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Monday, December 31, 2018

Films of 2018

1988 Academy Awards, view from my balcony seat
Credit: Images Alight on Flickr

As I note every December, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Because I have not yet seen that many new films in the theater, I cannot at this time write a credible post on the best movies of 2018. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them.

Again this year, I missed several of the summer blockbusters as well.

Indeed, many of the best films I saw this past year were movies that I originally missed in the theaters in prior years. I saw a number of late 2017 Oscar-bait films in theaters earlier this year. Again, I'll surely see most of the 2018 Oscar-bait films early in 2019. I tend to discuss those films in my posts about the Oscars.

To make this abbreviated 2018 list (also, to jog my memory), I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2018. I also consulted Metacritic, which my spouse and I use to point us towards good movies all year long.

In rough rank order of my preference, these were the top 2018 films I saw this year, as best as I can recall:

BlackkKlansman **
First Man **
What They Had **
Eighth Grade
The Sisters Brothers **
Isle of Dog
Death of Stalin
Private Life
Chez Nous (This Is Our Land) **

** I saw these films in the theater, mostly in Ottawa at the ByTowne Cinema.

I suspect there are some serious Oscar contenders on this list. Indeed, that's a very good set of movies; I'd recommend essentially all of them (though Chez Nous had some serious weaknesses). Roma is like a real-life look into Mexico City life in the 1970s. BlackkKlansman is perhaps Spike Lee's best film since the early days of his career. First Man was an impressive technical achievement with a riveting story and interesting main character. What They Had, Eighth Grade, and Searching all struck strong emotional chords and were gripping dramas. The satire of The Sisters Brothers, Isle of Dog, Tully, and Death of Stalin made for fine commentary on an array of human predicaments and life in the 21st century (and 20th).

Annihilation is a metaphor for self-destruction. I read it broadly, reflecting long-term human annihilation of the biosphere. The environmentalist in me liked it more than the film fan.

The remainder of my 2018 list consists of genre films -- comedies, action flicks, and science fiction. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom.These were all good films too, but some are flawed:

Deadpool 2
A Quiet Place
Small Town Crime
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Black Panther
Game Night
Hearts Beat Loud
Polka King

I'm not typically a fan of comic book films and mostly avoid/ignore horror. The high rankings of Deadpool 2 and A Quiet Place demonstrate that it is possible to make quality movies in those genres. I was really entertained by Game Night and liked Hearts Beat Loud, so it would be hard to find a dud here. I liked Black Panther, but cannot see why critics place it among their top 10 films of the year.


Science Fair **

This was a fun and entertaining doc and it features some fellow Louisville residents in prominent roles.

Here's the annual list of 2018 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2019):

22 July, American Animals, Anna and the Apocalypse, Ant Man and the Wasp, At Eternity's Gate, Avengers: Infinity War, Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Beautiful Boy, Beirut, Ben is Back, Black '47, Blaze, Blindspotting, Border, Boy Erased, Burning, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Chappaquiddick, Cold War, Colette, Crazy Rich Asians, Dark Money, Destroyer, Disobedience, Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot, Early Man, Far from the Tree, The Favourite, First Reformed, The Front Runner, Golden Exits, Goldstone, Green Book, The Guernsey, The Guilty, Happy as Lazzaro, The Happy Prince, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Hold the Dark, If Beale Street Could Talk, Juliet Naked, Keep the Change, Kindergarten Teacher, Leave No Trace, Love After Love, Mid90s, Minding the Gap, Ocean's 8, Old Man & the Gun, Other Side of the Wind, Outside In, The Party, Private War, Prospect, Ready Player One, The Rider, Shoplifters, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, A Simple Favor, Solo: Star Wars Story, Sorry to Bother You, Stan & Ollie, A Star is Born, Support the Girls, Sweet Country, The Tale, Tea with the Dames,  Thoroughbreds, Thunder Road, Under the Silver Lake, Unsane, Upgrade, Utoya - July 22, Vox Lux, Widows, The Wife, Wildlife, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, You Were Never Really Here, Zama.

Keep in mind that I didn't (yet) get around to seeing many 2017 movies from last year's wishlist:

1922, Alien Covenant, All the Money in the World,  Ballad of Lefty Brown, Beguiled, Berlin Syndrome, Buster's Mal Heart, Call Me By Your Name, Catfight,  Detroit, The Founder, Foxtrot, From Nowhere, Gerald's Game, Girl With All the Gifts, God's Own Country, Happy End, Headshot, The Hero, Hostiles, Hounds of Love, I Daniel Blake, It Comes at Night, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Kong: Skull Island, Land of Mine (Under Sandet), Lost City of Z, Marshall, Moka, Molly's Game, Mother!, Norman, Personal Shopper, Phantom Thread, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, Quiet Passion, Salesman, Sense of Ending, The Square,  Stronger, Super Dark Times, Survivalist, Sweet Virginia, T2 Trainspotting, To the Bone, United Kingdom, Wakefield, Wonder, Wonder Woman, You Were Never Really Here.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Books of 2018

As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I often read a number of books competing for a $100,000 prize exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order."

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (a few of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via my Powell's links). I posted short reviews of most books at Goodreads (migrating from Shelfari years ago). 


