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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Laughing off a Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies Ahead
Photo credit: *Keith
Ready for some shameless self promotion? A revised version of my 2014 ISA conference paper (which was itself based on a blog post) has now been published as an advanced access 2016 journal article. Here's the full citation, with a working link to the Oxford University press website:

Rodger A. Payne, "Laughing off a Zombie Apocalypse: The Value of Comedic and Satirical Narratives,"  International Studies Perspectives 2016; doi: 10.1093/isp/ekv026. 

Kudos to Dan Drezner for making me think about this.

These are parts of Oxford's permission note:
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Sunday, January 31, 2016

SABR Day 2016

Yesterday was SABR Day and I again attended the Louisville "Pee Wee Reese" Chapter meeting. In fact, I arranged for the room on the University of Louisville campus and helped connect the group to a couple of the speakers. Kudos to local leader Harry Rothgerber for making all the detailed arrangements.

The first speaker was UofL baseball Sports Information Director Sean Moth. He calls the Cardinals baseball games on the radio and is also the PA announcer for the basketball team. Sean talked about his background in the media, discussed some of his favorite interviews, imitated Vin Scully and Harry Caray, and opined that the home run ball that ended the UofL season last year (and sent Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series) was foul. 

The second speaker was Greg Rhodes, Team Historian of the Cincinnati Reds and the former director of the Hall of Fame and Museum at Great American Ball Park. Greg is the author of half a dozen books, including two that have won top SABR research prizes.  Backed by a colorful and interesting PowerPoint presentation, he talked about the opening day tradition in Cincinnati, beginning late in the 19th century. In 2004, Rhodes published a book on this topic.  His presentation included numerous interesting anecdotes and some trivia. Did you know that Adam Dunn has hit more home runs (5) in that game than any other Reds player?

Greg focused a good deal of attention on several recent openers that I recall, including the 1994 game(s). The Monday traditional sell-out opening daytime game was played before a crowd of 55,000, but it actually followed a Sunday night game attended by only 32,000 fans. The Sunday game was not preceded by a parade or other typical hoopla. In 1995, the parade was held on the long-scheduled early April date even though the season was delayed because of labor strife. In 1996, the game was canceled after only a few pitches because of the tragic death of home plate umpire John McSherry.

The third and final speaker was UofL Assistant Professor Megan Shreffler who gave a talk on "The Socialization of Chicagoans into Baseball Fandom." Basically, her PowerPoint-backed talk addressed why some Windy City residents cheer for the Cubs, while others back the White Sox. Megan's talk included a bit of academic theory and was based on a survey of Chicago residents -- some responding via Survey Monkey and others filling out a paper form. She found that Cubs fans tend to root for their family's historic favorite team, while Sox fans are best explained by geography.

Megan is a Cubs fan and is very excited about the upcoming season.

Megan Shreffler

The event concluded with Dr. Jack Sullivan's recurring trivia contest, won by Jon Borie (14 points of 25) narrowly over Bob Sawyer (13.5) and myself (13).

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Sunday, January 03, 2016

Books of 2015

Library of historic photo books
Flickr photo by Simon Booth-Lucking. Some rights reserved.

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

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I reviewed a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." However, only the winning entry is listed here. I read it as a member of the Final Selection Committee.

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

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


Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman

Otherworldly Politics by Stephen Benedict Dyson

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby

DiMaggio: A Hero’s Life by Richard Ben Cramer

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

Gold Mine 2010 by Bill James

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2015, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was again edited by Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski.

Of these non-fiction books, most were worth reading. The Haugen and Boutros book won the 2016 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

I found Klosterman's book entertaining despite the somewhat morbid subject -- the writer drove around the US visiting famous sites where musicians died. Nick Hornby is reliably witty. Cramer's book about DiMaggio was not as good as I had hoped -- the section on Marilyn Monroe was far too long and the book had very little content after her death. 


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

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

Angels by Denis Johnson

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

Frankly, I should have read Warren's classic book about a dubious southern politician years ago. The Walter book is funny, entertaining, and kind of sad. I thought it was heading to Breaking Bad territory for awhile, though the main character was motivated by systemic economic distress, not personal health. I was not altogether taken by this Waugh novel, despite the academic satire. 

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Kahawa by Donald Westlake

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

They Eat People Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley

The Wycherly Woman by Ross Macdonald

Looking for Rachel Wallace by Robert Parker

The Score by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

E is for Evidence by Sue Grafton

The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald

Time to Murder and Create by Lawrence Block

Doctor No by Ian Fleming

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Prospect by Bill Littlefield

The Ballad of Dingus McGee by David Markson

I read quite a bit of science fiction this year, mostly classic books that true fans read years ago (at least when they are anywhere near my age). Though Haldeman and Heinlein both penned military science fiction novels, I enjoyed the former much more than the latter. However, neither was as entertaining a book as was Redshirts, a postmodern story reminiscent of the Will Ferrell film Stranger than Fiction.

I originally read The Andromeda Strain as a kid back in the 1970s, when I also saw the movie. It seemed like a good time to read it again.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, Block's Matthew Scudder, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer.

