**This is a guest post by Dr. Christopher Neff, Lecturer in Public Policy at University of Sydney.**
This past week President Obama marked one year since legislative efforts at gun control failed in the Congress. He lamented at the normalization of school shootings in the United States, noting, “my biggest frustration is that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do unbelievable damage.” What the President and his aides fail to realize is that mass shootings today make gun control less like to pass, not more likely. Why? It’s all about emotional nature of the issues and the strength of the policy community, which is consistent with my research regarding policy responses to shark bites. Here’s how:
First, mass shootings and gun violence ‘turns off’ the wider public from the politics of ‘gun control.’ Mass shootings at schools create a series of aversive emotional conditions that cause emotional overload. These events become “temporally combined” (Linville and Fischer, 1991) in the minds of the public into one larger, more intense emotional event. For example, the shooting of each individual in a school tragedy get placed in the context of a larger event, such as "Columbine," "Virginia Tech," or "Sandy Hook." We also see the public sharing lists and maps of mass shootings across the country in the past decade. The size and intensity of this emotional weight limits the number of people who have a capacity to engage. The natural response for the public therefore is to seek emotional relief from this condition and dreaded outcome. Simply put, people will not- and cannot- rally toward prolonged emotional distress. As a result, this limits the number of people who can compete with the entrenched gun rights lobby.
Secondly, the occurrence of mass shootings ‘turns on’ the support of gun rights advocates.
For a perspective on how global civil society might better mobilized for armed violence reduction read this new report, by a Brazilian humanitarian disarmament NGO, Instituto SoudaPaz. "What's Next?" is both an up-to-date manifesto on the importance and political tactics by which small arms advocates might more meaningfully influence global debate and policy, and a reflection on the nature, challenges and promise of global civil society mobilization in this area which might be usefully generalized to other thematic transnational advocacy domains. It's a long read but a helpful resource if you are doing research or praxis in this area.
So, at this point, I've been all over Brazil, though that's like saying I've toured the United States in five weeks. That said, I've been in five or six cities all over the country (I'll load a better map soon), and the internet speed has invariably been crap, even in pretty expensive hotels. I'm not sure what that tells you about the country's fortunes in the 21st century, but it does mean access to information and commerce in Brazil is limited, let alone the ability for people to watch streaming video of Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black or local soccer. It also makes it so much harder for Brazilian voices to get their stories heard outside of official media.
Too good and with the finale coming up, we need to double dip:
Sorry, faithful Duck readers, for the radio silence – I’ve been traveling for much of the last month and then – ugh – just started teaching a daily undergrad class. I promise – real blog posts are coming! In the meantime, I wanted to fill you in on some information I’ve been digesting in the last month. The information should be enough for all of us to “rant” about.
With the finale of this season of Game of Thrones upon us, I thought this take on the theme might be a suitable Friday Nerd entry.
With the fall of Mosul to the jihadists of Syria and Iraq, there is much blame-casting to be had. Some are blaming Obama for not keeping a residual force in Iraq although it is not clear that a small US force would have kept the Iraqi military from breaking.
This always, always frustrates me because it ignores what the US faced in 2009--the accumulation of dynamics produced by the bad decisions of the past. In this case, if people remember, there were many stories where Iraqi elites said two things: yes, we want the U.S. to stay, but no, we cannot say that in public. Why?
On June 12, Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will brief the United Nations Human Rights Council on the human rights implications of lethal autonomous weapons. Last month, member states were likewise briefed by panels of experts at an informal meeting under the auspices of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which Charli Carpenter has blogged about here.
Much of the discussion pertaining to lethal autonomous weapons, or “killer robots,” revolves around the implications for international humanitarian law, particularly whether they will be able of discriminating between combatants and civilians, or whether they will be used to violate human rights. Little attention, however, is paid to the realities of the costs of such systems and whether they will be operationally useful or advantageous.
Laura Sjoberg recently wrote a post listing "The Unwritten Rules of IR." While it is an interesting review of some of the power relations, maneuvering, and indeed game-playing that goes on in the field, it also captured a particular American (maybe even just a personal) experience of being an IR scholar. Of course this makes sense, since Sjoberg is an American doing IR in America...but it felt a little bit more like 'Mean Girls- the IR Sequel'- like when Regina George (yes, I remember the main character/villain's name outlines the 'rules' of the table....maybe the problem is the table, not the rules). My point is not to critique Sjoberg or the individual points she makes, but to consider what these rules tell us about how exceptional (I think) this experience is from those of us 'doing' IR in, well, the rest of the world (and maybe at other tables in the US cafeteria). I'm drawing from my experience working in New Zealand and Australia, studying in Canada, and completing a post-doc in the US. The post made me ask two questions:
- First, is the American IR community really that shitty/petty/manipulative? (read, 'why is everyone so mean!?')
