Monday, October 15, 2018

Confirmation Bias: Canadian Defence Procurement Edition

I have been arguing that defence contractors in Canada have been underrated..... as sources of dysfunction.  So, when I read today's story about the defensive strategy of the former Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Mark Norman, who has been accused of leaking stuff, I find myself nodding my head.  Norman's attorney is going after the Liberal government and specifically the ties between the head of the Treasury Board (key budgetary watchdog) and the Irving Shipbuilding company, which seeks to monopolize all naval defence contracts.

Sure, of course, a guy with ties to the Irvings is in a spot to help them, one who has leaked before.  If it is not true, it is still useful "reasonable doubt" fodder.  I do wonder if the government has any ability to wave off the prosecutors since this is a bad news story timed for the election--that is when the trial will be. 

But to step back and examine my own bias for a second, I have long thought this case was handled poorly, that it made little sense to go after a VCDS for leaks when the entire government (which the defence attorney will prove pretty easily according to this article) leaks like a sieve.  However, this article is pretty much PR for the Norman defence and does not have much else in the way of sourcing.  Which gets to a different existing bias I have--that parliament does not have much of a role in this, and, if it did, it would be operating like Pugliese--via leaks. 

And so, I have to remember leaks do not perfectly portray what is going on but portray reality as the leaker would like it to be portrayed. Media outlets that rely on leaks can get played. I am not saying Pugliese is getting played, but I am not saying he is not. I tend to agree with him that Norman is getting shafted because the Liberals fucked up--they fell for Irving's pressure, started to push against a plan to fill the gap in supply ships via a Quebec firm, and then got caught via a leak.  As it turns out, Davie, the Quebec yard, was able to get the ship transformed and in service--a good news procurement story that might have gone the other way.

I am fond these days of quoting the Dumbledore line about it being easier to forgive other people for being wrong versus admitting they were right.  Seems to me the government of Canada, under the Liberals, should be reading more Harry Potter.  But again, that is my bias. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Tide of Voterfraudfraud Reverses

With the elevation of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, voterfraudfraud is back in fashion.  We had a period where the courts were ruling against voter suppression efforts, but that is over.  Yesterday's ruling that makes it harder for Native Americans to vote in North Dakota--the clearly suppressive law that requires street addresses in a state where a certain group relies on POB addresses was allowed to stand--is the beginning of the next wave of efforts by the Republicans to win by denying the vote to people who are unlikely to vote GOP.

As I have argued before, the voter fraud as a threat is itself a fraud--there is not much of a threat of people voting illegally.  What is a threat?  Voter suppression, which Republicans have clearly made as a key strategy.  They know they can't appeal well to large swaths of the country--students, African-Americans, Native Americans, the poor, etc.  So, how to win elections?  Make sure these people can't vote.  Georgia has kicked people off of voting rolls.  States have made it harder to vote by shortening early voting periods.

The effort is systematic and anti-democratic.  The electoral sin of the United States has been voter suppression.  It is why the Voting Rights Act was enacted.  The Roberts Court said that racism was over, and so the VRA could be diminished because.... Roberts is fricking blind.  Since that decision, the GOP has enthusiastically sought to make it harder for non-Republicans to vote.  The myths they spout about fraud seem to work... for those who want them to work--that Republicans believe this bullshit despite few recorded cases of voter fraud.  Yes, it is known to happen, but it is rare and it is a far less severe problem than disenfranchisement.  That they don't get this, but it is not that different than being willing to speed up death penalties despite the risk of killing innocent people.  Of course, they may hot have a problem with that.

While I think that the Dems will still do well in 2018, I fear that two more years of unfettered voterfraudfraud may make it very hard for the Dems to win in 2020.  People in my business disagree about how to code the US as a democracy: was it a democracy when people where enslaved? Was it a democracy when less than half of the population could vote (prior to women's suffrage)?  Was it a democracy when a large minority was essentially denied the right to vote prior to the VRA?  Well, we may start pondering at what point is voter suppression so intense that the US is no longer very democratic.  Maybe we can code the US as a full democracy from 1965 to 2018?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Happy Potter Questions

Seems a bit late to ponder Harry Potter, since he is now well past Hogwarts and deep into his career as an Auror.  However, various folks have been asking questions that have been making me think a bit about stuff stuff.  So, here's how I answer some of the questions of late:
My answer: Accio!  The summoning charm is super-useful even it is pretty mundane.  This would be aimed not just at grabbing the remote control from across the room, but finding stuff that is lost around the house--keys, ipod, phone, etc--or stuck under the seat in one's car.  I could have chosen disapparation as a mode of travel, but I can't call the ability to disappear in one spot and appear in another shockingly mundane use of magic.

