Saturday, February 27, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 50: Embracing Winter

 I finally got to go skiing this week!  Woot!  Downhill is just more fun than cross-country and I fall far less.  I went to Mont Ste. Marie on Monday.  They had heaps of COVID protocols, so I had to buy my ticket in advance, I had to change my boots in my car and leave my stuff there as the lodges are closed except for take-out and bathrooms, and I had to space myself away from those on the lift lines.  Which was not a problem since there were no lines.  The conditions were great except, surprisingly, for the expert hill's chairlift, which got progressively shakier as the day went along.   The hill is not big, but it had enough steeps to make things fun and fast.  It was good for my ego as they had a lot of grade inflation--blue runs that were coded as black or double black diamonds.  For me, to be a black diamond it either has to be super steep, narrow, or bumpy.  None of these runs were narrow or bumpy and not extremely steep.  My kind of stuff.  

Otherwise, the highlight of the week was watching sharp colleagues speak truth to power at the Defence Committee hearings on the Canadian Armed Forces and their abuse of power problem.  I blogged about it here.   Stef vH and I had talked about these issues in our podcast both this week and in the previous episode, and I have been following her work in the CDSN Personnel Theme.  So, as awful as it is that the CAF hasn't made that much progress, it was good to see the efforts of academics, including CDSN leaders (Stef and Alan Okros), shed so much light and insight on this stuff.  The timing could not have been much better for my Civ-Mil class as it just so happened that this week's focus Gender and civil-military relations.  So, quite the learning moment for us.  

Woot! The average Saideman is now vaccinated, I think. My mother got her first shot last week, my brother got his first shot this week, one of my sister's got both shots as she volunteered to help max vax her city.  So, that just leaves me and my older sister.  It is an easy bet that I will be the last both because I am the youngest and the most Ontarian. That's ok.  My job allows me to continue to quarantine with the only risky behavior involving shopping.  It is good to hear about my friends' parents and other folks getting the shots, and the vax news, other than the inequities, is very good.  That is a big exception, and Biden seems focused on improving that.

One of the hidden benefits of skiing is that the slow chair lifts (especially the progressively shakier one) gave me time to think.  I was able to develop some CDSN strategies and figure out how to fix the article that we just had rejected.  You know what they say:


Facebook is reminded me that I came back from Japan around this time last year--my last international trip.  I drank sake last night that an old farmer gave me when I visited the kids he was hosting during their home stay.  Kampai!

Next up: reminders of last year's CDSN civ-mil workshop in Calgary and the ski trip that was just so convenient.  

Be well and be patient. 






 


The CDS Scandal--Who Can Lead the Canadian Armed Forces?

I spent yesterday watching three really smart people (all three are members of the CDSN and two are co-directors) testify before the Standing Committee on National Defence about both the news of the past few weeks and of deeper problems.  The man named Chief of the Defence Staff, the highest post in the Canadian Armed Forces [CAF] and more powerful vis-a-vis his military than the US Chairman is relative to the US armed forces, Admiral Art McDonald, just a few weeks ago, has to step aside due to an investigation into inappropriate sexual conduct.  He was replacing General Jon Vance, who has been accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct for ... decades.   The news about Vance came out after he retired, but had been circulating in the CAF for years.*

On Sunday, Major Brennan was interviewed by Mercedes Stephenson, telling us about her relationship with Vance and his actions over the years.**  I believe her, and so did a couple of retired GOFOs who tweeted out their support.  

The fallout from this goes in two directions: what did the government do and what should be done now?  The three individuals before the committee, Allan English, Alan Okros, and Stefanie von Hlatky (my pal and co-host of the Battle Rhythm podcast) rightly dodged the first question and addressed the second.  So, I will discuss here what I learned from what they said and then, yes, I will address what several members of parliaments wanted them to address.  I will summarize some of what they said.  You can see my live tweeting of the hearing via this thread.  [To be clear, I am not an expert on gender and the armed forces (although my class on Thursday just happened to be about that topic), organizational change, or the like.]

