September 30, 2002



Instapundit is pointing to John Giuffo's piece criticizing loony lefty cartoonist Ted Rall, today. If anything, Giuffo is too kind... specifically in the section below:

Foot enters mouth again in his "Postmodern War Heroes" strip from March 11, when he portrays an imagined moment somewhere in the decades ahead, when veterans of the Afghanistan campaign are trading war stories. "That's my old buddy Joey from Queens, New York ... died in a helicopter crash," says one melancholy G.I. to another over beers. They then wistfully recall ... Brenda and Ken, who each fell out of helicopters. Aside from his typically inhuman coarseness toward the loved ones of those service members who died in accidents up until that point (is he implying that their grief is any less real or less justified because they didn't die at the hands of the enemy?), the strip really starts looking depraved when viewed after the combat deaths of eight U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Gardez. Of course, the strip is an implied jab at the lack of ground troop usage up until that point in the war, but he could have avoided his embarrassing shortsightedness had he thought ahead and realized that his premise might look ridiculous if just one U.S. service person subsequently died in combat.

No, no, John, it's much worse than that. The Gardez fighting, which began when a U.S. serviceman fell out of a helicopter, and a rescue chopper subsequently crashed was on MARCH 4. Rall's strip insulting the dead came a week later. Eight American soldiers had "died in combat" on March 4. Rall knew that, took measured aim, and spit on their graves.

Posted by BruceR at 04:32 PM



Important article from the leading journalistic expert on Afghanistan today, in the Nation. Two interesting revelations, if true: the U.S. has given the greenlight to the rest of the world to increase the scope of the ISAF peacekeeping force if they wish, but only so long as no American troops are involved; and second, that the Taliban remnants have teamed up with the extremely dangerous Hekmatyar faction against the Karzai government. If true, and left unchallenged, Karzai's life and Kabul's relative peace can be measured in months, if not weeks.

Posted by BruceR at 01:14 PM



(See below.) Gary Farber comes back at my take on his piece attacking Gregg Easterbrook, who said chemical weapons were not as effective as we think, and bioweapons are still an unknown quantity. His points have merit, and are certainly worthy of reply here. I sent this email off to Gary this morning:

Thank you for responding with such civility, Gary. I know you didn't have to, but you've always set a higher standard for polite blogging discourse, and while I may disagree with this one article of yours out of the hundreds I've read, I'd tell anyone who asks you've always been a class act.

With regard to Unit 731, I would argue their various attempts to "seed" plagues on captive villages -- and the disastrous end of war release of their lab rats you refer to -- also counted as experiments on a captive and subject population. For instance, the Japanese would isolate a Chinese village, station soldiers around the perimeter to keep people in, introduce cholera, deny all medical care, and then see how fast people died. Obviously, if any country (or terrorist) could exert that level of control over a group of Americans, they could be extremely deadly, whether they used gas, a bioweapon, automatic rifles or machetes. I don't believe those kinds of warcrimes conclusively establish the efficacy of bioweapons as a whole, however, so I don't believe they impeach Easterbrook's point that they're still a unproven quantity.

As to the relevance of the 1918 influenza epidemic, I have to insist that it's rather unfair to cite the worst epidemic in all recorded human history as evidence of what a bioweapon is LIKELY to do. If "regression to the mean" means anything, one can be fairly certain that at least the first few attempts at bioweapon use will be far far less destructive than that. A 1988 CDC survey of four states over a five month period recorded 77 epidemics of communicable disease, of which 51 affected less than 10 persons (the largest causes were Hepatitis A and Salmonella). Even if man-made epidemics were 10 times as effective as nature, it's possible many of them might only rise above that kind of "noise" if very carefully engineered, or done in a way that is extremely obvious (such as mailing media outlets with anthrax). I agree with Easterbrook that recent movies like "Seven Monkeys" and "Outbreak" have taken liberties with the realities of disease control and created an image of biowarfare out of synch with the proven reality.

As I said, I also agree with Robert Wright that these weapons are only going to become more and more effective with time, though, and more certainly needs to be done in this area. This is why many of us were so disappointed with America's withdrawal from the Biological Weapons Convention this year. Rather than trying to create an international consensus against these weapons, Bush policy at the moment is encouraging their propogation.

Posted by BruceR at 10:17 AM



Local soldiers got the first hints of how the Army Reserve restructuring plans could affect units in this province over the weekend. As the details slowly trickle out, the whole plan, even as a rough draft, seems ever more eminently sensible and militarily sound... in conjunction with the new Regular Army Strategy earlier this year, this initiative would make Canada's land forces infinitely more well-rounded and useful to the nation than they are now. Make no mistake: the generals have a plan, and it looks from this distant perch like a solid one. It's the politicians, apparently happy with Canada spending less on defence than any other country in NATO, who boast about our reputation as peacekeepers when 33 other countries provide more peacekeepers than we do... it's they who are holding things up now. Just a moderate (10 per cent) increase in defence spending could turn a lot of things around. But meanwhile, the plans for how to build Canadians an effective army will have to go back on the shelf, cause that's simply not going to happen so long as the Liberals run this country. Just hope we're not needed for anything important in the meantime.

Posted by BruceR at 02:03 AM

September 28, 2002



A good prediction on the upper and lower limits on American casualties in an prolonged Iraq war, by Michael O'Hanlon. I disagree with the assumptions, as I still don't see a scenario where large numbers of regular U.S. troops (as opposed to special forces) have to go house-to-house to win this, but I have to concur that, if America chose or were forced into that approach by the Iraqis, total combat fatalities over 1,000 would not be unreasonable. (If that's the only obvious path to victory, however, I fully expect the current Bush government to pull the main force units back, however incomplete the job might be to that point, rather than intentionally incur those kinds of casualties. Frankly, once the country is already prostrate, special forces and an air flotilla would seem to be enough to keep up any kind of inspection-support/Saddam-hunt going, with a couple divisions kept in theatre for contingencies... kind of like was done in Afghanistan after Kabul fell, with the regular forces guarding a couple major bases, while the SF flitted around the hill country looking for JDAMS targets.)

Posted by BruceR at 11:56 PM



He's in the Attorney General's office. You Yanks really should think of doing something about him.

Posted by BruceR at 11:53 PM



The Globe's Heather Mallick's always great for a little dash of incoherence:

If Americans had been allowed to see photographs of the oozing faces and crushed torsos of their fellow citizens [on Sept. 11], they might well have objected to the same violence being done to Afghan children. I recently saw on a Web site the half-severed heads of Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinians, and was so profoundly shocked that I am now wildly in favour of peace negotiations between all groups of humans. That's what literal representation did to me.

That's nice, Heather. You're such an idiot. The amazing thing is that that paragraph is actually in a column about art, as near as I can tell just a bizarre aside she had while she was struggling with her keyboard. Her real thesis?

We are now at the point that there doesn't seem to be any art -- figurative, abstract, badly sculpted, well-articulated, stumblingly stated, startling or subversive -- that Americans will admit to understanding and liking, or will even tolerate.... How pathetic. Art is one great civilizing force they could use right now.

In Heather's world, graphic evidence of Palestinian brutality she thinks she saw on the web is evidence only of man's general inhumanity to man, everywhere. But because Americans aren't ready for Sept. 11 art yet, they're a uniquely pathetic and uncivilized culture. (Here's a thought, Heather... if the Americans won't take it, why not send your rejected art to the Palestinians, so they'll become civilized enough to stop cutting people's heads off?) Yep, the Canadian press elite's hate-on for Americans continues full-bore.

Posted by BruceR at 11:26 PM

TROUBLESOME The previous entry notwithstanding,


The previous entry notwithstanding, I am puzzled by the continued lack of mention in the Globe, Star, Post (National or Washington) and many other news sources today for the truly troubling discovery of smugglers bearing enriched uranium in Turkey. Now, obviously, there's lots more to find out before one can be certain (for instance, said uranium could conceivably have been headed for Syria or Iran, not just Iraq, two countries with their own WMD programs). But if true that Iraq was purchasing it, in the belief it was weapons-grade, it is a flagrant violation of UN resolutions, and an undeniable casus belli, should America choose to pursue it as such... so why is everyone so quiet so far?

Posted by BruceR at 10:59 PM

MORE ON WMD'S Gary Farber


Gary Farber does not make as convincing a counter-argument against Gregg Easterbrook as he thinks he does (or he's been given credit for). To a degree they're talking past each other... Easterbrook is talking about the value of "weapons of mass destruction" as military weapons, whereas Farber sees them more as terrorist threats. So whereas Easterbrook sees chemical weapons as pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar less effective than simple High Explosive would be in killing enemy soldiers, which is almost certainly true, Farber is still focussing on their use as a terror weapon against civilians. And whereas Easterbrook makes his other strong point, that bioweapons have yet to influence a battle or even undisputedly kill a single soldier, making them at best an unknown quantity, Farber cites the undeniably deadly experiments by the Japanese Unit 731. Easterbrook doesn't mention those experiments, which is a failing of his article, but if asked one suspects he would view them more as an elaborate form of mass execution than a weapon per se, successful in killing thousands, no doubt, but thousands among a captive and utterly subject population... under those circumstances, as Rwanda showed, even machetes can be just as effective. By Farber's standard, wouldn't we consider the gassing of Jews a successful example of chemical warfare, too? And how would that help to clarify the issues?

Throughout, Farber complains of Easterbrook's "straw men," but he's the one setting up the scarecrows. Easterbrook says that bioweapons have not yet been successfully militarized... but influenza has killed millions, Farber responds, completely beside the point. ("And they had a working vaccine," he adds, both cryptically and incorrectly.) Chemical weapons killed only 1 per cent of the combat KIAs in the one and only war they were used ubiquitously, Easterbrook reports, quite possibly less than an equivalent weight of HE might have done... but 90,000 dead is still a lot of people, comes Farber's rejoinder, rather missing the point again.

Towards the end, Farber appears to argue that one chemical bomb, under the right circumstances, could kill just as many as a nuclear blast could, and that a biobomb could kill 100 times as many over time... claims it's hard to find any support for, either in Farber's piece or reality. Farber promises to "be just as upset" regardless of which WMD kills people, a fact both entirely irrelevant and, again, entirely beside the point.

Farber would have been far better off splitting the difference here. Chemical weapons are about as fully weaponized now as they're ever going to get, and they're still not so effective that their use would ever be so successful as to compensate for the inevitable WMD response from an enemy (hence both Hitler's and Hussein's entirely rational cost-benefit based decisions not to use them against the U.S.). Nothing Farber can argue indicates that they deserve to belong in the same category of unthinkable weapons as the others. They are certainly not in the class of mass destruction that nuclear weapons certainly are, and biological weapons, given the steady advance of science, one day could be, if they are not already. I agree with Robert Wright that we are, if anything, discounting the bioweapon threat... but I still have to agree with Easterbrook's observation that they have, as yet, still to be successfully employed on a battlefield.

The simple counter-argument to Easterbrook, of course, the one that Farber does not make, is that successful battlefield use is not the only criterion anymore. A "dirty bomb" would be useless in a war, for instance, but it is still something the west's security apparatus needs to worry about. Likewise any bioweapon release by Iraq in its own region would, given the relative state of their healthcare systems, degrade Iraq's ability to resist the U.S. far more than it would any American ability to fight... but as a terrorist weapon in the hands of a group like Al-Qaeda, it could still have potency. Of course, one might say the same thing about a 757 and a flight manual, too...

Posted by BruceR at 10:54 PM

September 27, 2002



Our old friend Justin R. and have set their sights (pun intentional) on a not-particularly-remarkable-or-unique war toy being sold at J.C. Penney. It's so behind the times, it's scary... the bar of scary marketing of violence to kids was lifted several levels by titles like Kingpin and Soldier of Fortune 2 (source of the attached extremely realistic screenshot, of a woman being raked stem to sternum with 5.56mm SAW fire at point blank range... in the name of taste I avoided the much more gruesome decapitations, etc.)... vivid computer games evidently not within the realm of's experience. Get out more, guys! Watch a South Park episode or two at least! Sheesh... Or check the average age of the Counter-Strike player in your local cybercafe, to start with. Reading complaints about this silly toy was like reading some Christian fundamentalist blaming some problem of the day on Mortal Kombat or Doom, or Dungeons & Dragons... got to keep up on the latest depravities, or you just shoot all your credibility like this every time... You can defend them or condemn them, but you at least have to be aware of them...

