Mens sana in corpore sano

For those of you who never took latin or just don‘t waste time memorizing latin proverbs to impress people around you, the quote above means “A sound mind rests in a healthy body”.

Some students might disregard physical health. After all we‘re young and we’ll still have time for that stuff once we’re old and have to worry about all those ailments anyway. And we are students, not athletes, meaning we have to focus on school. We have to worry about deadlines, grades, scholarships and the like, and when it comes to the varying amounts of spare time we might or might not have, we remember that we‘re young and thus want to party and have some fun while we can. But I find there is a lot of truth in this proverb, even just from my own humble experience. For many though, the primary tasks of student life seem to prevail over such considerations. Plus we have to make do with what is available on campus and fits into our schedule. Sadly all those factors contribute to students often ending up with fast foods of all kinds and rather sedentary lifestyles.

Even more sadly (I‘m not talking about some of the great achievements of modern medicine here) we educated, civilized, modern people have grown somewhat disconnected from what being healthy really means. Frequently being sick – like suffering from colds – seems to be accepted as normal and is attributed to the weather, the seasons and other factors outside of our control. Same is true for feeling tired, suffering from a lack of focus, or being hungry a lot throughout the day. And when these things happen, modern medicine often uses prescription drugs to treat symptoms, not causes, sometimes leaving us with undesirable side effects or just as sick once we lay off the drugs.

I hold the opinion that taking better care of your nutrition and exercising a bit more might make you healthier and happier – and therefore improve all aspects of your life (including your student life), even though you might not aspire to become a professional athlete, and physical appearance and performance might not be important to you in general.

I guess up to this point most people would agree, but it gets more difficult from here. Everybody somehow knows that “good nutrition” and “some physical activity” is good for you, but what does that really mean? Does milk make you healthy, like the dairy industry has been drilling into our heads for decades now? Do you need fancy supplements, or “an apple a day”? Do you have to be able to run a marathon, or put on tons of muscle mass? What IS good nutrition? What IS healthy physical activity? Maybe you’ve tried all kinds of diets and health fads and results have been temporary of nature at best. Also you might have been struggling to keep up discipline and stay committed. Because of this, I personally believe that health starts with staying motivated. For the average person that often means keeping things simple. If you have to worry about elaborate training plans, counting calories and macro nutrients, you end up spending more time worrying about all this stuff than you can spare at all. You will find it stressful and you won‘t see it through. It‘s easier to stay motivated when you can see results without having to obsess about these things and when you’re still able to enjoy life. This is not to say that results come overnight or without any effort. We live in a world where all kinds of companies offer us quick fixes and completely hassle-free solutions to practically everything. Truth being told, when it comes to your body and health it won‘t work without patience and at least some commitment and willpower.

A viable solution to this challenge is to keep things fun. Someone might tell you that it would be good for you to spend 45min on the treadmill 4 times a week. But maybe you loathe running on a treadmill, don‘t like crowded gyms, or just find it plain boring. In this case you might be able to pull it off for some weeks, but certainly not in the long haul. Thing is, we are all different! You wouldn‘t pick a field of study you find to be boring as hell, just because someone told you that there‘s good money to be earned once you got your degree, would you? Why would you pick up a tiresome exercise routine then? That‘s a huge waste of time in my opinion. Find something you are passionate about, something you enjoy doing. This way you will stick with it. If you‘ve been lazy for some time, ease your way into it and don‘t rush the process, trying to make up for weeks or months of sitting around. The body doesn‘t work that way and if you end up putting yourself through torture you won‘t enjoy exercising at all and, believe me, sooner or later you‘ll end up on the couch again.

If you‘re not into sports at all, or you think you don‘t have time for it, just make some minor adjustments in your everyday life. Take the stairs more often instead of the elevator, park your car further away from where you wanna go. Take a twenty or thirty minute walk in the nice afternoon sun every other day and breathe some fresh air. Maybe use a bicycle more often, even if it‘s only in fair weather. Take a Yoga class once a week. There‘s plenty of options, find something you enjoy and feel good about. You don‘t have to train like a pro-athlete or a Navy SEAL to improve your physical well-being. Just take it up a notch from where you are and find a way of doing things that makes it fun.

