Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Year in Spew, 2022!

Do Spew and 2 rhyme?  I sure hope so as I begin my review of the year that was.  The last time I blogged less than I did in 2022 was ... in 2008, when I didn't blog at all.  What explains the decline?  Partly exhaustion, partly a decline in imagination, partly other social media sucking up my time (the podcasts, now tooting as well as tweeting), and partly the reality that I have written enough stuff before that when the topic comes up, it is just easier to repost.  Maybe a look at this year's posts will tell me a bit about what inspires me to write here and what does not, although survivor and recency biases may mesh nicely with my confirmation bias to prevent me from learning that much.  Hmmm.


I started by pondering whether JK Rowling has utterly destroyed her legacy--whether I can still consume Harry Potter stuff.  While I concluded that I could still enjoy the world she created, even as she betrays damn near all of it, my behavior, my choices, says otherwise as I had multiple opportunities to watch HP movies while hanging out at my mother-in-law's over the holidays and dodged all of them.  Something I had not done in the past.  Later in the month, I returned to the theme of what kinds of stuff can I read and enjoy given the complex realities of our time.  I wrote about how it has become harder to watch and read cop shows given what we know about cops these days.  I am finishing the latest John Sandford book which features multiple cops, Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport, solving a serial murder spree by bitcoin assholes, and have found it fairly compelling (unlike the most recent Jack Reacher book).  So, maybe I am less affected by the topics than by the behavior of the artist?

The month ended with the start of the occupation of Ottawa by extremists--far right white supremacists.  The year ended with an examination of whether the government should have invoked the Emergency Act.   Um, yeah, but because the emergency was that the provincial leaders were cowards who wanted the feds to own it.


The extremists in Ottawa became a focus for me, as it did for most of my city, for most of the month with posts on:

  • outbidding, explaining why the Conservatives were pandering to the extremists
  • anger, discussing how pissed off this made me, triggered indeed.
  • policing, as I learned that Canadians think that the cops should not be directed by the politicians as if policing is not inherently political,
  • my take on the Emergency Act.

And then the past came back to bite Ukraine and me.  My previous work on irredentism became relevant again with Russia's invasion of yet more Ukrainian territory. In this post, I explained the basics of irredentism--that it is always bad for the country doing the invading even as it may or may not be bad for its leader, that domestic dynamics are key, and so on.


The focus of March was very much on the war in Ukraine.  I argued via a bit of screenwriting why a No Fly Zone was a bad idea. I elaborated about the disease of MOAR.  And, yes, I then invoked my work on irredentism to explain why Putin was willing to kill Russia's kin in order to "save" them.  I wrote about limited war, a topic that got new energy this week as some retired generals expressed much frustration at the unwillingness of the US to send deep strike weapons to Ukraine.

I also blogged about my appearance before the House of Commons Defence Committee.


This month had only a few posts, with nearly all focused on CDSN events.  The outlier was a post discussing the appearance of Minister of National Defence Anita Anand in my Civil-Military Relations class. That was super-cool--a great way to finish off that course.


I marked my 300,000th tweet before twitter's death spiral... maybe I caused it?

I discussed the two events organized by the CDSN Undergraduate Excellence Scholars--a conference and a hackathon.  I also went to Germany for another conference. Woot!

My last post took a first look at the Arbour report, where a retired Supreme Court Justice assessed the Canadian Armed Forces and why it has fallen short, yet again, on reforming itself when it comes to sexual misconduct.  I took a quick tour of the 48 recommendations.  


I didn't write much in June, but two of my posts continued my examination of the Arbour Report: here and here.  In the first one, I pushed on a point that will become a key question in my next project--what is the proper rule of a defence department or ministry or agency?  Arbour says DND is to support the CAF, and, no, nope, nuh uh.  This does help to explain a big problem with this and previous reports--having a very limited view of what DND's job is.  I also focus on the lack of a recommendation for an Inspector General, which is now a topic of research of this year's Visiting Defence Fellow.

I also marked my 10 years in Ottawa with this post. I am so glad that the tides of the academic job market washed me ashore here.  It was not my plan, but it has worked out wonderfully.


July was a month of ups and downs.  I started the month by pondering how long might the autocratic moment in the US last if Democracy were to give way.  The most pivotal building at my old summer camp burned down, but there was much resilience that day and beyond to give me hope for its future.