Neither Millhone nor Scudder nor McGee performed very well in this set of books. I saw some immediate detection errors they made when leaping to conclusions. The premise of the Block book was interesting, but the plot holes undermined the effort. McGee apparently confronted a serial killer, which is not a story genre that I find appealing.

The best hard-boiled stories I read all year involved criminals as main characters. The tale of Eddie Coyle was made into a pretty good movie starring Robert Mitchum. Kawaha involved a complicated heist by thieves intent upon ripping off Idi Amin. 

David Markson's satirical anti-western didn't work for me, though I typically love good satire. Buckley's satire was much more effective, though Washington flacks make for easy targets.

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Friday, January 01, 2016

Films of 2015

Twin Ranch Drive-In Movie Theater, Cleveland, Texas 0804090900BW
Photo credit: Patrick Feller on Flickr

As I note every December, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix. Because I have not yet seen that many new films in the theater, I cannot yet write a credible post on the best movies of 2015. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them.

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

Indeed, the best films I saw this past year were movies that I originally missed in the theaters in prior years. I saw many late 2014 Oscar-bait films in theaters earlier this year. I'll surely see most of the 2015 Oscar-bait films early in 2016.

To make this abbreviated 2015 list, I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2015. I also consulted Metacritic.

In rank order of my preference, these were the best 2015 films I saw this year, so best as I can recall:

Ex Machina
Trainwreck **
Mad Max: Fury Road
Two Step
Spy **
Inside Out
People, Places, Things
Wild Canaries
Welcome to Me
Irrational Man
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2 **
Kingsman: The Secret Service

** I saw these films in the theater.

A few of the top films are doing well in end-of-year critic lists, so I anticipate they will be competitive for Oscars. Surprisingly, Mad Max: Fury Road was named best film of the year by the National Board of Review. We watched it in my film class during the week I allowed for a student selection.

The bulk of the my 2015 list consists of genre films -- bawdy comedies, action flicks and science fiction. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom:

Here's the annual list of 2015 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2016):

45 Years, '71, 99 Homes, American Ultra, Amy, Anomalisa, The Assassin, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Best of Enemies, The Big Short, Beasts of No Nation, Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Carol, Chi-Raq, Clouds of Sils Maria, Creed, Crimson Peak, The Danish Girl, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Dope, End of the Tour, Everest, Far From the Madding Crowd, Furious 7, The Gift, Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, Good Kill, Goodnight Mommy, The Hateful Eight, Home, Human Capital, I'll See You in My Dreams, It Follows, Jimmy's Hall, Joy, Jurassic World, The Look of Silence, Love & Mercy, Macbeth, Man from UNCLE, The Martian, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Mr. Holmes, The Overnight, Phoenix, The Revenant, Room, Salt of the Earth, Sicario, Sisters, Son of Saul, SPECTRE, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, Tangerine, Timbuktu, Tommorowland, Truth, The Walk, A Walk in the Woods, What We Do In the Shadows, While We're Young, Wild Canaries, Wild Tales, The Wrecking Crew, and Youth.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing many 2014 movies from last year's wishlist:

The Babadook, Belle, Big Eyes, Birder's Guide to Everything, Cheap Thrills, Chef, Equalizer, Fault in Our Stars, Foxcatcher, Fury, The Immigrant, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Joe, Listen Up Philip, Lone Survivor, Manuscripts Don't Burn, Mr. Turner, Night Moves, Noah, Non-Stop, The One I Love, Only Lovers Left Alive, Palo Alto, Railway Man, Rob the Mob, Two Days One Night, What If, and the Zero Theorem.

Virtually all of those films are now readily available -- as DVDs at my University library or as recordings on my DVR. A few are on Netflix.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Embedded image permalink

If you've followed my twitter feed, you probably already know that I spent Christmas in Brighton, UK. It was my first Christmas abroad.

Brighton is a seaside town of tourism and artists, home to my wife's sister, her spouse, their children, and many friendly members of the husband's extended family.

On virtually every trip to the UK, I take in a few local sights, try to absorb some history and culture, and drink a daily pint or two of local beer -- often unavailable in the US.  This visit was no different.

The picture at left depicts a very small (palm?) tree, just a few feet in height. Below, I've also included photos of the Brighton Pier, the local Brew Dog pub that is within a 10 minute walk of where I am staying, and the Harvey's brewery in nearby Lewes. It was closed when we visited, but I had the beer on my last trip to the area. Readers may recall that I also visited a Brew Dog in Dundee in August 2014.

