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An Olympics Rah-Rah Buzz Kill

[ 1 ] February 25, 2010 |

No, I’m not discussing a Canadian perspective on the ignominy of losing to an inferior team, in their national sport, during the Olympics, in Canada. Though that must still sting a little, even following their destruction of the Russians and concomitant return to their rightful place as gold medal favorite.

Back in July I marvelled at the marvellous claims made about the new Cowboys stadium as an economic stimulus package for, well, the entire planet. I took the logical leap in speculating that the 2012 Olympics to be held in London will stimulate the solar system, at bare minimum, and hopefully the entire galaxy. It had better considering how much it’s going to cost.

It seems that the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will cost $1 Billion (Canadian) for security alone (presumably shared across federal, provincial, and municipal levels) and potentially cost Vancouver and British Columbia something around $1 Billion in addition due to faults in another much-vaunted public-private partnership. Hell, even NBC will lose around $200 million in broadcasting the games (and considering what I’ve read of NBC’s coverage, they deserve it).

This is to be expected. Every Olympics since Montreal in 1976 has been susceptible to haemorrhaging public money utilizing new and innovative techniques. Some have broken even or been profitable (I haven’t found a breakdown), but Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 both lost heaps of cash. While Montreal can bask in the delight of having settled their tab in 2006, Athens stands out as ironic given the current mess of Greek finances. Nobody has the foggiest clue how Beijing did in 2008, but the safe bet is on a huge deficit.

Yet, history is not a guide to the Olympic hopeful.

This all makes my mouth water at the prospect of England earning the right to host the 2018 World Cup, for which my current home of Plymouth was inexplicably selected as a host city. Of course, a new stadium will have to be built as Home Park currently seats only 19,500. While the local newspaper is breathless in its reporting that serving as a host city “could net Plymouth a staggering £292 million”, I’ll refer readers back to my post on the Cowboys: the economic empirical literature seldom if ever supports these claims. However, what is necessary is that Home Park would need substantial expansion to a capacity of 46,000, which while projected to cost around £50 million, promises to give Plymouth the “Wembley of the West“.

A 46,000 seat stadium for a club that has never been in the top division, now five points from safety in the relegation zone of the second tier (this despite a recent good run of form where Plymouth have not lost in three matches), and is currently averaging under 10,000 per match.

Clearly, Plymouth should build on this success and bid for the Olympics.


But There is No Pirate-Terrorist Nexus

[ 0 ] February 25, 2010 |

David Axe at War is Boring critiques the latest Navy strategy document for conflating piracy, terrorists and national insurgents.

There are no proven links between Somali pirates, based in northern Somalia, and the major, “terroristic” insurgent groups operations based in southern and central Somalia. Anyway, Shabab and pirates are separate, even conflicting, entities. Shabab even promised to fight pirates who last year seized a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million in crude. Wider, more entrenched Islamic control in Somalia could actually decrease piracy, as it did during the previous Islamic rule three years ago. Piracy thrives in the absence of law and order, and law and order happen to be exactly what Islamists are good at.

He’s right, as far as I can tell. In fact I just sat on a panel at ISA where three separate paper authors made this point.

In addition to the facts-on-the-ground that Axe mentions, there’s also the basic distinction in the strategic and moral logic of the two types of actors. Jihadist networks are attempting to disrupt and overthrow the global trading system; pirates rely on it for profit. Jihadist networks aim for spectacular media coverage; piracy works best when it’s under the radar. Jihadist networks aim to kill as many people as they can with each attack; pirates, at least in the Gulf of Aden, are after ransom and make every effort to spare lives.

Given the difference in the preferences of both sets of actors, it stands to reason (at least from a strategic choice perspective) that very different policy approaches are needed to deal with them.

[cross-posted at Current Intelligence]

Tanker Stuff

[ 0 ] February 25, 2010 |

Let me recommend the excellent work of Amy Butler at Ares on the new Air Force tanker contract bid situation. Long story short, Northrup-Grumman/EADS/Airbus is claiming that the new requirements are tilted so heavily towards Boeing that the former may not submit a bid. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if this were true; Boeing has been trying to buy the process since before the first tanker announcement hit. Obviously, if Airbus withdraws its bid, the DoD loses a substantial amount of leverage over Boeing. Again, this is rather the point of buying the process.

