Saturday, October 31, 2015

US SF and Syria

I was on TV last night to discuss why the US is sending some Special Forces (the Army guys who are part of the larger SOF community) to Syria and whether this represented mission creep.  People love to bring up mission creep because it is scary.  So much so that it was my costume last year:
The sign says Op Enduring Mission

After all, what can 50 or so SF guys (not yet gender-integrated) can do?  Well, 100 or so helped to bring down the Taliban with heaps of air support and allies on the ground, but Assad ISIS has proven to be a bit more robust.  So, here are some random thoughts about this:
  • The coalition bombing campaign (unlike the Russian one) has been constrained by the limited ability to discern ISIS targets from civilians and from local allies.  So, having eyes on the ground could help provide better targeting information (even though, yes, recent events in Afghanistan indicate this is not perfect).  
  • The local allies may be more focused on Assad and his allies and less on ISIS given that the Syrian government forces have been far more destructive, killing more civilians, than ISIS.  For them, ISIS might very well be the lesser of two evils.  It may be that the 50 SF guys might be willing to be the force multipliers that they are only when the targets are ISIS.
  • Perhaps this is an effort to respond to the Russian bombing campaign--that the Russians will now have to consider whether they can target the anti-regime forces since they might have Americans sprinkled among them.  Same for the Turks as they have been bombing our Kurdish allies.
  • Maybe the Obama government just was worn down by the "do more" crowd at home.  Not sure why this would be the case since Obama has a year left and does not care that much about the escalation crowd.  
What effect will this have?  I have no idea.  It probably will improve the performance of our local allies, but as I keep reminding folks--the people on the ground have their own interests and incentives.  The Russians are learning that now in Ukraine and in Syria.  We should have learned it by now in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Indeed, I am pretty sure Obama's hesitancy on all of this has much to do with this exact problem--that the people on the ground will do their own bidding, not his.

I am not all that hopeful about negotiations since none of the local actors were involved.  And I just don't see Assad stepping down just because the Russians might want to move on.  That would be swell, but also not sure it would fix much.  Anyhow, it is unlikely. 

So, the best answers to give to the media are: I don't know, maybe, and Happy Halloween.

Halloween Nostalgia

Between Kid Spew becoming College Spew and the move to Ottawa, Halloween is both more and less than it used to be.  So, I wallowed in my FB "on this day" for a while, enjoying the pics of my daughter in costume, of me with my Montreal fall ultimate team (General Admission), and of my costumes for UNICEF fund-raising at McG.

Theo Became Zombie Steve when he guest
lectured on Halloween when I was out of town

On the bright side, our neighborhood, with its 60 plus kids, gets in the spirit of things with many decorations including some very creative stuff.  And tonight, even if it rains, we will be swarmed as our densely packed block is seen by those near and far as prime trick or treating territory. Hopefully, we bought enough candy this year so that Mrs. Spew will not panic.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Twenty Year Anniversary of Phew!

Today is the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum that might have led to an independent Quebec if the yes side won and if people could have figured out what the question meant.  All I can say is: phew!

I would not have ventured to Montreal and McGill had Quebec seceded.  Easy for me to say in hindsight, but I am pretty sure that is the case.  First, there would have been no Canada Research Chair for me, since Quebec, despite the best efforts to diminish the costs of transition, would have been hosting a Canada/federally funded educational program.  So, McG would either not have had the position or would not have had the sweeteners to compensate for a salary that represented a pay cut from my previous job due to the exchange rates.  Second, the Quebec nationalists have frequently taken hostile positions towards McGill, so I doubt that McG would have been creating new positions or filling old ones, except perhaps for those English speakers who were fleeing the new country.  Third, Canada seemed like a good place to live.  A newly independent nationalist state with some degree of animosity towards English-speakers?  Yuck.

Canada dodged a bullet in 1995.  While support for independence is low now, the issue remains the third rail of Canadian politics.  Which helps to explain the NDP pandering about 50% plus 1 and all that.  It also means that Canada cannot amend its constitution because Quebec's issues would arise anew. Still, the province did give far more votes to the man with the wrong last name (Trudeau senior apparently alienated the province long ago). 

