Monday, June 26, 2017

Pet Professor in Film Peeve

I saw a tweet about a movie about a prof, and, of course, it is about his relationship with a student.  FFS.  So, I tweeted thusly:
I got lots of agreement and some pushback, with some saying that there is still plenty of profs pursuing all kinds of relationships with students.  I get that, as that has been a source of much Spewing here.  Indeed, predatory sexual relationships with grad students have been a central plot line in two of the four places I worked.  still, the norms have changed--this stuff is not seen as ok as it used to be, even as some profs can end up marrying their students even in the present day and so forth.

But, damn it, isn't there another story to be told about professor life besides this one?  I guess the fundamental problem is that our professor lives are just not that interesting.  Sure, the story of a bumbling chair and the divide between junior and senior faculty would have made for a better TV show than movie--Hogan's Heroes in Lubbock!?  There has been a movie or two about department politics and tenure that have not focused on sleeping with students, but these are rare.  Oh, and tenure politics are so obscure for mainstream audiences that such movies have to do heaps of explaining or do stupid stuff like making tenure seem like a zero sum game between two profs.

When is it ok to focus on prof-student relationships?  Obviously, when it is done creatively, intelligently and entertainingly is the right answer.... but since that does not happen much, I'd say I don't mind it so much when:
  • When the movie is set in an earlier time, when the norms had not yet changed.  Also, when the butt you see is Donald Sutherland's.
  • The target of the romantic attraction is a student of roughly similar age as the prof, so it is not so skeevy.  Indeed, when the woman is played by Marisa Tomei, I can't really get upset.
  • Perhaps when the skeevy prof faces serious consequences?  Nah, that would be too unrealistic.
One of the problems with having so many prof movies focus on this dynamic is that it may reverse the taboo--that it makes normal that which should not be normal. 

Anyhow, perhaps Hollywood should learn that the most successful professor movies of all time did not involve any sex/romance between professor and student:

Ok, some profs were incompetent, corrupt,
or murderous, but no sexual stuff here.
Sure, students crushed on Prof. Jones,
but that is as afar as it went.
Sure, he puts his students in harm's way

To be fair, a bit of this is confirmation bias as various lists of best movie profs have plenty that don't sleep with their students (Good Will Hunting, etc). So, it can be done, but, lazy writers can rely on this trope... I just don't have to watch.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Time Flies: Five Years in Ottawa

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the move to Ottawa and to Carleton.  It has worked out better than we imagined.  To be sure, this one had an advantage over all the other moves--it was the first time we moved to a place where we knew people and had many friends.  Last night's party for Roland and Katie Paris reminded me of that, as Roland was one of the friends who was so very enthused for our move and welcomed us.

So, what do I love about Ottawa and Carleton after five years?
  •  It is so much fun to be an IR scholar in a national capital. 
    • I get to meet with people in and near government all the time.
    • I regular meet diplomats and defense attach├ęs so I get perspectives from around the world.
    • There are many interesting events that inform me about stuff directly in my research agenda, directly relevant for my teaching and then stuff that ain't either but is most fascinating.
    • Interviews with military officers, politicians and others are easier to arrange. 
    • There is a dynamic density of folks who are interested in this stuff.
    • My students often have fascinating backgrounds and experiences as they have often done some time in government.
  • Ottawa may have fewer options for comedy or food than Montreal, but it is so much easier to enjoy such stuff.  Traffic is supposed to be bad, but it is not.  We say yes far more than we used to when things come up since it is easier to get to and enjoy whatever is going on.  I love the Byward Market, which is a great place to have a beer with a government official (who might just spill interesting stuff).  
  • It is far easier to the public engagement stuff, including TV and radio, here as I can into downtown and home pretty quickly.  That Ottawa is the national capital also means I get to engage with journalists all the time--this is not just about self-promotion but about learning stuff from them
  • We live in a very neighorhood-y neighborhood, where the folks actually know each other and look out for each other's kids.  Oh, and I have a two car garage so I don't have to scrape my car all winter long (and Carleton has covered parking, woot!).  And now a Costco is only five minutes away!  People call my neighborhood Barrhaven Farhaven since it is 30 minutes from downtown.  Which is about 50-67% of the time I needed to get into downtown in Montreal. While we could use more/better selection of restaurants out here, I have everything else I need.
  • Frisbee is only 12 minutes away most of the time!  And the leagues here are very friendly, chock full of the usual assortment of silly players.  The big difference between this frisbee community and previous ones (other than proximity)?  More beer after games!
  • NPSIA has turned out to be an even better place to work than I expected.  
    • Perhaps hiring my friends (ok, I was excluded from those searches) has something to do with it.  I have also developed friendships with most of my colleagues, and we have managed to resolve the 10-25% problem very well.
    • The students are quite bright and have pushed me to teach differently--MA policy students don't need/want the same kind of classes as Phd students.  I do miss teaching undergrads, and I do have more grading than I had in my previous job.  
    • However, I am also no longer the adviser of last resort (my last job had several scholars in areas near mine who were inferior advisors for one reason or another).  So, I have fewer PhD students, so my guilt about potentially producing many folks who might end up underemployed is diminished.
    • I had one of the best "bosses" in my career for the past five years in Dane Rowlands.  I am sure that his successor, Teddy Samy, will be great.  
    • Our dean, Andre Plourde, has been super-supportive, and his staff have been of great
      assistance to me.  Indeed, one of the key strengths of Carleton has been consistent efforts to recognize people for their contributions. I definitely feel not just welcome here, but appreciated.  And that goes a long, long way to making me happy and appreciative.
    • There is a Tim Horton's in our building!
I am sure I am forgetting stuff, but the key is that we are very happy.  The five years have flown by as they have been full of interesting experiences, much fun with friends, excellent beer, and heaps of frisbee.  So, thanks, Ottawanians for making me and mine so welcome. 

