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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Politics Through Film in Spring 2016

For the first time in some years, I'm going to teach a regular Political Science section of Politics Through Film (POLS 552 at UofL, but also POLS 399-03) in spring 2016. Since 2010, I've been teaching a version of the course either as the Department's capstone course for senior majors (495) or as an Honors seminar. Through this time, the course has always focused on Global Politics Through Film. However, I intend to tweak the course between now and January to have wider appeal. We will continue to discuss global politics, but we will also discuss some broader political science questions about political behavior, institutions, and ideas.

The film is an elective for the University's Film and Digital Media Studies Minor. Students from that program are welcome. I can check with the HUM personnel to find out if 399 could be substituted.

In any case, long-time readers may recall that I blogged about the earliest incarnation of the course extensively back in fall 2006. However, much has changed since then.

First, course members now view films on their own, outside of class. This means the scheduled amount of class time is reduced and we can devote all of it to discussion of the films and the political implications. Students can view almost every film for about $2.99 from a streaming provider. Many are free on Netflix or from a local library.

Second, the class and the discussion of the films is oriented around four classic narrative archetypes: romance, tragedy, comedy, and satire. Each of these archetypes suggests specific ideas about character, settings, and plot. They also align with particular political science theories and concepts.

Third, the course does not study the same films as it did in 2006. Based on my most recent version of the syllabus, here are the alterations:

Subtractions: Casablanca, Network, Red Dawn, Gandhi, Black Hawk Down, Breaker Morant, Twelve O'Clock High, and the Stephen Colbert appearance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. They are arranged in the order that I would bring them back. Every version of the course except the most recent one has included Casablanca.

Additions: Stranger Than FictionZombieland, The Dark KnightV for VendettaZero Dark Thirty,  and Mad Max: Fury Road. Again, these are arranged in the order of preference. I'll almost surely assign Stranger Than Fiction, but the most recent Mad Max was a student suggestion (I allowed the class to select one film) that I have not yet fully embraced it.

For one week in the most recent semester, students had their choice of one of four films about Iran: Persepolis, Offside, Argo or Rosewater. Trita Parsi was a guest speaker.

Retained: Wag the Dog, The Quiet American, Saving Private Ryan, The Whale Rider, Dr. Strangelove, Hotel Rwanda and The Great Dictator.  Again, the order matters. I'm virtually certain to assign Wag the Dog, but many students complain about the value of The Great Dictator.

To appeal to a larger audience, I'm considering the study of these films: Idiocracy, Contagion, The Visitor, Thank You for Smoking and Outfoxed.

Obviously, if I added one or more of these films, then others would have to go.

Most of what I blogged about the course back in 2009 remains true:
I think it is a fun class for students and I must increase enrollment before late August for it to remain on the schedule. My pitch: students do not have to take any exams, but will write a couple of short analytical or review papers through the term -- culminating in a longer research paper at the end. I provide extensive feedback and typically allow rewrites of papers in classes at the 500 level. All of the paper assignments tie to film texts.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Benghazi: Time to Think the Unthinkable?

Three weeks ago, I gave a paper on "Thinking the Unthinkable About National Security Narratives." It was inspired by the brief uproar over Seymour Hersch's claims about the Obama administration's tale about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Indeed, much of the paper tracks a long series of likely political deceptions and fabrications fomented by various U.S. national security elites over the years. I focus on threat inflation, misapplied analogies to justify war, stories to support the conduct of American wars, etc.

Ultimately, the paper will need to expand on the evidence, but it briefly considers the bomber gap, missile gap, and window of vulnerability. These cases largely led to unnecessary and costly increases in US military spending. It also considers inflated threats that helped lead to war -- the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the first Persian Gulf War, for example. I barely discussed the numerous deceptions allegedly employed to sell the most recent Iraq war, which was the subject of so much of my blogging and academic writing for a decade. Instead, I quote some scholars who argue that we won't know for certain about alleged Bush administration deceptions until additional critical materials are declassified.

There are plenty of other likely deceptions with more modest political goals and some are mentioned in the paper (Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman). Remember, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara didn't even think the deployment of Soviet Missiles in Cuba in October 1962 posed a new military threat to the US. He described it as a domestic political problem. That's not the way JFK framed it to the American public or to the Soviets.

Indeed, my "Unthinkable" paper describes the problem of deception about national security as endemic -- and especially problematic to study academically because of the huge advantages security elites have in the marketplace of ideas. They control information, largely thanks to secrecy, which gives them the ability to provide a particular narrative about threats, war, etc. They have the authority to speak, thanks to their position in power, which is accompanied by access to impressive material resources as well. The stories elites tell may endure for a long time, even as new evidence challenges some of it. My paper points out that historians and political scientists are still arguing about whether FDR tried to deceive Americans about the need for World War II. The relevant documents are ~75 years old.

