Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Movies of 2015

Tis time to rank the year's stuff.  I have not posted as much pop culture stuff in 2014 (at least as far as I can remember) as I have been so busy flogging the book and doing other stuff.
  1. The movie that surprised me the most, made me laugh the hardest, and nearly caused the entire family to have rib-muscle pulls was:  The Lego Movie.  Indeed, Everything is Awesome.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy.  Pretty close to the Lego Movie, but not quite as surprising.  A heap of fun, great action, great raccoon, great Groot.  
  3. Captain America Winter Soldier.  Great action and major shift in the Marvel Universe. 
  4. The second most surprising movie was The Edge of Tomorrow.  Not quite as terrific as CapAmerica 2: More Captain, Less America, but quite good.  And Team Spew loves Emily Blunt.
  5. X-Men Days of Future Past.  A hard movie to make, but they did a very good job with a very crowded movie.   More Kitty would have been better, but I understand the choice to rely on the dude with claws.
  6. Top Five.  Just saw it--found it provocative and very funny in short bursts.  Some great performances.
  7. The Monuments Men.  Got treated poorly, but showed a dimension of the war of which I was previously ignorant.
  8.  Godzilla was entertaining.
Didn't see that many movies this year.  We tended to save the comedies for watching at home and then forgot to catch them.  Lots of travel got in the way, I suppose. I did watch many bad movies on planes this year, as I tried a new strategy of watching movies I would otherwise never see.  It worked. 

Speaking of bad movies, I guess the worst movies I saw were 3 Days to Kill and the Jack Ryan movie.

The movie I most want to see, having missed it?  Zombeavers?  Dead Snow 2? Life After Beth? YEs, more zombie movies....

Blogging in 2014

If there is one clear trend in my blogging, it is that I am doing less of it.  Why?  Mostly because I am fried from having committed not just to other online outlets but that I have been juggling (and dropping) too many projects/responsibilities.  Since blogging is purely voluntary, it tends to take the hit when I am busy. 

Still, it was an interesting year, so I will review it via the most trafficked posts, the most commented posts and then whatever I fancy:
  1. Navel-gazing might be the theme of the year as the most visited post was one about blogging:  is blogging inherently unprofessional. This post went viral (well, for one of my posts), got re-posted at Duck of Minerva and a bunch of other places.  It hit a chord not just because I was fighting the Man as embodied by the ISA, but that it seemed most strange to most people that an organization representing the profession of IR scholars would diminish blogging.  Seems so 2003.  The good news is that the proposal I fought got put on ice.
  2. The second most popular post was one that took a quote from the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about a plan to invade Canada and ran with it.  People always seem to enjoy speculation about an American invasion of Canada.
  3. I spent the year promoting the NATO and Afghanistan book, so I cannot help but be very pleased that my third most visited page was the playlist.  Yep, I crafted a list of songs that fit thematically with the chapters of the book.  With the forthcoming publication of the paperback (with new intro) of For Kin or Country, I will have to come up with another playlist, I guess.
  4. A 2013 piece is actually fourth: I wrote about comparative xenophobia that still seems to be getting traction. It was an attempt to address a WashPo blog post about polls about racism and tolerance, and I guess those topics are still relevant in 2014.
  5. I find it strange that a short post explaining an acronym, for your situational awareness, keeps getting hits even though it was posted in 2011.
  6. An old post (2013) pondering why adjunct profs stay in the business keeps getting hits as well.
  7. An old post (2013) that considers people paying for academic job market advice and rejects the idea that anyone should pay.  Well, the job market still sucks, advisers still underperform and yet it is still a bad idea to pay a person for advice when there are plenty of people offering advice for free (this blog and Duck of Minerva, for instance).
  8. An old post (2011) about whether to go to grad school or not.
  9. I got into an argument with Tom Ricks of about whether scholarship on international security is policy relevant.  I said: hell, yes!
  10. An old post (2013): mama, don't let your kids become political scientists.  This presented some APSA charts showing how dismal the job market is in my field.
The next most popular page is one promoting the book.  Woot! 

What can we conclude from this?  That my best days of blogging are far behind me, with four pre-2014 posts in my top ten for this year?  That the most popular posts are those that are most depressing about academia?  Hmmm.

