Saturday, February 20, 2021

Quaratine Report, Week 49: The Second Worst Week

I would call this my worst work of the pandemic except I lost a friend, a cohort-mate, last spring to a heart attack.  Since I wrote my previous q post:

  • I had a really awful fight with a friend,
  • my covid long hauling niece got a concussion,
  • I got food poisoned, which caused me to ->
  • get a covid test (negative) which probably exposed me to more risk than anything else (other than the weekly grocery store trip),
  • which upset my wife's schedule since she had to self-isolate until the test came back. 
  • I had a pretty tough meeting that was productive but not easy. 
  • I had to prep for a colonoscopy (for those who don't know, it involves drinking four liters of a potion that gets increasingly hard to drink--Dumbledore understands only too well), then repeat my Sunday night/Monday morning experience as the potion did its job, and the fasting started to get bothersome.  
  • The colonoscopy went fine, and then I gorged on too much food, which tends to cause me to have a backache, which, well, it did, so I didn't get much sleep Thursday night/Friday morning. Friday night was my best sleep of the week, thankfully.

On the bright side, I am not nor will I ever be Ted Cruz.  And I am not in Texas where the politicians left the state unprepared for the increasingly extreme weather that reminds me we started calling it climate change rather than global warming for a reason (I'd be in the part that still has power as Lubbock is not in the Texan grid).  So, in comparative perspective, it was not that horrific.  It was awful, but nobody in my family or circle of friends died.  And I guess, given the plague and the stuff going on in Texas, we count that as a good week.  

Very much not the winter break I had hoped for.  Last year's winter break involved chaperoning a group of graduate students who did not need a chaperone around a less crowded Tokyo (thanks to the pandemic) and visiting them in their home stays with their sweet elderly Japanese hosts.

10:30 AM, welcomed with sake, and then told
the local tradition is to drink two cups... and then
the host gave me that golden bottle in front of me
to take home.  Time to drink it since I never could
drop it off with my daughter.

That week was terrific, certainly the best week of the past 53.  This time last year, I went from Germany to home to Japan to a great small conference run by sharp young women at Queen's (Women in International Security-Queens) to our capstone event at the Canadian Forces College to ... hearing every sniffle and cough at the smaller airport in downtown Toronto on the day Tom Hanks announced to the world that he had COVID and the NBA shutdown.  For me, that was the start of quarantining.  We are not quite at that anniversary yet, but we can see it from here.

I really can't complain too much despite having a hard week, as my friends with kids at home are facing tougher days every week. The things I dealt with this week happen far less often.  Every five years for some things (poison potion, colonoscopy), first time in my life in another case.  

The survival strategies remain the same--baking, cooking, exercising (less this week thanks to the accidental and then deliberate poisoning), heaps of streaming with Wandavision remaining the highlight of the week.  I have much less patience these days for shows that are too dour (goodbye Black Lightning) or too dumb (stopped watching Greenland, a disaster flick, about 15 minutes in when the hero leaves to go in search of insulin).

I did finish my treadmill re-watch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I will just conclude by stealing Cap's speech:


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Hardest Part of Starting a Research Project

 I originally asked what the hardest part of doing social science is and folks ended up talking about policy relevance and getting published and getting grants.  So, to be clear, my focus was and is for this post--how to get started and what is the hardest mental/brainpower part. As a prof running a PhD dissertation proposal workshop, as a supervisor of nearly 20 PhD students over my career, and as a researcher, I thought the answer was obvious.  But nope, it ain't:

 What is the hardest part of doing social science?

Turns out all three parts--the question, the answer, how to figure out if the answer is right--are all seen as being the hardest part by roughly an equal percentage of people who answered the survey.  Again, others suggested other parts of the process, but every research project involves at least these three pieces.  And again, I was really trying to ask about what is the hardest mental exercise--figuring out what to study, how to think about it, or how to design the research?

I asked this survey out of frustration--that many of my current students are so focused on the methods that they skip over the thing that logically comes before methods: what is your proposed answer to the question?  What is your theory of x?  What do you think is the key causal mechanisms at work, what are the key conditions associated with the outcome, and why?  What is the logic of all of this?  What is the logical glue that holds together the various things that you think matters most?* 

I do think that coming up with research questions is hard, especially early in one's career. Dr. Wahedi's points here are really important.

That it is hard to figure out what to ask that hasn't been asked before.  Or, more likely, what has been asked but not answered satisfactorily that one can answer?  Of course, that already begins to bleed into the theory--do I have an answer that hasn't been posed or posed well before? As Dr. W suggests, this probably gets easier over time.  I have found it far easier now than when I started to figure out what questions are interesting and have not been answered satisfactorily.  I now have too many questions, not enough time to figure out the answers and then do the research.

The methods should be driven by the theory.  It can be hard to figure out how to test a theory, but, it is, of course, impossible without having some observable implications derived from a theory to try to, um, observe.  Once one has hypotheses, figuring out to test them can be much work.  Is there a dataset?  Can one construct a dataset?  What kinds of case studies make sense?  Most likely?  Least likely?  A sample representing the different possibilities (one case for each cell of a 2 by 2)?  Outliers?  There are plenty of books and articles that explain not just the methods but how to select which ones.  Why choose negative binomial distribution rather than poisson?  

There are far fewer guides for how to think theoretically.  While there are plenty of courses aimed at improving one's ability to think theoretically, none are so explicit about step 2 as methods courses are regarding step 3 (unless one gets a purely theoretical version of a methods course, like, alas, I got long ago).

Perhaps one reason why my Phd students in the past found this harder than other students is that I am not a disciple nor insist that my students be disciples.  I am theoretically eclectic as my supervisor was before me, and so I can't tell my students to think in a particular way.  If I did, then the challenge they would have faced is: what is a good question to apply our favorite theory to and what are the methods to test it.  For the proposal class, this is doubly true since the students range across International Affairs, from largely economic studies on trade or investment to mixed questions to mostly poli sci type questions.  So, there definitely is no magical theory that all students should be adopting.  Indeed, many of them apply pieces of theories that I am most unfamiliar with.   Which then makes it harder for me to help them through this troublesome stage.  