The next question: listening to the Binge Mode folks at the Ringer answer questions between podcasts that analyze the books and movies, they were asked to name five Order of the Phoenix members (1.0 or 2.0) they would want on a rescue mission, but, the person asking the question said that Dumbledore could not be included.  Both of the folks on the podcast agreed on Harry and Hermione because the former, despite sometimes making poor decisions, had courage, leadership, and luck (he is something like 5-0 against Lord Voldemort), and the latter is just super-smart.  Mrs. Spew agreed on Hermione, but not so much on Harry.  But I will take Harry because of his record of beating the odds and his "saving people thing."
Who else?
  • I wouldn't have Sirius since he was a bit too cocky--he died because he was too busy laughing at Bellatrix.
  • Lupin is very good at defending against the dark arts, but is unavailable and positively a danger to his team a few days every month.
  • Tonks is klutzy, but has the ability to change her look, making it easy for her to get anywhere.  However, for a short rescue mission, anyone can quaff some polyjuice potion to get a similar effect.  
  • Speaking of which, having a potions master on board makes sense because that brings all kinds of capabilities to the team--truth serum to get info, liquid luck to have better odds, sleeping drafts to eliminate guards, etc.  In the books, we have three highly skilled potion-makers: Slughorn who is not really a member of the Order and has shown a greater desire for self-preservation than for rescuing others; Snape who is gifted at potion making (he is the half-blood prince, after all), but is, as the Binge Mode folks said, bad chemistry--he does not play well with others; and .... Lily Potter.  She thrice evaded Voldemort back in the old days, and is known to be very skilled at potions.  The only weakness here is that she might be more concerned about Harry than about the target of the rescue.
  • The Binge mode folks are high on McGonagall, who is tough enough to take four stunners, and is fiercely loyal, but quick she is not.  
  • Mundungus?  Sure, any D&D party needs a thief, but a rescue mission?  Nope, since he cut out when they needed seven fake Harry's as they sought to flee the Dursley House at the start of the seventh book.
  • Mad-eye Moody?  Constantly vigilant and 2.0 has the ability to see through objects.  Does being ruthlessly paranoid serve as a plus or minus?  For a rescue mission, probably a plus, so count him in.  
  • Ginny?  She packs a lot of power into a small but fierce body.  She is also good on a broom and brings much comic relief. Hem, hem.  Mrs. Spew went with her mother since she was fierce enough to take down Bellatrix, but I do think she worries too much.  So, I will go with the younger Weasley woman.  Harry might be distracted by Ginny's fate in a fight, but they proved at the ministry to be able to fight together quite well.  That was pre-romance, but still....
So,  there's my team--a mix of young and old, brains and action, speed and daring.  What's yours?

Canadian Thanksgiving: Canadian Academia Rocks!

A Semi-Spewful tradition has been to enumerate what I am thankful for on Thanskgiving--whether it is in October or November.  This year, I want to be a bit more focused.  While I am still very thankful for much about Canada, I am going to focus on the academic side this year.  Why?  Because I have spent much of 2018 working on an effort connect the Canadian defence and security community--the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  The big grant is due later this month, so I have been nagging many partners and participants to do their part in this effort--mostly fighting an online form process.  The upside of this effort has been several-fold:
  • I have worked with a small team of academics who serve as co-leaders/partners-in-crime.  These folks are smart, dedicated and fun. Not only did we get together to hash things out in August, but I have been in constant contact with them.  I will forever be indebted to them for tolerating my flood of emails, the requests to review drafts of many documents, the requests to help with institutions they brought to the network, and their patience and endurance as they waged battles within their institutions to get the necessary approvals and commitments.
  • This grant effort has compelled me to reach out across Canada to a variety actors interested in the issues at stake.  I am very thankful for their enthusiasm for this project and their willingness to do the necessary steps to get this thing to work.
  • I am very, very grateful for the support of my institution.  From the VP for Research to the Dean  of the Faculty of Public Affairs to the grant facilitator to the Director of my school to my colleagues, I have received incredible amounts of support and encouragement.
  • I am very thank for the research assistance I have received along the way: undergrads, MA students and now a Phd student have all played key roles. I am learning better how to delegate, and they are doing an excellent job making sure I provide clearer instructions.  
 And if it is not, well, I will have benefited greatly anyway, as I am now better connected with Canada's defence and security community.  They have much expertise to give. They have helped me greatly understand not just Canada and its role in the world, but how to think comparatively about civil-military relations and alliance politics.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I am very, very thankful to those near and far who are helping me and making TeamCDSN an insightful, engaging, and fun endeavor.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Implausible Deniability, SCOTUS edition

