Friday, August 31, 2007

Bad robot!

6 hours meetings/panels

Well! That was quite a long day, and it's not even over - Cathy's about to arrive from New York. I had five dissertation meetings, one career meeting, went to half a panel, had dinner with my parents, went to two receptions - I'm beat!

I got a lot of interesting feedback and ideas from a mix of Colombianists and Latin Americanists. Some of it was very practical about how to write a dissertation so that it's more easily convertable into a book, some of it was very specific about sources for Colombia or other countries, and a lot of it was about checking, can I tell my story succinctly (check), does it sound plausible to smart, informed people (check), and does it generate questions for further refinement or expansion of the model (check). A few things stand out: part of my story about La Violencia is about why local conflicts did not aggregate up into revolution. One Colombianist reminded me of Colombia's relative lack of nationalist leaders or movements; this is one obvious explanation with which I'll need to contend. A Latin Americanist who worked with historical data suggested a strategy for working with secondary and primary materials that's very congruent with what I'm planning to do for Antioquia. And a former professor and mentor from my undergrad days, with the wisdom of distance, suggested I need to account for Chile from an angle that I hadn't been expecting.

The panel I attended I chose because it actually addressed a question that someone outside our narrow little discipline might ask: what's up with all the leftists winning elections in Latin America? One answer is, well, market reforms in the early '90s had about a decade to try to make concrete improvements in people's everyday lives, and if they didn't do so, we were going to see a resurgence of the populism of Peron and the like from the 40s and 50s. Sure enough, that's what happened. Another way of seeing it is that some countries have more room to maneuver in terms of setting economic policy: like Venezuela, they have a lot of resource dollars (oil revenue), or like Brazil, their economy is just big enough and diverse enough to give them options that allow for more redistributive policies, so the left has more of a chance to actually flourish.

It's been a fun conference. I was so programmed today that I felt like a little robot, going where the buzzer on my phone tells me to go. It only struck me in the evening that this is probably the last APSA I'll attend; who knows, though, it's a big world and it turns in strange ways.

Cathy should be arriving soon, and I look forward to a fun weekend in Chicago with her and my folks!

Thanks very much to Josh Miles for monitoring this past week. Next up for an abbreviated Labor Day week is my beloved wife, Cathy Sumner! I'll be in Montreal for another conference, LASA, the Latin American Studies Association, on Wednesday and Thursday, so it'll be another travel-heavy edition next week. Enjoy the long weekend, and see you on Tuesday!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lord, I was born a ramblin' man

3 hours panels/meetings, page count = 112

Greetings from Chicago! It's been a long day, but fun. Most of my meetings today ended up being career-related; tomorrow is about my dissertation. I'd forgotten what a madhouse the APSA convention is. We take up the meeting rooms of two hotels, and at least the one I'm staying in is swarming mid-career professionals on the make: lining up jobs, discussing book contracts, trading departmental gossip, visiting old friends. It's a good, crazy energy. Berkeley's department is among the larger ones, and we have a really good placement record, so there have been a number of, "oh yeah, that guy" encounters in the hall. It's nice to come back to this world and see familiar faces.

It's funny, I'm here this year as a "tourist," that is, I'm not presenting anything, just meeting people and going to panels (in that order), but I'm programmed down to the quarter hour. My obsessive travel planning paid off, because I have all my meetings entered into my phone, including locations, with reminders 15 minutes before, so I just show up somewhere, meet someone, start talking, the phone buzzes with the reminder, I check my next location, shuffle off to that, meet someone, start talking: lather, rinse, repeat.

