Friday, June 29, 2007

So much data...

0.5 hours writing, 4 hours researching/reading, 0.5 hours administrivia

At the SIBL library again today, working through data from the 1938 census, looking to establish a baseline for the comparison between states. I'm feeling pretty good at this point about two of the states I've chosen, and am still figuring out the third comparison case.

The census has municipal-level data for a number of indicators, and it's sobering to look at indicators of economic development. We're talking about a time where 4 out of 5 households didn't have plumbing, running water, or electricity. Looking at this fine-grained data helps me think more about what the local-level situation looks like, and to place the struggle over control of the police in that context. When there's not much else going on in the society, controlling the government suddenly looks like a big deal....

Looking back on my first month (!) of this project, I'm feeling good about my progress. I added more than 25 pages to my outline, identified 4 more chapters to write, developed a subnational-comparison angle that I think is going to add a lot of interest, and explored literatures on police systems, Colombian regionalism, and institutional design that will flesh out my theoretical framework. Thanks to my monitors Steve, Kristin, Diana, and Marco Mojica, who was monitoring this week. Gracias Marco! Up next is Dan Faltz in LA. More about him on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What a day...

4 hours reading/researching

What a frustrating day to be Latino in this country. I'm distracted from my dissertation by the news: The Senate votes down comprehensive immigration reform, ensuring the system will stay broken for years to come; and the Supreme Court issues a landmark decision essentially prohibiting public schools from taking race into account in assigning students to schools, ensuring that patterns of residential segregation will map onto the public-school population, affecting students of color potentially for generations.

I'm a political scientist, used to studying even the most horrible phenomena (like La Violencia in Colombia) with a degree of analytic detachment (however personally motivated by choice of projects may be). But this makes me angry, in a way I can't articulate or even explain. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel differently, but today it feels like 2 of the 3 branches of power are saying to Latinos, "Good luck climbing up the ladder; we're just going to knock out a couple of the rungs." But as is always the case, Latino families will find a way to improve their lives and pursue el sueno americano, in the face of the most forbidding obstacles....

Anyway, in terms of my dissertation, I continued to read about institutional design, and research the three states I've tentatively identified for a subnational comparison. I have two states that are in high-conflict areas, one with a high level of electoral competition and another with a lower level of electoral competition. The third state is in a low-conflict area, and has a low level of electoral competition. (Here's the thing: conflict and electoral competition are highly correlated; the non-conflictual regions are all pretty homogeneous in terms of their electoral make-up.) So I want to look at two high-conflict areas with differing levels of electoral competition to see what the impact in the police is in each one, and I want to have a comparison area where there's not conflict, and look at the police dynamic there. Interestingly, the low-conflict area I chose turns out to have, in 1938, significantly higher police and military presence. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm interested to pursue it further....

Today I was at the Science, Industry, and Business Library of the NY Public Library, which is quite a contrast with the main building I've been going to ("the one on Fifth") - much more modern and high-tech. I'll be back here tomorrow to continue looking at the 1938 census, hopefully coming to a conclusion whether these three states are the ones I want.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Very close now...

0.5 hours writing, 3.5 hours reading/researching, 0.5 hours administrivia

I'm very close now to selecting regions for a subnational comparison. The key insight today was that I don't have to know upfront what the level of police involvement looked like; I'll let the case studies tell me that. So I can proceed with selection based on the information that I have. Want to mull it over some more tomorrow, I'll probably make a final decision on Friday.

Read more about institutional design today, the most useful stuff had to do with the idea that institutions should be designed to be flexible and responsive to users' needs. This is important for me to hear, because at the moment, my argument is based on the notion of path dependence, that reforms made between 1886-1914 had a lasting impact because they codified politicized security forces, which then shaped the types of armed challenges to which the regime was susceptible going forward. To make that argument, I don't need to assume that the security forces were just frozen in 1914 and didn't change at all in 1946; but the burden is on me to trace the elements of continuity and change and argue that the latter outweighs the former, so we can speak of path dependence. But it's good to reminded that it's a question of degrees, not absolutes.

At the library this afternoon, I went over a 1961 report on criminality from the National Police. Fascinating. Aside from the weird little cartoons they used to illustrate graphs of the incidence of different types of crime by region - you could do a paper just on those - it's scary how high the murder rate was in some parts of the country at this time - 2 and 3 times the average in the U.S. that same year.

My parents just got back today from a 10-day trip to Colombia, and I was telling them last night that it was interesting to look yesterday through a Colombian electoral atlas and see the names of town where we used to go on vacation. There were a few different places, but I had never known before what direction they were from Bogota. Interesting to re-encounter childhood memories in such a remote and abstract way....