I have not been writing much lately--busy grant-writing and too depressed.  What is there to say about the US Senate confirming someone who has lied repeatedly to the Senate, who gave a partisan screed at his confirmation hearing, and who clearly could not pass a real investigation of his past?

What I can say is that implausible deniability is now very much a thing.  Susan Collins and the others who voted for Kavanaugh, including Joe Manchin, had to rely on implausible claims:
  • that Dr. Ford was assaulted but not by Kavanaugh--Collins literally said this, perhaps buying the Ed Whelan conspiracy theory
  • that the FBI investigated and didn't find any compelling evidence.  Of course, the FBI didn't really investigate, but the extra week and its "report" gave Flake and other senators the opportunity to say that they did due diligence.
  • that Kavanaugh is not going to overturn Roe v. Wade or anything else that is "settled law."  
 I can go on and on.  The basic point is this: there were very thin, small, broken fig leaves that were used to cover up the ugly realities, and that the politicians who wanted to vote for Kavanaugh due to party id (Collins, Flake, etc) and those who wanted to vote because of concerns about re-election (Manchin) had enough bits and pieces to deny that Kavanaugh was clearly unqualified.  The truth is that Kavanaugh is unqualified for many, many reasons, but the GOP and the FBI gave the politicians opportunities to deny.  Do we buy these denials? Hells no.  But they serve a purpose--it allows the politicians to live with themselves and perhaps fool those who want to be fooled.

Every time a Supreme Court decision whittles away access to abortion or gives the Trump administration more ways to misbehave (self-pardons, allowing the President to pardon state-level prosecutions, etc), Collins and Manchin and Flake will need to be reminded that they are responsible, not just for telling women that they should not come forward, but for enabling the destruction of the rule of law.  Flake is leaving the Senate, but I hope he faces a lifetime of recriminations.  I hope that Collins loses office in 2020, and I guess I hope that Manchin sticks around long enough to give the Dems a majority but not much longer than that.

Because they all sold out whatever values they claim to have and they claim they did not because they have the thinnest of cover.  Their deniability is implausible, and we need to call them on it.  Again, democratic politics relies on shame, and we need to make these people feel the burn of shame.  Implausible deniability, if unchallenged, leads to shamelessness which paves the way to the end of democracy.

Afghanistan Anniversary

Today is apparently the 17th anniversary of the start of the US (and then allied) war in Afghanistan.   Not quite old enough to drink but old enough to disapparate.  Anyhow, when I was working on ethnic conflict stuff, including my time in the Pentagon on Bosnia, the frequent refrain was that it takes generations for a society to start to recover from a war.  Indeed, when I first heard that the US was calling its post-invasion role in Iraq "Occupation," I was relieved.  Why? 

Because I thought we might have realized that it takes quite a while to make progress after conflict.  That many of the previous conflicts were still problematic because each peace-keeping/nation-building effort was focused on the very short term, as in one year at a time or so.  Indeed, I remember an American officer comparing Bosnia to the American civil war since his unit was one that combined VA and MA personnel--blue and gray.  My response (in my head): yeah, because the North and the South only took 100 or more years to get along.

If the US had invaded Afghanistan with the intent of being there twenty years, as opposed to looking to get out at the first moment possible, much might be different.  Not only would the Taliban perhaps have been less willing to just out-wait the outsiders, but the plans, operations, campaigns and investments might have been different.  Rather than focusing on just getting to the next election or other key milestone (definitely not benchmarks), the US and its allies could have been more focused on building institutions.  Institutions take time to become legitimate and respected and taken for granted. 

