August 30, 2002



I'm disappointed at Reynolds and Den Beste today for taking swipes at the Augustinian just war doctrine, in their efforts to defend the contemplated unprovoked conquest of Iraq. Christianity has no hold on American decisions, they say, a stance not only debatable when Bush and so many around him are devout Churchmen, but also entirely missing the point. St. Augustine's conditions for just war are philosophically, not theologically based... they are in no way inherently Christian, but stand on their own merits, regardless of the fact it was a Catholic who wrote them down. To reject them because one is not a Christian is like rejecting Euclidean geometry because one is not Greek. The Augustinian formulation, by setting down the conditions under which a Christian could go to war without being a sinner, has helped frame the moral debates surrounding international affairs for centuries... if one wishes to challenge them, one should debate how this war can be contained within those limits, not engage in this sort of ad theonem yammering.

Posted by BruceR at 03:51 PM



You ever look down at your hands when you're typing, and just for a flash, not recognize them? They're more wrinkly and old looking than you ever remembered... you wonder... were these the hands you lived in all these years? I look at the scars on my left hand (always the left, don't know why) and can remember the stories behind each one... the scars are still with me, so these must be my hands, I'm thinking. But if I didn't have a visible past, would I be able to recognize myself?

Posted by BruceR at 12:19 PM



Watching the reruns last night, I was reminded how impressed I was in my youth by the Ben Stone character on Law and Order, played by Michael Moriarty. Stone was something a lot of us desired to be... even though physically unimpressive and unwilling to inflict violence, still rock-certain in his convictions and his pursuit of truth. After Stone left the show, fans still hung on his words and pronouncements... as if Moriarty the man could not play Stone the character without having some of that same steadfastness. Of course, as Moriarty himself became increasingly more erratic and paranoid, taking his pronouncements seriously became harder and harder. At some point, we nearly all concluded with great sadness that a once brilliant actor was now, for whatever reason, demented and insane.

I'm reminded of this tracking the career of journalist Yvonne Ridley. If she was sane once (and I was never a follower of her work) things started to go south during or shortly after her imprisonment in a Taliban jail last year. Her claims since, which we have discussed before, are the product of a deranged mind... that doesn't stop Taliban apologists like blogger Amir Butler, however, from characterizing her as an authoritative source on the recent Afghan War.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ridley continues her slide, promising now she plans to convert to Islam. Why, you ask?

I made a promise to a Taliban cleric that I would study Islam - if I was released. He had just asked me if I wanted to convert and I was terrified to say 'yes' or 'no' because either response could have drawn accusations that I was fickle or insulting and therefore be stoned!

Stockholm ain't just a city in Sweden, apparently. Here's a hint, to Butler and other Ridley fans... if you think a promise elicited from a captive under threat of death has any moral weight after her release, or does Islam any credit for that matter, you're battier than Ms. Ridley here.

Posted by BruceR at 11:59 AM

August 29, 2002



The Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics.

Posted by BruceR at 04:53 PM



It's not that I think war with Iraq would be a global harm. I just don't like the precedent. For what seems to be being considered here is a declaration of war by a President, without assent from either the Security Council, or even more alarmingly, Congress. If Constitutionalist diehards like Den Beste, Reynolds and Quick want to see the Council off, well, that's a consistent position... I agree that as a supranational body it leaves much to be desired. But for the U.S. to go to war when the UN is explicitly opposed would be the final death knell of that organization's ability to control war, by definition.

You can see that as a good or bad thing, maybe. But it's hard to see an intellectual position that opposes supranationalism, that doesn't instead look for strength to the U.S. Constitution. And as George Will points out today, it risks being badly trampled, too. Past presidents have circumvented the need for Congressional assent to war mandated by that document because the other side declared war first, or because the action was relatively small and the action dependent on surprise. This proposed action on Iraq meets none of those stipulations... as Will says, if this kind of war isn't covered by the Constitution, then the Constitution has effectively been rewritten in practice to cut Congress out.

If you think just wars always need the assent of Security Council, that's consistent. If you think wars only need the assent of Congress, that's consistent, too. But for George Bush to go to war in this case without the assent of either... that's just creeping Caesarism, and could mark the beginning of the end for the American experiment, as well as the UN's. That's what I'm worried about.

Posted by BruceR at 03:20 PM



By the way, do you think there were any Hill hearings on removing Adolf Hitler?

--Howard Kurtz, also praised by Instapundit today

Of course there weren't, you silly man. Hitler declared war on YOU.

Posted by BruceR at 03:05 PM



It is frustrating. There are environmentalists that want to compare wind plants with nothing, and we can never win. Nothing is really great, except it's hard to get any electricity out of it.

--Leading wind power advocate Tom Gray on environmentalist opposition to plans for more windmills. (From Instapundit).

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM

August 28, 2002



"We [Americans] have been so deluded by the concept of our innocency that we are ill prepared to deal with the temptations of power which now assail us."

--Philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, as quoted by David Brooks in the current issue of the Atlantic. Den Beste today... case in point?

Posted by BruceR at 03:15 PM



Penny Arcade does it again. You've got to be a gamer, though.

Posted by BruceR at 12:03 PM

NICELY DONE Devastating deconstruction of


Devastating deconstruction of the Cheney speech by Bill Saletan in Slate.

Posted by BruceR at 09:00 AM

August 26, 2002



Daimnation points me at a column deserving at least one side comment, Steven Edwards' defending the legality of an invasion of Iraq prior to the existence of a casus belli. The reference in question:

One of the first times anticipatory self-defence was cited was in the defence of Canada in 1837. The British used it to justify the destruction in New York of the American steamboat Caroline, which had been supplying insurgents in Canada.

We have mentioned the Caroline incident before. Edwards' "defence of Canada" reference is a little strange, as the 1837 struggle was one against the entirely homegrown rebels led by Mackenzie, but never mind. Surely, however, it's worth noting that, although the British may have claimed the right to attack "terrorist" (using the word loosely) assets on American soil, the Americans never accepted that the Brits were in the right then or later, and sternly warned against a recurrence. It doesn't make much of a precedent, then, for any pre-casus American action.

One could add that the other examples Edwards comes up with -- Clinton and Reagan's airstrikes on Sudan and Libya, and Israel's strike on the Osirak reactor -- aren't much better. Sudan is pretty much seen now as an attempt to get Monicagate out of the front pages at the right moment (a la Enrongate now?), while Libya and Osirak were precision strikes at specific targets, rather than the military overthrow of an entire government.

The fact is there is no obvious and pleasing precedent in the history of civilized nations for what the Americans are contemplating now. (The Suez crisis is the one that most neatly comes to mind.) Does that mean it should not be done? No, but to accept American unilateral military action aimed at dethroning Saddam, I would maintain one must accept as assumption #1 that the "rules of the game" have changed in the last year, and will never change back again. If you believe the world isn't fundamentally different now than it was then, then rational support is close to impossible.

(Furthermore, even if one accepts, as I do, that the rules of the game must change solely to prevent another Sept. 11, it by no means automatically follows that this is the right direction for them to change in.)

Posted by BruceR at 04:21 PM

August 16, 2002

OFF, AGAIN... For the third


For the third time since I started this, I'm off on an extended absence due to army stuff. Back on the 25th, more or less. Have a good last fortnight of summer, all.

Posted by BruceR at 01:14 PM

August 15, 2002



For the second time in a year, Lebanese-Colombian singer Shakira has a hit song commenting on the size of her own breasts. What does this have to do with the Argentine economic crisis? Beats me.

Posted by BruceR at 09:31 AM



Pro-Taliban blogger Amir Butler claims the Afghans were better off under the Taliban. Not counting a Robert Fisk paean to Mullah Omar, he cites exactly four pieces of evidence:

1) Members of Northern Alliance committed human rights abuses. (From the Age). WHAT BUTLER IGNORES: The undeniable truth that the forces the Northern Alliance fought against, first the Soviet-installed government, then the Pashtuns under the lunatic Hekmatyar, then the Taliban were all far, far worse, by any conceivable measure. War crimes by Hekmatyar's forces specifically are frequently blamed on the Alliance for some reason: as the Age article says: "In 1994, at least 25,000 civilians were killed in rocket and artillery attacks on the city. Rockets fired by Hekmatyar into a then-Alliance controlled city, the article neglects to mention. Given that Hekmatyar is still in exile in Iran and the Alliance is part of the ruling coalition again, I fail to see the problem.

2) The Taliban were anti-drug. WHAT BUTLER IGNORES: In his own cited source: "Since the mid-1990s the Taliban had earned millions of dollars from the heroin trade." As everyone who's done any research knows, the Taliban years saw vastly increased poppy production in areas they controlled, up until a few months before Sept. 11. We've covered this already.

3) The burqa business is still thriving. WHAT BUTLER IGNORES: Again, in the very source he cites: "I sell much more burqas than before because the women are now free to go out alone and choose their clothing for themselves," another stall-holder Karim Wahid, 28, said. (This is too easy: does Butler even try to read past the headlines?)

4) According to Yvonne Ridley, the kite-flying story was a bum rap. WHAT BUTLER IGNORES: Ridley is a certifiable nutball. Again, in the very story Butler links to, we see her also claim:

*British and American intelligence conspired to have the Taliban kill her to give the U.S. a real casus belli against the Afghans (as opposed to that lame Sept. 11 thing they had), in a fiendish scheme that involved breaking into her apartment and sending her tax returns to Taliban interrogators, who no doubt crazed by the recent lack of opium would summarily shoot her once they read her deduction of her mother's car purchase as a "business expense"; and
*when she was released, in a bizarre reverse of the Fisk experience, she was physically assaulted by a crazed mob of Western journalists. "The car was suddenly surrounded by about 50 Western journalists, they just started shaking the car saying 'get the bitch out'.