So, I am thankful that a small majority of Quebeckers turned out and made the right decision.  Not only has Canada been better off together since 1995, I am better off for Canada remaining together.  As I have repeatedly posted here, Canada has been very, very good to me and mine.  Now that 2/3's of us are citizens (Soph Spew needs to swear....), we are in big-time. 

Let's celebrate Canada unity day by  ... watching some hockey and feeling smug about the Canadian health care system!  Woot, eh?!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Elusive Launch!

Today, we launched Elusive Pursuits: Lessons from Canada's Interventions Abroad.  I am greatly indebted to the folks who agreed to participate in this volume.  Today, Chris Penny, Gaëlle Rivard Piché, and Stephen Brown presented their contributions and some thoughts about extending their chapters to the next government here.  I am very thankful that Roland Paris could moderate, as he always adds both class and insight.  I look forward to repaying him with beer.  I am also grateful to Bente Molenaar Neufeld of the Centre for Trade Policy and Law for organizing today's event and the International Development and Research Centre for funding it.  There will be another launch of the book on Monday in Toronto by the Munk Centre.  I was originally supposed to talk at that event, but I will be on my way to Portugal to observe a Canada/NATO exercise.  Yep, sucks to be me.

Roland Paris introduces the panel
What have I learned from this effort?  Well, I like to whine about being the editor or co-editor of a volume because I don't feel that it plays to my strengths.  I don't think I am good at herding the academic cats nor at editing their work. However, I must, immodestly, suggest (based on this experience and my previous one) that there is one part of this process I do very well--I identify and can persuade/coerce very interesting people to do sharp work.  This crew of contributors were most interesting (and most willing to give me friendly abuse), and I learned a great deal from them.  If only I could organize workshops that had no edited volume to produce at the end.  Indeed, one of the big conclusions I draw from the study of Canadian interventions is humility, and that is perhaps just me projecting a smidge.

Gaëlle  presents
Stephen brought slides!

Stephanie Carvin interrogates the panel

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Questions About US ISIS Policy

Sending advisers to Iraq and Syria?  Of the list of options, this may not be the best nor the worst, but probably will join the list of the mildly effective at best.

I am not so worried about Americans on the ground abetting ISIS's recruitment since I have yet to hear that ISIS has had a problem recruiting.  On the other hand, if someone tells me that ISIS has had problems recruiting, then I would advise against anything that would help them. 

Sending in Special Ops to advise the Kurds and other elements of the Syrian opposition might deter air strikes on them by the Turks and Russians (respectively).  Which would be a good thing.  On the other hand, it might not.  And then what?  That is the part that bothers me. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Revisionist Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Is Underrated

I ranked the Star Wars movies a while back, but the topic is fresh again thanks to this deadspin post, perhaps as we anticipate the 7th SW movie.

