Tuesday, May 14, 2024

An Amazing Three Months: Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin

 This winter/spring was the first time I lived abroad for three months--Japan was six weeks broken up into two parts in 2016 and 2017 and London was seven weeks back in 1987.  I have had a great time and have learned a lot, and while I am eager to go home to my much bigger kitchen (Mrs. Spew is with her mother right now), I am also looking forward to coming back next winter.  The Humboldt Award brings foreign academics to Germany for six or more months.  So, I have completed half of that time, and as I have to return home for a variety of family stuff (a wedding most importantly), I will do the second half next winter.  

Any academic will say that they didn't get enough done, and I definitely did not get enough done, but what did I do?

  • I helped my co-authors revise the book on parliamentary oversight and submit it.
  • I interviewed enough German experts, MoD officials (past and present), and military officers (retired and active) to have enough to draft a rough case for the MoD/militaries book.  I have more interviews to do, and will do those next year hopefully.  I haven't really cracked the case yet, but hopefully things will fall together as I write the case study.
  • I went to Finland to do that case study for the same project and talked to pretty much everyone I needed.  I transcribed all of my notes, but have not yet written the case study--one of those things I wish I had gotten done.  But upon returning to Berlin, my wife arrived for two weeks of great tourism by car, plane, boat, train, tram, and bus (do busses to and from the planes at airports that don't park their planes at the terminal count?) followed by my sister and her boyfriend and then by Melissa, the CDSN's COO, and her daughter.  My last week in Berlin involved one conference, one presentation, and much packing.
  • I wrote up more of the South Korean case study from October for the same project, but didn't finish it because, damn, this book is hard.
  • I received much feedback on the MoD/militaries book with multiple presentations at Hertie, a presentation at Central European University in Vienna, and a talk to a class in Potsdam. 
  • I have done much networking to develop more European partners for the next CDSN grant application and to develop more ways for us to work together to make the partnership more meaningful.
  • I had opportunities to learn how the Europeans are seeing things these days, especially at a Hertie conference on whether each country is experiencing its own zeintenwende (watershed/turning point in its world view after Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine) or not.
    • I also learned the whole "the Germans have a word for everything" gag is very true but also played out.
  • I learned much about comparative authoritarianism at a workshop organized by Hertie folks.
  • Speaking of Hertie, I had some chats with some of the students here about their work as folks here are working on NATO and on other stuff I have studied at some point.  I am crashing a dissertation defense today as the student used some of the data from my long languishing diaspora project with Erin Jenne that Kathleen Cunningham and Connor Kopchick resurrected.
  • I saw a lot of Berlin, first by myself and then with the aforementioned waves of visitors towards the end.
  • I saw much more of Germany than I had seen before: Bamberg, Dresden, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Erfurt, and more of Potsdam than before.
  • I saw much more of Austria than I had seen before: Vienna (my first time) and the Austrian Alps (Zurs and Lech and the train ride to and from the Bodansee).
  • I saw more of northern Italy than I had seen before: Venice, Milan, and Como.
  • I learned much about the German politics of EU parliamentary campaign via interesting campaign signs (see my this post).
  • I found out that people use the gym in so many different ways.  There was a largely unstaffed fitness center near me, and I went nearly daily, trying to recover from the combo ski trip/amusement park trip.  I was amazed at how every person has a very different exercise regiment.  I was mostly treadmilling and doing various knee stretches/exercises.  My first time in a 21st century gym essentially, and I was almost always the oldest, most out of shape person there.   Oh, and the kids really do have a lot of tattooes.

So, nope, didn't do much, I guess πŸ˜‰

To dig up one of the oldest tropes here, what did I find to be the most surprising, troubling, enchanting, and humbling from my time in Berlin and Europe? 

  • I guess I have been the most surprised by how much English I heard, not just by me, as I wandered through Berlin.  Apparently, East Berlin has many foreign folks, including North Americans, so it is increasingly a bilingual city.  That and the graffiti of East Berlin.
  • I am most troubled that Germany is so hamstrung by past decisions and laws that it may not make the changes it needs to make to thrive.  Just the other night, I heard folks complaining about the governing coalition being frozen by the wide ideological divide between Liberal Democrats (think libertarians), Greens, and Social Democrats.  Good for the Steve and Dave book of yore, not so good for dealing with Russia, climate change, or China.
  • I am most enchanted by, yes, the good weather of Berlin (it rained a lot my first few weeks but has been mostly sunny since) that allowed me to explore lots and lots of neighborhoods, finding great gelato places and Indonesian food and absolutely terrific doner kebabs from the many, many TΓΌrkische places.  
  • I am most humbled by how sharp the people at Hertie and at the Canadian embassy and the various other folks I have bumped into.  Berlin is chock full of really smart, incisive, multilingual, experienced people.  I again feel like a recently unfrozen caveman when hanging around with these folks.  I have learned a lot, and, yeah, I got into this business because I have an insatiable curiosity, so woot!  I am also humbled by how crappy I skied on mixed snow in Zurs.

