Blog: Power & Principle
Notes about Power Politics, Power Forwards, & Power tools
The main content of the posts below will relate to the courses I teach. This site will provide a permanent resource for students to keep abreast of the news, insofar as the core matters of the classes are concerned. I will try to post a news article at least once a day, and they are generally collected via the aggregator NetNewsWire.
One of the keys themes will be that while power is indispensable to the resolution of political conflict, this irrevocable fact breeds disappointment, as it clashes with our principles.
Keep in mind that many of the posts below are early drafts or excised portions of papers whose final product came well down the road from here. Thus a warning about punctuation, grammar, and inconsistent logic most definitely applies.
Lastly, note that the occasional link or comment on sports, travel, and DIY or outdoors gear will pop up as well, since everyone needs a hobby.
With downloadable data comprising just a fraction of the information available online, learning how to use web extraction--or scraping--software has been on my to-do list for some time.
A sophisticated person would take the time to learn a python package like Beautiful Soup or Scrapy. I thought about wandering down that path, but stumbled across a more user-friendly alternative. ParseHub is an intuitive, graphics-based web scraper that allows you to pull in significant amounts of data with very little preparatory learning. I spent a bit of time over the Christmas holidays playing around with it, and collected a few of the main lessons below.
Sports Reference.com has an excellent (though presumably soon-to-be-extinct) Olympics database. The data contained there is incredible--an even more detailed look at Olympic results than David Wallechensky's indispensable Summer and Winter Complete Book compendia.
I've wanted to take a closer look at fatigue and average pace curves for swimming. This follows some running prediction work I did a while back based on Peter Riegel's 1981 "Athletic Records and Human Endurance" article in American Scientist. Plus, I always wanted to try out web scraping. So when I came across the easy-to-use scraper ParseHub, a good match of objectives was found.
(Photo is of the Canadian women's 4x100m freestyle relay celebration, after their bronze medal finish--one of my favourite races at Rio. By the CP's Frank Gunn, published in Maclean's.)
Ticket to Ride is a simple yet surprisingly enjoyable board game, easily picked up by pre-teen family members—and your friends with wine glass firmly in hand. I’m not much of a gamer myself, so I can’t speak to the game’s relative merits or strategic weaknesses. But I’ve played it a few times now and a) scoring is by far the most complicated part of the whole exercise (so many trains, so many cards!*); and b) this problem is a good excuse to practice a little spreadsheet coding.
- Air horn for the start (swimmers’ love for the sound corresponds with their parents’ hate).
- Pizza for the after-party.
Lifeguards willing to look the other way when it comes to maximum hot tub occupancy standards.
I haven’t read much of the self-help / effective habits genre, but it was recommended I take Tim Ferriss’ Tools of the Titans for a spin. Though I can’t say the in-depth discussion of psychedelics or quirky workout routines held much interest for me, there is a tonne if interesting stuff in there. I can’t suggest it enough.
What follows are a few nuggets I found worth writing down. I’ve denoted ‘TF’ for the suggestions from Ferriss directly, and wrote out the names of his interviewees and their references for the others.
- TF: idols, icons, titans, billionaires “are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximised 1 or 2 strengths.” (pxxiii).