One of the ups was the new season of Battle Rhythm.  I am forever grateful to Stéfanie von Hlatky for helping us launch our podcast, and I was sad to see her move to admin stuff at her university.  But we got re-energized by a new crew of co-hosts.  Artur, Anessa, Erin, and Linna have provided a variety of perspectives since they joined us.  I am most grateful to Melissa Jennings for doing most of the heavy lifting in this effort and to Carelove Doreus and Racheal Wallace for their carrying the rest of the load. 

It has been a big year in Canadian civil-military relations, and one of the highlights was the decision to adjust the uniform standards to make the CAF more welcoming to more people.  I addressed these changes with some accidental foreshadowing of the awful Vimy speech by one of those responsible for the culture crisis that prevented the CAF from adapting sooner.

The month, which started with COVID finally hitting me and Mrs. Spew thanks to a conference trip to Berlin, ended in an upswing with both Beulahfest as my mom celebrated her 90th birthday and, yes, Stevefest, as I did a heap of stuff to celebrate another year of me.



Not many posts this month as I was very busy organizing and then

hosting the first in-person CDSN Summer Institute.  It was one of the original ideas animating the big grant application, and it was great to see it finally come to fruition with so many sharp people speaking and participating.  Plus it was an excuse to have a reception or three.  Just a great week worth all the effort by the CDSN team.

Much news about classified documents thanks to Trump hoarding documents he should have had anymore, so I shared what I had learned during the year I had a top secret clearance and worked every day in a SCIF--secure compartmented information facility.

Finally, I said goodbye to a key part of my life--ultimate frisbee.  I just kept getting injured and could not stay on the field.  I could still throw well, but that whole running thing proved to be too much.  I very much miss it, it gave me friends across North America, it gave me some level of fitness, it gave me heaps of silliness, and nothing can fill the hole it left behind, alas.  


Another light month for blogging.  I wrote a guide for those visiting Montreal for the American Political Science Association meeting.  

The focus of the month and of my career these days was/is civil-military relations.  I wrote about the retired generals and SecDefs providing advice on how to manage this relationship. And then I addressed a recurring challenge up here--should the Canadian military prioritize domestic emergency operations? Whether the CAF wants to or not (not), climate change is going to make this happen.  It already has.  I am getting more and more interested in studying domestic emergency ops in part because few defence scholars have done so.  Nothing like having a wide open field to pass the disk into.  Oh wait, that was last month's post about ultimate.

One reason I didn't post more in September is that I was headed west to Disneyland and to visit my daughter (not necessarily prioritized that way?).


I gave thanks for all kinds of stuff as Canada celebrates Thankgiving in October when Americans debate the role of Columbus.

I spent the rest of the month preparing both the CDSN Midterm Report for one of our funders and a conference to mark the midway point in our SSHRC grant.  It was great to hear from the co-directors of the various research efforts--Civ-Mil Relations, Personnel, Security, and Operations.  We were once told that the CDSN was just me and my friends dong stuff, but, to be clear, when it started, many of those who joined as co-directors were not friends and some were barely acquaintances.  Now, we are friends, but isn't that how networking works when it works well?  I am very proud of what we have put together even if it put a major dent in my blogging.


Was the theme of the month commenting on other people's mistakes?  Seems like it with a post on twitter's dramatic decline thanks to Musk and then the craptastic speech by a retired general.  That post generated more hits than any other this year and is in the top five of my 13 years of blogging.  The related tweet was also the most tweeted/impressioned tweet of the year and then some.  

It led to a post addressing "woke" and being "anti-woke," which helped me think about vice-signaling, the flipside of virtue-signaling. 

I got to put on my old NATO hat when some errant missiles from Ukraine's war with Russia landed in Poland.  I did much media as well to explain that NATO does not work the way may folks think--that there is nothing automatic about it, even if the attack had been deliberate.

One reason I blog less is that I simply have not been writing that much about pop culture here.  Why?  Mostly due to lack of time.  One exception to this was thinking about the International Politics of the second Black Panther movie.


The year ended with much CDSN and much cookies!

I went to Winnipeg for the first time for a CDSN workshop on Domestic Emergency Operations.  This is the focus of one of our four MINDS (DND) funded research projects.  I learned a great deal from sharp people both in and out of the government.  There is much work to do here, and I am glad we have made this one of our foci over the next three years.

