Saturday, August 29, 2020

Quarantine, Week 24: Anger, Sadness, and Hope

It is getting harder and harder to come up with new titles for these posts, as each week seems mostly the same.  Have we reached the end of the beginning of this?  Is a new phase is arriving, one mixing hope and despair?  Or is it more of the same?  We have another Black man shot while a white kid shoots protesters.  Yet we see the NBA and the WNBA make a difference, forcing pretty much every North American athlete to have to consider what to do and compelling the owners to make their facilities voting locations. I'll focus on the academic and personal and then move onto the larger stuff.

For me, it was a pretty great week.  David Hornsby and I taped four segments of us bantering about IR theory for our class this fall.  They were fun to do, I learned much from David, and I think the students will do so as well.  I also interviewed some scholars elsewhere to create segments for the class.  I was asking how they thought about their stuff and why they made the choices they did--these are not usually the conversations we have, looking backwards at the how and the why.  These scholars--Jessica Chen Weiss (whom I know from our common UCSD background), Keren Yari-Milo (I had assigned some of her stuff but never met her before), and Janice Stein (who has been super helpful on the Advisory Board of the CDSN).  They each were generous with their time and insights.  Janice interviewed me as well for her class.  I made much progress cleaning up the course webpage.  I just need to stick in the remaining videos that Furloughed Filmmaker Spew is working on.  I spent far more time on course prep this summer than any other time in my career, and, it is not quite done yet.

I feel good about those efforts, and I feel good that Carleton is already signaling that we will be online in the winter.  However, I feel a bit of guilt because I have friends who are sallying forth into the classroom, armored to protect themselves from COVID.  They face students who are being students, which means they are violating the rules and spending time with each other, leading to outbreaks from coast to coast.  I find the policies of many schools to be utterly irresponsible--bringing students together, not preparing well enough, and then when the disease shows up quite predictably, they send the kids back to their homes, spreading the disease across North America anew.  Yes, UNC, I am talking about you.  I am so angry about how federal and state governments have put universities and colleges into awful positions, and then many administrations of these schools then do the same to their professors, staff, and students.

It is not all bad news.  Danielle Lupton of Colgate University has organized practice job talks for the newly minted PhDs (and ABDs--all but dissertations) who are facing the worst academic job market in modern history.  I participated in one this week, and it was good to see familiar and new faces, offering insightful feedback to the student.  The CDSN is chugging along.  I had good meetings with my staff--I have hired well!  Next week marks the end of Alvine Nintai's work with us as a research assistant.  She moves onto a real job.  We will miss her as she has been with us for a couple of years, helping us get funded by helping profs and partners navigate the grant agency's website.  She has given us many great ideas and has helped provide the info that makes us sound smart on Battle Rhythm.

Out there in the world, there is much darkness, best represented by the lying nepotists of the GOP convention.  I didn't watch it but caught glimpses.  The use of the White House, violating the Hatch Act, was very much a clear demonstration of Trump's impunity.  He never respected the norms nor the laws of the American political system.  Impeachment did not chasten him.  He is now desperate to win since he has enjoyed using the Department of Justice to protect himself.  So, this fall will be quite ugly, and I wonder if the will of the American people will be heard or not.  The postal service gambit has done much of the work of tainting the election already. While the Dems pushed back well in Congress this week, it is increasingly clear the sorting machines will not be back where they should be by November.  Trump will have his ready excuse to hold on.  However, fudging with election results often goes poorly for autocrats, so Trump may try to do so, but he may not succeed.

Where do I find hope?  In basketball.  Ok, in basketball players.  Remember that the pandemic really only got recognized in the US when the NBA stopped playing.  Well, this week, the NBA stopped playing again with the attack on Jacob Blake by Kenosha cops.  The WNBA had perhaps the best visual demonstration (although the Mets/Marlins did pretty well) wearing shirts with seven holes in
the back.  The playoffs will resume, but I would not bet that they go to completion.  There may be another stoppage as things play out on the streets.  What did they accomplish?  They reminded us that the violence is being committed by cops against Black bodies and that is more important than the destruction of some property.  This strike also got the NBA owners to commit to having their facilities used for voting.  Some had already agreed to it, with the rest now following suit.  The WNBA has been laying siege to the corrupt Senator Kelly Loeffler, the inside trader/traitor, as she is a part owner of the Atlanta WNBA team.  More, please.

