Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Appalling, Not Shocking, Academic Edition

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a really moving and horrifying story of Jorge Dominguez's career of success and sexual harassment. Dominquez harassed and even assaulted women for decades, for his entire career, and kept getting promoted even as women filed complaints and even as he got minor slaps on the wrist.   Yes, it happened at Harvard so it is more newsworthy, but this is not at all shocking.  Why?  Because universities care more about their reputations than their students until forced to do otherwise.

The harasser I know best started doing what he did before I got to McGill, did it while I was there, and apparently has done it since.  Why?  Because the consequences have been minor.  Why should women risk much stress and further abuse by coming out and filing charges when they see that the consequences for the harasser range from non-existent to not much? 

We have seen some progress in the US because the federal government via Title IX has levied pretty significant threats against universities if they do not deal with the harassment people (mostly women) face. The new budget the Canadian government released yesterday threatens to cut federal funding (which is mostly research money since the universities are run/owned by the provinces) for those universities who do not make progress on combatting sexual harassment.

Of course, universities will say that they do and then continue to do everything behind closed doors.  Yes, it is a tricky legal problem, but until serial harassers are essentially taken out to the university public space (quad, centre, student union, whatever) and drawn and quartered (metaphorically), why should anyone believe them?  To be less dramatic and more direct, until serial harassers face very visible consequences (fired), why should students and governments believe assertions about combating sexual harassment?

Sure, some men will worry about false accusations, but we are not calling for all accused men to be thrown out--just the Jorge Dimenguezs and Rex Brynens--just those who have engaged in harassment repeatedly and will not stop.  The students are simply more important.

On the bright side, stories like the Chronicle's help women realize that they are not alone, that they did experience what they thought they experienced, and it had little to do with whatever they did and everything to do with the harasser.  After posting about Rex two years ago, I have gotten a number of emails from women who were glad I did, that they now know that they were not alone.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Canada Should Look East? Um, Maybe Not

Jeez, what a bad week for Justin Trudeau in India--he looks silly wearing traditional Indian garb, his wife posed with a convicted terrorist who also had a dinner invite, he gets snubbed for much of the time, and Canadian-Indian relations don't look good.  He also tried to use the Quebec example to analogize with Punjab, but since the only violence Quebec saw was nearly fifty years ago and was limited to one death and a bunch of mailboxes, perhaps not?

I am not going to overreact and say this happened because getting pics is more important than anything else.  I will say that Trudeau needs to leave the home game at home (pandering to the Sikh voters in Canada) and focus on the national interest when abroad. Oh, and he needs to shake up his team since this is the third flubbed Asia trip in a row--Japan, China and now India.  I would like to blame it on how much effort the government has put in the "manage and mitigate Trump" effort, but I do believe there are enough officials in the Canadian government to do two things at once.

It all makes me think that the pressure for Canada to be not just an Atlantic country but a Pacific one may be wrong--maybe Canada should do what it does best and not do what it is bad at as European and North American visits tend to be far less problematic.  I have no idea why.  Maybe the next government should go east, but this one should not venture beyond Hawaii?  Ok, that's a bit much too.  Still, there is a pattern here, and it is disturbing.

After spending an hour listening to the demographic trends the other day, where the biggest sources
of immigrants to Canada are the Philippines at #1, India and then China, Canada must pay attention to Asia.  Also, we can't ignore these markets.  I have been arguing that Canada should focus more on India than China if one wants more market access since the former requires far less compromising of Canada's values.  That may have to wait now, thanks, but the larger point remains.  Likewise, Asia matters since the most likely threat of a major war that disrupts the international economy and gets millions of people killed happens to be in Asia.  So, we can't ignore it.

So, how does Canada do Asia better?
  1. Find out who was responsible for organizing the past three trips and fire them or move them to the most irrelevant desk.
  2. Focus on sealing the deals that are there rather than risking them for marginal gains.  Don't travel to a summit where deals are supposed to be signed if you don't expect to sign a deal.
  3. Do not use these visits to play to specific audiences back home.  Pretend to be head of state and not just the head of the government (snarky, pedant Canadian institutions point).
  4. Build on Japan--that is the country that has the most common interests and also least implicated by Canadian politics.  It may not pay off for particular voting groups, but not everything does.
  5. Canada has a fair amount of academic expertise on Asia so maybe consult those folks and share your plans so that they can serve as a common sense filter.  Because eight days* mostly in Indian garb?  What is Hindi for oy vey?

