Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Starting to Do Research in the time of Corona

Last night, I taught another session of our Dissertation Proposal Workshop class, and the topic was the methodology section of one's proposal.  That is, how am I going to research this question and how do I justify the choices I made?  This is after going through the other pieces--the question, the proposed answer, what other folks have said about this or have said about other stuff that you want to bring to this project, the theory, and the hypotheses.  How does one test the hypotheses was the question du jour (or nuit). 

While we discussed all kinds of stuff, the issue of how to do research while self-isolating naturally came up.  In some ways, these PhD students have a slight edge over those who were in the class last year or the year before.  Those other students had plans that they may not be able to execute--they can't do fieldwork for several months, they can't travel some place to interview people, they can't visit an archive, etc. I really feel bad for those students, and, of course, all. 

My students can adjust their methods before they start their research so that they can make progress without leaving their home.  The question then becomes how to do that?  So, here are my first thoughts on this and am looking for suggestions with the caveat, of course, that the question and the theory determine the method, so there may not be much one can do....
  1. Quantitative work can, of course, proceed if one has a computer at home with the necessary software.  This might be a good time to do what I will avoid--find online courses on how to use R and start figuring that out.  
    1. Likewise, if one was intending to surveys, one might find a better (although perhaps tainted) response rate since everyone is home.  Of course, that depends on where one is doing a survey.
    2. There are other methods for doing research that don't involve travel or people, such as agent-based modeling.  Learning online how to do this stuff might be a good use of time if one can't do the travel/archival stuff.  
  2. Get your secondary research done as much as possible from home so that when things open up, one can then be ready to do the fieldwork quickly, keeping in mind that travel may open and close and open and close with waves of the epidemic until vaccination is close to universal.  Be ready to do the research travel in bursts when the windows are open. 
  3. Arrange interviews to be done by phone or via skype/zoom/facetime/whatever.  I prefer to interview in person and not just for the tourism benefits.  One can read the non-verbal cues, one can find interview subjects along the way that one would not find otherwise (the Chilean staffer helping us by grabbing legislators as they leave the chamber comes to mind), and so on.  This obviously can be problematic for all kinds of reasons:
    1. The interview subjects may not accessible via technology.
    2. The material is stuff that should not be discussed over technology that can be intercepted--research ethics boards may have something to say about this.  
    3. The interview subjects may be worried about who else is listening.  They will certainly not feel as comfortable.
  4. If one is doing a qualitative dissertation, focus now perhaps on the mini-cases.  In my work, I have tended to do larger case studies that tend to require travel and mini-cases to show that the stuff applies beyond the few major cases.  I use secondary research--reading the stuff that is out there--for the mini-cases.  So, I'd suggest working on those while one is cooped up.
  5. If possible, choose at least one of your cases to be local--so that one can do the fieldwork more easily.  This obviously works best if one lives in a national capital.
  6. Find a flexible, empathetic supervisor.
What else?

Monday, March 30, 2020

Teaching in the Age of Corona

I have no background in teaching online.  The good news is that Carleton's technology is actually pretty good even if it has a silly name--BigBlueButton.  It is part of the courseware (CuLearn) that we have, a tool that has always existed, but we are now using much more these days. 

I am lucky in that my MA course has student presentations the last three weeks (plus Canadian semesters end earlier) so I only had to do one seminar that was "synchronous"--live with everyone attending via teleconference.  It went reasonably well.  I lecture better than I run discussions so the dropoff from in person to online was not that severe.  The students had done the reading and were ready to talk about it.  I was able to get most folks involved even if some voices tend to dominate the discussion.  For the rest of the term, students will be posting narrated powerpoint slides that will be their presentations.  Not as good as live and in person, but I am aware that it is hard for students to be all online at the same time--some have kids, some have to share their computer with family/roommates, etc. 

Which gets to the main approach I have right now:
It is unfair and somewhat ridiculous to expect students to perform normally.  I know I am not performing normally even though I have no kids at home and I don't have to share my laptop with Mrs. Spew.  But if I am more distracted than usual, then I can't expect the students to be as focused.  This was a key point that Catherine Sanger discussed on the Duck of Minerva Podcast.  Give it a listen--lots of good suggestions for adopting quickly to online as she teaches in Singapore and is a few months ahead of the rest of us. 

I also agreed with someone who tweeted that they will not be grading as usual.  That they will give students at least the grade they had earned thus far.  That if they do better than their pre-quarantine average, their grade will go up, but if they do worse, the pre-q grade will be their grade.  I told my students the same with two caveats: plagiarism will still be penalized and students must hand in the work ... eventually.  I am willing to give extensions--all they have to do is ask (see above figure).

