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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Dundee Events

I've just returned from my month in the UK, most of it spent in Scotland at University of Dundee. I had 25 nights in Dundee -- 17 initially, then a conference in London (3 nights) and a short personal trip (2 nights in Brighton and 1 in Edinburgh), followed by 8 additional nights in Dundee.

On June 6, just about a week after I delivered my Masterclass on "Re-imagining World Order in the Age of Trump," Kurt Mills hosted a workshop on "America First, International Law, and the Human Rights Regime." I gave a truncated version of my research on America First and Multilateralism:

From June 12-14, I was in London for the British International Studies Association Annual Meeting. I'll write a separate post about my presentation ("An Alliance for Multilateralists: Foolish Fantasy or Practical Necessity?") and my intellectual experiences attending panels and talking to UK IR scholars. Oh, I also plan to post another entry about some of the tourism I managed to enjoy in Scotland and London.

On June 24, I gave a talk on "America First and the Human Rights Regime" at the third annual Institute for Social Sciences Research Forum, held at Discovery Point in Dundee:
The trip was terrific intellectually and Kurt Mills and I are preparing a manuscript for a conference and then submission to a peer-reviewed journal.


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Thursday, May 30, 2019

"Masterclass"

I gave a two hour "masterclass" at University of Dundee today. My host Kurt Mills tweeted about it and the Institute for Social Science Research commented:

I also added this comment in response to Kurt's tweet:





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Friday, May 03, 2019

Satire versus Political Polarization


In late February, I joined two of my Political Science colleagues (Jason Gainous and Jasmine Farrier) to speak at the annual "REDTalks Forum." This year the REDTalks focused on political polarization and I spoke about "U.S. Foreign Policy and Political Partisanship."

I've long been keeping an eye out for interesting stories and poll results about partisanship -- and how to address it. Over the years, I've frequently retweeted or bookmarked some of those findings.

In the current political atmosphere, Americans have partisan opinions about almost everything -- it's not just values-laden questions like gun control or abortion. Opinion about climate change science and policy is highly partisan. The links in the last paragraph point to partisan results from surveys about public opinion on trade and NATO, which reflect an interesting result noted in the literature. People follow cues from elites and take partisan stands, especially AGAINST the views of leaders and people from the other major political party. Democratic party member support for free trade and NATO has increased, in part, because President Donald Trump has attacked free trade and NATO.

This works both ways. David Frum notes a couple of weird Republican changes in the age of Trump:
The share of Republicans with a positive opinion of the FBI tumbled from 65 percent in early 2017 to 49 percent this past July. In the past three years, Vladimir Putin’s approval rating among Republicans has almost tripled, to 32 percent.
When Trump started criticizing the NFL for tolerating kneeling during the national anthem, Republicans started telling pollsters they did not like the NFL. At the time, I asked my students what they thought would happen in the south if a bunch of Southeast Conference (SEC) football players at schools like Alabama, Florida, and Georgia started kneeling during the national anthem -- especially if Trump continued to criticize the behavior.