However, the survey suggests that I was wrong about which part of the research thinking process is the hardest.  Ironically, I have found an interesting question--why do people see the different stages differently?  I could develop a theory, but that would require work.  So, we don't really know what is the hardest part.  Tom Petty said it was the waiting, but Blondie says otherwise.

* My view of all of this is, of course, biased as I am a positivist.  One of my struggles with post-positivism is understanding how their pieces fit together.



Saturday, February 13, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 48: Limited Learning

 We are nearing the anniversary of the start of the quarantine, and it seems like we haven't learned a damn thing.  Ontario is opening up on Tuesday, despite its chief medical types saying this is a bad idea, while Newfoundland is shutting down amid a provincial election.  The latter had largely and notably escaped the worst of the pandemic, but the new variant has caused cases to skyrocket.  You'd think that Ontario would be a bit more careful, but Doug Ford (the closest thing to Trump in Canada?) is always slow to close and quick to open.  Given that vaccinations are rolling out at an accelerating pace (with some bumps), it is amazing that Ontario and similar political units are rushing to open up rather than waiting an additional week or two to give medical staff a small breather.  Nope, we are looking at a third wave in April.  The health officials themselves are expecting ... disaster.

There are more articles lately about people hitting the pandemic wall--that they (we/I) are facing more stress, more distraction, less productivity, as the end is not as near as we had hoped, that the months of this madness just add up.  The stress my friends are feeling, especially those with kids, is palpable.  There is good news, but it is hard to see amid all of the dumb decisions and irresponsible behavior.  Where is John Krasinski when you need him?

Among the good news: my mother got her first shot this week.  Philly's screwing this up by giving it to young douchebros was reversed.  Woot!  Next week is winter break/reading week at Carleton! Woot!  Ok, does not feel like that much of a break--different kinds of meetings rather than classes and, of course, no travel--but still a small change of pace.  Wandavision remains incredibly delightful!  I haven't fallen cross-country skiing in my last couple of outings.  The weather here has been winter-good.  That is, plenty of blue skies, and it has stayed below freezing.  This is good as the snow remains snow.  I hate it when it snows, melts, rains, freezes, turns to ice.  So, steady freezing temps means it is more pleasant being outside except for ... right now as it has been sub 0F.  And that turns bearably cold to unbearably.  

On the professorial front, it was a week of bad political news making classes more interesting.  The Canadian military picture of the week fostered good conversation for this week's civ-mil class, where the focus just happened to be on Canadian civ-mil.  Between that and the Vance controversy, we had much to talk about.  I am finding that this seminar works pretty well on zoom, so much so that, well I am breaking my promise to them.  I told them I would keep classes short since zooms are exhausting, supplementing the seminars with video lectures that cover the readings I cut.  Yet, we consistently go beyond the 1.5 hour mark that was my goal.  I will have to re-calibrate in the second half.  I was worried that transporting the meme of the week assignment to this class would not work, but it did:

So, woot for that!  On the homefront, it is anniversary season, so we are finding new restaurants to order food from and I am making cupcakes in an hour or two.  And we have started thinking about next year's big 30!  We hope to travel for that--whether to do the Maui trip that we lost due to COVID or go to Spain or Morocco.... hmmm.  I really can't wait to get on a plane again.  Really.  But not until I am jabbed.  We did get a notice this week that the firm with whom we placed a deposit for last summer's safari is going out of business, so we will have to see what the company does as it fades away.  We still hope to go to South Africa, maybe in the summer of 2022?

Anyhow, thinking about the future provides a nice distraction from the madness of the moment.  Whatever it takes to get through this long winter, do it.  For me, that means baking, eating, and flailing at winter sports as the one I am competent at--downhill--is out of reach for now.

Be well, and stay locked down as much as you can as the politicians find old and new ways to screw this up.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The CAF Learns that Poor Optics is Bad Policy and Vice Versa

 Today was a learning experience for the new Chief of Defence Staff.  He sent out this tweet with a picture that was, well, problematic.

 Conversations on diversity, inclusion, and culture change are not incompatible with our thirst for operational excellence. I count on my senior leaders to champion culture change. Diversity makes us stronger, inclusion improves our institution. We are #StrongerTogether - ArtMcD

 The group of officers are the Canadian Armed Forces [CAF] command team--the CDS, the Vice Chief, the heads of the Navy, Air Force, Army, etc.  All white dudes.  So, not really a diverse group.  So, what is the message that they are trying to convey and what is the message they are actually conveying?

The attempt: that the senior leadership is serious about fostering diversity and inclusion.  That they are champions.  One thing that they have been doing is assigning senior leaders (white dudes) to be champions of different less-well represented groups with the idea in mind that white men have to be part of the solution, that the work of improving diversity and inclusion and dismantling racism is not a job for only Black Canadians, for Indigenous Canadians, for Women, for LGBTQ2S+.  

The message they are actually conveying: the CAF is an institution that seem to only promote white dudes to the highest levels.  Yes, there have been and are a few women who have gotten to the rank of Lieutenant General and Vice Admiral, but not in that picture.  I don't know if there have been any people from racialized communities that have served near the top of the CAF--this picture suggests not so much.  The picture illustrates much that the CDS may not have intended but is there for all to see.  It is a picture that does not look like Canada but does look like Canadian power structures but perhaps more so.

The CDS could have taken this picture and admitted the reality: "The current command group is committed to making sure that this is one of the last pictures that looks like this."  A little self-awareness would have been handy.

The picture/tweet combo was awful, but it gets to a thorny problem that I have been facing with the CDSN.  Some say the best way to improve diversity and inclusion is to do the hard work silently and let the results speak for themselves.  Others say that in order to attract people from less well represented communities to one's efforts, one should show how such people are included.  That doing good is not sufficient, that one should show that one is doing good.  I am struggling to figure out which way to proceed.  I will, of course, focus on the substance--how to do better.  But the comms side of things is important, and it is not straightforward.  So, I am consulting folks to get a broader set of perspectives to figure out the way ahead.  

While there are far more eyes on the CAF, the CAF also has far more resources to get this right.  Do better on the substance and maybe the optics will follow. 






