Tuesday, April 28, 2020

CDSN COVID Response Conference

Yesterday, we at the Canadian Defence and Security Network tried something new--a Zoom-based conference to brainstorm ideas of how Canada's defence/security sector should be responding to the crisis.  The origin was this: this is an unprecedented crisis, the least we, the community of defence/security scholars, can do is help the government think about what to do.  We brought together the existing networks funded by the Department of National Defence's MINDS program: SPNET (Concordia-based group of engineers working on tech-related policy, like AI), the Defence and Security Foresight Group,and the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network.  We asked DND's Policy branch (ADM Pol) to provide us with questions that they would like us to address. We used several of those, some of our own, and some hybrids, and divided them among our five themes:


  • How is COVID affecting current ops at home and abroad?
  • What role is there for the CAF to support Canada during and after the pandemic?


  • How has COVID-19 changed the geopolitical landscape? What are the likely short-term impacts of the pandemic on international relations, defence and security?
  • If deployment is increasingly ‘local’ (and dealing with, for example, climate change events such as floods, etc.) how might this impact the relationships that CAF has with other ‘security providers’, such as local police, academics, the public, health officials, etc.


  • How does Op Laser impact preparedness and readiness? Do we need to think of an increased role for the reserves as we think of potential future pandemics?
  • How is Op Laser impacting the willingness to deploy of both the reg force and reserves?


  • What are the assumptions for 10% or 20% reductions in the defence budget?  Particularly in terms of the timing and process involved in either set of cuts?
  • Given the extensive regional and sectoral footprint of National Defence, are there investment opportunities that may help affected regions and industrial sectors?

Civ-Mil Relations:

  • How can the CAF work more closely with other government departments and agencies, civil society organizations, and the communities in which they serve to prepare for and prevent the spread of infectious disease? Who are the key stakeholders with whom they should partner? 
  • How can the DND/CAF further leverage social media/digital applications for flat (vs hierarchal) communications?
We will be spending this week sorting the discussions to come up with a short policy brief to share with DND and the public.  As the host, I surfed between the five breakout rooms before moderating a quick discussion of each group's findings.  Here's a quick hit and run of some snippets I picked up, including not just some good ideas for the government but also lessons about how these online things work:
  • DND and the Canadian Armed Forces probably should develop Principles of Involvement to clarify what they are and are not doing and how they are doing it.  
  • DND should get ready to do much messaging to demonstrate the CAF's relevance now as that might matter in the budget battles of the future. 
  • Much of this has gender dynamics, including replacing mostly female staff in long term care facilities with young men.  Some thought about the ramifications of that would be handy.
  • Those places hosting Canadian troops may not want Canadians around during a pandemic...
  • Maybe this event will cause Canada to re-think its priorities and definition of security?  
  • The CAF is not a miracle worker--good at planning, reviewing, wargaming, logistics.  Don't expect it to fill all of the holes like the supply chain or replace industry or doctors.
  • The event itself had a gendered dynamic: that we got a good mix of men and women participating, but of those people who signed up ahead of time, more women dropped out (25% for women, 6% for men).  This, along with the stats of who is submitting articles to journals, is suggesting that women are facing far more stress for dependent care (kids, parents, etc) than men.  
We build this as a two hour event because we did not think people could dedicate more time given all of the other competing demands.  So, we scratched the surface.  The plan now is to come up with a few policy recommendations this week (again, the idea is this is an emergency so we should move quickly), and then hopefully get some resources to direct some graduate students to provide the research for deeper discussions of these issues.

Again, once we get our policy brief assembled, I will be blogging it here as well as discussing it on twitter, the podcast, and wherever else we can.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Coup? No Thanks.

So, folks on twitter last night started asking about a coup as the solution to the Trump Problem.  Civ-mil twitter plus Americanists (those who study American politics) rose up instantly and said: Hell no!  It is rare to see such an idea that combines stupidity, ignorance, and norm-violation ... unless it comes out of the Trump White House.  Because I have a CDSN event this afternoon (see more this evening or tomorrow), I will be relatively brief in my answer.*  To preview: the US military can't, it won't, and if it did, it wouldn't fix things, and it would lead to more coups.

