Ryan’s Going and Posting About Politics

Ryan, after some period of denials, announced that he’s not going to run for re-election.

Good riddance to awful rubbish.

I’d like to write something that hasn’t been done to death about Old Zombie Eyed Granny Starver (though that phrase sums him up pretty well). His wildly undeserved reputation as a policy “wonk” has been done to death.

Will the media please stop fawning over bog standard evil assholes? However blue their eyes?

One thing I’ve not been posting about in this Year of Blogging Daily is current politics in spite of the…extreme amounts of fodder. It’s mostly because I don’t see a niche. I can rant pretty well about a million things, but there’s plenty of good ranters out there. I guess I don’t see an interesting niche for me yet. I like connecting the literature to events, but that doesn’t make things easier and I already blog some about the literature.

I’d like to participate in something that had a chance of being effective. I’d happily join a hack squad trying to close the hack gap if I thought that’d be useful. There might be an analytical niche I could fill (political tech?).


This Strike Vote Is Killing Me


So, the good news is that the massive strikes have been wildly successful. Thanks to colleagues putting themselves on the line (and out of pocket!) and all the students who’ve supported us. Boo to UUK and USS and the scabs (with a kind of grudging exception for those people with strong financial need)…if you weren’t participating, you owe the rest of us.

But now, we have a strange “offer” and a weird consultation. Trust in UUK and UCU! are low (I know they are for me). The current offer is reasonablish and if it had been the starting point I doubt we’d have taken action. But it wasn’t the starting point! The starting point was fucking brutal and offensive and based on lies and bullshit and contempt for staff. Some of the negotiation moves were opaque. The consultation process for this vote was odd. Past disputes weren’t so well handled that the UCU leadership has a deep well of  credit. Past broken promises from the employers makes me want to go for the kill.

But, 14 more days of strike? During exams? And what are we aiming for, exactly?

So, I’ll read angry Twitter and USSbriefs and whine.

I’ll also read some Martin Luther King, Jr. and remember that he died while supporting a strike. Those workers were fighting far worse conditions and they are an inspiration.

The Risk of Appropriation and Inappropriateness

The copy of Whistle Down the Wind that I bought from the HMV bricks and mortar store.

My sweetie, Zoe Mulford, is white. I’m at least half white (depending how you count my Iranian father). We both grew up with a fairly high socio-economic status and we retain a big ole chunk of that. We can afford for Zoe to be a full time musician with essentially zero net income (or, properly accounted, negative, as we subsidize her work from the household income). There was a point where this was challenging on our joint income (though we always had family and friends to help out…which makes a huge difference) but we’re pretty well off now. Our household income is well in excess of the median for the UK.

So we are very very privileged on a world scale and even on a US/UK scale.

Zoe is a folk musician…a singer-songwriter. I believe that she’s is very very good. (This isn’t too surprising, given my relationship with her, but there’s plenty of other evidence thereof.) However, she is, to date, obscure. She has had a slowly rising profile, but it’s small. Having “The President Sang Amazing Grace” covered by Joan Baez is a big (potential) inflection point for her career. I’ve been obsessively tracking reviews and other events that mention Zoe’s song and there’s been a lot of good stuff. A lot. Way more (by volume, not necessarily intensity) than ever before.

We figured that if any song from Small Brown Birds would blow up at all, it’d be “The President Sang Amazing Grace”. We did a little prep for this (mostly making a video).

And this is great. I’m exhilarated and proud and excited. If you look at Zoe’s songbook, you’ll see this is no fluke. She deserves notice.

However, the song is about a tragedy and Obama’s response. That tragedy happened to black people because they were black. We’re benefiting indirectly from that tragedy. We will receive some money in terms of royalties. Zoe already gets some from sales of Small Brown Birds, but I expect that will be tiny compared to the royalty check…not that the royalty check will be huge. If it were to go gold, it might…might…yield tens of thousands of dollars (total). That would be really surprising as no Baez album since the 80s has gone gold. In today’s world of streaming etc. it seems very unlikely. While there’s a big (by our standards) publicity push, it’s not like her label is paying HMV to put Whistle Down the Wind on an endcap. Obviously, it’s still a pretty significant career boost, so that’s a benefit as well and a pretty significant one.

Note: I just went to HMV and Whistle Down the Wind does have special placement. I don’t know if I just missed it yesterday or they put it up after I was there. You can see in on the “New and Trending” wall.

Thus, we have to deal with issues of appropriation and inappropriateness.

