Saturday, June 27, 2020

Quarantine, Week 15: Maximum Meetings

Mrs. Spew has taken to ask me when I am zooming so that she doesn't interrupt.  This week was one where the default was: meeting.  It was all good, but it was a very different kind of week.

I met with my co-host Stéfanie von Hlatky to tape our anniversary edition of #Battle Rhythm.  Huzzah!  Part of the joy of the podcast is I get to hang out with her every two weeks.  This was cool before the pandemic and now a key part of my sanity-preservation efforts. the booze this time didn't hurt! I also met with a naval officer to tape a future segment.

I met with a group of mostly Canadian PhD students as part of the ongoing CDSN effort to provide them with some feedback and community.  The idea is that since most lost their ability to present their work and network since conferences and workshops are mostly cancelled, we'd provide an alternative.  So far, it is working out well.  We meet every other week, a couple of students present, we give feedback, I realize that my view of the norms of research and presentations (don't set up your presentation as a mystery--put the bottom line up front) maybe only apply with my very specific discipline in North America and maybe not even that far.

The key source of meetings is the CDSN.  Not only do I meet with our staff every week or two, but I have been re-focused on a central priority thanks to recent events: how to foster a more diverse and inclusive defence and security network.  One of the driving forces for the creation of the network was that at the average defence event in Canada, I was often the youngest person in the room, that the rooms were very male and very white.  When building the CDSN, we focused very much on getting right gender and linguistic diversity--that about half of our leaders are women and about half are Francophone.  I think we did fairly well in organizing events and activities to include people of color (visible minorities is the Canadian term) including the Capstone, the podcast, and our research assistants, but our leadership team is still pretty homogenous along other identities.  So, I spent this week in part meeting with people to figure out how we can do better, and those meetings will continue in the weeks to come.  We are working to partner with American-based organizations whose mandates are to foster better environments for those who are often marginalized since Canada lacks similar organizations except for women with Women in International Security-Canada as a vital and founding CDSN partner.

The COVID Response project led to more meetings.  In April, the CDSN held a brainstorming session to answer questions we solicited from the Department of National Defence, and we produced a briefing note.  Since then, we got some money from Carleton to fund graduate students to research our questions and answers to see if we were on target and to provide more depth.  I have delegated to Alvine Nintai, our sharp PhD student who has been the HQ's main researcher the job of managing the five or so MA students, but we all still need to meet from time to time. 

The best meetings are those where I hang out with pals.  Staying at home has left me mighty thirsty for chatting with friends.  So, a few zooms each week have proven to be some solace for the stress that these days present.  This is definitely the time to reach out.  Thus far, all of the group zooms--for poker, for a wake, for civ-mil twitter folks, for just hanging out--have been welcomed with people asking for the meetups to be repeated.  As a collective action sucker, I don't mind organizing these meetups as, again, I am most thirsty for contact. 
Hanging Out.

What else is doing on?  I finally went to physio for an elbow injured in January or February.  I had just gotten the referral in early March when everything closed.  It looks like it is something like tennis elbow despite my lack of tennis.  Going to pandemic-times physio was strange--answering a battery of questions just to be let in,  much, much, much less going on--only two therapists each handling one client each rather than four or five each handling several with aides connecting the machines and so forth.  I had to buy the little pads that go with the electric stimulation so that I can bring them back each visit rather than the shop washing/re-using.  And, yes, we all wore masks--they made me wear a disposable one rather than my Spidey mask.  Oh well. 

The big international relations issue of the week in Canada is whether the Canadians should end the extradition process for a Chinese corporate executive as China has now made explicit something that was implicit--they would release two Canadians they arrested on trumped up charges.  A bunch of retired politicians, justices, and random academics signed a letter advocating for just this kind of trade.  I am opposed since I think giving in to this bold/bald-faced coercion is not great for Canada now or down the road.  Canada is in a difficult spot since the asymmetry in power and interests so clearly favors China, and the US is not of much help these days. 

