Saturday, May 8, 2021

Quarantine, Week 60: Mother's Day Edition

Can we really say that we are getting closer to the end of this thing when India and other countries are overwhelmed, just because the Canadian curves are starting to bend and we are now about two weeks behind the US in vax numbers

It was a week of much frustration, which has been a recurring theme.  In Canadian defence politics, the defence committee focused on the wrong stuff, trying to score points against the government, rather than figuring out what should be done to address the sexual misconduct/abuse of power crisis.  In Ontario politics, last night, the provincial government completely revised the vaccination rules (hey, anyone over 18!) without discussing it.  It also did not prioritize those most at risk--those workers in the warehouses and elsewhere--not sure what is being done for them.  It was a week of grading. 
We finally got word from the firm that is taking care of the bankruptcy of the folks who arranged our canceled safari last summer, and they just provided us with contact info for the places our deposit got distributed.  Should it be any surprise that the least accessible is the airline--South African Airline?  The hotels/parks are going to return our money, but the airline?  Not so much.  Not very responsive.  But we had written off that money, so if we get any of it back, we will be happy.  We do plan on making that trip happen when we can, but who knows when that will be given that the distribution of the vaccines has been very uneven internationally.

On the bright side, Stéfanie von Hlatky and Irina Goldenberg, the leaders of the CDSN's Personnel Theme, held one of their annual workshops in conjunction with the Swedish Centre for Studies of Armed Forces and Society and the European Research Group on Military and Society.  The latter is a relatively new partner of the CDSN.  The focus was on the Total Defence Force--how the militaries of the world work with reserves, with private military companies, and with defence civilians.  I learned a lot and live tweeted it.  They aim to produce an edited volume (or two?) and other publications.  It was very much what we had in mind when we started to build the CDSN--an interdisciplinary, multinational focused research effort aimed to provide policy-relevant findings to the Canadian government and others.  

Grading is nearly complete--just a few more Phd proposals to read.  The focus of next week will then turn to finishing off my part in a co-authored project and planning the next wave of CDSN/CSIDS events--the Summer Institute in August, 9/11 anniversary events in September, and the Year Ahead in December.  On the last will be in person.  While the September events could be in person, I'd rather not put a lot of effort into planning an in-person event and then have to change or figure out a hybrid.  The online events are less expensive and require less of our participants--they don't have to spend a day to travel here and a day to travel home--so we may be mixing those in long after we are no longer in quarantine.  

Tomorrow is Mother's Day.  My mother turned 89 recently and had a health scare.  I am lucky in that I have two sisters who have been willing and able to travel to be with her on a regular basis.  My mother was pretty much locked away until we got her second shot, and now we can return to going to restaurants and maybe soon to theaters.  I haven't been able to visit since January of 2019, and I have no idea when I will be able to do so--the problem is not so much getting into the US but getting home.  We have zoomed twice a week with her with the next generation joining us in varied numbers on the Sunday zooms.  Pretty sure the zooming will continue post-pandemic.  I owe my mother so much, including inspiring my interest in international relations.  She was always super supportive of me and my family even when/especially when my father was not.  She has been a terrific mother-in-law. 
Speaking of mother-in-laws, my wife's mother has not had an easy year either.  While she is much more of an introvert, this year was a bit much for her.  And her luddite tendencies have meant no zooms for her.  

And yes, Mrs. Spew is a hell of mother as well.  She has worried a lot about our amazing daughter, who has navigated the quarantine better than I could have imagined.  But mothers worry.  My daughter's ability to handle the multitasking heavy workload comes from her mother's training during the early years of private school in Montreal.  We are, of course, lucky in that we have not had to parent a kid at home through this crisis.  I feel for all of the moms out there who have had to home school their kids, worry about their kids going to poorly prepared schools with confusing, conflicting, and confounding covid policies, and all the rest.  This year has reminded us that taking care of the young and the old (notice I mentioned sisters above) is very much gendered.  Women have paid a higher price the past year, just as people of color have.  Inequalities always bite but bite harder in hard times.  

The least I can do this weekend is bake and cook my wife's favorite dishes.  The former will involve heaps of chocolate.  I haven't figured out the latter yet.  

Which is more of a recurring theme than anything else.  Be well, get vaccinated, and get ready for ... this?

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Quarantine, Week 59: Exhaustion of All Kinds

 One of the reasons I have been blogging less is that I have said stuff before so why repeat it?  Talking about pandemic exhaustion probably fits into that category, but I am too exhausted to look through my past Q posts to see if I have already written about exhaustion.  