No, really! Brit Hume ripped off her driver side mirror, while Ashleigh Banfield shot up the radiator grill with a Webley... it's all true, she swears...

Posted by BruceR at 09:15 AM

August 14, 2002



I love Steven Den Beste in full flight... I never miss a day if I can help it. But he's got to watch the military history generalizations when he goes off on a wild tangent on the way to his actual point. For instance:

By the end of WWII, the Germans and Americans and British armed all their infantry with at least semiautomatic rifles, with a rising proportion using fully automatic weapons.

Not true. Only the Americans were fully armed with semiautos. Likewise this:

Without going into painful detail, it [the Minie ball] made it possible for men with rifles to fire as often as muskets had, while at the same time being much more lethal than musket balls (which really were balls)

Although there is some evidence the .75 calibre musket ball, at combat ranges, left somewhat less shocking wounds than the .58 calibre Minie that replaced it, it's not as cut-and-dried as Den Beste makes out here. As well, the concurrent advance of military medicine (particularly the widespread use of ambulances) probably made Civil War battlefields substantially more survivable for the average soldier than Napoleonic ones. (Fredericksburg was probably the first major battle in history where all the wounded on both sides were gotten to a doctor within 24 hours, for instance.) You could argue from this that the rifle at best only redressed some of the advantage that had passed from the killers to the lifesavers over the same period. Yes, I know, I'm being pedantic...

All the infantry on both sides in the American Civil War were armed with rifled muskets, and suddenly musketry drastically increased in effectiveness.

A significant portion of both Confederate and Union units at Gettysburg, two years into the war, still used smoothbore muskets. Not to mention, Paddy Griffith and others have all but taken apart the "Minie ball" myth of the Civil War. Many historians now believe the perfection of breechloading weapons (which allowed soldiers to take advantage of cover) was far more revolutionary, and, based on an examination of engagement ranges and percentage of effective shots, that the rifled musket that preceded them has been somewhat overrated as a battlefield weapon.

And the vast majority of attempts by infantry to charge other infantry also failed due to the effectiveness of the defending gunfire. That's how Pickett's Charge failed at Gettysburg, for example.

Most historians now agree Pickett's Charge was defeated by Union artillery (still largely smoothbore) more than musketry. I could go on. But den Beste's piece is on why American government is the best possible form of government and the Internet is American in its sensibilities, so all these questions are tangents on tangents anyway. Den Beste would have been better to avoid the digressions altogether.

Nor is his intermediate point particularly convincing... that the best army, an army where leadership is pushed down to the lowest possible level, is a democratic army? You mean like the Nazi Wehrmacht, who first mastered the concept? And what does this mean:

It means that our governmental system is the collective result of millions of brains thinking about problems and millions of voices expressing opinions just like a modern army or a modern corporation.

Millions of voices expressing opinions? In an army? Is that really what he meant to say?

Posted by BruceR at 06:48 PM



Geez, I have never seen the blogosphere so completely lose its sense of humour before. I thought this piece was a reasonably witty way of sending up a lot of the anti-Iraq rhetoric. Bill, Glenn, lighten up.

Posted by BruceR at 05:29 PM



This is the kind of silliness that just pisses soldiers off:

With food choices ranging from the salmon fillets included in combat rations to a dish nicknamed "the lung," many of Canada's military personnel may be eating their way toward obesity, experts suggested yesterday...

Even the field, or combat, rations consumed on peacekeeping and other operations, are anything but gruel. One typical ration contains salmon fillet and lemon sauce, a strawberry drink, instant mash potatoes, bread, chocolate chip "combat cookies," tea and beef vegetable soup...

The variety of food is admirable but the abundance and portion sizes would appear to be a problem, said Elizabeth Snell, a Toronto nutritionist, after reviewing department meal information.

"It would be excessive for many in the military," she said.

The article takes two indisputable points: 1) Canadian soldiers could always be more fit (myself included); and 2) Field rations are high in calories, and disregarding any logic of causation, hypothesizes that field rations are making Canadian soldiers fat. Unfortunately, the writer never bothered to ask himself the essential question that would establish causality: are soldiers coming out of operations or intensive field training fatter than they went into it? Obviously, if the answer is no, then the whole article is crap.

And the answer is almost certainly no. I habitually lose a minimum of 10 pounds after the first week of a field exercise. The soldiers who come back from ops in Afghanistan or the like have lost almost all the subcutaneous fat on their bodies: if anything, more are dangerously underweight... maybe not Celine Dion underweight, but scary just the same.

I have never been issued a salmon fillet instant meal pack. I know they exist... I saw a colonel eat one a couple months ago, and you could smell the truck he'd been driving in for the rest of the afternoon several hundred metres off. I hear it's quite good. And no one in my experience has ever successfully eaten the cheese omelette breakfast... if the luck of the meal draw gets you that some day, you've basically missed a meal right there. But that's the whole point: in field training meals are hit and miss. If the supply system gets you meals at all, and if you have time to eat them (I've frequently chosen a precious 30 minutes sleep over an eating opportunity) and if you luck into a meal that's actually palatable, and if you actually consume every last calorie in the meal pack, including the box and plastic spoon... then, yes, maybe, you would get through that eight-hour period without losing some more weight. But if none of those things happen, you're dropping another pound that day, as your body slowly ingests itself. That's field soldiering, and it's not part of the problem.