Lastly, one observation: I have noticed that I am not moved to tears quite as often as I was a month ago (with the aforementioned wake being an obvious exception).   I am not sure what that means.  I can't imagine that this is true for my friends who have kids at home, who are trying to work and parent and manage all at the same time.  I know I am quite lucky in all of this.  I still feel the stress and sadness and frustration and anger that governments are messing this up (North America is nowhere close to being up to testing/tracing to open stuff up) and that people can't wear masks, stay apart, and, yes, avoid bars and restaurants.  I guess anger is the dominant emotion right now, crowding out the sadness. 

As always, my survival strategy has been the combo of stress-baking, stress-eating, and stress-exercising with the last combined with finishing Clone Wars!  And, yes, I finally made something that looks almost as good as it tasted (usually, what I cook/bake tastes great and looks bad):

Huzzah!  (Yes, blame The Great tv show on Amazon for all my huzzahs!)

Be well, wash your hands, stay at home, and wear a damned mask!

Friday, June 26, 2020

So Much Time, So Much Star Wars: A Finished Clone Wars Post

As I can't play ultimate and as I have plenty of time on my hands, I have spent the quarantine watching Clone Wars while treadmilling.  I was reluctant to watch it when it came out because
a)  I didn't want to root for Anakin Skywalker, given what he became;
b)  Jar Jar Binks.

But with Mandalorian and Rebels both building on Clone Wars stuff (the Black Saber, among other things), it made sense to go back and watch.  Plus the seventh season, which looked cool was just coming out (spoiler: it was mostly very cool).  So, yes, I have many thoughts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Battle Rhythm, Year 2!

Hey, it is year 2 of Battle Rhythm!  Today was our 27th episode, marking the first anniversary of the podcast!  Woot!  I am most proud of what we have accomplished over the year and most grateful to Stéfanie von Hlatky who has been a most excellent co-host.  We are grateful to Melissa Jennings for being a fantastic podcast producer; Alvine Nintai for doing most of the research for our prep; Ammar Shirwani for his research assistance; CGAI and especially Dave Perry and Jared Malthais and Jay Rankin; and to all the folks who agreed to be interviewed.  And we are very thankful to all those who listened to the podcast!  We toast them all in the picture to the right.

I am going to resurrect an old Spew theme to discuss the year of podcasting: what was surprising, troubling, enchanting, and humbling about the first year of podcasting.
  • I am surprised that my sister is a fan of the show.  She never seemed that interested in defence/security stuff and especially not the maple-flavoured variety.  I am also surprised that our listenership is more than the seven people we joked about.  The numbers vary and may not be entirely reliable, but I do keep bumping into people who listen to the podcast. Ok, I did until the pandemic reduced the bumping opportunities.  My favorite example of this was chatting with a young DND policy officer as we were both waiting for the helicopter to take us back to the base during last fall's military exercise.  
  • I am troubled by how much stress this process can put on our staff since we tend to record on Tuesdays for episodes dropping on Wednesdays.  Melissa does a great job editing and posting our stuff, but I wish we could give her more time.  The problem is that we often feel overcome by events as things change from day to day.  One of my tasks for year two is to make this less stressful for all involved.
  • I am enchanted by my co-host.  I thought I was going to be the funny one, but Stéfanie makes me laugh far more than I make laugh.  Which is probably not great for our listeners since my laugh is less than soothing.  She also prepares intensely for each episode, is a tougher critic of herself and of us.  In short, whatever quality we have, it is due to her efforts.  
  • I am humbled by this medium.  Recording audio is much different from anything I have ever had to do--it is not like writing, tweeting, blogging, or teaching.  I need to get better about eliminating the uh's and um's, and I, well, hate the sound of my voice.  Stef sounds so natural and professional when she does the introductions, and I just don't feel as comfy.  On the other hand, I am pretty sure she does not feel that comfortable either.  We have gotten much better at this thing, but have much more to learn.  
We started the podcast because the aims of the Canadian Defence and Security Network including amplifying the work of others (our emerging scholars and feature interviews) and to improve the defence and security literacy of Canadians.  I know that we have accomplished the first goal.  Whether we have made progress on the second one is hard to assess.

