December 31, 2002



Tom R. in Flitters draws our attention to a new paper on Canadian defence policy problems, by University of Windsor professor Andrew ("No, I don't control the universe") Richter. He's right... it is very good, and almost entirely inarguable in its conclusions.

The thesis in a nutshell: Canadian defence spending will never increase now. The army is incapable of anything more than peacekeeping and the air force is entirely useless. The navy is still internationally respectable, largely through luck. The future lies in shutting down the non-effective services to keep the navy in the realm of respectability in the long-term, as it's the only service that gets us any respect abroad now, or is likely to in future.

Two problems: Richter dramatically understates the serious impact the lack of maritime helicopters has on the effectiveness of Canadian surface ships. A modern frigate can't fight on its own without helicopters... Canadian surface combatants are incapable of most combat activities outside of an American or allied air umbrella, and are likely to remain so indefinitely. The navy's in the hurt locker along with everyone else, it seems, although the road to get them out (buy helicopters!) is fairly clear, simple, and relatively inexpensive.

Second, he makes no mention of Canada's very low military participation rates compared to other Western countries. It is the lack of any tradition of military service in our general population opinion leaders, more than anything else, that produced the budgetary devastation of the Chretien 90s in the first place. To repurpose the forces (say, around an all-Navy approach as he suggests) without offering interested Canadians some means of contributing and participating in larger numbers than now will only guarantee a recurrence the next time hard budget choices need be made, years or decades down the road. Some allowance must be made for extending military understanding to a broader franchise... a task for which the naval reserve, with its equipment and geographical limitations, is simply not as well suited as the army reserve.

The answer most sensible people seem headed toward is a forces comprising a fighting, American-friendly navy, an army focussed on low- and medium- level operations such as peacekeeping, relief, and "Connecting with Canadians" through its reserves, and an air force centred on logistical and support tasks and domestic airway patrol. That's what Canadians can have for what they spend. The leadership by and large agrees, and is taking the forces there as fast as they can without alarming anyone overmuch. The trouble now is securing the transitional funding (for things like helicopters for the navy, or a reserve restructure, or new medium lift for the air force) to get us from here to there. And that's certainly not going to come in '03.

Posted by BruceR at 12:49 AM

December 30, 2002



Inspired by an insipid sideswipe at Tolkien, no longer online. 'Sokay, you'll get the gist as you read.

I'll only add this: if mythographers restrict themselves solely to preserving the artefacts of the oral tradition, it follows they can only become progressively more irrelevant as human society, even human nature as we know it diverges from what it was in the protohistoric era those myths germinated in. I mentioned Campbell in the post below, who started people thinking about how hero-myths, with their emphases on inheritable leadership ability and rising (or falling to) one's genetically appointed station, were bolsters for a time of priest-king absolute rulers. (Brin and others have pointed out how incongruous it is to see them return in bad modern fantasy offerings like Star Wars.)

If the defenders of unspoiled myth like "ACD" have their way, then myth as myth is frozen, in a time we no longer know. It's not just arguing the existence or lack thereof of an open question, as one writer low in the thread suggests, about which of our modern literary works will rise to the status of myth-equivalence a few centuries on... it is an assertion that nothing that has been written since the printed page took hold, or ever will be, can EVER rise to that status. Is humanity to rise to ever-increasing dominance of the planet, the human body and brain, possibly someday even the distant stars, without any revision of the mythos? Can it still influence us all as much if there isn't one?

Tolkien wanted to preserve the old myths, perhaps more than anyone. Lord of the Rings (or more properly, the Silmarillion, from which it derived) was an attempt to re-envision them for modern palatability. He saw rightly that a society that could not bridge the distance to its founding mythos could easily become lost in a relativist void; he tried to build something like a bridge back... devoted to the spirit and intent of the myth-tellers of the pre-literary Anglo-Saxony he had studied his entire life. The best of the myth revisionists are intent on homage: T.H. White and Wagner both tried something similar, in a less Oxbridgy fashion. C.S. Lewis tried to bridge back to Christianity in a similar fashion, with his Narnia tales.

An honest critique of Tolkien from the mythographer's point of view would acknowledge the writer's intent, not too different from their own, and judge its success on those merits, for better or for worse. Did Tolkien bring the spirit of the Eddas and Beowulf into lives which otherwise would not have known them at all, or does its success merely overwrite them, like overwriting a computer hard drive, with something less lasting and true? What effect did Tolkien's long struggle with the imperatives of commercial success have on his original, high-minded vision? Did the events in the times he wrote in, the 1940s in Britain, divert his purpose too much? Is the tale he constructed, with that great walking, talking, Campbellian hero-king Aragorn walking right through the middle of it (not to mention the obsequious manservant Sam), the tale that should even be told, however well, in this more egalitarian epoch?

Those would be questions I, personally, value reading the well-written insights of any educated classicist on. But this particular drive-by shooting of a column, which lumps in Tolkien's work, with its novel and non-commercial original purpose, with those of all his imitators no matter how poor or derivative, then dismisses the lot as unsatisfactory compared with the wellspring of original myth, and neglects the author's intent in writing entirely, is, sadly, without value... as are the beside-the-point insults hurled by its writer's defender, ACD in that thread.