Last weekend, the NY Times Magazine drew attention to some of the same questions I'm asking and problems I'm exploring, though Jonathan Mahler chose to focus on the Obama administration story about killing bin Laden.
It’s not that the truth about bin Laden’s death is unknowable; it’s that we don’t know it. And we can’t necessarily console ourselves with the hope that we will have more answers any time soon; to this day, the final volume of the C.I.A.’s official history of the Bay of Pigs remains classified. We don’t know what happened more than a half-century ago, much less in 2011. 
There are different ways to control a narrative. There’s the old-fashioned way: Classify documents that you don’t want seen and, as [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates said, ‘‘keep mum on the details.’’ But there’s also the more modern, social-media-savvy approach: Tell the story you want them to believe. Silence is one way to keep a secret. Talking is another. And they are not mutually exclusive.
In any case, this week, the world watched former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testify for nearly 11 hours about the September 11, 2012, attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi. The questions that Republicans wanted to ask were much like the ones I'm asking: Did the Obama administration, and especially Secretary Clinton, fabricate a political lie to the American people? Did they do this for reasons unrelated to genuine national security purposes (domestic politics)?

My paper included a number of caveats about the strength of the evidence about various alleged cases of deception because the ideas I'm exploring are ordinarily "unthinkable." Political opponents in the heat of a partisan struggle might accuse their foes of engaging in deception and political fabrication in the area of national security, but the wider reaction is usually much more cautious. And academics are especially cautious.

Critics are often not taken seriously if they argue that elites use national security matters to increase their popularity ("rally 'round the flag"), win elections, create jobs, or divert attention from personal political crisis. This is said to reflect paranoia and conspiracy theorizing.

And, in fact, Mahler's piece was attacked by critics as promoting "conspiracy theory."  Colleagues at the NY Times were apparently worried about the effect this story would have on the credibility of their newspaper's journalism. CNN's Peter Bergen called Mahler's story "bizarre."

So what is the story with Benghazi? Did Clinton seek to deceive? Or are conservatives serving up a juicy conspiracy theory based on thin evidence?

Based on my reading of various conservative twitter users, the question about Clinton's alleged deceptions now seem to be their primary concern. The critics argue that Clinton and others blamed an anti-Islamic video for the attack, when she and others in the administration knew it was an intentional act of terror. This is Clinton's entire statement of September 11, 2012, with the most controversial part in red:
 "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide."
The debate over the years has often focused on a memo drafted by then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes a few days after this statement, which formulated the White House talking points to guide then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice on various Sunday TV programs. The administration wanted to sell the attack as “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.” The presidential election was about 7 weeks away and the killing of bin Laden was a featured part of their story for reelection.

Essentially, conservatives claim that the evidence was soon clear that Benghazi was a predesigned terrorist attack and that there had been no anti-video protest at the mission in Libya. Nonetheless, the Obama administration blamed a video repeatedly.

This suggests a partisan deception about policy, right?

What is the evidence for the defense? Obama himself called the event an "act of terror" on September 12. The administration started acknowledging the premeditated terrorism by September 19.  That date is important because it turns out the intelligence agencies were apparently telling the administration that the video protest was the likely cause until September 24. In November 2014, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a report that seemingly debunked the theory about political fabrication:

This week, conservatives are convinced that Clinton's same-night email to daughter Chelsea and phone call with Egyptian prime minister (September 12) constitute new smoking gun evidence about their original concerns. In a brief email reference, Clinton told Chelsea that the act was perpetrated by an al-Qaeda like group. She also told the Egyptian PM that “We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest.”

This sounds like fairly damning evidence and it might well be correct to blame Clinton and the Obama administration for playing politics with national security. However, this version of the narrative overlooks certain facts.

First, the Republicans still have not grappled with the intelligence reports. Was it wrong to say something publicly that was consistent with the intelligence? Readers may remember that this was essentially the defense of the Bush administration regarding Iraq, even though members of the administration often said things that seemed well beyond the intelligence findings. This reading doesn't explain the sentences Clinton apparently communicated to her daughter or to the Egyptians, but ask this question: Is it possible that those far more private instances simply reflect her going beyond the intelligence, perhaps based on unconfirmed evidence? I don't know, and neither do the conservative critics.

Second, Clinton's statement used the passive voice. She didn't say the video caused the attacks, she said some had claimed that. It's a classic Fox News tactic, of course. Indeed, Fox News was running with the video story on September 11, just as many other news agencies were. Susan Rice's statements on Sunday TV went further, but she wasn't the one being scrutinized this week. On those shows, Rice also repeatedly said, "we'll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms." President Obama also made similar remarks that week about waiting for additional evidence to confirm what happened.

Third, the right's interpretations focused narrowly on Benghazi and ignores other important events occurring that day. The inflammatory video in question was provoking demonstrations at American embassies around the world. The US mission in Cairo was of special concern, though other attacks elsewhere led to deaths. The Obama administration was arguably trying to signal that the US would not tolerate this behavior. Perhaps they were thinking that there would be no replay of Iran 1979 on their watch.

I'm not creating this tale for them, I'm just providing a charitable reading of the situation. This is the story Clinton told the members of Congress this week:
FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: During the day on September 11th, as you did mention, Congressman, there was a very large protest against our embassy in Cairo. Protesters breached the walls. They tore down the American flag. And it was of grave concern to us because the inflammatory video had been shown on Egyptian television, which has a broader reach than just inside Egypt. 
And if you look at what I said, I referred to the video that night in a very specific way. I said, some have sought to justify the attack because of the video. 
I used those words deliberately, not to ascribe a motive to every attacker but as a warning to those across the region that there was no justification for further attacks. 
And, in fact, during the course of that week, we had many attacks that were all about the video. We had people breaching the walls of our embassies in Tunis, in Khartoum; we had people, thankfully not Americans, dying at protests. But that's what was going on, Congressman. 
I'm not sure of Clinton's motives, but her story fits the words. Sure, the Republican story also seems to fit, but it presumes malfeasance without proving it. I'm willing to think about the unthinkable, but I want the evidence of deception to be as strong as it can be.