Speculation aside, I'm writing today about something that ties my "comedy project" to political partisanship. The following paragraphs originally appeared in an Atlantic Monthly article by Pulitizer Prize winning NYT reporter Charles Duhigg. He noted in the January/February issue that some scholars in Israel conducted an interesting experiment:
A group of Israeli social scientists wanted to conduct an experiment disguised as an advertising campaign. The ads would run in a small, conservative Tel Aviv suburb, where many people were religious and supported right-wing politicians. The goal was to persuade the residents to abandon their anger toward Palestinians and agree that Israel should freeze construction of Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, among other concessions. 
The suburb they were hoping to convert, Giv’at Shmuel, was known for being strenuously opposed to anything associated with peaceniks, liberals, or anyone who said anything good about peaceniks or liberals. 
The scholars rejected standard suggestions to try to promote tolerance in the community. Instead, they decided to use a satirical campaign playing up the community's anger and outrage:
the researchers came up with a clever idea. Don’t tell everyone in Giv’at Shmuel that they’re wrong. Tell them that they’re right: A perpetual war with Israel’s neighbors made a lot of sense. If anything, the people of Giv’at Shmuel ought to be angrier. 
With the help of an advertising agency, the social scientists created online ads celebrating the tension between Israelis and Palestinians, and extolling the virtues of fighting for fighting’s sake. One ad showed iconic photos of Israeli war heroes and proclaimed, “Without [war] we wouldn’t have had heroes. For the heroes, we probably need the conflict.” The ad was scored with Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.” Another ad featured footage of a soldier with a machine gun petting a kitten and an infantryman helping an old man cross the street. “What a Wonderful World” played in the background. Its tagline read, “Without [war] we would never be moral. For morality, we probably need the conflict.” The ads, along with brochures and billboards, began appearing in Giv’at Shmuel in 2015. Over a six-week period, according to polling, nearly all of its 25,000 residents saw them.
The results were impressive:
when the researchers conducted polls in the suburb at the end of the advertising campaign, the residents who had held the most extreme views at the outset of the experiment appeared to have softened. The percentage of right-leaning residents who said that Arabs were solely responsible for Israel’s past wars decreased by 23 percent. The number of conservatives who said Israel should be more aggressive toward Palestinians fell by 17 percent. Incredibly, even though the advertisements never mentioned settlements, 78 percent more people said that Israel should consider freezing construction in the West Bank and Gaza. (Residents in nearby towns who hadn’t seen the ads were surveyed as a control; they showed no such evolution in their views over the same period.) 
A year after the ads had ceased, by which time some residents had trouble recalling the specifics of the campaign, polls still showed greater tolerance. The campaign wasn’t a panacea, but it is among the most successful conflict interventions in contemporary social science.
The researchers believe the results worked because the satirical ads went to "embarrassing, offensive extremes." 
“No one wants to think of themselves as some angry crank,” one of the researchers, Eran Halperin, told me. “No one wants to be lumped in with extremists or the angriest fringe.” Sometimes, however, we don’t realize we’ve become extremists until someone makes it painfully obvious.
Duhigg conjectures that Donald Trump's political rhetoric -- particularly at his partisan rallies -- is "so extreme" that it offers similar "essentially absurdist provocations."

The hope is that Trump rally attendees will be shocked by the President's words.

Call me skeptical. 

My guess is that context matters. Political ads are public, even if targeted at particular geographic areas, and can be ridiculed publicly within the area. Trump's partisan rallies are closed events in front of his greatest admirers. They might be televised, but the broadcast audience is much more diverse -- and Trump's long speeches have so much content that it would be difficult to separate the mundane partisan words from the truly CRAZY. 

Again, Duhigg might be right that audience members would know, but I'm very skeptical. 

Political opponents, however, might achieve a big payoff by running "pro-Trump" ads that selectively feature some of his most outlandish claims. Don't run them on comedy websites and don't criticize the words as an opponent would. Run them as genuine over-the-top ads. 

That might work to deflate Trump. 


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Monday, April 29, 2019

RIP: Frank Cross

Sadly, Professor Frank B. Cross of the University of Texas Law and Business Schools has died. Frank was a national debate champion at the University of Kansas (1976), Harvard Law School graduate, former practicing attorney, and long-time professor and scholar in Austin. I will link (here) to his obituary when it is published online. My friend, former KU debater Steve Griffin has posted a short blog entry about Frank's academic contributions -- and briefly notes his long battle with a terrible disease.

Honestly, I didn’t really know Frank all that well, but he was incredibly influential in my life and I am very grateful for the inspiration he provided. Obviously, I should have shared this appreciation with him long before he died.

Frank's influence on my life began when I was a senior in high school. I had debated one semester at El Dorado (KS) High School during my sophomore year -- Kansas high schools only had debate for one semester in those days. Then, I debated my junior year at Charles Page High School in Sand Springs (OK). My father's job had taken us to the Tulsa area and debate allowed me quickly to find a new group of good friends in high school. As it turns out, both El Dorado and Sand Springs were pretty good high school debate programs with young energetic coaches.

Some of my friends at Sand Springs were especially serious about debate. My colleague, for example, was attending the Northwestern University debate institute after our junior year. I wanted to be successful and I'm a competitive guy, so I ended up attending KU debate camp. I had long been a Kansas basketball and football fan and the trip also served as an on-site visit to my preferred college. It made for a reasonable sell to my parents.This would have been summer 1978.

