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Can game participants change the payoff structure?

This past weekend, an entertaining video clip was making the rounds on twitter and in the blogosphere. It is from a British daytime television show called “Golden Balls” and the academic discussion about it has been framed around 2 by 2 game theory:

At the end of the show the contestants have to make one last decision over the final jackpot. They are each presented with two golden balls. One has “split” printed inside it and the other has “steal” printed inside it:

  • If both contestants choose the split ball, the jackpot is split equally between them. 
  • If one contestant chooses the split ball and the other chooses the steal ball, the stealer gets all the money and the splitter leaves empty-handed. 
  • If both contestants choose the steal ball, they both leave empty-handed.

It is similar to the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory, however, in this game the players are allowed to communicate.

Indeed, the communication is the interesting element of this particular play of the game:


 Here is the “Golden Balls” situation using simple 2×2 game matrices:

In this game, steal is likely the dominant strategy. If you are certain your opponent is going to split, then it is superior to steal in a single play. You win. If you are certain your opponent is going to steal, then you are indifferent between stealing and splitting, though many people would likely steal just to avoid being made to be the sucker (thinking of relative gains).

Indeed, if we ignore cash values and make the sucker result the 4th-ranked payoff given the logic I’ve just provided about relative gains, then this game would then be a single-shot prisoner’s dilemma game. The dominant strategy is steal (defect). Obviously, preferences over outcomes should determine the strategy one employs in a game. Generally, however, simple game theory assumes utility maximization and the outcomes here are technically the same.

In any case, in this video from “Golden Balls,” player 1 (the man on the right in the brown shirt) has attempted to turn this situation into a different game — chicken, I think — by trying to add a perceived payoff that is worse than playing the sucker in a prisoner’s dilemma.

In chicken, the common story is two teenage drivers head directly for one another at high speed. If they both swerve (yield), this is the mutual split result. If only one swerves, s/he is the chicken and the other player wins. If both continue driving towards one another, they have a horrible accident.

Here, if player 2 selects steal with the knowledge that player 1 is definitely going to steal, then the total prize possible will be ZERO. However, if player 2 lets himself be exploited, then player 1 has dangled the (unenforceable?) promise of sharing the winnings after the show. Effectively, player 1 has attempted to transform the situation by creating the image of a shared victory even when the other player yields. It would be kind of like a fixed boxing match. The payoff comes after the participant takes the dive.

Generally, if one earns a reputation for selecting steal (never swerving) in the game of chicken, then no others will want to play this game with you because their best option is to split (swerve/yield). Why select the outcome that will assuredly result in a disastrous outcome? Unfortunately, one cannot earn a reputation for unyielding play in the first confrontation with an unknown player.

However, in his Introduction to Herman Kahn’s On Escalation, Thomas Schelling recommended that a chicken player should throw the steering wheel out the car window to signal a firm commitment to the steal (not swerve) strategy. Such a player has signaled to the opponent that the result is out of his hands. The best that can be hoped is to avoid disaster.

In this case, to influence Player 2’s choice, Player 1 has essentially communicated that he is tossing the steering wheel out the window.

And then, Player 1 swerves anyway!

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President Obama on Genocide Prevention

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‘Bleg’: How Long are your ‘Revise & Resubmit’ Letters to the Editor?

editor

I have been asked to revise and resubmit an article submitted for an IR journal. But it’s a big r&r; the editor even said it would be “a great deal of work” (groan). While I must make the changes to the ms, I must also submit a letter to the editors and reviewers to explain my changes. That’s normal of course, but I wonder how the community would appraise the proper length of a letter to the editor for a major r&r? In my last r&r, thankfully a minor, I wrote 2-3 pages. But for a major r&r that “needs a great deal of work’’, I was thinking around 10 pages. Is that too much? Would that you bore you to tears ? (Actually, don’t answer that.)

More generally, I think this is an interesting, undiscussed question for the field, because I have no idea if there are any norms at all on this. I can’t recall discussing this issue ever in graduate school (probably because I couldn’t have gotten an r&r anyway and didn’t even know what r&r meant). Nor can I recall seeing anything on this in all those journals we get from APSA (so many…). So whadda ya think?

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

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Religion in Westeros

Given that George R. R. Martin has clearly thought enough about religion in his series to both deal explicitly with these themes in the books and to create an extra feature about it for the TV show, I am supremely puzzled as to why some of the most interesting religious aspects of the book series are being left out on screen.

Consider the “baptism” scene in last week’s episode, in which the Priest of the Drowned God splashes seawater over a man to inculcate him into the tribe of the Iron-born to the words “what is dead may never die.” If you haven’t read the books, you would entirely miss the meaning of those words: Iron-born baptisms actually involve drowning people, then resuscitating them. I can’t imagine why Benioff and Martin didn’t think this would translate well onto screen: it would have been riveting to watch, especially if (as in the books) the audience doesn’t know until later that what they’re watching is a baptism not an execution. Now it’s true that in the books this particular individual doesn’t go through the drowning but experienced the more ‘tame’ form of baptism but a) that isn’t actually very consistent with the context of the story [spoiler below fold] and b) why not fudge that detail in favor of giving us some insight into the Ironborn, considering all the other details that were fudged quite rightly in the same episode, all in the service of on-screen story-telling?

Melisandre’s religion of light is getting more play in these early episodes, with some dialogues between Davos and his son used to essentially set up the relations between the characters and the ideas driving them. However the HBO series is downplaying important details so far (like ritual sacrifice) and rubbing things in our face (like sex magic between Stannis and Melisandre) that were only hinted at in the books and that frankly aren’t very consistent with the fundamentalism of R’Hllor.

It may be that this dampening / obfuscating is part of Martin’s effort to keep religion de-linked from politics and gamesmanship in the series on screen, as he did in the books. As Rachel Mauro writes:

When the story opens there doesn’t seem to be much conflict between the two faiths [the old gods and the Seven]. The main protagonists of the story, the Stark family, are even interfaith! Lady Catelyn Tully Stark, the matriarch of the northern Stark family, was born in the middle of Westeros. Sometimes uncomfortable near the sacred Weirwood tree where her husband, Lord Eddard Stark, takes time to reflect on life, she still worships her own gods. Her children go back and forth between the two sets of worship depending on their personal tastes. Religion, in essence, is secondary in this world. It’s not what defines ethics, morality, or even pride in one’s heritage. On the opposite side of the coin, it is also not used as a reason to go to war. And ASOIAF is defined by warfare. Religion (or family feuds or most anything else) can be used as the vehicle. But what drives it home are inherent, human fallacies.

Still, the religious aspects of Westeros and surrounding lands (for what they’re worth) are some of the most interesting pieces of the story. It would be nice if the series were used as a vehicle for clarifying / making sensible these disparate threads rather than robbing them of what coherence and originality they contain already.

