Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Milano and Como: Nice Ways to Finish A Eurotrip

To be clear, my time in Europe is not over, and Mrs. Spew has a few more days, but Berlin is, well, home enough for me that tomorrow I will be returning to my apartment and my normal.  I will still be doing a heap of tourism but now as tour guide for my wife and my sister and her boyfriend.  

So, I will just highlight some stuff we saw the past few days here in Lombardy (which reminds me that Italy is the country that gave us irredenta as a word!) and then some thoughts about intra-Italy contrasts before moving onto some thoughts about the trip as a whole.

I made a fun mistake--we ended staying in a very nice hostel rather than a hotel.  Not a huge mistake as it worked out fine, but the Hilton (and its points) nearby was actually not that much more expensive.  It would have meant a larger elevator, perhaps slightly older neighbors, and, perhaps we wouldn't have roomed with Molly Mosquito.  

We bought a package of transportation/museum tickets/etc, but couldn't really get the metro part of that to work for us.  But Milan has some turnstiles where you can just tap your credit cards.  Once we figured that out, the metro was a breeze.  We were deterred from the trams (bigger, uglier, slower than those in Erfurt) as I was not sure how to pay.  The package did pay off for getting us into the Duomo (but only the stairs to the terrace, which meant not for us), the fortress, and the Ambrosian Library.

The Duomo lift situation reminded of how the Church did and does perpetuate inequality.  Three ways to

get to the top--stairs for those who pay a bit extra, elevator for those who pay more than that, and then an express elevator for those who yet more.  No line for the last one, of course.  Whenever I see cathedrals, I always think about how they exploited the peasants to make them.  But to be fair, these projects involved a lot of jobs for a long time (several hundred years in this case).  On the other other hand, sculptors made lots of Saint Lucy statues since she is the patron saint of the bline, and carving marble .... was not good for one's eyes.  

I have a question: are sculptures in cathredals normally this violent?  I can't recall anything like this.  What is this scene depicting?  In the museum next to the Duomo, they had a bunch of statues that are no longer in the cathedral, mostly for preservation/safety reasons.  Lots and lots of Abraham nearly smiting his son--which is one of the key points in my religious education which led me to being pretty hostile to religion.







The fortress, designed by Leo Da V, was pretty amazing.  Just a beautiful structure that seemed impossible to attack.  Not sure it was ever successfully attacked.  Too much art inside to get into the history.  Museum for musical instruments, museum for furniture, plenty displays of glass and ceramics, etc.  Most impressive.



But our fave museum in Milan was the Ambrosian Museum--it had a lot of incredible displays.  My faves were an exhibition where they gave artists moleskin notebooks and they went to town on them in many different ways;  the Raphael drawing that serves as guide to the Philosopher's football meeting; and Da Vinci's own notebooks.  It was very cool to see his own handwriting.  



Because we couldn't make reservations for the big museums for our first day in Milan, we headed off to Como to see lake and mountains and George or the Smiths.  And, yes, Como is beautiful--lake and mountains and the buildings all make it a special place.  We didn't have time to either use the funicular (can't spell it without fun) or rent a boat or take a ferry.  But we did have time to walk around, people watch, and check out the area.   

The food, including the gelato, was terrific.  I had a great calzone in Como, had some wonderful pasta in Milan, and had an amazing sandwich with the freshest foccacia bread just off a canal in the Navigli area--the Venice of Milan.  Hmm, how many Venices of have I been to?  Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm, ... am I missing any?  I only repeated gelato flavors once--coffee!  

Milan vs Venice: Milan has some amazing museums, and we didn't really get a taste of that in Venice.  Venice has a heap more beautiful sights, but damn it is crowded outside of peak season.  Milan was far easier to walk with only bridges/canals in Navigli.  The food was amazing in both.  Milan was not quite the tourist trap that Venice is.  Venice had Murano and Burano, and I guess we could have tried to see some other parts.  I am glad we did both.

Northern Italy vs my memories of southern Italy: I spent one overnight in Naples in 2001 on my way to Bosnia, and my other Italian experience was Rome/Florence in 1987.  I remember the roads/the walking to be far more chaotic and, um, thrilling in the south than in the north. While we saw some old stuff here in Milan and in Venice, well, it doesn't get much older than Rome (except my trip to Jerusalem 5 years ago).  The food?  My palate has changed a lot and I am willing to pay much more now (not traveling on $25/day max anymore) so I can't make any comparisons.  I didn't get food poisoned this time, so there's that!  Much more English this time, which is no surprise.  Navigating via google maps made things far easier this time--to use the metro system, to get to the sights, to navigate the alleys of Venice, to find excellent restaurants, and only get gelato at places rated 4.5 or higher.

