Sunday, May 31, 2020

Who Is Doing the Rioting?

Santa Cruz (I think) police chief leading
I am no expert in riots nor policing, but my training and my experience tells me to look for the patterns, to look for the variation.  Not every city seems to be waging war on its citizens this weekend.  This video does show that there is a widespread pattern of abusive conduct.  But we also have seen video of cities where the mayors and police chiefs try to and successfully de-escalate.  Camden is a striking example because it is a city with much problematic history, with much inequality.

When I studied ethnic conflict more than a decade ago, I was struck by works (if I remember correctly, Steven Wilkinson and, of course, Donald Horowitz) that emphasized the agency of the state.  That riots tend to happen where the local/regional governments either permit riots or encourage them.  This weekend we saw so many police officers in so many cities over-reacting, engaging in behavior that was far too aggressive.  In NY, we see cops driving through protestors.  In other cities, we see cops destroying the milk reserves of the citizens (milk is good for treating tear gas victims) and stealing their water.  We see cops shooting at people who are clearly the media. 

The question is not whether the protestors are out of control but whether the cops are doing this because they are out of control or because they are actually being controlled.  Note the statement today by the NYPD commissioner:
Even if many cops had performed well (not so sure that is true), how can a leader say that after the video of cops driving through protestors hits the airwaves?  What signal are you sending?  Mayor de Blasio did similarly.  No wonder things in NYC are so messed up--with leadership like this, the cops have impunity to act out, and, as the Trump Administration has taught us, if one has impunity, the worst, not the best, behaviors ensue.

Of course, there is another set of actors out there that are encouraging this behavior: police unions.  Unions serve their members, but they dis-serve their members when they protect the abusers causing the entire membership to be stained and to encourage bad behavior. 

One could blame the random white supremacists and anarchists who show up at these things, and we should. But they are not the systematic dynamic that is driving so much of the awful stuff we have seen across the United States.  What explains the variation is the quality of leadership in and above the police forces, the training they have done, and the doctrine they have established.  Is the priority protecting the cops or the citizens?  Is the focus on property or on people? Is the effort aimed at de-escalating or escalating?  Because there is variation among American cities, the focus should be on the factors that exist in those cities that remained peaceful versus those that are present where the police saw the public as their enemy.

The various National Guard units may help or hurt depending on their training and their leadership.  I worry a great deal about the 82nd Airborne or some other regular army force showing up mostly because I don't they have been doing much crowd control training lately.  So, they will be poorly prepared.  Oh, and their leadership--the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense--are not up to the task.  I could and probably will blog at length at the civ-mil problems of calling out the military in a time like this, but suffice to say that a President who has encouraged the police to be more violent is not the guy who should be commanding troops while cities are burning.

Times like these show us that leadership matters.  And, alas, from Minneapolis to NYC to the White House, good leadership is in short supply. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Quarantine, Week 11: The Worst Week

Sure, there were worse weeks in China, in Italy, in Spain, and elsewhere, but, for me, for Canada, and for the United States, this was probably the worst week.  I found out that a friend from grad school died.  The Canadian Armed Forces troops sent to elder care facilities in Ontario and Quebec paid a significant price--the number of them testing positive for COVID jumped, and we learned that the witnessed such abuse and neglect that PTSD is going to be a significant problem.  The US started the week by going over 100,000 deaths (most assuredly an undercount) and ended with week by giving yet more of its global leadership to China by pulling out of the WHO, which may be quickly forgotten since so many cities burned last night. 

The murder of Black Americans by the state is nothing new, of course.  The 1619 project made abundantly clear that arbitrary killing of African-Americans in the United States is older than the country.  I don't remember 1968 nor any of the civil rights movement as I war a toddler, but I do remember the Philadelphia police dropping a bomb on the city, burning an entire Black neighborhood.  The LA riots happened when I was in Southern California and was thinking a lot about ethnic politics--I was working on my dissertation. 

At that time, I thought about how a concept from international relations helped to explain what I was seeing--the Security Dilemma.  In International Relations, there is no government, so every actor has to be alert to the actions of the others, for any advantage they get can be used against that actor.  In domestic society, it is supposed to be different--that government protects people so they do not have to be constantly alert.  When that breaks down, well, things look like international relations--arms races, strange alliances, self-destructive violence. 

