I received an email this afternoon from Wikistrat inviting political scientist graduate students to participate in a competition for $10,000. Before this email, I have heard nothing about this program/website and I am still relatively ignorant about their presence and history, but it seems, at the very least, worth getting a bit more information about.
1. Forecast their team’s national trajectory; 2. Develop scenario pathways and national policy options for specific strategic issues; 3. Articulate national grand strategies; 4. Brainstorm future regional security environments (alternate futures); and 5. Simulate plausible scenarios of geopolitical crises.
The simulation, to occur in June, will last 4 weeks with an expectation of 5,000 words per week of output by the university team. Each team will be role-playing a particular country and developing plans of action for the country they are representing.
The competition is intriguing. For a relatively new enterprise, it seems like a decent way to generate content and information for a starting investment -- perhaps similar to other prize competitions for science based projects (rocket design, fuel efficiency, etc.), but this one is strategy oriented.
I posted a few days ago about openheatmap.com, a website that will convert your csv files into fancy thermal maps. One problem with our initial attempts to map out the presence of American military forces abroad was that the data are highly skewed. Some countries host upwards of 50,000--60,000 American military personnel in the year we're looking at (2005). In the past this figure was even higher---Germany at one point plays host to roughly 250,000 members of the American military during the Cold War.
As you can imagine, we don't have that many soldiers in most countries. The original map I posted was somewhat misleading, as countries such as China and Russia appeared to have more soldiers within their boarders than they actually have, and this was mostly the result of the combination of skewed data and the way that software color-coded countries. Phil Arena suggested logging the troop values to see if this would help to take care of the issue:
I've changed the colors from blues to reds, as I think this helps a bit, but the figures used to generate the map above are the logged values of troops within the country. The paler countries obviously have fewer soldiers than the darker countries. Overall I think this map looks better, but there is still a fairly substantial amount of variation that is being masked by the limited range of tones. For example, Iran is actually coded as having one American soldier present during 2005, which explains why it's a pale tan/organge. Nevertheless, I think the important information that the map is intended to convey (namely the extent to which the US military has at least some presence virtually everywhere) is still there.
On a final note, I also found that the map doesn't distinguish between 0 values and positive values---rather, a 0 and a 1 will share the same color. Any observations that have a 0 value need to be dropped out of the data before the map is created. This is kind of a funny feature, but something that users should be aware of.
Back in December I had a brief post about CRACK, a mapmaking software package for Macs. The downside was that CRACK only worked for making maps of the United States. As the need has arisen, Michael Allen and I began looking for something similar that could handle world maps. This brings me to OpenHeatMap, an online platform for making those fancy looking thermal heat maps using data from a spreadsheet. We were looking for something to visually display some data that we have on US Military Personnel abroad, and this seems to work pretty well. Here's an example:
The program lets you mess with some of the details, such as borders, colors, etc. The only downside is that it does not appear to allow you to save an image. Mac users have the option of taking screen shots by selecting particular areas on the screen, but I don't think PCs have this feature yet. Anywho, if you have a Mac, this lack of a downloadable file probably won't matter too much to you. Also, there are some small troop deployments to some microstates that this map does not display--getting it to recognize some of the country names in the data may also be a bit of a struggle.
Clearly I'm trying to make up for a post drought from the past couple of months. I'll leave the more in-depth commentary to someone who has been following this situation more closely, but it looks like the Wisconsin State Government is experiencing a wheeeeee-bit of a principal-agent problem (via Boing Boing).
I will say that it's not immediately clear to me whether we're talking about off-duty cops only, or if we're talking about both on and off-duty police officers. If the latter are protesting that would seem to be less of a problem, but the article seems to indicate that on-duty officers are the ones refusing to remove protestors from the capitol. On the other hand, the man in the video looks more to be an off-duty officer expressing support (if his jacket is any indication).
By now I'm sure most people have come across Amy Chua's recent Wall Street Journal article. After reading David Brooks' response to Chau's article, I've begun to think of some of some of the international relations implications of Chua's Chinese parenting style. Specifically, I'm curious to see what her revelations imply for China's ascendency in the global community. In spite of her in-text caveats, I will assume that her described style indeed applies to all Chinese mothers and in no way, shape, or form is a blanket generalization that might not apply quite so broadly.
Espionage -- Historically espionage and subterfuge have been incredibly important in advancing national objectives. Well--placed operatives can provide decision-makers with valuable information on the intentions and capabilities of rival powers. And a relatively simple act of misinformation or sabotage can achieve what might take millions of dollars and thousands of military personnel to achieve. But it appears that we have very little to fear from China in terms of espionage. Chua claims that a ban on playdates was one of the imporant steps in creating a driven, high-achieving child. And let's not even talk about participating in a school play. Do we really expect the Chinese government to field skilled intelligence operatives if they don't even allow their children to partake in afterschool drama activities? Where are they supposed to learn the skills necessary to fool other highly trained intelligence operatives? Denying a child from an early age the basic opportunities that contribute to shaping their social skills and ability to feign interest in the stories of self-involved peers doesn't seem like a very effective means of imbuing budding spies with spy-type skills.
Military -- One of the two categories that Chua lists as being acceptable for her children to under achieve in is gym class. I've watched enough movies featuring basic training programs to know that big wall and the rope climb are omni-present features of military life. Furthermore, a basic neglect of physically demanding activities does not seem like a particularly effective way of building up a strong military. Granted this ignores the emphasis on more technologically advanced means of warfighting, but as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have emphasized the importance of boots on the ground, I'd say physical prowess is still important.