Overall, how would I rank the places we visited over the past ten days?  

  1. Venice.  Just too pretty, too much fun.  Points off for not letting us into their castle.
  2. Erfurt. Small and sweet and I knew it complete. Kept up our castle streak nicely with its citadel.
  3. Dresden.  Its old town is spectacular--huge buildings of all different kinds of shapes and histories, nicely positioned on the Elbe (fun to be on the river that divided Soviet and western forces at the end of the war).  Bumps up with the Schloss nearby that we enjoyed so much.  We had our best German food here--a German tapas place if I remember correctly.
  4. Nuremberg.  The rise and fall of Nazis in one place with site of rallies and the trials plus a really cool castle.  Some great food.
  5. Milan.  Only this far down the list because the other places were that special.  Definitely gets points for a fantastic Da Vinci designed castle, terrific food (the last dinner's service had much to be desired).  Points off for Mosquito Molly.  
  6. Leipzig.  It was ok, didn't knock our socks off.

And yes, between the German heavy food of Franconia and the gelato of Italy, I blew my diet bigtime.  Hopefully my lack of treadmilling was offset by all the walking.

I will be spending another three months in Berlin next winter/spring for the second half of the Humboldt Award, again at the Hertie School.  Where will I wander next time?  The Italian Alps are calling--good snow and better food than the Austrian Alps.  Maybe Greece, maybe some part of the Balkans, depends on a variety of things including the possibility of traveling with my daughter.  Anyhow, as always, I am so lucky.  I was very frustrated with my career at the start and for some time, but I have been in a good place in spirit and physically for quite some time.  I do have a plan for the next sabbatical in seven years.  Hopefully, it can come into fruition as well as this one.


15 Years? This Blog Can Soon Get A Permit to Drive

I can be a harsh critic of myself...
 I have marked the anniversary of this blog a few times before, but, jeez, 15 years is a big number.  Much longer than I have resided anywhere although Ottawa will match that in a few years.  I started blogging in a different world--in the middle of an economic crisis, with a rising far right (remember the Tea Party?), and multiple wars.  Now, we have a housing crisis, my kid is unemployed, and the far right is rising in Canada but is already in solid control of the US courts.  So, yeah, it has been a ride.

It is very appropriate that this anniversary falls while I am on a trip.  Much of my blogging bursts of late have been travel reports, as visiting new places has given me new material.  As I have noted before, I slowed down in part because a lot of what I want to say here, I have said before.  

I haven't written as much about Gaza and the politics back home as I could because it is just so depressing and angering.  I hate that universities aror the traps that the far right have set, I hate that people think that universities are full of anti-semites who deserve to be suspended and evicted without due process.  I have yet to see any stories that justify bringing cops onto campuses to repress protests.  Snipers?  We don't need another Kent State to see how awful this is, but, yes, each day, each place this happens, we risk students (and profs) getting killed.  

I will write more about this in the coming days, but I'd rather spend this Spew-niversary thinking about the highlights of the past 15 years of this place.  I still have no regrets about starting the blog or its name, as it has been a great place to play with half-baked ideas. So, the aforementioned highlights:

  • Writing so much about Canada's experience in Afghanistan here at the Spew made it so easy to write Adapting in the Dust--I didn't cut and paste from the blog, but I did refer to it along the way to find old links and ideas.  Having blogged extensively about this topic made it so easy for the ideas to move from my head to each chapter I wrote.
  • Writing about the logic of the NATO book applied to the Avengers movie at the Duck of Minerva, as blogging here led to the Duck and other outposts.  Writing about poli sci theory applied to Marvel too ultimately led to a publication.
  • Posting the song list for the NATO book--coming up with that was fun.
  • Realizing I am, dare I say it, an influencer.  LtGen (retired) Maisonneuve's speech did not get picked up by the media since it was partly aimed at them, so it only got out and widely discussed after my post about it.  This eventually led to an op-ed where I wrote that he ought not be platformed and then the supposedly cancelled general wrote an op-ed aimed directly at me, a career first!  When people say they have read my blog, I stammer and blush less than I used to.  I still apologize whenever anyone says they follow me on twitter or bluesky, as the stuff there is even more reactive and less baked than the stuff I write here.
  • Before that, blogging made me an activist, which I had never expected (I am not the activist Hollwyood Spew is), but when I saw that the ISA developed a dumb policy on blogging, I wrote about it and then organized an official caucus within the ISA--the Online Media Caucus--to defend/protect/educate/advocate re social media.  Recently, the OMC disbanded, as our mission within the ISA has succeeded as online media stuff is very mainstream, including blogging, even as we have had to move from a very popular but now broken/far right platform to alternatives.
  • Fave? Maybe not but often repeated, re-linked, that rejection is inherent in the enterprise.  Damn near all of my publication efforts have been bumpy roads except the NATO book (one reason it is my fave book).  The CDSN was rejected a few times before we got funded.  Oh, and that whole job search thing. 
  • A recurring theme here has been discussion of sexism in poli sci.  Have things gotten better for women in the profession?  Damned if I know, ask a women who has been doing it for thirty years or so.  I have also addressed racism in poli sci, but not as much.  Why not?  It has not been as obvious to me, I guess, in mostly white departments and with the racists being a bit less overt than the sexists?  When it comes to sexism, I find it easier to engage for whatever reason.  Some folks have called me a good ally, but that has always made me a bit uncomfortable for a few reasons.
    • Doing the right thing should just be the right thing.
    • Calling oneself an ally is usually a hint that one is not, so I have not referred to this label much.  
    • I like to sometimes be subversive is only slightly subtle ways (as I am not a subtle person), like with this post about the best books in the biz
  • I thought about this post for a long time before writing it.  It could be read as a rationalization for my media stuff, but I honestly believe the stuff I said about relative value of different folks who appear in the media.  I know I am not the best, but I have seen the worst and it ain't me 😃.
  • When I saw a survey about xenophobia, I had to put on my old hat as ethnic conflict scholar, and that piece (and its sequels) got picked up by Max Fisher then of WP and made a dent.
  • Oh and some stats from 15 years:
    • 6250 posts
    • 3384 comments, which shows that this has mostly been me talking to myself except ...
    • 3,648,197

Venice Is Simply Stunning

 Ah, Venice!  It was amazing.  I had never been, and Mrs. Spew hadn't been there since her college year abroad.  I had an epiphany: water = scenic and old = scenic.  So, yes, Venice is scenic squared.  Just beautiful in pretty much every direction.  Even or especially the worn down buildings look great.  Our timing was pretty great, as the weather was comfy (a bit too comfortable for the one mosquito in our pensione room). 

Because we are already onto Venice, I am going to listicle may way through my realizations/observations we had along the way:

  • Wow, there are a lot of bridges.  As Mrs. Spew has some knee issues, we noticed each and every bridge.
  • So glad we were not in high season, as there were a ton of people already, and those bridges are chockfull of people taking pictures. Plus most of the pathways are pretty narrow so things get congested quickly.
  • So many restaurants!!  It was easy to find amazing food--the hard part was deciding which place to eat.  The pasta was simply terrific as was everything else.
  • When I did my Italian trip as a college Eurailpass person, I had to limit my gelato intake due to budget constraints (the US had coordinated with Europe to push down the dollar just before my trip!).  This time, I was only restrained by the threat of reflux as I am going to gain weight on this trip, so be it.  I tried a different flavor each time, and enjoyed them all.
  • Dogs?  Heaps of dogs but so little grass.  The green spaces in Venice are far and few between.  Sure, some beautiful parks and gardens on various edges, but you can go on a long dog walk and not see any grass.  
  • I don't know if this is a regional thing or a fashion of the moment, but there were a fair amount of young women with the fiercest eyebrow game I have seen.
  • We didn't go into any of the major museums/cathedrals due to timing and very long lines.  But we did bump into various smaller, amazing, quite funky exhibits along the way.  My fave was this one
  • Did I mention the food was amazing?   Best pasta I have ever had.  The pizza?  I am still a homer--American pizza >> Italian pizza.
  • We didn't gondola as we had blown the budget for that on a water taxi upon our arrival that... dropped us off not so close to our pensione.
  • Oh, and that pensione--tight stairway for our large bags.  It was partly run remotely so we could use use the codes given to us to get in.  It worked once I figured it out.  The place was in a super convenient spot, but our bathroom was not on the same floor as our room, which did not work so well in the middle of the night, especially for Mrs. Spew's knees.  
  • Bread always costs money (plus a service charge is always added), but we kept getting free shots of lemoncello.  Since Mrs.
    Spew doesn't drink such stuff, I had to step up and take a second shot for the team.  Yum.