This post was motivated by several twitter exchanges I had yesterday with people on the right (linked above). I certainly agree that there's reason to be interested in this case, but it seems like a relatively mild instance of a much larger problem. Some people are quite worked up about it, but I didn't notice them screaming for heads to role because of Iraq. Or lies about Jessica Lynch. Or lies about Pat Tillman.

I know that Tom Nichols has a crafty argument about Bill Clinton's role in inflating the chemical weapons threat from Iraq, but Clinton wasn't the President who puffed up a nuclear threat to launch a war on Iraq. As I've written before, referencing David Kay, letting a chemical threat justify preventive war might spark dozens of such wars. 

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Music Flashback: Hard Times in the Land of Plenty

For some time, my friend, neighbor, and favorite DJ Michael Young has been playing about one old vinyl cut per hour on his "Roots 'n' Boots" WFPK program every Sunday night. Of the three tunes he spins every week, I typically own the old LP of at least one of the songs. This week, he played Omar and the Howlers, "Hard Times in the Land of Plenty," from 1987.

Hey, I still own that record!

Given the ongoing national conversation about economic inequality, it seemed particularly appropriate for me to blog it:


By the way, Mike also played "Able" by Nathaniel Talbot. My wife and I thought it was a new James Taylor tune. She's a big fan of the JT and we were both surprised to learn the song wasn't his.

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

ISSS-ISAC 2015: Springfield, MA


Last weekend, I traveled to Springfield, MA, to attend the Annual Joint Meeting of the International Security Studies Section of ISA and the International Security and Arms Control Section of APSA.

For a panel "Thinking About Security," I presented a paper, "Thinking the Unthinkable About National Security Narratives," (latter requires ISA archive access) which considers the often-deceptive narratives constructed and employed by American national security elites to identify threats, justify policy actions (including war and intervention), and sustain support for policy -- including war and intervention. The field is characterized by secrecy and limited participation in both public debate and internal decision-making. Deception and secrecy are arguably endemic and enduring problems in national security affairs and not readily addressed by the ordinary "thinkable" solutions.

It's a very rough paper that needs a great deal of work. The empirical section of the paper is especially crude, only briefly surveying a lot of literature on threat inflation, the misapplication of the Munich analogy, and other instances when security elites employed deceptive narratives. Along with various cold war examples, I mention deceptions involving the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Persian Gulf War, and Iraq war. I also mention a few lesser deceptions, involving Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, for example.

Today, I just read a long and interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine by Jonathan Mahler that covers much the same ground (including many of the same examples and concerns about secrecy and deception) though with terrific reporting and analysis of the narrative about the killing of Osama bin Laden. As I said last weekend in Springfield (and this was in my conference proposal), my inspiration for the paper was the Seymour Hersh story about the killing of Osama bin Laden. My paper briefly mentions the various versions of the bin Laden story, but primarily emphasizes the difficulty of finding "truth" on any significant national security issue.

I ran out of time writing, but the paper concludes by arguing (as I often have) the need for more open and inclusive debate in the public sphere. A "marketplace of ideas" is likely not going to work if we want anything like democratic decision-making on national security affairs.

Among other avenues, I plan to look at what the US government used to say about Soviet "disinformation" and deception.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Who said it better?

Jeb Bush....? On mass gun violence in a school:


Or Donald Rumsfeld? On Iraq

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Gulf of Tonkin: The Deceptions that Justified War

August 4 was the 51st anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's speech about the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incidents that were used to justify the Vietnam war. Here's a brief excerpt describing his claim:

Here's former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara years later in "Fog of War" admitting that the incident didn't happen:

In February 2008, U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Pat Paterson wrote about the historical evidence for the U.S. Naval Institute's Naval History Magazine:
But once-classified documents and tapes released in the past several years, combined with previously uncovered facts, make clear that high government officials distorted facts and deceived the American public about events that led to full U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

On 2 August 1964, North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats attacked the USS Maddox (DD-731) while the destroyer was in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. There is no doubting that fact. But what happened in the Gulf during the late hours of 4 August—and the consequential actions taken by U.S. officials in Washington—has been seemingly cloaked in confusion and mystery ever since that night. 
Nearly 200 documents the National Security Agency (NSA) declassified and released in 2005 and 2006, however, have helped shed light on what transpired in the Gulf of Tonkin on 4 August. The papers, more than 140 of them classified top secret, include phone transcripts, oral-history interviews, signals intelligence (SIGINT) messages, and chronologies of the Tonkin events developed by Department of Defense and NSA officials. Combined with recently declassified tapes of phone calls from White House officials involved with the events and previously uncovered facts about Tonkin, these documents provide compelling evidence about the subsequent decisions that led to the full commitment of U.S. armed forces to the Vietnam War.... 
These new documents and tapes reveal what historians could not prove: There was not a second attack on U.S. Navy ships in the Tonkin Gulf in early August 1964. Furthermore, the evidence suggests a disturbing and deliberate attempt by Secretary of Defense McNamara to distort the evidence and mislead Congress.
Paterson explains in the article that the August 2 attack was provoked by US actions.  These are his final concluding sentences about the events and the Vietnam war:
The administration's zeal for aggressive action, motivated by President Johnson's election worries, created an atmosphere of recklessness and overenthusiasm in which it became easy to draw conclusions based on scanty evidence and to overlook normally prudent precautionary measures. Without the full picture, Congress could not offer the checks and balances it was designed to provide. Subsequently, the White House carried the nation into the longest and one of the most costly conflicts in our nation's history.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Persian Gulf War: 25th Anniversary

This post is nearly a month late.

