Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Competing Magical Places: Disney Anew and Universal Yow!

Frozen butterbeer is
best, but had much brain
This week, I got to go back!!!  I hadn't been to Disney World and Universal Florida since 2012 (when we went south to both sell the house in Montreal and celebrate the new job).  This time, instead of Mrs. Spew and Future Hollywood Executive Assistant Spew, I went with my brother and my cousin's family.  At a family occasion last year, I learned that my Floridian cousin and his wife don't like to do the most thrilling rides, leaving their kids frustrated during their visits.  So, I made an unbreakable vow the next time they went to Universal, I would join them.  My brother agreed to crash the party AND wanted us to do Disney World ahead of the U visit, as we had long wanted to do the super-expensive Star Wars experience ... that no longer exists.  We had a blast.  So, I thought I would share some intel and also rank the rides.

First, we learned that to have the best time requires spending even more money.  Yep, the tickets are expensive enough, but to spend less time waiting and more time enjoying, well, more money, more money, more money.  For Disney, we were staying off of the property, so this meant paying more money for parking--preferred parking put one much closer and also got one out of a bit of traffic.  We didn't do this and didn't really need to do this for Hollywood Studio, but did payoff for Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.  We did Epcot on the MK day by taking a monorail to the monorail station and then over to Epcot.  Genie plus, which costs money, allows one to reserve a spot on some rides for later in the day--it requires some strategery to make this work best as you can only set one reservation at a time until some time passes or until you do that ride.  Virtual waiting is still waiting but more pleasant.  Lightning lanes are for some rides--you actually pay additional money to get onto that ride for a specific slot.  It has limited utility as they fill up quickly plus see the next paragraph.  For Universal, we stayed at a Universal hotel, which cost more but came with an unlimited express pass, which allowed us to go through the fast lane at most (not all) rides.

Second, the parks lie a bit.  For the lightning lanes at Disney, for instance, if you are off property, you can't sign up until after the first hour or two of the morning, which means that those who are staying on property can sign up ahead of you, which means you might not have a slot available for you until late in the day.  We didn't do Avatar (more below) because the first slot was around 5:30, and we had plans to leave the park by then.  For Universal, we were told that the park would open up an hour early for those staying at the hotels onsite, but what we didn't know was that meant only one half of universal (the Isles of Adventure side) and only three rides would be open for that first hour--Hagrid, Velocicoaster, and Hogwarts Forbidden Journey.  Roughly 90% of those coming in early went to the first ride, which quickly meant significant waits.  Uncool--that they funneled all the early people to those rides. 

 Third, discretion is the better part of amusement park enjoyment.  We had no kids with us for the Disney days so we could avoid rides that weren't really in our win-set.  We were looking for the more thrilling rides, so we could do each of the Disney parks in half a day, more or less. We stayed longer at Hollywood Studios because I had made a reservation three months earlier (which is what one needs to do) to get a couple of spots at Oga's Cantina at the Star Wars part of HS.  I figured I wouldn't want to drink some funky alien cocktails earlier in the day (Narrator: sure you would).  So, we stayed there longer than we needed. That was ok, because the lines at Star Tours were short, and each ride is different (more below).  Anyhow, we got through each park quickly by avoiding stuff that didn't interest us and not getting too committed to incredibly long waits when Genie+, Lightning Lanes, Express Pass wouldn't help. 

Fourth, some advance planning does help. Specifically food reservations.  We made some reservations at the parks and associated places (Disney Springs) and mostly found excellent food.  I also learned of First Watch, which is an excellent breakfast chain that has food for those seeking healthy fare and for the stuff I like.  Oga's Cantina was not as special as we thought--no mid-drink brawls with folks losing their arms and no alien adventures, but the drinks were excellent and the bartender was great.  Next time I do Disney (CA or FL), I will again make reservations for Oga's, just earlier in the day.

Indeed, one consistency across the two parks--the crew/casts were terrific.  We met a lot of very friendly, patient, often silly folks working the various places (DeSantis is an idiot as damn these places employ a lot of people).  The people at these parks elevated the experience.  And, yeah, it not being summer helped a lot. Another is that each park had plenty of rides with taped appearances by the characters, and I was kind of surprised to see how they got damn near everybody.  I asked my daughter about this--of course, each actor gets paid for their labor--but I wondered if they are required by their big movie deals to do this stuff.  We did bump into one set of rude employees--First Order folks who stayed in character.  Not just at Rise of Resistance but also patrolling the Star Wars land at Hollywood Studies.  My brother almost got sliced in half by Kylo Ren. 

Gary Oldman?
Speaking of people, the other attendees were pretty great as well.  Folks were friendly and very much engaged in having a great time.  I especially loved the herds of HP cosplayers who looked terrific. I swear I thought I saw Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, the Trelawneys and Umbridges were fantastic (see more
below), and yes, the cosplayers ranged in age with many older ones.  While JKR has done much to taint the Potter legacy, the love and the silliness the fans have for that universe and for its characters made me feel less bad about having some of my money end up in the hands of JKR.  I will have to write a separate post about that aspect--what HP means in a world where the author spews out hate.  On the bright side, I saw more than a few gay couples at both parks, so the places are still welcoming even if the governor and the author are awful.  Both places had very diverse audiences--lots of different languages, people from all over. 



