture taken when possible because… well, there is the sweatpants, for one.

It is not known whether a successful career in game theory is correlated with prior experience as a dungeon master although there are clear signs that this might be the case. Game theorists and D&D players both spend considerable time in windowless rooms. And both try to avoid any contact with genuine empirical data, whether it be books or the reality that there are no sexy witches in the real world.

However, there are clear differences as well. Game theorists make considerable sums of money while most D&D players, even adult ones, still live in their parents’ basement. And game theorists have clearly lost all sense of mystery. Their players are all colorless automotons who cannot talk to each without fearing that the other is lying, much less fly. They are, however, remarkably capable of making precise estimates of probability which is kind of like magic.

It is possible that game theorists are fantasy enthusiasts who no longer possess an inner child’s sense of wonder. This is perhaps due to the crushing experience of interacting with other game theorists on a regular basis.Contrary to longstanding rumors, however, game theorists are not Satanists. It is all just good clean fun. Indeed their preferred environment, a godless dystopia of egoistic utility maximizers, suggests that they are much more likely to be atheists. It is also not possible to harm a game theorist with silver, although they do suffer great pain when their on-line access to the American Political Science Review is cut off.


Here is something you can’t understand….

…How I could just kill a man!

Obama said today, or at least I think it was today, that “we have Israel’s back.” So have we replaced the cowboy swagger bullshit with some urban swagger bullshit? Fo shizzle.

In general, I object to any dumbing down of foreign policy, even in the public discourse, and I don’t really think Presidents did this before. This seems to be a modern phenomenon. But now, apparently even Obama feels the need to talk in this over-simplistic way. Ladies and gentlemen, President B-Real. If only that were a blunt he is smoking. Add the 40, and away we go!

I always hated the popularization of this phrase because it reflects a worldview of ‘us against them’ and is applied to situations in which violence is not really at issue. I don’t need my colleagues to “have my back” in a faculty meeting. I might like their support but they need not bring the Gat.

I like Obama’s foreign policy by and large because it is a foreign policy for adults. So let’s lose the dumb ‘hood slang.


Mediocre International Relations Scholar and Prominent Anti-Nerd Hits Rock Bottom, Admits to Abuse of Science Fiction

The Canard

“All the fake news that’s fit to print”

–Los Angeles

Part-time political scientist and blogging provocateur Brian Rathbun yesterday checked himself into a rehabilitation center for addiction to science fiction. Although Rathbun’s public face was as an anti-nerd, he secretly had succumbed to the vice of Battlestar Galactica, which he watched in its entirety over the last few weeks. Reached for comment, Rathbun simply said, “I haven’t left my room in weeks. I watched over eighty episodes of BSG. Oh my god, I even know the acronym. There is a bogey on my dradis! There is a bogey on my dradis!” The academic was then escorted away by treatment professionals.

It was only through an intervention from his loved ones, including the members of Metallica (with whom Rathbun collaborated on a documentary several years ago) that Rathbun admitted he had a problem. He is now, as they say in Nerds Anonymous, “off the starship” and on the path to recovery. As part of his 12 steps, Rathbun is currently making amends to close family and friends who he has neglected for the last few weeks.

Rathbun is also engaged in a controversial anti-nerd reorientation therapy that many openly nerdy nerds object to. Charli Carpenter, a friend of Rathbun’s now considered a bad influence by his sponsor, tweeted (of course), “Being a nerd is not a choice. It is something that you are born with. Gaius, I mean –Brian, is denying his inner nature. That’s what the Sixes have taught us not to do.”

It started harmlessly enough. Rathbun had been playing Star Wars with his two sons, two and six years old. Then he became curious about Game of Thrones. Addiction specialists describe the fantasy series as a gateway for more serious nerdy compulsions. “It appears to be un-nerdy, what with the ripped chests and the swords. There are no robots around,” said Dr. Jock von Hilsbrand III, who is treating Rathbun. “But before you know it, patients’ wives find them at a Star Trek Convention wearing pointy ears. I have seen it again and again.” By the time anyone noticed that Rathbun had a problem, he was so deeply immersed in Battlestar Galactica that he could not separate reality from science fiction. He even went as far as to accuse friends like Carpenter of being machines.

Although Rathbun’s sorry state must be attributed first and foremost to his personal weaknesses, Netflix’s streaming capability certainly exacerbated his disease. “There is both a supply problem and a demand problem,” said von Hilsbrand. “We need to crack down on the filthy purveyors of this pop cultural crack. It is simply too available.” Nerds stress, however, that recreational use of science fiction is perfectly safe although it does induce a phenomenon called “the munchies.”

