Event Doubleheader (POLIS and CUID) and Assorted Observations

So, being the go-getter that I am, I managed to pull off the rare (or not) event twin bill today.  Now, you might be asking yourself at this point…does he do anything other than attend extracurricular events?  Long answer, yes with a but…short answer, no.

Anyway, first up today was event hosted by the Political Science department featuring a guest speaker from the Joint Intelligence Operations Centre Europe of the Defense Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defense (or something).  Apparently they are right up the road in Molesworth, but you didn’t hear that from me.  I also have the guy’s name…but I obviously can’t disclose it for reasons of national security.  Moving on, the event wasn’t quite what I expected (for some reason I was expecting a career briefing or recruitment pitch…preferably a recruitment effort directed solely at me), but it turned out to be quite interesting anyway. 

First off, I’m a self-admitted military skeptic (to put it mildly).  I inherently dislike the prototypical military culture and bravado.   However, I have to say, being an American citizen…and world citizen for that matter, I was very encouraged by the tone of this gentleman’s presentation.  He came across as very well-informed and open to criticism and alternative views from academia and elsewhere.  The self-stated purpose of his visit was to open a dialog with institutions like Cambridge with the hopes of tapping into the intellectual resources and knowledge to increase the military’s grasp on complex issues (be they sociological, cultural, economic, etc.) in the areas in which they operate.  Seeking out alternative views is a highly important exercise in any discipline and indicates a willingness to learn and adapt.  I truly hope that his words were genuine (they seemed to be) and will be backed up by continued action.  He made a point of emphasizing that this outreach effort was being dictated from the upper echelons of the leadership…whether this is a fundamental change in the last, say 2 years or so, I can only speculate.  Regardless, the speaker certainly said all the right things, now it will take years of sustained action and follow through to begin to convince the most strident military critics (many of which are found in academia) of the genuineness of these efforts.  Many academics and others are quite jaded by the past 40 plus years of perceived exclusion of alternative views and stringent ideology of militaries and governments alike…as evidenced by one particularly strong critic in the audience.  All that being said, mixing academia and military can be very messy…for everyone involved…so there is a great deal of thought that has to go into any such collaborations.

Next up was another CUID event on Sport and Development featuring two speakers, Steve Fleming of the non-profit Kick4Life and Professor Stefan Szymanski of the Cass Business School at the City University of London.  Obviously, this event appeared to be right up my alley…I like sports and I like development.

Mr. Fleming gave an excellent overview of his non-profit’s work in Lesotho.  Kick4Life combines health education and HIV testing with youth football training and tournaments.  Seems like a good concept and the results look positive so far.  Will such sport-related programs operating on a very small scale fundamentally change life in developing countries?  Not likely, but it does seem like a cost effective and innovative way to attack some problems on the micro level.  And as I’ve mentioned before, giving kids the opportunity have some fun can never be a bad thing.

Professor Szymanski gave a very different presentation as his research focus is the economic impact of sport, and in particular, large sporting events.  He provided some very intuitive and common sense data and principles explaining why large sporting events (such as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa) are not economically advantageous for the host countries and are often net losers…especially for developing country hosts.  While his talk was interesting, the conclusion wasn’t really anything you wouldn’t expect if you’ve ever given it any thought.  Certainly, world sporting events are not a great economic development tool…no matter how many other positive attributes they might have.

In sum, it was a very solid day…and I managed to avoid a great deal of real work (from school work to house work).   One final note…I learned tonight that riding a bike into a 20+ mile per hour head wind is even more awesome than biking in the rain.  It’s kind of like riding a stationary bike…except you have to worry about staying up right.  I highly recommend having a go at it…if you haven’t already.

Next up…Why Democracy for the Post-Socialist Societies? (hosted by CRASSH) tomorrow and International Organizations Day in London on Saturday.