I thought about it in this way because the riots in LA broke out not after Rodney King was beaten by the LA cops but after the trial where the jury found the cops not guilty.  That is when it was clear the police were combatants and not impartial enforcers of the law.

Looking back, I realize that I was quite blind.  Because the cops have always been combatants.  The variation over time between peace and riots has not been due to when the cops and the prosecutors and the judges were seen as impartial or not, but rather how much anger, fear, and resentment had been built up and whether there was progress or regression going on.  1992 LA had a broader context that became clearer later--that corruption and abuse--the Rampart Division in particular--was rampant.  That the African-American community had felt under siege in large part because it was.

Over the past several years (decade?), we have had story after story of cops killing Black americans, that the cops are quick to fire on Black men they think are suspicious while treating White men differently.  So many spree killers, who are almost always white, seem to get captured alive, while some kid with a toy gun or a man with a cell phone get shot while surrounded by four or fourteen cops.  In the past few weeks, we have seen several examples with George Floyd's murder lighting the latest fuse. 

Trump, of course, pours gasoline on the fire, invoking segregationist rhetoric.  I guess the surprise is that the protests and riots are happening now, amid a pandemic, rather than a few years ago with the election of a nakedly white supremacist administration.  Remember that one of its first acts was to appoint as Attorney General a man who was seen in the mid-1980s to be too racist to be a federal judge by the Senate. 

Maybe the old ethnic security dilemma still applies, but just as war is not a constant in International Relations but its potential is always looming, in the United States (and in Canada and elsewhere), the state is always a threat, but whether it produces violence and whether it produces reactions by those that are threatened varies over time.  These dynamics can be more or less acute.  The very visibly and unambiguously egregious actions by the Minneapolis cop and the failure of the city to respond quickly set things off this time.  The structures of racism, of oppression, and fear were always there, with the death toll of African-Americans climbing both due to police misconduct and the very unevenly felt pandemic. But, yes, it took an event to spark the outrage. 

UPDATE: As I see more and more evidence that much of the looting and burning has been done by white people, who may be a mix of provocateurs and crappy allies, it reminds me that the ethnic security dilemmas of Yugoslavia were largely lit by criminals mobilized for the task by Serb nationalists.

None of this should be surprising because none of this is new.  I used to argue with my daughter about the state of progress--that it was happening but not fast enough for her taste.  And her arguments were more convincing than mine.  Really hard to be patient and work for change when people are dying every week.  Well, we no longer have those arguments for three reasons: a) she went to college and then to the other side of the continent; b) she won those arguments; and c) the election of Trump was pure regression, driven in large part by the resentment of whites who feared losing their position of supremacy. 

To be clear, there is still hope.  Things can improve, but it takes more than just the election of Democrats as Minneapolis is a Democratic city in a Democratic state.  It requires mayors and prosecutors and governors and attorney generals and, of course, publics to hold police accountable when they do wrong, to focus effort on kicking white supremacists out of police forces and the armed forces, and to do much more.  Being Democrat is not sufficient, they have to actually do their damned jobs for their constituents--that the job of the police is to protect and serve the public--all of the public--and not just to protect and serve themselves.  The training should not focus on having a hair trigger when faced with a threat, but to develop "courageous restraint" and be willing to fire second, not first.  The onus of risk in any encounter between citizen and cop should be on the cops--that their lives should be at risk, not the citizens.  The focus should be on bringing back alive the alleged perpetrators.  If the cops can bring in many spree killers alive, why can't they bring in alive Black men who "fit the description?"

And, yes, defeating Trump is a necessary but insufficient step for making progress.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mourning Neil Englehart

From his obituary, Eagle News
Yesterday, I was surprised to learn that Neil Englehart had died weeks earlier.  Neil and I were in the same cohort at UCSD although I might have bumped into him at Oberlin--my memory is bad.  What I do remember is that he was not only brilliant but kind.  He was quieter than most of us, but when he had something to say, it was either insightful or funny or both.