Self-Promotion in IR: Necessary?

Dan Nexon had an epic tweetstorm about the need to self-promote yesterday which got many responses.  The basic gist, I believe, is: academic work does not often speak for itself. That once you publish something, there is so much out there that unless you promote it, the work will just disappear.  That self-promotion is necessary. 

As readers of the Semi-Spew could guess, I don't disagree.  I don't think there is a single best way to promote one's work.  I use a portfolio approach (or a shotgun approach), where I try to share my stuff in a variety of ways.  Sure, I tweet and I blog (the twitter conversation sure pooh-poohed blogs, but the Semi-Spew and posts I put up elsewhere certainly get more eyeballs than most academic articles). But I also do conventional media, appear at conferences, give talks, chat folks up.

My list of things I don't do to self-promote is easier to write than the stuff that I do.
1. I don't email blast folks about what I have been doing. 
I don't regard email as a broadcasting system, but as a way to communicate professional and/or personally with individuals and small groups about stuff.  But mostly not self-promotion.  Sure, I do inform some folks about things I am doing via email, but that is mostly chit-chat and not efforts to get folks to read my stuff.

Why seek to share one's stuff?  Fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory.  Actually, no.  For younger folks, it is about survival--that tenure letters, invitations to workshops and small conferences, networking opportunities all are better if folks know who you are and what you are doing.  For older folks like myself, who have few moves left and no more promotions, it is something else.  For me, as I receive government money for my salary and for my grants, I feel obligated to disseminate my work (many grants require "knowledge mobilization plans).

Most importantly, as a scholar, I feel that it is not enough to "create knowledge" (that high falutin' phrase always triggers me a smidge)--that once one has an idea, part of the job is to share it. With students, with peers, with relevant audiences.  So, it is not just about self-interest but about identity, obligation and norms. It really is in the job title: professor.  To profess means to say or to declare (the online definitions then include "sometimes falsely" which is not supposed to be what professors do). Our job is to learn and then to share what we learn. So, self-promotion is not just about advancing one's career, although that is certainty part of it, but it is also about doing the job.

There is much one can say about this basic challenge--that academic work does not speak for itself--so this conversation will continue.   The one thing I would add is that it is not just about self-promotion but other-promotion.  I don't read as much as I should, but when I find stuff that I like, that impacts me, I do promote it.  Especially, these days, if the work is by folks who are underrepresented.  Hence my lists of best books that often tend to be focused on the contributions of female scholars.

Can there be such a thing as too much self-promotion?  Probably, but the current debate suggests that the bigger problem is too little self-promotion.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sniping, Combat and Civilian Control of the Military

I hinted at some politics when discussing the longest recorded sniper shot in history.  That the Liberal government might not love this news because it would remind folks that there are Canadians engaged in combat in Iraq.  And now, ta da:
In a letter Friday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, [NDP leader Thomas] Mulcair says the incident "seriously calls into question your government's claim that Canadian forces are not involved in direct combat in Iraq."
"Will you now confirm that Canadian troops have engaged in ground combat since your government took office?" he wrote. "Why have you not declared that the current military operation is now a combat mission? Why has there been no debate in the House of Commons regarding this change of mission?"
As I tweeted last night, Mulcair is both right and wrong on this stuff. 

