Friday, December 31, 2021

Year 2 of Pandemic in Review: the Dizziest Rollercoaster

The first year of the pandemic started well with several cool trips (researching in Germany, chaperoning in Japan, skiing out west) and some great CDSN events (the first Capstone) and then the pandemic hit and everything went south.  The second year of the pandemic was much ... wavier.  The rollout of the vaccines created much anxiety as the eligibility kept changing, and the most widely available one in Canada got pulled ... after I got it.  Things looked bright until Delta came along, but then we reached high levels of vaccinations and things started opening up and then Omicron came along.  On this last day of the year, I look back, mostly so that in later years I can distinguish between years one, two, and three of the this pandemic.

On the bright side, year two had much less death among my immediate friends and family even as the US had far more death in 2021 (Delta was/is so very nasty).  I lost friends the previous year due to heart attacks that were not apparently covid-related.  This year, we lost Bob, our very old cat.  He spent his last year being far more cuddly with me than this previous seventeen or eighteen.  He was an important part of our pandemic routine, especially for Mrs. Spew who got to see the veterinarians on an increasingly regular basis until it was very much time to say goodbye.  We also lost my father's best friend, who became known to us as Uncle Stanley.  He was very influential in my early life, and I am pretty sure I owe much of my sense of humor to him.  I wish I had talked with him more before he declined.  Alas, there was much death among those who taught at UCSD during my time there--John Ruggie, Frances McCall Rosenbluth, Mat McCubbins all passed away in 2021.  I only took one class from John, but interacted with both France and Mat on many occasions.  Of the three, McCubbins has had the greatest impact on my work as I succumbed to principal-agency theory half-way through my career.  Their losses were felt hard by not just their students but by the profession.  Robert Jervis also passed away.  He didn't teach at UCSD, but he helped me get there by sucking me into IR via some of the first stuff I read. 

Professionally, it was a mixed kind of year.  The CDSN did quite well--we had our long-awaited Summer Institute, entirely online, and it went wellThe Year Ahead was a hybrid event that happened in that window in between waves, and it was great to see people and have a great day of insights and varied perspectives.  The Capstone was online but remained a very special event. The podcasts continued to be a biweekly boon to my spirits, and it was fun to get a call from the Chief of the Defence Staff (the highest ranking officer in the Canadian military) who wanted to talk about something I said in the podcast.  This was a few months after we had him and the Deputy Minister on our podcast.  In the last months of the year, I got to consult with the new Minister of National Defence as well as a former Supreme Court justice who is reviewing the Canadian Armed Forces as part of the effort to address the sexual misconduct/abuse of power crisis.  That crisis also led to a couple of op-eds where I called for the firing of the previous Minister of National Defence (not much of an influencer if it happens eight or so months later) and previous Chief of Defence Staff (ditto).  Between stuff in the US and in Canada, it was a busy year for those who do civil-military relations. So, a peak year for engagement with the policy world.  

While the engagement was great, the publications ... were not so great.  I had a record year, I think, in contributions to edited volumes.  But as anyone in my biz will tell you, those don't count as much as refereed articles in top journals, and, well, it was mostly a year of rejection on that front.  My various co-authors and I reached for the top and found the top to be a pretty competitive place.  That and our work needed much reviews.  A good number of the reviews we received were most helpful in telling us how to improve our work.  I expect those pieces to do better in 2022.  Dave, Phil, and I didn't make as much progress on the big book project--the end is in sight, but it didn't get much closer.  I expect us to finish in the first half of the new year.  Frustrating not to get it done, but I hope to get a burst of new energy to do what it takes to push it over the goal line.  On the bright side, 2021 demonstrated both the importance of civilian control of the military, and the variation that exists among the world's democracies in the roles played by legislatures.  Canada proved yet again why it belongs on the weak end of the spectrum.

Teaching was entirely online.  Students continued to adapt, so that the seminars via zoom went pretty well.  I supervised a variety of projects from MA papers to more dissertations.  The dissertation proposal class continued to expose me to a great variety of topics, mostly way outside my expertise, and the course worked--students made progress and many got through their proposal defenses.  My PhD students are making progress through their projects despite the challenges of doing research during a pandemic.