[Additional commentary on the Ironborn below. Season 2 Episode 3 spoiler alert.]


*If you’ve already read the books or watched the last few episodes, you know that the Ironborn arc is about Theon being placed in an awful zero-sum relationship between his family of origin and adopted family and being forced to choose. Surrendered by his father Balon Greyjoy to the Starks as part of the peace deal after an earlier rebellion, Theon has grown up as a ward of the north and loves the Starks. However he has always been an outsider, and as a hostage he grew up knowing that he could be killed at any time should his father renege on the agreement. Robb stupidly sends him as an envoy to the Pike seeking ships with which to take King’s Landing, not seeming to realize that this might put Theon in a compromised position emotionally. And it does: though he expects to be welcomed home, instead his father and sister express loathing and mistrust of him, reject Robb’s terms and hatch a plan to take the north in vengeance while Robb is otherwise occupied. Desperate to win their approval, Theon decides not to warn Robb. He accepts a humiliating, auxiliary role in his father’s armada in order to demonstrate fealty to his family of origin. And he is rebaptized into the Ironborn.

Although there is a weaker form of baptism in the books, I have never understood why Theon undergoes that instead of the full drowning given the context. He is under pressure to demonstrate a) that he has changed from the boy he was and is now a man and b) that he is willing to undergo whatever it takes to be accepted among his father’s kind. Moreover, I can’t think of any reason why Balon Greyjoy would want to spare him this, particularly if he doubted his loyalty (which he does). The worse the hazing, the more solidarity with an in-group is cemented. This made no sense in the book and it makes sense on screen only because many viewers are missing out entirely on the cult of the Drowned God.

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Crossing borders in the sciences


In an essay in this month’s Scientific American, Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University, makes a case for the benefits of international collaboration in the sciences:

It has become cliche that great discoveries come from interdisciplinary thinking… [F]ew realize how much science is energized when team members have different cultural approaches to problem solving. International diversity is just as important as diversity of discipline.

She notes that years ago when she began a collaboration with researchers in Mexico and Germany, the “approaches seemed irreconcilable:”

…my Mexican cohorts wanted to relax the rules to make the mathematics more tractable and later put htem back in. This set our German friends on edge. They kept reminding us of the constraints and the boundary conditions to make sure we did not stray too far. My American training left me somewhere in the middle: I worried about the constraints but was tentatively willing to relax them.

…The need to reach across national boundaries places greater demands on scientists. While scientists become more specialized as they proceed through their studies, broadening and collaborative experiences make them better able to “think differently” and “connect the dots” to discover new things. Ultimately it leads to better science.

I think it’s important to take note of this observation. Today, more students than ever are experiencing international learning experiences through study abroad and internships — roughly 40% of the students in liberal arts institutions now study abroad (in IR, that number is somewhere around two-thirds of the students).

In the sciences, and in physics and chemistry in particular, the number of students with some type of international learning experience or collaboration at the undergraduate level is substantially lower — often well below 10%. Most undergraduate science students are reluctant to study abroad because of fears they won’t land positions in research labs, or get into graduate school or medical school. Too many science departments and faculty reinforce this view by stressing earlier professional tracking — even in liberal arts institutions. Not all science students would necessarily benefit from international learning experiences, but if there is merit to international collaboration, it makes sense to cultivate these experiences at the beginning of specialized science education.

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Social Media and International Law

I have an essay online this morning at Opinio Juris as part of a symposium they are running this week on social media and international law:

One of the most curious aspects of the Kony2012 campaign is its backing by an important and powerful public servant, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. In publicly endorsing the campaign, Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, has espoused a powerful causal hypothesis: that social media campaigns are an indispensable new tool for the promotion of international justice. In the original Kony2012 video Moreno-Ocampo states: “We’re living in a new world, a Facebook world, in which 750 million people share ideas, not thinking in borders.” In the follow-up video, Beyond Famous, Moreno-Ocampo repeats the message: “We are changing the world, guys. This is completely new.”

Moreno-Ocampo’s enthusiasm for the campaign and for Invisible Children can be understood partly in terms of public relations for his own institution, and for the synonymity of IC’s narrative with the one underlying his own indictment of Joseph Kony for crimes against humanity. But his claims that campaigns like this will decisively shift public attention (and therefore policy attention toward international law and justice and the global institutions that promote them) deserve critical inquiry.

And we need to break this down a bit. Does social media impact citizens’ appreciation of and understanding of international law as Moreno-Ocampo implies? These are two separate questions and two separate processes. Even if they both hold true, does this imply that policy-makers will listen? And if that’s true, then in a world where social media and international law are routinely utilized and invoked by actors on both sides of any political issue, can we assume the net gain for human security will be positive? I don’t know the answers, but it’s worth thinking the questions through a little more carefully.

Some questions I ask:

1) Does social media impact citizen engagement with global social issues?

2) Does “citizen engagement on social issues” (where we see it) necessarily equate to “citizen understanding”?

3) What is the relationship between citizen engagement and citizen understanding, and what engagement/information ratio is most helpful in generating political will for international law enforcement?

4) How much does citizen engagement matter anyway?

5) To the extent that social media empowers the public, and the public empowers policy-makers, can we assume this will result in the promotion of human security and international law?

6) What do we mean by “promoting international law” anyway?

7) In an era of social media that empowers advocacy claims both consistent with and at odds with the spirit of international law, what is the best advocacy formula for mobilizing support for the implementation of international law to protect human security?

Read my answers here or leave your own in comments on either thread.

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Two certification systems

The keynote address for this year’s NITLE Symposium was delivered by Dan Cohen, a major voice in the “digital humanities” movement and one of the leading figures behind Zotero, the open-source free EndNote killer research tool. Cohen outlined a vision of ‘Net-enabled scholarly publishing that I can only think to call the aggregation model: editorial committees scanning the ‘Net to find the most interesting scholarly content in a given field or discipline, and highlighting it through websites and e-mail blasts that hearken back to the early days when weblogs were literally just collections of links with one- or two-sentence summaries attached. (An example, edited by Cohen and some of his associates: Digital Humanities Now.) Some of that work consists of traditional books and articles, but much of it consists of blog posts, online debates, etc. This model gives us scholarly work from the bottom up, instead of generating published scholarly work by tossing a piece into the random crapshoot of putatively blind peer-review and crossing your fingers to see what happens. It also gives us scholarly work that can be certified as such by the collective deliberation of the community, which “votes” for pieces and ideas by reading them, recirculating them, linking to them, and other signs of interest and approval that can be easily tracked with traffic-tracing tools. And then, on top of that editorial aggregation — Cohen made a great point that this kind of aggregation shouldn’t be fully automated, because automated tools reward “loudmouths” and popular voices that just get retweeted a lot; human editors can do a lot to surface novel insights and new voices — an open-access journal that curates the best of those linked items into published pieces, perhaps with some revisions and peer review/commentary.

