Thursday, July 29, 2021

A Very Different Trip Around the Sun

A b-day gift from Mrs. Spew

 This week is another Stevefest as I hit another milestone age--half way through my 50s.  The funny thing is that my body is definitely feeling it with reflux and strained calf (which has kept me out of ultimate for a couple of weeks) and other ailments, but mentally/emotionally, I don't feel like 55 or even a grownup on most days.  This has been the saddest year of my life but not the hardest.

Staying at home has not been hard, nor has been baking up a storm.  Taking care of a newborn that didn't like eating and then within two years needed surgery--that was hard. Sleep deprivation that accompanied that was hard as was the intra-marital friction that came along with that.  But it was not a sad period.  This past year h



as been easy on us in so many ways--that none of my immediate family has been harmed by COVID and we have not lost money in the process.  But we have lost a towering family friend, a friend from grad school, a friend from the IR world, and a cat.  And I have been so sad and frustrated for my friends who have suffered far more and for my friends whose kids have had their lives put on ice for more than a year.  We were lucky in that our kid was out of school, that the temporary furlough didn't cost her money, and, that her deferred search for a new job finally paid off this week.  

It has been a year of anger--of failures to lock down and to mask and then of failures to roll out the vaccine and now failures to distribute the vaccine to the rest of the world and the refusals of way too many to take the vaccine.  Similarly, the election should not have been so close, and the Dems' hold on power should not be so fragile--the tie in the Senate, a seat or two in the House.  And Jan 6th.   

But it has also been a year of appreciation--for the friends I have, for the tech that has allowed me to connect regularly with folks from across the profession and from the distant past, for family that have drawn closer together in this crisis, and for the cool place I live.  

Last year's Stevefest post referred to a meeting I had that caused me to dress up (the only time I wore a complete suit in the past year--zoom means never having to wear suitpants) and to thinking about CDS Vance's legacy.  Oh my, the past year has sure put all of that in a different light. I am proud of the year the CDSN had in providing insights and advice on the abuse of power/sexual misconduct scandal in the Canadian Armed Forces.  We had ample opportunity to demonstrate our independence from DND/CAF this past year as we have been quite critical--for example my posts here and my op-eds.

Anyhow, this Stevefest has been different for a couple of reasons.  No comedy shows, only one movie where I went solo.  We did eat out three times and once was even indoors (because I messed up the reservation).  And I embraced the amazon moment, getting my own gifts from sports socks to an oculus.  I am reaching the age when my friends are discussing retirement at our online poker games and when I think about how much longer I will work past 65--at least one year since I won't hit 20 years at Carleton until 66 and there is a pension here (really!).  

Dinner beside the Rideau River was delightful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, I am very grateful as I mark this birthday.  I know that I am lucky personally and professionally.  I have a great job in a good place, my family is mostly doing well, and the facebookization of birthdays reminds me of all the friendships I have built over the years in all of the places I have lived and studied and worked and played.  And, yes, I get to see my daughter and the rest of my family very soon, and I am guessing the hugs will last much longer this time around.  It has been way too long.

The dessert of the year makes
another appearance! CCC doughpots!


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Digging Out of the DND/CAF Hole

 I had a coffee with a really smart person yesterday that got me thinking and then the news that former CANSOF commander MG Pete Dawe was being reinstated got me thinking even more.  What can we do to make real change in DND/CAF?  Last week's roundtable was a progress report, but it reminded me of what isn't being done as much as what is being done.  Again, my expertise is not on personnel stuff or organizational or cultural change but on civil-military relations, so this is a half-baked set of guesses more than a well-worked out plan.  

Monday, July 19, 2021

Understanding the CAF Crisis: Principals and Agents All The Way Down

One of the central ironies of contemporary civil-military relations is that most modern militaries think one theoretical approach should be applied to them while they apply another to those below them.  Huh?  

The Huntingtonian approach to civ-mil says that professional militaries should be autonomous, that professional soldiers/sailors/aviators/etc can be trusted to do the right thing if trained right.  Militaries love this because it tells themselves that they are the sole experts on military stuff, that civilians should tell them where to fight and then leave it at that.

But military folks don't give that kind of autonomy to those below them.  No, they spend incredible amounts of effort thinking about leadership and management.  Consciously or not, they live principal-agency theory--the idea that any delegation will lead to the agent being given discretion/responsibility knowing more about what they are doing than the principal giving them that responsibility.  So, you need to be careful about which agents you selection, how much discretion you give them, how you oversee them, and the incentives to reward good behavior and punish bad.

Why are the Canadian Armed Forces so messed up these days?  Let's take a look via those four pieces of the delegation process:

  • Agent selection: who chooses the command staff of the CAF?  The Chief of the Defence Staff is chosen by the Prime Minister and Defence Minister, and then the CDS chooses the rest--the head of the army, navy, etc. This can be good--that a CDS can come in and eventually shape the leadership of the force so that they all push in the same direction.  However, it can also be that the CDS chooses his pals, those who have done him favors over the years, etc.  In this crisis, General Jon Vance picked a guy with a checkered record to be Chief of Personnel.   The unanswered question in all of this is why the hell did he do that?  And where was the Minister when the CDS did that?  It raises questions about old boy networks and the importance of connections.
    • So, step one: fix agent selection.  This is more than just doing 360 reviews, which are helpful at getting junior folks who might be abused to report those leaders who kiss up and kick down.  Will such evals and other testing weigh at all compared to operational performance?  
    • Also, of course, don't put folks who recently served in the military in the position to oversee the military.  That is, select the right Minister/Secretary of Defence.
  • Discretion: how much discretion does the CDS get in picking the command staff?  How much discretion does the CDS get in reforming the CAF?  When Deputy Minister Jody Thomas appeared on our Battle Rhythm podcast last month, she indicated that Vance told her to stay out of the reform effort.  It seems to be the case that Vance had complete freedom to do what he wanted, and, yes, he chose mostly not to implement the Deschamps recommendations.  
    • Step two: dump the Huntingtonian approach of giving the CDS so much discretion.  Tell him what he should be doing, whom he should be doing it with, and what is to be expected.  To be clear, this is not micromanagement as it is not a matter of some civilian in Ottawa using a 7000km screwdriver to operate something happening in Kandahar at seven levels lower in the chain of command but it is management--telling the person immediately below you what their job is and then making sure they do it. 
    • When researching the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, when I interviewed each commander (including Vance), they all referred to the letter of intent they received from the CDS--that defined their "left and right arcs of fire"--what they could and could not do and what they should aim for.  These letters defined their discretion.  
    • Discretion should be related to trust--the more you trust an agent, the more discretion you can give.  The less you trust an agent, the less discretion they should have.  The delegation contract is not fixed--it can change as one learns via oversight how things are going.
  • Oversight: how do you know that the underling is doing what they are supposed to be doing?  Who is responsible for overseeing the agent?  The Minister is the person responsible for overseeing the CDS--there is no one above the CDS besides the Minister and the Prime Minister.  The Minister can use all kinds of other agents to help oversee the CDS--the ombudsman, the Deputy Minister, etc--but the responsibility for keeping informed of what the CDS is doing--whether they are staying within the intent of the Minister--is the Minister's.  
    • Step three: stop saying that looking into what the CDS is doing is politicizing anything.  When the ombudsman wants to give you info, take it.  Have your various agents report back about what the other agents are doing so that one has good situational awareness. In my question to the Minister last week, I basically asked--are you going to change how you oversee this to process.  He still seemed to be taking a very passive approach.
    • The stylized metaphor for oversight is contrasting fire alarms versus police patrols (h/t to the recently departed Mat McCubbins)--do you set up a passive system where you respond only when the alarm gets pulled?  Oh, and in most fire alarm systems, the media is the one pulling the alarm--is that a desirable way to oversee the CDS?  To respond only when things hit the fan?  Or do you set up a police patrol system where you or your other agents regularly look around for trouble and via their presence--the likelihood of getting caught--discourages unwanted behavior?  So, step three is really about setting up a system of oversight that does not rely on Mercedes Stephenson, Amanda Connolly, and the rest of the media but either uses the agents one has or develop new oversight agents--an Inspector-General?
  • Incentives: Oversight is not enough--it must be known that good behavior will be rewarded and bad behavior will be punished.  What gets one promoted? What gets one's discretion reduced?  What gets one's career ended early or shunted off to someplace less desirable?  What were the conditions that the Minister told the CDS would get him additional years?  Or that would end his term?  Given the prominence of the personnel file (again, it was moved to the front of the Defence review document even though such a review really should start with threats), you would think that not implementing the Deschamps report would be punished.  That the CDS would be sent off to retirement since he did not fulfill a key part of his mandate.
    • Step four: make clear that there will be consequences for not doing what is expected.  This is really important for sending signals to the rest of the force--that the highest in the chain of command will be help accountable--that they will pay a price when they screw up.  
    • Incentives are not all or nothing--it is not just about firing, although in this case...  One can also visibly reduce an agent's portfolio or discretion.  Increased oversight is seen as punishment, so do that to send a signal and to impose a cost.