Rathbun seems to be feeling more like his former anti-nerd self, complaining to the nurses in the facility about the lack of creativity in Battlestar Galactica while gesticulating wildly: “So there is this other human civilization, but it looks exactly like ours. I mean they even have lap dances on Caprica. Give me a break. Be a bit more ingenious when you are creating other worlds.” Rathbun is also playing the drums again to return to his non-nerd roots. It is not clear, however, whether he is really on the path of healing or simply trying to restore his tarnished credibility with other anti-nerds. “There are metalheads, Mad Men fans, and Shakespearean actors – all counting on me. I let them down,” the recovering addict admitted.

Nerdiness is a disease for life, experts say, and Rathbun will have to follow strict protocols to prevent a relapse. He must avoid any social contact with other geeks. Just turning on his son’s play light saber could have him back ‘on the starship,’ warns Dr. von Hilsbrand. He will be avoiding places where nerds congregate, like comic book stores, video game consoles and the International Studies Association annual convention.


Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging: Downton Abbey Jumps the Shark

In a previous post, I puzzled about the popularity of Downton Abbey. It is (was?) a very well-done show, but no different, I thought at the time, than the standard PBS Masterpiece Theater that generally attracts very little viewership.

One of the responses was that Downton was a soap opera dressed up as costume drama. I didn’t see it at the time. Downton seemed to hit all the usual British period piece points – the problem of the heir, the declining fortunes of the aristocracy in the modern age. But that comment was prescient. Downton Abbey revealed this week that it is actually a soap opera and I am questioning its justification in my DVR queue.

Roman I and Marlena

I watched Days of Our Lives for five years, beginning when I was laid up with mono for a month during the summer after seventh grade. Soap operas have two main plot devices – people coming back from the dead and miraculous medical recoveries. Both of them allow the writers to continually throw in dramatic turns of plot to keep people watching. Someone dies, people move on to other loves or fortunes, then the dead return to screw everything up. And you can put people in a wheelchair or a coma, wait for others to move on, then wake them up or cure their polio for the same effect.

Case in point: Roman and Marlena. The latter, played by the beautiful Deidre Hall was happily married to Roman Brady. He (left the show in a contract dispute) “died.” Then they recast him with a guy who looked completely different, Drake Hogestyn. Rather than just gloss over the obvious difference in appearance, they brought him back as the mysterious “John Black” with amnesia. He slowly recovers his memory, realizes he is Roman Brady, convinces Marlena, and they live happily ever after. His face had been surgically altered by the evil nemesis Stefano. Until the writers get bored and bring back the old Roman. It turns out the new Roman had those memories artificially implanted by Stefano. There had never been any plastic surgery. Marlena leaves John Black for old Roman, only to then have an affair with John Black later. I hated, hated, hated old Roman.

Roman II and Marlena

If this sounds utterly ridiculous (the plot, not the fact that I watched a soap opera for five years, which I will grant you, is indeed totally ridiculous), Downton Abbey this week brought back an heir from the dead AND hinted not subtly at Matthew’s recovery from what was described as medically irremediable paralysis. But if you have love, everything is possible! The old heir, Patrick, presumed dead in the Titanic, was in fact rescued but suffered from amnesia. He was brought to Canada, starting saying ‘hoser’ a lot, then sent off to war. At the same time his face was horribly disfigured, he recovered his memory but can’t prove his fanciful story because of said face.

So the writers of Downton Abbey, rather than mining the WWI for its innumerable themes and potential plot points, have dispensed of those five years in five episodes. Tell me the difference between Days of Our Lives and Downton. Like sands in the hourglass………


Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging: Headbanger Edition

I am not a nerd. I have tried to make this abundantly clear. So what if I just watched 12 episodes of Battlestar Galactica in the last week? That doesn’t PROVE anything. But I haven’t always been a fan of period pieces and pro football. My anti-nerdishness in high school expressed itself much differently – I was a metalhead. Not one of those poofy-haired spandex-pants-wearing metalheads. If you wore a Poison shirt to school, I’d have shunned you. A Warrant shirt and I’d have kicked you in the balls. Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Black Sabbath – those were my bands. I had the mullet to prove it.

Being a metalhead these days makes you feel very old. Van Halen is releasing their first album with David Lee Roth since 1984. His stage outfit now consists of overalls and a train conductor’s cap. The first single, Tattoo, is truly terrible. Live Fast, Die Young? Not quite. Maybe Live Fast, Die after First Collecting Social Security.

Why can’t Van Halen do what Motley Crüe is doing? Just let us relive our glory days by hearing our favorites. Shout at the Devil!!!!!! Motley Crüe is booked for a two-week residence in Las Vegas. I am serious. Nikki Sixx is now Tom Jones. Come to think of it, that is much sadder than recording new songs. For them. For us.