So why do many Canadian soldiers feel they are overweight? The article sensibly points to, and then discards, the real reason... that recent cutbacks have all but gutted most full-timers' on-base physical fitness programs. Add to that other cutbacks in field training time, which used to help keep the weight down, an increase in desk-job soldiering generally (again, myself included), and fears that kicking people out for failing to keep up would appear to be discriminating against women or older soldiers, and you pretty much have your answer. But field rations, god help us, have nothing at all to do with the problem. And if Elizabeth Snell feels different, I challenge her to eat what little I'll actually manage to consume through the 11-day exercise I've got coming up and see how many pounds she gains.

Posted by BruceR at 04:57 PM

August 12, 2002



The recently released [University of Toronto] Anti-Calendar, a student guide to courses published by the university's Arts and Science Students Union, which represents 16,000 U of T students, is dedicated this year "to the memory of the Innocents, Afghanistan and Palestine murdered."

--National Post, on the weekend

Terry Buckland, editor of the Anti-Calendar, would not agree to an interview, but told the university's student newspaper: "I just picked two areas of the world."

...New York apparently never having crossed his mind, let alone the idea Jews can be innocents too.

Posted by BruceR at 01:19 PM

August 09, 2002



Just a recap on Herold's new estimate. Readers may remember we tried to trace how much truth lay behind Herold's estimate of 39-42 confirmed fatalities in the first 24 hours of the Afghan offensive... we could not find evidence, outside of a self-serving Taliban press statement, for even one of them. In his latest estimates, Herold has brought his numbers for that night to between 21 and 36. He still counts as confirmed 2 fatalities a story by an unnamed 12 year-old refugee who doesn't even mention which day or where two of his family members died, and still counts 15-20 fatalities in Kabul, based on that same Taliban statement, that 20 people died in the whole country the first day... I suppose that's an improvement.

How many really died the first day? Based on Carl Conetta's statistical sampling that showed Taliban statements overstated on average by a factor of 4 or more what really happened, and given that they claimed 20 fatalities in all of Afghanistan the first night, the number is almost certainly in the single digits. Herold disagreed with other more serious estimates before by a factor of three... I would estimate his new figures are at best still off, overall, by a factor of two. Getting closer...

Posted by BruceR at 11:32 PM



The utterly discredited Marc Herold claims once again that he has the straight dope on fatalities in Afghanistan, in the Guardian... his figures are ludicrous, as always, and deserve no further consideration. What's interesting now is the character assassination he practices on Carl Conetta of the PDA, not to mention Bill Arkin and Human Rights Watch.

Comparison with the PDA... reports is difficult to make as they do not reveal raw data and exactly which sources were employed.

Other than the 70 footnotes in the online appendix comprising his dataset, no, I suppose Conetta doesn't make any mention of exactly which sources...

Conetta's total was lower than mine only because it relied exclusively on western sources.

In fact, Conetta relied on largely European sources, as he considered those the only impartial ones (the 70 reports above). He also specifically criticized Herold for including second-and third hand reports and instead limited his counting of fatalities to reporter eyewitness accounts and family reports of fatalities. Sound statistical sampling, Conetta reported, showed that reports by refugees of non-immediate family fatalities, as well as Taliban claims, were inflating death totals three, four or more times over what turned out to be the reality... about the difference between his claims and Herold's, he politely refrained from noting at the time. Herold does not even try to criticize Conetta's methodology, or his devastating criticisms of Herold's own "study".

Herold out-and-out lies about HRW, too:

HRW officials, it was widely reported, had "said privately" that they estimated the civilian death toll at between 100 and 350 in December...

The quote in question again, from the Globe and Mail's Murray Campbell, noted by this blog back in January:

Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based organization, offers a rough estimate of at least 1,000 civilian deaths...

The other number, originally cited in the WSJ, actually was made relatively early in the war (the story it's taken from says it was an estimate made "early in December") but by the end of that month, with more information becoming available after the Taliban fled, HRW was already revising their estimates upwards, for a fatality rate closely comparable to those of the other responsible researchers at the time... Herold still prefers to put forward their older smaller estimate here, though, pretending it's HRW's full count in order to make HRW look stupid and discountable.