First, can't.
There are not battalions of troops near the White House ready to take over.  The US military is not deployed in the national capital, so who is going to coup?  Who is this military you want to see power?  Folks mentioned the Chairman, which shows how ignorant they are.  The Chairman of the Joint Staff does not have operational control or command over anyone except the Joint Staff, which are desk folks in the Pentagon, not units of armed people capable of seizing the White House, Congress, TV/Radio stations, and the other spots that are targeted in coups (see either Naunihal Singh's book or the game of Junta).  How would the coup work?  Who would command?  Who would be deployed?  The key, as Singh would argue, is to create a sense of inevitability of victory on the part of the coup plotters.  Since this has never been done in the US, how does that happen?

Second, won't.
There is no history of the military doing anything like this.  It runs against all over their training, instincts, doctrine, habits, and identity.  While the US military would prefer to be autonomous, they drink and breathe civilian control of the military.  It is about as thinkable as cannibalism. 
Plus, well, the senior military knows too well that it is divided on the merits of this administration.  So, there would be the risk of elements of the military firing on the other elements, so that is another motivation for not doing it.  The US military loves being the most popular, respected institution in the US.  That would end instantly with it getting seriously involved in who governs.  Remember the election crisis of 2000?  Did anyone ask the military what it thought?  No.  It all went to the courts.

Third, won't fix things.  Pretty much every armed force that takes power will claim that it is fighting corruption and incompetence, but, within a short period of time, everyone learns that militaries are quickly corrupted and lousy at governing.  In short, militaries suck at governing, and governing sucks for the military.  Oh, wait, they promise to turn it over to the politicians ASAP, maybe after an election.  That is what they promise, but they often find that either the process is bad, or the outcome is bad, so they stick around.  (No, I am not subtweeting Egypt.  Ok, just a bit, but Egypt is hardly alone in this).

Finally, coups lead to .... coups.  While there are many factors associated with coups (there is an abundant quantitative literature), one of the most strongest correlates is if one had a coup before.  It might be partly because the same structural conditions that caused a coup at time t also caused a coup at time t+1, but it is also that the first coup changes the norms, making seizing power imaginable and not entirely taboo, it teaches the military how to coup, and so on. 

So, no.  While the US is broken, and its institutions are breaking down, let's hope that the 2020 election solves the Trump Problem.  We can't count on impeachment or the 25th Amendment since the GOP is craven, but we also can't count on the US armed forces to solve our political problems.  It wouldn't work, and it would do irrevocable damage to the military and to the country.

*  I am not citing anything due to the aforementioned CDSN event imposing a time constraint.  But if you have any suggestions for stuff I should cite, let me know.   

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Quarantine, Week 6: End of the Beginning?

Something about it being a month and a half seems striking.  Are we past the beginning?  Sure, a variety of places around the world have started to open up, although the experiences of Singapore and China suggest that second waves are inevitable.  Indeed, a story I saw this morning suggested that the lessons of the Spanish Flu of 1918 are complicated--that places that acted earlier, such as St. Louis, had less of a big spike, than those that acted later, such as Philadelphia, but the early actors got hit harder later.  We see mixed news about immunity--can you get COVID-19 a second time?  We don't really know much.

Well, except this:
Yeah, don't drink bleach or inject lysol.

I found this week striking for how normal some of the abnormalcy has become.  On Friday, my department, the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, had its first meeting (we call them boards for some reason) since the pandemic struck.  So, most of us showed up via zoom (I am sure the Chinese will dissect this meeting to assess Canadian weaknesses--insert your favorite ones here).  And the meeting was fairly normal.  The usual suspects were distracted by their other devices (ok, me).  The conversations were entirely the same about how much flexibility we had to change procedures given the collective agreement (no, I am still not a fan of unionized faculties) and so on.  It was good to see my colleagues and fun to see what their homes looked like.  Or at least the background of their chosen zoom room.  I doubt the outcomes of the meeting would have been any different if we had met in person.  There just would have been more post-meeting kibbitzing about what had happened and what had not happened. 

We also had a couple of job talks given by zoom.  The candidates did great, given the circumstances.  Again, a bit of normalcy.  We are continuing to hire, which is amazing given the likely budget cuts in the near future.  How is Ontario going to pay for all of the spending during the height of the crisis?  I am hoping that the federal government here, like I wish the US government would do, is going to take on all of the debts of the federal units.  But Doug Ford, who has done very well in this crisis, will revert, almost assuredly, to being hostile to higher ed.  I just don't see good times ahead for universities and colleges on either side of the border.  My guess is that it will be worse in the US.  One thing that we are all realizing--getting addicted on international students who pay higher tuition was dangerous, and the pandemic will cause folks to feel the pain of that faster than mere Trumpian xenophobia would have. 