There is obviously much more going on.  This framework only addresses a piece of the puzzle, but it is a key piece.  I can't help but think of Bill Belicheck's mantra right now--do your job.  What is your job?  Well, if you are Minister of National Defence, it is managing the CDS--choosing the right person, shaping their discretion, overseeing what they do with their discretion, and providing sticks and carrots.  If you are the CDS, it means managing the generals and admirals under you who then manage those colonels and captains below them and on and on. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Congrats, Canada But Let's Not Get Too Smug

 This weekend, Canada surpassed the US in vaccinating the public!

This is good news for Canada, bad news for the US, and I want to explain why Canada shouldn't get too cocky.  Sure, Canadians like to define themselves by how they are better than the US, but that often blinds them to how they can could be better.

First, how did Canada do this after being so far behind the US?  Well, it takes two to play so first what Canada did right, then the US's problems.

  • Canada invested in a wide portfolio of vaccines.  Trying to work with the Chinese didn't work out, but they had contracts with Pfizer, Moderna, AZ, India's AZ, J&J, and who knows what else.  
  • Conservative politicians in Canada supported vaccination, including publicly getting vaccinated.
  • Less public distrust of government in Canada because government had been doing national health care for a while.  Tis deceptive since it is really a series provincial health care programs but more on that below.
  • Canadian vax hesitancy dropped as the rollout gained momentum and as delta scared everyone.
  • The American problems start with Fox and the GOP.  In the same spirit as fighting Obama and to deny him successes in 2009 in the midst of a severe financial crisis, these actors seem compelled to undermine the vax effort so that Biden and the Dems don't look good for 2022 and 2024.  There is no equivalent to Fox in Canada despite the efforts of Rebel and other far right platforms.  The biggest anti-vax voices in Canada are Americans--Rand Paul, Naomi Wolf, Alex Berenson, etc.  And while they penetrate, they are not as loud in Canada as they are in the US.
  • Americans also have greater skepticism about the government and about public health, so Fox and its ilk had something to play with.  

So, Canada is getting vaccinated..  But it could have gone better and there is more left to do.

  • Canada is more federal than the US so the feds don't really have good data on who has been vaxxed, making the development of vax passports much harder.
  • The communications was mostly awful as conflicting messages about Astra Zeneca and the branding of Pfizer meant some expiration of shots and lots more anxiety.
  • A more targeted rollout at first may have prevented more deaths by vaccinating those most likely to spread rather than those most likely to die: young and working rather than old and retired.  We have a forthcoming podcast at BattleRhythm with a modeler who has good math to prove this.
  • The kids still aren't vaccinated and approval is now likely to be in the winter?  So, how prepared are the schools?   Why aren't teachers and faculty and medical personnel required to get vaccines?  Why aren't students above 12 years old?  The provinces could do far more to give schools cover.  Indeed, the feds should ask the Supreme Court for advice on this--can there be requirements to be vaxxed?  Let's clarify what is required and move on.  

Anyhow, things are going better in Canada. But much of the world needs far more help.  So, as always:

 


 






Saturday, July 17, 2021

Reform is Hard, Abuse of Power edition

 Yesterday, I was a participant in a roundtable organized by the Department of National Defence to consult/report on the sexual misconduct and abuse of power crisis.  I went in with very low expectations as it was very, very large for a roundtable: 90 people split between "stakeholders" [academics, activists, advocates, survivors] and folks in DND and the CAF and other government agencies (Veterans Affairs, Minister for Women and Gender Equality) and very little time allotted for Q&A.  Also, it was announced with short notice and scheduled on a Friday afternoon in the summer, which was not too family friendly.  The event surpassed my expectations but not wildly so as some sessions were informative, and we did get to ask some questions.  In terms of message management/PR effort, it was better than the set up suggested it would be, but I think the reactions of folks depending in part on their priors.

Before addressing the meeting itself, I want to note how much I was reminded of the classic quote by Machiavelli:

"It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them."  The Prince from here*

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Fighting and Losing: Thinking About Afghanistan

 20 years after the US and then its allies got into Afghanistan, they are getting out, and it may be that the Taliban will return to power.  Maybe the government of Afghanistan will hold on, but much of the terrain over which NATO and its partners fought is falling into Taliban hands.  This week, some of the places where Canadians died have fallen.  What to make of it?  

Lt. General Eyre, the Acting Chief of Defence Staff had a very good statement:

My perspective, of course, is very different as I only spent a week in Afghanistan, and I didn't lose friends in battle.  The starting point, I guess, is thinking about what the troops and civilians were doing there.  In my book, I argue that the primary objective was to support an ally that had been attacked, that Canadians had no intrinsic interests in Afghanistan, but joined the effort to support the US and to support NATO.  And in that effort, Canadians, in and out of uniform, were mostly successful for the time they were there.  Canada left Kandahar before its allies left other combat zones, but while it was there, the CAF was more flexible and more helpful to the allied cause than almost any other ally.  And Canadians paid a higher price as a result.  

While the Canadians were in Kandahar, conditions improved, but there was a limit to what kind of sustainable impact they could make.  As Eyre says in his note, the job of the foreign militaries was to create the space for the political stuff.  No matter the Kandahar Action Plan or the Helmand Plan or the Uruzguan Plan and on and on, the outsiders simply could not change the politics of the place.  Ok, they could affect it, and did so often quite badly as the constitution was a poor fit for the place and as the outside forces often got played by the Afghans, with our "allies" providing tips that often were aimed at hurting their rivals for land, drugs, and power.  As I keep saying, third party counter-insurgencies are third-party for a reason--that the government of the place is not up to the task and that becomes pretty hard to fix.  