(Their line of argument, it should also go without saying, is entirely negative criticism. If one assumes greater knowledge of our myth-roots is valuable, which I would concede... what force will divert the average person's mind to their contemplation? The choice is not between Tolkien and Beowulf... Beowulf doesn't have a movie out. In the theatres this week, the dividing line is between the myth-inspired Middle Earth and the other pop entertainments it competes with for public attention. Given that the author's original book is deeply rooted in an Old English view of the world, and whatever your other choice of movies tomorrow night certainly is not, and given the movie's remarkable truth, given the medium, to the author's vision, one would have thought the majority of mythographers would have seen its recent success as, if not the least bothersome mass culture phenomenon of our time, at least not a huge threat to their own work, taken by itself, at least.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:23 AM



Hope everyone had a great Christmas, and is looking forward to a great Tuesday night. In case you were wondering, here's what you missed in the life of Flit:

*I moved. Anyone who actually knows the virtual me and wants to drop by the coolest house in North York for a drink, write me and I'll send that new address.

*Used the excuse of packing and unpacking to overhaul the PC while I was at it. Believe me... it's sweet.

*Saw The Two Towers for the first (but not the last) time, as well as the extended director's cut of the first LoTR movie. On the latter, I honestly can't say which I prefer... on the former, it truly is everything I had hoped for. You know, you think reading all that Joseph Campbell would have immunized me to archetypal hero myths, but sure enough, watching the years fall off Theoden-king's face, I was a basket case again... nearly as bad as seeing Hobbiton for the first time a year ago...

In terms of conception and scope, of truth to both his art and Tolkien's, one simply cannot complain of director Peter Jackson's vision. (Roger Ebert's bitch, which I've seen and heard several times now, that Jackson has lost Tolkien's "whimsy" in the course of making an action movie, only shows the rotund movie critic's own ignorance of the literary material.) The quibbles that remain are those one would have found, oh, in a college dorm one night in the late 80s, arguing what Tolkien really meant by this or that paragraph, differences in interpretation from one aficionado to another... I may disagree with the emphasis in places, but I can see how Jackson and Co's head got to where it is at easily enough. (The classic example being the unsubtle treatment of Saruman, mentioned here before.) Blessed with the same skill, the team, the talent and the budget, I personally might have taken a somewhat divergent path, but I'd still be going to the same place. Both paths are true.

*The disappointment of the holidays thus far has been Bioware's Neverwinter Nights, which I finally purchased. I'm sure the actual role-playing adventure on the computer disc is nice enough, but I've lots of RPGs still to finish already. I was looking forward for, oh, at least the last two years, to the Aurora module-creation toolset, and it's a big disappointment... largely because of incompatibilities with ATI video cards. In short, the toolset requires opening up of multiple windows in OpenGL, and that can lock Radeon-equipped computers right up. There's various tweaks one can attempt, and a few I might try that I haven't seen on the websites anywhere yet, so I haven't fully given up.

Two things I note from the experience, however. Three or four years ago, I'd have been perfectly happy to lock myself in a room for a week until I'd figured out the best solution to get Aurora up and running. Maybe I'm getting old, but I simply don't have the time or inclination to fix serious inherent problems with out-of-the-box software myself anymore. If it doesn't work after reasonable tweaking now, hey, well, I got ripped for $80 for a crap product then. Life's too short. The other thing that amuses me? That Bioware, Canada's best computer games company, couldn't design a product that was friendly to ATI, one of the largest Canadian computer parts companies and the only realistic competitor for that tortious NVidia monster south of the border. (Of course, it should go without saying that working in OpenGL in the first place, and courting the wrath of the demon Microsoft itself by doing so (Practically MS DirectX standard's only competition left is OpenGL), may have had something to do with it, too.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 AM

December 23, 2002



At least 59 people with no connections to the Taliban or Al Qaeda have spent the last year in prison in Guantanamo, apparently -- nearly 10 per cent of those being held. What's notable is that American intelligence officers in Afghanistan said they were "farmers" BEFORE they got on the plane and shipped off to Cuba.

The sources blamed flawed screening guidelines, policies that made it near impossible to take prisoners off Guantanamo flight manifests and a pervasive fear of letting a valuable prisoner go free by mistake.

Posted by BruceR at 11:38 AM

December 19, 2002



In the latest developments on the Worst Blog Of All Time, Canadian prime minister-to-be Paul Martin, MP, apparently didn't like the latest of his all of two blog posts (dated Dec. 9) about Christmas parties he was attending, so he deleted it and replaced it with a different posting after that week's Christmas parties had occurred, dated Dec. 14. Oh, yeah, he's getting the concept now...

The only paragraph left from the old post is paragraph 5, which now makes no sense. It talks about a brunch Martin went to "much later in the week" after the big Liberal Christmas parties on Thursday Dec. 12, but before the post date of Saturday. "Much later in the week?" Than Thursday?

Posted by BruceR at 02:10 PM



Me, I'm perfectly happy to have Colby Cosh and his entire Alberta/B.C. Report Canadian conservative journalist crew come down to 32 Brigade's offices any time and try to find some of that defence department waste he just knows is there. We have nothing to hide, at least at our level.