By the way, if I know you and you want to connect on Untappd, let me know.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Socially Responsible Investing

By original: Johann DrĂ©o (talk · contribs) translation: Pro bug catcher (talk · contribs) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, CC BY-SA 2.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (], via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, I read a fairly long article in the November 2015 Atlantic by James Fallows about Al Gore's investment ideas and practices. Gore now devotes much of his time to Generation Investment Management, a socially responsible investment firm that has seen spectacular results:
The most sweeping way to describe this undertaking is as a demonstration of a new version of capitalism, one that will shift the incentives of financial and business operations to reduce the environmental, social, political, and long-term economic damage being caused by unsustainable commercial excesses. What this means in practical terms is that Gore and his Generation colleagues have done the theoretically impossible: Over the past decade, they have made more money, in the Darwinian competition of international finance, by applying an environmentally conscious model of “sustainable” investing than have most fund managers who were guided by a straight-ahead pursuit of profit at any environmental or social price. 
...according to Mercer ["a prominent London-based analytical firm"], the average return for Generation’s global-equity fund, in which nearly all its assets are invested, was 12.1 percent a year, or more than 500 basis points above the MSCI index’s growth rate. Of the more than 200 global-equity managers in the survey, Generation’s 10-year average ranked as No. 2. In addition to being nearly the highest-returning fund, Generation’s global-equity fund was among the least volatile.
Moreover, beyond this evidence of real-world success, Fallows references some convincing academic research that strongly supports the notion that businesses should embrace ESG policies, meaning that they should account for environmental, social and governance effects of what they do. Sometimes, as Fallows notes, these businesses embrace the so-called "triple bottom line" (pictured above).*

A 2014 study (subsequently updated) by economists at Oxford, collaborating with the investment firm Arabesque, surveyed nearly 200 academic studies, books, industry reports, and newspaper articles about ESG. Fallows summarizes some of their findings:
The Oxford-Arabesque report found overwhelming evidence that “it is in the best economic interest for corporate managers and investors to incorporate sustainability considerations into decision-making processes.” According to the study, the advantages include more stable (and less volatile) revenues, significantly lower cost of capital, higher profits, and better share-price performance.
Fallows also mentions some prominent bankers and investors who now criticize firms and investors who focus too narrowly on short-term profit statements rather than long-term issues like sustainability. For example, Fallows mentions a series of speeches by Andrew Haldane (one example here), the Bank of England's chief economist, and a March 2014 open letter to other CEOs by Laurence Fink, Chair and CEO of BlackRock. This is from Fink's letter:
...the companies we invest in should similarly be focused on achieving sustainable returns over the longer term. Good corporate governance is critical to that goal. That is why, two years ago, I wrote to the CEOs of the companies in which BlackRock held significant investments on behalf of our clients urging them to engage with us on issues of corporate governance. While important work remains to be done, good progress has been made on company-shareholder engagement. I write today re-iterating our call for engagement with a particular focus on companies’ strategies to drive longer term growth.
As Fallows describes it, BlackRock is the world's largest asset management firm, managing about $5 Trillion. Fink told Fallows that he favors SRI in order to change business behavior:
“I truly believe we need to have inclusive capitalism, progressive capitalism”—a system that can be “stronger, more resilient, more equitable, and better able to deliver the sustainable growth the world needs.” Fink said that countless pressures, from hyper-fast automated trading to the frenzied tone of cable-news coverage, were steering managers toward destructively shortsighted behavior. “We decided that we needed to be a countervailing voice, to say that as your largest shareholder, we’re going to raise expectations about how you behave.”
Perhaps investor demands for sustainable profits will encourage a market shift towards more socially responsible practices all-around?


*Here's a link to one of my favorite businesses that overtly emphasizes the triple bottom line in its operations.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Politics Through Film in Spring 2016

For the first time in some years, I'm going to teach a regular Political Science section of Politics Through Film (POLS 552 at UofL, but also POLS 399-03) in spring 2016. Since 2010, I've been teaching a version of the course either as the Department's capstone course for senior majors (495) or as an Honors seminar. Through this time, the course has always focused on Global Politics Through Film. However, I intend to tweak the course between now and January to have wider appeal. We will continue to discuss global politics, but we will also discuss some broader political science questions about political behavior, institutions, and ideas.

The film is an elective for the University's Film and Digital Media Studies Minor. Students from that program are welcome. I can check with the HUM personnel to find out if 399 could be substituted.

In any case, long-time readers may recall that I blogged about the earliest incarnation of the course extensively back in fall 2006. However, much has changed since then.

First, course members now view films on their own, outside of class. This means the scheduled amount of class time is reduced and we can devote all of it to discussion of the films and the political implications. Students can view almost every film for about $2.99 from a streaming provider. Many are free on Netflix or from a local library.

Second, the class and the discussion of the films is oriented around four classic narrative archetypes: romance, tragedy, comedy, and satire. Each of these archetypes suggests specific ideas about character, settings, and plot. They also align with particular political science theories and concepts.

Third, the course does not study the same films as it did in 2006. Based on my most recent version of the syllabus, here are the alterations:

Subtractions: Casablanca, Gandhi, Network, Red Dawn, Black Hawk Down, Breaker Morant, Twelve O'Clock High, and the Stephen Colbert appearance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. They are arranged in the order that I would bring them back. Every version of the course except the most recent one has included Casablanca. There's a decent chance I will bring it back in the future.

