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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Films of 2019

As I note every December, I watch a good number of movies every year, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix or Amazon Prime. This year, my spouse and I attended two film festivals and so I managed to see half a dozen films in a theater-like setting -- even if that meant most were shown in a middle school auditorium in a vacation spot.

Because I have not yet seen that many newly released films in the theater, I cannot at this time write a credible post on the best movies of 2019. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them. I tend to discuss those films in a post about Metacritic's best movies of the year, or in my annual entry about the Oscars.

Again this year, I missed several of the summer hits 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 2018 Oscar-bait films earlier this year.

To make this abbreviated 2019 list (also, to jog my memory), I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2019. 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 2019 films I saw this year, as best as I can recall:

Little Women *
Saint Frances **
Knives Out! *
Gloria Bell
High Life
The Souvenir
Etruscan Smile **
Dolemite is My  Name
Hummingbird Project

* I saw these films in a theater.
** I saw these films at the Traverse City Film Festival

I saw Little Women in a small theater in Long Island over the Christmas break. It's a very well made movie, though I have not yet decided if I liked the time jumps as compared to the traditional linear telling of the story. The casting of Emma Watson as the oldest sister seemed problematic to me -- despite her age, she seemed too young to be a wife and mother. Saoirse Ronan is outstanding as Jo, so perhaps Watson was merely outclassed as an actor in this film. Filmmaker Greta Gerwig definitely knows what she is doing and I would not be surprised to see her nominated for an Oscar or two (for directing or writing the adapted screenplay).

When we saw Saint Frances at the Traverse City Film Festival, the director and writer/star were interviewed afterwards. One of them said that the film had found a commercial distributor, but the film may be ticketed for a 2020 release. Watch for it if you have not had a chance to catch it.

I suspect there are some other serious Oscar contenders on this list as most feature high quality acting. Indeed, that's a very good set of movies; I'd recommend essentially all of them, although the Hummingbird Project had some script deficiencies. I found The Souvenir kind of frustrating in an artsy sort of way, though I suppose it was unique and memorable.

Knives Out! (a mystery) or Transit (a thriller) may become a future fixture on my Global Politics Through Film syllabus as both have an interesting immigration theme. I liked both more than Us (horror), which is on the next list and arguably has a similar political message. All make pointed political commentary through unusual genre choices.

The remainder of my 2019 list consists of genre films -- comedies, action flicks, musicals, 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. All offered some entertainment, but most near the very bottom are flawed in some fairly important ways:

Brittany Runs a Marathon
Yesterday ***
Blinded by the Light
Captain Marvel
Always Be My Maybe
Late Night
Extra Ordinary **
Long Shot
See You Yesterday
Troop Zero **

** I saw these films at the Traverse City Film Festival
*** I saw this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

I'm not typically a fan of comic book films and mostly avoid/ignore horror flicks and musicals. Captain Marvel is one of the better Marvel movies, partly because it seems more like a human story and it does not take itself too seriously. Us provides some interesting social commentary about immigration and Extra Ordinary is a humorous take on the horror genre. It's not Ghostbusters, but the main characters are interesting and worth getting to know for 90 minutes.

If you like the music of the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, or Elton John, you probably already saw Yesterday, Blinded by the Light, and/or Rocketman. I inserted them based primarily on my preferences towards the artist subjects.

Booksmart received much acclaim this year, but it didn't grab me. I think I'm aging out of the teen sex comedy even if this one had some new twists. I thought Brittany Runs a Marathon was a far superior film and I was more entertained by the rom-com Always Be My Maybe.


Framing John Delorean **
Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story
Amazing Grace

** I saw this film at the Traverse City Film Festival

All of these are very good and fiddle with the documentary genre. Alex Baldwin plays the title character in various scenes of Framing John Delorean. While some of his lines are based on footage from secret FBI video, other moments are clearly imagined by the filmmakers. Perhaps it should be placed above in the list of narrative films.

If you like the music of Bob Dylan or Aretha Franklin, it would be hard to top these listed documentary choices. Both focus on the performers in a particular moment, decades ago.