War: A Memoir by Marguerite Duras 

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

The Ideas Industry by Dan Drezner

Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols

Atomic Obsession by John Mueller

The North American Idea by Robert Pastor

Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos by Jonah Keri

The Machine by Joe Posnanski

Cooperstown Casebook by Jay Jaffe

Armchair Book of Baseball by John Thorn

Man From the Train by Bill James

Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour Hersh

The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead

I really enjoyed most of these non-fiction books and it was difficult to rank them. Just about everything above the Hersh book is worth your time. I picked up the Duras volume at my mother-in-law's house when we were cleaning it out after she died a couple of years ago and was quite taken with the personal stories by a World War II survivor.

The books by Thaler and  Sunstein, Drezner, and Nichols are all aimed for a wider market, but are written by academics. In one way or another, these scholars discuss the way individuals and/or societies make decisions. I found Nudge fascinating, was occasionally distracted by Drezner's argument, and found too much of Nichols to be anecdotal.

The Mueller and Pastor books were tied to my various research projects this year, though neither was directly on point.

Posnanski's work on the Big Red Machine of the mid-1970s was fun to read, but I learned a lot more from Jaffe and Keri. I'd have put Jaffe higher on the list, but the numerous player evaluation pieces make this more like an encyclopedia to consult occasionally than a book to tackle cover-to-cover. I really enjoyed reading Keri's book about the Expos, which I read while living in Canada.

I've discussed the Bill James book on the blog in the recent past -- and believe he could have benefited from a tighter edit. With Hersh, I didn't know what to believe -- his anonymously referenced pieces or the conventional wisdom. That made the book frustrating to read. I likewise found the Whitehead book to be somewhat disappointing with insufficient discussion of poker.

Finally, I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2018, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. The 2018 book was again edited by Aaron Gleeman and Bret Sayre. Annually, I looking forward to the new edition, likely due in February.


As I traditionally do, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.

1984 by George Orwell

Blindness by Jose Saramago

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Morgan's Passing by Anne Tyler

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene

Kalki by Gore Vidal

Butterfly by James M. Cain

As I have previously explained, I re-read Orwell's classic 1984 with some frequency. This year, I picked it up because I was asked to participate in an event at the Public Library to discuss the importance in the current era. It's still great and I always notice something I previously overlooked.

I saw the film based on Blindness, but enjoyed the book's social commentary a good deal. It's worth your time. The film based on McCarthy's book seemed to stick very close to the original text, though I viewed and read them some years apart (intentionally). Citizen Vince is a quasi-political crime story set during the 1980 presidential election season. It is occasionally funny, and is fairly clever, but it is not as humorous as the Hornby and Tyler books. I hadn't read Anne Tyler in decades, literally, and cannot believe I didn't return to her works earlier. Actually, the Greene book is light and witty too.

All those books are recommended.

Kalki is satirical, but I found it kind of heavy-handed and perhaps overly reliant upon the mood of the 1970s. Cain wrote unsettling noir. It's tought to recommend it, though this story is very short.

And now the much longer list of genre fiction:

In the Woods by Tana French

Winter by Len Deighton

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Pray for a Brave Heart by Helen MacInnes

Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke

Far Side of the Dollar by Ross Macdonald

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

A Little Yellow Dog by Walter Mosley

The Green Ripper by John D. MacDonald

Odds On by Michael Crichton (as John Lange)

Killing Orders by Sara Paretsky

The Handle by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

Why Me? by Donald Westlake

Ceremony by Robert Parker

Comfort to the Enemy by Elmore Leonard

H is for Homicide by Sue Grafton

Bordersnakes by James Crumley

This was not a strong set of genre fiction works. I enjoyed reading French while in Ireland, was captivated by Deighton's historical family saga set mostly in Germany, and found this Stephen King to be a real page-turner (even if it had some serious flaws).

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Paretsky's VI Warshawski, Burke's Dave Robicheaux,  Mosley's Easy Rawlins, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer. All of these were fairly mediocre and forgettable. Indeed, until refreshing my memory with Google, I'd already forgotten the plot of at least half of the books listed above.

A couple of these stories imagine crimes against casinos/resorts (Stark/Lange), but several others similarly involve the main characters trying to penetrate a protected fortress of one kind or another (Crumley, MacInnes). Other stories involve corrupt politics or politicians (Spencer's tale, as well as Robicheaux's), troubled education systems (Spencer again, Archer, and Rawlins) and dubious religious figures (Millhone, McGee, and the detectives in Himes). 

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

November events

As I did for September and October, I'm blogging about my activities in Ottawa tied to my Fulbright research chair. Again, this serves as preparatory work for my final report to the funding agency.

Though I'm not going to detail every meeting, I talked to multiple local academics and regularly attended a security-related brownbag on the Carleton campus. A couple of those meetings with faculty will apparently lead to a future research project and I'll mention it eventually when I have more concrete details. It will tie together some of my past work on narratives and the Iraq war.

I will note a lunch with Dr. Gerry Schmitz, a former policy analyst with the Parliamentary Information and Research Service from 1981-2011. I previously blogged about a couple of important upcoming events on US-Canada relations that Gerry is helping to organize that will include my participation. Gerry is also a professional film critic and has a new book that compiles many of his reviews.  Film is a major common interest, of course.

