Tag: satire

Geeking Out on the Theory-Policy Divide

As I gathered content today for my upcoming ISA presentation on social media, I was delighted to discover that my “Blog Wars” video from few years back (a response to a theory-policy debate stirred up by Joseph Nye and Dan Drezner) is cited in an academic paper as an actual contribution to the debate!

The paper itself is quite good: Bradley Parks and Alena Stern conduct one of the few empirical studies I’m aware of how scholars actually interface with the world of policy. They use as a hook the debate over policy relevance sparked off by Joseph Nye’s “Scholars on the Sidelines?” op-ed back in 2009, Dan’s response and the following ripostes by Jim Vreeland and Raj Desai, and others. Unlike most of these scholars and prior literature on the subject, they test causal propositions rather than engage in prescriptive argument, with rather interesting findings. In particular, they show that leaving academia for policy work results in a likelihood of later publishing in policy journals, whereas mere consulting doesn’t apparently impact scholars’ likelihood of publishing outside the academy.

I have only one quibble with their argument, which is that they can’t really tell us whether “in-and-outers” publish in policy journals because they want to more than “moonlighters” or whether both groups attempt to do so but only “in-and-outers” have mastered the requisite skills. Or maybe both. The answer is relevant to thinking about how to restructure doctoral studies in the profession to both incentivize and train young political scientists for this type of technical writing, something I’m experimenting at present. In general, however, this is precisely the kind of work I’ve been telling my students we need to see in IR journals: empirical studies of the discipline itself and how it interfaces with the real world. Kudos to the authors.

Two additional things about this paper, and in particular the debate the authors use as a jumping off point:

1) the citations in this paper itself signal that user-generated media (blog conversations, blog comments, tweets and YouTube videos) are being genuinely interpreted as academic contributions these days, and that’s a fascinating shift that frankly I think has some bearing on the closing of the theory-policy divide since the use of social media by academics has broadened our audiences, changed our discourse and altered our communication styles. (I guess it’s good that MLA just came out with its guidelines on how to properly cite tweets: here. Not sure when they’ll have rules on YouTube videos, although to be fair the authors didn’t cite the video itself but rather the blog post where I disseminated it.)

2) the satirical and geeky nature of that debate as it played out in the blogosphere when it occurred strikes me as itself an interesting counter-point to David Newsom’s claim way back that

“IR scholars appear caught up in an elite culture in which labels, categories and even the humor have meaning ‘for members only’… they speak to each other rather than a wider public.”

I hypothesize that the increasing use of pop culture allegories and satirical arguments to make political points is an example of the exact opposite – the widening of academic and policy discourse to express debates through humor that appeals to a much broader audience.

However these are only hypotheses, since unlike Parks and Stern I’ve not constructed a research design to investigate whether they’re actually true. Whether they are (and whether or not that’s a good thing on balance) will have to be explored by future studies. But if you want to hear my rambling thoughts on the subject thus far, come to Henry Farrell’s roundtable on “Transnational Politics and the Information Age” Sunday April 1 at 1:45 at the International Studies Association Annual Conference. (Or, simply wait for the post-conference YouTube version, which you can obviously cite to your heart’s content.)


The ISA Drinking Game

The Duck crew getting ready for their
annual meet-up in 2011.

We are now two weeks away from the start of the annual International Studies Association convention in sunny San Diego. In 2010 the Duck developed the APSA drinking game. Here is the ISA version for your conferencing pleasure. (Oh, and if Tom Volgy asks, you haven’t seen me.)

The following, unless otherwise specified, result in the taking of one drink for every observation/sighting at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association. The Duck of Minerva is not responsible for any liver damage or unfortunate choice of panel questions that may result after participating in this game.

  1. Watching the Feminist and Gender Studies section pick a ‘turf war’ with the Women’s Caucus at the ISA General Counsel meeting. +2 if already 4:45pm.
  2. Less than 6 European scholars in the hotel bar after midnight. +1 if no Brits
  3. Hawaiian shirt.
  4. Kony2012 shirt.
  5. Observing someone take more than 5 chocolates/mints from Keesing’s booth and managing not to speak to anyone. +1 if entire bowl.
  6. Bumping into your former PhD student who now has more publications than you. +1 if still doing PhD.
  7. Panel with discussant who obviously hasn’t read any of the papers. +1 if obviously doesn’t care. +2 if uses time to plug own book.
  8. Invitation to Phi Beta Delta Honor Society event. +1 showing up, +2 showing up by accident.
  9. Someone throwing leftover beads from ISA New Orleans 2010 Conference. +1 if at John Mearsheimer.
  10. Panellist saying “Well, I actually haven’t read the book” and then proceeding to discuss said unread book.
  11. iPad. +1 Samsung Galaxy. +10 Blackberry Playbook. +100 Apple Newton
  12. Performance of Lady Gaga Song at talent cabaret. +1 if in costume
  13. Someone commenting/retorting with “Well, as I wrote on my blog…”. +1 if “as I wrote on my MySpace”, +2 if Brian Rathbun
  14. Watching someone dive behind a table to avoid editor to whom they owe an overdue manuscript. +1 if knock over pile of Cambridge University Press books doing so. +2 if still unsuccessful.
  15. If attendee looking for the International Society of Automation. +1 International Submariners Association (+2 if have own submarine)

San Diego Bonus Round!