I tend not to get many comments on my posts.  The ones getting the most comments:
  1. The post on American invasion plans not only got much traffic but much discussion. 
  2. Are blogs inherently unprofessional got much discussion too
  3. A pox on both their houses:  hardly surprising that a rare post on Israel-Palestine gets some folks commenting.
  4. An exchange on the sham-tastic referendum in Crimea
  5. A progress report on the ISA blog situation
How do people find their way to my blog?  The first three are a magnitude more traffic-producing than the rest.
  1. Twitter
  2. Directly (whatever that means)
  3. Google
  4. Facebook
  5. Poli Sci Rumors
  6. The BBC.  Really? 
  7. Duck of Minerva
  8. My page at
The next biggest sources are,, bing,, Political Violence at a Glance, and The Globe and Mail.

I hope to re-gain momentum in 2015, but may need help from my readers.  Poke me, prod me, getting me thinking.  And thanks for reading, sharing, and commenting on my stuff this year.  I never expected to have much of an audience---that this was supposed to me just thinking aloud.  Have a great 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Embracing the Pyromania of The Festival of Lights

I tend not to write about Judaism here, as I have a pretty ambivalent relationship with the religion in which I was born and the ethnic identity that I cannot escape.  But it has come up a lot the past few days and with Hanukkah starting tonight, it felt time to have a few thoughts on Jewish stuff for a change.

First, the big news, of course is this:
JK Rowling had been asked if there were any Jews in the world of Harry Potter.  That she could only come up with one seems a bit low, but then again, one kid out of the named characters is not that bad, since Jews are about .5% of the British population. Given stereotypes about Jews being smart and clever and all that, of course, the one Jew is on the house dedicated to the brainy kids at Hogwarts.  So, is JK playing with stereotypes?  Maybe so, but the odds are really one in four anyway.

Second, my favorite tweet of the day was this:

Yep, taking the dreidel song and using it to make fun of Putin's problems is just fantastic.

Ok, the real discussion over the past day has been this Vox post about whether one should expect Muslims to always disavow and condemn acts by Muslims.  I posted on my fb page, and it led to a really interesting discussion about what we expect of ourselves and of others.  A Jewish contributor suggested that it is the job of Jews to condemn fellow Jews for doing stuff that besmirches the religion, but perhaps it is not fair to expect that of others.  My stance is a pretty belligerent one: acts by individuals are acts by individuals and should not be read as saying anything about the identity they claim to represent, and that we should not expect anyone to have to condemn the acts of members of their group.  Of course, this wildly contradicts much of my work on ethnic conflict that assumes that groups act as groups.  Oops.   I will have to square that circle someday.

Anyhow, on this first night of the most socially constructed holiday (Hanukkah was never really that much of a holiday until Jews had to develop an event to compete with Christmas--at least that is far as I know), if you are celebrating the festivities, enjoy your pyromania.  I certainly did as I grew up.  And enjoy the family, the fun, the latkes and the gifts--which, contrary to stereotypes and jokes, are not just socks and underwear.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Virtual Path Dependence

Saw this figure tonight from the Washington Post (thanks Theo F)--top twenty websites since 1996:

Multi-tasking Empathy?

Australia is going through a difficult situation today as a self-described sheik/lunatic has taken hostages.  There is something positive going on: a movement with the hashtag #illridewithyou.  The idea is that Aussies are calling out to those who wear religious garb and saying that if you are worried or concerned that you might get some backlash, that they would join that person's commute.

This makes a great deal of sense since events like these bring out the bigots--who tend to be ignorant, of course.  In the aftermath of 9/11, I remember a Sikh (not a Muslim) who got attacked because some ignorant bigot attacked.  As Australia already has a problem with anti-immigrant fear/hate/xenophobia, it is likely that some yahoo will attack a Muslim or a Sikh or some other Other.  So, this is really the perfect time for this spontaneously generated movement.

One of my twitter followers disagrees, arguing that people should be caring about the hostages who are still in crisis.  My response: does this person have a spouse and a kid or two kids?  Because I am pretty sure you can care about two or more things at once.  And people should care both about the people who are in harm's way and the people who are in harm's way: the hostages and those who share some identities with the perpetrator.  Our hearts are big enough, right?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Torture Apologists?