Grading and student meetings continue, although the former is slower and the latter is far less spontaneous.  I should be getting more done--I have no small kids at home--but whatever adult attention deficit disorder I have developed over time (thanks internet!) is amped up.  I try not to make myself feel guilty about not being as productive as I should, and I have smart former students explaining why we shouldn't, but guilt, like rejection, is an inherent part of the academic enterprise.

The CDSN will be having a major event next week so the planning for that has been keeping me and my staff busy.  The basic idea is that we are bringing together the community of defence and security scholars (our network, those in other networks) to brainstorm ideas for how Canada should be responding to the crisis and what the implications of COVID are for Canada's armed forces.  I will be blogging the results next week.  So, more normalcy among the abnormalcy--how do we do network activities when we can't travel? 

I wouldn't actually be traveling that much right now.  Usually, I spend much of April, May, and June traveling to do fieldwork.  But I did all of my research trips for the Steve/Dave/Phil project, although they each had one last trip to make.  The plan always was to spend this spring and summer turning the series of case studies into a coherent manuscript.  Well, after grading season.  We shall see how much progress we make, given that Phil has two small kids at home, and Dave has two caged dancers (college and post-college daughters) at home.  The mere fact that I am thinking a bit about how much progress we will make is a sign of normalcy.  But the reality that none of us can focus is not so normal. 

The American* Saideman scorecard for COVID remains pretty good--two nieces have had it, both had mild cases.  My cousin's kid may have had it, and she's fine.  My second cousin's husband died from it, but that is as close as it has gotten so far.  My mother has not left her condo in about six weeks.  My mother-in-law has been having health issues, but COVID is not one of them.  I hope you and yours have been as lucky as we have been.

*  During this pandemic, we discovered Saidemans in the UK who are probably unrelated thanks to twitter. They seem to have been hit harder. 

As usual, I rely on memes and such to distract, amuse, and annoy:

I forget where I got the one on the right--just a great call back to the last time the US faced such a threat and highlighting who are the folks in harm's way now.  The one on the left is from the Star Wars graphics designers doing a bunch of great posters and pics.

There is no one right way to get through this.  I am treadmilling more while watching Clone Wars, and I am baking more, finally having today the third of the holy trinity of breakfast foods--pancakes after making waffles last week and French toast in the days before I found reservs of flour.  This weekend, I will make chocolate chip cookies because ... why the hell not.  And when I make them, I can eat them hot.  When Mrs. Spew makes them, well, she protects them from me until they get cold.
Anyhow, one day at a time, one week at a time, patience (which is what I usually lack in a big, big way) is what will get us through this.  Have as normal a week as you can in these abnormal times!

Friday, April 24, 2020

What Will the New Normal Be?

A tweet by Chris Albon the other day got me thinking--what will normal look like:

That was a first guess.  I think it is going to take quite a while for things where 50 or more people will be allowed to congregate when it is not needed.  That is, factories/stores will be opened long before conferences, baseball games, and other events which are a bit less necessary for sustaining the economy.

While much will vary, especially between political units that are more or less serious about this stuff, I would expect that the new normal in the short-medium term includes:
  • The streets of the US looking more like those of Japan, South Korea, and other parts of East Asia--masks.  Not worn by everyone but far more than in the past.
  • No major conferences/conventions (kiss the Presidential conventions goodbye until 2024, and, yes, political scientists, no APSA)
  • Elbow/fist bumps eclipse shaking hands for many but not most.  
  • More delivery services
  • Restaurants struggle as they can't have the same occupancy, bars will have similar problems, with dive bars succeeding since, well, the risk acceptant tend to hang out at such places (that's for you, Pat J). 
  • Firms will have learned that many meetings are zoom-able and don't need travel--which means that while there will be fewer restrictions, the travel industry will be in trouble for quite a while. 
  • Speaking of which, when will flying packed planes become normal?   I am guessing the airlines may end up passing out masks to all passengers.  
The new normal will involve, alas, occasional shutdowns as COVID spikes.  Of course, this all will vary depending on leadership at the city, state/province, and federal levels.  But it is not just up to them.  A twitter conversation that happened a day or two after I started drafting this was illuminating.  Just as individuals and groups faced collective action problems about whether to cancel events, they will also face the same when re-opening.  Bar and restaurant owners may not re-open as they anticipate few customers, customers may not go to restaurants because they fear that the restaurants will be breeding grounds for another wave.

