January 30, 2003



"[Colin Powell] understands we must have deadlines. And we're talking days and weeks, not months and years." -- George Bush, Sept. 13, 2002

"This is a matter of weeks not months," Mr. Bush said. -- Bush again, 20 weeks later.

Posted by BruceR at 03:48 PM

KAPLAN NAILS IT Another insightful


Another insightful piece from Robert Kaplan in TNR, on the creek the Americans seem to have paddled up, over Iraq.

The conundrum, by now, is obvious. And Kaplan successfully outlines the Americans' remaining options: either a) being able to present a smoking gun of their own to the Security Council, an "Adlai Stevenson moment," as he calls it; or b) buying off the veto votes on the Security Council somehow; or c) presenting the world with a satisfactory fait accompli after a lightning and easy unilateral conquest of Iraq.

While other sites I could mention have posted invasion timetables, then revised invasion timetables, then revised, revised invasion timetables, this site's been pretty consistent, and I think right in the final analysis. The plan was never to go to war outright... it was to ratchet up the pressure, drip by drip, on Hussein until he did something stupid, as he could always be counted on to do in the past, and so present America with the casus. As I've pointed out, that is the uniquely American way of war, and it should have worked this time... if Hussein wasn't an old fox who has managed to avoid any provocation whatsoever.

Even if Hussein didn't move, of course, the American strategy still had great short-term value, in that it contained Hussein while matters of greater urgency were resolved elsewhere. But the ratcheting has a logic of its own, too... like a smoker consuming more packs a week, you need more effort with each passing month to get the same buzz. At some point, you end up with 180,000 troops in the Gulf, and only one golf club (the 70,000 soldiers waiting for redeployment in Europe) left in the bag. When they move, war is certain. Until they move, war is unlikely. And everyone can see that.

As to the options above, Kaplan, like me, simply doesn't believe that smoking gun is there for Powell to present, so that rules out a). I'm sure Colin will show some photos to the Security Council, but they won't say anything truly appalling to the lay analyst. Option c) is a horrible, HORRIBLE set of initial conditions for any military commander to work under, and is no doubt being fought strenuously by every senior general in the Pentagon. It demands the campaign they launch be instant, bloodless, and perfect, or the whole thing goes off the rails as pressure at home and abroad builds. No war goes like that. Ever. Even crossing the 300 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad at top Abrams speed would take more time than they safely have... which no doubt is what resulted in the trial balloons we heard of over the last year from the Rumsfeld camp, about fighting the war solely with Special Forces parachutists and JDAMS. That, as Schwarzkopf himself was clearly trying to say in so many words last week, would be a huge abdication of America's responsibility to its soldiers, as that way lies disaster.

So that leaves option b), which still seems the most likely at this point... the great French buy-off. The exact price fluctuates with the headlines, of course, but that's the game now, as far as one can tell.

Oh, the Yanks can blame the UN for this, or Europe, or whoever they want, really. But considerable blame has to go towards the current Administration... not for dealing with the UN, or with Europe, or even with their own Congress, as some of their hotheads also wanted to avoid. All that would have been unnecessary, if the whole approach from the start hadn't been so fundamentally dishonest and untrue to America's own ideals. Every word a lie, it seems: talking arms control when you mean regime change, talking regime change when you mean Marshallite reconstruction of the Middle East... if America had been candid with itself from the start about what it was, and what they should want to achieve, they'd be no worse off than they are now, and with a clear path for the future.

As Michael Kinsley points out in Slate today, if Hussein is really a monster whose people we want to save, then no further justification is required among good people. So long as America cites the oppression of Iraqis and Kurds, while keeping the option open of zero change should Hussein flee the country first, there is no moral seriousness to their policy... and no requirement for anyone to think past the obvious realpolitiking explanations for American involvement there: Zionism... oil... world domination.

Imagine a different set of circumstances. Imagine, for instance, if the United States had started boldly, instead of weaselling into a confrontation. If they had said that, as the guardian of democracy for the world, they could not, would not, allow the No-Fly Zone-Republic of Kurdistan to revert to Iraqi sovereignty, ever. If assistance, peaceful and otherwise, had poured into that new nation, to build it up, democratize it (they are already soooo close) and defend it against the inevitable Muslim backlash... this time against their fellow Muslims. Consequences:

1) Considerable pressure lifted off Israel, in every way;
2) The neutering of Hussein's ambition, and claim to regency, having like Milosevic lost half his country for his sins;
3) The example of a successful Muslim democracy in the Middle East, just as some now wish to see in Iraq;
4) An angry Turkey, no longer able to easily brutalize its own Kurdish minority (so sad).
5) A dropping in world oil prices, and a reduced reliance on the Saudis, undermining them, as well.
6) A growing acceptance that some of the borders of 1918 have outlived their usefulness, leading perhaps to final resolutions in all the other failed states being held together by the international community's whim: Somalia, Bosnia, Cyprus.

All the gains, in other words, that the Wolfowitzians hope to gain from a war in Iraq, in return for some small measure of instability. As others wiser than I have argued... that instability is in the world's best interest right now.

But most of all, it would allow America to be HONEST with itself. And proud of itself. And for the rest of the world to be proud of them again. The advocates of the current Iraq war never rise much above a utilitarian claim of the need for self-defence in their rationales... even those who advocate forcibly democratizing the whole Middle East, truly see it only as a way to stop future Sept. 11s. But let's face it... as Mark Steyn outlines today in the Post, if all that is at stake is American security, then no country in the world really has a compelling interest. France doesn't. Canada doesn't. So long as America wants to take on all the slings and arrows of hyperpower-hatred upon itself, then the rest of us are, to all intents and purposes, practically immune from terrorism (misdirected and mindless outrages like the Bali bombing notwithstanding). The inevitable consequence of the American stance with respect to the rest of the world today is seen in every other country, with a political coterie at the top attempting to cynically extract maximum bargaining advantage out of their co-operation with the Yanks, and a vocal anti-American minority rioting in the streets. There was a time, I'm saying, when those rioters would have been FOR America... and the bargain consequently less dear for all concerned. They could have been this time, too. (All talk about pacifism aside, Germany was in for $4 billion in straight-up cash back in 1990... money one would think the tax-cutting Americans would still want to be offered this time, too.)

A United States that was willing to go to war for freedom in Kurdistan, period, would have been an America no democratic nation could have said no to, were we called into the coalition of the willing. The United Nations would have had no choice but to rubber stamp the result.

I watched some of the speechifying in the Canadian House of Commons last night. One thing was clear... the few, very few Canadians who support the U.S. on this (now around 15 per cent, apparently, about the same as believe Elvis is still alive)... their spokesmen's argument boils down to, "we must disarm Iraq so that they can't someday sell a destructive weapon they may or may not have now to an unidentified terrorist to use on the continental United States." That is not, can never be, a casus for a non-American. But in fairness... it's all the Americans have given us to work with.