Why exhausted?  Tis grading season.  I have graded all of the work from my MA class, I only read a few of the PhD proposals from my PhD proposal class (having read pieces of all of these several times, well, that is exhausting in a different way), I have read the two MA Research Projects that I was supervising (students can opt to take a couple of fewer classes by writing an article length paper), and I am behind on reading the chapter of one of my PhD students.  

Grading season coincides in Canada with conference season.  In non-pandemic years, we tend to have more events in April and May since we feel it is unkind to invite folks to Canada in January/February/March.  For the time being, with zoomed events, we don't have to worry about subjecting visitors to our winter, but the old battle rhythms remain.  I don't have any events to organize for the next month, but I have been and will be attending a variety of workshops and conferences organized by others over the next two months.  And I am organizing the Summer Institute that will take place at the end of August.  

Classes are over, so that means more time.  And I spent part of it by going to class.  Julia Lalonde is organizing bystander classes (funded in part by L'Oreal) so that folks don't freeze when they see street harassment.  I loved that she started with the 5 D's--Distract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct--because I am such a big fan of the 5 D's of Dodgeball: dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge. 

  • Distract: you don't have to confront the harasser.  One can simply distract that person by dropping some coins, bumping them on a subway train, etc.
  • Delegate: asking the bus driver or some other authority to intervene, although asking the police to get involved is a bad idea these days.  Or if you are a man and you don't feel comfortable asking the targeted woman if she needs help, you can ask another woman to intervene instead.
  • Document: we all have cell phones, so record if others are doing the other four d's.  But don't post on social media.  The idea is to document in case the person who is being harassed needs evidence.
  • Delay: stay behind so that you can accompany the person so they are not alone to face the harasser and to check in with them to see if they are ok.
  • Direct: this is the last resort if the other stuff does not work.  Tell the harasser to shove off, essentially.   

 It is much easier to react in the moment if you know what you can do.  So, I highly recommend taking participate in one of the free training sessions.   

Speaking of harassment, political scientists are organizing a pledge and an open letter to fight bullying.  This is in reaction to events I have discussed here.  I signed, but I am ambivalent about this.  Yes, it is great to state what the norms should be--that helps to define the norms and raise the social costs for norm breakers.  It may be changing the permission structure that I talk about in the aforementioned post.  But it is also problematic when the bullies sign the pledge.  Does this reflect real attitudinal and behavioral change or is it an effort by these bullies to launder their reputations?  You can probably guess where I am leaning.  I really don't know how to change an orgaization's or a profession's culture, but I am going to be learning over the next year as the CDSN hosts events on this.

 And why would we do that?  Because the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence are in deep need of some cultural change.  The sexual misconduct and abuse of power crisis will not be "fixed" anytime soon as it will require more than just the creation of a new office to monitor and influence the culture (sorry, Lt.General Carignan, you have been given a lousy job).  Most of the observers of the latest announcements about what the Trudeau government will do about this crisis were most frustrated/annoyed/angry about the proposed solution: a new study by yet another former woman who had served as Supreme Court Justice.  This reeked of kicking the can down the road.  I know that there are folks within DND who have been looking at models elsewhere.  So, the DND folks had info about what could be done, but Minister of Defence Sajjan didn't do his job (again), choosing not to decide.  I guess we will have to wait until after the next election before we can get someone who will actually make decisions rather than avoid them.  

I am pretty sure all those folks who have been following this story for months now are exhausted by the pathetic responses by Trudeau and Sajjan.  I can't imagine what it is like for those who have survived the abuses of power within the ranks.  All I know is that justice delayed is justice denied, and that not holding the man at the top accountable sends a signal that all of the men at the top will not be held accountable.  

Oh, and the reappearance of winter with snow yesterday was pretty exhausting as well.  

On the bright side, my daughter got her second shot this week, and most Saidemans have had two doses (the one-shot J vax has not been available to most of my family and friends).  They can start to follow the new CDC advice about returning to semi-normalcy.  Up here, in Canada, it looks like May will be a much better month for vaccines as they arrive in bigger numbers, but the distribution will be hamstrung by crappy provincial leadership.  The incompetent murder clowns are still clowning around. And we are mighty exhausted by their act. 

It could be worse, of course, watching what is going on in India.  The enduring lessons of all of this should be: populists get people killed, that governance matters, and that one should not elect people who are hostile to government.  Public policy matters, as places have handled this pandemic differently, leading to different outcomes.  Little did I know how prophetic World War Z was when I read it the first three or five times.  

So, get your shots, get some rest, and as my Marine friends remind me, hydrate and change your socks.  

Holy Unround Number Anniversary: 12 Years of Spewing

FB was kind enough to remind me yesterday:

Happy spew-versary!  The question is how long will I continue as the trend is suggestive:

Whether one looks at yearly output or monthly (so that the first and last partial years are comparable), the decline is quite clear.  I still like to blog, but I am writing less.  Why?  I must result to the classic blog trick--the listicle.