Or you could go the experimental, “staying young” route. Like Metallica’s album with Lou Reed. I am serious about that too. Critics have been afraid to say it because the IDEA is so cool. But it is worse than your neighbor’s kid’s band. A poor man’s Henry Rollins.

Being a metalhead these days also pisses you off. When I was in high school, metalheads were “freaks,” social pariahs. The only time we could see music videos of our favorite bands was if we stayed up until midnight and watched the “Headbanger’s Ball” on MTV on Saturday night. Otherwise it was all Belinda Carlisle, all the time.

But now it seems everyone was a metalhead. Everyone loves Ozzy. Besides the reality show, there is this car commercial featuring a middle-aged man singing Crazy Train with his kids and his wife in his minivan, like this was some guilty pleasure from everyone’s past. But it wasn’t; it is a guilty pleasure from OUR past. We didn’t like you and you didn’t like us. Don’t pretend otherwise. There were 1800 people in my high school and a total of 20 owned the “Blizzard of Ozz.” If you don’t know what that is, you have proved my point. Now go play your Duran Duran albums and get out of my face. NEEERRRRDDDDSSSSS!


BREAKING NEWS — Charli Carpenter is a Machine!


“All the fake news that fit to print.”

— Amherst

The academic and foreign policy worlds were rocked today by the news that Charli Carpenter — prolific academic, policy wonk, and mom — is in fact a robot. She was taken captive this morning in a rare joint operation by the FBI, the CIA, and NASA.

Friends were shocked, but not necessarily surprised. Dan Nexon, a professor at Georgetown University, said, “We always joked that Charli was a machine. She writes like a book a week. And good ones, too. Not the usual schlock we turn out.” He added, “She was always so good with technology. And she really likes science fiction. We all hoped she was just a nerd though. I guess we were fooling ourselves. I feel so betrayed.”

Indeed it was this ferocious work ethic, combined with Carpenter’s interest in robotic warfare, that first set off alarm bells in the CIA. Carpenter blogged frequently about issues of robotic warfare at the Duck of Minerva, monitored by the Company as a barometer of academic opinion on issues of international relations. It is believed that Carpenter’s research on whether there was an emerging norm against robotic warfare was a either probe of the level of human resistance that would accompany the revelation of her race of machines, or an elaborate ruse to gain access to policy-making circles so that she could collect intelligence about the state of machine-led warfare in the U.S. in an effort to prepare for an eventual takeover of the world.

The ‘human’ Carpenter

However, it was only after the FBI began monitoring the droid professor that they began to suspect that she was a machine. An anonymous source told this paper: “There were the academic writings, then all the policy work, the grant writing and management. She never missed her son’s soccer games though. And she is so pretty too. It was just too much. Her makers made a mistake by not giving her any weaknesses.” He added, “And you would give a female robot a boy’s name, wouldn’t you? It was just too obvious.” Surveillance revealed that Carpenter never slept.

Carpenter is currently being held in an undisclosed location thought to be somewhere near her home in Amherst. Our anonymous source said, “She can’t do much harm there. There are more dairy cows than people.” Previously used methods of enhanced interrogation are, of course, proving fruitless on the robot. It is not known where she came from or her precise instructions.

Carpenter’s true “self”

The revelation replaces the previous rumor among academics that Carpenter was actually an alien from the series Battlestar Galactica that she loves so much. That appears to have just been a hobby for the robot. Carpenter also seems to have developed a taste for American fantasy literature as well. Our CIA source said, “It makes you think more about the boundary between man and machine. Where does one begin and the other end? Still it is our job to protect American security. There is no room in this country for relentlessly hard-working academic robots raising well-adjusted families, no matter who it turns out they work for.”


Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging: The Appeal of Downton Abbey

People are going mad about Downton Abbey. The Rolling Stone calls it “crack for Anglophiles.” The demand was enough to create a second “season,” and is even giving PBS the notion that it might begin to draw in some of the types who watch Showtime and HBO series, maybe even Game of Thrones fans. I doubt it, if for no other reason that there are a lot more gratuitous boobs and f-bombs on the cable networks.

I have watched it. I like it. I will keep watching it. But I am curious as to why this particular British BBC import has done so well in the US, because, as I can tell, it is a pretty garden variety Masterpiece Theater-type show. It hits on all the usual themes of British period dramas — class relations between nobles and the uppity bourgeoisie, upstairs-downstairs dynamics, the difficulties the British aristocracy faces in keeping their estates alive in a time of industrialization, the importation of wealthy American wives to solve that problem, soul mates who never love each other at the same time, the noble archetype character who loves so much but is too honorable to every say it because he feels so unworthy of receiving love (Mr. Bates), etc. And Maggie Smith as a bitch. Why do you all think it is so popular? No one has ever watched PBS before.