Posted by BruceR at 03:37 PM

January 29, 2003



Not that important things aren't happening, but I spent the night moving all the guts of the home computer into a nice new Apex TU-150 case... I saw it on the storeshelf and realized it was a perfect complement for my other components, desk, etc... it's my own little piece of the 2001 monolith, or something. You know, if I wasn't compelled to write or teach, I think I could have been immensely happy just having my own little corner computer repair shop somewhere... I had more fun tonight than I've had, the company of certain special others excepted, for a very, very long time, indeed.

Now, while I run a few heat tests, I'm putting the new puppy through its paces by playing all my favourite mp3s... Asia's "Only Time Will Tell," at the moment:

"I see it now
It becomes so clear
Your insincerity
And me all starry-eyed
To think that I would have known by now,,,"

I'd make some kind of metaphorical reference to the Iraq situation, or Canadian defence funding, out of that, but I'm just in too good a mood. I'll try and get back to my usual gravity sometime tomorrow. Oh, good, next song is a Talk Talk tune...

Posted by BruceR at 12:49 AM

January 28, 2003

PITHY Everything in the Bush


Everything in the Bush presidency is designed to avoid reliving the mistakes of Good Ol' 41 (that moniker makes the first President Bush sound like an old-time steam locomotive) who won the Gulf War too early to distract the voters from a sputtering economy.

--Walt Shapiro, in Slate. He's right, you know. An Iraq war in February involving ground troops is now impossible... we're still sitting at only 180,000 of the 250,000 needed deployed or en route, with no sign of movement from the 101st or the European troops yet... and March may be less preferable to the Bush coterie than September, for the re-election reasons Shapiro outlines.

Signs still point to Bush turning up the burner another couple degrees, and then waiting to see what effect that has, in his speech tonight. There's still some little wiggle room left before the tipping point comes, and the Tuchmanesque momentum down the hill towards war takes over. The big question is, in Bush's mind is there one month of wiggle room left, or seven?

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM

January 26, 2003



The election of the strongly anti-militarist Jack Layton as the federal leader of Canada's New Democrats today basically puts to an end the Canadian left's recent dalliance in the unfamiliar territory of advocating rearming the Canadian Forces (in their case, because they felt it might grant some autonomy from U.S. foreign policy and strengthen the UN). Layton has never done much to hide his dislike for Canadian soldiers and everything they represent. Combined with the party's strongly anti-Israel leanings exhibited of late, it basically guarantees the party will fight tooth and nail against any foreign action that could possibly, somewhere, somehow, end up hurting a Muslim.

Posted by BruceR at 11:54 AM

January 25, 2003

I GIVE UP What, judging


What, judging from the headlines, would you guess Canada's Iraq policy is as of this date?

PM to Bush: Hold off on war (Globe)

Chretien supports U.S. push for war (Star)

Liberal wavers on 2nd UN vote (Sun)

PM gives conditional support for war (Post)

There is a point where one can take ambiguity in the media too far. Here's a hint: it comes about the time that even the most seasoned politics watchers in the major media HAVE NO FRICKING CLUE what you stand for anymore...

Posted by BruceR at 12:41 AM

January 22, 2003



Not a bit. Weak-kneed ISPs, who have given up so much of our online freedom of expression at the mere whiff of a lawyer's cologne before, were the obvious weak link for the RIAA's anti-fileswapping crusade, too. I give Verizon a month before they knuckle under.

Posted by BruceR at 12:22 PM



The water cooler talk around my military office the last couple days has taken an interesting turn... the choice of brigades being sent by the British sparked a new round of speculation from the tactically-obsessed. The choice of 16 Air Assault Brigade as the second formation the British are sending, in addition to 7th Armoured, may be significant. It's already widely assumed that the U.S. 101st Airborne Division will be headed to Iraq shortly... the apparent request to Britain for still more paratroopers seems odd, if one is anticipating urban or mechanized fighting, where they would not shine as much as some other units that could have been going in their stead (largely due to their lighter scale of equipment issue, not their ability).

The American options, with only Kuwait to base from, always seemed limited... a single-axis push up the Tigris toward Baghdad on a narrow front is not an ideal way to win wars, ever. (A similar option led to the destruction of a British army in Iraq in World War One). It's simply too predictable. Den Beste and others have suggested a bite-and-hold type operation, with Basra as the preliminary objective, an opening up of the logistic bottleneck, and then down the road a few weeks, a big push on Baghdad, on a proper corps frontage. Maybe.

It may be instructive to note that exactly that idea was what was pushed on Montgomery by Eisenhower's staff in fall, 1944 (just substitute Antwerp for Basra): clear the enemy out of a big port, consolidate, then drive on. Montgomery, because he believed the enemy was in more disarray than it really was, and because he felt time was of the essence, opted instead for Market Garden... driving an armoured corps down an "airborne carpet" of objectives pre-seized from the air by British and American paratroopers.

Now, the Americans obviously have a low opinion of their enemy's capability... like Montgomery. They will, by the time the ground troops are ready to move, have total air superiority... like Montgomery. They have the time factor that they want to present the world with a fait accompli before resistance at home and abroad can organize and become an obstacle... not unlike Montgomery. And now, thanks to the British, they have at least one-and-a-third divisions of paratroopers, that could be moved in to seize the chokepoints and bridges en route to Baghdad by parachute or helicopter. They could, in theory, drop the "carpet," then race their armoured divisions close to Baghdad for the anticipated force-on-force maneuver battle there with the Republican Guard units in a matter of days, rather than possibly weeks.

Is there going to be a Market Garden-like feel to the American attack, when it comes? Maybe not... Montgomery only had to cross 100 miles fast... Baghdad is 300 miles away from the start line. But there's no doubt that the key question the Iraqi generals should be wrestling with now is that unknown quantity... what are the Americans planning to do with all those paratroopers?

Posted by BruceR at 10:10 AM



Former colleague, webhost, and all around good guy Patrick C. says I've been ignoring the reporting by the Toronto Star from the Article 32 hearing in Lousiana concerning the bombing deaths of 4 Canadians. He's right.. actually... the Star sent William Walker, a strong and seasoned reporter, and of all the news stories being filed out of Barksdale AFB, his are by far the most perceptive and well-read. (Not that that's really saying a whole lot, given the competition.) Sorry, Pat: I can sometimes fall into the blogger's trap of only bitching about the BAD reporting. But if people do only read one Canadian reporter's dispatches from Barksdale, they should read Walker's.

Posted by BruceR at 09:41 AM

January 21, 2003



This sums up all I have to say about celebrities and Iraq quite nicely.

I'll start taking celebrities opposed to war more seriously the day I see one -- just one -- sign up for some kind of military service. Not overseas... Reserve/National Guard would be fine. Just so I know they are willing to ante up and kick in the day actual collective effort really is required.

