Thursday, January 31, 2013

Learning from Lessons Learned Exercise

I spent the past two days at a conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  The U of NB's Gregg Centre and the Canadian Force's Combat Training Centre held a two day conference on what the Canadian Army can learn from its Afghanistan experience.  I presented on the lessons about multilateral military operations--drawing from the Dave and Steve book (coming to a bookstore near you late in 2013).

It was a bit different of a crowd.  I have presented my stuff to military audiences before, but these folks were almost entirely Captains and Majors and senior enlisted folks (plus a general or two and some colonels).  So, they had experienced a tour or two (or more) in Afghanistan and perhaps Bosnia, Cyprus and beyond.  They knew countries varied in how they conducted the war, but not about the sources of such variations.  Ta da!

I also learned stuff.  I learned that these folks had far more multinational experience than "joint."  Joint refers to working with other parts of the Canadian Forces, but, outside of helo support (all helos are RCAF), these folks didn't have much interaction with the other services. 

Today's sessions were breakout groups or "syndicates" as they called them.  I chose the multinational one.  Someone raised the idea of multilateral ops as a carpool--that someone is always driving the rest.  Often the US, sometimes the Brits.  The problem with the metaphor is that it gives way too much control to the driver---how many cars do you know move in four directions at once?

It was interesting to see the Marines come up a lot, as they used to have little multilateral experience.  But the Canadians often used them as examples.  Perhaps because, like the Marines, the Canadians pride themselves on adaptability produced by having old/lousy/too little equipment.

I had an interesting conversation with a female FOO.  This would be a forward observation officer--a person that manages the infantry's connection to artillery and air support.  In 2006, Canada had its first female KIA--Nichola Goddard--who had been a FOO.  I wondered if the CF got more protective of their FOOs, female or otherwise, after Goddard's death, but the officer I was talking to said that they were far more protective of the new grunt in the group--an 18 year old kid.  

I realized that knowing acronyms is not sufficient to faking being a military person.  It is necessary but not sufficient.  What you also have to do is say the following things alot:

  • sort.  As in: "we need to get x sorted."  Lots of sorting going on.  
  • piece.  As in "he was assigned the training piece, she got the int piece (not intel, just int)" and so on.  
  • construct as a noun.  As in "the training construct served us well in the short term, but can we build a similar construct somewhere else."  
  • enable. Heaps of enable and enablers around.  
One of my contributions I made to the discussion was to point out that referring to the other services constantly as enablers meant that, yes, you might value their role in helping you out (enabling you to do what you need to do), but then you are also making the service feel as if they are secondary to you.  Thus, I was suggesting that if one wants better jointness, better relations among the services, one might want to stop referring to them as enablers.  "Who you calling an enabler?"  Somehow, I doubt that I will change this habit.  I do hope, however, that my stuff on multilateral military operations does enable the CF down the road.  

Finally, they kept calling me sir.  Always feels strange--me a sir?  

Oh, and I learned more than this.  A smart group of interesting people with much experience and have thougth much about it.

Message Mismanaged

I was tempted to entitle this Mischief Mismanaged but not all of my readings are Harry Potter fans AND I don't think the Canadian government is up to mischief.  I do think that it is mismanaging its message management.  The Globe and Mail has a good piece documenting how it has screwed up the messaging around Mali.  The Harper folks have to do more to assure the public that it will not send folks into combat because it keeps sending mixed signals, denying then affirming various decisions.  To be clear, I still believe that there will be no combat troops sent by Canada to confront the Islamists in Mali.

I am at a conference in Fredericton with the Gregg Centre at the University of New Brunswick and the Combat Training Centre at Gagetown as hosts.  The audience is mostly Canadian army people.  When I asserted in my talk that the CF will not be going into combat anytime soon and mentioned my bet with Phil L, an American colonel on exchange in Canada wanted to join the bet on my side--taking the over--no major combat anytime soon.  A senior Canadian officer basically indicated that he would be in a wheel chair the next time Canada goes off to combat--which would be years and years down the road.

On a related note, a general wanted to speak with me about stuff that I had written--and that clearly became my piece at CIC on "Do they teach denial in basic training?"  I thought, uh oh.  But the conversation actually turned out to be quite good.  I didn't have to retreat but did appreciate the clarifications he suggested.  Divisions within CF more than denial CF denies.

But now I must go to the conference again. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Deja Snooze

I saw this (23 Awkward Sleeping Positions Of People At Airports) and realized this is about the fifteenth anniversary (the 1998 job market season) of the one time I did sleep in an airport.  I did not use any of the tricks shown in the series of pics.  Nope, let's go to the videotape.