Camp was fun and I really liked the KU campus. I learned a lot, started thinking about debating in college, and met Steve Griffin, who provided some encouragement to me. Most KU debaters, he noted, were former Kansas high school products. Steve had gone to Lawrence High School and would make the semi-finals of the NDT in 1979. That's the Final Four in basketball vernacular.

After the camp, I put my hands on a copy of the Journal of the American Forensics Association article featuring the final national championship debate between the University of Kansas and Georgetown University. That winning Kansas team was comprised of Robert (Robin) Rowland and Frank Cross. They were juniors at the time and followed up their championship with a very successful senior year that ended with a loss in the semi-finals of the National Debate Tournament. Frank and Robin are now members of the University of Kansas debate Hall of Fame. 

For weeks (and months) afterwards, I sometimes practiced reading aloud Frank's second negative constructive speech to figure out if I had the verbal "speed" to debate in college at a nationally-competitive program like Kansas. I also mined Frank's references from the "Malthus was right" argument he made in that debate. His bibliography allowed me to assemble (and understand the complexity of) the argument he was making (against a food aid case) – even though I figured it would not be something I could use in Oklahoma high school debate at the time.

Next, Frank's success as a KU debater shaped who I became as a college debater. As a freshman in Lawrence I took a required debate theory and argumentation class from Robin Rowland, who openly admitted that much of what he knew about developing disadvantages to affirmative plans was learned from years and years and years of debating with Frank Cross. Rowland and Cross were both products of Lawrence High School and had debated together through four years of college. They were friends for decades. Essentially, I learned a tremendous amount of debate skill from Robin, but he had learned a good deal about making attacks on affirmative plans from Frank. Robin also repeatedly emphasized the importance of research and often credited Frank on that front as well.

My ultimate identity as a college debater was largely based on my researching disadvantages to various affirmative plans.

Later, Frank's post-graduate education and career decisions also greatly influenced my life.

From around age 5, I had wanted to be a lawyer. When I discovered that Frank had gone to Harvard Law School after attending KU, I figured that was a viable pathway for me – maybe not Harvard Law specifically, but some excellent (if not elite) law school. It would be wrong to say that it made Kansas a viable choice, because I long intended to attend KU. But it made the pathway thinkable -- Kansas, college debate, good law school, etc.

During my years as a college debater (and then two years as a coach), Frank’s decision to leave private legal practice (and Steve Griffin's parallel decision, I would note) for a career in academia, made me rethink why I thought I wanted to be a lawyer.  Why were these bright guys abandoning the career I thought I wanted -- in favor of academia? In the end, that pathway made sense for me too.

Finally, while I was working on my dissertation in late June 1989, Frank generously allowed me to stay with him in his home while I conducted archival research at the LBJ presidential library in Austin. I remember some wide-ranging conversations with him about politics, academia, law, etc. Most clearly, however, I recall our discussions of how best to assemble a team in fantasy baseball. We were watching the NBA draft on TV and I had discovered his library of  Bill James abstracts in his guest room. Frank could be a very serious scholar and thinker, but he also enjoyed having a drink with friends, talking about sports, and speculating about politics.

In the end, I very much appreciate all of those things too.

RIP, Frank B. Cross.



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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Scotland!


I've been waiting to receive authorization to share some news. This morning, my twitter feed finally provided the signal:

After those tweets appeared, I posted one that I had been holding in reserve:

This pdf has bios of the 5 Global Scholars for 2019.

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Thursday, April 04, 2019

Google Trends: Zombie Edition

I'm giving a couple of talks next week at Wofford College. One of them will be about my 2017 article "Laughing off a Zombie Apocalypse: The Value of Comedic and Satirical Narratives." Preparing for the talk, I became curious as to the continued popularity of zombies. Scholars who study popular culture have to be on the alert for changes that might leave them studying an unpopular phenomenon.

I know "The Walking Dead" (which started in 2010) is still on television, though I have not watched it in several years. Likewise, AMC has a spinoff series called "Fear the Walking Dead" and other zombie-themed shows are still on TV: "iZombie" (I have viewed season 1 and part of 2) and "Santa Clarita Diet." Today, I discovered that the long-promised sequel to "Zombieland" is set for release this October.

This would seem to indicate that the undead are not yet dead in popular culture.