On November 9, I attended a presentation by one of the deans of Canadian IR, Kim Richard Nossal, "I Mean, What's an Ally? The Trump Cession and Canadian Foreign Policy." Nossal outlined many of the horrible things Trump has said about Canada and Canadians--and discussed the potential implications for US-Canadian relations.

On November 14, I attended a panel at University of Ottawa on "What do the U.S. midterms mean for Trump (and Canada)?" NPSIA colleague Meredith Lilly focused on US-Canada trade issues, which was helpful for my research, and veteran international affairs analyst Michael Kergin offered some interesting relevant ideas as well.

Early in the month, I was interviewed by two Carleton Journalism students who wanted to talk about the upcoming US midterm elections. I correctly forecast that the Dems would win 35 or more new seats and that the Republicans would hold the Senate.

For leisure, early in the month, my spouse and I took our dog to visit the falls on the Rideau river, which is near the French Embassy east of downtown Ottawa.

On November 11 Remembrance Day, we visited the Canadian War Museum. It was too large to go through all the exhibits on one day, so we focused on the World War I exhibitions, including the special one to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the armistice, though I also went through the section on post World War II-Canadian policy.

On November 30, we visited the Diefenbunker Museum in Carp, which is located in the former bunker that was going to host top Canadian government officials during the Cold War in the event of a nuclear attack. There were rooms filled with old computers, communication equipment, and high-level meeting spaces. The Prime Minister's bedroom looked like a 1960s vintage college dorm room -- or summer camp room.

My daughters visited Ottawa for  American Thanksgiving. It was brutally cold, but we did visit the National Gallery (and IKEA).

I also played in a faculty poker game and won a few Canadian dollars.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Climate Politics In Canada

When teaching, I often explain to my students that other western democracies generally don't have debates about the veracity of climate science. Instead, the debates often focus on the cost and appropriateness of particular policy measures.

In Canada, for example, I attended a Fulbright scholar panel recently that revealed this quite clearly. The business lobbyist on the panel, who used to work for conservative PM Steven Harper, favored a form of carbon pricing. That typically means either taxing carbon or creating a cap on carbon levels and auctioning permits.

Today, I was reading a recent magazine article (from an insert in the Toronto Globe and Mail) and found this interesting excerpt in a piece on Canadian oil sands:
Suncor CEO Steve Williams, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the most ardent critics of climate-policy footdragging you'll find anywhere. 
"It is a matter of profound disappointment to me," Williams told a Calgary crowd recently, "that science and economics have taken on some strange political ownership--why the science of the left wing is different than the science of the right wing." You could be forgiven for thinking he was directing his ire at opponents of his industry, but his actual target was the political right and its refusal to give a fair hearing to economists arguing that carbon pricing represents the most efficient way to take action. It was, in essence, an established oil sands CEO dressing down his most vocal boosters--telling them it's time to get with the program on climate change.
The article continues by discussing various efficiency innovations firms have introduced in the production of energy from oil sands:
Oil sands companies have embraced the need to act on climate change not because it might make them look better, but because the risk of not acting has proven to be so great--a fact made clear to the industry almost daily since the name "Keystone XL" first hit the international political radar. Oil sands companies know they have no viable future unless they can find a way to be welcome and profitable in a low-carbon economy. 
The other critical lesson oil sands companies have learned is that there is opportunity in taking action. For many, this has meant obsessive efficiency improvements. By consuming less fossil fuel in the digging and processing of bitumen, they have cut costs and boosted profits, even as they've shrunk the carbon footprint of each barrel of oil. It's mainly a question of competitiveness, but also an opportunity to develop pollution-reducing technologies that may one day be of enormous value in the marketplace. 
Canadians are also talking seriously about uses of those oil sand bitumen that don't involve burning it for energy. An interesting study on that theme was prepared by Alberta Innovates (provincially-funded) and was discussed in an October Corporate Knights article.
The study, known as Bitumen Beyond Combustion, gave a reasonably positive outlook for bitumen-based materials that are expected to see demand growth over the period until 2030, a time when demand for crude oil will grow at a slower rate than it has over the past decade. 
Chief among those materials are carbon fibres derived from bitumen. Carbon fibre is a fast-growing product that is both strong and light. Currently, the industry is growing at a compound annual growth rate of more than 10 per cent. 
Already in use in products like cars, the bitumen study found that future growth would be underpinned on carbon fibres replacing steel, cement and wood – and that bitumen-made carbon fibres could also find a market by being mixed with those materials. 
If carbon fibres took just one per cent of the global steel market by 2030, that would require 3 million barrels of bitumen a day, the study found.
That kind of usage would be significant. In 2017, Canadian oil sands production was about 2.6 million barrels per day. Recent projections suggest 3.8 mbd production by 2025.