The song came to Zoe, as many do. The election of Trump had just happened and she kept thinking about how we were going to miss the Obama’s in the White House. The contrast in policy and propriety between the Obama administration and the Trump could not be more dramatic. “The President Sang Amazing Grace” came out of that feeling of loss and dread. She was concerned about whether she had the right…or whether it was right…to write and record and perform this song. She consulted with various people who were positive, but we both can imagine other people who would not be. There is a case for it being, if not quite typical appropriation, of being inappropriate. There’s inherently some degree of standing over rather than standing with when people in our position benefit from our reactions to such events. There’s also some standing with!

One mitigation is to donate some chunk of the royalties (or beyond!) to Black Lives Matter (or similar groups; BLM is our first stop). That’s our current plan.

The best thing would be for history to change so the shooting never happened and that Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson survived that day as an ordinary, quiet day.

Sometimes There’s an Appearance of a Conflict of Interest Because There’s an Actual Conflict

So we’re about to go on strike. Again. To defend our pensions. Again. This is the big one…moving from a defined benefit to defined contribution. This shifts all the risk onto us, from the universities and will definitely involve big cuts, sometimes (if your retirement timing is bad) huge cuts to our pensions.

This sucks.

It seems that Oxford and Cambridge have played a large role in fucking the rest of us. Good show, you jerks. I think students should get compensation, after all, the unis dock our pay!

The union has been busy otherwise. They released (in conjunction with the Guardian) the results of a lot of Freedom of Information requests. Here’s the headline result:

The vice-chancellor was either on the committee that sets their pay or allowed to attend its meetings at 95% of UK universities. Three-quarters of institutions would not release full minutes of the pay committee’s meeting.

Oh, and surprise surprise, VC compensation has also risen…dramatically:

University vice-chancellors have enjoyed huge pay rises in recent years. The average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors in 2005/06 was £165,105. Over the next decade it increased by 56.2% to £257,904 in 2015/16. UCU said its report with the latest figures on senior pay and perks will be released shortly.

In case you were wondering, I’m not allowed to attend promotion or pay meetings about myself. Or sabbatical deciding meetings.

Now, would these massive increases happened anyway? Maybe! Why not! But it isn’t just an appearance of a conflict of interest…it really is a conflict of interest for the VC to attend (even) a meeting where their pay is discussed.

I checked out the findings to see how Manchester did and sadly:

Vice-chancellor/head of institution is a member of the remuneration committee? Although not a member, vice-chancellor/head of institution attends remuneration committee meetings? Remuneration committee minutes received 2016/17? Rationale for refusal to share minutes? Minutes redacted 2016/17?
The University of Manchester No response No response No response No response No response

That’s not the transparency I would hope for from my institution.

Needless to say, one would have thought, minimal proper governance dictates:

  1. VCs should not be involved in anyway with the committees setting their compensation.
  2. Their compensation shouldn’t be growing so much faster (or…faster) than the rest of us, barring very specific and exceptional circumstances.
  3. The facts about their membership and attendance and, indeed, the rationale for their compensation, should be public (with minimal redaction for properly private bits).
  4. This should all be watchdogged like hell.

This is a terrible look, both internally and externally, for the universities. That’s something the VCs are directly responsible for.


Non Violent Resistance Follow Up

There were some nice questions asked on Facebook in response to my post on the effectiveness of non-violent resistance. I’ll note that most of these are genericish “did the authors control for” like questions.

Peter asked:

Did the authors control for magnitude of desired change or a priori likelihood? Nonviolent is likely to perform far better if it tends to be used on the easier cases.

From the paper:

6. Our use of “resistance” designates major nonstate rebellions, either armed or unarmed. Instead of using event count data, we identify campaigns—a series of repetitive, durable, organized, and observable events directed at a certain target to achieve a goal—as the main unit of analysis. We measure “effectiveness” by comparing stated group objectives to policy outcomes (e.g., states’ willingness to make concessions to opposition movements). This analytical distinction is imperfect, but others have used it with success. See Abrahms, “Why Terrorism Does Not Work.”