Of course, it would be unrealistic for any democracy to tell its public that it would be going to war in a place for two decades.  Far more realistic to say we will be there just for a few years and then keep kicking the can down the road.  This works for winning (or not losing) support back home, but it does no favors to those in the field. 

So, on this anniversary of the Afghanistan campaign, I am embracing humility.  Since we can't expect politicians to defend long term investments, we probably should avoid making decisions that lead to long term wars.  Maybe an American intervention in Syria in 2012 might have improved things compared to what happened, but how many forever wars can the US be sucked into at any one point in time?  As long as we keep thinking that these wars are all going to be short, we are going to do just enough to make sure that they are prolonged.

And, yeah, I am in a pretty pessimistic mood given the destruction of American institutions the past week or two.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Is the New NAFTA Treaty Half-Full or Half Empty?

I am not an expert on trade or trade agreements, but I have opinions and this is the Semi-Spew--where I can speculate or judge without much data or knowledge, so here we go.

NAFTA 2.0 (I hate calling it USMCA, just like I don't call the airport near the Pentagon Reagan but National--I am stubborn and, yes, conservative, that way) is a strange beast.

It does not radically revise NAFTA, but it is an excellent rorschach test. How one views it really depends on what one is expecting from such an agreement.  On the one hand, Canada did not get anything out of the agreement that wasn't already in NAFTA, from what it sounds like.  It did give in a bit on a few key things--a bit more dairy access, limits on cars sold into the US.  So, that sounds like a defeat--that Canada didn't get much or anything but gave up on stuff.

On the other hand, Canada averted major restrictions on cars and perhaps other sectors.  Note the expansion of the US trade war with China to cover lots of goods.  So, Canada gave up a smidge of access to the dairy market--something like access to 3.75% of the dairy market compared to 3.25% in the TPP that Trump walked away from--to keep the trade war limited.

Limited trade war?  Yes, because we still have the steel and aluminum tariffs.*  If Trump rolls that back, then, yes, this agreement is a significant victory.  If not, then it is like a mid-war agreement to keep the carnage limited.  Kind of like implicitly agreeing not to bomb China as long as China does not bomb Japan in 1951.  The trade war would still go on, but it is now less likely to escalate.
*  I talked to my colleague, a trade agreement expert, and she argued that this was a bridge too far because Trump's steel/aluminum tariffs aimed at multiple actors, not just Canada and Mexico.
 One last thing: nothing that Trump says now means that he will follow through.  This is both because Congress may not go along AND Trump has no credibility, his word is not good, and he changes his mind a lot.

This was probably the best Canada could do, which is sad to say, but reflects both the asymmetric power relationship and how messed up the Trump Administration is.  I doubt any other politicians in Canada could have done this better.  I do hope this means that Chrystia Freeland can be the Foreign Minister again and not just the trade negotiator.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

My Doctrine Doctrine: Overthinking Trump's Foreign Policy

One of the most annoying (to me) tendencies is for folks to postulate that an administration has a doctrine or grand strategy.  Obama's "don't do stupid shit" was not a doctrine but a starting point for thinking about things.  Bush did have more of a doctrine than most--regime change of adversaries plus continued support for multilateral economic order, if I remember correctly.  We can go on to other Presidents and look at what their stances were called and question their coherence.

Speaking of incoherence, there was a piece in Foreign Affairs (I can't read due to gates) that called Trump's foreign policy: Illiberal Hegemony.  I agree with the former but not the latter and I disagree with the premise.  A) There ain't no doctine; B) Hegemony is something specific, and Trump ain't doing it. 

So, re A:

Paul Staniland reminded me on twitter that there are consistencies: pro-Israel, anti-Iran.  I would add hostility to allies and mercantilist to his core.  But that is not a doctrine.  Those are tendencies, not a coherent world view nor is it a strategy, grand or otherwise.  To be strategic, one has to do a couple of things:
1) Determine one's goals
2) Figure out the best ways to reach those goals and what capabilties and commitments are required.  3) Maybe consider whether the means are sufficient for the ends, and shed commitments and capabilities that are unnecessary or less necessary (yeah, call me idealistic as this doesn't happen much).
4) Oh yeah, that other definition of strategic: consider what the other folks want and then figure out how to get them to do what you want, given what they want. In other words, be as smart as my dead dog.