Thanks for listening.  If you have questions that you want us to answer on the podcast, email them to us at

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Neil's Wake and Memorial Scholarship

Last night, we held our wake for Neil Englehart.  His wife, Professor Melissa Miller, also of Bowling Green State, attended for a while.  She shared the story of how they met, what he had been up to since leaving UCSD, what his two boys were up to (the college aged one is following in Neil's footsteps both in terms of where he is going and what he is studying), and, yes, how Neil died.  His last act was to donate his organs, which went to four different people.  Melissa clearly got some much needed solace knowing that Neil helped save some lives.  So, if you have not filled out the organ donation card and told your loved ones, do so, as it will not only save lives, but be of some help to them in such a difficult time. 

About thirty of us got together on zoom last night to share stories about Neil and to be together at this time.  A zoom wake is a strange thing, but we all got a lot out of it.  I hadn't seen some of the people on it in about twenty-seven years or so, while others I have seen often.  It was great to share some time with these people, as grad school was one of the best times of my life thanks to them.  A member of our cohort put together a really terrific powerpoint of pictures of Neil and quotes from letters he had written from the field.  "Besides the leeches" will become a recurring joke now among our cohort.  Some of us then shared a few stories, toasted Neil, and then caught up with each other. 

Neil did amazing fieldwork as an undergrad, as a graduate student, as a post-doc, and as a prof.  I learned only last night that he went to North Korea in addition to Burma, Thailand, and other places.  So, it is most appropriate that they are setting up the Dr. Neil Andrew Englehart Memorial Scholarship to fund BGSU students to do fieldwork.  Here's the link and then the official description. 

The scholarship description has not yet been added to the site, but here it is:

Dr. Neil Andrew Englehart Memorial Scholarship
Bowling Green State University (BGSU)

The Dr. Neil Andrew Englehart Memorial Scholarship will provide funds to help offset the costs of study abroad for BGSU undergraduates. This scholarship will provide an ongoing source of funding for students, as well as a lasting tribute to Dr. Englehart’s vision of exposing undergraduates to international cultures, communities and challenges.

Dr. Englehart, Professor and Chair of BGSU’s Political Science Department, always displayed a love and appreciation for international cultures that began when he studied abroad in Thailand as an undergraduate. He eventually traveled to 14 countries to conduct research and strived to bring his international experiences into BGSU’s classrooms. Numerous accolades, offered by current and former students after his untimely death at age 55, attest to his unique ability to spark student curiosity and engagement with the global community. His respect for students and their ability to grapple with challenging issues of international importance was a hallmark of his teaching. In this spirit, the Dr. Neil Andrew Englehart Scholarship is being established.

Dr. Englehart taught comparative politics, international relations, and Asian Studies at Bowling Green State University from 2005 to 2020. He was an international expert on human rights, state failure and state capacity, non-state armed groups, and Southeast Asia.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Quarantine, Week 14: Which Day Is it?

This was the week when I kept asking myself: what day is it?  For some reason, I felt a bit more discombobulated than the previous thirteen weeks or so.  Given that I had much going on this week--a variety of meetings and activities--getting the dates wrong would have been more consequential this week.  I managed not to screw anything up, at least anything big, but it was a strange feeling.

To be clear, it is not just me.  Mrs. Spew asked me about next week's meetings (she is overly nervous about how much noise she makes while I am zooming).  I mentioned recording the anniversary edition of BattleRhythm.  That's right--it will be one year!  Anyhow, she asked "is it now weekly?" as she thought I had taped this past week.  Nope, time flies strangely in a pandemic. 

It was a bad week for Canada, an awful week for the United States, and a busy week for me.

Canada didn't get the UN Security Council seat it had been lobbying for since Trudeau got elected.  And that was part of the problem--these things take about a decade and competing with two very respected countries--Ireland and Norway--made it hard to win.  I had predicted long ago that this was not going to work out well for Canada.  I get many predictions wrong, but that one I nailed.  It was not Canada's seat to lose despite how it portrayed.  Given that this was a focal point of a relatively unfocused foreign policy, I am joining others urging the government to do a foreign policy review so that people in government have new signposts to guide their work.  Most folks are skeptical this will happen. 

