A year ago, reeling from an election that had gone horribly wrong, many of us were looking for ways to resist the impending storm. Things have gone as badly as expected. We await an inquiry with the hope that those who are guilty of wrongdoing will be held to account, but what will follow? I heard David Brooks on NPR today make the comment that he hoped that the current breaking of of norms would lead to a renewed push for civility, ethics and adhering to common norms again in politics. I’m skeptical, but we must continue to resist, and push for a politics that embraces all. It feels as if we are careening towards a future that excludes all but the one percenters. That cannot be a lasting equilibrium, and the kleptocratic leadership must know that – but the focus on short-term gains seems to eclipse any acknowledgement of long-term realities.
It’s not just about race, or women, or LGBTQ people. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about people being able to find housing, have access to decent healthcare without going bankrupt, about having access to education and technology. It’s about every one of us taking responsibility – it’s not a situation in which some of us can decide we don’t care about politics. Politics is life in this country – we don’t have the luxury for anyone to say they don’t care…
In an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 27th, Janine Zachariah writes:
“The hijacking of social media is now primarily a national security story, and one that should matter to any American who cares about the integrity of our democracy. Congress is right to demand answers from Silicon Valley executives and then, perhaps, yes, subject them to regulations just like any other industry from food to medicine to banking. If the companies find this all too onerous, then perhaps there will be a market for new social networking sites that are up to the task.”
Fallout from the 2016 general election has generated a watershed moment for tech companies like Facebook and Twitter. Russian “bots” and fake accounts had an impact on the news (mainly fake news) that may have tipped the election in Donald Trump’s favor, and definitely exposed millions of Americans to misleading information. What responsibility do these tech companies have to monitor fake accounts? What counts as abuse? When well-known alt-right activist Roger Stone’s account was recently suspended on Twitter, many felt that it was overdue, due to his previous abusive behavior.
As Senator Dianne Feinstein has declared, “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with the sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country.” It is time for these companies to rely more heavily on the expertise of those in the social sciences who conduct research on politics and “warfare” of all kinds to help them chart a path through these turbulent waters.
Russian interference may also have been at play in Europe, influencing the vote to leave the European Union in the UK (Brexit vote); populist parties in France, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries may also have been beneficiaries of Russian interference. Social media is playing a role in bringing together supporters of these parties, and allowing them to express their grievances in new ways. For example, the German AfD (Alternative for Germany) shifted its focus from the Euro currency to immigration, tapping into the concerns many felt regarding the surge of Muslim refugees into the country in the last few years. In the September 2017 election to the Federal Bundestag, the AfD won 12.6% of the vote, the first far-right party to enter the parliament since World War II.
Far right, alt-right, and populist parties have been taking advantage of social media for many years. What has changed with the most recent elections is that they have been able to take advantage of targeted ads and the “bubbles” that have been created when social media users limit their media consumption to those who are most like them (see the BoingBoing site that compares liberal and conservative media side-by-side). Russian agents were able to take advantage of this, creating fake news that influenced people’s attitudes toward political candidates, particularly Hilary Clinton. Mainstream media was also impacted, as evidenced by their focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails despite even more egregious actions being taken by the Trump campaign and his associates.
In my book on the radical right, I noted that mainstream parties often fight the radical right by convincing voters that they will not form coalitions with far-right parties. This strategy is often referred to as creating a “cordon sanitaire” or buffer between themselves and the parties in question. This has kept many of these parties out of parliaments as well as out of government. However, social media is changing these calculations; the buffer is no longer keeping the far right out of power. For example, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party in France won the most seats ever in the French legislative election in June of 2017. In elections across Europe, social democratic parties have received some of the lowest percentages of the vote in recent memory. As party allegiances shift away from traditional parties, it is difficult for mainstream politicians to stigmatize the far right.
Until recently, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter were able to stand on the sidelines while their algorithms did the work of creating online communities. Populist politicians were early adopters, starting with web pages then moving on to Facebook pages and Twitter feeds where their supporters could find others of a like mind.
These companies need to get ahead of the political situation and be proactive in their monitoring of the political climate. Facebook is now trying to identify fake news or recommend a Snopes story when someone shares fake news. Twitter has dedicated its staff to rooting out Russian manipulation. This is only part of what needs to be done to avoid these problems. Many social scientists are already doing some of the work that would have called attention to the problem at Twitter. As noted in a Bloomberg article, in 2015 scholars at UC Berkeley found numerous fake Twitter accounts, including many registered in Russia and Ukraine.
