Saturday, March 2, 2024

Berlin 2024: Report Zwei

 Before I go out and tourist this Saturday, time to post about my second week in Berlin.  The big news was laundry.  No, not really.  The big news is the Zeintwende conference I attended.  

I spent two days hanging out at the Hertie School where they and the German armed forces Centre of Military History and Social Sciences held a conference on how European countries are re-thinking their world views in the aftermath of Russia's re-invasion of Ukraine in 2022.  I blogged about it here, so I will not repeat my summary of the event.  I will say that it definitely facilitated two of my objectives for my time here in Berlin: interviewing folks about the civil-military relations of European countries (as part of the larger, global project) and getting European perspectives on the state of things.  So, I learned a great deal, and I met with folks who I will eventually be meeting for interviews.  I definitely am feeling good about the research project even though I haven't interviewed anyone here yet.  But that will change soon.

Nice views of Dom
and TV tower at hight
The conference had one complication--a transit strike.  Google maps wouldn't show u-bahn routes, but I tried my local u-bahn stop anyway, but the subway entrance was fenced off.  I tried another entrance and same thing.  I was able to take the s-bahn and then walk about 15 minutes to get to the Hertie School on the first day.  I walked all the way home (I could have gotten a cab or taken the s-bahn, but it was a nice night).  The strike ended the afternoon of the second day so I could go home after the conference and then come back for a great dinner with some of the folks who were still around.  My first real German dinner, as I have been mostly cooking for myself, and, yes, my first beer on this trip.  

I did also do laundry.  The place I am staying has a scary looking washing machine and no dryer, so I took my stuff to a nearby laundromat.  It was super clean and got cleaner as the attendant showed up midway through my cycles and was super thorough.  The machines automatically put in detergent and such so I didn't have to buy any or measure any.  There was a central panel that controlled all the machines so I didn't have to have a lot of coins (5 Euro notes were handy).  And plenty of instructions in both German and English.  My plan was to read a novel while I waited, but I got to chat with a lovely Australian couple that were cleaning their clothes in between their Norwegian cruise and their German touring.  

I made progress in revising the legislative civ-mil project, and now have some appointments for the next project.  

The most dangerous aspect of this trip: I live way too close to one of the best bakery chains in Berlin: https://zeitfuerbrot.com/en.   Yum. 



Nope, didn't go, but thought about it.



Zeitenwende All Over the World!

 Two years ago, Olaf Scholtz, the German Chancellor, announced that we were at a moment of Zeitenwende in the aftermath of Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine (2014 was the start, 2022 was much deeper with greater intensity and more far-reaching aims).  The term refers to a watershed moment, a rupture, a turning point that ushers out the old way of thinking and ushers in a new one.  That alters the ideational foundations of foreign/defense policy and grand strategy.  I am lucky enough to be in Berlin and at the Hertie School as they held an event aimed at seeking to understand whether this was just a German thing or whether other parts of Europe were also changing their worldviews/mindsets.  The public event was advertised thusly.

For the Germans, a key was that rather than thinking that there is no security in Europe if it is not cooperative security with Russia, now the thinking is that there is no security in Europe if it is not cooperative security against Russia.  The big question, of course, is whether there have been changes not just in thoughts but in deeds.  And, yes, Germany is doing stuff it had not done before: spending at least for now more than 2% of its GDP on defense, sending arms to a war zone, reduction of energy dependence on Russia, etc.  But does it have a clear idea of what the new world view is?  Not so sure.  

The panelists from all over Europe were asked a bunch of questions by the organizers including: has your country or region had a zeitenwende, if so, what is it, when was it?  How is the match between the governing elites and the public on attitudes about all of this?  We folks in the audience asked whatever questions that came to us (yes, I tended to ask civ-mil questions).  And hanging over all of this was Trump potentially winning in November and the meaning of that--can there be a European NATO (with a Canadian appendage?)*

Since we had three workshop panels and one public panel essentially covering most of Europe, I am not going to repeat everything I learned.  I did learn a lot and will remember some of it.  But here are some of the highlights:

  • The Baltics and Poland did not have a change in worldviews in 2022, but could simply say "we told you so," as their views towards Russia and European security were either formed around 2007-8 with Russia's cyberattack on Estonia and war with Georgia or... always saw NATO and European security as against Russia not with Russia.  UK was also in this camp, more or less, and is better able to respond as it has reduced the dependence on Russian capital in the financial sector.
  • France has made some significant policy shifts, but providing extended deterrence if Trump pulls back the US commitment is not going to happen.  
  • Lots of lag--several countries want to make adaptations but implementation is slow.  I got some knowing laughs at lunch today when I said that everyone's procurement was broken in different ways--kind of the way every snowflake is different.
  • Everybody has recruitment/retention issues in their militaries--Canada is far from alone in that.
  • Germany is trying to find the old playbooks from the Cold War--how did West Germany contract with the US and others about the long term bases--providing schools and infrastructure and the like--as they need to know for their plan to have such bases in Lithuania.  Yes, they are moving not just a brigade of troops but their families as the US, UK, Canada, and others did during the Cold War. This contrasts sharply with the Canadian strategy of shipping troops in and out every six months.  It shows how long term and how serious the Germans are.  Significant up front costs but probably less expensive in the long run.
  • Carlo Masala's public talk started the three known unknowns that frame thinking--will Russians win in Ukraine, what will happen in the US election, what will be the future of EU/will the far right gain more ground?  
  • Speaking of Trump, there is still some wishful thinking in Europe--that Trump will not follow through if elected. I kept telling folks that he wouldn't have sent forces to help an invaded ally before and he certainly won't do so in the future.
  • Sweden and Finland had public opinion flip after 2022 invasion, so, yes, some zeitenwende here.  But an interesting contrast as for Finland, neutrality was a strategy, but for Sweden, it was an identity.  
  • Poland having nuclear thoughts?  Irony is that this almost makes Mearsheimer right as he predicted that Germany would develop nukes after NATO falls apart after the end of the Cold War.  Instead, after the end of the after the cold war, due to the possibility of American withdrawal, Poland, not Germany, is now pondering proliferation.  Much talk in that part of the world about whether the Russian timeline for invading Poland/Baltics is 2-3 years or more like 5-7.  And yeah, I don't think that is likely, but it is easy for me to say from distant Canada.  One thing is clear in Poland--no one is wondering where the money will come from as they move beyond 2% to 3.5% or more.
  • The Baltics convo started with a reminder that Trump was so ignorant he thought World War I started there and not in the Balkans.  
  • The NATO-Founding Act is not dead enough.  It no longer restricts conventional deployments (see German permanent basing in Lithuania above), but it does restrict the nuke stuff.  Which enrages the Baltics who think that agreement is dead, dead, dead.
  • Ethnic politics is alive in the Balkans as the various stances of countries towards Russia-Ukraine is complicated by the ethnic politics within.  Three cheers for my first ten years of research!  Serbia is pro-Russia, the Serb entity in Bosnia is pro-Russia.  This leads to actors in the region that are not pro-NATO. Of course, those that benefited from NATO intervention are pro-NATO--Albania, Kosovo, Northern Macedonia.  This discussion raised another complication from a Trump victory--NATO is still in Kosovo.  But probably would not be if Trump is President again.  
  • Romania's relations with Ukraine did go through a big swing from tensions over old territorial claims to friendship as they both are threatened by Russia.
  • A side discussion mines floating in the Black Sea reminded me that the consequences of this war will outlast the war, just as the Germans at the conference reminded me that construction workers discover a old bomb from WWII in Berlin every couple of weeks.
  • Why is Hungary such an outlier in all things these days?  Mostly because it wants to be exactly that.  Since there is no real competition domestically, Orban can fixate on foreign policy and wants to pull Europe in his direction.  I had forgotten about the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, but, of course, an optimally obnoxious nationalist country such as Hungary (see the Steve and Bill book) would want to keep that tension alive.  
  • The challenge of potential Ukrainian membership in the EU is mostly about the fact that Ukraine is big--it would have a major impact on the distribution of agricultural benefits/competition and also specific sectors like transit.  So, Portugal and Spain (and others) are more concerned about the economic impact of Ukraine joining the EU than any implications regarding Russia or anything else.
  • Greece is in surprisingly good shape.  Its spending on defense is now more focused on modernizing the force, it is attempting rapprochement with Turkey, and is even participating in the US-led op in the Red Sea (if I heard correctly).  Greek support for Ukraine is ahead of where the public is. 

Some big themes drawn by the organizers at the end:

  • Distance matters--those closer to Russia either already had shifted their stances and were in "I told you so" mode or flipped quite dramatically, changing decades of orientation (Finland/Sweden).  Those furthest away and least energy dependent on Russia didn't really have to shift.
  • Everyone is holding their breath for the next zeitenwende--if Trump gets elected---what happens with NATO (Steve says it essentially dies or becomes far weaker with Europe plus Canadsa)?  
  • Some ZW was a matter of time--some revolutions in thinking started with Crimea in 2014, some started in 2022, some started in 2007-08.  And some have not had a major re-thinking.

The only Canadian content was injected by... me.   During the lunch on the second day, I got some questions about whether there has been a Canadian zeitenwende, and I basically said no.  That would require some real hard thinking on Canada's role in the world and how it has changed and what should be the Canadian response.  And, no, this Canadian government is not doing that thinking (nor would a Conservative one lead by PP).  Instead, as someone asked me: is Canadian foreign policy diaspora politics, I pretty much said yes.

It was a great event for me.  First, I came to Europe in part to get European perspectives on the state of play, and this I got in a big way. Second, I met a number of people who I hope to interview for my current project, so I am a bit less anxious about getting to talk to the right people and enough of them.  I have plenty of time between this three month trip and next year's, but always good to have a more in-person, human connection with the sharp folks on the stuff I am studying.  Third, it was just fascinating.  I got into IR because this stuff engages me, and this conference did so.  Finally, the folks involved--the organizers and the speakers--are simply nice, sharp folks, and so it was fun.


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Pondering Platforming

 A controversy broke out on social media this weekend: Taylor Lorenz interviewed the (or one of the) truly horrible people behind the far right Libs of Tiktok account.  It raised questions of whether one should platform the truly awful.  I have been thinking of platforming such for awhile  now, so I am using this as an opportunity to think through my stance (which is not at all based on a strong standing of the legalities of all of this).

Let's start with the basics that people get so very confused about:

  1. No one is entitled to a platform, everyone is entitled to free speech.
  2. To be clear, when we talk about free speech, we need to be clear that the 1st amendment in the US (and probably the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada) only restricts governments from restricting people's right to engage in free speech.  Clubs and, yes, businesses can restrict the speech of their members/employees in ways that the state cannot. 
  3. Free speech does have some restrictions--the classic is you can't yell fire as a prank in a crowded theater as that is dangerous.  Inciting violence is also not so free, although your mileage may vary on what counts as incitement.  Is "Free Palestine" incitement? I don't think so. 