The thing that I find particularly interesting and noteworthy is that it shows how international conflicts change class dynamics at home. Most of these period dramas are set before or after WWI. Downton Abbey will straddle that war and show us the whole process. It is fascinating to watch the aristocracy bow to the inevitable decline in their position, even accept the legitimacy of that change, yet strive to maintain something of their former lives. But it probably appeals to me most because I am interested in war. Is that why everyone else likes it? I’d be curious to hear what you all think.

Except for you, nerds. Go back to your video games. NEEEEERRRRRDDDDSSSSS!



If you are running for the nomination of the Republican Party for President, there are a few

indispensables – you have to hate welfare recipients, oppose gay marriage, and have fired a gun at an animal at some point. (But apparently you no longer have to support a robust military presence overseas. Or have fired a gun against another person in a foreign war. That has not been a requirement since Eisenhower.) But it seems there is another sine qua non. If you are a man, you need a blond wife.

Here are pictures of the wives of all the major contenders for the Republican nomination for President. You will notice a similarity. They are not all skinny, or pretty, or young. But they are all blond. Even Ron Paul’s wife. You can want to legalize marijuana but do not, under any circumstances, marry a swarthy woman.

This inspires so many questions. Why is a blond wife such a necessary accessory? Is blondness just white skin in hair color form? Or are blond women a kind of status symbol, the diamonds of hair color because blond hair is relatively rarer?

Do male politicians in training go looking for a blond wife before they run for office for the first time? Or is there an endogeneity problem with that explanation – that is, do they realize after they marry a blond woman that they might have a productive career in politics? Are these women all blond to start with? Or do they change their hair color to suit their husband’s ambitions. That would be quite sad.

But it appears to be something of an iron rule. Here is the wife of Tim Pawlenty, who was the first to drop out before the race really began. Notice something – brunette. Brown, but still.

It does seems though that Herman Cain got an exception. His wife is not blonde. After all, nothing would upset Republican primary voters more than a black man with a blond woman. Oh, yeah. That’s what sunk him.

Many Republicans pinned their hopes on this guy, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. But those hopes were false. Look, she’s dark-haired. It does beg a completely different question though. Why is Chris Christie meeting the Queen?


Stuff Political Scientists (Don’t) Like #13, Holiday Edition — Explaining Themselves to Loved Ones

Even political scientists have families. And during the holidays they are occasionally forced to talk to them. Not their spouses and children, who have already given up on them, but extended families, like aunts, uncles, etc. This puts political scientists in the awkward position of trying to explain just what on earth it is they actually do.

Non-political scientists, in their desperate effort to make small talk with someone they see just every few years, make the assumption that political scientists know something about politics. They will ask, “What do you think Obama’s chances are?” Or, “do you think Herman Cain really groped that woman?” At this point, they will be inevitably disappointed by the response, which will be straight from the New York Times, where all political scientists get all their information about real politics –that, or the New Yorker.

Non-political scientists think that political science is current events, high school civics for college students. So if a political scientist tells someone at the gym that he studies international relations, the response is always, “Boy that is interesting these days. There is a lot to keep busy with.” Until recently the political scientist could simply respond, “Yes, we are very close to knowing where Bin Laden is” and the non-political scientist would go away comforted that political scientists were on the case. Now he must simply nod, or risk crushing the non-political scientist by explaining what his new book is actually on – early 20th century Portugese colonialism.

People get the wrong idea, however, when political scientists appear on the network news in their natural environment, a room shelved with what looks like two dozen complete series of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Political scientists feel very comfortable amongst reference books. Here they are asked to lend gravitas to already established and self-evident facts. Did you know that Newt Gingrich’s recent decline in polls suggests that he might have difficulty securing the Republican nomination? That the situation in Iraq will become more uncertain with the departure of U.S. troops? Some guy in a library told me so! This gives the impression that political scientists follow or care about politics, when in fact they just want to be on TV.

Political scientists are smart enough to know that politics does not matter. They are the keepers of the secrets, the underlying generalizable forces that truly explain the events of our time. Will Burma democratize? Well what is its GDP? Will Iran develop the nuclear weapon? Well what is the size of its selectorate? This makes them terrible at small talk. So if there is a political scientist in your family, stick to sports this holiday season. How about that Tim Tebow?



I never, ever, ever thought I would write a blog post about Newt Gingrich’s chances as Republican nominee for President, except perhaps to laugh at him. Yet here I am.