While people are concerned that the law and order campaign of Trump will work, I am not so fussed.  Yes, protesters have been rude to Rand Paul (as I would be), and some have engaged in violence.  But Trump faces a basic problem--this is all happening on his watch.  He can deny responsibility, but the usual chant of an incumbent is "Four More Years!"  Four more years of this?  Of bungling a pandemic? Of inciting violence?  Of breaking the law?  Of alienating allies and sucking up to our adversaries?  The Trump people can't develop a coherent story since a coherent one that has any facts involved will produce what?  Biden up by 9 or 10 points.  Ooops.

To be sure, I am complacent about complacency.  I don't expect complacency to be a problem because Trump has endangered the lives and well-being of hundreds of millions of Americans.  The Trumpists, the cultists, will be impervious to this reality.  But, yes, there are more of us than of them, and the us will turn out, one way or another.  The question remains whether their votes will be counted.  If they are, Biden wins.  If they are not, DC will look like Minsk with massive protests.

The death last night of Chadwick Boseman was gutting, as he was so young, had made such a difference, and was so aware of his role as the biggest Black Superhero of our age.  But the videos and eulogies this morning fill me with something besides sadness.  That there are great people out there who have been motivated and assisted by their predecessors (Denzel Washington funding Boseman's educationmets ), that there can be progress despite the forces of regression.

A friend said on twitter something I have been saying and thinking for nearly six months now:  the only way out is through.  We are closer to vaccines, we have made much progress on treatments, finding more creative ways to detect outbreaks (wastewater!).  The energies of scientists have been focused on this plague.  It has been worse than it had to be, thanks to Trump and polarization, thanks to democratic politicians elsewhere acting slowly, thanks to China for responding poorly, thanks to the WHO and CDC for making some bad choices at first.  But we have made it through the worst.  Yes, the winter will be hard, but 2021 will be better can than 2020.  How could it not be?  [Don't answer that]

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Counting Superheroes

Dan Drezner suggested a new way to figure one's age:

I'd rather count my age in Spidey's as the Spider-man franchise is more fun, less dark, and, dare I say it, better.  Sure, Dark Knight was a great Heath Ledger performance, but the plots of most Batman movies are dumb, the character development is mostly not that interesting, and, of course, there is not Bat-verse.

Looking back, the 1960's Batman movie was delightful.  Michael Keaton was a great Batman, but after he left, that era of Batman was meh at best. 

Spidey?  The first two Sam Raimi movies are still among the best super-hero movies.  Doc Ock was fantastic in the second, and both had great NY'ers in the action, giving resonance, that is entirely lacking in any and all DC movies.  When have you ever cared about the bystanders?  Even the random kid in the third Raimi movie at the end, who confronts the Rhino, is pretty damned special.  Nothing like that in DC except maybe Wonder Woman.  The first Andrew Garfield Spidey was a good movie.  The second?  Not so much.  The Tom Holland Spidey's are fantastic in part thanks to ... Michael Keaton as one of the best bad guys and best bad guy performances in any of the superhero movies.  And then there is the Spidey-verse.  This really makes coding Spider-folk hard (Dan is already at work figuring out which Batmen count) since we have so many in this movie including Milo, two versions of Peter, Spider-Man Noir, Peni Parker, Spider-Gwen, and, yes, Spider-Ham. 

For my count, I am not including animated series because then things get even more complicated even if the first one spawned some great memes.

So, I will just say that I am ten Spidey's old (pigs count!): Tobey, Andrew, Tom, and seven from Spider-Verse.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Quarantine, Week 23: Summer's End

Summer isn't over yet, but I can see its end from here.  Usually, this weekend is full of end of season ultimate tournaments, panic about getting ready for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, and starting to think about teaching.  Instead, no ultimate (although I have signed up for a fall league), APSA is a couple of weeks later due to activism over improving its family friendliness and it does not really feel real since I am not flying to San Francisco, and I have been working on my teaching all summer long. 