That, plus their case studies in the paper, give me some confidence that they aren’t looking at “easy vs hard” rather than “nonviolent vs. violent”. In the description of an earlier version of the dataset we get this nice discussion:

Especially among the nonviolent campaigns, there is real concern that the campaigns included are biased toward success, since it is the large, mature campaigns that are most commonly reported. Other would be nonviolent campaigns that are crushed in their infancy (and therefore fail) will not be included in this dataset. This is the major limitation in this study, and it is difficult to avoid. However, we did attempt to mitigate the effects of underreporting bias in several ways. First, we chose to compare nonviolent campaigns with their comparable counterparts in violent campaigns rather than to view nonviolent campaigns in isolation. We did this because there are many “non-starters” among violent campaigns as well as nonviolent ones, and the same underreporting bias exists within the study of violent insurgencies as with nonviolent insurrections. Therefore, we only investigate the outcomes of major nonviolent and violent campaigns — those that are already “mature” in terms of objectives and membership. We only included cases where the objective was at some point maximalist (i.e. regime change, secession, or self – determination) as opposed to limited (i.e. greater civil liberties or economic rights). Such limited goals (greater autonomy and significant institutio nal reform) are coded only when campaigns’ goals were less than maximalist for certain campaign years. Additionally, we only include nonviolent and violent campaigns where we were certain that more than 1,000 people were actively participating in the strug gle. For the nonviolent campaigns, we gleaned this information from the sources mentioned above. For violent campaigns, the information was implied from the 1,000 battle – death criteria for inclusion in the various datasets we accessed. Using this strict criteria or comparing major campaigns allows us to address questions of the relative effectiveness of resistance type among comparably developed mass movements. Critics may still be skeptical of the case selection, especially in the case of nonviolent conflict. Most concerning is the potential omission of failed nonviolent campaigns, which may not be captured in the dataset due to extreme repression or poor news sources. To address this concern, we made certain that the dataset reflects a consensus sample, which was circulated among the world’s leading authorities on nonviolent conflict to make sure we accounted for known failed campaigns. Unknown, failed, nonviolent campaigns are necessarily omitted from the dataset, just like unknown, failed, violent campaigns.

I think this raises my confidence that they are comparing likes to likes, but it highlights the threats to external validity. Without good data on early squashed campaigns, it’s a bit hard to say too much about what strategy people should consider when trying to get going. I suspect that growing a campaign has a suite of challenges all its own.

Several people suggest that the coding is wrong or distorted by rose colored glasses:

Not sure I buy the methodology here. Many of the peaceful examples they’re looking at had violent campaigns running in parallel or were themselves sometimes violent. The authors note this, but decided to call campaigns peaceful if they are historically viewed as being peaceful (using encyclopedias and biographies as evidence).

I think what they actually proved is that we’re more likely to view successful campaigns as less violent.

I’m not sure where the “many of the examples” is coming from. But let’s look at the actual methodology:

Labeling one campaign as “nonviolent” and another as “violent” is difficult. In many cases, both nonviolent and violent campaigns exist simultaneously among different competing groups. Alternatively, some groups use both nonviolent and violent methods of resistance over the course of their existence, as with the African National Congress in South Africa. Characterizing a campaign as nonviolent or violent simplifies a complex constellation of resistance methods.
To address these difficulties, we established some standards of inclusion for each of these categories. The list of nonviolent campaigns was initially gathered from an extensive review of the literature on nonviolent conflict and social movements. Then we corroborated these data using multiple sources, including encyclopedias, case studies, and a comprehensive bibliography on nonviolent civil resistance by April Carter, Howard Clark, and Michael Randle. Finally, the cases were circulated among experts in nonviolent conflict who were asked to assess whether the cases were appropriately characterized as major nonviolent conflicts, and also which notable conflicts had been omitted. Where the experts suggested additional cases, the same corroboration method was used. The resultant data set includes major resistance campaigns that are primarily or entirely nonviolent. Campaigns that committed a significant amount of violence are coded as violent. The data on violent campaigns are derived primarily from Kristian Gleditsch’s 2004 updates to the Correlates of War database on intrastate wars (COW), as well as from Kalev Sepp’s list of major counterinsurgency operations for information on conflicts after 2002.

This seems…reasonable. Saying that history is written by the victors and that people remember violent campaigns as non-violent is not very convincing. First, given how positively people seem to feel toward successful violence, why would they distort away from non-violence? Second, we’re not talking about victors per se, but scholars of nonviolent conflict. If we think these people are going to systematically get which conflicts are nonviolent wrong, well, that’s a pretty big indictment of the field. It’s, of course, possible, but I’d like to see at least a little more than bare assertion (esp when the fact of expert review is conveniently elided).

That being said (and being aware of some confirmation bias on my part) the basic concern (e.g., roughly, mixed or parallel campaigns might muddle causality or cause biased classification) is reasonable. I’m not too worried about it given their discussion above, but it’d be nice to get some direct reassurance on this.