Going to another branch of the library tomorrow to get some census information that should help round out the regional selection process.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Getting closer...

0.5 hours writing, 5.5 hours researching/reading.

Good day today. I spent the afternoon at the NY Public Library, looking at an absolutely wonderful source, an electoral atlas of Colombia. With beautiful color maps and lots of tables, it breaks down regional patterns of electoral competition between the 1930s and 1980s. Important information for the question of subnational comparison, and I'm feeling good that this week I'll be able to decide on that.

Also continued reading about police systems in Latin America, particularly police reform in the last couple of decades, which is what the literature mostly focuses on. The disconnect between people's stated interest in security and the state's ability to provide it is so stark. Not to sound like a broken record, but I can't believe we don't know more about the history of police systems, where the corruption (or lack thereof) come from.

Also began reading about theories of institutional design, so I can start ruminating about that chapter, and understand better what pieces of that literature are relevant for my analysis, and where it fits in.

All in all, a pretty productive day. I'll be back at the NYPL tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, June 25, 2007

1 hour writing, 4.5 hours reading/researching, 0.5 hours emailing/administrivia

Please welcome this week's monitor, Marco Mojica, in Santa Cruz, CA. Marco is a doctoral student in Politics (not a science) at UC Santa Cruz. He's currently enjoying being a new dad to his 8-month-old daugher Luna del Mar. Marco and I used to work together at Hispanics in Philanthropy, when the earth was young. Bienvenido!

A good start to the week. I did a couple of hours of math in the morning, catching up on what I missed last week. I'm starting to see how the different pieces of what I'm learning come together, but they're still a ways off from being directly applicable. Slow and steady....

Began working on the chapter about police systems in Latin America. I'm continually struck by how little attention the historical development of police and public-security systems gets in the literature. My work fits neatly into a gap between the civil-military relations literature, which is rich and extensive, but doesn't consider the police, and the literature on public-security reform, which is vibrant but incipient and present-focused.

Saw a couple of interesting movies yesterday at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival over at Lincoln Center. The Unforeseen is what would happen if Terrence Malick produced the local news; a fairly dry story about real-estate development in Austin became a poetic reflection on the environment and our place in the world. Cinematically, it was beautiful, and the struggle of a blue oasis in the reddest of red states to protect Barton Springs, a local environmental treasure, against rampant development, is substantively interesting, but the film was kind of all over the place narratively. The young filmmaker, Laura Dunn, is very savvy, though; she got Malick and Robert Redford to executive-produce (and Redford appears extensively in an interview, having grown up, as it turns out, partly in Austin), got Richard Linklater's cinematographer to shoot it, and got the top credits-sequence maker to do the opening and closing credits. "The unforeseen" might as well be the subtitle for the other film, Cocalero, an intimate portrait of Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, during the last few months leading up to his election. Evo is of Aymara indigenous background, his party is called "Movement toward Socialism," he's the leader of a union of coca-leaf growers, and he was elected by the largest margin in history (according to the film). Yes, you read that entire sentence correctly; an indigenous (!) socialist (!!) union boss (!!!) representing coca-leaf growers (!!!!) was elected President in a landslide (!!!!!). While he's not the first Latin American president of indigenous background, it's quite a unique profile. Anyway, the film: the young director, Alejandro Landes, basically showed up in Bolivia three months before the election and pitched to Evo a documentary about his campaign, and Evo quickly agreed. What follows is spin turned inside out; we see the inside of Evo's dumpy bachelor-pad apartment, we visit his decrepit farm in the tropical coca-growing region, we see him jump in the creek for a swim in his underwear, we follow him as he hustles through the streets with no bodyguard to speak at a campaign rally, and twice, we sit with him as he gets a haircut (his bowl-cut is a sartorial splendor, and he's clearly quite proud of it). The best part is, all of these "unguarded" moments are the height of calculation on Evo's part; all go toward engineering his image as a regular guy, a man of the people. Fascinating stuff.

I'm interested to learn more about Bolivia in the context of my dissertation work, as it's one of the few Latin American countries that experienced a revolution in the 20th century. There really does seem to be a distinctive profile in the Andean region in terms of indigenous politics and regionalism created by difficult geography; that may be overstating it, but we'll see how it pans out as I learn more....

Tomorrow, I'll be back at the NY Public Library in the afternoon, and will continue both on the police-systems chapter and on the subnational comparison piece.

Friday, June 22, 2007

1 hour writing, 4.5 hours researching/reading, 0.5 hours emailing/administrivia

A good day! I like working at the Public Library; there are so many resources you can just stumble across. I got an answer to a methodology question that had been bugging me from earlier in the week from an encyclopedia I happened to come across.