Saturday, February 6, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 47: Planning Amid Uncertainty

 Trying to move ahead right now is a challenge as we do not know when the vaccinations will have proceeded far enough for some sense of normalcy to return.  Will an event scheduled in August (the CDSN Summer Institute) be in person?  No.  Will the fall classes be in person?  Probably not, at least at the start.  Will APSA, which takes place at the end of September, be in person?  Damned, I hope so--it would be great to see folks again and to hang with my sister.  But, if I go to the US for APSA for any other reason, will I have to pay $2k to stay in a Canadian quarantine hotel when I return?  I have no idea when that policy will actually start and stop.  

There is good news.  The curves are mostly bending back down.  The vaccination is increasing in most places.  We probably got a bit impatient given the scale of the problem, but it is easy to see where states and provinces are screwing things up.  Other good news--Biden and the Dems are not playing along with Mitch's efforts to block everything.  So, there will be a huge COVID relief effort, and the Republicans will have to tell their constituents why they wanted to spend about a third as much.  The teams of super competent and reasonable people are now filling the executive offices, so good policies are being rolled in and craptastic ones are being tossed out.  Trump will not be getting intel briefings anymore, not that he ever paid much attention.  

In Canada, the blame game is dizzying.  Two things can be true at the same time--that it is in some ways too soon to be too critical of the vax rollout as it is really early and that all of the major political actors have also underperformed.  The worst of them are undoing the quarantine restrictions just as the curves start to bend down, which means they will bend back up.  

The best news is that my friends are reporting that their parents and grandparents are getting the shots and that my mother is now finally going to get one in the next week.  We just have to persist in our good habits a while longer.  It is made harder by the selfish people.  I saw a tweet citing a nurse that said that times like these mean that givers give more and takers take more, and it is spot on.  So, we should probably be good Mr. Rogers followers and focus on the helpers.

On the work front, it was a busy week, as the CDSN is announcing a series of events and initiatives for teh spring and summer.  We have a post-doc competition this month so that a sharp young scholar can join one of our research themes for next year, probably virtually for the first half of the fellowship.  The deadline is the end of February.  We got a great person the first year--Linna Tam-Seto.  We will aim to do as well again.  We also announced our Summer Institute for 2021 that will be online.  The aim is two-fold--to offer a professional development opportunity to advance the participant's understanding of the Canadian defence and security challenges and institutions while building bridges among different parts of the community.  We hope to get relatively junior military officers, government officials, journalists, and academics together.  Doing it online will require a lot of adaptation, but we have some practice now at doing such stuff.  Our fiscal year ends at the end of March so we are also working on how to get our subunits to inform us of what they have done while planning Year 3.  Amazing that we are already that deep into this effort.  

I also managed to do that classic "flip it to the co-author" twice on Monday.  I had enough free time and focus to finish my portion of two projects on Monday to be able to ship the projects off to others.  Tis a great feeling until... the projects come back.  I did find it a struggle to be as productive the next few days, but it was good to move some of the things along.  My MA civ-mil class continues to go well--we have good engagement, with nearly everyone participating and fewer glitches.  Our timing was either great or bad as we did the coup stuff a week before Myanmar's latest coup and we are doing both Canadian civ-mil and gender stuff in the weeks after the revelations about the retiring Chief of the Defence Staff's inappropriate behavior.  

On that, on the Jon Vance story, I have not said much.  I have been trying to figure out what to say, and I will say much of it in the next Battle Rhythm podcast that drops on Wednesday, Feb 10th.  The shorthand of the story is: the highest official in the Canadian military came into that position with sexual harassment and sexual assault as one of the most visible problems, launched a campaign called Operation Honor to address it, the campaign faced mixed results although it built up much capacity for survivors to get help and it also built up much data and efforts to study the problem, and then a week or two after he retires, news breaks of stuff that people had clearly known about but were reluctant to raise while he was CDS.  Ok, not so short of a shorthand.  

Oh, and a complication for me is that I know Vance.  I met him before he was CDS as I interviewed him for my NATO and Afghanistan projects.  I kept bumping into him and chatting with him at events in Ottawa ever since.  I am profoundly disappointed although not entirely shocked as I had heard whispers, as folks wondered how Operation Honor can work if led by a guy with some history.  I had been wondering whether the events of the past five years indicate that organizational culture is very hard to change despite the efforts made by those at the top, but maybe that is the wrong question given what we know now.  It was most striking that the response of the new CDS, Admiral Art McDonald, was to cite in his statement the need to deal with the fears and realities of retaliation when dealing with sexual harassment and assault issues.  Maybe he was struck by the timing of the news--so shortly after Vance stepped down. 

So, that is the Canadian military story of the week, and it will be with us, deservedly so, for quite some time.  On the bright side, these dynamics are being studied by members of the CDSN as part of our Personnel theme, and there are super-sharp people in and outside of government who have been working in this area over the past half-dozen years.  

On the personal side of things, it is time for me to figure out if it is a cross country day or a snowshoe day as it is beautiful today in Ottawa with blue skies and a fresh layer of white snow to cover the gray snow.

Be well, be patient, and be distanced. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Quarantine, Week 46: Stumbing Out of the Abyss

 While news of strains and variants are causing much stress, and there are stories in the US and Canada of a bungled vax rollout, there seems to be more good news than not.  The Canadian controversy is how to count the number of vaccines the country is getting from Pfizer--whether we can count each vial has having 5 shots or 6.  This is a good problem to have.  Canada is not at the top of the list of countries vaccinating their public, but it is also not as far behind as the Economist suggests.  The good thing is that most cities are not handing over their vax programs to douchebros.  The bad news is that my mother resides in the one that did.  I am heartened by seeing my friends' parents and grandparents getting the shots as well as those who in the health care business or nearby.  The latest lockdowns, as weak as they have been, are making a difference.  Biden and the CDC are making the decisions that should have been made a year ago--requiring masks on planes, for instance.  There is another vaccine that may help.  With so much death, it is hard to focus on the good news, but that is the way to get through this long winter.