There is, of course, a role for governments--we form these things to help solve collective action problems.  One thing they could do to ease the opening is to provide waivers for liability.  I am pretty sure universities will be reluctant to open as they will fear many things, including getting sued if students get sick, that they will get sued if they open and then close, with folks demanding tuition, etc.  Uncertainty in February and March encouraged wishful thinking so folks kept going ahead with their plans (I almost went to Hawaii).  Uncertainty now will encourage skepticism (hopefully about the merits of bleach drinking), deterring people from starting up again.

As the economists always remind us, confidence matters a great deal for investment, for making long-term decisions, and so forth.  How confident do people feel now?  How much confidence will they feel in a month or two or three?  Perhaps those who have had fairly transparent, credible politicians will be more willing to change their behavior when the signal is given.  But more than a few countries are short credible politicians.

Just some random guesses by a non-specialist in this area.  One of the things that is common to the old normal and the new normal is my speculating outside my zone of expertise.  If you have some ideas of what the new normal might be, let me know.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Addressing the Bad Arguments About COVID

This is probably a fruitless exercise since this really addresses the incurably ignorant more than the rest of us, but I thought I would address a few of the arguments aimed at diminishing the seriousness of the pandemic.
  • This is just another flu.  We didn't shut down during seasonal flus so why now?  No, it is not just another flu.  
    • More Americans have been killed the last month by COVID than by any other cause of death.  That ain't the flu, well, not since epidemics in 1918 and 1957 or so.  
    • The whole idea of shutting things down is not just to prevent mass deaths but to save the health care system.  The flattening the curve bit is to keep the number of sick below the threshold at which the hospitals will be maxxed out.  The shortage of personal protective equipment [PPE] and the possibility of not having enough ventilators, ICU spaces, hospital beds raises the risks of a collapse of the system.  This would not only lead to more deaths now but make recovery incredibly hard.
    • Which gets to a fundamental reality in this pandemic--doctors, nurses, other caregivers are dying.  This does not happen in a big way in a regular flu cycle.  
  • Hey, you folks are counting people who died at home--we have no idea if they died from COVID.  There are direct and indirect effects.  People die from the disease itself, people die from how the disease interacts with pre-existing conditions, and people die from other conditions because they can't/won't get treatment in the middle of a pandemic.  These are all deaths that would not have happened otherwise.  So, dead is dead, whether it is direct or indirect.  
  • Hey, I am ok with taking the risks, it is none of your business a.k.a. FREEDOM.  While there is a heap of moral philosophy pondering individual versus collective responsibility, the point here is simply that one's behavior does reverberate.  That if a person takes more risks, one not only risks one's own health but those they interact, those that interact with those people, and so on AND one endangers the doctors/nurses by creating more work for them, filling beds, using ventilators, stressing out everyone.  
  • Update: one more: hey, it is only 45,000 or so... not so bad.  Well, that is essentially one month and it would have been far worst had we not shut things down (even if it was done inconsistently).  What we are seeing now is in some ways the best case scenario given where things were on April 1st.  But this best case scenario sucks.  And if folks had moved faster, far fewer people would be dead.  
Of course, the reality is that much of this "opposition" to stay-at-home stuff is performative--funded by Betty DeVos and others seeking to undermine Democrats, seeking to open markets up even as it risks the lives of others.  Polls show that much more Americans support stay-at-home rules than those who are opposed, despite how much the media is exaggerating the opposition. 

So, why argue against these specious arguments?  Mostly because we have plenty of time to rail against the actors of Bad Faith and the party of Bad Faith.  And I can't help myself.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Quarantine, Week 5: Some Successes, Much Frustration

Time still passes strangely during this quarantine--the weeks feel both long and short.  I am trying to follow the advice of the Monty Python folks:

So, the big victory of the week was finding flour.  Ok, not the biggest victory, but it is strange how that one missing ingredient weighed on me.  So, today, I could make waffles! Woot!  Of course, the bounty of flour made me realize that I am running out of vegetable oil, so that will be a concern for another day.  And, yes, I must keep up my exercise game if I want to bake.