  1. Someone proposes holding panel at the Del Coronado. +10 if Tijuana
  2. Presenter eating burrito. +1 if with umbrella drink
  3. Reference to Anchor Man (easy!)
  4. Reference to Demolition Man (hard!)
  5. Reference to Top Gun (sexy! But must include “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and/or volleyball)
  6. Someone wearing their conference badge at 2am or more than a mile from the actual conference site. +1 if in Mexico.

BREAKING NEWS: Brian Ratbun Exposed As Secret Mastermind Behind Recent Rockumentary; USC Concerned About Contract Violation, Mental Health


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

— Los Angeles*

A political science professor at University of Southern California came under fire this week for the role he may have played behind-the-scenes on a recent documentary about the heavy metal band Metallica. Administrators at the university are investigating whether Professor Brian Christopher Rathbun’s participation in the project may have violated rules permitting faculty to consult no more than one day a week on projects outside the university.

The film in question, Some Kind of Monster, is described by Rotten Tomatoes as

“a documentary about rock stars in therapy… the band works through difficulties in group dynamics, personal demons, and relationship issues.”

Although the film portrays the supposed relationship between Metallica and psychologist Phil Towle (who they hire to help work out some group tensions during the making of their album St. Anger), Rathbun is alleged to have convinced the producers to invent this storyline to make the documentary more appealing to 80s-era metal-heads who are now themselves raising children and struggling with identity issues.

An anonymous source formerly associated with the production process on the documentary corroborated this story in an exclusive interview to the Canard:

“We were originally going to just do a film on the history of the band, you know, a concert film. Then Professor Rathbun approached us with the concept of a psychologist who would help former metal icons working through mid-life crises. He said a film like this would resonate with the ‘disillusioned-former-metal-head’ market. It seemed like the perfect angle for the documentary, plus he’s a professor of political psychology specializing in trust, so we went with it.”

Rathbun’s involvement undercover with the film came to light after his recent confession to having been a “metal-head” in high school. The post was read by a former student who contacted the Canard after putting two and two together, recalling Rathbun’s near-obsessive interest in the documentary and his frequent Metallica references in an international relations class she took with him in 2005.

“He knew a lot about metal, about Metallica and about the film, which was kind of hot. When I saw the film, and how it was about a psychologist helping the band through a mid-life crisis, I sort of connected the dots, you know, between Prof Rathbun, metal and psychology theories. Then when I noticed the ‘consultants’ in the credits, I realized that he was probably just working under a pseudonym, probably to avoid getting in trouble with his department for taking on extra-curricular activities. But he’s tenured now, so…”

Although the Canard has not been able to reach Rathbun for comment, colleagues in his department spoke anonymously about his potential motivations in working on the film.

“He’s always loved the metal subculture, students say he plays Iron Sabbath or whatnot at the start of every IR class, and he has a gift for seeing the connection between culture and politics. But I think this was also about doing something edgy and pop-cultury as a social scientist without attracting the nerd label. So many IR types who study pop culture just deal with geeky topics like sci-fi. I think it was really important to Brian to engage with this kind of subject matter in a way that avoided that kind of label and that kind of crowd.”

Indeed this view is consistent with Rathbun’s own recent blog posts on the subject, in which he both described his mid-life angst over his heavy metal past and reiterated his radical anti-nerd agenda.

“I am not a nerd. I have tried to make this abundantly clear. My anti-nerdishness in high school expressed itself much differently – I was a metal-head… 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!”

Sociologists, however, counter the idea that nerds and metalheads are actually distinct and oppositional subcultures. According to Dr. Aya Nohsalot, Associate Professor of Adolescent Sociology at Trewth University, nerds and metal-heads are birds of a feather:

“In fact members of both groups share a common lack of conformity and disregard for the social norms of more popular peers.”