Was defeat inevitable?  I am still not sure as there were so many big mistakes early--the US going too light, becoming too quickly distracted by Iraq, putting into place a crappy constitution, and on and on.  But wars get lost--as far as I can tell, no country is undefeated.  How one grapples with that reveals as much or more character than the winning or losing.   The old saying is that victory has many parents but defeat is an orphan.  Everyone will try to disown this war, but we can look at the conflict and figure out what are the limits of power, what are the mistakes that we ought to avoid in the future, and what we do really well.  Trying to forget about this war and moving on, back to Great Power Competition, will only ensure that we are poorly prepared the next time.  The lessons of Vietnam came late to the battlefields of the Mideast, the lessons of Afghanistan may come too late down the road.

The focus now should be on helping those who helped us--the interpreters, the drivers, and the others who are at greatest risk of retaliation.  Of course, this will be one last bit of damage we do as we will be taking from Afghanistan some of the folks who might best contribute.  But our responsibility is to those individuals who we made promises to, more so than the long-term prospects of the place.  With all things in Afghanistan and in counter-insurgency, the choices are between bad and worse.   

It is natural to be angry and sad. The days ahead are going to be full of bad news.  In terms of the big Biden decision, I am not sure how this would be much different if it happened next year or the year after.  Sticking around would have made much more sense if there was evidence that there was progress being made, that the outcome would be different with a bit more time and investment.  I don't think Trump was wrong about wanting to get out of all of these wars--just about how to do it.  Nobody wants to lose a war on their watch, but deferring so that someone else can lose it on theirs is quite problematic.

There is much more to stay about all of this, so I will probably come back to it eventually.  Right now, I am just sad for the Afghans who were let down by their own leadership and by the outsiders. 





Saturday, July 10, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 69: The End of the Quarantine for Some of Us

"Filthy Belgian" courtesy of NeXT
 My elder sister asked this week what will happen to the quarantine report now that I am double vaxxed plus two weeks.  The answer is that I will try to keep writing at least weekly, but that it will no longer be a regular status report on being cooped up.  Mrs. Spew and I reached two doses plus two weeks a couple of days ago and marked it by eating out for the first time since last summer.  Last summer, we did take out in various small towns in the Ottawa region, but we did not patio.  So, this week was our first patio/eating at a restaurant since March of 2020.  Even though it rained, we went out to a restaurant we like quite a bit.  A very nice change of pace.

The second major normalization was the start of the summer ultimate season, about six weeks later than usual.  My Monday team is the same I have been playing with since I moved here.  My Wednesday team is almost completely new to me with one teammate someone I have played against regularly in the Grandmaster League (40 and over).  Tomorrow, I play in a Sunday Master/Grandmaster pickup game--we didn't get enough players for several teams, so we will just be switching things up from week to week.   So far, I am not too sore, my throws have mostly been on, I have actually made a decent defensive play or two, laid out for a few disks, and even outsky-ed a, um, shorter person (watching instagram stories of the professional ultimate league may have inspired me to jump up more rather than the usually jumping sideways/down).  So, it has been a heap of fun, great to finally be in groups larger than two as well.  

The third bit of returning semi-normalcy is that I finally got a haircut.  I developed much sympathy for women with long hair as my glasses and mask combo got harder and harder to keep on my face with more and more hair on the sides of my head.  The final straw was that it was getting harder to tie my bandana with all of the hair in the back.  

I have written before about the lessons of the lockdown, but as the quarantine winds down for me (at least for now, and, yes, just for us lucky North American folks), I am wondering what else to take away from all of this.  Again, I found the desperate need to connect.  I also found it hard not to have changes of pace--just the same stuff day and day out for 18 months or so.  I know I got on Mrs. Spew's nerves--she is used to getting breaks from me as I gallivant around the world.  But I also found that we can persist and endure and even thrive a bit.  Hollywood Exec Assistant Spew has been looking for a new position on the creative side of Hollywood, and she has persevered, making it past the first round at a number of places.  The CDSN has managed to keep going, with the transition to online opening up a variety of possibilities for the future, even as we move back to in-person events.

 It has been a very stressful year although not as stressful as the first year or two of baby Spew's life.  I didn't sleep great this year, but I got far more sleep this year than I did 25 years ago.  My job was pretty stable although moving online for classes created more work.  Staying at home day after day got monotonous but not very stressful.  I lost some friends and that hurt--definitely the worst year of my life for losing people.  Plus we lost our cat who spent the last part his life being far more cuddly than the previous 17 years.  So, it was definitely the saddest year of my life, but, again, being a new parent was far more stressful.

Anyhow, when I started doing these Q reports, I did suggest that the pandemic and quarantine could cause me to lose it. 

 

Well, did I descend into madness?  You be the judge:

 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 68: Compartmentalizing The Disasters

 Man, even as we get towards the downslope of the pandemic in North America, the hits keep on coming.  The brutal heat out west sparked a fire thunderstorm, something that I did not know could happen.  No rain, just lightning sparking fire.  It wiped out a town that had just set the Canadian record for high temperature.  And climate change is only going to get worse--with droughts out west, a real water crisis is emerging, there will be more fires, and people are dying just due to the heat.  At the same time, the bill has come due for GOP domination of court selection.  This week's decision to further gut the Voting Rights Act will let stand all kinds of shenanigans by the GOP to suppress the vote AND change who decides elections--Republican legislators, not voters.  Yet, the Dems still can't get their act together--Sinema and Manchin (along with Feinstein and some others) are entirely too willing to let this happen.  It drives me crazy that the crisis alarm is blaring, and these politicians are letting this all happen.  Of course, even if they were to pass a new Voting Rights Act, Alito and pals are likely to gut it.  Up here, in Canada, it was a very sad Canada Day, as what Canadians should have known has become obvious to all--that the Residential Schools were concentration camps for Indigenous kids, complete with disease-ridden housing and abusive guards priests.

And yet more death.  Mat McCubbins was a prof at UCSD when I was there.  I didn't take any classes from him as I was avoiding all American Politics stuff.  Too bad as the approach he helped to develop and promote--principal-agency theory--has become one that I have been leaning on quite a bit the past decade or so.  Mat was a powerful force in the department.  He helped shape it, and he definitely made a huge impact on his students.  I remember him doing a great deal of pitching to get his students jobs.  My only real experience with him was the football games we played a couple of years around the Super Bowl--grad students versus Mat and his bigger, more physical friends.  But I got a lot through osmosis at the time as his students gave me much feedback on my work, and I learned from what Mat had to say at job talks and the like.  He moved from UCSD, but he made a lasting impression.  My condolence to his family and to his students.

The Canadian civ-mil story got messier.  The Acting Chief of Defence Staff announced he was going to keep the head of the navy on despite the latter's poor judgment in playing golf with the disgraced and currently being investigated former CDS.  The A/CDS, General Eyre, explained that we can't fire everyone and that we need to have some proportionality.  I see the challenge here--that there needs to be consequences but also there needs to be an environment where people who make mistakes can learn and improve.  Zero tolerance, no discretion is a dumb, cowardly way to go that often causes much more harm.  When asked, both Deputy Minister Freeland and Prime Minister Trudeau criticized the decision as if Eyre was off on his own, making shit up.  I can guarantee that Eyre consulted widely including with the Minister of National Defence.  So, if Freeland and Trudeau have a problem with this, they should talk to MND Sajjan.  Sajjan hasn't said he was consulted but that he stands by Eyre.  Which is pretty weak.  He should make clear he owns this decision, but perhaps Sajjan still does not understand what his job entails.