 A key way to get through this winter is to mock the conspiracy theorists:

In the pre-Qanon days, I got through most long Canadian winters is by traveling.  I didn't think that the end of January was peak Steve on the road, but facebook's memories has reminded me that over the past decade, I spent the last week of January in places like Netherlands/Belgium for the NATO book, my first trip to Japan, work/ski trips to Calgary/Banff, etc.  I surely traveled far more the past ten years than in the rest of my career, so the past 46 weeks of no travel has been quite a shock to my system.  I have always liked changes of pace--like teaching one batch of students for 12 or so weeks and then getting a break and then a new one.  Travel had that same impact of shaking things up, keeping me from falling into a rut, having stuff to look forward to, having stuff to remember.  Instead, now, I pass my time by treadmilling while binge-watching, by cooking and baking, by staring at screens of all kinds.  When I land in most places, I drop my stuff off at the hotel and then just walk around the city, to see the sites, to find good pastries, and catch the flavor of a different place.  These days, "travel" means going to the blood bank to give blood or to a trail nearby for some snowshoeing.  

I know that I have been most lucky, that I have found projects that take me to great places.  My next project is unlikely to lead to as much fun travel unless .... I go with a joke I have been making to myself--that the current project skips all the I countries.  Which means the next book should do just that--check out the civ-mil dynamics of Ireland, Italy, Israel, India, and Indonesia.  Yeah, I would skip Iran and Iraq for the obvious reasons, and Iceland has no military.  

Speaking of work, having gotten past the big grant application, I have found time to think and write. Some of it was forced by the inevitable ebb and flow of work.  The Dave/Phil/Steve project hit a stumbling block as we got rejected from a top journal, but good feedback that will force us to think more clearly.  Our strategy worked as expected although not quite what we hoped.  We had a good zoom meeting to figure it out, and the next parts are in the ballparks of Dave and Phil, so I moved onto other stuff to do.  I owe different people chapters for their edited volumes, so that is my next thing.

Well, that and more CDSN stuff.  We rolled out our Post-Doc competition this week, and I got acceptances back from the people who were nominated to be our Capstone Scholars.  That event will be on March 22nd, bringing together the best presentations on Canadian defence and security of 2020.  We are now working on the end of the year reporting (our fiscal year ends at the end of March) and on our Summer Institute--which was postponed due to the pandemic.  We will try again, planning for an online version, which will be tricky since the goal was to have the participants share their perspectives with each other and build a cohort.  We will figure a way to make it work.  

While facebook remains pretty evil, it does remind me of some of the best pictures I have ever taken, so here's one to remind me of ski trips past and future.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Quarantine, Week 45: End of the Beginning

 It is going to be an horrific winter, but we now have hope: a fully armed and operational Dr. Fauci!  Ok, let's not overrate the man, the myth, the legend, but the fact that he can speak his mind now is a great portent of things to come.  Biden rolled out his COVID plan shortly after taking office, and it is full of sensible stuff that could have and should have been done last February: masks required on inter-state transportation (planes, trains, buses), masks on federal property, relying on FEMA and the Defense Production Act to provide labor and production, mobile vaccination teams, and so on.  So, the response will get better, but, alas, the bug is mutating and it is always exponential.  Government response is unlikely to accelerate in an exponential fashion. But again, the US is moving in the right direction domestically and internationally.

Inauguration day was terrific!  From the colorful coats to the most excellent poem by Amanda Gorman to the short but on target speech by Biden to the schadenfreude shots of Mitch and Pence sitting uncomfortably to Joe's herd of grandkids to the Tom Hanks show, it was a day to be enjoyed and savored.  This time, we really are not taking for granted that the meaning of democracy is the transfer of power from one administration to another, even if the outgoing one is so reluctant as to foster sedition and insurrection.  We made it.  No autogolpe.  Phew.  And no, impeachment is not going come to completion, as the GOP will remain cowards and refuse to convict a man who tried to throw away the very heart of democracy.  So, that's unfortunate.  The good news is that Cruz and Hawley may pay a price even if Trump does not.  

I am loving Biden's start.  While his appointments of the cabinet were a bit of a mess, the first steps this week have been great.  Tossing out awful people from various positions was a nice start.  Defenestration is really a handy word.  The executive orders to get back into the WHO and the Paris agreement, to extend protections to LGBTQ+, and so on were a healthy tonic.  The COVID relief package is far more progressive than I think the left expected--$15/hr minimum wage, greater tax credits and subsidies to poor families, the ability to get unemployment insurance if the alternative is being forced to do an unsafe job, and so on.  Thus far, one could complain they are not moving further than one would one, but they certainly are moving fast and in the correct direction.  

The filibuster news actually makes me happy.  Mitch thinks that it is dead, so he'd rather fight that fight on procedural issues than to fight it when COVID relief is attached.  So, sure, he gets to pick the timing, maybe.  But a dead filibuster is a necessary thing for Biden to do everything else he wants to do, pretty much.  Yes, the risk is there that if the Republicans get the Senate back, they would then be able to do what they want.  Well, Mitch and his kind would also get rid of the filibuster if it were convenient, so that threat does not move me anymore.

I had my second week of classes, and we are falling into a good rhythm.  Sure, the zoom link didn't work for everyone at first.  But once I cleaned that up, we had a good discussion.  The students were engaged, pushed me to think on some stuff, and mostly got it that Sam Huntington's ideas about civ-mil relations are almost as destructive as his ideas on ethnicity. 

The CDSN submitted the latest big grant application.  We should know the outcome by late March.  I will post about it in more detail if we get it.  But it is a big monkey off my back. Which allows me to focus on forthcoming CDSN stuff--the Capstone Seminar, the Post-Doc competition, the Diversity Council--and, oh yes, how to fix the paper that got rejected this week.  The reviewers gave us excellent feedback, giving us some guidance on how to fix some of the problems we knew we had and, alas, identifying other problems.  But once we fix these problems, not only will the article find a good home, but it will produce a stronger book.  And, yes, rejection is inherent in the enterprise.

The big news at home is that I finally bought a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  Too late for winterfest cookie making, but the pandemic is not going to disappear soon, so the baking will continue.  Today's challenge--cinnamon bread.  I have not made many breads--the baking has focused on lots of other stuff instead.  But with great stand mixers, comes great responsibility to make breads.  Pics to follow.  Be well and be distant!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

It Could Have Been Worse

 Only hours left in the Trump Administration.  I got wrong the prediction in 2016 largely because I thought that enough folks would know that Trump was so very awful.  I thought disabled folks would vote against Trump given how he mocked them. I thought enough Republicans cared about the threat to national security, given his cozy relationship with the Russians.  I thought women and minorities would see his misogyny and white supremacy and be recoiled.  I was relentlessly optimistic about the election because I was relentlessly pessimistic about what a Trump Administration would do and be.  And, yeah, I was mostly right about how awful it would be.

