Onenote to WordPress

I like work in OneNote to keep things organized, but moving text to other platforms can run into some formatting issues.  Here’s my self-guide for moving a OneNote page to html for this wordpress blog.

  1. Save as a Single File Web Page (*.mht)
  2. Open the page in a web browser (I use Internet Explorer)
  3. View source of the page
  4. Copy this into your WordPress post using the text tab for html code

For me the transition adds annoying line breaks.  You can fix this by going through line by line, or do the following.

  1. Copy the html into Word
  2. As a place holder, do a find replace and replace ^p^p as some other unused symbol pattern (###)
  3. now find replace ^p with a space
  4. finally, replace your symbol pattern to ^p

This process works pretty well, but I’d love to hear if you found another shortcut.


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Syria for Students: Part 2

In the last two weeks a happenstance agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons has changed the discussion from ‘what should we do’ to ‘what just happened’. Here’s another attempt to break down the underlying questions and arguments.  I do not think we will see again the kind of policy debate we saw around possible strikes, so my review of news and events here has more information than arguments.

What happened?

Sept 9th – John Kerry’s rhetorical comment

Sept 13th – Kerry and Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Sept 14th – Deal reached

Sept 20th – Syria submits inventory [NYT]

What does the deal do?

Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will draft procedures for CW disposal and verification

Includes destruction of production equipment and delivery systems

UN Security Council resolution with regular reviews of Syria

Will impose Chapter VII measures if Syria noncompliant

Syria must give access to OPCW and UN


Expected to submit listing of all items today, Sept. 21

Completion of initial OPCW on-site inspections by November

Destruction of production and mixing/fillingby November

Elimination of all CW and CW equipment by first half of 2014

Winners and Losers [NYT, FP]

Solves Obama’s dilemma.

Gold star for Putin.

Assad buys time.

Did US threat of “incredibly small” strike make Syria agree to concessions?

Rebels lose hope of US strike on Assad.

Winners and losers depends on reference point [Drezner]

Further Information on Strikes

The UN Report

Found evidence of Sarin in samples of environment and patients

Does not attribute blame

Of 5 impact sites, 2 gave likely trajectories.

HRW mapped the trajectories, suggesting they originated from a Republican Guard brigade

Theories on Assad’s usage of CW [PV@G]

Signal toughness

Signal disregard for international norms

Remove uncertainty about USA intervention

German intelligence attributes attack to regime but not to Assad [Guardian]

What’s next?

Syria’s deputy prime minister says that the conflict is a stalemate

Assad will call for a ceasefirewith international observation [Guardian]

Government’s position: end of external intervention, peaceful political process

Rebel position: Assad ouster and transitional government.

Rebel group conflict – Free Syrian Army fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

jihadist groups showing greater deference to local population

Jihadist groups


Timeline will be difficult, especially in wartime [CFR Stares]

What else?

Putin made his case to the American public through a NYT op-ed

With many offering counter points [FP, WP]

Putin blames foreign weapons supplied to opposition

But Russia is source of 71% of Syria’s arms imports

Putin calls for multilateral approach

But Russia has blocked UN statements on humanitarian concerns

Putin bemoans America’s tendency to intervene

But Russia still occupies 20% of Georgia

Putin says “we must not forget that God created us equal”

Does not apply to homosexuals in Russia

BBC has a nice looking overview of the conflict starting with protests


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Syria for Students

I’ve been tasked with helping students understand the Syria crisis and US policy options. Below is the outline of basic facts, key questions and arguments, and interesting sources. The goal was to lay out many of the smaller debates that (ideally) contribute to any policy decision on Syria. Of course many points have been simplified as the infamous Afghanistan powerpoint came to mind.

Syria Timeline:

March 2011 – Protests start

October 2011 – Opposition Syrian National Council Forms

February 2012 – Kofi Annan envoy to Syria

August 2012 – Kofi Annan resigns. US warns Assad about chemical weapons.

Dec 2012 – US, Britain, France recognize opposition National Council as legitimate

August 21, 2013 – accusations of chemical attack near Damascus

Parties involved:

Assad Regime

Supported by allies Russia and Iran

Father president since 1971, Bashar took over in 2000.

Opposition [BBC Guide]

100s of groups, small militias, brigades

Syrian National Council is main organization

Radical Islamic groups with ties to Al Qaeda  are among strongest

Free Syrian Army is more secular military organization

Broadly supported by Turkey and sunni monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar

United States

“Red Line” of chemical weapons

Recent memories of involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan

Neighboring countries

Refugee crises in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey

Violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel

Other nations

Strong opposition to action in Britain, Germany [Cowell]

Germany has domestic concerns of economic crisis

Britain sense that Iraq was based on WMD falsehoods

France emboldened by Mali

After domestic pressure, will await UN findings [NYT]

United Nations

Security Council action routinely vetoed by China and Russia

Chemical attack inspectors

Only mandated to determine if chem weapons used, NOT who used them

Why would Assad use chemical weapons?

