Saturday, September 26, 2020

Quarantine, Week 28: Can We Panic Now?

The theme of the week just may be:

Between Trump's efforts to subvert the election are much more exhaustive than we may have thought, North Korea killed a potential defector heading their way because of fears of COVID, one of my teaching assistants has COVID, driving through crowds has become the go-to strategy for the far right with it happening in Los Angeles this week, and Justin Trudeau announced that the second wave is here in Canada, it seems like this was a week where it really seems time to despair.  Good thing we have Dennis Quaid paid by CDC money to cheer us up so that folks don't vote Trump out....

I spent much of the week on a hill yelling that we ought not be focused on the US military regarding the election.  The seizing of power that Trump is doing does not involve the US military but instead involves potentially compliant GOP officials at all levels.  Yep, it is not a coup but an autogolpe.  Think Fujimori and Orban, not Mali last month, Soviet Union 1991 or Vietnam 1963 or Thailand (pick the year, you probably won't be wrong).  This should not be so reassuring as plenty of democracies die by Presidents seizing more power, but it does mean that the effort to anticipate and to fight needs to be focused elsewhere than the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff (especially since he only commands the Joint Staff--desk officers).

The good news here is that the Trump Administration can't keep a secret, and seizures of power tend to require secrecy.  Think about all of the effort Chancellor Palpatine put into keeping his plans quiet.  And, yes, rebellions are built on hope, so let's not despair.  Biden is ahead in the polls and is close in states that Trump won bigly four years ago.  The less ambiguous the election results, the harder it is to fake a crisis.  And, yes, autocrats and their wannabe's often lose power precisely by seeking to overturn election results.  There is more good news--the odds of the Dems taking the Senate are increasing as Trump's poisonous policies and stances are spilling over on to them.  The desperation that Lindsay Graham has been exuding reminds me of when I was a teenager seeking romance.  It didn't work for me then, and it may not work for Graham now.

I think we could really use the John Krasinski Good News program these days, but there is good news out there. 

The best news: the CDSN has partnered with RAS-NSA, the new Francophone defence and security network, to launch the Conseils de sécurité podcasts hosted by Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brûlé and Thomas Juneau.  Like Battle Rhythm, it is available at all the usual podcast outlets.  Their first episode interviews Canada's Foreign Minister FRANÇOIS-PHILIPPE CHAMPAGNE!

There is delightful Canadian comedian Julie Nolke putting out more videos (she was the one with the great video of pandemic Julie trying to give a heads up to pre-pandemic Julie):



What else?  Oh, I am loving the assignment I gave to my undergrad IR theory class where they create memes illustrating the concepts.  My fave of this week i(it didn't win the weekly contest):

And my TA's, sick and healthy, are doing a great job of working with each other and with Prof. Hornsby (my co-teacher) and myself.   The students themselves seem to be engaged in the material and have not yet commented on my music selections for each video's intro.  So, there's that. 

On the homefront, Mrs. Spew finally has a diagnosis for the non-covid respiratory problems she's been having, and she has mostly recovered.  Which means we might return to exploring small towns in the Ottawa region and walk through an occasional park before winter hits in ... oh damn.  Ok, we have a few more weeks. 

The baking challenge of last week--smore cookies--required me getting a kitchen torch, so that was a heap of fun!  Turns out the cookies do better with a smidge of broiling than me burning them with a creme brule torch.  Of course, the important thing is that they tasted great.  I shared with my ultimate team and my neighbors--love seeking little kids cover themselves in chocolate--so we didn't have too many ourselves.  A good thing. 

The stress-exercising seems to be working to offset the stress-baking and stress-eating.  I have gone through most of the animated Star Wars stuff (Resistance is not that good), so I have to re-watch Mandalorian while tread-milling.  Biking still has a few weeks before winter ends that for me, and the challenge has been a lot of construction nearby disrupting my usual routes.  Still, we have had good weather mostly, so I am making the most of it before the snows come.  The next stress-shopping binge will be focused on beating the crowds to the winter sporting gear--snowshoes and cross country skis.  I will need to get outside during Wave 2 Winter or maybe Wave 3 Winter. 