All three identified failures in Operation Honour, which was the campaign plan set up by Vance after the Deschamps Report.  Marie Deschamps is a former Supreme Court justice who was asked to lead an investigation after reports of sexual misconduct were aired in 2014.  The first failure of Op Honour was that it did not implement many of Deschamps's recommendations.  The focus was on the Duty to Report--that anyone experiencing or witnessing sexual misconduct had a duty to report it.  This went directly against Deschamps's recommendation that the survivor of sexual misconduct should have more than one choice.  The second failure of Op Honour was that it was supposed to be implemented by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, but that position has become the Spinal Tap Drummer of Canadian defence--we've had seven in the past five or six years.  So, hard to get a strategy developed and implemented.  The third is probably thinking of the effort as a "campaign plan."  That framing means the effort will be temporary as campaigns are not supposed to be enduring.  "Fixing" the force takes more than a few years.  Fourth, Op Honour was not really aimed at changing the culture of the organization or the incentive structures that discouraged reporting and provided some level of impunity to those at the top of the chain of command.  And, yes, fifth, Op Honour was launched by a general who was perceived to be in breach of the values he was trying to promote.

All three witnesses focused on abuse of power at the heart of this.  Okros said that when you get hit by a shovel, you don't call it gardening misconduct.  Stef vH argued that the extreme hierarchy creates asymmetries that make it hard for those lower down to be able to give consent or not.  All three agreed that the Path to Dignity and Respect is a significant improvement but just a first step.  It focuses more on organizational culture than the previous efforts, but falls short, in my humble opinion, of calling out toxic masculinity and abuse of power as key elements of the problem. Stef vH argued that incentive structures have to be changed.  English went so far as to say that operational success has been the sole metric for promotions (I think he said that, I could be a little off) and that should change.

As a scholar currently writing about legislative oversight over the armed forces, a study comparing over a dozen democracies, I could not help but notice great variance among the members of parliament.  Some were solely focused on point-scoring, and it was fun to see the witnesses to refuse to engage.  One Liberal MP tried desperately to get SvH to talk about her history of founding Women in International Security-Canada (a great organization and a CDSN partner) so that the clock would run out before people asked pesky questions about what the Liberals in power should have done.  She didn't play. Others did ask good questions, such as whether the Duty to Report might be problematic.  Okros responded that we need to have Duty to Respond--that reports of sexual misconduct do not have a one-size-fits-all dynamic and that the target of such conduct should have some say over how it is handled. One pissed me off by asking a Huntingtonian type question: since the military is a unique organization, how could civilians be able to offer up any recommendations?  Okros noted that the folks in the military are humans, and there is much civilian expertise on psychology, for instance.

I get that the purpose of the critics is to hold the government to account--to place blame on Minister of Defence Sajjan and Prime Minister Trudeau.  And there is much blame to be had, but these witnesses were not the best tools for that exercise.  These folks have given the committee important ideas to consider.  If only the committee and the parliament actually legislated much, then I could see new laws being passed that would force the CAF to do stuff.  But that is not really how things work here, as far as I can tell.  Instead, the government will have perhaps better ideas of how to proceed on these issues and react better.  The good news is that the CDSN and other networks and research centres are working on these issues and have much to recommend.  Our personnel theme has focused in part on the condition of women in the CAF.

So, what about the short term problem of political accountability?  In previous hearings and in one question yesterday, a contrast was drawn between how fast Vice Admiral Mark Norman was suspended after questions of him leaking information about shipbuilding arose versus Vance sticking around at least two years or so after Sajjan learned of allegations.  McDonald was suspended within either a day or a month, depending on the reports, so perhaps Sajjan is learning.  Still, getting back to the Vance case, Sajjan said that he reported the allegations to the "proper authorities" when he learned of them.  He meant the ombudsman, I guess.  