    So more than a few
    examples of anarchist grafitti
  • Saw plenty of signs, graffiti, offices for far left parties and movements including, yes, communists! Gasp!
    Glass blowing demo at the Glass Cathedral

  • Venice is part of an archipelago with other islands in the lagoon.  So, we took a water bus to Murano to check out the glass blowing industry and shop for souvenirs and gifts and then onto Burano for the brightest colored buildings.  It was worth the trip although the water bus from the first to the second was very, very crowded.  Again, glad it isn't peak season.  The new tax to limit visitors is probably not going to work--unless it is sky high--as the place is worth it.



Burano is pretty
Holy packed boat, Batman









We are now in Milan for the last part of our trip beyond Berlin.  Mrs. Spew gets a few days in my apartment there before heading home, and then I have about 10 days before I head back as well.  It has been a great Beatles week (8 days) and a great three months.  I am very lucky--this whole thing has been a terrific experience.  Which reminds me:

Don't use the word terrific in Italy, as I did in a text to our Venice pensione manager, and she interpreted it as terrible or terrifying.  She was much relieved when we figured out the confusion.  I was really happy, not really upset.



Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Driving into the Past: Dresden, Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Erfut

Mrs. Spew is spending a couple of weeks with me in Europe, so I thought we would wander through the middle of Germany before going to northern Italy.  We wanted to see some castles and some history, and we have gotten a heap of both.

Our first stop was Dresden, which, of course, resonated with me since I read Slaughterhouse Five in high school, which was in the context of the firebombing that utterly destroyed the city and is now seen as something far worse than gratuitous.
 We saw occasional memorials and unrepaired walls here and there, but it was mostly out of sight.  Definitely not out of our minds.  We stayed in the old town area, which is how we maximize the walking and the sightseeing.  We were close to the massive central cathedral, heaps of palaces (now museums), city halls, and the river.  We had some excellent food here including both Spanish and German tapas (best German food I have had, I think, in my three months here).  There was a wonderfully silly, cheesy "experience" where one gets some headphones to listen to the narration of a character from long ago trying to figure out how he died as we get a tour of the remnants of the fortress.  We also went into a pretty amazing art museum that had a great collection of statues including a replica of David and a display of East Germany/communist era art, which tended to focus on American imperialism.







We spent our next morning at Schloss Weesenstein, which is between Dresden and the border with Czechia.  It looked v ery small and uncastle-like from the road, but very big and very castle-ish from the inside.  It had some very funky display tendencies including paintings that would then have a figure/mannequin sticking out of it to give the face in the picture a 3-D body.  It was one of the places where the Nazis put (stolen) art to protect it from the bombing with the castle at Nuremberg being another.

 Leipzig was the least spectacular place.  Still some pretty sights, big cathedrals including one where J.S. Bach is buried (but we couldn't find the actual site within the place).


Speaking of which, Nuremberg is pretty spectacular.  On the way in, we stopped by the Zeppelin grounds where the Nazis had huge rallies.  The structures don't look the same, in part because the American troops blew up the giant swastika on the platform, and partly because other parts of the superstructure were falling apart, so they got demolished.  It was strange to be standing exactly where Hitler stood way back when. We then drove into Nuremberg, where google maps led us astray a bit.  We managed to get to our hotel and then walked around, yes, the older part of town.  


A very pretty river runs through the city.  We went up to the hill to the Imperial castle that overlooks the town.  We spent most of our time there, looking at the gardens and going through the museum.  It had lots of medieval armor/arms displays and much discussion of how imperial rule worked.  The emperor didn't stay put, but would visit castles around the empire to network, to show that his authority was everywhere, to rule on local disputes, etc.  The big tower had at the top pictures on each side, showing what that view looked like before the war, at the end of the war, and then after the rubble was picked up.  Nuremberg got hit very hard by allied bombing--because of its symbolic importance as well as being a transportation hub and industrial center.  







And then to put all this into context, on our way out, we stopped by the Nuremberg Trial Memorial/Museum.  there was a whole lot of history packed into  a relatively small space.  Surprisingly, nearly all of the text was in German despite the tribunal being an English/French/Russian affair, and a sharp contrast to the rally grounds displays.  So, we had to listen to the audio guide read the English translation of the displays.  It slowed us down a bit, and we had to skip some stuff.  But a fascinating experience and a nice bookend to the rally grounds.  


Then it was on to Erfurt, a smaller city that avoided being bombed.  I asked my wife which of the places we visited had the highest burgermeister/meisterburger quotient, and Erfurt edged out the others.  A really beautiful town with a funky covered bridge with shops, a very large citadel, and more ice cream stores per linear meter than pretty much anywhere else. 

Why they have a bread dude statue? 
I have no idea.