Once again, we held an end of the year conference, the Year Ahead, which addresses some of the issues on the horizon.  This year, we also launched the new CDSN Podcast Network at the event!  The CDSN Podcast Network brings together four podcasts--Battle Rhythm, Conseils de Sécurité, SecurityScape and NATO Field Report.  We are open to adding others down the road.  Along the way, we fixed our Apple podcast feed.  I am most excited not just for having a new home for BattleRhythm but connecting and amplifying some student-run podcasts.

I finished the year with a heap of baking--cookies for friends around Ottawa.  The basic idea is this: I want to eat a lot of different kinds of cookies.  But then making so many different kinds means finding people who are willing to take most off my hands or else I will gain a heap of weight (winterfest did that anyway).  I enjoyed my first cookiefest in 2020, which was the first time I saw many people after months and months of quarantining.  So, I keep doing it, now armed with better equipment (kitchen aid stand mixer makes it much easier than the first cookie fest) and more recipes.  It is not just the baking and the eating.  I got to chat with a bunch of great people as I delivered the cookies.  If the cookies are joy (and, yes, they are), giving joy leads to receiving much joy.

One of the interesting dynamics of 2022 was the re-emergence of blogging.   That many folks started writing on substack, which, to me, seems like blogging but with the chance of income.  I have not moved over there as I am pretty happy with this perch. It does not make me money, but I doubt that people would pay that much for my half-baked (semi-spewed) writings.  One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more.  My guess is that I will be more successful at that than the ones focused on dietary restraint.

May you and yours have a terrific 2023!

Friday, December 23, 2022

I Have A Problem: Too Many Cookies!

One of the ways I have responded to the pandemic has been to bake.  In the first winter of the pandemic, I saw an article that discussed cookie boxes and had a number of recipes.  I couldn't decide on just a couple to try, so I made a lot of cookies.  And then I had to get a bunch of them out of the house so that my wife and I would not eat them all.  I drove around Ottawa after grades were submitted, delivering cookies to friends and acquaintances who volunteered to try them.  That was really the first time I broke quarantine--I had so much fun chatting with these folks even if I didn't go into anyone's house with one exception. And thus a new winterfest tradition was born.

This year, I discovered that one could not just freeze cookie dough but also baked cookies.  So, that stretched out how long I could make cookies, rather than rushing to complete a bunch of recipes in a few days.  So, yeah, I went a bit crazy, and Mrs. Spew thinks I have a problem.  I made 13 different recipes which produced over 350 cookies so she may have a point. I delivered the cookies to 13 households, held onto one batch for my sister-in-law, and kept a set for ourselves.  

I realized the first year but learned anew that giving out joy (sweet cookies) leads to receiving joy (mostly just chatting with people, but also got some sweets and some beer along the way).  Oh and more joy--I met three wonderful dogs and an amazingly friendly cat along the way, plus a few kids of friends who muttered thanks through cookie-filled mouths.

Sparkle cookies--soft inside
What did I make?  I present the top five below, but in addition to those, I made:

  • orange crumble shortbread
  • two different versions of the standard butter cookie (my decorations were limited by both a few cutters [mostly Star Wars-related] and poor art skilz)
  • shortbread
  • snickerdoodle (really worked nicely this year--always under-bake!)
  • chocolate crinkle (Sally's Baking Addiction)
  • sparkle cookies (more SBA)


The top 5 are: 

1.   Grammy's Spice cookies (NYT) which makes all other gingerbread cookies superfluous.  Tis reliable, sweet, and very tasty with or without frosting.

2.  Chocolate mint with candy cane shards (NYT, will revise to add link when I get back home).  Nice mix of chocolate and peppermint in the cookie and then a smattering of battered candy cane on top--and yes, it is fun to bash candy canes.  No pics available.



3. Candied ginger shortbread (NYT).  Super sweet and fun new ingredient for me--candied ginger.  Packs a punch. 





4. Brownie Rollout cookies (Smitten).  Super easy, very tasty, very stable for cutting into different designs.  Tastes great with or without frosting.




5. Black and white cookies (NYT).  Very cake like--the only downsides are that the recipe does not make many and the cookies do not last as long.


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Reforming the CAF--More Oversight Needed?

 This might be a mighty strange take from me, but, no, Virginia, you don't always need to add a new oversight body. In the aftermath of the Royal Canadian Air Force dudes assigning a very problematic call sign, there is now an effort to build a committee or board to review call signs.  Oy.   Let me explain.