The study also discussed asphalt as a major alternative use:
 Another avenue could be asphalt for roads. The market, currently US$50 billion in value globally, is expected to grow 4.1 per cent until 2030, the Bitumen Beyond Combustion report said. 
The oil sands already produce road asphalt for western Canada. The trouble with expanding into new markets is that it needs to be kept very hot for transport, as high as 150 degrees Celsius. But if the process of turning the material into pellets can be made cheaper, oil sands-sourced asphalt would fulfil large demand in China, said Nathan Ashcroft, an engineer with Stantec who worked on the study. 
“That’s something that can be achieved much, much quicker (than carbon fibre),” Ashcroft said. “The infrastructure, the rail cars, are out there, the global pull, the pricing mechanisms – people are building roads all over the world everyday.” 
Getting oil sands-derived asphalt onto international markets in five years is within reach, he said. Markets for carbon fibres mixed with other materials like concrete, which offer an opening for bitumen as a feedstock, will become widespread within the 10- to 20-year timeframe, said engineer Axel Meisen, who also worked on the study.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

NPSIA Presentation

Today at noon, I gave a talk on "America First, Canada, and the Prospects for Multilateralism." The room seats 18-20 comfortably and my spouse counted 24 people in the NPSIA (Norman Paterson School of International Affairs) Boardroom. I talked for about 40 minutes and then we had roughly 45 minutes of Q&A.

The audience was mostly students and faculty at NPSIA, though a Fulbright Canada program officer, a former principal analyst on international affairs on Parliament Hill, and at least three people from Global Affairs Canada were also in attendance.

The audience members peppered me with good questions that will help with the writing as I move forward on my project. I have a paper due in March when I attend a conference on "Canadian-US Relations" at Iowa State.

Steve Saideman of NPSIA tweeted about the event and snapped a couple of pictures:

This was not actually my research question, but we did discuss this:

The faculty and staff at NPSIA were terrific hosts and I have really enjoyed my time in Ottawa. I'm grateful to Fulbright Canada and to the many patient and accommodating academics at both Carleton and University of Ottawa.

If you are an IR scholar with some level of interest in Canada's relations with the U S, then I recommend you think about applying for this Fulbright opportunity in the future.

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Friday, December 07, 2018

October events

A few weeks ago, I posted about what I did in September during my Fulbright stint in Ottawa, Ontario. This post will summarize my October.

On the 2nd, I attended a Workshop at Carleton on North America 2.0. A group of scholars have been meeting to write an update of Bob Pastor's 2012 book on The North American Idea: A Vision of a Continental Future. I attended a couple of panels and learned a good deal about current and potential ties linking the US, Canada, and Mexico. Coincidentally, Pastor's book was one of the few books I brought to Canada, so I read it in preparation for the meeting.

Based on my "America First" chapter in the forthcoming Canada-US Relations book (in the series on Canada Among Nations), I gave a presentation in David Carment's Canadian Foreign Policy class. Incidentally, I have submitted revised page proofs already and the book is slated to be published on February 14, 2019. On October 15, I attended a presentation about the new USMCA by Chris Sands, who with Carment edited that book.

On October 26, I attended a very interesting panel at Carleton on "Small Wars, Big Data."  It was part of the Conference of Defence Associations meeting, held on campus during Carleton's week of fall break. On the 31st, I attended a presentation on "The War on Terror Gone Wrong" at University of Ottawa by former Canadian diplomat Daniel Livermore.

For my research project on US-Canadian relations, I met fairly regularly with some local academics, read various public speeches by middle power Foreign Ministers, and tried to gain a better understanding of Canadian perspectives. I learned interesting lessons about the domestic appeal of modest anti-Americanism, the great dependence of Canada on trade with US, and the intense interest in the American midterm elections. I voted in Kentucky by dropping my absentee ballot at the American embassy.

During part of October, I also worked on a revision and resubmitted for journal publication my manuscript “Grappling with Dr. Strangelove’s Wargasm Fantasy,” based on a paper I delivered at the 2016 ISSS/ISAC conference at Notre Dame. Earlier this week, I learned that the paper will be appearing as a journal article in International Studies Review.

During the fall weather, my spouse and I walked all over downtown Ottawa (often with our dog Paddy) -- visiting Parliament Hill, the Byward Market, Lansdowne (for the Farmer's Market), the Rideau Canal, etc. We also drove over the Ottawa River to Quebec on Canadian Thanksgiving and hiked in the beautiful Gatineau Park.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Multilateralism Project

Monday, I submitted page proofs for a chapter in the forthcoming 2019 volume of  Canada Among Nations, an annual book about Canadian foreign policy to be published by Palgrave. David Carment of Carleton's NPSIA and Chris Sands of Johns Hopkins SAIS are editing the volume, entitled Canada–US Relations; Sovereignty or Shared Institutions?

My chapter (4) focuses on "'America First' and US-Canadian Relations." Though Canada is a primary concern, the paper discusses the threat "America First" poses to multilateralism and the liberal international order. As I've previously noted, President Trump has labeled Canada (and other allies) a threat to U.S. national security in order to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on these states. He also called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "weak and dishonest" and repeatedly threatens to end NAFTA and bring "ruination" to Canada's economy.