Please focus not on exaggerated threats (the US military) but on the things we can do to make it hard for Trump to stick around--vote and get others to vote.   Do not despair even if you don't see the Dennis Quaid ads, as:




































Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Depressing Day of Getting Terms Right

If Trump remains in power despite an election that goes against him, this would most likely be an autogolpe and not a coup.  A coup refers to a seizure of power by folks not currently in power, usually involving the military.  An autogolpe is when an incumbent seizes power.  It comes from  Spanish because it was a thing in Latin America at various times including rather recently with Fujimori of Peru.  Viktor Orban's moves in Hungary have been an autogolpe in slow motion.

To be clear, this is not just me thinking this:

The latest story about how the GOP might seek to subvert the election results by having GOP-dominated state legislatures throw out the popular vote totals in the name of imagined voter fraud and select GOP electors is very autogolpe type stuff.

And if it were too happen, the US would be in a personalist dictatorship, not a military regime, and not, despite some appearances, one party rule.  Why?  Regarding a military regime, the military would be well out of this and thankfully so.  A single party system?  Not really since it is more about the personality of Trump and less about the party's ideals, but it could end up being a hybrid. This matters because different types of authoritarian regimes have different life spans and patterns of behavior--see Barbara Geddes's work.

Why do these definitions matter?  Because they point to the processes that may tip the US into autocracy and where we need to put our efforts to stop this.  If the threat was a coup, we should be focused on the military and deterring or persuading the folks with the guns not to intervene.  But if the threat is autogolpe, then we need to figure out ways to prevent Trump from usurping power.  Which means putting pressure on these state legislators, on revealing these plans so that opposition increases.  Better to resist now than react to a fait accompli.

One of the key things that those in favor of Democracy have is that the Trump people suck at keeping secrets.  The downside is that when the Trump folks do things in broad daylight, they look less criminal.  Anyhow, none of this is inevitable or foregone.  To resist, we need to protect the media who are doing the hard work of reporting these potential plans, and we need to focus on getting as big a win as possible on election day which makes it harder to fudge results.

Since I am not an autogolpe specialist, I hope others who have studied these things can give us some clues.  I will say that one of the things that gives me a bit of hope is that aspiring autocrats often lose power when they seek to play with unfortunate (for them) election results.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

What I Don't Get, COVID edition

This is all very hard.  It is hard on employees, it is hard on employees, it is hard on parents, it is hard on children, it is hard on politicians.  That I get.  But what I don't get is accumulating:
  • I don't get why non-restaurant/bar parts of the economy have taken a back seat. In California, for instance, sure, Silicon Valley can probably operate in a working from home situation.  But Hollywood?  In all parts of the US, there has been great pressure to open bars and restaurants, but we know that these are the places where the disease is spread (along with religious places, big events, etc).  I thought California was onto something by hiring restaurants to provide food for those who needed it, but I guess that wasn't enough.  But now, Hollywood has to keep pushing most production either into the future or overseas, and that has a huge knock-on effect in LA.  And that also means much less money flowing back to California for taxes.  
  • I don't get why testing still mostly sucks in Ontario and elsewhere.  If it takes several days to get results, then tracing is useful.  If it takes hours or days to get tested, then testing and quarantining can't do that much.  I get why it was hard in March and April and May.  But now?  Ottawa is reeling from the shock of kids and parents having to be tested in order for kids to stay in school.  How is this at all surprising?  Why didn't the province (and other places) hire unemployed people to help fill the staffing for these things?  You don't need trained nurses to direct traffic or organize things.  
  • I don't get why there is such confusion in the schools.  Again, there was an entire summer to prepare.  But my teacher neighbors report that some teachers learned of their year's assignments the day before classes started, so they couldn't prep.  
  • I don't get how people can't figure out how to use masks.  Sure, I get there are folks out there that refuse to do so because they don't care about anyone but themselves.  But those who wear masks, don't have it under your nose.  Jeez.  
  • I don't get why 200,000 dead in the US is not denting Trump world just a bit.  Trump is literally killing his base, and I get that many will just go along with it.  But damn, Trump could not have fucked this up worse.  He gave Kushner responsibility for COVID response, need I say more?  