Was this my best sabbatical?  I could say it is too soon (IT IS TOO SOON!!) as my sabbatical does not end until July 1st.  However, most of the next 1.5 months will be doing catch up on paperwork and CDSN-ing, family stuff (that aforementioned wedding, the first of the next generation of Saidemans and perhaps the first millennial wedding I will be attending), and then conferencing.  So, probably not too soon.  I have had three sabbaticals and one leave (the Pentagon experience), so, as is my tendency, a few rankings:

Best food:

  1. Toyko in 2016-17
  2. Germany this year (mostly the non-German food I ate), as I learned what the Hokey Pokey is really all about (ice cream).
  3. The sabbatical at home plus travel of 2006-2007
  4. The Pentagon year.  Most of the rankings here are of relatively good stuff, but that year was not good for my diet and was not tasty either.

Biggest career impact

  1. Pentagon year and it is not close as it helped get me the jobs at McGill and Carleton and re-directed my research from the IR of ethnic conflict to alliances and then civil-military relations.
  2. Tokyo--I had never done any research on Asia before that sabbatical.  I am not an Indo-Pacific expert, but I have a far better idea of what the big questions are out there, and that has influenced my teaching, and the Tokyo work did lead to the question I am exploring this year in Europe.
  3. Sabbatical at home as it gave me a chance to catch up and shift to civ-mil
  4. This one--I am nearing the end of my career, so it is hard to move it that far from the current path.

 Most productive in terms of academic research/output:

  1. It might be this one--two case studies, revising the book (we made a lot of progress last summer and then this winter), getting feedback.  
  2. the sabbatical at home--I finished the Steve and Bill book on irredentism if I remember correctly and shifted to a new research agenda
  3. Tokyo: I got that case study done, but the survey took years to complete and we haven't published anything from it yet.  I thought I had a partnership that was going to produce a lot of work, but it fizzled.
  4. Pentagon: I got one week of fieldwork done, and it fostered a heap of questions, but I was too busy desk officer-ing to do much academic stuff.


  1. Pentagon.  I learned so much about so many things at a pivotal time in US foreign policy and international relations from the nexus of US defense policy.  Did I mention it helped get me out of Lubbock?
  2. Tokyo.  Watching Shogun this winter reminded me of how wonderfully addictive Japan is--I went from never going there to visiting at least six times--so many times that I am losing track.  Which competes with how many times I have been to Germany.
  3. This one.  It has been a terrific three months in Germany.  My sabbatical this year also includes the South Korea trip, which was also pretty cool.  
  4. My first one in 2006-2007.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't as special.  I barely remember what I did that year.  I will always remember my times in the Pentagon, in Japan, and, here.  

I will soon start counting down until the next one, and I have a cool idea, but we shall see if I can make it happen.  It will be my last one, so I hope I can make it count.

As I keep saying, I am very lucky.  The Humboldt Award was a great break, giving me the chance to hang out with the sharp and generous folks at Hertie.  I haven't baked in three months and desperately miss my kitchen (facebook is reminding me of the renovation that took place this time last year).  So, I am ready to go home, but I will soon be eager to come back.  My plans for my next Eurotrip?  More Germany, more Nordic case studies (Sweden and Norway), the Italian Alps, and probably Greece.

 I will write another post about what I have learned over the course of the past few months.  


EU elections? Fun Posters!

As a political scientist, I could not help but notice there is an election going on.  The European Union's parliament has an election soon, so candidates and parties are putting up signs to advertise for their candidates and to oppose other parties.  The latter, of course, has been more fun.

So, I took some pictures as I walked around and google lensed my way through when I couldn't figure out what the message was.

For example, one poster was not for the campaign but for a protest: The Rent is Too High!  Must be Trudeau's fault.





The more centrist parties are, alas, boring.  Thus, no pics for the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats.  The Liberal Democrats were so boring I had to include their poster. Sure, boomer.  Business loves freedom just like you?  For realz? 


Boring poster but the name alone gets my interest.  Starting with a concern about internet regulation, the party has occasionally won a few seats.  All it says is: vote for me.  Blah.

The Marxist-Leninist Party is not a fan of the far right party: Ban the AfD.  So, yes, I do agree with the communists on at least one thing.