*  I, for one, don't mind him bringing his family, but eight days in one country? Any country?  Nope, no.  way too much.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Is Trump Really That Bad?

Um, yes.  I asked a panel at the Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security about Trump because, well, I wanted to stir things up, and the panel was on the New World Disorder and Trump had barely been mentioned.  Jim Fergusson, a colleague I have known since our tour of Afghanistan in 2007, pushed back, saying ignore the tweets and US foreign policy is really not that different.  That the structures of US politics have contained Trump.  Hmmm.

So, what is my take?  You can probably guess.  We will defer the tweets for a second.  Let's first remember this list from the other day, focusing on the entries that are related to foreign policy:
  1. Appointing an agent of a foreign country (at least one, maybe two) to be National Security Adviser.
  2. Refusing to fight Russian meddling with American elections.
  3. Undermining civilian control of the military by appointing active and very recently retired generals to many significant posts and delegating responsibility for major decisions to those in uniform.
  4. Leaving the US understaffed in key areas at a time of significant crisis (who is the Ambassador to South Korea?).
  5. Lying every damned day about everything as well documented by Daniel Dale.
  6. Brinksmanship with North Korea.  Yes, North Korea is a hard problem, but it is far closer to a boil now than a year ago, and much of that is on Trump and his statements.
  7. Spilling secrets that allies have collected, creating great mistrust of the US.
 I have enumerated this list so we can refer to them more easily.  Numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 have certaintly undermined allies' trust in the US.  Will the US do what it has promised?  No idea.  So, some allies may hedge and look elsewhere.  Some potential allies may decide to gamble on China's good will instead.

Numbers 3, 4, and 6 have helped to cause the risk of new war and the reality of escalating the current ones.  So, I think that is significant.  North Korea would always be tricky, but we would not be this close to war if not for Trump.  Yes, it takes two to tango, but Trump is a really bad dancer.

Dropping out of TPP, which didn't make my list but was mentioned yesterday, has made a meaningful impact that we might call "Hegemonic Abdication."  It will be really hard to build back up American leadership that has been so quickly squandered.

Canada has spent all of its foreign policy effort, it seems, on managing the US relationship.  Does that explain the series of shitshows in Japan, China and now India?  Maybe, maybe not.

Lots of talk of trade wars, but that has not happened yet except for the solar panel stuff. We shall see how far this goes, but it is already causing allies to have much angina.

Re the tweets: are tweets policy? To the Chairman of the Joint Staff?  Apparently not (see transgender policy).  To foreign countries?  Absolutely.  They may not be POLICY, but they are presidential statements which affect how countries anticipate and react.  How long ago was it that Trump alienated all of Africa with his shithole comment?  Oh, a month.  It feels like a lifetime. And surveys of the rest of the world about America?  Cratering.  And that matters as public diplomacy is a thing.

I could go on, but, yeah, I think Trump has done plenty of harm already to American foreign policy, and we still have three more years to go.  This year will probably be the year where we determine whether this is just bad or historically awful (trade wars, wars with North Korea and/or Iran). May we live in interesting times?  No thanks.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

When Demographers Make Me Angry

Today was the first day of two days of the Ottawa Security and Defence Conference.  It is an annual event put on by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, which is a think tank associated with a heap of veterans groups (the aforementioned defence associations).  They bring in a heap of interesting people including US generals and admirals (only one thus far this year and she canceled), experts from a variety of countries and a few random academics (not me).  It is great for networking, which is handy since I am building a network of Canadian Defence and Security folks (the CDSN!).  I also learn a lot, and, yes, sometimes, I get highly annoyed.

Today, I was highly annoyed by Darrell Bricker who was presenting a bunch of interesting information about both demographic statistics and surveys.  The funnest result: bloggers are far less respected than damn near everybody else, even lawyers and airport baggage handlers (sorry, messed up the photo, as bloggers were at the very bottom. Really!)

No, that didn't annoy me. What did was that the way he presented the core info: that women around the world are getting more education, which means delaying childbirth and having fewer children.  This then means two major punchlines for this audience: the ratio of workers to retired people is going to get quite bad, making it hard to pay for the retirement benefits of the old folks AND it will make recruiting hard because there will be fewer young people.  While I don't dispute the consequences, I had a real hard time with the whole "women getting more education is going to cause a lot of trouble" tone of the presentation for a few reasons.  First, keeping women down would be good?  No, no, no.  Second, there is a heap of social science that correlates women doing better with interstate peace, intrastate piece, and economic development (I can't seem to find any handy articles right now--a day of conferencing has undermined my google skills). Third, perhaps producing fewer people might be good when climate change bites real hard?  Fourth, the assertion that immigration is not a big deal since only 3% of the world's population lives somewhere else other than where they are born (yes, he said that) elides the reality that 3% of 7 billion or so is actually a pretty big number and the movement tends to in particular directions.