Some excellent points are made by the Deadspin folks:
  • the first act doth rock!  Leia's big moment as Hutt-killer, the repartee after Han is defrosted, the first time we see a semi-trained Jedi really demonstrate what one can do.
  • that Vader being lame is actually a good thing.  Worshiping the bad guys is always going to hurt in the third part of a trilogy because they are going to go down and down hard.  That Boba Fett got defeated pretty easily is actually terrific since he is so overrated. Yes, I said that.  His dad got killed by a Jedi pretty easily too because guess what: Jedi >> Mandalorian armor.
  • Ewok hate is heightist.  Chewie rocks but Ewoks don't?  And, as we look back at the six, one can see Ewoks as a gateway cutesy that leads to Jar Jar OR so very superior to that which Lucas could have done and subsequently did do.  Depends on your point of view, as Obi-Wan would say.
    • I raised my one qualm on twitter--that the Ewoks seemed way too prepared for the battle with the Stormtroopers.  How did they get the big logs in place?  The answer: the Ewoks had been preparing for this battle for quite some time.  Lots of pre-positioned stuff that just needed a spark to light their rebellion.  
  • The real reason why some folks hate on Return, other than it inevitably was not going to get as much love as the two excellent movies preceding it, is the love of darkness for the sake of darkness.  Meh to that.  This movie was always going to have to be light because it was always going to provide us with a happy ending... complete with singing and modest dancing.
  • So many good bits:
    • Better realized Jabba
    • Han's confusion about Luke and Leia.
    • "Hey, it's me,"
    • Speeders in the woods!
    • Yoda... sob.
    •  More Wedge!
    • "Face the power of a fully armed and operational death star"
    • The superstar destroyer plunging into the death star like Excalibur back into the lake.
The third movie ended the trilogy the way it should have ended.  Were the Ewoks a bit too cute?  Sure.   But the movie also created iconic moments and memorable lines, about as many as the previous two movies and way more than the prequels.  So, yes, I admit that I love Return of the Jedi.  It was not the best of the three, but it was a damned fine movie.  If Force Awakens can be as good as Return of the Jedi, I am going to enjoy my winter break with multiple viewings.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Elusive Pursuits Book Launch

A week from today, on October 29th at noon, we are holding a book launch of the next edition of Canada Among Nations, Elusive Pursuits: Lessons from Canada's Interventions Abroad.  The event will be in room 270, 2nd floor, Residence Commons, at Carleton University.

What is the book about?  Every year, NPSIA assesses Canada's place in the world via a Canada Among Nations volume.  For the past few years, it has been in partnership with CIGI.  The theme of this issue is on learning the lessons from past interventions.  Why?  Because we have been profoundly frustrated by the mixed results and by the government's refusal to learn lessons.

Afghanistan was supposed to be different, as the government did put together a serious lessons learning exercise.  At the end, it was buried--not only have I not been able to access it via Access to Information (my appeal is now more than two years old), but it was also not disseminated to the people making and implementing Canadian foreign and defence policy.

Thus, we decided to take on the task of examining past efforts by Canada to make a difference in the face of starvation, humanitarian disasters, ethnic violence, and terrorism.  With the election of Justin Trudeau and a Liberal majority, participation in peacekeeping is likely to come back into vogue.  To be clear, the Canadian Forces never stopped deploying, but rather the focus went from UN missions to NATO efforts.  Canada has always not just been among nations, as the series title suggests, but in them, seeking to improve the lives of those facing violence, degradation and poverty.

The volume addresses the legacies of the Somalia mission, legal challenges of the Libya mission, Canada's efforts to shape events in the Arab world, the domestic politics of the Afghanistan mission and operations down range, police training in Haiti, and intervention in the form of foreign aid.  Thematic chapters focus on gender in the Canadian Armed Forces, Responsibility to Protect in practice, Harper's interventions, and the challenges of intervening in the future with an older society facing the problems of a younger world.

Our book lacks a conclusion because we want people to draw their own conclusions.  What did I conclude from this effort?  That humility needs to be a key theme in Canadian foreign/defence policy:
  • Canada cannot and will not operate by itself anywhere, and can only send a fragment of what is needed to complete any operation.  But Canada almost always shows up when allies call up on it.
  • Good intentions need to be carefully examined for their practical impact.  Feeding people is a great aim, but it could alter existing power relations as food aid becomes a commodity in the war economy.
  • Agencies can vary widely even when they aspire towards the same goal.  Improving the position of women in one's agency meant very different processes, goals and doctrines in foreign affairs and in the Canadian Armed Forces.
  • Staying out of a conflict has consequences, too.
  • Canada is just about as impatient as any other democracy.  Police training, for instance, does not happen overnight.
  • How we frame our policies can shape how effective they are.  
  • Being responsible is really hard and very complicated.
Much of this can be distilled into one basic lesson: we need to be humble.  Canada can make a difference in many difficult places in the world, but intervention is hard, it is complicated, and it requires more patience than we usually have.  Choosing not to intervene also has consequences.