The Volt party is funky.  I noticed their posters the most.  They have one demanding "Power to the People" which is striking because it is in English.  Given that English and Scots, Americans, and Canadians can't vote in EU elections, it was a bit puzzling to me.  Elections are moments of nationalism, where parties try to put their spin on the country's nationalism.  Every American presidential candidate has to wear a pledge flag pin on their uniform suit.  So, I would expect German parties to use German.  But as a colleague here at Hertie noted, the Volt party voters are going to be bilingual at least.  It seems to be a pro-EU, relatively progress/internationalist party--pan-European.  This particular sign caught me attention--google lens made me laugh at loud.  The big question is: how best to avoid being an asshole?  Vote for Volt?  Don't vote for AfD?  Maybe as a Euro party, being a nationalist is being an asshole?  Anyhow, I will try to avoid being an asshole in my last couple of days here. Although writing fairly ignorant posts about campaign posters may count as being an asshole?


Monday, May 6, 2024

The Berlin Jewish Museum: Pictures and Reactions

The building is very carefully designed
to evoke various feelings.  And note the two security
folks in front.  I don't think they had guards
stationed outside the building when I was here
in 2009.
 My sister and her boyfriend visited me in Berlin at the same time as Mrs. Spew.  So, I played tour guide, and we hit many of the major spots in town and also wandered through some neighborhoods.  One must-see is the Jewish Museum, which documents the lives of German Jews before and after the Holocaust.  I had visited during my first trip to Germany (if I remember correctly) but not since.  And much has changed as they did a major renovation.  I don't remember well what it looked like before, and I apparently didn't take that many pictures.  So, it was all fresh to me, and I am pretty sure many of the best infographics were new.  

I am going to put a bunch of pictures below and comment on them, rather than develop a coherent discussion of the entire experience except for the following mega-reactions:

  • So much of the run-up to the Holocaust feels way too familiar right now, as many politicians compete to write laws to exclude trans people from society.
  • As it is the Jewish museum, I don't mind as much the exclusive focus on the Jewish Holocaust experience, but as we visited the Romani/Santii memorial, the number really isn't six million Jews but eleven million people including Jews, Roma, LGBTQ, disabled people, communists and socialists, and many others.
  • Not much on the Holocaust itself--that is somewhere else.  
  • I would have loved to see a conversation of what does Never Again mean. 
  • In the past, I would go to places like this and be sad.  Now, I am sad and angry.  Angry that Israeli authorities are betraying the lessons learned long ago and doing so much harm because it satisfies some sense of revenge and it distracts people from unseating Netanyahu.

Lots of statements by German Jews reacting to
the Holocaust

Changes in # of Jews in Germany
Where the Jews were expelled to

The white figures represent the total Jews pre-Holocaust, the black repesent those who were killed.
Note Bulgaria!  This was one of the biggest surprises during my visit.

Row upon row of laws passed
from 1933-1945 to repress
Germany's Jews

The last of the laws--how to hide what they did

One wall had reactions by Jews to Hilter/Nazis
getting into power in 1933

Multiple walls dedicated to
Jewish superstars including Jesus

This caught my eye given
the rise of Jewish anti-Zionists. 
I didn't know the connection between Wagner
and anti-semitism---I thought it was that
Nazis loved his music.  Nope, it was that he
was a virulent anti-semite.

Great info graphic showing the breakdown
of Germans and German Jews in the economy.
Now I know why I suck at yard work: Jews are not

Marx had some good ideas.

all the towns from which Jews were
expelled.  Makes me think about
Israel doing some expelling then
and now.

They had an exhibit of a German poet who
released his work weekly from his hiding place
in the Netherlands.


One thing I didn't see this time that I saw my first time:

Friends Kippa!

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Some Basic Thoughts About Anti-Semitism, University Protests, and the Far Right BS Machine

 Watching students getting arrested and expelled was bad.  Watching them get pummeled by right wing assholes (Zionists or far right provocateurs) with the cops' permission and watching cops use "rubber" bullets that are super dangerous has been even worse.  I have many thoughts about all of this so let me spew a bit to figure some of this stuff out.

Some really basic stuff about identity and anti-semitism:

  • No individuals or groups are actually acting on behalf of entire ethnic groups despite, oh my, all of the assumptions and data I used when I was an ethnic conflict scholar.  This means:
    • Not all allies of Israel are Jews.  
    • Not all pro-Palestinians are Muslims.  
    • Not all Jews are pro-Israel at this moment. 
  • What is anti-semitism?  Hatred of Jews.  Criticism of Israel can be anti-semitic but is not necessarily.  Israel is a country, and it has a government.  All governments can and should be criticized when they abuse people and engage in bad policies.  Identifying Israel with all Jews can be anti-semitic because it is generalizing about an entire group.  Not all Arabs or Muslims are pro-Saudi Arabia AND criticism of Saudi Arabia is not always Islamophobic.  

Are these various encampments and anti-Israel protests anti-semitic? It depends.  Sorry, but it is not clear--it depends on their demands, their statements, their treatment of Jews.  If they happen to have a bunch of Jews within them, then they are probably not anti-semitic. 