- TF: key traits of the successful: I can think. I can wait. I can fast (through difficulties and disasters). (pxxviii)
- Justin Mager: remember that blood tests, etc are just snapshots. Human body is a process, not a fixed number. So need context. (p73)
- Chris Sacca: go to as many high-level meetings as possible—even if you’re not invited. Just figure out how to be helpful. If anyone asks why you’re there, say you’re taking notes for them. (p166)
- Steve Martin: Key to success is to be so good they can’t ignore you. (p173)
- TF: “It’s not what you know, it’s what you do consistently.” (p185)
- Derek Sivers: never turn down a gig. Big break came from working a pig show. “When you’re earlier in your career, I think the best strategy is just to say ‘yes’ to everything. Every little gig. You just never know what are the lottery tickets.” (p187)
- TF: busy = lack of control. “Lack of time I lack of priorities. If I’m ‘busy’, it is because I’ve made choices that put me in that position.” (p189)
- TF: block out 2-3 hours each day just to focus on ONE item. (p200)
- Nelson Mandela: asked how did you survive all those years in prison? “I didn’t survive. I prepared.” (p211)
- Scott Adams: everyone has at least a few areas they can be in top 25% with some effort. Key is to combine two streams in some interesting and useful combination—that’s what makes your work rare and valuable. (p270)
- Noah Kagan: block out time each week in your calendar just for learning. (p327)
- TF: Cut wifi during writing time and write ‘TK’ as placeholder for things you need to research later. Don’t let that get you away from getting words out on the page. (p348)
- Brad Feld: creativity not likely in random 30-45min blocks of time. Need concerted chunks, uninterrupted, 3-5 hours minimum. (p387)
- Shay Carl: “You can tell the true character of a man by how his dog and his kids react to him.” (p441)
- Will Macaskill: “If you earn 68k per year, then globally speaking, you are the 1%.” (p446)
- Jack Dorsey: best investment ever made is walking to work every day (5 miles, 1 hour 15min). (p510)
- Mark Twain: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” (p524)
- Ludwig Wittgenstein: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” (p524)
- TF: 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it and treat it as math. (p535)
- Naval Ravikant: “The first rule of handling conflict is don’t hang around people who are constantly engaging in conflict.” (p547)
- Josh Waitzkin: don’t learn chess by memorising opening moves, learn it by using just three pieces in an endgame scenario; learn the broader principles. Reduce complexity to master the central rules of the game. (p578)
- Glengarry Glen Ross: Always tell the truth. It’s the easiest thing to remember. (p592)
- Robert Rodriguez: when starting a project, what ask yourself what assets do you have? Is how El Mariachi included bar, bus, and pitbull—all things he could borrow from friends and family. = movie shot for $7k. (p629)
- Jocko Willink: deal with setbacks by thinking ‘good’. “Oh, mission got cancelled? Good. We can focus on another one. Didn’t get the new high-speed gear we wanted? Good. We can keep it simple. Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better. Got injured? Good. Needed a break from training. Got beat? Good. We learned. Unexpected problems? Good. We have the opportunity to figure out a solution.” (p640-1)
Cleveland’s signing of the parrot-toting slugger Edwin Encarnacion was more than a savvy grab by a World Series runner-up looking to bulk up on home runs. It was also demonstrative of a Blue Jays front office that both comically misread the declining long-ball market and revealed the new regime's noncommittal strategic attitude that we all feared.
Now I get that a professional sports franchise is a business, and that I as a fan have no right to demand the firm hold a commitment to winning above maximizing revenues. To this end, while Encarnacion leaving will not make the team better, I can see how it could provide some relief to the bottom line. And so the decision to let EE walk and sign Kendrys-freaking-Morales was rational, and therefore at least somewhat defensible.
Noted curmudgeon and Rogers-apologist Andrew Stoeten certainly thinks so. Before Christmas he argued on Twitter that fans will pack SkyDome* regardless of whether or not the team wins. Loyalty to the brand, in other words, will outweigh any of this off-season's stumbles.
I've had a few weeks to think about this and I'm still not convinced. Is it not true that people like winners? If so, shouldn't this fact be salient to revenue?
The idea is intriguing and, it seems to me, should be a pretty clear matter of the empirical record. So let’s fire up the Stata and off to Baseball Reference.com we go!
I recently wrote a paper looking at Canadian defence spending in historical context. The frame of the paper was to look at the Harper era, but I used it as an excuse to go all the way back to Sir John A. I've included here an assortment of a few graphs and the main dataset, saved in Stata .dta format. Data comes from splicing Stats Canada's incomparable 'Historical Statistics' collection with a newer CANSIM series. The dataset also includes PM and government party, by year.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, two small boats carrying 23 refugees from the besieged Syrian town of Kobane set off from Turkey's Bodrum peninsula, bound for the Greek island of Kos. Presumably, their aim was to enter the EU in search of asylum and a new life.
The boats, however, sank. At least 12 of the passengers drowned, including five children. One of these was a three-year old boy named Aylan Kurdi, whose body was recovered by the Turkish coast guard laying face-down in the sand. A Turkish news agency recorded these images and within hours they were on the cover of newspapers worldwide.
As part of my latest book project I've been updating and expanding the battle dataset I put together for my thesis. It's an awful lot of work, but fun to be back on the old project.
One of the things I've been thinking about is how to better clarify the roles of 'attacker' and 'defender', particularly in regards to how to improve the validity of their coding. Large-n studies such as mine are usually quite vague when it comes to sorting out which belligerent is which, and my previous work is no different.
I've come up with bi-level way to think about the issue, which I hope better encapsulates the nuances of so fluid an activity as military combat. The basic idea is
that strategic-level oritentation describes the broader ebb and flow of a campaign (who's on the march, who is on the retreat?), while a tactical-level
posture coding can for account for the fact that armies invading another country can be surprised, and that retreating armies are capable of dealing their opponents a nasty blow.