No, we didn't get any "new" wars but Trump did escalate many of the ones the US was in by delegating authorities down to the military--so we got the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan, we got troops getting killed in Niger, we got troops put into harm's way in Syria, we got that failed Yemen raid that first month that did not get Benghazied by Congress.  Oh, and we narrowly avoided war with North Korea in the spring of 2017, a crisis that was fed by Trump's rhetoric and escalation of moves in the region.  Iran?  Getting out of the deal and then putting pressure on Iran in a variety of ways risked war last January and accelerated Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

One of the things I got wrong in the fall of 2016 was how consistent his team was at finding the worst people to run his administration.  I didn't expect the arson to be so widespread and so deep.  Did I expect him to fuck up a pandemic?  No, I could have guessed, but it was not on the top of my mind.  Could I expect him to diminish American leadership in the world, which, in part helped to worsen the pandemic?  Yep.  America First always means America paying a higher price.  

The US dodged a second term.  It should not have been as close as it was, although it was not that close.  That more than 70 million Americans voted for someone who was proven to be incompetent, ill-tempered, highly corrupt, and just supremely awful will be a scar that does not go away.  It wouldn't have even if Trump hadn't perpetuated the big lie that he was cheated and that so many people seem to believe.  If Trump had won a second term, well, it would have continued to get worse.  No doubt about it.  Maybe he would have found a more compliant Attorney General than Barr (which is saying something), leading to prosecutions of Biden, Obama, and others.  The damage done to America in the world would have deepened and so on.  

The bright spot is that by giving permission to the most awful people to be awful, we know who they are, what they are, and we know that the GOP is the Party of Bad Faith.  While empowering white supremacists was awful and will cause more to die, we know more clearly how infiltrated and broken our police forces are, our military is, and, yes, our Congress.  The summer of protests have shifted the terms of the debate.  Americans may not be in love with defund and abolish, but the police brutality against those protesting police brutality has made a dent in how people feel about the police and about Black Lives Matter.  The question is whether the activism will continue.  If my daughter and her suspicion and frustration with Biden is any measure, the activism will definitely continue.  And they will push Biden to do better things.  We can see that already with his Climate Change team.  

Today is a great day--that losers leave even when they are reluctant.  But damn, it was close.  January 6th was closer to being horrific than we thought.  And Trump could have won had things broken differently, I suppose.  That he never reached out beyond his base, always tried to punish those who voted against him ensured he would never get more votes (electoral college, oy).  I look forward to infighting among Dems about the best way to proceed.  Because the Dems are a diverse coalition that believe in democracy, they will not fall in lock-step with anyone, and that makes the Democratics perhaps less effective than the Party of Bad Faith.  But it makes them a better party and better people.  Just having competent, empathetic, experienced people in the administration will make a huge difference.  Rock on, Biden-Harris!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Quarantine, Week 44: The Last of the Trump Era


 Yeah, it seems to have taken forever, and it should have ended repeatedly over the years as we lost track of impeachable acts, but the end is nigh.  Certainly, Trump can and will do damage in the next week.  How much?  I don't know.  Certainly pardons.  In terms of executive orders and the like, that stuff can be reversed.  Long-term appointments to various boards?  Already done, alas.  I don't know how those folks can be removed.  But everything Trump has done lately has cemented his role as leader of the GOP since I have come to call them the Party of Bad Faith.

When I refer to Trump as the worst President of my lifetime, folks can push back saying that either Nixon or GWBush were worst, mostly due to the body count of non-Americans.  Nixon via Cambodia "competes well" with Bush and the death toll in and near Iraq.  I get that.  However, US leadership in previous pandemics prevented untold numbers of deaths (counterfactuals are hard to measure), and the absence of US leadership has meant that hundreds of thousands of folks outside of the US may have paid a price that could have been avoided.  It is certainly the case that Trump is responsible for more unnecessary American deaths than any President since ... Jefferson Davis?  By acting slowly, by politicizing masks, by gutting government, by resisting science, Trump has caused this pandemic to be worse than it had to be.  Yes, lots of countries are failing to contain the virus, but the US has failed worse than most despite having much capability.  

And all of this is before addressing the fact that Trump has done more to divide the US and sow the seeds of insurrection and terrorism than any President since the end of Reconstruction.  No President has refused to leave office quite like Trump nor has any American president generated a personality cult that now commits violence against not just those that have been the main targets (women, Jews, Black Americans, Latinos, Muslims) but also those who are supposed to be allies--cops.  

Trump will be gone the next time I write one of these quarantine updates, but Trumpism will be here for quite some time.  Those given permission to be vocally and violently racist, misogynist, Islamophobic anti-semitic, and anti-democratic will not go away quickly or peacefully.  I wrote on twitter this week that we are in the midst of another counter-insurgency campaign against white supremacy in the US.  One was fought in the 1990s, but we didn't think of it as such as it was considered to be a law enforcement effort against criminals.  This time, their ideology of hate has gotten much more play, thanks to Fox, Sinclair, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and is a lot less fringe.  So, the FBI and other federal agencies will be fighting against white supremacy with fewer allies at their backs, far more friendly seas for the terrorists, and much infiltration.  It is going to be a tough fight, one that we can win, but next week will not solve the divisions in the US.  The Republican Party is still giving aid and comfort to those who seek to end American democracy.  Indeed, the GOP has been seeking a number of paths in that direction.  Will it correct itself?  I have far more faith in the FBI than I do in the GOP, and I am worried about the FBI.

Still, some relief is on its way.  I don't know how much of Biden's COVID relief package will make it through Congress intact, but the basic planning that has been done and the level of competence of the new team will dramatically improve the vaccination rollout, the efforts to contain the disease, and, well, all other policies.  The exits of Azar, DeVos, Pompeo, and the rest of the Arsonists will provide much relief just on their own, not to mention the very decent, smart people that will be taking their places.  Things will get better.  It didn't have to be this way and didn't have to be this bad, but we have reached the bottom finally.  

