Secretaries of State and other assorted dignitaries

Been a busy couple of weeks. Condi came to visit two weeks ago, a day on which Korbel students generally made the effort to not show up to school looking like unwashed grad students living in a state which values North Face fleeces and beards above all other accoutrements. As our Director of Admissions commented, “wow, Korbel actually dressed up!”

Dr. Rice is a Korbel alum, which may be why she was so incredibly generous with her time, meeting with almost the whole list of student groups for Q&A sessions and dropping by the Pardee Center to allow us to demonstrate our awesomeness to her (she then graciously name-dropped us in the talk above). Mercifully, someone asked her about the Muammar Gaddaffi story, and we got to hear all about the epic weirdness of the former Libyan lunatic, also in the video above.

My guess is that the political sentiments of the majority of students at Korbel do not align with Condi, but by the end even the human rights students were posting on Facebook about how weird they feel for approving of things Condoleezza Rice says about education and economic development.

Next up was Madeleine Albright, another alum who visited last Friday and though less available to students (possibly because she is less mobile) she made up for it by being hilarious. Highlights of her talk included calling Kim Jong Il a pervert and doing an impression of how old men dance. Good times.

Wedged into the middle of this was Hashim Thaci, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, who came to Korbel as part of his trip to Denver to promote trade, and succeeded at least in promoting a lockdown of the Korbel building unlike anything we experienced for either Secretary of State. Official word was that this is protocol for any head of state, so far, I have no other head of state to compare with.

Thaci was a politician through and through, he’s even got a politician’s tan and pearly smile. His talk to students (and media) emphasized how independent Kosovo wants to be, how much they rely on the US, and so on. He smiled, we laughed, and then of course a good chunk of the questions focused on those pesky accusations of organ trafficking and KLA crimes, which he avoided like a pro. One girl, herself a Kosovar, rather politely accused him of clamping down on poor merchants in the north of Kosovo and running a corrupt government. Safe to say he probably wasn’t Korbel’s favorite visitor, but he was at least interesting.

We gave his delegation a presentation at the Pardee Center as well, and it was interesting to see their reactions to the population and education forecasts we were making. Thaci appeared to be zoning out at times, but his foreign and trade ministers were engaged and interested. Thankfully, they weren’t annoyed that our model still counts them within Serbia, for which we have a perfectly reasonable excuse (they haven’t yet issued any data).



African Futures

A couple weeks ago we had Anne-Marie Slaughter come visit and give a pretty great lecture which should have been posted on YouTube but to my horror is not. Instead you must go to this link to watch her tell you about the changes in world governance in the last few decades. She uses a Billiard Ball vs. Lego analogy of actor interaction, and it’s clear from her PowerPoint pictures of legos and billiard balls that someone left her unsupervised on Google Images for just a little too long, but it was still fascinating. She and Dean Hill then spent an hour taking pre-arranged questions that were practically all about the Middle East, and to my chagrin, kind of daft. I’m hoping it was one of the older folks in the audience who wrote the question “how can the Israel-Palestine issue be resolved?” because if a Korbel kid did that we’d have words.

One video that is on YouTube, though is the spiffy new infovid on the project my workplace is doing with South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies. We’re working to forecast African development futures based not only on what’s happening right now, but on what could happen if African best practices in development were implemented. It’s seriously a cool video that makes us look badass. Behold:


Mountain Research

There are some definite disadvantages to being in Denver. I’ll be attending the Korbel School’s fall program in DC this year in part because the internship opportunities are so much broader there, as everyone knows. But that means that come next December, I’ll be suffering horrible icy grossness with little reward, while everyone back in Denver will be bombing down this:

The first two are views from the north face of Dercum Mountain at Keystone, looking down at a frozen-over Dillon Lake. The last is the chair life up Arapahoe Basin. Both are about an hour fifteen from Denver. Even a beginning snowboarder like me wants to bow down in awe.


Take Stats

If you have no education in statistics, or it was a long time ago, or you’ve forgotten what a regression model is, for the love of god take a statistics course before you end up like this man.

Now, even before I took Statistics for International Affairs here, I probably would have known better than to cite a poll claiming 55% of Syrians support Assad without looking at the methodology. And once I’d looked at it, and realized that only 97 people in Syria were polled, and on the heavily-monitored internet, no less, I would have looked for better evidence. It’s amazing, though, how supposedly competent commentators on international relations are willing to claim all sorts of things based on bad statistics.

From the BiostatisticsRyanGosling tumblr

Statistics humor, Ryan Gosling, and you



I work as a research assistant for the Pardee Center for International Futures, housed here in the Korbel building. Someday I will write another post singing the Center’s praises, but let it be known here and now that it is a fabulous workplace for a student, since they’re flexible on hours, you get training in the use of the forecasting model that the Center develops, and you can get published.

This is the latest policy brief published by the Pardee Center in conjunction with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa. The subject is the future of education standards in Africa and what the results would be, according to our projections, if the whole of Africa adopted the standards of best-practice countries in the continent. I’m not one of the RAs that worked on it, but I’m mad excited to get to work on one once I and my fellow newbie RAs are no longer newbies.

Expect more gushing from me at a later date concerning what a great opportunity the Pardee Center is for people thinking about research in international forecasting, IR modeling, and related fields.



Syria in the news

In my quest to make a halfway reasonable research proposal relating to Syria, I’ve stumbled across these gems:

First, a piece in the UAE daily The National (newspaper, not band), which reports that Aleppo businessmen are abandoning the Assad regime not because of any massive revolutionary feeling, but because all this instability costs a lot of scratch. Which is about what you expect from businessmen. The Assad regime also angered these guys a few weeks ago by banning lots of imports in order to preserve their foreign currency reserves. There’s a fascinating trade/economic development paper to be written on Syria, but unfortunately I am nowhere near competent enough to write it yet.

Second, I found this. Syria does not allow any public opinion polls apart from government-sponsored ones. This should not shock anyone. But apparently the Democracy Council managed to sneak-poll sometime in 2010 and 2011, in time to capture some data on the protests. This shocked the hell out of me, and I’m definitely using it for my proposal. But because of the nature of the training grad school gives you, I now can’t help but take this beautiful thing and try to tear it apart. There are many serious problems with data from surveys like this one, but the biggest is that Syrians who are willing to defy government law to take this survey were probably already not wild about Assad to begin with. So it’s not very surprising that the survey shows profound displeasure with the Assad regime. Conclusion: real research is hard.




I think most people who went to undergraduate school in the social sciences have the sense that the papers we were writing there weren’t real research, as in not the type of thing you’d publish in a journal. Graduate school is where they rectify this ignorance with a vengeance.

I’m not a security student, but I took Security and Defense Analysis I anyway, and it was a great choice because this class should be called Research Methods I. This is the class where a professor who did actual research for an actual organization which paid him for that research stands in front of you and tells you all the reasons why your research is not empirically valid. Then he makes you fix it.

If you’re interested in policy, and in analyzing and assessing policy, you’d best understand the difference between reading a couple articles about it and actually testing it. You need to know about coding and validity issues and all that. It’s an area I really need a lot of work in, as evidenced by my as-yet incomplete research design.