Posted by BruceR at 04:42 PM



Today's haul. Miro Cernetig, in the Globe:

When the two pilots mistook Canadian soldiers 20,000 feet below as enemies firing at their aircraft, the general [Sargeant, an F-16 tactics expert] said the proper response would have been to try to mark the position and fly to safety.

NO, HE DIDN'T. AT 20,000 feet, the pilots were already in safety. What Sargeant really said was the proper response to non-threatening fire is to stay in a safe position relative to the threat and not fly INTO danger in the act of chasing a non-threat. Again, the reporter accepts Schmidt's after-the-fact statement that he felt threatened without question.

Meanwhile, the National Post has sent reinforcements to back up their hapless cub reporter... noted crime columnist Christie Blatchford. Blatch is as big as they come in Canadian spot-news circles (she was also great to work with during the Toronto funeral for Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, one of those soldiers killed) but Schmidt's lawyers obviously did their research on her ahead of time... her first filing from Barksdale AFB, online tomorrow sometime, is going to be largely an interview with one of the lawyers' wives, a police officer whose actions when she shot and killed someone on duty were also investigated. (Imagine that!) Blatch is nail-tough, but she has never met a police officer she didn't like... to neutralize her by framing this story in those terms was, frankly, a stroke of PR genius. These guys are worth every cent the Schmidts and their town are paying for them.

Posted by BruceR at 02:59 PM



The latest dispatch from a Louisiana courtroom, from the Globe this time:

Both pilots insist they knew nothing of the Canadian exercises, a claim central to the defence's case.

No it's not. Neither Canadian nor American inquiries raised as a question of fact whether the pilots knew of the Canadian exercises: they did not question the pilots' statements on this narrow point, and the manslaughter charges were laid on that basis. The prosecution could stipulate that the pilots knew nothing about the exercise, and the charges would still stand.

Why? Because the nub of the prosecution case is that, regardless of what the pilots knew about Afghanistan, they certainly knew their rules of engagement, which denied independent engagement of targets in Afghanistan -- except in the case where they had a reasonable belief that to follow that order would put their own lives in jeopardy -- and they certainly heard the verbal orders they received that night confirming those same ROEs. So the only questions that make a difference in the judicial outcome relate to any evidence as to the reasonableness or unreasonableness of Maj. Schmidt's self-defence claim. Everything else is trivia being thrown up as a smokescreen by defence lawyers.

This one's classic:

Earlier in the day, it was revealed that crucial orders that could have prompted the pilots to flee the area never got to them because of a series of miscommunications and delays... It took 41 seconds for ground control to respond to the air controllers' message that the pilot had invoked self-defence and was about to drop the bomb.

Holy! 41 seconds! What did they do, go out for dinner first? I mean, really, since when is 41 seconds worthy of being called a delay? We're talking the centre that monitors all U.S. aircraft in the Middle East. It has no idea when the stopwatch starts ticking where the pilots are or what they're looking at, largely because Schmidt never gives coordinates. They have to figure out, probably by looking at datalinked information from the AWACS, where he actually is, what he's likely looking at, and how the ROEs apply in this circumstance... specifically, they have to decide what they can possibly do to talk the pilot out of a self-defence claim. (I wonder how much time these reporters have actually spent monitoring radio nets in heated situations.)

See, the right to self-defence is sacrosanct. A pilot must always have the final judgment call: presumably you know if you're being fired at. So, once Schmidt said the words "self-defence," despite an order to hold fire, he effectively took all responsibility for error back onto his shoulders. If he had time to spell it out, he would have said, "I know you said hold fire, but I think my life is in danger. So I'm going to fire, and I take full responsibility for the consequences."

It's entirely reasonable to believe that Schmidt, who I have no doubt honestly believed he was looking at some clueless Taliban, was frustrated with the AWACS guys himself; his boss, Nichols, had expressed open contempt for them. So he figured he'd kill some bad guys, and Nichols would back him up for what would, if he'd been right about his target, then been a minor breach of procedure. But by doing so he'd claimed ALL responsibility... so on the narrow question of culpability, whether Saudi Arabia took 21 or 41 seconds to get a grasp of what Schmidt was doing is irrelevant. In a legal sense, the bomb was on its deadly way from the point when Schmidt said "self-defence." Nothing the guys in Saudi Arabia could have said or done after those words were spoken was going to save anyone's life.

Once more, just to be clear: the criminal act Schmidt's accused of is not the bomb exploding, but the patently false claim of self-defence that preceded it. THAT'S what he's accused of.

Posted by BruceR at 01:18 AM

January 20, 2003



It was a day for stupid UN news. And yet more stupid UN news. But also some signs of great hope. Once the deployment orders come through for the American divisions in Germany in a week or two, we'll be over the 250,000 decision point, and the conquest, or at least occupation, of Iraq is almost certain to happen.

The question now, of course, is is Canada going to do anything at all? Or is the paralytic indecision common to our foreign policy going to keep us entirely out of this one, just as it did in 1991, altogether? One paragraph in the Scotsman article linked above rings true:

Furious arguments have been raging between Downing Street and defence chiefs over the tank deployment announcement, with the military pressing for it to go ahead this week and the Prime Minister’s advisors wanting a deferment until the United Nations has clearly sanctioned any war.

Likewise here at home, as well. The difference is, the British military seemingly tends to win their versions of these arguments. And it's paying off for them. Would that our leaders could discern the cause-and-effect so clearly. Maybe the Falklands lessons Steyn refers to haven't quite disappeared from their collective consciousness. I'll be raising a glass to the Brits tonight.

Posted by BruceR at 06:06 PM



I am continually amazed by the amount of credibility given to the uncorroborated, unsubstantiated, after-the-fact, self-serving statements of the two American pilots accused of killing Canadians in Afghanistan and their lawyers. I really am trying to imagine any other accused criminal who is believed automatically on key questions... specifically questions relating to his state of mind at the time an alleged crime was committed.

Today's case in point, from the Star:

[Maj. Marshall] Woodson said that any time a pilot requests permission to deploy weapons, the air combat control demands co- ordinates for the target?s location, right "down to a decimal point." That information was never passed on, since Schmidt decided to release his bomb in self defence before the co- ordinates could be relayed.

In fact, we know from the transcripts that Maj. Schmidt never tried to relay those coordinates:

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.

Schmidt's decision to attack came immediately after he had been ordered to hold fire... it even sounds like he may have cut the AWACS off in mid sentence. Another, equally reasonable interpretation would be that the decision to deny his request to fire prompted the self-defense claim, or at least was a factor in the decision of a pilot determined to continue with the action. But the Star assumes, without any evidence other than Schmidt's say-so, that, if he hadn't felt deeply threatened, right in that split second while AWACS was talking, he would have gone on relaying coordinates. One hopes Schmidt faces a less pliable real jury in the end than we're seeing in the press gallery.