However, in my mind, there are two other proper authorities--Sajjan himself and the Prime Minister.  The CDS position is not just some civil service job where due process is the key--it is a political position as the individual is chosen by the Prime Minister and serves at his or her pleasure.  At any time, the MinDef and PM can ask the CDS to retire (since, with one exception, there are no other next jobs for a four star officer in the CAF).***  Vance had already served three years, so he could have been asked to retire in 2018 without any publicity about the allegations.  Instead, he was kept on, serving longer than any other CDS in history.  Maybe that was due to the spin cycle of senior leadership that the Norman case helped to create, but there is always another person who can do the job.  No one is indispensable.  So, either Sajjan failed to report the news to the PM in 2018 and thus should lose his job for surprising his boss OR he told Trudeau, who was fine with having Vance continue despite these allegations, in which case Sajjan needs to be shuffled out of cabinet to soak up the blame that should be headed for Trudeau.  

In short, the Liberal government failed to take seriously these allegations that were widely known in the CAF.  That the officer responsible for Op Honour was tainted undermined the effort--it lacked legitimacy.  I heard that from women in and near the CAF over the past few years.  So, we don't necessarily need to name a woman to be CDS, but we do need to have a CDS that is above reproach.  Which means that McDonald may not be the right person for the job.  And neither is Sajjan, not any more. 

* This morning, there is news that the highest Canadian officer in NORAD, LTG Chris Coates, had an affair while in that position.  While the person with whom Coates was apparently having an affair was not in his chain of command, militaries tend to care about honor and integrity and keeping one's oathes, and Coates was married at the time.  So, not great.  When the Minister of Defence learned of this, Coates apparently lost his chance to serve at the NATO Defence College in Rome and instead got one of the top positions in the CAF--commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command. Again, what signal does that send to the CAF? 

**  Mercedes Stephenson and Amanda Connolly have done a fantastic job chasing this story, breaking news, and forcing the government to react.  I always insist that civilian control of the military involves more than just a few people at the top of the executive branch and absolutely does include the media. Without such reporting, these problems get buried.

*** There was much criticism last summer that Trudeau did not put Vance up for the job of Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, a four star job.  Good thing that didn't happen since the embarrassment over the Vance-Brennan story would be much more international.  We have no idea if Trudeau was foresighted on this or whether he was just scared of more international rejection after not getting the UN Security Council seat.


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Quaratine Report, Week 49: The Second Worst Week

I would call this my worst work of the pandemic except I lost a friend, a cohort-mate, last spring to a heart attack.  Since I wrote my previous q post:

  • I had a really awful fight with a friend,
  • my covid long hauling niece got a concussion,
  • I got food poisoned, which caused me to ->
  • get a covid test (negative) which probably exposed me to more risk than anything else (other than the weekly grocery store trip),
  • which upset my wife's schedule since she had to self-isolate until the test came back. 
  • I had a pretty tough meeting that was productive but not easy. 
  • I had to prep for a colonoscopy (for those who don't know, it involves drinking four liters of a potion that gets increasingly hard to drink--Dumbledore understands only too well), then repeat my Sunday night/Monday morning experience as the potion did its job, and the fasting started to get bothersome.  
  • The colonoscopy went fine, and then I gorged on too much food, which tends to cause me to have a backache, which, well, it did, so I didn't get much sleep Thursday night/Friday morning. Friday night was my best sleep of the week, thankfully.

On the bright side, I am not nor will I ever be Ted Cruz.  And I am not in Texas where the politicians left the state unprepared for the increasingly extreme weather that reminds me we started calling it climate change rather than global warming for a reason (I'd be in the part that still has power as Lubbock is not in the Texan grid).  So, in comparative perspective, it was not that horrific.  It was awful, but nobody in my family or circle of friends died.  And I guess, given the plague and the stuff going on in Texas, we count that as a good week.  