Sure, the Trump administration has put out the required documents, but is its behavior doing any of this?  Hell and no.  Flipping and flopping on Taiwan and China, risking war with North Korea and now stating his love?  Trump is so very transactional and so very short-term oriented that there is no way he can be strategic or, yes, disciplined enough to have a doctrine.   Again, what are the ends, what are the threats, what are the means to reach the ends and deal with the threats?  Good luck figuring that out.

Regarding B, what do we mean by hegemonic?  If we drop leadership, I am not sure what is left.  Not all coercion is hegemonic and not all hegemony is coercive.  Bullying Canada is not hegemonic.  Ceding lots of issues and regions to China is certainly not hegemonic.  The reason why Hegemonic is being discussed is because we used to think that the way for the various pieces of the international order (I would add cites but I have to check out of my hotel room) to be created and maybe maintained--some set of rules/expectations on trade, exchange rates, etc--required a dominant player to pay the costs and provide the coercion.  The US did this post-World War II, and it was a Liberal Hegemony since it had free trade at its core.  If Nazi Germany had won the war, it would have had a hegemony of its own, far less liberal, far more coercive. 

But Trump is not trying to have the US impose illiberal rules on the world and build institutions that facilitate American dominance.  He is opposed to rules, and he burns down institutions.  That, along with white supremacy and mercantilism, are the few pieces of consistency, but are neither doctrine nor hegemony.  Withdrawing from institutions and not replacing them with new ones is not hegemony/domination/leadership.  It is only partly isolationism.

If I had to call this administration's stance a particular thing, it might be Malevolent Incompetence or, or  Embedded Narcissism.  But hegemony? No.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Los Angeles: Lessons Learned with and without The Heir

Holy Furnicular:
Mrs. Spew wondered what was worth the trip?
Yes, we had fun at Universal, but then we had to go and try out other parts of LA.  So, yesterday, we visited downtown and the Griffith Observatory.  Driving around LA is like walking around Boston as I knew Boston from the Robert B. Parker Spenser novels, and LA seems familiar thanks to Michael Connelly's Bosch books--we saw Angel Flight and have been driving past Echo Park, for example.  That I happened to drive through Florence and Normandie after picking up our rental car--well, that was on google maps. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Butterbeer Revelations Amid the Sunshine

Have I said how much I love LA?  Because my daughter works full-time, Mrs. Spew and I spent our first day in LA at Universal Studios.  We had a heap of fun, doing every attraction and ride except the kids' splashzone and the Olivander wand show (long line, not that interesting, did it before).  It was our first time back at Harry Potterland since we sold the house in Montreal.

The changes in the park had nothing to do with HP, as the HP stuff remained mostly the same--better merch, some better candies in HoneyDukes, but the rides were the same.  Three Broomsticks was not crowded.  Indeed, we probably worried too much about crowds.  We stayed at related hotel to get into the park early, and we bought express passes.  Both were handy, but not crucial.

The big difference?  No more  Marvel.  In 2012 in Florida, the Spider-man ride was the super-cool 3 or 4D ride.  This time, Transformers, and it was just not as good.  No pics with Captain America either.  The Simpsons ride was still as fun, and we had forgotten how fast the Mummy ride accelerates.  The Despicable Me ride was new and fun, as was the Kung Fu Panda show.  Each one required at least some water thrown at the riders, just to give each ride that extra dimension. 

Last time, we were pretty sure that frozen butterbeer was superior to cold butterbeer, but I think I have to change my mind on that.  Yummy, either way.  The Cauldron Cake was just a cupcake in a cauldron.  We definitely need to go back to Orlando since they doubled the HP stuff with material from the last three books--a Gringotts ride, as we predicted.

We did the Studio Tour, which we did the last time we were here.  They changed one of the events in the ride to go with Fast and Furious, but I was more excited to see some of the Good Place set.  The tour was also frustrating as our tram broke down.  We got pushed up a hill or two by a tow truck.  Also, being in the front of the second car meant we couldn't hear much of the narration--why haven't they gone electric?  It would also make the place quieter for filming.