My PhD class will mostly continue on as normal.  It has five students, with one student presenting their dissertation proposal each session.  It meets in the evening, as it always did.  It is not as hard to get five people plus me to chat in a virtual classroom.  The BigBlueButton has a builtin feature to post slides so you can see the slides and the presenter at the same time.  It is very easy to use, so it has worked thus far and I have figured out how to have others control the slides--the learning curve is not too bad.

What I am most concerned about, besides the physical and mental well-being of my current students, is how I am going to teach in the fall.  Will we be online?  If so, how to teach IR Theory to 90 students?  I do have some ideas, but lecturing for two hours at a time is not one of them. 

Anyhow, the one thing I have figured out is this: perfection is the enemy of good enough.  As one of my students wrote so well, we ought not to put too much pressure on ourselves.

Good luck to all y'all in this difficult time.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Quarantine, Week 2: Developing a Bit of A Rhythm

Week 2 of the quarantine did not yet see a descent into madness as predicted in my last week's post.  At least not that I can identify.  However, I do feel like Bruce Banner these days:
It is just so maddening to see not just Trump but Republican governors act as if this thing does not require self-isolation and all the rest.  The idea of opening up for Easter--churches have been found to be one of the key spots where the disease as spread--is just appalling.  So, yeah, I am mad all the time.

It is very clear that we are going to be experiencing a series of peaks in the next month as city after city is overwhelmed.  Just as Italy was the future of the United States, New York (see this and other posts by a chief of doctors in NYC)  is the future of ... most American cities.  I have family in NYC, including in the medical community, so I am worried about them.  I am less worried about my spectacular niece who yoga-ed and instagrammed her way through her COVID experience.  Indeed, I am relieved and proud.  That she almost visited my mother when she was in the early stages... oh my... relieved. 

Part of my rhythm is to shop once a week.  While we have enough in the house to last us a few weeks, I like to top off every week so that we continue to have a 2-3 week supply in case one of us or both of us have to completely self-isolate.  I also wanted to run to campus before they lock the buildings on Monday to get a couple of books and some other materials, as Carleton is going to be shut down for a while. 

As a result, I could compare the social distancing at the supermarket last week and this week.  It was better, although I was also at a less busy place.  Most shelves were stocked with the notable exceptions of paper products and flour.  We have no problems in the paper department due to my wife's insistence on always buying paper towels and toilet paper during our Costco runs.  Flour is not yet an issue, but it diminishes my enthusiasm for making breads.  I need to save the flour for my pizza.  One has got to have priorities. 

I am more acceptant of the reality that I am not going to get tons of work done.  No, I have no small kids running around to distract me (one of the items that was wrong in the Steve pic).  Just that the news and the despair (yeah, that word is cropping up a lot more) makes it hard to focus on reading and writing.  I did manage to make progress on one project, flipping the draft to my co-authors.  We shall see if they consider my work to be progress or regress.

The week started with my first online seminar for my MA class and my last.  I am lucky in that I designed the class, as I do with most of my MA classes, to end with student presentations.  So, we discussed the literature on Canadian civil-military relations, although the timing could have been better since the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Deputy Minister issued statements on Friday that would have been great fodder for the class.  Anyhow, it went reasonably well, but I am not looking forward to this becoming the normal way to teach if some folks' predictions about what the 2020-21 academic year might look like.

My new playstation came in and quickly reminded me that I suck at video games.  I feel bad for Spider-man who has been smashed into a wall many times, and I feel bad for the Star Wars character that will eventually discover his Jedi powers--if I can get him to cross a cavern via swinging rope....  We have passed the time watching both regular tv programs--9-9!--and movies and funky series on Amazon and Netflix.  I still have three and a half seasons of Clone Wars to watch before I can start the new season--and I tend to watch 1.5 eps per treadmill session.  The lack of ultimate is perhaps the biggest change to my life, since I do tend to work at home many days.  I miss the games and the people and laying out for plastic.

The hard part is finding stuff to talk about with Mrs. Spew over dinner--we could talk about how Trump and the GOP are going to get many Americans needlessly killed, but that gets old quickly.  If anybody has suggestions for conversation topics for childless couples (our kid is doing well in LA), let me know.

And, as always, think of the doctors, nurses, and other staff who are facing a crisis of a lifetime... which they will carry for the rest of their lives if they survive.