In many ways I find this a compelling vision of scholarship in a networked world. The multi-layered system of certification means that there is some “quality control” — a completely crowdsourced solution would, I think, quickly devolve into flamewars and the other horrors of the Wide Open InterNet — but the bottleneck of the peer-reviewed journal (and the academically respectable book publisher) would be broken. Interesting insights could be collected regardless of their origin, put through a gauntlet of scholarly evaluation, and the best would end up re-presented for a critical scholarly audience in convenient forms. Heck, we do some of that here on the Duck already, pointing to stuff that we find interesting and contributions that we think worth noting.

But there’s a flaw in the reasoning, or an important oversight, that I think important.
The peer review system is not, and perhaps not even primarily, about certifying scholarship; it is about certifying scholars. The fact that someone has managed to publish in a “top” journal or with a “top” press is an important part of their journey to being formally accepted as a full member of the scholarly community; that certification system starts with one’s graduate training and the awarding of the Ph.D., but through the tenure-and-promotion part of a scholarly career, publication in ranked places is critical since the Ph.D. is thought to be an insufficient barometer of quality. Getting an article into the top journal in the field, regardless of what the article says, is a sign that one belongs to the community and deserves a place at the table — which is why young scholars bust their butts trying to do just this.

Now run a thought experiment: introduce Cohen’s system of aggregated scholarship. A young scholar seeking to prove her- or himself needs to post things in a lot of places to maximize their chances of getting noticed. And the format, the language-game, of a blog post or online forum is much different than that of a journal article submission. Add into this the fact that established senior colleagues might not respect the aggregation system as much because of a general disparaging of online communication as “not serious scholarly work,” and the young scholar faces a dilemma: which game should she or he play? My strong suspicion is that the only people who would be able to play Cohen’s game are a) graduate students who are just trying to get their name out there and b) tenured scholars whose work habits were already network-enabled (you know, the kind of people who post the text of their ISA paper as a blog post). But junior scholars are not likely to play, because they’ll feel constrained to focus on the traditional certification system…and they’ll get feedback both formal and informal from their senior colleagues that this is the right choice. So they won’t develop those networked habits, and when they’re senior colleagues they’ll repeat the same advice to their junior colleagues…

My point is that Cohen’s model of digital scholarship only works if one ignores the present organizational actuality of academic careers. Unless and until we toss out the traditional certification system, an aggregation model of scholarly knowledge-production is, I think, doomed to be a bit player. In fact, this marginality is already implicit in the model itself, which Cohen quite rightly referred to as “community-sourced” rather than”open-sourced”: not everyone can play, since there is still a level or two of editorial oversight. (Even the Wikipedia has something like this, with protected pages and dedicated editors for some areas.) But this in turn requires some way of certifying people as members of the community in advance of their aggregation work — so the aggregation system supervenes on a traditional system of scholarly certification. The only way for the aggregation system to really take off would be for it to more or less completely replace the traditional system, to the point where one could reference blog posts with extensive comment threads and retweets as evidence of membership in a scholarly community. But I am having a great deal of trouble envisioning how that might feasibly happen.

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Is the “Women and Children First” Norm a Myth?

In commemoration of the Titanic disaster, researchers at Uppsala University have released a report analyzing the evolution and impact of the “women and children first” rule guiding evacuations from sinking ships. They examined 18 historical cases of peace-time maritime disasters involving passenger ships and concluded:

Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared to men. Captains and crew survive at a significantly higher rate than passengers. We also find that the captain has the power to enforce normative behavior, that the gender gap in survival rates has declined, that women have a larger disadvantage in British shipwrecks, and that there seems to be no association between duration of a disaster and the impact of social norms.

The Global Post reports, thus, that “the women and children rule is a myth.” If valid, this finding would be interesting on a number of levels, not least because perceptions that this norm exists are so strong many people were surprised to learn it it not actually inscribed in maritime law after the sinking of the Costa Concordia in January. It would also correspond with data from air disasters, which shows that being male drastically increases one’s likelihood of survival.

However, there are problems with this interpretation. One is that the sample is non-random and suffers from missing data. This is beyond the authors’ control of course, but eighteen cases is too few to conduct a meaningful regression analysis… particularly with a non-random sample and particularly if you are attempting to generalize to a wider set of cases. A research method designed for medium-N cases (like fuzzy-set QCA) is probably more appropriate.

The descriptive statistics themselves are certainly interesting. But I’m also concerned about the coding: it seems that particularly in investigating the role of captains in enforcing a “WCF” rule (as opposed to the rule having an internalized influence over male crew-members and passengers), the authors would have needed to distinguish between wrecks where the order was given and enforced (eg the Titanic), versus where it was given but not enforced (the SS Arctic) as opposed to the many wrecks where it was apparently not given at all. Yet it appears that a ship gets the “WCF” code in either case, which is why the Arctic is considered one of the five exemplary wrecks even though not a single woman or child survived… meanwhile presumably if there were any cases of internalized normative conduct in evacuations not mandated by the captain (that is, where the norm had become internalized so that the crew followed it automatically without an order), it would not be reflected in the coding.

So while the evidence of the gender gap in survival rates is clear and striking, I think it’s hard to actually determine whether and how norm-based behavior affected this, other than to say that in the presence of a norm we would have expected to see more women and children to survive. In sum, the “myth” documented here is not that such a norm “exists” but rather that it has the effect we have been taught to think it does. Another good reason not to make generalized arguments on the basis of single case studies: they may turn out to be outliers.

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Interstellar Relations: A New Old Course At Georgetown

 This is a shameless bleg to two different audiences.

The first, and immediately more important, is undergraduate students who might like to take a serious course about international relations, political science, and science fiction this summer. During the first summer term, I’m picking up Dan’s section of Government 310: Interstellar Relations.

The second, and closely related, audience is the readers of this blog, to whom I turn to help improve my syllabus. I wanted to do something a little different than Dan or PTJ’s version. Summers here are shorter than the semester, and I wanted the students to be exposed to some of the longer-term conversations between the discipline and the literature.

The books are fixed–the bookstore had to place an order in February–but the films and short stories are not. As you’ll note, there’s some points where I’ve left reminders to myself to come up with good readings; in other places, particularly biopower, I’m stumped as to what I’d assign. Govt 310 Sribd

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A New Twist on the “Copenhagen School”

 Hmm.