My heart goes out to those who live in DC, to those who wanted to travel to DC to celebrate the accomplishment of their hard work--bring the Democrats back to the White House.  Instead, DC is locked down, and the inauguration will simply not be much of a party.  I hope my friends in DC can get their groceries and such in the next week without too much hassle.  I can't fault the National Guard and the rest too much--the white supremacists vowed to come back on January 19th.  Better to have too many troops than too few next week.  I am hoping that the town can return to some degree of normalcy.  Of course, that will take some investigations to find out what went wrong, lots of worry to remove those from the police forces and military who abetted the effort, and, yes, some sanctions of those in the House and Senate who encouraged and helped the insurrectionists.  None of this will be easy, but it will be necessary.

The new beginning has already started on the personal front.  My two courses met for the first time this past week. I am teaching the PhD dissertation proposal workshop and an MA class in civil-military relations.  The former is much bigger than usual as we have more survivors from the 1.5 years of grad school (fewer folks had problems with the comprehensive exams) and we have a handful of folks from last semester who are not quite done revising their proposals.  I have to figure something out, because it is hard to workshop 12-13 projects at a time, especially online.  The Civ-Mil class--well, I spent too much time arguing why it is relevant--tis pretty obvious these days.  The students have a variety of interests and backgrounds, so we should have good discussions.  Because of the pandemic, I am changing how I teach it.  Instead of three hours of seminar, it will be 30 minutes of Steve video lectures sometime before the class, 45 minutes of discussion, a break, and then 45 minutes of discussion.  I just can't imagine sustaining three hours of conversation while all of us stare at screens.   I also reduced the reading load a bit, as it is harder to get work done in a pandemic, and added the meme of the week assignment.  

We are getting a dump of snow today so I may actually use my snowshoes appropriately.  Last week, I took them for a hike on a nature trail, and everyone (lots of folks were out) looked at me as if I were strange.  Why? Because the path had been beaten down--there was no need for snowshoes.  So, I will have to find less beaten trails if I want to use them.  Or I can just hike on the nature trails with my snowshoes on my back until I find paths to take.  The cross country skiing continues to be, um, oy.  Too much like skating, not enough like downhill skiing.  I remain committed thanks to my investment of $$.  But I will probably only do one or the other this weekend, rather than my new habit of doing one each weekend day.   And now that the big grant application is done, I may do a bit more of that stuff in the middle of the week.  I have been treadmilling all along. But some outdoor exercise mid-week might be nice.

And what am I watching while I treadmill?  Lately, I have been rewatching the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This week I started re-watching Black Panther, and I am reminded how special Chadwick Boseman was.  What a loss.  I am getting close to the end of Phase Three--just an infinity war or two and a couple of movies.  I will have to figure out what to watch next, although a couple of Canadian sitcoms have been recommended to me.  So, that might be a good change of pace.

And we could also use a change of pace after the slog of the past year/four years.  Be well and stay at home.





Saturday, January 9, 2021

Forgiveness? Fuck That

 I have nothing but outrage left for those who chose this week to leave the sinking ship that is the Trump administration.  While this past week was awful, these folks didn't draw the line at kids in cages, at Muslim bans, at Charlottesville, at politicizing the pandemic, and all the rest.  So, I want to do two things in this post, ok, three if one includes venting my spleen: discuss the consequences and rank the awful.

First, the thing that comes to mind is "to the pain" that Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts threatens Prince Humperdink at the end of Princess Bride.  No, I don't mean that we should chop off the hands and feet and cut out the eyes of the various Trumpists.  But the idea that these folks will not be able to walk the streets without the wails of disgust as they go by--that is what I want.  None of them should have a comfy dinner in a restaurant.  None of them should get comfy fellowships at Harvard.  If Heritage and other right wing institutions want to soil themselves by letting these folks hang out there, then so be it, let their reputations decline as a result.  None of these folks should ever serve in office again.  

Second, I listen to too many podcasts that rank movies and rank athletes and such.  And, yes, ranking is a Spew tradition from early on.  So, let me suggest the different circles of awful with slightly declining "to the pain" treatment (although all should never be seen as legitimate ever again).

First level, we can call the Trump Suite:  Donald Trump.  He is the worst of the worst.  He stands alone for instigating all of this, for all of the awful he has done just so that can he can get some tv time and some grift for graft or some graft for his grift.

Second level: we can call Mitch.

Third level: we can call the Family: Don Jr., Ivanka, Jared, Eric, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Mick Mulvaney, Pompeo, Mike Flynn, etc.  These are folks who played central roles in getting the Trump graft and incitement train running and maintaining it.  We deserve to hear from none of these people ever again, and none of them should hold a position of power or influence.  The only one that "earned" it was Bannon through his opportunism.  The rest rode coattails, and chose to ride with Trump to end of the line (Mick can pretend otherwise).

Fourth level: we can call the Circle of Hate.  This would be Fox News, Sinclair, OAN, Steve Bannon (saw awful, he deserves multiple levels), Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, whoever Q is, Jeff Sessions, Bill Barr, John Kelly, Kirsten Nielsen, Chad Wolf, Kris Kobak, Kayleigh Mcenany, Sean Spicer, and the like. These are the folks who engaged in two related enterprises--fostering an alternative reality for the gullible, koolaid-swilling cultists and promoting violence against Americans and against the government.  This is where the xenophobes and the gaslighters reside. 

Fifth level: we can call the Graft-tastic.  This would be Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao, Ben Carson, and pretty much most of Trump's cabinet and other hangers-on who profited from their time in Trumpland.  They sold out the country for some additional wealth.  Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and other inside traitors go here.

Sixth level: we can call Roomless Adults.  These are the folks who were viewed as the responsible people that were supposed to restrain Trump but mostly legitimated Trump and were the living embodiment of the wishful thinking of the desperate.  HR McMaster, Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, etc.

Seventh level: we can call the Re-Animated Deplorables.  Best exemplified by Elliott Abrams, who keeps getting chance after chance to do awful things.  

Eighth level: the bad faith cowardly enablers.  This would be Rubio, Graham, and others who have defended, explained away, and facilitated the Trump era. 