Wrong? Because this government and the prior one have already said that they would allow the limited use of force in defense of Canadian troops and of their allies.  One shot, one kill (although we don't know how many attempted shots were taken) is about as limited a use of force that one can deploy.  Had the Canadian Special Operations Forces [CANSOF] called in an airstrike, it would not have been news (painting targets is so last year in terms of controversies), but it would have been more destructive.  Sure, it sounds offensive to shoot somebody 3.5 kilometers (or 6 CN towers or 58 hockey rinks) away, but it appears to be the case that a pre-emptive effort did .... pre-empt an attack.  While folks can argue whether pre-emption is defensive or not as much as they would like, on the battlefield, shooting first is definitely preferable to shooting second.  So, I don't have any quibbles or qualms about this.

Right? Because the government partially created this trap they have fallen into.  That is, the Liberals said that this is not a combat mission yet troops are killing and being killed.  This is something that many democracies now do--try to minimize the effort, inevitably creating a credibility gap.  The truth of the matter is CANSOF do not seem to be engaged in regular, continued, conventional combat operations, but they are frequently in a position where they are at risk and may have to use force.  The government could have done a better job of defining this, just as the previous government should have, so that criticisms like Mulcair's have less substance.

The bigger problem, something that Mulcair probably does not want to discuss, is that this kind of shallow discussion of what is and is not combat covers up for an ugly reality in Canadian politics: the opposition really does not know what is going on and there are only two elected people in Canada who do know what is going on--the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. 
As Phil and I argue, it pays off more in Canadian politics (and elsewhere as our project with Dave is proving) to be deliberately ignorant but be able to speak a lot than to know much and oversee carefully.  The NDP can try to paint the Liberals as hawks and liars to get those lost NDP voters without having to seriously consider how they would act while in power and without having any responsibility of knowing what they are talking about. Woot!
The new Security oversight committee may have the ability to get information about CANSOF operations, but I doubt that it will, as the entire focus of that reform has been on intel gathering.  As a result, we are stuck with dumb debates, a blind opposition, and occasional bursts of silliness.

While our project is not complete, my bias going into it is that I think that governments and militaries would act better knowing that their secret stuff would be known by a select group of politicians--both backbenchers in the governing party and opposition members--so they anticipate and avoid doing things that are illegal, unwise, or deservedly unpopular (we can unpack that category some other time).  So far, I have not yet seen in other countries (Brazil, Japan for me; Australia, New Zealand, France for Phil; various Nordic countries for Dave) that ignorance is bliss.  That is, less oversight is less oversight, and while it might seem desirable if we define oversight as micromanagement, it actually is not good for civilian control of the military and it is not good for military effectiveness and efficiency.  In sum, NOT GOOD.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Impeachment Steve Update

So far, the record is as follows:
  1. I plan to research Brazil's civil-military relations in April 2016, but impeachment happens so I can't talk to folks there.
  2. I do go to Brazil in May 2017 and as I finish research in Brasilia, the President is accused of bribing people who voted in last year's impeachment process (and it is on tape). Protests ensue.
  3. I plan to research South Korea's civil-military relations in June 2017, but go to Japan instead since South Korea is a mess after its impeachment process plays out.
  4. While in Japan, legislation is passed to allow the Emperor to abdicate.  Not impeachment but a change in the symbolic executive.

So, of course, my friends ask me to spend time in the US to, you know, facilitate Trump's impeachment.  Since I have visited the US on a regular basis, we can come to two possible conclusions:
  • My impact has been impressive, as we are only 150 or so days in, and we have had heaps and heaps of impeachment talk. See what progress we have made, with my visits to drop off/pick up my daughter at college and flying through on the way to other places and so forth!
  • The process only works if I do research in the US.  I have not done so yet as one of my collaborators on this project has written books on Congress and national security, so it makes little sense for me to do any of that case study. Still, Dave has agreed that the greater good means I should do some of the work, so maybe I will.  Probably not until 2018-19 since: 

Anyhow, don't be so impatient.  Spreading impeachment fairy dust takes time.