Strategy -- Chua doesn't allow her children to watch TV or play video games. I assume this ban also extends to surfing the internet as well. We all know newspapers are dying out, so how will Chinese children keep up on current global affairs? I predict there will be a severe expertise deficit in China as a consequence of this neglect. It will take several additional years of education before young Chinese adults will have caught up on all that back reading. This might also cause the Chinese leadership of the next generation to pursue moot strategies---had they watched TV in the here and now they'd know that the Jersey Shore was already destroying America from the inside out and that there was no need for a more heated contest. China could preserve valuable military and financial resources had they only watched a little MTV and gave it another 5 years.
Soft Power -- At first glance it would seem that China has an advantage in this department. So many gifted, classically trained musicians and an emphasis high academic excellence should make China an attractive place. A well educated population provides the country with an enormous pool of expertise and talent which can then provide a boost to China's academic institutions, perhaps making them more attractive to foreign students. Through attending China's universities, foreign students will experience Chinese culture and develop a greater affinity for the country. However, the standards by which Chinese parents apparently raise their children has likely had a perverse effect in this area. Admissions standards to Chinese universities must be incredibly high. If the lower and upper bounds of the typical grade distribution in China are A+ and A+, where do the A students go? University admissions standards are likely so high that strategic-thinking foreign students realize they can't hope to compete and apply to universities in other countries, thus depriving China of the opportunity to difuse its values and culture to the rest of the world. And, really, what do you as a country do with an enormous surplus of high-quality pianists? China may soon come to have an enormous population of struggling artists to support, placing enormous demands on its economic system as funds are syphoned off to support the glut of unemployed virtuosos.
I'm sure that there are furhter areas in which parenting will matter when it comes to international affairs. If anyone can think of anything in particular that I've missed, please feel free to contribute.
I got my Amazon Kindle about a year ago and I really enjoy it, but I am finding myself become increasingly frustrated by the apparent lack of standards when it comes to citing eBooks. On some occassions this isn't really a problem---if you need a particular page number you can often times type a phrase into Google Books and find what you're looking for (assuming the correct edition is available). But to some extent this defeats the purpose of having an eReader. Furthermore, Google Books often censors the content of a variety of books, so it's not guaranteed that you will be able to find the specific page that you happen to be searching for.
I am clearly not the first person to find this frustrating. Upon searching for an answer I came across this page with some comments written by a certain Stephen Smith. The location numbers that eReaders like the Kindle feature should indeed be more accurate, as I understand it. Depending on the reader's preferences you can change the size of the font. But, as this will change the content featured on each "page" of the eReader, page numbers are not particularly useful guides when searching for specific content.
The page referenced above suggests a solution offered by the Chicago Manual of Style, wherein a section title or chapter be listed for eBooks in place of page numbers. But this is really not much of a solution. Depending on the writer's style and length of the book, particular sections or chapters could be enormous, thereby making it difficult to track down what it is that you are looking for. True, as this page points out, even hard copies of books have some issues with page numbers varying across different editions. But this is only a problem when tracking content across multiple readers. And even in a situation where two or more readers are working from different editions, the content is often similar enough where the page different might only be a matter of a couple of pages.
The problem with eReaders seems to be that the reader/author themselves cannot accurately convey, by current academic standards, where it is that they are drawing information from. And it is more difficult to translate a location number into a page number than it is to navigate from a page number from one edition to the correct spot in another edition of the same hard copy. I haven't yet seen an article published in a political science journal that features eReader locations for some readings, in addition to page numbers for others. A quick Google search for political science style guides did not seem to shed any light on the issue either. I'm not sure this problem affects that many people at present, but it does seem like an issue that would, conceivably, be fairly simple to resolve.
I haven't had much of a chance to play with it, but it looks like it could be useful. I've had a few instances in class this semester where I've wanted to make some maps of the US to illustrate various points, but alas, have not known how to do so. Rather, I've wanted to make customizable maps, but have not known how. It seems like this program is pretty simple to use--just drag and drop a CSV file with the relevant data onto the map. It also appears to be able to perform some basic data manipulation as well. When all is as you wish it to be, you can export an image file of your customized map to incorporate into documents, presentations, etc.
As the link suggests, this appears to be only for Mac users at the moment. I'm sure there must be some freeware out there that accomplishes the same thing for PC users as well. I'm generally behind the curve on this kind of thing, so if anyone is aware of the existence of such software please post a link in the comments section. Also, if anyone is aware of similar software that can be used at the global level that would also be most useful.
For the better part of the past half-century the two most prominent theoretical approaches to the study of international relations have been realism and liberalism. Realism, viewing the state as a unitary and rational actor, argues that states pursue their own interests in an anarchic international environment. The ability to accomplish their goals, however, is curbed by the fact that other states are similarly engaged in the pursuit of their own interests. Ultimately realists view the potential struggles generated over conflicting interests to be determined by the distribution of power in the international system. Generally speaking, "stronger" states will prevail while weaker states do not (Morgenthau 1948, Waltz 1979).
Alternatively, liberal scholars tend to disagree with the realist assumptions that the state is a unitary and rational actor, instead proposing that we can improve our understanding of state behavior by examining the interests of domestic political actors, looking at the incentives and constraints established by the domestic political institutions within the state, focusing on legal and moral aspects of international behavior, etc. Whereas realist arguments view the state as having one national interest, liberal views may interpret the so-called "national interest" as simply the reflection of the dominant political coalition in the state, or as the end result of values and norms associated with domestic political institutions and structures (Trubowitz 1998, Russett and Oneal 2001).
While the debate has cooled somewhat in recent years, Ferrell and Robinson (2009) have offered a rather unique take on the issue.