But I've done the, "if we have 50,000 personnel, why can't we have more than 2,000 soldiers overseas?" question here before. Again, 50,000 CF personnel, divided by three (army/navy/air force), divided by two (combat/non-combat) and divided by three rotations (over there right now/training to go over there/just back from over there), plus another rotation's worth as a training cadre, comes to just over 2,000 deployable front-line soldiers, or two battalions, as an absolute reg force army maximum: that's thumbnail math, but it's not too far off.

(In case you've lost count, Canadian army deployments abroad currently amount to one combat battalion, with a large logistic support element, in Bosnia, and a logistics battalion-minus supporting the UN Golan Heights force. We currently have the capacity to send a second battalion-sized element overseas, but we couldn't sustain it long-term because we'd be past that 2,000-soldier cap again.)

In fact, Canadian deployment rates, as a percentage of their total force size, have consistently been comparable to American or British, if not higher. It's just that we've simply got too few troops to start with.

Posted by BruceR at 12:01 PM



"Health care the spending priority, not defence: PM"
-- National Post, today

"Our troops could go to West Bank before peace deal, PM says"
-- National Post, also today

Well, I suppose that's one way to cut back on the payroll...

Seriously, anyone who can explain how a sane man can hold these two ideas in his head simultaneously (as duelling interviews on the same day would indicate in Prime Minister Chretien's case) -- freezing Canada's pathetic defence spending, and an aggressive policy of foreign military intervention -- please write to let me know how. Canadian military historian Sean Maloney certainly pulled no punches when he read them:

The introduction of Canadian forces into the present situation on the West Bank would be completely insane.

Posted by BruceR at 10:34 AM



I'm still thinking about why we have troubles getting soldier heroism stories out. Here's a couple quotes that made me think:

We don't have a popular image of Canadians. There would be no context.
--A British journalist talking to Sun columnist Paul Stanway, on why the British press doesn't cover Canada anymore.

The truth is, most non-native Canadians shrink from such stories -- because they make us feel guilty; because they involve complex political and bureaucratic history; because, other than a vague wish that native people were better off, we're preoccupied with other concerns, like our high taxes, or the latest infuriating government incompetence. And yet, the state of Canada's aboriginals is not only our national shame, it's our most glaring example of government waste, incompetence and failure.
--Linda Williamson in the Sun, on why there's not any "good news" stories about natives anymore.

Substitute "soldiers" for "Canadians" in the first, and for "natives" in the latter. Is there a similar journalistic blindspot for soldier stories in Canada today? I don't know, but I'm considering it.

(At least one email correspondent feels, one with some expert knowledge on the subject, that just the announcement's timing was way off, that we could have timed the release better with press deadlines and done better. They're absolutely right, of course. I'm just wondering if there isn't also a system-wide element at play here, as well.)

PS: Here's the Toronto Sun's story from this morning on the events in question.

Posted by BruceR at 10:22 AM



Two Toronto-area army reservists will be receiving the Medal of Bravery (MB), the Governor-General announced today for actions they took back on that horrible day, Sept. 11.

2nd Lieut. Peter Martinis and Master Corporal Peter Stibbard, while the rest of us were still transfixed in horror on what was going on in New York and Washington, had been put on front gate duty at Moss Park Armoury, one of the two army installations in downtown Toronto. They were unarmed, with instructions to just check for ID and call for backup if something amiss occurred: one doubts anyone saw the armoury itself as under threat, but it would likely have been a staging area if there had been any terrorist attack in the Toronto area that day... something, obviously, no one was ready to rule out just yet.

The whole thing would have gone without incident, if a mentally unbalanced man named Mark Hannah hadn't chosen their watch to try to gain access to the armoury. We really don't know what was going through his head (we were all a little jumpy, that day, as I recall) but Hannah felt for whatever reason that, because of Sept. 11, he had to get INSIDE that defence establishment. First, he just reacted angrily to not being allowed in. But when two passing policemen saw the escalating situation and tried to arrest Hannah for trespassing, he coldcocked one of them, and then took the other officer's sidearm. Assuming he could have figured out the safeties on a Glock pistol in his deranged state, things at that point could have gotten much, much worse, if Martinis and Stibbard hadn't tackled the guy and taken the gun away until the police officers could recover and pile on themselves. (Hannah later pled guilty to four felony counts and is currently incarcerated.)

Martinis and Stibbard are the first soldiers from the Toronto area to be decorated for courage since the present honours system was instituted in 1972. In all, fewer than 60 Canadian soldiers have received a bravery medal in that time. Having met both of them in my role as brigade public affairs officer, I have to say they're just a couple of regular guys, who did the right thing in a split second on a very rough day for all of us. I'm very glad the government decided to recognize them for it.

You may wonder why you hadn't heard about this one before. (Well might you wonder.) There's some more information on the 32 Brigade website. The Toronto Sun and Barrie Examiner will likely have pieces tomorrow and there were a couple bits on the local 11 o'clocks. And to be fair, we were working with zip notice from Rideau Hall in an off-peak media time of year. But I also can't help feel in some ways this is a story the Canadian media isn't really equipped to cover: they can't really pigeonhole military bravery stories like this, because it doesn't fit the paradigm.