Herold also lies about the reasons for deflating his own numbers now by over 30 per cent:

A weakness of the initial study was some double-counting due to confused site names - the figure for the October to December period should have been between 2,650 and 2,970 civilian deaths

You can't find in online anymore, but I happened to save his old database from December. To take one example of many, in his initial estimate he claimed the bombing of the Sultanpur Mosque on Oct 10 had killed an estimated 70 people. In the current online database, that is downgraded to 15, with the 70 now given in square brackets... square brackets meaning, we are told, that the number has been "deemed unrelieble [sic] because either [sic] questionable sources or military casualties." I guess it wasn't all double-counting after all (there was certainly no confusion about the site name here)... Herold just apparently doesn't want to admit he initially accepted some wildly inflated figures uncritically.

The guy simply can't tell the truth, it seems. I wouldn't trust him to make change for a chocolate bar, at this point, let alone tell me something important about the wider world.

Posted by BruceR at 05:55 PM

August 08, 2002



The Palestinian Authority claims a lone policeman, acting on his own, executed an mentally retarded man, accused of rape, under Yasir Arafat's window, next door to where the Palestinian cabinet was meeting. Unfortunately that sort of contradicts the Swedish eyewitness:

What happened next is hard to describe. The "suspect," in his early twenties, was blindfolded and made to stand against a wall. Three policemen standing about three meters away sprayed him with bullets from their rifles. He was hit in the head and chest and fell to the ground. One of the policemen then walked up to him and fired one more shot into his head. "Take him away," came the order from another police officer.

I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing. The executioners did not notice that I was watching. When the rest of the journalists heard the shots they rushed towards the area to see what was happening. Some thought that Israeli soldiers had stormed the compound.

Nervous policemen charged at the cameras and reporters and ordered them to leave the area.

I asked a police officer what had happened and he replied, "A criminal has been executed. what's the big deal?"

"What did he do?" I asked another police officer who was trying to block cameras with his hand. "He murdered two elderly women and raped his grandmother," he answered. "Was he ever tried?" I asked. "I don't know, but the President [Arafat] this morning approved the execution. (First seen on LGF.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:54 AM



Richard Dawkins, an Oxford science don, suggested Mr Bush was just as much of a danger to world peace as Saddam Hussein, adding: "It would be a tragedy if Tony Blair were to be brought down through playing poodle to this unelected and deeply stupid little oil-spiv."

--The Guardian (first seen on Denton)

Posted by BruceR at 09:34 AM



We've started handing out the medals. A Hydra transfixed by a sword? Kewl!

Posted by BruceR at 08:40 AM



I'm as much a skeptic as the next guy, but the news out of Australia today that there's experimental confirmation for a changing value for c over time isn't news to me. University of Toronto professor John Moffat, who in his youth worked with Bohr and corresponded with Einstein, first proposed the idea in 1991. I once interviewed Moffat, who is a hell of a nice chap, and wrote about it here, among other places. Cambridge's John Barrow is one of a number of other well-respected advocates of what some call the Moffat-Clayton theory.

Last August, Prof. John Webb of the University of New South Wales, a colleague of Barrow's, published the first solid experimental evidence in Physical Review Letters that could back up that idea. (Barrow, who had originally proposed the terms of Webb's experiment, had found anomalies in 30 quasar spectra that could indicate a changing value of c... Webb aimed the most powerful available telescope at a set of 17 quasars, and all but eliminated the possibility it was fuzziness in the data that was responsible.) Now an Australian theoretician, Paul Davies, has come on board, convinced by Webb's evidence, and the growing dilemma that has had cosmological theoreticians tied in knots for years... the annoying fact that, unless the speed of light was faster at the beginning of time, given the limits that this imposes on the rate of expansion the universe is now impossibly large. Studying black holes, Davies has all but ruled out another possibility for the observational anomalies... specifically that the constant e (electronic charge) was the one changing over time instead. The accumulated weight of data is enough that now even the esteemed journal Nature has to give it ink, which is how we got the story today. (The other possible explanation, and still the running favourite if you took a poll it should be said, involves the existence of gravitationally repulsive matter, which has never been observed.)

If I have a problem with the media coverage of the story today, it's not that they've made too much of this one, but that science reporters never seem to bother to Google anything before they go to print anymore. But at those odds, I'll take that bet, Steven.

As Einstein once wrote to Moffat: "Every individual … has to retain his way of thinking if he does not want to get lost in the maze of possibilities. However, nobody is sure of having taken the right road -- myself least of all."

POSTSCRIPT: Moffat once told me of a meeting he had with Neils Bohr in his lab in Copenhagen, who also encouraged him not to regard Einstein with inordinate awe: “Bohr, who mumbled and kept lighting and relighting a pipe with a large box of matches, was quite unhappy about Einstein's work on unified field theory and his distaste for quantum mechanics. ‘Albert is just an alchemist!’ he said.”

Posted by BruceR at 07:52 AM

August 07, 2002

WORTHY OF NOTE There's something


There's something very wrong going on here. The attitudes the administration brought to handling criminals and alien detainees are seeping into the way it treats other branches of the government, even if it is now only slightly and at the margins. It's not simply that the administration is indifferent to civil liberties, there is a contempt for constitutional propriety. They seem to believe that 9/11 frees them from any concern with precedent or discretion.

