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What Canada’s New ‘Pretty Boy’ Prime Minister Can Teach Us About Hegemonic Masculinity

Like most Canadian citizens, I was delighted to see the back end of our former Prime Minister Harper as he conceded defeat to the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau. Although I’ve felt slightly disconnected watching both the campaign and the reaction to Trudeau’s win from my home in Sydney, Australia, I’ve been fascinated by what arguably became one of the main campaign foci: Trudeau’s hair.  ‘Hair’ clearly stood in for much larger hang ups about Trudeau’s appearance, masculinity, sexuality, and life choices. Both the gleeful memes celebrating Canada’s ‘hot’ new Prime Minister (the National Post asked if Trudeau was ‘the sexiest politician in the world‘) and the sneering claims that being a drama teacher and the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau hardly qualify him to run the country (the ol’ ‘get a hair cut and get a real job‘ argument) seem to tell us more about hegemonic masculinity in the world of politics than anything else.

But first, in case you haven’t been paying close attention and you think Trudeau’s hair wasn’t a big campaign issue, here is a summary:
Arguably, hair-gate kicked into full gear when the Conservative Party started referencing Trudeau’s locks in their attack ads- they commented that Trudeau was ‘not ready to lead’, but added ‘nice hair though.’ The ‘nice hair though’ became somewhat iconic. In her excellent piece ‘The Feminizatin of Trudeau’, Winnipeg Free Press Editor Shannon Sampert summarized: “the Conservatives tend to belittle his leadership skills by focusing on his hair. It’s become a common insult. Trudeau has nice hair, but no policy.” In 2012 the Toronto Sun reaffirmed this argument with the headline:  “Justin Trudeau: Great hair but no credentials.”

But the Conservatives and Canadians have not been the only hair-obsessed. The international reaction to Trudea as a candidate and as the future PM has largely been framed around his hair. The Economist called him the “hair apparent“, the UK’s Mirror noted his “luscious brown hair, spellbinding eyes” and “chiseled physique,” Spain’s El Mundo called Trudeau Canada’s “pretty boy,” and the The Huffington Post has a gallery with differently named versions of Trudeau’s iconic locks. By the end of the campaign, each Canadian candidate’s hair had its own (unofficial) Twitter account, and Mulcair’s beard had two: @trudeaushair, @graybouffant (for Harper), @MulcairBeard and @Mulcairsbeard. Continue reading


The Mindful Academic

It is that point in the semester when the energy of summer wears off, endless grading awaits, deadlines loom, meetings drag on and everyone feels swamped, exhausted and grouchy. [1] It’s that point when we know the semester is going to become a runaway train, a downward spiral that ends in stacks of blue books, wine, and crying about your failure as a teacher. It’s that point in the semester when the blank page seems to stare back at you, when the spark of creativity has dimmed and you have serious doubts about the usefulness of anything you “study.” But it doesn’t have to be this way! Committing to a daily meditation and mindfulness practice might just slow the semester down and make it more productive.

Who could forget the epic last scene in the series finale of Mad Men, when Don Draper, clad in white, sits peacefully meditating on a mountain top and is struck by the idea for a brilliant new ad campaign? Don comes to terms with his anxieties, self-doubt and self-loathing through mindfulness meditation and unleashes his creativity. Is it possible that mindfulness meditation could work such wonders? [2] Continue reading

Zen of teaching

There are a lot of really great aspects of professorial teaching. It at the core of education, and thus at the core of universities as institutions of higher education. Professors have the opportunity to watch students grow through discovery and skill building. Professors and students through the practice of teaching build a shared connection of knowledge and inquiry. For many faculty and (hopefully) students, teaching raises new perspectives and forces reconsideration of established ideas. Teaching has economic benefits for students, notwithstanding recent debates. All of this and more is well known, particularly to colleagues outside major research universities, where teaching is sometimes seen as a task to be endured rather than embraced.

Having just seen a TedX talk on the link between happiness and living in the moment, another benefit of teaching occurs to me that I have not see discussed. It turns out that when our minds wander, we report being substantially unhappier than when we remain focused and in the moment. Continue reading

Gearing Up for the Academic Job Market: Getting THE CALL

Mid-October is a beautiful time of year – leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp, and there are a variety of outdoor activities to partake in.  All of the wonderfulness of October is meaningless, however, to a special group of individuals: those on the academic job market that are worried about employment in the next academic year.  For this group, mid-October is typically the beginning of the horrible downward spiral of (a) hitting refresh on your inbox[1], (b) double checking that your phone is on and charged, (c) trying to have the willpower to avoid checking job rumor websites, (d) reassuring yourself that Manuscript Central still says your manuscript is “under review” instead of “awaiting decision.”[2] In other words, October is a time of worry.