Back to basic stuff, this time about punishing students:

  • Any punishment of students should involve some kind of due process.  No student should be evicted without a big hunk of due process.
  • Students should not be suspended or expelled or evicted for engaging in collective dissent as long as it is not violent.  Universities are supposed to places where speech should be at its freest.  
  • Such protests can be inconvenient and/or annoying--that is how they make themselves known. When I mentioned this on social media, someone raised the John Lewis line about good trouble.  
  • What protests should not do and protestors can be punished for is threatening other students. But that raises two important distinctions:
    • individual punishment, not collective punishment.  Entire groups of students should not be punished for the statements of individuals or actions of individuals especially if those folks happen to be off campus (see the non-students outside of Columbia)
    • Saying negative things about Israel may hurt one's feelings but does not count as threats.  Again, not all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic.  The actual words and actions matter.  It may suck for Jewish students to be on campuses where there are protests against Israel as insults of those sharing one's identity does hurt one's own self-esteem.  But hurt feelings are not tantamount to violence or assaults.  
  • No president of any university should be calling in the cops to arrest their students unless their students are engaged in or threatening to engage in violence.  Campuses need to be safe for all students, including those engaged in dissent.  Calling in the cops is an escalation that can and often leads to violence.  The students at many of these places have been harmed, way out of proportion to whatever their alleged crimes.  These universities have failed a very basic part of their mission--to protect their students.  Again, there are now cops on campus using rubber bullets and pepper spray.
    • Everyone should have learned by now that no one controls the cops in North America AND they like to escalate AND infiltration is probably too benign of a word to address how deeply the far right is embedded in North American police forces.  So, calling the cops is worse than throwing gasoline on a fire because the latter has no illusion of deniability.

Now, let's get to the far right bullshit of all of this: Republicans, Fox, and the rest of the far right apparatus complaining about "anti-semitic" students on college campuses is just bad faith bullshit.  These folks are not interested in protecting Jews, or they might have spoken up a bit with all of the anti-semitism whipped up by the far right.  Charlottesville?  Remember that?  Where were these folks who are so concerned with anti-semitism when the Nazis were yelling about Jews not replacing "us"?  Where were these folks when George Soros was being used to incite anti-semitism?  Oh wait, many of these folks were doing precisely that.  Fuck all of them.  

Ok, one last thing: to put this into context, if Nazis have the right to march into Jewish neighborhoods, like Skokie, Illinois, then even if the students were all anti-semites, they have a right to protest.  So, again, why is it ok for far right anti-semites to protest but not far left?*  To be clear, I am not saying that the students are all anti-semites, but just making the point that if they were, they would still have a right to protest.  On college campuses?  I am not so sure since many have hate speech regulations.  

All I do know for sure is that the college administrators have failed their students and have also abetted the far right in undermining higher education. The urge to do something should have been ignored  The semesters in these places were winding down--they could have easily outwaited the students.  Move graduate ceremonies if you must, but for fuck's sake, don't invite cops onto campus to beat your students and professors!

* I fear far right anti-semitism more than far left.  Why?  First, the far right has far more power.  Second, if one did the math, I am pretty sure the far right anti-semites have killed far more Jews than the far left.  When Netanyahu and others hang out with ideological kindred anti-semites "since everyone out there is anti-semitic," they are just giving those with the greatest ability and the most violent history more deniability. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Milano and Como: Nice Ways to Finish A Eurotrip

To be clear, my time in Europe is not over, and Mrs. Spew has a few more days, but Berlin is, well, home enough for me that tomorrow I will be returning to my apartment and my normal.  I will still be doing a heap of tourism but now as tour guide for my wife and my sister and her boyfriend.  

So, I will just highlight some stuff we saw the past few days here in Lombardy (which reminds me that Italy is the country that gave us irredenta as a word!) and then some thoughts about intra-Italy contrasts before moving onto some thoughts about the trip as a whole.

I made a fun mistake--we ended staying in a very nice hostel rather than a hotel.  Not a huge mistake as it worked out fine, but the Hilton (and its points) nearby was actually not that much more expensive.  It would have meant a larger elevator, perhaps slightly older neighbors, and, perhaps we wouldn't have roomed with Molly Mosquito.  

We bought a package of transportation/museum tickets/etc, but couldn't really get the metro part of that to work for us.  But Milan has some turnstiles where you can just tap your credit cards.  Once we figured that out, the metro was a breeze.  We were deterred from the trams (bigger, uglier, slower than those in Erfurt) as I was not sure how to pay.  The package did pay off for getting us into the Duomo (but only the stairs to the terrace, which meant not for us), the fortress, and the Ambrosian Library.