Brian McFadden is throwing with heat this morning:

Re the last panel, I have mixed opinions about drone strikes.  I am appalled and ashamed that the US tortured.  I also understand that it does not work at all. 

Drone strikes?  If one is at war, then why not discriminately target those who are using force against you and your allies?  I hate the signature strike type missions (where a set of behaviors makes someone a target), but targeted killings?  I prefer targeted killings to untargeted killings (which is what we would call Pakistan's counter-insurgency tactics).  Drones are just one form of targeted killings by the way--they just have bad PR.  People killed from a missile launched from an F-15 are just as dead. 

The issues here are complex, but when I think of drone strikes or targeted killings, I think about the alternatives.  When it comes to torture, this is not required.  Why?  Because torture is wrong, it does not work, and it undermines US security in numerous ways.  One does not have to be a pacifist to abhor torture. 

Revise and Resubmit Your Headline

Something was wrong on the internet yesterday.  Really!  I saw this article and was provoked:
The article itself had a very interesting discussion of what the Canadian Special Operations Forces are doing in Iraq.  The title annoyed me greatly.  For one, the article was mostly about the SOF and not about an extension.  For another, this is not really news.  That is, the status quo since the vote was taken a few months ago is that the mission would be for six months with the possibility (probability IMHO) of renewal, just as Canada renewed its participation in the Libya mission twice and just as (albeit more controversially) the Kandahar mission was renewed twice--in 2006 and 2008.

When I went back to look at the piece later, its headline had changed to this:
Other than the title change, it is pretty much the same article.  Indeed, the link still has the old title.  Does that mean that someone at the G&M was listening to me?  Or that a different editor got his/her hands on the article?  Or that Steven Chase complained when his article was headlined incorrectly?  I have no idea.

The bigger news here really is that the SOF talked to a reporter and actually gave more than vague answers.  Unlike US SOF (especially SEALs), the Canadian SOF tend not to talk and the media tend not to cover them closely.  So, this is quite interesting in and of itself.  One could wonder whether the SOF folks were asked to be more transparent by the government (unlikely, given this government) or were speaking out anyway because they felt like it (maybe, maybe not).  The other key item here is what they are doing/where they are doing it--not on the frontlines, mostly training a specific set of skills to improve the Kurds' ability to fight.  Not mentoring/embedding on the battlefield, and certainly not running and killing daesh fighters (unlike the British SOF).

The lesson here is, as always, the writer of the article does not write the headline.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Travel Observations, edition 37

On my way back to Ottawa after a productive few days in The Hague.  What have I learned/re-learned/observed?
  • My habit of watching bad movies on flights works out pretty well.  Stuff that I really want to see I will see with Mrs Spew via netflix or our Canadian movie channel.  Bad stuff?  Probably not, so why not see Hercules, Into the Storm, Maze Runners, The Other Woman, and their ilk?  They are not good movies but they are entertaining/diverting.  Indeed, Leslie Mann proved yet again that she is very funny.  
  • I remain a big fan of Nexus (had the right passport this time) as it allowed me to GOES through the passport line in Newark quickly.  Also love being TSA prescreened---keeping shoes on, computer in bag, belt on body--so much less trouble.  On the other hand, the US Embassy in Ottawa has done too good of a job promoting NEXUS as the machines in Canada had a long line (maybe two machines are not quite enough).
  • Time while traveling is relative but still felt wrong to booze up at the lounge (gold status pays off!) in Amsterdam.  On the other hand, a beer garden for lunch in Newark?  Please... with a nice view of NYC.
  • I remain a big fan of Indonesian food which I almost only get in the Netherlands--not much in Ottawa or in Montreal.  
  • Something always happens when I am gone.  We have had furnaces crap out. This time, not just a heap of snow (Mrs. Spew got by without New Snowblower 101), but also possessed toilets, gurgling not unlike the fireswamp.  Thus far, no ROUS's but we shall see.
  • I lost a second neck pillow.  Damn, must staple these things to the back of my head. 
  • Oh, I am finally giving into electronic submissions of papers.  The final paper for my Civ-Mil class was due the day I landed in Amsterdam, so I had the students send them to me via email as pdfs.  I found it actually easier to whip through the grading of about half while flying back, as I could read them on my ipad (which I no longer have to turn off when taking off and landing).  
  I do need to keep learning, as I do keep on traveling.  As soon as I got home, I got a new invite to go to Belgium in April.  I will not be driving around Brussels this time.... that is one lesson I learned from the last time.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ferguson Funnies: oh Why did SNL Not Use This?