I had fun making memes to instruct students
on a new assignment: memes of the week!
I have taped nearly every video segment with just two left for me to do and a couple for my co-teacher, David Hornsby to tape.  My daughter, Furloughed Filmmaker Spew, has cleaned up about 40% of the segments, so we should have the first half of the semester uploaded next week.  One of the challenges is that I like to pepper my lectures with examples from current events, and these videos will be watched (theoretically) weeks from now.  So, I keep referring the students back to the summer.'s events  The good news is that they will be engaging more current events via the discussion sections--those will be live.  I will attend more of those than usual to check in with the students.  The rest of the course is asynchronous since having live online classes puts a lot of pressure on the students and on their technology.  For smaller classes--my Phd seminar this fall and my MA civ-mil class in the winter, I will do more live stuff.  I expect those who have gone on to grad school to have their own computers, their own spaces, and more reliable access to the internet.  We shall see if that is fair or not.  The irony is that the person with the crappiest internet may be me--I could not upload those video files so I may be in search of a new router and maybe even a new connection (fiber optic rather than the current system).  I got a lot of help from the Teaching & Learning Services folks at Carleton--they are most patient and good spirited. 

One last thing on the teaching front: I can't express adequately how glad I am that Carleton made a decision late in the spring but early compared to most places to go online in the fall.  They have also signaled that the winter will be online.  It has meant far more work doing course prep, but it was the responsible decision.  As we see outbreaks across the US wherever universities opened up, I know that Carleton made the right call.  Perhaps it is easier to do so up here since the province owns the universities and so we don't fear losing tuition dollars quite as much.  But the institutions in the US really did not prioritize the students' and staff's health as much as they should have.  And so now many places are switching to online late, so that the profs will be repeating the crappy move they made last March instead of spending the time to do online as well as it can be done.  So that is very aggravating.  So much wasted time and endangered people.  Just like the rest of the country.

For the course prep, I interviewed a couple of scholars and will interview one more next week.  This will help give the students some different ways to think about the stuff.  It was good to meet some new folks and see some old friends.  I am currently trying to figure out whether to organize any hangouts for the APSA since we will not be meeting in person and all those great conversations and impromptu introductions aren't going to happen.  My guess is that I will organize one for the civ-mil community and perhaps another for folks from UCSD's grad program in poli sci.  Yes, I am still thirsty for interactions with people.  My introverted wife has not had quite the same compulsion to meet with folks, but this extrovert has been feeling mighty isolated. 

There was progress on the political front as well.  The Democrats pulled off a pandemic convention.  Folks had criticisms about who was featured and for how long, but there is no way anyone could have expected it to go off so well, to be fairly watchable, and for Biden to rock his acceptance speech.  That the main theme was ... decency ... was both smart and interesting.  The Dems pushed back on the arson committed against the US Postal Service.  It may not reverse the damage, but the political costs will be borne by the GOP.  And then we learned Melania destroyed the WH rose garden, indeed chopping down the cherry trees.  Can we impeach Melania? 

The CDSN news was very good this week.  First, we held our annual meetings of the Directors and then of the Advisory Board.  It was good to see those folks and discuss our various initiatives and adaptations.  I use those meetings to find out what the sub-units of the network are doing and to get advice.  I was seeking feedback on our efforts to improve the diversity of the network.  I cam e into the meeting with a proposal for an undergraduate scholarship and left the meeting with ideas for developing both a diversity plan and a diversity council.  More on that as we figure it out. 

The CDSN has another initiative coming this fall--a new podcast!  This one will be in French, co-produced with the new RSA-NSA network.  The two co-hosts are Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brûlé and Thomas Juneau.  It was fun to watch the ideas come in on multiple social media platforms for the name for the new podcast. 

No family baking challenge this week, but I was so frustrated by the computer problems that Mrs. Spew encouraged me to take two of the leftover chocolate chip cookie dough pots out of the freezer and heat them up for some stress-eating.  Earlier in the week, I made my first Bailey's milkshake.  They may become as addictive as the ccc dough pots. 

The weather is good today, so I am off to bike around the area.  Be well and keep your distance!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Quarantine, Week 22: Lost in Time

I think I had the hardest time this week remembering which day it was.  It was a big week: Kamala Harris was selected to be the next VP if Trump doesn't interfere too much, the US Postal Service has been attacked nakedly as part of Trump's effort to interfere too much, I made much progress in my online course prep, and my department had its pre-fall meeting.  Ok, the last one was not a big thing, but a long thing thanks to a colleague who likes to ask a lot of questions, block progress on stuff, and, yes, shirk.