I'm getting closer to a decision on the sub-national comparison. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes to have one; it may be three states rather than two, I'm not sure yet. I need to find statistics indicating relative level of economic development at the state level for 1946, the start date of La Violencia. That'll probably need to wait until Tuesday, when the library's open again. On Monday, I'll change things up a bit by working on the chapter about police systems in comparative context.

All in all, a good end to the week. Thanks again to Diana Kapiszewski for being a wonderful monitor this week! Next up is Marco Mojica; more about him on Monday. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

3 hours researching/reading, 0.5 hours emailing, 0.5 hours administrivia

Not such a productive day today. Continued working on the sub-national comparison. I found another source for data on violence in different regions, which partly reinforces and partly contradicts what I already had. Need to dig a little further. My sense is that there are three broad types of regions: those that didn't experience La Violencia (the coastal lowlands), those that experienced it continuously before and after the assassination of Gaitain in 1948, and those where the assassination was a trigger. So perhaps a three-way comparison among one of each of those regions would be useful.

I'll be back at the NY Public Library tomorrow for more research on the regional piece, and hope to make some progress on the writing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sub-national treasure

0.5 hours writing, 4.5 hours researching, 0.5 hours administrivia.

Greetings from the NY Public Library. I brought an Ethernet cable so I could plug in directly from within the spectacular third floor reading room. If you've ever seen the movie The Day After Tomorrow, it's the big room with the chandeliers and picture windows that the refugees in New York congregate in. Couldn't think of a more inspirational place to write, it's just beautiful....

I continue to investigate the idea of doing a sub-national comparison. Today's main insight was that while La Violencia was widespread, it was really concentrated in the Andean region of the country. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the southern region on the Ecuadorean border, and the Amazonian region in the south were really not affected. I'll confess my ignorance here and say it's really not clear to me yet why the Atlantic Coast in particular was relatively immune to the violence. The Amazonian region, and to a degree the southern region near Ecuador, that makes sense: they're not densely inhabited. But the Atlantic Coast has 3 major cities and a large cattle-ranching presence: why didn't it experience conflict? This is something that's so seemingly taken for granted in the sources I've read that I'm almost embarrassed to ask the question, "Why not there?"

In thinking about a sub-national comparison, I need to get a clearer sense of the question that information will help me answer. If I'm trying to show that variation in the type of security forces (politicized vs. militarized) shapes the types of armed challenges the regime characteristically experiences (insurrection vs. coup), then I'd ideally want to compare two places with different types of security forces and show that they experience different types of armed challenges. However, there's a question of units of analysis: if I'm interested in regime stability at the national level, what will a sub-national comparison tell me?

Well, for one thing, national-level directives are carried out incompletely in Colombia. The difficult geography made national-level coordination - of the state, of political parties, heck even of the road system - difficult for longer than you would expect. For the time period I'm looking at, when urbanization was in progress, it's plausible to think that some states within Colombia would be more politicized than others in their security forces. But this may be mixing up de facto with de jure, and design is supposed to be about de jure.

Anyway, an interesting problem to continue grappling with tomorrow. Even if sub-national comparison doesn't end up being a feature of my dissertation, I needed to get immersed in the details of La Violencia anyway, so this is as good a lens as any through which to do that.

One last thing: I was looking into historical maps of Colombia that the Public Library has in its collection - luckily, there seems to be a good amount of continuity in the shape of the states in the two time periods I'm looking at, and these maps will help me substantiate that - when I came across this, which led to this. Omigod, this is a movie just waiting to be made. "E. Forbes Smiley III": can you imagine a better name for a guy who stole dozens of rare maps worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from six libraries and then sold them on the Internet to pay for his house on Martha's Vineyard? Ari, I'm 2 for 2 in the past week on fantastic projects that someone needs to snap up the rights to, pronto. A cut would be nice, but I'll take a "Special Thanks" in the credits....

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Chirp, chirp

5.5 hours researching/reading, 0.5 hours administrivia

Greetings from Bryant Park, right next to the NY Public Library. There's free WiFi here, so I'm blogging outdoors on a lovely summer afternoon. There's a little sparrow behind me chirping his heart out. Guess it must be mating season. It's rare that you can see an individual bird moving its beak to chirp, as opposed to hearing birds chirping ambiently.

Birds are on my mind, as the Spanish equivalent "pajaros" is one of the many nicknames given to irregular armed forces during La Violencia in Colombia. I was at the NYPL this afternoon looking into regional studies of La Violencia. This morning, in preparation, I started putting together a database of information about the different states of Colombia, to help me decide whether comparing two states makes sense for my dissertation.