So, yeah, I should have asked a super-pesky question, like, should we stop educating women so they can birth some more babies.  But I didn't.  My bad.

On the bright side the rest of the panels were very informative and did not contain super-questionable assumptions about the place of women.  Indeed, one of the highlights was when a young woman, part of a student group, got up and asked a question that was more of a comment--that the presenters over the two days are hardly diverse--something like 21 out of 24 spots going to men.  She got a heap of applause after her statement. 

Overall, an interesting day, followed by a jaunt over to the War Museum for a reception for the Carleton Model NATO folks.  They are a bunch of undergrads from across Canada (seemed like many of them were from Western University--at least the ones I chatted with) simulating a NATO crisis this weekend.  Another smart group and much more diverse/representative--the future is mighty bright despite what one demographer suggested.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Trump as Worst President?

Tis Presidents' Day in the US (the name of the holiday in Canada varies by province--Family Day in Ontario, I think), so folks are trying to figure out if Trump is the worst President in US history.  Too soon?  Maybe.

Tis fair for Silver to think that Trump hasn't done enough damage yet.  Those at the bottom of the list tend to be those who broke the country: Buchanan as the last president before the civil war, Andrew Johnson who screwed up Reconstruction, Harding who helped give us the Great Depression.  Thus far, nothing as bad as the Civil War, Reconstruction and the Great Depression have happened.

But to be fair, those dead Presidents were only partially responsible--they had tons of help (I am not so sure about Johnson--I don't know Reconstruction politics that well).  Harding had heaps of help from Coolidge, Hoover and Congress.  Buchanan was one of many who helped bring the US to the brink of civil war.

One could ask about individual contributions of awful (I am omitting the tax cut since he had heaps of help with that), and this is where Trump really shines:
  • Undermining every norm about conflicts of interest and seeking to profit off of the presidency.  Has any President engaged in more corrupt behavior in their first year?
  • Appointing an agent of a foreign country (at least one, maybe two) to be National Security Adviser.
  • Refusing to fight Russian meddling with American elections.
  • Speaking of elections, Trump has tried to encourage more voter suppression but his own incompetence may have harmed that effort.
  • Obstructing justice early and often.
  • Appointing a retrograde racist to be Attorney General (yes, the Senate is guilty of letting that happen, so not just Trump).
  • Undermining civilian control of the military by appointing active and very recently retired generals to many significant posts and delegating responsibility for major decisions to those in uniform.
  • Attempting to make the Justice Department a biased participant in American politics.
  • Leaving the US understaffed in key areas at a time of significant crisis (who is the Ambassador to South Korea?).
  • Lying every damned day about everything as well documented by Daniel Dale.
  • Brinksmanship with North Korea.  Yes, North Korea is a hard problem, but it is far closer to a boil now than a year ago, and much of that is on Trump and his statements.
  • His condoning/encouraging of white supremacy (one reason why Woodrow Wilson is overrated).
  • Spilling secrets that allies have collected, creating great mistrust of the US.
Sure, none of this involves war (yet), economic hardship (yet), or civil strife (depends on how you count the number of minorities beaten and killed over the past two years).  So, maybe Trump has not presided over the worst times in American history, but he has almost certainty committed the most and potentially some of the gravest unforced effors.  But, yes, recency bias is a thing.

So, it may be too soon to put Trump at the very bottom of the list, but he is properly rated if he is near the bottom. Again, it depends on whether it is about the individual or about the Presidency and the era.  Which is why survey questions are hard to write, and the answers are often hard to interpret.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tenure Letters and Cohort Comparisons: This Way Lies Confusion

Tenure and promotion letters are one of the services academics do when once they get past tenure themselves.  I have blogged in the past about whether or not to write these letters, so today's post is about a frequent challenge when writing such letters: some (many?) provosts/deans/whoevers ask the letter writers to compare the candidate to the candidate's cohort--other people in the same area of research who have been at it for a similar time.*
*This post only addresses research since outside letters can only speak to research and because my only experience has been in research universities.