Here's the annual list of 2019 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2020):

1917, Ad Astra, Aeronauts, All is Well, American Factory, American Woman, Apollo 11, Arctic, Art of Self-Defense, Ash is Purest White, Avengers: Endgame, Bacurau, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Biggest Little Farm, Black Mother, Blaze, Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Breaker Upperers, Burning Cane, Chambermaid, Clemency, Day Shall Come, Diane, Echo in the Canyon, End of the Century, Egg, El Camino: Breaking Bad Movie, The Farewell, Fighting with my Family, Firecrackers, For Sama, Ford v Ferrari, Fyre, Girl,  Good Boys, Grass, Ground Beneath my Feet, Her Smell, High Flying Bird, Hotel Mumbai, Hustlers, I am Mother, In Fabric, In My Room, The Irishman, Judy, Knock Down the House, Last Black Man in San Francisco, Let the Sunshine In, Light from Light, Light of My Life, Little Woods, Luce, Maiden, Marriage Story, Mickey and the Bear, Midsommar, Mike Wallace is Here, Monos, Motherless Brooklyn, The Mustang, Native Son, Never Grow Old, Never Look Away,  Non-Fiction, Official Secrets, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, One Cut of the Dead, Pain & Glory, Parasite, Peanut Butter Falcon, Peterloo, Photograph, Plagiarists, Plus One, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Queen & Slim, Ray & Liz, Relaxer, The Report, Rosie, Ruben Brandt Collector, Screwball, Share, Shazam!, Slut in a Good Way, Someone Great, Sometimes Always Never, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Suburban Birds, Synonyms, Triple Frontier, Two Popes, Uncut Gems, Velvet Buzzsaw, A Vigilante, Western Stars, Wild Nights with Emily, Wild Rose, Woman at War.

Keep in mind that I didn't (yet) get around to seeing many 2018 movies from last year's wishlist:

22 July, American Animals, Anna and the Apocalypse, At Eternity's Gate, Beautiful Boy, Black '47, Blaze, Border, Boy Erased, Burning, Colette, Dark Money, Destroyer, Disobedience, Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot, Double Lives, Double Lover, Early Man, Far from the Tree, Golden Exits, Goldstone, The Guernsey, The Guilty, Happy as Lazzaro, The Happy Prince, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Hold the Dark, I Kill Giants, In the Fade, Lean on Pete, Love After Love, Mandy, Miseducation of Cameron Post, Operation Finale, Outside In, Prospect, Ready Player One, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, Solo: Star Wars Story, Sweet Country, The Tale, Unsane, Upgrade, Utoya - July 22, Vox Lux, Wildlife, Zama.

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Monday, December 30, 2019

Books of 2019

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? They are listed below. I posted short reviews of most books at Goodreads. 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


Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Spread of Nuclear Weapons; An Enduring Debate by Scott Sagan and Kenneth Waltz

Clear & Present Safety by Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko

Power Ball by Rob Neyer

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Hell of Good Intentions by Stephen Walt

Calling Dr. Strangelove by George Case

None of these are 5 star books, but the top 4 or 5 books listed here are definitely worth your time. During my 18 month sabbatical, I read a number of works on decision-making and expertise. The Kahneman and Taleb books are important works on these topics in the public sphere. The former is based on a long and successful career in academia, the latter is longer than it needed to be and includes a lot of stories that could have been cut -- especially by someone like Taleb who is so critical of the "narrative" academic disciplines.

I used the Sagan and Waltz and Cohen and Zenko books in my International Security class last fall and think both are very good. The former worked better as a textbook, but Michael Cohen visited Louisville to speak in my class and I think that made a favorable impression on the students. I liked the parts of their book that focused on threat inflation, though my lectures included some examples that they overlooked. I was a bit less interested in their efforts to expand the security agenda by including domestic policy issues like gun control. I framed these as human security topics.

Walt blames liberals for many of the major mistakes in American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. While they may deserve some of the blame, keep in mind that this foreign policy category includes many neoconservatives who often disdain multilateral institutions. To my mind, the U.S. failure to work cooperatively with other states is a much bigger problem than the high-minded aspirations Walt attributes to liberalism.

Only the Case book was sub-par. I published an article recently on the film Dr. Strangelove and didn't learn that much from Case's work. Indeed, he had some errors that should have been caught.

Finally, I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2019, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. The 2019 book was edited by Patrick Dubuque, 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.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

All our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

The Education of a Poker Player by James McManus

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

Half of a Yellow Sun is a terrific book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in foreign affairs, as told through individual lives. In this case, the focus is on Biafra's 1960s struggles to win independence from Nigeria. It provides personal accounts of civil war.

Motherless Brooklyn provides an interesting spin on the detective genre given that the detective has Tourette's syndrome and works for a small-time hood. The larger caper is kind of far-fetched, but it is entertaining.

The Mastai book begins fairly strongly, but loses steam. The McManus book seems like a collection of short stories crying for a volume 2. Wodehouse is Wodehouse.