There are literally dozens of panels in each timeslot, so earlier in the summer, I narrowed it down to 2 or 3 each in a few different timeslots, and then built my meetings around the gaps in the schedules. I'm going to one panel each day; today's was about historical causation, which is a huge part of my dissertation. I argue that policy choices made about the security forces 100 years ago had an impact on regime dynamics 50 years later, and even reverberate today; in a way, my project is all about historical causation. All three papers dealt in different ways with the importance of context, with how to assess which causal factors are most important, and with how far back in time to go to explain a given phenomenon. This is a familiar problem: you can ask, "what caused the Soviet Union fall?", and there are some proximate causes, like economic decline, but then there are things that caused that, like changes in the global economy, but then there are things that caused that, and so on. "Infinite regress," it's called. How do you decide where to stop, how far back is far back enough? One way to do so is to talk about, as I do in my dissertation, a "critical juncture": before X period, a lot of different countries were in a similar situation (weak states, politically unstable, chronic civil wars); after X period (1880-1910) when Y things happened (state building, political bargains around electoral reform, security force configuration) they looked very different overall than before X (relatively stronger states, greater political stability, absence of civil wars), but with A and B distinctive patterns related to the Y things that happened during X period, the critical juncture (regimes with politicized security forces are susceptible to insurrection, regimes with militarized security forces are susceptible to coup). That's definitely a step forward, and one that my dissertation committee co-chairs at Berkeley used to great effect in their main scholarly work. The question becomes refining that critical juncture framework to make it even more effective. So on this panel, one paper looked at antecedent conditions: how do we think about the time before the critical juncture, is everything that happened then equally important, or are there "critical antecedents" that are not only more important than other antecedents, but also similar to antecedents of other critical junctures that other scholars identify? Because my argument is driven by what happens in the wake of the critical juncture, I haven't been very explicit in distinguishing which antecedent conditions are most important, even though I have a whole chapter planned about the period before the critical juncture. So that paper will encourage me to think more systematically about which factors going on before the critical juncture are most relevant for my argument. Good!

Another paper looked at one of the current methodological buzzwords, "causal mechanisms," and considered it in relation to historical context. Causal mechanisms are all the rage because they get us closer to showing exactly how one thing causes another in the infintely complex social world. I say that the type of security-force configuration causes regimes to be susceptible to certain types of armed challenges rather than others. How does it do that? Well, by making arms available to some people and not others. When local police forces are under the control of politicians (one type of configuration), they encourage insurrection by providing an incentive to rebels, either because they're fighting back against repression (as when politicians use local police to quash their political enemies) or because they want to take advantage of the police's corruption and induce them to switch sides (as apparently happened quite a bit during La Violencia). In this case, the causal mechanism is the presence of armed men at the local level who are sanctioned and armed by the state, and thus given a degree of legitimacy, but who are basically available to the highest bidder, which is usually, but not always, the politicians who control their hiring and firing (sometimes it's rebels who take advantage of their corruption to induce them to switch sides). What this paper on the panel today argued was the need to set causal mechanisms in a particular context. The same mechanism, in two different contexts, may generate two different outcomes. One mechanism in the study of social movements is "certification," in which the state or another recognized entity (Amnesty International, for example), certifies that a given movement is operating according to agreed-upon standards, and therefore is worthy of support, funding, being listened to, etc. In a democratic context, certification by the state can help an NGO flourish because it's been given a seal of approval and can attract funding and support. In an authoritarian context, certification by the state could cause potential supporters of an NGO to run screaming in the other direction, because they think they'll be spied on or that the organization is a puppet of the government. So I need to ask myself, are there different types of local contexts in which the availability of police forces at a local level would generate different outcomes in terms of insurrection? The answer is probably yes, and that difference is probably about the level of electoral competition. That really helps me process my advisor's comment that security-force configuration and electoral competitiveness are not alternative hypotheses in explaining conflict, but it's in their interaction that the story lies. That interaction may be about the context that electoral competitiveness sets. Cool.

Finally (whew!), the third paper on the panel was about standards for assessing which antecedent causes out of the many that exist are most relevant for explaining the outcome of interest. The authors advocated using a certain type of logic to make those choices, the logic of set theory (think diagrams with partailly overlapping circles and shaded areas where the circles intersect). Using this tool, it's not always the most recent causes that are the most important. So if you have two different causes for the same outcome that you're trying to prioritize, you look at the logical relationship between each of them. I like the idea, but I don't think I really got the examples they used, so I'll have to check out the paper itself when it becomes available. It'll be worth thinking about security-force configuration and electoral competitiveness in this light.