This is not really a post asking for folks to provide answers.  It is just a collection of stuff that outrages me.   One reason I blog less is that I don't want to spend all my time  (semi) spewing outrage.  Blogging is mostly for fun for me, to give me a place to play with ideas.  I have been meaning to write a post-rewatch Star Wars Rebels take, but I am just so drained and angry that we can't do the simple stuff, not to mention the harder stuff. 

At least I have three more weeks of fall ultimate.  The weather today was amazing if a bit crisp, and it was a great day to throw the disk long (huck).  To huck or not to huck?  I get it why I hucked so much today.  So, there's that.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Quarantine, Week 27: Glitches and Gutpunches


The week started well with classes starting and ended awfully with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I won't say much here about RBG's passing as I think it is too early to figure out the ramifications, but I will say that it is very 2020 to have her die just before the election.  The one thing I will say is that if you are motivated to donate money or make phone calls, don't focus on Mitch "Bad Faith is My Middle Name" McConnell's race but the other races that are much tighter.  Mitch can be made mostly irrelevant if the Dems gain control of the Senate.

Anyhow, Monday was my first day of teaching.  I learned quite quickly that the choice to put up videos rather than teach live online was the right one.  I did teach live the first day, and a few different things happened.  First, someone was carrying a conversation with someone else--either in the class or at home or on another device--and I can't remember what it was about, but it wasn't appropriate.  The students started chatting in the chat box about it (see here) and I was kind of flummoxed.  One student said "this is the best fucking thing I have ever seen..." and I responded: "I am pretty sure that is not true."  Here's my look: 


The class went on and was otherwise pretty normal for an online class, including me losing my audio and my video freezing a couple of times.  The class will provide a weekly uplift for me and my twitter followers as the meme of the week assignment promises to be delightful.  Each student has to create four memes, one in each quarter of the class.  Only 8 of 110+ did the assignment for the first week, which means that we will get 100 or so divided among the next two weeks.  The memes ranged from being funny but not really developing the concept to wonderfully on target.  The students vote on who wins the contest with the top four vote-getters each week getting extra credit and the rest of those submitting simply getting a pass grade in the pass/fail assignment.  This one did not win but was my personal fave:

My Phd Proposal class also met on Monday, and it went well.  It meets twice a month with students workshopping their proposals bit by bit and also one or two present their entire proposal, which is often their practice session before defending it before their committee.  As always, lots of questions about the rules of our system--how many people on the committee, how many do you need for the proposal defense, etc--with me never really knowing quite what the rules are.  It is kind of like ultimate--which is on its 11th edition of the rules but I still seem to remember the rules that I learned 35 years ago.  As this is the third PhD program I have been prof-ing at, I lose track of what the rules are here.

Besides the memes, playing ultimate in the rain on Sunday was a highlight of the week.  We once again played the best team in Ottawa--our bubble is very small--and we got crushed after starting off 3-3.  But it was fun and it was not too cold.  I do worry that as the weather gets colder, my muscles are more likely to pull.  The key, as always, is not to run hard or jump much.  My style is more of falling down with style--laying out for errant disks.  It has been great to be out and run around.  Biking is good exercise, but it just isn't fun the way ultimate is.  Alas, as winter approaches, the key will be to find cross country skis or snowshoes before there is a run on them.

The baking continues with my siblings and I making various apple cake recipes.  The cake I made rivals my apple turnovers and apple pie, better than my apple crisp and apple crumble.  This week's competition involves smore cookies, which meant I had to go out and get a kitchen torch to burn the marshmellows.  Ok, I used this as an excuse to get one.   Whether I start making heaps of creme brulé remains to be seen.

The family zoom has changed recently as my sister added games to our conversations, which, thankfully, reduces the amount of pandemic and politics talk.  I get to choose next so I am awaiting a delivery of a game that we can play online.  I will report the results next week.

Speaking of zoom, I had heaps of meetings this week with a variety of people.  Again, I am glad that I taped my class as it can get exhausting to have three hours of zoom in a row.  But these are small complaints. 