What did I learn in the course of shepherding this volume along with Fen Hampson?
  • Canadian scholarship on international affairs has a great future, as about half of the contributors represent the next generation, and they do awesome work.
  • Producing a volume with half of the chapters written by women is actually quite easy as there are many smart women doing terrific work on Canadian foreign and defence policy.  Indeed, it would have required real effort to come up with an all male set of contributors.
  • Canada is a far more interesting and dynamic actor in international affairs than I had thought when I first moved here.  It has its metaphorical hands in heaps of metaphorical pies around the world.

A Very Remarkable October Day

Today, two events are being re-visited: the attack in Ottawa last October 22nd and the deaths in Benghazi.  The Canadians are getting together in downtown Ottawa to mark the loss of life caused by a lone gunman and to mark the response of Canada to that event.  The American politicians are turning their focus to the question of who to blame for the Benghazi affair.

As a newly dual citizen, I cannot help but think that my new homeland is responding far better than my old one to acts of violence.  Yes, there is Bill C-51 and some awful xenophobia that tainted the campaign.  But the voters put more support behind those that rejected fearing/hating Muslims, and the new government is going to reverse the over-reactions of the last government.

In the US, the hearings on Benghazi are very much a partisan affair, and we knew that before GOP officials made the mistake of being transparent about it.  As my co-authors and I are starting a long term project on oversight, I do think that Congress has a very important role to play in examining past administration behavior and shedding light on failures.  However, this particular effort seems to support one of our initial hypotheses: partisanship is bad for oversight.  We are not going to learn from from the speechifying by the legislatures or by the target of the hearings--Hillary Clinton.  It will all look like "he said, she said" because no one seems to be focused on getting at the truth.

The truth has to start with this basic reality: diplomats die.  If we put diplomats in dangerous places, some will get hurt.  Many diplomats died when Reagan was President and when GW Bush was President.  This does not mean the events in Benghazi could not have been avoided, but we need to have some perspective and ask the right questions rather than focusing on blame-casting.

But as I was asked on twitter this morning:

Well, that is something that Dave, Phil, and I will be exploring over the next couple of years.  I don't have an answer today.  All I do know is that I would rather watch the Canadians as they memorialize those killed last October than watch the Americans pick over the bones of the folks killed in Benghazi.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Citizenship Day

I feel like I am now living in two realities, perhaps two timelines, so isn't it perfect that today is the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown arrive in 2015?
Of course, the big difference is that I am not going back.  I will forever be both Canadian and American.  Given that I have said that Canadians speak differently than Americans--asking questions rather than making declarations--I am going to be confused and confusing.

This process has been far more fun and interesting than the Permanent Residency process.  I enjoyed studying the Citizenship Guide, got only slightly terrified during the test, and have looked forward to joining the club of Canadians for quite some time.  I definitely should have done it sooner, but I tend to put off form filling.  My mistake.

The ceremony was very cool.  75 of us, of all races, both official languages and many unofficial ones, of many ages.  Well organized.  The judge had nice words of welcome and ended by congratulating us on our courage and tenacity.  Not much courage on my part, but some tenacity in terms of the forms.  The ceremony ended with the judge inviting the kids present to come to the front as we all sang OUR national anthem (see pic below).

 Anyhow, I pre-apologize to all Canadians for anything that I do that might be un-Canadian over the next ... rest of my lifetime.  And thanks for having me aboard.

Here is a happy Canadian (and American)

A Politician Keeps His Promise?!

Lo and behold, folks are flummoxed that Justin Trudeau would tell Barak Obama in their first conversation that Canada was pulling out of the bombing campaign against ISIS.  Seems like people don't think politicians keep their promises.  They do like to do so, when they can.

Yes, the promise to withdraw the fighter planes (are the auroras and refueling planes also going home?) seems strange when combined with the commitment to keep the troops on the ground in the training effort.  Those trainers have spent significant time on the frontlines and have gotten into firefights.  One might think that the more risky effort was on the ground.  So, why this combination of promises?