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces attacked Kuwait, reflecting what then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush a few days later called "brutal, naked aggression."

August 8, 2015, marked the 25th anniversary of  Bush's speech to the nation outlining the initial U.S. response. Bush emphasized America's commitment to Saudi Arabia:
I pledge here today that the United States will do its part to see that these sanctions are effective and to induce Iraq to withdraw without delay from Kuwait.
But we must recognize that Iraq may not stop using force to advance its ambitions. Iraq has massed an enormous war machine on the Saudi border capable of initiating hostilities with little or no additional preparation. Given the Iraqi government's history of aggression against its own citizens as well as its neighbors, to assume Iraq will not attack again would be unwise and unrealistic. 
And therefore, after consulting with King Fahd, I sent Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to discuss cooperative measures we could take. Following those meetings, the Saudi Government requested our help, and I responded to that request by ordering U.S. air and ground forces to deploy to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 
Let me be clear: The sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia is of vital interest to the United States. This decision, which I shared with the congressional leadership, grows out of the longstanding friendship and security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces will work together with those of Saudi Arabia and other nations to preserve the integrity of Saudi Arabia and to deter further Iraqi aggression. Through their presence, as well as through training and exercises, these multinational forces will enhance the overall capability of Saudi Armed Forces to defend the Kingdom. 
I want to be clear about what we are doing and why. America does not seek conflict, nor do we seek to chart the destiny of other nations. But America will stand by her friends. The mission of our troops is wholly defensive. Hopefully, they will not be needed long. They will not initiate hostilities, but they will defend themselves, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and other friends in the Persian Gulf.
Eventually, the Pentagon claimed that 250,000 Iraqi troops threatened Saudi Arabia.

A few months later, after obtaining Soviet satellite photos of the region, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Iraqi troops were NOT poised to strike Saudi Arabia. The headline of January 6, 1991, was simple: "Photos don't show buildup."

two American satellite imaging experts who examined the photos could find no evidence of a massive Iraqi presence in Kuwait in September. 
A Soviet commercial satellite took a photo of Saudi Arabia on Sept. 11 and a photo of Kuwait on Sept. 13. At the time the Defense Department was estimating there were as many as 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks in Kuwait. The photos were obtained by the St. Petersburg Times two weeks ago.
As of 2002, the Pentagon had never released its own satellite photographs, though US officials have admitted that they greatly overstated the size of the Iraqi military at the time.

That might not have been the largest lie told about the Iraqi threat. One personal narrative was especially powerful -- and pernicious.
 in the fall of 1990, members of Congress and the American public were swayed by the tearful testimony of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only as Nayirah.
In the girl's testimony before a congressional caucus
, well-documented in MacArthur's book "Second Front" and elsewhere, she described how, as a volunteer in a Kuwait maternity ward, she had seen Iraqi troops storm her hospital, steal the incubators, and leave 312 babies "on the cold floor to die." 
Seven US Senators later referred to the story during debate; the motion for war passed by just five votes. In the weeks after Nayirah spoke, President Bush senior invoked the incident five times, saying that such "ghastly atrocities" were like "Hitler revisited." 
But just weeks before the US bombing campaign began in January, a few press reports began to raise questions about the validity of the incubator tale.
Later, it was learned that Nayirah was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington and had no connection to the Kuwait hospital. 
She had been coached – along with the handful of others who would "corroborate" the story – by senior executives of Hill and Knowlton in Washington, the biggest global PR firm at the time, which had a contract worth more than $10 million with the Kuwaitis to make the case for war.
President Bush's National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft later claimed not to know that the story was fabricated, but acknowledged that "it was useful in mobilizing public opinion."

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer vacation

I'm not sure where the summer went. I finished a manuscript and sent it to a journal. I negotiated a car deal for my oldest daughter. My wife and I managed to take a 9 day vacation to Michigan.

Monday, the Dean is leading a meeting of department chairs and the semester will begin.

Here's a pic I took in Bellaire, Michigan:

It made me think of the Duck of Minerva, where I also never post anymore.

Most people seem to go to Bellaire for the Short's brewpub. This is the "big board" from August 4:

I liked this beer so much, I bought a 6 pack. On-tap, it was 9.3% abv, but the bottled version is only about 7%:

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Scholar Social Networks and Copyright.

Copyright Symbols
Credit: Mike Seyfang on Flickr.
I recently joined ResearchGate, a social network for scholars. Its stated mission "is to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share and access scientific output, knowledge, and expertise. On ResearchGate they find what they need to advance their research." I previously joined, which kind of looks like Facebook for scholars. The link to my home page has been in the right-hand sidebar for some years. Many of my recent conference papers have been uploaded to that site.

Since joining ResearchGate, I've been bombarded with requests to upload copies of my published articles (and books). Unfortunately, as most scholars know, I do not own the copyright to these works. They were typically transferred as a condition of publication when the pieces were originally accepted.