The Republican establishment is lining up against Gingrich, claiming that he is not conservative enough. This is laughable and a red herring. As opposed to Mitt Romney? Instead we should listen to those who were swept into office and/or positions of power with him in the revolution of 1994, like Joe Scarborough. They know him well. Gingrich’s problem is hardly being conservative enough. Rather the real objections center on two other faults. First, he is a blowhard pseud0-intellectual in love with his own ideas and himself. Second, he is an asshole, and I mean that in the most rigorous, social scientific way possible. These are not unrelated, but the latter is I think what explains his rise in this particular climate. Allow me to explain.

If Gingrich gets the nomination, the media is going to make a huge deal of the egghead vs. egghead presidential race. That is silly. Gingrich’s intellectualism is the intellectualism of a precocious 16 year old who just read the Fountainhead — shallow, capricious and grandiose. Next year he/she will have gone goth, or something else. So it is with Gingrich, although though he probably won’t go goth. I think people overstate Barack Obama’s intelligence too. He is smart but not brilliant. Rather what seems him look so smart is his ‘cognitive complexity,’ as I wrote about in one of my first posts here, and is so rare in politicians these days. He can see multiple sides of an argument. But be warned — this will be the narrative if he wins the nomination.

But his ‘intellectualism’ is not why Gingrich is so popular today. I think Gingrich is picking up the votes of the real Tea Party people — those who resent what they imagine to be enormous sums of their tax dollars going to finance what they imagine to be the profligate lifestyles of those on Aid to Families of Dependent Children or Medicaid or both. We call this ‘economic conservatism’ but it is not a belief in the free market. It is a belief that we owe nothing to anyone else. In political psychology we know it has a strong association with a particular personality trait — disagreeableness. In short, Tea Parties are meanies before they are anything else.

Social conservatives score much higher on other personality traits like conscientiousness. They are not nearly so uncaring. They might deny family planning services to unwed mothers, but this is because they think they are doing the right thing by not putting ideas into impressionable girls heads — that it is OK to have sex. Of course this makes them likelier to get pregnant and have abortions. But it comes from a genuinely good if misguided intention. They are mean by accident, indirectly.

Newt’s rise has to be attributed to his performance in debates, since, as was the case with Cain, there is nothing else to explain it — no money, no organization, and only negative name recognition. What has he done at these debates? He has no gimmick, no 9/9/9 plan. He flips around all the time. But every time he shows up on camera, we see the same thing — contempt, scorn, meanness. For everything. Newt is tapping into how nasty these nasty people feel. To others, and at previous times, this would have seemed unpresidential. But these are the times we live in. Newt Gingrich is an asshole, and many Republicans love him for it.

Bolt down your Christmas trees everyone. And for all the Muslims out there, get an alarm system.


We Now “Know”: Diary of a Search Committee Member

I have been sitting on the search committee for a couple of positions in my department, the School of International Relations at USC, and I thought I would share some observations that come from that vantage point. Anyone who happens to have been an applicant should not take this an indicating anything about their own individual case. Rather these are general trends I am noticing. I don’t know if they surprise anyone, but I will offer them nonetheless.

I haven’t done this at the junior level for quite a while, and what was obvious is that epistemology now largely dominates ontology. Granted this was a methods search but I still think it resonate with a broader trend out there. What I mean by that is scholars do face something of a tradeoff between saying something really interesting and knowing with less certainty that they are right and saying something really uninteresting and knowing with more certainty that they are right. The younger generation of scholars leans more towards the latter than the older generation does. If we can’t establish causality with some degree of certainty then is it really worth talking about? This frustrates the older generation. It is not universally true of course. And it varies also by place of Ph.D., training, etc. I think it explains though the current fascination with natural experiments among other things, since to be able to randomly assign groups is so useful for eliminating confounding variables.

When we were deciding on our postdoc last year, we found a really creative person with a great record and very unconventional research agenda, and the only knock on him came from someone more towards the epistemology side — I don’t know if he can show he is right, went the critique. Having spent hours sifting through dozens of dissertations on selectorates, I screamed — “Who gives a shit? At least I care if he is or isn’t!” I probably reacted far too forcefully to what was a very benignly stated criticism, but that was because of my frustration.

We could blame the methodological fetishists out there, but that would absolve us from responsibility. We, by which I really mean people older than me, spent 10 years engaging the relative gains debate without once ever performing any kind of systematic test. We just made enormous assertions that THE WORLD IS MOSTLY CONFLICTUAL! NO, IT ISN’T. IT IS MOSTLY COOPERATIVE. No wonder the younger generation just gave up. It was all so pointless.