The US?  On the bright side, Stephen Miller's efforts to get Trump to have a racist rally on Juneteenth has given much energy to making that day a national holiday.  Ooops.  On the dark side, we see the pandemic gaining strength in the south and southwest, despite the supposed effects of warm weather on the disease (Dr. Trump sucks at being a doctor).  There will be more unnecessary deaths this summer, especially given how Trump is politicizing mask-wearing.  He basically has said that those wearing masks are doing it to signal anti-Trump-ness, which means his cultist supporters will go along, spreading the disease further and further.   And, yes, the week ended with the worst Attorney General, Bill Barr, doing his best to eliminate Federal Attorneys General who are doing their jobs well.  That news along with people now getting access to the full Mueller Report are making it abundantly clear that Barr is Trump's lawyer and not fulfilling his role as Attorney General. 

For me, this was a week figuring out how to amplify and ally better.  The CDSN released a statement regarding Black Lives Matter with a new scholarship opportunity (more details to come out this summer) for undergraduate students who are Black, Indigenous, or of Colour in Canada and a promise to do better.  The network was started in part to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in Canada's defence and security community.  We have done a better job on gender and language than on race or other identities that often leave people excluded.  The challenge is that there are fewer organizations dedicated towards improving diversity in the security community in Canada than in the US. 

So, when one of those American organizations, Diversity in National Security Network, asked me to amplify a Black scholar in the US on Juneteenth on twitter as part of a larger effort to match Black scholars with folks who have decent sized twitter followings, I agreed to do so.  Yesterday, I tweeted out the stuff that Muhammad Fraser-Rahim gave me, and I asked him some questions.  It led to a dialogue as well as more people for me to follow as several Black scholars and national security practitioners liked/retweeted the tweets, which led me to twitter accounts that were knew to me.  I don't know if my efforts to amplify Muhammad led to him having more followers, but it did lead to me following more people.  A few years ago, there was a twitter discussion about how homogeneous most people's feeds are, so I started trying to do a better job of following on twitter people who are not white straight males.  So, yesterday helped out greatly in that effort.

I was honored to be asked to help out.  It is strange to be called an ally as most of what I do involves no risk to me, little cost, and generally falls into the category of "just being decent."  Anytime anyone refers to me as an ally, I feel squishy.  Mostly because I don't think I have done much, although posting about sexism in the academy and the like is something.  Maybe partly because my work on alliances reminds me that not all allies are all that reliable.  The past few weeks of Black Lives Matter protests remind me that we have not done enough for those who have been marginalized by existing power structures, so as I enter the last third or so of my career and the part where I probably have more power, I will aim to do better.  Which in practical terms meant spending this week setting up meetings next week to discuss how the CDSN and other organizations in Canada can do a better job of including those who have generally been left out.

Pete and his cidery
Mrs Spew and I by the old mill street post-picnic
Flying Canoe swag plus CR's
As a change of pace from the drumbeat of pandemic news and of racism in the US and Canada, Mrs. Spew and I got out of Ottawa for the first time since ... March 13th.  We drove to Spencerville, the home of the Flying Canoe Cider Company.  Pete and Melissa, the owners and purveyors of cider, lived across the street from us until their ambitions got too big.  Now, they live in a small town in a big house that happens to have a cidery attached to it.  So, we went down to grab some cider (it is available in liquor stores and grocery stores in Ottawa as well as many bars), some Flying Canoe Swag, and some excellent cinnamon rolls from a place across the street.  We then ate some fine Italian sandwiches made by another place across the street while sitting near the Mill and a stream.  It was not much of a holiday, but it was definitely different from the previous thirteen weeks.  We may explore more small towns near Ottawa over the summer--I have spotted one with a pie place that is calling out to me. 