Posted by BruceR at 05:45 PM

January 17, 2003



"If it was well known, that should have been told to the pilots right away, shouldn't it have?" shot back David Beck, lawyer for Major Umbach. He noted that more than three minutes passed between the time Major Schmidt first reported his intention to attack and the time he dropped his bomb.

--Globe and Mail, today

Incorrect. More than three minutes passed between the time Maj. Schmidt first reported seeing surface fire, and the time he dropped his bomb. His statement of intention to attack was exactly 90 seconds before the fatal act... big difference.

This story would be a lot easier for people to understand if Canadian journalists would stop making fundamental errors of fact.

Posted by BruceR at 10:02 AM

January 16, 2003



The Canadians’ commander, Capt. Joseph Jasper, agreed that the troops had not fired their weapons for several minutes before he heard the blast of the 500-pound bomb. But he admitted under cross-examination Tuesday that his forces ignored regulations to put a flashing red light on the practice range so pilots flying overhead could know they had encountered friendly forces.
Jasper testified that more than half of his men had also covered up blinking red lights on their helmets, which they normally used for safety reasons during live-ammunition exercises, because the blinking sometimes bothered helicopter pilots landing at an airfield about three miles away.

-MS-NBC story today. While hidden in there is the beginnings of an explanation why putting red lights on the range was not the Kandahar standard procedure, the gist is another smear on the unfortunate Capt. Jasper. If his quotes in other accounts of this testimony are accurate, he never admitted to ignoring anything... in fact he specifically said he followed every regulation he was aware of (a point on which the official inquiries back him up on). (Note the article's layout, btw... two pictures of the American pilots with their pretty wives, and none of the eight injured Canadian soldiers, some of whom limped into the same courtroom today.)

Posted by BruceR at 12:45 AM

January 15, 2003



(See previous article) I am still mystified by Professor Glenn's continuing enjoyment in bashing a legitimate (if somewhat overwrought) piece on the threat posed by .50 calibre sniper rifles, even if that piece does base some of its research on the anti-gun Violence Policy Center (many of whose views it's fair to say I don't endorse.)

But the corker has to be Robin Roberts' claim, cited approvingly by Reynolds, that since terrorists already have SA-7 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, .50 calibre rifles therefore pose no additional threat to us worth regulating. (!) Here's about six reasons that's completely nuts:

1) Cost: As the original TNR article points out, a .50 cal sniper rifle costs $1,250 in the States. A SA-7 costs about $5,000 in Nairobi, and a missile that would actually have a good chance of scoring costs twice that.
2) Ease in bringing into the country: Even if you buy a SA-7 or Stinger in Nairobi, you still have to get it to a U.S. airport. There's no importation risk with a .50 cal.
3) Training delta: Contrary to what you might think, it takes skill to use a SAM, and previous practice if you expect to score. With a .50 cal, however, recent experience with any long arm would be largely transferrable, meaning any good shot could use one under the right conditions.
4) Signature: Okay, let's say you've got a .50 cal and you're potting at aircraft. The chances of a second shot if you don't succeed are much higher than with a SAM, whose launch would not avoid being noticed. All you have to worry about is the sound of the report bringing someone to your position. You're aided by the fact that, unlike a SAM, which has to be fired from out in the open, away from power lines, trees, etc., a .50 cal can be fired from concealment.
5) Deployability: Because SAMs do need to be fired from open fields, close and in line with to the takeoff end of a runway, if local law enforcement suspected a threat to an airport the number of locations they have to keep under surveillance with most urban airports is fairly limited. Even though it has to be in the same area, by contrast the number where a .50 cal could be concealed is more or less unlimited.
6) Versatility: most of all, however, a .50 cal could be a multipurpose terrorist weapon. It can do other things... limousines with presidents in them, for instance, or real long-distance sniper shots, from so far that a Malvo-Muhammad team trained with a .50 cal would, it's fair to say, never be caught.

So it's cheaper, more available, more useful, and potentially (at least compared with a SA-7, which would also need a lucky shot to actually take down an airliner) just as deadly, if not more so. Yeah, I can't imagine why a terrorist would want to use one of those...

UPDATE: Tapped agrees Reynolds overshot.

UPDATE, AGAIN: I see Roberts couldn't find any valid counterargument, so he stooped right to the ad hominems. Me, when I hear people like Ronnie Barrett, who singlehandedly developed and popularized the civilian .50 cal in the States, say the weapon would be good for bringing down aircraft, I tend to listen. But I'm sure Roberts is right, and Barrett is just an ignorant, dishonest gun-control nut, too.

Posted by BruceR at 08:49 PM



James Fallows, and two noted authors who are completely unimpressed with the U.S. military today.

Posted by BruceR at 05:09 PM

HUNTING WHAT? "...while .50-caliber rifles


"...while .50-caliber rifles were developed more than 15 years ago, their use has been limited to a small cadre of shooting enthusiasts who use the gun for long-distance target shooting or hunting."

--New Republic, today

Hunting? Um, okay... Still, I saw a lot of .50 cal shooting last time I was down in Kentucky. The article's right: if the U.S. does not move to extend the National Firearms Act to include them, the chance one of these weapons in the hands of a domestic terrorist is going to kill an AWFUL lot of people is greatly increased.

UPDATE: Instapundit gives the article the big pooh-pooh. We've seen this before, the belief that somehow regulating as military weapons a class of rifle that, outside of target shooting, ONLY has military applications, is the thin edge of the wedge of gun control. What nonsense: anyone who thinks that doesn't know as much about firearms as they probably should. We've seen it before, most egregiously in a stunningly biased article in National Review Online:

Are .50-caliber target rifles lethal weapons? Certainly. But so is a .458-caliber rifle, and so is a .475-caliber rifle — both of which are very powerful hunting rounds.

The .458 Win-Mag bullet weighs c. 450 grains, and leaves the muzzle with a velocity of 2150 feet per second, giving it a muzzle energy of just over 4,500 foot-pounds. The .50 calibre bullet weighs 40 per cent more, and has a 25 per cent higher velocity, giving it a muzzle energy in the area of 10,600 foot pounds. That's a huge gulf in performance. One is inherently an armour-piercing, vehicle-destroying round, too big to use for any game you might actually want to eat or hang on your wall later; the other is just a big hunting round. There's no hundred shades of gray here... by virtue of having over 100 per cent more penetrative and killing power, a .50 cal is qualitatively and profoundly different from any hunting gun. You could regulate all weapons with muzzle energies greater than 5,000 ft-lbs. and not inconvenience a single hunter.

The other argument put forth in the NR article is that firing big-.50s connects Americans with their past... hunting rifles a century ago were often in larger calibres than today. Fair enough... but again, the utter destructive power of the .50, the very characteristic that does, Glenn Reynolds' pooh-poohing to the contrary, make it a danger to airplanes, helicopters, Secret Service limousines, etc. is simply not present in those weapons. The NRO (NRA?) spin, again:

Like modern .50-caliber rifles, the 19th century models had long-range power. Marksmen used the .50-90 Sharps rifle to kill Indians a mile away. And these guns could be quite powerful, since some were designed for buffalo hunting.