Random observations along the way

  • I guess the whole thing of densely populated areas is that the areas in between are empty?  So much of the roads in between these places had nothing but farms, windmills, and solar panels. 
  • Autobahn!  Superfast but lots of places with strict limits--keeps you awake.  The roads are so well constructed that it is easy to go uber-fast without feeling it--our rental car is also pretty smooth.  So, yeah, I have generally been driving at speeds that I would never approach in North America... while still getting passed by much, much faster cars.
  • Strange parking processes.  In a mall in Leipzig, the parking machine spit out a yellow token, not a ticket.  So, when I returned to the car, I had to put the token into a normal payment machine, which I had expected to spit out a ticket. Nope, it spit out another token.  But it worked.  In another
    parking structure, it takes a picture of your license plate, so on your way to your car, you enter your license plate number into the machine and it spits out a ticket to let you out of the lot?  
  • Speaking of driving, I learned how to drive a manual in high school, shortly after passing my driving test.  My mother's Datsun 310 only had four gears plus reverse.  I did learn the funkiness of how to get some sticks into reverse when I was a parking attendant in high school--yes, they hired a 16 year old!  Anyhow, after leaving home, my manual car experiences have been far apart and few, like when I landed in Brussels to drive to the Arnhem bridge (it was not too far for me, but my next stop was as jet lag hit me hard) about fourteen years ago.  So, this rental SUV has got six gears, which means I sometimes put into third rather than fifth or fourth rather than sixth.  Oops.  Oh, and my first gear skilz (the hardest gear) are not so great.  So, a few clumsy starts at stop lights.  Unlike the hard time I had figuring out how to get into reverse at the forementioned Brussels airport, I quickly realized the trick with this car was pushing down on the stick to get it into reverse.
  • Lunches on the road didn't always work out.  We kept finding restaurants near our routes to be closed--on the way out of Dresden/Schloss and in Bamberg in between Nurenberg and Erfurt.  We ultimately just waited to eat in Leipzig. In Bamberg, we settled for a Turkish doner cart in the parking lot of a grocery store, and, as all of my Turkish doner experiences have been in Germany this year, it was super tasty.
  • I don't remember the trams being this fast in Berlin.  In Erfurt and in some of the other places, they are fast and jeez, they are close to the sidewalks.

 Tomorrow, we drive back to Berlin, drop off the rental car, and get on a plane to Venice.  We will have about five days in Italy split between Venice and Milan.  I have never been to either place, and Mrs. Spew last visited ... before Iran-Contra.  She has been keeping me from getting gelato since it supposed to be pretty good where we are going.  

Auf wiedersehn!


Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fantastic Finland Fieldwork For the Fictory!

I am currently in the most wonderful Helsinki airport, waiting to go back to Berlin.  I have been in Helsinki to study the Finnish case for the Phil/Ora/Steve book on Defense Agencies.  It has been a great albeit cold and mostly wet week.  Definitely glad we have this case in the book, and, yes, it is making it imperative to go to Sweden to see how NATO membership is a common process with perhaps not entirely common politics.

First, the joy of Helsinki before I discuss what I have learned for the book project.   It is on the Baltics, so when the wind blows, brrrrr.  Yes, we got some snow here last night, deep into April.  Makes me feel like I am back in Canada, except Ottawa has more sun and not as much cold winds. This is only my second time here, and the first one hardly counts as it was a brief layover between Leningrad (that tells you how long ago it was) and NY.  I got used to tramming around town, never using the metro as everyone was very well located in the center except a couple of interviews--one requiring a bus ride to beyond Helsinki and one or two requiring cab rides.  

Two parliament buildings
and funky sculpture
 One of my fave new experiences for interviewing was that they had a conference center where folks could hold meetings with far less security and inconvenience than going out to the ministries.  I still did manage to go to the Ministry of Interior, which was not far away, and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was a 20 minute walk or 15 minute tram ride.  The Parliament buildings were not just huge (everyone kept reminding me this is a small country with a small population, but their parliament buildings suggest otherwise), but also had more security than any other legislative building I can recall.  Sure, everyone has a front entrance with thick windows, x-ray scanners, etc, but to get from point a to b inside, my escort had to badge the doors every five or ten steps.  And, yeah, my escort in was the counsel to the defense committee, and on the way out ... a parliamentarian who was recently the chief of defense!  They don't have much of a history, by the way, of senior ex mil leaders serving in parliament but Ukraine changed that.  More on that below.

reindeer on potato
I am not a huge fan of fish, so I tended to look for non-Finnish food (not all Finnish food is fish, to be clear), so I had Chinese, Italian, Mideast, and Georgian.  Pretty sure that was my first time having Georgian food, but the waitress didn't understand my order, so I didn't get the classic big bread thing dish, so I will have to try that in Berlin (I found a Georgian place near my apartment).  The people were very friendly, even though I have no Finnish.  They all understand that no one speaks Finnish besides Finns, so they all speak Swedish (there is a sizable Swedish minority and the Swedes used to run the place), and English.  Some folks remarked that the kids these days are less interested in learning Russian.  So much for Russia's soft power....