The bigger frustration right now in Canada is that the testing is still not where it needs to be.  A journalist friend went on an odyssey trying to get tested.  The problem is that you can only send your kids to school if no one in the family bubble is sick.  If someone is sick, then they need to be tested before the kids can return to school.  Which means tons of people lining up at the very few testing centers in Ottawa, often waiting hours and then learning that the testing center is booked for the day.  And the results come back often very slowly.  So, yeah, Ontario has failed to provide sufficient testing for this very predictable increase in testing demand at the start of the school year.  A second wave has been declared, so, yes, once again, I am very, very thankful that my school has decided to be entirely online this fall and in the winter. 

It would seem like six months into this, we would be doing this better.  But we are not.  Just as the US has had failing leadership, Canada's leaders have not done nearly enough.  And, yes, just as outcomes vary by state in the US, they vary by province up here.  Doug Ford exceeded expectations last winter by closing things down and criticizing the party-goers.  But on the policy front--getting testing right, shifting resources so that there would be more distancing in schools--he has utterly failed.  So, Mrs. Spew and I continue to hunker down with the exception of food shopping, mailing out of US ballots, other errands, and ultimate frisbee. 

I hope you and yours are well and manage to dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge this disease.  Be well.










Saturday, September 12, 2020

Quarantine, Week 26: Half A Year, Halfway?

This week marks the half-year mark since Tom Hanks got the disease and the NBA shut down.  It also marks the week where Trump's stance on all of this became clear--that he was too much of a coward to take this thing seriously.  On the bright side, no deaths in Canada from COVID in the past 24 hours, the first time since March!  While things will certainly get worse before they get better, this is a promising sign.  I am trying to be optimistic--that there will be a vaccine by spring and some kind of normalcy by the end of 2021. 

The writing on Judd's jacket:
Don't you forget about me!
Also normal:
mugging with a teammate's dog
In some ways, it was the most normal of weeks for me.  I got to play ultimate for the first time since early March, and all of my previously injured body parts held up despite our playing two games back to back.  The new rules took some getting used to--more distance when marking the thrower, not yelling the stall count in the face of the thrower, no high fives, etc.  I didn't wear a mask as it fogged up my sunglasses.  But the bubbled league--only three teams playing each other over again with smaller groups on each team--and distancing (my defense has always been socially distanced from the guy I am supposed to cover).

We started the school year at NPSIA with the usual orientation festivities... sort of.  All of it was by zoom.  It was nice to meet the new wave of NPSIA PhD students, who, like MA students, are increasingly diverse.  Phil Lagassé and I met the new MA students who are in our cluster--Security and Defense stuff.  We discussed what our cluster requires (not much except the Econ of Defence/Security class) and then we broke into two groups to chat a bit.  Again, it was an old rhythm with a new, um, set of lyrics.  Don't expect me to make good music references.

This week was also the American Political Science Association meeting.  It was both normal and abnormal.  It was normal in that folks were getting their papers to their discussants (the person who reads and gives comments) up to the last minute.  I only attended a couple of panels as usual.  Usually, I spend most of the conference meeting up with people--old and new--to find out what people are up to, to connect, and so forth.  This time?  Mostly I was doing my daily grind instead--working on the CDSN stuff, prepping for the new system, readying an article for submission---plus shopping for food and such.  I did have the normal APSA poker game but did so abnormally--online.  APSA managed to do the normal thing of pissing people off--that their proprietary online conference thing didn't work so we all moved to zoom.  So, we spent a lot of money for nothing.  But APSA did move relatively swiftly.  The papers I have read were really interesting and, as usual, energized me to get my stuff out the door.  The younger folks in this business are doing great work, as always.  My incomplete paper with co-authors will be presented this afternooon. So, a mix of similar and different.

Last night, as I was taking out the recycling and trash, I saw that my neighbors will small kids were showing Star Wars on their garage door.  Another neighborhood kid with his kiddie car was there--a drive-in movie!  So, I ducked inside, grabbed my lightsaber (the old super-plastic-y one with two blades as my birthday present has not yet arrived) and Jedi cloak and joined the fray for a few minutes.  I was able to hold off the three younglings but just barely so.  And, yes, I wore my Darth Vader gaiter.