So, how do we manage to get through this?  Focusing on the positive, I guess.  Thinking about the things one can control.  Taking some solace in the silly stuff.  The best news on the home front is that on Thursday Mrs. Spew and I will be "fully vaxxed" meaning that we had two doses (AZ and Moderna) and two weeks.  Which will then mean arranging long-deferred dentistry, a haircut, movies for me (my wife will wait on that a bit longer), and more outings including some patio dining.  The number of new cases in Ottawa has been in the single digits this week.  So, I look forward to some drinks with friends soon.

Also, ultimate!  With Ontario moving to stage 2, we can now return to the fields.  I may have overextended myself by signing up for three leagues--playing three games a week--but I was not sure whether any of the three were going to work out.  The Sunday late morning league will be a small affair with two dozen or so players, all "Master" or "Grandmaster".  To be qualified for the former, men have to be over 33 and women over 30 and for the latter, men over 40 and women over 37 (the idea is not that women age faster than men but they tend to be fewer of them, I am guessing).  Yes, there is such a thing as Great Grandmaster--for guys over 50 and women over 47--but we had a hard enough time getting 26 people together this summer with the lower age cutoff.  I know more of the older players so that makes it more fun.  Many are still quite fast, but not quite as many rabbits.  And generally a high skill level.  The two other leagues are open, so I will be playing against men and women of all ages.  My wife is wondering if I will make it through the summer with my hamstrings and achilles still attached.  We shall see, but it will be a short summer session as we are starting late.  Expect more frisbee talk and pics in the weeks ahead.

The other bit of good news was that it was a good writing week. One co-author finished off our revisions of a paper, so that is now in the hands of the reviewers.  I met with Dave and Phil for the big project, and we figured out our July division of labor.  This meant me revising our paper with the two of them working on the first two chapters of the book.  I made a lot of progress swapping out the case studies that had been in the paper and putting in two others.  The advantage of having 15 or so case studies with most nearly or fully written up is that is not hard to plug and play.  The aim is to get the article out this month and to have a draft of the book by the end of the summer.  Alas, summer is now about half over (for those of us who stop teaching in early April).

Time to write a promotion to full letter, so enjoy your weekend.  May the Fourth be fire-free.

 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Saddest Canada Day

I borrowed this piece of art from a tweet:
Simone McLeod, 2014, Healing All Nations
 This year marks my 19th Canada Day, as we moved here in August 2002.  It is clearly the saddest one because of the accumulation of sorrows.  Canada did not handle the pandemic well with the elder care facilities being decimated last year, and bad governance exacerbating the third wave this winter.  The past week was so hot in the west that not only heat-related deaths exceeded covid deaths but that a fire started, generated a fire thunderstorm (no water, just clouds and lightning) which then started more fires.  And a third residential school's tragic legacy was revealed this week.  The toll of the three schools is over 1,000, and these efforts are just the start.  My wife and I are happy to be Canadians, but are sad that this country has treated its Indigenous people so very badly.

The past is not that far away--the last school closed in 1996.  Welfare policies today do what the old residential schools did--take kids away from their families.  Indigenous women and girls go missing at a far higher rate than anyone else.  Many reserves lack clean drinking water.  The government talks a good game about reconciliation, but continues to resist a variety of changes.  There has been some progress--there seem to be fewer places that are lacking in drinking water although still too many.  One of the most positive parts of the pandemic is that Indigenous communities and peoples were towards the front of the line, a big contrast from the residential schools that were allowed to be breeding grounds for tuberculosis and other diseases.  Of course, there was a great need for the Canadian Armed Forces to provide help to Indigenous communities and for these people to get vaccinated early precisely because they lack the health care infrastructure that could have gotten them through this crisis. 

So, as the vaccination effort and other relief efforts showed, we can do better.  We must do better. We must put pressure on local, provincial, and federal governments to back up their words with real actions.  We must put pressure on the Catholic Church to apologize for how they ran the residential schools and to release the documents.  We must figure out ways to listen to and include Indigenous people.  And we must stop taking Indigenous kids away from their families.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Why I Dislike Montreal Bagels: My Definitive Listicle

 One of the enduring battles on twitter is between those who dislike Montreal bagels and people with bad judgment.  It came up today yet again, so why do I dislike Montreal bagels so much?

  1. Most importantly, if they are not fresh out of the oven, they are bricks.  Chewy is not even close to what they are.
  2. Some people like the wood oven taste (ignoring how bad it is for the environment but whatevs), but I find eating burnt baked goods to be suboptimal.
  3. The choice is between poppyseed and sesame seed.  Which is kind of like: would you prefer to be burned by acid or by fire?  Neither one is a desirable choice.  Yes, there is lots of controversy over the flavors of non-Montreal bagels, but the choice of sesame and poppy is one of yuck or ick.  

 That's it.  The only things wrong with Montreal bagels are how they feel in one's mouth (brick), how they taste (burnt), and the flavors they come in.  Other than that, they are fine.  

Make mine NYC everyday and twice on Sunday.  The diversity of NYC bagels--pumpernickel, onion, egg, etc--means not just variety but freedom to choose.  Soft bagels that don't risk my teeth.  The most excellent platform for some cream cheese, lox, and red onions.  Or, if one prefers, fried egg, cheese, and bacon or ham.  

Montreal has a lot of great food, but the stuff that gets the most promotion/attention (let's talk smoked meat some other day) is wildly overvalued.  Perhaps it is all about overcompensation?

 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 67: Carleton Rocks

 The week started with Father's Day and ended with mild side effects from the second shot, so a better week than most.  My daughter has not been with me the last several Father's Days, but I get to see her soon, so that is a good enough present.  My wife helpfully bought a few silly presents for the day--aprons given the past year of cooking and baking.  

And, yes, I went overboard on the baking this week to celebrate Father's Day and then the vax day.  First was the Irish Cream Pound case, which had, yes, a heap of Bailey's.  It was pretty terrific.


And then I made this after I got vaxxed.  To thank Dolly Parton for the miracle that is Moderna.  It was a funfetti cake with more sugar in a cake than Mrs. Spew has had since ... she was a kid?  Super sweet just like Dolly and the prospect of breaking quarantine.

 

 

 

So, yeah, we went to Carleton, got in line, the nurse at the front was cheerful and super-organized, and then it was easy peasy from there to the end.  The only hard part was finding our way out of the building since we were directed through the a back way so that we didn't encounter the un-vaxxed.  It was smart, but kind of reminded me of that scene from Spinal Tap where the band could not find the stage.

The big question is: what next?  The Canadian health folks put out the rules or guidelines yesterday, which are not nearly as wide open as those the CDC put out.  In terms of my own behavior, in two weeks, once the vaccine has been processed by my bod, I will continue to wear masks inside in stores and such.  Partly because I don't want to send confusing signals, partly because that seems to be the rule for being among the unvaxxed, and partly because catching an non-fatal, non-hospitalized case of COVID is still not pleasant.  And we don't know enough about the long term effects of mild cases of COVID in those who are fully vaxxed.  It will also depend on the local rate of infection.

I will get a haircut (floofy no more?), I will go to the movies (without Mrs. Spew since she is a bit more nervous than I), we will start going to patios and then eventually inside restaurants.  And, yes, I will go to the US to see my family in August.  That is the big one--seeing my mother, my siblings, and, yes, Hollywood Spew!  I will probably call my weekly reports something else in two weeks, as I will no longer be "in quarantine."  Of course, breakthroughs, new variants, another virus may cause us to return to this state of being.  And that would suck, so I am not throwing away the masks (which I will wear now when I have a cold, Asia-Pacific style) or the sanitizer stuff.  I do hope that stores can stop practicing hygiene theory--wiping everything down after every client--and I hope schools focus on improving ventilation.

