Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Get Over It! Message Management vs. the 21st Century

The Canadian Department of National Defence, a squarer, politer and quieter version of the Pentagon, is most frustrated by its inability to do "message management."  That is, it cannot control information.  The latest story has DND frustrated by retired soldiers talking to the media.  My first thought: join the club.  American generals and secretaries of defense have been most frustrated by retired officers becoming media mouthpieces. 

My second thought: suck it up.  As a government agency in a democracy, there are some inconvenient truths for a military to consider.  That freedom of the press means that reporters are going to ask pesky questions.  That freedom of speech means that lots of people can speak to those pesky reporters.  Sure, those in government service have legal restrictions, but any large agency is going to have some people speak out.  And militaries tend to be very large agencies.  So, there is only so much message managing one can do. 

What can DND do?  Besides not whining about it?  The radical suggestion would be to be ... transparent.  If you do not deny, deny, deny especially when it comes to stuff where there are good sources of information elsewhere, and anticipate the likely stories ahead so that you can spin but spin openly, reporters will chase the story but will probably not be as enthused.  Coverups are much tastier for the Woodward and Bernstein wannabees (whatever the Canadian equivalent might be) than open info.

I get it that the government prefers for bad news not to get out, but much of it does.  And bad news is like fish--the longer one keeps it, the smellier it gets.  And if you are telling the truth, then there is far less need to coordinate.  Lies require much cooperation so that everyone gets the story straight and keeps it straight.  Telling something closer to the truth means people don't have to remember the lies and stay on the same page. 

Obviously, military operations, vulnerabilities and plans should remain secret, but the whining described in this article and others is entirely about bad news/embarrassment and not about stuff that needs to be secret.

Of course, this government is obsessed with message management, which seems to work for it.  It has won a few elections, but this strategy is costing it a heap of credibility and causes far more smoke to come out of the inevitable fires.  I know that they will not change their ways, but these folks should stop whining about leaks and about retired soldiers speaking up.  It is the price for doing business at any time and especially when people have to look elsewhere to get anything close to the real story.

Ultimate Highlights

Frosh Spew got a new camera for school, so I asked her to film a recent game of ultimate.  She not only filmed the game but then edited it in a way I had never expected!  Voila!


 I had never seen a video of me diving (I tend to layout much to compensate for my lack of jumping ability), so I was pretty jazzed to see this.  And, yes, she understands that I am a narcissistic and has done a mighty fine job of enabling me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Important Economic Debate Continues

Yesterday, the debate on milk bags vs milk jugs came up yet again.  A newspaper story about a regulatory fight between different factions within the milk industry led to a twitter conversation which led to a newspaper story.  And this led to an appearance on a radio program this morning.

It kind of comes off that I am a zealot:
Although Saideman has lived in Canada for more than a decade, he’s drawn a line in the sand over his national dairy identity.
“I have never bought milk in plastic bags and I never will.”
That much is true. I will not buy the special pitcher that holds a milk bag (the smaller one that is one of three in the big sack they sell in the stores).  The need for heaps of milk in my house are waning as Frosh Spew is weeks away from going off to college.  If the pilot program is expanded to allow more choice of milk conveyance, I will not be buying gallon jugs of milk either--we just are not drinking enough.

The reality is this is both an identity thing and a principle thing.  The identity thing is that I see a bag of milk and it reminds me that I am an alien to this province, just as it did in Quebec (other provinces in Canada don't have bags of milk).  It is a principle thing in that we have restricted choice thanks to the milk industry forming a cartel that lobbies for policies that lead to higher prices (blocks of cheese are most visibly over-priced) and less choice. 