Authorities in Denmark have charged a university professor with assisting “foreign intelligence operatives”, believed to be Russian. Professor Timo Kivimäki, a conflict resolution expert, who teaches international politics at the University of Copenhagen, is accused of “providing or attempting to provide” information to four Russian government officials on several documented instances between 2005 and 2010. The indictment claims Kivimäki, who was born in Finland, intended to give the Russians “information relating to individuals and subjects connected with intelligence activities”.

Kivimäki  says that he had no idea that the Russians he worked for were spies. 

RIA reports that:

The Finn, who has been suspended from his job as professor of international politics at the University of Copenhagen, admitted to providing consultancy services to four Russian diplomats between 2005 and 2010 and said he had charged some 16,000 euros for the work, the Helsingin Sanomat daily reported. 

Denmark’s security agency PET says the diplomats were spies.

Kivimäki might have passed information about his students, who the Russians could have then used to recruit agents in Denmark, PET’s former head told YLE earlier this week.

But Kivimäki said there was no evidence to back the allegations and insisted that he was “innocent.”

He also said he was “relieved” that the matter was going to court. 
He faces up to six years in jail if convicted.

Sounds not at all obvious; much depends on the nature of the evidence held by the Danish authorities. Still, an unusual story for the international-relations field, at least in the developed world and in this day and age.

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Why N Korea Gets Away with its Stunts: a Response to Jennifer Lind

NKl trajectory
Jennifer Lind has a good piece up on Foreign Affairs this week on why NK seems to regularly get away with with hijinks like last week’s rocket test (which directly contravenes UN Resolution 1874). She notes, correctly, that NK has been pulling unanswered, wild stunts like this for years – shootouts in the Yellow Sea, nuclear tests, kidnappings, etc. Further, the US particularly tends to hit back when hit. Indeed, looking at the GWoT, America’s problem is over-reaction rather than passivity. If we look at the Israelis, it’s similar. They have a well-established reputation of hitting back, hard, when provoked. So why don’t the democracies of the Six Party Talks (Korea, Japan, US) do the same here? They easily out weigh NK.

Her argument is that NK manages to deter counter-strikes through a bizarre mixture of the ‘madman theory’ (what will the loopy, hard-drinking, megalomaniacal Kim family do next? so let’s just not provoke them), regional fear of what would follow a NK implosion (après moi le déluge), and traditional nuclear deterrence (if Saddam and Gaddafi had nukes, they’d still be alive, so we’ll never give them up!).

None of that is wrong, but I think she’s missing the big factor – SK domestic politics. Lots of countries and other international actors do wacky, crazy stuff; the question is whether the target wants to counterstrike and risk escalation. So it is SK ultimately (not the US or Japan) that decides whether or not to hit back. And SK doesn’t want to, because 1) South Korean population centers are extremely vulnerable to Northern aggression, and 2) South Koreans just don’t care that much about NK anymore.

I’ve written a lot before on the issue of SK’s extreme vulnerability and how this ties the Korean military’s hands (here is the full write-up, also here; this, picked up on Lawyers, Guns, and Money, is a long discussion thread of my argument). 50% of South Korea’s population lives northwestern SK, in the extremely dense Seoul-Kyeonggi-Incheon corridor. The southern most tip of this massive agglomeration is less than 70 miles from the DMZ. The extreme demographic concentration of the Seoul area is worsening too. Busan, the second city, where I live, is shrinking, even though we are a paltry 3.5 milllion, and Incheon, the site of a super-fancy new airport, is growing. This corridor is huge, proximate, defenseless city-hostage to the North. NK does not need nuclear weapons to jeopardize these inhabitants, which is why I remain skeptical of the hawk/neocon line that NK’s nukes change the balance in big way. (Lind herself has a made a similar point.)

I have brought this point up again and again at conferences here, and I have gotten no real response. Does it make any sense to hyper-centralize a country in a direct competition with a dangerous neighbor and place the grossly overpopulated national capital just 40 miles from the border? Who thought that would be a good idea? Look at what the West Germans did. But decentralization never happens because of the cost and resistance of Seoul-based elites who like the convenience.

Remember how Cold War planners used to say that the US had an advantage over the USSR, because its many federal layers of government and widely dispersed population meant it could absorb a Soviet strike better? By contrast, because the Soviets centralized everything in Moscow, they were very vulnerable to a decapitation strike. The logic is the same here. The ROK is extremely centralized (a legacy of the Park Chung Hee dictatorship), not just politically, but in just about every way – culturally, economically, demographically. And it’s all but impossible to shield these people from a NK rocket and artillery bombardment (even non-nuclear). That Korean urbanites live in towering apartment blocks vulnerable to World Trade Center-style collapse if bombarded only worsens the vulnerability. This dramatically ties the hands of the SK government. Even if none of Lind’s three variables applied, this huge risk alone is enough to prevent SK escalation/response (as is likely the case in the foregone retaliation after the Yeonpyeong incident in 2010).

Next, Lind does not address the growing disinterest in SK for retaliation, or even otherwise engaging NK. Several Korea-based western analysts (me, Brian Myers, Brendan Howe) have made this point. In a post-Yeonpyeong analysis for the Korean National Defense University, I argued that the most likely way to end the Korean stalemate is get greater South Korean commitment to ‘win’ rather than simply manage-when-necessary-and-ignore-when-possible, today’s current ‘strategy.’ And at the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis last year, I argued for a significant effort to ‘harden’ South Korea to withstand this competition. When Brendan and I suggested raising SK defense spending, which is a paltry 2.3% of GDP, the room roundly said it’s politically impossible.

In IR lingo, SK is not really a revisionist anymore; it is a status quo power. De jure, (i.e., in its constitution), the ROK is committed to unity, but as anyone who’s lived here for just a little while can tell you, most South Koreans are genuinely frightened of NK’s collapse – not of NK, mind you, but of its collapse: the huge amount of money it will cost, the massive, generations-spanning reconstruction it will require, internal ‘refugees’ from the north decamping in southern cities, loss of the hard-won OECD lifestyle in the name of national sacrifice, etc. South Koreans would much rather buy iPhones, travel, study in the West, move to Seoul, and get a cool job with Samsung.

I see this in my students all the time. We talk about reunification in class a lot naturally. It’s an unnerving abstraction to them; they certainly don’t get fired up about it. I have never seen a Korean get passionate, angry, or intensely patriotic about unification, even though they are a very nationalistic as a people. In my experience, South Koreans get more angry and emotional over the Liancourt Rocks dispute with Japanor or the Dongbei/Mt. Baektu flap with China than over NK . Just look at the lack of interest and care shown to North Koreans who make it here (a terrible moral failing, IMO). Or, I’ve had students tell me that my discussion of the 1990s famine in NK that killed maybe half a million people was just American propaganda I picked up from the US military in Korea.