It was utterly perfect that Neil, who was so humane, spent his career studying human rights.  I love the title to his most recent book: Sovereignty, State Failure and Human Rights: Petty Despots and Exemplary Villains.  I didn't read enough of his work, an error that I will spend part of this summer correcting.

Of those of my cohort who remained in the profession, I saw him perhaps the least.  And that was my loss, as I always enjoyed my time with him.  I met his wife and family at the International Studies Association meeting in Hawaii 15 years ago, and he was so happy.  His obituary does a very good job of reflecting the guy I knew way back when and who I would see from time to time at various conferences over the years.  He clearly lived life well, but it was too damned short. 

Of course, I regret not seeking Neil out more often, and I regret not telling him what a difference he made when I was starting out. Whether he ever realized it or not, Neil played a crucial role in my graduate career.  He helped me navigate the political theory class that had little to do with politics and the comparative politics class that boggled my mind every week.

In this time where death is all around us, Neil's life and his focus on humanity reminds us of the important stuff that we ought not take for granted.

My condolences to his family, to his students and colleagues at Bowling Green State, and to all of the people he touched.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

CDSN, Year 1! Woot!

Exactly a year ago, we had our launch party for the Canadian Defence and Security Network [CDSN].  We had a good time after having a very productive meeting.  We have done much since then even as the pandemic has shifted some of our activities, postponed others, and set us in new directions. 

What have been the highlights of the past year?
    Melissa and Jeff after
    very busy first month
  • Building a team.  Melissa Jennings, our Director of Communications, not only built a pretty cool looking and functional webpage almost overnight, but also developed the skills to be our podcast producer.  Plus she brings excellent ideas and energy to everything we do.  Some of our latest COVID initiatives are largely her idea.  Jeffrey Rice, our Project Coordinator, not only organizes our events but manages our reimbursements.  He has used his connections in Canada and what he learned along the way to getting his PhD to take the Year Ahead and make it a signature CDSN event.  Alas, he is being hired away from us to be an Assistant Professor at Macewan University. 
    Pre-launch dinner with Erin and Stéphane on either side
    of me, Irina, Jeff, JC, Stef, Anessa, and Alvine across
    from me from back to front.
    Stéphane Plante will be joining us officially in July to take over from Jeffrey, but she has already become engaged in our meetings and our efforts.  Alvine Nintai, our PhD student/research assistant, helped us get the grant in the first place with her mastery of SSHRC processes and of excel spreadsheet checklists.  Since then, she has been both a vital voice for doing things for graduate students and a very helpful researcher for the podcast and for our other efforts.  We have also gotten much help at Carleton from Kevin Nzomo and Nora Kearns as well as NPSIA's staff, especially Coleen Kornelson. 
  • The podcast: Battle Rhythm It was one of the first and one of the hardest things we started.  Because Stéfanie and I were both on the road so much in June and July, it was more challenging.  But we got a cool logo, we figured out how to do it, Melissa has given us great ideas, and we have been able to interview many interesting people along the way.  CGAI has been most helpful in getting us launched, so that our joke about having only seven listeners is far, far off.  My sister regularly chats with me about the podcast, and she would have been voted Saideman Least Interested in Political Stuff. So, woot for us on that.  And the best part is I get to chat with Stef every other week.  
  • Anessa Kimball leading
    Security Theme workshop
  • Four workshops.  We were supposed to have five, but the last one, dedicated to personnel issues, got postponed due to COVID.  We have five theme teams working on specific research agendas, and we made much progress before the pandemic hit.  I attended the Security, Civ-Mil, and Procurement workshops (missed the Operations one).  I learned much at these events and was glad to see the seeds we had planted via the years of grant applications starting to grow.  I have no doubt that these teams will produce important and interesting research.
Susan Woodward
  • We had the first Paterson Chair talk with Susan Woodward presenting.  I have been a fan of her stuff since I studied the demise of Yugoslavia as it was happening nearly thirty years ago.  The talk was fascinating, and the boat of sushi we had afterwards was awesome.

    Katherine McInnis was a kickass keynote
  • We had our best Year Ahead conference.  Originally, a NPSIA research centre (CSIDS) event, it is now a CDSN event.  We had a great crowd this year, several really interesting panels, and a very informative and often moving fireside chat on diversity and inclusion in defence and security.