Additions: Stranger Than FictionZombieland, The Dark KnightV for VendettaZero Dark Thirty,  and Mad Max: Fury Road. Again, these are arranged in the order of preference. I'll almost surely assign Stranger Than Fiction, but the most recent Mad Max was a student suggestion (I allowed the Honors students to select one class film) and I have not yet fully embraced it for this course.

For one week in the most recent semester, students had their choice of one of four films about Iran: Persepolis, Offside, Argo or Rosewater. Trita Parsi was a guest speaker.

Retained: Wag the Dog, The Quiet American, Saving Private Ryan, The Whale Rider, Dr. Strangelove, Hotel Rwanda and The Great Dictator.  Again, the order matters. I'm virtually certain to assign Wag the Dog, but many students complain about the value of The Great Dictator.

To appeal to a larger audience, I'm considering the study of these films: Idiocracy, Contagion, The Visitor, Thank You for Smoking and Outfoxed.

Obviously, if I added one or more of these films, then others would have to go.

Most of what I blogged about the course back in 2009 remains true:
I think it is a fun class for students and I must increase enrollment before late August for it to remain on the schedule. My pitch: students do not have to take any exams, but will write a couple of short analytical or review papers through the term -- culminating in a longer research paper at the end. I provide extensive feedback and typically allow rewrites of papers in classes at the 500 level. All of the paper assignments tie to film texts.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Benghazi: Time to Think the Unthinkable?

Three weeks ago, I gave a paper on "Thinking the Unthinkable About National Security Narratives." It was inspired by the brief uproar over Seymour Hersch's claims about the Obama administration's tale about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Indeed, much of the paper tracks a long series of likely political deceptions and fabrications fomented by various U.S. national security elites over the years. I focus on threat inflation, misapplied analogies to justify war, stories to support the conduct of American wars, etc.

Ultimately, the paper will need to expand on the evidence, but it briefly considers the bomber gap, missile gap, and window of vulnerability. These cases largely led to unnecessary and costly increases in US military spending. It also considers inflated threats that helped lead to war -- the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the first Persian Gulf War, for example. I barely discussed the numerous deceptions allegedly employed to sell the most recent Iraq war, which was the subject of so much of my blogging and academic writing for a decade. Instead, I quote some scholars who argue that we won't know for certain about alleged Bush administration deceptions until additional critical materials are declassified.

There are plenty of other likely deceptions with more modest political goals and some are mentioned in the paper (Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman). Remember, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara didn't even think the deployment of Soviet Missiles in Cuba in October 1962 posed a new military threat to the US. He described it as a domestic political problem. That's not the way JFK framed it to the American public or to the Soviets.

Indeed, my "Unthinkable" paper describes the problem of deception about national security as endemic -- and especially problematic to study academically because of the huge advantages security elites have in the marketplace of ideas. They control information, largely thanks to secrecy, which gives them the ability to provide a particular narrative about threats, war, etc. They have the authority to speak, thanks to their position in power, which is accompanied by access to impressive material resources as well. The stories elites tell may endure for a long time, even as new evidence challenges some of it. My paper points out that historians and political scientists are still arguing about whether FDR tried to deceive Americans about the need for World War II. The relevant documents are ~75 years old.

Last weekend, the NY Times Magazine drew attention to some of the same questions I'm asking and problems I'm exploring, though Jonathan Mahler chose to focus on the Obama administration story about killing bin Laden.
It’s not that the truth about bin Laden’s death is unknowable; it’s that we don’t know it. And we can’t necessarily console ourselves with the hope that we will have more answers any time soon; to this day, the final volume of the C.I.A.’s official history of the Bay of Pigs remains classified. We don’t know what happened more than a half-century ago, much less in 2011. 
There are different ways to control a narrative. There’s the old-fashioned way: Classify documents that you don’t want seen and, as [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates said, ‘‘keep mum on the details.’’ But there’s also the more modern, social-media-savvy approach: Tell the story you want them to believe. Silence is one way to keep a secret. Talking is another. And they are not mutually exclusive.
In any case, this week, the world watched former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testify for nearly 11 hours about the September 11, 2012, attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi. The questions that Republicans wanted to ask were much like the ones I'm asking: Did the Obama administration, and especially Secretary Clinton, fabricate a political lie to the American people? Did they do this for reasons unrelated to genuine national security purposes (domestic politics)?

My paper included a number of caveats about the strength of the evidence about various alleged cases of deception because the ideas I'm exploring are ordinarily "unthinkable." Political opponents in the heat of a partisan struggle might accuse their foes of engaging in deception and political fabrication in the area of national security, but the wider reaction is usually much more cautious. And academics are especially cautious.

Critics are often not taken seriously if they argue that elites use national security matters to increase their popularity ("rally 'round the flag"), win elections, create jobs, or divert attention from personal political crisis. This is said to reflect paranoia and conspiracy theorizing.

And, in fact, Mahler's piece was attacked by critics as promoting "conspiracy theory."  Colleagues at the NY Times were apparently worried about the effect this story would have on the credibility of their newspaper's journalism. CNN's Peter Bergen called Mahler's story "bizarre."