For the rankings below, my prejudices/guidelines is that I want to be thrilled and amused so more points for fast/swerving/looping/silly.   


  1. Guardians of Galaxy (Epcot): basically space mountain with cars that can move and turn, great soundtrack. Not as funny as GoG tower of terror at Disneyland, but just a great ride
  2. Tron (MK): Awkward seat as you "ride" a cycle but heaps of fun. Needs to integrate throwing disks.

  3. Star Tours (Hollywood): The oldest of these rides.  Each ride is different as they have something like 66 combinations.  Each ride is physically the same--the car goes up, down, tilts, etc--but the screen stuff changes with each ride visiting two planets/experiences in the SW universe.  In our five rides, we got a couple of repeats--we went to Hoth twice in our first two rides, for instance, but we got five different combos.  We saw scenes from all nine of the movies except Attack of the Clones and, yes, Star Wars.  They had plenty of stuff from the prequels and the sequels.  The second scene would be introduced by a different character talking about new coordinates to get our spy to the right place--we saw young Leia twice (her intro led to the same place), older Lando, Yoda, and one more.  We kept going back as the ride was fun and different each time, and the lines were short. 
  4. Everest (Animal Kingdom): a fun coaster ride through a mountain that gets interrupted by a Yeti, which meant for some backwards and some drops.  No loops but a thrilling ride.

  5. Space Mountain (MK): an oldie but a goodie--a fast coaster in the dark.
  6. Captured by the First Order!
    Rise of the Resistance (HS): somewhat overrated.  It had the longest lines.  I was determined to do it since it was broken (it breaks often) when we tried to do it at Disneyland.  It is a two stage ride--there is a Star Tours like shuttle that gets seized by the First Order.  Then you exit that and are surrounded by tons of Storm Troopers (not living ones, just statues, but scary and incredibly lifelike).  The heart of the ride has us escaping from the bad guys, so we are getting shot at while our driverless car spins and moves all over the place.  It was fun and cool, but not the best ride at the place (a common theme)
  7. Kilimanjaro Safari (Animal): a truck took us deeper into Animal Kingdom so we were driven around a bunch of animals--pretty close to some giraffes, and right up to a rhino that blocked our path.  It was really quite cool.

  8. Fast track (Epcot): pretty fast--"testing" a new specification.  My brother liked this more than I did, but it was a lot of fun.  Not much surrounding humor or whatever--but a good ride.
  9. Smuggler's Run (HS): I had done this before at Disneyland--you get to either help pilot the Falcon, serve as engineer, or shoot at stuff.  It is like being in the cockpit of the Star Tours with some illusion of control.  Tis a fun ride but you can't see that much from the back and hitting the buttons distracts a bit.
  10. Dinosaur (Animal): One rides a vehicle in the past to steal a dinosaur for a mad scientist.  Why does it have to be timed to be seconds before the asteroid that extinguishes the dinosaurs hits?  No idea.  Fun but not as thrilling as the rides above
  11. Buzz Light Year Ranger Spin (MK).  You sit and one person spins the ride while both shoot to kill aliens.
  12. Soaring (Epcot): riding a glider over California.  Fun but pretty calming


Excellent shows: Disney Pixar shorts at MK, Indiana Jones Stunt Show at HS.  The three shorts were terrific even as I was ready to dislike the Mickey one.  The Pixar was very pixar-esque.  All three were just great short movies and a welcome rest of the sore feet (my brother's step count was mostly in the high 20,000's).  The Indy show was great--heaps of Indy goodness and much Marion spunkiness.  I love the mini-plane they used"


Overrated:  Haunted Mansion and the Navi river ride were slow, boring, and wildly overrated.  I would not do either of these again.

Some rides were closed, and some were simply too difficult to line up.  We were not willing to wait 2-3 hours for a ride.  The former were Aerosmith Roller Coaster and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure.  The latter were: Avatar,  Remy's Ratatouille Adventure 


  1. No wonder
    the raptors were
    so angry
    VelociCoaster (Isle of Adventure): simply the best roller-coaster I have been on.  Fast and twisty from the start, good loops, plunges and swings while approaching the water. At one point, it starts to tilt left but then spins right.  Just a very thrilling ride.
  2. Hulk (IofA): similar to VC but not quite as twisty or fast.  Very good loops and twists.