Ok, no tape.  Here is the tale:
I gave probably the best job talk of my life (spoiler--didn't get the job), and then got to the airport very late due to bad traffic and a less than rushed professor.  So, I got to the airport with no food since lunch, and had to jump on the plane.  The plane had no food.  And then got diverted to Tulsa or Oklahoma City due to thunder-storms at my least favorite airport--DFW.  So, we finally got to DFW after 11pm, which meant that my connection was missed.  It also meant that all of the local hotels were already full since we were the last ones in.

And I was frickin' hungry.  So, I will always have a soft spot for TGIFridays, as the rest of the airport's concessions were closed.  I asked them: are you still serving food.  They said: yes, would you like something to drink.  I said: yes!  I used the TGIF as a base of operations and would scamper out as various items were being distributed to the lost and left behind--pillows (teeny ones), blankets (teeny ones) and then cots (smallish). 

So, I took the stuff to a gate and tried to sleep.  I managed to do so, as I remember being startled to awake around 5:30am to a bunch of big boxes with blue legs sticking out of them.  A bunch of air force cadets were using the boxes that the pillows, hats, and cots came in to block out light and sound.  Smart folks.

So, that is the one time I slept overnight at an airport.  Oh, and I didn't get the job because, despite a very solid performance, I was too junior and not sufficiently skilled/practiced/published in quant stuff at the time.  Their decision actually made sense--they should not have interviewed me.   But I made some good contacts and an enduring connection with TGIFridays.

Montreal Under Water (cont)

Here is some video focused on the other side of campus:

When I said that one of the reasons I left Montreal was the collapsing infrastructure, I was more focused on the roads.  Still, this event is not the first time this has happened, but clearly worse than the previous time.  Ug.  Will there be any accountability for this?  I doubt it.

Party Down? No, Party Death!

Fun re-mix of Party Down clips.

the Spew family is still catching up on the show.  If you have not started, you should.  Much less murder in the show than this clip suggest.

Are Liberals Insensitive?

Nope, not about Canada's Liberal Parties (federal or provincial) but a bit about American folks on the left end of the spectrum and a bit about Liberal IR theory.   The fun part, of course, is that we have multiple meanings of Liberal in contest below.  Sorry.

My problem du jour is that while Dan Drezner wrote a really sharp column about where Obama might be, in terms of his approach to international relations, I think he is being unfair.

Dan quotes Obama:
And what I have to constantly wrestle with is where and when can the United States intervene or act in ways that advance our national interest, advance our security, and speak to our highest ideals and sense of common humanity.
And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations. In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?
Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can. You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good. (emphasis added by Dan, color added by me)
 Good stuff here, but the next move is a bit problematic.  Dan says:
"First, liberal values do matter to Obama -- they just don't matter as much as other things."

This implies* that costs and benefits and calculations of efficacy, efficiency and likely outcomes are not in a liberal calculus--just values.  Doing right even if it will not work is the right thing to do?  Are good liberals insensitive to the costs of the policies they advocate?  This frustrates me to no end.  It reminds me of a big problem in the simplistic takes on IR theory, where the Realists (Structural, Neo, Neo-Classical, whatever) seem to be the ones that can take costs and benefits into account, and the other approaches not so much. 
* or perhaps I am inferring.  Maybe I am reading too much into Drezner when this disease is more virulent in other places.  But I am going to use Dan as my excuse to rant about this [it is my blog, I can do what I want ;)]
 The old distinction between Realists and Idealists let the former monopolize realistic thinking.  But Realism vs Liberalism should not.  The former is about power and security, the latter is about interests being more complex, and that rational calculations of costs and probabilities of success can and are part of both approaches to International Relations.

That Obama does not engage in a low probability, high cost effort to help the Syrians does not mean that he is not a Liberal (by any of seventeen different definitions).  It just means he is not idealistic.  He is reality-based, unlike much of the previous administration.  But seeing reality does not make one a cold-hearted, principle-ignoring, power/security maximizing realist.  Being a "force for good" is distinct from being focused on maximizing US security.  Liberal IR theory suggests that states have multiple interests and confront challenges as these multiple interests do not always point in the same direction. 

Dan concludes with:
Barack Obama neither an appeaser nor a liberal internationalist.  He's someone who has a clear set of foreign policy preferences and an increasing risk aversion to the use of force as a tool of regime change.
But one can be a liberal internationalist precisely by having a clear set of preferences and an increasing risk aversion to the use of force as a tool of regime change.  Indeed, Liberal IR theory is partly defined by the idea that the utility of military force is in decline (a problem, since it has been in decline for a long time but still remains pretty handy).