There are exceptions. For example, a coauthored piece on the biological weapons taboo was published in a security journal produced by the U.S. military. Since the publication is produced by the government, no third party holds the copyright. I also published a piece on "The Geopolitics of Global Climate Change" in Sustain Magazine, which is published locally by the Kentucky Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development. Their back issues are open access. My article begins on p. 9, immediately following a piece by NASA's Jim Hansen.

I've been checking and some of the commercial publishing companies allow me to upload a pdf to my personal or departmental website, so long as I meet several conditions. Cambridge University Press allows this, for instance, though at least one copyright in a Cambridge journal belongs to the American Political Science Association because the article is published in one of their organizational journals.

Unfortunately, I do not have direct control over my departmental webpage.  Thus, I'm planning to upload files to Google Drive and then post direct links here at the blog. This is my primary personal website and I've already had various links in the right-hand column that can ultimately lead you to my work. I'll probably start a page today and add links and necessary information as I check copyrights.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Imagining fear

In the May 2015 Atlantic, Princeton historian David A. Bell reviewed The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution by Timothy Tackett and Phantom Terror by Adam Zamoyski. In his last paragraphs, Bell makes an interesting point about the way fears can be created in the public imagination despite the lack of genuine threats:
But imagined terrors, as he [Zamoyski] and Tackett very usefully remind us, can have even more political potency than real ones. While early-19th-century Europe had its share of real revolutionary conspirators, the “directing committee” was as much a figment of the imagination as was the nest of spies and traitors that Robespierre claimed, toward the end of the Terror, to have discovered at the heart of the revolutionary National Convention. Both fantasies stand in a long line that stretches straight through to our own day. 
There is nothing particularly unusual, then, about the fears of an “invasion” of illegal immigrants that have such a large place in the mind-set of American conservatives, or the Russian fears of fascism that Vladimir Putin exploited so successfully to generate support for his incursions into Ukraine. Such emotions are an integral part of modern political life, and tempting as it may be to dismiss them as irrational, hysterical, and not worthy of serious discussion, we cannot simply wish them away.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Ohio Trip May 2015

Memorial Day weekend, my family headed north to Oberlin, Ohio, for the college graduation of our oldest daughter. It was an emotional weekend for everyone and I snapped a few photos on my cellphone to commemorate some of the festivities. For example, the Saturday before graduation we visited Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum. I liked this work, "Elvis Meets the Virgin of Guadalupe" by Enrique Chagoya:

On Sunday, we attended receptions sponsored by a History faculty member and by the College President, which celebrated various student honors. Early evening before dinner, a few of us went to the Fatheads Tap House near the Cleveland airport.

At the graduation Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama gave an impassioned and interesting speech that proved difficult to top -- though commencement speaker Marian Wright Edelman was very good as well.

Oberlin graduate and international relations scholar Robert Jervis of Columbia University (the 1990 Grawemeyer winner) was awarded one of the honorary doctorates. This pic is his profile on the big screen -- and gives you an idea of where my family was seated.:

After the graduation, most family members headed home. Since I was helping my daughter pack and move on Tuesday, I took the opportunity to attend a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field.

Even though the Great Lakes brewery booth was out of their hoppy beers by the second inning, another spot in the stadium had highly acclaimed White Rajah IPA on tap! Cleveland lost 10-8 to the Texas Rangers.

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Saturday, June 06, 2015

UofL 8th in ACC in Sustainability Performance

After posting about UofL's ACC ranking on various sustainability measures, I received excellent feedback from Justin Mog, the hard-working and productive Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives.

Justin advised me to focus on STARS scores, which he described as "the most comprehensive and transparent ranking system available."

In my May 30 blog post, I failed to note that each school with a STARS rating receives a numerical score valid for three years. I previously linked to this page, which reveals the specific score by clicking on the submission dates. The numerical scores are linked to the gold-silver-bronze rating that I used simply to lump schools by category.

STARS rating point value cut-offs:
85 for Platinum
65 for Gold
45 for Silver
25 for Bronze
These are ACC school rankings based on the institutions' most recent STARS reports (and scores):

Rank      School                          STARS Score                      Date of Score
1. Virginia Tech                      71.02                                     10/15/14
2. Duke                                    70.54                                     10/18/13
3. UNC - Chapel Hill              70.01                                     4/18/14
4. Notre Dane                          68.52                                     10/15/14
5. Virginia                               65.04                                     5/29/15
6. Georgia Tech                       Gold (expired)                      5/15/12                              
7. Florida State                        61.36                                     1/30/15
8. UofL                                    58.29                                     2/6/13
9. Wake Forest                        Silver (expired)                     5/9/12

No data
North Carolina State                       Reporter (expired)          4/5/12
Boston College
U of Miami
U of Pittsburgh
Syracuse U

In a future post, I hope to note some areas where UofL has not generated as many points as it might. Since I'm the chair of the Administration, Finance and Outreach committee (to be renamed Planning and Administration in the fall), I know without any additional research that UofL could receive GOLD status if it created a socially responsible investment committee, created a student socially responsible investment fund, and invested more of its resources in a socially responsible manner. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sustainability in the Atlantic Coast Conference

How does the University of Louisville rate in terms of sustainability initiatives compared to the other 14 institutions of higher learning in the Atlantic Coast Conference? I have often reported on sustainability measures at Louisville, but have rarely attempted to place those efforts in a comparative context.