  • Exhaustion of ideas.  I often find myself thinking about writing and then not and instead summoning an old post that covers the idea.  Why re-write an old idea when I can just re-post?
  • Exhaustion of Steve.  If I was able to chart the accumulation of grading, supervisees and administration responsibilities, I would guess that the line is inverse to these.
  • I am probably developing attention deficit syndrome, so that might be part of it.  I am so easily distracted (this post was written over two days because I stopped and then forgot about it).
  • Twitter takes over.  While I joined twitter in 2009, just a couple of months after starting the blog, I think I have increasingly found threads or even a quick tweet to suffice, when I used to write something here.  
  • Podcasts--others and mine.  I started the blog at a time where I wasn't teaching and wanted to unload my ideas.  Now, twice a month, I get to do that on three topics in conversation with Stéfanie von Hlatky on #BattleRhythm.  Plus I spend my spare time listening to other podcasts rather than noodling away in blogger.
  • Not as much common culture to discuss.  Some flurries of posts were due to the end of TV shows like Mad Men, Lost (yes, that long ago), Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones.  Not sure if there is anything like that now.  Indeed, I post much less frequently about the tv I watch, the movies I see (a year sans movie theatres and counting), and the books I read.  I am still reading and watching, but not writing so much about it. 
  • Reversion to the mean?   Well, we don't know what the mean is yet, I guess. 

I still enjoy blogging when I do it.  It feels good to get a good rant off my chest like this take on the Ontario murder clowns.  Will I resolve to blog more in the future?  No, as I have found I enjoy it most when I feel like it, not like when I feel I should. I don't think this line will continue to decline so much that I stop blogging.  When the idea strikes me, I will blog.  I just have fewer ideas that I have not written about, I guess.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

How to be an Incompetent Murder Clown or I Want to be Doug Ford When I Grow Up

Ontario leads the country in number of times it has to be bailed out by the Canadian Armed Forces.  Woot!  My Canadian journalist friends (Kate Heartfeld is the originator) have taken to calling Doug Ford and his team incompetent murderclowns, and it is very apt.  They have gotten people killed due to their incompetence and their ideology.  We thought Ford handled the first stages of the pandemic well, closing things down last March. But ever since, he and his government have failed, pretty much every step along the way.  It is really impressive.  So, the question is: if one wants to be an incompetent murder clown, what should one do?

  1. Put the "" in "lockdown."  Ontario's lockdowns have never been close to what the Europeans think when one locks down.  There have been plenty of exceptions which have allowed COVID to breed.  What the hell is a PR firm having people come into work
  2. When you do lock down, close parks and other outside activities even though we know that outside is the safest place to be.  
  3. Waste the summer.  Last summer, cases went down, but we knew that a second wave was coming.  It would have been a great time to set up extensive contact/tracing so that outbreaks could be identified and stopped.  It would have been a great time to improve the ventilation in schools across the province, as it was getting pretty clear that this thing travels by air, not by touch.  
  4. Make sure that the rules governing schools would exceed the ability to do tests, so that kids and their families would be out in the cold, trying to get tested early in the day.  
  5. Make sure that you don't use the tests the feds provide.  
  6. Refuse to give paid sick leave to those who work for hourly wages.  When pressed, provide for three days because, you know, the time from detection of the disease to when one is symptom-free and not infectious is ... three days?  This failure was so clearly illustrated by Ford having to quarantine for ten days after being exposed to someone with the disease--he got his paid leave, but those hourly workers?  Nope.  Given the uneven distribution of jobs, this set of policies has exacerbated the inequality in the impact of the pandemic, harming families from marginalized groups.
  7. Do not prepare the Long Term Care Facilities run/regulated by the province, underpay those who work there, so that they work at multiple places and thus providing vectors for COVID.  This doctor was suitably outraged today. And deservedly so since the lessons of last spring, where thousands died in these facilities, were ignored so that we can do it all over again with only the vaccines limiting the damage.
  8. If you have to lockdown near a holiday, make sure you do it after most people have already hung out with each other.  The December 26th lockdown was particularly appalling since it was timed to happen after families had gotten together.  The general pattern of being slow to lock down, quick to open really was great for Ford's friend--Mr. COVID.
  9. Pay a retired general a shit ton of money to "roll out the vax" but not actually produce a clear system of registering for appointments or prioritizing folks like teachers and day care providers.  The way Ottawans got the first rounds of vaccines was by being lucky after trying many outlets.  Other provinces had systems that were easy to sign up, easy to get a specific time, etc.  Montreal had a mass vax facility downtown that took people less than thirty minutes to get shots when they were expanded to those over 40.  
  10. When the variants are starting to hit Ontario, open up the system even though it was not just a predictable disaster but a predicted one.  And no, this is not a deep fake video. 