Perhaps we can peek at the data to get a sense of how many coded ambiguous campaigns there are. Alas, the online browser is rubbish for this purpose. (No counts for searches and why people think horrible plotting on maps is a good thing eludes me.)

Fortunately, the data is available for download as an Excel spreadsheet of doom. (112k rows! Yay!) Unfortunately, afaict, it’s all event level data. I don’t see how that the campaigns were identified in the dataset (rather than by some external derivation). So, boo! I’m not able to immediately napkin this off. So, there’s an IOU!

I do think I was a little too bullish on the results. I still believe them, but I didn’t state the limitations. Yay for pushback!


While trying to figure out how to extract campaigns from the dataset (ongoing) I found some related stuff in the paper, Unpacking nonviolent campaigns: Introducing the NAVCO 2.0 dataset:

Scholars typically characterize campaigns as nonviolent or violent based on the primacy of resistance methods employed (Chenoweth & Stephan, 2011). To qualify as a nonviolent campaign, the campaign must have been prosecuted by unarmed civilians who did not directly threaten or harm the physical well-being of their opponent. Sharp (1973) has identified nearly 200 nonviolent resistance tactics, such as sit-ins, protests, boycotts, civil disobedience, mass noncooperation, and strikes. When a campaign relies almost uniformly on nonviolent methods such as these (as opposed to violent or armed tactics), we characterize the campaign as primarily nonviolent. The First Intifada, for instance, is often remembered to have been violent, due to youths’ rock-throwing and the bloody intra-Palestinian infighting that characterized the Intifada’s final two years (1992–94) and those afterward. However, the IDF’s figures on the First Intifada report that over 97% of Palestinian activities through 1992 were nonviolent or ‘unarmed’ (Pearlman, 2009). As such, it would be empirically accurate to call the 1988–92 phase of the First Intifada primarily nonviolent.

There’s definitely a possibility for recall distortion, but I’d guess ex ante that it was in favor of calling campaigns violent when mostly no. Small bits of violence get a lot of coverage (cf Seattle and black bloc generally) and are a standard way to disparage a campaign). Also:

NAVCO 2.0 also allows for mixed characterizations. It reports data on changes in primary resistance method, which codes whether nonviolent campaigns adopted violence in certain years (as the Defiance Campaign did in the 1960s in response to repression from the South African apartheid regime), and whether violent campaigns began to rely on mass civil resistance (as the Second Defiance Campaign later did in the early1990s). We also identified years where nonviolent campaigns coexisted with, tolerated, or adopted armed wings for self-defense or offensive purposes. These variables allow researchers to further investigate the role of strategic choice and identify periods in a campaign where the movement relied on both nonviolent and violent resistance, which occurs in about 30% of the campaign years.

I think if you are going to jump on them for the mixed bit, you have to delve a lot more. They seem to be doing a fair job of teasing it out.

Re: easy vs. hard, there’s this fascinating bit:

For nonviolent resistance, however, one sees a clear divergence in the determinants of campaign onset. Perhaps the most striking is that violent and nonviolent campaigns share only one determinant in common: population size.

Otherwise, Fearon & Laitin’s (2003) predictors are either completely reversed or insignificant. The only significant correlates of nonviolent campaigns are flatter terrain and older, more durable authoritarian regimes.

This suggests that nonviolent and violent campaigns emerge in very different types of countries. The substantive findings are counter-intuitive and paradoxical: violent campaigns seem to emerge where resistance is ‘easy’, whereas nonviolent resistance is emerging where resistance is supposedly ‘difficult’. These results reveal that nonviolent campaigns are emerging under quite unfavorable circumstances from a mobilization perspective, challenging many assumptions about the supposed ineffectiveness of nonviolent resistance against durable authoritarian regimes

Cool stuff!

Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Effectiveness

We live in tricky times.

The governments of the US and the UK (two of my three citizenships…the third, as I understand it, is Iran which, to be sure, is extremely problematic, to understate) are not in good shape with strong bents toward less democratic to authoritarian behaviors, not to mention wildly reckless and incompetent policies and governance. Along with fair helpings of xenophobic evil. The UK just might have a combination of xenophobic enough electorate and broken opposition that the conservative grip on government is democratically justified, even if they grasp for more and just plain suck. In the US, the Republicans (and Trump administration) clearly have little democratic justification as they have power primarily through anti-democratic mechanisms like the electoral college, voter suppression, gerrymandering etc.