Yes, Russia loomed large here, as the Finns have a strong memory of the trauma of the Winter War--their fight with the Russians during World War II.  Apparently, the Ukraine war hit the old folks very hard.   I did wonder where the bunkers are, as  I had heard that civil defense is a big thing here.  I didn't recognize the signs apparently, as I was told that pretty much all of Helsinki has underground facilities.  The difference between old US bomb shelters and Finnish bunkers--the latter are used on a daily basis--parking lots, swimming pools, gyms, etc that are underground.  This keeps them fresh, their air good, and also, most importantly, has the Finns comfy with going to these places.  The economy is not doing well, and it may or may not have much to do with the fact that the Finns have pretty much cut off most trade with Russia.  

The whole of government thing Canadians and others have a problem doing?  Finland has whole of society, comprehensive security.  In its history, it has always been alone until ... the last year.  So, they are ready to mobilize the entire society if the Russians attack.  This means a draft (just for men [all young men including one NBA player], women can join the military but their conscription is voluntary [holy oxymoron]), an extensive reservist system so that the small army can swell to 280,000 and then 900,000, coordination of all parts of society to respond to an attack.  The drafted are paid about 5 Euros a day.... which does not go far in super expensive Helsinki. 

Decorations inside Parl building
The military has been running a month-long defense course 4x/year for a long, long time, where they create cohorts of 50 people, elites from across society, to learn about the military and the rest of comprehensive security.  This is a hell of a public diplomacy effort--it is not cheap although some companies provide the food and booze and such for free.  Companies apparently don't have a big problem with losing an employee for a month.  To provide a comparison, the army exercise I did in 2019 was one day.  This experience is really important as it came up in almost all of the interviews and mostly without my prompting.

In ye old comparative politics, the phrase is war made the state.  While not entirely true, the idea is that societies developed more and more extensive political institutions in order to fight and win or survive in international relations.  It may be the case that NATO membership has the same but smaller impact.  That joining NATO has caused Finland has to dramatically enlarge and perhaps empower its very small Ministry of Defense.  NATO requires meetings, document vetting, preparation, the sending of personnel to NATO hq's in Brussels, Mons, and elsewhere.  AND most NATO policy is made by civilians even though NATO is far more an organization about military stuff than civilian stuff (hence why much of the effort to build an Afghan government was run by separate national governments (foreign affairs, development agencies) rather than by NATO.  The relevance of this is that it gives the MoD a greater role in making defense policy than in the past.  That is, the Finnish defense forces made much of the policies but that may be changing now.  Oh, and it was the first EU country I have been in where the NATO flags easily outnumber the EU ones.

In terms of the project, Finland is an interesting case with a largely autonomous military, that their number two in the MoD is always a retired senior military officer, their MoD is tiny (150 now, swelling recently thanks to NATO), their President is commander in chief which means the military can try to sideline the MoD and the PM by insisting that the President is the one who oversees them, the President and PM have tiny foreign/security offices, and that conscription deeply shapes everything.  Sweden will be a fun case to compare since the Swedes had a draft, dropped it, and have recently started it again while also joining NATO recently.

Random things I heard along the way:

  • five different Baltic pipelines have had "accidents" since the war in Ukraine started!
  • Finland has reached 2% of GDP on defense because it frontloaded the cost of buying the F35s, which means that when that goes through the system, Finland may have a hard time procuring enough to keep at 2%.  
  • Womb chairs!  Multiple waiting rooms in govt buildings reminded me of Oberlin's library way back in the day.



I do love my job even if it requires me to transcribe my interview notes.  I have many more countries to visit and I still have to do some work to figure out the German case as well as write up the Finish case.  All I know is that comparative civ-mil relations has been mighty good to me.

Next week, Mrs. Spew hits Europe, so we drive through Germany and then fly to Italy.  So, a very different bit of fieldwork ahead.  Much more focused on comparative cuisine.  

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Berlin, Week Acht!

 Wow, time is flying by.  I have one week in Finland, two weeks of tourism in middle Germany and Northern Italy with Mrs. Spew, and then two weeks left of research and speaking and networking and Berlining. I have really enjoyed my time here, have made significant progress in the project, learned a lot about how Europeans are thinking about Ukraine (haven't had a chance to talk with them about Iran-Israel yet), and eating a lot of great baked goods. 