The Duomo lift situation reminded of how the Church did and does perpetuate inequality.  Three ways to

get to the top--stairs for those who pay a bit extra, elevator for those who pay more than that, and then an express elevator for those who yet more.  No line for the last one, of course.  Whenever I see cathedrals, I always think about how they exploited the peasants to make them.  But to be fair, these projects involved a lot of jobs for a long time (several hundred years in this case).  On the other other hand, sculptors made lots of Saint Lucy statues since she is the patron saint of the bline, and carving marble .... was not good for one's eyes.  

I have a question: are sculptures in cathredals normally this violent?  I can't recall anything like this.  What is this scene depicting?  In the museum next to the Duomo, they had a bunch of statues that are no longer in the cathedral, mostly for preservation/safety reasons.  Lots and lots of Abraham nearly smiting his son--which is one of the key points in my religious education which led me to being pretty hostile to religion.







The fortress, designed by Leo Da V, was pretty amazing.  Just a beautiful structure that seemed impossible to attack.  Not sure it was ever successfully attacked.  Too much art inside to get into the history.  Museum for musical instruments, museum for furniture, plenty displays of glass and ceramics, etc.  Most impressive.



But our fave museum in Milan was the Ambrosian Museum--it had a lot of incredible displays.  My faves were an exhibition where they gave artists moleskin notebooks and they went to town on them in many different ways;  the Raphael drawing that serves as guide to the Philosopher's football meeting; and Da Vinci's own notebooks.  It was very cool to see his own handwriting.  



Because we couldn't make reservations for the big museums for our first day in Milan, we headed off to Como to see lake and mountains and George or the Smiths.  And, yes, Como is beautiful--lake and mountains and the buildings all make it a special place.  We didn't have time to either use the funicular (can't spell it without fun) or rent a boat or take a ferry.  But we did have time to walk around, people watch, and check out the area.   

The food, including the gelato, was terrific.  I had a great calzone in Como, had some wonderful pasta in Milan, and had an amazing sandwich with the freshest foccacia bread just off a canal in the Navigli area--the Venice of Milan.  Hmm, how many Venices of have I been to?  Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, ... am I missing any?  I only repeated gelato flavors once--coffee!  

Milan vs Venice: Milan has some amazing museums, and we didn't really get a taste of that in Venice.  Venice has a heap more beautiful sights, but damn it is crowded outside of peak season.  Milan was far easier to walk with only bridges/canals in Navigli.  The food was amazing in both.  Milan was not quite the tourist trap that Venice is.  Venice had Murano and Burano, and I guess we could have tried to see some other parts.  I am glad we did both.

Northern Italy vs my memories of southern Italy: I spent one overnight in Naples in 2001 on my way to Bosnia, and my other Italian experience was Rome/Florence in 1987.  I remember the roads/the walking to be far more chaotic and, um, thrilling in the south than in the north. While we saw some old stuff here in Milan and in Venice, well, it doesn't get much older than Rome (except my trip to Jerusalem 5 years ago).  The food?  My palate has changed a lot and I am willing to pay much more now (not traveling on $25/day max anymore) so I can't make any comparisons.  I didn't get food poisoned this time, so there's that!  Much more English this time, which is no surprise.  Navigating via google maps made things far easier this time--to use the metro system, to get to the sights, to navigate the alleys of Venice, to find excellent restaurants, and only get gelato at places rated 4.5 or higher.

Overall, how would I rank the places we visited over the past ten days?  

  1. Venice.  Just too pretty, too much fun.  Points off for not letting us into their castle.
  2. Erfurt. Small and sweet and I knew it complete. Kept up our castle streak nicely with its citadel.
  3. Dresden.  Its old town is spectacular--huge buildings of all different kinds of shapes and histories, nicely positioned on the Elbe (fun to be on the river that divided Soviet and western forces at the end of the war).  Bumps up with the Schloss nearby that we enjoyed so much.  We had our best German food here--a German tapas place if I remember correctly.
  4. Nuremberg.  The rise and fall of Nazis in one place with site of rallies and the trials plus a really cool castle.  Some great food.
  5. Milan.  Only this far down the list because the other places were that special.  Definitely gets points for a fantastic Da Vinci designed castle, terrific food (the last dinner's service had much to be desired).  Points off for Mosquito Molly.  
  6. Leipzig.  It was ok, didn't knock our socks off.

And yes, between the German heavy food of Franconia and the gelato of Italy, I blew my diet bigtime.  Hopefully my lack of treadmilling was offset by all the walking.

I will be spending another three months in Berlin next winter/spring for the second half of the Humboldt Award, again at the Hertie School.  Where will I wander next time?  The Italian Alps are calling--good snow and better food than the Austrian Alps.  Maybe Greece, maybe some part of the Balkans, depends on a variety of things including the possibility of traveling with my daughter.  Anyhow, as always, I am so lucky.  I was very frustrated with my career at the start and for some time, but I have been in a good place in spirit and physically for quite some time.  I do have a plan for the next sabbatical in seven years.  Hopefully, it can come into fruition as well as this one.