Here's a somewhat more constructive criticism. Call it Flit's Rule: young male aggression in a society is a fixed quantity, in linear proportion to the number of young males. That (to me) incontrovertible fact is the biggest opportunity, and greatest problem, in any human society, ever. If managed, you can build skyscrapers (or pyramids) with it. If not managed, it'll blow your society apart. In every society, young males have a primal urge to compete with and outdo each other, in as vivid, reckless and creative a way as that society can invent. That's what wars were all about, in stone age days... an outlet, that if it did little good, did less harm than not having wars and having those same young males kill each other in less ritualized and predictable ways. Corollary #1 of Flit's rule: if you don't provide young boys with plasticized war toys from Mattel, they'll make their own, out of sticks, or potatoes... their imaginations, their very genetic inheritance, is already there. This particular toy in question doesn't look any better or worse than any of the others on the shelf, so even if I'd never buy it for my own kid (I have a feeling kids growing up in my house would wear uniforms of some kind soon enough anyway), I certainly don't see it as a... what was it.... "hate crime"? 'Tis to laugh...

Here's another thing we can be certain of... Justin and friends still haven't heard of America's Army, the free, and exceptionally realistic, computer game developed and now being distributed to kids by the U.S. armed forces... I can't wait. It's possible Justin's head may actually explode...

Posted by BruceR at 10:58 PM



Looking back on the Fort Pitt smallpox episode, one wonders whether it's not better described as an attempt at bioweapon assassination, of the two Delaware chiefs who came to ask for the fort's surrender: Turtle's Heart and Mamaltee. Otherwise, why give only two blankets and a handkerchief? The safe assumption is any gifts given would be kept by the parley party or their families, indicating disabling the Indians' leadership (as opposed to reducing their fighting strength) might have been the primary motivation.

Was it effective? To be so, one would have to establish that the debilitation among the Indians' ranks affected the battle of Bushy Run, which turned into a British victory. Given the statement that, 10 months later, around 80 local Indians had so far died of a smallpox epidemic that was still raging, and assuming (to be charitable) that the disease followed a linear progression, it seems safe to conclude that at most a dozen Indians would have died between the most likely date of transmission (June 24, 1763) and Aug. 5 (Bushy Run). Only about a quarter of those would be men of fighting age. On the other hand, rates of debilitating disease for variola major could be 3 to 4 times that, so it's fair to say that by Bushy Run, the plague blankets could at most have taken 10-12 Indian warriors out of the war, and probably somewhat less. (Again, it's also possible the smallpox could have been transmitted previously to the blanket incident by an entirely different vector.)

How many fought at Bushy Run? The British had 460 soldiers, consisting of a couple dozen frontier scouts and drovers, and the rest British regulars, mostly from the 42nd (Royal Highlander or Black Watch) and 77th (Montgomerie's Highlanders) Regiments of Foot. There were also a detachment from the commander, Bouquet's, own regiment, the 60th (Royal Americans). The Indians, from the Mingo, Delaware and Shawnee tribes, were definitely outnumbered, with estimates on their strength ranging from 90 (the Indians') to 400 (Bouquet's). Even if it was at the low end, would 10 more Indian warriors have made a difference? It seems unlikely, but more research is definitely required to be definitive.

OTHER RANDOM TIDBITS: Both the junior "British" officers involved, Capt. Ecuyer and Col. Bouquet, were actually Swiss-born soldiers-of-fortune; their unit, the Royal Americans, was a polyglot assemblage, kind of the French Foreign Legion of its day, enlisted by the British in Europe for colonial service... Also present at the "blanket parley" along with Ecuyer was one Capt. Alexander McKee of the British Indian Department, an Irishman by birth, an Indian by choice, later to become a Loyalist colleague of Simon "White Savage" Girty and a nemesis of Daniel Boone... Bouquet, meanwhile, is seen now as something of a military innovator and tactical genius, first bringing to the British army many of the aspects of their "rifles" tradition, ie, the idea of separate uniforms for fighting and for ceremony ("battle dress")... If there isn't a good screenplay in how Pittsburgh was saved from the Delawares and Shawnee in 1763, with this francophone precursor to Sharpe driving his claymore-brandishing Scottish highlanders through the woods to reach his Swiss friend and their Irish renegade colleague in the nick of time, I don't know where it would be...

Posted by BruceR at 02:38 PM



Once you sift away the well-known but irrelevant facts, and ludicrous lies, the truth of Rall's magnum opus hangs on one single piece of information, from one source: that according to the Peshawar Frontier Post, in an Oct. 11, 2001 article, that "U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain met with Pakistan’s oil minister to discuss reviving the old Unocal deal." Since Rall doesn't cite it, for the record here's the relevant paragraph, from deep in the much longer story, that he is twisting:

[On Oct. 11 Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources] Usman Aminduddin also briefed the [U.S.] Ambassador on the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan -Pakistan gas pipeline project and said that this project opens up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation particularly in view of the recent geo-political developments in the region.

That's it: Rall's smoking gun. The reasonable interpretation would be that Pakistan, which has long been the most ardent state advocate for an Afghan natural gas pipeline, was pushing the U.S. to consider returning to the discarded pipeline idea, now that the bombing had started and "regime change" was imminent. To Rall however, that one paragraph is the most convincing proof that the United States was plotting to invade Afghanistan before Sept. 11, and everything you know about Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Sept. 11 attacks is wrong. That's quite some paragraph.

NOTE: Rall also accuses Hamid Karzai of being a "former Talib." He bases this on Karzai's own admission, that when he was deputy foreign minister in the Rabbani government (1992-4), one of the coterie that would eventually become the Northern Alliance, he had some sympathy for the Taliban movement then on the rise among the Pashtuns he claimed to represent, way back when it first emerged in 1993. Within a year, Karzai says, he concluded the movement was actually controlled by foreigners ("Pakistanis and Arabs"), and has not had a good word to say about them since leaving the Afghan government in late 1994. It was only after that, of course, that the Taliban became an actual force in Afghan politics. Around the same time they forced Karzai and his father (now their rivals for Pashtun supremacy) into exile in Pakistan, and later assassinated the elder Karzai.

Posted by BruceR at 12:00 PM



So far the most thorough and intelligent conspiracy theory “debunker” has been The American Prospect’s Ken Silverstein. Silverstein and other Bush Administration defenders argue that Operation Enduring Freedom is unrelated to oil and gas pipelines:

First, they assert, President Bush is a well-intentioned, intensely caring man determined to free the enslaved women of Afghanistan from Taliban oppression and hell-bent on justice for the victims of September 11...

All but his last contention fall apart upon immediate examination.

--Ted Rall, "My Government Went to Afghanistan And All I Got Was This Stupid Pipeline"

OK Ted, where exactly did I say such a thing in the American Prospect piece that you cite (or anywhere else for that matter)? It’s beyond distortion or caricature, it’s simply a creation of your imagination.

--Ted Silverstein's response

I'm sorry if Silverstein doesn't understand the simple sentence construction I used in my summary of the apologists' argument. His lack of reading comprehension, however, is no excuse for calling me a liar.

--Rall's response to the response.

You simply cannot read that paragraph at the top and not conclude that Silverstein is absolutely right, and Rall lied about what Silverstein said. You can't. The "simple sentence construction" clearly says that Silverstein believes the statement Rall's attributed to him ("all but his last contention" phrase doesn't make any sense otherwise). Silverstein himself challenges for proof. Rall of course can't provide it, meaning he must have lied. Cornered and caught, Rall therefore attacks Silverstein for his "lack of reading comprehension..." a sin, in this case, only Rall is proving himself guilty of.

Posted by BruceR at 11:41 AM

September 26, 2002



I'm a big admirer of military/political commentator and football fan Gregg Easterbrook, but one aside in his otherwise entirely intelligent latest piece on WMDs deserves comment. That's this quote:

The most successful biological warfare to date took place nearly 250 years ago, when the British gave smallpox-laden blankets to French-affiliated Native Americans during the Seven Years' War.

Okay, the obvious problem is that the instance Easterbrook is dimly recalling took place in the 1763-66 Pontiac Rebellion, which took place after the Seven Year's War was over (That war between French and British had been effectively over in North America since 1760, when the last French forces on the continent surrendered, but peace in Europe wasn't concluded until 1763.) Pontiac wasn't French-affiliated, he was just anti-British.

Was it "successful biological warfare," though? That's never been conclusively established. Here's a brief chronology of what's known:

1738: A smallpox epidemic among the Cherokee in South Carolina is attributed at the time to the arrival in Charleston of slave traders ("Guinea Men"), who traded with the Indians. Smallpox, brought by earlier settlers, is known in North America already. This may be the first contemporary realization that it could be getting spread through trade goods, however.
1747: The disease attacks Micmac Indians in Nova Scotia (French allies before N.S. surrendered to the British.) At least one French source accuses the British of intentionally spreading it with infected clothing, presumably to prevent rebellion among their new native subjects. The accusation is probably French propaganda, but indicates the idea of trying to spread the pox intentionally had already crossed a few minds.
16 May, 1763: Pontiac's Rebellion marks its first success, attacking and capturing the fort at Sandusky, Ohio, and massacring the 13-man garrison. In the next six weeks, every colonial town and outpost west of Niagara other than Detroit and Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) is captured or abandoned, and the last two beseiged. Losses among the white settler population are extreme... people fear if Pittsburgh falls, the Indians will raid and kill as far east as Philadelphia.
24 June, 1763: With the Ohio frontier going up in flames, and smallpox already in his fort, the commander at Fort Pitt, Capt. Simon Ecuyer, apparently tries to buy time by infecting the local Indians, through parley gifts given out when they come to demand the surrender of his fort. Resident William Trent writes in his diary: "We gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect."
7 July, 1763: The supreme British commander for North America, Sir Jeffrey Amherst in a letter to his best commander, Col. Henri Bouquet, suggests infecting the rebelling Indians with smallpox: "Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?"
16 July, 1763: Under heavy pressure from the Pontiac confederacy, and no lover of Indians himself Amherst authorizes Bouquet to attempt infecting the Indians with smallpox. Bouquet at the time is marching from Philadelphia to relieve Ecuyer at Fort Pitt: he acknowledges the order on July 26.
10 August, 1763: After a vicious two-day battle at Bushy Run, Bouquet marches into Fort Pitt, breaking the Indians' siege, and the back of Pontiac's revolt.
April, 1764: Soldier Gershom Hicks reports that smallpox has been raging among the local Indians "since last spring," killing perhaps 80 ("30 or 40 Mingoes, as many Delawares and some Shawneese") The epidemic may have continued for another year later, with obviously an even higher death count.

Possible hypotheses, based on the evidence: Either
1) The Indians' smallpox was spreading anyway (it was already among the white population of Pittsburgh), and Ecuyer's distribution of blankets (approved after the fact by Amherst) had no additional effect; or
2) Ecuyer's actions did contribute to the suppression of native resistance in central Pennsylvania in 1763.

There's simply not enough evidence in the record to indicate that this was, as Easterbrook claims, "successful biological warfare." It was certainly an attempt at one, though.

Postscript: There is still some question about that July 7 letter -- the original of which is hard to locate... and also whether that June 24 diary entry should actually have been dated May 24, even if Ecuyer only reports the setting up of the "Smallpox hospital" to Bouquet on June 16. Regardless, Bouquet's acknowledgement of Amherst's order (and hence Amherst's direct authorization) still came only AFTER Ecuyer had acted independently. Fort Pitt's records even include an invoice to replace the specific items Ecuyer gave to the Indians, dated in June.

Other commentators have suggested George Washington, himself a smallpox survivor, came up with the idea: there is no historical evidence for this at all. There is also no evidence to support for another common suggestion, that U.S. troops also spread smallpox blankets among Indians they were fighting a century later: in fact, there are records of American attempts to vaccinate Indian tribes (albeit not very effective ones) starting in 1832.

