Friday, June 22, 2018

Time to Dance, Time to Mourn, Time to Dodge NYC Traffic

After my father's death, my siblings and I went to Philly to see my Mother and start the great excavation (my dad was a big-time hoarder) and then went to NYC for the funeral and the shiva.  I learned much along the way. 

First, much thanks to those who commented on my blog, tweeted at me, posted condolences on facebook or reached out in other ways.  We all complain much about social media, but there are lots of great people out there who help extend one's sense of community--I definitely did not feel alone at all this week.  I left the friendship, the love, and the concern, and I am very grateful for this extended community.  Thank you.

Second, I learned that my brother-in-law is sneaky funny.  At the funeral service, when I stepped up to say a few words, most of the folks were on alert, worried that I might spend much time on the difficult parts of my relationship with my dad.  I did not.  My brother-in-law?  Oh my, he focused on Reuben's Rules (my Dad's name was misspelled in the paper of record, the one he obviously collected no matter where he was!) which was a semi-roast in a very loving, humorous way.  I wish I could have written them all down--having violated many of them many times except the first one--don't be late.  I got my impatience from my father.

Third, I learned about driving in Brooklyn.  Lots of double parking, lots of left turn lines, so driving was much like skiing down a slalom--left, right, left, right.  Fun for me, not so much fun for Mrs. Spew. 

Fourth, I was much more attentive to the surroundings at this burial than at my uncle's.  My dad and uncle are buried next to each other in a larger family plot, and I know better now some of the ancestors and their history better.

Fifth, I am lousy at remembering rules, and shiva is full of them.  Shiva is the Jewish mourning period that goes for seven days after the burial (I think).  We stuck around for only a few since I have a big trip tomorrow.  One is supposed to sit uncomfortably for hours as folks come by to wish their condolences.  We aren't supposed to listen to music (some of the next generation played my aunt's big piano before we were told--as a primary mourner, I am not supposed to listen to music for a year).  The real key is lots of food. Booze is ok but not as central as it is to a wake, I guess.  Because my father outlived most of his friends and relatives and had lived outside of New York since, um, 1971 or so, we didn't get too many folks.  Which meant it was mostly an intra-Saideman affair.  My daughter flew back from the west coast as did one niece, and we had much of the next generation--my siblings' kids and some of my cousins' kids.  Stories were told, we did what Saidemans do--talk a lot. My mother was her usual stoic self.  What awaits her now?  Digging through my dad's hoarding.  We did some of that in our short time in Philly, and two of my siblings did some of that in my dad's last few days as he finally relented. 

As I said in my comments at the funeral, my father went out on his terms--he still had all of his mental ability and memory, he waited to die until after he could attend two more grandchild graduations and after another family event.  He got to say goodbye to almost everyone.  Given his love of travel (he retired early so he could hit all seven continents), I am sure he would be glad I am venturing off to Chile for the next stage of my current project.  So, I post this with a smattering of pics I could find on my computer, which is also appropriate as he was an obsessive photographer of family events.

An old picture that was posted by boy in the middle of an old
vacation with the family of my father's closest friends.
Gotta love early 1970s clothing.  Aside from my father,
my family is in the middle and on the right

During our Hawaii trip, my folks were called up at the luau
as the longest married folks.  They made it past 60 years
My father with my nephew--the last of our name on our side.

High school graduation with my daughter and my parents--
not getting a similar pic after her college graduation was an epic fail.

Tea time at the summer vacation in Quebec a couple of years ago
with my father, mother, aforementioned brother-in-law
and the most responsible sister who is the family's
collective action sucker for whom I am most grateful
(sucks to to be the oldest, great to be the youngest)

Cape Cod vacation: the nuclear family.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Last Father's Day

This Father's Day started off pretty complicated--lots of feels.  First, the story of the week, so quickly crowding out the supposed peace in our time summit in Singapore, is the destruction of families and the incarceration of kids from infants to teens. Count me more than sufficiently appalled. I see many fathers and others tweeting about this story and its meaning today on Father's Day.

Second, this is the first Father's Day where my only child is, well, no longer a child.  She graduated college last month, found an apartment on her own, and is two weeks into her first full time (with benefits!) job in Hollywood.  Thus far, the biggest challenge have been ants (Trader Joe's parking lots were the biggest challenge during her internship this winter).  That and finding time to do errands given the long hours she is working.  But she just got her first adult paycheck.  She did all of this with little help from her parents.  All I did was help her drive her to LA in January.  Anyhow, I take much pride in her gutsiness and her accomplishments, so this is a very proud Father's Day.