The logic as always is that small concentrated groups tend to have more political power than large diffuse ones because the smaller can organize and the larger are likely to focus on other issues.  In the US, this means a set of very counter-productive prices that limit competition in the sugar industry.   While it raises the price of our cheesy poofs and frosted flakes by a smidge with each bag/box, it deprives poor Caribbean countries of a key market, producing foreign policy problems as well as protecting an awful industry in Florida.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fave Irredentist Stories

A friend asked folks on twitter to share their favorite irredentist stories with me.... So far, no takers, so let me provide a few:
  1. At the top, walking into my new job/fellowship on the Joint Staff and being called The Irredentist!  My application for the fellowship discussed the project that became For Kin or Country, so they were wise to my ways.  And I was well placed in the Pentagon as this was, indeed, the office of irredentism with both Croatia and Serbia having recently engaged in "Greater" projects and with Kosovo kind of doing the same (with Macedonia's Albanians). 
  2. The time a Hungarian general I was interviewing said: "After a few drinks, everyone is a nationalist."
  3. The time that Croatia engaged in an irredentist war in Bosnia undermining its claims of being a victim of Serb irredentism AND proved my point that vulnerability does not deter.
  4. That Somalia which exemplified the window of opportunity argument by attacking Ethiopia as it was in the middle of its own revolution/transition had previously attacked when the time was most unopportune--1963 when Ethiopia was much stronger... and when it was already engaged in irredentist efforts aimed at both British and French colonies nearby.
  5. The Crimean referendum.  So sham-tastic, it really was so laughable.
  6. My favorite irredentist trick question: in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, who are the irredentists?
  7. Tried to name the Bill and Steve JOP article: Reuniting: When Does it Feel So Good? after the song but got spiked by the editors who accepted the article but not a fun title.  They probably would not have gone with "Four out of Five irredentists agree...".  Of course, it would probably have had to be nineteen out of twenty irredentists agree for the 95% confidence interval reference.
I am sure fans of Ireland, Kurdistan, Kashmir and others have fun tales to tell?

When History Repeats, Hungary Edition

On this day, the 100th anniversary of World War I, it almost seems quaint that history seems to be repeated itself.  Not in a big way, not in a World War kind of way.  But in a "Hungary is regressing and picking the wrong side kind of way."  In researching the Hungary chapter (secret name for it was "Optimally Obnoxious) of For Kin or Country, I discovered that Hungary's tradition of war seems to be one of always picking the losing side and joining that one with much enthusiasm but not much effectiveness.

And here we are again (H/T to my favorite resident of Budapest--Erin Jenne).  Viktor Orban has done much that we can criticize over the past several years, undermining democracy in one of the former success stories and playing up nationalism for political gain (inconsistently so).  The focus today, given the 100th anniversary and all that is to look on the bright side.
The era of liberal democracies is over, Orb├ín added, and listed China, India, Russia, Turkey and Singapore as countries that could offer Hungary inspiration. “Our time will come,” he concluded.
What is the bright side?  Hungary always picks the losing side.  So, if Orban's Hungary chooses to side with Russia and China, then I think the Western Democracies will win the next few rounds of international tensions.

Grail Knight IJ - Hungary Chose Poorly Again

Saturday, July 26, 2014

And a Wake-Up: Last Day in Buenos Aires

I have an evening flight out tonight with a red-eye to Houston and then connecting flights to Newark and then Ottawa.  So, I had the chance to walk around some more and see parts of the city that I had missed.

My effort to see the military history museum failed since it was not open yet.  When I get the grant and come back to do research, I will try again.  Otherwise, I saw what I wanted to see, and now I am very tired.

I enjoyed the Ecological Reserve near my hotel, but was frustrated that I could not get a better view of the Atlantic Ocean.  On the way back, I ate at an Italian place as I have had my fill of steak and then some.  Indeed, both my friend and I agreed that I had too much steak (see pic to the right).

While I had my pasta, I got to watch polo on ESPN.  I had never watched polo before (I had hoped to make it to a match but planned poorly).  It was Argentina vs .... England!  Argentina won today, perhaps taking some of the sting out of the whole Malavinas thing.  Their idea of penalties seems even easier than penalty kicks in hockey.  Not sure what caused one to get a penalty--on replays of the penalty swings and not the event that caused the penalty.