If you’re wondering if this really strange, yes, it is. North Korea has probably the worst long-term human rights record of any country in the world, yet South Koreans don’t want to talk about it. I guess a parallel is Germans under 40 years old by the mid-1980s. They too increasingly saw the inter-German border as a real border, not a temporary division. Divide a community long enough, and I guess it slowly becomes two. That’s not too surprising. It’s rather uncomfortable that outsiders, usually Americans, are the ones who seem to push the NK issue and worry about NK human rights and nutrition. I am continuously mystified and moral discomforted that NK doesn’t dominate SK politics.

But that’s how it is. And if we believe in democracy and self-determination, we have to respect Southern public opinion. We can’t get in front our own ally who will carry most of the costs if there’s a war or collapse. When I came to SK I shared the typical American hawk/neocon thinking regarding NK – on the axis of evil, the worst country on earth, run by power-mad lunatics, deserved to get punched in the face at the earliest opportunity, etc. All of that is still true of course, but the longer I live here, the more I have moderated on what that means for policy. South Koreans really don’t want a war or escalation, no matter how many times western IR and think-tank types tell them that NK is dangerous, erratic, terrifying, etc. (I’ve seen this so debate so many times here); they don’t want to risk much for regime change; they don’t want to ally with democratic Japan against communist NK and China, regardless of what structural realism and democratic peace liberalism say; SK is very vulnerable and neocon-John Boltonism looks reckless and scary to them; most don’t really believe in their hearts that their ethnic compatriots to the north will nuke them. Yes, there are demonstrations sometimes against NK, but look closely and you’ll notice that most of the demonstrations are small and the participants elderly. Washington may not like this (I don’t either), and it may feel morally uncomfortable, in that it effectively abandons North Koreans to the brutal status quo, but this is where Southern public opinion is.

So South Koreans seem increasingly comfortable letting NK go its own, bizarre way. I think this is why the conservative, anti-communist press here comes off so unhinged; they’re terrified that South Korea is effectively a status quo power now (which is true). President Lee’s post-Sunshine Policy return to confrontation is very unpopular here (even though lots of western analysts I meet here [me included] think it was a good idea to give it up). Even the conservatives in this year’s elections here are running as doves now. Lots of Koreas thought that the 2010 Cheonan sinking was a plot by the government or the even Americans, or that it illustrated the incompetence of the Lee administration; there was no post-9/11-style national outburst against NK. And a similar shrug greeted the 2010 Yeonpyeong shelling; there was no nation-wide outburst for war or even counterstrikes comparable to how, say, Americans would have responded to such an attack.  In the parliamentary elections that just concluded, NK wasn’t an issue, even though the rocket launch preparation was making global news during the campaign.

I don’t think I would call this appeasement of Lind’s ‘madman.’ That would imply a level of interest, if only to duck or hide from the North, that isn’t there. Appeasement would also suggest that SK would eventually spend more on defense so that it would have more choices against the madman next time. But as Brendan noted, SK isn’t doing any of this. The military is shrinking, the defense budget is astonishingly, irresponsibly low, and there’s no effort to generate force totals with the requisite skills even close to what Lind says is needed to pacify a unified Korea. And that’s because a unified Korea isn’t really on the public radar.

To my mind, the real reason SK doesn’t respond is simple disinterest; they don’t want to make the sacrifices and run the risks.  K-pop, climbing the social ladder, learning English, moving ‘up to Seoul,’ reducing the Gini-coefficient, going to school in the US, playing golf, Yuna Kim, the scandals of the Lee administration, etc. are far more common topics of conversation with my students, family, and colleagues. I am the one who brings up NK, and the answers just aren’t that passionate.

More than anything else, South Koreans just want NK to go away. The most scary implication of this is that if NK can hang on a few more decades, the South won’t even want unity.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

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Book Review: “The Justice Cascade”

My “Human Security” doctoral students just finished reading Kathryn Sikkink‘s new book on international tribunals and it is undisputably their favorite of all those assigned this year. Partly that is because it is written in clear, non-academic prose. Partly it’s the common-sense way in which Sikkink describes her methods and findings, and she ties her story concretely to ongoing policy debates. Partly it’s the way she weaves a portrait of her own intellectual journey into the writing. This book is going to have wide appeal beyond the academy for these reasons, but it was also notably very appealing to doctoral students for the same reasons, as they are hungry for scholarship to which they feel they can relate.

Beyond its appeal to the informed public and as a classroom text, The Justice Cascade makes significant intellectual, theoretical and empirical contributions to human security studies. The title is a little bit misleading since it implies that the story is about the rise of international justice as a norm… and it is, partly. But the real contribution is in demonstrating that trials and truth commissions work, especially in tandem. At least, these mechanisms appear to correlate somewhat to certain favorable outcomes, not least of which is a decline in human rights repression; and notably, in contrast to earlier work by Jack Snyder and Leslie Vinjamuri, her analysis shows such mechanisms certainly do no harm.

This finding should not be understated. Many have made similar arguments in the past, but none of the literature was particularly systematic or well-conceived: Sikkink’s own earlier quantitative work on the topic was either region-specific or failed to control for other causal factors. In fact a 2010 overview of the state of the TJ literature by Oskar Thomas, Jim Ron and Roland Paris concluded that it was impossible to know whether TJ worked due to absence of good data, over-reliance on case data, and conceptual incommensurability.

Sikkink’s new book is a redounding riposte to these claims, providing a much more careful systematic treatment of the relationship between trials and truth commissions and the deterrence of human rights abuses than anything I’ve read. She ties together a career’s worth of research on the subject, describing the evolution of the “norm cascade” toward individual state-level accountability for human rights abuses, documenting the effects within Latin America and then replicating these tests on a new global data-set. Throughout, she is careful to discuss the different analytical ways of thinking about “effects” of transitional justice, and she is clear on her coding and the trade-offs in some of her conceptual choices. Other scholars, she acknowledges, have created different data and found different results, but Sikkink’s reaction to that has been to team up with these colleagues on a new project aimed at reconciling the two sets of findings. So she describes her path-breaking conclusions with humility. Her work is a model of normatively-driven, empirically rigorous, policy-relevant social science.

I have only two mild critiques. The first is that I would have loved if the global deterrence chapter had explored differences between types of tribunals. An important policy question animating discussions of how to try Assad, for example, is whether international tribunals have advantages over local courts. It’s not clear to me that Sikkink’s data reflects the kinds of important variation that we see here: in fact my impression (though I’ve not look at the dataset itself) is that she coded only state-level courts. So there are open questions about the role of international institutions and the transnational international justice epistemic community in creating the outcomes she documents. I am hoping some of these more nuanced variables will be reflected in her new work with Leigh Payne.

