Category Archives: Uncategorized

Some Thoughts on The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

Massive spoilers below…











1) I suspect some viewers might roll their eyes at the fact that the galaxy is still in the middle of a civil war, but this is somewhat realistic. Civil wars tend to last a loooong time. The civil war in Afghanistan, for example, has been going on since 1978. One could argue that Korea has been in civil war for the last 65 years. (The Force Awakens makes it seem like both the Republic and First Order control and govern territory, like North and South Korea.) The good news, if there is any, is that political scientists have a pretty good idea why civil wars take forever to end.

2) What a strange world we live in where James Bond has more screen time in a Star Wars film then Luke Skywalker. (Daniel Craig is the stormtrooper that Rey pulls the Jedi mind trick on.)

3) The trailers spoiled Han Solo’s death. When Kylo Ren pulls out his lightsaber on the bridge, we have yet to see Ren’s battle with Finn in the snow. This means that Ren can’t be giving himself up here, and it would be weird if he simply re-holstered his lightsaber.

4) At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke seems to believe Vader can go home and everything will be okay. Similarly, Mr. Solo…I mean, Han…seems to think that Kylo Ren can return home and everything will be okay. Their best case scenario is life imprisonment, and execution seems much more likely.

5) Perhaps the most unrealistic thing about A New Hope and The Force Awakens is that, within a few scant hours of receiving intelligence about the big evil weapon, the rebels have some genius plan to destroy the facility. The only way this could happen is if the vulnerability is obvious. But if the vulnerability is obvious, why don’t the bad guys spot it and fix the problem?

6) Also, when will the bad guys learn that sinking massive amounts of capital into one super weapon is not a good investment strategy?

7) How can Han manually leave light speed within a planet’s atmosphere? Given the speed involved and the small window, this is basically impossible.

Peace Science Presentation!

Brad Smith and I are excited to be presenting our paper on sanctions (conditionally accepted at ISQ) at Peace Science today. Check out the manuscript here or see the slides here. See you at 3 pm in 218 Houston!

How to Remove Beamer Navigaton Buttons

TL;DR: Put \setbeamertemplate{navigation symbols}{} in your preamble.

Presentation slides should be minimalist—the more the viewer has to scan, the more time he will take looking at the slide, and the less time he will spend actually listening to you. Minimalism is learned, and it is something I still struggle with. I’m getting better, but I can still improve.

Today, though, I’m taking a simple step to simplify the rest of my slides forever: I’m removing Beamer’s unnecessary navigation buttons.

What navigation buttons? These navigation buttons:


You have almost certainly seen these before. In fact, there is a chance you put them into your Beamer slides without actually knowing what they do. (I spent a good 18 months using Beamer without ever experimenting with them.) The buttons allow you to navigate between slides, subsections, and sections of your presentation.

For my money, these buttons aren’t particularly useful. Most people use clickers for presentations, which rules out the buttons entirely. Even if you are working from the laptop, you can navigate slides using left and right keys. Meanwhile, jumping subsections or sections is usually too disorienting to work efficiently.

Indeed, I have seen someone click navigation buttons during a presentation exactly once—and that was only because the person evidently did not know you could (more efficiently) use the right key instead.

So, in sum, I hate navigation buttons. If you also never use them, then they have no reason to be in the slides. They are just taking up room for no reason.

Fortunately, the fix is simple. Immediately below your \begin{document} command, simply add the following line of code:

\setbeamertemplate{navigation symbols}{}

Now your slides will look like this:


Much cleaner! Thus, unless I rediscover the navigation buttons as being extremely handy, I’m taking them out of all my future presentations.

And if “Arms Treaties and the Credibility of Preventive War” sounds like too scintillating to ignore, you can see the full presentation here and read the paper here.


I am a political scientist who studies war, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism (mostly) using formal models. Currently, I am an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Political Science. Before that, I was a Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. I received a PhD from the University of Rochester in 2015.

If you want to know more, you can check my CV page. You can also email me at

Penalty Kicks Are Random

Here’s a quick followup to my post on the game theory of penalty kicks.

During today’s World Cup match between Switzerland and France, Karim Benzema took a penalty kick versus Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. Benzema shot left; Benaglio guessed left and successfully stopped the shot. Immediately thereafter, the ESPN broadcasters explained why this outcome occurred: Benaglio “did his homework,” insinuating that Benaglio knew which way the kick was coming and stopped it appropriately.