Posted by BruceR at 01:03 PM



"The Prime Minister has expressed no interest in diverting funds from his ambitious legacy agenda to the cash-strapped Armed Forces."


"Bill Sampson, the Canadian man sentenced to die in Saudi Arabia for allegedly planting two car bombs, was forced to confess after police hung him upside down, kept him awake for more than a week and threatened to harm his family."

It's rare you see that kind of cause and effect in the same paper, idn't it?

Canada's foreign office's response to the torture accusation?

"Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, would not address the alleged torture of a Canadian citizen, saying he could not comment on a judicial matter that is under review in a foreign country."

A judicial matter? Judicial? "I'm sorry, we cannot comment on the torture of Canadians until the torturers have completed their torturing, or until the torturee dies, whichever comes first. After that, of course, we can be expected to send somebody or other a stern letter. Well, maybe not so stern... wouldn't want to disparage their local belief system in any way, of course. Um, thank you, come again..."

In other tidbits:

"A host of Canadian celebrities... say a war on Iraq would be "immoral" and would endanger the whole world." (Okay, I'll say it first... Canadian? celebrities?)

"If we continue to second guess and prosecute our soldiers for actions taken in the fog of war, then who will be there to fight our next battle?" Accused American F-16 pilot Harry "Psycho" Schmidt, in a leaked private letter to contributors to his legal defence fund. Well, Psycho, certainly not the 4 soldiers you killed recklessly, to start with... I'm sure Lieut. Calley thought he was operating in the "fog of war," too... in both cases the case would be immeasurably strengthened if they were operating anywhere near people with some vaguely hostile intent...

"The award-winning Newfoundland chemist who tied so-called Gulf War syndrome to depleted uranium in shells has left Canada and ended her controversial research..." Before anyone starts talking about censorship of scientists, let's be clear what this chemist actually attempted to establish... that some Canadian Forces personnel who served in Bahrain and Qatar during the Gulf War had elevated levels of Uranium-238 in their urine. Which proves exactly zip-squat.

The study has yet to be confirmed by another lab... even if it were true, and there was some connection between U-238 and the collection of mass hysterical symptoms called "Gulf War Syndrome," there's no reason we wouldn't therefore be seeing elevated levels of civilian disease in the much larger civilian populations of Bahrain and Qatar. If the assumption is that US M1 tank shells that blew up Iraqi T-72s may have partially vaporized, and the resulting U-238 dust floated over 400 miles through the air to somehow kill CF military police officer Terry Riordan, even though the elevated levels of U-238 reported even in his system are far below the threshold for either radioactive contamination OR the (much lower) threshold for heavy metal poisoning, then it's simply not credible on its face. If Riordan had ever been close to the battle, then maybe there might be something worth investigating further in this area... otherwise, the two logical explanations are either Prof. Pat Horan's results are inaccurate, or there was some minor U-238 exposure deep in the rear area of the war for some other, as yet unestablished reason, that has nothing at all to do with the illness, but due to the sensitivity of modern isotopic testing equipment, is still detectable today. You pick.

Posted by BruceR at 10:16 AM

September 25, 2002



Without any involvement, or apparent interest from their own government, 18 Canadians were rescued by French soldiers today.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister hit a new low today, claiming he took $100 million out of a defence budget with an unfunded operating liability of over $1 billion to start with, to buy himself two new luxury jets, because HIS OLD ONE WAS UNSAFE.

"Many times, I've been involved in some urgent landings with the one we have at this moment -- many times," Chrétien said.

The CBC easily showed this was a lie, as there's only been one urgent landing, ever... but the appalling gall of this man claiming-- after refusing for the last decade to replace any of Canada's 40 year-old naval helicopters (the one and only election promise he's ever kept) with said helicopters, like the air force's nearly as old medium lift choppers, ditching now or failing to take off at all practically every second mission... with Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen putting their lives on the line every day due to this incredible neglect -- claiming that HIS fricking luxury jet was unsafe, and so Defence just had to buy him two new ones instead of do something to protect THEIR lives... unbelievable. I would have thought only someone who thought those people were utterly useless and completely expendable, who laughed as he fell asleep over how he's screwing them, could say such a thing... would so make a mockery of the danger his ill-thought actions have personally put them into.

Let's face it. The country's prime minister is well aware of the hazardous state of Canadian Forces air equipment. He doesn't care. But he didn't like the bathroom fixtures on his old jet, so he robbed the already bankrupt defence minister, putting off desperately needed equipment purchases, putting people's lives on the line, so he could buy himself a couple fancy new planes with the country's "defence" money.

Posted by BruceR at 01:58 PM

September 24, 2002



Skeptical Inquirer (article not online) is worth picking up this month, for a think-piece on the Sept. 11 aftermath by risk perception experts Clark Chapman and Alan Harris. It's pretty much guaranteed to offend everybody. A couple tidbits:

...when police chiefs of countless middle American communities beef up security for their anonymous buildings, and search fans entering hundreds of sport fields to watch games of little note, official reactions to terrorism have run amok. To imagine that Al Qaeda's next target might be the stadium in, say, Ames, Iowa, is far-fetched indeed.

Fair enough, most bloggers would say. But would they also agree with:

Why should terrorism command our exceptional attention? That the 9/11 terrorists maliciously attacked the symbolic and actual seats of our economic and military power should concern us if we truly think that future attacks might destroy our society. But who believes that?

How about this line, which may speak to an unacknowledged authorial bias:

Charitable funds that would have nurtured the homeless flowed, instead to wealthy families of deceased Wall Street traders.

On the other hand, I totally agree with this (I haven't heard the seemingly reasonable stun gun option brought up before):

To prevent terrorists from using airplanes as flying bombs, it would be logical to secure the flight decks of large jetliners: strengthening doors, enhancing the security of aircraft controls, perhaps equipping pilots with stun guns, perhaps tightening certification of pilots...

Who said statisticians were boring? One thing's for sure, these two were looking for an argument. The must-read magazine piece of the week.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM



Canada's foreign minister shows his general cluelessness: "[An attack on Iraq] is not consistent with the world order we have been trying to build for the last 70 years through the United Nations." Seventy? Young Bill Graham evidently skipped the class that said the UN was founded in 1945.

Eighteen Canadians are trapped in Bouake in the Ivory Coast. Bill Graham interrupted his latest anti-American tirade to say this:

Bill Graham, the Foreign Affairs Minister, condemned the violence and called for "restraint and an end to further bloodshed. We encourage all parties to respect human rights and to engage in peaceful dialogue aimed at resolving the crisis."

Unfortunately, the predominantly Muslim rebels couldn't hear Graham over the gunfire. Fortunately for the Canadians, the Americans are sending troops to save them (It goes without saying that we couldn't). As soon as the Americans get his charges safely back in international airspace, you can expect Graham to start condemning them again.

Not that our government isn't busy giving its soldiers stuff to do, though. Yesterday they ordered every Canadian Forces website and email address to be amended to include the letters "gc" (Government of Canada) in them. (To make it clear to taxpayers that they fund the army, apparently, just in case they hadn't figured it out for themselves.) Hence, becomes, becomes, etc. We'll get around to thinking about how we might have helped our citizens trapped in an African civil war, or for that matter how we're going to address that 10 per cent unfunded shortfall in our operating budget, right after we change every last piece of stationery, business cards, etc. that we have... we'll have to get back to you.

Meanwhile, the campaign to demilitarize Canada's largest city continues to chug along. The Homes Not Bombs coalition has been staging their little weekly vigils for a few months but the army still has offices in Toronto for some reason. So they've now vowed to escalate, to "begin the physical process of transforming the site" of the largest National Defence establishment downtown, Moss Park. To those in the know, that means squatters and a tent city, more of a round the clock live-in protest, really. The coalition claims that for many hours of the day and weekends, large parts of the federally-owned buildings lie unused, so it's only fair that they be handed over to the local mentally deranged and substance abusers. It would be only fair to note that the same could be said for City Hall, the CBC headquarters, and just about every downtown office building as well. After their victory in this battle, we look forward to the sitters-in's next challenge, liberating the Bank of Montreal tower... (Look forward to this file heating up, as the local left uses this particular local military establishment as an easy-to-reach substitute for striking out at Americans and their foreign policy.)

Posted by BruceR at 03:02 PM

September 22, 2002



I've read every word of Steven den Beste's pleas for a war on Iraq. And while I hold no brief for Saddam Hussein, I just don't see it playing out the way it hopes. Oh, I think the war itself will go reasonably well. Not a lot of Americans will die, Saddam won't use any of his (largely illusory, I suspect) "weapons of mass destruction" and he will either flee into exile or die, as Bin Laden likely did, in some unrecorded bomb blast that will bring little satisfaction to those who wanted him humbled. And then the Americans will have Baghdad. And that's where I think things will come apart.

Fifty years of scores to settle. A nation ruled for centuries by a Sunni minority, but largely composed of rebellious Kurds and Shiites. No history of democracy. And an American nation, satiated by its short-term success, as in 1991, as in Afghanistan, content to leave the scene to some pathetic peacekeeping force (less the bases it carves out for itself as the modern equivalent of Danegild, as they did at Kandahar and Bagram), because after all they're really not into nation-building. By hook or by crook, an American-supported strongman will take over, like Musharraf, like Mubarak. And Iraq will become just like Egypt. America's best Arab ally. And the oppressive, soul-destroying home of Mohammed Atta and Ayman al-Zuwahiri. And a decade or two from now, their successors will blow up something else dear to (the by then even more widely hated than now) America. And thousands more will die, and we'll look again to the "roots of Muslim rage." That's the most likely scenario. And I think everybody with sense knows it... if only because the more robust nation-building exercise Den Beste advocates would be a sacrifice, in terms of higher taxes, a broader military franchise, etc., that average Americans, even after Sept. 11, are clearly completely unwilling to undergo.

The only real argument (hope, really) that Den Beste has to counter that is that decade or two our actions buy now will allow Western culture (jeans and Barbies and consumerism) to so penetrate the Arab world that they'll have put away that childish terrorism thing and entered the 21st century finally. Well, we all have to believe in something I guess. Personally, I have trouble seeing how the recent tariff and farm bill decisions, and the general anti-trade line of America in general, do anything to make the Middle East producers, instead of just consumers, which will sort of be necessary for the rest of Den Beste's plan to happen. Me, I'll go with that Wright chap's prescriptions instead:

1) "Take your bitter medicine early." (ie, don't push off the crisis now in hopes it'll go away later, because it won't).
2) "The substance of policies should be subjected to a new kind of appraisal, one that explicitly accounts for the discontent and hatred the policies arouse." (ie, rein in John Ashcroft).
3) "The ultimate target is memes; killing or arresting people is useful only to the extent that it leads to a net reduction in terrorism memes."
4) "In a war on terrorism, applying force inconspicuously makes sense more often than in regular wars."
5) "Support free expression and, ultimately, democratization in authoritarian Arab and other Muslim states."
6) "Draw Islamic nations—and for that matter all nations—into the web of global capitalism."
7) "Emphasize trade at least as heavily as aid in fighting the kind of economic deprivation that breeds terrorism."
8) "To blunt some of globalization's sharper edges, carry political governance beyond the level of the nation-state, to the transnational level."
9) "Honor President Bush's pledge— make America a humble nation."
10) "Share the blame (with other countries)."
11) "Develop a serious international inspection system for biological weapons."
12) "Use the World Trade Organization as the fulcrum for ensuring compliance with international weapons-control law."
13) "Imagine how biotechnology would have to be policed in all nations for the United States to feel secure 20 years from now; implement and then continually refine that policing strategy in the United States, while beginning the long, laborious task of getting every other nation on the planet to eventually adopt a comparable system."

The Wright-Flit policy approach, if I read the fellow right, would be this: do everything one can do diplomatically to pursue the unconditional return of inspectors to Iraq. If, as one can safely assume, those are rebuffed, gain broad Western assent for an occupation of Iraq so that inspectors can work. But if that coalition is not at least as broad as that in 1991, LET IT GO. A unilateral U.S. action, given the likely outcome above, all but guarantees the decimation of a U.S. city of your choice within 20 years, as America becomes the one and only lightning rod for world terrorist anger.