Now, that whole platform is not the same thing as free speech thing. One is not obligated to give time/space/bandwidth/whatever to anyone (in ye olde days, US tv stations had to give equal time, and when it went away, that gave room for Fox and its ilk).  Universities, for example, don't have to provide stages and fora and audiences to far right speakers or even not so far right speakers.  Or far left ones. 

In an op-ed, I argued that the Conservative Party of Canada should not provide a prominent speaking position to a far-right retired general as that would politicize the Canadian armed forces.*  Of course, the supposedly cancelled retired general then used his perch at the National Post, a right wing newspaper, to argue that I was trying to deny him free speech.  Nope, I didn't say he couldn't rant in public, I was just arguing it was a bad idea for the CPC to amplify him.  He is entitled to say what he wants, he is not entitled to having his speech amplified.  There is a distinction here, and he is smart enough to get it, even if wants to play coy about how a dual citizen might dare to question him.

So, the question is rarely whether to deny someone free expression (although when it comes to jury tampering or inciting violence, gag orders on the Trump family seem to be not only fair but wise), but rather who to platform and under what conditions.  Obviously, the starting point is the intention of the potential actor that might be platforming someone.  The example of the CPC: they wanted to attack the government and found a handy tool that might make it look like they presenting mainstream military views that contradict the government.  Yeah, tis bad faith bullshit, but they had that intent so they didn't care what the downstream effects will be on the military.

The example of this weekend is a lot different: it is not just giving space for a hater to speak at length, but providing a critical interview where the interviewer pushes back and gets the hater to be revealed as shallow, incoherent, virulently racist and xenophobic.  To be honest, I haven't watched the entire thing because, well, yuck.  I am online enough (understatement) to know what Libs of Tiktok have been doing--inciting violence against Black Americans first and now LGBTQ+ folks. That the account deliberately names individuals so that its followers can then threaten those people.  Truly, truly awful.  But folks who are not so online may not be aware of this, so a WashPo reporter doing an extended interview with the source of all this hate is a good way to expose what's going on.  People can disagree about whether we need to hear from the source directly, but this is not platforming in the sense of giving someone a megaphone and letting them spread their views.  Recently, the governor of Oklahoma gave this far right white nationalist a position on the state's library advisory council.  That is giving someone a platform.  And then a non-binary kid gets killed, and the governor then acts all shocked.  

Anyhow, sometimes these decisions are tricky because we want to expose awful people, but we don't want to provide awful people with greater audiences.  Folks might argue that we need the marketplace of ideas to sort this out, but like most markets and most invocations of the market metaphor, it really doesn't work like the metaphor. Ideas do not win or lose based on the quality of their debaters or the quality of the ideas themselves.  They win or lose based on what people do and who has the power.  That a far right white supremacist owns and controls twitter is a real problem that cannot be sorted out by everyone sharing their competing ideas online.  Musk is platforming far right racist and xenophobic stuff, and he is blocking stuff that is critical.  Suspending Navalny's wife a day or two after his death is a real tell.  

Ultimately, journalists and organizations have to be prudent about who they give platforms and who they do not.  Again, no one is entitled to the front page or the editorial page or the university's biggest stage. Every decision to give someone a platform is just that a decision, which should be based on the benefits and the costs.  Academic freedom suggests giving space to a wide range of views, but there is no need to bring back that which has been thoroughly discredited--like flat earthers or those who buy into eugenic stuff or bell curves and IQ tests or antivaxxers.

And, yes, we live in a time where Democracy is under threat. Which is a bigger danger: giving anti-democratic forces the megaphone or denying them platforms and then having those forces try to make those institutions feel bad for being hypocritical?  The bad faith actors want to use our values against ourselves.  It can be tricky about how to respond but respond we must.  

So, that's my incoherent rambling on this topic.  You are required to read it, to respond, or to share it via social media.








* I realize that folks can argue whether Maisonneuve is right wing or far right, but my coding rule these days if one uses "woke" disparagingly and essentially slurs those who are not cis straight folks, they are far right. If right wing folks want to say that is not fair, that those are mainstream views of the right, well, they are telling on themselves about where they are. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Berlin 2024: Report Eins!

Yes, I went back to the East Side Gallery my first
weekend, as it was not closed on Sunday
most shopping is closed)
 I have been in Berlin for one week thus far, with nearly three months to go.  It has been a very busy week, and it did not just involve getting situated.  But, yes, that took some effort and time as well.  So, what have been up to in the shadow of the TV tower that is featured in any movie that wants to depict Berlin as a destination?

 

 

First, yes, getting situated.  I am staying near the Hertie School's Center for International Security, which is just off of Alexanderplatz.  The apartment has much of what I need, but I had to go out and get a pillow (made in Canada!), a printer, groceries, and a residence permit.  Yes, the country of Max Weber is very bureaucratic.  Because there is much demand these days for all kinds of paperwork, I was lucky to snare an appointment on the farthest southern edge of Berlin.   I got my paperwork stamped, so I can reside in Berlin officially.  woot!  

 

 

 

 

 

President of Hertie, the Chinese former VM,
and Tobias Bunde
Second, it turns out that my timing is good and the Hertie School is a happening place.  Tobias Bunde, one of the researchers here, is also a/the organizer of the Munich Security Conference which happened the weekend I arrived.  So, he brought a former Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs to a packed room (the Hertie students are from all over and they are keeners) where she presented her take on what happened at Munich and what are the major trends in international relations.  I found her to be the best representative of the Chinese government: her English was great, she was not overly polemical, she knew her audience, and so forth.  She definitely presented a biased point of view, but a clear one that was well asserted.  She noted for instance that only four panels out of a hundred at the conference were on Gaza. She pointed that the discussions on that and on Ukraine were focused on problems, not solutions.  But she was not pressed to offer any solutions. She contrasted the threat to freedom of the seas--that it is a problem for commercial shipping in the Red Seas but only a threat to American warships in the South China Sea.  Hmmmm.  She talked about Asia's long peace, she seems to be omitting the occasional Indo-Pakistan conflict.  Speaking of omissions, she argued that occupation never works, and that this something the Americans should have known in 2003 and the Russians should have known two years ago.  I was tempted to ask about Tibet or perhaps Chinese intentions towards Taiwan, but the event was for students.  It was a great way to jump into things and meet a bunch of folks.