This week was busy in both expected and unexpected ways.  The CDSN Personnel Team held a workshop on the Power of Diversity on Friday/Saturday.  It was really interesting, with most of the focus on the status of immigrants (previous workshops had focused more on women and on historically excluded people).  I chaired on session and served as a breakout room moderator as well despite not knowing much about this stuff.  The upside, of course, is that I learn a lot. 

The unexpected busy-ness involved a bunch of media hits as there was much attention by the journalists on the end of this term of parliament.  The timing was perfect for me as I had a meeting with Dave and Phil for our project on legislatures and oversight over the armed forces.  So, that stuff was fresh in my mind as I was observing that our initial stance that the Canadian House of Commons Defence Committee is less relevant than most was perhaps an understatement.  What I learned this week is that a minority government still controls the agenda of the committee, so, yeah, the committee didn't issue a report about the Vance/Sajjan mess.  This video has most of my rants in one place as Dale Smith, fellow fan of Nigella Lawson, asked good, triggering questions. I did dodge some media hits by recommending people who have far more expertise on the stuff, such as maritime disputes.  I was asked by Matt Gurney, a radio host, whether there will be any real change in the Canadian Armed Forces and Department of National Defence with the media soon to be distracted by the possibility of an election.  I suggested that post-election, there will be a new Defence Minister, so they will likely be attentive to that choice (please no more senior military types), and the report by retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour will serve to energize the media.  I do think there are many folks in the CAF now are motivated and interested--but the old boys network remains powerful, and culture is hard to change.  So, no easy, instant fixes.

The meeting with Dave and Phil led to a surprising division of labor with me focusing on the short term article and the two of them focusing on writing the start of the book.  It is late in the summer (it is nearly half gone!), so my teammates are skeptical we can finish the book by the end of the summer.  However, I think we will have a bad draft of a good book by then.  While we are doing that, Phil and I are finally working on the Canadian case, so I interviewed the Conservative Defence Critic, James Bezan.  He was struck that the questions we wrote were written six years ago as he thought they were most relevant now.  So, woot for us!  

In the big picture, things are getting much better in Canada and the US and much worse in much of the rest of the world.  We have to keep that in mind--that the planet needs to be vaccinated, not just our immediate neighbors.  We also have take seriously what our countries have done.  The finding of perhaps 750 Indigenous kids' graves at a second residential school (kiddie concentration camps may be offputting, but it should be) is just a start of Canada coming to grips with its history.  Having an Indigenous Secretary of Interior in the US, Deb Haaland, will mean that the US may look at its own legacy of similar policies of stealing kids from their families and putting them into awful circumstances.  One of the bright spots of Canada's pandemic response has been that the First Nations have been in the front of the line for vaccines, and there has been much effort to help them deal with ... damn ... crappy health care infrastructure.  So much more to do.  

As we turn to the big national holidays--Canada Day and Independence Day--we need to reflect what the values of our countries are, how we have fallen short, and how we can do better.  We sure as hell need some Critical Race Theory, precisely because the party of bad faith and of white supremacy is pushing against it.  

Be well and get your vaccines!


Monday, June 21, 2021

When Life Imitates Research or How Lame Can Parliamentary Oversight Be in Canada?

 Phil, Dave, and I are hopefully finishing our book project this summer that compares the role of legislatures in the civil-military dynamics of democracies.  The starting point of this project was my realization that the relevant committee in Canada, the House of Commons Defence Committee, was largely blind and irrelevant.  Today, I am seeing that this starting point remains valid--that oversight over defence here is a mess, and that the House of Commons has little leverage.  Why?  Well, as Phil and I wrote in an article originally entitled "Ignorant Critic or Informed Overseer," (editors/reviewers insisted on something far less accurate), the Canadian political system rewards mindless point-scoring and does not incentivize serious oversight.  

And today?  Today, the Liberals on the Defence Committee filibustered for so long that the report on the Vance/Sexual Misconduct/Abuse of Power scandal in the Canadian Armed Forces is not going to happen.  I didn't know that filibustering in committee was a thing, but now I do.  Our paper had focused in part on the contrast between majority and minority governments.  That this investigation would not have gotten very far in a majority government because the government of the day controls the agenda, so the Defence Committee is prevented from looking into anything too serious.  When the governing party does not hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons, then the opposition parties, if they can cooperate, can control the agenda and investigate what they want.  Well, we might want to revise the article since I did not appreciate the filibustering thing.  

The domestic context is this: Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan is important politically to the Liberals--he raises money and brings in votes.  So, they want to protect him, and a report, politicized or not, would be pretty scathing since the Minister essentially admitted that he does not understand what is job entails.  Which means that the party that proclaims to be feminist is preventing a report from being issued on how the Canadian Armed Forces leadership has failed their women and their men.  I guess the bet is that the Liberal base will see the effort to produce the report to be a Conservative game to score points unfairly, just as they saw the censure of the Minister last week to be such (with the Conservatives playing into this).  There were enough Liberals on my twitter feed arguing that Sajjan has been treated unfairly that this strategy might work.  And it is easier to refute a non-report than a report.  

If I were the Conservatives, I would disseminate a draft report, one that is stripped of the most strident partisan sniping and focuses simply on the failures of Sajjan and the Liberal Party to take this stuff seriously.  Will they do that?  Probably not given the stuff they crammed into the censure motion.  

Like much of the past year, I am not so much surprised but appalled to find that my previous views were confirmed.  This filibuster, along with the Conservatives upending the relatively new intelligence review board, shows that, well, the Canadian political system is not really that mature.  Every actor seems to choose the shortest-term, most partisan option, which then does not really help that much since everyone else can see that is what they are doing, reducing the legitimacy of pretty much all involved.  

These folks make me feel like an idealist or naive, but I just think that one can be smart and partisan and still have an eye on the national interest.  The key should be that the parties different on how to define the national interest, rather than focusing solely on how to score some meaningless points.  Instead:

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Quarantine Report, Week 66: Damn, This Road Is Long With Many Curves

 Sixty-six weeks of this madness with yet another week of ups and big downs.  Everyone has experienced much loss over the course of the pandemic.  We have been lucky that no immediate family has died unless one counts our cat or a pseudo-uncle.  Bob went to that upstate farm, as he stopped eating and the treatments for his various pains were working for shorter and shorter periods of time.  I have reported here and elsewhere how he changed from being a very feisty cat with sharp claws to being the cuddliest of pandemic pets.  I started taking many pictures of him this winter/spring because I knew time was running out and because he was so damned cute on my lap.  He had never been a lap pet--he would sit next to my wife, but he was not the cuddly cat my daughter demanded way back when.  This year, however, he found solace and he gave solace by insisting a few times each day to be lifted into my lap when I was at my computer and then he would hang out under my desk.  Now we are furless for the first time since 1992.  It will take some getting used to.