--Josh Marshall, in a piece on why the FBI was demanding their Congressional overseers take polygraphs

Posted by BruceR at 11:47 AM



The usually reliable analyst William Arkin looks at the recent major Pentagon wargames and concludes that "Country X" is really Iraq... reinforcing conclusions, if there was any doubt, that the American military is actively planning for an invasion. Only one problem... the diagram Arkin prints, apparently lifted from some Pentagon document and the only direct evidence he has... is actually a map of Iran. Must be one of those crazy "rope-a-dope" things...

Posted by BruceR at 11:28 AM



Like Steven Chapman, I too have about had it with the United Nations. It is an organization desperately in need of reinvention or supersession... you just have to go see the tired old, slowly disintegrating headquarters in New York to see there is no real energy in the higher echelon, and what moral suasion it once had has largely been subverted by the tyrants and the thugs. Case in point today is a National Post story by Steven Edwards about the UN's criticism yesterday of Canada for its record of racism. Whatever.

Personally, I think the whole thing should be torn down and replaced by a United Democratic Nations organization (combining NATO, ASEAN, and anyone else who meets the fairly strict membership requirements).

Meanwhile, Jim Henley is fighting the good fight as far as offering a good argument against war with Iraq. Like Chapman and Henley, I'm in the "war if necessary but not necessarily war" camp... I do believe on the balance an American offensive in Iraq would improve things in the Middle East in the short-term, although I suspect, as in Afghanistan currently, the Bush government would ultimately bungle the reconstruction, leading to an ultimate loss of those gains. It would be, in and of itself, a good thing though, to see Mr. Hussein off.

My problem is more with the Bush Doctrine itself, which I believe I recognized as problematic from the beginning. Narrowly construed, it would be sound policy... adding "those who harbour [terrorists]" to the list of actions by states that deserve military retaliation, equivalent to invading one's neighbour really, would have been a signal improvement in international discourse. But advocates of war are now taking a much broader view of Bush's words, that the U.S. reserves the right to take ANY action that they believe in the long run will forestall terrorist attacks... an interpretation so broad as to be impossible for other nations to either follow or comply with. Iraq has scrupulously avoided having or harbouring terrorists... it is playing by the rules in the narrow interpretation. So the pro-war camp must go broader, and declare Husseinite Iraq an ipso facto threat to the U.S... a case that is very difficult to make without drawing on intangible suspicions and hunches of what the Iraqis might do, as they've done nothing outrageous recently. Certainly the Iraqis have laughed in the face of the UN and its arms inspectors, but the U.S. would never do something solely to bolster that institution's credibility, or accept the resulting UN meddling that would follow.

What the Bush doctrine rejects is the notion of casus belli... that a civilized state requires a good reason to go to war on another country in advance. For the last 50 years, U.S. policy has been that it's right to go to war for one of three specific reasons:

1) If American citizens have or are likely to soon be harmed (Libya, Grenada, Panama);
2) If America itself has been attacked (WW2, Afghanistan);
3) If the Security Council and/or NATO have endorsed military action (Serbia, Kuwait).

As I stated, adding #4 (if a country's harbouring terrorists) to that list would not be a bad thing. But discarding the "capital offenses of states" so entirely (by basically saying war is acceptable whenever America feels threatened) is... imperiousness, nothing more or less. In the early nineteenth century, the Royal Navy justified forcing American citizens to serve as British sailors basically because, well, they could... America rightly protested at the time. If we are true to those early American ideals now, then war in the absence of internationally accepted justification, war because one can, really... even if the shoe's on the American foot now, then this war must be protested as well.

Let me put it another way. The need for an internationally accepted casus belli is one of the pillars of today's international system. If America can go to war solely because it feels threatened, it will have difficulty reining in other nations who claim they feel threatened from going to war with their neighbours. It is possible the sum total of war, and thus misery, in the world could then increase. (The narrow construction of the Bush doctrine, the one with the specificity about harbouring terrorists, doesn't have this problem, as it's adding a rule to the list of International Commandments, rather than exempting the Americans from them.) Leading by example does mean something in international affairs...

If the Americans wanted to tear down one of the pillars of the existing international order, rather than the casus belli I'd have suggested rejecting the Wilsonian idea of "borders for all time" would have been a better one... rather than fighting for a whole, artificially constructed Iraq, one wishes they had recognized an independent Kurdistan and then fought Iraq and the rest of the Middle East to defend it. THAT would be a game worthy of the candle. (This obsession with existing borders is propping up useless NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and prolonging the Israeli conflict, among other things... it is time we all accepted again that lines between peoples have to move from time to time.)