I think it's clear I love Lord of the Rings as much as anyone, but I still wonder at a world where a local movie opening about fictitious, impossible heroes gets more mainstream press (I'm talking the A section, not entertainment news) than a story about a couple local, real-life guys who once did something rather heroic. I'm thinking the trouble is real-life heroics tend to be too complex for mainstream media (at least Canadian mainstream media) to fit into the square hole of their 1-minute or 300-word newsbit.

These guys weren't angels or saints (hey, they're soldiers after all) and they did something that lots of other soldiers have done overseas without ever being recognized (The same unit, the 48th Highlanders, that trained these guys also trained Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, who was killed by fratricide in Afghanistan last spring). But still, I would have thought more reporters would have thought it as nifty a story as I did (and a good example for other citizens to follow, when they see a cop in trouble). I guess I was wrong: oh, well.

Posted by BruceR at 12:55 AM

December 17, 2002



The major contemporary myth cycles vary from each other in part because they have roots in different militaristic traditions. Star Wars? That's Air Force... all flyboys and individualism. Star Trek? That's all navy. Collective cohesiveness and mastery of one's vessel. (Characteristics not unfamiliar to the big bomber crews, it seems: creator Gene Roddenberry was a B-17 pilot in the USAAF.) The Lord of the Rings? Army of course, with a primal emphasis on terrain... lots and lots of walking, interrupted by long sequences of holding until relieved. (If Tolkien had been at Jutland instead of the Somme, one imagines he'd have written a very, very different book.)

What do the Marines get? Starship Troopers, of course... the book, not the movie.

I think David Brin said something similar once. Here's a thought that occurred to me while reading his most recent essay on Tolkien: the Gondorians and Elves, with their obsession in past glories rather than future greatness, and low-tech, spiritual means for taking down a technological enemy they see as utterly evil and threatening to their way of life... for using the enemy's weapon (the ring) against him and destroying it in the process, by flying undetected into the heart of their kingdom and destroying their greatest accomplishments with stealth and undeniable cunning, rather than fighting toe to toe in a battle they know their armies will lose... who, looking back at Sept. 11, would the fellowship really remind us of?

Posted by BruceR at 11:31 AM



The old guy managed just two entries (both no doubt written by some Young Lib hanger-on) on his blog, before he actually ran out of things to say over a week ago, now. We have a new winner for the He Just Doesn't Get It award for blogging: Paul Martin, MP, Canada's next Prime Minister.

Posted by BruceR at 12:29 AM

December 16, 2002



I don't really care how much Christina Aguilera reveals in her music videos. What does kind of bother me is her latest blatant nickname theft (she calls herself "X-tina" now) from a much more interesting and talented artist, Xtina X, of the Grim Faeries: a band that has been my favourite underrecognized indy musical treasure for some time. Sadly, it's typical of Aguilera Inc., who was always entirely a product of savvy youth marketing and soulless copycatism. Branding can frequently be the face of big capitalism at its worst: here in Canada, a little known story of the creation of the Chapters megabookstore chain was that all the little mom-and-pop bookshops called "Chapters" were driven out of business by an unleashed legion of lawyers. One wonders if the original Xtina has been served with a similar notice to change her name yet by the Aguilera brand conglomerate.

Posted by BruceR at 01:35 PM



Dean of Canadian conservative journalism Peter Worthington is hot and cold in his dotage (his bizarre obsessions with the Kleinburg art gallery and the Toronto Humane Society always turned me off) but he's written the best column on the Bill Sampson imprisonment issue I've seen yet. Keep them on the bounce, Peter.

Posted by BruceR at 01:02 PM

December 14, 2002



I must have someone who looks like Emily Watson on my mind. Her third movie of 2002, despite Penny Arcade's raving about it, isn't due to be released in Canada until April for some inexplicable reason (it opened in the States last weekend). But I still haven't seen Punch-Drunk Love or Red Dragon yet, so I still had some catching up to do, anyway. What I really need to do is see Breaking the Waves or Hilary and Jackie on video again, I think. Fortunately, to my addled mind Miranda Otto's beginning to look a bit like the object of my obsession as she gets older, too, so I hope I shall be able to watch The Two Towers without regret...

Posted by BruceR at 10:15 PM



Since, about, oh, the age of 12 playing D&D, to be precise.

Posted by BruceR at 09:35 PM



A very interesting thing is happening at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A single blogger is raising a fair bit of attention about her college's seeming indifference to a string of sexual assaults against Asian women on campus by an armed man. The chancellor and the chief of police have acknowledged enough that we can be confident the blogger in question is not making stuff up out of whole cloth, and that we could be looking at dozens of violent crimes in a close-knit community.

Since I spend a fair bit of time helping universities and other large institutions communicate online, I'd have to say we have the makings of a good test case that will tell us a lot about how seriously institutional PR needs to take blogs, as opposed to the campus, staff and local newspapers we focus on. Two questions:

1) How long before the University of Illinois PR website says anything of value?

2) How long before the student newspaper, the Daily Illini, says anything on the subject?

It should be noted the local paper is on the case already. If you're around the U of I... please stay safe.