Because the Liberals over the past couple of years were jockeying for votes with the NDP, which had ruled out participating in either the ground or air effort.  By agreeing to one aspect but not the other, especially not the more visible, more kinetic (more violent) aspect, the Liberals could appeal to NDP voters while remaining somewhat true to the Liberal Party tradition of participating in multilateral military efforts.  It was, well, a waffle of a kind--do some, but not too much--but I guess I cannot criticize it since the Liberals were able to get heaps of votes from those who had previously voted for the NDP.

Was it wrong for Trudeau to raise it in the first meeting with Obama?  Probably not.  He wants to "re-set" US-Canadian relations in a more positive direction (it is not all about Keystone, Steve), but part of that re-setting is being straight with Obama about what Canada will and will not do.  Obama was certainly not surprised as he has an Ambassador, a Defence Attache and desk officers whose job it is to ask precisely this question: "what happens if Trudeau wins?"  Of course, a majority for Trudeau seemed like a low probability, but some combo of NDP/Liberal replacement of Harper/Conservatives was pretty likely.

What next? Canada will still participate in the NATO Reassurance missions aimed at the Baltics/Russia.  The training mission might actually get bigger (see ye olde campaign promises).  And US-Canadian relations will survive this, just as they survived a far more important early departure--Canada leaving the US in the lurch in Kandahar.  The Canadian air contribution against ISIS has been more symbolic than substantive with a low rate of air strikes.  Kandahar?  That was something else entirely.

So, everyone should just chillax.  Well, everyone except the Conservatives.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Instant Reaction #2: WTF?

Stathis Kalyvas posted this question:

Tis a good one.  My reaction is self-centered, of course.  That the Munk Debate shifted the discourse, as Trudeau pretty much put a stake into the "Justin is not ready"  argument.  But a closer look at the timing shows that that debate (not so much the foreign policy stances, but the readiness) may have impacted the rise of the Liberals (late Sept/early Oct) but not the collapse of the NDP.

What did that?  Many folks who indicated support for the NDP in August became either Liberal or Bloc voters in September.  The niqab issue definitely hurt the NDP more than it hurt the Liberals, with those that care about that in Quebec moving to the Bloc.  But that probably does not explain why the NDP got annihilated in the Atlantic provinces.  TPP cannot explain it since that agreement did not bubble into an issue until October. 

It may be that the public got more attentive once people returned from summer vacation and that the NDP alienated its base by shifting to the centre.  A key late August/early Sept move was the Liberal stance to run budget deficits.  The NDP pushed hard against this, but that might not have played well in those parts of Canada that might want more government spending--Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.   The Liberals ran to the left on key issues this fall, and it seems to have worked, capturing much of the "progressive vote" despite supporting the Patriot Act-ish Bill C-51.  Perhaps the NDP moving to the center and then back to the left alienated heaps of supporters?

I expect real Canadianists to figure this out via survey work.  I can only guess.

Writing the Canadian Election Narrative: Instant Reaction

The joy of first past the post in a three-five party system is that small shifts can produce big swings perhaps.  The other benefit for observers: we can read many things into the outcomes.  For instance:

  • Canada loves TPP as the pro-trade stances of Liberals and Conservatives got 70% of the vote.
  • Canada dislikes xenophobia as Liberals + NDP (60%) > Conservatives + Bloc Quebecois (36%).
  • Canada is ok with Bill C-51 with 70% or are not in love with it in its current form (60%).
  • Canada loves spending way too much money on ships (all parties) or trying to buy votes with shipbuilding failed as the Tories got no votes in Atlantic Canada and few in Vancouver.  
  • Canada loves the Senate since the parties seeking its abolition lost.
 With a mixture of stances that were often overlapping, it is hard to discern too much from the results.
Did xenophobia meet a crushing defeat?  I am not so sure, as the NDP got crushed, and while the Liberals also took an anti-xenophobia stance, the NDP seemed to get the brunt of it, especially by losing several seats to the BQ.  One would have to do a riding-by-riding analysis to break down how the votes moved from NDP and to whom.  Maybe Harper's ethnic outbidding tactics were influential enough to help the Bloc and hurt the NDP, but not sufficiently influential or targeted to help the Conservatives.