  3. Spider-man (IofA): 4D ride--3D spidey lands on your car, shaking it and then shaking it again as he leaps off.  Has a great sense of humor, the pumpkin bombs from the Hobgoblin bring real heat.  Only regret is that it is generic versions, not the Molina Dr. Ock or the Jimmie Fox Electro and so forth.  This ride has been around a long time, but it still works really well.  The Transformers ride is newer but pales in comparison in a big, big way.  Why? Story and character matter (see the above Star Tours).  
  4. Gringotts (UniFlorida):  I have been waiting a long time for this as we imagined this ride when we visited 12 years ago--when the park only had rides that built on the first four books/movies.  They did a very nice job of realizing the Gringotts breakout scene.  The cart was fast and spinny but not too scary for my youngest relative.  It had a bit more juice than the most similar Forbidden Journey. Oh and a nice job with the dragon.
  5. Forbidden Journey (IofA): like Gringotts, a 3D adventure, this one giving you the feeling of flying a broom through the grounds of Hogwarts.  I did yell Expecto Patronum when the Dementers appeared, but, of course, I didn't have my wand as they made us put all of our loose stuff in lockers (a recurring theme).  
  6. Simpsons (UF): Remains a great combo of silly and thrill.  The entire ride makes fun of the amusement park experience, which makes it even better.
  7. Revenge of the Mummy (UF): another 4Dish ride with lots of ups, downs, and all the rest as we are chased by scrabs and mummies. 
  8. Dr Doom's Fearfall (IofA): old ride, slung up, drop down.  Very basic, still works, and good views.
  9. Hagrid (IofA): So hard to get on this ride as it is very popular.  But it is not that special.  It is cool that the two riders, one on the motorcycle, one in the side car, have somewhat different experiences, but, otherwise, it is a fine roller-coaster.
  10. Men in Black (UF): It is fine, but not that memorable.
  11. Race thru NY with Jimmy Fallon  (UF): You are in a car racing thru NY with Fallon.  It is a fun ride, but nothing special.
  12. Minions (UF): I did both Minions rides with my younger relative (what is the daughter of a cousin anyway?).  One involved shooting from a standing position that moved along a conveyor built and was hard on the hands--the kid beat us all.  The other ride? I am having a hard time remembering.  Not a good sign.
  13. Hogwarts Express: Goes back and forth between the two HP sections--Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.  Useful for getting between the two parks and amazing design of the scenery.  Not thrilling but a great realization of a key scene in pretty much every book except the last.  Oh, and going to Hogsmeade has different stuff happening along the way than going in the other direction.
  14. Fast and Furious/Skull Island: Both are ok, nothing special, basically versions of each other.
  15. Transformers: Supposed to be the equivalent of the Spidey ride, but just too loud, too many robots I can't keep straight.  I get it, the bad guy wants the All Spark. 

Didn't do Rip It Rocket as it was only open for a little while on the second day and we missed our shot.  River Adventure was also out for the count.  We weren't in it to get wet, so not a huge loss. 

That Star Tours is old and rocks and Transformers is new and doesn't speaks to the importance of story, dialogue, characters, not just whether the thing one is in goes up and down a lot.  So, my bias is towards the HP and Marvel stuff, why the Simpsons is still deceptively one of the best rides, and why I don't are much for the newer stuff--their IP is just not thrilling to me.

Oh, and if I had to combine my rankings to produce a top five:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. Velocicoaster
  3. Hulk
  4. Spidey 
  5. Tron


One quibble with Universal--they seem to have the rights to Back to the Future, but other than some merch, one Dolorean, and Doc Brown, they don't really do anything with it.  It is begging to be used in a ride and then some.  Given that they still have a lame section that might be under renovation for some kind of Greece/Atlantis thing that my family scoffed at 12 years ago and wondered if it would be the site of expanded HP, it seems obvious that BTTF should get some love and space.  But as Doc Brown would say, the future hasn't been written yet.

And, yes, you can meet your heroes.  Mando was super friendly, and Grogu cooed cutely.

Spidey was very much a friendly neighborhood hero.  I got to chat with him before we took a picture, and he was super nice.  I misheard the woman at the checkout register, sounded like she said she was his girlfriend.  When I asked, she said "I wish." I suggested that his girlfriends often have much drama and trauma in their lives, and she acknowledged that is a good point.


Green eggs and ham was not the best meal I had, but the one that I just had to eat.  It was pretty good.

Finally, here's a few shots of various HP cosplayers.  As I mentioned, I am far more ambivalent about HP thanks to JKR's hateful stuff of the past several years.  Sure, the representation in the books was not good, and the goblins were always a wee bit anti-semitic.  But the heart of the books focused on love and tolerance.  And I could not help but see how many people seemed to get that as they not only wore their cosplay stuff with great panache, but as you can see from the pics, there was so much camaraderie and, yes, love.

Snape and Fleur--not the usual pairing

I wish I had taken a picture when I was closer
to this herd of cosplayers who gathered in a UF park

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Niseko: Many Mountains, Much Bliss

After two days at Rusutsu, I have skied for five days at Niseko, which is about 30 minutes away.  It is a much, much larger place, not just with four distinct ski areas, but also going much further up.  It took four lifts to get to the top, and we could only do that on our third day and beyond due to winds.  My sister and I have explored all four areas now.  As this amazing ski vacation ends today with my flying back home while they go onto other ski areas in Japan, I wanted to engage in some comparative analysis.

Some of the differences I noted about Rusutsu were apparently more specific to that place and not so much applicable to the rest of Japanese skiing (my n is 2 so .... yeah). 