Very much not the winter break I had hoped for.  Last year's winter break involved chaperoning a group of graduate students who did not need a chaperone around a less crowded Tokyo (thanks to the pandemic) and visiting them in their home stays with their sweet elderly Japanese hosts.

10:30 AM, welcomed with sake, and then told
the local tradition is to drink two cups... and then
the host gave me that golden bottle in front of me
to take home.  Time to drink it since I never could
drop it off with my daughter.

That week was terrific, certainly the best week of the past 53.  This time last year, I went from Germany to home to Japan to a great small conference run by sharp young women at Queen's (Women in International Security-Queens) to our capstone event at the Canadian Forces College to ... hearing every sniffle and cough at the smaller airport in downtown Toronto on the day Tom Hanks announced to the world that he had COVID and the NBA shutdown.  For me, that was the start of quarantining.  We are not quite at that anniversary yet, but we can see it from here.

I really can't complain too much despite having a hard week, as my friends with kids at home are facing tougher days every week. The things I dealt with this week happen far less often.  Every five years for some things (poison potion, colonoscopy), first time in my life in another case.  

The survival strategies remain the same--baking, cooking, exercising (less this week thanks to the accidental and then deliberate poisoning), heaps of streaming with Wandavision remaining the highlight of the week.  I have much less patience these days for shows that are too dour (goodbye Black Lightning) or too dumb (stopped watching Greenland, a disaster flick, about 15 minutes in when the hero leaves to go in search of insulin).

I did finish my treadmill re-watch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I will just conclude by stealing Cap's speech:

 


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Hardest Part of Starting a Research Project

 I originally asked what the hardest part of doing social science is and folks ended up talking about policy relevance and getting published and getting grants.  So, to be clear, my focus was and is for this post--how to get started and what is the hardest mental/brainpower part. As a prof running a PhD dissertation proposal workshop, as a supervisor of nearly 20 PhD students over my career, and as a researcher, I thought the answer was obvious.  But nope, it ain't:

 What is the hardest part of doing social science?

Turns out all three parts--the question, the answer, how to figure out if the answer is right--are all seen as being the hardest part by roughly an equal percentage of people who answered the survey.  Again, others suggested other parts of the process, but every research project involves at least these three pieces.  And again, I was really trying to ask about what is the hardest mental exercise--figuring out what to study, how to think about it, or how to design the research?

I asked this survey out of frustration--that many of my current students are so focused on the methods that they skip over the thing that logically comes before methods: what is your proposed answer to the question?  What is your theory of x?  What do you think is the key causal mechanisms at work, what are the key conditions associated with the outcome, and why?  What is the logic of all of this?  What is the logical glue that holds together the various things that you think matters most?* 

I do think that coming up with research questions is hard, especially early in one's career. Dr. Wahedi's points here are really important.

That it is hard to figure out what to ask that hasn't been asked before.  Or, more likely, what has been asked but not answered satisfactorily that one can answer?  Of course, that already begins to bleed into the theory--do I have an answer that hasn't been posed or posed well before? As Dr. W suggests, this probably gets easier over time.  I have found it far easier now than when I started to figure out what questions are interesting and have not been answered satisfactorily.  I now have too many questions, not enough time to figure out the answers and then do the research.

The methods should be driven by the theory.  It can be hard to figure out how to test a theory, but, it is, of course, impossible without having some observable implications derived from a theory to try to, um, observe.  Once one has hypotheses, figuring out to test them can be much work.  Is there a dataset?  Can one construct a dataset?  What kinds of case studies make sense?  Most likely?  Least likely?  A sample representing the different possibilities (one case for each cell of a 2 by 2)?  Outliers?  There are plenty of books and articles that explain not just the methods but how to select which ones.  Why choose negative binomial distribution rather than poisson?  

There are far fewer guides for how to think theoretically.  While there are plenty of courses aimed at improving one's ability to think theoretically, none are so explicit about step 2 as methods courses are regarding step 3 (unless one gets a purely theoretical version of a methods course, like, alas, I got long ago).