Social scientists, particularly political scientists can help these companies develop a better understanding of the political context they are functioning in. Many political scientists are already doing this work; cooperation between tech companies and academics can produce even more helpful information. For example, international relations and comparative politics specialists who work on Russia and its political behavior could help these companies to develop strategies to help identify potential problems as political conditions change and new technologies enter the scene. This type of research is as important as the software engineers who devise the algorithms – and will be necessary for exploring the impact of those algorithms. Facebook and Twitter have the data. It’s time to share expertise.
Turning 50 is a big deal. Turning 53, not so much. However, this has been a momentous year for me. A year ago I was on my way to South Africa. It was an amazing trip, as I have written about in my blog a year ago. When I returned from that trip, I had to prepare for surgery on my left foot. I had found out in September that I was born with an extra bone in my foot. Accessory navicular bone syndrome is a new part of my vocabulary. I am learning to deal with all the wonderful symptoms that come with being a woman over 50. Sleep is at a premium.
I am coming to grips with the fact that I won’t be the runner that I once was. Nearly a year after what was rather complicated surgery, I can run, but it’s slow and sometimes painful. I am learning to appreciate cycling and other low-impact activities. I see a rowing machine in my future.
I have entered my third year as the provost of a small college, living in one of the most beautiful and exciting parts of the country. I have learned a great deal about my capacity for leadership, and my desire to help clear the path for young people of all backgrounds to get a great education. We are not moving the needle fast enough — but I believe we have the capability to improve educational outcomes for all.
As a political scientist, I can’t help but follow politics closely. It has been a crazy year on that front, and promises to get even more complicated over the next few months. I will be writing a great deal as things progress. Immigration, populism, the radical right, discrimination, all of the things I have researched over the past ~20 years is coming to a head at this point in history.
I feel blessed to have great family and friends who keep me going when times get rough and cheer me on when times are good. I have no regrets as I head into the next year, but I will be sure to do what I can to help my community and our country move through this difficult time, hanging on to hope for a better future for my boys.
This week I attended the Tech Inclusion Conference in San Francisco. I can honestly say it was one of the most diverse and inclusive conferences I have ever attended. I enjoyed meeting people from a variety of backgrounds who are committed to increasing accessibility to technology and careers in the tech sector. This issue is near and dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. As the provost of a small college in the heart of Silicon Valley, I want my diverse student body to be aware of all the opportunities that are available to them. It helps my students to see people who are like them working in the companies that surround our campus.
The main takeaway for me from the conference was that I needed to expand my definition of diversity. I was impressed with presentations about indigenous rights, neuro-diversity, veterans, disability, and even invisible disabilities. I was also impressed with the companies who have committed to changing the culture in Silicon Valley to create a more inclusive future. This will be critical to the future of tech, as we need to reach out to the broader community to develop the workforce that will keep the economy moving forward.
I firmly believe that education is a vital component of this effort. Along with running a diverse college, I also support many organizations that are working to get more low-income students into college. For example, the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula works with over 100 high school students to help create a path to college. These students are the future of our state and our country. If we don’t support them, we won’t have the educated work force we need. It is critical that we support an education system that develops the capability of ALL of our students, regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion, disability, or gender-identity.
I truly appreciate the efforts of visionaries like Wayne Sutton and Melinda Briana Epler at Change Catalyst who are helping to lead the way to a more inclusive future.
I posted this on Facebook after reading one too many posts that chided NFL players for not standing during the national anthem. Many people, including veterans, police officers, senators, etc…have stated their support for the right to protest. However, passions have been high – I have seen many discussions turn into rants followed by name calling. What is it about this particular issue that has led to such passionate responses? [a rhetorical question]
For many African-Americans, this is a time of heartbreak. Not particularly because of Trump – we have seen many like him in our lifetimes. No, the heartbreak comes from learning that many we consider friends, even family, have little or no empathy for the situation we are facing today. We cannot ignore the bigotry and racism that are coming to the fore, something we had hoped our children wouldn’t have to deal with.