So what is the story with Benghazi? Did Clinton seek to deceive? Or are conservatives serving up a juicy conspiracy theory based on thin evidence?

Based on my reading of various conservative twitter users, the question about Clinton's alleged deceptions now seem to be their primary concern. The critics argue that Clinton and others blamed an anti-Islamic video for the attack, when she and others in the administration knew it was an intentional act of terror. This is Clinton's entire statement of September 11, 2012, with the most controversial part in red:
 "I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide."
The debate over the years has often focused on a memo drafted by then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes a few days after this statement, which formulated the White House talking points to guide then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice on various Sunday TV programs. The administration wanted to sell the attack as “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.” The presidential election was about 7 weeks away and the killing of bin Laden was a featured part of their story for reelection.

Essentially, conservatives claim that the evidence was soon clear that Benghazi was a predesigned terrorist attack and that there had been no anti-video protest at the mission in Libya. Nonetheless, the Obama administration blamed a video repeatedly.

This suggests a partisan deception about policy, right?

What is the evidence for the defense? Obama himself called the event an "act of terror" on September 12. The administration started acknowledging the premeditated terrorism by September 19.  That date is important because it turns out the intelligence agencies were apparently telling the administration that the video protest was the likely cause until September 24. In November 2014, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a report that seemingly debunked the theory about political fabrication:

This week, conservatives are convinced that Clinton's same-night email to daughter Chelsea and phone call with Egyptian prime minister (September 12) constitute new smoking gun evidence about their original concerns. In a brief email reference, Clinton told Chelsea that the act was perpetrated by an al-Qaeda like group. She also told the Egyptian PM that “We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest.”

This sounds like fairly damning evidence and it might well be correct to blame Clinton and the Obama administration for playing politics with national security. However, this version of the narrative overlooks certain facts.

First, the Republicans still have not grappled with the intelligence reports. Was it wrong to say something publicly that was consistent with the intelligence? Readers may remember that this was essentially the defense of the Bush administration regarding Iraq, even though members of the administration often said things that seemed well beyond the intelligence findings. This reading doesn't explain the sentences Clinton apparently communicated to her daughter or to the Egyptians, but ask this question: Is it possible that those far more private instances simply reflect her going beyond the intelligence, perhaps based on unconfirmed evidence? I don't know, and neither do the conservative critics.

Second, Clinton's statement used the passive voice. She didn't say the video caused the attacks, she said some had claimed that. It's a classic Fox News tactic, of course. Indeed, Fox News was running with the video story on September 11, just as many other news agencies were. Susan Rice's statements on Sunday TV went further, but she wasn't the one being scrutinized this week. On those shows, Rice also repeatedly said, "we'll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms." President Obama also made similar remarks that week about waiting for additional evidence to confirm what happened.

Third, the right's interpretations focused narrowly on Benghazi and ignores other important events occurring that day. The inflammatory video in question was provoking demonstrations at American embassies around the world. The US mission in Cairo was of special concern, though other attacks elsewhere led to deaths. The Obama administration was arguably trying to signal that the US would not tolerate this behavior. Perhaps they were thinking that there would be no replay of Iran 1979 on their watch.

I'm not creating this tale for them, I'm just providing a charitable reading of the situation. This is the story Clinton told the members of Congress this week:
FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: During the day on September 11th, as you did mention, Congressman, there was a very large protest against our embassy in Cairo. Protesters breached the walls. They tore down the American flag. And it was of grave concern to us because the inflammatory video had been shown on Egyptian television, which has a broader reach than just inside Egypt. 
And if you look at what I said, I referred to the video that night in a very specific way. I said, some have sought to justify the attack because of the video
I used those words deliberately, not to ascribe a motive to every attacker but as a warning to those across the region that there was no justification for further attacks
And, in fact, during the course of that week, we had many attacks that were all about the video. We had people breaching the walls of our embassies in Tunis, in Khartoum; we had people, thankfully not Americans, dying at protests. But that's what was going on, Congressman. 
I'm not sure of Clinton's motives, but her story fits the words. Sure, the Republican story also seems to fit, but it presumes malfeasance without proving it. I'm willing to think about the unthinkable, but I want the evidence of deception to be as strong as it can be.

This post was motivated by several twitter exchanges I had yesterday with people on the right (linked above). I certainly agree that there's reason to be interested in this case, but it seems like a relatively mild instance of a much larger problem. Some people are quite worked up about it, but I didn't notice them screaming for heads to role because of Iraq. Or lies about Jessica Lynch. Or lies about Pat Tillman.

I know that Tom Nichols has a crafty argument about Bill Clinton's role in inflating the chemical weapons threat from Iraq, but Clinton wasn't the President who puffed up a nuclear threat to launch a war on Iraq. As I've written before, referencing David Kay, letting a chemical threat justify preventive war might spark dozens of such wars. 