To take their own example, the .50-90 calibre Sharps rifle fired a 450 grain bullet, about the same as the .458, above, with a muzzle velocity of around 1400 feet per second. If you do the math, that comes to a muzzle energy of about 45% of that of the .458, and about 20% of the .50 calibre Barrett-style sniper rifle that we're actually talking about. Yes, 19th century rifles could kill at long distances, and obviously they could kill large animals, too. But that's so far from the point that one can only presume the NRO writers are using general ignorance about rifle characteristics to score a couple cheap debating points. Regulating the sale of buffalo rifles is not going to do anything to discourage terrorism: regulating modern .50 calibre rifles (ie, only those that fire a heavy machinegun bullet) will.

Anyone who supports the private, unrestricted ownership of .50 cals should ask the question... why stop there? Why not allow the free importation of the new 14-20 mm anti-vehicle rifles (what our grandfathers would have called anti-tank rifles) that are now coming into wide use in foreign militaries, like the South African NTW-20? They average around 21,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, only 100 per cent more again than the .50 cal... if a weapon with twice as much killing power as any other long arm is okay, what's the argument against another with twice as much as that? You've got to draw the line somewhere, presumably... me I'd draw it so as not to restrict the activities of the hunters or the historically-minded in any way, but still limit the availability of anti-vehicle weapons among the general population.

Posted by BruceR at 01:51 PM


The one revelation out of the first day that could have material impact on the question of guilt in the Kandahar bombing was caught by the National Post. The trouble is, the reporter in question, Michael Friscolanti, is so laughably uninformed about the military, that it's very hard to believe the facts are as he recounts them.

[The Range Safety Officer,] Capt. Jasper said he had never heard of the U.S. protocol regarding blinking lights, which are meant to warn pilots that friendly forces are on the ground."I didn't know the American regulations and we weren't following them," said Capt. Jasper, the first witness to testify at an Article 32 hearing at the Barksdale Air Force Base. "If I had known about the regulations, I wouldn't have ignored them." Capt. Jasper said though his brigade was under the command of a U.S. army task force, he organized the drill according to Canadian regulations, which require only that neon flares be laid out. Capt. Jasper tried to explain that the glow sticks "matched the equivalent" of the red lights, but Charles Gittins, one of the lawyers representing the pilots, brushed him aside.

"Was a blinking red light operating at Tarnak farm on the night of the accident?" Mr. Gittins asked.

"Not that I can recall," Capt. Jasper said.

Obviously, if the ground forces broke procedure in any way, some of the culpability falls back on them, even though two inquiries exonerated Capt. Jasper fully. If the American procedure is blinking red lights on ranges for air-to-ground recognition, if that was an SOP that the air force could reasonably assume was being followed at Kandahar, then there is a serious problem. But Friscolanti's so unreliable on military matters you generally need a second source just to figure out what actually went on.

Take, for instance, his lede:

The deputy commander of the Canadian army brigade that was mistakenly bombed by a U.S. fighter pilot was unaware of American regulations...

Okay. First off, the Canadian army didn't have a brigade in Afghanistan. It had a battalion, or more properly, a "battle group," a smaller formation. And Capt. Jasper, the RSO, was certainly not a deputy brigade commander, or even a deputy battalion commander. If I recall right, he was second-in-command of the Canadian infantry company that was using the range that night. So that whole sentence is f*cked, basically. (The brigade/battalion error is repeated several times in the article.)

Also note the quote above, where Friscolanti refers to glowsticks, chemical night illumination devices, as neon flares, or maybe the other way around. Who knows? Friscolanti also has a problem with accepting defence statements uncritically and incorporating them into his writing: for instance, his assertion in the same article that the inquiries had stated the pilots should "flee" when fired upon; what both inquiries actually said was that the pilots should have waited for orders before engaging.

Still it's an interesting question that I haven't seen an answer to. What are the established American air-to-ground recognition procedures for small arms ranges? How did they differ, if at all, in the range standing orders for the Kandahar range? And if so, why? These are all good questions. Too bad the Post doesn't give us enough info to even stab at an answer.

Posted by BruceR at 01:38 PM



This editorial from Canada's largest paper was just too good:

Some 2.3 million Canadians own nearly 8 million guns, and the vast majority are properly licensed, with their guns recorded in the new federal gun registry. Who are these people, apart from the military, police and private security guards?.. One may well live down the street.

Tar: 50 cents. Feathers: $3. Getting that last air rifle out of your neighbourhood: priceless.

They oppose the registry on misguided principle, not on cost, which has been exaggerated in any case. The new $860-million system is saving police forces $30 million a year, and Ottawa can recoup costs by upping the registration fees, now $25 or less.

In other words, now that they're all registered, the government can tax guns out of existence to recoup the cost of their own incompetence. Who could possibly have a problem with that?

They're revoking far more licences from dangerous owners, including spouses.

Apparently to the Star, simply being married makes you too dangerous to own a gun. Not that that's untrue, but still...

Ottawa Police Chief Vince Bevan, who's vice-president of the national chiefs association, sums up the case for the registry this way: "The new system not only screens owners when they obtain the licence but alerts the firearms officer if a licensed firearm owner is involved in an incident which suggests they may be a threat to public safety. This allows preventive action to be taken before tragedies occur. "And remember that previously there were about 6 million rifles and shotguns and no one knew who owned them. ... It simply was not possible to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands."

And yet amazingly, those 6 million weapons still were responsible for only 100 homicides a year, or 1 per 6,000 guns. Dodged a bullet there, didn't we? (bad pun intended)

The new system isn't cheap. Nor is it the final answer to gun crimes. But it promotes safety, transparency and accountability. It's truly worth saving.

This is apparently the same transparency and accountability that led the federal Auditor-General to, for the first time in recorded history, throw up her hands in despair and refuse to audit a government program because she no longer believed any of the numbers the civil servants had given her. Worth saving? How much more waste do you think it would take before the Star got alarmed? $1 billion more? $2 billion?

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 AM



While no decisions have been made, [Defence minister John] McCallum raised the possibility of getting rid of the army's aging fleet of Leopard tanks, which he says, may not be useful in the Forces' new concept of a rapid deployment force.

--Ottawa Citizen, today

Here's my heresy: I actually think he's right.

Posted by BruceR at 12:50 AM



The most telling account from the first day of the American Article 32 hearing for "Psycho" Schmidt and his wingman was the Globe and Mail's:

The defence also contend there were three witnesses who told U.S. investigators that the Canadians shouldn't have been firing their weapons at the time of the incident.The witnesses said a check-fire order had been issued, likely to allow a plane to land or take off at the nearby Kandahar airfield. Under check fire, the soldiers should have suspended all firing on the range. The lawyers argue that if the order had been followed, the pilots would not have seen any fire on the ground and not deployed the bomb. Captain Joseph Jasper, a member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry that was leading the exercise, testified Tuesday that the check fire had been cancelled. American and Canadian investigators have also concluded that the check fires had been lifted.