The Year Ahead's Fireside Chat on Diversity and Inclusion with
Kristine St. Pierre, Leila Adler, Bonnie Jenkins and Shawn Skelly

  • We held our Capstone event just as the pandemic was about to close everything down.  We brought the best of 2019's defence and security presentations from across Canada to the Canadian Forces College for a series of presentations.  It was great to see these mostly emerging scholars present their stuff.  CFC was a great host, and we hope to do this again.  However, we probably will not do so in 2021 for the simple reason that we will not have many 2020 conferences from which to get Capstone nominees.  Alas. 
  • We were asked by Canadian Special Forces Command to hold a roundtable to help them get alternative perspectives about the threats down the road.
  • We brought on three new partners: the US Air Force College, the Daillaire Centre of Excellence for Peace and Security, and the European Research Group on Military and Society [ERGOMAS].  Not only do they bring much energy and new ideas to our network, but it gives us some new focal points for future efforts.  And, yes, I had to go to Lisbon last summer to help solidify ERGOMAS as a partner and then to Paris to recruit another potential partner.  And,
    well, yes, Barcelona happens to be between the two.  It was a great summer of travel, sigh.  
  • We had a COVID Response Conference online last month that produced a briefing note and helped us figure out what we can and cannot do online.  We hope that our findings will help the government, and they certainly will drive our research agenda.
  • We have involved graduate students in our activities at HQ, and I know our theme teams have involved students in efforts around the country.  A key CDSN objective is to foster a new generation, a more diverse and inclusive group, for the future of the Canadian defence and security community, and I feel we are making good progress.  As part of that effort, we are launching a Summer Seminar for Phd students who may be lacking in opportunities to present and network with the pandemic cancelling many conferences and workshops.

What have been the lowlights?  Yes, there have been lowlights.
  • The pandemic has caused postponements of our Personnel workshop and our Summer Institute.  We will not have a Capstone event in early 2020 either.  We are figuring out now how to use the resources we have not spent this year down the road.
  • Opencanada, one of the original CDSN partners, has been sent into a coma thanks to budget cuts.  We will find other outlets for our research, but we regret losing this vital outlet.
  • The pandemic also got in the way of some networking.  I was planning to go to South Africa this summer to connect with the International Sociology Association's Research Committee on Armed Forces and Conflict Resolution.  While they are already a partner, I wanted to meet with their members as improving our inter-disciplinarity is one of our goals.
I am probably forgetting some highlights and lowlights, as it has been a very busy year.  While the pandemic has hampered some of our efforts, I think the adaptations we have made prove that the CDSN has not just met but exceeded our expectations for what we can be doing. 

I have been so lucky to have such a great team--the co-Directors and the HQ staff--that have done all of the heavy lifting.  I am so very grateful for their support and the enthusiasm we have received from the various actors in the Defence and Security community.  It has been a hard few months for Canada and especially a hard few weeks for the Canadian Armed Forces with losses off of Greece and in the skies out west.  I hope that we can provide some solace to those in and around the defence and security sector via a more connected community. 

COVID: What We Think We Know, What It Means For What We Can/Should Do

Watching the mass of people cram into bars, onto beaches, and into parks sans masks is driving me crazy.  Watching North American governments fail to make use of the ten or so weeks semi-quarantine is agonizing.  Seems like so much wasted effort and sacrifice.  The New York Times has little obituaries to some of the nearly 100,000 Americans who have died due to COVID.  So, maybe it makes sense to take a step back and figure out what we know and what that knowledge implies.*  Oh, and I lay some blame at the end.