Perhaps my problem here is that there are two meanings of Liberal at work here.  That there are left-wing foreign policy preferences and there are Liberal theories of international relations.  BUT in either case, the idea that liberals/Liberals should be insensitive to the costs of the policies they might advocate seems mighty unfair and tilts the game too much into the hands of realists/Realists and everyone else who can then portray their opponents as fuzzy-headed idealists.

To paraphrase my favorite Liberal: "who are you calling fuzzy-headed?"

Wrong about Mali? Not Yet

There are now reports that the Canadian Forces deployed its super-secret folks, Joint Task Force Two,* to Mali.  Does that make me wrong about no Canadian troops going into combat there?  Nay.  This unit is being used to protect the Canadian diplomats there, perhaps because of what happened to the American diplomats in Benghazi last year.  While it is possible that these forces might get into a firefight, it does not seem to be the case that these folks will be sent into combat up north where the war is going.
* JTF2 makes me ponder--what happened to JTF1?

Precisely because these folks are usually super-secret (and thus largely assuring message control remains with the Prime Minister), I did provide a caveat in most (if not all) of my media appearances that Special Operations Forces types might be the only folks who do get on the ground.  And given what we learned about Libya, SOF don't wear boots--that is, boots on the ground refers to conventional forces and not SOF.

Some will look at the SOF deployment as a significant escalation, but, as long as their mission is diplomatic protection, it is not such an escalation.  It is not war or going to war.  Saying so stretches the concepts too much.

Still, plenty of opportunity for me to be wrong here as I have been elsewhere.

Separatism is Back!

Well, it never left.  When I moved to Quebec in 2002, wishful thinking (a desperate desire to get out of Lubbock) led to the temporary belief that separatism goes away.  I knew better, but was focused on other stuff at the time.

Anyhow, there are a couple of interesting stories:
  • CBC Montreal tweeted: "Separatist Scottish First Minister A. Salmond to meet with Premier Pauline Marois, but has cancelled any public appearance with her."  Of course, as I tweeted, I would be embarrassed to be seen with Marois, too.  Just teasing.  Well, not really. If I wanted to a successful separatist, being seen with the perpetually falling short Parti Quebecois would not be such a good idea.   It would just remind folks that separatism in advanced democracies is pretty useful for extracting some autonomy and a heap of cash from the federal government, but not so good at facilitating independence.  Of course, given that Scotland's process seems almost entirely Quebec deja vu, perhaps that is all that Salmond really wants?  
    • I will find out more on this next fall, as I am going to Scotland for a conference that will take place a year before the referendum.  My role is to speak on the implications for the rest of Europe.  Given my usual "confirmation bias means that folks learn what they want" tact, I will be arguing that Scotland will not matter that much for the Belgians, for instance.
  • The NDP is sucking up to Quebeckers with an attempt to revise the Clarity Act.   Given that the Conservatives are not going to bend on this, this effort is symbolic.  It shows, as we have seen before, that the NDP is not a federalist party as we have come to know the term.  They previously campaigned in ways that suggested they would sell out Canada for Quebec votes, and this proposal is more of the same.  I happen to agree with ye olde Liberals and the Supreme Court that a separatist referendum needs to be quite clear--the stakes are too high to let a confusing question or a very bare majority swing the outcome.  If you want independence, prove that it is something the people really want and not just a passing fad.  
    • Thus far, Quebec has proved that it has no real hunger for independence.  Besides Montenegro (55% plus), I cannot think of separatist movement that could not get overwhelming majorities in favor.  That Quebec separatists cannot says much about Canada, about Quebec, and about the nationalists.
    • The article linked above points out the NDP: "requires a two-thirds vote to change its own party constitution while deeming 50-plus-one sufficient to break up the country."  Hmmm.
Anyhow, been a while since I have posted in separatism.  I really do not see that much of a risk in the near term--can the PQ blame the latest infrastructure disaster (see below) on the federal government?  We shall see.

Dude, somebody should probably save the NDP from pandering too much.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Women in Combat

There has been a heap of commentary about the decision to let women into combat positions that they were previously not allowed to enter.  To be clear, women have been doing heaps of combat for the US armed forces.  They have been flying fighter planes and combat helicopters for a while now, AND they have served in various positions that exposed them to combat.  In Afghanistan, the Marines developed units of women to attach to infantry patrols so that the US could have some folks that could talk to the Afghan women. 

What is different now is that the fiction of women not serving in combat will be removed AND women will be able to serve in those posts that often seem necessary to get promoted--armor, infantry, artillery. 

Some people are saying stupid stuff.  Luckily, I was too busy to blog on this, so someone else did a very fine job of taking down a noted commentator on military stuff.