Translation: in an open hearing the lawyers for the two accused airmen challenged the basic competence of the Canadians' range safety officer (RSO). For the uninitiated, disregarding or not implementing a "check fire" order is quite possibly the worst offense a soldier serving as RSO can make. It's instant court martial time. If anyone above him seriously believed Jasper had disregarded a check fire, his career as a soldier ends, right there and then. So long, goodbye, and on your way out please report to the military jail in Edmonton for a few years, thanks a lot...

The checkfire issue itself is a complete tangent. Whether the Canadians were about to stop firing, or had just restarted firing on the range is irrelevant to Schmidt's actual guilt in killing them: his actions and theirs were entirely disconnected from each other. If anything, it only gauges the level of the tragic-irony-meter over Afghanistan that night. If the inquiries disregarded evidence related to it, that would have been entirely justified because it was not a question of fact that needed deciding; in fact, it is entirely irrelevant.

It is, however, kind of important for the career of one Capt. Jasper. The two lawyers basically tried to commit a drive-by career-ender on a good Canadian officer, not because doing so would exonerate their clients in any way, but because they're basically throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the military now, in a transparent attempt to confuse the court and prejudice the public. By saying some irrelevant information was left out of the final reports of the parallel national inquiries, therefore there must be some big JFK-esque conspiracy between the nations to make their clients the patsies, etc. etc. One begins to wish the old rules prohibiting civilian legal representation in court martial hearings still applied...

PS: Another example of the same tactic is at the top of the same article, where the lawyers try to make hay of a previous near-fratricide incident involving soldiers from the same regiment. The clear implication is that Canadians were somehow prone to this sort of thing, or that the real problem was the absence of the same FAC who had saved the situation before on the fatal night. The context that's missing is that the previous incident occurred with Canadian troops deployed on Operation ANACONDA, attempting to close with their enemy in hostile territory. The night in question they were doing target practice at their own base. The circumstances are so entirely dissimilar that bringing them up the way the lawyers have can only be for obfuscatory purposes.

Posted by BruceR at 12:39 AM



I'm grateful to Cecil T. for giving me one of the best arguments I've had in ages, with reference to the Kandahar bombing incident, these last few days in Flitters. It's weeks like this I'm particularly glad I have a forum feature, and particularly impressed with the literacy and wide-ranging knowledge of this webpage's readers. I've certainly learned a few things.

Posted by BruceR at 12:19 AM

January 14, 2003

NOOOOOOO! The image comes to


The image comes to mind, watching America's tediously slow troop redeployments, even with all their prepositioned equipment, etc., of that security guard in that first Austin Powers movie who doesn't get out of the way of agent Austin in his bulldozer, just stands there and shouts, "NOOOO!"

The variations in the proposed options left to the Americans are slight. You can have the "light" plan, involving 4-6 divisions, or the "heavy" plan, involving... 4-6 divisions. One can reliably count on 1 Marine division and 1 British division, plus the 101st Airborne in some capacity (the 82nd Airborne has taken over Afghan duty). The 3rd Infantry Division is deploying to Kuwait now, and there is enough prepositioned kit to for one more division on top of that... various sources have suggested 1st Cavalry and 1st Armoured for that gear. Division #6 would have to come with its own stuff, meaning its arrival at least 60 days away from now. But of course there's going to be a long air war preceding, so that's not a problem.

My point is, the U.S. army is not going to do this in any lightning fashion. As far as I can tell, every serious plan proposed assumes the minimum presence of 250,000 U.S. personnel, all-services, including 60-80,000 ground troops. My advice for war-watchers would be to watch that quarter-million figure: when that many troops are present or confirmed en route, then it's go-time (best I can tell at the moment, we're about half-way there as of today).

Posted by BruceR at 04:48 PM

January 12, 2003



Aislin's cartoon today sums up just about everything I have to say or will ever have to say about the federal New Democratic Party leadership race.

Posted by BruceR at 09:27 PM



Although I still hold out what I think is a reasonable hope that Glenn Reynolds will do the right thing and note this accordingly.

UPDATE: Of course, he did just that.

Posted by BruceR at 01:25 AM



A former Canadian officer in the Spectator, outlining the thoughtful case against war with Iraq. Like this other one, mandatory reading in this time.

Posted by BruceR at 12:55 AM



I have no huge problem with the piece on the Kandahar bombings tribunal, starting next week, in the National Post today... other than the fact it takes the statements of the accused pilots at face value, and without corroboration, despite the obvious discrepancies between their later statements and their actual behaviour, as recorded in the radio log, commented on this log ad nauseam since last April. I'm sure other accused killers would appreciate that kind of benefit of a doubt, too. A couple notable errors of fact, however, both in the pilots' favour:

"Ninety seconds after Maj. Schmidt asked to shoot his cannons, Maj. Henry [in the AWACS] told the pilots to "Hold fire, I need details." He later told investigators that he had a "hunch" friendlies were in the area."

The actual transcript:

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.

The Post article seems to suggest Schmidt's request was ignored for a minute and a half. It wasn't. He was responded to and told, as the army would say, to "wait out," within seconds.

"OK, I have got some men on the road and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us," Maj. Schmidt said. "I am rolling in in self- defence."It was another minute-and-a-half before Maj. Schmidt actually unleashed the GBU-12, a 225-kilogram laser-guided bomb.

The actual transcript, again:

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.
Schmidt: (21:25:39) Bomb’s away, cranking left.

In fact, it was 35 seconds, from the time Schmidt said he was starting his bombing run, to the time he said the bomb had cleared his plane.

The National Post writer is fixated on the 90-second time, which is in fact the key timing in this whole story, but he either can't explain or doesn't understand what that 90 seconds represents. The 90 seconds is the time between Schmidt's first report of a contact to AWACS, at 21:23.34, above, and the time he, for his own personal reasons, gave up on AWACS and took the matter irrevocably into his own hands again by starting his bombing run at 21:25.04. The other key time is 21:26:11, when the no-doubt working-like-a-maniac Maj. Henry told Schmidt his target was likely friendly, having confirmed he was, in fact, actually looking at a Kandahar base facility, less than 3 minutes after Schmidt's first call to him. Average time-in-theatre to confirm friendly targets was 5 minutes, according to the official inquiries... Henry, a Canadian, must have been one of the better AWACS officers in theatre. Unfortunately he was apparently dealing that night with one of the more reckless fighter pilots in the USAF.