March Violets by Philip Kerr

The Light of Day by Eric Ambler

North From Rome by Helen MacInnes

I is for Innocent by Sue Grafton

The Widening Gyre by Robert Parker

Black Money by Ross Macdonald

The Rare Coin Score by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)

Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell

Good Behavior by Donald Westlake

Raven Black by Ann Cleaves

The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel by Jeffrey Lewis

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin

Free Fall in Crimson by John MacDonald

Beyond Recall by Robert Goddard

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

The  Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black (John Banville)

For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming
. [large gap]

I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein

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, Rankin's John Rebus, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer. Nearly all of these were pretty good this year, though perhaps ultimately forgettable. Until refreshing my memory with Google, I'd already forgotten the plot of at least half of the books listed above involving those characters.

Kerr's Bernie Gunther solves crimes during the Nazi era in Germany, so that was certainly novel and interesting. Ambler and MacInnes wrote terrific spy fiction during the Cold War and these tales are harmed more by the way current readers depend upon their smartphones than by the broader historical changes that have occurred in world politics.

Modesty Blaise is sort of a female James Bond. This year, I preferred the former to the latter.

Stephen King's middle book of a trilogy was fine, but I did not need the chapter involving the detective visiting the killer from Book 1. Obviously he was establishing a plot line for the third book, but it distracted from this tale. This book would likely make a decent film.

The Heinlein book was easily the worst book I read this year. After a somewhat promising premise at the start, it devolved into a sexist and borderline misogynist story that I had to put down multiple times before deciding to power through it in December.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Trump and Threats of Political Violence

I've been collecting these anecdotes and would welcome additions:

In August 2015, then-candidate Donald Trump strongly criticized Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders for showing that he’s “weak” by allowing Black Lives Matter protesters to  take control of the microphone at a campaign event in Seattle. CNN’s Eric Bradner reproduced the full Trump comment: “I would never give up my microphone. I thought that was disgusting. That showed such weakness, the way he was taken away by two young women -- the microphone; they just took the whole place over… That will never happen with me." Trump continued, “I don't know if I'll do the fighting myself or if other people will, but that was a disgrace. I felt badly for him. But it showed that he's weak.”

In November 2015, another protester yelled “Black Lives Matter” at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama. A fight soon broke out, the protester fell to the ground, and he was allegedly kicked and punched by several white men. At the rally, Trump declared, “Get him the hell out of here, will you, please? Get him out of here. Throw him out!” As the man was escorted by security from the event, members of the crowd repeatedly pushed and shoved him. The following day, Trump said “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” Trump complained that the man was “so obnoxious and so loud, he was screaming.”

In January 2016, a protester threw a tomato at a Trump rally in Iowa City, Iowa. A week later, on the February day of the Iowa caucuses, Trump told his audience in Cedar Rapids: “If you see somebody with a tomato, knock the crap out of them.” ABC News reported that Trump told his crowd, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell ... I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise."

In another February 2016 event in Las Vegas, Nevada, Trump accused a protester of throwing punches at security guards. He told the crowd, “You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher. I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya.” At the same event, Trump referenced the leader of Iranians who took US Navy sailors hostage as a “rough guy with a rough mouth — I’d like to smack the hell out of him.”

At still another February 2016 rally in Warren, Michigan, Trump reacted to a protester by declaring “Get him out.” He added, “Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court. Don't worry about it.”

In March 2016, when his rally in St. Louis, Missouri, was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, Trump said, “Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long [to kick them out] is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore… There used to be consequences. There are none anymore.” Trump continued: “These people are so bad for our country. You have no idea folks, you have no idea.”

At an August 2016 rally in North Carolina, Trump said it would be a “horrible day” if his opponent Hillary Clinton is elected President. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks… Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”[8]

Trump’s violent rhetoric continued after becoming president.

In a July 2017 speech to law enforcement officers on Long Island, Trump said “And when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice.  (Laughter.)  Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?  Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head.  I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”

In July 2017, Trump shared a controversial edited video on Twitter revealing Trump in a 2007 WWE skit violently attacking another man who had been standing near a wrestling ring. In the doctored version shared by Trump, the CNN logo was placed in the area where the man’s face would be.

In October 2018, Trump praised Montana RepublicanRepresentative Greg Gianforte who body slammed a reporter at a rally. Trump declared, “Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!”