15 Years? This Blog Can Soon Get A Permit to Drive

I can be a harsh critic of myself...
 I have marked the anniversary of this blog a few times before, but, jeez, 15 years is a big number.  Much longer than I have resided anywhere although Ottawa will match that in a few years.  I started blogging in a different world--in the middle of an economic crisis, with a rising far right (remember the Tea Party?), and multiple wars.  Now, we have a housing crisis, my kid is unemployed, and the far right is rising in Canada but is already in solid control of the US courts.  So, yeah, it has been a ride.

It is very appropriate that this anniversary falls while I am on a trip.  Much of my blogging bursts of late have been travel reports, as visiting new places has given me new material.  As I have noted before, I slowed down in part because a lot of what I want to say here, I have said before.  

I haven't written as much about Gaza and the politics back home as I could because it is just so depressing and angering.  I hate that universities aror the traps that the far right have set, I hate that people think that universities are full of anti-semites who deserve to be suspended and evicted without due process.  I have yet to see any stories that justify bringing cops onto campuses to repress protests.  Snipers?  We don't need another Kent State to see how awful this is, but, yes, each day, each place this happens, we risk students (and profs) getting killed.  

I will write more about this in the coming days, but I'd rather spend this Spew-niversary thinking about the highlights of the past 15 years of this place.  I still have no regrets about starting the blog or its name, as it has been a great place to play with half-baked ideas. So, the aforementioned highlights:

  • Writing so much about Canada's experience in Afghanistan here at the Spew made it so easy to write Adapting in the Dust--I didn't cut and paste from the blog, but I did refer to it along the way to find old links and ideas.  Having blogged extensively about this topic made it so easy for the ideas to move from my head to each chapter I wrote.
  • Writing about the logic of the NATO book applied to the Avengers movie at the Duck of Minerva, as blogging here led to the Duck and other outposts.  Writing about poli sci theory applied to Marvel too ultimately led to a publication.
  • Posting the song list for the NATO book--coming up with that was fun.
  • Realizing I am, dare I say it, an influencer.  LtGen (retired) Maisonneuve's speech did not get picked up by the media since it was partly aimed at them, so it only got out and widely discussed after my post about it.  This eventually led to an op-ed where I wrote that he ought not be platformed and then the supposedly cancelled general wrote an op-ed aimed directly at me, a career first!  When people say they have read my blog, I stammer and blush less than I used to.  I still apologize whenever anyone says they follow me on twitter or bluesky, as the stuff there is even more reactive and less baked than the stuff I write here.
  • Before that, blogging made me an activist, which I had never expected (I am not the activist Hollwyood Spew is), but when I saw that the ISA developed a dumb policy on blogging, I wrote about it and then organized an official caucus within the ISA--the Online Media Caucus--to defend/protect/educate/advocate re social media.  Recently, the OMC disbanded, as our mission within the ISA has succeeded as online media stuff is very mainstream, including blogging, even as we have had to move from a very popular but now broken/far right platform to alternatives.
  • Fave? Maybe not but often repeated, re-linked, that rejection is inherent in the enterprise.  Damn near all of my publication efforts have been bumpy roads except the NATO book (one reason it is my fave book).  The CDSN was rejected a few times before we got funded.  Oh, and that whole job search thing. 
  • A recurring theme here has been discussion of sexism in poli sci.  Have things gotten better for women in the profession?  Damned if I know, ask a women who has been doing it for thirty years or so.  I have also addressed racism in poli sci, but not as much.  Why not?  It has not been as obvious to me, I guess, in mostly white departments and with the racists being a bit less overt than the sexists?  When it comes to sexism, I find it easier to engage for whatever reason.  Some folks have called me a good ally, but that has always made me a bit uncomfortable for a few reasons.
    • Doing the right thing should just be the right thing.
    • Calling oneself an ally is usually a hint that one is not, so I have not referred to this label much.  
    • I like to sometimes be subversive is only slightly subtle ways (as I am not a subtle person), like with this post about the best books in the biz
  • I thought about this post for a long time before writing it.  It could be read as a rationalization for my media stuff, but I honestly believe the stuff I said about relative value of different folks who appear in the media.  I know I am not the best, but I have seen the worst and it ain't me πŸ˜ƒ.
  • When I saw a survey about xenophobia, I had to put on my old hat as ethnic conflict scholar, and that piece (and its sequels) got picked up by Max Fisher then of WP and made a dent.
  • Oh and some stats from 15 years:
    • 6250 posts
    • 3384 comments, which shows that this has mostly been me talking to myself except ...
    • 3,648,197

Venice Is Simply Stunning

 Ah, Venice!  It was amazing.  I had never been, and Mrs. Spew hadn't been there since her college year abroad.  I had an epiphany: water = scenic and old = scenic.  So, yes, Venice is scenic squared.  Just beautiful in pretty much every direction.  Even or especially the worn down buildings look great.  Our timing was pretty great, as the weather was comfy (a bit too comfortable for the one mosquito in our pensione room). 