What We Mostly Know:
  • The virus is more dangerous than the flu, and that is not even accounting for how badly it can hurt people who survive.  The death rates may not appear to be that much, but we are learning more and more about effects.  This thing is nasty as it is not just an upper respitory disease.  It causes blood clots and more.  When this thing started, I thought: I am in my mid-50s, I am reasonably healthy, I never smoked, I could get through this ok.  But as a nurse/neighbor reminded me, this thing has a way of revealing conditions one does not know about.  So, the idea of getting it is scarier now.
  • Crucially, COVID-19 can be transmitted asymptomatically.  So, I have no idea why folks are using temperature testing as if it means anything. 
  • It is mostly spread by inhaling aerosol droplets.  While we worry about touching something that someone else has touched, it is largely spread by people breathing out the disease and others breathing it in.  This is far more likely to happen in enclosed spaces and over time.  So, we can worry less about a grocery store visit and far more about classes, concerts, churches, and planes.  
What We Should Be Doing:
  • The obvious stuff: social distancing and masks.  The best ways to stop the spread is to not gather in large groups indoors and to limit how much we breathe on each other.  Being outdoors is fine, as long as one is not on top of each other.  This weekend's pictures are so disturbing because people seem to think it is ok to be crowded again.  Yes, it is ok to be outdoors, but not when it is crowded.  This should not be that hard to figure out and respect.
  • We should be willing to allow ourselves to be traced in the short to medium term.  That is, yes, government will need to know where we are.  It seems un-American and un-Canadian, and the polls certainly show lots of hostility.  But if we want to move forward, we have to be able to squash outbreaks, and we can't do that if the disease is passed asymptomatically unless we trace.  We have the tools.  Other countries have managed to do this.  Perhaps folks can't trust the Trump Administration do get this kind of info, but, damn it, Canada, we should be able to do this.  Part if this here is caught up in the tangles of federalism, but the feds should provide a single, useable app that provides info to a non-security organization/non-corporate entity.  
  • Testing should be widely available so that we can do things like:
    • Send kids to overnight summer camp--test the kids and the counselors, enforce mask wearing the first two weeks of the session and then after the results are clear and the infected are removed, have at it for the rest of the summer.  It means that the counselors can't spend their time off away from camp.  This would be a younger version of the bubbles the NBA is thinking of developing.  The camps are already away from people--with testing and tracing, this could work and give parents and kids both some relief.
    • Start opening up smaller offices/factories/stores where you don't have large numbers gather. 
Which Brings Me to Who to Blame:
  • Our governments have varied in their reactions, but the failure to get testing to be widely available is a huge failure.  Not just in the US but in Canada as well.  This stuff may be quite hard, but it is really difficult to see how much progress has been made in testing.  Some places have testing on demand, such as Los Angeles.  But this should be more widespread.  Mask wearing should be mandatory in public. 
  • Some leaders.  Those that don't model good behavior--mask wearing--are setting lousy examples.  We are starting to see governors in the US push more on this.  But it is so little, so late.
  • Our community leaders.  Well, some of them. Those that insist that large indoor services go on share much responsibility.  They have to work harder to find ways to share community and do their functions without meeting indoors in large groups.  Churches have been major vectors in the spread of the disease.
  • China.  The early denial and the later conspiracy theorizing have made this thing worse than it could have been.
  • The US.  Its failure to lead shows how essential American leadership has been over the past few decades.  I could go on and on about Trump, but suffice to say that the US under Trump has done incredible damage to international cooperation in many fields, and this pandemic is making that felt so much.  
  • Russia.  We don't need the disinformation, Vlad.  Fuck off.
  • Ourselves.  While the protesters against the shutdowns are minorities in every state/province, those large numbers of people gathering in parks and not wearing masks are not small.  These folks need to take more care, and I have no idea how to persuade these folks when the pictures out of Italy and out of NYC failed to do.  
There are ways out of this--we can learn from the past (the Spanish Flu really is quite useful here), we can learn from other countries both what to do and what not to do (don't be Sweden).  So many people have been so patient and diligent for two or three months.  If we can just develop some new habits--not just hand-washing but mask-wearing--we can limit the spread.  Otherwise, the hospitals will be driven to the point of collapse, the rate of deaths will not fall, and the economy will not rebound.  Even if governments allow stores to open up, most will have a hard time staying open since most people will be sensible and stay home if their neighbors aren't distancing and aren't wearing masks.

Right now, we have a very reasonable fear that the others out there are endangering us.  To get to the time where there are vaccines and reliable treatments, we must do better.  This weekend suggests we will not.  Damn it.