In a March 2019 interview with Breitbart News, Trump was discussing the tactics used by Democrats to use subpoena power in its investigations of the president: “I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

On September 29, 2019, Trump tweeted a quote from a supporter speaking on Fox News who said that a successful impeachment would cause civil war: “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” Pastor Robert Jeffress.”

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

BISA Conference June 2019

I attended two academic conferences during the summer and did not find time to blog about either. This post will serve as a quick summary of my itinerary and research presentations at the first one of them. Hopefully, I will summarize my time in Hamburg in late August soon in another post.

From June 12-14 I left Dundee for a few days and attended my first British International Studies Association (BISA) conference  in London and I really enjoyed it. For the first two days of the conference, I basically attended panel-after-panel, about four each day. I used to attend a large number of panels at regular ISA meetings, but as I've become more senior in the discipline, I've used my research travel funding to attend smaller workshops focused on specific research projects or to attend more specialized security studies conferences.

Even when I attend ISA these days, I've spent large blocks of conference time meeting with other academics (whether engaged in mutual projects or social functions), talking to publisher representatives in the book rooms, or preparing for discussant duties (reading panel papers often received at the last minute).

I was largely freed from those sorts of responsibilities at BISA as I did not know very many people at the conference, it featured only a very small book room, and I was not assigned any service responsibilities.

The many panels I attended at BISA 2019 were generally of a high level and I look forward to seeing some of the research once it is published. The third day I attended only the morning panels and spent some time in the book rooms as well. I did have one meeting a book publisher and connected with a number of new friends throughout the meeting.

The very first panel I attended reflected the kind of intellectual and identity diversity featured throughout the conference. It focused on a new book that I have not yet read -- The Making of Global International Relations: Origins and Evolution of IR at its Centenary by Amitav Acharya and Barry Buzan. Both authors attended and spoke, though only Buzan was listed in the program.. The panel was chaired by Chris Brown of the London School of Economics and also included Laust Shouenborg (Roskilde University in Denmark), Michael Cox (LSE), Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS), and George Lawson (LSE).

I attended an assortment of panels, mostly chosen by topic; thus, some featured graduate students, others highlighted the work of junior scholars, and still others included prominent European scholars, including Nick Wheeler (University of Birmingham), Ole Wæver (University of Copenhagen), Charlotte Epstein (University of Sydney),

These where the titles of the panel I attended in full:
  • The Making of Global International Relations: Origins and Evolution of IR at its Centenary 
  • Global Leadership in the Future of International Relations 
  • Trump and the Liberal International Order
  • US relations with the World  
  • International Law as an Instrument of Politics: Interpreting, Contesting, and Deploying Legal Norms
  • Trump, American Exceptionalism and the International Order (my panel)
  • School’s Out? Beyond New Thinking in International Security
  • Twists and (Re)Turns: Directions in International Political Theory
Notice any patterns?

I also did a little panel hopping at times in attempt to see some specific presentations of interest. That strategy did not always work -- I would just miss a presentation, or in one case the room was too full to enter.

My presentation was on "An Alliance of the Multilateralists: Practical Necessity or Foolish Fantasy?" It seemed to be generally well-received, though I had proposed this topic earlier this year when I thought Germany and France were going to move forward with their proposed "alliance" at a faster clip. They officially rolled out their Alliance For Multilateralism at the September UN meetings in NY.  Thus, much of my paper explained why they were moving forward and speculated about the kinds of subjects that might be on the agenda going forward.

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Looking for dangerous patterns in language

In my National and International Security Policy course this semester, I'm including a session on the threat of white nationalism. This is partly because of several recent prominent acts of racially-motivated violence.

However, I'm also concerned about the American political leaders who might incite such violence -- or stand quietly to the side while their allies incite such violence.

The most extreme kind of racial violence ends in genocide, or some other form of mass atrocity. As a signal of that kind of future violence, students of genocide are particularly concerned when political leaders start equating their political opponents "with animals, vermin, insects or diseases." Scott Straus, who recently won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, argues that particularly menacing narratives were a central element in genocides that occurred in the countries he studied (primarily in Africa):
Straus tells us that it is ideologies and ideas—or "founding narratives"—and the way these inform the strategies, tactics, and decisions of political leaders that matter more than anything else. Founding narratives are, according to Straus, those mythically framed national ideologies that define who is in and who is out, or who rules and who is ruled—ideologies that establish hierarchies between primary and secondary citizens and juxtapose the 'good,' state-supporting part of the population and the 'evil' part that is blamed for undermining and destroying the state. 
Basically, genocide does not happen in states founded on inclusive, tolerant, pluralist principles. It happens when political leaders convince some parts of their population that other portions are the evil sources of all that is wrong with the country.