Posted by BruceR at 09:18 PM



Cheers to all who've dropped by to say hi in the last 12 months. Here's my list of hopes for year two:

*Bill Sampson will be freed;
*The Canadian government will fund the military properly, and implement its eminently sensible plans for Land Force Reserve Restructure;
*The army will give me a better paying, more challenging job;
*Our two American pilot friends will be on trial;
*Our friends Mr. Hussein and Mr. Arafat will be enjoying a peacable exile somewhere where they can't make any more trouble;
*Hamid Karzai is still alive.

There are other things I'd like to see, or get a chance to do again, too, but those people close enough to my heart to know what they are, well, they already do, don't they? For everybody else (including the endearingly macho Mr. Steyn... what can I say, beards must do it for me)... I'll just hope I get to know you better over the next 12 months. Don't be strangers...

Posted by BruceR at 08:16 PM



That shows you where I've done wrong," he said. "I mean, obviously I had a blind spot. I was insensitive in the words I chose.

--Trent Lott, the Globe and Mail.

Submitted for your perusal: that no person who honestly believed in the equality of American blacks could say that sentence. A blind spot? Jeez. Even his apology was a racist's apology.

This guy can't be an aberration: he rose to the position of Senate Majority Leader through the tacit consent of his Republican colleagues. Make no mistake: they knew, too. (Mind you, Will Saletan has an opposing explanation that I could also find convincing.)

PS: The answer to Josh Marshall's challenging teaser today is, of course, Attorney General John Ashcroft. Meanwhile, Senator Lott, showing his impeccable judgment, has replaced a pioneering African-American U.S. army general with a low-level white staffer from his own office. The job? Senior security officer for the Senate, says TNR.

Posted by BruceR at 07:39 PM

December 13, 2002



A story about threatening worldwide activity by Hezbollah gets odder and odder. A lot of people feel remarks by Sheikh Nasrollah in November were a factor in the Canadian listing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. But the CBC reported that there was no evidence those remarks were actually made. It was actually the Israeli army PR department that said they were made on Nov. 15, and those remarks seem to have been twisted through a remarkable broken telephone game involving a Florida professor, Fox News, a British based freelancer with two names, and the Washington Times, before they made their way to Canada (making them sixth-hand attributions, at least). But a hardworking blogger found Nasrollah's personal website with highlights of his speech that day. But those remarks don't really say anything like what Nasrollah was quoted here as saying. But now, even though they've apparently be proven right in their suspicions, the CBC story has suddenly disappeared from their website altogether. Huh?

UPDATE: The story's back online now.

Posted by BruceR at 11:51 AM

December 11, 2002



The Globe has a piece today on how Steven Staples of the "Polaris Institute" has called for a freeze in Canadian defence spending:

The report recommends a defence budget that reflects the minimum necessary to ensure sovereignty patrols of Canada's territory and non-combat peacekeeping under United Nations auspices.

The Globe describes the Polaris Institute as "founded to help citizen movements 'reskill and retool themselves to fight for democratic social change in an age of corporate driven globalization.'"

What the Globe doesn't tell you is that Staples, the author, and as far as I can tell, one of only two members of the Polaris Institute, is also chair of the International Network on Disarmament and Globalization, and a long-time peace activist from Vancouver. His other affiliations include Peacewire, the Public Education for Peace Society, and End the Arms Race. He has previously opposed military airshows in Canada, and American nuclear ships in Canadian waters, and wants a ban on all Canadian exports for military purposes. His report states that the Sept. 11 attacks by Al Qaeda were sparked by globalization, free trade and world poverty, and says Canadians will feel more secure far more secure if the money is spent on health care instead.

A disarmament advocate? Calling for an end to a Canadian military? So... how did this make the front of the Globe's website again, exactly? Did the "dog bites man" piece not get edited in time? It's certainly dishonest to just reprint the group's press release like this.

Posted by BruceR at 04:29 PM

WORMTONGUE UPDATE Anything that might


Anything that might just start to convince the national broadcasting network to not use this excrescence as their leading Middle East commentator would be worth it. Let the Wormtongue pile-on commence.

Posted by BruceR at 11:01 AM

December 10, 2002



Well, Donald Rumsfeld made it official today: Bill Quick and friends won't get a war in their stockings for Christmas. To deny that at this point is right up there in the wishful thinking department with Homer Simpson chasing the roast pig down the hill yelling, "It's still good! It's still good!"

So, the question then becomes, what is really going on. I see three competing theories:

1) The Waiting Game: That Bush, et al are really raring to go, but are still waiting for something they see as essential for victory, that isn't there yet. A UN resolution that would bring the necessary Iraqi neighbours online would be the obvious choice here.

2) The Smokescreen: That Bush, et al are playing a deep game, talking war but working for a peaceful solution behind a smokescreen of bluster, as Stephen Chapman proposes today.

3) The Pressure Cooker: This blog's theory, last put forward Nov. 19, that this is a different kind of deep game, involving continually increasing the pressure on the Iraqi leadership bit by bit, until Iraq (like previous foes Mexico, Spain, South Carolina, Germany (twice), Japan, and Vietnam) either does something so outrageous and violent that the necessary world support will be a given, or alternately, that an overthrow from within puts a more pliable strongman in charge.