Here's one I didn't use in the course.
But I had fun as one of the new "assessments" or assignments for the online class is meme of the week.  The idea is to have the students take a theory and make it into a meme to display that they understand the concept.  Oh, and the students will vote on the best ones with those winning the weekly contest getting extra credit.  So, yeah, I had to make some to illustrate and that was fun. Folks on twitter thought it was a good idea although some were already doing something similar.  My partner in this class, David Hornsby, and I have plans to meet next week to tape the segments of the class where we discuss (argue with each other) the implications of some of the theories.  It should be fun and interesting and engaging.  And, yes, I have put far more work into preparing this class this summer than any summer in the past, um, twenty years.  Online class prep is far more work, and the course management system, alas, makes it take more time.

Speaking of online course prep, I was interviewed by Dan Nexon's research assistant this week for Dan's course prep.  He is seeking to build a bank of interviews as a public good.  I was asked about NATO, civ-mil relations, and the IR of ethnic conflict.  I downloaded much of what I knew, with the interview lasting more than twice as long as expected.  Because, yes, I can talk, and I haven't been doing much of that this summer except to myself, our cat, and Mrs. Spew.  I am trying to do something more modest but similar--arranging interviews with a few scholars to ask them why they chose their particular approach and the obstacles they faced.  This is for the midpoint of my IR theory class as a change of pace and to provide alternative perspectives.

I haven't blogged about the assault on the postal service, but here's my basic take:
  • Trump and his folks moved too soon.  Democrats in and out of office have plenty of time to adjust: by negotiating pacts with Republican secretaries of state, like the one in Kentucky,  to have more early voting, more ways to vote; by mobilizing people to be poll workers so that there are more places to vote; by suing; by figuring out work arounds, and so on.  
  • This move may cost more GOP votes than Dems.  How so?  Because lots of folks rely on the postal service for more than just voting, including medicines and checks.  Oh, and during a pandemic, the mail matters even more.  While I fully expect the popularity of the USPS to go down because Trump is politicizing it, it starts at 91%.  No government institution in the US is as popular.
  • The media is not even-handing, false equivalencing this.  I don't know how Fox is handling it, but the rest of the media has found this to be appalling.  
  • And, yes, this is about as impeachable as it gets.  Abuse of power to stay in office, much more obviously so and much more destructively so than the crimes Nixon committed to stay in office.
 The core lesson of all of this for the US: if governance matters, folks should elect those who don't want to burn government down.  From the pseudo-hurricane that hit Iowa to the pandemic to the next hurricane that hits the US to the economic crisis and on and on, I doubt there has been greater need for governance in the US since either WWII or the Great Depression.  This time, we didn't get FDR but Trump.  We can look around and compare--from state to state, from country to country, and even from sport to sport--and see that competence and diligence simply matter.  The NBA, thus far, has managed to organize itself and execute its plan despite their bubble existing in the one of the hotzones.  The biggest crisis thus far has been a player who left the bubble to go to a funeral and happened to go by a stripclub for some chicken wings.... The league handled that well.  The NFL and baseball?  Shitshows.  Why? Because their owners hate their players.  No partnership, just animosity.  Kind of like how Trump feels about Americans.

To end this on a positive note, yes, I will be baking some more (and I still have two Nigella chocolate chip cookie dough pots stashed in the freezer for when I really need them).  The CDSN has its annual meeting with the Directors and with the Advisory Board, so it will be good to see those folks and get their take on how we are doing.  More on that next week.  While I lose track of the days, I am not losing track of what we have done thus far nor what we will be doing in the years ahead.  I am very grateful for all of the folks who have given so much of their time, their creativity, and their insights.

Be well!

Friday, August 14, 2020

Kamala, LFG, FTW!

I am pretty jazzed that Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate.  The younger members of my family are less so.  So, let me explain why I am jazzed and why they should not be disappointed.

First, we are facing a classic ethnic conflict kind of election: homogeneous party seeking to outbid the other party on being the best defender of that one group vs a multiethnic party seeking to hold its coalition together.  Trump is tripling down on white supremacy.  I feared that Biden might worry more about appealing to white working class voters than to the base of the Democratic Party.  Nope, he doubled down, picking someone who is exactly what the white supremacists hate--a strong, multiracial woman, daughter of immigrants, married to a Jewish dude.  I just love that.  And, yes, the racial and misogynist attacks have already begun, including birtherism. Biden isn't going to win by running away from those who got him the nomination.  He needs to turn out the party more than attract those who voted for Trump.