Posted by BruceR at 12:27 AM

January 11, 2003

"CHARON ON WHEELS" Gregg Easterbrook


Gregg Easterbrook demolishes anyone's reason for owning, or tolerating the widespread ownership of, SUVs. Now there's something the Canadian government could be spending that $1 billion of ours in wasted gun registry money on and actually save some lives by doing so... by extrapolation from Easterbrook's 2,000 preventable SUV deaths in the U.S., 200 Canadians are in a funeral plot today when they didn't have to be thanks to lax SUV ownership standards.

The fact that a significant portion of Damian Penny's "What do bloggers drive" list are driving around in death-wagons only shows bloggers are collectively no smarter or stupider than the average of the population.

UPDATE: To be clear, I don't have a problem with SUV ownership per se. As Damian points out, there are times they come in handy. But they should be held to the same mileage and safety standards as other vehicles their size, and automakers should not be allowed to include threat-enhancing cosmetic modifications like front gazelle bars or high-mounted lights, just because they look "cool." Bring about a level regulatory playing field with vans and large cars (where are the station wagons of yesteryear?) and then let the consumer decide what's best for him or her.

Posted by BruceR at 02:50 PM

January 10, 2003



The erosion of the Bill of Rights accelerates.

Posted by BruceR at 05:00 PM



You might think Bill Saletan's little Clonaid/Iraq story is a little contrived (I certainly did reading it), but you have to admit it makes his point thoroughly and rather inarguably.

Posted by BruceR at 12:38 PM

January 07, 2003



Um, not to be picky again, but Steven Den Beste just doesn't get alliance warfare, as it's historically been practiced in the West. It's fair to say all NATO countries, including Britain and Canada, have refused orders from American allied commanders if they felt they contradicted their own rules of engagement. The Canadian Air Force rejected a number of NATO- (ie, U.S.-)assigned air missions in Kosovo, because they contradicted the rules on minimizing civilian casualties laid down by their own government: notably, none of the 532 precision bombs dropped by Canadian pilots in Kosovo hit the wrong target or caused unacceptable collateral damage. When the ground occupation was under way, the British ground commander, General Sir "not the real" Michael Jackson, refused American supreme commander Gen. Wesley Clark's order to forcefully challenge the Russians' control of Pristina airfield. That French pilots did likewise in Afghanistan (ostensibly because they felt the risk of civilian casualties was too high with some specific targets, again) was entirely appropriate. Unquestioning obedience to American commanders is not a reasonable expectation of American soldiers, let alone Allied ones... if one firmly believes carrying out an order will do great harm to one's own side for no countervailing good, a soldier at any level is morally bound TO disobey it. That goes double if the order is from an ally, not one's own national chain of command.

Canadians, like other British dominion troops, have a long familiarity of these sorts of situations, of course, after a few wars' worth of dealing with often overly rigid or ludicrous orders from higher British commanders. (Also see the Currie-Snow affair, 1915; the battle of Batoche, 1885, or the ANZACs at Gallipoli and Fromelles, 1915-1916). Not that disobeying orders per se, is antithetical to the American soldier... Zachary Taylor and Andrew Jackson seem more or less to have disobeyed every order they ever received, and they made them both presidents by the end of it.

What Den Beste doesn't know or doesn't mention is that in the Pristina situation, Clark had asked a joint Anglo-French force to deny the airport to the Russians. The French wanted to go, but the Brits pulled out and the plan was scrubbed (there were no unallocated American forces available). So why are the British so much more trustworthy, again?

Posted by BruceR at 05:24 PM

January 06, 2003



In his latest self-serving statement released by his lawers, and repeated as with all the others completely uncritically by his in-Canada mouthpiece, Glen Macgregor of the Ottawa Citizen, Maj. Harry Schmidt states, among other things, that he believed he was being fired on by a BM-21 rocket launcher when he killed 4 Canadians last April.

The request was denied, but Maj. Schmidt thought he was still being fired at with a BM-21, a rocket-launched anti-aircraft weapon. The rounds appeared to be burning out around 10,000 feet -- well below the pilots' estimated altitude of 15,000 feet to 18,000 feet -- but he believed it was still a threat to both him and Maj. Umbach because of the projectiles' speed and height.

This is a BM-21. It is a 40-year old Russian surface-to-surface rocket artillery system. It has NO capability against aircraft whatsover. Its rounds do not "burn out": they land on the ground 20 km away and explode. Schmidt claims he mistook two or three Canadian light machine gun teams firing slow rate on the Kandahar MG range for this.

For that to be a rational thought, one must conclude it was rational to believe that the Taliban had driven one of their last remaining rocket trucks through Allied surveillance to just outside the front gate of the Kandahar airbase, only a few thousand metres away, and were inexplicably trying to use it to engage aircraft, in the dark, far above any altitude they could possibly hit with ANY weapon let alone this one, and the ground forces in Kandahar were completely unaware of this. Suggestions Schmidt was overly medicated begin to take on a new legitimacy... To me, though, Schmidt's initial statement on being questioned (which this was) sounds eerily similar to O.J. Simpson's first statement on being interviewed, which also makes no sense to the rational mind when you read it, as Vincent Bugliosi and others have pointed out... the Schmidt transcript, when released will likely bear out the belief that he's just basically making shit up at this point, as he begins to realize how much trouble he's in.

...at least 2,000 Taliban were in the area southeast of Kandahar

Not southeast. Next door. Literally around the corner from the main gate. Six months after Kabul fell. Uh huh.

Maj. Schmidt requested permission to fire his machine-gun "long enough for my flight lead and I to egress successfully," he wrote.

Schmidt is recorded requesting this: it's just nonsensical. He's at 20,000 feet-plus at this point: he's immune to all forms of fire. It'll take him several minutes just to descend to an altitude and firing position where he can engage with that choice of weapon. Doing so will bring him, for the first time, into actual SAM range, if there are any SAMs left in Afghanistan. It is simply not the request of a pilot who really thinks there's anything on the ground that can hurt him at that point. That request alone is damning as to his true state of mind. Damning. But you'll never see that in the papers.

As well, Schmidt believes he's seeing rounds "burning out" at 10,000 feet. Remember, this is 5.56 and/or 7.62mm tracer ammo, fired horizontally... it's never more than 50 feet off the ground, tops. It certainly looks nothing like artillery rockets being fired. It's a massive error in perception, one that can only have been the result of preconceptions. He saw what he wanted to see.

"Friendlies executing live fire in a hostile zone and in the vicinity of friendly airplanes is unsatisfactory, adding to the fog of war," he wrote. "I did not possibly believe they could be friendlies. Otherwise, I certainly would have come off and held the weapon."

Well, no kidding. The "hostile zone" was, again, within the surveillance perimeter of the major American coalition base in the region, with a brightly lit airfield unmistakeable from the air. But let's just say Kandahar was fighting off an attack at the time Schmidt flew by. Even if he did believe that, what steps did Schmidt take to drop his weapon on the actual enemy, as opposed to the base defenders? The answer is, of course, none. He dropped his bomb almost instantly, 90 seconds after calling in a report of surface-to-air fire, giving no one any time to figure out what he was looking at. Not even his wingman Umbach, who never confirms seeing what Schmidt saw (he thought Schmidt was aiming at some people on a bridge.)