The question is difficult to answer because the available recent ratings of university performance tend to rely upon self-reported data and not every school provides information to every organization. Moreover, the rankings sometimes disagree. Looking at the ratings from the Princeton Review, Sierra Club, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and the Sustainable Endowments Institute (oldest data), Louisville appears to rank between 7th and 12th in the ACC.

Based on data from all four rating services, Georgia Tech and North Carolina are the sustainability leaders in the ACC, though Duke is also among the very top universities by this measure.

The AASHE ratings in particular signal that Notre Dame, Virginia, and Virginia Tech also seem to be at least slightly ahead of Louisville on adopting sustainability measures.

Louisville is mid- to lower-tier in the conference with Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina State, and Syracuse. Again, by these measures, Louisville likely ranks between 7th and 12th in the ACC. While Louisville is no lower than 10th in any of the specific rating services, the ambiguous and missing data confound any attempt to be certain of this.

The only schools that seem to be rated clearly below Louisville by multiple services are Miami, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. Those schools have the most work to do.

I used this data and apologize for any errors:

Princeton Review Green Colleges (top 50 ranked)
23. Georgia Tech
31. North Carolina

Sierra Club Cools Schools 2014 (173 schools ranked)
10. Georgia Tech
15. North Carolina
23. Duke
71. Louisville
97. Pittsburgh

STARS ranking (AASHE)

Duke (new filing reported)
Georgia Tech (score expired)
North Carolina
Notre Dame
Virginia Tech

Florida State
Wake Forest (score expired)

North Carolina State (score expired)

No data
Boston College

Sustainable Endowments Institute
College Sustainability Report Card 2011 (suspended ratings)
Georgia Tech A-
North Carolina A-

Clemson B+
Duke B+
North Carolina State B+
Notre Dame B+

Boston College B
Louisville B
Syracuse B
Virginia B

Miami B-
Pittsburgh B-
Wake Forest B-

Florida State C

Virginia Tech NO DATA

NOTE: I have merely listed schools alphabetically when letter grades or category assignments (gold/silver) are used by the rating services.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wonder why they'd say that?

New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, August 2013:
“The last seven months have been a nightmare. Probably the worst time of my life, for sure....I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one else will.”
University of Louisville President James Ramsey, May 2015:
"All I have is my integrity … and I can't let people attack my credibility," Ramsey said bitterly at a special meeting of the board that he called. "Nobody stood up for me so I am standing up for myself."

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Highlands Beer Festival 2015

Saturday about 5:30 pm, I walked a couple of blocks with a friend to the Highlands Beer Festival in the parking lot of a local mall. I attended the festival once before with a neighbor, but that event was inside the same mall and attracted a much smaller crowd. It's good to see growing interest in craft beer in Louisville.

It cost $5 to get inside the fenced area, beer tickets were $1 each, and those tickets purchased a 2 ounce sample of any beer (overwhelmingly poured from bottles, not taps). Towards the end of the event (7 pm), some vendor representatives were not very worried about collecting tickets. They just wanted to get rid of their open beer.

I like hoppy ales (especially IPAs), so I mostly sampled those kinds of beers. I think the best beer I tried was Road Warrior (9% abv, 80 ibu) by Green Flash, though I also really liked the Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (8% abv, 102 ibu). This is more evidence confirming that my tastebuds really like west coast IPAs.

Unfortunately, those high abv levels will likely preclude my purchasing those beers, so I will actually be looking for a local beer I tasted at the festival -- Sterling 1863 session IPA (4.5% abv, 64 ibu).

In the end I tried a dozen different beers, but a couple of those were not even full samples as my friend and I split a couple of them (generally if they were really good).

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Riot hyperbole in history

If you are disturbed by the discussion of what is happening in Baltimore tonight, then I offer some context.

My junior year in college, 1981-1982, my debate colleague and I advocated for fairly strict limits on police use of deadly force. Among the advantages we claimed was reduction in the risk of urban riots, which historically are often triggered by police violence.