It's fair to say the evidence to date supports all three hypotheses. Which one you believe in seems to really depend on which approach you would believe is soundest. Because I see 1) as high-risk, and likely damaging in the long run, and 2) as craven, I'm still holding out hope for option 3. The only trouble is, Mr. Hussein refuses to play along by doing something stupid... for once. The question then becomes, how much more "ratcheting up" room is left before you have to go to war just to save face? And when does that room run out? February, at the earliest?

Posted by BruceR at 09:22 PM

DUCK! Seen in a rotating-gif


Seen in a rotating-gif advertisement on Bill Quick's site: " promoting the legal exchange of firearms between adult users."

Posted by BruceR at 03:17 PM



Tom Walkom hits yet another new low in the Star today, claiming the Canadian military and intelligence service have gone rogue and no longer work for Canada:

"Already it is unclear whom exactly our generals and spooks work for.
"In one case, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service spirited a Canadian citizen, Mohamed Mansour Jabarah, across the border so that the U.S. could jail him indefinitely without the bother of laying charges. Apparently, CSIS did this without the knowledge of the government to whom it allegedly reports. Certainly, Foreign Minister Bill Graham was taken by surprise.
"So, too, in Afghanistan. Officially, the Canadian government's position is that combatants captured by Canadian troops there will be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. In reality, Canadian troops routinely defy their own government and hand over Afghan captives to the U.S., which refuses to abide by the Geneva accords."

Well, I've been questioning Walkom's patriotism and love of country for nearly a year now (and he's never yet failed to rise to occasion after occasion to display his own deep-seated hatred of what his nation stands for) so I suppose it's only fair he gets to question mine.

Posted by BruceR at 03:12 PM

December 09, 2002



Two of the nation's three largest English-language papers, the one farthest left, and the one farthest right, both have an editorial today with the same simple title: "Ban Hezbollah."

(It should be noted that both papers also support substantial increases in defence spending. You could take it as evidence that what we are seeing in Canada today is the unique situation of a Canadian public and its press, left and right, increasingly united against their foul, corrupt, whiny little government.)

Posted by BruceR at 10:13 AM



The Veterans Affairs minister has a "tiny pointed head?" Crusty!!

Posted by BruceR at 10:03 AM



Good day in the Canadian newspapers, as they try and struggle with our slow-but-steady decade-long decline in sovereignty and governmental responsibility.

The recent agreement, codifying what we always knew would have to happen in the the case of a serious national emergency in Canada now -- ie, that the American army comes to save us, sooner or later -- is portrayed more or less accurately in the anti-American Star. It's given a surprisingly soft treatment, if factually more accurate, by the pro-American National Post, though:

Military planners who crafted the new agreement say Canada and the United States will need to rely heavily on each other's resources if there is a terrorist attack or natural disaster, such as an earthquake, that threaten critical infrastructure in either nation... For example, military officials say it might be more practical for American troops to respond to a disaster in major Canadian centres close to the border because U.S. forces may be closer and able to arrive on the scene faster.

The unstated fact is that the Americans could arrive on any scene, anywhere in Canada, faster than we could, because our government doesn't believe in strategic airlift, or airborne battalions. Proximity to the border makes no difference. But the idea that Canada has any resources that the U.S. could "need to rely heavily on" is drug-induced.

Still, given that Canada's army is having difficulty generating much more than new spicy metaphors ("pissing around in a grey area?") for its current state of decline, I actually feel safer already, knowing we're giving up on the sovereignty thing. If at least one government in the world is interested in protecting my family and friends, I'm not really particular which one at this point.

Meanwhile, Canada's foremost political historian has finally lost his cool, and called the current Canadian government the worst in its history, begging people to vote for the Opposition, because the Liberal party thinks voters are stupid, among other reasons. The fact that there won't be another election for years doesn't seem to have occurred to him: I was actually hoping Mr. Bliss had completely gone around the twist and called for armed revolution, William Lyon Mackenzie style, but he disappointed me at the end.

As if to prove Mr. Bliss's point about the voters, the man chiefly responsible for the $1 billion cost overrun for the useless gun registry has called it a "magnificent achievement," and doubts the fact that achievement is now 50,000% over budget (that's not a typo) will keep him from being Prime Minister someday. Oh, good.

Meanwhile an innocent Canadian continues to rot in a Saudi jail, while the two British men accused with him claim his innocence from safe at home. Hasn't anyone drawn the obvious inference? The Brits are out because their government still commands something approaching respect, even from the Saudis. Ours can't. Proof positive that Dean Bliss is correct: thanks to the Chretien Liberals, we are no longer a real country.

UPDATE: C.K. (who should know) gently reminds me the two Britons interviewed in the Post article were actually arrested by the Saudis in a separate incident, and tried separately from Sampson.

Posted by BruceR at 09:59 AM

December 06, 2002



"[Industry Minister Allan Rock] said it is troubling that the gun lobby is using the Auditor-General's criticism of the overspending to open up the debate on gun registration."

--Globe and Mail

Yes, it's so shameful that some Canadians want to debate the further need for a useless government program that has now gone at least a billion dollars overbudget. We should just open up our wallets endlessly to greedy, pathetic clowns like Mr. Rock here and smile while doing so. You bad, bad Canadians...