Many who have protested the protest say that players are being disrespectful to those who have given their lives for the US and the flag. Others argue that players are privileged and don’t have a right to complain. My nephew, Anthony Givens, captured my and many others’ thoughts on this:
If you ever speak to me, or have posted about these “ungrateful” athletes disrespecting a piece of cloth, but you have never once spoken to me about the disrespect shown to the founding ideals of America by literal nazis in Charlottesville, or you have never once spoken to me about the murders of young black men that were handcuffed, on the ground, unarmed, and executed by those who we have entrusted to protect all Americans, or never once called out the systemic racism and fear that all minorities must live with everyday in a country that has a president who is the embodiment of privilege and a constant reminder of the promises that have been broken…if this is you, a person that I know, then we are done. We are and cannot even be acquaintances, much less friends anymore. There cannot be middle ground on racism and misogyny. #TakeAKnee
Whatever happened to the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?” When and where are we “allowed” to protest – if it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, what’s the point? I grew up in the military, my father was a 20-year man, who was greatly disrespected during his time in the military, but never lost his love for this country. We protest because we want America to live up to it’s promise. We want a country where I don’t have to worry about my boys being stopped by the police because of the color of their skin. We want a country where we can truly live free.
Our original plan for our family vacation this year revolved around a trip to the Normandy WWII landing beaches. I was excited to return after 31 when I was there for my first time abroad as a study abroad student at Stanford. My husband Mike had never been, and my son Andrew is a military history nut. We had also gone to an exhibit of Monet paintings at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco that focused on his early career that included many paintings in the Normandy region.
We also decided to spend a few days in London as described in my previous blog, and a few days in Paris to end our vacation. After leaving London, we took the Chunnel train to Calais where we had planned to rent a car Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately we missed our train and had to stay in Calais a couple of nights because we arrived Saturday night after the rental car agencies were closed and they wouldn’t be open again until Monday morning. Fortunately, we were able to find a nice hotel in the center of town and our unexpected day in Calais turned into a pleasant visit.
Monday morning, we picked up our car and headed to the city of Rouen, known for being the home of Joan of Arc and where she was martyred. It is also home to the stunning Cathedral of Rouen which was a subject of several paintings by Monet, which we had seen in the exhibit in San Francisco. The old town has many half-timbered houses and along with the cathedral there is also the Church of Saint-Maclou which is in the “flamboyant” gothic style.
The Cathedral of Rouen has many impressive memorials, including one to St. Joan of Arc, who I consider a real “Amazon” and who is memorialized throughout the city of Rouen. There is also the femur of the original Duke of Normandy, Rollo, who was a Viking leader. The town, as most of the towns in Normandy, was heavily damaged in the war, and the cathedral is under nearly constant repair, from storm damage as well as age and pollution.
After leaving Rouen, we headed to Caen, where we met my nephew Alfonso, and his husband Joris, who were joining us for our time in Normandy from Rotterdam. We spent some time at the castle of William the Conqueror that evening, which is in the process of reconstruction. We headed up to our house rental, a very cute home in the town of Benouville, near a war memorial, the Pegasus Bridge featured in the film “The Longest Day.” The house is near the beach town of Ouistreham, which is also worth a visit. We ended up using the two bikes at the rental house and renting two more so we could bike along the beach one day, which was a lot of fun.
Our second day in Caen, we went to the town of Bayeux to see the famous tapestry that depicts the Battle of Hastings between William the Conqueror and Harold who had taken on the throne of England in his place. The tapestry is impressive and we also enjoyed visiting the nearby museum about the WW II landings. After the visit to Bayeux we went to Omaha Beach and walked up to the memorials on the hill above.
On Wednesday, we made our way toward Brittany and the famous Mont Saint Michel. The day started off foggy and our first glimpse of the mount and it’s abby was in the fog. The day cleared some and we did get some sun as we made our way through the narrow streets of the fortress that has had many purposes over the centuries. I was happy to return to this place, as I felt we hadn’t been able to spend much time here when I was a student and our guide had seemed in a hurry to usher us through. We worked our way up through the crowds to the abby where we did the audio tour. It was very impressive and they have added some modern artwork in many of the rooms. The tide was at a high point when we arrived so we were able to watch it go out over the hours that we were there.