Why Have American Political Scientists Largely (Not Entirely) Ignored Disease

People are wondering why there has not been much scholarship on the international relations of pandemics in the major journals

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fun Quarantine Game Solution

Ok, only a few people had fun with it.  Most suggested that I am not wearing pants...as long as sweatpants count, I think I am good. 

So, what is wrong in this picture?
  • Ok, the spilled beer is actually pretty accurate.  I have been known to spill beer on more than a few occasions.  
  • The sweat stains, which no one seemed to have noticed, are probably more accurate than I would like to admit.  
  • Bag of chips?  Guilty as my wife hit the Bulk Barn on her last shopping trip before the quarantine really hit, and she got me a bunch of junk food.
  • The rest of the room is far shabbier than the way I live.  Sure, I am a slob, but cans on the floor, cracks in the walls?  No.  
  • I never had a boy--I had a girl.  And she is now an adult in LA, so this is wrong.
  • My wife is about as light-skinned as it can get with all of her Scottish/Irish/English blood.  
  • My beard is the wrong color as some have noted, and, yeah, this Steve has way too much hair
  • While I wear a lot of old shirts, none have patches.... yet.
Maybe I can figure out more fun games than this as we hunker down.

I hope you and yours are healthy!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Myth-Busting US Moving Troops to the Canadian Border

How can we make sense of the reports that the Trump Administration is thinking of putting troops near the Canadian border to limit folks from entering the US illegally?

Um, we can't.  It makes so little sense I want to invoke the Chewbacca defense.

There is little threat of Canadians fleeing to the US.  First, the US is a much hotter hotzone than Canada is--why would anyone want to go to where the pandemic is more widespread, escalating at a faster rate?  Second, is this time anyone would leave a place with national health care for one that does not have it? Third, while there is some confusion about what is contained in the respective response packages, the Canadian package is probably at least as good or better than the American one since it involves more than one late check to some people.  Fourth, who is doing a better job of presenting an air of competence and leadership: Trudeau or Trump?  Please.

1000 troops across the entire border?  This is about as symbolic as it gets, as the border is very long.

I am guessing this is a Stephen Miller idea that got leaked, and it is not going anywhere.  It is getting much play in Canada since it would be a major shift, one that would take us back about 100 years--the last time the US had war plans aimed at Canada.  But, in reality, the big shift was when Canada and the US closed the border to all non-essential travel.

Canada does love to play up the American military threat.  All I know is that if this happens, there will be one thousand troops bored out of their minds, with the only job of satisfying some WH fever dreams. 

Fun Quarantine Game

Ok, I am embracing my inner narcissist and have invited friends on FB and elsewhere to play a version of the game where you have two pictures and one is asked to identify what is different about the second picture.  Instead, I simply ask:
What is wrong with this picture?

Those who follow my blog on a regular basis might be able to play as well.  And, yes, snark is welcome.  Add your guesses to the comment section. 

My full list to be posted tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The International Relations of Pandemics: Where is the Hegemon?

Yesterday, I blogged about how I was feeling during week 1 of the quarantine.  Today, I want to put my IR Theory hat back on and explain why we got here.  To be clear, I am IR scholar, not an epidemiologist or public health expert, so I am just talking about the political dynamics of the pandemic, not how the virus itself operates.

Others have had great stuff on this--Paul Poast has podcasted his twitter thread, Tanisha Fazal has a great twitter thread, and Jeremy Pressman has a great slideshow.  They all focus on important dimensions of the crisis as do many posts at Duck of Minerva.  One could just read Dan Drezner's Theories of International Politics and Zombies, and replace Zombie with COVID-19 and get much help in understanding why cooperation has been so hard.  To be clear, as this NYT infographic makes clear, this thing was going to spread.

I am going to focus on a single theory here--hegemonic stability theory.  Used to explain the failure to respond to the Great Depression and the successful boom in international trade and such after World War II, Charles Kindleberger (book, article), Robert Gilpin, and others have argued that international cooperation is difficult.  When there are collective goods that require international cooperation--stable exchange rates, open trade system, etc--it is far more likely that countries will cooperate if there is one major player who is powerful enough to provide some of the key ingredients to make the cooperation happen as well as encourage (with carrots and sticks) others to join in.  The classic tale is that the UK was the hegemon on the 1800s, facilitating free trade and such, and that it was no longer able or willing after World War I.  The US might have been able at the time, but was not willing.  This was a lesson learned by FDR and then Truman, so that the seeds of the international trading order and exchange system and such were drawn up during WWII at Bretton Woods (some of my UVM students would answer "what is Bretton Woods" with "a ski resort in New Hampshire).