Because we are already onto Venice, I am going to listicle may way through my realizations/observations we had along the way:

  • Wow, there are a lot of bridges.  As Mrs. Spew has some knee issues, we noticed each and every bridge.
  • So glad we were not in high season, as there were a ton of people already, and those bridges are chockfull of people taking pictures. Plus most of the pathways are pretty narrow so things get congested quickly.
  • So many restaurants!!  It was easy to find amazing food--the hard part was deciding which place to eat.  The pasta was simply terrific as was everything else.
  • When I did my Italian trip as a college Eurailpass person, I had to limit my gelato intake due to budget constraints (the US had coordinated with Europe to push down the dollar just before my trip!).  This time, I was only restrained by the threat of reflux as I am going to gain weight on this trip, so be it.  I tried a different flavor each time, and enjoyed them all.
  • Dogs?  Heaps of dogs but so little grass.  The green spaces in Venice are far and few between.  Sure, some beautiful parks and gardens on various edges, but you can go on a long dog walk and not see any grass.  
  • I don't know if this is a regional thing or a fashion of the moment, but there were a fair amount of young women with the fiercest eyebrow game I have seen.
  • We didn't go into any of the major museums/cathedrals due to timing and very long lines.  But we did bump into various smaller, amazing, quite funky exhibits along the way.  My fave was this one
  • Did I mention the food was amazing?   Best pasta I have ever had.  The pizza?  I am still a homer--American pizza >> Italian pizza.
  • We didn't gondola as we had blown the budget for that on a water taxi upon our arrival that... dropped us off not so close to our pensione.
  • Oh, and that pensione--tight stairway for our large bags.  It was partly run remotely so we could use use the codes given to us to get in.  It worked once I figured it out.  The place was in a super convenient spot, but our bathroom was not on the same floor as our room, which did not work so well in the middle of the night, especially for Mrs. Spew's knees.  
  • Bread always costs money (plus a service charge is always added), but we kept getting free shots of lemoncello.  Since Mrs.
    Spew doesn't drink such stuff, I had to step up and take a second shot for the team.  Yum.

    So more than a few
    examples of anarchist grafitti
  • Saw plenty of signs, graffiti, offices for far left parties and movements including, yes, communists! Gasp!
    Glass blowing demo at the Glass Cathedral

  • Venice is part of an archipelago with other islands in the lagoon.  So, we took a water bus to Murano to check out the glass blowing industry and shop for souvenirs and gifts and then onto Burano for the brightest colored buildings.  It was worth the trip although the water bus from the first to the second was very, very crowded.  Again, glad it isn't peak season.  The new tax to limit visitors is probably not going to work--unless it is sky high--as the place is worth it.



Burano is pretty
Holy packed boat, Batman









We are now in Milan for the last part of our trip beyond Berlin.  Mrs. Spew gets a few days in my apartment there before heading home, and then I have about 10 days before I head back as well.  It has been a great Beatles week (8 days) and a great three months.  I am very lucky--this whole thing has been a terrific experience.  Which reminds me:

Don't use the word terrific in Italy, as I did in a text to our Venice pensione manager, and she interpreted it as terrible or terrifying.  She was much relieved when we figured out the confusion.  I was really happy, not really upset.



Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Driving into the Past: Dresden, Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Erfut

Mrs. Spew is spending a couple of weeks with me in Europe, so I thought we would wander through the middle of Germany before going to northern Italy.  We wanted to see some castles and some history, and we have gotten a heap of both.

Our first stop was Dresden, which, of course, resonated with me since I read Slaughterhouse Five in high school, which was in the context of the firebombing that utterly destroyed the city and is now seen as something far worse than gratuitous.
 We saw occasional memorials and unrepaired walls here and there, but it was mostly out of sight.  Definitely not out of our minds.  We stayed in the old town area, which is how we maximize the walking and the sightseeing.  We were close to the massive central cathedral, heaps of palaces (now museums), city halls, and the river.  We had some excellent food here including both Spanish and German tapas (best German food I have had, I think, in my three months here).  There was a wonderfully silly, cheesy "experience" where one gets some headphones to listen to the narration of a character from long ago trying to figure out how he died as we get a tour of the remnants of the fortress.  We also went into a pretty amazing art museum that had a great collection of statues including a replica of David and a display of East Germany/communist era art, which tended to focus on American imperialism.







We spent our next morning at Schloss Weesenstein, which is between Dresden and the border with Czechia.  It looked v ery small and uncastle-like from the road, but very big and very castle-ish from the inside.  It had some very funky display tendencies including paintings that would then have a figure/mannequin sticking out of it to give the face in the picture a 3-D body.  It was one of the places where the Nazis put (stolen) art to protect it from the bombing with the castle at Nuremberg being another.