Could have been unintentional

US proof is panicked phone calls from Syria Ministry of Defense to Chem Unit demanding answers

Send signal that regime will defend capital at any cost [Cole]

Why do chemical weapons get a stronger reaction than conventional weapons?

Brian Price looks at historical perception of chemical weapons:

Indiscriminate,  weapon that cannot be defended against, a weapon of the weak, and an uncivilized weapon.

Also has institutional legacy

What are the possible motives for intervention, and the appropriate action for each?

Deter further chemical use

If targeted right, could influence individual soldier decisions [DeMeritt]

Action A: Small-scale symbolic strike. [Betts,  Kristof]

Action B: Judicial action such as International War Crimes Tribunal?

Degrade chemical capabilities

Delivery methods of rockets and artillery

NOT targeting chem storage because of humanitarian and environmental consequences

Action A: Severe damage?

Weaken or Punish Assad

Change Assad’s policy and/or end conflict

Intervention boosts morale or opposition, but legitimizes Assad [Szekely]

Action A: Severe damage. [Betts]

Assad regime has shown high tolerance of pain [Chris Harmer]

Action B: Judicial action such as International War Crimes Tribunal [Friedman]

Action C: Arm rebels [Friedman]

Overthrow Assad

Action A: Large scale, severe military intervention

+ victory for Assad is victory for Iran [Rep. Cantor]

– would leave Syria as a failed state [Walt]

Signal WMD norm to world

Action A: Verification of use and exhaust other options before force  [Carpenter]

Action B: Judicial action such as International War Crimes Tribunal?

Action C: International outrage has already reinforced norm [Price]

Action D: Military force [Rep. Cantor]

Prevent Civilian Deaths

Syrians dying, Al Qaeda gaining, region destabilizing

But people have been dying for long time, why now?

Action A: Multilateral with right intention and appropriate method [Carpenter]

Action B: Strikes could degrade governments ability to kill [Kristof]

Action C: Increase Relief Aid [Walt]

Demonstrate US credibility

Action A: Small-scale symbolic strike?

+ signal resolve to use military action to Iran, North Korea, etc. [Petraeus]

– domestic heat already makes Obama more credible [Mercer]

End Conflict

As conflict continues, Syrians die, Al Qaeda gains, and region destabilizes [Kristof]

BUT intervention might destabilize or widen conflict [SzekelyItaly]

Action A: Land invasion

Action B:Support political process [CrisisGroup]

Military interventions must reinforce a political plan. [De Wall & Conley-Zilkec]

Action C: Strikes could make government negotiate [Kristof]

Appease/distract domestic audiences

Action A: Small-scale symbolic strike?

Is an intervention legal?  Does legality matter?

Action without UNSC approval is against international law [Hurd,Hathaway and Shapiro]

R2P is widely accepted, but lacks force of law[Hurd]

That action is illegal doesn’t prevent action [Hurd]

Must act as “illegal but legitimate” or “constructive noncompliance”

Obama should declare that international law has evolved beyond SC approval

Use of force without UNSC approval endangers the international order [Hathaway & Shapiro]

Drezner is skeptical that UN is necessary for peace

Voeten argues that UN approval is not imperative, already full of holes

What can we learn from past interventions?

Academia speaks:

  • Peacekeeping Missions
  • Multilateral
  • Multidimensional (capacity building, refugees, elections, development)
  • Combatants willing to negotiate

What are the US domestic issues involved?

Bellwether of US foreign policy [NYT]

Iran may read congress’s decision as USA’s stomach for military action

Putting it to a vote

Obama has said that he is looking to build unity and enhance legitimacy [NYT]

Critics have said that Obama is passing the buck.

Appropriate to ask Congress before setting new precedent of executive power [Dellinger]

Does public opinion matter?

Hindsight, 20/20?

If trying to avoid conflict Obama should not have made threats that it couldn’t back [Black]

Cannot have a punishment that is declared limited and the end of involvement. [Ulfelder]

In poker, it is trying to drive your opponent off a pot with a modest bet and weak cards

Other links of interest

NYT event tracker

NYT Aug 27 Overview

CFR’s Sept. 3rd round up of CFR member opinions

Taylor Marvin’s good overview of discussion and recent links

Youtube videos shown to congress (explicit)

What can we do?

UNHCR accepting donations

Write your representative (like Walt did)

You’re probably now more informed than your rep is

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Human Life in a Cost-Benefit Analysis

While reading Damon Coppola’s Introduction to International Disaster Management, I was struck by the unequivocal denouncement of cost-benefit analyses of disaster mitigation with respect to human life.  In listing three criticisms of the process of determining risk acceptability, number two reads:

Setting a dollar figure (in cost-benefit analyses) on a human life is unethical and unconscionable . . . Because of the controversial nature of placing a value on life, it is rare that a risk assessment study would actually quote a dollar figure for the amount of money that could be saved per human life loss accepted.  Post-event studies have calculated the dollar figures spent per life during crisis, but to speculate on how much a company or government is willing to spend to save or risk a life would be extremely unpalatable for most.