Third, it is also a pretty sad Father's Day, as I learned while I was writing this post (I was in the middle of the next paragraph) that my father passed away last night.  He was diagnosed with a terminal disease last December and was supposed to live a few weeks.  He outlived that prognosis and maybe a couple of others, but not the last one. He lived long enough to go to my daughter's graduation and that of one of my nieces. 

The way this played out enabled him to have a last conversation with each of his kids several times.  At 90+, he didn't lose his mental capacity (he was still doing his own taxes and fighting over pennies with the NY tax folks), just his hearing.  So, these conversations were mostly lectures.  Lectures of regret and fear.  We had a lousy relationship for nearly my entire life, one that worsened when I married someone outside of his religion.  He regretted what he did and apologized several times over the past couple of years.  I have forgiven each time, but he did not process that and did not move on.  Stubbornness and holding grudges were key traits he has handed down to me.

They are all laughing at my father who was peaking through
a porthole as we were taking pics the last night of the cruise
if I remember correctly.  He was superproud of his herd
of grandkids. 
Where does the aforementioned fear come in?  He worried that my siblings and I will not stick together after his death, and I get that, since my father facilitated family vacations the past 20 years or so which brought together my parents, my siblings and the next generation.  His strategy worked, as the granddaughters and grandson get along very well, and I did see much of my siblings every summer and every Thanksgiving.  Last summer, the cruise to Alaska was seen as a big deal partly because it was his 90th birthday and mostly because it seemed to be the last one where everyone would be together--that the post-college grandkids might not be able to attend the next one.  So, we went all out and created some great memories. It was doing a couple of things my father loved most--traveling, observing (but not really participating) in nature, taking lots of pictures.

While we didn't get along very well, I do appreciate many things....
That he was proud of me regarding my career and my work as he always had a strong interest in international relations;
That he was proud of who my daughter was turning into, that he lived long enough to see her graduated and employed;
That, ironically, my wife became his favorite in-law;
That we shared a love of travel and of good food (although he was very much a wine person and found my love of brew pubs entertaining);
That he cared so much about the family;
That I probably get my curiosity from him as he read voraciously and saved stuff to read even more so (he was quite the hoarder--he printed out years of the Semi-Spew to read or re-read).
And other stuff, too, that I will probably figure out at the funeral as he is eulogized.
From the last family vacation, he so loved nature so this shot seems appropriate. 

So, yes, a very complicated and sad Father's Day.  I hope my readers can celebrate this day with silly presents and fun stories and see the Incredibles 2. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Professor Tweed Drank Sherry in the Lounge?

I have long criticized how popular culture portrays professors: mostly as lechs seeking sex with their students.  But it is not just the media's fault.  There are heaps of silly stereotypes that are spread and reinforced by the pundits as well.  This week, someone slammed profs in their faculty lounges, and I had to wonder: had they been in a department sometime in the last 25 years?  Faculty loungers?  Sherry swilling?  Yes, we occasionally wear tweed, but most of the stereotypes were either never true or haven't been accurate in a long, long time.  So, I asked my twitter followers for their fave stereotypes:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Trump Doth Project Too Much

I have been saying for quite some time that Trump and his allies "doth project too much."  As in doth protest too much. Why?  Because they constantly accuse other folks of what they themselves are doing.

Why?  Because Trump and his kind know that they themselves are awful people who have no ethical compass, no respect for the law or decency, who have much sense of entitlement, and ... expect everyone else to be just as awful.

So, when they criticize others, they focus on what they would do in a similar circumstance and say that is what these folks are doing.  Clinton Foundation must be corrupt because the Trump one certainly is.  And on and on and on.

I think this is the Rosetta Stone for understanding much of what Trump says--that when he says something bad about someone else, he is usually revealing something that he does himself.  The swamp? He has been living in and creating swamps his entire life. 

Anyhow, I will not keep track of Trump projections because I don't have Dan Drezner's diligence when he keeps track of Trump fans and aides who refer to him as a toddler.  But I will point it out when I see it--and that will be often.

Being Properly Appalled

There has been a lot of bad stuff over the past year and a half--failing to prepare and then help Puerto Rico recover from a hurricane, corruption here, there and everyPruitt, the racism, xenophobia and misogyny, but I guess I have reached my limit.  Until now, I was angry and ruthlessly pessimistic, but now I can't even describe how I feel, and my attempt to come up with a way to describe the worst set of policies possible will have to be tossed aside.

That policy and that description was: kiddieconcentrationcamp.  I thought it might do a decent job of reflecting the horror that is the mass separation of parents from kids, including infants, and putting them into dead walmarts and eventually tent cities, but my twitter followers found it problematic.