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Music Flashback: Hard Times in the Land of Plenty

For some time, my friend, neighbor, and favorite DJ Michael Young has been playing about one old vinyl cut per hour on his "Roots 'n' Boots" WFPK program every Sunday night. Of the three tunes he spins every week, I typically own the old LP of at least one of the songs. This week, he played Omar and the Howlers, "Hard Times in the Land of Plenty," from 1987.

Hey, I still own that record!

Given the ongoing national conversation about economic inequality, it seemed particularly appropriate for me to blog it:


By the way, Mike also played "Able" by Nathaniel Talbot. My wife and I thought it was a new James Taylor tune. She's a big fan of the JT and we were both surprised to learn the song wasn't his.

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

ISSS-ISAC 2015: Springfield, MA


Last weekend, I traveled to Springfield, MA, to attend the Annual Joint Meeting of the International Security Studies Section of ISA and the International Security and Arms Control Section of APSA.

For a panel "Thinking About Security," I presented a paper, "Thinking the Unthinkable About National Security Narratives," (latter requires ISA archive access) which considers the often-deceptive narratives constructed and employed by American national security elites to identify threats, justify policy actions (including war and intervention), and sustain support for policy -- including war and intervention. The field is characterized by secrecy and limited participation in both public debate and internal decision-making. Deception and secrecy are arguably endemic and enduring problems in national security affairs and not readily addressed by the ordinary "thinkable" solutions.

It's a very rough paper that needs a great deal of work. The empirical section of the paper is especially crude, only briefly surveying a lot of literature on threat inflation, the misapplication of the Munich analogy, and other instances when security elites employed deceptive narratives. Along with various cold war examples, I mention deceptions involving the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Persian Gulf War, and Iraq war. I also mention a few lesser deceptions, involving Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, for example.

Today, I just read a long and interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine by Jonathan Mahler that covers much the same ground (including many of the same examples and concerns about secrecy and deception) though with terrific reporting and analysis of the narrative about the killing of Osama bin Laden. As I said last weekend in Springfield (and this was in my conference proposal), my inspiration for the paper was the Seymour Hersh story about the killing of Osama bin Laden. My paper briefly mentions the various versions of the bin Laden story, but primarily emphasizes the difficulty of finding "truth" on any significant national security issue.

I ran out of time writing, but the paper concludes by arguing (as I often have) the need for more open and inclusive debate in the public sphere. A "marketplace of ideas" is likely not going to work if we want anything like democratic decision-making on national security affairs.

Among other avenues, I plan to look at what the US government used to say about Soviet "disinformation" and deception.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Who said it better?

Jeb Bush....? On mass gun violence in a school:


Or Donald Rumsfeld? On Iraq

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Gulf of Tonkin: The Deceptions that Justified War

August 4 was the 51st anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's speech about the so-called Gulf of Tonkin incidents that were used to justify the Vietnam war. Here's a brief excerpt describing his claim:

Here's former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara years later in "Fog of War" admitting that the incident didn't happen:

In February 2008, U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Pat Paterson wrote about the historical evidence for the U.S. Naval Institute's Naval History Magazine:
But once-classified documents and tapes released in the past several years, combined with previously uncovered facts, make clear that high government officials distorted facts and deceived the American public about events that led to full U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

On 2 August 1964, North Vietnamese patrol torpedo boats attacked the USS Maddox (DD-731) while the destroyer was in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. There is no doubting that fact. But what happened in the Gulf during the late hours of 4 August—and the consequential actions taken by U.S. officials in Washington—has been seemingly cloaked in confusion and mystery ever since that night. 
Nearly 200 documents the National Security Agency (NSA) declassified and released in 2005 and 2006, however, have helped shed light on what transpired in the Gulf of Tonkin on 4 August. The papers, more than 140 of them classified top secret, include phone transcripts, oral-history interviews, signals intelligence (SIGINT) messages, and chronologies of the Tonkin events developed by Department of Defense and NSA officials. Combined with recently declassified tapes of phone calls from White House officials involved with the events and previously uncovered facts about Tonkin, these documents provide compelling evidence about the subsequent decisions that led to the full commitment of U.S. armed forces to the Vietnam War.... 
These new documents and tapes reveal what historians could not prove: There was not a second attack on U.S. Navy ships in the Tonkin Gulf in early August 1964. Furthermore, the evidence suggests a disturbing and deliberate attempt by Secretary of Defense McNamara to distort the evidence and mislead Congress.
Paterson explains in the article that the August 2 attack was provoked by US actions.  These are his final concluding sentences about the events and the Vietnam war:
The administration's zeal for aggressive action, motivated by President Johnson's election worries, created an atmosphere of recklessness and overenthusiasm in which it became easy to draw conclusions based on scanty evidence and to overlook normally prudent precautionary measures. Without the full picture, Congress could not offer the checks and balances it was designed to provide. Subsequently, the White House carried the nation into the longest and one of the most costly conflicts in our nation's history.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Persian Gulf War: 25th Anniversary

This post is nearly a month late.

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces attacked Kuwait, reflecting what then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush a few days later called "brutal, naked aggression."