Our second major loss was of someone who was not family but was family--Stanley Lavin.  He and my father were best friends, so our families vacationed together until I was old enough to

remember them.  So, all I have are vague memories and mostly memories of people telling me about the stuff that happened.  I do remember some of our last trip--to Mexico--when I was five.  I remember Uncle Stanley making me laugh a lot and him laughing a lot.  I am pretty sure he influenced my sense of humor the most, although his favorite bit, singing Home on the Range at all kinds of events, was far beyond me.  I only saw him at big events since we stopped vacationing with a few exceptions.  I wish I had sought him and his spectacular wife more when traveling through NYC.  Stanley was not a Covid statistic as he had been declining for years.  I did get to see him at my father's funeral a couple of years ago, and I did make him laugh a bit, which I will always treasure, as giving back to one who gave me so much.  I watched his funeral via the internet because that is what we do these days.  His kids told stories about him, and I learned stuff that I didn't know.  I did remember his fondness for gin and tonics so I will be shopping for some tonic this afternoon so I can raise the appropriately filled glass to him.  As I have said before, connect with folks--this pandemic reminds us of that more than ever.

Everything else pales in comparison, but there was some good news this week.  Ontario changed the interval between shots, so all of GenX-AZ in Ontario were on their computers at 8:01am on Monday.  The slots got filled up fast, and then folks on twitter let us know that there were new slots.  So, we first had appointments on the other side of town on Canada Day, but we managed an alternative approach that will get us our shots a week earlier.  Woot!   And, yes, we are going for the cocktail--mixing the first AZ dose with Moderna.  And then a couple of weeks later, we will be able to move about the cabin and beyond.  

Meanwhile, the Canadian defence politics beat got hot this week because the Conservatives pushed through a motion censuring the Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.  I explained how that motion both hit and missed the target here.  I got asked to do an early Saturday morning radio hit to talk about the NATO summit, which, alas, the host of the radio program used to segue to focus on China.  Not my area of expertise, but live radio so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.  I did email the producer to complain, but I expect memories to be short.

More fun was having my name and tweets and those of friends (Steph Carvin, Thomas Juneau) tossed around in the House of Commons during Question Period:

The context was that the Conservatives pulled out of a national security advisory review panel to demonstrate their, um, China-phobic bona fides, I think.  So, the three of us were not pleased and said so on twitter.  I think it might have been the first time my name was bandied about in Question Period.  Funny that my more strident stuff about the Defence Minister didn't come up instead.  Anyhow, the Minister of Health kind of knows whom I am, so there's that.  Canada is such a small pond!

Ontario and other provinces are starting loosen things up with the percentage of semi vaxed (one shot) surpassing 70% of those eligible and fully vaxxed (2 shots plus 2 weeks) approaching 20%.  I am worried as that still means 80% are vulnerable to the Delta variant, and the wastewater trends, a leading indicator, are not good even as the lagging indicators (hospitalization/death) are looking good.  So, we will remain cautious on the indoor stuff until we are 2+2.  On the outdoor stuff, it looks like Ultimate may start in early July, and that would be wonderful.  Thanks to the daily stress-exercise--biking or treadmilling--I am in better shape now than a year ago despite my best stress-baking efforts.  Will that make me speedier on the ultimate field?  Probably not.  

Tomorrow is Father's Day, so I am using that as an excuse to make something truly decadent--Irish pound cake--which involves Baileys.  As always, I tend to focus on the single mothers out there who are both mother and father, including my sister-in-law, Liz, who has raised to amazing young women despite incredibly difficult circumstances.  The best Father's Day present I am getting this year is the knowledge that I will finally be seeing my daughter at the end of July at the Saideman family summer gathering.  It has been too damned long.  I am just so proud of the social justice warrior that she has become.  

Be well! 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Censuring the Defence Minister--Getting it Right and Wrong

 So, the House of Commons censured Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan.  Given that I have been calling for Sajjan to be removed from this position, I should a fan of this, yes?  Mostly but not entirely.  

First, this should not have been necessary.  Sajjan should have been removed after his second disastrous appearance before the Defence Committee.  He basically showed that he had lied in his earlier testimony and, to me, more importantly, did not understand his job.  That his job included overseeing the Chief of the Defence Staff which Sajjan suggested would be politicizing if he actually had any curiosity about the allegations against Vance.   

Second, this actual motion was a mess, wrapping into it stuff that didn't belong and omitting stuff that should have been included.  Let me listicle to explain:

  1. Misleading Canadians on withdrawal of fighter jets in fight against ISIS?  Um, what?  There had been no discussion of this in years, and it is not clear what was so misleading.
  2. Misleading Canadians about his service record?  Um, so Sajjan inflated his record (he and General Fraser overplay Medusa as a success--it was a shitshow), but that really is irrelevant.  Sure, I don't think that former military officers should be Minister or Secretary of Defence, but this is a strange thing to have here.
  3. Presiding over wrongful accusation and dismissal of Vice-Admiral Norman.  The Norman affair was a mess, and it had a significant role in destabilizing the leadership of the CAF with the Vice Chief office involving about as much job security as being Trump's Comms person.  So, this is probably fair--that the MND should be left holding the bag for this mess even thought it was above his paygrade probably.
  4. Engaging in a cover-up of sexual misconduct allegations?  I think that entirely misses the point.  It was not so much a cover-up but abdication of responsibility.  

The Vance/McDonald/etc mess is on Sajjan but not for covering up.  Sajjan's mistakes here were many (another listicle):

  1. Not being sufficiently curious about allegations that arose about Vance--yes, he pushed onto staffers, but he should have thought about it, gotten more info as he had a decision to make every single day but especially around year three, four, and five--whether to keep Vance around.
  2. Not being sufficiently curious about the state of the Deschamps report implementation.  Given the supposed priority of personnel, why didn't Sajjan push Vance to implement the report? Instead, that Vance did some stuff that was the opposite--the Duty to Report--stands out.
  3. Letting Vance make senior appointments without much guidance or oversight.  Vance chose a guy who had a reputation for getting away with sexual misconduct--Mulligan Man Edmundson--as head of the personnel branch, which, yes, had much responsibility for sexual misconduct issues.  
  4. Lying to the Defence Committee--I guess this is the coverup stuff that is in the actual censure motion.  To be clear, on this, Sajjan was not covering up sexual misconduct--he was covering up his failure to deal with sexual misconduct and abuse of power. 
  5. Permitting the sense of impunity the senior officers had to do what they want, whether that is to golf with those who were being investigated or to appoint people with crappy records to high positions or to have a set of rules that only apply to junior officers, etc.
  6. Oh, and, I forgot, appointing a new Chief of the Defence Staff with a problematic record.  Vetting is part of the job.

So, yes, Sajjan deserves to be censured, and he deserves to be shuffled out of the position.  But the opposition made a mess of the motion.  As a result, it looks more partisan than it needs to be, which blunts its edge.  Yes, all of this is partisan, but the best partisan attacks are those that look like they are purely in the national interest, putting the target on the defensive.  

Anyhow, because Sajjan is important for fund-raising and for vote-getting, Trudeau is going to keep him around until after the next election.  Which will erode his feminist credentials even further.  I wonder if they did the math on that--how likely is it that people will decide to vote for someone else because of Sajjan's deadweight?  I am sure they have surveyed and gamed it out.  I just wish there was an opposition party I could vote for.  

 

 

 





 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Happy Anniversary, Indiana Jones!

 Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It is my favorite movie, bar none.  The funny thing is that I avoided it at first because I thought it was about religion--some story I read featured the ark or something.  The second funny thing is that the first time I saw it was at summer camp, and the van for the group (the kids who stayed a full 8 weeks got to go to town during the evening in between 4 week sessions) was late.  We came in just as Marion was drinking the big dude under the table.  Yet even if one loses the first part, one of the greatest openings to any movie, and the MF snake in the MF plane (way before Sam Jackson), the movie still rocks.