 The research has been good but not great.  Parliamentarians have been too busy to talk to me, so I am hoping for better luck next winter when I return for another three months.

This was a fun week as I started it having a beer in a beer garden with Erin Koenig, a Canadian diplomat I know via her work as chair of Women in International Security-Canada.  Tis a CDSN partner, so we had much discuss on that as well as comparative Berlin experiences.  And she was a great photographer as she patiently endured my interview on the Canadian defence review for the home crowd.  Had I had more warning about the DPU (I learned it was dropping a day before it dropped), I would have gotten my hair cut.  Shaggy, beer swilling Steve on the CBC


I had a very productive visit to Potsdamn.  The Bundeswehr's Center for Military History and Social Sciences is in a very scenic location, right on the river.  I met with a couple of folks there to discuss future cooperation with the CDSN as we move towards our next big grant application which will focus more onc civil-military relations and will involve international partners more directly and more extensively.   

I had a fun conversation with a Canadian student studying at Hertie about why Canada doesn't produce foreign policy reviews.  Tis is his project, and he guessed right that I might have opinions.  I have interacted with a handful of Hertie students regarding their projects.  They are sharp and engaging and fun--kind of like NPSIA students, as Hertie is the closest thing to NPSIA in Germany.  

I spent my Saturday walking to and from an excellent small Indonesian restaurant.  One of my basic rules of life: if I can find such a place with a good rating, I must go.  And it was pretty terrific.  The walk was great too, as it was a spectacular Berlin spring day.  My only regret was that I discovered a street market too late in the day to enjoy it--it was closing up when I arrived.  So, something to do when Mrs. Spew is town in a couple of weeks.  I walked past some neat murals and a funky park (see pics below).

I am finishing this now as I am about to board my flight from Frankfurt to Helsinki.  It has been one of my best Frankfurt experiences--incoming and outgoing planes eight gates apart, a small coffeeshop with sandwiches in between.  I may start to hate this airport less!  Anyhow, enjoy the rest of your weekend.  Next weekend's post will be about my first trip to Finland since a very short layover going from Leningrad to NYC long ago. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Defence Policy Review Review!

Like others in the Canadian defence community,  I got my copy of the Defence Policy Update early so that I could sound semi-informed when the media asked me about it.  I, of course, have taken the opportunity to blog about it since I am not sure what the media types will ask if they manage to reach me in Berlin.

First, wow, that was a lot about threats.  Lots of discussion in Ottawa about how Canada does not have a foreign policy, how can you have a defence policy?  The answer here is to put a lot of text in to essentially draw out what Canada's foreign policy and thus defence policies are.  Or one could read it as filler so folks don't notice that the document may be a bit thin and vague.  The annexes are more specific, and that is helpful, but lots of generalities in the first 40 pages or so. 

I will jump back on this hill and say that while I understand that Canadian authorities have to talk a lot about the threats from the north (the doc is entitled Our North Strong and Free) as that is what gets Canadians to care, the threats really aren't up there.  Russia is a threat but not because it is going to snatch some islands or do some mining on our side.  China is a threat, but not because it will bug us from on high.  Their threats are through their aggression in their regions and through political interference and cyber attacks.  None of that requires fear mongering about the arctic, but hey, the smartest people in Canada on defence have pushed back on me about this (yes, you, Phil).  I did find focusing on climate change (not just an Arctic thing), autocracies, and disruptive tech makes sense.

That was my first gut response.  My second: $8b over 5 years and $73b over 20 is really not that much money.   Sure, it sounds like a lot, and might get Canada closer to 1.76% of GDP (if the economy slows down, so should we root for that?).  But there is so much to spend money on to get the military up to snuff and then some.    I am bad at accounting, but I think the basics are clear: everything is getting more expensive, defense inflation is worse than the regular kind, delays cost money, buying Canadian-made stuff is more expensive than buying off the shelf elsewhere, and so on.  This stuff is very, very costly. 

The key is that we are already far behind--the personnel crisis requires spending more money on salaries (demographic change and good job markets means we have to pay folks more as there are options elsewhere), the money for infrastructure and housing in this document probably help catch up to decent levels but to attracting talent I am not so sure, we don't have ammunition, etc.  So, one thing is to get to where we need to be, another thing to get to where we want to be in the future.  I just don't think this is enough money.