Because we were 20 years old and every argument needed to involve significant threats, we used to reference portions of this quote in virtually every affirmative debate. It is from Louis H. Masotti, et al A Time to Burn?, 1969, p. x-xi:
To a very great extent, riots are a cry of utter despair, pleading for someone to hear and respond. Yet our response has been more talk, more unfulfilled promises, more tokenism, and recently, more suppression. And while we are talking, the disillusionment and frustration of the ghetto is accelerating at a frightening pace. The civil rights efforts of the past decade and the continual bombardment of the mass media have heightened the consciousness and raised the expectations of the Negro far beyond the level of our response. Those who say that riots have nothing to do with the civil rights movement are either engaging in enormous self-delusion or are attempting to protect the good name of a phase of the movement which is more palatable to themselves and the American public. They are blind to a long history of social revolutions which have often begun as broad-based nonviolent efforts to change institutionalized injustices, only to merge as violent social revolutions when more moderate efforts failed. As a minority of slightly more than ten per cent of the population, Negroes stand little chance of winning in a violent confrontation. But before the militant leaders push the Negro community beyond the point of no return, we must do some sober thinking about the consequences of such a confrontation. American society itself would be the ultimate loser. We would become the captives of fear and hate of a magnitude that would make Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa seem like meccas for civil libertarians. Such a confrontation would make a mockery of the American Revolution and the entire history of our experiment in democracy. But even this might be a relatively minor consequence. In a mood of rage and hate, the balance of power in this nation might very well shift into the reckless hands of those who would disrupt the precarious balance of peace between the nuclear powers and plunge the whole world into nuclear holocaust.
Update: here's a review of Masotti et al from Edward B. McLean in The Review of Politics, 1970. It is not kind:
"A Time to Burn? not a very good book and is already quite dated. The summers of 1968 and 1969 have not supported the assumption that the 1967 summer riots were a prelude to continuing and expanding violence in the Negro areas....Although the authors insist that theirs is a scholarly work, it is far more in the vein of commentary an effective and relevant examination of the problems of race in the country in 1960 and 1970, it has little value....Serious questions can be raised about the balance and seriousness of the evidence which is the basis of the book and the support for the authors' contention that" the U.S. is a country "on the verge of a race war, and very possibly on the brink of self-destruction." 
The book was coauthored by four colleagues from the Civil Violence Research Center at Case Western Reserve University. The coauthors are Kenneth Seminatore, Jeffrey K. Hadden, and Jerome R. Corsi. That last name is probably the most familiar as he is a well-known backer of Obama conspiracy theories.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Bolts from the Blue

For the 27th consecutive year, I'm competing in the Hardy House fantasy baseball league. Our auction draft was held four Saturdays ago, March 28, in Louisville. Two owners participated by phone, including a "new" returning owner. We will all miss a long-time participant who left the league (at least for now). After the auction, the group had some pub grub and watched the Elite Eight basketball game between Arizona and Wisconsin. Then we walked up the street to a terrific local brew pub and watched Notre Dame-Kentucky. The Friday night before the draft, many of us ate pizza and even more drank a beer at the nearby Holy Grale of brews. Oh, and we watched the Louisville-North Carolina State game. 

As a reminder: the league has 12 teams and uses American League players exclusively to accumulate statistics in various hitting and pitching categories. For 22 years, we tabulated results in the traditional 8 categories (HR, RBI, SBs, Batting Average, Wins, Saves, Earned Run Average and ratio/Walks-plus-Hits per Inning Pitched), but in the hot stove period prior to the 2011 season we voted to dump BA in favor of On Base Average. Also, we added runs scored (R) for hitters and strikeouts (K) for pitchers.

My 2014 team finished second for the third straight season, this time only 1.5 points behind the championship squad (People's Choice). Last year's Bolts from the Blue squad led the league in ERA and WHIP and finished in the top three in all categories other than OBA (6th) and saves (7th). With one more HR and two more steals, the Bolts would have tied for first. The top team also picked up a couple of points that it could have lost with a slightly weaker performance in September. It was a very close pennant chase. 

I always mention another roster quirk now in its eighth year: we use 10 man pitching staffs, but only 4 outfielders -- one fewer than the "normal" roto squad. We were probably among the first leagues to accept the fact that this distribution of players better reflects roster management decisions that real major league baseball teams have made over the past 20 years. 

As usual, we allowed the purchase of any player on an American League 40 man roster. After the auction, only players on 25 man active rosters or the major league Disabled List (DL) can be obtained. We now allow teams to retain ownership of players sent packing to the National League -- but only for the remainer of the current season. The league uses a salary cap, but it expires after the trade deadline. This means contending teams can spend their free agent cash in September. Because we drafted in March, some positional battle results were unknown and some rookies-to-be were not yet on 40 man rosters and were thus ineligible for purchase. 

The 2015 Bolts from the Blue (5 retained players in blue):

C Alex Avila (DET) $8
C Jorge Alfaro (TEX) $1 (minors)
1B Eric Hosmer (KC) $23
2B Omar Infante (KC) $1
3B Evan Longoria (TB) $28
SS Xander Bogaerts (BOS) $16
MI Brett Lawrie (OAK) $15
CR Ryan Rua (TEX) $1
OF Alex Gordon (KC) $27
OF Leonys Martin  (TEX) $24
OF Rusney Castillo (BOS) $23 (minors)
OF Oswaldo Arcia (MIN) $10 
DH David Ortiz (BOS) $22

Hitting $199 (up $17 from last season, which was probably too much)

P Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA) $25
P Jake Odorizzi (TB) $5
P Kris Medlen (KC) $4 (DL)
P Jesse Chavez (OAK) $2
P Hector Santiago (LAA) $1

P Brad Boxberger (TB) $4
P Wade Davis (KC) $5
P Junichi Tazawa (BOS) $5
P Charlie Furbush (SEA) $1
P Grant Balfour (TB) $1 

Pitching $53 ($25 less than last year, likely too little)

One team had more than $20 cash left at the end of the auction and another had $9, which meant inflation was a bit lower than it might have been. The total unspent by the league was $46, which is a lot, but not nearly as much as last year. The Bolts unfortunately had $8 left this year, but cash saved to purchase some specific players proved to be insufficient in the late rounds of the auction. Because of mismatched positional needs in the endgame, a few players were purchased then at what I viewed as bargain prices (Infante and Rua). 