Second, I wanted someone with political experience and campaign experience.  That ruled out Susan Rice (who also has a reputation as being awful to her staff, not unlike Klobuchar).  Harris was not afraid to confront Biden in the debates even if she didn't make it to Iowa.  She did win tough primaries in state races (I had no idea the Dems never nominated someone for P/VP from California).
Third, Kamala Harris is of the modern age.  She might not be as agile on social media as AOC, but, then again, who is?  But she does that stuff well.  She is only slightly older than me, so she is not the same old baby boomer (although technically not yet Gen X, alas).  I desperately wanted a presidential candidate in her 50's, which is one reason I was not an early Warren fan.

Fourth, Harris is smart, and I value that a lot.  She masters stuff and then uses it to rip GOP folks to shreds.  She can make the case on the campaign trail (whatever that is in a pandemic) that the Trump Administration is corrupt, incompetent, and dangerous.  The only other candidate who could do that as well would be Warren.  The traditional division of labor is for the VP nom to be the one throwing the knives, letting the Presidential nominee appear to be nice.

My younger relatives tend to believe, I think, that Harris is not sufficiently left-wing and that they preferred Stacey Abrams.  One of the arguments is that Biden didn't pick her because she is overweight.  I haven't seen it, but I can imagine that one could criticize Biden for picking a Black woman who is of lighter skin.  It could be the case that these things drove Biden's decision, but I am thinking that Biden picked Harris because:
a) she ran (Abrams did not) so she has greater name recognition and has been tested
b) she has won at the state level (Abrams has not)
c) she had a personal connection via Beau Biden and Attorney General club.
d) the Dems have chosen Senators for my entire lifetime with one exception--Geraldine Ferraro (and Mondale probably have picked a Senator had there been any Dem woman in the Senate in 1984--a few female GOP senators but no Dems--FFS!)

I get it that Harris is seen as too pro-cop and too pro-law and order.  She was an Attorney General and did support prosecutions that she says she would not support now.  Her more recent stances, I think, matter more, and she has been pushing for the right stuff over the summer regarding Black Lives Matter.

Harris also happens to have one of the most progressive voting records in the Senate.  One can quibble with how that stuff is measured, but she is not Manchin or McCaskill.  One could argue that she is an opportunist, moving left only when it was politically convenient.  Maybe, but I don't mind politicians seeking to represent their constituency.  As the constituency moves (especially if it is in the correct direction), so should they. 

Folks may be upset because this gives Harris the inside track on the nomination in 2024 if Biden doesn't run again or if he doesn't make it to 2024.  I see this as a good thing--that we need someone who can govern if Biden can't continue.  2024?  We shall see.  I think it will be too early for AOC (I like AOC a lot but would prefer to see her win a state-wide race before seeking the nomination).  Abrams?  I hope she gets an important position in the Biden Administration, which can then be a launching pad.

Anyhow, Biden committed to a women as VP and then committed to a woman of color.  He kept his commitments, and Harris is an excellent choice.  I would have preferred Harris as P or Warren, but we didn't get that.  Politics is always about making choices and dealing with tradeoffs, often between things that are not perfect.  The good news is that the younger Saidemans will be voting for Biden/Harris because they know that Trump/Pence has been and will be catastrophic. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

If You Can't Bake It, Fake It?

I am not new to baking or to cooking, but I have done a whole lot more of both since the beginning of March.  Cooking partly because I am not traveling, partly because my two nights of frisbee where I just grab a sandwich or eat after the game isn't happening, and partly because Mrs. Spew has had bronchitis for months.  Baking because it is good for managing the stress of this situation.  Ok, stress eating is good for managing the stress, stress baking helps the stress eating.  And the stress eating has also kept me motivated for the stress exercising.  Along the way, my siblings have gotten in the habit of challenging the family to make something each week.  One of us finds a good recipe, and the rest of us follow along (well, most of us, as my brother resists the herd).  So, I will * the items below that were product of family peer pressure.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

War is Like Football or Is Football Like War?