- Do American IR scholars appreciate that their experience of the field is not, in fact, how the entire field operates? (read, 'why don't more US scholars abandon ship?!')
I offer a few counter punches to those offered by Sjoberg in the hope of making my point:
1. Get over pedigree. Pedigree matters most to those who went to 'the top 2/5/8' US universities in the US. Don't get me wrong, I'm not naive about the power of studying at Harvard or Yale. BUT pedigree only goes so far. And, especially outside the US, A) one's publication record, and general contribution to the field outweighs pedigree. Full stop. B) perception about 'good' pedigree varies vastly across the world. There is an entire cohort of non- ivy league universities that seem to garner as much- if not more recognition- for producing incredible IR scholars, including: Aberystwyth, the University of Copenhagen, Science Po, and University of Southern California- to name a few. C) constantly name dropping your alma matter or PhD supervisor is annoying both inside and outside the US (the students of a few American IR
dudes 'icons'- who shall remain nameless- should just get t-shirts made for their students, to save them the hassle of declaration (it would be equally as annoying), or maybe there should be some pin that signals certain supervisors...now I'm just getting bitchy). Maybe this is my perspective because- from a pedigree perspective (what are we breeding, exactly) I'm the equivalent of a Shetland Pony/work horse bred with a thoroughbred racehorse. I'm sure the pedigree-police would recommend taking me out back and shooting me, but hey, I've managed 'show' in a few races and make my mark on the track anyway (ok, those are all the racing analogies I've got).
2. The HR pimp line, or the degree to which you brag about yourself as a scholar, that Sjoberg talks about is relative.
One of my favorite blogs turned ten this past weekend. Lawyers, Guns and Money was an early entrant to the IR blogosphere and Rob Farley and his crew are some of its most well-known voices. Last weekend they ran a series of anniversary reflections which I hope you'll surf on over and read. They're all amazing, funny, heart-twanging, and Rob's in particular has a lot of history and depth to it and some nice reflections on how the blogosphere has changed in the last decade.
Since I contributed to LGM for eighteen months between January 2010 and May 2011, I also contributed an anniversary post here, in which I ruminated on work-life balance issues as they relate to different types of academic blogging, and what I found special about my time there. The take-home paragraph is below the fold:
At my side event presentation at the UN CCW Experts Meeting on Autonomous Weapons last month, I presented public opinion data showing strong US opposition to the idea of deploying such weapons. Since the panel was specifically focused on "morality and ethics" and since my remarks were on measuring the public "conscience" per se rather than public opinion in general, I re-examined my coding of open-ended comments with a view toward whether popular arguments for or against the use of autonomous weapons systems (AWS) were based on humanitarian principles or interest-based reasoning. At the Monkey Cage this week, I describe the results:
While both camps prioritize "saving lives," humanitarian thinking per se is largely absent from explanations for opinions in favor of autonomous weapons. Rather, proponents of such weapons unflaggingly invoke national self-interest: the need to protect “our troops” from harm or “our national security” from robot arms races – arguments invoked as well by analysts and lawyers advocating such weapons. Only a small proportion of AWS proponents surveyed qualify this statement with concern for foreign civilians. And there is almost no sense among the U.S. public that autonomous weapons might actually be a viable means of reducing war crimes against foreign civilians – though this is a moral argument made by some proponents of AWS and, according to Zack Beauchamp, perhaps the most important question in the debate. Most arguments in favor of AWS by American voters are interest-based arguments based on the hope of saving American lives (though notably active-duty personnel in the survey did not agree with this thinking).
Let's be honest, the circumstances surrounding the 'prisoner swap' between Bowe Bergdahl and five high-ranking Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay just don't add up. The initial narrative President Obama pitched of the prisoner swap as a signal of successful negotiations, a necessary response for a fellow soldier whose health was in jeopardy, and further evidence that the 'war' in Afghanistan is indeed drawing to a close, has completely disintegrated as waves of questions continue to be raised about the facts, legality, and implications of the exchange, including:
Did President Obama break the law by not giving Congress 30 days notice of the prisoner swap?
Was Bergdahl a prisoner of war? If he deserted, is he still a prisoner of war?
What's with Bergdahl's father- his obvious beard, and evidence he has been, studying Pashto (he used it in the recent press conference, sparking deep discomfort among some) and trying to learn about his son's captors?
What is Qatar's role as an intermediary? How will keeping these 5 detainees in Qatar ensure American safety, as Obama claims?
If Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, and this was a prisoner swap, how does this impact the US classification of Guantanamo Bay detainees as 'enemy combatants' for over a decade? If they are now prisoners of war, do they get prisoner of war rights....finally?
In addition to these questions, discussions about Bergdahl are now largely centered around 1) the legality of the swap, and 2) the circumstances surrounding Berdahl's initial disappearance from his base 5 years ago. The former debate is playing out between lawyers, politicians, and the media. At the same time, the latter debate has taken on a life of its own- it seems to be a sort of public trial and judgement on Bergdahl's character, and whether he is 'worth' the efforts made to return him to America. As the discussions descend into a "bumper-sticker debate," characterized by cliche claims and concerns, the following questions dominate the debate: Is he a deserter and traitor, who felt "ashamed" to be a soldier and was disillusioned with the war in Afghanistan? Or, is he a patriot, who served bravely and 'suffered enough' as a prisoner of war? What is more interesting than the 'facts' surrounding the story, is the frame being used. This is a classic band of brothers problem.
The band of brothers narrative has been used in reference to the US military for decades- and has become particularly salient during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ideals of the 'special' bonds of soldiers, comradeship, and the need to put one's brother first have all become such embedded cliches that we hardly question them. It helps that the HBO TV series Band of Brothers spoon fed us the key elements of the band of brothers myth: war is primarily about combat, the 'real' story is the bonds between the men- not the politics of the war itself, the non-sexual bonds and relationships between men are exceptional- romantic in their own way, and essential to warfare. So here we are, with Bergdahl, who represents a band of brothers (BOB) problem. In fact, the 'patriot'/'traitor' debate is informed entirely by the band of brother myth and its implicit messages about soldier and national identity.
Online mediums can be perceived as attracting
wacky ranters unrepresentative contributors and exchanges and, therefore, forums or chats are often treated as if they do not provide an effective picture/sample of political discourse. But since over 80% of Americans are online, 66% of American adults have engaged in civil or political activities with social media, and about half of those who visit discussion groups post/contribute, isn't this an interesting- and increasingly relevant- medium for a discourse analysis? Why cut out such a vast political resource? What is different about 'doing' a discourse analysis of online content? How would you even start such an analysis? And, why aren't those like myself- who blog and engage in political discussions as part of my daily/weekly activity- doing more to treat online content as part of what we consider to be 'legitimate' political discourse? Well, I think it comes down to methodology. Here is a very brief intro to some of the opportunities and challenges to conducing a discourse analysis of online content (PS getting students to do such an analysis is a great assignment).
1. What makes a discourse analysis of online content different from an analysis of printed text?
First, (and probably somewhat obvious) online material uses multiple modes of expression, including emoticons, hyperlinks, images, video, moving images (gifs), graphic design, and color. This multimodality adds complexity (and, I argue, richness) to a discourse analysis- but the researcher must be aware of how particular signals are used, (for example, 'iconic' or popular memes or gifs (like feminist Ryan Gosling or the Hilary Clinton texting image begin to take on particular meanings themselves). Second, online content is unstable, instant, and edited in ways unavailable to print (even the use of
striking through signals 'editing'/alternative meaning/irony etc- but this requires interpretation). Also, articles, conversations, and posts, can be published, responded to, retweeted, then retracted or edited all within a few hours.
Here are some stories we've been reading about Brazil:
- Street artist captures iconic image of impending World Cup (see mural above)
- Rio residents ambivalent about the World Cup
Datafolha poll of people in Sao Paulo: 76% of people say Brazil is not prepared to host the World Cup. 22% say ready or partially ready.
— Gabriel Elizondo (@elizondogabriel) May 22, 2014
A long overdue post from Brazil. I've been here about two weeks, first in Rio and have just concluded the second week in the Amazonian city of Belém. I hope to come back with more substantive thoughts about the country's direction, but here are some preliminary thoughts. The Brazilians we met were somewhat ambivalent about the World Cup. Many of them expressed the concern that this was a lot of money that the country could have used to address its myriad social needs.
When I think about whether Brazil can be a major player internationally, even more important than it is now, I've generally been struck by the contrasts, between the rich cosmopolitan parts of Rio and the rougher, grittier favelas that intersperse the city. Similar contrasts abound between the Rio's relatively nice beach neighborhoods (like Ipanema) and Belém. Belém looks like it has seen better days since the time when it was a major port city exporter of rubber. The agencies and individuals we met with here have treated us with great kindness and generosity, but the city itself has aging infrastructure, cracked sidewalks, inadequate sewerage, and a fair amount of garbage.
On behalf of Dan Drezner and myself I am pleased to announce the lineup for our panel proposal to the 2015 International Studies Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, which I submitted today.