The Bolts were also hurt by the fact that I could not retain relatively inexpensive starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who worked for the New York Yankees last year after a mid-season trade, but now pitches in the NL in LA. He would have cost $6 if he had remained in the AL. Additionally, I decided not to retain close to market-priced OF Adam Eaton at $17 and pitcher Chris Sale at $32. I didn't want to foreclose OF options and was worried about Sale's injuries. These players ended up selling for $20 and $35, respectively. It probably would have been better to retain Eaton and forego Castillo. 

Once again, I did not purchase any relief pitchers with a strong lock on a closer job. To compensate for this, I bought pitchers with good strikeout rates on teams with old or iffy guys in front of them (BOS and SEA). I did not intend to buy Balfour, he reflects the danger of throwing out someone for $1 that might not garner any additional bids. Various online sources were listing him as the favorite for the Rays closer job and I thought someone at the table would bid $2 and fill a pitching slot. It didn't happen and that hurt me in the endgame. I had other pitchers to buy, but could not because of the lack of roster space.

Actually, my team has its share of young and/or iffy guys. Medlen is returning from his second Tommy John surgery. Alfaro is in double A. Castillo is beginning the year at Pawtucket and I obviously overspent on him. Rua is an untested rookie and has been injured. Going forward, he will not qualify at CR in the Hardy House until he plays first or third 3 times this season. 

As usual, I bought several players from the KC Royals (5), the hometown-favorite team of my youth and surprisingly the defending AL champions. Hosmer had a slow start last year, but hit fairly well prior to his injury last summer and had a big post-season. Gordon has been a solid hitter for many seasons now. I've got very mixed feelings about Infante, but he was really cheap in the end. Davis is now widely recognized as a first-rate setup man who could close on a team without Greg Holland. Medlen has no history as a Royal, but his NL stats were fantastic.

Gordon was on my 2014 team and I bought him again for the same salary he would have cost as a retained player. 

In addition to those 5 Royals, I have players from about half of the AL teams, including 4 Red Sox, 4 Rays, 3 Rangers, 2 Mariners, 2 A's, plus 1 Tiger, an Angel and a Twin. 

To replace initially injured or minor league players Alfaro, Castillo, and Medlen on my active roster, I bought C Carlos Corporan (TEX) and OF Daniel Nava (BOS) for $1 each, plus P Zach MacAllister (CLE) for $7.  I also nabbed 2B Micah Johnson (CHX) for $7 during the second week because the team needs speed and Lawrie can play CR for the injured Rua. The Bolts are going to need a quality starting pitcher or two to replace the now-injured Iwakuma (lat). 

You can find posts about the 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013;and 2014 auctions elsewhere on this blog.

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Free" Enterprise

The University of Louisville recently announced it had received millions of dollars of contributions from Papa John's head John Schnatter and the Koch Brothers to fund a "free enterprise center" in the Business School on campus. Apparently, the contract gives the donors somewhat unusual leverage over the personnel hired by their funds and the content of new academic programming.

English Professor Martin Kich of Wright State discussed the gift and voiced a major criticism that is often associated with the terms. First, however, he quotes a University official:
“’The [UofL Economics] department is in the process of hiring a new full-time faculty member but is struggling to get enough funding, faculty and class offerings to keep pace with student demand,’ said university spokesman Mark Hebert. 
“Hebert said the department focuses on applied microeconomics, which includes statistics and econometrics instruction needed for health, industrial organization, labor and environmental studies. ‘The department would like to expand all of these areas if funding and faculty were to become available,’ he said.” 
What this spokesperson is actually saying is that the ideological slant of the department is up for auction. Since it is very clear that the Koch gifts are not going to fund “labor and environmental studies,” in the absence of competing gifts from progressive donors, one can only conclude the Koch views on labor and environmental issues will dominate, if not go completely unchallenged.
Personally, I find it interesting that the Koch brothers and Schnatter could end up funding free market critics of the practices that help make them rich. While the Koch brothers are famous for their libertarian and anti-government policy positions, they frequently use their corporate lobbying clout to win lucrative government contracts -- mostly involving the Department of Defense. Roughly 80% of their DoD contracts do not involve competitive bids. Their timber and cattle ranching interests take advantage of cheap government leasing rights that are famously priced well below market rates. Their oil and related energy businesses seek to benefit from government seizure of private land under eminent domain. Though the Koch brothers have apparently argued against them in DC, their corporations have apparently accepted $1 billion for ethanol subsidies.

Schnatter too fairly directly benefits from government subsidies. After all, Papa John's Pizza is a food business and agricultural subsidies of pork, grain and dairy products help him keep costs artificially low. That means he personally profits from tremendous government spending that has very little to do with the free market.

One of my earliest blog posts from December 2003 quoted a letter from over 100 economists arguing that "government subsidies of irrigation, logging, livestock grazing and mining prop up activities that could not survive in efficient market conditions." The result is often subsidized environmental destruction. Government leasing needs to be priced at market rates, preferably involving full environmental costs.

Ann Hagedorn in the Winter 2015 issue of The American Prospect emphasized the economic costs of government outsourcing of security functions to private business:
Blackwater went into the annals of government contracting as one of the great disgraces of privatization. A staff report prepared for the Oversight Committee found that Blackwater billed the government $1,222 per day per guard, “equivalent to $445,000 per year; over six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier.” Reeling from scandals, Blackwater later reorganized and changed its name to Xe, and then again to Academi, which is now part of a holding company called Constellis.
Hagedon's article appears as part of a special report, "What the Free Market Can't Do." See this and this, for example.

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