Chris Wallace of Fox News has noticed that the current President of the United States keeps making particularly divisive claims about the districts of people of color serving in Congresss. For example, Trump said that Elijah Cummings's district in Maryland is a“disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Trump wrote that “no human being would want to live there.”

In this instance, Trump is one step removed from describing these members of Congress as inhuman. He describes their districts in such terms -- and therefore implicitly says something about the people who live in them.

Moreover, Trump has described some immigrants as animals and "not people." He has described groups of immigrants attempting to migrate to the US as being part of an "invasion" and said that caravans of migrant include "some very bad people." In response he has called for militarization of the southern border and sent US troops there. Trump rarely (if ever?) talks about the violent situations that many (if not most) of these migrants are fleeing -- and the reality that they might well be completely lawful refugees. 

Rather, Trump has joked about where one might be able to get away with shooting immigrants.

Scholars Aliza Luft and Daniel Solomon  argue that dehumanizing language normalizes extreme perspectives,  "alters norms of what is and isn’t perceived as acceptable views or behavior," and "can serve as post-hoc justification" when some people do commit acts of extreme violence.

In terms of extreme political division, Trump has described some media outlets as an "evil propaganda machine for the Democrat Party." He has falsely accused some of his political opponents as describing "evil Jews." He has just this week accused Jewish voters of being "disloyal" when they vote for Democrats. Note: 80% of Jews voted for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections, a voting pattern consistent with their long-time history. In recent political ads, a Trump voice-over says "Liberals care more about illegal immigrants than they do about our own citizens. It’s time to put America first. We need border security.”

Trump has a long history of characterizing his political foes as "evil" or "sick" or "bad people."

Trump is not the first America politician to demonize his political opponents. After all, Newt Gingrich's political action committee circulated a memo calling on fellow Republicans to escalate their rhetoric a generation ago:
He [Gingrich] established a political action committee called GOPAC to help Republican candidates across the country become more effective campaigners. And in 1990, the group distributed to GOP contenders a pamphlet called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” which encouraged the candidates to “speak like Newt”—that is, to rely upon sharp and divisive rhetoric. It presented a list of 30 “optimistic positive” words to use, including “freedom,” “truth,” and “family.” It also provided a list of “contrasting” words: “crisis,” “decay,” and “red tape.” And this second list recommended going to extremes. Republican candidates, it noted, should call Democrats “shallow,” “radical,” “incompetent,” “pathetic,” “sick,” “bizarre,” and “traitors.” Gingrich’s group was urging GOPers to engage in all-out rhetorical war, going beyond arguing over policies to engaging in the politics of personal destruction.
GOP campaign strategist Frank Luntz has strongly criticized this form of politics:
“It’s the most destructive political memo written in modern politics. All it did was teach hate and division…It’s a precursor of what’s going on today.” (Though Luntz has previously been associated with this memo, he says he was not working for Gingrich when it was drafted and that it was composed by a longtime Gingrich aide named Joe Gaylord. Gaylord did not respond to a request for comment.) “That memo,” Luntz says, “is as cynical and evil as anything that’s been written in American politics.”
Luntz today does not embrace Trump's rhetoric -- and worries where it might be taking the country:
So what does Luntz, who has been a GOP strategist for much of this time, think of Trump’s demagogic breakout? (Luntz, who was at odds with Trump during the 2016 campaign, has reportedly been advising the White House since his old friend Mick Mulvaney became Trump’s chief of staff.) “I don’t want to go there,” he says. “I’m not answering this for anyone. I don’t want to comment. It’s not what I would do. It’s not what I would say.” And Luntz, who blames “both sides” for the toxic political environment, continues: “But I will tell you this. I’m afraid for the country. I do not think we know how low we can goI know what the outcome is. It’s bad. It’s France in 1793. It ends up consuming everything.”
That 1793 reference is to France's infamous "reign of terror," when Maximilien Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety accused political opponents of treason -- and had them executed. This violence became part of a larger political revolution and bloody civil war.

More extreme concerns about political violence aside, Trump's behavior is also of concern to scholars who study democratic backsliding to authoritarianism. 

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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


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


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:
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

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
You Were Never Really Here
A Star is Born
Sorry to Bother You
Support the Girls
Black Panther
Paddington 2
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.

Despite saying I probably would not see it, my wife and I watched Paddington 2 in 2022 after seeing The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent in 2021. The latter film references the former and we heard good things from our oldest daughter. It was fine. 

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:


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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