I do think that the CAF has long had insufficient oversight--that is, the civilians tended not to provide oversight, CAF did its best to avoid oversight.  The defence committee in Parliament is delightfully ignorant, preferring to know less (no security clearances, small staffs) so that they can say a lot, rather than be careful critics.  This article documents that (although I am still resentful that the editors changed the title from "Ignorant Critic versus Informed Oveseer).  The former defence minister didn't think it was his job to oversee the person directly under him--the Chief of the Defence Staff.  I think that former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour missed an excellent opportunity when she said she didn't recommend an Inspector General in her report.  So, yes, more oversight is necessary.

However, the response to every problem or bad news story is not to invent a new oversight body.  Not every problem requires a new institution--or else all the institutions compete or throw the hot potato to the next one.  While I have been emphasizing institutions (what is the promotion process) when folks talk about culture, some problems require culture to change more than institutional reform.  This is one of those cases.

Essentially, the RCAF officers need to understand what is stupid shit and then not to do stupid shit.  Creating callsigns that punch down should be a no-brainer--don't do it.  If the CAF makes adequate progress in improving its culture, this kind of stuff will happen less and less.  It won't go away entirely because, well, you always get people who don't learn yet still survive in the institution.

The government did create a new institution and commander--Chief Professional Conduct and Culture.  The CPCC's job is to foster not just more professionalism but a better understanding of what it means to be a profession.  Up until very recently, apparently one could consider oneself the epitome of professionalism but apply the rules only to subordinates, not to oneself (Vance, Maisonneuve, etc).  How can professionals tolerate/engage in abuse of power and sexual misconduct?   Either they are "unprofessional" or their sense of professionalism allows or rewards that kind of behavior.  

I chatted yesterday with a field grade officer about this stuff over coffee and cupcakes, and they pointed out that good leadership is not abusive, that it should be setting a higher standard.  Punching down via shitty callsigns should be viewed as unprofessional.  If we can start to change the CAF's sense of what is professional or not, just maybe we won't need additional review boards.

Of course, the more important question is this: are my cookies sufficiently professional?

Time to make the deliveries.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Year Ahead 2023

 The Year Ahead conference, which started before the CDSN came into existence, has become a flagship event for both the Carleton research center, Centre for Security, Intelligence, and Defence Studies, and the CDSN.  It provides NPSIA-based scholars with a chance to interact with experts we bring to town and folks from in and around government who attend the event.  We consult our partners in government to see what is on their radar screen for the next year, and try to have panels that are relevant to them.  This year, we had panels on:

  • learning from Ukraine's successes and Russia's aggressive failures
  • the state of Canadian civil-military relations
  • xenophobia and national security, organized by our collaborator Women of Colour Advancing Peace and Security.

We also had a fourth session that was a little different.  We started with a Q&A between myself and Colonel Cathy Blue, our visiting Defence Fellow.  An Air Force officer, she is spending the year with us, auditing a few classes, working on a research project, advising us, providing us with a military point of view, engaging the students, and continuing her professional military education program that comes out of the Canadian Forces College.  She has been an incredible asset this year, a great sounding board.  

After that, we launched the CDSN Podcast Network!  We decided to build our own network so that we could provide opportunities to new podcasts across the country to be heard.  In addition to BattleRhythm, the CDSN's podcast for the past 3.5 years and Conseils de Sécurité, our partnered podcast with RAS/NAS en français, we will have SecurityScape and NATO Field Report.  SecurityScape is a podcast by graduate students at Calgary's Centre for Military, Security, and Strategic Studies, a partner of the CDSN.  They have had one season thus far, and they will drop six episodes of season two in 2023.  NATO Field Report will be a completely new podcast, run by the students and professions involved in the NATO Field School, which brings students to Vancouver for classwork and then onto Europe to various NATO facilities and headquarters.  They will be be dropping episodes episodically--as the field school approaches and then have interviews and reports during the field school's trips to Brussels, Latvia, and wherever else they go.  That we include a podcast that is a different model from the original ones helps to open our imagination for future additions to our network.

Along the way, we fixed a problem with had with our Apple feed. While we have consistently been producing episodes of BattleRhythm, those that relied on our Apple field were not getting automatic downloads of episodes.  Our stuff has always been available at the other outlets (Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.), but now we fixed this problem.  Folks just have to go to the Apple podcast app and search for CDSN and subscribe to get all of our podcasts.  

At the conference, we did a Q&A with the producers and hosts of the various podcasts.  We are very excited about all of this.  If you have an idea for a podcast on defense/security broadly defined, let us know, as we are looking to connect and amplify--the basic CDSN mission.