My chapter discusses whether Trump's approach to international relations could be viewed as an especially intense version of realism that fails to recognize the potential virtues of multilateralism. Most of the institutions Trump threatens were built during the Cold War with the intent of aligning states with the US versus the Soviet bloc. Trump demonizes China, and at least one chapter in the new volume focuses on this strategy, but the President does not seem to recognize the potential  value of having allies working with the US to counter what he calls unfair and illegal Chinese trade practices. Every relationship is a transaction for Trump, a deal to be won or lost, and America can only win in his view if all other states lose -- even if that means demonizing long-time blue chip allies like Canada and Germany. Each relationship is ultimately bilateral and there is advantage to be taken.

I'm now working on a followup paper for a workshop on US-Canadian relations cohosted by last year's Carleton Fulbright scholar, James McCormick, at Iowa State in March. Former Library of Parliament International Affairs analyst Gerald Schmitz is the other host. I've been invited to submit that paper for consideration in a special issue of Canadian Foreign Policy Journal focusing on “America First”? Meeting the Challenges of the New Nationalism for Canada and the World.”  Schmitz is also helping to organize a one-day round-table in Ottawa on January 25th on "America First" and the International Order. I'm scheduled to partake via Skype.

For that paper and round-table, I'm expanding my work on multilateralism and looking at the proposals various western leaders are floating to save multilateralism in the wake of America First (and other threats), particularly in the areas of free trade and security.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has since mid-year 2017 called for "finding ways for like-minded democracies to act on our values and fight for the multilateral order." Though Freeland has urged the U.S. to join in the fight to save multilateralism, in October Canada hosted a meeting to fix and reform the WTO. The government invited about a dozen major trading states (including the EU as a single entity in that list). However, notably, the US was not invited to this "like-minded" summit "because it doesn’t share the views of the 13 invited countries, the new Canadian trade minister says."

German Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas has been calling for "an alliance of multilateralists" linking states like Japan and Canada. He has openly worried about the U.S. threat to the current order, though he too has invited the U.S. to join with its allies in saving multilateralism.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian similarly calls for a coalition of goodwill powers to address major international problems (including climate change). In his view, "Europe should align itself with countries like India, Australia, Mexico and other “powerful democracies” that share a commitment to multilateralism." Le Drian says the coalition should work with or without the U.S.

I'll stop with that list for now, but will end by noting that newly reelected Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D), who is sometimes mentioned as a 2020 presidential hopeful, was quoted in the Toronto Globe and Mail on November 3 outlining a potential alternative US strategy that would target China in a trade confrontation, but in a way that might fit with the multilateral aspirations of America's long-time allies:
Mr. Brown is trying to thread the needle: He trumpets his support for tariffs – and blasts Mr. Renacci for supporting free-trade deals under previous presidents – but criticizes Mr. Trump’s handling of the trade war. 
“You don’t play off steel workers against farmers, you don’t play off industry against agriculture, and he’s done that,” Mr. Brown said in an interview during a stop at a campaign office in a strip mall in Brunswick, Ohio, south of Cleveland. “You [should] align with our allies – Canada and Western Europe and Japan, maybe – to stop serial cheaters like China. But instead he attacked Chrystia Freeland for what she was doing and your Prime Minister.
That approach could signal a Democratic justification for approving the new USMCA and a broader way forward for the party in 2020 -- a majority of the US population supports multilateralism and free trade (perhaps in polarized response to Trump's America First), but middle class blue collar workers in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are likely still vulnerable to protectionist appeals by politicians.

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

September events

I've been in Ottawa for months and have barely blogged about my experiences. If you follow me on twitter, then you have a good idea of some of the things I've done.

This post will note a few September highlights.

I arrived in Ottawa on Labour Day weekend and stayed for the first 10 days at a hotel near the airport. Or near this intersection:

On the 14th-15th, I attended Fulbright Orientation at the Lord Elgin hotel just a few minutes walk from my rental house.  This is the view of Ottawa from my hotel room. The building that looks like a castle is a prominent hotel and the multicolored building is an Arts Center.

The group toured various local sights, including Parliament. The bottom photo was taken from the Peace Tower.

On September 27, I attended an event at the Macdonald Laurier Institute for Public Policy (a Canadian think tank) focusing on Russia's Challenge to North American and European Security. The main speaker was Tom Nichols of the Naval War College.

During the month, my spouse and I also took a brief road trip to Hartford, CT, to visit our youngest daughter, who is working in a theater there. I submitted a book chapter that is now in page proofs (more on that soon), and I worked on a revise and resubmit manuscript for a journal.

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Monday, November 05, 2018

1895 murders


This website from the town briefly mentions the crimes, which occurred December 30, 1895. In my family tree, I've seen McFadden spelled numerous ways, including McFadzean, McFadyn, etc.

Update: I finished the book and now realize that the murder in my family pre-dates the crimes James studies. Since he identifies a suspect based on an alleged initial murder, then it would not appear that this crime was committed by the same killer. However, the crime is very similar to many of the crimes discussed in the book.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Best Bill Murray Films

Bill James tweeted unfavorably about Caddyshack, which led me to make a list of top Bill Murray films. I agree with him about Caddyshack and question our democracy when I see lists like this one.