Did foreign policy and defence policy matter in this campaign?  Very, very little, of course.  But the Munk debate (with which I had some association, so excuse my pumping up its relevance) on these issues was a turning point.  Did it allay people's fears that Trudeau was not ready?  I think so.  Was it because people thought he had better stances on foreign/defence issues?  That he would be a better PM on this stuff?  Or just that he would not be an #epicfail on such stuff?  I think the latter, mostly, was the major reason why things shifted then. 

I do think the Liberals ran the best campaign and thought so before last night's result.  They issued heaps of policy papers (including the best one on defence); their ads were more compelling (Harper being a talking head in one ad saying that it was not about him was positively painful); they seemed to have the best ground game; and because of my filtered twitter feed, the best social media effort.  I still didn't think they would win a majority or anything close to it.

The fun part is over--now the hard part of governing.  I am pretty jazzed that I know some of the folks who are likely to get key spots.  I interviewed LtG (retired) Andrew Leslie when he was still in the military.  He participated in one of my book launch events in 2014, and we have bumped into each other a few times since.  He is Most Likely to be Defence Minister

The key reality will be that this party will have no excuses.  No coalition partner to blame, no minority status that provides far less accountability (thanks Phil), heaps of party discipline.  So, time to follow through on the promises, even as many of them may have been tactical (voting for C-51). Good times.

Anyhow, the real joy of democracy: people vote, government changes, new folks step in.  The system, with all of its warts, works.  As I become a citizen tomorrow, my Canadian patriotism will be at 11, in part because of how this election was conducted.  Well done, my new country, well done.

Countdown to Queen, One Day Left

One of the big surprises of our time in Canada is that I have ended up playing for more ultimate here than I did in the US.  In Montreal, I tended to play all four seasons, and three games a week during many summers (four games a week during the summer I chauffeured Kid Spew to her ultimate games).  In Ottawa, I play on two teams in the summer and one team in the fall.  I have played a couple of winters, but not this year--I was too slow (just like my defence) to sign up.

Anyhow, to mark this pivotal piece of my Canadian life (so many fun people I have met through ultimate in Montreal and now Ottawa), my last pre-citizen pic is thus:
Three Canadian bandanas (yes, one ironic inclusion), McGill ultimate disk that was
given to me when I left McG, and a Canada disk I purchased on the most recent Canada Day.

I am celebrating my Canadian citizenship tomorrow night by playing my last game of the fall season--a game that starts at 9:30pm--bound to be cold.  A great way to finish a great day.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Countdown to Queen, Two Days Left

On this last Sunday of permanent residency, I thought I would celebrate the thirteen years of Canada with some pictures from my travels across this vast land.  Alas, I don't have handy pics on my computer from trips to Edmonton, Quebec, or Fredericton.  And, yes, I need to dig up some photos of Montreal...
About as east as I have been, twice, to Halifax.
War Memorial After the terrorist attack

Canada Day 2015

Je Te Plumerai in Bagotville
Killam Awards at Rideau Hall (home of the G-G)
View of Rideau Canal from Carleton's Dunton Tower


Sunshine Village/Banff
Whistler may be the most amazing place I have ever skied.
Furthest west we have been--Vancouver, which is simply beautiful.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Countdown to Queen, Three Days Left

On day five, I hugged a maple tree.  You would think that with three days left, I would hug a beaver.  But no, instead, I hug a Canadian video about the beaver:

Canadian comedians making fun of Canadian history.  What more could you want?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