No pics of Peter K,
but of other
important thinkers
Another event was a session with Peter Katztenstein--one of the most important scholars in both International Relations and Comparative Politics for the past fifty years.  Required reading, indeed.  He was presented his latest book project (no retirement yet) that is pretty complex, raising meta questions about our thinking and about our need to think about uncertainty.  It was similar to Debbi Avant's presidential address at the ISA a couple of years ago.  He gave us a few chapters, the crowded room had read it, and so it was mostly Q&A.  After the talk, he sat near me and we chatted a bit.  That he has written books comparing Germany and Japan was not lost on me given my latest projects.  

Next week, there will be a conference I am crashing at Hertie on the state of Zeitenwende and whether other countries are experiencing it as well.  Huh?  Oh, this refers to a speech by Germany's Chancellor  Olaf Scholz shortly after Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, that we live in a watershed moment, that we need to have a revolution in foreign and defense policy.  He committed to a lot more defense spending and ending German dependence on Russian energy.  The big questions are: how much of this has and is happening and whether other countries are rethinking their place in the world. I hope to find out next week.

Third, I have been getting some work done.  I have started arranging interviews for the German case, finalizing the details for a trip to Finland in April to do that case study, doing the same for a research presentation at Central European University in Vienna in a few weeks (and, yes, nailing down the details for an Alps ski trip).  I also revised three chapters of the Steve/Dave/Phil book before Dave tries to find some interest at the ISA in April.  I hope to do my turn on the rest of the book in the next week.  

Fourth, I have, of course, been touristing.  I spent last weekend and today walking around this part of Berlin.  I am far more familiar with west Berlin, as I have been largely based at hotels in west Berlin.  My first walks were more targeted as I was looking for grocery stores (and google maps kept lying about where they were).  

 Some observations, which may be due to change over time or may be due to East Berlin being a bit different than West Berlin:

  • Less adherence to the guidance of the little green/red Ampelmännchen, as I saw more people walking despite the red signs.  Is this a sign that German society is breaking down?
  • Or is that the walk signals in East Berlin are too damned short?  I can't tell you on how many streets I have been stuck in the middle (mostly where the trams go) as the light turns red very quickly.
  • I don't remember this much graffiti all over the place last time.  On the bright side, when a store or something has nice wall art, the vandals or artists paint elsewhere.
  • Lots of reconstruction and renovations going on.
  • Lots more Five Guys burger places than I can recall.  I haven't tried them yet, as I am mostly doing my own modest cooking (this apartment's kitchen is not well equipped, so no baking and only basic dinners).  I did start off my time here with currywurst and chips, but I think my go-to cheap food will be kebabs/shawarma stuff.  I did happen to walk past an Indonesian place, so I will be returning to that neighborhood when I am tired of my own cooking.

Today's walk was more random, as I would head in one direction and then find something interesting on the map.  Which took me to a memorial for those who the East German government killed at the Berlin Wall, which, yes, has been down longer than it has been up.  I learned a great deal:

  • I should have realized how dynamic the interplay between Communist government and those seeking to escape would be.  The wall such as it was kept evolving as the government learned via the escapes and attempts.
  • Part of the memorial showing
    where the house got built over by
    the wall
    Including tunneling!  57 people got out through one tunnel--amazing.
  • The wall itself caused more people to want to leave as it signaled more repression.
  • The evolution of the barrier included destruction of a church (one dedicated to Reconciliation!) and the movement of dead bodies from a graveyard, it involved boarding up and then destroying houses.

 

 

 


  • There were a fair amount of German tour groups going through this area, so yes, still much interest even as it recedes in our memories.

The other new experience for me is a 21st century gym.  I have mostly exercised on ultimate fields, bike rides through neighborhoods, the treadmill in our basement, and the occasional hotel fitness center.  There is a spiffy, reasonable place near me that has the stuff I need (treadmills, space to stretch to try to fix my balky knee) and far more stuff.  The denizens are in much, much better shape than I am, doing all kinds of exercises that I would not attempt, so that has been a funky distraction while I sweat out the pastries I have been buying.  The bakeries here are good, and, yes, they like their donuts.  I have resisted mightily but not entirely.  

Next week, I will report what I learned at zeintenwende-fest.   

 Some random pics from my walks: 



Vegetarian butcher? 









Funky signs, not sure there is an actual cafe here.







Friday, February 16, 2024

Thanks For Your Service, Peter Feaver

 I just finished reading Peter Feaver's excellent "Thanks for Your Service: the Causes and Consequences of Public Confidence in the US Military." Between Feaver and Michael Robinson, the bar has been set on exhaustive, diligent, and creative deployments of surveys and survey experiments to tease out how publics feel about the US military.  Robinson sought to understand the politicization of the armed forces, whereas Feaver seeks to understand many dimensions of what it means for the US military to be the institution that has the most public confidence.  