Though Nohsalot’s research on this topic is as yet unpublished, evidence abounds on the Internets to support her theory. The Urban Dictionary’s definitions for “metal-head” (persons who ‘tend to have a powerful dislike towards the close-minded and mainstream’) are similar to “nerd” (a person who does not conform to society’s beliefs that all people should follow trends and do what their peers do). Uncyclopedia also describes “progressive metal-heads” as “typically tall, skinny, white and usually long haired and extreemly nerdy” [typo in original]. “Nerd/Metalhead” is also a specific social category in itself one can achieve by answering certain questions on an online quiz. And according to the popular Facebook page “Metalhead Nerds”:

“Metal and being a Nerd goes together like Han Solo and Leia. Being a Nerd is like a nice cake frosting on top of death.”

Hence, as an avowed metal-head, Rathbun’s anti-nerdism is puzzling to some. Noted IR scholar, former metal-head and self-identified geek Alex Montgomery, who was recently seen in full Colonial dress at an ISA panel on Battlestar Galactica, commented:

“That’s funny: I, too, had a mullet in high school and my music was later used by PsyOps teams to torture Iraqi POWs, but some of my best friends are nerds.”

One possibility is that Rathbun has been watching too many YouTube videos. But according to Professor Nohsalot, he may instead be suffering from a syndrome identified by Freud by which a person expresses outward hatred toward things they secretly love, but believe are bad. A recent study reported in Psychology Today invokes this theory to explain relatively high rates of sexual arousal to gay porn in homophobic men. (It also explains the particularly virulent anti-cyborgism of Cylons hiding in the Colonial Fleet.) “It’s entirely possible that Rathbun is actually a self-hating in-the-closet nerd, who is projecting his own fears of ostracism on the wider nerd community in order to avoid acknowledging his own inner nerd,” says Nohsalot.

Rathbun’s co-bloggers at the Duck of Minerva find this theory at least plausible. When asked how nerdy Rathbun actually is, Steve Saideman pointed out:

“Well he did join the Duck of Minerva. That says something.”

Charli Carpenter commented:

“It’s true that every time I’ve spoken to Brian he’s been wearing loafers with his collared shirt perfectly pressed and every hair in place, but on the other hand he does watch Game of Thrones…”

Dan Nexon added:

“I’d say his nerd credentials are pretty solid, he just likes to dress well and watch football. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The Canard caught up with Stephanie Carvin on a transatlantic flight from Britain to Canada and was told over a hot toddy:

“Poor Brian, he’s brilliant but so complex, dark, so tormented. If only he could embrace his own nerdiness. It can’t be easy living in the closet. Too many mothballs.”

It remains unclear whether Rathbun will be able to invoke his psychological condition in his hearing with the University Ethics Board, or how he would score definitively on a “Which Stereotype Are You?” test. One thing is certain however: the world is better for thirty-something former metal fans thanks to this documentary. Rathbun’s co-bloggers have offered to testify on his behalf, if necessary, ‘anti-nerd’ or not; and are reportedly considering an intervention to help him accept his true identity.

*Illustration created by Alexander Montgomery.


Pornography and National Security: The ever expanding threat

In today’s ‘horrors of bad social science’, we have a piece by Jennifer S. Bryson, director of the Witherspoon Institute’s Islam and Civil Society Project, (which seems to be a conservative think-tank) who has written a piece for the Institute’s blog on the threat of pornography for national security. (No really.)

Bryson asks the question that no serious scholar has ever, ever addressed and comes up with an argument to be considered. In fact, she is getting right on top of this hard and pressing issue.She reaches around the boundaries of conventional thinking about terrorism and slowly but steadily penetrates the burning question as to whether pornography drives a serious challenge to National Security:

With the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks staring us in the face, we already know that our failure to have an approach to security that is robust and accurate has dire consequences. Pornography has long circulated nearly unbounded due to calls for “freedom,” but what if we are actually making ourselves less free by allowing pornography itself to be more freely accessible?
Are there security costs to the free-flow of pornography? If so, what are they? Are we as a society putting ourselves at risk by turning a blind eye to pornography proliferation?
I wonder further: Could it be that pornography drives some users to a desperate search for some sort of radical “purification” from the pornographic decay in their soul? Could it be that the greater the wedge pornography use drives between an individual’s religious aspirations and the individual’s actions, the more the desperation escalates, culminating in increasingly horrific public violence, even terrorism?

Let me tell you, now that we’ve been stirred to this threat – of young men somehow being converted to wicked, wicked ways – we need to act now, right here and now, damn it! Clearly the perpetrators of this filth have been very, very bad and need to be punished.

I believe that we all need to come together, scholars, government workers, NGOs, and throw caution to the wind. We need to straddle the division between us, fuse ourselves together and come up with an inspired solution. Let’s use each other to the very best of our abilities, and respond quickly to this vitally important need.