My other set of questions has to do with the final empirical chapter on US policy post-9/11 and what this means for the “justice cascade.” First, the chapter itself is brilliant for what it is: it’s the best descriptive overview I’ve seen of the rhetorical mechanisms the Bush Administration used to stave off prosecution for its violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the war on terror (or at least, the best overview situated within the IR theory on norms). But the chapter makes an explanatory claim as well – that the efforts of the US to reinterpret international law indicate the strength of the justice cascade, rather than heralding its decline. Here Sikkink’s argument is weaker: it would be fairer to say she has advanced a new and very interesting hypothesis than that she has adequately demonstrated a finding on this point: the chapter includes no counter-factual comparison to earlier US administrations or to the behavior of other states in the same period; and no genuine causal assessment, actually, of whether the US would have behaved differently in the absence of the justice cascade. Plus it largely ducks the other question of whether a superpower’s malfeasance affects the legitimacy of the international norms it’s breaking, or only its own.

Still, both because of its many strengths and because of these small flaws, the book is absolutely ideal for teaching graduate students about how to do systematic, policy-relevant social science and to communicate it to wide audience. We ended by considering whether Sikkink could have written this book in this way straight out of grad school. Probably not: junior political scientists are still safer if they publish a few books with university presses in the style of Activists Beyond Borders before moving on to this more public-intellectual style. But this discussion not only inspired students to think about the justice cascade – it inspired them to visualize themselves at different places in their careers, as scholar-practitioners embedded in the human rights epistemic community, helping build social justice through research.

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Historical Institutionalism and International Relations

[warning: this post and the piece attached to is is only of interest to a handful of academics]

The April 2011 issue of International Organization included a very interesting review essay by Orfeo Fioretos entitled “Historical Institutionalism in International Relations.” The thrust of Fioretos’ argument, developed through a discussion of books ranging from John Ikenberry’s After Victory to Abe Newman’s Protectors of Privacy, is that international-relations scholarship would benefit from an historical-institutionalist turn. Although I found myself in agreement with the broad claims in the piece, I had difficulty with some of its specifics.

Anyone seeking to forward an historical-institutionalist agenda faces a basic problem: the approach doesn’t have what many would consider a coherent core. It emerged, as such, when a few scholars came up with a name for a motley body of work that they saw as distinguished by its opposition to “presentism” and to a rigid adherence to rational-choice theories. In his essay, Fioretos deals with this by, as far as I can tell, deciding that behavioral psychology in general, and prospect theory in particular, supplies historical institutionalism with microfoundations.

This didn’t make much sense to me, as I couldn’t recall seeing this claim advanced from within the ranks of self-proclaimed historical institutionalism. It also got a little under my skin. I’ve always considered my work as, at least, cognate to historical institutionalism and yet I don’t adopt such microfoundations.

The result of my discomfort was a response piece that I shipped off to International Organization. A few weeks ago I received a very nice note from the editors declining to send the piece out for review on the grounds that the issues raised weren’t sufficiently important to merit publication. I don’t have a problem with this, but as journals in our field don’t generally publish responses to articles that appear in other journals, there’s not much left to do with the response. So I’ve decided to make it available here in the hopes that someone will get something useful out of it.

UPDATE: also available, in convenient HTML format, at e-International Relations.

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Popular Culture and Civil-Military Relations

Some of those who missed the ISA panel on popular culture have asked me if I can send them my remarks. So I decided to upload them in video format as well. You can see my presentation on Battlestar Galactica and civil-military relations below. This is essentially a presentation of a research paper I did with two students, which will be published later this year in Nicholas Kiersey and Iver Neumann‘s Battlestar Galactica and International Relations.

While we’re on the topic of civ-mil and popular culture, let me be the first to say that BSG is not the only cultural artifact through which these themes can be explored. Olivier Schmitt of King’s College London posted this analysis of how alien invasion movies reflect US strategic debates over military doctrine and construct perceptions of the military’s role and value in the minds of Americans (and presumably others). Schmitt begins with the film Battleship, which was just released in Europe:

My favorite sound-byte from Schmitt’s review:

Battleship is interesting on that regard because well, you know, the U.S. navy saves the world and stuff. It is probably already the sign of the end of the COIN era and the beginning of a new focus on the global commons and the strategic roles of the navies.

I should warn you (since it releases here only in May) that the essay contains mild spoilers… still well worth the read.

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Winecoff vs. Nexon Cage Match!

Kindred Winecoff has a pretty sweet rebuttal to my ill-tempered rant of late March. A lot of it makes sense, and I appreciate reading graduate student’s perspective on things.

Some of his post amounts to a reiteration of my points: (over)professionalization is a rational response to market pressure, learning advanced methods that use lots of mathematical symbols is a good thing, and so forth.

On the one hand, I hope that one day Kindred will sit on a hiring committee (because I’d like to see him land a job). On the other hand, I’m a bit saddened by the prospect because his view of the academic job market is just so, well, earnest.  I hate to think what he’ll make of it when he sees how the sausage actually gets made.

I do have one quibble:

While different journals (naturally) tend to publish different types of work, it’s not clear whether that is because authors are submitting strategically, editors are dedicated to advancing their preferred research paradigms, both, or neither. There are so many journals that any discussion of them as doing any one thing — or privileging any one type of work — seems like painting with much too wide a brush.

Well, sure. I’m not critical enough to publish in Alternatives, Krinded’s not likely to storm the gates of International Political Sociology, and I doubt you’ll see me in the Journal of Conflict Resolution in the near future. But while some of my comments are applicable to all journals, regardless of orientation, others are pretty clearly geared toward the “prestige” journals that occupy a central place in academic certification in the United States.

But mostly, this kind of breaks my heart:

I’ve taken more methods classes in my graduate education than substantive classes. I don’t regret that. I’ve come to believe that the majority of coursework in a graduate education in most disciplines should be learning methods of inquiry. Theory-development should be a smaller percentage of classes and (most importantly) come from time spent working with your advisor and dissertation committee. While there are strategic reasons for this — signaling to hiring committees, etc. — there are also good practical reasons for it. The time I spent on my first few substantive classes was little more than wasted; I had no way to evaluate the quality of the work. I had no ability to question whether the theoretical and empirical assumptions the authors were making were valid. I did not even have the ability to locate what assumptions were being made, and why it was important to know what those are.

Of course, most of what we do in graduate school should be about learning methods of inquiry, albeit understood in the broadest terms. The idea that one does this only in designated methods classes, though, is a major part of the problem that I’ve complained about. As is the apparent bifurcation of “substantive” and “methods of inquiry.”And if you didn’t get anything useful out of your “substantive” classes because you hadn’t yet had your coursework in stochastic modeling… well, something just isn’t right there. I won’t tackle what Kindred means by “theory-development,” as I’m not sure we’re talking about precisely the same thing, but I will note that getting a better grasp of theory and theorization is not the same thing as “theory-development.”