For less anecdotal evidence, I turned to Google Trends. In case you are not familar with that phrase, it is a Google application that measures "Interest over time" in particular search terms. Consider this chart of searches for "zombie" since April 4, 2007 (12 years ago today):


Google says that "Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term."

This means that the peak time for popular interest in zombies was June 2012. There's been a steady decline, which seems worrisome.

For relative interest, I added the search term "Barack Obama"and the results were somewhat startling.


So, basically, people have for many years searched more frequently for information about zombies than they have for the President of the US through eight of those twelve years. Obama's rise to fame early in this period is the only real exception. Did people in the US take him for granted?

I added the search terms "Tom Brady" and "Beyoncé" to get a feel for relative differences with a prominent athlete and pop singer. The results are perhaps not surprising, at least to me:


Beyoncé is generally the most popular through this time, but Tom Brady and zombie occasionally emerge. Again, Obama was very popular when he burst on the presidential politics scene.

Then, I wondered how would this chart look if I added "Donald Trump"?


Trump's peak when he emerged as a presidential candidate set incredible new heights of popular attention. And since that date, Trump has maintained his lead over the other terms by a decent margin.

I played around with assorted celebrities, products, and ideas and discovered that Trump's peak isn't necessarily so impressive when considered against various non-political terms. For example, consider amazon, sex, and iPhone:


Through much of the period, zombie and Trump are neck-and-neck. Neither of those search terms are ever as popular as amazon, sex, or iPhone through this twelve year period.  It's not close.

Not all of that is good news.


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Friday, March 22, 2019

NCAA Tournament

I am very pleased the Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team won its opening round NCAA tournament game by 34 points yesterday, against a Northeastern team that some experts touted as a sleeper pick for the second weekend. Northeastern attempted a lot of 3-point baskets, but did not make them at an efficient rate. When Kansas has lost this year, often by double digits, it has frequently been because of hot early game 3-point shooting by their opponents.

Indeed, because of the troubles Kansas has faced this season, I have picked the team to lose Saturday to Auburn. Obviously, I would be pleased to be wrong about that prediction.

Though Auburn had a very close game against New Mexico State, note that Kansas also had a difficult game against the same team back in December.

That December game was played in KC at the Sprint Center, which is technically a neutral court, but the crowd obviously and overwhelmingly favored Kansas in that venue. At the time, Udoka Azubuike, the 7'1" Kansas center, was sitting out his first game of the season with a relatively minor sprained ankle. He would soon return and play in two additional games before going down for the season with a much more serious injury -- a torn ligament in his hand. Azubuike last played in a victory over Oklahoma on January 2. At the time, Kansas was 12-1 and ranked 5th in the country.

In that December game versus New Mexico State, sharp-shooting senior guard Lagerald Vick, who eventually left the team, was being punished by coach Bill Self for a "really bad Thursday" (the date of the previous practice) and missed his second consecutive start. Vick ultimately left the team under mysterious circumstances after the February 5 loss to rival Kansas State. In the 10 games after Azubuike was lost for the season but before Vick left the team, Kansas was only 5-5. All of the losses occurred on the road and three were against NCAA tournament teams, but the squad did not look like an elite team. Rather than provide poise and leadership, Vick often made costly turnovers and attempted dubious shots, which likely frustrated the coach a great deal.

Since Vick's departure, Kansas has gone 9-3 starting four talented Freshmen. The three losses were to NCAA tournament teams, two on the road and one in KC during the Big 12 tournament final.

Aside from some dark clouds that continue to linger on the horizon, the near future would appear to be bright for Kansas basketball. No active Kansas player participated in senior day and most scouts say the team does not have any likely first round 2019 NBA draft picks. Some services say that Azubuike and second team all-American Dedrick Lawson might be late second round picks should they decide to declare early for the NBA draft. If all the freshmen return, the team will have the experience and talent sufficient to have a very good season next year.

My 2019 NCAA bracket has Duke beating Kentucky in the final, with Texas Tech and Virginia as the other teams in the Final Four. When I filled out the form, I didn't really consider the injury to Kentucky's best player, which likely would have caused me to pick UNC from the Midwest region.


I'm in a couple of local pools (scored by ESPN, CBS) that do not align perfectly with these choices. But they are close. In one of those pools, I picked Saint Mary's over Villanova, for example.