Because it is Halloween season, they had stuff set up for evenings of frights. We didn't pay the extra ticket price to stick around.  But it did help to explain things like clowns on the War of the World's set:

The Waterworld show was more realistic now than the movie was then--too much climate change.  It was a very good show--heaps of cool action.

Yes, we bought a heap of merch for ourselves and our friends.  A great start to our trip, which, of course, began with a taco truck:

and, yes:

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Accusations Cascade Again: Two Key Dynamics Combine

When the personal and the political intersect: just as Brett Kavanaugh is facing several accusations now, a friend of mine reported to me about someone we know and how there is an accumulation of stories about that someone that broke the dam. We should not be surprised by these cascades:
  1. People are often consistent in their behavior.  A man who is apparently a belligerent drunk and has retrograde views about women and says "what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep" is unlikely to have been awful to just one woman.  In my voyages through academia, the guys who have been caught/accused of being sexual harassers did it not just once but repeatedly.  The combination of hard-wired personality flaw (putting it mildly) and impunity tends to mean, in my limited observation, tends to lead to the person doing the same stuff over and over and over again.  This could be applied to Al Franken with his form of sexual harassment--serious but not the level of sexual assault that Kavanaugh is being credibly accused of--and Bill Cosby, whose modus operandi was quite consistent.  While it is possible to engage in awful behavior just once, it is unlikely.
  2. I wrote last year about permission structures: that situations exist that make it harder or easier to come forward.  That once there is one or two accusations, people realize that they are not alone, that it is ok to come forward.  What this post missed is that people may start to come forward not just because they feel that they are more likely to believed and that something might actually be done, but because they find common cause with the initial accuser and want to buttress their legitimacy with their own story.  
Combine these two dynamics together, and you get cascades.  One accusation leads to another and then another because both the person in question has done awful things repeatedly and those who have been harmed in the past feel more empowered and more obligated to say something.

No, it is not a smear campaign, but the opening of a Pandora's box of one's awful past behavior.  Kind of hard to get closed.  There are, of course, three ways to avoid this: don't do awful shit; realize and show real remorse; or avoid the national spotlight rather than feeling entitled to the highest positions in the land.  Alas, those who have done awful things and have gotten away with it for years are unlikely to show real remorse or shy away from the highest offices.

[There is real social science on cascades, starting with Timur Kuran, but I am not really building on it here]

Monday, September 24, 2018

Out of Power, Not Out of Canada

These snapped polls were on the way to Carleton and not far from
where a tornado touched down directly on the key substation--there are
apparently two in Ottawa.
While much of my blogging shortfall of late has been grant-writing induced, I was mostly offline since Friday afternoon due to a storm, complete with a couple of tornadoes, that ravaged Ottawa's power infrastructure as well as doing heaps of damage to a few neighborhoods.  No one I knew was harmed, and no one has yet died, which is pretty amazing given the pictures and the force--the first F3 tornado in 120 years and it went through some populated areas.

The timing was good and bad.  Good in that most of the blackout was over a weekend.  Bad in that Mrs. Spew and I are headed soon to visit Executive Assistant Spew in Hollywood, so the usual trip prep was inhibited.  Good in that it was a decent fall weekend--not hot or cold.  Also, I had just done the laundry, later in the week than usual thanks to my recent trip, so no problem running out of clothes.  And the costco trip just hours before the power outage meant lots of fresh bagels. 