I’d like to thank the good folks at Tanker USA for keeping me updated about all this through the unsolicited e-mails that they keep sending. I can’t seem to find the organization on the web (although they appear to have a twitter feed), but they’re pretty obviously a piece of Boeing astroturf. At least they get the rhetoric right; it’s all about not sending US jobs overseas, and democracy, and national security, and so forth. I think that this re-emphasizes the fact that fears about the influence of “foreign corporate money” rather miss the point; US corporations pose a far greater danger to US democracy than do foreign corporations.

For what it’s worth, I asked some tanker pilots yesterday at the Air Command and Staff College about the competition, and they said that they preferred the Airbus 330 hands down. Not a scientific survey, of course, but worth thinking about.


[ 0 ] February 24, 2010 |

Col. Mustard, among many others, accuses Democrats of being hypocrites for planning to use the majority rules votes that govern pretty much every other legislature in the world to pass health care reform in the Senate. This kind of procedural tu quoque is useless even if accurate because it almost always cuts both ways. Which makes it especially pathetic that the charges are simply false even on their own terms; since Democrats aren’t planning to use the “nuclear option,” but rather a banal procedural tool more often used by Republicans, they’ve got nothing. Sad.

All Things Olympic Open Thread

[ 1 ] February 24, 2010 |

And in anticipation of what should be the highlight of the Games, hopefully Joe Thornton is being told to channel the spirit of John Tonelli.

Most importantly of all, let’s hope there aren’t any (&%%&* shootouts.

Single Women Can Be Happy

[ 0 ] February 24, 2010 |

Lori Gottlieb’s argument about why women should panic if they’re not married at some particular age makes claims that are not consistent with the data. It’s also a prominent example of the Maureen Dowd fallacy, i.e. blaming feminism for idiosyncratic relationship problems that have nothing to do with feminism. And I think Ruth Franklin and Liesl Schillinger make an even more important point: Gottlieb doesn’t seem to consider the obvious possibility that being in a crappy relationship is substantially worse than being single. And as Franklin says, especially for women failure to consider this is not merely suboptimal but potentially dangerous.

What Norms Should Guide Academic Bloggers?

[ 0 ] February 24, 2010 |

As Rob mentioned already, I spoke at an ISA panel on blogs and the academy last week. Key questions included whether or not blogs matter for policy, to what extent academic blogging is reshaping the profession as a whole, and how to mitigate the perils of blogging especially for junior faculty members. (The background paper for the panel was an article I co-authored with Dan Drezner. It won’t be published in International Studies Perspectives until this summer, but it’s in the ISA paper archive if you want to check out the current version here.)

Anyway, Stephen Walt pointed out that the blogosphere remains an essentially lawless place. Although Dan has written before about some emerging norms of blog etiquette, I think it’s safe to say that adherence to these so-called “norms” are hit and miss among political bloggers, including academics. They’re also often up for debate – remember the uproar last year over whether or not the institution of anonymous or pseudononymous blogging is good or bad for the blogosphere. Joseph Nye left us with a set of questions about what academic norms in the blogosphere should look like.

Having already used up considerable time during discussion playing a YouTube video for illustrative effect, I yielded my time to the other panelists on that question, but here’s how I’d answer it today:

Academic bloggers should acknowledge their brokerage position between the academic world and the public, and they should strive to set a good example for both communities. Vis academics, this means modeling the ability to communicate complicated concepts intelligibly. Scholars should be unafraid to do so with wit and even snark at times. Vis non-academics, scholars should model the ability to communicate in an intelligent, fact-based way that respects the right of others to disagree, that enhances deliberation instead of polarizing, and that raises the level of public discourse instead of lowering it.

And though I hardly live up to the ideal of “intelligent intelligibility” in this long-winded and not-very-snarky post, these are the strategies I will strive for as I blog here and elsewhere.

No War Over Oil (in the Falklands . . . )

[ 0 ] February 24, 2010 |

The British are searching for oil just off the coast of some small islands far away from anywhere, though I understand that Argentina is relatively near by, thinks the Falklands go by some other name, and are, in fact, theirs. They are bemused that the British are drilling, baby.

International law on the issue is sketchy, which is about as far as international law ever really gets us (please correct me if I’m wrong). However, in terms of self determination, the population of roughly 3100 would probably opt to remain a British protectorate. Hell, sarcasm doesn’t work here — it wouldn’t be close. Argentina might get five or six votes. While Argentina claim that the Falklands are an archaic colonial outpost, I’m not sure the definition of colony is consistent with a population who wants to remain British. Under that definition, Alaska could be considered a colony (Hawaii is a much better example, but there’s greater humor value in using Alaska).

