Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Vets and Good Candidates

One of the striking ongoing dynamics in the US is that there seem to be not just more veterans running for office but running for the Democrats:

The joy of politics is anticipation: that one is likely to get "better" candidates" when the winds are blowing in your direction and not so much when they are not.  I didn't read much of a friend's work on this stuff (she is an Americanist, I am not), but I got some via osmosis.  So, we see veteran GOP politicians retiring before the 2018 election.  My reaction has been to post this:

As in, tis a clue!!!  That the GOP is in for a tough, tough election year.  Midterms are always tough for the party that is in power, and with much Trump nausea, more so.  We saw last night another long term state level seat (Wisconsin) go Dem.

We are seeing many more folks seeing to run for the Dems, including the aforementioned veterans. I do think more candidates and more competition is a good thing.  I am a bit more agnostic about whether former soldiers, sailors, marines, and airfolks (actually, not so many USAF vets) make for good representatives.  Some vets are smart and have good values, and others don't--being a veteran does not mean one is a good or bad person or representative.

However, there are two things here that make me be pleased by this:
1)  In most democracies, there is little incentive for elected politicians to care about serious oversight over the armed forces.  In the US, there are some--that there are heaps of dollars that can be directed to one's district.  But the larger pattern among democracies, at least as far as our initial research suggests, is that veterans tend to care more and can be pretty critical (see this and this and I need to do more reading).  They experienced military life and know that generals and admirals are not always right/wise/smart/good.  They are also often skeptical of the civilians in DoD and of defense contractors.  So, for this alone, the increased numbers of vets running for office is a good thing.
2) Until 2003 or so, the Republican Party tended to dominate the surveys of "Which party is stronger on national security?"  Screwing up Iraq bigly did much damage to that.  Having a team of politicians that are sharp on national security matters may help the Democrats perpetuate this advantage.

So, yes, woot for vets running for Democratic nominations, but a modest one since military experience does not automatically mean someone is going to be a good politician.

Update: Turns out I wrote this a day or two too late:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Trump is a Racist ... And?

I have not blogged about Trump's shithole shitstorm.  Why not?  Because we have known for a long, long time that Trump is a racist.
  • We know that his father was a member of the KKK.  
  • We know that Trump was sued twice by the US government for discriminating against African-Americans in his rental properties.  
  • We know that he relied on racial stereotypes when it came to hiring practices for his casinos--Jews, not Blacks, should be accountants.
  • We know that he was so very focused on the kids of color who were accused of raping a white woman in central park.
  • We know that he was an obsessive birther.
  • We know that he started off his campaign by calling all Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals.
  • We know that he sought a ban against all Muslims (Islamophobia/xenophobia go along with racism damn near most of the time, sorry Indian Americans).
  • We know that he has repeatedly used slurs towards Native Americans.
  • We know that he thought a judge of Mexican descent could not be impartial.
  • We know that he retweeted stuff from a guy whose twitter handle is "white genocide."
  • We know that he said that both sides at Charlottesville include fine people.  Yeah, some Nazis are fine.
  • We know that he thinks that a woman of Korean descent who gave an intel brief on Pakistan should be working on North Korea.
  • We know that Trump has appointed and hired racists: Jeff Sessions (too racist to be a federal judge in the 1980s, just racist enough to be Attorney General now), Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and, oh yeah, John Kelly (retired generals can be xenophobes).  
So, what is new about Trump's statements?  They are slightly more offensive than previous statements, and, well, yes, the countries in question are seriously and rightfully upset.

I guess what matters here is that this happens to be the event that gives people in the media to say what we have always known--that Trump is a racist.  That the permission structure has changed--that it is no longer seen as taboo to say that the Emperor is wearing no clothes--that Trump is a racist.  Of course, Trump will deny being a racist, but the entire discourse now makes it clear that he is a racist and that this is not normal.  Yeah, we have had presidents who had racist attitudes, but what we say and do in 2018 is a bit different than what acceptable behind closed doors (Nixon) or what was legislated in the 1920s (I just learned that Harding and Coolidge were awful in ways I had not known or at least remembered).