I've tried to outline these ideas in graphic form below. They're actually created in Keynote for iPad, since that's the easiest diagramming software I have/need. $150 for a Mac/iPad Ominigraffle is far too rich for my blood!
In any case, comments and suggestions are most welcome. I'm always looking for ways to improve methodology.
A few weeks ago my good buddy David McDonough was quoted in the National Post as arguing for the need to rebalance the distribution of Canadian naval ships between West and East. “Nowadays, the threat on the East Coast is pretty mild, whereas the Pacific is a more dangerous environment.”
I spent a bit of time today running Peacekeeping.org's massive dataset through the hopper. My Stata coding was pretty brutish, but it did come up with the accompanying graph
pretty quickly. The dataset covers all UN 'chapter 6-and-a-half' missions from 1991 to the present, for all countries and presented in monthly totals. I've just reproduced the
relative Canadian contribution here.
In my puttering around the UN DPKO website all I can find are pdf stat releases with a cutoff of about November 1990. I gather the International Peace Institute (IPI), which runs Peacekeeping.org and built the Peacekeeping Database, gleaned their dataset from these documents. With a little luck the DPKO will one day issue data on older missions. In the meantime, I've yet to see a better collection of data on the topic.
This spring I wrote a paper for the the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada's (DFAIT), under their International Security Research and Outreach Programme (ISROP). It basically was a chance for me to extend my earlier thinking about China's economy and environment, and take a look at China's domestic security and international position.
What follows are the executive summary, a couple of quick thoughts, and a link to the full text.
For anyone interested in the program--and it is a great one--the current ISROP research themes can be found at:
I've been putting together a Canadian Foreign Policy dataset, relying heavily on the early 1980s Statistics Canada Historical Data Series publication (partly because I like navigating a book format, partly because the CANSIM database is such a labryrinth of inpenetrable search returns and a graveyard of terminated longitudinal series).
Some of the series I've constructed are total defence spending and total federal spending. The following graphs are quick sketches of the expenditure trend, both at the macro scale and over the last few decades.
I like using defence spending in terms of the total federal budget because it gives a better sense of relative government priorities
than the more common GDP denominator. A government cutting EVERYTHING isn't signalling it wants to get away from military spending, it's signalling it just wants to spend less. Falling defence budgets are just a byproduct. Budget shares, however, signal a movement in some other direction than military force.
Note that it is harder to get government financial data than just GDP, so sometimes this metric simply isn't available. And of course, if the variable of interest is power potential rather than just foreign policy concern, then GDP is a more suitable measure.
Just finished up a chapter on politics in Africa, this time focusing on communications technology, political competition, and a bit of economic development. As usual, there were a lot more graphs than could fit in the final product.
What follows are a bit of a random collection, but hopefully useful to the reader nonethless. They were created on Stata and all the associated data is up on the 'Academic Details - Datasets' page. Sources follow in the captions below.
I've been putting together a historical dataset on communications technology, and have come up with a few ideas about the theory behind it. What follows is the model I've set up to help guide this research.
As part of a book chapter I'm writing on ICT and African governance I've been going through some World Bank data on the Sub-Saharan region. Part of the process is just plugging in some variables and looking at the graphs that come out. There are always some interesting stories that arise, but this one is by far my favourite.
Seems like Naomi Klein--who when I was an undergraduate seemingly sold books like Dan Brown--couldn't have been more wrong.
I've been working with European population and education data for the period 1850 to 1993, from B.R. Mitchell's 'International Historical Statistics'. One thing I've found is that instead of a steadily growing share of population aged 5-19 attending school, the results have been much more variable.
This makes sense during the chaotic periods, such as the First and Second World War. But what I can't understand is why the percentage of Europeans in the school-age cohort attending school would be so much smaller today than during the immediate postwar period. Could this be some anomaly with the data?
Below is an example. In Austria, school attendance grew until a WWI collapse, and then a WWII collapse. What seems much more inexplicable is the steep dropoff in the later postwar period.
By the end of four years of exhaustive studying and an up-tempo party schedule you should emerge from our cherished system of liberal arts education with a head full of impressive dinner party trivia, the capacity to rigorously analyze causal phenomena, and the ability to effectively communicate the results. Only the former will impress your friends, but all three conspire to give you a leg up in the job market. By every conceivable measure, the degree you come away with will be to your betterment. It will improve your earnings potential, provide an added layer of protection when the economy goes sour, give you greater command over your career and professional destiny, even advance your life expectancy.