I am sure I am forgetting both individuals and levels.  The key is that none of these people should be forgiven for what they have done.  They should live in shame, despite their inability to feel shame.  People should be embarrassed to be seen with them, to employ them, to give them platforms.  They should only have each other as friends and companions.  They should live lonely lives of desperation for what they have wrought.  It is easy for me to vow to have nothing to do with organizations that embrace them since, well, I am not going to get any speaking engagements at Harvard and Heritage anytime soon.  But vow I will to condemn those that treat these awful people as if they belong in the conversation.  They have done tremendous damage at home and abroad, and it will take generations to mend (if we are lucky).  So, no, no forgiveness anytime soon.  Only if there is genuine remorse, a full fessing up, and consequences.  I don't expect any of that from these people. 

Quarantine, Week 43: Insurrections and Late Grades

 2021 still feels like 2020, and that will probably last beyond the Biden Administration.  Slow rollouts of the vaccine, spiking rates of infection, and Trump will continue to amp up the anxiety and stress even after January 20th.  It will get better, but it will take a while to feel it.  However, we can at least celebrate the end of Trump on twitter and the many social media outlets banning the inciters of violence.  But damn, that was an awful day.

Still not a coup attempt, as I have relentlessly argued with friends, family, and strangers.  Awful, but could have been far worse.  Impeachment will not happen until after Biden is President and probably not even then.  It takes consensus to have the Senate return before Jan 19, so that isn't happening.  Can the Dems on Jan 21st get 18 or so GOP to vote for impeachment?  It would have the benefit to them of preventing Trump from being eligible in 2024 to be President ... or serve any other federal office, I believe.  But it would require courage, which is in short supply among the Republicans.  Any insurrectionists should be prosecuted and punished, which might just include Hawley and Cruz.  I had forgotten that the 14th amendment bans insurrectionists from serving in the House or Senate.  Hmmmm.  Give the polls today of how the American people feel about the violence on Wednesday, Hawley and Cruz have made quite a dent in their presidential aspirations.  But I'd like to see greater consequences.  I doubt that such consequences will be forthcoming.

So, yeah, I might have been in a pissy mood when the students who handed in papers quite late and thus were graded on their incomplete work were pretty annoyed and whiny about getting their grades changed this week.  Plus Trump's shenanigans interrupted my course prep for the new term that starts next week. 

I have broken one resolution and kept another.  I promised I would bake a bit less, but then I made emergency brownies on Wednesday.  On the other hand, I also vowed to connect more, and I did a bunch of that this week, zooming with friends.  

On the CDSN front, we are making progress.  I have been working on two things.  First, we have a grant proposal due in less than two weeks.  I wrestled with the budget, which was a diversion from the DC madness.  Now that the budget is beaten into submission, and the comments I got from the Carleton grant people were super helpful, I just have to nag partners to send letters.  If funded, the grant would add three new focal points of research to the network, addressing the pandemic.  It would also bring in some folks from other disciplines and improve the diversity of the network.  Speaking of which, I have also been working on a Diversity Council, which would be a group of people who could provide us with ideas and feedback on how the CDSN could do better on one of our key objectives--fostering a more diverse and inclusive defence and security community.  I hope to have the full council ready to announce at the start of February.  Then, we will work on a Diversity Plan, which will take existing initiatives and potential new ones and see how they fit together to help us reach our goals.  

I am pretty fried from arguing about coups/autogolpes/insurrections, so I will keep it short.  I will be making my second attempt at cross country skiing later today.  I hope you and yours are finding ways to distract yourselves from the DC madness.  Be well.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Worst Day in US Transition History (post Reconstruction edition)

 I wrote earlier about the worst day in civil-military relations in reference to the Lafayette Square mess.  Yesterday was an awful day, but it had little to do with civil-military relations (some--which I will discuss below).  It had everything to with the awful state of the GOP. 

First, I will remain on this hill--it was not a coup It was not an attempt by a security force (police, secret police, military) to change who governs.  It was an insurrection--an effort to undermine existing authority to keep in power the current leader.  

Second, I will remain on a second hill--it ain't fascism.  Trump does not have a coherent political program to control society.  He just wants to stay in power for his own ego and to pursue graft.  He is an aspiring autocrat, but he does not have the attention span to be a real fascist.  Were there fascists among the insurrectionists?  Absolutely.  One of the key bits of glue among all these people is, of course, white supremacy.  But one can be a flaming racist autocrat without being a fascist.  

Ok, with those two points of pedantry aside (although I think they matter because we need to focus on the real threats and the US military is not one of them), what to make of all of this?  First, I don't expect either the 25th Amendment or impeachment to remove Trump.  Either would require Republicans to have some backbone and care about country more than power.  That is just not going to happen.  That calls for both are now mainstream shows how appalling Trump's incitement yesterday was.  Of course, Trump has been inciting violence since the Central Park 5 and since he started running for President.  But when the incitement leads to violence in broad daylight at the national capitol, it stings a bit more, doesn't it?

The Fox effort to make this appear to be Antifa will surely test their abilities to persuade since plenty of the pictures were of folks who had been vocal members of the Trumpist (fa, not antifa) effort.  These deplorables were sent to the capitol by Trump himself.  Hard to deny that reality when the assholes are posting themselves all over social media.  On the bright side, their pictures will be called "evidence" as many will be caught and prosecuted eventually.  Not quickly enough.

And, yes, the capitol police were understaffed, underprepared, and entirely too complicit.  The oversight committees will have a field day grilling them, and, yes, folks will lose their jobs.  A key point from the scholarship on ethnic riots (and this was an ethnic riot): they don't happen if the police don't let them happen.  Compare and contrast the police presence yesterday with the BLM stuff of last summer. The police had plenty of warnings, but they didn't prepare.  Why not?  Did they just underestimate the willingness of the douchebros to act?  They didn't notice what happened in Michigan? 

I am hoping that this fiasco will reduce Biden's enthusiasm for bipartisanship since as my brother put it on twitter, reaching across the aisle now seems to require a portal to the world of insanity.  I am hoping that Manchin reconsiders his opposition to killing the filibuster since all that needs to be done, such as passing a new Voting Rights Act, will be impossible if they need GOP support.  