My frustration is, of course, that it took this long and this many events for folks to start saying what was already quite clear--that Trump is a racist.  He is not consistent about many things--he often switches his stances based on the last person who talks to him (or gives him particular flavors of Starbust candies?)--but his racism has been perhaps his most consistent attribute, other than his greed.

So, yeah, woot for folks calling Trump out as the white supremacist that he has long been.  This is significant.  But let's not overrate the moment either as it is not clear that it will change people's behavior for very long. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What To Do With 15 Minutes?

The false alarm in Hawaii yesterday raised that very classic question: if you only had a few minutes to live, what would you do?  Tweet, of course.  Well, other than that?

It depends on where I am and who I am with.  If I am alone but near chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon buns, well, I gorge.  Same goes for beer.  Reflux be damned.  If alone, I would call Mrs. Spew and College Spew.  If at home with Mrs. Spew, we would try to reach our kid and tell her how proud we have been, and that we are sad that we will not see the stuff that she creates (or would have created if we are all going to die).    And then I would look for some beer. 

The story yesterday raised the other choice: to try to survive or not.  I got into an argument online about whether folks were overreacting by putting their kids into the storm drains (concrete is not a bad choice), and I thought it might be an overreaction or a dangerous reaction.  I had friends online saying that they would have gone to the roof to watch the missiles come in because who wants to live after that.  This is assuming, of course, the missiles are carrying nuclear weapons.  If they are conventional, they can be survived by most folks (the storm drain would then be a not bad idea).  If they are carrying biological or chemical weapons, again, most people will survive.  And if you are in Hawaii, and the inbound missiles are from North Korea, then the odds are not bad that the missiles will hit water. 

Which leads to the most important thing we must do if we have 5, 15 or 30 minutes of warning... wait.  Just wait before panicking as thus far all alarms of nuclear attacks have been false, and most alarms about missiles have been false unless one lives in Israel, Iran, Iraq, and a few other places.  And if it happens to be the one time a nuclear weapon is falling on your head, tweet at me afterwards to tell me I am wrong. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Canada's Broken Defence Procurment: Time to Blame the Industry

David Pugliese does an amazing job of documenting the VCDS Mark Norman story about the investigation into his leaking of cabinet confidences.  There is much to the story, and it says much about the state of Canadian politics.  I'd just like to focus on one element of it: the defence contractors.

Whatever Norman's relationship with Davie, a Quebec shipbuilding firm, the key actor here that really starts the controversy is Irving, the shipbuilding firm that has gotten the lion's share of recent defence dollars.  It is responsible for both the Arctic Offshore Patrol ships and the new frigates.  The Seaspan company, on the west coast, is building the rest--supply ships, icebreakers, etc.  Because the RCN's supply ships were falling apart, the idea was to have a ship leased, reconfigured and used until Seaspan could produce the supply ships it is supposed to build.

Ah, but Irving complained, saying that the process was unfair, sole-sourced.  This is kind of funny (and sad) that Irving was not satisfied with winning the big competition, but felt compelled to screw with the minor contract going to the company that had lost the big competitions.  Maybe Irving would be better at this?  Oh wait, Irving is behind schedule on its ships, and a key challenge is it does not (I seem to remember) have enough dry dock space to work on many ships at once.  So, this important immediate need would either be put at the end of the line or it would force the other stuff to be delayed further.  A key thing to keep in mind about defence procurement is that delays mean heaps of money as defence inflation is a thing.  So, Irving butts in, causes a kerfuffle.  Seaspan joins in because it only has the second most number of ships to be built and second most amount of money heading its way (even as its own shipbuilding schedule is, of course, delayed).

The politics are complex, but since Davie is in Quebec, its premier (governor) was able to put enough pressure on the Liberal government to keep the program going, so ... ta da!  The ship in question is almost ready. 