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 AM

December 05, 2002

IT'S ALL TRUE The head


The head of the army says what everyone on the inside's known all along.

Gen. Mackenzie's essay the other day is valuable too, although it's important to note that a lot of the wasteful spending he identifies isn't THAT ludicrous:

A further billion is directed to government-imposed programs such as bilingualism, gender equality, diversity, etc. All good stuff, but irrelevant to operational combat capability... Last, but not least, the increasing cost of environmental programs will draw at least one billion away from operational spending over the next five years.

This seems silly, but the idea of economy of scale works both ways. We're so small and shrunken at this point that even the reasonable permanent programs take up a disproportionate part of the overall budget. The Canadian Forces needs to be bilingual (indeed, much of our success as UN and NATO peacekeepers stemmed from having both English- and French-speaking soldiers, allowing easy liaison with both locals and other nation's soldiers); it also needs to treat its women and its minorities fairly. And it should be self-evident that if some environmental stewardship of its extensive landholdings isn't undertaken, the defence department would risk making much of that land contaminated and permanently unsellable... a serious impediment to any future restructuring.

In a $15-$16 billion budget, which is what we really need, those costs would not need to be questioned. Although I know he doesn't mean to, Mackenzie's wasteful costs could be taken the other way, as evidence that there's still some room to cut and trim back. That would be wrong: right now I'd argue the defence department is the most fiscally responsible government department in Canadian history. We're not the ones blowing $1 billion on a useless firearms registry.

Posted by BruceR at 11:05 AM



Once again, I'm with dear Mr. Chapman. What business does the US have pressuring the EU to admit Turkey? The Turks are not exactly liberal democrats. They've brutally repressed their Kurdish minority, and seem to have, by ruling out any autonomy for Iraqi Kurds as part of their price for any wartime cooperation, guaranteed those Kurds' future subjugation, whether Saddam's still there or not. If Europe doesn't want them in the clubhouse, that's their fricking call, surely. This is the reason why all this "nobody here but us Jacksonians" rambling you see in some quarters always bemuses me: the evidence of any principle at all higher than naked self-interest in American foreign policy at this moment is, shall we say, not immediately evident.

Hey, but maybe Bush and his friends are Jacksonian, who knows. They've certainly taken a Jacksonian approach to Afghanistan.

Posted by BruceR at 12:30 AM



Totally disagree, Mr. Sullivan. From day one, "War on Terrorism" was a cheap figure of speech that by all accounts meant far, far less than it promised. It ALWAYS belonged in quotes. Does anyone really believe that the 2040 version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, in its list of the world's wars, is going to put TWOT in the same column as Korea, Vietnam, etc? Or that anyone will ever agree on the end date, if there even has been one by then? It's a rhetorical device. There was a war in Afghanistan. There likely will be one in Iraq. But those are going to be remembered as the Afghan and Iraqi Wars, not chapters in "TWOT."

Now, if you wanted to group this bunch of little wars under a larger rubric for simplification policies, like "The Lace Wars" or, I suppose, "The Clone Wars," then I could see the merit in that. So, henceforth, on this blog, references to the anti-terrorism wars will be written naked of quotes. "The War on Terrorism," however, will always merit them.

Posted by BruceR at 12:06 AM

December 04, 2002



I wasn't that surprised that David Frum received death threats for his latest "why Islam is evil" yammering. I was surprised, however, that the National Post chose to print one in its letters column:

Responsible journalism should require us to recognize this for all faiths too -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And since he cites Salman Rushdie, he should know by now the fatal consequences resulting from ignoring this fact.
--Zulf M. Khalfan, Nepean, Ont.

Look forward to the Post's new feature, coming next week: "Fatwas to the Editor."

Posted by BruceR at 11:54 PM

TOUCHE William Saletan punctures another


William Saletan punctures another pro-war lobby misrepresentation.

Posted by BruceR at 12:33 AM

December 03, 2002



The reason being he can always be counted on for crispy columns, like this one on Canadian defence spending.

Posted by BruceR at 12:22 AM

December 02, 2002



I have commented before that the thing that most bugs me about Robt. Fisk, esq. is his frequent habit of making statements that I am reasonably certain he knows to be untrue. I've met the man, he's not that delusional. So when I read statements like this, I can only assume it's just his own contempt for the intellectual ability of his readers that drives him:

"Israel's rabble of an army can kill child stone-throwers with ease. Al-Qa'ida is a quite different opponent. And if Mr Sharon wants to take on Mr bin Laden, he is ensuring that Israel goes to war with its most dangerous enemy in 54 years."

Israel's army a "rabble"? That is not a statement a sane Middle Eastern expert could ever truthfully make or defend. Fisk is both sane and, in the narrow area of Israeli military efficacy, at least as knowledgeable as the next expert. Therefore, he must be lying. The question would be, why? The obvious thought that comes to mind is that Fisk has fancied himself a personal FOA (friend of Osama) before. He has stated he firmly believes the man is still alive. By the flattering prose, is he trying to position himself to gain The Interview of the Century (tm), perhaps?