The emphasis is not mine. I had two initial reactions.  First, setting a dollar figure on human life is common practice in many settings.  The EPA is a common example, and currently has their carefully defined value of statistical life set at 7.4 million (in 2006 dollars). In an oft cited article, Viscusi and Aldy review over 100 articles that measure how individuals value morbidity risk.

The second thought was to consider who in the emergency management field would benefit or lose from Coppola’s forbidden analysis. My former Princeton colleague Sarah Bush, now an Assistant Professor at Temple University, began quantifying the benefits of NGO democracy promotion programs to keep up with the shifting preferences of their donors. In that transition, there were certainly winners and losers among the NGOs.

Two pieces the last couple week put these questions to a wider audience.  First, Peter Singer’s NYT column pitted charity categories against each other resulting in a thought experiment where you would visit a new museum wing if doing so gave you a 0.1% chance of suffering 15 years of blindness. With this bizarre would-you-rather, Singer advocates for the evidence-based approach to charity known as Effective Altruism.

Second, Professor Chris Blattman strongly criticized charities that eschew impact appraisals. In a recent episode of This American Life looking at the best way to give that features Blattman, the vice-president of Heifer International responds to a question about an experiment where one village gets cows and training and another village gets an equivalent amount of cash. She says, “It sounds like an experiment, and we’re not about experiments. These are lives of real people and we have to do what we believe is correct. We can’t make experiments with people’s lives. They’re just– they’re people. It’s too important.”

To Blattman, this is the crux of the matter.  He writes, “Let me be blunt: This is the way the Heifers of the world fool themselves. When you give stuff to some people and not to others, you are still experimenting in the world.” Blattman admits that ignoring someone is easier than talking to someone and measuring their outcomes without giving them anything, which may be part of why Heifer feels the latter is immoral.  Blattman could not disagree more, saying that in a world with limited resources it is immoral not to take measurements.  If in fact a poor family does twice as well with cash than with cattle, then each person Heifer helps is in essence withholding aid from another through opportunity costs.  Of course we don’t know if this is the case, but the point is that ignorance is not only bliss, it’s cruel.

Both Singer and Blattman are taking part in the discussion about a new charity, GiveDirectly, but they speak to part of what really bothered me about the paragraph in Coppola. Decision-making in disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and relief with a cost-benefit analysis that considers human life feels like playing god, choosing who lives and who dies.  However, avoiding that analysis does not absolve you from making life and death decisions, you just do so with even less information.  We do not know if those uninformed actions may result in the further loss of life, but it seems immoral not to find out.

[Edited for grammar]

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National Day, Mentos, and Singapore’s Birth Rate

I am obsessed with this clever National Night video that went viral a year ago that encouraged Singaporeans to buy Mentos and increase Singapore’s birth rate.

The award-winning ad campaign picked up on Singapore’s national concerns about having the lowest fertility rate in the world. The government’s recent response has been economic incentives called Baby Bonuses. With these economic incentives the government has come full circle from its 1970 campaign “Stop At Two” which ended tax deductions and maternity leave for having a third child due to Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s fears of overcrowding and economic burdens.  As shown below, the birthrate fell drastically in the mid 70’s, which led to a new fear – a shrinking tax base. The government officially reversed “Stop At Two” in 1986 with the timid slogan “Have Three or More (if you can afford it)” and have been periodically increasing incentives since.



Data from

So have the government policies or the smooth National Day R&B had an effect? It doesn’t look like it looking at the monthly birth rate data below. There are no obvious baby bumps nine months after augmentations to the government incentives were announced or nine months after last National Day as denoted by the green and red lines.

Data from and

Data from and

It may be no surprise that linear regressions with month controls and baby bonus indicators or with month and year controls find no effect for the viral video, but the government policies also show no effect looking across a number of time spans. There are monthly variations, but what seemed unusual were statistically significant effects of about a 5% increase for 2012 and decrease for 2010. These match up with the Chinese zodiac years of the Dragon and the Tiger, may correlate with higher and lower birthrates respectively (Chua 2009).  Indeed, the effects become more pronounced when moving January to the year before to better represent the Chinese calendar.

The government must see that the incentives have not had the desired effect and keeps changing the size of bonuses and the types of perks that new parents can get. In January the government announced the Marriage & Parenthood Package 2013, which again increases the monetary incentives but includes more alternative benefits such as priority housing, child care leave and paternity leave.

As for Mentos, their 2013 National Day video is not as catchy, but it is interesting in that the national concern they focus on is year is over-crowding. It seems that Singapore’s problem is not that there are not enough people; it is that there are not enough young people. That is why Singapore has also changed its immigration policy.  Non-residents made up 10% of the population in 1990 and over 25% in 2010, which has created social tensions.  Indeed, there is no easy solution to what now-retired Lee Kuan Yew calls the biggest long-term threat to Singapore, who is counting on future leaders to find a solution.  Unfortunately the next Year of the Dragon is not for another 11 years.


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