Instead, say you accept the judgment of the world. Find other means to pursue your goals. I believe U.S. recognition of a sovereign, democratic Kurdistan would be a nice start, and would lead inevitably to the war Bush wants to save his re-election hopes, but in a way truer to both Wright's ideas and American ideals. Fight that war, and win. Then look for other democratic movements in the Muslim world to bolster. Put enough money into Afghanistan to make it the jewel of Central Asia. Give Iran a break, they haven't sent any terrorists your way recently. Keep the armed forces busy in the meantime, doing things like swooping down and forcibly repossessing that reactor in the Congo that can't seem to keep track of its fissile material. (Warn other nations you'll do the same if they don't start locking the gates at night, too.) Reverse Bush's decision to pull out of the Bioweapons Convention. Accept the results of the next legitimate Palestinian elections, whoever wins. Push Israel to stop building new settlements, and consider evacuating Gaza. Repeal that ludicrous farm bill, and the other punitive tariffs that are holding back the economies of Pakistan, among other places. Follow the rest of Wright's ideas, while you're at it. Anyway, that would be my 2 cents.

Posted by BruceR at 12:22 AM

September 21, 2002



My rather lengthy post from Bill Quick's comments section, reproduced here so I can find it later if I need it. Yon Bill had rushed to the defence of Big Pharma against all those nasty AIDS activists demanding that fewer people be left to die because their drugs cost too much:

A couple uncomfortable facts about "big pharma," an industry whose representatives, in my professional dealings with them, have almost always come across as extremely objectionable, even venal individuals:

"Only one-third of the drugs launched in the United States in the 1990s were genuinely new, according to a report issued last May by the U.S. National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation."

"[Big Pharma] spent $7.2 billion (U.S.) last year to employ 80,000 sales people, or 'detail men'"... double the number in 1996.

"Bristol-Myers Squibb Co... has spent $16.5 billion (U.S.) on R&D during the past dozen years without developing a single new major drug."

Big pharma R&D costs have tripled since 1994, but the number of new drugs approved by the FDA remains under 30 per year. Many of those breakthroughs were developed by small, non-American companies (ie, the first genetic test for HIV drug resistance, approved by the FDA last September, developed by Toronto-based Visible Genetics Inc.). Industry analysts say the real payoff for all that R&D investment has been the increased number of "knock-off" drugs created, often to avoid patent protection expiry. (If you reformulate a pill so that it can be taken once a day instead of twice daily, or modify it for use by children as well as adults, your patent is extended six months automatically: see NIHCM Foundation study, above.)

And Bill, you're wrong about public drug R&D: a Boston Globe study found 45 of the top 50 best-selling drugs approved by the FDA between 1993 and 1998 had been partially or wholly publicly funded. Another 1997 study funded by the National Science Foundation found that 50 per cent of papers cited in medical patents were from public institutions, 33 per cent from non-American sources, and 17 per cent from the American private drug industry. (CHI Research, "The Increasing Linkage Between U.S. Technology and Public Science," (abstract; full text unavailable online))

I'm one of those people who believe that the dot-commers were partially to blame, too, for being inefficient businessmen... big pharma is another bubble of massive inefficiency that, were it not for the extensive government protection encouraged by the industry's massive campaign donations, would likely have burst long ago, too. I wouldn't hold such a candle for them, Bill.

NB: I actually meant Andy Freeman in that second-last paragraph, who had come to Bill's defence earlier.

Posted by BruceR at 11:39 PM



Finally gave up on Bearshare this week. Just couldn't connect to Gnutella with the latest version... at all. So, screw it... trying out Shareaza now, and I'm reasonably satisfied. My cursory research would indicate it's the current co-leader for P2P file sharing in terms of ease of use and functionality, and absence of parasite-wear, about tied with the open-source Gnucleus... (looked for Xolox, but I couldn't even find a reliable download location for the program). For no obvious reason, my first downloads were Shakira's "Objection (Tango)", Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline", and Tom Jones' cover of "Burning Down the House" with the Cardigans... that probably tells you more about me than anything I've written all year, now that I think about it... No harder finding them than Bearshare USED to be... still miss Napster, though.

Posted by BruceR at 10:44 PM

September 19, 2002

GAME OVER, GLOBE Another remarkably


Another remarkably ignorant article on professional computer gaming, this time by Felix Vikhman, who shows that he's invested absolutely no more time that he absolutely had to, hanging out with what I still believe is one of the more interesting emergent youth phenomena of our time: professional computer gamers.

For those of you, like Felix, who would like to pretend to belong in the gamers' culture long enough to write a hash article and then escape to tell of your escapades to the normal people back home, here's a few tips:

*The company that makes specialty mice for gamers is Razer, not Razor;

*The nickname of the first pro computer gaming star Dennis Fong, was "Thresh," not "Thrush." Thresh also was never "defeated" by current earnings leader Johnathan "Fatality" Wendel, at least not in the boxing-belt sense (I imagine they've played a game or two against each other over the years)... Thresh had essentially retired from competition in late 1998, and Wendel's breakthrough first tournament was in January of 2000.

*The appropriate term for competitions in digital virtual environments played on PC-type computers is "computer games," not "video games," which is a term generally reserved for games played on video game consoles. "Computer video games" or "PC games" are also acceptable. There is no serious professional competition currently involving console titles, as they are generally not as adaptable to the kind of networked (ie LAN) set up that is required for competitive play.

*The game that succeeded in finally dethroning the Quake series as the epitome of competitive playing environments is Counter-Strike, not Counter Strike (It was invented by a Canadian, so the Globe really should pay more attention.) And I swear to god that all the years I played it, both in real life or computer, I never called the underlying action "Quest for the Flag." Jeez, did Felix's mom never allow him to play with the other kids, or something?

Look, having hovered on the edges for years, I can see the limitations and general oddness of the computer gaming scene as well as anyone. But I can also see its potential, its artistry, and the capacity for higher emotions (individual joy, communal triumph, a sporting nobility in defeat) it can engender in the participants. But I'll only know pro gaming has finally grown up when hacks can no longer get paid by a major newspaper for yet another version of a "look at those funny people over there" article.

A slightly more researched (ahem) history of the early years of the pro gaming circuit can be found here.

Posted by BruceR at 12:47 PM

September 17, 2002



Believe in rope-a-dope if you want. Believe that the Bush inner cabinet is engaged in a masterfully duplicitous diplomacy if you need to. But the latest evidence out of the White House is their spokesmen, regardless of the genius or lack thereof of their boss, really don't have a clue. Professionally speaking, the communications staff have demonstrated once again that they simply don't have the mental agility to deal with "out-messaging" their opponents. Case in point: the widely-quoted American main talking point after the Iraqis agreed to sanctions yesterday:

This is not a matter of inspections... It is about disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction..."

And how does one find out if Iraq has disarmed? Oh, yeah. Inspections.

PR Lesson #26: your key message should generally not use obvious circular logic. This was not the response of a communications staff that's playing the angles and anticipating the next moves in this high stakes diplomacy game. To any PR professional, I'm sure it looks like the response of a staff that looked at Iraq's letter yesterday and said, "oh hell, now what's our message today?" PR-wise, they're flailing. And because PR is generally driven by policy, it's fair to assume, as Noam Scheiber does, that the "operators" (what army PR folk call non- army PR folk) in the White House are making this up as they go along, too. You might be wrong, but the communicators the U.S. is using at the moment bear no sign of playing a deep game here.

Posted by BruceR at 10:50 PM



I don't know about High Noon, but every time I see Kofi Annan pull this sort of pig-in-a-poke diplomacy I think of the O.K. Corral scene in Tombstone (still the best of the Wyatt Earp movies), when Sheriff Behan walks up to the Earps and Doc in the street and tells them they don't have to go to the shootout, because he's disarmed Ike Clanton and friends. Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp tells him to get out of the way, and brushes right by him. (Behan then meekly stands aside while the Earps and Doc Holliday settle a score, then vainly tries to arrest them for disturbing the peace.)

There's little doubt Bush and the Americans were headed down the street for a shootout with Iraq up until now. Now Sheriff Kofi has said, "it's okay, I've disarmed them," does Bush push him out of the way, as well?

NB: As was just pointed out in the recent issue of Harper's, Wyatt Earp and friends' actions at the O.K. are open to broad interpretation. Only Western romanticism keeps Charlton Heston and company from castigating the poor man for trying to take the local populations' guns away. The O.K. corral shootout itself was, the entertaining telling in Tombstone notwithstanding, a pretty lopsided gunfight. And Doc Holliday was, without doubt, a psycho killer in his own right. In some interpretations, Sheriff Behan is something of a prototypical peacemaker, even, trying to keep the Earp and Clanton factions from blowing his town apart. In comparing Tombstone politics to the current Iraq-U.S. showdown, I hope I'm only seeing the parallels between two morally ambiguous circumstances, not passing judgment on either by extension.

NB#2: I really hate it that no one can spell the word "marshal" anymore. Listen, people: there is no second "L." So stop it.

Posted by BruceR at 12:24 AM

September 16, 2002


(See below.) Self-fancied right-wing contrarian George Jonas (otherwise best-known as ex-husband of the much more intelligent Barbara Amiel) continues to bang his drum slowly for the American pilots charged with wrongfully killing 4 Canadians.

Jonas' previous efforts in this area have been lauded, for no obvious reason, by Mark Steyn and others. So what if all the evidence is against him? Why stop now? Jonas' reasoning, if it can be called that: full details of ground activities in Afghanistan were regularly not being passed on to the pilots flying air patrols over the country. Hence the Americans are innocent:

"Why was it left up to pilots whizzing by at 20,000 feet to determine whether muzzle flashes on the ground were hostile or friendly?" I asked in June. Now we know why. It was left up to the pilots because a "cumbersome" document detailing ground force movements was "intentionally deleted" from their briefing.

But you see, it WASN'T left up to the pilots. The two-plane flight in question was the only air patrol over all of Afghanistan that night. They were actually seconded from Iraq no-fly duty. The tribunals found that they had 1 1:250,000 map of the whole country in the cockpit with them. Jonas apparently feels they should have been made to annotate that map with the location of every last friendly ground soldier IN ALL OF AFGHANISTAN that night, and that this would have saved the Canadians somehow. Has George ever seen a 1:250,000 map? Doubtful. At that scale you can communicate messages like "airfield here" or "stay away from this city". The precise location of a 12-person Canadian detachment, along with all the other CIA, Special Forces, Delta, SAS, and Afghan allied detachments as well (even if those could be known, which they clearly couldn't), would be one incomprehensible dot among hundreds, viewed through night vision goggles staring at your lap while trying to control a highly expensive and deadly piece of military hardware. This is George's solution to the friendly fire problem.

The pilots' bosses had a better way of identifying tracer fire: call the AWACS plane, who had better maps. AWACS could also call ground control, and check with their maps. The inquiries found that on average from identification of a possible target to communication back to the pilots using this procedure took an average of five minutes. In this particular case it took just 157 seconds. But as one can see from the transcript below, "Psycho" Schmidt only gave his controllers 90 seconds, before deciding to act regardless.

But, but, but, stammers Mr. Jonas. seizing upon and misinterpreting another sentence in the Canadian inquiry: the one that begins "Even though it is reasonable to believe that the [Canadian shooting] might have been perceived as enemy surface-to-air fire..." Aha, says George:

So apparently, here's Canada's advice to fighter pilots: When it is reasonable to believe that you're taking enemy surface-to-air fire, don't just respond but sit there... climb to a safe altitude and range to give the enemy a chance to escape."