We have also been going through a run of post-apocalyptic movies for some reason just before it happened and the first night since I had one on my ipad (two different mediocre movies called Extinction).  On the way back from Prague, I watched How It Ends, where a man and his father-in-law, Forrest Whitaker, travel from Chicago to Seattle after the west coast is hit by something and then the power goes out across the US.  As soon as the two sneak past the army blockade, they find themselves in an anarchic world of kill or be killed over gas and working cars.  Yeah, it took one day in the movie for things to break down.  Canada?  Did far better than that:
  • The only damage in our neighborhood was to a car that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The irony?  The car belongs to the guy who obsessively washes it every week.  He lost his back window, so even that is not too bad.
  • With the traffic lights dead, we had plenty of confusion but not conflict as four way stops are easy when it is two one lane roads meeting, but not when you toss in a couple of additional lanes and left turn lanes.  
  • And, yes, we drove. Not to tour the areas that were hit hard, but to get power and internet.  Our cell phones only had spotty access as the towers and other cell phone infrastructure apparently relies on power....  Who knew.  So, I would occasionally be able to get on twitter/facebook/etc to inform friends/relatives that we were ok--no zombies or cannibals spotted yet.  But we had to make a run to an island of stability and long food lines--Carleton.  So, we went to my workplace to charge all our devices and batteries, hangout on the internet for a bit, and grab some food. 
  • Saturday night, we went out to an area that had electricity to see a movie--Crazy Rich Asians--and the only restaurant that didn't have an hour wait was McDonalds.  We did not eat healthily.  We probably should have grilled at home--our neighbors did.
  • Our neighbor's kid had a hockey practice Saturday night at a rink very close to the epicenter of the storm, where our electrical substation got hit dead on.  But the rink had a generator, so they went and he practiced.  Because, damn it, the most valuable commodity in Canada is ice time.  
  • Last night, we still didn't know when power to our area would come back so our pal at work, Stephanie Carvin, let us shower and power up there. Better than at the nearby gym, which also had a generator, as people lined up in their bathrobes!
  • We were told that our meat and other frozen stuff would be good for 48 hours.  Alas, our power was out for 53 hours or so.  Out of an abundance of caution, much of our frig contents and some of our freezer contents will be going into dumpsters arranged by the city, as waiting until recycling/garbage day would lead to stinky neighborhoods.
  • I did learn that generators are loud as a few of our neighbors had them.  So are CO detectors without power.  I had to wrap one of ours up in a blanket and stuff it in our car so that the occasional beeping would not freak out our cat.
  • Facebook was actually a force for good, as the local community page produced much accurate information about when the power would come back, about the spoiled meat dumpsters and more.  
As far as weather emergencies go, this was not a bad one.  No deaths, some serious damage, but only a long weekend of inconvenience.  I whined a lot, because that is what I do.  But I got heaps of reading done (tenure file, new book for my class, fun stuff) as we were well armed with flashlights (Costco has good ones for cheap on a regular basis).  My biggest worry was that the server on which the big grant application rests might be messed up.  Nope, we lost access, but the data remained intact.

Anyhow, compared to the storms hitting the US, we were ok.  And the Canadian politeness remained intact.  We might not have hit kill or be killed until day five or six, unlike how it works in the US according to the movies we had seen recently.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ignorance of the Ivory Tower: What Do the Profs Know About the Military

I woke up to find a piece that castigates the academic world for being ignorant about the armed forces.  My reaction was:

Tom Ricks, who posted this questionable piece, pushed back:
 I will try to be concise, but it will be hard.  I will first address Professor Adrian Lewis's claims about the state of the military these days.  I will then address the larger problem--that this generalization about academics and their expertise about the military is so very flawed.
  1. Sure, the US armed forces are smaller than during the Cold War. I can't insta-survey professors who study International Relations, but my guess is that most would already know that.  The real question is: do we have the right force at this moment?  Do we need to be spending ever so much more money on the US military?  There are good and reasonable arguments to be had on both sides of this question.
  2. War is awful, sure. Deterrence is far better than war.  But what does it take to deter American adversaries?  It could cost less than we spend given how much money is wasted in defense procurement, that the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not produced lasting outcomes, etc.  So, saying that our current force is cheaper than war says nothing about whether we are spending the right amount now.
  3. Ah, the spinoff argument. An oldie but a goodie. The question is not whether there are great spinoffs from military research, but whether money invested elsewhere might be as or more productive.  I have no idea since I am not a technology prof, but, again, I am sure we can find studies on either side.
  4. Who is arguing that military stuff doesn't wear out and/or become obsolete? 
  5. Defense industries employ lots of Americans and? I would like to think that the US spends money on defense to defend the US and its allies and not as a jobs program.  I have expressed elsewhere my annoyance about justifying Canadian defence spending via jobs.  Lots of ways for governments to create jobs--military spending just sells better politically.  It is not necessarily better.
  6. Sea lanes.  Sure, who is arguing that the US do away with a blue navy?
  7. Lewis mentions that the allies have "outsourced their security to the US", which I think is a particularly biased and relatively ignorant way to put it.  Do most spend less than the US?  Sure. Is it in American interests to foster stability in Europe and East Asia? Yeah.  Have the NATO allies bled and died for American causes? Hell yeah.  
Lewis concludes by saying that the his school and some of its faculty greatly support the armed forces, so #notallacademics.  So, let's start there: is it the job of academics to support the armed forces?  I don't think so.  Indeed, one of the big challenges of the past 20 years or so is that the mantra of "support our troops" has perhaps prevented us from asking critical questions about the performance of the US military (and the same applies to the Canadian armed forces and those of many democracies).  Only very recently have people started raising questions about the annual declaration made by the general exiting Afghanistan about how well that war is going. 