A couple of other observations that I may not have mentioned before:
  • The customs declaration form on the way into the country was strange--asking for what kind of cell phone I have.
  • That even with an impending default, Argentina seems pretty prosperous and stable (except for all of the illegal currency swapping stuff).  The shops and tv's and such do not seem strange to me.  Indeed, I am even more convinced that Sam Huntington is a racist (a dead one, of course) as the folks here do not seem to be of a different civilization than folks I have met elsewhere--that the only major difference between the Catholics of Argentina and those of Italy are that these are browner--hence the racism charge.
    • that the real differences among peoples are fundamentalists versus everyone else.  That all fundamentalists fundamentally suck.  
  • the Spanish spoken here is different enough that my restaurant pronunciation is even worse than one might expect. 
  • oh, and one more thing--I will have to remember to bring ankle braces next time.  Between the cobblestone and the beat up sidewalks, my ankles were not happy this week.
The trip was most successful.  Not only did I eat a heap of beef, but I had a few good conversations that will help as I revise the grant application and think about the project.  I got some good questions while presenting the extended grant app (the paper was the grant app and a few more pages).  So, overall, I can declare success, go home and then prep for the next trip (family vacation) and the one after that (dropping Frosh Spew off).

Friday, July 25, 2014

An Optimistic Outlook: Limited Number of Evil-doers?

So, Igor Strelkov of the Malaysian plane downing in Ukraine may have been involved in a mass killing in Bosnia in 1992.   One possible interpretation is that the number of evil assholes in the world are finite, so that when you need something bad done, you reach out to one of the few guys who is willing to do this kind of stuff (kind of like asking Rumsfeld to be Secretary of Defense again?).

After a thoroughly depressing week or two, I have to grasp at such straws.

Short Take on First Take

I don't watch Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless.... because I have a learning curve.  I learned a long time ago that neither one had anything of value to say.  Indeed, they may be the sports yeller equivalent of Sam Huntington--black holes of knowledge.

Oh, and the NFL sucks on violence against women, but we have known that for some time as well.

Mary Poppins and the Minimum Wage

Mary taught me so much so long ago about bank failure and now ....

this is seven kinds of brilliance.  Just wonderfully cheeky!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Feminism of Princess Leia's Bikini

While I consider myself a feminist (that women are equal to men and deserve equal rights/treatment), my scholarship is not feminist.  That is, I don't study how gender affects foreign policy.  Yet, as a result of a brief dinner conversation with Ora Szekely, I want to wade into these waters with the following assertion:
While much of Star Wars has gender problems (erasing the female pilots from the Battle of Yavin, for example), the appearance of Princess Leia in the costume in Jabba's palace and on the barge in Return of the Jedi is actually not un-feminist.
How so?  Well, one could argue that this was just providing the fanboys of the movie with something to gaze/leer at, it is actually more complex.  Jabba had Leia wear this costume as part of his effort to dominate her.  Jabba is gross, disgusting and vile.  So, we should find his enslavement of Leia and his disrobing of her to be awful.  Indeed, one could argue that Jabba is a personification of patriarchy--that he is all lust, greed, and domination in a slimy package.

And what happens to this depiction of patriarchy in the movie?  It gets slayed, choked to death, by a woman who uses her own chains against her target.  The only help Leia receives in this effort from the men around her is the provision of a distraction.  Luke's deployment of the force does not liberate Leia, but only catches the attention of those around Jabba--he is the Jedi squirrel!  The hard work of killing Jabba, of freeing woman from patriarchy, is done by Leia with her own bare hands.

So, one could look at the iconic image of Leia in the bikini as sexist and harmful to feminism, or one can look deeper and suggest that she is a feminist icon for slaying the enslaver of women, green or otherwise.

As for the rest, well, yeah, George Lucas has some problemos.