No, George, that's not what the inquiry said (read the sentence above again). The inquiries concluded that it was reasonable to believe that the firing below was surface-to-air fire (it's fair to say that's one legitimate explanation for tracers in the night), but they also both concluded that it was completely unreasonable for either pilot TO FEEL THREATENED, given the simple fact they were flying at least 10,000 feet higher than any bullet fired from the ground could possibly reach. "A longer, more patient look from [the pilots'] safe altitude and range, combined with a good knowledge of the airspace and the threat in the area, should have confirmed that the event observed was neither a direct threat to their formation or enemy activity of a significant nature," continued that same sentence George quoted. The planes were ALREADY at "a safe altitude and range." There was no rush. Both inquiries concluded that the pilots THEMSELVES didn't feel the least bit threatened. Neither took any evasive action. Neither showed any sign of alarm. Schmidt's "self-defence" claim was a deliberate lie, told because that was the only way he was going to drop a bomb on what he thought he saw that night. It had no basis in reality.

"Canada's advice to fighter pilots" is that when you see unidentifiable ground fire that is of no conceivable threat to you or any other pilot in an fluid combat zone at night, mark it, report it and wait for orders. George would like to see these rules made more liberal, apparently: essentially giving pilots the freedom to bomb anything they think they see, regardless of the circumstances. As a ground soldier myself, that worries THE F*CK out of me. I'm not in the least bit upset that American air mission planners concluded that pilots splitting duty between Iraq and Afghanistan probably couldn't stay current on every last ground activity in both countries, all the time, and annotate their trusty little laminated cockpit maps with markers accordingly. That's what their air and ground controllers' job was, and by all accounts they did it well that night. I AM upset when soldiers given simple rules to follow don't follow them for some personal reason, people get killed as a direct result, and the whole thing is written off to some "systemic failure." (Note that Jonas, predictably, doesn't name the persons he thinks should be charged INSTEAD of Schmidt and Umbach.)

But you see, I don't think the risk to lives on the ground, or the overall mission, ever entered George's little head. He took a contrary position on this issue early on, and now he's determined to defend it... regardless of facts, regardless of logic.

Posted by BruceR at 08:06 AM



"Hey, Mohammed!"
"Yes, Ali?"
"See that missile-like object up there, the one that's headed towards us? How long would you say that was?"
"Oh, that's a long one. Got to be at least fifty feet, wouldn't you say?"
"Nah, even longer. I'd say fifty-two."
"Yeah, I'm sure you're right."

Posted by BruceR at 12:30 AM

September 14, 2002



(See below.) Piecing together the official Canadian and American reports into the bombing accident in Afghanistan allows us to get really close to the mindset of Maj. Harry "Psycho" Schmidt, the F-16 pilot responsible.

Psycho had been a former Top Gun instructor and regular force F-18 pilot, the archetypical "hot shot" pilot in every way. Tom Cruise's "Maverick" character and he might have got on real well. There is no doubt he was a superb pilot, completely in command of his aircraft. Back home, he had been working full-time for the Air National Guard as the weapons officer when the squadron was mobilized for a 90-day rotation to flesh out the no-fly zone missions over Iraq. It wasn't his first exposure to a combat zone, not by a long shot.

Along with others from his ANG squadron, he joined 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, commanded by Col. Nichols, a likable, affable commander, "one of the boys," who took a fairly lax attitude toward discipline. In the days leading up to the incident, Col. Nichols had displayed what could have been open contempt for the squadron's AWACS and ground controllers, who monitored the battlespace. Previously, when one of his other pilots had disobeyed a directive and flown out of permitted space, he told the pilot he knew he had done it intentionally, but was going to let it slide. (After the accident, Nichols would openly blame the controllers, saying it wasn't his pilots' fault that they didn't know the position of every last soldier in Afghanistan.)

The pilots couldn't be told the locations of all friendly units in Afghanistan. That was impossible. They knew there was no serious surface-to-air capability left to the Taliban. So they were basically told to follow 2 simple rules:

1) Stay above a set altitude floor at all times (the exact altitude is classified, but was probably betwen 15 and 20,000 feet), high enough that any conceivable ground fire would be ineffective.
2) If ground fire was observed, fix its precise location, report it, and wait for orders from the AWACS. Because AWACS generally erred on the side of caution, this generally meant doing nothing.

The squadron had flown over 30 days in theatre without engaging once. Their one and only opportunity had been a two-plane strike in Iraq 48 hours before, involving two other of the squadron's pilots: Psycho had helped to plan it. But the Iraqi target had moved: there was nothing to hit. Just before flying out, Psycho had been at a squadron pilots' meeting where some frustration had been expressed that his squadron was not seen to be doing well on this tour.

Psycho popped 2 dexadrine pills around the time he took off. It was enough to counter any fatigue, not enough to get him buzzed. Because he was also responsible for planning missions for the squadron, this was his first combat mission in over a week. He would be flying wingman for the squadron commander back home, Maj. Umbach, a civilian airline pilot who had flown weekends with the ANG for many years. Umbach, if well-liked, was not well respected as a pilot or leader. In the air, it was generally assumed he would defer to Psycho's greater experience.

Flying home after yet another uneventful mission, Psycho saw groundfire. He was a little disoriented: he had seen the initial tracer fire through vision-limiting Night Vision Goggles, then switched on his targeting apparatus to get a closer look: focussed on the magnified night-vision image in his cockpit, he didn't notice he was practically right over Kandahar. It was a clear night: he could see occasional tracer, coming from the area of an apparent crew served weapon. He didn't see anyone being fired at, or firing back, so he concluded it was aimed at aircraft: his aircraft. It didn't matter that there was no conceivable way that fire from the ground could have hurt him or Umbach. He saw it as a personal affront that anyone could be trying to shoot at him that night. It was time for he and the squadron to get some. He asked the AWACS controller for permission to engage. The AWACS (commanded, interestingly enough, by a Canadian Air Force major that night) predictably said no.

At that point, something inside Psycho snapped. He was convinced now he was seeing surface-to-air fire, so whatever was down there couldn't be Allied, so why couldn't he drop a bomb with impunity? If his assumptions were right, he could use a claim of "self-defence" to dodge Rule 2. He knew Col. Nichols would buy it, especially if some Taliban turned up dead, thanks to him. He knew Umbach wouldn't interfere, too. AWACS? What did they know? They weren't in the cockpit with him, after all.

The whole thought process took exactly four seconds. Then he started rolling in.

Posted by BruceR at 01:33 PM



People of a pro-war bent who persist in believing there's evidence of a Bin Laden-Iraq connection are rapidly entering something close to Justin Raimondo's Bizarro world: come on people, let it go now. Other than being two aspects of the Bush Doctrine, this war is not connected to the last war. This piece in the Opinion Journal is a nice summary of the conspiracy lunacy:

*Evidence Iraq was behind the Oklahoma City bombing: An Oklahoma City restaurant worker named Hussain al-Hussaini from Iraq looked something like an early police wanted poster. Um, that's it so far.

*Evidence Iraq was behind the first World Trade Center bombing: One known conspirator fled back to his home in Iraq and is still there. Another sometimes travelled on an Iraqi passport. A third had relatives in Iraq. Um, that's it there, too.

For some reason, the phrase "indicting a ham sandwich" comes to mind.

Posted by BruceR at 12:37 AM

September 13, 2002



(See below.) Also now online, the American report also has some interesting things to say about communications within the Air Force structure and the situation on the ground.

1) Piecing together the two reports, we now know what the infantry section Maj. "Psycho" Schmidt destroyed was armed with: 1 Carl Gustav 84 mm shoulder-fired recoilless rifle, with six rounds; 1 other man-portable AT weapon, probably an M72; 3 machine guns, probably 1 C6 7.62 mm MG, and 2 C9 5.56 mm light MGs. By the time the F-16s overflew the training range, the section was down to 3 rounds for the "Carl G" and a limited amount of ammo for two of the machineguns (the third, probably a C9, had run out). Basically, because you can't wear Night Vision Goggles while firing the telescopic sight on a Carl G, the Canadian drill for infantry engaging an armored vehicle at distance at night involves getting someone with a machine gun and NVGs to fire, and then you aim the Carl at where the tracers are impacting. This is what was being practiced. There was no illumination of any kind (my earlier surmise about paraflares was definitely wrong). The C6 was firing in short 3-4 round bursts with its remaining ammo, to bring the Carl G (manned by two of the Canadians who died) on target. It must have been the 7.62mm rounds (fired at a target 200m away, with ricochets possibly bouncing up to 300 m into the air at most) that attracted the F-16s, as the Carl G has no tracer visible from the air. Fired horizontally, the MG tracers burn out at 800m. (The F-16s were flying at 7,000m throughout.)

2) It was a clear night, and Kandahar's proximity was obvious, the American board reports: "The most significant source of cultural lighting would have been emitting from the detention center at Kandahar Airport, five nautical miles to the north of Tarnak Farms Range. This lighting consisted of 43 1500-watt floodlights spaced around the compound and aimed to light up all areas within the fence line. C-130 crews commented that these lights could be seen up to 70 miles away on a clear night."

3) Major Umbach, who was leading the two-plane flight, was not well thought-of as a squadron commander back home, either. "Colonel Murphy was hard-pressed to state what Major [Umbach]'s duties were as commander, short of generally commenting upon assignment of personnel to jobs within the squadron. All [Air National] Guard witnesses concurred, however, that real day-to-day authority in the squadron was exercised by the full-time operations officer, Major _____... [Umbach] was serving as the squadron commander, despite the fact that he had been passed over for promotion to the next higher rank and the belief by his superiors that his promotion potential was minimal, given that he had not completed professional military education required for officers of his grade." Back home at 170 Fighter Squadron, Major Umbach was part-time, while Major Schmidt was full-time, what the Canadians call a "Class B" reservist.

4) "Psycho" Schmidt was the pilot on uppers: "Major [Schmidt] ingested 10 mg of his prescribed GO pills approximately two hours prior to the incident." The American report concludes that this was not sufficient to be considered a factor in this incident, however.

5) The verdict is the same drawn by the Canadian inquiry, and by this site some months ago: reckless disregard, pure and simple: "The Coalition Investigation Board found by clear and convincing evidence that the cause of the friendly fire incident on 17 April 2002 was the failure of Major [Schmidt], the 170th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Weapons Officer and the incident flight wingman, to exercise appropriate flight discipline. This resulted in a violation of the rules of engagement and the inappropriate use of lethal force. Under the circumstances, Major [Schmidt] acted with reckless disregard for the foreseeable consequences of his actions, thereby endangering friendly forces in the Kandahar area. The Board also found by clear and convincing evidence that an additional cause of the incident was the failure of Major [Umbach], the 170th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Commander and the incident flight lead, to exercise appropriate in-flight leadership. This resulted in his wingman's violation of the rules of engagement and inappropriate use of lethal force. Under the circumstances, Major [Umbach] acted with reckless disregard for the foreseeable consequences of his actions, thereby endangering friendly forces in the Kandahar area."

It also nails Maj. Umbach's superior, Col. David Nichols, commander of 332 AEG, for showing open contempt for their AWACS controllers in the weeks leading up to the incident: "Colonel David C. Nichols openly expressed frustration with what he perceived as severe failings with regard to the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM Airspace Control Order, command and control processes, and flow of intelligence information to the units, but failed adequately to communicate these concerns to his superiors. His failure in his responsibility as a commander to notify his superiors of such serious concerns, coupled with his indiscrete sharing of these concerns with subordinates, bred a climate of mistrust and led to an operational environment within his unit inconsistent with the Commander's Intent for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM." Nichols has been recommended for administrative punishment.