This request poses both practical and normative challenges.  The practical challenge is this: how does one know who the comparative cohort is?  As far as I know, there is no handy search engine that will pop out names of people in a subfield or research area sorted by year of PhD completion.  I don't have an encyclopedic memory for who finished in what year, nor, because I am far behind in my journal reading, really know who is doing what.  Reading all of the materials is extra work enough without systematically going through "peer institutions"** and identifying folks in the relevant subfield who are at the same stage of their career. I posted on facebook, essentially asking my IR friends for names of folks who would be in this person's cohort.  Instead of giving me names (ok, one or two people did), this led to a long and interesting discussion of the entire exercise of comparing.
**  One of the basic problems in all of this is that every Dean/Provost has an inflated sense of what their institution is, so the list of peer institutions is quite small--the Ivies, the top public schools and a few others.  It does help me, however, that I moved from a school seen as peer (McGill) to one that is not (Carleton), so I get fewer requests now than I did at the old place.  Woot.

The folks arguing for comparing to a cohort argued this was one of the most valuable pieces of information in the letter since everyone mostly writes super positive letters lest their few criticism arm those who are opposed to a candidate for whatever reason (not infrequently illegitimate ones like sexism, racism, animus, retaliation, etc).  More importantly, some folks argued that to evaluate a candidate, they should be compared to their peers.***  This is what many letter requesters want, and some even name specific scholars (usually the most well known/cited/productive).   Even if focused on a person's contributions sans comparison, competition ultimately enters as one evaluates the quality of the presses in which the candidate publishes, the selectivity of the journals in which their work appears, citation counts and h-indexes are essentially comparative and so on.

***One friend argued with me that competitiveness is productive, that folks who are competitive will be motivated to continue to publish after tenure, and that those who are not motivated by comparing themselves to others are likely to become deadwood.  I think curiosity and professionalism bred into us is sufficient, but I am sufficiently ego-driven that I see something to that argument.

But this raises a question of what is the point of being a scholar, of being promoted and tenured?  To be better than others?  Or to be productive, to make a significant contribution?  What difference does it make if candidate x is not as productive as the most productive people in the discipline?  Not everyone can be above average.  Perhaps the idea is only to tenure/promote people who are above the people who are at the average level of productivity?  How I write the letter depends on how I see the profession, and while there is a heap of competition in it--to get into grad school, to get grants/fellowships, to get into the more selective journals and presses, to get jobs--I think the larger enterprise is not competitive. It is about making contributions to knowledge, building on the work of others (past and present).  That co-authoring, for instance, and other forms of collaboration should not be penalized (I wrote the linked post in the aftermath of my co-authored work being dismissed by my senior colleagues because .... motivated bias, so that post might be a bit strident).  Moreoever, as one friend argued, relative comparisons may be unfair when there is a heap of bias--in who gets cited, who gets published in the top presses, etc. 

The tenure/promotion letter, in my view, is about addressing whether this person has made a contribution and is likely to continue to make a contribution. To me, these are absolute questions, not relative ones.  Which is why most of the letter is about what the person has researched and written and what their stuff contributes rather than the bean counts and comparisons with cohorts.  When asked to compare, I try to do so because, like saying no to the request, not following the instructions can be seen as criticism. But I don't like it, and I have a hard time because I do not have a good grasp of who is in the cohort.  So, what else do I do?  I whine here about it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Long Gestating Kushner Rant

I have not really blogged much about Jared Kushner because it seems so unnecessary---that it is patently obvious that Kushner is unqualifed and, yes, a security risk.  But he is still around, still being given too much responsibility, and still threatening American national security.  Oh, and demonstrating why there are laws and norms against nepotism.

What experience does Jared Kushner have to be a White House operative?  Crickets.  Badly managing a business is not a background for this job.  The only experience he has is being married to a Trump.

What experience does Kushner have to help facilitate Mideast piece?  Being Jewish is not experience.

What experience does Kushner have to be Trump's emissary?  Ok, he's related to Trump, but he has no foreign policy experience.   He has no background on Saudi Arabia or China besides perhaps liking despots?

What experience does Kushner have to help with the opoid crisis? Nada.

What experience does he have reforming government agencies?  Or with Veteran's Affairs?