Anyway, I’ll spot a TKO to Kindred on most of the issues.

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Google Scholar Dystopia

Guest Post by Deborah Avant

Anyone remember that 1980s Terry Gilliam film Brazil – a futuristic dystopia where overreliance on bizarre and mostly broken machines led to equally bizarre social maladies? Well, I’m having a Brazil moment.

According to Google Scholar, I am no longer the author of my 2005 book. If you search my name, it has disappeared. If you search the title a (very well done) review article comes up but no book. The book – and my relation to it – has disappeared even when you search subject terms.

According to an article in the Academic Newswire, this is a common occurrence. And a quick email to six of my blogger friends revealed at least one similar recent incident.

The clincher? While the Google Scholar team was quick to get back to me, apologized, and promised to “keep this example in mind as the update the indexing algorithms” given that “our system is entirely automated” they could not fix it (!) I’m annoyed – and ever more so as I realize how many times in a day I check Google Scholar. It is free, it is easy, no need to log in. Precisely because of the ease, many programs also rely on its results. So do many students.

According to librarians, we shouldn’t. A nice page on Northwestern Library’s website reminds us we should use more than one source -for gathering information about citations as well as general research (read it here). It also explains strengths and weaknesses of each.

None, though, are as easy as Google Scholar. We need another free and easy tool and maybe one that takes advantage of “all the good metadata generously offered to them by scholarly publishers and indexing/abstracting services” mentioned in the Academic Newswire article.

Zuckerberg – what about Facebook Scholar?

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All Politics is Local, Korean style

 

Because I work for a public university, I am a national civil servant. So it was inappropriate for me to comment on my site about the recent Korean parliamentary election. But now that it’s over (here are the results), I thought it would be fun, as a political scientist, to share this video of what downhome street politics looks like in my election district in Korea. Here’s a little anthropological, comparative politics participant observation in the field.

This took place about 2 minutes from our apartment, in the middle of a boisterous Korean streetmarket (the woman next to me was chopping the heads off of fish). The candidate’s name is Jin Bok Lee (the incumbent and a conservative); here’s his campaign truck and part-time campaign dance squad. So if you’re wondering what Richard Fenno’s ‘homestyle’ campaigning looks like in Korea, here you go, goofiness and all. Don’t miss the ajeossi on the left side boogying with the dancers. Awesome! Doubtless, this is what Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson had in mind Smile.

In Busan, I live in Dongnae Gu. ‘Dongnae’ is proper name, and ‘Gu’ would roughly translate as ‘precinct,’ but much it’s larger (around 250,000 people I’ve heard). Busan is pretty conservative, a stronghold for the conservative, government Sae Nuri Party (the new, hard-to-translate name of the old Grand National Party). Korean parties change names all the time, and mix and merge so much it’s hard to keep track.

Korea’s voting system for the National Assembly is similar to the German system for the Bundestag. It’s a mix of proportional representation (54 seats) and single-member districts (246). Here’s a quick write-up on the election process. It’s also a very presidentialized semi-presidential system. There is a prime minister, but he’s pretty weak. Turn out on April 11 was 54.3%. The wiki write-up on the results is amazingly thorough just 36 hours after the vote.

Back in the 1990s, I worked for a US representative in the district office. It was campaign season, so inevitably I ‘voluntered’ a lot. I didn’t have to dance in public like these kids, but we did walk in parades, go to church lunches, work the bingo halls, and do all that sort of stuff Fenno talked about in Homestyle. And when Assemblyman Lee spoke, after the dancers, he all but channeled Tip O’Neill’s famous line that ‘all politics is local.’ Here’s him speaking:

Election 008

To my mind, perhaps as an IR guy, the big issues in Korea all revolve around North Korea, where I tend to agree with moderate SNP hawks. But as O’Neill and Fenno would predict, our assemblyman said pretty much nothing about foreign affairs. Instead, it was all about the pork. He told us we’d get more money for schools (pretty much a throw-away line in any democracy I guess), more foreign teachers for direct foreign language instruction (a big issue in Korea, where English proficiency is critical professional skill), and Dongnae would become a transportation hub (even though we are a very dense, totally enclosed section of Busan), complete with another subway station (we just got a big new subway interchange built last year, which is supposedly bringing more people to a big mall in our Gu). The big issues in Korea this year are social-welfarist – things like school lunches for kids and the widening Gini-coefficient. So the SNP has been pivoting left for months. This was definitely not Romney talking about ‘self-reliance’ and ‘job creators.’

Finally, I guess as if to show the conservatives around the world just can’t resist, Lee drew some specious link about how the opposition parties in Korea wouldn’t care if al Qaeda showed up in Seoul. Ah, the ease of Bush-Rove-Palin demagoguery. I guess when Obama was “pallin’ around with terrorists,” Korean left-wingers were setting the meets in Seoul. Actually Korea’s conservatives are a lot more balanced and centrist than the GOP, so I was rather disappointed with that remark. Some Korean conservatives have used Christianity as a wedge issue, which has provoked tension with Buddhist community. And NK can always bring out over-the-top anti-communist cold-war rhetoric from the right-wing media here. But the kind of nastiness the Tea Party has brought to American discourse (cheering for the death penalty and such) is pretty uncommon here. I once remember even hearing a sitting congressman on the campaign trail in the US call CNN the ‘Communist News Network’ directly to a group of reporters. To its great credit, the Korean right doesn’t usually talk that way.

It turns out Lee was reelected. The pre-election consensus our Gu seemed to be that he was good, even if even else in the NA is corrupt, which sounds pretty much like the well-established finding in American politics that Americans loathe Congress as a body, but like their own guy.

It is also worth noting that there was almost no one under 40 among the listeners at that street event. That was immediately obvious. That reminded me of those arguments in the US that because the elderly vote and pay attention so much to politics, their preferred issues like Social Security and Medicare are untouchable. Korea is aging rapidly, and I imagine the effects will be similar.

Next, if your wondering about the truck, they are common here, which surprised me. It reminds me of those political trucks driving around in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and that’s how they do it. The truck pulls up to an intersection. The dancers and music start up, and then the candidate starts bellowing into the mic. That really struck me, because in the US, when I worked for Congress, it was all about TV. Hitting the streets was a worth a few points in the polls maybe, but it was difficult and boring and time-consuming. (Our candidate hated it.) The real focus was dialing for dollars and then big ad buys on TV. Thankfully, Korea is not like that, at least in the legislative races. Korea is far more dense than the US, so there are only a few major TV markets for a huge number of districts. My colleagues tell me it would therefore be astronomically expensive for National Assembly candidates to go on TV. But this fall is the presidential race, which should be played out heavily on TV in the American sense.