  • Me in the deep stuff
    The fresh snow was great at Rusutsu, but the freshies at Niseko was just so fluffy and soft.  Absolutely the best snow I have skied through/under, and it is not close.  I often read long ago about champagne powder in the Rockies, but never really experienced it until now.  And now I get why it is so addictive.
  • Far more

    of Rusutsu had buildings covering the top and bottom of the chair lifts, whereas Niseko was more of a mix.  Some had top, some had bottom, some had neither, and some had both. 
  • Talkative chair lift attendees?  Mostly, more recorded stuff playing at Niseko.
  • Bubbles on chair lifts?  Some, but not most.  Indeed, Niseko had a couple of chairlifts I had never seen before
    • leather, heated seats on one six-pack, and that lift went incredibly slowly the one time I had my pole in the wrong place when the automatic bubble/safety bar came down, trapping the pole against my thighs and my sister's.  Not a comfy ride despite the leather seats. 
    • a four person gondola with two in front facing front, two in back facing back
      the funky four person gondola
    • pizza box lifts--one person chair lifts with no seat back and no bar in front.  One holds onto the pole that connects the chair to the rest of the lift.  I did not do that lift, but would have on the last day if I had any energy left.
    • More sharing on lifts--Niseko encouraged strangers to sit on the same chair and did pack some of the gondolas (those at the western resort in particular).
    • Many, many Aussies.  I would guess that were as many Aussies as Japanese. 
  • Both places had night skiing, which we didn't do at all--just too tired. But pretty to look at. 




Yes, we played follow the leader,
and I was mostly the leader lemming
Each of the four mountains had its own vibe/tendencies.  Going from left to right, the one on the far left had mostly super wide intermediate trails that had some good steeps and had nice, relatively flat glades, so we played a lot in the trees and in the deeper snow (not that deep).  It was mostly uncrowded as it was harder to reach with some of the upper lifts closed.  The second mountain was narrower, had more winding, narrower trails.  The main resort has a bunch of lifts (it takes four to get to the very top), a lot of different terrain from super easy for the ski schools to fun blue cruisers to some steep narrow stuff.  Lots of choices, and I enjoyed most a gully that had shrubbery and widely spaced trees on either side to play in, much like Grizzly Gulch at Lake Louise but not as big in the middle, not as steep on the sides, and not as bumpy. The mountain on the right had some very steep intermediates and not as much tree stuff.

To be clear, we didn't climb the extra
50-100 yards to get to the tippy top
We finally got to the top yesterday after the winds died down.  We used that opportunity to get over to the next mountain rather than walking/skating.  I did get a second chance at it, but the visibility declined.  Still, it had a ton of snow, which made getting up and getting my ski pole after a fall a bit challenging.  Getting down from the required going down a steep, shrubbed slope--it was fun, moderately difficult, and thrilling... oh and tiring.  



Susan near the peak in the super deep
and steep.  She has improved so much
so quickly!

And then on our last day, my sister joined me in doing this--with a heap of fresh snow.  I mixed it up with some really wide turns and some pretty straight down the mountain ones.  Of course, my inappropriately narrow carving skis didn't help, but I didn't suck at it, and it was a blast.  My sister, who very recently was much more tentative, went down pretty quickly and under control.  Most impressive.



I am amazed that my legs haven't been very sore, although my knees were progressively sorer towards the end of the trip.  I should be ok for the next trip... which is just two days after I get home.  

One of at least 3 food truck areas
We are staying at a hotel just across the street from the food trucks and a five minute walk to one set of lifts.  The food has been pretty terrific, and everyone we have met has been quite friendly.  Our last night was a phenomenal meal where we had about eight dishes, each one on a different beautiful plate.

My skiing is probably the best it has ever been, as I have had two lessons this week, one good and helpful and one less so, and lots of practice on all kinds of terrain.  I am not as smooth and fluid as others, but I have been better at getting into a good rhythm and skiing through the piles of snow.  We had a bunch of fresh snow to begin our time here at Niseko and on our last day.  In between, there were still plenty of stashes in the trees, so that is where we would visit.  

It has been the best ski trip of my life--the longest, with the most varied terrain, and with great company.  Only Whistler and maybe Copper compare.  Very glad to be my sister's ski buddy on this--we like the same kind of terrain now (she is not as confident on narrow traverses so no Fernie for her).  The only thing we need know is a distinct helmet cover for me so that she can find me in my otherwise blah (gray jacket, dark green pants) outfit. Her pink helmet and pants make her easy to find.

Much thanks to Susan, her boyfriend Bruce, and his two great kids.  We crossed paths with those three expert skiers from time to time on the slopes and enjoyed many great meals off.  I was very glad to be along for the ride.