When Conservative Pundits Go Awry

I saw this today:
and responded thusly.
No Liberal or liberal is saying that the niqab wearers are most authentic.  They are mostly saying:
  • that it would be mighty arrogant to say that we outsiders know better than those who wear them why they are wearing them and whether their beliefs are authentic. 
  • that liberal democracy means respecting the exercise of rights up until such exercise does real harm to others to society at large.  Hence the difference between niqabs and vaccines.
  • that tyranny of the majority is something that one must fear far more than the religious beliefs of a tiny minority
  • that any pretense that this is a feminist stance--that these poor Muslim women are being oppressed--is utterly undermined by the record and positions of the Conservative Party and of Stephen Harper on women's issues, from abortion to the murdered/missing indigenous women to representation in their party, and on and on.  
  • that this entire campaign has been tainted by appeals to fear and to hate.  
    • The clearest example of a barbaric cultural practice is the promise to create a tip line to report on the barbaric cultural practices of others.
  • that this use of religious differences for political gain risks real harm as it incites violence against Muslims. 
While politics is multidimensional and people should consider all of the issues at stake, the pandering to the worst instincts by the Conservative Party should be reason enough to vote for any of the alternatives.  Nothing in this campaign has done more to show that one of the leaders and one of the parties is "not ready", not fit to serve than the combination of stances that seems to single out one group.

So, on Monday, do vote and vote for someone other than the Conservatives.  They have had enough time, and they have done more damage in the two months than perhaps in the previous nine years.

Countdown to Queen, Four Days Left

I met a Canadian hero, Ken Taylor, a couple of years ago, shortly after Argo came out, which underplayed his role.  He passed away this week.  No better way to celebrate my becoming a Canadian citizen than by honoring Ambassador Taylor.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Moving On, Explained

I received this comment on an old post about moving from my old job to my new job:
Hi Sadie,
This is job season. If you are so inclined, could you take us down memory lane and walk us through what convinced you to get out of TTU and McGill? How (un)sure were you about that decision as it was happening.
Many thanks,
-an associate professor updating his ol’ CV
I left McGill in 2012, but had been trying to do since roughly 2007.  Why?  In 2007, it was mostly about seeking to get out of Quebec.  There were far fewer jobs that I considered desirable when I sought to leave McGill than when I tried to leave Texas Tech--there were simply fewer places that would be either a professional improvement or a personal improvement without declining on the other dimension.

In 2008 and then again in 2009, I received a clear signal from McGill that many of the senior faculty and the chair did not respect my work as much I thought--they refused to forward to my application for promotion to full professor.  This made the job search quite a bit more serious.  I still loved teaching at McGill and had much respect and affection for the Associate and Assistant Professors, but the lack of support I received from those above me (including the Dean) meant it was time to go.

After some near misses, including one job that disappeared just before a committee was about to meet, I got the Carleton offer.  It was an improvement in pretty much every possible way:

  • more money in both salary and research support, 
  • an endowed chair to replace my expiring Canada Research Chair), 
  • moving to a city that I quite liked without all of the nationalist politics and broken infrastructure of Quebec, 
  • a national capital meant better access to those doing foreign/defence policy
  • less guilt and pressure since there would be far fewer Phd students that I would have to worry about placing
What was I losing by leaving?  
  • Excellent undergrads.  I loved teaching McG's undergrads.  No undergrad teaching for me at Carleton.
  • Proximity to good skiing
  • Hanging with the associate professors (but we still have facebook...)
So, the question of how sure I was?  Very, very sure.  Once I got the offer, I had no doubts.   None at all.  When I moved from TTU to McGill, I did pause a bit because it involved a paycut thanks to exchange rates.  If I had realized how complicated a move across the invisible border might be, I might have hesitated some more.  But this move?  No doubts at all.  

Foreign Policy Nerd Quiz

I cannot resist most Facebook quizzes, so, of course, I wanted to answer the 15 questions Joshua Keating would want asked for a "more interesting debate."  In this case, interesting means watching politicians fumble and flail.  As an IR expert, I am not able to answer all of these myself, so I can only imagine what the candidates would do.  Anyhow, my answers with the questions below in italics:

1. What is your stance on the Scottish independence referendum? (Follow-up question: If you could pick one U.S. state to leave the union, which would it be?)
I have long argued that secession should be only those facing significant repression as the costs in most democracies are usually greater than the benefits, despite how much the separatists like to downplay the costs.  So, nay.  Which state?  Texas.  Been there, done that, would love for those GOP electoral votes (at least in the near term) to go away. 