So much crossover between football and war--blitzing and all that.  Well, Trump thinks that the best football coach of our time would "be a as good as any general out there."  Putting aside the question of whether winning many nail-biters in the big game and going 5 and 3 is better than the US military over the same period (narrator: it is), what kind of advice would Belichick give?
  • Norms of civilian control of the military?  Feh!  Belichick doesn't care about the norms.  He is willing to have lineman be eligible receivers while wide receivers report as ineligible.
  • He loves special teams, so what is the equivalent of the overlooked aspect of the war game?  Would he love those who pilot transport planes as much as he loves left-footed punters?
  • Have more press briefings but provide less information.
  • Belichick would seek out mid-priced, older weapon systems that can do more things than faster, slicker, more expensive systems.
  • The officers that study under him would go on to, at best, mixed results for other military units.
  • His mastery of technicalities might mean heaps of almostwarcrimes.
  • Belichick would not care where the generals came from--West Point?  Meh.  It is not so much about prestige as about past performance.
  • Belichick's recommended strategy would change from week to week, driving the generals crazy.
Any other suggestions?  And, no, no deflation jokes since I believe in the law, ideal gas law! 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Quarantine, Week 21: Pride and Anger

I think the real story of this week for me is frustrated nostalgia.  FB memories is reminding me of years past where this week was spent at Disney/San Diego, at a beach in Delaware, at a lake in NY, and on a cruise with all of my family--parents, siblings, kids.  This year?  No vacation.  The occasional trips to random small towns stopped as Mrs. Spew has been battling non-covid bronchitis.  She is doing better, but we are not plopping in the car in search of modest sights and sounds.

Of course, lots of people have it much worse, so my complaints are also modest.  Things are mostly ok to good.  I was super pleased and proud with the latest Battle Rhythm podcast as we had our long-suffering (actually, she seems not to suffer much) research assistant, Alvine Nintai, serve as guest host while BR co-founder and co-host, the legendary SvH, actually has a vacation.  Alvine did great and it meant more to her than I would have expected.  She's moving on in September to finish her dissertation and start a job.  So, the next challenge is to find another student to fill the spot.

The biggest shock of the week was going to the mall--I was getting my eyes checked, and, yes, paying a lot of money for new glasses.  The shock was how busy the place was.  Everyone was wearing masks, although more than a few people seemed to think that noses were above it all.  This mall always seemed to be marginal--never that crowded, never that busy.  Except for the awful parking lot.  Now?  I guess people are bored.  Not sure back to school sales are driving things since, well, who's going back to school.

My anger this week has a couple of different focal points.  Trump?  Of course.  The destruction of the postal service, which appropriately enough serves his constituents more than not, is now one of the stories.  To game the election, more arson is required apparently.  I am also angry at Canadian folks because they too prioritized bars over schools.  My friends are pulling their hair out over the fucked up priorities from Ontario to California to NY.  I'd like to be of assistance, but not sure what I can do to help them.  I am also angry that Lebanon is governed so poorly that they allowed a small nuke equivalent of explosive material to sit on a dock for, what, six years?  The country was facing a difficult crisis before, in a moment, it lost its primary port and much of its grain supply.  This, alas, is America's future if Trump can win the election as he has already gutted so much of governance.  Anyhow, lots of anger on this.

So, I will conclude with some more pride.  I am spending the weekend revising the CDSN's annual report.  Technically, we should have produced it in April since our first year ended in March, but we were kind of busy with other things.  The report demonstrates, I think, that we have turned a grant idea into a viable and vibrant network, providing much value for our partners and for Canada.  I have been so lucky to work with such great people at Carleton, around Canada, and beyond.  While COVID has caused us to postpone the Summer Institute and hampered us in other ways, we have reacted pretty well, with new initiatives aimed at helping PhD students, at providing quick advice to government, and assisting profs as they prep for online classes.  I always am cognizant that I am asking people to give of the time to help move this thing forward, and they are not getting paychecks for it (well, except for my staff).  So, I am quite grateful as I ask again for a bit of time and expertise.

One fun part of doing the annual report was getting from Melissa the numbers regarding media appearances of the Directors.  I was surprised by the results as Phil Lagassé had twice as much as the next person.  I asked twitter who they thought would be first among Phil, SvH, and myself, and they were not so surprised:

Anyhow, I hope y'all are getting a chance to do something besides hang out at home.  Please vacation safely and at a distance!