After touring the abby we made our way down along the ramparts, checking out the cannons and having lunch in one of the rooms above the tourist shops. We were lucky that the weather was nice during most of our visit.
Our next stop was St. Malo, and I was very excited to revisit this town, it was one of my favorite stops from 31 years ago. I had written in my diary then that I wanted to visit the town in the summer someday (my previous tour had been in April, when it had been rather cold) and so my wish was finally being fulfilled. It was as I remembered, the high walls surrounding a medieval town, although it had clearly
become much more commercial in the center part of the town. We made our way all around the ramparts, enjoying the views of the various forts, and the sea. I bought a water color painting at the marketplace to commemorate our visit.
The next day we went to the American Cemetery, which was very sobering. The monuments in general have changed a great deal since my last. They have all been improved with first-person stories from survivors. I was particularly impressed with the visitors’ center at the cemetery, which was built in 2004 and recently renovated. The center did a very good job of providing context and telling personal stories of individual soldiers. I felt it was important to pay my respects for those who gave all to protect democracy, and I hope that I can show even a shred of the courage that they did to help protect the future for my children.
Our next stop was Pointe du Hoc. This memorial has also been improved since I was last here. There is a new visitors center where survivors tell their version of the story. In fact, the story we were when I was a student was incorrect and I heard a more accurate version of the story more recently. The rangers climbed up the cliffs at this point to take out a gun battery the month before D-Day to keep it from being able to attack ships during the invasion.
Friday was our day at the beach with biking and we finished our day with a seafood dinner in Ouistreham. Saturday morning, we were up early to drive back to Calais to drop off our rental car and take the train to Paris. We stayed at an apart-hotel near the Gare de l’Est that had two bedrooms so the boys had their own bedroom, and we had a little kitchenette. That afternoon we walked through the Marais and stopped at Places des Vosges. The Marais has become much more commercial as well, I was surprised to see more chain stores and high-end shops. We then walked by Notre Dame and had dinner at a bistro. The weather was very nice in Paris, warm but with cool breezes.
Sunday, we started off with a visit to the Cluny museum which has medieval art, and is in one of the oldest buildings in Paris, with ruins going back to the Roman era, it was originally a Roman bath in the Roman city of Lutetia. It is also the home of the tapestries called the Lady and the Unicorn which are stunning in their color and vibrancy.
I took a break while the boys went to the Musee D’Orsay to check out the Impressionists in the afternoon. That evening we went to a chamber music performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in the Sainte-Chapelle. Both the music and the surroundings were stunning.
For our last day, I spent a few hours in the morning doing a little shopping, then met the boys at the Louvre museum – pro-tip, skip the lines by buying your ticket online. The only reason you have to stand in line is to get through security and the line is shorter if you can show them that you already have a ticket. The Louvre is wonderful as always and we focused on the Denon wing which is always the most popular. It houses most of the paintings, including the Mona Lisa, as well as the most popular sculptures, including Michelangelo. Andrew was particularly interested in the Romantic and Neo-classical art.
We concluded our last night in Paris at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, Bofinger, at Place de la Bastille. It’s in an art deco building, and the food was very good. We had the seafood platter which included lobster, prawns, shrimp, whelks, crab, etc…we had a very enjoyable evening overall.
Paris is wonderful, but I like London better. My big complaint about Paris is that it really smells of urine during the summer, and I don’t mean dog urine. We actually came across a man peeing in a park as we were leaving the Cluny Museum. Men seem to think it’s OK to pee just about anywhere, in the Metro, streets, alleys, etc. Since it’s summer and hot, it smells everywhere. This is not something I have noticed in London. Then there’s the typical problem of Parisians who don’t clean up after their dogs. You have to be constantly vigilant to avoid stepping in dog poop.
Despite the smells, I do enjoy Paris, and overall, we had a great trip. It was my first time going to Europe that I didn’t have to do any work. People were very friendly, my French came back fairly quickly, and the boys got to practice their French, too (they’re both taking French at school). Although the security was high, it wasn’t oppressive. I look forward to visiting again, soon.
When we started to plan our trip to Normandy, I knew we had to make a stop in London first. I have been traveling to Europe regularly for 22 years. In fact, our honeymoon anniversary (August 1995) marks my first research trip to Europe after my first study abroad trip in 1986. This trip is my first real vacation only trip to Europe – no classes, no interviews, no library research, just fun with my family.