2. Do you believe the prosecution of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed is politically motivated?
No idea
3. Nagorno-Karabakh. Thoughts?
Before Crimea, the one successful irredentist effort (tis a key case in For Kin or Country).  It has been bad for both Armenia and Azerbaijan as the two countries can justify whatever repression and stalled progress domestically based on the on-going semi-war there.  Plus it gives Russia opportunities to play each off the other.  All those proposals about making Jerusalem an internationally governed territory might apply here, although one should ask Stacie Goddard about indivisibility of this territory.
4. Who will be the first to put a human on Mars: the U.S., China, Russia, or Red Bull?
Probably none of the above--a private actor maybe? 
5.   Is the U.S. obligated by article 5 of the 1960 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security to go to war to protect Japan’s island claims? Even Okinotorishima?
Not sure, and not sure.
6. Falklands or Malvinas?
Falklands.  Winners get to name the place.  And for the US, UK always > Argentina.
7. Macedonia or FYROM?
Macedonia, easily.  Why suck up to the Greeks when they are sucking up to the Russians anyway? 
8. Is Joyce Banda a genuine reformer? 
No idea
9. What are your thoughts on Ollanta Humala‘s political evolution? (No, gentlemen. We will not remind you what countries these are the leaders of.)
No idea.
10. Given our military presence in Diego Garcia, does the U.S. have an obligation to help resolve the Chagos archipelago dispute?
11. Do you have any concerns about the global potash supply?
Double whuck?
12. Is there any reason for Belgium to exist?
One could say the same for many countries.  But I have one good one: great beer.

13. Japan is about to replace China as America’s biggest creditor. Could you please offer us some meaningless bluster about "getting tough with Tokyo?"
Um, has anyone seen that Michael Douglas movie?
14. Who is America’s most embarrassing ally? 
Worst ally is Pakistan, perhaps most embarassing is Saudi Arabia with all of that crucifying and head chopping.
15. Who would you call if you wanted to call Europe? 
Chancellor of Germany.

Countdownt to Queen, Five Days Left!

Hug a maple tree?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Semi-Victory for Academic Freedom and Online Media

Today, the Hon. Lynn Smith issued her report on the UBC academic freedom controversy that I discussed here.  Jennifer Berdahl issued her response at her blog.

The key pieces of the report are:

  • "UBC failed in its obligation to protect and support Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom. The Collective Agreement Preamble creates a positive obligation to support and protect academic freedom. Through the combined acts and omissions of Mr. Montalbano, the named individuals in the Sauder School, and others, UBC as an institution failed to meet that obligation with respect to Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom."
  • Nobody infringed .... 
Which, together, is pretty damned confusing.

The next key piece is this:

The Collective Agreement identifies two “essential functions” of the University to which academic freedom is essential: the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and the dissemination of knowledge and understanding. The means by which scholarly understanding is disseminated have evolved, and electronic publication is now common, including through vehicles such as blogs. The protections of academic freedom extend to the dissemination of scholarly research and opinion through these new electronic media.
Woot!  Despite the muddling of responsibility for who caused this ruckus (not Berdahl!)

Although the UBC Collective Agreement definition of academic freedom does not refer to commentary on university governance, in my opinion such commentary falls within its ambit.
Thus, online media, such as blogging and twitter are within the realm of academic freedom and thus to be protected AND discussing/criticizing one's institution's governance is fair game--tis part of the stuff covered by academic freedom.

So, a major decision in clarifying what academic freedom means in the 21st century.  This is very important, given recent controversies.  Will it serve as a precedent? Not really since it is not a court decision.  But it might serve notice to administrators that they have to get used to the new reality and realize, as always, the attempt to cover up ends up producing far more damage than that which they are seeking to cover up.  In other words, let the profs rant--they are often ignored ... unless someone tries to silence them.