I look forward to taking my skiing and comparative analysis skills to the Austrian Alps later this winter, but I will be going solo.  Most of my skiing has been solitary since my daughter left the house, but now I remember what fun it is to ski with a pal.  So, now I need to conspire to get my sister to join me next winter. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

So Lucky: My Top Ski Days

 Today, I had one of my favorite ski days of my life: my sister is a great ski buddy, the conditions here were quite good, and skiing my fifth day in a row (never have I ever done that before) meant I am skiing about as well as I ever have and challenged myself pretty well.  So, to celebrate, I thought I would rank my fave ski days, which is distinct from my fave ski places (there is some overlap, of course).  

  1. The highest we could go without hiking--there
    was a long line of folks hiking from a nearby lift
    to get to the top, but we were not so compulsive.
     Today with my sister Susan.  Recency bias?  Maybe.  We had great snow here a few days ago, but a bad experience with a ski instructor put a damper on that day.  Today?  My sister who is a bit less
    confident and much less experienced was quite willing to travel far and wide across the mountain today. Willing to go in the trees--as long as they met my preferences of being wide apart and not on a steep slope.  Plus many of them were more like shrubbery, and I have always been wanting to meet the Knights who say Ni!  We played in a gully that had fun stuff on both sides, we went down some steeps, we went to the top of the mountain which was finally opened after several windy days.  My skiing is peaking after so many days in a row plus three days at Alta last month.
  2. My only medical interaction
    with the ski patrol was
    receiving an off the record bandaid.
    Oran and Arthur are super fun to
    ski with.  JC?  Hmmm. :)
     Last year with JC and his family at Lake Louise.  JC and his family are also great ski buddies.  I love Lake Louise, and was able to show them around the mountain.  The only bump in the road ended up being a bump on my face as I face planted on a flat part, leading to more blood loss than any other Steve ski experience

  3. I have had some amazing bluebird days.
    At this time, Susan really hated
    traverses, so this ridge run was not
    much fun for her.  It was for me, one of my
    very favorite trails'
    A couple of years ago at Whistler with Susan.  Each time at Whistler seems to be better than the last.  This one led to my exploring the Blackcomb side, which, yes, may be better than the Whistler side.  We had super blue skies and good conditions on the ground.

  4. Cullen isn't there anymore, but to quote Jack
    from Lost: "We need to go back!!!"
    A pre-book promotion trip to Copper with Cullen Hendrix.  Cullen was a great host, directing us all around the mountain, avoiding moguls neatly.  I loved the place, and then he took me into the back bowls, which were awesome.

  5. So many times with my daughter, it is hard to figure out which one but probably one of our trips to Sutton or Orford in the Eastern Townships or Tremblant.  It was great watching her improve and then seeking out small bumps so that she could get a few inches of air.

Honorable mentions: my two hours at Whistler due to my daughter having sore legs; skiing in Chile during a research trip, Alta this winter with my sister and one of her pals, Smugs/Jay Peak with my family and my wife's pals, various Lake Louise trips on my own, a half day with Roland Paris at Sunshine. 

Least favorite ski days: Hunter Mountain with my brother as I slid for 100s of meters after falling on a very icy trail, Hunter Mountain during the senior class trip as it rained on us and I had to waste time waiting to be tested to see if I could ski on my own, the day my wife and I hurt our knees in separate accidents at Mount Sutton (one of my fave places near Montreal).

How is my skiing better?  Partly I am less fussed about the snow--I am less concerned with skiing the snow immediately in front of me (maybe a function of how great the snow is, east coast skiing means trying to avoid ice and ice nodules).  I am more pointed downhill with my upper body thanks to a lesson a few years ago.  The first lesson of the week at Rusutsku emphasized going up and down to unweight the skis, and that is working nicely.  Oh, and thanks to skiing with my generous sister, I have gotten more lessons the past few years than in the previous 20.  Even the subpotimal lesson here at Niseko (she took us immediately into deep powder on the first run rather than building up to it and took a while to provide some specific suggestions, some that conflicted with other lessons) had some useful info.  I have also been trying to reverse an old age trend--getting nervous about speed.  I have had some thrilling runs this week.

Oh, and my fave ski places are now:

  1. Whistler and it remains not so close
  2. Niseko---just so much fun terrain including widely spaced trees and shrubs and a great gully and fun steeps.
  3. Lake Louise
  4. Copper
  5. Alta
  6. Sunshine
  7. Rusutsu
  8. Jay Peak 
  9. Tremblant
  10. Sutton

I may be changing this listing as I hope to hit the Austrian Alps this winter during my time in Europe.  I am very lucky, as my body has held up for this sport, unlike for ultimate.  Good thing I don't need to cut hard in this sport.

So lucky to have these opportunities, so very grateful.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Resistance to Culture Change

I have written about the effort to change the Canadian military's culture here although, to be clear, I am focused and expert (ish) on only one aspect of the culture change effort--changing attitudes and practices of civilian control.  Most of the conversation is about making the military more inclusive, diverse, and equitable, and the CDSN has done much in this area via our personnel research theme.  We have also discussed this much at the Battle Rhythm Podcast.  We know, thanks to Machiavelli, that any reform will face resistance from those who benefited from the old way.  And this is the case today, but there is more to it as I will explain.  