*  No, I am not an expert, and, yes, there is some uncertainty.  New science will beat old science. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Quarantine, Week 10: Summer Social Distancing

It was a pretty full week, all things considered.  It included working meetings, online poker fun with friends, a milestone (not a benchmark), and more networking.

The highlight was at the start--I got to zoom with friends from more than 30 years ago.  Folks on facebook organized a reunion of sorts for those who went to Camp Airy in the early to mid 1980s. I didn't know all of those present but I knew most of them, and it was a blast.  It went on for about two and a half hours.  I learned about some stuff that happened near me but not in my presence (a combination of FOMO and phew for some of those), and I, of course, learned what folks have been up to.  The men had more hair than I was expecting.  I laughed so hard over the course of the zoom.  It was a hell of a tonic to start the week.

The business of universities continued.  I met with a graduate student working on his Master's Research Project (one way to get through our program is to write an article length paper), and I attended a dissertation proposal defense (she was successful, so one less student for my proposal workshop class next fall).  NPSIA had a meeting with the teaching and learning folks that impressed me--that folks on both sides are ready, willing, and engaged to teach online as best as we can in the fall.

The CDSN marked its first year by, well, yes, networking some more.  My staff and I met with Justin Massie and Stéfanie von Hlatky, who just received a MINDS Network Grant to fund a Francophone network aimed at improving the bilingualism of Canadian defence conversations:

Réseau d’Analyse Stratégique--Network of Strategic Analysis.  Very thrilled that they were successful and looking forward to helping each other!  

Wore Hawaiian shirt for the
not-in Hawaii ISA poker game

The best distraction, other than zooming with friends from long ago, has been online poker with friends zooming in to give each other crap about their poker play.  I brought together the folks who would have played at the ISA in Hawaii in March, and we had a good time.  Much discussion of what their universities were doing and the difficult challenges and tradeoffs facing everyone everywhere.  It was great to see them.  I am now the big winner in the two zoomed pokergames I have played the past two weeks.  I better lose soon or some people might get suspicious.  

The onset of summer is making a big difference, as it is raising our spirits.  My wife is now covered in dirt, as she can start gardening with frost advisories no longer a thing (as of a week ago).  My bike riding has gotten more frequently, and it is more fun to see folks boating as I ride.  Today, I am going to toss a frisbee with one of my teammates.  Social distancing and hand-washing will take place, as will beer-swilling.

Alas, the news beyond is mostly awful.  Canada's numbers are not going down with some blaming mother's day.  Observance of mask-wearing is more spotty than one would expect up here.  In the US, well, Trump is thinking about testing nuclear weapons because he needs to find more agreements to trash.  Biden, well, oy.  I am more confident that Biden will win--the polls are headed that way--and the Trump Administration seems determined to antagonize those who have been hit hard by this--trying to kill ACA and stop the extra unemployment cash.  The good news is that most Americans are trying to do what is right, and those protesting the mask wearing are few and are being shamed.  

Because it was a busy week, it passed quickly.  Usually, I want summer to pass by slowly so that the ultimate lasts longer, the travel and research lasts longer, and the grading is further away.  With this pandemic and the looming election, I am seeking to have time pass by faster so that we can get past this phase.  I hope you and yours are managing to fill the days and nights with a variety of activities and streaming shows.

As always, the only way out is through.  Be well. 

Teaching in the Age of Corona, the Continuing Saga

The semester is over for most academics, summer teaching has started for some (sorry, Phil), and now the focus is on what is next.  I have posted before about teaching during the pandemic and ruling out a variety of options.  Shortly after that second post, Carleton put out a report that, well, largely coinciding with my post.  The focus was on uncertainty and concern for the health of students/staff/faculty with the conclusion that almost the entire campus should be online. 

Other universities disagree and have put out a variety of plans.  One of my sister's is on a private college's governing board, so she has been sending a variety of plans from a number of places to me. Many of these are ones considered by Carleton's team.  I guess the one that might have been omitted (because US Thanksgiving is later) is starting early and ending in-person early--around Thanksgiving (US).  The idea, I guess is that the travel back from Thanksgiving might expose the campuses to what had been kept off?  The problems with that are, of course, that the students might be the vectors taking the disease from being on campus to being all over the place; and the second wave may hit universities before Thanksgiving, and then what? 