I am sure I have left out other ways that Doug Ford and his team of irresponsibles have been aiding and abetting COVID-19.  But this list is a good start if you want to become an incompetent murder clown.

What happens when incompetent murderclowns run amok during a pandemic?  You get a murder circus (thanks, Dale).  People have died because the Premier of Ontario does not want the costs to fall on small businesses (which is something he could ameliorate), because folks who are hostile to government are crappy at governing, and because he really is just too stubborn to learn.  This pandemic was going to hit hard, but it did not have to be this way. So many unforced errors. There were opportunities to do better, science that signaled better responses.  Some provinces in Canada handled this well.  Ontario is not one of them.  The competition right now is between Jason Kenney of Alberta and Doug Ford of Ontario to be the most murderous incompetent murderclown.  



Saturday, April 24, 2021

Quarantine, Week 58: Side Effects And Long Term Effects

 My last update focused on getting vaccinated, woot!  After writing that, well, I started to feel chills, so I made heaps of references to Grease and its conclusion.  With the crisis deepening in Ontario, they moved the age down to 40, so we oldsters got in just before the rest of gen x.  And now I know which of my younger friends are just above or just below 40.  I am sorry that there is still a significant wait for many of them.  I expect things to shake out better in May as Canada is roughly a month behind the US, and the US has moved from not having enough shots and distribution to not having enough arms.  

The chills and resulting sleeplessness lasted the weekend, although I managed to finish my US taxes and do some spring cleaning.  Good thing it ended by Monday, as I had the second CDSN COVID Response conference.  Last year, we got questions at the beginning of the Canadian crisis from the Department of National Defence, we brought together the community of defence and security experts, and tried to answer them, crafting a two page briefing note.  This year, we did the same thing but involved additional government agencies--Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.  We have drafted another memo, but I am awaiting some feedback and then translation before distributing/disseminating.  The event went well, although it was smaller than last year.  So, we addressed four questions rather than five.  I will blog about it next week.

The other event of the weekend was a cooking lesson organized by one of my sisters--dim sum.  This was part of Mom-fest as my mother turned 89 recently.  We all (ok, the next gen was a mix) bought ingredients and did some prep work (ok, the next gen was a mix) and then followed the instructions via a zoom with an instructor.  Some dishes worked better than others--it definitely improved my blanching skills.  I tend to avoid frying (I hate the mess), so I got some frying experience.  It was a change of pace from the weekly zoom with my family.  Later in the week, my mother had an unplanned hospital visit, but she is doing better and at home now.  The timing was good, if it ever is, as my sister was still at her place when she needed help.  The border stuff has meant I am not very helpful to my family, and I haven't seen my mother since January of 2020.  But having two fully vaxxed sisters able to help my mother is a huge relief. 

This phase of the pandemic seems to be the most frustrating as we have real policy choices and much knowledge, but these are not being deployed well.  In Canada, the premiers (governors) of right-wing persuasion seem determined to screw this up, closely slowly and badly and not helping those who have to work.  In the US, Biden is sitting on a shit ton of AZ that isn't being used in the US--that along with ventilators should be going to India since their crisis is extreme.  

On the bright side, the semester is nearly over, as I have completed nearly all of my MA grading, having just one of those papers, a boodle of dissertation proposals, and a few co-op reports left to read.  The long Canadian academic summer is just about to start, although it will not be interrupted by travel, alas.  Will I be superproductive?  Probably not, as I keep having a short attention span, responding to my twitter like the dog in Up.  But it will be a change of pace, and that is something I have always appreciated about the academic life--nothing stays the same for very long.  

One of the consequences of the vaccination is that I have started looking forward--I should be fully vaxxed by the time Steve-fest rolls around.  The question will be--how comfortable will Mrs. Spew be with restaurants, theaters, and the usually stuff that comes with Stevefest.  I am determined to have a bbq with friends where I get to show off my new grilling recipes and my baking accomplishments--the timing will depend on when everyone gets their second shots.  And, yes, there will be pics when it happens.  

I hope y'all are starting to figure out the first things you will be doing as we finally can move about the cabin.


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Quarantine, Week 57: One Down, One To Go

 The story du jour for the Canadian Saidemans: we are vaxxed.  This morning, we went to
Walmart and got our shots.  I had been growing very frustrated with the confusion coming out of Ontario (more on that below), so I started playing around with all of the pharmacies' vax sign up pages.  I was surprised when I finally got one that didn't just say that my wife was on the waiting list (I was signing her up since she is over 55) but said that a spot was open Saturday morning.  Then I inserted my info as it turns out that turning 55 in 2021 is good enough.  So, voila! 