The story right now is about a special issue of the Canadian Military Journal and the storm that has been generated in response.  Transforming Military Cultures is one of the nine networks currently funded by the Department of National Defence's Mobilizing Insights on Defence and Security program.  The TMC group organized a special issue of this journal to present a critical perspective on the military and what needs to change.  Yes, they used all kinds of buzz words that greatly annoy the right wing: critical race theory, decolonization, and anti-racism to name a few. *

These kinds of analyses can be hard to read and process because they say: the way things have done has been harmful, and we need to change.  This calls out those who have been influential in the military (and their civilian overseers) in the past as complicit--either encouraging or condoning an environment in which those in power could act within impunity and those without power suffered quite significantly.  We know about the purge of LGBTQ2S+ from the military and intelligence services deep into the 1990s, we know about the problem of sexual misconduct from multiple reports by multiple retired supreme court justices, we have some understanding of the challenges Indigenous people have faced in and out of the CAF, and so on.  So, yeah, it calls out mostly white men because white men have generally had power when this bad stuff was happening.  It hurts the feelings of some apparently to be called out for the sins of the past.  Suck it up, snowflakes.

Anyhow, this special issue got a heap of attention when a far right propaganda outlet blasted it, essentially siccing its readers on the TMC people who have now faced some significant harassment.  This is typical far right behavior, stuff that Trump does all the time (including providing Obama's address which led to a potential assassin showing up near Obama's house).  Some of the judges and prosecutors involved with Trump's various prosecutions have been swatted--that is when someone files a false report with the cops that indicates there is an emergency that requires the heavily armed special police types to go to a certain address with the caller hoping that the police end up killing the target of their animus.

The ruckus this has stirred up has also led opponents of culture change to engage in a writing campaign aimed at CMJ.  Again, opponents to culture change largely but not entirely fit into one basket--those who find the ways of the past--of purged gays and lesbians, of women and men facing little recourse when sexually harassed, of senior officers abusing their authority, of historically excluded groups being relegated to inferior positions--to be the traditions they want maintained.  

There is one additional complication--that the far right outlet's take on all of this was included in a Royal Canadian Navy news summary that was widely distributed.  The idea is that those in the navy should be aware of news stories, positive or negative, that are relevant to the navy.  While the far right is quite relevant and the military should be kept abreast of what it is up to, I think including such outlets in a news summary is akin to putting the press releases of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State in a news summary.  Again, the public affairs folks in the CAF should know what is being said about them, but I would not platform far right outlets in regular email summaries.

And to be clear, while I want to avoid any false equivalence, I would not include press released by Greenpeace or Amnesty International or the Communist Party in a news summary either.  To be absolutely clear, we live in a time where the violence and the incitement of violence is coming from one side of the spectrum.  Far right terrorism has been far more harmful the past 20 years than far left violence.  So, we need to keep in mind where the threat is coming from, and we need to be clear that platforming the far right without context is very problematic.  I don't think there was ill intent here, but as one of my favorite bluesky follows often says,

So, yes, the RCN needs to re-think what it sends around.  And I stand with TMC and others who are fighting the good fight of changing the culture of the military so that almost all Canadians would be welcome to join and to serve with pride and success--all except the far right, white supremacists that is.


*A reminder that basic logic suggests that if one is anti-anti-racism, one is pro-racism.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Rusutu: I Hardly Knew You

It was a cold day so I wore
my silly fake gray beard face mask
and it did a nice job of
showing how much snow fell.
[No, no face plants that day]
 I am spending this week in Hokkaido skiing with my sister, her boyfriend, and his kids.  Well, to be more accurate I am traveling with all of them and skiing with sister.  The others are very advanced skiers and like to hang out in the trees and ski off of cliffs.  So, my sister needed a ski buddy willing to hang with her on the blues (or reds, as they are here in Japan and other places outside if North America).  

Getting here was a bit of a challenge as I was deplaned from two different planes trying to get from Newark to Toyko.  It created a bit of stress, but I only lost one morning of skiing, so not a huge deal.  The plan for them is to be here for three weeks or so, going to four ski places and stopping by Tokyo.  My plan is to be here a week, so I get to experience two ski areas--Rusutsu and Niseko.  

Too tired to go night skiing
but a nice view from my room
The classic saying is that comparison is the thief of joy, but that refers to envy, as comparative analysis is delightful and the source of much joy.  So, how is skiing in Japan similar and different from elsewhere?

Well, the obvious thing right now is the powder--the lightest, deepest stuff I have experienced.  I have had a few powder days at Whistler, Fernie, Lake Louise/Sunshine, but this stuff is just so much easier to ski through.  In previous outings, I would get tentative and feel like I am skiing through sludge and insta-moguls.  This was just delightful.
They did a great job of grooming so we could move from a few inches of powder to a foot to ... oh my and back. 