Feaver used both previous surveys and more recent ones that he conducted to assess what causes Americans to have confidence in the military, why confidence varies among the public, how confidence then shapes attitudes about all kinds of things, and whether such confidence is, as Feaver puts it, hollow.  

The book is itself a great primer on the state of public opinion and civil-military relations, which is no surprise since Feaver has been one of the leaders of surveys in this area (his other hat is as a very influential theorist of civil-military relations).  The end of the intro summarizes the state of the art.

The fundamental challenge of this work is that there are all kinds of conflicting dynamics.  The US has been at war, so popularity of it should be high as a rally around the flag effect.  The US lost one war, and the other war dragged on with less than satisfying results, so public confidence should be low.  As Robinson documents, there has been a greater effort to politicize the armed forces, which should ultimately drag down public support as the military becomes identified with one party or the other (Feaver finds that public confidence wobbles a bit when the party in power changes with Democrats gaining more confidence when a Democrat is in the White House, and the same dynamic works for the Republicans).

I am not going to go through the whole book. I just want to identify a few key findings:

  • Those norms that civil-military relations scholars care about?  Yeah, the public is not so concerned or aware of these norms.
  • I was not aware of the pithy four p's: performance, professional ethics, partisanship, and pressure.  These are supposed to shape confidence as the military is seen as working better than other institutions and is more ethical, that institutions associated with parties have less support, and people support the military because they are supposed to do so and think others do so.  Feaver explores each in depth.
  • The good news is that the military should be deterred from putting its thumb on the scales during public debates about military stuff as it does not work and may drive down public trust in the military.
  • The bad news is that most stuff is read through a partisan lens.  So, if the military does stuff that aligns with one party's position, those partisans will be fine with that crossing of the line, while the opposing party will be offended by the violation.  And if the military goes in the opposite direction, then the reaction flips as well.
  • A sharp chapter focuses on social desirability bias--do people answer surveys by giving answers that they think are the right ones?  The ones that are popular?  Feaver's survey work here is impressive (I am not a survey person although I am now involved multiple surveys!), suggesting that there is some hollowness to public confidence as a significant hunk of its public confidence is due to people giving the "right" answer.  What happens if the military gets sufficient blemishes that it is no longer hip to be so positive?  Confidence might drop quickly and sharply.
  • Why does public confidence matter?  It affects the ability to recruit and fund the armed forces.  And, yes, JC Boucher, Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, Lynne Gouliquer, and I have a paper on exactly this in Canada--do stories of discrimination reduce support for friends/family to join the CAF (hint:yes!).  
  • Yes, the greater the confidence in the military, the more likely folks will support greater military roles in the world--that the military is more useful as a tool of policy.
  • The military gets "ideational" benefits from higher confidence--deference but not that much influence on public support for policies.  Key findings are that politicians will pay a price for going against military advice and the blame for failure will focus more on the civilian side.  This limits how much accountability the military faces.

I was really glad that Feaver addressed the big question that could not be tested through surveys--is it a good thing to have a lot of confidence in the armed forces?  I have always been uncomfortable with what Feaver calls as pedestalizing the military, making it superior to society.  I tend to regret when sports events embrace the military too much, and I worry when police forces imitate the military's special forces.  And, yes, I worry that a military that has heaps of confidence will look down on the civilian world.  Feaver does not feel quite as uncomfy as me, but does suggest there is a need to valorize other forms of public service, such as health care providers.  He also argues that the confidence, if it is high, should be based on performance--as he puts it, "trustworthy, not simply trusted."  He also suggests that partisanship may be getting in the way of accountability more than high confidence, and that is something Dave, Phil, and I find in our forthcoming book on legislative oversight and the armed forces.

He concludes with a call for more comparative work, which I will be citing in the next round of grant applications.  Thanks, Peter!


Sunday, February 11, 2024

The State of Canadian Civil-Military Relations in Early 2024

 One of the things that I had claimed since 2021's general crisis--Vance, McDonald, and other senior officers being outed for sexual misconduct and abuse of power--is that efforts to change the military would not face as much resistance as in normal times.  These folks had so thoroughly disgraced the military that any resistors would have weak arguments and few allies--who would stand up for rapists and abuses of power?  It took a few years, but we now have an answer: the far right and the Conservative Party of Canada.

Aping the far right in the US, the right wing folks in Canada started accusing the military of being too woke.  It is not just one random retired general with poor reading comprehension.  This weekend, a different person, Jamie Sarkonak, wrote a piece at the same outlet--the National Post--arguing that the military is hostile to white men (providing no evidence), that the military should not change (although it is better than the retired general's by recognizing past abuses), and that women who join should just embrace being in a male-dominated/male-defined organization, and Indigenous recruits/officers and people of colour should just accept the military has it has always been.

What this person gets wrong and what those who want to keep the military the same is basic math: she wants the military to rely on the traditional pool of recruits: "fit, aged 17 to 20, high-school educated, rural or small-city in origin and Caucasian in background."  The problem is that this pool is shrinking.  So, we need to expand the pool of recruits beyond this group--folks living in cities, non-Caucasians, and women. If you think you can do that while keeping the old culture that was/is hostile to these folks, then you not only suck at math but sociology.

The piece is on target when focusing on the consequences of budget cuts--resolving the personnel crisis requires more money, not less.  But culture change is also required.

This Tuesday, I am presenting along with several sharp scholars--JC Boucher, Lynne Gouliquer, and Charlotte Duval-Lantoine--some data that shows that scandals about discrimination in the military cause people to lose trust in the CAF and become less supportive of their friends and family joining the CAF.  So, the numbers cited in the op-ed piece about the decline in recruiting and the problem of retention may be more related to the abuses of general and flag officers than to the effort to change the culture.
  