August 8, 2015, marked the 25th anniversary of  Bush's speech to the nation outlining the initial U.S. response. Bush emphasized America's commitment to Saudi Arabia:
I pledge here today that the United States will do its part to see that these sanctions are effective and to induce Iraq to withdraw without delay from Kuwait.
But we must recognize that Iraq may not stop using force to advance its ambitions. Iraq has massed an enormous war machine on the Saudi border capable of initiating hostilities with little or no additional preparation. Given the Iraqi government's history of aggression against its own citizens as well as its neighbors, to assume Iraq will not attack again would be unwise and unrealistic. 
And therefore, after consulting with King Fahd, I sent Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to discuss cooperative measures we could take. Following those meetings, the Saudi Government requested our help, and I responded to that request by ordering U.S. air and ground forces to deploy to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 
Let me be clear: The sovereign independence of Saudi Arabia is of vital interest to the United States. This decision, which I shared with the congressional leadership, grows out of the longstanding friendship and security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces will work together with those of Saudi Arabia and other nations to preserve the integrity of Saudi Arabia and to deter further Iraqi aggression. Through their presence, as well as through training and exercises, these multinational forces will enhance the overall capability of Saudi Armed Forces to defend the Kingdom. 
I want to be clear about what we are doing and why. America does not seek conflict, nor do we seek to chart the destiny of other nations. But America will stand by her friends. The mission of our troops is wholly defensive. Hopefully, they will not be needed long. They will not initiate hostilities, but they will defend themselves, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and other friends in the Persian Gulf.
Eventually, the Pentagon claimed that 250,000 Iraqi troops threatened Saudi Arabia.

A few months later, after obtaining Soviet satellite photos of the region, the St. Petersburg Times reported that Iraqi troops were NOT poised to strike Saudi Arabia. The headline of January 6, 1991, was simple: "Photos don't show buildup."

two American satellite imaging experts who examined the photos could find no evidence of a massive Iraqi presence in Kuwait in September. 
A Soviet commercial satellite took a photo of Saudi Arabia on Sept. 11 and a photo of Kuwait on Sept. 13. At the time the Defense Department was estimating there were as many as 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks in Kuwait. The photos were obtained by the St. Petersburg Times two weeks ago.
As of 2002, the Pentagon had never released its own satellite photographs, though US officials have admitted that they greatly overstated the size of the Iraqi military at the time.

That might not have been the largest lie told about the Iraqi threat. One personal narrative was especially powerful -- and pernicious.
 in the fall of 1990, members of Congress and the American public were swayed by the tearful testimony of a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only as Nayirah.
In the girl's testimony before a congressional caucus
, well-documented in MacArthur's book "Second Front" and elsewhere, she described how, as a volunteer in a Kuwait maternity ward, she had seen Iraqi troops storm her hospital, steal the incubators, and leave 312 babies "on the cold floor to die." 
Seven US Senators later referred to the story during debate; the motion for war passed by just five votes. In the weeks after Nayirah spoke, President Bush senior invoked the incident five times, saying that such "ghastly atrocities" were like "Hitler revisited." 
But just weeks before the US bombing campaign began in January, a few press reports began to raise questions about the validity of the incubator tale.
Later, it was learned that Nayirah was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington and had no connection to the Kuwait hospital. 
She had been coached – along with the handful of others who would "corroborate" the story – by senior executives of Hill and Knowlton in Washington, the biggest global PR firm at the time, which had a contract worth more than $10 million with the Kuwaitis to make the case for war.
President Bush's National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft later claimed not to know that the story was fabricated, but acknowledged that "it was useful in mobilizing public opinion."

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Summer vacation

I'm not sure where the summer went. I finished a manuscript and sent it to a journal. I negotiated a car deal for my oldest daughter. My wife and I managed to take a 9 day vacation to Michigan.

Monday, the Dean is leading a meeting of department chairs and the semester will begin.

Here's a pic I took in Bellaire, Michigan:

It made me think of the Duck of Minerva, where I also never post anymore.

Most people seem to go to Bellaire for the Short's brewpub. This is the "big board" from August 4:

I liked this beer so much, I bought a 6 pack. On-tap, it was 9.3% abv, but the bottled version is only about 7%:

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Scholar Social Networks and Copyright.

Copyright Symbols
Credit: Mike Seyfang on Flickr.
I recently joined ResearchGate, a social network for scholars. Its stated mission "is to connect researchers and make it easy for them to share and access scientific output, knowledge, and expertise. On ResearchGate they find what they need to advance their research." I previously joined, which kind of looks like Facebook for scholars. The link to my home page has been in the right-hand sidebar for some years. Many of my recent conference papers have been uploaded to that site.

Since joining ResearchGate, I've been bombarded with requests to upload copies of my published articles (and books). Unfortunately, as most scholars know, I do not own the copyright to these works. They were typically transferred as a condition of publication when the pieces were originally accepted.