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Where Is the Count When We Need Him?

In the midst of this madness, it is easy to lose track of all of the malice policies enacted by the Trump Administration.  I asked twitter after naming three, and I got a heap of feedback.  The top three that came to mind for me, thinking largely about the big effects, of the worst things with the most malicious intent since COVID hit American shores are: 

  1. Slowing down testing, which Trump admitted/bragged about.  One can fold into this the recent story about Jared starting to set up a testing policy and then dumping it when COVID seemed to be a blue state problem.  The failure to test, for me, is number one because of the following number: 156k and counting.  To get a grip on this pandemic, one has to test and test a lot and have quick results and then quarantine the positives and trace with whom they were in contact recently.  That the US has failed to bend the curve much has a lot to do with this.
  2. Politicizing masks.  Sure, some blame goes to Fauci and others who were worried about a run on masks denying doctors/nurses the PPE they needed, but the politicization of masks is a bigger problem.  That Trumpists refuse to wear masks, seeing as a sign of weakness, of a sign of being too Liberal, or whatever.  Had Trump mandated mask-wearing, his supporters would have followed suit and the non-followers would have done so because they want to live.  Getting mask wearing compliance is also key to containment.  Yet, we are having "debates" about masks when 150k people are dying here and not in places where they wear masks.
  3. Messing with the mail.  Clearly aimed to delegitmate the mail-in vote, which ordinarily is not so partisan but Trump guesses will be this time since he has made COVID seem like a hoax.
Then others responded:
  1. The whole Trump treated COVID like a hoax giving lots of air and light and fuel for the conspiracy theorists out there.  This ain't the flu, and it is not going away.
  2. Repressing Black Lives Matter protests.  It has backfired pretty spectacularly with American public opinion shifting quite a lot, which is why I didn't include it.  But a lot of people have been hurt, with more than a few journalists being blinded and some concussions and, yes, Trumpists driving through protests, hurting others.  Plus the use of DHS thugs has been awful.  
  3. Intercepting PPE that were going to states and Canada.
  4. The incredible corruption involved with the "bailout" that went to friends of Trump.
  5. The weak support for the rest of the economy including the failure to extend unemployment benefits and prevention of evictions.
  6. The effort to open the schools despite no funding, support, or plan.  A new way for Betsy DeVos to destroy public higher ed.
And of course, there is the continued arson that preceded the pandemic including: the continued kids in cages; nasty immigration policies; use of federal resources to line the pockets of Trump his cabinet, and pals; and the xenophobia, misogyny and racism.  It may be that the failed impeachment effort was a mistake--that the possibility of impeachment might have restrained Trump somewhat.  However, it might just be that this emergency has just given Trump more opportunity to do more damage.

Anyhow, just as Trump kept a list of Obama initiatives to undo, the Biden team needs to keep in mind everything Trump did and undo all of it.  It will be too late for 200-300k Americans who will have died due to Trump's bungling of the pandemic, but we must correct the awful mistakes and then make more progress (so, yeah, nuke the filibuster).

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Quarantine, Week 20: Disappointment, Frustration, and Glimmers of Hope?

As I predicted, it was the lamest of Steve-fests.  I guess it was perfect that when we ordered food for delivery that it never came, so we had to try again and ate late.  On the upside, my baking worked out nicely.  The cinnamon buns were great, and the intra-Saideman competition meant that my sisters on both coasts made them as well.  The cards from my relatives did make it to Canada surprisingly quickly given how slow mail is in both countries.  And the facebook-ization of birthdays meant I got to converse with friends from high school, summer camp, college, grad school, the various jobs since then, and, yes, the folks who I only know through facebook.  I can't really complain since I am healthy despite being deep in my mid-50s with my sore elbow (I blame wrangling baggage in Germany) nearly healed thanks to heaps of physical therapy.  Mrs. Spew has been battling bronchitis (non-COVID division), but is turning the corner on that.  Furloughed Spew is now Academic Video Editor Spew, doing great work cleaning up my videos for the fall course ... for a fee.  She's a pro, so I am loving what she is doing to the videos.  She also had cupcakes delivered on my birthday, so that was super sweet--on multiple levels.