Posted by BruceR at 11:43 PM



Once again, a topic in the news my professional training gives me a little knowledge about. It has been confirmed, pretty much, that the missiles that fired on the Israeli airliner in Mombasa were Russian-made SA-7 Strelas. The launchers themselves were obviously left behind in order to facilitate flight (being pulled over with a SAM launcher in your vehicle being a pretty good giveaway, even to your average policeman). The SA-7 is an old missile, of limited battlefield utility even when it was new. It's a "rear-aspect heat seeker", meaning it doesn't have the ability to differentiate a plane from the background in the infrared spectrum... it can only home in on the glaring heat of an engine exhaust.

The papers are actually making a little too much of the ease of use or effectiveness of terrorist SAMs. While it's true that the operator skill required is relatively minimal, there's all sorts of other considerations. First off, pre-1980s heat-seeking technology was always inherently inaccurate... the USAF kill rate over Vietnam with Sidewinder missiles slightly better than the SA-7 was only 1 kill for every 7 launched. Now admittedly those were against maneuvering aircraft in most cases, but the pilots can assume to have been practiced and trained... unlike, say, our Kenyan operatives. Even if the operatives here had been twice as effective as American pilots under the circumstances, that would still only give you a 50 per cent chance of a kill with a two-missile spread under optimal conditions.

What would optimal conditions for a SA-7 be? Well, first you need a missile in good condition (these were 30 years old, and likely had had multiple previous owners.) You've got to find a place that allows you a clear straight-on tail view of aircraft taking off. Using SA-7s against landing aircraft would almost certainly be less-than-optimal... you're much more likely to lose homing as the plane descends closer to the ground (if the missile in its course ends up pointing downwards at any point, it'll lose the lockon in the ground background IR). For the same reason, your launch can't be from a built-up area... these things are erratic enough to home on a microwave oven in a high-rise if it comes in the limited vision of the seeker-head. (Early IR seeker heads were extraordinarily limited in vision, for this reason... imagine looking at the world through a straw and aiming yourself at the hottest thing you can see. Now imagine you're moving at 580 m/s...) Your line of vision also needs to be absolutely clear... no power lines, no tree branches either. This tends to limit the number of usable launching spaces to a handful for most metropolitan airports: your average backyard isn't going to do it.

Okay, so you're out in the open just off the "takeoff" end of a runway. You've got to hit that departing plane before it gets more than 4 km away from your launch point, or your missile will burn out first. Even a slow-moving passenger jet will get out of your range envelope in at most 50 seconds, even assuming it doesn't turn as it climbs. Assuming you actually hit close to the max range, you also have to subtract at least 5 seconds, or 0.5km, for your own time of flight.

But where are you? You're at least 500 m from where the wheels left the ground, presumably... even that would be difficult to achieve at most major international airports. More likely the nearest suitable launch area is as much as a kilometre away. You have to let the plane pass over your head and present itself in front of you at a low enough angle to be engaged, so it's at least half-a-kilometre away from you already. You now have to acquire the engine signature and launch that missile. You therefore have at the absolute most 40 seconds to get that missile up, acquire a "tone," and execute the launch sequence, probably much less. Impossible? Obviously not... a trained soldier could do it in 10. But not exactly easy, either. Certainly not something you're going to be able to do without practice. Which means your group had to have enough missiles to do a little practice, not just the one or two, and some kind of training capability: the off-the-shoulder launch of any surface-to-air missile results in a terrific blast that one has to be prepared for.

It should be obvious then, that a terrorist threat with only SA-7s available is actually relatively limited. The best missiles for attacking civilian aircraft would actually be laser-optical guided, ie the British Blowpipe and Javelin (also used by Canadians) or Bofors RBS 70, with the proximity fuzing turned off. You're much more likely with those to get a fuselage hit, increasing the likelihood of crippling damage... and you have an all-aspect engagement capability, meaning you could site your weapon considerably farther from the aircraft's departure line (although you're still likely going to be along the line of flight somewhere), or engage landing planes, as well. However, the training required for these weapons is considerably more again than with "fire-and-forget" infrared, so they can be more or less discounted, too (Canadian Javelin crews, who have to keep their laser trained on a fast moving plane for the missile's entire time of flight, have the reflexes of a pro computer gamer: they spend hours on simulators before they even get to try to fire a real one.)

Since using those isn't likely, the most serious threat for civilian aircraft is the modern all-aspect heatseeker, which has a much more finely tuned seeking head, allowing engagement of landing aircraft, and a much higher probability of keeping the target lock in flight than earlier infrared missiles. There are currently five types in existence: the American Stinger, the Russian SA-16 (famously used to kill the Rwandan president, starting the genocide in that country), the French Mistral, the Japanese Type 91/93, and the Chinese QW series (built in Pakistan as the Anza Mk 2). Firm reports of those weapons in terrorist hands, when it eventually comes, will be considerably more alarming. The SA-7, on the other hand, is a piece of crap... it wasn't particularly "lucky" or unlikely that the Israeli plane in this instance survived intact at all.

Posted by BruceR at 01:01 PM

December 01, 2002



While others were just sitting around whinging about ethnic cleansing, back in 1993 these guys were pretty much the only ones actually trying to stop it.

Posted by BruceR at 11:29 PM