Perhaps one reason why my Phd students in the past found this harder than other students is that I am not a disciple nor insist that my students be disciples.  I am theoretically eclectic as my supervisor was before me, and so I can't tell my students to think in a particular way.  If I did, then the challenge they would have faced is: what is a good question to apply our favorite theory to and what are the methods to test it.  For the proposal class, this is doubly true since the students range across International Affairs, from largely economic studies on trade or investment to mixed questions to mostly poli sci type questions.  So, there definitely is no magical theory that all students should be adopting.  Indeed, many of them apply pieces of theories that I am most unfamiliar with.   Which then makes it harder for me to help them through this troublesome stage.  

However, the survey suggests that I was wrong about which part of the research thinking process is the hardest.  Ironically, I have found an interesting question--why do people see the different stages differently?  I could develop a theory, but that would require work.  So, we don't really know what is the hardest part.  Tom Petty said it was the waiting, but Blondie says otherwise.



* My view of all of this is, of course, biased as I am a positivist.  One of my struggles with post-positivism is understanding how their pieces fit together.

 

 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 48: Limited Learning

 We are nearing the anniversary of the start of the quarantine, and it seems like we haven't learned a damn thing.  Ontario is opening up on Tuesday, despite its chief medical types saying this is a bad idea, while Newfoundland is shutting down amid a provincial election.  The latter had largely and notably escaped the worst of the pandemic, but the new variant has caused cases to skyrocket.  You'd think that Ontario would be a bit more careful, but Doug Ford (the closest thing to Trump in Canada?) is always slow to close and quick to open.  Given that vaccinations are rolling out at an accelerating pace (with some bumps), it is amazing that Ontario and similar political units are rushing to open up rather than waiting an additional week or two to give medical staff a small breather.  Nope, we are looking at a third wave in April.  The health officials themselves are expecting ... disaster.

There are more articles lately about people hitting the pandemic wall--that they (we/I) are facing more stress, more distraction, less productivity, as the end is not as near as we had hoped, that the months of this madness just add up.  The stress my friends are feeling, especially those with kids, is palpable.  There is good news, but it is hard to see amid all of the dumb decisions and irresponsible behavior.  Where is John Krasinski when you need him?

Among the good news: my mother got her first shot this week.  Philly's screwing this up by giving it to young douchebros was reversed.  Woot!  Next week is winter break/reading week at Carleton! Woot!  Ok, does not feel like that much of a break--different kinds of meetings rather than classes and, of course, no travel--but still a small change of pace.  Wandavision remains incredibly delightful!  I haven't fallen cross-country skiing in my last couple of outings.  The weather here has been winter-good.  That is, plenty of blue skies, and it has stayed below freezing.  This is good as the snow remains snow.  I hate it when it snows, melts, rains, freezes, turns to ice.  So, steady freezing temps means it is more pleasant being outside except for ... right now as it has been sub 0F.  And that turns bearably cold to unbearably.  

On the professorial front, it was a week of bad political news making classes more interesting.  The Canadian military picture of the week fostered good conversation for this week's civ-mil class, where the focus just happened to be on Canadian civ-mil.  Between that and the Vance controversy, we had much to talk about.  I am finding that this seminar works pretty well on zoom, so much so that, well I am breaking my promise to them.  I told them I would keep classes short since zooms are exhausting, supplementing the seminars with video lectures that cover the readings I cut.  Yet, we consistently go beyond the 1.5 hour mark that was my goal.  I will have to re-calibrate in the second half.  I was worried that transporting the meme of the week assignment to this class would not work, but it did:


So, woot for that!  On the homefront, it is anniversary season, so we are finding new restaurants to order food from and I am making cupcakes in an hour or two.  And we have started thinking about next year's big 30!  We hope to travel for that--whether to do the Maui trip that we lost due to COVID or go to Spain or Morocco.... hmmm.  I really can't wait to get on a plane again.  Really.  But not until I am jabbed.  We did get a notice this week that the firm with whom we placed a deposit for last summer's safari is going out of business, so we will have to see what the company does as it fades away.  We still hope to go to South Africa, maybe in the summer of 2022?