The frustration came mostly in two academic forms: how much the super reliable end up doing and how little the unreliable do.  This is a challenge in the academic world since incentives ... are largely absent except for internally driven motivation.  I had a talk this week with a pal who was putting together a No Committee to help her say no to stuff.  We then went through all of the stuff she does, and I was astonished.  She is doing an incredible job doing so many things--it is so unfair that she gets asked to do so much.  I am pretty sure this is fairly typical of successful women in academia--as they climb up the ladder, they are still underrepresented and they tend to want to pay it forward, so they do far more mentorship than the dudes and they tend to asked to do far more stuff so as to represent their gender.  This then impedes their progress towards full professor since most of this stuff that they get asked to do is not measured for Full which comes mostly down to books and articles and maybe grants.
I don't have this problem because I am not added to bunches of service stuff to represent--there are plenty of middle-aged white dudes.  However, uneven burden-sharing can hit me, too.  This week, because one of my colleagues refused to do some of the work that we are all supposed to do, I have to do more work.  This guy has probably not been as strategic as other folks I have met (including a certain someone at my old job)--in the old post about academic politics, this guy would get coded more as crazy than tragically lazy.  So, I am grading this weekend more than I should, which makes me cranky.  Not as cranky as when my food wasn't delivered--hangry Steve is unpleasant.
Uneven burden-sharing is inherent in academia, just like it is inherent in NATO.  In both cases, the collective action challenge can be mitigated, but it cannot be eliminated.  And focusing on it all of the time probably does no one much good.  So, I shall move on.

Sports are back!  I tend not to watch much basketball, but I am going to do so now.  Partly out of curiosity to see how the games are different in the bubble, partly to support the league's embracing of Black Lives Matter and how the players will use their platform for social justice, and partly because of boredom.  I am not going to watch baseball because, well, it is not going to be around for long thanks to mismanagement.  Also, it is boring.  The good news out of this contrast is that structure and agency both matter.  The NBA has a good relationship with its players, and it has the best commissioner, so it is not a surprise that this league, along with the WNBA, got it right.  Baseball, which has a lousy relationship with its players and a lousy commissioner, got it wrong.  Hockey, which tends to have bad owner-player relations and a usually crappy commissioner, seems to be doing ok in part because they, like the NBA are just finishing the season, and in part because they lucked out and moved to Canada, which has mostly managed to bend the curve (the numbers in Ottawa the past two weeks were in the wrong direction).

Of course, my biggest frustration remains with governance.  The Canadian crisis du jour (non-pandemic division) is that the government gave a big covid-relief contract (summer employment for teens) to a cult movement charity focused on voluntourism which just so happened to have employed Justin Trudeau's family and the family of the Minister of Finance.  Ooops.  Trudeau testified this week that he knew that there would be a perception of conflict of interest so he paused, asked folks to take a second look, and then .... went ahead.  So close to doing the right thing.  Another shot in the foot, an unforced error.
On the bright side, Canada is finally launching an app for contact tracing although they are not calling it that.  The testing is still too slow here, some provinces are handling this poorly, with Alberta leading the way.  Ontario, where I live, is pressing to get on with K-12 without providing the resources.  Doug Ford's early out of character smart responses were, alas, out of character.  He is returning to form, and it is not good.

Meanwhile, in the US, my repeated statement "Biden will win if there is an election" seemed more
applicable with Trump's incredibly bad tweet and with polls showing that Biden will win ... if there is an election.  The GOP, by refusing to extend unemployment benefits, same to be in the same death spiral as the anti-maskers.  Ideologically, it might make sense.  As an election year stance, not at all.  I am of mixed feelings, as I want people to get the help they need (including more than a couple of relatives), but the country would be better off if the GOP gets crushed this November.  Both because the Dems could get more stuff done and because it might lead to the GOP changing, learning, and maybe figuring out a way to be a decent second party in this two party system.  But I really want to see people get the aid they need, I want the government to do what it takes to stop the spread of COVID, and I want the cities and states to get the help they need to treat the patients.  It is just an ugly, ugly time in the US.
Yes, prep for online teaching continues.

The glimmer of hope?  The protests are continuing and getting larger.  The efforts to repress in Portland have led to a wider mobilization, and that will lead to more voting and more activism.  John Lewis's death reminds us that good trouble is an important part of making progress, and there is a hell of a lot of good trouble being had out there.  The kids, as they say, are alright.