When will the war be? Dailypundit says September, Mark Steyn says August... if I had to pick, I'd go with January, for sundry climactic and logistical reasons that were evident six months ago. (And if I'm pressed as to method, I'd say conventional ground assault from Kuwait, as I've yet to read of a logistically plausible alternative). I'm still reasonably confident there won't be a war, at least one in the conventional sense... however I'm less confident than before, I'll admit, as the congressional midterms, which I was certain would precede them, look to be less of a stumbling block for the Republicans than I had thought. One thing is certain: Mr. Hussein will not give the Americans the gift of a traditional casus belli in the meantime... the Americans will likely have to break the existing international order some more in order to dig him out. In that case, the long-term damage (at least, from a non-American perspective) may far outweigh the benefits.

Last point: the one organization that did give the Americans a clear casus belli this week was Hamas, with the Hebrew University bombing. Has the Iraq debate, and the concomitant need to play to the countries like Kuwait whose support will be needed, so hamstrung American policy in the region that it can no longer protect its citizens abroad by retaliating against their killers?

Posted by BruceR at 08:54 AM

August 06, 2002



In the vein of Den Beste's piece on the value of strategy and wargames today (mirrored by another interesting, if atypical piece on Warcraft III in Slate, let me recommend Strategy First's Europa Universalis 2. The game, which plays a lot like a real-time computer Civilization (or the old boardgame Empires in Arms) with real history as the background, covers the world (yes, the whole world) from 1419 to 1820. Not only does the game fix nearly everything I found annoying about the original EU, including that annoying 1492 start-date, it runs fairly stable, and mirrors history remarkably well. I'm playing a desultory campaign as the Ottomans (testing my theory that if they'd stopped dreaming of taking Vienna and just concentrated on uniting the Sunni Muslim world south of the Black Sea when they could have, history would have been a lot different). We're up around 1455 now, and I haven't seen anything on a world wide scale that strikes me as completely implausible. The computer Joan of Arc didn't do as well as in reality, the Castilians are even stronger than expected, and England's more aggressively Catholic than I remember it, but we're well within any acceptable counter-factual deviation here. It COULD conceivably have gone this way. What's remarkable is the way Spain, Russia, Austria and France are all still assembling themselves more or less on schedule. I'm very interested to see how the expected strife in England in the second part of the century plays out, given what's happened thus far.

How am I doing? Well, Byzantium fell early, and instead of wasting my strength poking across the Danube every few years the way the real Ottomans did, I'm avoiding European entanglement, hopefully letting Hungary get themselves trapped in endless Balkan warfare, and instead freeing the Holy Lands from the Mamelukes early. Last night Mehmet II (the real-life conqueror of Constantinople) took Medina and Mecca... so I guess he would have still made the history books, anyway. Left to themselves, the Eastern Europeans are fighting each other... if things weren't somewhat tenuous in Eastern Anatolia and Armenia (controlled at the moment by a rival Sunni monarchy), I'd say I'm doing rather well. At any rate, superb game, superb strategy lesson, and a superb history tutorial.

The trick, by the way, so far at least, has been mid-range planning. Given 400 years of history, the temptation is to set far-off goals that are either unachievable or meaningless, or just go from conquest to conquest, and place too much trust in opportunity. I'm using a five-year planning cycle, which seems about optimal for a couple reasons related to game mechanics, subdivided into 10 six-month budgeting segments. I also developed a clear statement of aim (or commander's intent) before starting seriously.

This is the one quibble I have with Den Beste's piece, btw, where he states "All war is chaos." Yes, it's true no plan survives contact with the enemy, but Steven leaves you with the feeling that therefore there is no reason to plan. I'd have preferred he'd said "no one can accurately predict" a war's course, rather than "no one can predict" it. The reason, of course, is all the strategic functions (particularly logistics) require timetables, routes, destinations. In WW2, the Allies had a series of phase lines drawn across Western Europe, representing their best guess of progress post D-Day. Trapped in Normandy, they almost immediately fell behind schedule... after Falaise, they rapidly exceeded all predictions. But those lines were still essential planning assumptions if all the vital combat supplies (including even the men themselves) had any hope of being delivered when and where they would be needed, often months previously and thousands of miles away.

So all war needs a plan, but all war is chaos. Current warplanners bridge the gap with the idea of "commander's intent," a summary in the shortest possible terms of the overarching objective of the whole battle exercise, that prefaces all major orders to subordinates. The idea being that, once that's defined, you follow the rest of the detailed planning after that as closely as you can... but if amongst the chaos you see a shorter route to achieving the aim that contradicts those details, you discard the details and adhere to the aim. The aim thus should neither be too general (so that you can't divine when you're no longer guided by it) or too specific (to foreclose options that could lead to victory).

(Bernard Cornwell had something similar in his Sharpe novels. The protagonist, a British rifle officer in the Peninsula, had an unruly, often independent command, without the patience or time for the subtleties of ethical wartime conduct. In order to do maximum damage to the enemy without hurting the locals or each other, he boiled it down to three simple specific rules, with death as the only penalty. The act freed him up to fight his own war... once he had got his men into the optimal starting position, they could fight on their own from there, having internalized his intent.)