(These really are anti-democratic (not just countermajoritarian) both procedurally and substantively. They go strongly against majorities to enact plutocratic and racist/sexist/etc. policies. The anti-DREAMer bullshit is a great example: Majorities of the electorate want protection for the DREAMers, a majority of Congress wants DREAMer projection, and the nominal position of the so-called president is to protect them. And yet, here we are, on the verge of mass deportation efforts.)

How to resist all this? Elections are a ways off (with the presidential election veryfar off) and have various levels of compromise. One question that I see people ask (and I myself wonder) is at what point violent resistance is justified or, even, required. Resisting the rise of another Nazi like state seems to at least justify violent resistance and compel pretty vigorous resistance. We’re pretty far from that and probably will never hit straightforward Nazi levels of awful. (Let’s assume no Trumped up war, esp no nuclear one or attack on a nuclear state.) But we still have pretty bad, with lives ruined or lost. Turning into a Russia like state would be even worse, but it’s unclear this would be rebellion justifying.

One thing that should weigh in is necessity and efficacy. Violent resistance only makes sense if there aren’t equally (or comparably) effective alternatives. This is esp. true as violent resistance has lots of potential downsides including kicking us in to a far worse state. It could be worth it if the results were a net good (even then, we’d have to weigh the harms created and the risks taken).

We don’t ave to speculate about all this any more! Maria J. Stephan and
Erica Chenoweth have, in a paper and a book, quantified the relative effectiveness of violent and non-violent actions in achieving political goals:

Our findings show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.

There are two reasons for this success. First, a campaign’s commitment to nonviolent methods enhances its domestic and international legitimacy and encourages more broad-based participation in the resistance, which translates into increased pressure being brought to bear on the target. Recognition of the challenge group’s grievances can translate into greater internal and external support for that group and alienation of the target regime, undermining the regime’s main sources of political, economic, and even military power.

Second, whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire against the regime. Potentially sympathetic publics perceive violent militants as having maximalist or extremist goals beyond accommodation, but they perceive nonviolent resistance groups as less extreme, thereby enhancing their appeal and facilitating the extraction of concessions through bargaining.

Nonviolent campaigns aretwice as effective as violent campaigns (you are vindicated Dr. King!). And a non-trivial twice! From 26% to 53%! That’s huge! (A big further on in the paper they cite Abrahms as showing that terrorism is effective only 7% of the time. In achieving policy goals, of course. In terms of fucking things up, it seems rather more effective).

This is astounding and really should settle the case for the US and UK.

Some observations:

  1. Even non-violent campaigns fail 47% of the time. Governments are powerful and, esp in largely democratic countries like the US and UK, if you can’t win the elections you are going to have trouble winning otherwise. Governments don’t just have power, they have legitimacy. US and UK governments have a lot of default legitimacy.
    Consider the Democratic battle for the DREAMers. It’s not clear that they can win. They could try to shut down the government for months  and still lose. It’s hard to win against the party which controls three branches of government.
  2. We don’t have any what-ifing, afaict. I.e., how well would alternatives have worked if they had been tried.
  3. They really are looking at campaigns against repressive governments. The UK isn’t engaged in any repression at scale at the moment and the picture in the US is mixed. A lot of repression is distributed and against relatively small subpopulations (or on individuals within subpopulations). Consider ICE…a lot of their actions are “straightforward” (they also go well beyond that) enforcement of current law. Most people think that deportation for people who are not explicitly permitted to stay (e.g., because undocumented, or visa expired) is reasonable. You can cloak it all in “normal” terms.
  4. Two interesting observations from the paper: “Second, the longer the campaign endures, the less likely the resistance is to achieve full success. This is especially true for nonviolent campaigns, although the substantive effects are not sizable. Violent campaigns are more likely to achieve partial success the longer the conflict endures, but duration does not influence their chances of full success.
  5. Third, nonviolent campaigns occurring during the Cold War were less likely to succeed than nonviolent campaigns occurring prior to or after the Cold War. Conversely, violent campaigns have been increasingly effective against their state opponents during and after the Cold War.”
    This suggests that one needs to target a campaign fairly carefully.
  6. They publish and continue to develop their dataset. Which is awesome.

I think it’s safe to say that, in spite of the awfulness, we’re really far from a situation in the US or UK where violent resistance is likely to be effective. Given that, in the US, the current government’s violence tends to backfire  suggests we should be maximising that backlash. Violence would tend to blunt it.

Tip of the blog to djw who turned me on to this work and really should flesh out his LGM author page.