For many, however, October is also a magical time when the unthinkable happens:  you get THE CALL.[3]  THE CALL can be defined as the awkward 5-10 minute conversation scheduling an in-person interview with a potential academic employer. THE CALL can sometimes come out of the blue, from a school that you sent a packet of information to months before.  THE CALL can also be somewhat anticipated, coming after an email inquiry for more information, a Skype interview, or a rumor you hear from your advisor.  Most definitely, though, THE CALL is reason to celebrate.  And, it’s reason to get to work.  Here is a smattering of advice on what to do during and after THE CALL.

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Turkey’s Nuclear Move: Deciphering the Developments

This is a guest post by Philip Baxter,  Ph.D. Candidate in International Affairs, Science, and Technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Senior Research Associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. His research focuses on international security issues, in particular nuclear proliferation, deterrence, strategic stability, illicit trafficking, and nuclear safeguards. He can be reached at

A recent article in the National Interest by Hans Rühle, former Head of the Planning Staff in the German Ministry of Defense, argues that Turkey is positioning itself similarly to Iran in its leveraging of civilian nuclear power for potential nuclear weapons breakout capability. His argument, meant largely to justify German spying on the NATO-ally, posits that since Turkey is developing nuclear power plants, potentially developing its own nuclear fuel production capacity, and does not have a provision for spent nuclear fuel to be return to suppliers (a provision not necessary if producing fuel domestically), it is obviously shadowing the Iranian proliferation formula. These arguments are significantly flawed. While the Turkish movement into the nuclear arena could be afforded more clarity, particularly on the heels of a decade of efforts to corral the Iranian program, nefarious purposes should not be assumed; nor, are they immediately apparent.

Rühle argues that the size of the nuclear industry that Turkey is planning, as well as the amount of fuel that would be needed to supply that industry, would provide ample material for a nuclear weapon. From a purely technical perspective, nuclear fuel from most civilian power reactors is not ideal for a weapons program. Turkey plans to construct four light-water pressurized reactors. These light-water reactors make breeding the type of plutonium necessary for nuclear weapons difficult – as purity is key in having a safe and reliable arsenal. Rühle dismisses the point that the less-pure plutonium from a civilian power reactor would not be used for military program. Rather, Ruhle argues that regardless of plutonium purity, a state will seek to acquire any form of nuclear material and use it for a nuclear arsenal. However, the quality of plutonium is a critical factor in understanding and forecasting proliferation strategies. Continue reading

“There was something missing from scholars’ models of political and economic life: ideas”

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a longish write-up on Pinar Dogan and Dani Rodrik’s efforts to exonerate Dogan’s father after he had been caught up in then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to push Turkey’s generals out of the political arena. At the heart of this effort was the publication in 2010 of documents detailing an alleged plot—Operation Sledgehammer—by Turkish military leaders in 2003 to overthrow the government by undertaking a massive campaign of state terrorism. Dogan’s father was a general in 2003 and was, according to the documents, the leader of the coup that did not happen. Rodrik and Dogan undertook to demonstrate her father’s innocence and, in the process, pretty conclusively showed that the documents detailing Operation Sledgehammer were fake.

So far, just an interesting example of an economist venturing over into politics. Continue reading

The Duck Civil War over Russia…

…has escalated. First, Jeff took his argument to Foreign Affairs.  Now I’ve retaliated—and brought in Alex Cooley in an attempt at establishing escalation dominance.

These interpretations dangerously misread contemporary geopolitics, however. Putin’s appearance of strength is, in reality, a function of Russia’s relatively weak international position. Russia lacks a global network of allies and partners and denounces the United States’ leadership. But Moscow cannot decisively influence the rules, institutions, and norms of the international order. By contrast, what many diagnose as U.S. weakness is a symptom of its exorbitant geostrategic privilege. Prudent foreign policy requires Washington to manage its extensive and heterogeneous security commitments and global relationships carefully. This makes Putin’s style of boldness not only less difficult to pursue but also often reckless—sacrificing longer-term position for short-term gain.

Go check it out (paywalled).