Nina Tannenwald
Back to the panels, we had Brown University Professor Nina Tannenwald, who discussed the nuclear weapon issues related to the war, retired LGen Mike Day who delineated the lessons from the war itself, and, via zoom, U of Texas Professor Sheena Greitens, who analyzed China's responses to the conflict.  It was a fascinating discussion.  

I moderated the Civil-Military Relations panel where Calgary Prof. Jean-Christophe Boucher and Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of Women in Defence and Security presented a survey they (and me and Lynne Gouliquer) are working on whether the various scandals are affecting Canadians' trust in the military, Andrea Lane of Defence Research and Development Canada presented the challenges posed to the Canadian Armed Forces by political polarization, and Alexandra Richards of Simon Fraser U. analyzed differences among the various generations and their attitudes.  

The final panel on Redefining National Security, organized by WCAPS-C, included Dr. Nadia Abu-Zahra of both Carleton and U of Ottawa, Azeezah Kanji of the Noor Cultural Centre, Jillian Sunderland and Aaron Francis of U of Toronto.  They presented critiques of the defence and security apparatus and community, especially the treatment of historically excluded communities.

We streamed the event, and it will appear on our youtube channels (CDSN and CSIDS) once we get things cleaned up. We will also be circulating a report and related policy notes in January.

I am very grateful for Team CDSN, especially Melissa Jennings, Sherry Laplante, Cathy Blue, Carelove Doreus, Racheal Wallace, Robyn Lalecheur, David Le, Duncan Herd, and Daniel Kholodar, and to the presenters and moderators.  It was great meeting both presenters and audience members, as the event is also a great networking opportunity.  We will do a "hot wash" to figure out what worked best and what could use improvement.  We are open to feedback so if you have suggestions, let us know.

And, yes, we do this stuff so we can eat food and hang out.  

Indeed it was.

I love Charlotte's expression as she realizes
that I am taking a mid-meal pic

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Nature-Triggered Emergency Operations in Canada

 This week, I went to Winnipeg in the coldest temps of the year thus far to observe one of the new CDSN research efforts: understanding the dynamics of Canadian domestic emergency operations in response to natural events.  Paraphrasing Emdad Haque, one of our co-directors,  nature will create extreme conditions, but whether they are disastrous is up to people and government.  Emdad, Nira Agrawal, and Kawser Ahmed brought together a sharp group of folks, including the army's liaison to Manitoba, the ADM for Emergency Management in Manitoba (a survivor of my big IR class at McG), researches from the universities in the area, and more (see here for details).  

What did I learn?

  • Emergencies are rare for any individual but they are increasingly common collectively.  Climate change is already fostering more and more floods, fires, and other extreme events.  So, this is not just a thing that happens from time to time but is an every day thing now.
  • The notion of the CAF as a last responder needs to die.  Yes, the military wants to be called on only in the most extreme emergencies when no one else can do what they can do.  But there are plenty of incentives for folks to ask for help and for the CAF to be unable to say no.
  • That most of this stuff ends being led by the most local folks--that the feds don't take over but are there to supplement.  Which means the military is following orders, not ordering people around.
  • As always, prevention is the least expensive route but often there are not political incentives.  It seems to me that the real opportunity to make changes to manage/mitigate is as the cycle goes from response to the emergency to recovery--that building back better is a thing.  Rebuild out of harm's way, away from the flood plains, for example.
  • As always, the Indigenous people are put into awful positions by the past and by the present.  Limited infrastructure means they need assistance, but then they are seen as objects, those to be rescued, rather than agents with their own expertise and preferences.  Evacuations need to be rethought--they are very disruptive physically, economically, culturally, mentally.
  • Federalism in Canada continues to suck mightily.  Some provinces understand that they need to build back better, so the Winnipeg floods didn't recur with the same level of damage.  Others understand that they can save money by doing less preparation and then call the feds in when help is needed.
  • There is a lot more work, coordination, planning, preparation going on in this area in between emergencies, that many bad storms and other events do get mitigated.  But again, it is going to get much harder as storms and other conditions get more intense.

I was very pleased to see the CDSN idea work out here--that we had engaged people in different parts of government and society, there was a real exchange of information, the students were super engaged, and it is the start of a more comparative analytical conversation.  

I also learned that Winnipeg is cold, full of friendly folks, and one can lose one's mittens in a cab and then get them back when one happens to take the same cab back to the airport.

So glad I could hang with Andrea Charron,
who has done so much for the CDSN