Of course, there is also that small issue of the 1982 war between the UK and Argentina. 28 years on, neither the Royal Navy nor the RAF really have the capability to match that campaign. It won’t get that far, now that Hugo Chavez has weighed in with his own idiosyncratic diplomatic skills . . .

Today At The Court

[ 0 ] February 24, 2010 |

Some thoughts on the Miranda-application ruling handed down today.

Esteemed architecture critic Warren Ellis on the new US Embassy in London

[ 0 ] February 23, 2010 |

I think perhaps this building says a little more than it was intended to. In fact, let’s admit it. IT’S A FORTRESS WITH A FUCKING MOAT. It doesn’t say “welcome to a little piece of America, one of the best ideas the world ever had and a country that welcomes the tired and poor and afraid.” It says “if you even look at us funny we’ll pour boiling oil on you from the roof. Raise the drawbridge! Release the Mongolian Terror Trout!”


Thinking About Gender and Security Studies at ISA

[ 0 ] February 23, 2010 |

Among events I attended last week at the International Studies Association Annual Conference: an informal discussion on the relationship between IR feminist theory and security studies, organized by my Duck of Minerva co-blogger Laura Sjoberg. Some of the questions posed to the participants in advance: What (if anything) can feminist theory teach security studies? What (if anything) can security studies teach IR feminism?

My key answer to the first of these questions has typically been: feminist theorists can show security folks how a gender lens can help solve problems that matter to security studies.

The foreign policy community and defense establishment gets this, I think. The US Army has recently begun requiring all soldiers, male and female, to undergo resiliency training so they can learn to “talk about emotions” as a bulwark against morale problems, suicide, domestic violence and divorce. Top Pentagon brass are urging the Obama Administration to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy not just because “it’s the right thing to do” but because the discharge of numerous gay and lesbian servicemen and women has deprived the military of key assets.

What the foreign policy establishment often doesn’t get is how to do “gender” well. This is because their efforts to craft more gender-friendly policies are themselves so based on gender assumptions rather than gender analysis. So for example, the State Department has seized upon “women’s empowerment” as a benchmark for its democracy promotion efforts – with mixed results. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity right now for feminist IR scholars studying gender dynamics in post-conflict zones and the roles of gender discourse in national identity and international negotiations to have an important effect in creating sounder policy options.

The key to having that effect, though, is to speak to the interests of those states involved. The US interest may not be “Iraqi women’s betterment” in and of itself; it may be “effective stability operations.” But if you can make the case that protecting Kurdish women from honor killings or ensuring Shi’a women equal protection under a national constitution supports the broader goal of the “nation-building” then you may have a much better chance of harnessing the support of powerful actors for feminist ends than if you limit yourself to “critiquing the hegemonic discourse.”

And this is where my answer to Question Number Two comes in: Security Studies can teach IR feminists how to communicate with the defense establishment more effectively. As I pointed out at the discussion, very few IR feminists I know – (and I am obviously poking fun at some of my own writing here as well) – can utter the sentence “the US needs to revamp its force structure to ensure power projection in anti-access environments” without snickering much less talk or write seriously about the kinds of issues raised in the QDR that was released last month – on terms that are actually likely to be taken seriously by military bloggers, defense intellectuals, or men and women in uniform. Certainly most of Laura’s posts at the Duck do not.

I think this is a shame and that it could easily be changed if IR feminists accept the validity of a genuine exchange with security studies on its own terms, rather than on some asymmetric cross-paradigmatic battlefield.

P.S. Peter Feaver from Shadow Government crashed this discussion and made a few choice points. I hope he blogs about them…

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

Nihilists and Wets

[ 1 ] February 23, 2010 |

Bart Stupak is happy to blow up health care reform, denying countless people medical care and hence unnecessary illness and death, if access to abortion can’t be made more inequitable. Just another reminder, pace Charles Lane, who actually stands in the way of a health care bill.

In other news, Jay Rockefeller now seems to oppose the public option because it would be too “partisan.” Yes, it would be a shame if excessive partisanship caused the number of possible GOP votes in the Senate for health care legislation to go from zero to zero. (And, yes, this really is a case where Obama deserves considerable blame for a lack of leadership.)