Posted by BruceR at 04:40 PM


(See below) Minus deletions for operational security, the official radio transcript of the accidental bombing of Canadian troops is considerably longer than the (I thought already sufficiently damning) edited transcript released by Maj. Schmidt's lawyer. It includes traffic on both the flight (plane-to-plane) frequency between Majors Schmidt (callsign Coffee 52) and Umbach (Coffee 51), and the conversation with the local AWACS airspace control plane and their ground control centre [CAOC]. All times are Zulu (GMT). "SAFIRE" is surface-to-air fire:

Umbach: (21:22:38) Do you have good coordinate for a mark or do you need me to roll in?
Schmidt: (21:22:42) Euh, standby. I’ll mark it right now...
Schmidt: (21:22:47) I’m in from the south-east.
Umbach: (21:22:52) [information about target marking: classified]
CAOC: (21:23:22) [Classified]
Schmidt: (21:23:29) Euh, I suppose we might as well make a left hand turn and stay in [the area] until 51 is ready.
Schmidt: (21:23:34) Euh, Okay [AWACS]. This Coffee 52. I’ve got a TALLY on the vicinity. Euh, request permission to lay down some 20 mike-mike.
AWACS: (21:23:42) Standby.
Umbach: (21:23:45) Let’s just make sure that euh, that it’s not friendly, that’s all.
Umbach: (21:23:51) When you got a chance, put on the [air data link] if you got a good hack on it.
Schmidt: (21:24:39) I’m gonna flow down here to the south west.
Schmidt: (21:24:42) [AWACS] from Coffee 52. Do you want us to push to a different freq?
Umbach: (21:24:48) Check my sparkle, check my sparkle to see if it looks good.
Umbach: (21:24:55) Yeah, I’m contact your sparkle as well.
AWACS: (21:25:00) Coffee 51 [from AWACS] HOLD Fire, I need details on SAFIRE…(the rest of the sentence unconfirmed).
Schmidt: (21:25:04) Okay, I have got some men on the road and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us. I am rolling in in SELF-DEFENSE.
AWACS: (21:25:04) [AWACS] copies.
Umbach: (21:25:17) Check Master Arm, Laser Arm, and check you are not in mark.
Schmidt: (21:25:23) I’m in from the southwest.
Umbach: (21:25:37) Do you show him on a bridge? [He still hasn't seen what Schmidt is aiming at.]
Schmidt: (21:25:39) Bomb’s away, cranking left.
Umbach: (21:25:49) Check... [unrecognizable].
Schmidt: (21:25:52) I am fine.
Schmidt: (21:25:54) Laser’s on.
Schmidt: (21:26:01) Shack ! [Bomb impact]
Schmidt: (21:26:07) [classified]
AWACS: (21:26:11) Coffee 51, [this is AWACS]. Disengage. Friendlies Kandahar.
Schmidt: (21:26:16) Copy… euh. Disengaging south.
AWACS: (21:26:18) Coffee 51 [this is AWACS]. How copy?
Umbach: (21:26:21) Copy euh… Can you confirm that they were shooting at us? [Notes the transcript: "This question does not make sense; [Umbach] knows that [AWACS] is distant from the action and in any case has no sensors that would be able to corroborate his picture of the tactical situation." The only conclusion is that Umbach must still have been talking to Schmidt, but on the frequency which the AWACS could hear.]
AWACS: (21:26:31): Coffee 51, [this is AWACS]. You are cleared Self-Defence… [Classified] wants you to work south …[unrecognizable]…Kandahar. [The AWACS still doesn't know a bomb has been dropped at this point, as much of the pilots' earlier conversation was on the other frequency. The AWACS controller clearly thinks he's being asked to acknowledge the Self-Defence call.]
Umbach: (21:26:42) Okay. One is coming back left, steer 82.
AWACS: (21:26:44): Coffee 51, Scram south! [AWACS has just been notified of the disaster on the ground.]
Umbach: (21:26:47) Coffee 51 scramming.
AWACS: (21:27:15) Coffee 51 [this is AWACS]. I need coordinates when able and I to know if any rounds were fired.
Umbach: (21:27:23) Go ahead.
Schmidt: (21:27:25) Yeah, I had one bomb dropped… in the vicinity of euh, 31 24 N, point 78, 65 43 point 522. That’s an estimate euh, if you are our general vicinity. [Notes the transcript: "The coordinates repeated in this transmission correspond to a point approximately 5 to 6 miles away from the Tarnak Farm area."]
AWACS: (21:27:45) [Classified]
AWACS: (21:27:55) Coffee 51. Repeat east coordinate.
Schmidt: (21:28:01) Yeah. I am not so sure it’s that accurate. I don’t have an accurate coordinate right now. Do you want me to go back and get you one?
AWACS: (21:28:07) [This is AWACS], negative.
Umbach: (21:28:13) Let’s go back safe. [turn off weapons systems]
Schmidt: (21:28:26) Yeah! They were definitely shooting at you.
Schmidt: (21:28:29) It sure seemed that they were tracking around and everything, and euh, trying to lead.
Umbach: (21:28:35) Yeah. We had our lights on and it wasn’t helping I don’t think.
Schmidt: (21:28:42) I had a group of guys on a road around a gun and it did not looked organized like it would be our guys.
Umbach: (21:28:49) It seems like it was right on a bridge. That’s kind of where I was at. [Umbach clearly never saw the target... there was no bridge.]
Schmidt: (21:28:52) Yeah, not quite. (pause) I hope that was the right thing to do.
Umbach: (21:28:53) Me too…
AWACS: (21:29:02) Coffee 51.
Umbach: (21:29:03) Go ahead.
AWACS: (21:29:04) Yeah, I need type of bomb dropped. Result, and, type of SAFIRE.
Umbach: (21:29:10) That was a single GBU-12 dropped. It was a direct hit on euh the artillery piece that was firing. As far as the SAFIRE [...*] Coffee 52. 51, what do you have on that? [Umbach evidently never saw the supposed ground fire, either.]
Schmidt: (21:29:27) I’d say the same. It was euh, sort of continuous fire, and euh… it appeared to be leading us as we were flying by and then as we came back around.
AWACS: (21:29:46) Do you get a top altitude of the SAFIRE?
Umbach: (21:29:52) Negative. They were burning out before here.
Schmidt: (21:29:55) I would estimate the top at approximately 10,000 ft. And just to let you know. We split in azimuth, sending 51 to the south and 52 went to the northeast. And euh, one of the guns turned back around to the east firing at 52, euh, as well. [Tracer burnout, even if a few rounds richocheted up, could not in fact of been higher than 1,000 feet. Schmidt overstates by a factor of 10.]
AWACS: (21:30:15) [AWACS] copies. And if we could, could you give me a routh longitude.
Schmidt: (21:30:24) Yeah. I did not take a mark at the time.
AWACS: (21:30:29) [Classified]
Schmidt: (21:30:36) Was that definitely the airfield that was closer? [Schmidt realizes he just dropped a bomb right outside the air base.]
Umbach: (21:30:40) Yeah.
AWACS: (21:30:40) Coffee 51. Could you just repeat the coordinate that you passed earlier?
Umbach: (21:30:43) He wants the coordinate again.
Schmidt: (21:30:45) Yeah. I do not have the proper coordinate for that.
AWACS: (21:30:49) [classified]
Schmidt: (21:30:52) Would you estimate… I’d estimate about 3 miles to the south, maybe a 150…
AWACS: (21:31:00) Coffee 51, [classified]
Umbach: (21:31:05) Yeah [CAOC] euh… There was no [classified] effective in that area tonight as far as our brief was concerned? Do you concur?
AWACS: (21:31:12) [classified]
AWACS: (21:31:19) [classified]
Schmidt: (21:31:28) Yeah. Standby for the microscope huh?
Umbach: (21:31:30) Yeahhh.

Other than the obvious deletions, the big difference between this and Schmidt's lawyer's transcript released to the press is that it has Umbach, not Schmidt, doubting they were fired upon immediately afterwards. Given the subsequent conversation, this is either an honest or dishonest mistake in the earlier version.

*Additional security redaction not noted until much later. See Flit posts for June 28/04.

Posted by BruceR at 02:57 PM



Below is the Canadian Board of Inquiry's bill of particulars justifying their fixing the majority of blame for killing four Canadians outside Kandahar on Major "Psycho" Schmidt, released in the final report today. Schmidt (Coffee 52) was the wingman to Maj. Umbach (Coffee 51): together they formed Coffee 51 Flight. Some text is still classified:

1) Approximately 4 minutes prior to invoking self-defence, and prior to splitting the formation, Coffee 51 Flight informs [the AWACS] that they have ordnance onboard.
It is unusual for a fighter formation to make such a comment to the controlling authority given the fact that they were proceeding home out of the mission area. This comment is inappropriate and the reason for it is unclear.
2) Approximately 90 seconds prior to invoking self-defence [Schmidt] requests permission to employ his gun against the observed ground fire location.
Based on the [aircrew's orders] as well as numerous testimonies, such a request seems to contravene accepted logic and procedures. Combined with the previous call to [the AWACS] Schmidt's intentions are suspect. In addition neither of the aircraft in the formation had taken appropriate evasive action to counter the perceived threat.
3) Coffee 51 Flight’s description of the ground fire depicts significant rapid fire activity [classified] up towards their position at altitude.
Actual ground fire consisted of anti-tank rounds being fired individually every 30 to 45 seconds for a total of 6 rounds. This was supported by small arms fire which included tracers. All ground fire was directed in a level plane in a westerly direction towards a single target about 200 meters away.
4) Both pilots of Coffee 51 flight were highly qualified pilots with previous combat experience, which included seeing hostile surface to air fire.
As testified by a [American 101st Airborne] helicopter pilot flying in the local vicinity just prior to the incident, the few ricochets that did occur never exceeded an altitude of approximately 1000 feet. Given the unrestricted visibility and experience of these pilots, it is surprising that their perceptions (rate, direction and angle of ground fire) would be so inaccurate.
5) [Schmidt] not only remains within the immediate vicinity of the perceived threat, but increases the risk by descending lower to the threat while allowing his airspeed to occasionally decrease below optimal maneuvering speed.
It is quite surprising and contrary to both [orders] and accepted defensive reactions that [Schmidt] would willingly allow himself to be exposed to a higher threat envelope through such actions. While the altitude minimums published may have permitted him to get this low to accomplish a “mark”, better airmanship would have dictated remaining at altitude or performing the [laser] designation at a greater distance from the perceived threat.
6) Throughout the 4 minute period prior to invoking self-defence, neither pilot’s voice reflect concern for their own safety.
In reviewing their submitted statements as well as their post-flight testimony, it seems very clear that the perceived threat was both immediate and grave (perceived to be under ambush), that would have warranted concern in their voice, directive defensive calls and aggressive defensive maneuvers.
7) Coffee 51 Flight remains in the perceived threat area for an unusually long time, both before and after bomb release, without ever attempting to escape the perceived envelope.
It is particularly alarming that neither of these experienced fighter pilots ever initiated a defensive reaction after the bomb had impacted, but rather continued to circle within the perceived threat area until AWACS directed to “Scram South”.
8) [Schmidt] invokes self-defence... based on his assessment that [Umbach] was in imminent danger.
Such an assessment defies the documented facts. [Umbach] remains at a safe altitude and distance from the perceived threat throughout entire incident. Furthermore, [Umbach] is in visual contact with the ground fire, yet never demonstrates (through calls or maneuvers) that he feels personally threatened. Finally it is doubtful that [Schmidt] truly had continuous visual contact with his lead considering the relative position of [Umbach] to him (an average of [classified] feet above and over [classified] miles behind his aircraft) as well as the other tasks he was performing ([classified] visually monitoring ground fire and flying his aircraft).
9) [Schmidt] never provides a defensive directive call to his lead after deciding that self-defence of the formation was essential.
Despite repeated claims that the invoking of the self-defence ...was necessary to protect his lead, [Schmidt] never provided his lead with a directive call to take defensive action (ie: "break L/R") or provide description of the threat direction and range.
10) Both on [classified] and in recorded statements, [Schmidt] attests to the existence of an artillery piece firing towards them.
Once [Umbach] and [Schmidt] have focused their [targeting equipment] on the ground fire location, only a few men are ever seen and no attempt is made by either pilot to positively discern and identify the perceived artillery piece.
11) It is common knowledge amongst the F-16 pilots, reinforced by their mission briefs, that [Kandahar] was an active Coalition airfield with a large concentration of friendly troops. [Umbach] becomes aware of the formations proximity to [Kandahar] over 1 minute prior to the bomb release.
It is unusual that [Schmidt] would not have visually acquired the [Kandahar Airfield] given the significant artificial lighting at the camp on the runway. Given the close proximity of the ground fire to this significant feature should have given concern to the probable presence of “friendlies” (TF Rakassan [sp] personnel, [classified] and Afghanistan Military Forces) in and around the general area. Further complicating the issue was the lingering concern amongst the F-16 pilots about the uncertain location of “friendlies” in Afghanistan.
12) Throughout the period prior to and immediately after the bomb release [Umbach] does not take positive control of the formations actions.
Not only is [Umbach] the flight lead for the mission, he is also the Commanding Officer of the 170th Fighter Squadron. Despite the extended period of exposure to the perceived threat, the calls and maneuvers by his wingman, and his knowledge of their position relative to [Kandahar], [Umbach] fails to take control of the situation. Given his position throughout the incident, in reference to the perceived threat and [Schmidt], he should have either directed the formation away from the threat or queried [Schmidt's] maneuvering into the higher threat envelope.
13) 17 seconds after the bomb impacts, [Umbach] queries [the AWACS] as to whether the perceived ground threat was “shooting at us?”
It is extremely unusual that a fighter aircraft would make such a request of an AWACS that was over [classified] miles away from the scene of the incident, and could not have possibly seen the ground fire. Furthermore, given the fact that [Schmidt] was so convinced that his lead was being fired at that he invoked self-defence.., this request demonstrates a significant difference in appreciation of the perceived threat between the two F-16 pilots, and is inconsistent with [Umbach's] post flight statements.