US politics occupied much of my mind.  The insurrection n January 6th was a dismal way to start the year.  Fending off those who thought I didn't think it was serious because I argued it was not a coup attempt was not so much fun.  Biden's inauguration created some joy, which Manchin and Sinema destroyed through their obstinacy.  The anti-vaxxers did their best to undermine the miracles of the vaccines, causing much unnecessary misery.  They started threatening doctors and scientists, which would have been awful even if those folks were not at their limits due tot he pandemic itself.  And, yes, those folks infected Canada, as my friend JC Boucher found in his scraping of social media--that the vectors of anti-vax stuff in Canada originate not in Russia or China but in the US.  It didn't take long for outbidding to develop in the US among GOP and their media--that they had to double and triple down on the big lie about the election.

In Canada, three political processes dominated the year.  The hashtag for the pandemic became #IncompetentMurderClowns as the premiers of the provinces (governors) tended to be slow to close, fast to open up, and opted for the less effective policies.  I will always be struck by a pre-delta press conference where a journalist asked the health officers of Ontario "Am I missing something here, or is this presentation predicting a disaster?" and the doctors, who were discussing the opening up of stuff just as Delta was on its way, said "I don't think you are missing anything."  The year ended with not enough tests, a confusing rollout of the boosters after all of the health authorities had delayed on that, and with no clarity about how the new school year would go.  I have always felt bad for the parents during this crisis, and the past week took that to new heights/depths.  Ontario is pushing back the start of schools by two days.  What will that do?  Damned if I know.

The second process was an election that the Liberals called because they thought they could win a majority even as Delta was spiking and as vax hestitancy in the Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta) was going to kill any victory parade.  Oh, and Afghanistan's collapse also got the Liberals off message.  So, we have more or less the same government (finally some much needed cabinet shuffling) and more media for anti-vax folks ... and much frustration. 

The third focused on something that gets only episodic attention--the past and continuing plight of Canada's Indigenous peoples.  The finding of 215 graves at a residential school in Kamloops reminded everyone that Canada's government engaged in truly awful policies that have been determined to be genocidal.  The government talked a good game of reconciliation, but a bunch of policies and problems continue that make these seem like pie crust promises--easily made, easily broken.

The big IR event of the year was the collapse of the government the US and NATO had been fighting for in Afghanistan.  I was never an expert on Afghanistan itself, having focused entirely on the dynamics of the countries intervening there.  It was and is a great tragedy for the Afghans who have always been in the middle of this conflict, and it was, of course, also traumatic for those who expended so much there.  I did reflect on my work and how to think about it now that not just the NATO mission ended but so did the target of that mission

The personal highlights for me were the breaks in the quarantine.  Going to Philly for the summer family vacation was more than just a bit restorative--it was so very necessary.  We didn't do that much tourism, but we spent a heap of time with family and even some old friends over steak sandwiches.  I got to go to Copenhagen for a civil-military relations conference where I got to hang with some of my friends in the business and watch civ-mil tensions up close (the Danish military types didn't like to be told that militaries are sometimes unreliable agents that need close oversight).  A conference by our partner networ--RAS--meant a heap of fun people in town for the only in-person poker game of the year--it was a blast!  The online poker games were fun, too, but not the same.  I gave two talks in the last few months--"at" the U of Chicago where I got great feedback on the Steve/Dave/Phil project and actually at Calgary, which then was followed by skiiing with JC.  I survived the skiing with 1.5 knees intact.  The last trip of the year, to see my in-laws, was much needed as I missed them all very much, and they needed to see Mrs. Spew in person.  Also, I got to make the big meal including several pies.

The baking of year one continued into year two of the pandemic with lots of cookies made for distribution before we fled south for the holidays.  The second year was more of a balance of new and old recipes. Will I bake that much in year three of the pandemic? Probably despite a resolution to eat a bit healthier.  I hope I keep up the snowshoeing and cross-country skiing that I did last year, but that depends as much on the weather as it does on my will power.  And, yes, I will continue to enjoy heaps of tv.  I only made it to the movie theaters three times in 2021--for three Marvel movies (Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and  ... Spidey in less than two hours).  

As I kept saying and posting, to get through this, we have to do whatever it takes.

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