The only experience that seems relevant is amassing foreign debt.  Which has led to him revising his security clearance paperwork several times.  As the folks at Pod Saves America reminded us this week, lying on the form is a felony.  Which, of course, then would make Jared ineligible to get a security clearance.  Yet he has kept having access to the most secret info, and according to one story I saw, he asks more often than anyone else for the classified info.

Combining Kushner's lack of knowledge with how easily blackmailed he might be, there is no way any semi-normal administration would put him anywhere near the centers of power.  Because Kushner is married to the daughter of a President who does not care about norms, standards, rules, etc, Kushner is where he is.  He should have been kicked out of the West Wing on day one.  It would have been better for all concerned had he and Ivanka (another thoroughly inexperienced amateur) stayed in New York.  But that would require judgment about capability and culpability and vulnerability rather than loyalty tests.

Here we are, John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, trying to marginalize the President's son-in-law.... At least, we will have a reminder for the next fifty years that nepotism is a bad idea.   Oh joy.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther: The Most Meaningful Marvel Movie

Mrs. Spew and I went to the first showing of Black Panther last night, and we were not disappointed.  Since most folks have not yet seen it, only go beyond the break if you don't mind being spoiled or were able to see the movie pretty quickly.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Guidelines for NATO Spending: Inputs, not Outputs or Outcomes

I tend to complain a lot about the NATO 2% expectation--that members are supposed to spend 2% of their GDP on defense stuff, which probably makes more more Canadian than anything else I do (I don't skate or watch hockey much).  This is aspirational and countries are supposed to reach it by 2024.  I have written much about why this is problematic (it tends to make Greece look good, which is a clue; doing is more important than spending, etc), but today I want to focus on the heart of the matter: 2% is a measure of input and nothing else.

The basic idea is if we all spend a significant hunk of money, we will get more defense than if we spend somewhat less money.  But spending more money on defense may not improve NATO's ability to field effective armies, navies and air forces.  For many members, spending more could simply mean spending more on personnel, which might lead to a more capable force or it might not.  There are additional NATO goals which get far less coverage, which are aimed at persuading members to spend significant hunks of cash on capital--building ships, planes, tanks and other equipment.  Again, this is a focus on input.  Spending more on equipment does not necessarily mean getting better or more equipment.  It could simply mean more waste.

The funny thing is that the US is pushing Belgium to buy the F35, suggesting that this would help them get to 2%.  Buying a super-expensive plane may or may not improve Belgian military performance, but it might get Belgium off of the free-rider list?  I am trying to remember a similar example of being so focused on inputs that they become more important than outcomes, but can't at the moment.*

Sure, we tend to focus on inputs or even outputs because they are easier to measure, and in NATO dynamics, are things about which it is easier to come to a consensus.  It is hard to measure outcomes like readiness and effectiveness.  Also, big numbers are not secret whereas actual military capability--what can a country really do--might have to be covered in secret sauce.  But what really matters is whether NATO can fight better (against others, not against each other) or not.  Spending more might help, but it might not, depending on where the money goes.  When countries underperform, is it because they underspend or because they have restrictive rules or because they have lousy strategies (who could that be?) or because their procurement processes are busted (hello Canada!) or because the adversary gets a vote?

One last semi-related point: asking the Western democracies to spend more on defense after encouraging austerity post-2008 is a hard sell, and, yes, domestic politics is a thing.  After years of saying that spending must be cut on social programs because debt is the supreme evil, saying that the first priority now must be defense is just not going to fly, especially with all of the complex coalitions that are barely governing so many members of the alliance.

So, as we keep invoking 2%, let's keep in mind that many countries will never reach it, as it would require more than a few to increase defense spending by 50-100% AND it allows us to ignore the bigger challenges of how to foster greater effectiveness and readiness.

* The only thing I can come up with would be examples from the Soviet Union of meeting five year plan targets by building huge non-usable things that helped reach the goals measured by weight like one really ball-bearing or something like that.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Oscars 2018

I think I saw more of the nominees than in a normal year with fish sex Shape of Water being the last of the Oscar movies I will see in the theater.  Next week is Black Panther and then the rest of the summer movies of 2018 (summer is earlier than ever).  So, what would I vote for?