The bottom line from today is that the regions of Tolima and Antioquia each have one very strong regional study that draws upon significant primary evidence available through the state government or local universities. Whether those two make sense for a comparison is another question, but it's good to have that base to work with.

One of the studies I reviewed had one of the strangest and most disturbing sets of images I've ever seen. One of the hard things about studying La Violencia is the extreme forms that violence took in the countryside. This book, a study of the violence in the state of Tolima (not the primary one for that region, but still useful), featured a series of illustrations based on interviews with peasants who lived through the period. They illustrate the forms of murder that took place. The illustrations themselves are little more than silhouettes of a generic human form, like the outline of a crash-test dummy. But on successive pages, that innocent, clinical silhouette went through the most outlandish tortures, one at a time, demonstrating what interviewees recalled having seen happened. (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc.) These are schematic drawings, and no blood is shown, but the schematic little body parts are simply...elsewhere. The ratio of horror of content to blandness of presentation was astronomical, and quite unsettling, to say the least.

Anyway, kind of a downer note to end on, but it was a productive day overall. Tomorrow I'll be back to continue looking at regional studies, and I'm hoping by the end of the week to be able to make a decision about the regional comparison piece.

In the meantime, I'll try to take some time to write tomorrow to balance out the research.

Monday, June 18, 2007

5.5 hours reading/researching, 0.5 hours emailing/administrivia

Please welcome this week's monitor, Diana Kapizewski, in Oakland. Diana's a fellow graduate student at UC Berkeley. She's interested in courts as political actors, knows nothing about my topic but is happy to comment on it anyway. Left to her own devices, she'd rather run, bike, and sing (and accelerate the process of learning how to play guitar). Welcome, Diana!

Continued today with the four strands I've been pursuing since Thursday: math, methodology, Latin American security forces, and Blood and Fire. The more I read of B&F, the more excited I get about what I'm on to here. The control of the police and their relation to the army are just crucial for the story that goes on in the Colombian countryside in the '40s and '50s, and it's a side of the story that hasn't been explored from the institutional-design angle I'm taking here.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the NY Public Library to gather regional studies of La Violencia, the 1946-66 period of civil war in Colombia that's one of my primary foci for this project. On Wednesday, I plan to grapple with the question of whether a comparison of two regions makes sense for my dissertation.

Saw an amazing movie this weekend, La Vie en Rose, which features one of the most impressive acting performances I've ever seen. Marion Cotillard plays Edith Piaf, and it's just unbelievable the range and passion she displays. The film itself takes an interesting narrative approach, moving back and forth between Piaf's youth, adulthood, and old age in a thematic rather than linear way. I didn't find it distracting, however, and the 2h20min running time went by quite quickly. Well, that's two of my Best Actress Oscar nomination slots taken, and it's only June!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Gaza, Naples, and Medellin

At my monitor's suggestion (thanks Kristin!), I'm trying a different format to make reading this long post easier. Let me know which you prefer!

5.5 hours reading/ruminating/research, 0.5 hours emailing.

Well, Gaza has fallen to Hamas. The Palestinian territory is now divided between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Sad and worrying. Money quote from The Economist regarding the issues I'm writing about:
"a conflict that has been building since Hamas ousted Fatah from the PA in last year's election. From the start, Fatah tried to prevent Hamas from getting full control of the PA security services, which are a cornerstone of political power and a job scheme for unemployed militants, and which had become bloated with Fatah loyalists during the secular party's long and corrupt rule. Hamas countered by adding a tough, disciplined “Executive Force” of its own loyalists to the PA roster in Gaza, where it is much stronger than in the West Bank. Fatah then won backing from the United States to turn the presidential guard into an elite force to counter that of Hamas."
Doesn't get much clearer than that in terms of the impact of security-force design on regime stability. Politicized security forces make you vulnerable to insurrection....

Last week, I attended a number of films at Open Roads, a festival of new Italian films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (thank you, student prices!). To my delight, Antonio Monda, the Italian film critic who introduces the films of Steve Zissou at the beginning and end of The Life Aquatic, the most under-rated (and over-hyped) Wes Anderson movie, was on hand to do Q&A after several of the films. Monda has a charming quirk to his spoken Italian, gargling his rolled "r"'s in a fashion I can't help but enjoy. The highlight of the five films I saw was The Unknown Woman, ("La sconosciuta"), by Giuseppe Tornatore, who did Cinema Paradiso. It was like Vertigo meets The Hand that Rocks the Cradle crossed with Spanglish, but, you know, good. Crazy, in fact. Quite lurid and over-the-top in spots, with some scenes that were tough to watch, but never less than creepy and compelling. If Roberto Benigni can get nominated for Best Actor for Life is Beautiful, Xenia Rappoport deserves a nod for her unbelievable performance in the title role here, as an immigrant nanny who insinuates herself into the life of a wealthy Italian couple for mysterious reasons. What her character goes through, what she's capable of, both loving and horrible, is amazing. If I had some cash lying around, I'd buy the remake rights and cast Vera Farmiga - the character's even originally from the Ukraine, like her. (Don't forget to thank me in your acceptance speech!)