Of course, correlation is not causation.  But the antiwoke forces don't really have much data, and they have weak arguments based on bad math and bad sociology.  On the bright side, I am getting cited, which is what academics want, and I keep getting alerted to these publications by the hate email I get. 


Thursday, February 8, 2024

Customer Disservice: Oy!

 I find it hard to believe I have not dedicated a post here to whining about shitty customer service, but I couldn't find such a post.  Yea! A chance to write something new!

I subscribed to the web version Toronto Star to get access to their coverage of the various Canadian military controversies.  But I found that I was not reading much over there anymore.  So, I tried to cancel my subscription.  Funny how they make it easy to subscribe but very difficult to unsubscribe:

  • there is nothing on the website to change one's account settings.  The page for managing one's account is mis-titled since I could not manage my account.  No hint of how to unsubscribe.
  • No phone number for managing one's subscriptions on the webpage.  The only phone number is the general one.
  • What happens when you call the general number?  I kept getting disconnected.
  • I emailed a while back to the electronic support to ask to be cancelled and they gave me a phone number that is only staffed in the mornings.  Oh, and it is not an 800 number.  Luckily it was staffed today.
  • So, the guy (from far, far away) on the phone first couldn't find my info as I assumed he could spell Steve... my bad.  
  • Then he kept wanting to know how he could fix the situation other than unsubscribing.  I was losing my temper... so nope, no fix.  You make it hard to unsubscribe, that just hardens my need to unsubscribe.
  • Then he wanted to know why I wanted to unsubscribe to fill in the boxes on his form: your paper sucks.  Sure, the coverage can be ok, but I have let this bad experience with customer disservice color my view.

In between, I tried to get my credit card company to stop the automatic payment, and they refused.  They said the only option they had was to cancel the card, which is pretty damned inconvenient.  Why can't they just enter into their computers not to accept charges from a specific company?  They can enter autopayments so why can't they stop specific autopayments?  

It should not be this hard.

 So, that is my rant du jour.  That the move to online has made things easier to sign up but not to sign out, that they resist, hoping that you give up, and that credit card companies sure make it hard to change who I am paying.

Fuck.

 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Competing Magical Places: Disney Anew and Universal Yow!

Frozen butterbeer is
best, but had much brain
freeze.
This week, I got to go back!!!  I hadn't been to Disney World and Universal Florida since 2012 (when we went south to both sell the house in Montreal and celebrate the new job).  This time, instead of Mrs. Spew and Future Hollywood Executive Assistant Spew, I went with my brother and my cousin's family.  At a family occasion last year, I learned that my Floridian cousin and his wife don't like to do the most thrilling rides, leaving their kids frustrated during their visits.  So, I made an unbreakable vow the next time they went to Universal, I would join them.  My brother agreed to crash the party AND wanted us to do Disney World ahead of the U visit, as we had long wanted to do the super-expensive Star Wars experience ... that no longer exists.  We had a blast.  So, I thought I would share some intel and also rank the rides.

First, we learned that to have the best time requires spending even more money.  Yep, the tickets are expensive enough, but to spend less time waiting and more time enjoying, well, more money, more money, more money.  For Disney, we were staying off of the property, so this meant paying more money for parking--preferred parking put one much closer and also got one out of a bit of traffic.  We didn't do this and didn't really need to do this for Hollywood Studio, but did payoff for Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.  We did Epcot on the MK day by taking a monorail to the monorail station and then over to Epcot.  Genie plus, which costs money, allows one to reserve a spot on some rides for later in the day--it requires some strategery to make this work best as you can only set one reservation at a time until some time passes or until you do that ride.  Virtual waiting is still waiting but more pleasant.  Lightning lanes are for some rides--you actually pay additional money to get onto that ride for a specific slot.  It has limited utility as they fill up quickly plus see the next paragraph.  For Universal, we stayed at a Universal hotel, which cost more but came with an unlimited express pass, which allowed us to go through the fast lane at most (not all) rides.

Second, the parks lie a bit.  For the lightning lanes at Disney, for instance, if you are off property, you can't sign up until after the first hour or two of the morning, which means that those who are staying on property can sign up ahead of you, which means you might not have a slot available for you until late in the day.  We didn't do Avatar (more below) because the first slot was around 5:30, and we had plans to leave the park by then.  For Universal, we were told that the park would open up an hour early for those staying at the hotels onsite, but what we didn't know was that meant only one half of universal (the Isles of Adventure side) and only three rides would be open for that first hour--Hagrid, Velocicoaster, and Hogwarts Forbidden Journey.  Roughly 90% of those coming in early went to the first ride, which quickly meant significant waits.  Uncool--that they funneled all the early people to those rides. 

 Third, discretion is the better part of amusement park enjoyment.  We had no kids with us for the Disney days so we could avoid rides that weren't really in our win-set.  We were looking for the more thrilling rides, so we could do each of the Disney parks in half a day, more or less. We stayed longer at Hollywood Studios because I had made a reservation three months earlier (which is what one needs to do) to get a couple of spots at Oga's Cantina at the Star Wars part of HS.  I figured I wouldn't want to drink some funky alien cocktails earlier in the day (Narrator: sure you would).  So, we stayed there longer than we needed. That was ok, because the lines at Star Tours were short, and each ride is different (more below).  Anyhow, we got through each park quickly by avoiding stuff that didn't interest us and not getting too committed to incredibly long waits when Genie+, Lightning Lanes, Express Pass wouldn't help. 