Motivation is hard. You might feel really motivated, ready to put in all the effort needed, but a few weeks later you catch yourself falling back into old habits. Motivation has to be renewed constantly. If you grow tired of something, mix it up every couple of weeks. Try different sports, find different things to focus on. Do not just work out for the sake of working out. What could be more boring than to do something over and over again, without any clear understanding of where you‘re at, where you wanna go and how to measure progress? Set goals that are realistic according to your capabilities and which can be reached within a reasonable and foreseeable timeframe (say 8 weeks for example). Try to beat a certain time on that five kilometer run within this timeframe, try to reach a certain number of pull-ups or try to aquire a new skill like handstand-walking or one-armed push-ups. Maybe you are a passionate skier and then become lazy in the summer months. Set goals for your favourite sport and pursue some functional training during the off-season, specific to your activity of choice. You will probably end up being amazed how big a difference the underlying fitness makes and how much more fun you will have on the slopes. If you find something you can actually enjoy, and thus stick with it, you will see results sooner or later. Don‘t get caught up in the notion that results come overnight. You won‘t become a world class runner in 6 weeks and you won‘t put on ten kilograms of lean muscle mass in ten weeks. You don‘t get a degree in history in three months either, right?

Take your time, don‘t step on the scale every day. Don‘t just worry about the destination, but make your journey there a good experience too. You know from academia that for good results you have to put in some work.

Eventually you will reach a point where this kind of activity becomes quality-time in itself. You will enjoy it. You‘ll enjoy the way it takes your mind off all the worries, appointments, and deadlines student life sometimes brings about. You‘ll be able to get better sleep, feel more rested, energized, and balanced. Your immune system will get a boost. You’ll feel more confident. These improvements will definitely come in handy too when you‘re behind your desk, trying to crank out a few more pages for that essay you‘re working on. Even that pint of beer with your friends after a long day of work will be a lot more satisfying. You‘ve earned it in more than just one way.

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CMSS is on the march!

Every year the Conference of Defence Associations Institute (CDAI) hosts their annual graduate student conference at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.  The theme of the conference is Canada’s Security Interests and being a Strategic Studies program, CMSS sends quite a few students to participate.  This year was no different with six students representing CMSS.

The two day event was held in Currie Hall, a spectacular venue built entirely of hard wood and decorated to chronicle the history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World    War I.  Students from Canada, the United States, and Belgium gathered to present their research.  The caliber of presentations was very high, and though there was representation from 20 different universities, the contingent from CMSS was second to none.  Rebecca Jensen, a first year PhD at the Centre, gave a presentation outlining a change in the Canadian Military over the last century.  Combining some very challenging theory with some insightful history, Rebecca’s presentation left many in the room nodding and whispers of “very solid” and “excellent” could be heard as she took her seat.  Next up was Jeremy Stuart comparing the strategy for mobilizing Canadian industry in the First and Second World Wars and the lessons these case studies can teach us about defence procurement today.  Perhaps the greatest achievement of his presentation was managing to keep people laughing so early in the morning.  Next on the docket was Ruth Richert deconstructing the relationship between Pakistan and the United States and emphasizing the key factors that cause the two countries to antagonize each other so much while officially remaining allies.  It was clear in the Q&A section that Ruth had struck a chord with even the most seasoned military and academic professionals in the room as they quizzed her further on her research and possible repercussions for the future.  Rachael Bryson then spoke on the trends and predictable behavior in Russian foreign policy and what this can teach Canada about the future of Russian actions in the arctic.  Rachael faced quite the grilling in the Q&A from both those who agreed and disagreed with her, but managed to defend herself most expertly with a mix of solid argumentation and humor (her line about “not planning to take a trans-Atlantic flight on a hybrid jet anytime soon” had them rolling in the aisle!)  The final CMSS presentation for day 1 was given by Kimberly Pavelich and was based on some very original field research that she did in Northern Uganda.  Kimberly presented on the dangers of neglecting female combatants in post-conflict demobilization  and consequences this has for long term peace and stability.  Day 2 saw the final CMSS presentation from Amanda Stuart-Ross making the case for why biological weapons are dangerously neglected as a security threat and why more attention needs to be paid to them.  The highlight of her Q&A session was when she told the President of the CDAI that he was wrong, though to be fair Dr. Cowan she didn’t know who you were and felt very embarrassed for having spoken to you that bluntly!