Pretty sharp take on Ferguson got left on the cutting room floor (also known as youtube these days):

Too soon?  Not for the song at the end....

Assess This! Pondering Progress and its Discontents

I am in the lovely city of The Hague for a couple of days for the final workshop of the ISAF Strategic Assessment Capability folks.   With ISAF wrapping things up and turning the international effort over to something else in Afghanistan, this is the last time these folks are meeting to consider how to measure progress in this complex effort. 
Taking pics of NATO meetings is apparently one item to indicate progress: we met!
I wrote a short paper that does not really assess progress--I do not focus on discussing changes in metrics or which metrics to use--but posits a series of challenges inherent in NATO, in domestic politics of democracies, and in counter-insurgency that make progress pretty damned hard.  I am linking to the paper, but be forewarned--it is rough, relatively cite-free and lit review-less. 

The basic claims are these:
  • that NATO operates in certain ways that cause problems
    • that opt-out clauses are hard-wired into NATO as one could not get decisions that require consensus if such decisions actually required countries to obey without reserverations/opting out.
    • that alliances tend create divisions of labor--in terms of both geographic areas of responsibility and functional ones--that create a variety of unhelpful dynamics.
    • that NATO had never done much of the governance/development work before--Bosnia and Kosovo had other agencies leading in these areas.  
  • that domestic politics within each country have dynamics that cannot be avoided
    • that bureaucracies have different cultures of delegation so that the locus of decision making for one might be in the field and another in the national capital, making "synching" damned near impossible.
    • there is a desire to pick specific goals so that progress can be assessed but counter-insurgency requires adaptation.  But adapting means to opposition parties that one is "moving the goalposts"
    • the need to prove to domestic audiences that one is making a difference might mean designing signature projects but that cuts against making projects in Afghanistan look like they were Afghan-led, designed.
    • most members had no experience in expeditionary efforts, so their civilians sent into the field may not have had proper insurance policies, making it hard to go outside the wire (same was true for Polish military)
    • that getting competing bureaucracies to work together requires attention at the very highest levels (President/PM), but Afghanistan was never anyone's top priority.  Thus, attention was hard to sustain especially once financial crisis of 2008 hit.
  •  that Counter-insurgency is really, really hard
    • especially when the countries never dedicate enough troops to the effort
    • especially when countries refuse to agree that COIN is what they were doing
    • especially when the local allies have their own agendas
      • The Karzais were lousy clientelists--they should have given some of the "rents" to folks they disliked to keep them on board. 
Again, the paper is brief but might be of interest. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dutch Travels for a NATO workshop

I am in/at The Hague for a two day workshop on what we can learn about ISAF's performance in Afghanistan.  I had no idea there was a NATO office in this city until last month.  I remember seeing SACEUR Craddock (the military head of NATO) complaining in 2008 about having confusing metrics (measures) about progress.  Apparently, his response to that was to create this office.

It is my second time here, as I interviewed Dutch officials/officers/etc in January 2011 for the NATO book.  Last night, I had dinner with two professors who teach at the Dutch military academy, who were most helpful over the past few years.  One of the best parts of writing a book is giving copies to those who were of assistance.  We met in Leiden, where the Pilgrims hung out between England and Plymouth.

One of the interesting happenstances of the NATO project has been that researching and talking about it has led me to a bunch of interesting historical places.  I got to speak about Afghanistan in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, which is near Plymouth Rock.  So, this book project took  me to both the departure and landing of the Pilgrims.  Funny that.

What have I learned/re-learned thus far?
  • I don't remember this city being as bike crazy as it apparently is--very Copenhagen-ish.  I am amazed I have not been hit.  
  • My favorite Dutch word is rijsttafel--refers to rice table---where you get a pile of tapas like dishes at an Indonesian restaurant.
  • I felt like the movie "The Birds" was inspired by a scene here.  Last night, I walked past the loudest trees--populated by so many very loud birds. 
  • I have seen ads for kickassmas, but have not yet had a chance to search for it. Hmm.
Gotta run to my workshop.