Best Movie:
Get Out.  It was the movie that did and will stick with me.  It had the most interesting and surprising premise.  It was multidimensional--funny, scary, moving, meaningful.  Number two is hard as Dunkirk was an amazing movie--very creative in its own way, very much the epic of the year.  But Shape of Water was also very multidimensional--Cold War spy thriller, sci-fi fish out of water (sorry), and romance.  Oh, and fish sex.  I saw Dunkirk a while ago so it is hard to compare with Shape of Water.  I did pay heaps of attention to the direction and editing of both, probably because of my daughter, Intern Spew, and her nascent film career.  Three Billboards was quite good and moving, but the racist redemption thing kind of took me out of the movie a bit.  Lady Bird?  Incredibly well acted but not all that special to me.  Sorry.

No vote for Best Actor as I saw only one of those--Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out.

Best Actress:
Frances McDormand was just a force.  Sally Hawkins comes close because she was so very good, so very expressive despite not being able to talk.  Saoirse Ronan was very good, but the role was not that special. 

Best Supporting Actor:
Despite the whole problematic redemptive racist thing, Rockwell pulled it off really well.  Jenkins was very good in Shape, but didn't help to make the movie.  Harrelson was fine in a small role--moving, but replaceable.

Best Supporting Actress:
Metcalf in a runaway.  Ok, I only saw two of the nominees, and Olivia Spencer was very good but again the movie didn't hang at all on her.  Metcalf helped to make Lady Bird be a notable flick.

Best movie should get best director, but I am inclined to give the writing award to Jordan Peele and the directing to either Nolan or del Toro since their movies were harder, more epic.  Hmmm.  Good thing I don't have a vote.

Best Original Screenplay:
Get Out.  It had better writing and a more interesting plot than the others--I saw all five of the nominees.

Best Adapted:
Logan.... only one I saw.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

What is Wrong With Mattis/Trump Dynamics? Let Me Count The Ways

The WashPo put out a great piece last night that is getting a lot of attention, asking whether Mattis can "check an impulsive president and still retain his trust?"  Lots of great details into the dynamics within American civil-military relations as the US barrels towards another war or two.  And the piece absolutely drives me nuts.  There is so much wrong both about how the US is operating and how the press is depicting the bizarro world we are now in, so I decided to enumerate my problems with both the facts that are reported and how they are reported:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Civil-Military Relations: Trump's Ego and All That

The big squirrel du jour last night was that Trump is actually getting the US military to plan a parade.  Sure, Trump admired the French military parade when he visited during Bastille Day, but we thought he might not remember.  Turns out that his memory of his own words is very bad, but his memory about things that makes him hard feel good about himself is a bit more robust.  So, planning is underway for the US military to have a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.  Which will certainly do much ironic and not so ironic damage to the street.

Yeah, we've had military parades before but mostly after military victories.  Because Trump seems to be an autocrat-wannabe and also because he seeks to cut lots of useful stuff in the budget (like the Centers for Disease Control doing much work in the world to prevent epidemics from becoming pandemics--strange for a germophobe to do that), this expensive enterprise to make him feel good is being read as part of that larger destruction of democratic norms.

Which gets me to civil-military relations.  An essential but mostly overlooked ingredient for democracy is civilian control of the military.  This is always a difficult relationship since the two sides have very different perspectives and cultures and all the rest.  The concern in much of the literature on it is whether the military will "shirk"--do more or less than it is supposed to do.  For instance, a few months ago, it became known that the various branches of the armed forces were not informing the National Gun Registry folks about the domestic abuse and other crimes committed by soldiers, sailors, marines, airpeople.  Much of the literature is focused on how the civilians can create structures and activities to make sure that the military folks do what they are supposed to do.  Indeed, that is the heart of the Steve/Dave/Phil project that has taken me to Brazil, Japan and elsewhere.

What this literature only sometimes addresses is when the civilians are the ones deliberately screwing things up.  We have much less civilian control of the military right now because Trump has delegated most of the decision-making to the folks in uniform and to a guy who was in uniform until just a few years ago.  That was not good, but now we have the President seeking to have the military be more clearly part of the effort to prop up an unpopular government as he calls normal opposition to his regime "treason."  This is all awful, and it is all dangerous.

Building norms and institutions takes generations, but destroying them does not.  Trump is doing much damage to civil-military relations, making the crises under Obama or Bush or Clinton seem incredibly trivial.  The next President and next SecDef will have to do much work to salvage the relationship between the civilians in charge and the military.

There is one hope, but, well, not much of one: Congress can refuse to authorize the money for this.  But given how willing Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and majorities of Republicans in both houses are willing to sell out everything, I am not optimistic that Congress will play its role in American civil-military relations.  As it turns out, the original driving force of the big project was my idealization of Congressional oversight that might be just as dead as the rest of American political norms.