Drones, targeted killings and the limitations of international law

Last month’s announcement that a Royal Air Force drone was used to kill two British citizens in Syria has reignited debates about the legality of targeted killings, but there is always a danger that something gets lost within this legal frame. Questions about the geographical boundaries of contemporary conflict and the legal status of those being targeted are clearly important and should not be ignored but we should also be aware that other equally important issues are being pushed to the margins of debate. As I argue in my recent article for International Political Sociology, the rather dry, disembodied and technical language of international law tends to ignore the pain and suffering experienced by those targeted and the detrimental effects drone operations are having on the communities living below. As such, these legal debates have failed to contest the notion that this technology provides a more efficient, more effective and more humane way of waging war.

One of the reasons that this incident has caused such a stir is that it is the first time that the British have used a drone to carry out an extra-judicial killing. In a statement to the House of Commons last month, David Cameron confirmed that a British drone had been used to carry out a deadly attack in Syria despite the fact that MPs had previously voted against military operations against Bashar al-Assad. The victims –Reyaad Khan, Ruhul Amin and a third unidentified man – were killed when their car was hit as it travelled through the northern city of Raqqa. They were targeted, Cameron argued, because Khan was plotting a series of ‘barbaric attacks against the West’ and ‘actively recruiting ISIL sympathisers’ to carry them out. The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, provided some additional details the following day, telling the BBC that months of ‘meticulous planning [and] careful surveillance’ had gone into this attack and that the government ‘wouldn’t hesitate to do it again’. Indeed, he went on to suggest that the British might adopt a US-style hit list, prompting a fierce rebuke from human rights groups.

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APSA Statement on Campus Carry

In response to demand for a statement on recent gun shootings on college campuses, prompted in small part on the Duck by Maryam Deloffre, APSA has issued a short statement on campus carry, the new Texas law that will potentially allow students to bring concealed weapons in to classrooms:

The American Political Science Association is deeply concerned about the impact of Texas’s new Campus Carry law on freedom of expression in Texas universities. The law, which was passed earlier this year and takes effect in 2016, allows licensed handgun carriers to bring concealed handguns into buildings on Texas campuses. The APSA is concerned that the Campus Carry law and similar laws in other states introduce serious safety threats on college campuses with a resulting harmful effect on professors and students.

Campus carry, slated to go into effect next year, is generating plenty of controversy on campus here at the University of Texas. Already, other states may be willing to emulate Texas, including Wisconsin (a previous campus carry law allowed universities an opt out but some Wisconsin Republicans want to get rid of the prohibition). Continue reading

Food is a Human Right

This is a guest post from Michelle Jurkovich, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

As the lunch hour approaches in Washington, a woman sits at the edge of Farragut Square holding a cardboard sign with three simple words: “I am hungry.” Some passersby are noticeably uncomfortable as they walk by her, averting their eyes and quickening their pace. A few people hand her the spare coins in their pockets. Most people ignore her completely.

Had this woman expressed a violation of a different human right (for ultimately, that is what her sign is expressing), perhaps people would react differently. Had she said she had been forcibly disappeared, or her access to any primary education had been violated, or she had been tortured, people might take notice.   But on this World Food Day it is worthwhile to pause and examine the puzzling way in which any human right to food is understood both in the United States and in many other countries around the world.

Many readers might be surprised to know there is such a thing as a human right to food in the first place. The right to food was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 with surprisingly little controversy and reiterated in international law in 1976 with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), in 2004 with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food (which the United States signed), as well as included in numerous other international conventions and agreements. And yet, while responsibility is ascribed in international law to national governments for the protection and fulfillment of this basic human right, many continue to see food or hunger as an issue for charity, but certainly not a basic human entitlement. Continue reading

Academic Freedom Has a (mostly) Good Day

Today, the Hon. Lynn Smith issued her report on the UBC academic freedom controversy that I discussed here.  Jennifer Berdahl issued her response at her blog.

The key pieces of the report are: Continue reading

What Are U.S. Interests in Syria?

What are U.S. interests in Syria? As I wrote in a previous post,  I’m not moved by arguments that suggest reputational losses should drive U.S. policy in Syria. The costs of backing  down in Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons (and the likely costs of backing down in insisting that Assad must go before negotiations can begin) seem to me to be mostly domestic and political and smaller compared to the potentially high costs of U.S. deep military engagement in Syria. That said, I worry that restraintists, that is those who counsel restraint with respect to U.S. use of force, undersell U.S. interests in Syria and the region. For me, Turkish stability has to be a major concern going forward.