Mrs. Spew  makes
a rare appearance
 By choosing the pharmacy route, we chose AstraZeneca.  If we waited for the city distribution and Pfizer, that would have taken much longer since they were still limiting to 60 and up.  Lots of stories about AZ not getting out fast as people "shopped" for better vaccines.  All of the vaccines do a pretty excellent job of preventing death and hospitalization, even if some are better at preventing any infection at all.  I will take a 75% chance of dodging COVID entirely rather than waiting weeks or even months for 95%.  Especially with these scary variants.  Now we have to wait until ... July for dose #2.  Canada's strategy has been to try to maximize first shots and not worry so much about the pharma recommendations about followup shots within a month.  I worry about this since there was no science really of whether a three month delay is problematic or not.  So, yeah, I will shop next month for places that are willing to give second shots. I expect policy to change as more vaccines make it into Canada.

So, personal relief as well as much outrage.  Doug Ford and the Ontario government announced yesterday new restrictions at a time where cases were spiking higher and faster than at any other point in this crisis, with hospitals on the verge of collapse.  Given that we know where much of the transmission is, did the new policies focus on that?  Hell no.  There is no science for what they are doing.  Instead of giving paid sick leave so that hourly workers can stay home rather than infect folks at work who can then infect their families, they have closed the playgrounds despite abundant evidence that such places are quite safe.  He also gave policy authority to stop and frisk ask folks why they are outside.  Rather than spend money and maybe take a hit to the economy (under the dumb belief that the choice is stopping covid or helping the economy rather than stopping covid to help the economy), Ford has chosen a series of measures that are inconvenient but not effective.  Incompetent murder clowns has been the phrase used to describe him and Legault and Kenney...  

I had my last class and now it is grading season.  So far, I am learning much from these papers from my MA Civ-Mil class.  I finished grading the Masters Research Projects, which are one of the ways our students finish their career here at NPSIA (they can take more courses or do a thesis or this paper).  I still have a heap of Phd dissertation proposals as well--I have to assess whether folks are making progress and how close they are to defending their proposals.  

The big IR news is Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan.  I have been meaning to write a post on that, given how much I wrote about the surge in 2009, when I was a younger, more energetic blogger.  My quick take here is: what would one more year do?  

I did ponder some funny business.  The question is whether the shots will produce side effects that will allow me to procrastinate on my taxes...

Are We Having Fun Yet? Academic Silliness

 I saw this tweet and was kind of surprised:

Because I have seen a lot of funny stuff and, I think, said a lot of funny stuff over the years, I was surprised by this post and had too much to say to fit into a tweet.  It is not rare that we academics do things that make us laugh, that our students often say things that make us laugh, that we end up hanging out and silliness ensues.  So, given how depressing things are in the big wave of COVID here, I thought I would listicle the funniest things I have done/heard/seen over the past thirty years of academia-ing.

  1.  The funniest thing that has ever happened to me in this academic business is the hardest to describe.  In my big Intro to IR class at McGill (600 students), I often made references to bags of milk as that is how folks in Ontario and Quebec get their milk, rather than jugs, and that more than anything else was a constant reminder I was in a foreign land.  I forget why kangaroos came up, but a student in the crowd said "kangaroo milk" as after I mentioned the roos.  It was the perfect moment, and so I laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe, and I kept laughing and tears came.  It was so very funny, and it is really hard to describe.  I also really enjoyed wearing costumes on/near Halloween if the studnets gave enough $ to UNICEF.

  2. One of the funniest things (at least to me) that I did in a classroom was during a smallish summer school lecture class back around 1996 or 1997.  This was when cell phones were scarce.  I rented a beeper in 1996 when my wife was pregnant.  Anyway, a student's cell phone went off, and he not only took the call but walked out of the class to carry on the conversation.  I was so put off that I mused aloud to my students that I had no policy on this because up until recently, only drug dealers had cell phones.  And then I told my students that I was not saying that this particular student was a drug dealer.  Or that he wasn't a drug dealer.  When he came back a few minutes later after completing his call, all the students looked at him as if he were a drug dealer.  
  3. A phd student once told me he didn't have to justify the choices in his dissertation proposal to me.  I think this is the hardest I laughed at a student.  
  4.  For my entire year on the Joint Staff, my direct boss, an army colonel, kept saying that by the time I would leave there, I would be straightened up--short hair cut, no beard, pressed clothes, shined shoes.  So, I showed up at his retirement party towards the end of my year with a crew cut, shaved my beard, in a uniform, etc.  And no, there is no pledge pin on my uniform.  And, no, he didn't recognize me at first.