The highlight of the week was the family zoom.  My sister Susan decided that we had enough pandemic and politics talk, so she thought we should play some games.  And when she was describing one of them, she lost it and it was delightful:

While we must remain focused on doing what it takes to win the election and fight the pandemic (those two are inextricably linked), it seems we need to think about other stuff to remain sane.  Six months ago, I said this blog would chart my descent into madness.  Thanks to hanging out with others on zoom--friends from long ago, friends from poli sci, friends from work, and family--I have managed to keep it together most of the time.  I hope you and yours are able to find ways to blow off steam and think about stuff other than Trump and the pandemic.  As my sister was trying to recommend here, perhaps the best thing to do is competitively stuff marshmellows into one's faces.

Be well.







Friday, September 11, 2020

Nearly 20 Years And Yet

In past 9/11 anniversary posts, I have discussed my anger for the wasted national unity and lost opportunities.  Last year, I noted my anger that the Trump Administration has been doing awful things.  This year?  We are losing a 9/11 of people every couple of days due to the bungled response to the pandemic AND the economic hardships of this disaster vastly outweigh the damage done 19 years ago.

While there were mistakes made that prevented the US from stopping the terrorist attack, those were mostly mistakes inherent in bureaucratic politics and dealing with an adversary that learns.  COVID doesn't think and try to out-strategize the US government.  Instead, the US government under Trump acts as the virus's best ally, politicizing masks, denying the realities, and not doing what it takes to minimize the spread of the disease.

The recent revelations in the Woodward book fit into the typical Trump category of appalling but not surprising.  Of course, Trump knew this disease was nasty and spread via air.  Of course, Trump decided to downplay it so that he would not have to do anything costly to manage the crisis.  Of course, he ignored the scientists.  Of course, he cared more the stock market than about the American people. Of course, his government is now siphoning money meant for those firefighters harmed on 9/11 because he hates NYC.

I have been trying to focus on hope, on the optimism that that Trump will be gone soon.  But the next two months are going to be brutal with more Americans dying unnecessary, with more damage done to American institutions, America's place in the world, and so on.  I really look forward to not noticing the White House or the President for day's at a time.  Well, if there is an election.

So, what is the meaning of 9/11 this year, 19 years later?  It is a generation, after all.  Perhaps after next year (because we like round numbers), we can focus on the greater threat to the American people, which is ...  us.  The threats we face--white supremacy, out of control police departments, climate change, and disease--all require Americans to take action.  To put pressure on politicians to take these threats seriously as Americans are threatened far more by these challenges than Islamist inspired terrorism. 

It is time to move from 9/11.  The pandemic combined with the realization that most police departments are beyond civilian control should make us realize that the problems are at home.  I am not suggesting that we need to be isolationist.  The pandemic proves that American leadership in the world is in American interests.  But the pandemic also proves that American strength in the world depends on having its act together at home.  And to do that, we have to undo some of the reactions to 9/11, such as creating the Department of Homeland Security.  Along with disbanding ICE, DHS needs to be broken up. 

To invoke one of my "laws," just because you made a bad decision in the past does not mean it has to bind you in the present and future.  Much of the work of the Biden Administration* will be undoing Trump's damage, but he should go back further to undo Bush's.  9/11 was an awful day, and Islamist terrorism is still a problem in the world.  But it is time to move on.  Fix the overreactions, be more humble about what the US can achieve, and get one's own house in order.





* If there is no Biden Administration, everything will be so fucked up that the question will be how Americans handle autocracy.  Not a post for today.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Quarantine, Week 25: Rebellions and Hope

Yes, we continue to be inundated with bad news, but I tended to see more signs of hope.  And, as we know:

First, it was a strange week on twitter for me as I set all kinds of new records when I posted the picture of Canada signing the Surrender of Japan document in the wrong place.  Mrs. Spew scoffs when I say a tweet goes viral, but I think more than 30k likes, about 7,500 retweets, and, 3 million "impressions" according to twitter analytics counts. 