This is idiotic analysis for two reasons. First is the game theoretical issue. It makes no sense for Benzema to be predictable in this manner. Imagine for a moment that Benzema had a strong tendency to shoot left. The Swiss analytics crew would pick up on this and tell Benaglio. But the French analytics crew can spot this just as easily. At that point, they would tell Benaglio his problem and instruct him to shoot right more frequently. After all, the way things are going, the Swiss goalie is going to guess left, which leaves the right wide open.

In turn, to avoid this kind of nonsense, the players need to be randomizing. The mixed strategy algorithm gives us a way to solve this problem, and it isn’t particularly laborious. Moreover, there is decent empirical evidence to suggest that something to this effect occurs in practice.

The second issue is statistical. Suppose for the moment that the players were not playing equilibrium strategies but still not stupid enough to always take the same action. (That is, the goalie sometimes dives left and sometimes dives right while the striker sometimes aims left and sometimes aims right. However, the probabilities do not match the equilibrium.) Then we only have one observation to study. If you have spent a day in a statistics class, you would then know that the evidence we have does not allow us to differentiate between the following:

  1. a player who successfully outsmarted his opponent
  2. a player who outsmarted his opponent but got unlucky
  3. a player who got outsmarted but got lucky
  4. a player who got outsmarted and lost
  5. players playing equilibrium strategies

I can’t think of a compelling reason to make anything other than (5) the null hypothesis in this case. Jumping to conclusions about (1), (2), (3), or (4) is just bad commentary, pure and simple.

The embarrassing thing about this kind of commentary is that it is pervasive and could be reasonably stopped with just a tiny bit of game theory classroom experience. Even someone who watched the first 58 minutes of my Game Theory 101 (up to and including the mixed strategy algorithm) playlist could provide better analysis.

Memes from My Civil War Class

My class on civil wars is about to wrap up (YouTube playlist here, to be completed later this week). To keep a dark subject matter a little bit lighter, I sprinkled a few /r/AdviceAnimals-style memes throughout my lectures. All of them are below, with their appropriate references.

You’re Gonna Have a Bad Time

Despite the explicit warning, I know a handful of people started it the day before it was due. I think a lot of them dropped the class shortly thereafter.

Lazy College Senior

Explicit warnings only work when people are there to hear them.

Grinds My Gears and Actual Advice Mallard


Again, despite the explicit warnings, I had a few midterms say that Rationalist Explanations for War tells us that war is irrational. (Some of these were from otherwise great midterms, so I wonder if I was just being trolled.)

Annoyed Picard

In reference to the de-Ba’athification of Iraq.

The Most Interesting Man in the World

In reference to the King et al paper on Chinese Internet censorship.

Good Guy Ukraine

The timing really couldn’t have been any better.

Lame Pun Raccoon

In reference to Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych. This one was my favorite.

Good Guy Putin/Scumbag Putin


Again, the timing was impeccable.

Captain Hindsight and Men’s Wearhouse Guy


In reference to UNSCR 1973, which authorized a no-fly zone over Libya. Russia and China both abstained from the vote despite having veto power and publicly deriding the resolution, perhaps because they were voting strategically.

Lame Pun Raccoon

In reference to Bombshell by Mia Bloom. This is my second favorite, and I really wish I could claim that the joke was mine.

MPSA 2014 Presentation: War Exhaustion and the Stability of Arms Treaties

If you are interested in nuclear weapons and negotiations with Iran, consider my panel at MPSA. The panel title is “Models of Violence” and will be on Thursday at 8:30 am. Here’s the abstract:

Why are some arms treaties broken while others remain stable over the long term? This chapter argues that the changing credibility of launching preventive war is an important determinant of arms treaty stability. If preventive war is never an option, states can reach settlements that both prefer to costly arms construction. However, if preventive war is incredible today but will be credible in the future, a commitment problem results: the state considering investment must build the arms or it will not receive concessions later on. Thus, arms treaties fail under these conditions. The chapter then applies the theoretical findings to the Soviet Union’s decision to build nuclear weapons in 1949 and Iran’s ongoing nuclear program today. In both instances, war exhaustion made preventive war incredible for the United States, but lingering concerns about future preventive war caused both states to pursue proliferation.

You can download the full paper here.