For the more specific differences about the design/setup:

  • The chairlifts were a bit different as most quads were housed in big warehouse-like buildings
  • The lift attendants talked to us each time we got on the list--not sure what they were saying but it sounded welcoming.  North American lift folks sometimes chat, but mostly are just sweeping snow off and moving it around and such.
  • The lifts mostly had bubbles that automatically came down--which keep out the window and the snow and limited our vision.  A sacrifice I was quite willing to embrace.
  • No sharing! That is, we were two people for four person chair lifts and for six person gondolas.  No one ever joined us, and there seemed to be no pressure to max the people going up on each lift.  Not sure this is just a post-covid thing or was always thus.  We didn't experience much in the way of liftlines so not a big deal.  May be more of a problem at the more crowded Niseko.
  • In Canada, you hear lots of Aussie and Kiwi accents--mostly younger people providing much of the service staff.  Here, the Aussie accents are ski tourists--including many families.

  • Ski school for kids is funky--all of the kids wear the exact same stuff so only the pinneys with numbers distinguish them. 

We shall see how much of this was Rusutsu specific and how much is more either Japanese or Hokkaido.





What was clearly Rusutsu specific was the silliness of the resort:

The resort has a two levell



They had a couple of
animatronic bands, including
one inside the Oktoberfest
buffet place.
Good prep for Berlin?










Funkiness of translations: more general.

It is a sign for a spa,
not a bathroom

This is a super once in a life time experience!  I have been addicted to Japan since my last sabbatical, regretted not skiing then, so getting the chance to return, to visit a different island, to get heaps of powder, and to hang out with my sister and her guy and his kids--I am very lucky.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

If the United Federation of Planets Were an International Organization

Yesterday, a bluesky discussion focused on whether the Federation of Planets was essentially the UN with US domination or something else. 
While I have written far more here about Star Wars, I have actually used Star Trek more in my teaching, and I have watched far more Trek (there is simply many more hours of Trek content).  Plus having written about NATO (the ebook is less than $18!), I have a few views on the matter.

To start, what is the United Federation of Planets and what is Starfleet?  The Federation is an alliance of planets, more so than it is a true federation a la the US.  Not even a confederation like Canada.  How so?  The planets still have their own foreign policies--we see plenty of meetings of diplomats from members to various proceedings.  Note, diplomats, not just leaders or representatives.  Just as I always like to make fun of Texas secessionists for having their embassy in Texas when it should be in Washington, DC or London or some place beyond the territory of the "country" it is representing, federal units (with the funky exception of Quebec) don't have embassies and ambassadors.  This is a short cut, a bit of evidence, for the basic idea that the units in the federation are more independent, more akin to nation-states than they are to units in a federal country.  So, yeah, the name is deceptive.  

Starfleet adds to the confusion because it is the military (despite denials) of the Federation.  This would make the Federation appear more like a country if it had a monopoly--if Starfleet was the only armed force within the federation.  However, I seem to remember various planets within the fed having their own armed starships including Vulcan.  

So, despite the name, the Federation is not akin to a single country.  It is easier to dispense with the idea that the Federation is the European Union.  How much of the series and movies are about economic regulations and subsidizing agriculture?  Ok, more directly, the European Union, despite many attempts, does not really have a military, and it does not have a common foreign policy.  The EU forces that have shown up in Bosnia and elsewhere only do so (this will be brutal, sorry) after NATO has done all of the heavy lifting. It was NATO that ended the Bosnia conflict, it was NATO that compelled Serbia to let peacekeepers into Kosovo, it is NATO deterring the Russians from attacking the Baltics, and so on.  In trade negotiations, the EU acts as a single actor and with great power.  In other stuff?  Not so much. 

Which leaves the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Clearly, from the name and from Gene Roddenberry's idealism, the United Federation of Planets is just a spacey UN, right?*  The stuff above that makes the Federation not a country but many countries or nation-states works toward the UN idea--a bunch of different sovereign entities constantly negotiating, sending diplomats hither and yon to settle all kinds of issues.  The big questions are what is the Federation for and what is Starfleet for?  The classic answer is collective security: to deter aggression by any member against any member by providing assurances that any target of aggression will receive assistance from the rest of the community.  Until Alexander Wendt has his way, the entire imagination of the role of the UN is focused on members.  The UN is a universal organization...on Earth--the only countries that are not in the UN are Taiwan and ... depending on how you count the Vatican and Palestine and various unrecognized separatist folks.  The key things about this notion of collective defense are that no member is excluded from its protection, and it is not aimed at any particular aggressor. 

The UN does not have a standing military, but has "sent" massive interventions when the membership have agreed, to thwart North Korea's aggression in 1950 (because the Soviet diplomats were stupidly boycotting the UN Security Council at the time) and Iraq's in 1990-91.  In both cases, it was really the US military and some allies under a UN banner in the former and nearly so in the latter.  One could argue that Starfleet is mostly a Terran/American endeavor and its activities are simply under a federation banner.  But again, the aim is at members.  In the original Trek, maybe some of it was aimed at fostering peace among members, but for most of Trek's history, Starfleet was aimed at protecting its members from non-members.