Fourth, some advance planning does help. Specifically food reservations.  We made some reservations at the parks and associated places (Disney Springs) and mostly found excellent food.  I also learned of First Watch, which is an excellent breakfast chain that has food for those seeking healthy fare and for the stuff I like.  Oga's Cantina was not as special as we thought--no mid-drink brawls with folks losing their arms and no alien adventures, but the drinks were excellent and the bartender was great.  Next time I do Disney (CA or FL), I will again make reservations for Oga's, just earlier in the day.

Indeed, one consistency across the two parks--the crew/casts were terrific.  We met a lot of very friendly, patient, often silly folks working the various places (DeSantis is an idiot as damn these places employ a lot of people).  The people at these parks elevated the experience.  And, yeah, it not being summer helped a lot. Another is that each park had plenty of rides with taped appearances by the characters, and I was kind of surprised to see how they got damn near everybody.  I asked my daughter about this--of course, each actor gets paid for their labor--but I wondered if they are required by their big movie deals to do this stuff.  We did bump into one set of rude employees--First Order folks who stayed in character.  Not just at Rise of Resistance but also patrolling the Star Wars land at Hollywood Studies.  My brother almost got sliced in half by Kylo Ren. 

Gary Oldman?
Speaking of people, the other attendees were pretty great as well.  Folks were friendly and very much engaged in having a great time.  I especially loved the herds of HP cosplayers who looked terrific. I swear I thought I saw Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, the Trelawneys and Umbridges were fantastic (see more
below), and yes, the cosplayers ranged in age with many older ones.  While JKR has done much to taint the Potter legacy, the love and the silliness the fans have for that universe and for its characters made me feel less bad about having some of my money end up in the hands of JKR.  I will have to write a separate post about that aspect--what HP means in a world where the author spews out hate.  On the bright side, I saw more than a few gay couples at both parks, so the places are still welcoming even if the governor and the author are awful.  Both places had very diverse audiences--lots of different languages, people from all over. 

 

 

For the rankings below, my prejudices/guidelines is that I want to be thrilled and amused so more points for fast/swerving/looping/silly.   

Disney

  1. Guardians of Galaxy (Epcot): basically space mountain with cars that can move and turn, great soundtrack. Not as funny as GoG tower of terror at Disneyland, but just a great ride
  2. Tron (MK): Awkward seat as you "ride" a cycle but heaps of fun. Needs to integrate throwing disks.

  3. Star Tours (Hollywood): The oldest of these rides.  Each ride is different as they have something like 66 combinations.  Each ride is physically the same--the car goes up, down, tilts, etc--but the screen stuff changes with each ride visiting two planets/experiences in the SW universe.  In our five rides, we got a couple of repeats--we went to Hoth twice in our first two rides, for instance, but we got five different combos.  We saw scenes from all nine of the movies except Attack of the Clones and, yes, Star Wars.  They had plenty of stuff from the prequels and the sequels.  The second scene would be introduced by a different character talking about new coordinates to get our spy to the right place--we saw young Leia twice (her intro led to the same place), older Lando, Yoda, and one more.  We kept going back as the ride was fun and different each time, and the lines were short. 
  4. Everest (Animal Kingdom): a fun coaster ride through a mountain that gets interrupted by a Yeti, which meant for some backwards and some drops.  No loops but a thrilling ride.

  5. Space Mountain (MK): an oldie but a goodie--a fast coaster in the dark.
  6. Captured by the First Order!
    Rise of the Resistance (HS): somewhat overrated.  It had the longest lines.  I was determined to do it since it was broken (it breaks often) when we tried to do it at Disneyland.  It is a two stage ride--there is a Star Tours like shuttle that gets seized by the First Order.  Then you exit that and are surrounded by tons of Storm Troopers (not living ones, just statues, but scary and incredibly lifelike).  The heart of the ride has us escaping from the bad guys, so we are getting shot at while our driverless car spins and moves all over the place.  It was fun and cool, but not the best ride at the place (a common theme)
  7. Kilimanjaro Safari (Animal): a truck took us deeper into Animal Kingdom so we were driven around a bunch of animals--pretty close to some giraffes, and right up to a rhino that blocked our path.  It was really quite cool.


  8. Fast track (Epcot): pretty fast--"testing" a new specification.  My brother liked this more than I did, but it was a lot of fun.  Not much surrounding humor or whatever--but a good ride.
  9. Smuggler's Run (HS): I had done this before at Disneyland--you get to either help pilot the Falcon, serve as engineer, or shoot at stuff.  It is like being in the cockpit of the Star Tours with some illusion of control.  Tis a fun ride but you can't see that much from the back and hitting the buttons distracts a bit.
  10. Dinosaur (Animal): One rides a vehicle in the past to steal a dinosaur for a mad scientist.  Why does it have to be timed to be seconds before the asteroid that extinguishes the dinosaurs hits?  No idea.  Fun but not as thrilling as the rides above
  11. Buzz Light Year Ranger Spin (MK).  You sit and one person spins the ride while both shoot to kill aliens.
  12. Soaring (Epcot): riding a glider over California.  Fun but pretty calming

 

Excellent shows: Disney Pixar shorts at MK, Indiana Jones Stunt Show at HS.  The three shorts were terrific even as I was ready to dislike the Mickey one.  The Pixar was very pixar-esque.  All three were just great short movies and a welcome rest of the sore feet (my brother's step count was mostly in the high 20,000's).  The Indy show was great--heaps of Indy goodness and much Marion spunkiness.  I love the mini-plane they used"


 

Overrated:  Haunted Mansion and the Navi river ride were slow, boring, and wildly overrated.  I would not do either of these again.