My criticisms and concerns has not been focused on getting the classroom stuff but the dorms/dining halls/fraternities/etc.  That is, even if we do everything we can to keep students from transmitting the disease to each other and to profs and staff in the classroom, it will still spread because 18-22 year olds are not going to socially distance rigorously and wear masks all of the time.

I get it that universities and colleges are facing tremendous budgetary challenges, so I am guessing that those most eager to treat things as normal are those that are most exposed.  I think the combo of depending more on provinces and a greater likelihood of the federal government bailing out the provinces makes things a smidge less problematic in Canada than the US.  In the US, tuition is a better component, as far as I can recall, of revenues even at state universities.  States are far more willing to cut and gut universities although a closer look shows that Colorado is not as screwed as I thought

There is also the question of students getting their money's worth if things go online.  There are lots of ways to look at that.  It depends on how one looks at tuition.  As payment for this semester's courses and nothing else?  As part of one's payment for the four (or more) year experience, which includes courses but not exclusively so?  As an investment in all of that plus the value of the degree, which can rise or fall depending on the long-term situation for the university?  I am motivated, of course, by my own self-interest, but I have thought (such as when McGill was raising tuition just a little bit) that folks should be thinking not just about the price tag today but the value of the degree to them in the long term.  So, a semester or two online may not be quite as good as normal, but, if they are part of the larger process of getting the degree and what comes with it, then one is still investing. 

Of course, that probably will not play well to those spending tens of thousands of dollars (another difference between Canada and the US).  So, the priority, I think, must be getting the online experience to be as good as possible, as close to the quality of in-class as possible.

On that, I have good local news.  That Carleton is working really hard to make this work.  By recognizing the reality and shifting resources and driving expectations, Carleton will have a better online experience in the fall than they did this past winter.  The waves of announcements about tools, training, resources, help have been one thing.  This week, NPSIA, my program, had a meeting, online of course, with some of the teaching and learning staff.  I hate meetings, but this one was most productive.  They presented the basic realities of the situation, what tends to work, what tends not to work relative to various class sizes, and they answered questions.  They discussed what help there will be for us.  And, yes, starting to prep early makes a great deal of sense. 

What was also very encouraging was not only the turnout among my colleagues, but their deep interest, concern, and curiosity.  Folks were most engaged, asked good questions (well, mostly), and showed a deep interest in getting this right.  The focus was not on fighting the changes, but making the best of it.  I was not only very proud of the university for trying to get this right but also of my colleagues for their dedication and flexibility.

I am lucky in that one of my classes next fall is a PhD seminar that will no more than five students in it and probably less (students can stop taking it if they successfully defend their dissertation proposal).  My other class is a third year undergraduate class of about 90.  That will be quite a challenge, but I happen to be co-teaching it with David Hornsby, who is not only much sharper on flipping classrooms and doing innovative stuff, but he happens to be the Associate Vice President of Teaching at Carleton.  So, he is very much on top of what the various systems can do, has great ideas for how to do stuff well online, and is pretty passionate about this.  So, will I be free-riding on David's efforts?  Well, if I want to teach the students how international relations works, um, sure.  But I have been thinking since this thing hit of strategies and tactics to make teaching work better and hopefully make learning work better.

This spring and summer of zooming with friends, relatives, colleagues, and more is providing some good experience for the fall.  However, since much of what we will do will be asynchronous (recorded, not live), that experience may only go so far. 

The key is to have the right attitude, which is:

We live in a world of lousy choices, more so than ever.  I am sad about what is likely to happen to a large number of colleges and universities.  The situation for institutions of higher education is dire.  But we can try to make the next semester or two or three (how long? who knows?) as productive and as safe as possible for our students. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Quarantine, Week 9: Running Out of Subtitles

So much and so little has happened since my previous Saturday morning post.  I watched my cousin's daughter be Bat Mitzvahed via teleconferencing, and the takeaway was that the synagogue's video director either has or should work for the NFL or the Oscars.  I won money playing poker with some of my Ottawa friends later that evening.  Plus assorted zooms with family and friends along the way.  I am not zoomed out as I have greatly enjoyed seeing friends, old and new, via this technology.