So, why do I love it so? 

  1. The tagline for the second movie described the first one so well: "If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones."  Just so much great action, thrilling, even when you know the hero must live.  From the escape from the cave at the start to the bar fight to the sequence from the tomb to the plane to the truck chase to the sub scene to the opening of the ark, the movie just grabs you (or me, anyway).  
  2. Indiana Jones is such a great character.  Smart, clever, resilient, funny, flawed, human (he gets hurt and feels the pain).  
  3. Marion.  I married a snarky brunette with freckles.  Coincidence?  I am not sure.  Marion was the first female action hero that I can recall.  She was not just pretty, but she was determined, resourceful as her ability with a skillet against bad guys demonstrated, and, yes, she could drink.  Indiana was a fool to let her go, and we needed the fourth movie, despite its flaws, just so we could get Marion back in our lives again.

  4. The best bad guys.  Not just the cartoonish Nazis--we love seeing Indy beat them and best them--but Belloq.  Whose smarts and arrogance made him a good match, the best match for Indiana Jones of all of the bad guys he faced.  He could not have tricked Belloq into drinking from the wrong cup.  
  5. Did I mention the sequence from the tomb to the plane to the truck chase? Any of those would be the best action sequence in a movie but to have them back to back to back?  Wow.  
  6. Hey, a professor as hero?  Did that shape my destiny as well?  Well, no.  But still, woot!
  7. So much funny stuff along the way.  The movie was just very well written.  
  8. A great score.  John Williams's best stuff?  Not sure but it competes well with his Star Wars stuff.  

One can quibble--that Indiana Jones is a product of imperialism--it belongs in whose museum--and more, but what a great piece of entertainment that still works today.  Its imagery, its quotes and memes, and all the rest are still relevant today and are burned into popular culture.  

So, enjoy the ride as the map shows the hero moving across the world.

Quarantine Report, Week 65: Phased 1

 Ontario is loosening up.  Woot?  Um, not so woot.  Long lines yesterday at clothing stores which have been closed for a few months, the full extent of Costco is now open, and, yes, patios at restaurants.  It is not enough and too much.  It is not enough because the schools remain closed, and the kids could really use just a few weeks of hanging out together.  It is not enough for me because ultimate frisbee can only start in phase 2 in three weeks even though we know that outdoor stuff is really safe.  It is too much in that people are going to let their guards down even as there are variants that are pretty harmful to those who have only had one shot.  Ottawa and Ontario are at about 70% for one shot but only 10% for two.  That latter number will accelerate, but we aren't there yet.  

My basic approach is to be pessimistic in the short run and optimistic in the long run.  I am not confident that Canada will change the travel restrictions soon.  Indeed, last night, I had an epiphany--that there was no way they would change the restrictions until after Trudeau comes back from the G7.  This government cares mostly about optics (except when it comes to having a defence minister who does not know what the job entails) so they would not want to reduce the restrictions at a time where it would make things very easy for PMJT to come back.  So, the "logic" of early July makes more sense in that context.  That and Doug Ford blaming foreigners for his own failed responses makes the Liberals more cautious.

 In a mostly meeting-less week (not a trend, alas), we made much progress on planning a series of CDSN events.  The summer institute's speaker lineup is nearly complete, the Year Ahead in December is getting there, our 9-11 event is 2/3s set, and we have started to go through the many applications for a new Project Coordinator.  I am taking my time on this hire, as I have learned that rushing it does not work out so well.  We have one podcast to record this week before we take a pause.  Our wonderful podcast producer, Melissa Jennings, is traveling and could use a break.  So, after the upcoming week, the next #BattleRhythm will be around Bastille Day, which is actually when I am slated for my next shot.

The baking continues.  I mentioned the s'more brownies I was going to make last weekend.  They were as gooey and as tasty as I had hoped for.  I distributed to our neighbors as I didn't want to cause Mrs. Spew and I to go into sugar shock. The next recipes?  Not sure, but the pressure is on as my family has informed me that I will be cooking and baking at least one night of the Saideman reunion in August.  I am going to have to figure out what worked best over the past year .... that is besides chocolate chip cookie dough pots which are, of course, required.

 

 

 

 

The story at home of late is the aging of Bob.  My daughter insisted long ago that she wanted a cat, and so we got Bob from a shelter.  He turned out to be less cuddly than we hoped, the kind of cat who would take a good petting session and turn it into a good practice first aid session.  In the past few years, he has slowed down.  During the pandemic, he has gotten positively cuddly.  He now limps around the house as his back legs and back bother him.  So, we have moved from mutual suspicion and distrust to detente to pandemic pals.  I have never been a cat person and am a bit allergic (but my daughter suggesting at age 6 or 7 that we get divorced so she could have one house with mom and a cat and another with dad and the dogs causes me to drop the objection).  So, he now insists on being picked up and put on my lap a couple of times a day to hang out for a while, making it hard to type.  But since I regret not spending enough time in the latter days of the lives of dog 1 and dog 2, I figure I can do this for Bob.  We are nearing the stage where we have to start weighing how much pain he is in versus how much he still has a decent life.  We have been through this before, but it does not get easier.  

I will finish on a silly note.  The good news is that I am biking farther and farther, getting more exercise as the weather has been mostly terrific. The bad news that the southern end of my route has both a donut shop and an ice cream truck.  Last week, I had to try the bubble waffle cone.  Well, it was more waffle than cone as you can see.  I also ordered the cookie monster ice cream for complete decadence.  Because the only way through this pandemic is to grab and hold onto (and eat) the sweetest stuff one can find.  Even if it offsets the benefits of the bike ride.  

Good luck finding the sweet stuff while we make our way through the next phases of this thing.






 




Wednesday, June 9, 2021

This Is Canada

 In the aftermath of a mass murder attack, folks tend to say: this isn't America or this isn't Canada.  As Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino noted, this is very much America.  Canada isn't the US--it has less gun violence, its racial politics are different, but, yes, violence is inherent in the system.

We just had an attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario, where a driver killed four members of the family leaving the youngest severely wounded and orphaned.  This is not the first attack on Muslims.  An attack on a mosque was only four years ago.  It seems light years away when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Syrian refugees in the face of rising xenophobia and Islamophobia.  Since then, Quebec has passed legislation squarely aimed against Muslim women who were hijabs as well as other religious minorities.  It may be too much to say that the recent violence is state sanctioned but not too far to say that the province has created a permissive environment that allows those who hate Muslims to feel as if they have a legitimate grievance.  

To be sure, this is not just a Quebec thing as that legislation is popular in the rest of Canada, that violence has occurred in Ontario not just this week but often.  That Muslims throughout Canada report hostility and harassment on a regular basis.  

This is a time of hate.  Several things are coming together.  The pandemic and the economic challenges have caused people to seek blame, to be frustrated, to seek to act out.  Fox and its ilk compete to curry with the resentful--putting out the most awful brew of lies and blamecasting.  Social media giants like facebook, twitter, and google have pursued clicks and encouraged others to do so, helping to radicalize folks.  The shift in right wing politics, where resentment boils over, has led to politicians either tolerating awful stuff because they fear electoral repercussions (notice the Republicans buying into the Big Lie, notice the Conservative Party of Canada having fights about whether to go further right or to become more centrist) or embracing it in order to get votes.  The People's Party of Canada is a xenophobic party seeking to use hate to get beyond two percent of the vote.  The centrist parties are reluctant to confront the hate of the so-called populists.  Trudeau criticized the Quebec legislation when it came out a few years ago. Now, he mostly demurs.  