Work-wise, the CDSN faced a personnel crisis--my project coordinator, Jeff Rice, got a tenure track job at Macewan University, so I had to find a replacement.  This week, we had interviews via skype, and I am most happy that we found an excellent person to take the spot.  She officially starts in July, but is already jumping into our deliberations and planning.  And we are planning.  We will be holding an event in about a week--an online brainstorming conference to discuss potential policies for the Canadian defence/security sector as they adapt to the new COVID-19 realities.  There is much enthusiasm for this effort, which might mean it is a good idea.  Or it might mean folks are bored and need a distraction.  Either way, it is the least we can do--to bring whatever insights we can to address this national and international crisis.

There was another bit of work.  I am part of an edited volume project that applies political science to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The plan had been for some of the folks to present at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting that was to take place this week.  I (almost) never go to the Midwest so I was not going to participate.  But a zoom set of panels?  Sure.  So, I spent Thursday and Friday watching others present their stuff, and then I presented Friday morning on applying civil-military concepts to the big question: who guards the super-guardians?  I will post a blog version of the presentation later today.

It was a very zoom-ful week, as the weekly teleconference with my mother and siblings got bigger with the addition of my cousins, the weekly zoom with the next generation included marking my mother's 88th birthday (I chose not to include the video--most Saidemans can't sing), the aforementioned MCU politics panels, and a beer with a few friends last night.

On the downside, we had to go to Canadian Tire to get my winter tires changed and an oil change, and they found a heap of things that needed to be fixed.  We couldn't get through to our regular mechanic (until after my car was repaired) so we had to go with the more expensive, less trusted option.  The good news is that we were able to connect with our usual guy who will take care of Kathy's care next week, saving us a heap of money and anxiety.  On the bright side, Mrs Spew and I had to go out together to pick up the car so we could compare our bankrobber bandanna styles!

Of course, all of this is in a very frustrating context: that there is much pressure to open things up even though the basic requirements are far from being met--testing and heaps of it, that the President of the United States is ramping up his incitement of violence against state governments controlled by Democrats, that the US is cutting funding of the World Health Organization at a time where the WHO needs the money the most, and so on. 

I did get one of my online purchases this week, which presents the basic message for all of us to be patient with the social distancing and all that:

Friday, April 17, 2020

Point of Pride Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of my last McGill PhD student's dissertation defence.  On that day, I blogged about all of my McG PhD students who went on to tenure track positions--all but one.  Nearly all are now tenured.  Because there is so much bad news these days, I thought I would update that post, as they have all gone on to doing quite well for themselves.  I find it strange to be proud of their accomplishments because I know that I had little to do with it--they are a bunch of smart, motivated, creative, diligent, fun people.  I am just glad I have been along for the ride.  To be clear, I am proud of my pre- and post-McG students, so I will include them below as well. 
Yes, one reason I moved to NPSIA was to reduce the number of PhD students I supervised.  Not because I had bad experiences before but because I feared that the academic job market would mean that the run of nearly full employment would end.  This strategy mostly worked as I only had one PhD student at Carleton for a while.  She finished, but now I have four PhD students in different stages of the process on a range of issues:
  • Russian intervention policy
  • Canadian defence decisions
  • understanding the failures of the Afghanistan effort
  • the effects of external election interference.  
What they share in common is again a great imagination and hardly any Saideman disciples among them.  They are more likely to be headed to the policy world because that is the nature of the NPSIA program.

Overall, I have been the primary supervisor of more than three dozen students and have been on the committees of another two dozen or so.  I have learned so much from these folks over the years, including how to whine about literature reviews over and over again.  Because I have students who do stuff that is mostly different from what I do, I learn much more about the world, and I see it from a variety of perspectives.  Given that I got into this business because I am excessively curious, I am most grateful to these folks for opening my eyes to all kinds of stuff. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Everything I Know About Social Science I Learned By Watching Reruns in the 1970s

I basically got challenged and trapped by Seva:

What did these old shows teach me that is relevant for contemporary social science and especially the stuff that I do.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Quarantine, Week 4: A Month of Staying at Home

Tis the week of confusion, I guess.  Time is going by quickly--hey, it has been a month of isolation--and slowly.... it has been a long, long week in some ways. 

We are hearing about penalties  for being in parks while we also hear talk of re-opening.  We haven't even gotten the physical distancing stuff right, yet there is much pressure to undo it.  I get it--that the economy is suffering greatly, but if we don't do the smart stuff now, more people will die.

I am less confused by the folks who argue that this is not that big of a deal--just the flu.  These people are from the Party of Bad Faith.  They don't really believe these arguments or they must be blissfully unaware of the doctors and nurses that are dying, of the ERs and hospitals that are jammed, of the bodies literally piling up all over NYC.  I am not sure these folks are worth engaging since they don't really care about the facts, and they don't seem to care about people needlessly dying.  