Second, watching Fox pile on Trump with positive polls for Biden and confirming the reports that Trump has nothing but contempt for the past and present soldiers was delightful.  Ok, I didn't watch Fox but others noted it.

Third, I watched my friends start teaching in-person, on-line, or somewhere in between.  The efforts they have made to make their classes work in such, well, dire times has been inspiring.  My classes don't start until the 14th--I teach on Mondays so Labor Day pushes my start a week.  The emails from students have begun, and I welcome them more this year.  They are less the harbinger of "oh damn, I am not done with my summer yet" and more part of that renewal thing.

Fourth, we at CDSN HQ met our new team.  We have three new MA research assistants and one new PhD research assistant.  I know the latter because she took my Civ-Mil class last winter.  We all met to introduce ourselves, assign the MA RAs to the HQ staff (we each get one), and start figuring out how we will operate in this strange time. 

Fifth, Carleton's policies on travel restrictions include the ability to get waivers from the Dean.  So, I asked him for permission to go to the CDSN book workshop in Kingston on the eve before Halloween, and he said yes.  So, a smidge of normalcy creeping in as Kingston is my home away from home in Canada.

Sixth, tomorrow is the first day of the fall ultimate league, and I am playing!  Woot!  It is a league for Masters and Grandmasters.  Masters is something like 33 and up and Masters is 40 and up.  So, yeah, I am going to get beat on defense early and often.  I really need a league for 50 and up.  Anyhow, the Ottawa Ultimate assn has been careful:
  • each bracket or league will include only a few teams (bubble-esque)
  • each team will have fewer players
  • we will only put six on six, not seven on seven
  • we can't get just anyone to substitute--they have to come from within the bubble league
  • when a defender is marking the thrower, they have stand further away than normal--a meter rather than a disk-length.   
  • oh, and since we don't have many teams, there will be double headers much of the time.  Since I am very out of ultimate-shape, I will be dragging on Mondays.
I am very excited although Mrs. Spew is a bit nervous.  I did get Underarmour masks as part of my pandemic-long stress-shopping masks spree.  So, we shall if those work better or worse than the sports gaiter I bought (part of the aforementioned spree).   The pic to the right are the latest batch of "wait, when did I order those?" masks.  And, yes, I am a nerd.












Seventh, I went to my office to upload videos we made for my fall undergrad class.  It was a pretty day as you can see, and it was fun to see the welcome package waiting for me.  I even got to talk to a colleague.  Val Percival was in her office, and, since she studies global health stuff, we talked pandemic.  She taught a seminar this summer on COVID so she is very much up on the vaccines and such.  She gave me some hope that things will be better next fall. 










Eighth, the baking continues--the brownies last weekend proved to be delightful, especially when combined with ice cream and various syrups.  Because I have been far more diligent on the exercise front, I have not gained weight despite all the baking.  Oh, and the mobile bike repair dudes finally had time for us, so our bikes are in better shape.

Ninth (am I going to get a top ten list here?), I am super proud of Ora Szekely, one of my former students, who cat-herded more than forty academics, including myself, with her co-editor to produce this spiffy new book that I now possess.  The idea of the book was to have profs share their stories about the realities of doing fieldwork.  My chapter is on how to do research in places where one does not speak the language (all of them, for me).










Tenth, APSA is next week, and we were able to get our paper to our discussant!  Woot!  Ok, the paper is missing the survey due to a difficult research ethics process, so no results to report.  But we have a start.  A separate paper has survived a summer of revising and is awaiting RA help fixing the footnotes, and that will then go under review--this piece is the summary of the Dave/Phil/Steve project on legislatures and civilian-military relations.  We got lots of very useful feedback from folks who were very generous with their time.  So, a smidge of research progress.  We didn't complete the book this summer like I had hoped, but we can see it from here.  We just need to clean up the case studies and then write up some thematic and concluding chapters.  We hope to circulate it in early 2021 and submit it next summer. 

So, yeah, the misery of pandemic and racism and Trump continue, but I am embracing whatever signs of hope and progress there are.  I hope you can find some in your lives.  As always, the only way out is through.

Be well!