That list was made quickly. I would rank all of those films above Caddyshack, but I might not put them in that order. Ghostbusters is perhaps too high. Groundhog Day is a personal all-time fave.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Canadian Thanksgiving

Last weekend was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, creating a Monday holiday. That night, we went to the nearby Lieutenant's Pump pub and had a traditional turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. There was some CFL football showing on one television, but I was more interested in the Dodger-Braves game on another. By the time the U.S. holiday rolls around, baseball is a distant memory.

My spouse and I took advantage of the long weekend by going for a hike in Gatineau Park, across the Ottawa River in Quebec. It is Fall Rhapsody season, so we were competing for tranquility with plenty of other tourists enjoying the seasonal changes. We ended up altering our destination on the fly as access to Pink Lake was limited on Monday. We ended up hiking around the MacKenzie-King estate.

This photo was taken after the hike at the Huron Lookout:

The far side of the river is Ontario, with Ottawa to the left.

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Monday, October 01, 2018

Trump and Canada

Though news reports suggest a new NAFTA deal is imminent, President Trump was tough on Canada again this week:
“We’re very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiating style of Canada – we don’t like their representative very much,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday, in an apparent reference to Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland.
Trump also claimed that he turned down a meeting [in NY at the UN] with Justin Trudeau to discuss the prospects of a deal “because [Trudeau’s] tariffs are too high and he doesn’t seem to want to move – and I told him: ‘Forget about it.’”
Canadian officials were quick to deny that Trudeau ever requested a meeting.
I'm posting this a little after midnight, so it is possible that there will be a new trade deal by the time you have read this piece.

In any event, living in Canada, there are strong signs that the feeling is mutual. This is a very strong sign: On Friday September 28, the Globe & Mail Washington columnist John Ibbitson published a piece in my morning paper entitled, "NAFTA nightmare is quickly becoming reality."

In that column (online version September 27), Ibbitson explained that "a resolute Prime Minister [Trudeau] and Foreign Affairs Minister [Freeland] refuse to be cowed by this bully of a president, this predator, this Mussolini wannabe."

I read those words over breakfast Friday!!

Saturday, my spouse and I strolled through the Byward Market on a sunny afternoon and came upon this photo in a bakery, where they were selling "Obama cookies" and playing a video of Obama's visit on a constant loop. Thus, the picture provides a parsimonious explanation of Trump's policy toward Canada:

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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Well, there's that other thing that I won't even say...

This seems an appropriate moment to listen to Todd Snider's "You Got Away with It."

Incidentally, this blog is now 15 years old. The teen years have been kind of quiet.

Obviously, the blog was most active during the Bush years. George W. is back in the news lately...

If you are interested in my opinions and web activity, you might try following my much more active professional or personal twitter feeds.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Louisville Sluggers: 2018A champions

I periodically blog about  my fantasy baseball teams -- mostly when they win a championship or make it to the World Series.

My Louisville Sluggers recently won the 2018 A season of the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League. The league members play a long half season before the All Star break and a shorter half season afterwards. During the break, we make cuts and redraft teams to keep it interesting. This post will not cover my mid-season keepers or draft.

Here's the winning 28 man roster from 2018A (with retained players from 2017 in red):

C:   LuCroy OAK
1B: Votto     CIN
2B: Merrifield KC
3B: Arenado COL
SS: Russell CHC
OF: Benintendi BOS
OF: Peralta ARI
OF: Almora CHC
DH: Muncy LAD

SP: Greinke ARI
SP: Stripling LAD
SP: Bauer CLE
SP: Skaggs LAA
SP: E Rodriguez BOS
RP: Rondon HOU
RP: Bradley ARI
RP: Trivino OAK
RP: Williams MIL

We used daily transactions this season for the first time, so I had a number of substitutes that contributed during the week. Plus, I had a couple of good players who were injured during the playoffs. This was my bench:

C:   Flowers ATL
1B: Pearce BOS
2B: Wong STL
IF: Blandino CIN
OF: Buxton MIN
OF: Acuna ATL
SP: Archer TB
SP: Duffy KC
SP: Romano CIN
RP: Brault PIT

Pre-season, I had also retained OF Kevin Keirmaier TB, but I traded him as part of a deal for LuCroy and Stripling on June 4.

The team went 142-76-22 in the regular season. Remember, this is a 24 team head-to-head league with 2 points possible per category. We use 10 categories including these 5 for hitting: HR, SBs, batting average, plate appearances, and runs produced ((R+RBI-HR)/at bats). For pitching, we use these 5 categories: innings pitched, wins, saves, ERA and WHIP. For ties, each team gets one points.

For winning percentage, figure the Sluggers went 153-87, or 0.637. Or the equivalent of 77-44 if that makes it easier.

In the first round of the playoffs, my team beat the Loaded Basses, a young and talented team that was 146-80-14 in the regular season, or 153-87. The Basses roster included stars Mookie Betts, Javy Baez, Alex Bregman, Christian Yelich, Yoan Moncada, Juan Soto, and Garrett Cole. The Sluggers and Basses were the 2nd and 3rd seeded teams in the playoffs with identical records.

Sluggers won that matchup 14-6.

In the World Series, the Sluggers beat the top-seeded Tennessee Valley Authority, a very strong pitching-rich team featuring Trea Turner, Justin Upton, Carlos Carrasco, Chris Sale, Luis Severino, and Craig Kimbrel. TVA was 150-76-14 during the regular season, or 157-83 (0.654). 