  5. So many from various conferences over the years, but a few stick out.  Several involve finding new places for the floating ISA poker game because we made too much noise.  I think my favorites are when a publisher was next door--she was most gracious later on--and a recent time where we hadn't even made noise yet.  
  6. Speaking of ISA, I tried several times to organize an ultimate game (beach ultimate in Honolulu would have been great last year), and the one time it really worked out was in San Diego.  That was a heap of academic fun:  

  7. Does my bachelor party count?  It was by and for political scientists.  I don't remember much of it, but it was a lot of fun. Its funniest moment happened while I was passed out.  Or so I am told.
  8. Which gets to grad school--I had a lot of fun as I learned how to be an academic (well, they didn't train us in how to profess, just how to think and research).  The funniest non-bachelor party moment?  Perhaps the time the new student introduced his wife to me and my girlfriend (now Mrs. Spew) and asked us if we wanted to swap.  Holy first impression, Batman.  Or it could have been the Halloween parties as the folks dressed up great.  I went as a reporter one year and a pepper another year. 
  9. I have had so much fun interviewing experts, policy-makers, politicians, and military officers.  I remember so many times driving back to Montreal from Ottawa repeating the mantra "I love my job" as I learned so much interesting stuff from the people I interviewed.  The funniest moment, in retrospect, was me falling asleep on the couch of the Turkish general.
  10.  In  2007, the Canadian Armed Foces and NATO brought a bunch of academics to Kabul and Kandahar in an effort to sell the Afghanistan mission to the Canadian public.  That, by itself, is a funny idea.  But perhaps the funniest part was the gun show.  We visited the HQ of the NATO forces based in Kabul--French, Germans, Italians (got love that Italian beret).  As part of the orientation/presentation, they took us outside and showed us their weaponry.  It was funny not only because I look silly in a sniper gilly suit, but because this was a wonderfully amusing act of overcompensation.  At the time, those three countries were among the lamest in Afghanistan, limited by restrictions imposed by their home countries. The Italians and Germans could not engage in offensive operations or leave their relatively safe sectors, and the French were pretending that they didn't do violent counter-insurgency because Chirac was still pissed at Bush.  So, a gunshow was so silly--it didn't persuade any of us how warrior-ish these three contingents were.  But I got photos that make me laugh to this day and were handy when presenting my NATO/Canada in Afghanistan stuff.  

I have had many funny students and colleagues over the years.  I have laughed a lot.  If academics are seen as boring and stuffy, well, some of that is true.  But if we are seen as lacking humor, that is entirely wrong.  I love to laugh and to make others laugh.  And over the past thirty plus years (yikes!), I have laughed a lot.  I mean, how can you not at a student piping up in a massive, dark lecture hall, saying "Kangaroo milk!"

Monday, April 12, 2021

Vaccine Hesitancy as Crisis in Civ-Mil Relations

 Yesterday, I tweeted this

and got some pushback--that not everything implicates or is implicated by civil-military relations.  I was inspired by this amazing article by Risa Brooks, Jim Golby, and Heidi Urben, but they are not to blame.  

What did I mean by this?  To be clear, I am not saying that the refusal for many Marines to vaccinate harms civilian control of the military or undermines norms of civ-mil relations.  What I meant (and it might have been a leap, judge after reading below) was that the crisis in civil-military relations has pernicious consequences.  So, I am going to address my logical leap here and not the first part of my response to Kori Shake as Risa, Jim, and Heidi do a great job of identifying the crisis.

I forget which of these three dynamics I had in mind last night were, but I think all apply here.  They relate to the legacy of Huntington--skepticism of civilians; the apolitical orientation of the senior officers leaves the military unprepared for politicized issues; and, ironically, greater partisanship within the military means political identities have greater influence.  This is all guess work as I have no survey data of which Marines are doing what (yo, Jim, get on that!).  And yes, in all of this, I am very much a Brooksian.  Don't blame her for my interpretation of her work--disciples always lose stuff while translating the doctrine!

First, the military has been deeply breathing and ingesting Huntington's notion of professionalism for decades, and a core part of that is that the military is a profession.  That those in the military not only have expertise on the use of force, but damn near exclusive expertise.  This has bred some contempt over the years for civilian expertise on all things military.  All one has to do is tweet about military stuff online and get pushback from those who question the credentials of the non-military folks who enter these conversations.  This is the weakest, perhaps, of my claims, but civilians telling Marines what to do, even when it comes to things outside of strictly military matters, probably does not go over well.* 

*Caveat: I tend to be biased in my views of Marines for a variety of reasons.  For one, I didn't interact with any in my year in the Joint Staff as my fellowship allowed the Marines not to fill their billet that year in the Balkan moshpit of despair in J-5's Central and Eastern European Division.  For another, I am still annoyed that the Marines focused on Helmand, which was not where population-centric COIN was supposed to focus, and undid efforts to create unity of command by insisting on having their own change of command back to Marines in the US. 