Oh, and I am not in a forgiving mood.  Mattis and others can condemn yesterday's violence, but that is the very, very, very least they can do.  No senior official in the Trump administration, past or present, should ever serve again and they should not be welcome in polite society until they have done sufficient penance for their sins.  

On the civ-mil of the day, the big news was that the call to the National Guard was complicated.  That is, since DC isn't a state (again, something that should be changed), its NG is run by the Secretary of the Army, not the governor of DC (there is no such person).  The news is confusing--whether DoD declined the request at first, whether Pence approved it (he is not in the chain of command), and so on.  More will come out eventually, but it is a mess.  I think folks have it right--that DoD saw the request, looked back at the complaints they got last summer over the Lafayette Square mess, and tried to dodge this event.  Always learning from the last war.  Not great.  But I do think that I would want the NG to be prepared with clear rules before rushing in.  So, perhaps a bit of caution was not a bad thing.  I really don't know.  But the process does seem to have been quite flawed.  

What next?  I really hope that there are investigations so that people get arrested, that officials get fired for failing to do their jobs, and so on.  We need serious accountability.  Will we get that?  I really don't know.  Biden may want to move on and to heal, but I think that is the wrong way to go.  People need to pay a price for their sins.  Not in the afterlife--they need to pay now.  

All I know is that we are stuck with Trump for two more weeks.  Everything else is less certain.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Quarantine, Week 42: A New Year, Old Problems

Happy New Year!
 I'd love to start the new year with optimism and happiness, so I made a Dutch Baby breakfast.  But then I decided to blog about the new year and was reminded of politicians in Canada violating travel bans ("personal responsibility" apparently only applies to the peons), stories of failed vax rollouts, and hearing from friends who have families who have gotten sick and even some who have lost relatives.  With the spikes, the disease is getting much closer to everyone I know and exacting quite a price.  

And then there is the continued effort to de-legitimize a very decisive Biden win. After all, Joe got way more votes than Trump and got pretty much the exact same electoral college win that Trump did four years ago.   Of course, it really is about the bad faith parade.  I guess I can take some glee about the Congress overriding Trump's veto, but it had to be on the defense bill and not on something that overturned the worst Trump policies.  The good news is that they put into that bill some anti-corruption stuff so the US reduces its allure as a money laundering destination.  Woot!  

We finally got some real snow last night (ok, only a few inches), so I might finally be able to try out my new cross country skis today.  I haven't x-country skied in about ... forty years, so we shall see how it goes.  But the sun is super bright, the snow is so very white, that I must finally exit my house and enjoy the outdoors.  I'd go to the Gatineu park, the best place for outdoor exercise near Ottawa, but I am sure it will be swarmed.  Today, I will just see if I can handle the equipment in a local park.  

 The drinking and the baking continues.  We rang in the New Year with butterbeer and chocolate chip cookie dough pots.  The latter was one of the discoveries of 2020--super easy to make and very delightful--imagine a gushy warm chocolate chip cookie in a small dish.  And this morning, I baked a Dutch baby, which came out nicely: 

 I have already kept one set of NY resolutions: not working and not feeling guilt on NYE and New Year's Day.  I will try to get some stuff done this weekend--grading and letter of rec writing as those have strict deadlines.  I did manage to tape a few lectures for the winter course, so I am not far behind.  I still need to tweak the course website.  The big tasks ahead are cleaning up the grant application that is due in two weeks and writing a chapter for an edited volume.  And, yes, that means that I am still behind on finishing my case studies for the Dave, Phil, and Steve book.  But since they are not nagging me, I am guessing they are not done with their pieces.  We will finish the book this summer, but the distraction sauce of pandemic + elections has definitely pushed things down the road a bit.  Good thing civilian oversight of the armed forces is still a thing.

Indeed, the best news of the week were the Defense appointments.  Biden has placed some sharp civilians around the new SecDef (if Congress waives the requirement for the SecDef not to be a recently retired officer): Kath Hicks, Colin Kahl, and Kelly Magsamen.  I have interacted in twitter with Kath over the years.  My friends know Kelly and respect her quite a lot.  Colin is a political scientist with whom I have crossed paths (he had the IAF after me, so I think that is when we first met) over the years.  I couldn't get the civilian for the top spot, but we did get a very smart and experienced crew surrounded the retired general.  So, woot for that.  

I did have one New Year's resolution that I tweeted about--that I will give our cat more attention this year.  Bob is old, and I remembered how I regretted not spending more time with my dogs before they passed.  The first one died unexpectedly from pancreatitis while I was at a college.  Being away most summers and then that year or two at college meant I really did not spend much time with her.  My second dog died while I was at a conference--it just wasn't worth prolonging his pain a few more days so that I could return.  He was the coolest of dogs, the most strategic of dogs.  He did live to 18 or 19 (he was a rescue so we have no idea what age he was when we got him), and he did provide him with a playmate.  So, I am sure we did right by him, but he was terrific, crossing the country with us about three or four times (SD->VT, VT->TX, TX->VA and then VA-QC).  Our third and last dog also lived a long time--about seventeen years.  And I was with her at the end and spent the last few months of her life carrying her up and downstairs, and she was not small.  So, we had plenty of time together.  Anyhow, I have watched Bob age this past year, so I am mostly hoping that he outlives the pandemic, so that we can be with him at the end.  He has stopped doing the things that made our relationship difficult--waking us up early (banging on the bedroom door), scratching or biting me moments after he seemed so happy to be petted, etc.  I never hated him, but I certainly feared him.  Oh and he always knocked over glasses of water we had lying around.  All that is now in the past as he is too old for these shenanigans.

Other resolutions?  Hmmm.  I hope to bake a bit less while keeping up the exercising.  I haven't gained weight, but I could have lost more weight.  But I do find myself tempted by recipes I see these days, so we shall see if I keep that up.  I resolve to travel less ... oh my.  I plan to ignore Trump after Jan 20th.  Ok, those were easy ones.  The other thing I have resolved to do in 2021 is to return to the habit of zooming frequently with friends.  Being connected has been key to getting through this.  I slowed down my zooming this fall as I had a bunch of conferences and meetings.  But I realized that friend hangout zoom is not exhausting like work zoom is.  So, I will return to hanging out with whoever is willing to put up with me.

As always, stay at home, be safe, and be well!