In the long run since the end of WWII, the American leaders largely continued to support the various cooperative mechanisms with some famous exceptions (Nixon going off the gold standard if I remember my grad school readings right).  One of these collective goods has been an international health regime--a set of principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures to handle .... pandemics.  The World Health Organization is part of that system, but it crucially relied on American power--that the US in an emergency would provide expertise (CDC), troops, dollars, and, yes, leadership.  We saw some of this in action during the Ebola outbreak that caused Trump to famously freak out about.

This time around, well, the US did not provide leadership.  Unlike 1920s Britain, the US still had plenty of capacity to lead the world to respond to this.  China clearly was not ready as it lied about the early numbers and reacted poorly at first. Key ingredients for any regime, but especially the public health regime (I have not studied it so I am just riffing here), is credibility and transparency.  These bits and pieces of governance do much of their work by providing clarity and by defining the rules and expectations (yeah, I guess Keohane was mostly right).  China is poorly suited to provide the leadership needed since, well, as an authoritarian regime, its first instincts are to deny and to limit the spread of information.

Alas, the US is currently led by autocrat-wannabe's.  Trump and his coterie did not want concerns of a pandemic to undermine markets, mostly because his key card to play in November in his re-election campaign was the state of the economy.  So, the US did not generate good information (very limited testing, a desire to keep the numbers down), which meant it could not lead even if the President wanted to do so.  Plus the President is a unilateralist to his core, so he had no instincts to bring the international community together on this.  Last week, we saw the G-7 meet online, and, damn, little got done.  And it happened last week, not in January or February.  The thing about pandemics is that it is a race against the virus, and the US chose not to run that race.  And because the US did not, there was not much ability or interest for anyone else to facilitate cooperation to manage this fight together.

There was and is a failure to cooperate.  There is some bilateral stuff going on, but the credibility of the CDC is now tarnished because it is locked into the yes-man system imposed by the Trump administration.

This is all incredibly frustrating because the US and the world could have done much more.  Yes, the virus would have gotten out, but its spread could have been limited.  The WHO could have had more assets and heft behind it with US leadership, the CDC could have done more to get tests out earlier, and on and on.

But it did not happen.  Maybe one does not need a hegemon, a very powerful acting willing to lead, to have international cooperation, but in a crisis, having such an actor sure is handy. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Quarantine, Week 1: Just Getting Started

I have had a hard time blogging (or doing much of anything else) because both so much and so little is going on and I am in high state of distraction.  But I thought one way to blog my way through the pandemic is to at least mark each week, either to show how I managed to get by or to chart my descent into madness. 

To build on an old semi-spew theme, I feel several things right now: sad, angry, frustrated, and somewhat proud. 

I am sad.  I am sad for myself--that my cool trips to Hawaii, Copenhagen, and South Africa are cancelled.  I am sad for member of my extended family who have COVID-19.  They are both doing well, with a mild version of the disease, and they are young and resilient.  I am sad, of course, for all the folks who are stricken with the virus, and I am sad for all of the health care workers that are literally risking their lives and working endless hours to save those who are stricken.  I am not depressed, but I think I can see depression from where I am standing. 

I am angry.  While this epidemic was likely to spread no matter what, it is clear that we have failures of leadership around the world.  China shouldn't have lied.  The US should have led. Canada could have acted sooner.  Watching the Trump Administration gaslight itself and everyone else through this, refusing to take the necessary steps (perhaps motivated by corrupt intent), with the most incompetent people (Pence, Kushner, Trump) in charge.  It didn't have to be this bad. 

I am frustrated. I am frustrated with myself as I have been very slow to get work done.  I have a job where I can and mostly do work out of the house.  I should be able to do this, but it has been hard to get going and hard to keep going.  Maybe the old saw about conferences being necessary for pushing academics to get their work done is true--certainly, the current paper, which was supposed to be presented next week at the ISA, would be done by now.  I don't have a kid at home, so I don't really have an excuse.  My friends who have kids at home should have no expectation of getting work done.  I am also frustrated that I can't help my daughter in LA except via texts and skypes.  Anyhow,
if I think I am distracted now, wait until my new playstation makes past customs.... 