Which gets us to NATO, which is not really a collective security organization, but a collective defense organization.  It is not so much aimed at protecting Greece from Turkey, but all of the members from external threats--mostly the Soviet Union/Russia but also terrorism, maybe China, etc.  "An attack on one is an attack on all", Article V, the heart of the alliance, is aimed at outsiders. All of NATO's military endeavors have been on the border of or entirely outside the territory of its members.  Kind of like how much of Starfleet's activities are at the borders, patrolling nearby neutral zones, or going beyond to intervene, despite the Prime Directive, in non-members.  How many episodes are akin to the Kosovo effort?  A boodle. 

Of course, the parallel is not perfect, since Starfleet is a coherent military organization from the academy to the command staff and in between, which NATO is not.  Its captains may buck orders (Kirk more so than others, but all of them did so), but not because their home country/planet had different rules than the Federation for operating in place x or y.  That is, the Steve and Dave book on the Federation would focus far less on the political systems of members states and far more on the personalities of individual ship captains, compared to our work on NATO (our book and articles focused mostly on whether countries had coalition governments or not, what kinds of coalitions they had, and personality of presidents and prime ministers only kicked in if there were no coalitional bargaining).

Of course, there is no perfect parallel between the Federation and an existing Terran international organization, but given the focus of the Federation and the activities of Starfleet, NATO appears to be the closest, and I didn't even discuss enlargement.




*  I'd argue that Babylon 5 comes a lot closer to that, but that is a post for another day. 


Saturday, January 6, 2024

Three Years Later and Multiple Proceedings: Jan 6th Apologies and Still Hill Standing

 I looked back at my post three years ago, the day after Jan 6th.  With so many people revising their views, hey, it was not an insurrection, just a rambunctious group of FBI-led rioters, I thought I would see where I stand now after investigations, trials, and finally the application of the 14th amendment to he who can't be held accountable.

Before getting into this, one key difference between learning and bad faith is that while both can cause someone to take a difference stance three years later, the former is about learning new information and revising beliefs, and the latter is about taking whatever is a convenient stance no matter the previous one.  A bit of a subtweet in all of that.

Anyhow, looking back, I was the most wrong about the capitol cops.  They were far from complicit, as many paid a huge cost, including the ultimate price, for doing their jobs.  Not much shirking that day.  What we saw initially where cops cleverly misdirecting the insurrectionists away from the vulnerable Senators and Congresspeople.  

I am less certain of my second stance--people referred to this as a manifestation of fascism.  I pushed back because I didn't think and I still don't think Trump has a coherent ideology.  Not all racist autocrats are fascists, with fascism having broader implications for how to organize society.  There are enough people around Trump and enough forces in the US who are not just pushing for autocracy and for white supremacy but also reordering institutions to support, yes, the master race and master religion, that it is close enough to count.  To be clear, to me, Trump is still not thinking about putting the nation over individual interests, but rather himself over everything.  The ultimate expression and empowering of narcissism does not make Trump a Nazi.  But he is changing permission structures to allow Nazis to flourish.  So, there is a fascist movement complete, yes, with swatiskas and Nazi flags.  When they tell us who they are, we probably should be believe them (applies to occupiers of Ottawa as well).

The third stance got the most heat--that it was not a coup.  Folks were upset because it seemed like I was not taking the event seriously... as if a coup is far more serious than an insurrection.   But I also underestimated how much of a role Trump and his team played in inciting the insurrection--that it was part of a sustained effort, a conspiracy out in the public eye for the most part, to keep Trump in power despite losing the election.  Which made it an autogolpe.  Which, yes, is a kind of a coup--a self-coup--an effort by those in power to usurp the powers of other institutions so they can perpetuate their reign, their regime.  All of the investigations, all of the incriminating stuff Trump has said, has made it clear that he caused the insurrection--it would not have happened without his sustained efforts.  I am sure we will learn more once the trial starts.  

But, yes, I will resist using "coup" without modifications because of two key parts of general definition: coups are usually focused on changing who is in power--hence the need for autogolpe or self-coup--and they involve some component of the security services.  In this case, the military was not involved.  It is still not entirely clear whether we dodged literal bullets by not bringing the National Guard in earlier.  But the point remains--the danger, the threat, the violence, the effort to prevent the transfer of power were not coming from the uniformed armed folks.  A significant number of veterans involved in the insurrection is disturbing but do not make it a coup.

Folks have and will accuse me of pedantry on this.  I tend to speak loosely and am not a definitions-enforcer, but on this hill, I (along with many folks who study civil-military relations) remain.  Again, it shifts attention in the wrong direction, and it does not mean the event itself was not serious.

My post also called for accountability--that folks had to go to trial and to lose their jobs.  We have had a fair amount of that, but the wheels of justice has been grinding too slowly when it comes to Trump and his minions.  There is very much a deadline.... especially as the GOP seeks to game the institutions governing the next election.

We should remain outraged--that something unprecedented happened and it was caused by a sore loser who should never have become president in the first place.  But those seeking power didn't care about personal responsibility or values, so they supported a candidate who was so very disqualified then and then proved it through how he governed and then again with his refusal to accept losing.  So, yes, the 14th amendment should be applied to Trump, but will it stick?  Damned if I know.