Another interesting fact: one of the two pilots (which one is unidentified) tested positive for amphetamines that night. Anyone still believe these guys are being scapegoated?

Posted by BruceR at 01:54 PM



I personally have no problem with last night's Bush speech, which I agree with Josh Marshall marks a return to a pragmatic foreign policy by the American president. America, Bush by implication agreed, still has to meet the standard moral obligation to the rest of the world of providing an acceptable casus belli before proceeding to war: in this case, Iraqi defiance of the UN. I do believe its delivery impacts on my earlier estimate of the probability of an invasion and Iraqi overthrow actually occurring, although I can't see a way logistically that a main force battle could be accomplished until at least mid-December, well after the Congressionals (just based on a subjective and entirely back-of-the-envelope junior log officer's analysis of ship sailing times and the like). An air or special forces campaign could, of course, come with a shorter fuze.

The interesting omission by Bush, however, was any mention of the evidence of Iraqi-Al Qaeda collusion we'd been promised. Really, other than the common interest in killing Kurds that Goldberg identified in the New Yorker, they never had one. So the Atta-in-Prague story is almost certainly a red herring now, and this new war is, in any logical sense, not the same war as the one in Afghanistan (and possibly not even really part of the "War on Terrorism", whatever that was ever meant to mean, although still falling well within the confines of the "Bush Doctrine").

Posted by BruceR at 12:58 PM



The American military tribunal looking into the Canadian "friendly fire" deaths at Kandahar has concurred with the Canadian board of inquiry that misconduct by the F-16 pilots was the proximate cause, and recommends charging Maj. Harry "Psycho" Schmidt with involuntary manslaughter, and his senior commander and wingman with aiding and abetting.

"The [inquiry] found the cause of the friendly fire incident to be the failure of the two pilots to exercise appropriate flight discipline, which resulted in a violation of the rules of engagement and an inappropriate use of lethal force."

Glad to see the wheels of justice are still turning. As I have pointed out again and again and again, by any rational analysis, the case for willful pilot negligence on Schmidt's part, and willful abdication of responsibility on the part of his wingman was indisputable months ago.

UPDATE: My friend Patrick C. points out that our defence department has now released the full text of its final report on the incident. (Presumably the conclusion of the American investigation now allows them to do so: previously only the executive summary had been made public.) Still processing...

Posted by BruceR at 10:37 AM

September 11, 2002



One reactor in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, for instance, is protected by only a rusted, padlocked metal gate. It has been missing a fuel rod since the 1980s, when the director evidently lent out his key ring without realizing the reactor key was on it. (When recently questioned on the matter by a Western reporter, the director feigned deafness.)

Scary but accurate assessment of the likelihood of nuclear terrorism, and what isn't being done about it, by TNR's Michael Crowley.

Posted by BruceR at 12:16 PM



When he was out on the pile a year ago, trying to pull Officer Jimeno free, [police officer Scott] Strauss shouted orders to his volunteer helpers—"Medic, I need air," or "Marine, get me some water." At one point, in the middle of this exhausting work, Strauss, asked if he could call them by their names to facilitate the process. The medic said he was "Chuck." [Ex-marine Dave] Karnes said: "You can call me 'staff sergeant.' "

"That's three syllables!" said Strauss, who needed every bit of energy and every second of time. "Isn't there something shorter?"

Karnes replied: "You can call me 'staff sergeant.' "

The culminating anecdote in a great little Sept. 11 story about a true soldier whose actions needed no explaining, at least to me anyway.

Posted by BruceR at 12:10 PM



Robert Wright's plan for fighting terrorism, which he has released in series format for a week and a half, culminating in today's masterpiece, is, I feel, almost beyond logical challenge. It's how I'd imagine Hari Seldon would have analysed the problem. Truly brilliant: sign me up.

Posted by BruceR at 12:03 PM



Went down last night to stand with the pro-free speech protesters outside the Netanyahu gig in Toronto last night. Everything was entirely civil and well controlled... excellent job by the police, I thought... after I heard he was inside and speaking, I went home. Lot of flags and chanting... a few random observations... the pro-Israeli protesters were more singers than chanters, which was nice... until their megaphone broke down, a factor which also may have contributed to my exit... they were also better disciplined, taking down a poster that said "Palestinianism = Naziism," because they considered it inappropriate, or inflammatory I suppose... by contrast, at least a couple pro-Palestinian posters made Jew-Nazi comparisons that certainly would have been offensive to, say, a Holocaust survivor, but were left standing... the pro-Palestinian protest, which also included some Jewish members, was definitely the younger of the two crowds... the pro-Palestinian side, not to put too fine a point on it, definitely had the majority of the stunningly attractive women present. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

All and all, however, an excellent example of righteous, legal, and effective political protest by both sides, and a credit to that good old Canadian ideal of tolerance.

Posted by BruceR at 10:20 AM

September 09, 2002



Montreal's Concordia University submitted to mob rule today, cancelling a speech by Bibi Netanyahu due to threats of violence and vandalism.

"He's a violent man, [said a pro-Palestinian protester] This man is a war criminal."

Now, personally I think Netanyahu's a thug and a bit of a charlatan, but he had a clear legal right to speak his piece. This is an atrocity. Canada's commitment to tolerance and free speech -- on a university campus no less -- apparently stops when the hooligans start throwing chairs. In Canada, the old proverb might best be rephrased as, "my right to speak my piece ends when YOUR fist hits MY nose."

UPDATE: Anyone from the Toronto area who's interested should know that the same pro-Palestinian group is also planning to shut down his speech in that city tomorrow (Sept. 10) 6:30 p.m. at 5040 Yonge Street (at Sheppard). Just in case you felt like dropping by...

UPDATE #2: Here's the triumphant newspiece from the pro-Palestinian side, written by my former colleague and anti-American activist Jaggi Singh:

Several individuals tried to push through the riot police. Police responded with shield and baton blows. Pro-Israeli protesters urged the police to react, cheering whenever the police hit pro-Palestinian protesters. At one point, the force of people banging windows outdoors smashed the glass. At least two demonstrators, both Palestinian activists, had to be carried back up the escalators due to injuries from baton blows. Various demonstrators, who were outraged, continued to push and throw projectiles at the police. The police used tear gas and pepper spray, which dispersed the crowd up the escalator, while outside, another large window broke. As demonstrators retreated, several threw chairs and other large items at the police in the lobby below.

Posted by BruceR at 06:20 PM

UM, MORE DECAF? Bill Quick


Bill Quick loses his mind over yet another studiously fair piece of reporting from the Christian Science Monitor, for no obvious reason. The CSM was probably the best source for knowing what was really going on in Afghanistan last year... and there's nothing in today's piece that hasn't been confirmed elsewhere and established for years. But Quick cites it as his sole evidence that the CSM has been "driven insane" by Bush-hatred and is now a "leftist propaganda rag" whose existence threatens American safety. This is what we in the blogging profession call "going batshit."

Posted by BruceR at 02:13 PM



This story is as keen an assessment of Canada's ability to contribute to any Iraq venture as it is possible to write. If anyone from the Canadian government or elsewhere says anything different, they're lying to you.

Posted by BruceR at 11:24 AM



The man suspected by the government (for little obvious reason) of being behind the anthrax attacks grew up in Mattoon, Illinois. Mattoon, interestingly enough, is best known as the locus for one of the better-documented proven attacks of mass hysteria, when in 1944 dozens of citizens, alarmed by stories of German plans to use chemical weapons on the U.S., became convinced Mattoon had been gassed by a local saboteur. See this month's Skeptical Inquirer (not online), where the case history is written up as "The 'Mad Gasser' of Mattoon." How's that for a coincidence, huh?

Posted by BruceR at 10:04 AM

September 08, 2002



The Sunday edition of Canada's largest newspaper is a remarkably consistent howl of outrage today... against the United States. It really is a remarkable bit of advocacy journalism... the thesis could be described as "everything bad that has happened since and including Sept. 11 is America's fault, because they acted badly when they were attacked."

I would have thought at least some criticism of the Islamofascist terrorists for throwing the world into an uproar might have been necessary, if only to give the illusion of balance, but no.

Among the sentiments expressed, in long-essay format:

*"This is still a one-superpower world and no terrorist outfit has so far succeeded in changing that," Oakland Ross writes, clearly disappointedly. "As America pushes blindly ahead with its war on terrorism it may have missed a golden opportunity to really change the world," reads the subtitle. The piece blames the U.S. for not doing more in the last year to fight AIDS, among other things, instead of terrorism, while openly hoping that China may be in a position to challenge the U.S. for world dominance by 2050.

*"The Palestinian side believes it is fighting a war against an illegitimate occupation, but the American government perceives it as terrorism," writes Sandro Contenta, who is at a loss to understand why. To Contenta, Sept. 11 is only the handy excuse for the Israeli government to "reoccupy" the Occupied Territories (um... okay), "with American backing and American weapons." Palestinians dancing in the streets on Sept. 11 are never mentioned. A sidebar at the bottom refers to Osama Bin Laden as the "prime suspect" in the Sept. 11 bombing. Suspect? Contenta also writes that Islamofascists are really frustrated by the existing "infidel lackey" governments of Saudi Arabia, etc., not out of a "clash of civilizations," but because they won't go to war for the Palestinians against Israel (and presumably now America). Well... that's okay then.

*Lewis Lapham writes that America has even screwed up next week's ceremonies of remembrance, which will be characterized by "bleached and antiseptic pathos... inoculations against the disease of thought." America "possesses the power to poison the earth any yet possesses neither the desire nor the courage to know itself."

*William Walker, in a piece on America as the new Rome, approvingly quotes Michael Hersh. "Every great empire in history, no matter how enduring, has fallen eventually to its own hubris, having built up a tide of resentment among its subjects or enemies. The United States is doing that already by veering too far down the path of unilateralism," Hirsh writes, hopefully. America has "no real commitment to anything enduring except American security," he adds. Imagine that! Walker also quotes Donald Snow approvingly as saying an invasion of Iraq would be "naked aggression." "We signed the United Nations Charter to exclude that sort of thing." The accompanying sidebar makes fun of Americans' geographical illiteracy.

*Michele Landsberg writes of how Afghan women still live in misogyny, which makes the whole war on terrorism a failure: "Women's liberation has had many cynical and insencere allies, but George and Laura Bush must trump them all."

*Lynda Hurst writes how America's press has been censored and suppressed since Sept. 11. "Serious journalists who sought a less myopic perspective on the war were handicapped from the start by the emergence of patriotism into the picture that's never entirely been excised." Patriotism? Didn't we get rid of that with the Nazis? Serious coverage of Guantanamo bay and the "human rights violations of hundreds of detained Muslims, many of them U.S. citizens" is not being written because "it wouldn't be welcomed by the public." Neither is the "multi-layered backdrop" to the Sept. 11 attacks. "There has been less access to information in this war than all others before," she writes, apparently in total ignorance of her subject matter. "Americans expect the news to reflect their own point of view." Those silly Americans! Fortunately, she adds, the BBC World News and the Canadian CBC still make a "valiant effort to give the other side of the story."