Finally, the only military parade I want to see is this one:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Canada Cyber Defence: Uninformed, Wild Speculation

I was chatting with a defense attache today, and he asked me a question about Canada: why hasn't Canada developed much of a cyber-defence capability yet?  Given that cyber threats are the most significant dangers to Canada (we are too far away from everyone for conventional military threats and most nukes will just pass over, oops), this is a puzzle.  I hate not answering questions, so here are my wild guesses, and you can let me know which you think makes the most sense:

1) Standard bureaucratic politics: neither the army, air force, nor navy wanted to spend money/personnel on cyber since it would mean taking away from the activities/equipment that they have long seen as priorities.  The only way to develop cyber capabilities is to have new money, which is ultimately what the Defence Policy Review (aka SSE for Strong, Secure, Engaged).
2) Canadian defence procurement doth suck muchly.  The SSE and the Liberal government budgeted money for new personnel and stuff to do cyber stuff.  So, yeah, we shall how long that takes to happen.  I feel like blaming Treasury Board because, well, I don't really understand it, but they seem to not like spending money.
3) Canada lacks a good imagination of the possible.  When we hear discussion of cyber and the CAF, the discussion ends up focusing on how can one have soldiers who compute?  Do we have to have the same physical standards for the cyber warriors as for the normal kind?  How about considering how the other advanced democracies do it?  The National Security Agency is owned by the Department of Defense, but is mostly a civvie agency if I am not mistaken.  Perhaps the DND cyber warriors could be civilians?  I have no idea really, but how about seeing how other countries have done it.
4) I do think that Canadians are worried about privacy and about the government having too much capability.  There was concern and questions about the cyber offensive stuff in the SSE.  So, maybe the politicians are slow because they think this stuff is unpopular?

As I said, I am wildly speculating.  Given where Canada is now on this at a time where Canadian institutions (including Carleton) are getting hit by cyber attacks, should we expect more out of the government?  If so, why is it (and previous governments) underperforming?  

Monday, February 5, 2018

Worst Advice for Grad Students?

After a brief glance at twitter this morning, I am tempted to run a contest: what is the worst advice to give a graduate student (other than to pursue a PhD, that is)?

What inspired this?

I don't think I ever told my students to work long hours.  Maybe I set goals for them that implied working longer hours, but I never told them to work 60 hours a week (my TA's might be nodding their heads but not my research assistants as my vague instructions never required long hours).  The whole "work smarter, not harder/longer" may seem trite and easy to say, but, in my humble experience, the biggest challenge to being productive was not the time put in but being productive in the time spent.  That focus is the problem, not hours. 

In my case, I definitely have a focus problem, not a time problem. I have never been one for putting in long hours.  Indeed, in my first teaching gig, I did work on Saturdays sometimes.... for those weeks where I skied on Thursdays (where was I this Friday?).  Ever since, my weekend work, a few hours here or there, not a matter of working entire weekend days, has mostly been grading and reviewing and some catching up in my reading, but that does not make me hit 60 hours because I have rarely worked nine to five on weekdays.  

Of course, it depends on what you count.  I do travel on weekends for interview research so that the weekdays are as efficient as possible, but I never have had an interview week that is pure interviews from morning to night.  While I do fill some of that time with transcription and planning, some of that time in foreign capitals ends up being empty .... which means tourism.  Conferences?  Those can be long days, but playing poker or drinking with friends after the panels? Is that work?  Not really. 

Getting back to graduate students, it really depends on their lives--what other competition is there for their time, how much progress they have made compared to the clock on their funding, etc.  Students fall short of making good progress in the program do so not because they are failing to overwork, but because they:
  • took on too many other responsibilities (working in student government, agreed to do service type stuff long before they should have, etc.  Saying no is really hard for academics but especially for grad students).  Of course, there are very demanding disciplines that require tons of time in labs so YMMV. 
  • could not figure out their research question.
  • had a hard time sticking to one question (juggling multiple projects is not something I recommend for anyone pre-tenure and especially not while in grad school).
  • had a hard time getting funding to do the research.
  • have a hard time working independently.
Yeah, I get it--that with a tougher job market, grad students need to publish while they are in school and that increases the workload.  So, I am not saying they never go over 40 hours.  But I would never tell a student to expect to average 60 hours a week.  Sometimes, one's load might go up that high, but at other times, one can't focus and one puts in under 40.  The academic life means that it is up to each individual how to figure out how much time to put into various things.  Early in one's career, course prep takes more time.  Later, course prep takes far less time, but one has to do more advising of advanced grad students or more administration or more service.  Which means that I tend to read far less than I would like.