The ruthless competition by one or two contractors to screw the third has spilled over into the leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces with Mark Norman in limbo for more than a year now.  Perhaps it is appropriate that his case should be as delayed as the typical procurement project, but the government should make a damned decision--to charge him or not.  That is actually the easy part of this (which is being bungled).  The hard part is to get Irving to be satisfied with damn near most of the dollars and not seek all of them.

While we can blame successive governments for screwing defence procurement up in a big way, they have had much help from the defence industry.  I have heard multiple reps from defence firms complain about government, and they are right.  But much of the blood or red ink is on their hands.  Maybe they don't need to follow the Japanese example of taking turns (Mitsubishi builds a sub in year 1, Kawasaki in year 2, M in year 3, K in year 4, etc).  But they do need to figure out how to live with each other and perhaps come up with rules of engagement so that they don't imperial Canadian defence and they don't burn officers who are just trying to get their people decent kit.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

PSR and Sexual Harassment: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

Political Science Rumors made the academic news at Inside Higher Ed with some quotes from anonymous moderators.  In its lifespan, PSR had only one non-anonymous moderator: me.  I dropped out last summer mostly because the signal to noise ratio had changed over the years, making the place less valuable and thus the time spent on it less worthwhile.  Oh, and trying to delete the worst stuff just took far more time.  The topic of sexual harassment was a tricky one, so here's how it evolved for me as a moderator of that place.

The starting point for much moderation, besides stuff that was blatantly sexist/racist/homophobic which were easy deletions for me (I got increasing flak over the years for cutting this stuff, but it seemed like a no-brainer for most of it), is that attacks on individuals should be deleted.  At first, this was a rule about attacks on grad students and junior faculty, with the notion that senior faculty were less vulnerable, but much of the community at the time pushed back saying that no one should suffer attacks, especially the way this place tends to pile on.

But what is an attack?  Accusations of sexual harassment were a lightning rod, with a noted philosopher getting much attention (not in our field, but close enough, I guess).  I tended to delete stuff about non-political scientists because of the PS in the PSR.  But the larger question was challenging--does one allow anonymous accusations to stay?  I never could figure this out as I could see the merits of folks outing sexual harassers, given how difficult it is to pursue complaints within universities and the backlashes that can ensue (see the Rebecca Gill case in the article above).  But it seemed problematic as well to let anonymous accusations stay on the board.

And then I posted on my own blog about a sexual harasser at my old place.  This led to a long discussion at PSR about many things, including my apparent hypocrisy of posting an accusation while deleting those at PSR.  Because I knew beyond a reasonable doubt the case in question and because I was not doing it anonymously, I left comfortable (that word has a special meaning for my place at PSR that goes back to its origins) doing one thing on my blog and another thing at PSR.

I think I would behave some differently now as the #metoo movement has educated me a bit about the tradeoffs and challenges.  I would let the accusations stand, and I would delete those who seek to trash the accuser when they are known.  There are, apparently, threads attacking Gill, and I am not surprised.  I would have deleted those posts and threads that attack her personally and tried to keep those that address the challenge of how to deal with sexual harassment in the discipline.

I don't go to the site much anyone, although I do look in from time to time to see if the testable hypotheses hold up (would the place lose credibility and disappear without me, would the marketplace of ideas work without my interference).  And what I find is that I am glad I left--the place has not disappeared, but I do think that the current moderators are not quite as aggressive as I was in getting rid of the crap.  It was always a losing battle, but it seems to be worse now.

In the twitter discussion this morning, folks have called for APSA to provide its own discussion board.  Well, one does exist:   And it has not gotten any traction.  I don't have any solutions, just my experience that this stuff is really hard.  Anonymity does provide some protection for those who want to out those who do harm, but also gives much protection for those who want to do harm.  Definitely a dual-edged sword, and after several years, I never did figure out how best to shield the community enough but not too much. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

California is as California Does

Ah, to be in California when it is winter back east.  Yesterday was our one day for tourism.  Today, I am taking my daughter to meet some folks I know via real life and via twitter.  Both are in "the industry" with the aims of me meeting folks I have wanted to chat with and of my daughter getting a few glimpses into this thing they call Hollywood.  Tomorrow, I go home and my daughter ... goes on. 