Mask?  No Mask?  CDC says yes, WHO says no.  I have taken to wearing bandannas or turtles (circular fleece scarves) when I go out.  Ultimate has me well prepared since I have a pile of 30 or bandannas.  Mrs. Spew and Kid/Teen Spew gave me bandannas rather than ties for Father's Day.  These bandannas were handy to keep the sweat out of my face, and then they developed a second purpose as I got older--sunburn prevention.  Oy.  I tend to take two (since I have so many), and place one on top of the other and then fold into a triangle and wear bank-robber-style.  I tuck the bottom into my shirt and away I go.

Of course, I don't go out often.  I shopped early in the week (trying to keep the larder full and fresh but also trying to space out the trips so we do it less often).  I gave blood on Friday.  They were much better organized, had plastic shields between the person taking my hemog and asking questions and me.  I only realized afterward that they are now skipping the blood pressure step.  I got my usual packets of oreos and box of apple juice on the way out.  They have had a lot more folks not only interested in giving blood but also not no-showing.  A combo of more free time and increased sense of social obligation? 

Of course, the sadness is unavoidable.  A second cousin I barely know lost her husband.  I couldn't attend the virtual shiva as it was the same time as my PhD seminar.  Besides watching the helpers, we can take solace in seeing friends and family recovering.  My niece not only recovered but got un-furloughed.  A good friend demonstrated that she beat COVID by showing a pic on facebook of her favorite cocktail.  Most people do recover from this virus, but it is taking such a toll.

I did manage to have a good (slightly productive) week work-wise. I graded the last of the student presentations.  The last few weeks of the civ-mil class was supposed to have students present their research projects.  Instead of doing it in class, I had them post narrated powerpoint files, and then other students could comment on their presentations via the courseware discussion board.  It worked out quite well, given the circumstances.  In person is still better for both the presentation and the feedback, but all of the students engaged with at least some of the presentations.

The highlight of the week was interviewing three former US military officers about their involvement in the Iraq war.  Ora Szekely, a former student, and I are reviving a paper that seeks to see bureaucratic politics differently, and we are comparing the pre-war planning for the Iraq army and what actually happened--the disbanding of the Iraqi army a.k.a. the dumbest decision in US foreign policy.  We are getting good stuff and good tips of who to interview next.  Not everything we are hearing is useful, but it is all fascinating.  We need to get more on the civilian side, and we should be getting that in the weeks ahead.  The other highlight is that we got one of the grants for the CDSN Summer Institute.  We still have to figure out whether it will happen or not as we don't know what the restrictions will be in August, but this funding agency already is letting folks extend a year.

Mrs. Spew and I have made heaps of progress on Netflix with the latest a short series--The Letter to the King--teen knights amid much magic and fantasy.  Not bad.  I haven't made much progress in any of the video games I got--I tend to be bad at them.  My goal this weekend is to finish my US and Canadian taxes.  I know we know have months and months to do them, but getting them done in mid April is part of my routine.  A  new routine?  Looking for and posting COVID War posters.

Anyhow, I hope you and yours are healthy and finding ways to pass the time.  

Friday, April 10, 2020

An Election Problem: The Collective Action Problem of Patient Media

Listening to the latest Pressbox podcast, Bryan Curtis and David Shoemaker discuss a question from a listener--how will the media react to a slow roll out of results if there is voting by mail?  Their guess and mine: not well.  Bryan and David remind us of GOP criticism when California in 2018 took a week for some of the closer legislative races to announce winners.

Imagine that in a much bigger way in November.  The one thing I would recommend to the media outlets is not to treat GOP accusations of fraud with any seriousness if the only problem is speed.  The GOP is proven to be the Party of Bad Faith especially when it comes to elections.  So, it would be swell if the mainstream media simply covers the counts, maybe does the exit polling thing to guess who is likely to win, but not give much attention to wild accusations about fraud. 

Is that likely?  Hell no.  We see the NYT engaged in the daily dance of false equivalance.  I can see them saying: "Trump says mailed votes are being miscounted; Democrats disagree."  Instead of: "Mailed votes taking longer to count." Of course, Fox will do the best to damage American democracy to keep the GOP in power, but the other outlets should (but will not) learn to speak the truth rather than both-sides-ing the story. 