Geez! I'm sure I won't have this much to say tomorrow, but clearly it's been a good trip so far. Weather's supposed to be nice again in Chicago - although I'll be spending most of it indoors! Cathy gets in tomorrow night, though, and my folks are in town from Milwaukee, so we'll have Saturday and Sunday to hang out with them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When 1 = 12

1 hour writing, 2.5 hours reading / researching, 2 hours emailing / administrivia, page count = 112

I'm an obsessive travel planner, so I spent some administrivia time today finalizing my itinerary while in Chicago, including, oh yeah, figuring out where I need to be and when, not just whom I'm meeting with. I was also able to set up a phone meeting with one of my committee members for next Friday. Given that she's a historian, this will be very helpful for deciding on fieldwork next month.

On the writing front, I began working on one of the pieces of feedback from my meeting with my advisor: figuring out the story for one state where there's a lot of secondary documentation already in place. In this case, that means Antioquia, the state of which Medellin is the capital (Pet peeve #40: the Pablo Escobar fat suit on Entourage). Working with the wonderful Blood and Fire, as well as the historical accounts of Jorge Orlando Melo, an incredibly sophisticated historian who was until recently the rough equivalent of the Librarian of Congress in Colombia, I'm piecing together the political and military/police power structure that existed in Antioquia during the 1940s and '50s. As my advisor pointed out, there are a lot of moving parts: The president, elected by popular vote, appoints governors, each of whom appoints the state police chief and mayors, the latter of whom appoint local police chiefs.

The more I look into it, the more the state is really the relevant unit of analysis, rather than the town: municipalities are embedded in relationships with the state government that involve wheedling for resources, asking for reinforcements, and currying political favor. What's exciting about that is that it opens up my case study of Colombia into (theoretically) 12-15 case studies of individual states, provinces, and dependencies. Of course, I'll only choose one or two of those, and it's in the spirit of identifying what data I need to make the most informed choice that my advisor suggested starting with one well-documented one.

I don't regret the time I spent making an earlier selection of three states, because it forced me to articulate a number of my assumptions, and I learned a lot about the data available at the state and local level, which can easily translate to another state. Besides, Santander and Tolima are both central to La Violencia, so knowing them better will only help make my account richer.

All right! Time to take this act on the road. Tomorrow I blog from Chicago and the American Political Science Association conference.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


3 hours writing, 1 hour emailing, page count = 109

Today I worked on translating my conference paper into a presentation. This is surprisingly hard to do. You need to winnow down a complex topic to the most salient points, and figure out how to walk an audience through it in an accessible and interesting way, without the luxury of footnotes or semicolons (a particular addiction of mine). Academic conferences are thrifty, so rather than powerpoint, the default is overheads - yes, those funny plastic transparency things from junior high. Very retro. (Pet peeve #19 is not changing the font size when you create transparencies; trying to read 12-point type from across the room is maddening. )

I also sent my conference paper to the people I'm meeting with this week and next, along with final confirmations of places and times. It's a pretty good lineup, and I'm looking forward to the comments.

I had lunch with an old co-worker, and chatted with a former board member afterward. Job Search 2007 is officially underway! I'm looking for a position as a program officer for a foundation, or with a philanthropic advisory firm. In addition to dissertation-related meetings in Chicago this week, I also have a few that are career-related, reconnecting with former colleagues. Time to start networking, asking for advice from people who have the types of jobs I want, and getting the word out there that I'm looking. Away we go!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The kid is back

2 hours writing, 2 hours reading/researching, 1 hour emailing; page count = 109

After a wonderful week's vacation out West, I'm back in New York and ready to go. Please welcome this week's monitor, Josh Miles, also in NYC. I met Josh in high school, and we reconnected a couple of years ago when Cathy and I moved to New York. Josh works for a wine distributor and knows a LOT about wine. He and his girlfriend (and fellow Villager) Kristin Donnelly keep us up to speed on foodie gossip, and we always have a great time with them. Benvenuto Josh!

I had dinner with soon-to-be Villager Christa Roth while in San Francisco, and she had a great suggestion: extend the Bridget Jones's Diary-inspired opening line of my posts that lists writing and reading time to include pounds, or in this case, page count. Thanks Christa!