Yet, I am also proud. I am proud of my daughter for how she is handling this situation.  I am proud of those who crowded the Ottawa blood bank so much that I couldn't give blood despite having an appointment.  I am proud of my friends and family for emphasizing the distancing in "social distancing" and not the social.  We are all closer now and will be keeping in touch regularly to deal with the separation and the anxiety it produces.  I am proud of those who are giving their all to this.  As both the real Mr. Rogers and the fake one (Tom Hanks) have said, watch the helpers.  It does make me feel better to watch those who are working so hard in this crisis. 

In other posts, I will put on my Poli Sci hat and think about:
  • the comparative politics of pandemics.  One reason why I like Max Brooks's World War Z so much is that it displayed really well that countries will vary in how they address a common problem.  We are essentially living his book, except with a respiratory disease rather than the zombie virus.
  • the International Relations of pandemics.  I have started thinking about how the old hegemonic stability theorists were right--cooperation is hard if there is not a single dominant actor willing to do what is necessary.
  • the civil-military relations of pandemics.  Aid to civil power is what they call it in Canada--what role do militaries have in all of this?
  • the ethnic politics of pandemics.  Trump is using the source of the disease as a way to foster xenophobia and hate as distraction sauce.  Will it work?  Hmmm.
Right now, the real problem facing all of us, especially the markets, is the uncertainty.  How long will this go on?  Eight weeks until we can reduce some of our extreme measures or thirty-two?  I have seen both estimates this morning.  I am currently doing planning for the CDSN Summer Institute which is to take place in August.  That might be wildly optimistic.  Or it could happen if we keep it to Ottawa based people?  I have no idea.  I was asked yesterday what date I set as the deadline for when to cancel it, and I have no idea. 

So, yeah, it is normal to feel anxious right now.  How do we get through this?  One day at a time, just like everything else.  Today, I am making apple pie--not just because I am stress eating, but also because it will occupy an hour or so.  Plus I was going to be eating badly this weekend--finding all the vacation desserts Maui had to offer.  So, I am really not going to be eating worse than I would have. 

I hope you and yours find ways to entertain yourselves, to find some solace, to indulge in those things that one can still indulge in.  We are all in it together, and the internet, for all of its warts, allows us to be social in this time of social distancing.  Take care and, yes, wash your hands.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Corona and the Academic World

While it might seem narcissistic to consider the impact on the academic world while people are dying around the world, well, ok, it is narcissistic, but we will have to figure out ways to manage the current crisis and deal with its long-term implications.  As always, the professor's job involves at least three areas--teaching, research and service, so I might as well use those categories to figure out the impact and likely implications.

Not all schools have closed their classroom and pushed stuff online yet, but that seems inevitable.  Carleton has not yet, but by the time I finish writing this, maybe? (UPDATE: yep, campus classes are cancelled)  The announcements by universities that they will be moving immediately to online classes shows that not much has been learned over the past twenty years by the efforts to teach online.  That is, administrations haven't learned much since those who do that stuff well can and have told us how hard it is to do right.  And deans don't get it as one of my friends's dean is insisting that the online courses be taught exactly at the same time as it would be in person, even as folks scatter across time zones.

I understand that this move to online classes is an emergency effort to save semesters, so let's keep expectations low.  While most profs didn't get much training to teach seminars and lectures when they were in grad school, they at least had experienced both good and bad teaching in those formats so they could figure out how to do it AND improve over time.  Few of the current profs out there have had much experience taking online classes except for human resources training modules ... and I am pretty sure that only teaches us what not to do.

The good news is that there is much help on twitter as the experienced profs have been sharing their lessons.  The bad news is that taking that advice and adapting it on the fly is going to lead to a lot of trial and error with our students paying the price of the errors.  If we do this badly at first, students may not bother to come back once we get our act together.

The other bit of bad news is that profs are going to worry that universities are going to see this as the long awaiting opportunity to push most courses online---the MOOC-ization of academia.  Not that we need the encouragement given our abilities and also the abilities of our students.  Not all students have the technology to make this work, bandwidth is going to be a problem, working from home can be really hard for students with families, etc.

The impact is going to be the worst for our students:
  • seniors have their last term abruptly ended, entering a broken job market, 
  • whatever systems we have to deal with anxiety and other mental health issues are now turned off for most,
  • students may be losing medical coverage since their fees for coverage at university may not cover them at home
  • some students may not be able to go home,
  • and on and on.  
Closing campuses hurts two sets of people the worst--students and staff.  Profs have salaries and mostly longer time horizons.  And we can do most of our work from home. Of course, adjunct/sessional profs are in a world of hurt--they don't have long time horizons--they get paid per class and paid poorly.  The time it takes to turn something to an online class will make their $/hr rate even more awful than it currently is.  Let's remember that we should be kind to staff in this time.  Of course, we should do that all the time as it is rule one... but not all of our colleagues are kind to those who do most of the heavy lifting on campus.