This was the Sluggers 9th World Series championship in 12 appearances in the final. TVA fell to 6-2 in the Series. The league has now had 55 seasons of history.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Oh Canada

If you've been following the news the past month, you know that Canada hosted the annual G7 meeting and it ended with President Donald Trump bashing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after watching a speech on Air Force One. Trump called Trudeau "dishonest and weak."

Going into the meeting, Trump had already levied new tariffs against Canadian steel and aluminum. In order to justify the use of presidential power to apply the tariffs, Trump had to label Canada a threat to national security.  Remember, the US Constitution gives Congress the power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations."

Canadians were surprised, puzzled, and perhaps even angered by the justification for these tariffs, so the meeting was bound to be somewhat tense. Canadian Foreign Minister Chyrstia Freeland called the tariffs "absurd," "unjustified" and "illegal." Canada has imposed retaliatory tariffs that went into effect on July 1. Items now facing higher import taxes include beer kegs, whisky, orange juice, and various metals. 

Last week, I flew to DC to attend a workshop at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on Canada-US relations. Scholars at Carleton University in Canada annually produce a volume for a series called "Canada Among Nations."  The theme for the newest volume is Canada-US relations and I've been asked to contribute a chapter. Many Canadian scholars were there, including a number of faculty from Carleton, and a few other Americans.

My presentation was on the morning's initial panel: "'America First' and US-Canadian Relations." As you might suspect given my past research and writing on Trump's foreign policies, I argue that the Trump agenda is a threat to multilateralism, alliances (including NATO), and the liberal world order. Canada values all of those institutions, as has the US most of the time since World War II.

Indeed, last September, I proposed this precise research topic for a Fulbright position in Canada...and I got it! This fall, I will be Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Canada-US Relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

May travel

In late May, I attended an academic workshop on "Non-Nuclear Peace" at University of Antwerp in Belgium. My paper was well-received and I look forward to the volume that emerges. More on that later.

My spouse and I visited Dublin the weekend prior to the workshop and then remained in Antwerp for the long Memorial  Day weekend afterwards.

In Dublin, we visited a park near one of Oscar Wilde's homes. It has an interesting and unusual statue of the writer. Some of the public art in Dublin more solemnly acknowledges the history of famine in the country:

We also visited the Kilmainham Gaol (across the street from our Hilton) and took in some other nearby local culture:

Peter Paul Rubens is the most famous artist from Antwerp. We visited his former home, which is now a museum hosting a collection of his art. The statue is nearby, but outdoors:

Belgium, of course, is also known for its beers. The Bier Central bar across the street from the hotel near the train station featured this 120 page catalog of beers on offer. I think all were local. The Hopus was actually my final beer at the Brussels airport. Each beer seemed to have its own glass:

Incidentally, prior to traveling to Dublin, we attended my youngest daughter's college graduation, which was held in Yankee Stadium.

Do you recognize the featured speaker?

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Saturday, April 28, 2018


Last night, my wife and I went to the Mavericks show at the Iroquois Amphitheater. The 9-piece band sounded terrific and it was a beautiful night for outdoor music. The band included not only standard guitarist, drummers, and keyboard musicians, but also men who played the accordion, sax, upright bass, and two trumpets. Two!

Singer Raul Malo is very talented. Back in the day, he could have replaced the lead singer of virtually any given Americana or alt-country band -- and improved their sound.

Strangely, despite these strengths, the entire top section of the venue was nearly empty. This could have been because Louisville is a week out from the Kentucky Derby and there are many competing events all over town.  Yet, I suspect the Maverick's history and set list played a part.

The band was at its peak in the 1990s, so their fans are starting to age out of concerts. The crowd was definitely old for a rock show and few people were singing along with the songs -- very different from how the crowd behaved at the Old Crow Medicine Show performance we attended last year in the same venue. Granted, OCMS was performing Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, but the crowd knew the band's songs too when they eventually played some hits.

Trampoline, which may be the Maverick's best recording, was released 20 years ago. Within a few years of that recording, the band took a hiatus for about 7 years. Raul Malo had a solo career and sang as part of Los Super Seven. Oh, yes, I have their fantastic Heard it on the X CD -- but all these facts likely made it tough for the Mavericks to sustain a fan base.

The band's set list was kind of strange as well. They apparently had some top 40 (country) hits back in their heyday, but I'm not sure they had a specific single that everyone knows and associates with the band. I recognized most of the songs last night, but I have three of their CDs and am a fan.

The crowd did know (and sing along with) the handful of covers the Mavericks played -- including songs written or made famous by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, the BeeGees and the Drifters. See this, this, this, this, and this. These songs tended to highlight Malo's voice and some were played acoustically with minimal backing from the rest of the band.

Prior to the show, I talked to a number of people who were unfamiliar with the Maverick's music, so I started thinking about how to describe their eclectic sound. I finally ended up with Roy Orbison meets the Buena Vista Social Club. Los Lobos might have sounded like the Mavericks if they had been from Miami instead of LA.

So, about those empty seats: What a Crying Shame! 