My favorite line in this piece:
But perhaps most disturbing is Martin Van Creveld’s conclusion, in which he summarizes the traditional role of men and women in society–that men fight wars abroad, so they might protect the childbearers remaining at home.  Some might call it mysoginistic, others anachronistic.
I call it historically inaccurate.
The piece then uses Van Creveld's previous work to show that VC is wrong.  Lovely.

Anyhow, this is good news.  While the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been incredibly costly, they would be costlier still if we did not learn from them.  This decision shows that the learning curve is not as shallow as it once was.

NATO's Dead, part 45

People keep arguing that NATO's demise is nigh.  I am skeptical.

Backing In? The More the Kids Learn

What you lose in sleep, you gain in updates?  Having a kid can mean learning about changes in how people think about things.  For instance, when my daughter took a course in CPR, I learned that the rates of compressing and breathing one is supposed to do are now different than when I learned.

Well, Teen Spew is about to become Driving Menace to Society Spew.  This weekend, she learned that the current recommendation is to back into parking spots and into driveways as it is safer to go forwards out of such spots than to drive forwards and then back out.

This is relatively new to me.  I guess I heard of such arguments, but did not have the weight of the safest driving school in Canada behind it.  I guess I kind of believe it, but I am not sure it is going to change my behavior as much as the lesson that one should use the lane to be closed for as long as one can--the new science of merging.  Why?
  • because my two car garage is pretty narrow so backing in is problematic.  Also, far easier to access the trunk if it is pointing towards the street.
  • my street does not get that much traffic, so backing out is fine as long as I am watchful for the 60 plus kids on the block.
  • because backing in raises the risks of denting another car whereas backing out means that my car is more at risk.  
I do back in a decent amount of the time, but not to get into my driveway.  I do drive through a parking space in a shopping center to get to the next one so that I can head out.  But I think habit here will probably dominate the new lesson for me, unlike the new science of merging.

How about you?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Denial Is Nothing New to the NFL

This piece does an excellent job of showing how the NFL denied, denied, denied that concussions were a huge problem.  The bits and pieces here sound like cigarette companies denying the science of cancer research.  So much conflict of interest between team doctors and the players. 
 2010 - In March, the NFL creates a new committee to study concussions, distancing itself from Pellman and Ira Casson. Prominent neurologists Dr. H. Hunt Batjer and Dr. Richard G. Ellenbogen are appointed as co-chairs. Batjer says the following about the MBTI: "We all had issues with some of the methodologies... the inherent conflict of interest... that was not acceptable by any modern standards or not acceptable to us."
 It is not time for the players to have player doctors on the sideline--it is way, way, way over due.  And I do think that much of the talk (not action) that the NFL is spitting out these days is only of the cover your ass variety.  Force the players to wear the best helmets--there is no way so many helmets should be flying off every week.  Forget the talk about an 18 game season.  Do not return players to the field if they are seriously hurt (like RGIII).  This really is not rocket science. 

We talk about bubbles all the time, like an education bubble.  But what if the NFL is just one big bubble ready to pop?  What happens to the game if the players cannot get hit in the head?  Just wondering.

Bags of Milk, The Saga Continues

After my posts on bags of milk, Frances Wooley, a Carlton Econ prof, posted on this topic.  She ended up getting a heap of interesting responses including this one from Dan Wong at the B.C. Dairy Council:

You asked why milk is distributed primarily in bags in Ontario vs. cartons in other provinces. The answer is a combination of economics, market dynamics and regulation. Plastic milk bags first made their appearance in Canada in the mid-1970s and were introduced concurrently with the nation-wide adoption of the metric system. This led to some resistance in the marketplace (consumers felt it was being forced upon them) and strengthened the role of paperboard cartons as glass bottles (for the most part) disappeared from store shelves.

In the late 1980s, British Columbia in particular was confronted with a massive wave of cross-border shopping (not unlike today). The rigid plastic jug was already established in the United States, and began to show up in BC as a result of cross-border shopping. Its popularity led dairy processors in BC and Alberta to start selling milk in rigid plastic jugs. Consumer acceptance of the jugs was very high -- in addition to being safe, convenient and easy to handle, they were positioned as the 'price fighter' in a suddenly competitive retail marketplace (retail price controls having disappeared in most provinces by the early 1990s). In a relatively short time, jugs supplanted plastic bags as the container of choice, along with cartons which continued to dominate the smaller (two litres and under) formats.