And, no, I don't count time I put into blogging and twitter as work time because you may have noticed that my lack of focus definitely applies here--much of my online social media stuff has nothing to do with work.  When someone asks me to write for them, well, that is work.  Writing for myself?  Mostly fun, sometimes free therapy.

I have always been a big believer in work-life balance, that seeing a movie the night before a big exam or a defense is a good way to de-stress.  Sure, I wish I could be more productive, but that is not about putting more time in, but being more focused when I am trying to work. Speaking of which, time to get back to the big grant application.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ski Strategery

Longtime followers of the Semi-Spew will know that I like to give talks at universities near ski areas in wintertime.  This time, I gave a talk at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary on what we can learn from Afghanistan.  And I learned much both from those who attended and from someone who couldn't make it to the talk but did attend the dinner (my first real convo with someone inside the Harper government!)

More importantly, I got to ski at Lake Louise.   My previous talk here about four years ago led to a different ski area--Sunshine.  I think I prefer Lake Louise, although I couldn't see much of it because it was snowing both days.  Indeed, both days, but especially the first, made for some challenging skiing since I could not see well at various times.

Given that I was talking about lessons learned when Canada was under much pressure in Afghanistan, what did I learn during two hard skiing days?
  • The Skier's dilemma (at least for me): Clear skies with great views OR poor views but fresh snow.
  • Learning to ski in the mountains (hills) of Pennsylvania trained me to ski on ice, not fresh snow.  I am not good on plentiful fresh snow, especially when the carving of predecessors turns a blue cruiser into a mogul field
  • I still skate like an American, as there were some flat parts and I tend to skate them poorly.
  • Some ski run names are very apt.  I finished Marmot (a rodent) run right before lunch.  While at lunch, a marmot came up to the lodge.  Glad I didn't ski Wolverine today.
  • That being single is a big advantage (although I miss my favorite skiing partner--Intern Spew), even though the lift lines were never very long--non-existent yesterday and fairly quick today.
  • More importantly, I learned being in a gondola with five bros can be fun, as they were amusing and one of them was carrying skiing juice.  That would be, in this case, jaegermeister, and yes, he was a German skiing with four North Americans.  
  • I can be too slow with a camera--one chair lift goes past a tree festooned with bras of all kinds.  It seemed photo-worthy, but each day I was on that lift once, so I didn't react fast enough either day. Rats.
  • I learned that the ski bums of Canada tend to be from Australia or New Zealand with a few Brits mixed in.  I remember this from my last trip, but I had forgotten.  
  • Banff is a pretty sweet place.  Sure, it has lots of touristy stuff, but lots of restaurants to choose from, amazing views, apparently bountiful public spaces/services, and nice folks.
  • I now get why folks who own Jeep Wranglers don't clear snow off of them as well as I can off of my car.  I had little choice at the airport, and this brand new Jeep is an interesting drive.  
I am very lucky that I can do this, that my teaching schedule this term (M/W) gives me the chance to take off just when the slopes are getting sweet.  It will probably be the only skiing I do this year, as the places closer to home have been cycling between rain/snow/melting/freezing and I am too old to mess with ice.

Oh, and one of the cool things about being on the slopes for two days is I am mostly out of the loop about whatever Trump is doing and how incredibly dumb the Nunes memo is.  Ok, I caught some of the tweets of along these lines:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Rooting for Bad Civilian-Military Relations/

Reading this story about Korea war planning is giving me chills. 
 But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.
 Are we supposed to be happy that the Pentagon under Mattis and Dunford are trying not to give an options to Trump that he might choose to use force?  Yeah, the tyranny of low standards means I am now rooting for the Pentagon to defy the White House.  Still, even if there is no war, lasting damage to American civil-military relations may ensue.  I mean, I am glad that there really are some adults in the room:
The Pentagon has a different view. Mr. Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., argue forcefully for using diplomacy. They have repeatedly warned, in meetings and on video conference calls, that there are few, if any, military options that would not provoke retaliation from North Korea, according to officials at the Defense Department.
 I want Mattis to push back against Trump's apparent desire for war.  So, woot, I guess.  But dumping Victor Cha still scares me.

I will be on the slopes tomorrow, so, um, good luck!