We will have plenty of time to think about the long-term consequences, but we will have to think about them--how to interpret the grades of the spring of 2020, how to teach in the fall with students whose education has been disrupted, how to make sure universities don't learn the wrong lessons from all of this, etc.  I would appreciate any suggestions on what the long term implications might be.

While the quarantines and social distancing will not stop us from writing, they will stop us from fieldwork.  They have already caused conferences to be cancelled, and those events are quite important for getting feedback on research projects.  Grants have timelines that are going to be interrupted so:
 Which raises the other time-sensitive thing for professors: tenure clocks.  For most tenure-track profs, they have five to six years to produce research as an assistant professor, and then they go up for tenure based on that record.  For those whose fieldwork is disrupted, or their writing is disrupted because they have to take care of kids who are home due to closed schools, what do we do?  Two answers seem obvious, but will not work for everyone: add time to people's clocks--give them an extension so that they can complete their research programs after this wave of closures/travel bans subsides; or re-set expectations so that a year of no conferences does not count against someone.

I don't think there will be one perfect solution to this, but we will need to have empathy and sympathy and adjust our standard procedures.

Great news: no committee meetings!  Ok, maybe meetings will continue online.  The hard part of the service component is that we will be working with great uncertainty.  How do we plan events for where we are uncertain that they can take place?  I am working on the CDSN Summer Institute, set for August, but will people be traveling by then?

I am reminded of an old Alistair Maclean novel, Fear is the Key, where the bad guy's major strategy is to create uncertainty, as uncertainty hampers action.  Well, the markets indicate that we can still sell in a time of uncertainty, but planning?  This is going to be hard--to make plans, to revise them endlessly until we start to get to the other side of this.

I have much sympathy for my friends who have kids who are school age or below, as they are going to have spend most of their time keeping their kids busy and out of trouble, which will get in the way of getting their courses prepped and getting their writing done.  I am lucky in that my kid is fully grown and self-sufficient.  I just have to worry about her not having enough food if she has to self-quarantine for a few weeks.  Oh wait, damn.

Anyhow, focusing on our stuff--our jobs, our teaching, our research--can help distract us from the horrors that are going on around the world as a result of this pandemic and also those that are independent of this pandemic.  Good luck to you and yours as we all go through this.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

CDSN Capstone 2020: The All-Stars Shined Brightly

This week we got to realize one of the CDSN's proposals, and it was a pretty great experience.  One of the challenges of building a defence and security community in Canada is that the country is pretty big.  Which means that all of the conferences that take place tend to resonate locally but not much beyond that.  The idea of the Capstone is two-fold--to amplify our partners' events so that they reach wider audiences and have a lasting impact and to elevate the best that Canada has to offer as part of our mission to foster the next generation.

So, we brought eight scholars to the Canadian Forces College in Toronto from across Canada, people who were nominated by the organizers of the various conferences--Women in International Security-Canada, Defence and Security Foresight Group, the Kingston Conference on International Security, the Inuit Studies Conference, the Combat Training Centre/Gregg Centre Annual Conference, and the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society-Canada.  Ok, we brought six as two were waylaid by the COVID-19 epidemic, but they were able to present via skype.  For bios and more info (and ultimately some links to their work), go here: https://www.cdsn-rcds.com/2020capstone.

All eight presentations were engaging, thoughtful, and important, addressing: the dynamics of rebel funding and governance, the use of the internet by ISIS, the role of gender in rebel group/govt dynamics, the challenges the US faces today to compete with Russia and China, what is Canada to do amidst that competition, how the Canadian media covers the arctic, how to target covert networks, and attitudes in the Canadian Armed Forces about the efforts to address the problems of sexual assault and harassment.  In some ways, the topics were all over the place, but in many ways, the papers engaged in others in interesting ways.  I will be posting the link to the streamed event here when it is available.

So, here are our 2020 Capstone Laureates (from left to right starting with the skyped speaker): Mathieu Landriault of Trent, Rachel Schmidt of Carleton, Rachel Babins of Toronto, Tanya Bandula-Irwin of Toronto, Victoria Tait of Carleton, David Hofmann of New Brunswick, and James Anderson of Queen's.  Ali Wyne of Rand spoke in the first session via skype.