Third gut response: eight missions for the military with the domestic emergency stuff at the end of the list.  Whenever you list a bunch of priorities, those listed last are ... lesser priorities.  Which has harmed Canadians more: Russia in Ukraine or floods/fires/pandemics?  Again, I get that the point of a military is to do war stuff, but since we will not get anybody else to do the major domestic emergency stuff (don't count on the provinces to get their act together--they see the advantages of sucking the feds for as much as they can), the CAF will not be last responders.  Sorry, but I am a realist when it comes to domestic politics.

Ok, what are some of the big news items (for me, anyway):

  • National Security Strategies and Defence Policy Updates every four years!!! Hell yeah.  We definitely need this so that we can adapt, evaluate how we are doing, and make policy changes.
  • Probationary period for recruits.  How to get recruits in faster?  By reducing initial standards and then being able to kick out people.  This has been much discussed and is more than about time.  I know more than a few people who wanted to join but were turned off by how long it took (years!) to get through the initial stages.
  • A big omission--we need to reform personnel strategies so that folks don't have to move so often.  Today's military involves people who have spouses/partners who happen to have their own careers/lives and moving around is a huge burden.  The doc includes money and text regarding housing, which is good, but reducing the frequency of movement would make a big dent in that.
  • A mentioning of thinking about new submarines.  Nothing specific, because any specifics would be like a torpedo, blowing a hole in the hull of the defence review document, since subs are super expensive.

There is more in it than that--build more capacity to make artillery ammo, maybe get HIMARS or something like that for the army, more drones and counterdrones, more specifics about what is being spent on NORAD, etc.  I would suggest folks read the annexes first as they are far more specific.  

Lastly, after interviewing a retired German admiral after reading the doc but before the DND briefing, his consistent point on taking responsibility for hard decisions, my big question that I can't ask in this briefing is: what was the hardest thing to reject?  What did folks want that you ultimately decided not to do?

Like the Defence Review of 2017, the document suggests everybody wins, and that can't possibly true.  If one tries to do everything, something will not work out and some will lose...  I just don't see the hard choices that need to be made.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Berlin Week Sieben

I am now more than half way through my time in Berlin, which is flying by.  The weather has mostly turned to spring so this weekend I walked around in shorts!  I am making progress on both the main project and other stuff, while embracing the best doner I can find.  

Upon returning from the Austrian Alps, my research project picked up.  I not only interviewed a German admiral and a former adviser to the Defense Minister, but I also interviewed a Finnish general via zoom.  I am headed off to Finland in a week to study that case, and I got a head start since the aforementioned general couldn't meet with me while I am in Helsinki.  

No, we didn't hold the workshop in the elevator
but I did selfie us when I had the chance.
The latter part of the week was focused on a workshop run by Christian Gläßel, a Hertie post-doc, and Adam Scharpf, a U of Copenhagen prof, on authoritarian politics.  They presented drafts of their chapters of their amazing book--it focuses on the logic of careers within autocratic institutions and how losers in the career competition either get detoured to the icky jobs (secret police) or try to force their way up (coups).  They also invited sharp folks from around Europe and North America to present their work.  I was tempted to play a favorite Sesame Street bit as I did not really fit.  But I got super useful feedback.  

I spent this Saturday enjoying the weather by walking around an old neighborhood with much Jewish history.  It reminded me of a commonality between Jewish sites and US embassies: you know you are close as you notice increased security measures.  Not great that this is necessary.  On some of the buidings, there were plenty of references to Kristallnacht, the night that the Nazis incited much violence against the Jews across Germany, a major milestone towards the Holocaust.



So, for a lighter Sunday, I went to a park that had heaps of people enjoying the sun, a very nice beer garden, and, oh yes, one of the largest Soviet WWII memorials.  I was struck not just by the size but by all of the Stalin quotes.  I remember enough Russian from way back when to

understand Stalin's name when I see it, even if I can't understand the quotes. I could not help but notice that there was hardly any German writing anywhere except in the room at below the big statue.  On my way out, I learned that there are still 20,000 or so Soviet soldiers here who were buried at the end of the war.

Whenever I am in Berlin, I can always feel the dark history, more so than anywhere else I have ever visited.  Whether it is hearing or seeing the train directions towards Wannasee or Spandau or the little markers in the sidewalk noting where Jews lived before the Holocaust and what their ultimate fate was (more often Auschwitz),* the Nazi period is inescapable, and so is the Stalinist period.  The Germans do a far better job than other folks of remembering their dark past, which is a good thing.  Even after seven or so weeks here, it has not faded or gotten old.  


Good thing I could embrace my favorite things to lift my spirits: ice cream and beer but not at the same time.