I'm going to be attending the American Political Science Association conference this week, and then the Latin American Studies Association next week, at which I'll present, so the page count isn't likely to increase much during that time. Rather, I'll be getting feedback from professors and graduate students, editing, and rethinking what I already have. Today I set up or confirmed a number of meetings for the two conferences, and I'm going to be meeting with some great people who will have helpful feedback. To help them provide it, I went back over my conference paper and made changes - that was my writing today. The most important change was to check my measure of level of military government against existing, related measures. I used a dataset, Polity IV, that includes several measures of democracy and authoritarianism. None is quite the same as what I'm looking for, but I was able to create a rough approximation and compare it with my figures. Took a while to figure that out, but it looks like a reasonably close fit. So tomorrow morning I'll send the revised paper out to the folks I'm meeting with to give them an idea of my project.

One food-related note from our trip: we went to Thomas Keller's casual place, Ad Hoc, while in Napa. It's just down the street from Keller's flagship, the French Laundry, long considered one of the top restaurants in the country, if not the world. Ad Hoc is at a much more reasonable price point, but the food is still creative and delicious. The menu changes every night, but it's always four courses, and everyone in the restaurant gets the same menu - no sharing, no substitutions. (Ah, bliss: Pet peeve #46 is obsessive re-engineering of dishes by picky orderers - you'll take what you're served, and you'll like it. No, no Catholic Sunday school in my background, none at all....) So as Cathy's godfather, who lives in nearby Vacaville, advises, the trick is to make two reservations for the same time on the same night: Ad Hoc and Redd, which is literally next door. Then the morning of, you call Ad Hoc, and listen to the message that tells you that night's menu - if you don't like it, cancel the reservation and go to Redd instead. It was Texas-BBQ night at Ad Hoc when we went, so no need to cancel. YUM. Makes me want to go back to Hill Country here at home.

Friday, August 17, 2007


4 hours bureaucrarate, 2.5 hours meetings

Spent the day at Berkeley dealing with university bureaucracy and meeting with one of my advisors and a fellow grad student who's working on a related topic. I turned in a form that fully commits me to filing by December - no turning back now! My advisor had great comments that will help recast the police chapter and focus the subnational comparison. It was a crucial conversation that will shape the next couple of months of writing, research and potential (likely) fieldwork. But first, Matt and Laura's wedding and a week's vacation!

Thanks to Diana Kapiszewski for monitoring this week and for the use of her office and printer today! I couldn't have gotten my human subjects paperwork done and handed in today otherwise. Josh Miles in New York is up next, starting on the 27th. More about him then.

Have a good week, and I'll be back on the 27th!

Monday, August 13, 2007


2.5 hours emailing, 3.5 hours bureacrarate

So I've been called to task for the made-up word I use, "administrivia," to describe administrative/bureaucratic tasks that are nonetheless necessary to completing this project. Never has the ambiguous status of that term been more apparent than today, than when it's all I did, in preparation for my upcoming travels.

I'll be in Berkeley on Friday, so I had some bureaucratic work to do preparing for that. Principally, I need to bring my human-subjects material up to date in anticipation of traveling to Colombia to gather additional data. (I will want to interview a few Army and National Police officers regarding the security forces during La Violencia). After the U.S. government did medical experiments on African-Americans , universities and government came up with a series of protocols for treating "human subjects" with at least a modicum of dignity. (At least, that's how I read the makeup of the commission behind the Belmont Report, which included the president of the National Council of Negro Women).

So, it's bureaucratic work that's not trivial, 'cause I need it to be able to use any interview data I gather. I guess another made-up word is in order: how about bureaucratic karate, or bureaucrarate? Yeah, that's just as lame as it sounds....

Also, I'm going to two academic conferences, APSA and LASA, in the coming month, and I emailed a slew of professors and graduate students today to set up appointments. I have three so far, with a couple more pending to be set when I get back from vacation in two weeks.

I'm going to be out of town through August 25th, so this was preparation for my visit to Berkeley on Friday, and for the two conferences I'll be attending the two weeks after I get back. I look forward to a productive visit on Friday, when I'll post again, and to a relaxing week of vacation after that. Hasta el viernes!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Crucial randomness

2.5 hours writing, 1 hour organizing, 0.5 hours emailing

New category today: "organizing" in this case means identifying all the data sources I've gathered, including during fieldwork, making an inventory of what I have, and figuring out what I need. It was very useful to see that I have more than I thought I did or remembered I did.

Emailing today was an important message to one of my advisors asking for advice on the whole subnational comparison piece. Our discussion on this next Friday will largely determine whether I go to Colombia in September to gather more data or not.

On the writing front, I fleshed out the section in the La Violencia chapter on the period right after the assassination of Gaitan in 1948, one of the incidents that sparked the whole civil conflict. Going through a key source, there are just so many allusions to conflicts between the army and the police, divisions within the police itself, and the consequences of this ambiguity for how the struggle played out. I really am onto something here. I'm thinking more and more that it's the randomness of the police's allegiance that's the key dynamic going on here....

Anyway, I'm up to 109 pages drafted, with 14 added this week.

Thanks to Nicole Peterson for monitoring this week! Next week is abbreviated: I'll be traveling to San Francisco for a wedding, although I will be visiting campus one day to meet with an advisor and take care of some bureaucratic stuff with the university. So next week I'll post on Monday and Friday, and the monitor for this shortened week will be the return engagement of Diana Kapiszewski, in Oakland, whom I'll probably also see in person during the week. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 9, 2007


5 hours reading / researching

I finished going through the Interior Ministry reports to Congress for 1946 and 1947, which have a lot of electoral data, at the town level. Gradually, I'm piecing together how the very complicated Colombian electoral system works. I have town-level data for three elections, 1945, 1946, and 1947, and they're all for different levels of government: municipal, presidential, and congressional. The last is the trickiest because it involves the system of proportional representation, which is entirely different from what we have in the States, and comes in 31 flavors, to boot. Basically, instead of the majority vote-getter in a particular district winning all the seats, parties get seats in proportion to their vote share. At one point, there was an idea floating around that this led to greater stability, but that turns out not necessarily to be the case. PR, as it's called, leads to parties putting together tickets that cover national, regional, and local elections, and identifying certain candidates, ones with broad name recognition, at the "top" of the list, so it's like people are voting for that person, but then all the other candidates associated for that list. There are variations where you can itemize who on the list you choose rather than selecting them all together. I'm not 100% sure which flavor was in place in Colombia at the time, so I'll need to look into that.

Why are electoral patterns important for the police? Because it's in the struggle over electoral politics that mayors and governors bring in the police, and use them as tools to advance political agendas.

Also finished reading a great book about the local-level reactions to the assassination of Gaitan in the provinces outside Bogota. It's becoming increasingly clear that the picture at the local level in terms of the security forces' involvement in La Violencia is extremely complex and variable. At first I was modeling the police exclusively as a tool of the government, but now I'm starting to think that it may be like a random variable; that sometimes it allies with the government and sometimes with rebels. In game theory, a "mixed strategy," otherwise known as complete randomness, can be a useful move when you're trying to signal to others your intentions to commit to a particular policy, or when you're trying to ward off a threat from them. If you just choose randomly between A and B, protect or rebel, at any given time, then others have a hard time figuring out their strategies, because they can't predict yours.

Finally, I noticed that a lot of good material in the book I finished today came from legal testimony given in court cases where rebels were brought to trial. Hadn't thought of that as a source, could be useful....

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

You say you want a revolution?

1 hour writing, 5 hours reading / researching, 0.5 hours emailing

Focused today on the period surrounding the outbreak of La Violencia, 1946-48. I'm close to finishing compiling a database of the three elections around that period, in 1945, '46, and '47, based on ministerial reports. (There's a lot of stuff in those.) I'm focusing on my two main comparison states of Santander and Tolima, and it's fascinating how split a state can be even within an overall context of tending to favor one party. It's kind of like the flipside of how Pennsylvania is a swing state because Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are strongly Democratic while the rest of the state - or as my friends who live near Philly refer to it, "Pennsyltucky," is solidly Republican. In this case, the overall states are both Liberal, but a number of towns are very solidly Conservative. Incidentally, I've always found it interesting that the red-blue thing is exactly opposite in Colombia and the U.S. The associations of Liberals with red and Conservatives with blue goes back decades, and I imagine made intuitive sense in the context of the Cold War and struggles over Communism. I guess Democrats should be thankful they're not reflexively considered reds....

Anyway, I read a fascinating account of the first days of La Violencia in the countryside. One of the events that triggered civil war was the assassination of a Liberal populist leader named Gaitan in April 1948. Bogota erupted in riots throughout the night, but by the morning, order had been restored. In the countryside, though, Liberal uprisings lasted a good couple of weeks, with a number of towns - in Santander and Tolima, actually - established "Revolutionary Juntas" and took the tumult as an excuse to settle scores with wealthy Conservative landowners. The "revolution" didn't last, but the conflict in the countryside continued in other forms, with politicized police playing a key role.