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

University of Kansas basketball fans (me included, of course) are excited that this year's team has made the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. For KU, this is a familiar spot. Per Wikipedia, Kansas has previously participated in the Final Four in these years: 1940, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1971, 1974, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2008, and 2012. I started watching Kansas basketball around 1970, which means they've made the Final Four about once every five years during my lifetime as a fan. None of those appearances occured during my four years at Kansas, 1979-1983.

Kansas won the NCAA tournament in 1952, 1988, and 2008, but the school also claims two "mythical" championships from the era prior to the NCAA tournament: 1922 and 1923 (the "Helms championship"). Since the Jayhawk is a mythical bird, rest assured that many other schools count mythical championships awarded by the Helms Athletic Foundation, including Purdue and Stanford.

Meanwhile, University of Kansas students also have a strong history participating in the intercollegiate National Debate Tournament (NDT). Indeed, late Monday March26, the team of seniors Quaram Robinson and Will Katz won the 2018 national championship. This was the sixth time a team from Kansas had achieved this feat, having previously won the NDT in 1954, 1970, 1976, 1983, and 2009. Yes, I was on campus for the 1983 title.

Here's a picture of the latest winners:

Congratulations to these students!! I attended the 2017 NDT in Kansas City last year and met both of them during a reunion hosted by KU. Their accomplishment is truly impressive and undoubtedly reflects a tremendous amount of hard work. Congrats also to coach Scott Harris!

Incidentally, this was the 16th time a Kansas team had been in the Final Four of the NDT: 1948, 1954, 1959, 1970 (2 teams*), 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1994, 1999, 2009, 2016, and 2018. The NDT allowed 2 teams per school for many years. It now allows three.

So, it appears 1971 was the only other year Kansas had teams in the Final Four of both basketball and debate. It's a rarity that should be celebrated. More on 1971 below.

Even more rare would be a double victory. The NDT has been won 15 times by Northwestern, 7 times by Harvard, and 6 times by Dartmouth. Neither Northwestern nor Harvard has ever appeared in the NCAA Final Four. Dartmouth did twice, in 1942 and 1944, but lost in the championship game both times. Those appearances occurred before the NDT existed.

Thus, my quick perusal of the list of past winners of these tournaments yields these findings:

In 1962, Ohio State won the NDT, but lost the NCAA tournament championship game.
In 1989, Michigan won the NCAA tournament, but finished 2nd at the NDT.
In 2000, Michigan State won the NCAA tournament, but finished 2nd at the NDT.

Based on my quick perusal, it appears UCLA in 1971 is the only school to win both tournaments in the same year.

Kansas has an opportunity to duplicate that feat this weekend. Rock Chalk!

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Snow day

The region was socked with about 7 inches of snow last night. The public schools and University of Louisville were both closed. This morning, I tweeted this photo of our back deck -- look at the depth of the snow piled on the railing:

This afternoon, I tweeted a picture of Jim Patterson Stadium as it never is on March 21:

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Monday, March 12, 2018


In December 2016, our dog Robey (nickname for Darrowby), was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The veterinarian noted that he was in good spirits and fairly good health, but that the prognosis was likely 6 to 18 months of remaining life. Given his age and the nature of the disease, surgery or other potential treatments did not seem like good options.

It's been 15 months since that initial diagnosis and Robey's health has definitely declined. He's much thinner now -- partly a result of the flu bug he and his sister Paddy contracted last summer at the kennel. There was a particularly horrible day in the first week of their quarantine when I feared he would not survive the flu. However, an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital provided an infusion of fluids and drugs that helped him turn the corner and recover much of his strength. His sister recovered much more quickly from the illness and is now far more energetic and healthy.

For the last few months, we've battled his occasional mild incontinence with a male doggie wrap lined with baby diapers. His mood has been good and I think he really enjoyed recent visits from our two daughters.

Sadly, the last two weeks, Robey has shown much less enthusiasm for his daily walk. About 10 to 12 days ago, he walked very slowly several steps behind me as his sister Paddy charged ahead as she almost always does. He has repeated that lethargic behavior on several other walks since then. Yesterday, my wife cut the walk short for him and I took his sister for a longer stroll around the neighborhood. He was walking so slowly that we caught up before they made it back home.

Robey has also stopped eating regularly -- effectively skipping breakfast on most mornings the last week or so and sometimes barely touching dinner. Twice in the last few days we have served him canned dog food at night, which he really enjoys and he has quickly consumed it mixed with the typical dry food. The past few days, however, he has had trouble keeping any food he consumes down. This morning, he vomited his medicines and it was obvious that last night's dinner had not been digested.

Twice over the weekend, he remained indoors behind the dog door when I parked the car in the garage in the alley and entered the backyard from there. Paddy was outside at the garage door to greet me, as she always is, but her brother clearly decided to continue resting indoors on the floor 75 feet away.

In sum, Robey is ticking all the boxes for a dog near the end of his life. He has been a great dog and we're going to miss him very much when he's gone. This is a photo from this morning -- after a freak March snow shower in Louisville last night:

Update: Robey stopped going on walks and stopped eating. RIP old friend.
~ July 4, 2005 to March 16, 2018.

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