*Update/Caveat 2: It may be that the 40% number is overblown as some Marines may be declining to get the shot via the normal pathway because they received vaccines via

A second dynamic, one that more clearly builds on Brooks's stuff, is that military leaders have long sought to be apolitical (I will get to partisan in a minute).  Which has meant staying silent often (but not always--note statements after Charlottesville and other key crisis points) about stuff going on in the political realm.  As vaccinations have become a political issue in the civilian world, I have not seen (perhaps I have missed it) the senior officers messaging about vaccinations, pushing back against the politicization of vaccines.  Having the senior officers say that vaccinations are the right thing to do, necessary for the national interest, would be political--they would be taking a side in a hot political issue. And they may be avoiding that.  

A third dynamic, which really does speak to the crisis in civil-military relations, and where the distinction between political and partisan lays, is how increased partisanship within the military may be leading to problematic outcomes.  Brooks, Golby, and Urben have written together and separately about the distinction between a politically astute military and a partisan military.  That the latter is a real problem especially in this time where one party is, well, broken.  What I was really thinking about, if I recall correctly, is that we see a significant number of Marines acting on their political identities--that vaccines are almost as identified with Democrats as mask-wearing (I wonder how observation of mask wearing mandates have varied among/within the services--more testable hypotheses!)--and choosing not to vaccinate.  

 Perhaps refusing to vaccinate is not so much about partisanship but other dynamics. I did read a great thread this morning explaining why nurses have not been vaccinating as much as we might expect, but that is not so much about partisanship and more about experiences within the medical community.  I could be reaching a bit too far, but it seemed to me that as I read the news about the Marines and had read the piece by the trio, the pieces fit together for me.  If the military was not so partisan these days, if the senior leadership had been more willing to engage on issues of policy, and if there was more respect for civilian expertise, perhaps the vaccine hesitancy would not be so prevalent.

And for those who wonder why the military does not order the troops to vax, I believe they can when a vaccine has gone through the entire normal approval process.  Right now, the vaccines have been approved via an emergency expedited process.  

Anyhow, I may be wrong about all of this--which is why this is the Semi-Spew, where things are half-baked.  I'd appreciate any clarifications, suggestions, etc. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Quarantine, Week 56: Summer Is Here?

 Well, I made one good prediction last week: the ISA wasn't the same.  On the other hand, quick dissemination of a story of a senior scholar being awful to junior scholar made it feel like a normal ISA, I suppose.  It was also the last week of classes.  Ok, not quite.  I gave one PhD student a chance to present a week later than planned, so my real last day of classes is Tuesday.  The Canadian academic calendar is both shorter and longer than the American--classes end sooner but we are officially on 12 month contracts so meetings don't stop in the summer time.  Indeed, they accumulate. 

On Thursday, in my Civ-Mil class, we had our last batch of presentations.  It was pretty strange because I had to stop class, "run" off to an ISA panel, and then come back.  The students were great, willing to push the class later into the afternoon to accommodate my schedule.  Usually, I cancel or rearrange classes when I am conferencing.  Not this year.  Anyhow, despite all the hiccups, this class actually went very well.  The students remained engaged the entire term, doing all (ok, most) of the readings, getting into the material, learning how to get me onto a tangent so that I gripe about a certain defence journalist, writing papers on all kinds of civ-mil stuff that I never studied, creating some pretty good memes, and pushing me to think about the stuff.  That is what I enjoy most about teaching--getting pushed to think more about stuff, to see things from different angles.  That these students did so in the midst of a pandemic amazed me.  I also learned what a RobinHood is thanks to a student's decoration.  I usually end a semester by taking a class out to the student bar.  That will have to wait, but I can take some solace from the experience this winter--that they had a decent learning experience amid the madness.

Speaking of madness, damn, was this a bad week for Ontario.  Cases are spiking, hospitals are on the edge of collapse, and the premier (governor) says that things are going well.  FFS!  Doug Ford and his team have been referred to as incompetent murderclowns.   Well, this week, one of his officials said essentially: "well, the models predicted this, but we wanted to see the numbers rise in the hospitals to make sure the models were accurate."  As if we didn't know for damn near a year that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator--meaning that they go up after the thing is spreading so one should act sooner rather than wait for the late signal.  Damn!  And, yes, this scene was prophetic:

 This was not just foreseeable but foreseen--that the new variants would cause an acceleration of infections if the province did not act.  And it did not act until it was too late with Doug Ford keeping on acting as if this was a reality tv show "come back tomorrow and we will have an announcement."  Make the announcement now, FFS!!!  Or even better, act a month ago when this was entirely predicted.  