This entire story starting with this is just appalling:

The pictures are more than a thousand words--they reflect an effort to destroy families.  Is this going to be a deterrent? Who the hell cares?  It is simply inhumane.  Taking infants in the middle of breast-feeding?  This is what happens when you call all immigrants animals (or at least the non-white ones).  This is the outcome of electing a white supremacist president with a majority party that has been beholden to white supremacists.  The virulent xenophobia has had consequences--people are being hurt and the kids will be scarred.  Those who survived American concentration camps during WWII are still affected by that experience 70 years later.

No, this is not the first time that we have people of color being separated from their parents.  Watching the reboot of Roots reminded me that perhaps the most painful scenes were when slaves were separated from their families, often capriciously.

Sure, it could get worse--right now, the policies are not aimed at deliberately killing these people.  So far, only immigrants that the US has sent back to the desperate situations from which they have fled have been killed.  But when you start telling parents that their kids are going to the showers so that you can separate them without violence or resistance, we are already far, far down the road to doing even more abhorrent things.

I haven't blogged for the past several days partly because I was at a conference and partly because I had no words for this.  My attempt of #kiddieconcentrationcamp showed me that any shorthand for this is awful, just like the set of policies that are producing mass child incarceration.  Call it whatever you want, but be clear that it is perhaps not unprecedented (slavery, Japanese internment) but it is inhumane, it is the product of white supremacy, it is the deliberate policy of this government, and it should be unacceptable.  Maybe attacks on pre-existing conditions coverage will help more next fall, but I do hope the Democrats take a stand on this because they need to be on the right side of this, whether it is politically convenient or not.

As for the pro-family party, well, we know that they have no values except tax cuts and supreme court seats.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Blame Canada? No, Blame the Projecter in Chief

I thought it felt strange to be an American in Canada during the Bush Administration, but the past 24 hours?  Oh my.  Trump and then his team of enablers have said that it is Justin Trudeau's fault that the G7 summit ended in tears and anger.  As I said on twitter, this is the worst retconning I have seen since that scene in Phantom Menace where Qui-Jon discusses the role of midichlorians in the Force.

Here is the order of relevant events during this summit:
Trump arrives late, the women are not thrilled.
  • Before the summit, Trump imposes tariffs on allies for the alleged national security posed by steel and aluminum imports.
  • The allies, including Canada, develop a variety of retaliatory tariffs, to be imposed if the US continues its course of action.
  • Trump decides to skip most of the second day of the summit
  • Trump arrives late for the first session of the second day.  That it was the session on gender equality was kind of perfect, as Trump spent 75% of the allotted time or so, kind of like how women are paid 77% or so of what men make.
  • Trump leaves summit.
  • Trudeau, at the ending press conference (a standard part of these events), says that if the US tariffs are in place, Canada will respond in kind.
  • Trump throws snit, says US won't sign the communique.
  • Trump's team accuses Trudeau of stabbing US in the back and arguing that if summit with NK fails, it is Trudeau's fault.

There is, I think, a simple explanation.  Trudeau has spent the past year and a half trying massage Trump's ego and make nice, hoping that would smooth out the relationship.  While it was a good idea and the best Canada could do, I think Trump interpreted it as Trudeau being weak and that Canada would not respond if Trump pushed Trudeau around.  So, when Trump does finally give the Canadians a hard shove with the tariffs, he is surprised and offended that Canada pushes back.  Trump was angry because he expected Trudeau to fold, and he was angry because most of the other six members of the G7, including Macron, pushed back.

Again, if you watch Trudeau's statement, it really is not offensive in the least.  But it shocked Trump because he thought he had cowed Trudeau.  This is no betrayal, this is no stab in the back.  It is a leader of a democracy standing up for its interests.  And, yes, it pains me when the discussion is focused on dairy since I would like the Canadian Dairy Cartel to cease to exist, but, remember, this started with aluminum, steel and the opportunistic use of a national security opt out clause that allows Trump to impose tariffs.

Trump should get used to this: publics in the democracies are not fans, so politicians will outbid each other to stand against him.  So, he probably should hang out with dictators as hanging out with leaders of democracy will only disappoint him.

Finally, in all of this, once again, he doth project too much.  It is Trump doing the betraying, it is Trump stabbing the allies in the back.  It is Trump negotiating in bad faith.  Any noise created by his advisers should be ignored as they seek to displace blame.  The fault is clearly not in the stars but lies with Trump.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Previewing and Retrospecting: NATO, Values and Security

People have been asking me lately--what is the big deal with this international liberal order?  What has it ever done right? What has it ever given me? There are lots of pieces to it, but I am focused on NATO for obvious reasons, including my assignment at next week's Kingston International Conference on Security.

