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In the wake of the European Union’s agreement today on broad sanctions against key Russian industries over that nation’s support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, two Cornell University researchers – one an expert on Eastern European and post-Soviet politics, and the other a scholar on the effectiveness of sanctions themselves – offer their insight into the potential success of this move, and into how that success can be defined.

… . .

Valerie Bunce, a professor of international studies and government, is an expert on politics, international relations and conflict in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states. She applauds Europe’s bold new step toward strong sanctions, and hopes an exit strategy for Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon emerge.

She says:

“The Europeans are to be congratulated for finally joining the United States in imposing significant economic sanctions on Russia. While they are much more vulnerable, the Europeans have been strongly affected over the past two weeks by two developments: the downing of the Malaysian airliner and evidence of growing Russian support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

“Economic sanctions are the best approach that Europe and the U.S. can take to discourage Russia. They signal international concern over Russian actions; they target key supporters of Putin; and they have impact, especially in a time when the Russian economy is already stagnating. Sanctions have two other advantages. They can be ramped up as well as withdrawn, and they are less likely than military approaches to feed the nationalist feelings that Putin has encouraged in the Russian public.

“The key issue now in the crisis in Ukraine is whether Putin has an exit strategy. The domestic costs of his aggression against Ukraine are growing, whether we calculate those costs in terms of international public opinion against Russia or the economic burdens on an already poorly performing Russian economy. One possibility is that Putin will decide to withdraw support for the rebels once a clear case has been made by international experts that the rebels downed Malaysia flight 17.”

… . .

Jonathan Kirshner is a professor of international political economy and the director of the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, is an expert on the use of sanctions in international politics. He warns sanctions are a “complex political game” and analyzing their effectiveness requires more than blanket assertions for or against their use.

He says:

“Economic sanctions are generally misunderstood. One trope holds that they never work. Another holds out hope that they might be a ‘magic bullet.’  The latter is not true. The former is asking the wrong question.

“The question is always – will my political interests be advanced by introducing sanctions? The answer is, sometimes yes, sometimes no.

“First, it’s not the ‘how much’ of sanctions, it’s the ‘who’ of sanctions. That is, it’s not how much damage sanctions do to the overall economy, but whose interests are at stake.  Leaders are beholden to different groups. To the extent that sanctions hurt core support groups and the interests of leadership in particular, they are more likely to be effective. 

“Second, the weight of the sanctions alone are one hand clapping – it is impossible to assess their consequence without the other side of the story, which is: the value the target places on non-compliance. Taking Putin and Russia as an example, presumably the fate of Ukraine is an issue high on the list of national priorities. Thus in this case, sanctions are unlikely to fundamentally change behavior.

“That doesn’t mean they are unwise or won’t have a real political effect. In fact, it serves as a reminder that hand-waving general claims about whether sanctions ‘work’ are an extremely unhelpful guide to policy.

“Sanctions are a complex, political game. They are imposed to advance political goals, and their ‘effectiveness’ should be measured by comparing political outcomes.”

Summer on Cannery Row

Check out this summer internship blog by Morgan Greene, a government major, who is working in Monterey Bay with Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation organization. Greene is developing a sustainable strategy for managing North America’s sardine catch and helping Oceana craft a three-nation plan to ensure the future survival of this important commercial tiny fish.

“For me, the project has been the perfect blend of law, policy, international relations, and conservation—all my passions, rolled up into protecting this little fish,” Greene writes.

Prof. Glenn Altschuler of American Studies reviews a new book about baseball player Hank Greenburg for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Borrowing the phrase used by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin for his boyhood hero, (author John) Rosengren celebrates Greenberg as ‘the hero of heroes,’ who embraced his religious and ethnic identity, faced prejudice without backing down, became a role model, ‘single-handedly changed the way Gentiles viewed Jews’ and ‘transformed the national pastime into a true meritocracy, a model of democracy.’ “ 

NASA Mars Opportunity Rover breaks record

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after surpassing 25 miles of driving on the Red Planet since 2004. The previous record was held by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover.

A drive of 157 feet on July 27, 2014, put Opportunity’s total odometry at 25.01 miles.This month’s driving brings the rover southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater, which is 14 miles in diameter. Each day’s drive by Opportunity sets a new record for longest travel on wheels on a world other than Earth.

"The Lunokhod missions still stand as one of the signature accomplishments of what I think of as the first golden age of planetary exploration, the 1960s and ’70s," said astronomy Professor Steve Squyres, principal investigator for NASA’s twin rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. “We’re in a second golden age now, and what we’ve tried to do on Mars with Spirit and Opportunity has been very much inspired by the accomplishments of the Lunokhod team on the moon so many years ago. It has been a real honor to follow in their historical wheel tracks.” 