Again I’d like to reiterate the quality of the presentations overall, and even the judges made a special effort to reinforce how impressed they were by everything presented.  That being said, all of our presenters did a phenomenal job and there were many compliments paid to the quality of our work.  Each presenter seemed to be mobbed after their panel concluded by those in the audience wanting to ask further questions, compliment their presentation, and offer advice.  (And in one case, offer to supervise if they ever went on to a PhD).

“Those kids from the West” left their mark as our presenters were able to capture 5th, 4th, and 2nd place at this year’s conference.  We were that much more honoured that 1st place went to CMSS graduate Chris Roberts, class of ’09.  Quite an achievement, CMSS is on the march!

Come one, come all!

The graduate students at the Centre for Military & Strategic Studies  are currently accepting submissions for the 14th Annual Graduate Strategic Studies Conference. This conference will take place on Friday-Saturday, 10-11 February 2012 at the University of Calgary.

While it is termed a “graduate” student conference, we are more than happy to receive submissions from undergraduate students as well, on any topic related to strategy, security, or defence. Paper topics can include, but are not limited to: Canadian military and security, irregular warfare, geopolitical issues, intelligence, military history, peace building, human security, environmental security, strategic thought, emerging threats, or terrorism.

We will be accepting submissions until 12 December 2011. Entries should include: contact information, a short biography, and a 250-word abstract.

Please email all submissions to info@strategyconference.ca.

If you have any questions, please contact the conference committee at the email address above or visit www.strategyconference.ca.

Eastward ho!

At the not-so-tender age of 26, I have managed to travel to several of the more obscure regions of the globe (Azerbaijan: famous for oil and beautiful Soviet-era architecture), but have somehow avoided visiting much of my own country, including its capital. When my paper was unexpectedly accepted to the CDAI conference in Kingston, I jumped on the opportunity to get a free trip to absorb some Canadian history. As a born’n’ raised Calgarian, I like to pretend that this city has history, but it requires a willing suspension of disbelief – my house is one of the oldest buildings in this city, and it still has its original kitchen appliances.

I was fortunate enough to travel with a contingent of friends from CMSS – the joy of shared double beds: try it sometime – and because several of us had never experienced democracy in action, we decided to visit Ottawa before driving to Kingston. The sole gent in our party, Mr. Stuart, has worked in Parliament in various capacities over the past few years, and was therefore able to give us a tour that was concise but filled with special-clearance treats. Naturally, this simultaneously filled us with democratic zeal and elevated us above the common pleb. One particular highlight was meeting the carillonneur, and watching/hearing her perform on the Peace Tower’s carillon (the set of bells in the Peace Tower). Interestingly enough, she is an American, as apparently carillon-playing hasn’t really exploded in popularity north of the border, and there were limited hiring options (if you are patriotic, take up your bells!).

Another highlight of Parliament was attending Question Period. It felt like celebrity-watching for political science geeks. Most of the cabinet ministers were present, and Stephen Harper himself was in the house. Although I lived in his riding for over a decade, this was the first time that I had actually laid eyes on him, and I felt an appropriate level of awe. Question Period itself confirmed my stereotypes about politicians – they are more than anything interested in hearing themselves talk. If anything of substance was said, I missed it. As an avid reader of Maclean’s and other pseudo-political rags, it was interesting to hear the MPs actually speak some of the bizarre remarks that are often attributed to them. One Conservative MP, in the fine spirit of Halloween, referred to his Liberal colleague as a goblin, and would certainly have expanded his remarks if the house speaker hadn’t interrupted.