So, here's Mattis's quote from the NAC (North Atlantic Council) Defense Ministerial:
and my reaction.

I used to scoff at the usual NATO existential crisis stuff--that NATO needed a reason to exist in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, that there was some conflict within that might lead to the alliance breaking up, etc.  But now I am in the club of those who fear for NATO's future.  Why?  Trump.  It is that simple.  Putin actually did more for NATO unity in 2014 than anything else by making folks remember NATO's day job--keeping Europe peaceful and, as a result, prosperous.  But his gambles on Trump, on Brexit, on supporting right wing aspiring autocrats (Orban of Hungary, Erdogan of Turkey, etc) have worked out.

The alliance has worked and changed our conception of alliance not just because it is far more institutionalized than any other alliance past or present, but because all of it relied on largely shared values.  Not just democracy but democracy with embedded liberalism--that governments played a role in adjusting to international shocks, made easier by international cooperation.

And now is a splintered G-7 meeting due to Trump using "national security threat" to play a particularly problematic card--to impose tariffs on allies without the consent of Congress.  To be clear, this is the opt out card built into the agreements.  He does not really believe that these countries or their exports to the US are any kind of threat, but he does not believe in norms, rules or the future. So, Trump has used this exception, antagonizing everyone except maybe the Italians (their own populist election results are handy for self-destruction). 

So endeth the shared values.  Orban has already promoted illiberal democracy, and Trump would too if he could articulate anything (note that Gorka is back, and Gorka is a living embodiment of Orban's illiberal democracy).  True, Trump is not the US, but he is, alas, 40% of it, and the GOP seems ok with selling out American values for tax cuts and court seats.  So, even if/when the Democrats come into power, they will not be able to reassure the Europeans and the Canadians.  After all, this big split is the most significant ... since the last Republican president and the misconceived Iraq war of 2003. 

So, how can NATO provide security by reassuring nervous members and deterring adversaries?  The lack of common values undermines NATO credibility--will the US show up if Russia does something?  Perhaps not since Trump is now trying to get Russia back into the G8 despite everything Russia has done since seizing Crimea.

NATO isn't dead, and I hope to see signs of life when I go to the expert side party at the summit next month. But NATO is far from healthy, and I worry that we soon look back at those 70 years Mattis speaks of and wistfully remember the good old days.  Maybe the good old days weren't as good as they seem, as Billy Joel reminds us, but they were better than the days before that--WWI, WWII and all that. 

Canadian Defence Review: A Year Later

I spent yesterday at a Canadian Global Affairs Institute event on the Defence Policy Review (aka Strong Secure Engaged or SSE).  I am a CGAI Fellow, so I am kind of obligated to go, but I would have gone anyway as it is a great occasion to learn a lot in a short period of time, to meet new people in the defence sphere, and to bump into folks I have met before (like the Chief of the Defence Staff, more on that below).

I did live tweet some of it so you can find my running comments via searching me and @Caglobalaffairs a la:
 The running theme of the conference was that most folks thought the SSE was really good (sure, because it really did not make hard choices, but did set up several reasonable priorities such as making clear the personnel issues and giving money to academics to do engagement [alas, not my group]), but that the implementation is really hard and only just started.