Photo by Jocelyn Augustino, courtesy of National Endowment for the Humanities

Abrams honored at the White House

And we quote from Monday’s medal ceremony:

"The 2013 National Humanities Medal to M. H. Abrams for broadening the study of literature.  As a scholar, writer and critic, Dr. Abrams has expanded our perception of the romantic tradition and explored the modern concept of artistic self-expression in Western culture, influencing and inspiring generations of students."

Watch the CornellCast video.

So proud of you, Mike!

Close Encounters Of The Radio Kind? Mystery Bursts Baffle Astronomers

Astronomers have a mystery on their hands, according to this NPR story. Two large radio telescopes, on opposite sides of the planet, have detected very brief, very powerful bursts of radio waves.

James Cordes, astronomy professor, is on the hunt for an explanation of these radio bursts and says he’d bet against the possibility of extraterrestrial involvement.


Cordes says astronomers will need to find more examples of these bursts before they’ll be able to say with any certainty what’s causing them.


But finding examples will take time. The kinds of radio telescopes that can detect these bursts have what Cordes calls tunnel vision: “We don’t see the whole sky — we see just a very narrow snippet of it.” So catching a burst in the act requires a bit of luck. 


Attorney Joseph Margulies, a visiting professor of government and law, writes in The Nation about a landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last week concerning the CIA’s “black sites.”

The ruling finds that, with the help of countries around the world, including Poland, the CIA ran a network of secret prisons where human beings were systematically and repeatedly tortured.

“We now know that the United States entered into bilateral agreements with a number of countries,” Margulies writes. “One country would agree to provide airspace for extradition flights; another would grant landing and refuelling rights; a third would authorize the US to create dummy flight plans that created the false impression that a plane had landed in its territory for innocent reasons, in order to conceal the unlawful flight that took place elsewhere. These countries are also on the hook after the decision.”

Margulies, an attorney and assistant director at Northwestern Law’s Roderick MacArthur Justice Center was also a distinguished practitioner in residence at Cornell Law School in 2002. In this case, he represented Abu Zubaydah, a man the U.S, claimed was an associate of Osama bin Laden, who was imprisoned and tortured from December 2002 to September 2003 at a “black site” in Poland. 

Are Men Overpaid for Overwork?

Research from Kim Weeden, professor of sociology, is included in this New Yorker story that explores the possible explanations for wage inequality.

It’s a familiar statistic: women still earn seventy-seven cents to every dollar that men make, the story says. The gap has narrowed, but the narrowing has stalled.

There are a number of explanations for wage inequality, all of them with some merit, none of them complete, it continues.

The study by Weeden and sociologist Youngjoo Cha, of Indiana University,“Overwork and the Slow Convergence in the Gender Gap in Wages,” makes the case for a factor that has mostly been disregarded. Their research suggests that what they call “overwork”—defined as working 50 hours or more a week—is partly to blame. In the past 30 years, the proportion of Americans who put in those kinds of hours has grown and throughout this period men have been more likely than women to grind out marathon hours. “Women did, too,” Kim Weeden told me. “It’s not like the demand went out for people to put in more hours and only men responded. But the gender gap in hours stayed stable.” More men than women “overworked.”

But that wasn’t the whole story of overwork and the wage gap. Weeden discovered something surprising: in the past, the tendency of men to work longer hours would not actually have contributed much to the wage gap, because the payoff for doing so was negligible. In 1979, workers who chalked up more hours actually earned less per hour than those who worked full time. In 2009, the over-workers earned more per hour. 

Take heart, mom and dad. Your college-age children actually you’re your music, according to research from Carol Lynne Krumhansl, professor of psychology, which is the focus on this story.

"They (college-aged kids) would hear this music and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s my parents’ music,’ with obvious fondness," Krumhansl says about her study, which was published online in the journal Psychological Science. The scientists had been testing musical memory in an earlier study, and were surprised to find that college-age participants could identify older pop and rock songs just as quickly as the new stuff. Even more surprising, they liked the older stuff more." 

Cornell hosts workshop for Arabic language faculty

Munther Younes, a Reis Senior Lecturer of Arabic Language and director of Cornell’s Arabic Language Program, will host faculty from 20 other universities Aug. 15-16 for a workshop about his style of teaching Arabic.

The underlying philosophy of Younes’ integrated approach is to introduce Arabic in the classroom in a way that reflects the use of the language by native speakers.

“Our students learn to read and speak Arabic as it is read and spoken in real life in the Arab world,” Younes said.

Learn more about his approach here