Tonight, this week will end with a UCSD wake for Neil Englehart.  It will be quite sad, of course, as we reflect on a great guy who was taken too soon.  However, I am looking forward to seeing all the folks from my time in San Diego.  When I look back on my life, grad school, often seen as the most painful part of one's life, is one of the highlights.  I was really happy and it was not just because San Diego is a wonderful place to live.  It was mostly because of the people--not just that they were smart and smart but sweet and silly and generous.  They made me a better person by the examples they set, and we had a hell of a lot of fun. 

So, tonight will be a mixture of sad and sweet.  And it will remind me and it should remind everyone to reach out and be in contact with those who made an impact on our lives because you never know when it won't be possible to do so.  This pandemic should make it abundantly clear that death, as they say, is unbeaten, that time passes all too quickly, and that we need connection.  Social distancing is, yes, the wrong phrase, as we need to be physically apart now but we have never needed to be connected to be people than now.  Maybe that is why I have become a zoom cruise director.  Or maybe this extrovert is just thirsty for companionship.  All I know for certain is that folks need to reach out and connect even if it does not get them the UN Security Council seat they have craved.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Putting the UN Security Council Seat Failure Into Perspective

Canadian politics twitter was in an uproar last night as Canada failed to get enough votes to get a temporary UN Security Council seat .... for the second time in ten years.  People are putting way too much on this event, and yet there is some stuff we can learn.  So, I am going to go through various aspects of the entire thing to show where Canada really stands today (mostly the same place it stood a week ago contrary to what my friend JC wrote).

First, it was not Canada's seat to lose.  One could argue that Canada could have done better, but some folks (me!) predicted long ago that Canada was not going to win, before Canada's hand got weaker via spats with Saudi Arabia and China, before the shine of the Liberals was tarnished by the SNC-Lavalin scandal, before it became clear that the Liberal government was not going to much peacekeeping, nor perhaps have a very coherent foreign policy.  I learned about five or so years ago at an embassy event that these campaigns to win these seats take eight or ten years.  So, Canada was late to the competition.  Trudeau should have aimed for a later cycle.  Being late meant being less prepared and also perhaps been seen as an interloper.  And the competition: Ireland and Norway! Two very good international citizens, that do much in terms of aid, peacekeeping, and other stuff.  This also meant that a normal constituency for Canadian votes--Europe--was largely off the table.  Have Ireland and Norway annoyed the entire Mideast by taking strongly pro-Israel stances?  So, you can see Canada entered the race late with much baggage. Why did Canada deserve a seat more than Ireland or Norway?  I have no idea.  And obviously, Canada did not and perhaps could not make that case.

Second, Canada was the victim of some unfortunate circumstances that was mostly not Canada's fault.  The election of Trump has rightfully caused the Trudeau government to focus far more attention on US-Canadian relations than on other stuff.  That is the correct prioritization given what the US means to Canada.  Which, of course, led to alienating China.  I am sure China's moves to being a more belligerent rising power would have hit Canada in some way, but the extradition of the Huawei exec has been the source of much conflict.  Countries seeking to suck up to China might not vote for Canada these days.  Same goes for the Saudis.  Given these circumstances getting 108 votes may not have been a bad outcome, less than last time, but more than one might have expected given these headwinds.

Third, one can look at Canadian foreign policy and, yes, blame Canada and Trudeau.  Canada now has the lowest number of peacekeepers deployed in decades.  When it did do something mildly significant, sending helicopters and medical personnel to Mali, Canada steadfastly refused to extend the mission when their replacements were slow to get there.  Canada's aid budget is relatively small.  Canada's biggest presence in Africa is probably via mining companies, and I am guessing those, even if relatively well-behaved, are not the best representatives of maple, moose, and the like.

People are using this loss to argue that Canadian foreign policy is largely incoherent, that Global Affairs Canada are understaffed, underresourced (how many embassies does Canada have in Africa?), and may not play well with others or themselves (there may still be an aid/foreign office split within GAC).  One could also argue that besides the seat itself, a campaign promise made long ago, Trudeau and his team don't really care that much about international relations.