The other memorable film was called See Naples and Die, a Michael Moore-esque documentary about life in the drug-ridden projects of Naples. Two local mafia, called alternatively camorra and "clans," compete for the drug trade in the projects, and ordinary people are sadly and predictably caught in the crossfire...

...which sounds a lot like the period of La Violencia (1946-66) in Antioquia (the state of which Medellin is the capital), Colombia, the topic of Blood and Fire, which I profitably continued reading today, along with the other three strands I pursued yesterday: math, Latin American security, and case-study methodology. It definitely feels like the different strands are starting to come together; some of the math I've been doing this week was directly applicable to some of the methodological reading, and the news about the Gaza resonate with the world of La Violencia in Colombia, and even the film about Naples I saw last week.

Convergence: Not a bad note on which to end the week. Many thanks to Kristin Donnelly for being this week's monitor! Next up is Diana Kapiszewski; more about her on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

5.5 hours reading/research, 0.5 hours emailing.

Having been flummoxed yesterday by too many directions to pursue, I flipped the problem on its head today and took a few steps in each of a number of different directions: I did some more math, I read more in Blood and Fire, culling information about regional studies of the 1946-1966 time period that interests me for Colombia, I started reading an essay collection on the Latin American security forces, and I started reading a methodological piece on case study research. I have a growing list of sources to consult at the New York Public Library, so a field trip is certainly in order next week.

This past weekend, Cathy and I went to a fun new restaurant called Hill Country. The name refers to the area outside Austin, legendary for its barbecue. Cathy and I went to the hill country last summer, as we were visiting friends in Austin, with predictable results.

The sign in the first picture says, "Vegetarians Enter Here, Normal Folks Down the Hall." Kreuz Market is the temple of 'q in Lockhart, TX, that Hill Country is explicitly modeled on. [Edited to add: That's me drooling, a la Homer Simpson, over the thought of delicious meat next to the Kreuz sign.] Although the staff was somewhat unorganized on opening night, and they were out of a lot of things, it was definitely on a par with the original, and worth a return visit...hmm, perhaps tomorrow night!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The inspirational qualities of Blood and Fire

4.5 hours reading/research, 0.5 hours emailing, 0.5 hours administrivia

I'm at the stage where I need to do more research before I can usefully write more. Specifically, I need to understand more about the literature on institutional design, the literature on police systems, and the role of police during La Violencia. A tall order, and today I found myself flummoxed as I tried to decide what to tackle first. At the end of the day, I picked up Mary Roldan's Blood and Fire, which may be the best book ever written about Colombia, and it was a total inspiration. She gets into such detail at the local and regional level, I have enough there to work with for a while. One fact that leapt out for me was that the local Conservative government organized public/private militias that combined local police with private gangs. Though she doesn't say as much, these are precursors to the paramilitaries that have plagued Colombia in recent years. So that was a key insight that totally plugs in to my argument. Goes back to yesterday's piece about regular vs. irregular armed forces.

I'm telling you, whatever I write, however this turns out, it's going to make a contribution, because we just don't know enough about the police historically or comparatively, and there's a lot of good stuff there.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Far afield, close to home

1 hour writing, 3.5 hours reading & research, 0.5 hours emailing, 0.5 hours administrivia

As I continue to toy with the idea of including a formal model in my dissertation, I'm boning up on math so I can more easily read articles that use formal models, and get a better handle on what I would need to do one myself. I ordered a textbook on "Mathematics for Economists" per a colleague's recommendation, and started working my way through it. My aim is to understand enough by the end of the summer that I can comfortably read articles using formal models in political science journals, understanding how the models are put together and generate insights.

At my friend DK's suggestion, I checked out some news articles about the conflict going on right now in the Gaza strip. Within the Palestinian territory, the two main factions, Hamas and Fatah, are on the verge of civil war. At the heart of the struggle is, guess what, control of the security forces - my topic! Fatah is the faction that Arafat led before he died. They were in charge for a number of years, but last year, in the first election in ten years in Palestine, Hamas, which is fundamentalist, unexpectedly won a significant share of the legislature. So now Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the governing body, is Fatah, but the Prime Minister is Hamas. Apparently, the Interior Minister (which is a ministry I focus on in my dissertation in looking at Colombia) is Hamas as well, and last year, he created a security force that's separate from the PA police. From what I can gather, it's basically a pro-Hamas militia that the Interior Minister decided to give the sanction of government. Abbas and his Fatah cohorts were of course not pleased, seeing it as not really different from a militia, and also a direct threat to the official PA security forces.