Anyhow, thinking about the future provides a nice distraction from the madness of the moment.  Whatever it takes to get through this long winter, do it.  For me, that means baking, eating, and flailing at winter sports as the one I am competent at--downhill--is out of reach for now.

Be well, and stay locked down as much as you can as the politicians find old and new ways to screw this up.






Thursday, February 11, 2021

The CAF Learns that Poor Optics is Bad Policy and Vice Versa

 Today was a learning experience for the new Chief of Defence Staff.  He sent out this tweet with a picture that was, well, problematic.

 Conversations on diversity, inclusion, and culture change are not incompatible with our thirst for operational excellence. I count on my senior leaders to champion culture change. Diversity makes us stronger, inclusion improves our institution. We are #StrongerTogether - ArtMcD pic.twitter.com/y4piRhtW3N

 The group of officers are the Canadian Armed Forces [CAF] command team--the CDS, the Vice Chief, the heads of the Navy, Air Force, Army, etc.  All white dudes.  So, not really a diverse group.  So, what is the message that they are trying to convey and what is the message they are actually conveying?

The attempt: that the senior leadership is serious about fostering diversity and inclusion.  That they are champions.  One thing that they have been doing is assigning senior leaders (white dudes) to be champions of different less-well represented groups with the idea in mind that white men have to be part of the solution, that the work of improving diversity and inclusion and dismantling racism is not a job for only Black Canadians, for Indigenous Canadians, for Women, for LGBTQ2S+.  

The message they are actually conveying: the CAF is an institution that seem to only promote white dudes to the highest levels.  Yes, there have been and are a few women who have gotten to the rank of Lieutenant General and Vice Admiral, but not in that picture.  I don't know if there have been any people from racialized communities that have served near the top of the CAF--this picture suggests not so much.  The picture illustrates much that the CDS may not have intended but is there for all to see.  It is a picture that does not look like Canada but does look like Canadian power structures but perhaps more so.

The CDS could have taken this picture and admitted the reality: "The current command group is committed to making sure that this is one of the last pictures that looks like this."  A little self-awareness would have been handy.

The picture/tweet combo was awful, but it gets to a thorny problem that I have been facing with the CDSN.  Some say the best way to improve diversity and inclusion is to do the hard work silently and let the results speak for themselves.  Others say that in order to attract people from less well represented communities to one's efforts, one should show how such people are included.  That doing good is not sufficient, that one should show that one is doing good.  I am struggling to figure out which way to proceed.  I will, of course, focus on the substance--how to do better.  But the comms side of things is important, and it is not straightforward.  So, I am consulting folks to get a broader set of perspectives to figure out the way ahead.  

While there are far more eyes on the CAF, the CAF also has far more resources to get this right.  Do better on the substance and maybe the optics will follow. 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 47: Planning Amid Uncertainty

 Trying to move ahead right now is a challenge as we do not know when the vaccinations will have proceeded far enough for some sense of normalcy to return.  Will an event scheduled in August (the CDSN Summer Institute) be in person?  No.  Will the fall classes be in person?  Probably not, at least at the start.  Will APSA, which takes place at the end of September, be in person?  Damned, I hope so--it would be great to see folks again and to hang with my sister.  But, if I go to the US for APSA for any other reason, will I have to pay $2k to stay in a Canadian quarantine hotel when I return?  I have no idea when that policy will actually start and stop.  