There are exceptions. For example, a coauthored piece on the biological weapons taboo was published in a security journal produced by the U.S. military. Since the publication is produced by the government, no third party holds the copyright. I also published a piece on "The Geopolitics of Global Climate Change" in Sustain Magazine, which is published locally by the Kentucky Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development. Their back issues are open access. My article begins on p. 9, immediately following a piece by NASA's Jim Hansen.

I've been checking and some of the commercial publishing companies allow me to upload a pdf to my personal or departmental website, so long as I meet several conditions. Cambridge University Press allows this, for instance, though at least one copyright in a Cambridge journal belongs to the American Political Science Association because the article is published in one of their organizational journals.

Unfortunately, I do not have direct control over my departmental webpage.  Thus, I'm planning to upload files to Google Drive and then post direct links here at the blog. This is my primary personal website and I've already had various links in the right-hand column that can ultimately lead you to my work. I'll probably start a page today and add links and necessary information as I check copyrights.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Imagining fear

In the May 2015 Atlantic, Princeton historian David A. Bell reviewed The Coming of the Terror in the French Revolution by Timothy Tackett and Phantom Terror by Adam Zamoyski. In his last paragraphs, Bell makes an interesting point about the way fears can be created in the public imagination despite the lack of genuine threats:
But imagined terrors, as he [Zamoyski] and Tackett very usefully remind us, can have even more political potency than real ones. While early-19th-century Europe had its share of real revolutionary conspirators, the “directing committee” was as much a figment of the imagination as was the nest of spies and traitors that Robespierre claimed, toward the end of the Terror, to have discovered at the heart of the revolutionary National Convention. Both fantasies stand in a long line that stretches straight through to our own day. 
There is nothing particularly unusual, then, about the fears of an “invasion” of illegal immigrants that have such a large place in the mind-set of American conservatives, or the Russian fears of fascism that Vladimir Putin exploited so successfully to generate support for his incursions into Ukraine. Such emotions are an integral part of modern political life, and tempting as it may be to dismiss them as irrational, hysterical, and not worthy of serious discussion, we cannot simply wish them away.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Ohio Trip May 2015

Memorial Day weekend, my family headed north to Oberlin, Ohio, for the college graduation of our oldest daughter. It was an emotional weekend for everyone and I snapped a few photos on my cellphone to commemorate some of the festivities. For example, the Saturday before graduation we visited Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum. I liked this work, "Elvis Meets the Virgin of Guadalupe" by Enrique Chagoya:

On Sunday, we attended receptions sponsored by a History faculty member and by the College President, which celebrated various student honors. Early evening before dinner, a few of us went to the Fatheads Tap House near the Cleveland airport.

At the graduation Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama gave an impassioned and interesting speech that proved difficult to top -- though commencement speaker Marian Wright Edelman was very good as well.

Oberlin graduate and international relations scholar Robert Jervis of Columbia University (the 1990 Grawemeyer winner) was awarded one of the honorary doctorates. This pic is his profile on the big screen -- and gives you an idea of where my family was seated.:

After the graduation, most family members headed home. Since I was helping my daughter pack and move on Tuesday, I took the opportunity to attend a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field.

Even though the Great Lakes brewery booth was out of their hoppy beers by the second inning, another spot in the stadium had highly acclaimed White Rajah IPA on tap! Cleveland lost 10-8 to the Texas Rangers.

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Saturday, June 06, 2015

UofL 8th in ACC in Sustainability Performance

After posting about UofL's ACC ranking on various sustainability measures, I received excellent feedback from Justin Mog, the hard-working and productive Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives.

Justin advised me to focus on STARS scores, which he described as "the most comprehensive and transparent ranking system available."

In my May 30 blog post, I failed to note that each school with a STARS rating receives a numerical score valid for three years. I previously linked to this page, which reveals the specific score by clicking on the submission dates. The numerical scores are linked to the gold-silver-bronze rating that I used simply to lump schools by category.

STARS rating point value cut-offs:
85 for Platinum
65 for Gold
45 for Silver
25 for Bronze
These are ACC school rankings based on the institutions' most recent STARS reports (and scores):

Rank      School                          STARS Score                      Date of Score
1. Virginia Tech                      71.02                                     10/15/14
2. Duke                                    70.54                                     10/18/13
3. UNC - Chapel Hill              70.01                                     4/18/14
4. Notre Dane                          68.52                                     10/15/14
5. Virginia                               65.04                                     5/29/15
6. Georgia Tech                       Gold (expired)                      5/15/12                              
7. Florida State                        61.36                                     1/30/15
8. UofL                                    58.29                                     2/6/13
9. Wake Forest                        Silver (expired)                     5/9/12

No data
North Carolina State                       Reporter (expired)          4/5/12
Boston College
U of Miami
U of Pittsburgh
Syracuse U

In a future post, I hope to note some areas where UofL has not generated as many points as it might. Since I'm the chair of the Administration, Finance and Outreach committee (to be renamed Planning and Administration in the fall), I know without any additional research that UofL could receive GOLD status if it created a socially responsible investment committee, created a student socially responsible investment fund, and invested more of its resources in a socially responsible manner.