The issue here is about the distinction between regular and irregular armed forces, and who has control of which. One of the classic definitions of the state is that it exercises "monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force," with the key word being "legitimate." Regular armed forces operate under the rubric of state legitimacy - army, police, national guard, etc. Irregular armed forces are organized, but they operate outside the state's jurisdiction, and without its authorization: gangs, militias, the Minutemen, etc. (Private security companies, which have proliferated in Latin America, are a gray area, in that they may or may not be regulated and/or licensed by the state.)

So what happens when a member of the government - the Minister of the Interior, no less - authorizes the conversion of an irregular armed force into a regular armed force - and the legitimacy of his action is questioned by other members of the government, as happened last year in Palestine? The issue is even more complicated given that the schism within the government on this point is along factional lines. The key dynamic I'm interested in developing a formal model about is that of factions at the local level, and how they impact the decision of local politicians to use the local police for financial (personal benefit) or political (party benefit) corruption. So I'll be following this story as it continues to develop, and thinking more about how it reflects on and connects to the issues I'm writing about.

One thing this story also demonstrates is "layering" in terms of institutional development. Today, I finished reading an article by a colleague from my department, Taylor Boas, that was published earlier this year on "path dependence," which is the idea that once institutions are developed in a certain way, they tend to persist over time and condition future outcomes in a predictable way. The argument of my dissertation at this point features path dependence prominently, so I'm lucky that one of my colleagues is emerging as a leading scholar of this important methodological question. Taylor uses the model of the Internet and its "composite standard," in which individual components form part of a larger framework that can stay largely the same even as its components change over time, to propose a new way of thinking about path dependence. One of the dynamics that happens as institutions develop is "layering," in which new rules or features are added on to the existing ones: for example, the committee structure of the US Congress adds new procedural rules while preserving its existing ones. These are incremental changes, but they can end up altering the overall structure significantly over time. The Internet was originally designed as a way for defense researchers to communicate, and through layering has become something much larger, to the extent we can talk about "conversion" of the institution of the Internet from its original purpose.

So what we see in Palestine is layering that threatens to convert the security forces from what they ought to be - the guarantors of citizen security - into something entirely different - the agents of factional strife.

Well! That's certainly enough for one day. It's funny how disparate strands can come together sometimes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

1.5 hours writing, 2 hours reading/researching, 0.5 hours emailing, 2 hours administrivia.

Please welcome a new monitor for this week: Kristin Donnelly, in New York. I met Kristin through her boyfriend Josh, with whom I went to high school. Kristin works for Food & Wine magazine, and gets to jet around the country sampling local eateries and writing them up. Apparently, this glamorous lifestyle has its flipside of hours spent rating kitchen implements. Decide for yourself how envious you are on the F&W editorial blog, to which Kristin is one of several contributors. Thanks, Kristin, and welcome!

I made some changes to my outline and sent it off to one of my advisors, so that was a big step. I now clearly have a lot more outline to fill out. My four existing chapters (Intro, Theory, Colombia 1886-1914, Colombia 1946-1966) are getting more and more fleshed out. Now I have four more chapters to outline: one on police systems in Latin America, one on Colombia before 1886, one on Colombia between 1914 and 1946, and one on Colombia in comparative perspective. At one point, the first and fourth I just mentioned were going to be the same thing, but it's looking right now like I do need to introduce the idea of police systems up front, and then come back later to a structured comparison with other countries based on what I've found.

Refining this outline has been useful in terms of clarifying and simplifying my argument. I've been doing some judicious pruning, clipping off branches in the argument that don't go anywhere useful or that throw off the basic symmetry or balance of the overall picture. For example, I used to try to talk about the role of political parties in influencing local-level interactions with the police, but that's just complicating things overly much.

Anyway, more administrivia than I would have liked today, but it turns out I hadn't really finished transferring all of the relevant files from my home computer to my laptop. Excuses, excuses....

We ate at a really great storefront Indian place in the Village called Lassi on Saturday. Cathy had chicken with spinach and roti, and I had a stuffed goat paratha with cardamom lassi. Mine were interesting, and I'm glad I tried them, but Cathy's choice was a cut above: super-bright and fresh-tasting, but complexly spiced. All this from a French-Italian former pastry chef operating out of a five-seat storefront. I love New York!