There is good news.  The curves are mostly bending back down.  The vaccination is increasing in most places.  We probably got a bit impatient given the scale of the problem, but it is easy to see where states and provinces are screwing things up.  Other good news--Biden and the Dems are not playing along with Mitch's efforts to block everything.  So, there will be a huge COVID relief effort, and the Republicans will have to tell their constituents why they wanted to spend about a third as much.  The teams of super competent and reasonable people are now filling the executive offices, so good policies are being rolled in and craptastic ones are being tossed out.  Trump will not be getting intel briefings anymore, not that he ever paid much attention.  

In Canada, the blame game is dizzying.  Two things can be true at the same time--that it is in some ways too soon to be too critical of the vax rollout as it is really early and that all of the major political actors have also underperformed.  The worst of them are undoing the quarantine restrictions just as the curves start to bend down, which means they will bend back up.  

The best news is that my friends are reporting that their parents and grandparents are getting the shots and that my mother is now finally going to get one in the next week.  We just have to persist in our good habits a while longer.  It is made harder by the selfish people.  I saw a tweet citing a nurse that said that times like these mean that givers give more and takers take more, and it is spot on.  So, we should probably be good Mr. Rogers followers and focus on the helpers.

On the work front, it was a busy week, as the CDSN is announcing a series of events and initiatives for teh spring and summer.  We have a post-doc competition this month so that a sharp young scholar can join one of our research themes for next year, probably virtually for the first half of the fellowship.  The deadline is the end of February.  We got a great person the first year--Linna Tam-Seto.  We will aim to do as well again.  We also announced our Summer Institute for 2021 that will be online.  The aim is two-fold--to offer a professional development opportunity to advance the participant's understanding of the Canadian defence and security challenges and institutions while building bridges among different parts of the community.  We hope to get relatively junior military officers, government officials, journalists, and academics together.  Doing it online will require a lot of adaptation, but we have some practice now at doing such stuff.  Our fiscal year ends at the end of March so we are also working on how to get our subunits to inform us of what they have done while planning Year 3.  Amazing that we are already that deep into this effort.  

I also managed to do that classic "flip it to the co-author" twice on Monday.  I had enough free time and focus to finish my portion of two projects on Monday to be able to ship the projects off to others.  Tis a great feeling until... the projects come back.  I did find it a struggle to be as productive the next few days, but it was good to move some of the things along.  My MA civ-mil class continues to go well--we have good engagement, with nearly everyone participating and fewer glitches.  Our timing was either great or bad as we did the coup stuff a week before Myanmar's latest coup and we are doing both Canadian civ-mil and gender stuff in the weeks after the revelations about the retiring Chief of the Defence Staff's inappropriate behavior.  

On that, on the Jon Vance story, I have not said much.  I have been trying to figure out what to say, and I will say much of it in the next Battle Rhythm podcast that drops on Wednesday, Feb 10th.  The shorthand of the story is: the highest official in the Canadian military came into that position with sexual harassment and sexual assault as one of the most visible problems, launched a campaign called Operation Honor to address it, the campaign faced mixed results although it built up much capacity for survivors to get help and it also built up much data and efforts to study the problem, and then a week or two after he retires, news breaks of stuff that people had clearly known about but were reluctant to raise while he was CDS.  Ok, not so short of a shorthand.  

Oh, and a complication for me is that I know Vance.  I met him before he was CDS as I interviewed him for my NATO and Afghanistan projects.  I kept bumping into him and chatting with him at events in Ottawa ever since.  I am profoundly disappointed although not entirely shocked as I had heard whispers, as folks wondered how Operation Honor can work if led by a guy with some history.  I had been wondering whether the events of the past five years indicate that organizational culture is very hard to change despite the efforts made by those at the top, but maybe that is the wrong question given what we know now.  It was most striking that the response of the new CDS, Admiral Art McDonald, was to cite in his statement the need to deal with the fears and realities of retaliation when dealing with sexual harassment and assault issues.  Maybe he was struck by the timing of the news--so shortly after Vance stepped down. 