Some, such as my colleague, Phil Lagassé, have argued that Canadians seem to have an entitlement attitude based on nostalgia.  That the greatest hits in Canadian foreign policy are long ago.  I am still new here (18 years is new, right?) so I don't really know what it was like long ago.  I do think Canada has a good brand in the world, still.  That Trudeau still has charisma that plays well.  But Canada never really had a chance and never really invested that much in this effort.  It chose the least risky, shortest possible peacekeeping mission, it did not invest more in foreign assistance, and it did not take a really bold stance that might have alienated some but perhaps won others over.  A no-risk strategy simply would not work if starting from behind against very deserving countries.

So, where do we go from here?  What would make sense is a comprehensive review of Canada's foreign policy.  There hasn't been one in many, many years, but doing so might identify what matters most, what tools Canada can use to be more successful in its relations, strategies for deploying said tools, and so on.  I do think that some of the critics are right--that Global Affairs Canada could do better with more engagement with academics (yes, I am always self-serving) and non-governmental organizations.  While the Defence Policy Review that produced Strong, Secure, Engaged did not produce radical change, it gave Canada's defence folks critical signposts to direct their efforts.  GAC only had the UN SC seat.  It needs new, clearer directions for the next decade or so.  And perhaps Canadian leaders could be more strategic about picking when to compete for a seat.  For that blunder, yes, Trudeau should get the blame.  For how Canada is perceived in the world, that is less the fault of the current government and more the reality of the situation it is in.

Do I expect Canada to figure out its role in the world?  For this government to invest more resources?  To do a foreign policy review?  Ah, that is a post for another day.  I am sure we are all depressed enough right now. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Canadian Defence and Security Network and Black Lives Matter

One of the impetuses driving the creation of the CDSN was the need to foster a more diverse and inclusive defence and security community.  The murder of George Floyd as well as of other Black Americans, the repeated demonstrations of police brutality aimed at the protesters, and events closer to home remind us that we can and should do better.  First, we endorse the statement made by Women In International Security-Canada, a founding partner of the CDSN:

We stand in solidarity with the fight against anti-black systemic racism and white supremacy. We condemn all forms of inequality, xenophobia, and discrimination against Black people. Black lives matter.
Across the world, we are witnessing the collective pain of a community who has survived intergenerational discrimination and dehumanization. We are seeing the grief of a community that cannot trust the police who swore an oath to protect them. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Ahmaud Arbery. Regis Korchinski-Paquet. It is painful to say the names of people who have died far too early at the hands of white supremacy, knowing this list extends for centuries and includes hundreds of thousands of lives. It is more painful, but necessary, to say without massive change this list will expand.
We know this problem permeates all borders. This includes Canada. Canada was built on the genocide of Indigenous peoples; our state is maintained through systemic oppression against Black people, Indigenous peoples, and people of colour. To this day, Black and Indigenous peoples are disproportionately reflected in fatal interactions with police.
From the disproportionate effects of COVID-19, to fighting against police violence, Black people continue to be on the front lines of a war against racism and systemic injustice. We cannot conceptualize security without considering the peace and security of Black people. It is a security problem when access to education, housing, and healthcare are dependent on the colour of one’s skin. It is a security problem when political, social, and economic participation is conditional on the colour of one’s skin. It is a security crisis when people are more likely to be jailed because of the colour of their skin. It is a security crisis when innocent people are killed because of the colour of one’s skin.
WIIS-Canada is dedicated to advancing women’s voices in international security. This project of inclusion must be anti-racist. Racism is a feminist issue. Complacency and silence are complicity.
We the board of Directors and Executive of WIIS-Canada stand in solidarity with those seeking justice.[1]

Second, we are working out the details for a new CDSN scholarship for undergraduate students who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour.  Third, we will work to develop partnerships with organizations seeking to foster greater equity, diversity, and inclusion in the defence and security community. 

[1] We also support the statement put out by Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security as well, but as a Canadian organization, we found WIIS-C’s statement more appropriate.