However, Ontario was still subject to a 'legacy' regulation which stipulated that companies distributing milk in rigid containers greater than two litres in size were required to charge a refundable deposit at point of sale. The regulation dates back to the 1960s and has had the effect of maintaining the market for flexible plastic containers (i.e., bags) in the province which manufactures them. Over time, dairy processors, who much like other businesses went through a protracted period of consolidation, standardized production in rigid plastic jugs (primarily four litres) and paperboard cartons (primarily two litres and under) throughout most of the country -- except in Ontario where the regulation ensured that plastic bags continued to dominate the large formats.

Consumer acceptance of plastic bags is high in Ontario largely because that province has had limited exposure to plastic jugs. Cartons remain popular in all provinces primarily in the smaller formats. More recently we are seeing some 'de-standardization' as processors use packaging to differentiate their products -- thus we are now seeing more small-format rigid plastic bottles and, in niche markets, glass bottles.

In my mind, the fact that gallon jugs beat milk bags in Canada when regulations did not get in the way of competition suggests to me that gallon jugs are "better".  Of course, I can be reading into this what I want, but, anyway, the bags of milk question obviously deserves more research.  If only I did IPE.

Saturday Silliness: Zombie Method Acting

The entire Spew household is most eager to see Warm Bodies, a zombie romcom.  Yes, really.  Here is a behind the scenes look:

Friday, January 25, 2013

HRC as the Anti-Mansplainer

I posted previously about Mansplaining (so not worth it, by the way).  So, I figured I ought to link to this piece showing how Hillary Clinton combats the mansplaining she faced on the Hill yesterday.  An impressive performance indeed.  I am just glad Secretary of State Clinton did not read my post on mansplaining, as she can kick some serious ass. 

Pontificating? Me?

For those interested in what I say on Canadian TV (that would be my mother), here is my latest bit talking about Canada and Mali.  Not entirely incoherent.

Understanding Canadian Bipartisanship

My latest at CIC, where I ponder the strange bipartisanship around the Mali mission.  Glad I wrote it as it gave me something to talk about when I did some TV later in the day.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Momma, Don't Let Your Kid Get a PhD, part seven

This report should make most academic types sick:
From 2002 to 2012, the highest rate of increases in education attainment levels were doctorate and master's degrees, according to new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. The population with a doctorate grew by about 1 million, or 45 percent,
Sure, more educated people is a good thing. But at a time where universities are cutting tenure-track slots, it just feeds the beast.  What beast?  The beast that is the adjunct job market.  Folks who cannot get a full time gig have to cobble together a living by working at multiple institutions, getting paid per class.  This can often be something like $2k-5k.  The math becomes obvious--working many, many hours to perhaps get by .... without benefits. 

I blogged recently about how universities are now adjusting the hours of adjuncts to avoid Obamacare regulations, but, of course, the entire adjunct-ization of teaching is about avoiding the costs of benefits.  I didn't realize at the time that this set of strategies was fed by such a glut, such an oversupply.  It may not be the case that the excess supply in PhDs caused the harsh working conditions, but it does mean that more are experiencing them than before.  Of course, it may vary by field.  Actually, we know it does--that humanities job markets are worse than the sciences.  Poli Sci is in the middle--better than English lit, worse than Chemistry.

All I can think is that I am incredibly lucky and so have been my students.  If we continue to over-produce Phds, it s not clear how universities will feel any pressure to change their ways.  And to be clear, this sucks not just for the adjuncts but for everyone associated with universities.  Tenure track professors find themselves facing greater pressure since there are heaps of replacements for their job.  Students suffer because adjuncts face many more distractions from teaching and it is hard to develop relationships with those who do some driveby teaching.  Administrators suffer because .... of guilt?  Ok, maybe this does not hurt everyone, but it is not a good trend at all.

I don't see universities cutting back on PhD programs--the prestige of the programs matters as does the continued supply of the next generation of adjuncts.  Indeed, I still see plenty of places creating new PhD programs, which is extremely problematic.  Have they done their market research?  Are they just as blindly optimistic as the law school aspirants of five years ago?  If so, they should notice that law school applicant numbers are crashing.

Does anyone have a learning curve?  And, yes, as this old post suggests, people are pretty resistant to reality.

Where is a Cult of Personality When You Need One?

Exactly a year ago, I discovered that I had a cult of personality.  Alas, no such cult exists in the frozen wastelands of Ottawa.  As a narcissist, nothing could please me more than to have such a cult.  But with the end of teaching 600 impressionable students at a time, my cult was doomed. 

I did ponder this cult and this post last year so I will not get deep into it this year.  I just wanted to mark the anniversary of the day that the cult broke its first rule--do not talk about fight club the cult.

Of course, there was other evidence that such a cult existed:

Anyhow, I just want to know where I can get a t-shirt or other merch.