Friday, June 8, 2007

End of the first week!

2.5 hours writing, 2.5 hours reading, researching, and ruminating, 1 hour emailing.

I'm finding this is turning out to be more like a regular job than I expected, in the sense that part of my daily work is communicating via email with colleagues, monitors, and other contacts about my project. I had been lumping that under administrivia, but that's really not an accurate characterization. For lack of a better term, I'll just call it emailing.

I have my outline in shape to send to my advisors for comments. I've made quite a few changes: deleting one runty chapter and adding in a couple of context-setting ones, per my posts from Wednesday and Thursday. I find that a lot of what I'm doing is simplifying: whittling the argument down to the very basics. Once I'm confident I've gotten that across really solidly, then I can add in any bells and whistles that make sense and are doable.

I'm going to let the outline sit over the weekend, and take another pass through on Monday morning before sending it to my advisors.

All in all, a successful first week! Many thanks to Steve Boland for being the first monitor, and to other friends and family who have taken the time to read and comment as well. I'll introduce the new monitor on Monday.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading,

P.S. One of the many ways in which my wife Cathy is a culinary genius: space pesto. It looks like earth pesto and is made from all the same types of ingredients, but ends up being totally different and good in its own way. Instead of basil: cilantro and mint. Instead of parmesan: feta. Add in serrano chiles and cherry tomatoes, along with the usual olive oil, and it's a recipe for YUM. I was glad to have leftovers for lunch!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

1 hour writing, 4 hours reading/ruminating, 1 hour administrivia.

More catching up today. I finished going through old dissertations to get ideas on structure. The one from yesterday continues to be the best one, but it's interesting how many different ways there are to skin this particular cat. It really depends on the nature of your topic, and what elements you need to explain first. Since I'm exploring a relatively little-understood topic - the role of police systems in shaping the types of armed challenges regimes are likely to face - I'll need to spend a good amount of time upfront defining "police systems" and talking about what they look like comparatively, before focusing in on the Colombia case. My type of topic calls for a structure where you do a lot of explaining and providing of background upfront, before getting into the analysis. With other topics that are more squarely in an existing stream of analysis, you can briefly recap and dive right in; I need to give my readers more background.

I got a great set of comments on my outline from DK (thanks!), and have begun incorporating them. She also suggested that I may want to go to the American Political Science Association conference in Chicago to meet with people working in areas that interest me. I'm already going to the Latin American Studies Association conference the following week, but the suggestion motivated me to take a look at the APSA program, and there are indeed a number of people who'll be there that it would be good to meet and talk with. I think I may do it - especially if Cathy can come with, as it's over Labor Day weekend.

That's all for today! Tomorrow I'll be finishing up a new draft of my outline to send to my advisors. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Catching up

0.5 hours writing, 6.5 hours reading and ruminating.
I'm at a point where I've expanded my current outline into full sentences, and that's as far as it'll go. I'm at 40 pages, so that's pretty good, but it's clear what's needed is a change of kind and not degree: I need to include other types of information, not just more of what I already have. So I decided to take a look at examples of dissertations by other students in my program. That led me in two distinct directions for reading today.

One was back into game theory: I worked my way through the formal model in a colleague's dissertation, to get myself used to thinking in that way again - it's been a good three years. It was helpful to see what I would need to be capable of doing if I wanted to incorporate a model. I'm leaning toward not doing it, but again, the process of identifying assumptions and seeing how they hang together logically will be useful no matter what.

The other direction was about methodology. My department is a hub of thinking about the relationships between quantitative and qualitative methodology, so I spent some time catching up on what colleagues have been doing in this area in the three years since I was last a full-time student.

In general, that was today's theme: what's been going on in my department and my discipline while I've been in New York. It's interesting to re-immerse myself in that whole world after three years of having my head in a very different place.

I got some useful ideas from reviewing other dissertations about how to build on my current outline. The main one is about painting more of the historical context of my case study, and situating the politics I study in a richer socioeconomic and global context. Tomorrow I'll begin implementing that.

The farmers' market near our apartment that Cathy and I usually go to on Saturdays is also there on Wednesdays, so I checked it out during my lunch break. It's practically a whole different set of vendors! One is the wonderful Red Jacket Orchards. (Their Fuji Apple Juice is worth the mail order.) This expands our grocery and cooking horizons in some potentially interesting ways....

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

That's more like it!

Good day today: 4 hours writing, 2 hours reading.

(Thanks to my friend Becca Jewell for the suggestion of leading with the facts, like Bridget Jones in her Diary.)

Writing-wise, I continued to flesh out my outline, completing a pass through the second chapter. To steal an image, it's like ironing a shirt: you go over the same area again and again, each time moving a little further along.