 Leipzig was the least spectacular place.  Still some pretty sights, big cathedrals including one where J.S. Bach is buried (but we couldn't find the actual site within the place).


Speaking of which, Nuremberg is pretty spectacular.  On the way in, we stopped by the Zeppelin grounds where the Nazis had huge rallies.  The structures don't look the same, in part because the American troops blew up the giant swastika on the platform, and partly because other parts of the superstructure were falling apart, so they got demolished.  It was strange to be standing exactly where Hitler stood way back when. We then drove into Nuremberg, where google maps led us astray a bit.  We managed to get to our hotel and then walked around, yes, the older part of town.  


A very pretty river runs through the city.  We went up to the hill to the Imperial castle that overlooks the town.  We spent most of our time there, looking at the gardens and going through the museum.  It had lots of medieval armor/arms displays and much discussion of how imperial rule worked.  The emperor didn't stay put, but would visit castles around the empire to network, to show that his authority was everywhere, to rule on local disputes, etc.  The big tower had at the top pictures on each side, showing what that view looked like before the war, at the end of the war, and then after the rubble was picked up.  Nuremberg got hit very hard by allied bombing--because of its symbolic importance as well as being a transportation hub and industrial center.  







And then to put all this into context, on our way out, we stopped by the Nuremberg Trial Memorial/Museum.  there was a whole lot of history packed into  a relatively small space.  Surprisingly, nearly all of the text was in German despite the tribunal being an English/French/Russian affair, and a sharp contrast to the rally grounds displays.  So, we had to listen to the audio guide read the English translation of the displays.  It slowed us down a bit, and we had to skip some stuff.  But a fascinating experience and a nice bookend to the rally grounds.  


Then it was on to Erfurt, a smaller city that avoided being bombed.  I asked my wife which of the places we visited had the highest burgermeister/meisterburger quotient, and Erfurt edged out the others.  A really beautiful town with a funky covered bridge with shops, a very large citadel, and more ice cream stores per linear meter than pretty much anywhere else. 

Why they have a bread dude statue? 
I have no idea.

Random observations along the way

  • I guess the whole thing of densely populated areas is that the areas in between are empty?  So much of the roads in between these places had nothing but farms, windmills, and solar panels. 
  • Autobahn!  Superfast but lots of places with strict limits--keeps you awake.  The roads are so well constructed that it is easy to go uber-fast without feeling it--our rental car is also pretty smooth.  So, yeah, I have generally been driving at speeds that I would never approach in North America... while still getting passed by much, much faster cars.
  • Strange parking processes.  In a mall in Leipzig, the parking machine spit out a yellow token, not a ticket.  So, when I returned to the car, I had to put the token into a normal payment machine, which I had expected to spit out a ticket. Nope, it spit out another token.  But it worked.  In another
    parking structure, it takes a picture of your license plate, so on your way to your car, you enter your license plate number into the machine and it spits out a ticket to let you out of the lot?  
  • Speaking of driving, I learned how to drive a manual in high school, shortly after passing my driving test.  My mother's Datsun 310 only had four gears plus reverse.  I did learn the funkiness of how to get some sticks into reverse when I was a parking attendant in high school--yes, they hired a 16 year old!  Anyhow, after leaving home, my manual car experiences have been far apart and few, like when I landed in Brussels to drive to the Arnhem bridge (it was not too far for me, but my next stop was as jet lag hit me hard) about fourteen years ago.  So, this rental SUV has got six gears, which means I sometimes put into third rather than fifth or fourth rather than sixth.  Oops.  Oh, and my first gear skilz (the hardest gear) are not so great.  So, a few clumsy starts at stop lights.  Unlike the hard time I had figuring out how to get into reverse at the forementioned Brussels airport, I quickly realized the trick with this car was pushing down on the stick to get it into reverse.
  • Lunches on the road didn't always work out.  We kept finding restaurants near our routes to be closed--on the way out of Dresden/Schloss and in Bamberg in between Nurenberg and Erfurt.  We ultimately just waited to eat in Leipzig. In Bamberg, we settled for a Turkish doner cart in the parking lot of a grocery store, and, as all of my Turkish doner experiences have been in Germany this year, it was super tasty.
  • I don't remember the trams being this fast in Berlin.  In Erfurt and in some of the other places, they are fast and jeez, they are close to the sidewalks.

 Tomorrow, we drive back to Berlin, drop off the rental car, and get on a plane to Venice.  We will have about five days in Italy split between Venice and Milan.  I have never been to either place, and Mrs. Spew last visited ... before Iran-Contra.  She has been keeping me from getting gelato since it supposed to be pretty good where we are going.  

Auf wiedersehn!