The CDSN launched a new initiative to connect PhD students and offer an opportunity to get feedback on their work. Stef vH and I taped our 24th! podcast of BattleRhythm, and I find it strange that my sister who cares least about politics is one of our biggest fans.  Fun to see what Stitcher thinks of as related shows-->

The big new thing of the week is that I gave two talks--one in Mexico City on security and governance in Canada and one in Ottawa on the intersection of civil-military relations and COVID-19.  It had been quite a while since I had given any kind of presentation--about two months.  The tricky thing thus far for me is to remind myself to stare into the webcam and not the people on the zoom screen.

I did have to drive to the other side of town for the first time since ... the last time I played ultimate.  This time was not to lay out for a disk but to retrieve a mis-mailed package of masks.  Mrs. Spew and I now each have three gray washable masks.  Now we are in the market for more interesting ones, but at least we are set for the occasional excursion.

It felt like a long week since it had more packed into it than the average week in quarantine.  But as I like to say, that is like saying Ivanka is the smartest Trump.  With such a low basis of comparison, it is easy to exceed.  

The primary feeling this week was frustration.  Well, that probably has been true for most of the last nine weeks, but especially this week.  Opening things up while we don't have adequate testing, people jamming the suddenly open bar, the likelihood that this is going to go on and on--it is all very frustrating.  So many dumb decisions, so much unnecessary suffering.  I have not yet screamed, but I have found myself crying more easily and more often in the past few weeks than since ... when I was a teenager and based on my entire self-esteem on my desperate search for romance.

What got me this week?  A video of Jimmy Fallon and Panic at the Disco and the Roots playing Under Pressure.

Perhaps because Freddie Mercury and David Bowie died too soon.  Perhaps because the song is so perfect for our time (and, yes, I am very aware that my friend with kids at home are facing far more pressure than I am).  I don't know why.  I did feel better once I got inspired by Chuck Wendig to figure out which songs make me happy to the point of jumping out of my chair to scream-sing and to dance.

So, that's my recommendation for the week--find the song or songs that get you energized, smiling, and even dancing.  The key, of course, is blast any song that works for you, any way you want it.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Ten Pick Me Up Songs

Chuck Wendig asked tonight:

And we need so many pick me up's that I can't stop at just one.  How about a listicle of ten, as required by blogging norms?
  1. Don't Stop Me Now by Queen gets me going as much or more than any other song.  It is hard to sit still when this comes on.  And the message is very much needed in normal times, but now?  Oh my.  Thank you, Mr. Farenheit!
  2. Anyway You Want It by Journey works for me more than other Journey songs that I like more.  This one just hits the energy button.
  3. One Way or Another by Blondie.  The combo of guitar and Debbie Harry's growling version of this song.
  4. Twist and Shout by the Beatles.  The song is good on its own, the imperative to get up and twist, and, then, yes, how it invokes the best parade scene in all of the movies (even better than the one in Animal House).  Ferris, thanks for bringing this song back.
  5. 1985 by Bowling for Soup.  Because, well, 1985.  And the video is delightful.  To be fair, many Bowling for Soup songs make me smile.  They have some of the most fun songs/lyrics.
  6. Stacy's Mom by Fountains of Wayne.  Because it is funny and snappy (the recently departed Adam Schlesinger knew how to make delightful earworms. And Rachel Hunter.  
  7. I Wanna Marry My Stalker by Goldfinger.  Because it is funny song.  
  8. Eight Days a Week by the Beatles, of course.  Lots of Beatles songs can go here, but this one has the right amount of pep to always bring a smile.  Plus it was one of the first songs I fell in love with when I was 12.
  9. Paradise By the Dashboard Light by Meatloaf.  Teen lust, a combative duet, Meatloaf meatloafing, changes in tone/speed/etc.  
  10. Take It Easy by the Eagles.  It has special meaning because my daughter and I passed through Winslow, Arizona on the way to her starting her adult life in Los Angeles.  That song will always make me smile know as I remember the day I hobbled on my freshly sprained ankle in the wrong direction to get to the red flatbed ford to get a picture before sunset: