Thursday, January 31, 2008


My grandmother Helena passed away today. I'm flying down to Bogotá tomorrow for the funeral, and will be back next week. Thanks to this week's monitor, Nicole Peterson, in Seattle.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Keep on keepin' on

2 hours writing, page count = 190

Not much to report today, continued working on Chapter 1. Sometimes when I'm getting nowhere at the computer, I take a break and write out the particular question I'm stuck on longhand. That was helpful today in figuring out what exactly about La Violencia I'm saying security-force configurations can explain: intensity, duration, scope? Definitely the last two, maybe the first. But the exercise of writing on a piece of paper helps, the arranging of the words not in lines like on a computer, but all over the page as needed, is helpful. I read an interesting article recently about embodied cognition, the notion that instead of treating the brain like a computer floating in a vacuum, we should think of it as an organic thing embedded in a larger organic system, the body. So maybe movements of the body are connected to "movements" in your brain - like gesturing when you're trying to work out a problem. Anyway, occasionally writing longhand is helpful in that way for me, especially with issues that involve a lot of variables and relationships.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Of handles and baskets

4 hours writing, 0.5 hours reading, page count = 189

The heat is rising near the forge in this glass-blower's studio, but the vase is starting to take shape. One of the handles is in place, and I'm getting ready to shape the other one.

In terms of reading, I continued with the Southern Cone explanation, focusing on Argentina. There's a fair bit of disagreement about when state formation actually took place there, whether earlier or later in the 19th century. I tend to think it's later, because the centralization process really is complicated and difficult, especially for cash-strapped countries. I'm still not sure I understand exactly why Argentina went from being one of the richest countries in the world a century ago - on a part with Australia and Canada - to an economic basket case by mid-century. Politics and recurrent military coups are part of it, but there's more going on.

Monday, January 28, 2008


4.5 hours writing, page count = 186

Welcome to this week's monitor, Nicole Peterson, in Seattle! Actually, Nicole lives on an island near Seattle that I think may be Bainbridge Island, but in actuality, I also picture as the scary island from The Ring.

I saw a documentary about the glass artist Dale Chihuly once, and as he - or his assistant, actually - was making a sculpture, he would create a central shape from molten glass, and as it began to cool, take a piece of molten glass debris, perhaps from a failed earlier attempt, and use it to create other parts of the sculpture, like a handle or a detail. That's what I was doing today: melting down debris from last week's blowtorching of Chapter 1 and reintegrating it in a new and prettier way. The throughline from the very first section is flowing pretty well, and I've nearly finished the connection to the comparative framework piece. Onward!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Party like it's 1899

3 hours writing, 1 hour researching, page count = 179

Continued with the reconstruction of Chapter 1. It went well today; I got through a section on explanations of La Violencia, and another on the definition of security forces. The use of literature definitely feels more organic. I'm starting to see more clearly the path from here to there, from disparate elements to a coherent whole.

In terms of research, I did a sidebar looking at party volatility in the 19th century, namely, the level of consistency in vote share for parties across elections. I'm not sure what to make of it, but there appears to be less evidence of two-party competition as far as presidential elections in the 19th century than I had expected. Nonetheless, the two historical parties, Liberals and Conservatives had relatively organized groups of partisans at a relatively early date. Worth pondering further.

Thanks to this week's monitor Diana Kapiszewski. Up next is Nicole Peterson, in Seattle. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Getcha hot links here

1 hour writing, 3 hours researching, page count = 174

A number of the historical sources on the Southern Cone countries that I'm consulting at the library I've had to request offsite, and a number of them came in, so I went to check those out. It had been a while since I'd worked with hundred-year-old ministerial reports, and they seem to have that musty smell and gothic cover font in Uruguay as well in Colombia. I found a state police chief report for a state in Uruguay, which was interesting in terms of the multiple sources he used to ask for more money. There's a clear link to the Ministry of Government, so it'll be interesting to see more about the relationship with the army. Uruguay continues to be exceptional. I also finished the chapter in Lopez-Alves about Uruguay; I'm not sure I necessarily agree with his take on the role of the army vis-a-vis the parties, but I need to read more about the army to know for sure. Luckily, one of the offsite sources was army ministry reports from the 1890s and 1920s, so that'll give me plenty to work with.

In terms of writing, I added on the first link in the chain connecting the very first section of Chapter 1 with the comparative framework, and it seemed to work well. Tomorrow I'll add another. Onward!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

[phooooo] [phooooo]

3 hours writing, page count = 173

The subject line is meant to be the sound of blowing glass. Today I continued working on Chapter 1. I've struggled with how to incorporate lit-review material. Not finding a fit, I took a step back and outlined what I wanted to get across in the chapter step-by-step. After a lot of back-and-forth, I think I found a decent way of making the lit-review material flow naturally into the discussion of the comparative framework. The trick then was how to make that combined piece flow logically out of the very first section. I had some luck with a different approach inspired by a fortuitous find.

One of my favorite blogs is Marginal Revolution, by the libertarian economist Tyler Cowen from George Mason University. Part of the post-Freakonomics wave of popularizing economists, he's written Discover Your Inner Economist (which I haven't read), and his trademark is being a cultural omnivore (his take on Cloverfield is spot-on). His blog, while it applies the principles of economics to everything under the sun (there's a running feature called "Markets in Everything"), almost never uses technical jargon beyond what you might read in the Wall Street Journal. As a result, it's consistently interesting. Earlier this week he linked to the interesting-sounding blog of Chris Plattman, a Yale polisci professor, who linked to a 10-point checklist for getting your academic manuscript ready to submit. Hmmm, timely! One of the suggestions was to go through and read aloud just your first sentences, which should on their own flow logically and tell your basic story. I took that advice one further and started mapping out my Chapter 1 topic sentences from the beginning. As a result, I improved the very first section, and think I've found a way to incorporate the lit-review/framework piece. I've begun doing that, and will continue in that vein tomorrow. Onward!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Forge heated up

2 hours writing, 1 hour reading, page count = 173

To continue with the fire-based imagery from the last post, I'm making like a glass-blower: when a piece doesn't work, you cut it off, melt it back down to malleable form, and start again. I took a step back and outlined Chapter 1 how it should flow, incorporating the lit review pieces organically, and making it about my argument rather than a bunch of sources. Feels good. Now to start implementing it.

In terms of reading, I focused on Uruguay, which is an interesting and ambiguous case within my comparative framework. It has a strong two-party system like Colombia, but is also more prone to coups. I need to learn more about the history of its army and police, especially in comparison to Argentina's and Chile's. It's an interesting country, basically created as a buffer zone between Argentina and Brazil after independence. So the role of international conflict obviously plays a much larger role in the 19th century than in Colombia, which after the separation of Ecuador and Venezuela in 1830, was pretty much left alone in terms of international conflict until 1903.

We visited our friends Geordan and Pattie in Philadelphia over the weekend. They've just moved to a new house, which is beautiful; we ate really well (the White Dog Cafe on the Penn campus is terrific, very locavore-y); and generally had a fun time. On the way down, however, I left my laptop adapter on the train. Grrr! The replacement should arrive tomorrow, but it was a chore trying to track a reasonable one down.

On the plus side, I had a good meeting with a colleague from my volunteer project, the NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund, and a productive PT session.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Blowtorch on

4 hours writing, page count = 173

Well, that was satisfying. I took a blowtorch to Chapter 1 and removed parts that just weren't working in their current form, principally the lit review sections. I need to go through those section and rewrite them in terms of debates that are going on in the field, rather than going through a laundry list of relevant concepts from which I pick and choose. It's slow going, but I continue to improve this pivotal chapter.

Thanks to this week's monitor, Marco Mojica! Next up after the long weekend is Diana Kapiszewski in Oakland (and soon Irvine!).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

6 vs. 2

1 hour writing, 3 hours researching, page count = 194

Continued researching Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, focusing in particular on Chile today. I have a few Chilean history texts from when I was originally going to have it be a full-fledged case for my dissertation, so I used those to cross-reference my reading at the library. What's striking about the Chilean 19th century is how early constitutional order was established, how orderly electoral succession was, and yet how much ferment there was within the party system: by the turn of the 20th century, there were six reasonably well-established parties competing for power, several of which had been in place for decades. I'm not yet sure what to make of the contrast between the stability-in-multiplicity of Chile and the structured two-party systems of Colombia and Uruguay at this time. Whatever the case, those all qualify as relatively strong party systems when compared to the disorder going on in Argentina at the time.

In terms of writing, I continue revising the comparative framework, and I have the feeling that tomorrow I'm going to make some significant changes: I see a very different way to organize Chapter 1 that will mean moving a lot of stuff around. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The kid is back (again)

0.5 hours writing, 4 hours researching, page count = 196

Spent a productive afternoon at the library working on the Southern Cone comparison cases. The year 1890 is emerging as pivotal for the development of party systems in both Argentina and Chile; it's 1886 for Colombia, and around 1880 for Mexico. This supports my choice of 1880 to 1910 as the time period for looking at state formation and institutional design of security forces. One of the sources I consulted today included geography as one of the reasons for the differences between Argentina's and Chile's party system - I think what I add to that type of argument is a focus on political geography, on the spatial distribution of political actors. While Argentina is multipolar like Colombia (multiple population centers), there's a clear orientation toward Buenos Aires, which concentrates a huge share of the population, vs. several other provinces. The struggle is not as capital-centric in Colombia. It's interesting that Buenos Aires is the port; the analog for Colombia would have been to have had Cartagena or Barranquilla be the capital and concentrate power because of its connection to trade. I'm not entirely sure why this didn't happen, but I'd guess that it has to do with colonial settlement patterns, and the need to have a colonial capital that connects more easily to other Andean capitals like Lima. Anyway, the contrast is an instructive one.

I'm enjoying this comparative work, and will continue to pursue it tomorrow, as well as try to incorporate it directly into Chapter 1 in terms of writing.

P.S. Whoops! The initial version of this post had the page count as 146 instead of 196. Zoinks!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Southern Cone

1 hour writing, 4 hours researching, page count = 196

Didn't get a lot done these first two days, so I'm consolidating them into one entry. I continued revising the comparative framework section of Chapter 1, identified Uruguay as a case that needs special attention because it has both a strong party system and a history of coups rather than insurrection, identified sources, and began consulting them at the library. I also started incorporating a few sentences here and there that reflect what I've found in the library research on Argentina and Uruguay. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Southern Cone is where I need to do a lot of empirical exploration with regard to the comparative framework: in their own ways, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay each speak to and challenge elements of my framework. So I'll continue along that path this week, rather than trying to hit all 10 countries at once.

P.S. Speaking of southern cones, there's a really good Argentine ice cream shop on Bleecker called Cones, it's BA-style gelato, which is extra-creamy. One of the many ways in which the Italian immigrant heritage has positively influenced Argentine culinary habits. Worth a stop.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The other '60s

1.5 hours writing, 2.5 hours researching, page count = 196

Tracked down a number of decent Argentina sources at the public library. The 1860s period was clearly key on a number of levels in terms of centralization efforts and the development of the military. Political parties just did not develop at a significant pace during this time, however. The contrast with Colombia is notable.

I'll continue with country-level research next week, but will set aside some time to continue revising Chapter 1 with the updated 3-step comparative framework I laid out earlier this week.

Thanks to this week's monitor Steve Boland! Next up is Marco Mojica, in Santa Cruz.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Don't cry for me

3 hours researching, page count = 195

Went to the New York Public Library to look up sources on Argentina. I was interested to learn that while the army was centralized in the 19th century, as I had expected, it wasn't until the 1860s, and it was through a very explicit series of reforms that brought together a couple of competing provincial armies. A very different experience from Colombia, which had one standing army but many private armies during the same period. I guess I would call Argentina's experience more of a centralizing one.

My trip to the library was interrupted by a physical therapy appointment: I have plantar fasciitis and shin splints from bad running technique, and PT actually ends up being quite time-consuming: two hours today. But I'm set for tomorrow with another set of sources to consult at the library.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


0.5 hours writing, 3 hours research, page count = 196

Well, I didn't get to the library today, but I did put together a table of the data I need to gather and identify sources at the NYPL for Argentina. Tomorrow I'll go to the library and begin consulting those and filling out the table, so I can gauge how well it's working before moving on to the other countries.

In terms of writing, I put yesterday's three steps into a chart and incorporated those into the manuscript. I've updated the preface to reflect the latest version, and now need to adjust Chapter 1 accordingly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Step by step

1 hour writing, 0.5 hours administrivia, page count = 195

Little better today. I made some good progress on the comparative framework: I now have the three steps by which I get from 19th-century antecedents to 20th-century conflict more or less clearly laid out.

Step 1: 19th-century outcomes of international war (success or not) + political geography (centripetal or centrifugal) --> level of army centralization (high or low) going into state formation period (starts 1880)

Step 2: Level of army centralization + level of police centralization chosen (high or low) --> security-force configuration during 1880-1910 state formation (militarized or politicized)

Step 3: Security-force configuration + strength of party system during state formation (high or low) --> type of armed threat to which regime is characteristically susceptible in early to mid-20th century (rare coup, coup cycles, revolution, insurrection cycles)

The police centralization piece in Step 2 I'm still a little hazy on - I don't have much to say right now about what causes it, but it's a better concept than what I had before, which was, is a national/federal police created or not. Now I need to collate the empirical data to evaluate this for the non-Colombia countries. Some of it I have, some I need to gather.

I also tried to figure out the best timeframe for my trip to Berkeley next month: it looks like leaving NYC on President's Day (the 18th) and returning that Friday or Saturday may work best.

Tomorrow I'll make a table of the comparative data I need to collate/gather, and visit the library to begin gathering it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

False start

0.5 hours writing, 0.5 hours reading, page count = 186 plus 9-page preface = 195

Writer's block. Feh. Spent most of the day procrastinating. Started to work some on how to measure party-system strength during the state-formation period, I'll try to continue with that tomorrow and hopefully get some writing done. Tomorrow is another day!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Happy New Year!

After some needed R&R, I'm ready to get cracking again this coming Monday. Next week's monitor will be Steve Boland, in San Francisco.

Have a great weekend!