But something has definitely been lost. The relative gains debate, although vapid, was enormously important THEORETICALLY. Grieco’s article exposed a potentially huge logical flaw in Keohane’s argument. It was the first academic exchange that stimulated me. It probably got me into the business, as Grieco was an undergraduate mentor. Is it empirically true? Well, we didn’t bother figuring that one out because we didn’t have proper research design and, well really, never bothered doing any real research. I wish the pendulum would have swung a little less violently because now having original data and a good research design are the the things that get you the best jobs. The absolute gold standard is to figure out a way to measure what we previously have not been able to measure. These are important contributions but will it make you the next Robert Keohane? Or Alex Wendt? Will we be talking about you in 20 years? I doubt it. The pendulum will swing back.

Now, I am done. You kids get off my lawn!


Dear Reviewers, a Word?

Everyone gets rejected. And it never stops being painful not matter how successful or how long you have been in the business. Some of this is inevitable; not everyone is above average. But some of it isn’t. I thought that I would offer some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for reviewers out there to improve the process and save some hurt feelings, when possible. Some are drawn from personal experience; others, more vicariously. I have done some of the “don’ts” myself, but I feel bad about it. Learn from my mistakes.
First, and I can’t stress this enough, READ THE F*CKING PAPER. It is considered impolite by authors to reject a paper by falsely accusing it of doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what it does. Granted, some people have less of a way with words than others and are not exactly clear in their argumentation. But if you are illiterate, you owe it to the author to tell the editors when they solicit your review. It is okay – there are very successful remedial programs they can recommend. Don’t be ashamed.

Second, and related to the first, remember the stakes for the author. Let us consider this hypothetical scenario. In a safe estimate, an article in a really top journal will probably merit a 2-3% raise for the author. Say that is somewhere around $2000. Given that salaries (except in the University of California System) tend to either stay the same or increase, for an author who has, say, 20 years left in his/her career, getting that article accepted is worth about $40,000 dollars. And that is conservative. So you owe it more than a quick scan while you are on the can. It might not be good, but make sure. Do your job or don’t accept the assignment in the first place. (Sorry, I don’t usually like scatological humor but I think this is literally the case sometimes.)
Third, the author gets to choose what he/she writes about. Not you. He/she is a big boy/girl. Do not reject papers because they should have been on a different topic, in your estimation. Find fault with the the paper actually under review to justify your rejection.
Fourth, don’t be a b*tch. Articles should be rejected based on faulty theory or fatally flawed empirics not a collection of little cuts. Bitchy grounds include but are not limited to – not citing you, using methods you do not understand but do not bother to learn, lack of generalizability when theory and empirics are otherwise sound. The bitchiness of reviews should be inversely related to the audacity and originality of the manuscript. People trying to do big, new things should be given more leeway to make their case than those reinventing the wheel.
Fifth, don’t be an a**hole. Keep your sarcasm to yourself. Someone worked very hard on this paper, even if he/she might not be very bright. Writing “What a surprise!”, facetiously, is a dick move. Rejections are painful enough. You don’t have to pour salt on the wound. Show some respect.
Sixth, remember that to say anything remotely interesting in 12,000 words is ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. Therefore the reviewer needs to be sympathetic that the author might be able to fix certain problems where he/she given more space to do so. Not including a counterargument from your 1986 JOP article might not be a fatal oversight; it might have just been an economic decision. If you have other things that you would need to see to accept an otherwise interesting paper, the proper decision is an R&R, not a reject. Save these complaints for your reviews of full-length book manuscripts where they are more justifiable.
Seventh, you are not a film critic. Rejections must be accompanied by something with more intellectual merit than “the paper did not grab me” or “I do not consider this to be of sufficient importance to merit publication in a journal of this quality.” This must be JUSTIFIED. You should explain your judgment, even if it is something to the effect of, “Micronesia is an extremely small place and its military reforms are not of much consequence to the fate of world politics.” Even if it is that obvious, and it never is, you owe an explanation.

Dear Admissions Committee

Inspired by the post below on the broken letter of recommendation system, I began to think about the difference between what I write and what I mean. Here are the results. Please fill in your own personal favorite euphemisms below.


Dear Admissions Committee,

I am delighted to write a letter of recommendation for Nicolette Mediocrides, who was a student in my class on international relations in Fall 2009. Nicolette was a very good student, receiving a B+. She was particularly involved in class discussion, frequently posing trenchant questions about the class material.

Nicolette is applying to both law school and programs in health policy. I am combining these letters because I believe that this ambition shows her multifaceted interests. I believe that Nicolette will excel in either. Her ability to secure a prestigious unpaid internship shows the drive necessary to be a successful lawyer. She has also dedicated time to read to underprivileged children at the local library, which shows the caring we need in the health profession. Nicolette also has a diverse background and will bring significant international experience to your campus.

I believe that she will be a fantastic addition to your program. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me.