I am very thankful to the folks at CFC, especially Melinda Mansour and Mike Lyons for doing all of the heavy lifting in Toronto.  Jeffrey Rice, Melissa Jennings, and Alvine Nintai of the CDSN HQ did all of the planning, budgeting, arranging, and social media-ing.  I am very proud of my team and very grateful to all of the CDSN partners who helped make the inaugural CDSN Capstone event so successful and special.

And, yes, we declared success via food and drink:

If you are running an event in Canada in 2020 on defence/security stuff, and you have someone you want to recommend, send your nominations for the next set of Capstone Laureates to me.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

International Women's Day 2020: A Weekend With Badasses

To celebrate International Women's Day, I am posting pics and slides from yesterday's Women in International Security-Queens conference, and discussing what I learned and what I presented.  This event is largely run by female undergrads at Queens, yet it was a pretty high power event.  They got the Deputy Minister, Jody Thomas, Mercedes Stephenson, the Ottawa bureau chief for Global, and Senator Marilou McPhedran as the keynote speakers--all were most impressive and interesting.  I live tweeted at #WIISQ, so I will not repeat all of what they said, but I will hit a few highlights before summarizing what I said during my presentation.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Thinking About Warren and The Rest of the Primaries

When the campaign started years ago..... sure feels like that... I was not expecting to support Elizabeth Warren.  I admired her ability to wire-brush both Republican and Democratic appointees that appeared before her committees.  I always thought that she was an excellent Senator, but I was not sure she would be that great of a President.  I also tended to view her as to the left of my preferences on various policy issues.

As the campaign developed and some of the candidates I favored dropped out (Kamala Harris, for instance), and as I learned more about Warren and about those on her team (several NatSec friends worked for her), I started to consider her more seriously.  And then I considered her plans (well thought out even if some were again to the left of me).  And then I watched her in speeches, in debates, and in interviews, and I could not help but admire her smarts, her moxy, her empathy, and her dog. 

I came to the conclusion that of the candidates in the race, that she would be the best President.  That she would not act ideologically but take seriously the issues, fight for what she believed in, and work smartly towards her goals.  And, yes, her stance that corruption is a great threat to the US and to the liberal international order played very well in my house. 

I am not surprised that she had to drop out.  First, Bernie had locked in the far left of the party--he could just build on his 2016 coalition.  Of course, he has not really, but he has mostly kept what he did build before.  Second, the media fixation with narratives of electability did heaps of harm.  If the issues were covered more and the premature horse racing was covered less, I think Warren would have stood out more.  Third, she probably should have gone after Bernie a bit more aggressively--how could she get some of his voters OR get more of the squishier voters who could see her as the best alternative to Bernie.

But Warren provided a huge public service twice in her last weeks on the campaign trail.  In the debate, she took out Bloomberg very effectively.  Maybe she cannot take on all billionaires in this race, but she took out the one that appeared on the stage  most effectively.  I am sure Bloomberg stands for much of what Warren finds wrong with today's politics, and she ripped him apart.  For that, a grateful nation will thank her.  Similarly, she made Chris Mathews look like the dinosaur that he is.  Why should she believe Bloomberg's accusers?  Why should Bloomberg lie?  Why she does not believe him?  Warren stood her ground and made Mathews look like the misogynist he is.  His career might have ended for other reasons, but I think she administered the coup de grace.  And it was wonderful.

Alas, we will not see her doing the same on a debate stage with Trump--pretty sure Trump would have dodged such debates.  But we will see her conducting oversight with passion, intelligence, and strategy for a while to come.

I am conflicted about the next stage---Bernie's voters are far less likely to vote for Biden in November than Biden's are to vote for Bernie's.  Which means, dare I say it, Bernie might be more electable.  But I really dislike Bernie.  He is not a democrat, he is not all that smart about  the issues, and he is frickin old.  Biden is old and too willing to work with the Republicans, but he is likable, which matters.  I think both Biden and Sanders set back women's progress not just by winning and eliminating the women but because their campaigns and their behavior tend to be less than great on those scores.  That the most vulnerable in the Democratic coalition support Biden does speak to me. 