Some rides were closed, and some were simply too difficult to line up.  We were not willing to wait 2-3 hours for a ride.  The former were Aerosmith Roller Coaster and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure.  The latter were: Avatar,  Remy's Ratatouille Adventure 

Universal

  1. No wonder
    the raptors were
    so angry
    VelociCoaster (Isle of Adventure): simply the best roller-coaster I have been on.  Fast and twisty from the start, good loops, plunges and swings while approaching the water. At one point, it starts to tilt left but then spins right.  Just a very thrilling ride.
  2. Hulk (IofA): similar to VC but not quite as twisty or fast.  Very good loops and twists.












  3. Spider-man (IofA): 4D ride--3D spidey lands on your car, shaking it and then shaking it again as he leaps off.  Has a great sense of humor, the pumpkin bombs from the Hobgoblin bring real heat.  Only regret is that it is generic versions, not the Molina Dr. Ock or the Jimmie Fox Electro and so forth.  This ride has been around a long time, but it still works really well.  The Transformers ride is newer but pales in comparison in a big, big way.  Why? Story and character matter (see the above Star Tours).  
  4. Gringotts (UniFlorida):  I have been waiting a long time for this as we imagined this ride when we visited 12 years ago--when the park only had rides that built on the first four books/movies.  They did a very nice job of realizing the Gringotts breakout scene.  The cart was fast and spinny but not too scary for my youngest relative.  It had a bit more juice than the most similar Forbidden Journey. Oh and a nice job with the dragon.
  5. Forbidden Journey (IofA): like Gringotts, a 3D adventure, this one giving you the feeling of flying a broom through the grounds of Hogwarts.  I did yell Expecto Patronum when the Dementers appeared, but, of course, I didn't have my wand as they made us put all of our loose stuff in lockers (a recurring theme).  
  6. Simpsons (UF): Remains a great combo of silly and thrill.  The entire ride makes fun of the amusement park experience, which makes it even better.
  7. Revenge of the Mummy (UF): another 4Dish ride with lots of ups, downs, and all the rest as we are chased by scrabs and mummies. 
  8. Dr Doom's Fearfall (IofA): old ride, slung up, drop down.  Very basic, still works, and good views.
  9. Hagrid (IofA): So hard to get on this ride as it is very popular.  But it is not that special.  It is cool that the two riders, one on the motorcycle, one in the side car, have somewhat different experiences, but, otherwise, it is a fine roller-coaster.
  10. Men in Black (UF): It is fine, but not that memorable.
  11. Race thru NY with Jimmy Fallon  (UF): You are in a car racing thru NY with Fallon.  It is a fun ride, but nothing special.
  12. Minions (UF): I did both Minions rides with my younger relative (what is the daughter of a cousin anyway?).  One involved shooting from a standing position that moved along a conveyor built and was hard on the hands--the kid beat us all.  The other ride? I am having a hard time remembering.  Not a good sign.
  13. Hogwarts Express: Goes back and forth between the two HP sections--Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.  Useful for getting between the two parks and amazing design of the scenery.  Not thrilling but a great realization of a key scene in pretty much every book except the last.  Oh, and going to Hogsmeade has different stuff happening along the way than going in the other direction.
  14. Fast and Furious/Skull Island: Both are ok, nothing special, basically versions of each other.
  15. Transformers: Supposed to be the equivalent of the Spidey ride, but just too loud, too many robots I can't keep straight.  I get it, the bad guy wants the All Spark. 

Didn't do Rip It Rocket as it was only open for a little while on the second day and we missed our shot.  River Adventure was also out for the count.  We weren't in it to get wet, so not a huge loss. 

That Star Tours is old and rocks and Transformers is new and doesn't speaks to the importance of story, dialogue, characters, not just whether the thing one is in goes up and down a lot.  So, my bias is towards the HP and Marvel stuff, why the Simpsons is still deceptively one of the best rides, and why I don't are much for the newer stuff--their IP is just not thrilling to me.

Oh, and if I had to combine my rankings to produce a top five:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Velocicoaster
  3. Hulk
  4. Spidey 
  5. Tron

 

One quibble with Universal--they seem to have the rights to Back to the Future, but other than some merch, one Dolorean, and Doc Brown, they don't really do anything with it.  It is begging to be used in a ride and then some.  Given that they still have a lame section that might be under renovation for some kind of Greece/Atlantis thing that my family scoffed at 12 years ago and wondered if it would be the site of expanded HP, it seems obvious that BTTF should get some love and space.  But as Doc Brown would say, the future hasn't been written yet.

And, yes, you can meet your heroes.  Mando was super friendly, and Grogu cooed cutely.










Spidey was very much a friendly neighborhood hero.  I got to chat with him before we took a picture, and he was super nice.  I misheard the woman at the checkout register, sounded like she said she was his girlfriend.  When I asked, she said "I wish." I suggested that his girlfriends often have much drama and trauma in their lives, and she acknowledged that is a good point.








 


Green eggs and ham was not the best meal I had, but the one that I just had to eat.  It was pretty good.






Finally, here's a few shots of various HP cosplayers.  As I mentioned, I am far more ambivalent about HP thanks to JKR's hateful stuff of the past several years.  Sure, the representation in the books was not good, and the goblins were always a wee bit anti-semitic.  But the heart of the books focused on love and tolerance.  And I could not help but see how many people seemed to get that as they not only wore their cosplay stuff with great panache, but as you can see from the pics, there was so much camaraderie and, yes, love.

Snape and Fleur--not the usual pairing

I wish I had taken a picture when I was closer
to this herd of cosplayers who gathered in a UF park