So, what did we do with our one afternoon?  I had to go a beach, any beach, given the weather back home.  We did Santa Monica the last time we were here (checking out Cali universities four years ago), so we went to Venice.  Which, of course, was super-funky. 

I learned much and a few questions:
  • I learned not to stop at the first public parking opportunity as that turned out to be twice the cost of places I could have parked.
  • Dogs.  So many dogs.  My daughter and her friend love dogs, so they enjoyed the vast variety of dogs.
  • California's diversity is just amazing.  Just so many people from so many different backgrounds.
  • And no cops.  Jessica's pal noticed that she had not seen any police officers in Venice.   Sure, there were a few clearly troubled homeless people, but no or few police officers.
  • Public bathrooms with no door locks means, um, waiting until people emerge.
  • Peruvian food is quite good.
  • Several storefronts promising to help people get their medicinal marijuana documents.  What happens to them now that such stuff is unnecessary in California (unless Jeff Sessions gets in the way)?
  • The politics were a strange mix--several anti-Trump booths but the t-shirt shops had a heap of misogynist shirts...
  • California drivers are alert and aggressive. I remember that.  I don't remember their hostility to folks in front of them backing up.  I surprised my daughter by getting super angry at a women in a Trader Joe's parking lot who parked in a spot that my daughter was currently half-occupying.  My kid was trying to correct her parking and this woman would not let her.  Several other times we faced challenges when trying to back up--Californians are simply too impatient.  On the other hand, beer at the TJ's?  Oh why can't we have nice things like this in Ottawa?
 As always, when I am in California, I wonder why I left, knowing that the answer is always the same--the jobs were elsewhere.  Oh well.  I think my daughter will be exasperated by the traffic but will fall in love with the place.  Hopefully, it will fall in love (or, at least, employment) with her.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Deathrace2018, Final Day: Canyons, Canyons and Lessons Learned

We finished the drive with a very colorful day: the Grand Canyon is well named.  The last time I was here, we stopped for just a few minutes.  This time, we spent more than an hour, which is still not much, but we had someplace to be.

The digital age means taking tons of pics with no thought about film or developing costs.  So, these are just a few of the many pics.  The sun broke through from time to time so the different light made a big difference on the colors of the canyon and how they popped.
After five days of driving, of endless podcasts (thanks Doug Loves Movies for keeping us both awake, various sports podcasts for keeping me awake and her asleep, and various podcasts of my daughter's choosing that didn't prove to be very soothing to me), of many welcome to state x signs (we have an incomplete collection since it seemed to be the case that the co-pilot/photographer was asleep when we crossed into a new state about half the time), of many unhealthy breakfasts,

we have some realizations and some enduring questions.  The latter include:
  • what is as a safety corridor?  Seems to be a southwest highway thing, but I have no idea what they mean.
  • what is Bearizona and did we miss something really cool?
  • when can I find the time to come back and hike the canyon?  Probably not until after my ankle heals.
 What did we learn from this endless drive?
  • That there is a lot of empty in California, just like in Canada, but it is a coastal/inland thing in CAf and a border or not thing in CAd.
  • That California will always feel like home to me--the shopping, the morning fog, the open architecture, the overly complicated designs of apartment complexes, and, yes, the Mexican food.
  • That the US contains so much, so many different but yet similar places.  One of the key problems with Trump is that America never stopped being Great.  A drive across makes that abundantly clear.
  • Indeed, the diversity that one sees in this kind of trip is something to be appreciated, not feared.
We were exhausted by the end and just a wee bit sore, but I am glad to have helped my daughter make the transition to the next stage of her life.  Of course, the great food, heaps of milkshakes and other sweets, fun encounters, and some tourism made the drive far more pleasant.  Oh, and, yeah, her car will get mighty dusty when she drops me off as I make my way to my home, leaving her in her new home.