Are academics ignorant of the US armed forces?  Well, which academics?  I would not expect chemistry professors and creative writing professors to know much.  But how about those who study International Relations?  How about those who study Civil-Military Relations? One of the things to note is that Lewis is a Professor of History, which is significant as military and diplomatic history has been on retreat for quite sometime in the History discipline, so that might be a source of his frustration.  In Political Science and International Relations, however, civil-military relations and the study of security is on the rise. The last few conferences have seen more and more panels on civ-mil, and the last two decades have seen a big growth in the number of journals focusing on security issues, which means more people studying military stuff.

Almost two years ago, I was pushed by Tom Ricks to list good, relevant work that should be of interest to those who read military history, and I came up with a short list easily.  There is plenty of expertise on the US armed forces and those of other countries.  To give a related example, I am currently working on a major grant application that would fund a network that would bring together Canadian scholars who study defence (c for Canada) and security issues with the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence, research centres across Canada, think tanks, and other actors.  It involves over 100 professors, and, yes, Canada is 1/10th the size of the US.  Can we extrapolate to suggest that a similar network in the US might have 1000?  Is there more interest in the US military in the US than the Canadian military in Canada?  Probably since, as Professor Lewis argued, there is a hell of lot of money and activity involving the US military.

My twitter feed has already gotten the usual pushback that privilege veterans as having exclusive or superior expertise to academics who have never served in the armed forces.  Now that is an ignorant argument, as it denies the expertise that can be generated through extensive study and analysis. A tree might have a really great understanding of itself and its immediate neighbors, but it will not have a great understanding of the forest or of other forests.

While veterans on twitter complain about academics not having military experience, I have met (anecdotal data!) many senior officers who search out for academic expertise because they know that knowing more is better than knowing less.  When Admiral (ret.) Stavridis was SACEUR, he passed around the PDF of the Dave and Steve NATO book because it shed light on what his officers were experiencing in Afghanistan.  Officers have this obsession with reading lists, including the retired general who was known as the Warrior Monk, because they understand that repeating old mistakes is a bad idea.

Which leads to the big question: who has the time and the incentive to systematically study the armed forces?  Not military folks who have day jobs.  Retired veterans may have the time, but do they have sufficient experience beyond their MOS and sufficient training to think and research rigorously?  Academics have the time, the training, and the curiosity to study the US (and other) armed forces. But not all academics, just those who are focused on this stuff.  It is a great tragedy that military history may be devalued these days, but, after meeting so many young civ-mil scholars over the past couple of years (check out the Naval War College for a secret stash), I can say that the present and future of the political science of the armed forces is in great shape. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

DC Sucketh Runneth Over

So, Henry Cavill is out as Superman.   John Rogers had a nice series of tweets explaining what Warner Brothers' problem is--they don't like the DC characters/universe, so they can't get into it and make it work.  The fun thing is the wild speculation on the next Superman.  And, of course, there is wagering.  I got an email from a sports book which gave the following odds:

Next Superman Actor
American Odds
Fractional Odds
Michael B. Jordan
Armie Hammer
Henry Golding
Benjamin Walker
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Will Smith
Tyler Hoechlin
Ryan Gosling
Nicholas Cage
Ben Affleck
Mark Wahlberg
Idris Elba

I think the odds on MBJ are way too low.  There is no way that he is almost even odds.  I think most of the names here are jokes, and I would definitely bet the field (that none of the above is the winner).

As a Marvel guy who loves the DC shows on TV, there seems to be a simple solution: get the TV people to make a movie or three.  But that is too damn obvious.

Anyhow, I will continue to make mine Marvel as the only Marvel movies I didn't like very much or at all were Thor 2, the Hulks, Age of Ultron.... and that's about it.  The TV shows are more of a mix.

And as Stan would say, Excelsior!!!