One key point emerged from today's reading, about the role of the police in exacerbating conflict. I assumed the tension between the army and the police (at all levels) was one of the primary movers. But in reading more about the April 1948 uprisings in the provinces, it seems that tension among different levels of the police may have also been an important factor in both prolonging conflict and ensuring that it didn't aggregate up into something larger and national. That is, the local police sometimes acted one way, and the state police or national police acted another, contradictory way. So that adds an important wrinkle to the story I'm trying to tell....

Went back to Hallo Berlin for lunch, the food cart that topped New York's list of street-food in Manhattan. (The top five city-wide are all in Jackson Heights, Queens, so an expedition will definitely be forthcoming....) One of the things that makes New York a world-class city is the variety and quality of street food. Construction workers, students, office drones: everyone appreciates a fast, cheap, tasty meal that's something other than fast food or the corner deli. In midtown, you may have two carts on each corner of an intersection. Hot-dog stands are the classic and what you first think of in this category, but other types emerge as you observe: fruit carts, ice-cream carts, pastry-and-coffee breakfast carts (which never have decaf, pet peeve #23), and the true New York classic, the halal mediterranean carts: falafel, gyros, and the iconic chicken-and-rice plate. After New York came out with the top-20 list a couple of months back, I went on a taste test of my own. Conclusion of Part 1 (Midtown): Hallo Berlin is the winner, with Kwik Meal in second. The Fifth Avenue Combo at Hallo Berlin is the killer app: two types of wurst chopped up and served with German home fries, red-wine marinated onions, sauekraut, and two mysterious and delicious sauces from squeeze-bottles, the secret weapon of street-cart cuisine. Today I had kielbasa and apfelwurst (chicken): Y-U-M. The piece de resistance: the surly German guy asking, "to stay or to go?" At a street cart! Well, of course, I'm going to stay. So he puts the finished product on a tiny fold-out wing of the cart, which he's covered in red-and-white-checked contact paper, so it's like a miniature table. The right-hand-side "table" is on the shady side, under the Lufthansa umbrella and a tree, and it's a perfect place to snarf wurst while enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at the expense of those still waiting in line for some Germanic goodness.

Part 2 of the best-of-street-food tour, after Midtown, is the Chinatown expedition, conveniently located near my writing space. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


2 hours writing, 2 hours reading

One hundred pages, woo-hoo! Today, I focused on the chapter concerning the military government of Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953-57), the only time the armed forces ran Colombia during the whole 20th century. Given that the continent-wide average was somewhere upwards of two decades of military government during that same span, that's quite something. So both the absence of military government and its singular presence during the '50s need explaining. There's not a lot written about that time period, actually, and what works do focus on it explicitly tend to have a very slanted point of view, either pro- or anti-military.

In terms of reading, I focused on the period immediately prior to Rojas Pinilla's government, the peak period of the La Violencia civil war, 1948-53, when the countryside erupted in conflict that, while initially partisan in nature - Liberal vs. Conservative - ultimately became more about underlying conflicts over access to the land. Here, there's a lot more written, and the particularly interesting stuff hints at the differences that take place at the local level, how different states and regions experienced the conflict.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Election Day, then and now, there and here

0.5 hours writing, 6 hours reading / researching

This week's blog monitor is Nicole Peterson, in Seattle. As she rightly asks, "how to capture all this greatness in TWO LINES?" I met Nicole when she lived in the Bay Area, and was immediately struck by her great sense of humor. While she doesn't know very much about my overall dissertation subject, she's very interested in learning more, so she'll be watching me like a hawk. Welcome, Nicole!