Given their age, I just hope the nominee picks a smart woman who can bring on some voters so that Trump can be kicked to the curb and that ultimately we get a smart woman in the White House.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security, Day 1

This week is the big show--the Conference of Defence Associations Institute's annual two-day conference that brings together much of the Canadian command staff, defence contractors, other folks in government, and some random academics.  CDAI is a CDSN partner, so I was most proud to see how well things went despite the overabundance of hockey references: "


How to position Canada in a world of great power plays


The conference actually kicked off Tuesday evening with a book launch: Phil Lagassé, Srdjan Vucetic, and Thomas Juneau presented their book, Canadian Defence Policy in Theory and Practice.  The CDSN was proud to support that event especially since the editors and most of the contributors are members.  Indeed, Phil and Srdjan are two of the co-directors of the CDSN, and it would not exist without their help along the way.  We had a good turnout, including a rare appearance by Mrs. Spew at a CDSN event.

On Wednesday, we started with an address by the Deputy Minister--Jody Thomas.  She was replacing the Minister of Defence who could not make it.  Thomas often has interesting things to say, but, in this capacity, it was a fairly standard intro speech with only one notable aspect--emphasis on spending more on modernization North American defence--referring to the warning systems and such in the north, essentially.  She indicated that this was in the Strong Secure Engaged defence policy review document--vaguely so, maybe, but definitely not a major commitment that had been costed out--which makes it distinct from the rest of the issues in the document.

The first panel had LtG Christ Coates, DepCom of NORAD; Janis Garisons, Latvian State Secretary; Andrea Thompson, who used to work in the Trump Administration; and Frederick Kagan, think tanker and well-noted advocate of MOAR.  Coates, as a serving officer, didn't have much to say. Garisons made clear that the Russian threat is still quite real and that Latvia wants the allies to stick around.  Andrea Thompson?  Chock full of empty platitudes and most unimpressive.  Kagan was advocating more confrontation with Russia, which I would be mostly ok with except he tended to argue that we need to engage in more risky behavior to push the Russians on their heels.  Um, no.  I have come to the firm belief that democracies aren't good at playing chicken, but autocrats are.  So, this is not a game the west can win.  We need to change the game.  Mercedes Stephenson was the moderator, and she did a nice job of pushing on some issues.

The second panel was the highlight of the day, I think.  Its focus was supposed to be great power competition in the Mideast, but it was mostly a display of sharp women taking on the problematic positions of the dudes.  Jennifer Cafarella, Institute for the Study of War, provided a clear eyed assessment of the politics of the mideast at this moment.  My friend, Bessma Momani, of Waterloo absolutely nailed both the Chinese Ambassador and the Israeli defence attache by pointing out that their two countries are the greatest exporters of surveillance technology, and thus present significant threats to freedom of expression.  Murtaza Hussain, a journalist for the Intercept, really held the Chinese ambassador's feet to the fire by asking about the concentration camps for the Muslim Uighurs.  When the ambassador called that fake news, I snorted quite audibly.  Hussain also pushed the ambassador on the two Michaels--two Canadian businessmen held captive by China in retaliation for the extradition process, still on-going, of a Huawei exec. 

The third panel involved senior officers from the UK, US, France, and Canada, but I went off to conspire with a friend about future CDSN support.

The Chief of Defence Staff Jon Vance spoke next.  He always gives one of the more dynamic and engaging talks at these things.  There was not too much that was notable except again a reference to North American modernization that makes clear that this is a major priority--not just an entry into the Mandate letter--but a key focal point.  This seems to be part of a larger effort to get this town ready for a major spending commitment.  I noted at the CGAI conference a few weeks ago that the government was focusing on this, and it was even clearer yesterday.  I did speculate that his initial comments, thanking his staff and Jody Thomas, sounded like a goodbye, but I got pushback from online.  I would still bet that this is Vance's last appearance at this conference as the head of the Canadian Armed Forces.  But I have been wrong about that before. 
Bailey receiving the award from CDS Vance

The last part of the day was the Nichola Goddard Gamechanger Award.  It was really a moving presentation, as they had Goddard's sister (Goddard was the first female Canadian combat officer killed in combat in Afghanistan) read some letters from Nichola before she died.  They presented a video of Sgt. Leslie Bailey at work, and then she gave a terrific, short thank you speech.  I work with one of the previous winners, Leah West, and my co-host of the Battle Rhythm podcast and keystone CDSN co-director Stéfanie von Hlatky is the other winner.  Bailey is in great company and so are they.

In between sessions, I chatted with a bunch of folks--my effort to build a network has led to me being well networked.  I learned a lot from these side conversations, and I have new commitments for the CDSN to keep.  Plus I advertised our Summer Institute and next week's Capstone.  And we could check out the displays by various defence contractors.  This soldier to the right wore an exoskeleton that reminded me less of Iron Man and more of a Black Lightning bad guy. 

See you there today.  You can check out my live-tweeting at #cdai2020.