The Sunni commander's intent in my EU2 game, strictly written down, would be:

1) Keep a constant or slowly expanding military and naval strength.
2) Put economic growth ahead of buying soldiers or military technology.
3) With armies and navies, put quality ahead of quantity.
4) Avoid fighting at a technological disadvantage.
5) Don't unnecessarily anger other Sunni Moslem states.
6) Assuming all those rules are being met, seek to annex two provinces every five years, until some unavoidable limit to expansion is reached.

Whenever I have a choice in game, I refer back to those rules, in order of precedence from the top: right now I've taken 17 provinces in 36 years, but I've taken a big hit in liquidity, so I'm bringing the armies home for a couple years until full economic health can be brought back. My thesis is that, if the Turks had followed a similar political platform, they would have avoided "Sick Man of Europe" status for much longer than they did. We'll see... I'll keep you posted.

Posted by BruceR at 05:13 PM

August 03, 2002



Also Star columnist David Olive takes a piece out of Andrew Sullivan today, for his referring to Canadians and Europeans as "socialist parasites" for having lower drug costs. Sullivan claims that's the cost of drug R&D that the Americans are paying on behalf of everyone else... as Olive carefully explains, higher American drug costs have no visible effect on the rate of drug invention in the U.S. vice the rest of the world, and the extra funds are generally eaten up by aggressive marketing, patent-protection lawyers' costs, and the redesigning of existing drugs so that they can claim another couple decades of American patent protection for the same recipe. Aren't free markets wonderful? As Olive tactfully suggests, maybe Sullivan's desperate search for an AIDS cure is throwing off his reason just a tad.

Posted by BruceR at 12:26 PM



The Toronto Star is having a lot of fun with its scoop this week that almost all American pilots in theatre over Afghanistan are heavily medicated, using both uppers on mission, and sleeping pills back at base. This obviously has bearing on the actions of Maj. Psycho Schmidt that killed 4 Canadians in April. The British papers have picked the story up, and are having fun with it... oddly nothing on the issue coming out in the mainstream American papers, yet. Even's John Pike is wondering why.

Joey Slinger, a sort of Canadian Dave Barry-type humorist, has what might be his first actual honest-to-God funny column in decades on the subject today. (Anyway, I laughed.)

"Better bombing through chemistry" -- the motto of the squadron known throughout the Middle East as the "Totally Wasted One-Four-Six."
The controller thought of Capt. "Loose-caboose" Hawkins, now in the brig at Fort Leavenworth because, after completing a mission over Kabul, he'd flown his F-16 non-stop to the States where he'd landed in a plaza outside Boston and stuck up a 7-Eleven.
All he demanded at gunpoint was six bags of barbecue tortilla chips. "I had the munchies," he told the police who arrested him.
Then there were the "great big green things" that kept roaring up from behind them at warp speed. "Here comes one now!" a fighter-jock would shriek. "God! It's the size of Michigan! Look out! Yieeee!" Then he'd fire his Sidewinders as it flashed past.
"Did I get it? Did I get it?"
And while the missiles homed in on a charcoal brazier around which two dozen camel traders were huddled in the cold desert night, the combat controllers in the AWACs circling overhead would respond, in comforting tones, "Of course you did. You got it real good."

Read the whole column. It's quite good.

Posted by BruceR at 12:17 PM

August 01, 2002



I always wondered why I hated Star Trek: Voyager... now, thanks to James, I know. It really was the way everything stayed pristine... there was never any drama about whether the ship would fall apart (discipline-wise or mechanically) or get home, first:

Look, when you’re 60 years from home, the dress code is going to break down after half a decade. Stuff is going to break. There will be scuff marks in the turbolift. The captain will have to wrestle with a policy on cheek-piercing. The show needed stubble, but it was freshly-shaved every week.

There's precedent for this. The navigational accomplishment of William Bligh and his remaining obedient crew after the mutiny amounts to possibly the greatest small-boat voyage of all time. They kept good discipline, and they pretty much all got home to their families alive. By contrast, Fletcher Christian and the successful mutineers couldn't get their act together and fell to feuding and going native. But which one of the Bounty fission products is the protagonist in the stories? This year has seen a resurgence in Shackleton, who like Amundsen was an incredibly meticulous polar explorer who never lost a man. Up 'til now, however, when people thought the races to the poles they thought of pikers like Scott and Franklin, who took big chances and lost lives when their expeditions fell apart far from home. Do I really need to mention Lord of the Flies?

Voyager took as its first assumption that Starfleet technology and discipline would survive and thrive even when the inhabitants of a highly-technologically reliant ship were entirely cut off from their logistical and cultural base, possibly forever. Being fairly familiar with the reliability of, say, the computer on my desk (or the continued amiability of my colleagues if they couldn't see their families every night for that matter) I could only suspend my disbelief so high.

Posted by BruceR at 12:17 AM



Again with the killing of American civilians. Again with the dancing in the streets. If I were a Yank, that would just about settle any lingering doubt, actually.

PS: I agree with the ineluctable logic of the Shark on this one.

Posted by BruceR at 12:03 AM