Striking moments of the day:
  • when one of the most senior and conservative defence  scholars seemed pretty woke by suggesting that the challenge of recruitment and retention of women in the CAF is mostly misogyny.
  • followed up by a defence attache from a senior Westminster country said that a Canadian military exercise was too focused on gender by including a realistic peacekeeping scenario where the abuse of women might trigger mission failure.  Some people are not quite so woke, I guess.  Given events in Bosnia (where a major contractor was a participant in the trafficking of women) and more than one UN effort where the peacekeepers were raping women AND in Baltics where the Russian propaganda machine is making myths about NATO troops raping women, maybe this guy is clueless about the realities of 21st century war.
  • Much talk of lapse management--that the CAF/DND often don't spend the entire budget because the processes are slower than expected so that a project can't be funded--because the contracts are not settled or whatever.  I remember my mother, working at the Naval Aviation Supply Office in Philly, spending out the budget she had every October (the end of the fiscal year if I remember correctly) on spare parts for Harriers and P-3s and the like.
  • CGAI collected anonymous questions since either military folks are defence contractors might be worried about offending someone.  Yet none of the questions were all that controversial... well, except mine.
  • Lots of discussion about transparency--I wish I had remembered to ask about non-disclosure agreements being imposed on those working on the fighter replacement program (aka To F-35 or Not To F-35)
  • My pal and grant teammate, Stefanie Von Hlatky of Queens, had the punchiest presentation of her panel on personnel, noting that Canada talks a good game but is 7th on gender measures at NATO, putting it behind Hungary (growing autocracy FTW?).
  • The room seemed to have a better balance although not close to 50-50 in gender representation than previous versions.
  • I was chatting to two reporters over the lunch break and the Chief of Defence Staff Jon Vance came up to us, and we had a nice chat, including about the Steve/Dave/Phil project.  He is genuinely interested in civ-mil stuff, so I hope to continue this conversation at a later date.
  • Vance then gave a very interesting keynote speech, and I, of course, asked an obnoxious question: given that you are talking about this stuff still being in the beginning stages (like developing more flexible rules for personnel stuff) yet you are nearing the end of your term (average CDS term is three years and Vance is at the end of three years), how can you ensure that your efforts will be sustained beyond your time in office?  How do you institutionalize the effort?  He then poked fun at me, that I was suggested that he leave sooner than later (not at all), and that my term was short too (far from it): UPDATE (SVH provided the quote): “not sure you’ll be around much longer either... I spoke to the Dean"  Having spent a year on the Joint Staff, I know how to receive humorous fire from senior officers.
  • I live-tweeted the afternoon panels less because I was getting wiped out as was my phone's battery.  Also, I had to tweet back at people who were engaging me about my conversation with Vance.
  • The last panel had the top three civil servants at DND: the Deputy Minister Jody Thomas, the Senior Associate DM and the Associate DM.  I asked Thomas about this "taking more risks" thing she and Vance kept talking about.  Her answer, after joking about whether she would be leaving soon too and my tenure (a nice callback to Vance's jokes--tis a good thing to have a fairly sympatico CDS/DM team).
  • I then chatted over drinks with a bunch of defence contractors, but did nothing to get them riled up like previous conferences where I said stuff about planes and ships to get Lockheed and General Dynamics reps in my face.
  • On my way out, I picked up CGAI's new publication (spring issue will eventually be posted here).  I have a piece in it on academic engagement with defence, which, well, has been overcome by events as the military might say.  As I always say, rejection is inherent in the academic enterprise.
Anyhow, we are coming up on the sixth anniversary of our move to Ottawa, and this event reminds me of why I am so happy here.  Getting razzed by the most senior military officer in this land above the wall is a feature, not a bug, of being involved in the life of a national capital.  I have far greater awareness, engagement, and enthusiasm because I have heaps more opportunities to bump into all kinds of sharp folks.  Yesterday, this included reporters I have come to know, military officers, officials at DND, random defence contractors, other CGAI fellows, academics and others.  I do love my job, and I very much love it here in Ottawa.... even if my province voted for the worst guy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Immigration Problem

Recent polls in the US suggest that large majorities of not just Republicans but independents consider immigration to be a big problem.  It is not.  It is so not a problem, but, just like #voterfraudfraud has convinced significant numbers of Republicans that voter fraud is a threat, the GOP and its allies have convinced much of the American people that immigration, legal or not, is a threat.

How is immigration a threat?
  • Is it because larger and larger numbers of people are seeking to come to the US? Legal? Yes, although I would love to see these tables controlling for size of US population as there are more now but a smaller share of US population  Illegal?  Nope, the trends, especially from places like Mexico, are in the opposite direction.
  • Is it because immigrants are more likely to be criminals?  Nope.  That all MS 13 is mostly threat inflation by the way.  They are bad hombres, but mostly because the US sent criminals to Latin America where they helped to radicalize others.  Well done.
  • Is it because immigrants are resource black holes?  Actually, nope as they pay taxes but are not allowed to receive most benefits. Flows can hurt local governments, but that is a problem that could be easily fixed.
  • Are they a threat because they are mostly people of color?  Ding, ding, ding. 
Yes, the current wave of anti-immigration feelings in the US is based on myths and on racism and xenophobia.  This, of course, is not new.  It used to be that Irish and Italians and Jews were not considered white (ask the alt-right folks these days about whether Jews are white), but John Kelly seems to have forgotten that.

Anyhow, immigrants are not significant threats to employment.  Indeed, for social security, medicare and other programs to be funded down the road, the best solution is to bring in more immigrants to offset the fertility decline and aging of the American population.  This is not an option for more xenophobic places (yeah, Japan, talking about you ... and Russia).

So, I just want to push back against this whole idea of immigration being a problem.  But what do we call the myth-ing of this.  We have #voterfraudfraud for voter suppression.  What is a handy term for this?  #Immigrationfraud?  Nope.  #NoImmigrationProblemo?  #XenophobicFraud?  Please post in the comments if you have a better name for this.