London is probably my favorite city in Europe, although it’s very hard to compare to Paris, Rome and Berlin. I also love Vienna and Brussels for different reasons. But I love the underground, and the theatre, the parks and the shopping (I didn’t get to do any with the boys around on this trip), the food and the people-watching, the politics and the attitude.
We landed on the 4th of July, definitely not a holiday in London. We started off by trying get over our jet lag with a lot of walking. We did allow ourselves a nap at our apartment. We rented a two-bedroom place right next to Paddington station through VRBO. Our first stop was to grab some sandwiches so we could enjoy lunch in Kensington Gardens. Then we walked through Hyde Park and St. James Park, before checking out the West End. The weather was very warm the whole time we were in London, mostly in the 80s.
We met my friend, Glyn Ford, at his club, the (in)famous Groucho Club, for a drink before dinner. Glyn is a former MEP from Manchester who has been a Labour Party stalwart since the 80s and worked on antidiscrimination policy. He was the focal point of my book, Legislating Equality, and we have been friends for many years, he has hosted me in Brussels many times. We didn’t get into talking about Trump or Brexit much, those topics are too painful for both of us, we talked more about recent household moves and family life. I hope to start working on Glyn’s biography soon…we found a good Indian food place for dinner nearby and tried to sleep in our non-air-conditioned apartment that night….
Wednesday morning, we met my friend Steven Erlanger, currently London bureau chief for the NY Times, soon to be in Brussels as the diplomatic correspondent. I met Steve about 10 years ago when I started going to the Brussels Forum and we have kept in touch over the years. We did talk a lot about Trump and politics, which wasn’t very encouraging. He was headed to the G20 meetings, so I’ll have to check in with him this week to get his personal perspective, but I can read all about his professional perspective in his most recent articles.
The next stop was Westminster Cathedral. Very beautiful and majestic, and a reminder of the schism between Protestants/Anglicans and Catholics in England. We then moved on to Westminster Abby, which is overwhelming in scale with the amazing number of tombs and monuments to historical figures. The audio tour was very helpful in giving context to the many chapels, and we were lucky to have access to all of chapels, sometimes they are closed for various reasons.
After lunch, went the British Museum and saw the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. We picked up some tickets for a comedy (Tapeface) for Thursday night at the half-price ticket outlet in Leicester square and headed off for dinner at an Italian restaurant (Wildwood) in the West End.
Thursday morning we went to the Churchill War Rooms which were much more extensive than I expected. We spent a lot of time in the Churchill museum section, which had a lot of interactive sections and excerpts from his speeches. It made it easy to imagine being down there during the war and the courage the people must have had to be there during bombardments.
After another quick lunch, we made our way to the Imperial War Museum on the other side of the Thames river. We didn’t have much time there, so we focused on the World War I section which had been recently updated, and also had many new interactive exhibits. It was very sobering to think of the millions of lives lost, and the huge transition from cavalry to more modern styles of warfare including tank warfare. After a quick dinner at Pret a Manger, we made it to our show, Tapeface, which was very funny – the boys really enjoyed it, and it’s nice that they are now old enough to take to these types of shows.
Friday, we stopped at Leicester square and picked up tickets for the show, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery for Friday night before heading back to the British Museum to see the special exhibition on Japanese wood block prints. We also checked out the rooms about the Anglo-Saxons and British history. We then had a nice dinner at a fish restaurant before going to our show, which was also very funny.
Saturday, we made a quick dash to the Victoria and Albert Museum before heading to the train station, but unfortunately we missed our train, so we had to take a later train to Calais, but that meant that Andrew, Mike and Brandon had a chance to visit the British Library and see the Magna Carta and other documents. Then we were off to Calais through the Chunnel!
I must comment that my boys, Andrew (16) and Brandon (13) have been a joy to travel with. They have been traveling with us to Europe since they were infants, and they have always been troopers, but now that they are older and can appreciate things like the theatre it’s really great to see them becoming young men, hear their opinions and see them develop their own ideas. I was so surprised when Andrew wanted to go to San Francisco on his own with some of his friends a few weeks ago and visit the De Young Museum, but it makes sense given that he has spent his life visiting great museums in Europe. They make me proud 🙂