Cheryl Rofer has an interesting summary comparing U.S. and Russian interests in Syria, with the implicit recognition that Russian interests in Syria are larger. This asymmetry of interest partially explains different levels of engagement in the conflict. Continue reading

Foreign Policy in the First Democratic Presidential Nominee Debate


So, after breaking out and analyzing the foreign policy aspects of the two Republican presidential nominee debates, it’s finally time for the Democrats to take center stage. I’ll be working off the transcript posted at the Washington Post.

The foreign policy starts early, with candidates touting their cred: Chafee notes that he voted against the Iraq war and served on the Foreign Relations Committee; Webb offers up his service in Vietnam and as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the the Navy, as well as his early support of the “pivot” to Asia.

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The First Democratic Debate: Clinton and Foreign Policy

My overall view of the first democratic debate of the 2016 nomination contest probably tracks with the consensus. I should disclose that I’ve contributed to the Sanders campaign and support it, even though my views on some issues are more conservative.

In brief, Clinton showed herself a capable and exceedingly well-prepared politician. I jokingly commented on social media that this encapsulates her biggest advantage and her biggest liability. But, to be honest, it really is much more of an asset than anything else. She’s extremely smart, experienced,  and skilled at politics. She is also surrounded by people with strong messaging skills—at least when it comes to focused activities, such as debates.

Sanders came across as he does in all other campaign settings: passionate, focused on the issues, and unwilling to go after his rivals in a deeply personal way. It reinforced suspicions among some that the rationale for his candidacy resides in a desire to push the eventual nominee—that is, Clinton—to the left on economic issues. That may have been his original intent, but he remains the only serious alternative to Clinton; my guess is that he takes the support that he’s generated very seriously.

Sanders’ performance, and the reaction it generated, likely come from his “unorthodox” debate preparation:

Sanders’ team sees the first Democratic debate as a chance to introduce a fairly niche candidate to a national audience. So his team intends to let him do what he’s been doing. Far from preparing lines to deploy against Clinton — let alone O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee or Jim Webb — Sanders plans to dish policy details, learned through a handful of briefings with experts brought in by his campaign.

At some point, the Sanders campaign is going to need to make a choice about whether to pivot to a more orthodox approach. Given that one of Sanders’ major asset is his genuine, rather than affected, authenticity, this presents something of a challenge.

I respect Webb a great deal, but I don’t think that tacking to the right on issues like Iran is either good politics or good policy. He’s out of step with the Democratic electorate, and he has no chance at winning the nomination. Chafee’s performance was poor, and does nothing to dispel the key question of his campaign: “why are you even running?”

O’Malley, on the other hand, was comparatively impressive. His attempts to outflank Clinton on the left—particularly on foreign policy—weren’t perfectly implemented, but they point in the direction of how to press these points. For example:

I believe that, as president, I would not be so quick to pull for a military tool. I believe that a no-fly zone in Syria, at this time, actually, Secretary, would be a mistake.

You have to enforce no-fly zones, and I believe, especially with the Russian air force in the air, it could lead to an escalation because of an accident that we would deeply regret.

I support President Obama. I think we have to play a long game, and I think, ultimately — you want to talk about blunders? I think [Putin’s] invasion of Syria will be seen as a blunder.

And this, unsurprisingly, is what I want to talk about. Two of Clinton’s answers on foreign policy troubled me. But for different reasons. Continue reading

Prediction: For whom the bell tolls?

The idea of prediction in the study of international relations has been a persistent thought in my head for some time. Ostensibly, in our (mostly) non-experimental discipline, prediction represents the preeminent demonstration of a theory’s veracity. Of course, this perspective derives from simplistic conceptions of science as practiced in the natural sciences and as a consequence fit poorly with IR. Regressions struggle to develop models that ‘explain’ more than a small percentage of the variance in the dependent variable(s)—making prediction of outcomes nearly impossible. Our discipline defining structural theories also struggle to make more than vague predictions about systemic patterns—Waltz after all rejected the idea that structural realism is a theory of foreign policy, which would commit the theory to a much more exacting level of prediction. Nonetheless, despite the problems with prediction, my sense is that remains with us as an ideal. Continue reading

Torture as Evidence-Based Policy Making? Race, War and Science

This is a guest post by Alison Howell, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Rutgers Newark

With the recent APA decision to prohibit their members from participating in enhanced interrogation, and the demise of the human terrain program earlier this year, the optimistic amongst us might be tempted to believe that the academy is once again purified of its collusions with torture and occupation.