After a couple of weeks spent at the macro level working on the chapters about the police and Colombia in comparative perspective, today was all about the micro. There's a ton of great stuff in the Interior Ministry report to Congress from 1946. It was an election year, when power changed hands from Liberals to Conservatives, with one of the largest third-party electoral showings in Colombian history, right on the edge of conflict. So the fix-it ministry had its hands full, trying to forestall electoral fraud, reorganizing police pensions, and tracking election results. You couldn't sell liquor within 48 hours of the election, no one could congregate around polling places or pass out materials, and you weren't allowed to travel between towns by road or rail on election day - it actually says in the report, "so people can't vote twice." Reminds me of a cool documentary I saw at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival a few weeks ago, which will be coming out on PBS next year: Election Day, where film crews followed the evolving stories at more than a dozen polling places across the country on election day 2004. Poll watchers facing off, poor folks struggling with barriers to voting, allegations of vote-fixing, haggles over the minutiae of electoral law: it's all there, USA 2004, Colombia 1946.

And in the latter, the police are right in the thick of it. What's interesting is that even in the ministerial decrees about the role of the police in maintaining order on election day, it's not clear which level of police: national, state, or local. Sometimes national are specified, but often it's just "the Police." Worth looking into further, but it's notable already the slippage between levels.

I looked at the town-by-town results for a couple of the states I'm interested in, and interestingly, the third-party candidate, a dissident Liberal with a populist rhetotic, got a lot of support in the Atlantic Coast states, which are peaceable and predominantly Liberal, but not a lot of play in Santander, a province with a history of contentiousness and Liberal tendencies. Santander has a lot of variation, with a few Conservative strongholds, strong presence of the left in a few of the larger towns, and three towns where the party affiliation flipped entirely between the October 1945 municipal elections and the 1946 presidential elections. Social scientists love variation within a particular set of cases, because it gives us something interesting to explain. So I started writing up some reactions to these data in the context of the chapter on La Violencia. I'll continue in this vein tomorrow....

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Deciphering bureaucrat-ese

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

I'm going to Chicago at the end of the month for the American Political Science Association conference, so I was taking a look at panels and figuring out with whom I'd like to meet while I'm there to get feedback on my project.

I began looking into the ministerial reports from the Ministry of the Interior to see what kinds of information about the police is available. Some of the early documents I was examining were from 1911 and 1912, and it took me back to doing fieldwork: the yellowed, crinkly pages that haven't been opened in years, if ever, the fine dust, the astringent smell of...old. And yet the voices of the individual ministers come across clearly, as they complain about being chronically underfunded and puff up the most minor accomplishments. Bureaucrat-ese is its own language to be deciphered. I'm most excited when there's data available. For example, in 1946, around the start of La Violencia, the president appointed military or police mayors in 202 towns in the run-up to the presidential elections; almost a quarter of them were in the state of Boyaca. Hmm. That fits with other sources I've read, but now I'm curious about these figures as an indicator of conflictiveness even before La Violencia got started. It's those kinds of things you enjoy coming across: like town-by-town electoral results for 1947 legislative elections. The funny thing about the Interior Ministry - which is very different from the Department of the Interior in the U.S.!! - is that it's such a catch-all ministry, covering everything from elections to the postal service to prisons. Anyway, there are sources from some of the key years for my story that are worth investigating in detail.

In terms of reading, I started on an insider's account of the military government of Rojas Pinilla (1953-57) that focuses on the role of the security forces in that government and its impact on their institutional development. That's an important part of my story, and there aren't that many sources on it, so it's good to be able to delve into this first-hand account, however wildly biased.

So, it was a good week overall. I'm signing off a bit early, as I'm off to New Orleans tomorrow for Cathy's brother's bachelor party. Thanks to Jay Seawright for monitoring this week! Next up is Nicole Peterson, in Seattle. Have a great weekend, and see you on Monday!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

1 hour writing, 3.5 hours researching, 0.5 hours emailing

Took one last run through my conference paper before emailing it to LASA (hooray!), and finished incorporating all of the changes from it into my overall draft: 92 pages and counting. So in addition to getting feedback, I did generate some new content.

Having spent a couple of weeks setting up the chapters about the police and Colombia in comparative context, I'm going to spend time now working on the case chapters on Colombia. I started today by inventorying the data that I gathered during fieldwork, and identifying additional data that I can gather stateside. I thought I might need to travel to Boston or D.C., but after trying a few different combinations of phrases involving "Ministerio de Gobierno" (Interior Ministry), I found that quite a few of the the ministerial reports from the ministry overseeing the police are available at the NYPL. So I'll be checking those out tomorrow.