The call for proposals specified we were looking for papers specifically investigating the empirical impacts of / circulation of ASOIAF/GoT cultural artifacts in real-world politics. (An example of which might be the above tweet, which was disseminated on the official White House twitter feed earlier this month).
As such we are not seeking papers that critically analyze the books/show as a political text itself, or that apply pedagogical lessons from the show to the real world, or that treat the popular cultural artifacts or their fandom themselves as a primary object of study through political lenses (though any of these aspects might conceivably come to play in papers for this panel). Rather, we are interested in rigorous, data-driven research taking seriously popular culture (in this case ASOIAF/GoT) as an independent variable on political phenomena and empirically examining ways in which its fictional memes, concepts or allegories infuse or inform real-world politics, political phenomena or political debate (widely construed) on issues other than Game of Thrones itself.
We ended up with quite an interesting set of projects. With the permission of the authors, the abstracts we are submitting are below the fold for your reading pleasure. I look forward to seeing many of you there next spring. Characters welcome.
Obviously, too soon to tell. But with the new Obama announcement setting an enddate-ish, my nominee might just be:
It is nothing new to say that the internet is a major distraction. But I'm particularly amazed at how well-intentioned online searches lead to bottom-feeder-celebrity-gossip trolling. How does a quick writing break to check the news end in mindlessly clicking through the best-dressed list at Cannes? I've got a theory: procrastination requires a certain level of mindless surfing. Our initial news hits don't satisfy the urge, so we are forced to go deeper and deeper into the internet until we hit the 'zone out' level. Here's how it happens:
Stage One: Most procrastination stints start out in earnest. Al-Jazeera, New York Times, Democracy Now, Washington Post, Guardian headlines are scoured, we catch up on what's going on in the news. We feel virtuous because we are in fact multi tasking, and learning about the world, not procrastinating. Stage two: From here, there are easy distractions, like "most emailed" articles (that might include an interesting op ed, personal news about a particular politician etc). Next thing you know, you are on the Huffington Post trying to read more about Tony Abbot and what an idiot he is. The Huffington Post is like a vortex that takes you from news to gossip in .5 seconds. Massive headlines about Putin's abs or Hilary Clinton's pantsuits suck you in with supersonic force. Stage Three: The article on Putin's abs takes you to websites you would never admit to visiting during the workday. No, I don't mean porn. I mean People.com. Yes, you are on People.com reading about Putin's abs....and now its time to get to Stage Four: pure celebrity gossip. At least the Putin article had some political relevance...sort of. From here you are one click away from learning about Jenny McCarthy's wedding ring (she got a sapphire, not a blood diamond...doesn't that knowledge count as political?...shit, how do I know Jenny McCarthy has a sapphire engagement ring!!). And now you are here, at Stage Five- the guts of internet procrastination, reading about yet another season of the Bachelorette, looking at 'who wore it better', doing quizzes about what 90s rock star you would be, and reading your horoscope (FB is in another league of procrastination). Don't worry, it happens to all of us.
I was a fan of X-Men long before I was a fan of Poli Sci. So, I am eagerly awaiting the chance to see Days of Future Past, which may or may not do kind things to one of the very best X-tales. +
This is a follow-up to my earlier post, “Why Foreign Intervention in Nigeria is a Bad Idea.” That post focused on larger issues that make Nigeria a particularly problematic context for foreign involvement of any kind; this post focuses on what policies -- mostly domestic -- might work.
In the past week, things have not gotten better with regard to Nigeria and the effort to #Bringbackourgirls. On the US front, the administration began a blessed crawl away from direct US military involvement in Nigeria the day of my earlier post. In last Thursday’s hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a succession of military and State Department officials provided a needed reality-check:
- It will be very difficult to find the girls. Specialists now guess that the girls have been split into smaller groups. For more on the logistical difficulties of an extraction, see here and here.
- The Nigerian military is not a suitable partner. Pentagon and State officials noted that, even if the political will were present, the Nigerian military may not have the capacity to find the girls. The U.S. is significantly hampered in its efforts to help by the Leahy Law, which bars U.S. assistance of any form to foreign military forces that systematically violate human rights (in force in various forms since 1998). Said one Pentagon official, finding Nigerian military units that had not engaged in gross human rights abuses has been “persistent and very troubling limitation” on US assistance to the Nigerian Government.
This is why the Obama administration deployed 80 US military personnel to Chad, which borders Nigeria’s far northeast, rather than to Nigeria itself. By basing US surveillance and assistance efforts in Chad, we may help in the tasks of both closing the porous borders that have bedeviled the fight against Boko Haram and also disrupting the flow of small arms into Nigeria. These are good things, but they leave open the question of what to do inside Nigeria.