These are very dangerous times for those who are different and for Democracy.  Canada is in better shape since its diversity and its institutions make it hard for the Conservatives to shift further right and still win elections. But the environment is still breeding violence.  Perhaps most Canadians buy into some version of the multicultural ideal of strength from diversity, living with each other, but there are sufficient numbers of folks out there willing to do harm.  This, alas, is Canada.




Saturday, June 5, 2021

Quarantine Report 64: Fluffier Than Before

 Yeah, I have let myself completely go during this pandemic.  Which means I have had the opportunity to notice how daily growth can produce notable changes every once in a while.  Like, when I was growing my beard out, it seemed the same for a while and then suddenly much bigger.  Now, tis my hair which seemed a bit long suddenly feels like I have wings on the sides of my head.  I am the fluffiest I have been since ... high school I guess.   I can feel my hair flop around as I go downstairs or as the breeze blows when I go outside to get the mail. It has been seven months since my last haircut, and the next one will happen after I get my second shot which is still a month or more away.

And, yes, we have both more and less certainty in Ontario.  The authorities now say we of GenX-AZ can mix if we want to, getting Moderna or Pfizer for our second shot or we can stick with AZ.  Of course, the problem with the latter is finding it, since there is not so much of it.  They say that we are eligible for our second shot 12 weeks after our first, but then there are some folks who are getting ahead of that pace.  The good news is that the Ontario authorities are calling all the folks over 80 who have not gotten a second shot.  The bad news is that this is necessary in part because the web-based system was down.  And, yeah, for those hunting shots, there are two paths--the govt locations which book up fast and the pharmacies which require tenacity to find one accepting appointments.  I did go on campus briefly and saw the line for vaccines, so I feel pretty good about getting my second dose (non-AZ, if I want that) as Carleton is only vaxxing students, faculty, and staff.  

It was my first time on campus since ..... October.  Last time, it was to get a flu shot.  This time, it was to pick up 25 copies of a book we are assigning and providing to the participants.  We have a nearly complete roster of participants--emerging scholars, junior military officers, junior policy officers, etc.  We have a nearly complete roster of presenters.  So, the event is in good shape.  A key part of it is to build bridges and foster networking across the traditional divides.  That was supposed to be facilitated by lunches/dinners/coffee/bar time.  So, the event will be online, which not only means less social time but also less time--there is no way I want folks to be on screens for entire days.  The bright side is that we don't have to arrange travel or the like, so it is an easier event to organize.  We have some stuff we have to do, but we are nearly there.

The CDSN and CSIDS are also organizing a couple of 20th anniversary of 9/11 events, so we are working on that as well.  We dropped the 50th anniversary of BattleRhythm this week, so that was a nice marker of how much progress we have made.  As we say on this episode, we really don't know who is listening, but we've had enough folks across town tell us that they listen that we believe we have some listeners and many of them are in or near government.  I am most grateful to Stéfanie von Hlatky for being such a great host, as this has added a heap of worktime to her very busy schedule.  She brings terrific insights, much humor, and great connections that make for great interviews.  Melissa Jennings, the CDSN's Director of Communications, produces each podcast with great care, diligence, and patience.  Paxon Mayer, our PhD RA, helps prep us with the research she does for us.  It is a terrific team, and I am lucky to have them.  Otherwise, we are in the middle of a transition as our previous project coordinator has moved on, and we are in the midst of hiring a new staffer.  If I didn't buy principal-agency theory before, I certainly do now.  

On the Canadian defence scene, there was not too much news this week--just one more senior officer losing his job, this time for uttering the N word apparently.  Two retired chiefs of the defence staff wrote a regrettable op-ed where they worried about the plight of senior officers.  Not a great look, given that this culture that they blame is one that they did little/nothing to change.  It happened on their watch, and now they want to say "hey, due process" at a time where it is clear intra-CAF processes are anything but due.  So, they didn't cover themselves in glory.  My take on that was:

On the personal front, it might best be summed up by this latest google map of where I traveled in May, quite a contrast to the average May where I have done fieldwork in Brazil, South Korea, and Europe.

The farthest north and west I went was to Costco.  The farthest south was biking to Manotick for exercise and for, um, ice cream.  Indeed, the trend of the week was combining exercise with bad eating as I tried out the donut shack and a new ice cream place.  I have lost weight during the pandemic, but most of that was in the first few months.  My plateau since has reflected a balancing of stress exercise, stress baking, and stress eating.  I am guessing next month's map will feature the trip to Carleton as my longest voyage of June.  I am looking forward to the family reunion at the end of July in Philly.  My daughter will make it from LA so I get to see her for the first time since Dec 2019, and it will be the first time seeing everyone else since Thanksgiving of 2019.  Zoom is helpful, but it just isn't the same.  Oh, and samplers of beers in Philly bars await me along with steak sandwiches and pretzels.  We shall see if I have to really quarantine when I get back, as that is what the Canadian border policy calls for.  Will it change by then?  I doubt it.

Time to make some s'mores brownies as the treat of the week--the aforementioned stress baking.  Be well and good luck in this uncertain time!





Tuesday, June 1, 2021

215 and Then So Many More

 Canada has been shaken by the discovery of a mass grave for 215 Indigenous kids at a residential school.  Children from Indigenous families were taken away from their communities and forced to go these schools that were designed to remove their identities and make them as white and as Christian (Catholic, either mostly or entirely, I have not read enough to be sure) as possible.  The conditions at these places caused tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other diseases to thrive, not unlike concentration camps I have toured in Germany, and priests and nuns and others abused the children.  

As an immigrant, I did not have the opportunity to be failed by Canadian schools (my Canadian friends report not getting much info about this stuff when they went to school).  Instead, I learned only a smidge as this stuff was referred to in the citizenship guide we read to prepare for the test:

This text understates the harm as the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that 4,000 children died at these schools--a far higher rate than kids in the rest of the population--and a number that many see as an underestimate.  What always gets me is that these policies and schools continued into the 1990s.  Well, that's not fair.  They continue to this day but in a different form.  Instead of residential schools akin to concentration camps, we have kids taken away from their families due to welfare policies where the parents are seen as unfit due to the scars and legacies of the past--that past oppression and persecution has lead to poverty and other poor conditions, so the state comes in and takes kids away.  

The Commission had all kinds of recommendations including spending money on finding the rest of the mass graves.  It does appear that some of this has been funded, but it is not clear to me why so little progress has been made.  

The US has a similar situation as the equivalent of re-education camps were set up in the US, they had high rates of death and disease and accidents.  I don't know if this stuff is covered in the Native American museum in Washington, DC, as my visit there was cut short.  Each year (except during pandemics), my daughter and I visit a few Smithsonian museums on the Mall in DC.  Three years ago, we went to the Native American History Museum, but we didn't stay long.  My daughter was really uncomfortable with the government that continues to persecute Native Americans curating a museum about them.  There were displays that were critical of the Trail of Tears and about Standing Rock, but I don't remember anything about the damage done to the kids.  

Anyhow, because I didn't know that much about the Canadian experience, I felt a bit more comfortable with genocide being used to describe what the US did to Native Americans than what Canada did to the First Nations.  The more I learn, the more I realize that the word fits only too well.  Much more needs to be done to recognize what happened, to compensate for the damage, and to improve the policies and the realities that the Indigenous people of Canada face.