*The paper's daily editorial sympathizes with Toronto's Muslim community, which suffered through having a Mississauga learning centre's windows smashed by vandals last Sept. 15 for some reason. Toronto has seen a "surge in hate crimes" in the last year, it writes, without giving evidence, and criticizes non-Muslim Canadians for being "small minded... rock throwing vandals." The apprehension in Afghanistan, revealed last week, of a 15 year-old Torontonian for shooting a U.S. Special Forces sergeant is, curiously, not mentioned.

*Linda McQuaig writes that America, unlike Canada, no longer believes in "the rule of law" because it has intervened on Exxon Mobil's side in a U.S. lawsuit by oppressed Indonesian villagers. "I can think of few better ideas, both in terms of making the world a safer place and freeing up resources for the world's many urgent problems," than if the United States were to cut its military spending, she adds.

It goes on... pages and pages it goes on... all without a single criticism of anyone but the United States (and anyone in Canada with similar views). I encourage everyone to pick up a copy: it may mark the point where Canada's ruling journalistic elite has finally parted ways with reality.

UPDATE: Due to really bad rushed hyperlinking in the first line of this, I initially confused a lot of people, including the "looks great in hats" Matt Welch, about what paper I was referring to, and led some to believe I was trying to avoid comparisons between what I said and what the Toronto Star actually ran. My apologies to all, especially Matt. I think it's also fair to say that people looking at any individual article are not going to see the overall impact that page after page in the printed newspaper has, without interruption. The combination of all those articles, in close proximity to one another, in the Sunday paper before Sept. 11, was no more or less an attack on America than Jean Chretien's ill-advised remarks three days later. In both cases, if they meant to do it, they were delusional: if they didn't, they were dopey.

Posted by BruceR at 10:16 AM

September 06, 2002



Couple points on Steve Den Beste's prognosis on Iraq's options right now from today:

*The Red Team commanded by Van Riper in Exercise Millennium Challenge 02 was actually playing the role of Iran, not Iraq, as was pointed out on this website a month ago;

*Den Beste says the SCUDs, because they don't have "active navigation," aren't really guided missiles. That'll no doubt come as a surprise to those in America's landbased nuclear deterrent forces, which have always relied on inertial guidance systems considerably more sophisticated than the SCUD's, but using essentially the same concept (the navy's Trident missiles, by contrast, supplement the IG with a star-shot). To Den Beste, Minuteman and MX crews are really just "rocket powered artillery"... as an ex-gunner, I'd have to say that's a little oversimplified..

*Den Beste says the majority of American casualties in the Gulf War were due to SCUDs. For the record: total American casualties, 148 killed, 458 wounded; total American casualties due to the one fatal SCUD attack, 28 killed, 90 wounded. Largest actual cause of American fatalities in action: friendly fire (35).

What would I do if I was Saddam? Continue a diplomatic strategy, as Den Beste suggests, sure, but he overlooks the potential of covert action to destabilize other volatile areas, particularly Palestine, Kashmir or even Afghanistan, to throw any American timetable off track. I actually think that's the two-fold strategy he's been following all year... being vewy vewy quiet on the world stage, while dramatically increasing the flow of Iraqi oil funds to Palestinian radicals (largely through millions in gratuities to suicide bombers' families), with the expectation an Israel in flames would keep the Americans busy.

Posted by BruceR at 10:19 PM



Unnoticed by American press or bloggers today (no mention yet by Reynolds, Quick, Sullivan, or Johnson, and nothing on the front pages of the WashPost or the NY Times), Afghanistan continues its slow-motion collapse back into anarchy. Unfortunately, it's probably inevitable... without an injection of American "nation-building," or at least some articulation of real political reform (the current plan to basically recreate the way things were before the Soviets came, with kings and Loya Jirgas, has much to discredit it), decline and collapse is a matter of time. Al Qaeda or its successors could well have their bases back this decade. Poor Hamid Karzai, who now officially can be said to be kept alive by his Special Forces bodyguards alone, is a man with a target on his forehead so long as he stays in the 'Stan.

The absence of comment by the bloggers, in a continuing torrent of Iraq rhetoric, is particularly notable. In their minds, they've already left Afghanistan, and are on to the next war. Omar's definitely still there, Bin Laden likely is, but it doesn't matter: time to move on. We have to remember that the Marshall Plan was something of an exception... historically, American military interventions abroad only rarely produce any long-term improvements in their wake for the people who've been invaded.

Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, urges his readers once again to read the Jeffrey Goldberg piece on Iraqi Kurdistan, without even beginning to grasp its nettle of a message... that the Kurds are ready and able to be a pro-Western state now, and neither keeping Hussein in power, nor a simple "regime change" for another minority Sunni autocrat is ever going to satisfy or protect them:

The Kurdish regional government, to be sure, is not a Vermont town meeting. The leaders of the two parties, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, are safe in their jobs. But there is a free press here, and separation of mosque and state, and schools are being built and pensions are being paid. In Erbil and in Sulaimaniya, the Kurds have built playgrounds on the ruins of Iraqi Army torture centers. "If America is indeed looking for Muslims who are eager to become democratic and are eager to counter the effects of Islamic fundamentalism, then it should be looking here," Salih said.

Read it in the context of Robert Wright's increasingly interesting new series in Slate, where he argues now, I believe, for America to have a more principled and moral foreign policy abroad, to win over peoples instead of dealing with rulers. The same short sighted defensive moves that will have led to temporary peace in Afghanistan may also produce a temporary peace in Iraq... but the long-term vision that could produce real non-autocratic, pacific countries in the Middle East, is sorely lacking.

You want "good instability"? You want to bring the Arab World into the 21st century? Recognize Kurdistan.

Posted by BruceR at 12:36 PM

September 05, 2002



The latest film version of A.E.W. Mason's The Four Feathers (1902) opens later this month... I'm certainly looking forward to how, in this politically correct era, they portray the hopelessly onesided Battle of Omdurman that it centers on, where, despite being totally tactically surprised on the second morning, the Anglo-Egyptian army under "Sirdar" Kitchener racked up a kill ratio of 11,000 Dervishes to only 48 of his own men (out of some 26,000, mostly Egyptian troops). It's one of the great colonialist slaughters of history, pitting modern rifles and artillery against closely ranked suicidal natives with spears: in the history books its mostly remembered for the substantially lower number of rounds fired per enemy casualty than... well, just about any other battle ever. Even conservative estimates agree that over 50 per cent of all the Dervishes engaged were killed or wounded, and some say it was closer to 90, one of the highest relative loss rates ever recorded... only about 5,000 were captured out of an army of more than 50,000 Muslims.

Only one Egyptian regiment and one British cavalry unit got to hand to hand fighting: for everyone else, not a single Dervish got closer than about 100 yards, Winston Churchill, a war correspondent at the time, reported. Try and throw some Hollywood suspense into that outcome, eh, what? As Churchill put it:

Thus ended the Battle of Omdurman---the most signal triumph ever gained by the arms of science over barbarians. Within the space of five hours the strongest and best-armed savage army yet arrayed against a modern European Power had been destroyed and dispersed, with hardly any difficulty, comparatively small risk, and insignificant loss to the victors.

Warning: In the next couple weeks as the run up to opening night continues, you'll no doubt see comparisons of the Mahdi and Khalifa to Bin Laden and Omar, Kitchener to Rumsfeld, etc., etc. The parallels of two wars, separated by a century, between the dominant Western power of the day and a extremist Muslim nation state, in which a huge technological "delta" and the savvy use of native allies, stiffened by a few white troops, guaranteed massive kill ratios for the English-speakers, are undeniable and unavoidable. I'm always more interested in the differences than the similarities, though: and the difference I'd see is that Britain invested a lot more in rebuilding Sudan than the U.S. has in Afghanistan, at least thus far.

Posted by BruceR at 12:34 PM

September 04, 2002

UM, WHAT? Steven den Beste


Steven den Beste is on again about the Landmine Treaty. He feels that because it bans anti-personnel mines and not anti-tank mines, it is a morally perverse treaty that the U.S. is right to reject. He has compared it in the past to a small arms ban on single shot rifles, but not machineguns:

An anti-vehicle mine is one which could plausibly damage a vehicle if used properly. About the only practical difference is that anti-vehicle mines are going to be more powerful. Such mines can also be set off by infantry, only when that happens the detonation will nearly always kill the poor bastard, and wound his fellows in a wide area around. But anything an anti-personnel mine can do, anti-vehicle mines can also do. It's just that they'll cost more -- and be more deadly.

The problem is in the first sentence. An anti-vehicle mine isn't one that damages a vehicle... it's one that is set to only be triggered by an object of vehicular size. Properly installed, soldiers should be able to walk right over pure anti-tank mine obstacles without triggering their weight-sensitive triggers... that's kind of the point, to save the actual tank-killing explosions for the actual tanks (otherwise, if you were heartless, you could just have your tanks follow your soldiers in battle and let the soldiers blow up the mines for you.) As Den Beste points out, the landmine ban specifically only refers to mines "designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person." Mines designed to be exploded only by multi-ton vehicles are exempt.

The Canadian government has bought into the belief, and rightly so, that a world with only anti-tank mines, as outlined by the ban, would be the safest possible world. Think about it: you could still lay thick belts, in Korea or wherever, to slow and choke an enemy's massive armoured advance if you wanted... but you'd have no more stories of children losing arms by going out to play in the fields (unless, one supposes, they were driving the family tractor at the time). If all the world's armies replaced all their AP mines with an equivalent number of AT mines tomorrow, the number of indiscriminate civilian casualties due to wars ongoing, and future, would drop precipitately, not increase as Den Beste suggests

You can debate, I agree, whether the treaty in question is enforceable, or is really anything more than lip service without an aggressive demining and enforcement regime, or that anti-personnel mines with adequate safety mechanisms, like remote on/off switches or timed self-destruct capability, should also be exempt... but most current antipersonnel mines are so indiscriminate, so devastating to countries trying to recover from war, that any moral suasion to discontinue their use is obviously worth the paper it's printed on. As with chemical weapons over the last 80-odd years, America's concern here has always had more to do with military pragmatism than any logic or morality.

Posted by BruceR at 08:32 PM



I don't think Charles Johnson is at all racist, or unfair to Muslims. I think a significant portion of his posters are Cro-Magnons, and Charles has failed to exert proper control over his Comments boards to keep them under control. But that just makes him a bad web moderator, not a bad person: his own takes on events continue to show a remarkable mix of fairness and a true passion for justice.

That said, I can't read the Comments on his site anymore. Taken in large amounts, they make you feel dirty inside. And their presence is steadily undermining and ruining the moral clarity of a once-great weblog.

Posted by BruceR at 03:02 PM

WOW, THAT'S STUPID Greece outlaws


Greece outlaws all computer games. My dreams of an age of computer game Prohibition, complete with game-runners, corrupt anti-gaming cops and "mouse-easies" where the Everquest flows 'til dawn may yet come true...

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM



Slate drives another nail in the coffin of the "Atta in Prague" story. However much I might wish it were true, it almost certainly is not.

Posted by BruceR at 02:16 PM

September 03, 2002



Is Gregg Easterbrook's piece on the year-long stall on anti-SUV legislation.

Posted by BruceR at 04:46 PM



Bush never addresses the moral hypocrisy underlying America's demand for democracy in Palestine and Iraq and our unwillingness to nudge the Saudis toward even minimal freedoms. Yet that hypocrisy is undermining the war on terrorism and the likely campaign against Iraq. The liberal secularists in the Muslim world who hate bin Laden and Saddam likely also hate Crown Prince Abdullah and increasingly hate Musharraf--and for many of the same good reasons.

-- TNR editor Peter Beinart, this week (NB: Free login access required)

Posted by BruceR at 04:39 PM