So, this is just a short depressing post.  If anyone has any recommendations, let me know.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Who Are These Professors?

In our corner of the world, my friends are finding out that not all professors have empathy or even a sense of decency.  Most of the profs I interact with have some kind of clue that our students are going through a very difficult time.
  • They may be sick.
  • They may have family who are sick or have already died from this virus.
  • They may have had to move in order to be safe.
  • They may not have the best technology to do all of this zooming
  • They may be highly stressed out because their senior year is coming to a crash and that the job market anyone can recall.
  • They may be stressed because they have to find food and toilet paper without endangering themselves.
  • They may have children of their own who are now with them 24/7.  
That is just a short list--this is a time of great stress and trauma.  So, the reasonable profs I know are giving extensions the way Oprah gives gifts, are telling students they will do no worse than their pre-COVID grade, or are otherwise cutting students breaks.  Why?  Because it is the right and decent thing to do.

But the profs who do this are being told by their students that other professors are not doing the same.  That other professors are holding their line on "standards" and "rigor."  That some university senates have had long debates about whether to go to pass/fail for all classes or as options while easily agreeing to give junior faculty more time on their tenure clock.  The latter is the right thing to do, but why hold our students to higher standards?

I have heard of profs who are requiring students to mail their papers in and to make sure they arrive before the deadline--which means that the deadline is now several days earlier.  Plus this forms many to go to a post office to mail a package (probably hard to get stamps.com to set someone up in these difficult times).

We always joke that having social skills is not necessary to become a professor, that some of our colleagues have little empathy.  This is not a joke right now.  Most of our students are facing the worst time in their lives--we should not be adding to their stress.

What to do about this?  Well, if you are a prof and you hear that a colleague is being a hardass, talk to that person's chair.  If you are a student, you can tell your campus ombudsman, your dean, or a random prof with a blog.  That last one will name and shame on your behalf.  Because we should be taking care of our students at this time, not insisting that they perform like automatons.  FFS.

And an update from Bill Ayres, my old co-author and super-admin guy:
"tell higher administrators. Email the President and/or the Provost. I can guarantee you that senior administrators everywhere are panicked that their students are all going to abandon their institutions after being treated badly by faculty."

Sunday, April 5, 2020

With Whom Would You Want to Self-Isolate, Fiction Edition?

Thanks to Binge-Mode (a Ringer podcast that has gone through Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter stuff and is now looking for more stuff to do), we have a fun game to play in our time of endless ... time.  Who would you want to hang with if you could choose three fictional characters?  Of course, besides the lovely, wise, and funny Mrs. Spew.

My answers:
  • Hermione from Harry Potter: as Mallory argued, she is smart, has heaps of magical ability that would be most helpful during a quarantine, is a good book club partner, and more. 
  • Spenser from the Robert B. Parker novels: he is an excellent cook, he is a delightful smartass, an excellent detective, chock full of integrity, and if things get physical, he can slug his way out of trouble (well, that he probably helped cause). 
  • Mork from Ork: he has advanced technology and abilities that would be handy in a crisis, he has a big heart, but mostly I am choosing Mork because he would be endlessly entertaining.  After all, he is Robin Williams.  
Rejected choices:
  • Jedi make too many big mistakes to include.  
  • Leia makes a great deal of sense, of course, as a leader.  But I am pretty sure she would get pretty restless being stuck in one spot for too long.  
  • Jack Reacher is too damned big, making the entire house seem small.  
  • The Dread Pirate Roberts (Wesley version) would be super handy as he is a person of many talents, but I am not sure fencing or naval strategy would be of much help.  
  • Marty McFly?  Oh, I could use a Dolorean right about now, but he seems kind of hyper to be stuck with in self-isolation.  
  • Hawkeye Pierce would be a great companion--he made a 11 series/3 year war seem to fly by, but he would want to treat patients, and so he would not be around much and he would drink everything when he was.  He is good at building a still to make more booze, however.
  • Mary Richards would be great--she could take a nothing date and make it seem worthwhile.  But not sure she brings a skill set that would be handy.  
  • Speaking of Mary's, Mary Poppins would be an excellent choice.  She too has magical capabilities, is very entertaining, would keep things tidy, and is, well, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  However, her perfect-ness might get old quickly.  Notice, she never hangs around for very long.  She knows quite well her own abilities, so she leaves before she gets too annoying.  Smart lady.  
  • Indiana Jones?  No way.  He would be crawling out the window at first chance as there would not be sufficient adventure in the quarantined house.  
  • Most of the Avengers would not be terribly useful, and they seem to rub each other the wrong way when they hang out. 
What are the three people from fiction that you would want to spend the quarantine with?