The work to be done going forward, however, is not just one of holding individuals to account or raising the bar of individual ethical standards. We also need to find ways of holding academic sciences to account: of treating them not as dispassionate and apolitical ventures, sadly misused, but rather as formed within martial and racist cultures that shape their content and applications. This is as true for disciplines like Physics and Neuroscience as it is for social sciences like Anthropology, or, for that matter, IR.

In order to grapple with this complex state of affairs, we are going to have to begin by seeing the decision by the Bush administration to pursue torture for what it is: evidence-based policy. Continue reading

What Does it Mean to Promote Human Rights?

Migrants on the Hungarian border

A few months ago, I began my Duck postings with an introspective on what it’s like to have grown up in the USA and moved to Canada to start my professional career. The current context in Canada is both daunting and exciting – yes people, “We the North” have an election. In two weeks. We have three (possibly four or five) parties to choose from, only one has amazing hair, and unlike US elections with the circus of personality assassinations and general chaos that surrounds the process, the Canadian one has gone on quite civilly and remained mostly focused on real issues. There are real issues at stake here in the Canadian election – and I had a chaotic but very thought-provoking week to reflect on some human rights concerns, both in Canada’s foreign and domestic policy. I had two sets of thoughts that popped into my mind as a result of being part of two human rights-related events this past week: global leadership on human rights is exceedingly difficult; and maybe we need some leadership on human rights domestically.

First, I had the honor of moderating the annual Keith Davey Forum on Public Affairs, which is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science and Victoria University, at the University of Toronto. This year, I got to lead a discussion between The Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, who as Former Minister of Foreign Affairs led the way to ban landmines, is a celebrated name among human rights junkies in particular (like me … if you don’t know who he is, see this), and Professor Charli Carpenter, who is a colleague whose work I’ve referenced extensively in my own research. They were responding to the topic of “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights Around the World?” which was the topic that U of T’s political science students came up with for the evening. Continue reading

US, Canada, and Humanitarian Flights for Syria’s Refugees

The video above is the YouTube presentation of my remarks this week at University of Toronto’s Davey Forum, whose theme this year was “Is Canada Doing Enough to Promote Human Rights?” I attended at the kind invitation of Duck blogger Wendy Wong and her colleagues Lou Pauly and Rod Haddow, and my remarks followed those of former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy.

When it was time for the audience to ask questions, the very first question was:

“What can Canada contribute to the Syrian refugee crisis?”

It’s exactly the right kind of question. My answer, in one word: AIRPLANES.

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Is Russia a Paper Tiger?

Jeff Stacey has a new piece at Foreign Affairs that is basically a re-skinned version of his post at the Duck of Minerva. It should come as little surprise that I don’t find either piece particularly persuasive.

Overall, I agree with Jeff’s basic assessment of Russian moves as destabilizing. In Syria, where Moscow seeks to save the Assad regime, Russian intervention in a country that the US and its allies are already mounting military operations carries with it significant risks. Also, as Jeff writes:

Indeed, Russia has been playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with allied planes and ships across Eurasia for many months now. Among other things, it has been both flying in the flight paths of Western commercial and military aircraft and using ships and submarines to intermittently sail into Western countries’ territorial waters. In addition, Russia has staged a series of large-scale military exercises just across the border of Poland and several Baltic states, and its intelligence service actually seized an Estonian agent during last year’s NATO Summit and held him for several days.

I see this ‘muscle flexing’ as a mixture of ham-handed coercive diplomacy and reversion to Cold War great-power repertoires. It would obviously be better for everyone if Moscow stopped, insofar as they increase the risk of military and diplomatic incidents. But, as I noted a few days ago, these efforts have generally backfiredContinue reading

Where is our collective action on campus gun violence?

By now the academy is well aware of the latest mass shooting that occurred yesterday at Umpqua Community College in Oregon and claimed ten lives as of reporting this morning. While my social media has exploded with outrage by colleagues, professors, and academics that fear for their safety and the safety of their students, the “academy” has remained silent. I checked the websites of the professional associations that are supposed to advocate for me and my profession—the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); American Political Science Association (APSA); Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA); and the American Association of University Women (AAUW)—not one of them has made a public statement on the shooting in Oregon, not one of them has issued a call for action, not one of them has launched an advocacy campaign. You might think that it is too early, the bureaucratic machines have not yet had the time to carefully craft a political statement, but my research assistants and I looked through the on-line archives of these professional organizations, there have been no statements issued in response to any of the following campus shootings as far as we can tell from the on-line archives (timeline data compiled from here, here and here) [1]. Continue reading

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