Brian C. Rathbun


Dear Admissions Committee,

Can we be honest? Nicolette Mediocrides has asked me to write a letter of recommendation. She was a student in my class on international relations in Fall 2009. I found her in my Excel spreadsheet of grades. She appears to have gotten a B+ in my course, which is pretty good but she is not going to win a Nobel Prize or anything. Don’t get your hopes up. I do in fact remember her face, so that probably means she was at least somewhat engaged. I forget the ones who don’t participate. Still, I don’t have detailed notes or anything. I don’t know why she chose me except that a perusal of her transcript suggests that my course was one of her higher marks. Or it could be that all of the other professors are meaner.

Nicolette is applying to both law school and programs in health policy because she has no job after graduation and frankly no earthly idea what she wants to do. But really, who does at this point? – only the really annoying Tracy Flick-esque ones. I am writing this joint letter because I really don’t have the mental faculties to keep track of all the various permutations. Nicolette has significant experience with the Xerox 2027 copier from her internship at the County Sheriff in her home town. She had to go home for the summer because she couldn’t afford to live unpaid in Washington, DC, unlike 90% of your applicants. She seems like a nice girl – I noticed she has lots of pictures of kitties on her notebook when she came to ask for a recommendation. Nicolette has an ethnic background. She is from a large Greek family and has visited her grandparents for summers for a couple of years. Do we still count the Greeks as ethnic? Do we still use the word – ‘ethnic’?

Still, I do recommend her for your MA program. Yeah, I don’t know her so well, but no one else knows the students they are recommending either. And really, none of this forms an informed basis for a decision on your part. You know that; I know that. It is just a roll of the dice. I am not so sure I would recommend your program to her, in which she will take two to three more years of advanced undergraduate classes that give her no more practical knowledge of her chosen field than the last four years, all with a six-figure price tag. But it is you that has to sleep at night. And I didn’t say anything to her. Your secret is safe!


Brat H. Bun


Still Not Funny

When I’m not funny, I blog angry. And this will be two this week. Can I ask — why is that disgraced leaders always leave office smiling to the crowd and waving? I find this more infuriating then the events precipitating the departure because it betrays a lack of shame and humility. Yes, I like to diddle just recently pubescent girls, but you aren’t made at me, right?

I thought the new PR book on this was too look contrite, put your head down and stay silent for a while until the new guy has f*cked everything up, then stage a comeback on Oprah or whatever the Italian equivalent is. (Doesn’t Donatella Versace have a show? Wait, that’s just on Saturday Night Live.) So are these guys just 1) completely ignorant of how we feel about them? 2) such egomaniacs that they really think they are just the victim of plots by their enemies? 3) so stupid to think that if they just wave we’ll say to ourselves, “oh it doesn’t appear that he left under a cloud. I mean, look — he’s smiling and waving! We must be mistaken about his utter lack of an internal moral compass.” Or all of the above?

Please don’t smile. We really don’t like you. And it is insulting to us for you to act otherwise.


Not Funny.

Last night Texas Governor Rick Perry, formerly for some reason regarded as a serious contender for the Republican nomination for President, embarrassed himself by being unable to remember the third department of the federal government he would eliminate upon being elected. This has caused a big media stir about whether his campaign is doomed, with the narrative being whether someone with such a bad short-term memory can be the leader of the most powerful country on earth, for a little while longer at least.

I’ve had brain freezes before, and I can only imagine I would have even more if I were on national TV. That’s not the problem. The problem is that this dipshit thought it was funny, offering a very glib, ‘Oops’ that made it very clear, if it weren’t clear enough already, that he does not take running for President seriously. The reason why Perry forgot the third department, the Department of Energy, is that he almost certainly just came up with this on the fly before the debate. The problem is not his memory, it is that something this serious was only part of his short term memory. It was not internalized as part of a momentous policy change but rather just a flip statement, a simple one-off red meat bait to the base. Of course he forgot it. F@ckwad. I can guarantee you that Rick Perry hasn’t an earthly idea of what the Department of Energy does. If he wants to close it, then make the intellectual case and know what you are talking about. D*ckhead.

Perry has tried to defuse the situation with…. MORE HUMOR. On his website he asks his supporters which federal agency they would most like to forget. It is not funny, you taint.

This is a trend in this party, too. Herman Cain doesn’t know that China already has the bomb. But that isn’t bad enough. They have to celebrate it, as if not knowing makes them more qualified to be president. Hence, the Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan comment. I don’t know much about Uzbekistan either, but I do know how to spell it. And I’m not proud of my relative lack of ignorance about this very important part of the world. And I’m not running for President. As*&hole.

We can get vexed about Cain’s comment because it is insulting to another country, akin to making fun of how Chinese sounds to American ears. But it is bad policy too. No one with even an ounce of realist statesmanship would do something so stupid. Prick.