Kingston was another enjoyable eastern escapade. Before the conference began, I went for a run, and briefly explored several of Kingston’s historical sites. Moving at a brisk clip and lacking Mr. Stuart’s encyclopaedic knowledge of all things historical/Canadian/old, it wasn’t quite the same in-depth experience that I had in Ottawa, but the sites still LOOKED COOL. It was particularly interesting to run by the fort overlooking the Royal Military College, and to ponder the war of 1812, which, according to the highest authority in the land (Maclean’s magazine), Americans claim they won. What does it all mean… The RMC campus was beautiful (particularly in comparison with the fine architecture of the 60’s and 70’s at the UofC), and made even more beautiful in the eyes of several of my colleagues by the addition of numerous men in uniform. It was a challenge not to salute.

I am grateful that I had the chance to experience some “older” places in Canada. There is a certain gravitas present in Ottawa and Kingston that Calgary is conspicuously lacking. It gave me a broader sense of the history of this nation, as well as a deeper appreciation for the culture and refinement of its democratic process.

RR

Gaddafirant

Students and the “Disgusting, Senseless Beating to Death of an Old Man”

University students are usually smart people, more or less taking an interest in the many events happening around the globe, and they like to test their ever-expanding knowledge and understanding of newly learned theories against these same happenings. But sometimes I wish they would abandon their sophisticated university mentality just for a moment and use some common sense. To actually think before fleeing up the stairs of their precious, safe ivory tower out of acquired academic reflex. It seems sometimes as if this habit has become their only means by which to regard the world.

My case in point is the reaction to the death of Muammar al-Gaddafi just a couple of days ago. Whether in personal conversation or on different social networks, I have had the impression that there is a lot of finger-pointing going on, combined with evocations of humanity (all too often by – but not limited to – students of the humanities), as well as general support for the condemnation of violence and the upholding of human rights no matter what.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all good things (although some people might find it debatable if that is also true for the humanities). If going to university helps to embed these, our values, into the minds of young people and to encourage them to uphold them in public dialogue, then who am I to complain.

But then again, there is a huge gap between engaging yourself in a chain of thought experiment, however intellectually challenging, while kicking back in your favourite piece of upholstery, all nicely cuddled up with a cold beverage in hand, and actually getting down to the nitty-gritty of dealing with a real world environment.

Maybe, if some students/armchair-revolutionaries got off their high academic horse once in a while, they might realize that talk of humanity and the advantages of acting meekly and mild is pretty cheap when you enjoy the privilege of having grown up as part of a generation in a part of the world that has never really seen war, in societies that never left us severely unprivileged or discriminated against, that left our families intact and us without fear of some authority kicking in our apartment door in the middle of the night for saying the wrong thing, to the wrong person, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or just for no reason at all.

Even the most indifferent observer of the Arab Spring should recognize the fact that, demographically, many of the affected societies are fairly young. And let us not digress to  “discuss what the revolutionaries’ agenda is,” or “who has got a stake in this or that movement.” These people don’t have the same chances for the pursuit of happiness as we do. They don’t always get to go to university where their biggest problems are class starting early on a Monday, whether they can afford it financially to go to the movies or to have another drink, or what they should be doing over the next holiday.

Maybe, once in a while, we should abandon our aloof academic theories and, to put it bluntly, just shut up and be humble for a change. Imagine picking up a gun, or a brick, or a protest sign and fighting for something, because, ultimately, you don’t have a promising alternative. Talk of humanity might be good enough to give you a warm fuzzy feeling, but in a political system that grants you participation on paper at best, it doesn’t do anything. Let’s be grateful for our 200 year head start into democracy and for the fact that our ancestors took care of getting rid of illegitimate leaders like Louis XVI. I wasn’t around back then but I’m pretty sure public beheadings weren’t too civilized either. Still, it seems we’ve turned out well enough to judge other people now.