The good news is that the number of vaccinations getting to Canada are increasing faster than expected.  The bad news is that several provinces are fucking up the distribution, including, of course, Ontario.  Turns out that electing people to govern who happen to hate government is bad when you need government.  

How to manage this mess?  Baking, eating, and biking.  The weather has turned to spring early, so I have been biking again.  Still mud season so I have to stick to the streets, but the weather has been delightful.  This week's baking project went better than expected.  I don't know why I tried Nigella Lawson's orange and white chocolate chip muffins as I tend not to eat or bake orange desserts nor do I use white cc's much.  But damn if it was not one of the best things I have made.   Sweet and tasty and moist.  

I still have to complete our taxes so I am off to do that now plus a heap of grading.  Do whatever it takes these days as the stress is not over and many folks are hitting the wall.






Permission Structures Redux: the CAF and Academia

Thanks to a podcast I heard four years ago, the phrase "permission structure" has been on my mind.  It came out of MeToo and the various cases--that in any moment, there is a set of attitudes, norms, and institutions that give permission for certain actors to act in a particular way and deny that permission to others to act in a different way.  In the Hollywood example, for a long time, the "Casting Couch" was normalized--that it was expected and accepted that producers would prey upon actresses (and actors) and that the targets of this behavior had little recourse but to be seen as crazy or "bitchy."  The MeToo movement shifted the permission structures--that the survivors of such abuse could report their experiences and be believed and that there might just be consequences for the predators.  It was both a moment in time where people realized that they could tell what happened to them and a structural shift in the norms as abusive people continue to lose their jobs.  The change in permission structure does not end the predation and other problems, but it raises the costs and probabilities of being awful, and it lowers (but does not eliminate) the costs for the survivors to report on what happened to them.

The Canadian Armed Forces is having a MeToo moment that may shift the permission structure.  A series of women and men have come out and reported that they were assaulted by senior officers.  We knew that the CAF had a sexual misconduct problem--there have been reports and policies and much academic study--but we did not know how far it reached to the top.  One of the consequences of the broader MeToo movement is that we generally believe these women more readily (although I have heard some folks in the military raise doubts).  We have seen a retired Chief of the Defence Staff be investigated, his replacement sidelined, and the Chief of Personnel put on ice.  Week after week Mercedes Stephenson has been interviewing a series of women who suffered awful behavior from their superiors and who did not get any help from their chain of command.  This has shaken the CAF and perhaps the public's confidence in it.  While the survivors now feel a bit more comfortable speaking out, it is not clear yet whether the permission to abuse subordinates has declined.  One would think so after five or six years of Operation Honour and now the Path to Dignity efforts, but, well, not so much.  

This week at the virtual ISA, my profession had a bit of its own shift in permission structures.  A well-known scholar, Mia Bloom, engaged in social media abuse of a younger scholar, one of color, for having the temerity to criticize some of Bloom's work.  I won't get in the details as they are documented quite well here.  In response to her outburst, one person refused to sit on a panel on mentorship(!) that Bloom was on later in the week.  Others came forward on social media to tell their Bloom story.  Bloom has been doing this kind of stuff for years, but was not confronted.  She had, essentially, permission from the profession to be awful, despite earning a reputation for being awful.  Whisper networks only go so far.  

As someone who used to be Mia's friend, I knew about some of this, but didn't say anything.  When this stuff broke out this week, I first referred to it obliquely:

 But after Amar's series of tweets, where he said that junior people and people of color tend to be the ones that talk about this, that senior white folks are absent, I realized I should discuss this more directly.  Hence this post here and a series of tweets.  With the ice breaking on this and with Mia's crappy apology, the permission structure has changed partially.  We don't know if there will be consequences for her, but we do know that people feel freer to talk in public about her behavior.  Because she does not have a large posse, the danger of retaliation is modest, limited mostly to the vagaries of reviewing processes.  I have and will encourage scholars (especially junior) to use the part of the forms for article and grant submissions and tenure letters to say that they don't want Mia Bloom reviewing their stuff. 

However, the big question is whether this changes anything for anyone else.  Mia is not the only person who engages in bad behavior in the discipline.  Will others get outed?  Will other people's targets go public?  Will those with power feel less comfortable engaging in bad behavior?  I am not so sure.