Finally the number “1” on Assemblyman Lee’s truck means his party is the first list on the PR portion of the ballot. List 1 is the conservative bloc; list 2 is the social democratic or liberal bloc (the Democratic United Party).

Random factoid: Door-to-door campaigning is illegal in Korea, in order to prevent direct vote buying. The average constituency in Korea is 200,000 voters, less than one-third of a US House seat. But I still find it hard to imagine that so many people could get bribed.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.

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Pop Cuture Meets Social Science: Beautiful Marriage

 Check out this post where Brett Keller uses sophisticated social science statistical methods to ascertain how badly fixed the Hunger Games depicted in the novel/movie are. 

All I can say is that we live in a wonderful time where folks can radically over-think some pop culture and then disseminate widely and quickly via Al Gore’s internet.  Indeed, all Alan Sepinwall has to do is ask the internet, and it provides him with the rules for True American must mere hours after the game was presented on New Girl.

Anyhow, back to the Hunger Games analysis–I am now beginning to regret not teaching Intro to IR next fall, as we now have a great example of a collective action problem: why doesn’t every kid in a Panem district ask for the max amount of tessera?  If every kid does this, their odds of being entered into the games does not change….

Read the piece–it is chock full of nerdy goodness.

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What Good is Network Theory in IR?

In between ultimate frisbee and lying around in bed sick, I managed to attend a workshop on network theory at the International Studies Asssociation.

I spent some time there thinking about different things scholars mean when they say they are doing network theory, and what is the value added to IR of this basket of approaches.

Here are some tripartite thoughts on the matter, and you can probably guess which approach I’ll be taking in my new book.

1) Network theory provides a way to describe social relations that are neither hierarchies nor markets. This approach is associated with Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink’s work on advocacy networks and continues to hold some sway among “network analytic” scholarship, like Taylor Seyboldt’s recent analysis of the network structure of the humanitarian aid community. I actually don’t buy this approach however. Hierarchies are also networks (Wendy Wong’s great new book uses network theory as a way to describe and analyze variation in the organizational structure of different NGOs, and the same analysis could be applied to firms.) Furthermore, networks can be hierarchical rather than flat. Markets are distinct not in terms of structure but substance.

2) Network theory provides different conceptual tools for measuring (and visualizing) “structure.” IR theorists talk a lot about structure versus agency and yet have tended to have a very thin understanding of what structure is, generally arrived at deductively and treating it as a constant rather than measuring how it may vary by context. Emilie Hafner-Burton, Miles Kahler and Alex Montgomery have a good overview of the kinds of tools we’re talking about, and they distinguish this approach explicitly from the “networks as organization” approach above. The problem with this approach, I think, is that it equates network “theory” with “network analysis tools” and that the use of the tools as a method for measuring or visualizing often doesn’t involve very sophisticated theorizing about what those relationships mean and how they relate to the agency of actors embedded in network structures.

3) Network theory provides a set of propositions about the sources of political outcomes that are relational rather than instrinsic to actors.
I like this approach the best because it both limits network theory to something analytically useful (that is, it’s not just another form of organization) and broadens it to include many methodologies besides social network analysis. For example, one could take the theoretical propositions associated with SNA (such as “actors with a high level of betweenness centrality will have the ability to function as brokers”) or “actors with high in-degree centrality within a network will exert greater influence over the categorical meanings within a network” and then examine the extent to which these insights hold true in different network settings by using more qualitative methodologies including comparative case studies, process-tracing, elite interview or focus groups. I think what’s most important is not that we’re able to create colorful maps or measure ties precisely, but that we’re taking relational factors seriously as causal and constitutive forces in world politics.

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Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging Early: When Sports and International Relations Meet, the Dumbest Things Happen

I am headed out to Coachella this Thursday for three days of music in the desert. Well, two days. I am too old to make it all the way through, and I have to teach on Monday. In any case, I thought I would offer this Friday anti-nerd blogging column a little early in the week. For those of you teaching or taking classes on the semester system, it is that time of year that you are very, very tired. You need the break a bit in advance.

The MLB team, the Marlins, just suspended their manager, Ozzie Guillen, for complimentary comments he made about Fidel Castro. The Marlins play in Miami where they have this little minority constituency that seems to gets its way from time to time. Or every time.

Please do not look to this man for foreign policy insight. This should be self-evident

I am going to go out on a limb and say that anything that a professional baseball player, or even coach, says about politics does not matter whatsoever. Ozzie Guillen is clearly something of an idiot, but this is something that we should expect of our athletes. Even cherish. Let’s apply that same rule to every sport. In general there should be no penalty for what people who know nothing about politics say about politics, even if they are in the public eye. So we can forgive the Dixie Chicks, Kanye West, and even Ted Nugent. We can make fun of them, call them ignorant. Indeed we should. But for them to lose their job over it, even if just for a few days, is very, very dumb. The guy should not even have to apologize. If everyone had to say sorry for being an idiot, there would not be much time left over. I have now just satisfied my lifelong ambition to mention Ted Nugent in a blog.

Guillen isn’t a leftist, communist revolutionary, or an apologist for dictatorial regimes. He simply admires, he says, Castro for his amazing staying power. Despite being an international and domestic pariah he has held on to power for decades (Castro, not Guillen). In other words, Guillen appreciates that Castro is a tough and stubborn son-of-a-bitch. I think we can all agree that, even if we not quite call it a merit, Castro is indeed a tough and stubborn son-of-a-bitch. I find this whole event somewhat funny in that it has transpired at a moment in American politics in which the greatest asset for a political figure, at least voters claim, is principled conviction and an unwillingness to back down.

In general, I think that the American public needs to take a really big collective breath and chill the f*ck out about what people say. It is far more important what people do. Does Ozzie Guillen diddle little boys? Not that we know of? Then let’s all just shut the f*ck up.

The same goes for politics. If Rick Santorum calls Mitt Romney “the worst possible candidate,” it should not be news because it does not matter. It does not tell us anything about either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney except that they probably don’t like each other. Duh. It just seems to me that we all are all on the constant look-out for something that offends us. We want to be outraged. What does that say about us? What’s with the axe to grind? I say let the offense come to us. And let’s wait for something really offensive.We can blame it on the news media, but my guess is the first thing we all tweet, facebook, etc., is dumb shit like this. They only do it because we watch it.

In other words, the public needs to be more like IR scholars, who don’t give two shits about rhetoric and talk. I think this is actually a big, big problem, and it is something that some are trying to correct like Ron Krebs, Stacie Goddard, Jennifer Mitzen, Jarrod Hayes and Patrick T. Jackson. But for our own domestic politics, we would do well to heed the lesson that so much of this is unimportant fluff.

OK, off to hang out with the hipster doofi. Lates.

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