Stuff Political Scientists Like #12 — Artistic Pretensions

If you stumble upon a political scientist unwittingly, perhaps mid-conversation at a party, you might assume they are a great humanitarian or an artist. Who else would make constant references to “my work,” with the implication that what he or she does if of enormous social and political consequence? You will be puzzled. Certainly no one wearing Dockers can be pushing the boundaries of social convention. And if this person is such an agent of change, why is he or she in your friend’s kitchen drinking a Negro Modelo rather than personally putting up mosquito nets in Africa?

No. That’s not it.

Political scientists have the same pretensions as artists, using “work” as a noun rather than a verb (as in ‘I work hard’), with an article (rather thanthe generic ‘work is hard these days’), and without being prefaced by a preposition (like ‘I am at work’). This makes their profession seem somewhat transcendent in nature, existing in a space beyond everyday human experience, ineffable and inscrutable even to those who do it – like art. I don’t care if Nazi stormtroopers are about to capture me, I must finish this canvas! The work is too important!

To be fair, being a political scientist is somewhat akin to being a sculptor. They sift through lumps of raw material and try to fashion it into a coherent shape. Their work will indeed have profound implications on “the work” of as many as five other people. And political scientists also like to work in the light in southern France….when they are on sabbatical.

Political scientists, like artists, have different schools. Political scientists have their own practitioners of the baroque, advanced statisticians testing simple arguments with ever more sophisticated decoration that does not really change the result. In stark contrast, formal modelers adopt an abstract expressionism, reducing variegated and complicated institutional forms such as the state to the simplest possible symbols in an effort to capture their very essence. They are particularly fond of Greek characters.

Constructivists adopt an intersubjective perspective, stressing how the same phenomenon looks very different in different lights. They are also fond of lily ponds and ballet dancers. Despite the increasing popularity of this more impressionistic style of political scientist, the realism of positivists remains the style preferred by the establishment in the grandest salons, err, departments and constructivists must display, err, publish, their works in outside galleries, err, journals. Positivists dislike their fuzzy terms lacking in clear lines.

Yeah, that’s about right.

Political scientists might think of post-positivism as surrealist, but those identified with the school would resist that label and insist that they are infact making sense. A few political scientists move from style to style throughout their careers, adopting new techniques. At one point, Ted Hopf submitted all of his manuscripts in blue font.

But political scientists really bear no resemblance to painters. In fact they specialize in taking a fascinating reality and squeezing all the beauty, life and color out of politics by reformulating its elements and reducing its complexity to the most pedestrian of shapes – the two-by-two table. And no political scientist has ever, ever, sired multiple children by multiple different models. In fact they mean something very different by that term that isn’t sexual at all. Well, maybe for some…..


Sudden disappearance of ducks worries readers of international relations blog

The Canard
“All the fake news that’s fit to print”


Readers of the popular blog “Duck of Minerva” are expressing a mix of consternation and concern with the disappearance of many of the ducks on the site. Charli Carpenter, Stephanie Carvin and Dan Nexon, normally reliable for a couple of quacks a week on important issues of foreign affairs, have not been heard from in weeks, sometimes months, and those who peruse the site regularly are not letting their frustration roll like water off a duck’s back. “LFC” posted: “I count on this site to break down important events. Where is everyone?”

Others are more concerned. Nawal Mustafa worries that the ducks might be….dead ducks. Scientists are worried that the sudden decline in the blogger population might be related to the mysterious die-off of hundreds of birds in Arkansas at the beginning of the year, for which there is as of yet no known cause. Unlike that incident, though, no carcasses have been found.

Nevertheless experts take comfort that co-founder Patrick T. Jackson is alive and kicking, cantankerous as ever. Jackson is more goose than duck though, with a fierce bite, and it might be that whatever malady has struck is particular to ducks.

The site has hired a lot of new talent lately, getting in ducks in a row. New bloggers like Joshua Busby have taken to their new roles like ducks to water, offering trenchant analyses of pressing global issues like conflict and famine in the Horn of Africa and global warming. Megan MacKenzie waddles through wonderful posts about gender. Catherine Weaver pecks at the innards of international financial institutions. It might be that the old ducks are just lame ducks, resting on their laurels while the little chicks handle the site, relaxing and spending time with their families. Maybe even working.

Others, however, have not had the same success, with readers, especially those who admired Steve Jobs, directing particular ire towards the smart-aleck posts of Brian Rathbun. Rathbun has frequently had to duck and cover. Contacted by the paper, Rathbun wimpered, “The internet makes you a sitting duck. Anyone can just lambaste your posts, saying ‘you aren’t funny. FAIL.’ It is very hurtful.”

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