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

America First Project Update

Last week, I traveled to Iowa State University in Ames to attend a conference on "Canadian-American Relations in the Era of Nationalism and Populism." I reconnected with many of the colleagues I met at Carleton last fall and had a good time at the meeting. It was interesting and informative.

The conference organizers, Professor Jim McCormick of Iowa State, together with independent scholar Dr. Gerry Schmitz, intend to produce a special issue of Canadian Foreign Policy Journal. Jim held the same Fulbright research chair at Carleton as I did, but during fall 2017. Gerry has his hand in many interesting projects, including an annual international film festival and a film blog. He used to work as a film critic and as Principal Analyst for the Parliamentary Information and Research Service.

A draft of my paper on "Canada, the Multilateral Order, and the America First Agenda" can be found here.  Comments would be welcome as our submission target is mid-May.

I tweeted a picture of the last panel at the end of the conference:
Fellow attendee Frédérick Gagnon from University of Quebec tweeted several pictures as well, including a photo of the opening keynote speaker Colin Robertson:

Soon, I will discuss additional news about my America First project, including a related paper accepted for delivery at the British International Studies Association Annual Meeting in London in mid-June and a new collaboration on "America First, Multilateralism, and the Human Rights Regime."

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Best Films of 2018

Metacritic makes an annual list of the top films of the previous years based on top-10 lists produced by various film critics. This is an aggregation based on lists produced by 334 critics:
FILMS MENTIONED ON MOST CRITIC TOP 10 LISTS - 2018
Movie and Metascore# 1st Place# 2nd Place# OtherPoints
196 Roma653377.5341.5
285 First Reformed2215101199.5
390 The Favourite131589.5161
490 Burning131069.5130.5
590 Eighth Grade13870129
687 If Beale Street Could Talk81076.5123.5
788 Black Panther6673107.5
887 Hereditary7768103.5
983 BlacKkKlansman3482.5100.5
1093 Shoplifters8855.596.5
1188 Leave No Trace4106195
79 Annihilation71345.595
1384 You Were Never Really Here5664.592.5
1487 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse5105492
1592 The Rider7657.591.5
1688 A Star Is Born7949.589
1780 Sorry to Bother You4454.576.5
1890 Cold War5348.571
1984 Widows325470
2088 Paddington 2643865
2179 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs3345.561.5
2287 Can You Ever Forgive Me?174160
2389 Zama7429.559
2486 Mission: Impossible – Fallout2148.558
2581 Mandy5235.556
2677 Blindspotting6330.555
2785 Support the Girls1439.552
2893 Minding the Gap183151
84 First Man124251
3078 The Other Side of the Wind632650.5
I've now seen 20 of the 30 listed films. My rankings would be (roughly):

Tier I Outstanding: top award choices

Roma
BlackKKlansman
First Reformed

Tier 2 Very good: strong consideration for awards

The Favourite
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Rider
Eighth Grade
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Cold War
First Man

Tier 3 Well above average, but flawed in some way

Leave No Trace
Annihilation
Blindspotting
You Were Never Really Here
A Star is Born
Sorry to Bother You
Support the Girls
Widows
Black Panther
Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Minding the Gap
MI Fallout
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


This list is not very precise as most of these films are truly very good and worth viewing. Everything through First Man reflects top-notch film-making. Those listed afterwards are also good, but most have one or more flaws that made them less interesting to me.

Tier 4 Skip it

The Other Side of the Wind 

Orson Welles's final film was not very good and perhaps should not have been released after all. A lot of the acting was terrible and I wanted it to end long before it finally did. There were some beautiful shots from the film-within-a-film, but mostly I kept thinking about how much I liked Chinatown. John Huston's presence brought that to mind. 

I'll update this list with highlighted additions after this post first appears.

Of the 10 films I've missed as of the original post, it's unlikely I'll see Paddington 2.

These are the others in alphabetical order. I'll move them up as I see them:

Burning
Hereditary
Mandy
Shoplifters
Zama

Regular readers will note that I've dropped First Man a bit since my end-of-year ratings. On any given day, I might feel slightly differently about film rankings within the different tiers. A lot of the films my spouse and I have seen in early 2019 have superior acting performances with great storytelling. 2018 was a good year for film.

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