So, that is the Canadian military story of the week, and it will be with us, deservedly so, for quite some time.  On the bright side, these dynamics are being studied by members of the CDSN as part of our Personnel theme, and there are super-sharp people in and outside of government who have been working in this area over the past half-dozen years.  

On the personal side of things, it is time for me to figure out if it is a cross country day or a snowshoe day as it is beautiful today in Ottawa with blue skies and a fresh layer of white snow to cover the gray snow.

Be well, be patient, and be distanced. 


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Quarantine, Week 46: Stumbing Out of the Abyss

 While news of strains and variants are causing much stress, and there are stories in the US and Canada of a bungled vax rollout, there seems to be more good news than not.  The Canadian controversy is how to count the number of vaccines the country is getting from Pfizer--whether we can count each vial has having 5 shots or 6.  This is a good problem to have.  Canada is not at the top of the list of countries vaccinating their public, but it is also not as far behind as the Economist suggests.  The good thing is that most cities are not handing over their vax programs to douchebros.  The bad news is that my mother resides in the one that did.  I am heartened by seeing my friends' parents and grandparents getting the shots as well as those who in the health care business or nearby.  The latest lockdowns, as weak as they have been, are making a difference.  Biden and the CDC are making the decisions that should have been made a year ago--requiring masks on planes, for instance.  There is another vaccine that may help.  With so much death, it is hard to focus on the good news, but that is the way to get through this long winter.

 A key way to get through this winter is to mock the conspiracy theorists:

In the pre-Qanon days, I got through most long Canadian winters is by traveling.  I didn't think that the end of January was peak Steve on the road, but facebook's memories has reminded me that over the past decade, I spent the last week of January in places like Netherlands/Belgium for the NATO book, my first trip to Japan, work/ski trips to Calgary/Banff, etc.  I surely traveled far more the past ten years than in the rest of my career, so the past 46 weeks of no travel has been quite a shock to my system.  I have always liked changes of pace--like teaching one batch of students for 12 or so weeks and then getting a break and then a new one.  Travel had that same impact of shaking things up, keeping me from falling into a rut, having stuff to look forward to, having stuff to remember.  Instead, now, I pass my time by treadmilling while binge-watching, by cooking and baking, by staring at screens of all kinds.  When I land in most places, I drop my stuff off at the hotel and then just walk around the city, to see the sites, to find good pastries, and catch the flavor of a different place.  These days, "travel" means going to the blood bank to give blood or to a trail nearby for some snowshoeing.  

I know that I have been most lucky, that I have found projects that take me to great places.  My next project is unlikely to lead to as much fun travel unless .... I go with a joke I have been making to myself--that the current project skips all the I countries.  Which means the next book should do just that--check out the civ-mil dynamics of Ireland, Italy, Israel, India, and Indonesia.  Yeah, I would skip Iran and Iraq for the obvious reasons, and Iceland has no military.  

Speaking of work, having gotten past the big grant application, I have found time to think and write. Some of it was forced by the inevitable ebb and flow of work.  The Dave/Phil/Steve project hit a stumbling block as we got rejected from a top journal, but good feedback that will force us to think more clearly.  Our strategy worked as expected although not quite what we hoped.  We had a good zoom meeting to figure it out, and the next parts are in the ballparks of Dave and Phil, so I moved onto other stuff to do.  I owe different people chapters for their edited volumes, so that is my next thing.

Well, that and more CDSN stuff.  We rolled out our Post-Doc competition this week, and I got acceptances back from the people who were nominated to be our Capstone Scholars.  That event will be on March 22nd, bringing together the best presentations on Canadian defence and security of 2020.  We are now working on the end of the year reporting (our fiscal year ends at the end of March) and on our Summer Institute--which was postponed due to the pandemic.  We will try again, planning for an online version, which will be tricky since the goal was to have the participants share their perspectives with each other and build a cohort.  We will figure a way to make it work.  

While facebook remains pretty evil, it does remind me of some of the best pictures I have ever taken, so here's one to remind me of ski trips past and future.