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Quarantine, Week 3: Has It Been Three Weeks?

The themes of week three: confusion, outrage, sadness, and community.

 Has it really been three weeks?  Time is going by so fast and so slowly.  How long ago was the Senate's failure to convict Trump?  Early Feb--not that long ago.  What day is it?  Well, it must be Saturday since I am blogging my take on week three.  Even though I often work at home and will spend summers going into the office just once every other week or so, the lack of ultimate frisbee one or two nights a week, going to the office not at all, and so on has caused my daily rhythms to fade into each other.  I am trying to keep weekends distinct--a different breakfast (French toast or something else requiring slighly more work than the usual toasted bagel*), focus more on the house than on academic work, and so on.  But it is easy to get lost time-wise.

The outrage this week went over the top thanks to Jared Fucking Kushner but has been a constant theme.  Disease happens, epidemics happen, but since we have excellent science and many relevant institutions, global pandemics require something else these days--the leading states to be led by those who fail us.  Xi and Trump have done their part to fan the flames rather than douse the fire.  Story after story, positive and negative, remind us that leadership matters.  The latest stories contrast US military leaders that acted quickly to prevent their troops from getting sick to those firing a Captain who was more concerned about the lives of his crew than his career.
What makes this so outrageous--that makes us so outraged--is that this was largely although not entirely avoidable.  It could have been mitigated, it could have been largely if not entirely contained.  There is so much that can be done.  As we see the graphs of different countries and of different states and provinces, we see that governance matters.  Most of Canada's premiers (governors) are doing the right thing, including the bombastic Trump-esque Doug Ford, who I voted against.  Florida and Georgia contrast sharply with Washington and California as, damn it, leadership matters so very much.  As I have been saying, federalism is both boon and bane here.  It is bad in that it makes it hard to coordinate, but it is good when the federal government fails to lead, states have some freedom to do the right stuff.

The American toll is starting to climb and will surpass most other countries (I don't believe the Chinese or Iranian numbers).  I have not lost any relatives or friends, although I just learned one of my friends has had a so-called mild (doesn't sound mild to me) case.  My niece recovered from a relatively mild case. Update: I just learned a second cousin's spouse has died.  Not someone I knew well, but someone members of my immediate family knew.  So, it is getting closer to me and mine. 

In popular culture, the deaths are accumulating.  We lost Adam Schlesinger, who wrote some of most enjoyable music of the past twenty years--for his band, Fountain of Wayne, for the movie Music and Lyrics which my daughter and I enjoyed greatly, for The Thing That You Do, for Josey and the Pussycats, and, especially for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Likewise, I didn't know who Bill Withers was, but I knew his songs.  Damn, what a loss.  It is going to get much worse before it gets better.  April will be the cruelest month this year although May will give it a run. 

How do we get through this?  Well, outrage at the assholes is perfectly fine... but focusing on the helpers as Mr. Rogers advocated is probably the way to go.  That and focusing on the fun and sweet stuff that we can find online.  I keep posting on facebook and twitter the short videos of people doing fun things, like the impressionist who made an Avengers in Quarantine video.  Or the one where a guy sings Corona-themed songs adapted from Disney moviesVulture asked tv screenwriters to write about how their characters would be behaving in the Time of Corona, and it was delightful.  These people are also helpers, perhaps not exactly what Mr. Rogers was referring to, but helping nonetheless.

This is an excellent summary/combo thanks to that wacky Canadian and superhero--Deadpool.
These folks online help to create and foster some community that is desperately needed.  We cannot gather in person, but we can gather online in slacks, on twitter, on whatever social media, via zoom or whatever.  One thing that is helping me get through this is the setting up of teleconferencing with old friends whom I haven't seen in quite a while.  This week, my winter league frisbee captain organized a gathering online to play silly games--trivia, pictionary-esque, etc.  Not as good as ultimate, but any port in a storm.  So, reach out to friends and family, stay connected, build new connections.

Be well, stay away from each other physically but not socially, and wash your hands.

*I have a month's supply of frozen bagels thanks to a visit to Costco that was the "hey, what else do we need for awhile" trip after they were out of toilet paper.  I should have grabbed flour.  Alas.