It’s Friday night so I’m just going to be at home thinking really long and hard about a solution to this problem. I’m just going to lie back right here by my lonesome self, thinking about nothing but pornography… for the sake of National Security.


Friday Nerd Blogging

1: A mysterious little Father’s Day gift for certain Dads among us. Speculation here.

2: Your GoT satirical post of the week. (H/T Steve.)

3: No, I haven’t read it yet, though this is definitely on my summer beach-book-list. Judging by the critical reviews (Robopocalypse is being compared to World War Z) my immediate sense is that the zombie craze of which Drezner speaks may be coming to its end, and that Glen Weldon’s new novel may be the start of the latest greatest trend in ” post-apocalyptic chronicle of decimated humanity” fiction.

It may be the presence of this beating human heart beneath Robopocalpyse’s cold, genocidal surface that helps explain why Steven Spielberg has optioned, and plans to direct, the film version, due in 2013. The fact that Spielberg did so before Wilson had even finished his first draft, however, suggests that Hollywood sees something it likes in the way the book exploits our anxieties about artificial intelligence — something it finds very, very marketable.

(And not a moment too soon, if you ask me.) Now, back to work on my case study about autonomous warbots…


My Final Word to Dan Drezner On Zombies

For those who were unable to squeeze into the packed room for Stephanie Carvin’s “Zombie Holocaust” panel at ISA, here is the video blog version of my remarks on Dan Drezner’s new book Theory of International Politics and Zombies.

This panel, by the way, was voted among the “Top 20 ISA Panels of All Time” by a “senior academic sitting in audience” via Twitter. My post-ISA content analysis of the conference Twitter hashtag also shows that ‘zombies’ was the fifth most commonly tweeted word – beaten only by ‘#isa2011’, ‘rt,’ ‘panel’ and ‘http’, and surpassing the words ‘power,’ ‘libya’ and even ‘bitly’ as well as references to the IPad contest being thrown by Routledge Press. What this suggests about the state of IR as a discipline one can only wonder, but Steve Saideman has a few choice thoughts.


Rally Signage

According to NPR, the “great debate” in the hours before the big luau on the National Mall was whether people were coming to the rally for politics or comedy:

When Jon Stewart announced his Washington, D.C., Rally to Restore Sanity, he inspired much joy among fans of his Daily Show.

But he has also sparked a fierce debate among pundits over whether Stewart really has comedy or politics in mind for the event. It is scheduled for Saturday afternoon on the National Mall.

“I have had the growing suspicion that the participants in this rally don’t entirely think of it as a comedy show,” Timothy Noah of the online magazine Slate says. “I think that they are mistaking … participation in this rally for some sort of political statement. That confusion troubles me.”

A cursory glance at the rally signs suggested Timothy Noah is missing an important point: to blend comedy and politics. And people clearly didn’t come all for the same reason or all with the same politics.

Not that this is in any respect a representative sample, but of the signs I was able to photograph during the early part of the rally on the edge near the National Museum of Art, many in the crowd were clearly on message, alternatively affirming Stewart’s call for tolerance and civility openly or doing so indirectly with satire:

Others were clearly on Team Fear; but this crowd struck me as a mix between two sets of folk:

1) people who just like Colbert better than Stewart,

2) those who argue that the rational response to the situation is fear

A third group of people struck me as on the fence about the trade-offs associated with actually implementing the message:

There were also a significant number of people who openly rejected Stewart’s message of moderation with vitriolic signs of various sorts:

Then there were lots and lots of signs taking specific political positions. While this was not the point of the rally as articulated by Stewart, some protesters clearly interpreted it as a focusing event for whatever-your-agenda-might-be. For example, there was quite the anti-fracking contingent on the steps of the National Museum of Art (though I do not think that means what they think it means).

Also various other positions on social and political issues, often expressed with humor:

Conversely, there were those for whom “civility” appeared to be conflated with “political agnosticism”:

Finally, there were clearly many people who thought this was just a fun-fest. Camera crews at the rally consistently gravitated toward those in costume, but few of the costumes in my area had political symbolisms. Based on the interviews I overheard while trolling around, many of these folks tended to just be dressed up because it’s Halloween weekend. But there were some exceptions: these guys are running for President in 2012 and think we should be very, very afraid.

More rally signs and commentary are at TPM.

Estimates of the crowd size are still rolling in and speculation about the effects on the election next week is raging.

More than anything, I for one enjoyed getting out with my fellow Americans in the bright autumn sunshine. And overall, I was happy to see the number of people who seemed to be on message. This wasn’t a rally for a party or a platform; it was for a set of values that crosses the political spectrum and is at the foundation of our authentic political culture: deliberation. My favorite tweet today at #rallyforsanity read:

Whenever I get to feeling too proud, I remember that you, too, are an American.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


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