Reading-wise, I caught up on Colombian news regarding peace negotiations with the guerrillas and paramilitaries - there seem to be some concrete advances, I'm surprised - and a scandal involving unauthorized wiretaps by the National Police. (Hmm, sounds familiar.) One of the distinctive things about the U.S. relative to other countries, particularly in Latin America, is the absence of an institution like the National Police. There are entities that have police powers and operate at a national level, like the FBI, but there's not an exact analog. I will need to deal with this difference and what it means at some point - but not today!

I also read an interesting newsletter from FLACSO Ecuador about citizen security. It was helpful for situating my research in current debates about the role of the police in providing public order.

That's it for today - it went well!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Welcome to the first full week of my dissertation blog. A big THANK YOU to everyone who's volunteered to be the weekly monitor. The schedule's already filled up through the end of October! I really appreciate everyone's support.

First up as the weekly monitor is Steve Boland, in San Francisco. In his own words, "steve boland is a failed journalist and dot-commer who hasn't failed yet at urban planning. he is, however, a very successful drinker." "Hasn't failed yet"? Steve's website SF Cityscape suggests otherwise. Thanks for taking the leadoff spot!

Rainy today. I brought a sandwich for lunch, or rather a homemade panino. (Pet peeve #36, the plural panini used to describe one sandwich; pet peeve #37, an accent on the last letter of "latte", an attempt on the part of more than one misguided cafe owner to sound more sophisticated while proving the exact opposite - there ought to be a word for a self-undermining mistake like that, like there is for a mondegreen or a malapropism.) Have to say it turned out pretty good - turns out there is a use for a grill pan, if only just the one. Use a cast-iron skillet or something similarly heavy to press down on the top of the sandwich as it's warming up on the grill pan, and voila: insta-panino, with cute grill marks and all.

Not such a good day writing-wise. Turns out the outline I sent DK on Friday had weird formatting that make it hard to read and give comments on, so I spent much of the morning fixing that. On one level, I didn't really need to, and it was a perfect excuse to procrastinate in one of my favorite ways, futzing about with formatting. On another level, DK gives great comments, so it was important that it be user-friendly. I just could have found a more expedient way to do so.

Then I spent a frustrating hour spinning my wheels working on the local-level police corruption piece I mentioned on Friday. I keep going back and forth about whether or not to incorporate a formal model into my dissertation (meaning, use game theory to analyze and clarify a decision-making scenario). The first step in doing so is to specify the conditions of the scenario in detail, including who all the players are and what the decisions they need to make are. Harder than it sounds, everything has to fit together logically just so. It's not a real forte of mine, but the exercise can be very helpful in clarifying assumptions. Whether or not I develop a formal model out of it, I'll be glad to have gone through the exercise. Just not right now...

The afternoon was better. I decided to stop spinning my wheels and try a new direction. So I focused on fleshing out the outline of the first chapter, and that was productive. I fleshed out a number of ideas, and identified areas where I need to consult sources to back up those ideas. Part of the challenge of a dissertation is documenting things that you already know and that your readers already know and that are in fact true, but that scholarly rigor demands you back up with a raft of appropriate citations. It's an adjustment from the type of writing I've been doing the past three years at work. Anyway, I made a pass through the outline of the first chapter, and felt good about the progress. So the day ends on a good note.

Final tally: two hours writing, four hours administrivia and background research. Better luck tomorrow.

Friday, June 1, 2007


Or as my friend DK likes to call it, "the first day of the rest of my life." It went well! I'm all signed up and paid up for my space at the writers' studio now and have a key. There are a ton of cute-looking restaurants nearby, and I had lunch at a place that billed itself as a "French-Malaysian bistro." I had seafood udon: well-made, but a little bland.

Today I focused on updating my dissertation outline to incorporate the most recent round of feedback from colleagues. It's been tremendously helpful to parse through their comments and pull out the questions I'm not addressing or things I need to investigate further. I'm keeping running lists of both - which keep growing! But I'm also crossing things off the list, as I find that many of the questions have a common root.

For example, understanding the local-level dynamics of financial and political corruption (thank you, Robert Bates) involving the police is one such common root underlying several questions and comments I got. Under what circumstances and to what ends do local politicians take advantage of the presence of local police to corrupt them for their own ends?

That's one of two main things on my plate right now: the other is to learn more about the role of the police in managing local conflict in the Colombian countryside between 1958-66. Thanks to the comments I've been processing, I realized it's an episode I need to give more attention.

So the two main things on my plate are a good mix of the theoretical and the empirical. Looking forward to a relaxing weekend and to starting up again on Monday!