"not knowing where friendlies are, not knowing of their operations, ending up in the middle of a perceived firefight and trying to sort it out in a short amount of time while airborne, receiving fire."

But he wasn't "receiving fire." There was nothing, NOTHING the Taliban could conceivably have had, that could have hurt them at their 23,000 foot cruising altitude. Even if the entire Taliban army had been trying to kill them that night, they were entirely immune by definition. The only reason that Schmidt had a "short amount of time" is that, having been turned down once, he didn't want to hear his second request to engage the same target turned down, as well, just like all the other requests he and his squadron mates had called in to the AWACS planes through the course of their tour thus far. It's that simple.

Meanwhile, in the Canadian Press version of the same story, we see Schmidt blame the Canadians' parking for his mistake:

"seeing vehicles parked randomly on the side of the road with people standing around weapons while they fired on American forces is typical of what I have seen in other tapes of al-Qaida standard operations."

UPDATE: The same CP story talks about how 4 minutes passed between Schmidt seeing the fire and engaging, and saying he had asked for target identification from the supporting AWACS plane, but the plane did not respond. Once again, an uncritical Canadian journalist (and there are a number of them on this story, McGregor's just the most gullible) isn't even bothering to check the defense lawyers' latest stories against the established facts. For the record: Schmidt might (according to his own statements) seen ground fire in the area of Kandahar 4 minutes before he launched his weapon, but if so he then waited 2.5 minutes before asking AWACS for permission to engage. AWACS said standby, so Schmidt, according to the radio logs, then gave them exactly 90 seconds to figure out the coordinates he had supplied them were incorrect and thus where he actually was and what he was looking at, before he decided to take the decision back onto his own shoulders. Ninety seconds.

That's a known fact. What we're seeing here from McGregor and others is, due to the necessary official silence from the American and Canadian military justice systems, a completely skewed retelling of the "facts," as the defense tries (and effectively, I'd add) to switch the venue to a more amenable-to their-clients trial-by-media. You'd think even basic objectivity would lead to a writer on this subject being familiar with the official reports, or at least calling an independent expert on the other side to check what the lawyers say. But that simply isn't happening here.

Posted by BruceR at 05:16 PM



Jonah Micah's red hot these days. My favourite recent quote:

Indeed, broadly speaking, the evolution of White House Iraq policy might be described fairly as a slow process of overruling Dick Cheney.

Posted by BruceR at 02:08 PM



I see where Den Beste is coming from in the latest screed(s) about never closing off any of your options when it comes to making war, but I think he neglects one key thing that soldiers in Western countries came to realize in the last century or so. It's all well and good as a nation to say that no cruelty is off the table (yes, we will torture... if we have to to win; yes, we will even mass-rape, if we have to), but at the soldier-level, the idea of withholding any proportional response goes out the window. Den Beste hints at this problem in his dismissal of mass-rape as a particularly useful tactic, but fails to apply the logic to other forms of atrocity, such as torture and mutilation of prisoners.

If all soldiers were robotic automata, susceptible to instant and complete modifications of their rules of engagement as circumstances warranted, Den Beste's idea would work. But they're not. For soldiers to be effective at all, they need extensive preindoctrination in the rules of behaviour on the battlefield, starting months or years before it comes time to make decisions. For an officer to say, "Thou shalt not rape... unless our country changes our mind about the whole rape thing" introduces a level of uncertainty into matters of military discipline, and the obeying of orders, that can only erode the system from within in quick order. That's why most Western nations, including Canada, have no problems with taking certain kinds of atrocious behaviour by their soldiers right off the table, long before the shooting starts, and make as sure as possible the soldiers follow an ethical code that their country has predefined, and will stand behind in the long run. Vietnam is a classic example of where (largely due to the use of draftee soldiers and poor military training techniques) large elements of the American forces, whether at My Lai or Kent State, never had a firm sense of ground rules, and frequently acted independently, to the detriment of the nation-wide effort.

National control becomes easier the more impersonal the warfare, of course: it was easier for Harry Truman to set limits on the use of the first nuclear weapons, than it was for him to control the behaviour of American troops on Okinawa, just because of the number of intermediate links in the chain. With strategic weapons systems, such as centrally-controlled weapons of mass destruction, it is possible for a country to exert its national will in the kind of graduated fashion Den Beste expects with relative ease. But on the individual soldier, highly personal level, departures under wartime pressure from clearly established pre-war guidelines, or failure to communicate those guidelines in the first place, would seem to be almost always counterproductive to military performance.

As Grossman once insightfully outlined, the only alternative is to demarcate your rules of engagement on an opponent-basis, as the SS and the Japanese did: saying everything was on the table, but only for some specific identifiable subtypes of people (Jews, Russians, Chinese, Allied soldiers who surrender). You still get that clarity that soldiers need, through the dehumanization of some or all potential opponents. ("Human" being defined as anyone for whom some ethical groundrules still apply in that construct.) It would seem, however, that this is in the long term a less effective form of the Laws of War, as those societies that tend to practice it have been on a bit of a losing streak the past few hundred years. Grossman suggests it's because once the opponent has been completely dehumanized, there's no exit strategy left to you, short of total genocidal victory, that your soldiers can reliably execute... That's the antithesis of the whole idea of war as "diplomacy by other means." That path seems inevitably to lead instead to "war for war's sake," which, if nothing else, makes your cultural system a visible threat to nearly everybody else on the planet who wasn't previously convinced, and leaves you vulnerable to your own overreaching, to boot.

Posted by BruceR at 01:01 PM



No, I lied. For as much as I may believe Maj. Harry Schmidt, based on the evidence available, needs to be tried and convicted for his actions over Afghanistan, I have no truck with calling his spouse a "plump blonde wifelet" or saying his kids are faking their Christianity. And regardless of what he did, he's still twice the human being Heather Mallick ever will be.

Posted by BruceR at 11:50 AM

SLOPPY, SLOPPY From the Globe,


From the Globe, today:

VANCOUVER -- People at a funeral service in a Burnaby, B.C. cemetery scrambled for cover during a tense standoff Saturday between an RCMP response team and teenagers carrying a fake machine gun. Police were called to the scene after two teenage boys were seen swaggering around the Vancouver suburb, dressed in army fatigues and brandishing what appeared to be an MP5 assault rifle.

Wow: two errors of fact, in two sentences. For the record, if this particular pellet gun looked like an MP5, then it resembled a submachine gun. Not a machine gun, and not an assault rifle. The genres are distinct and entirely separable. A primer for the copy editor:

*A machine gun is an automatic weapon, firing rifle bullets, capable of high-volume sustained fire, generally meaning it's belt or box fed;
*An "assault rifle" or automatic rifle, is an auto- (or semiauto) weapon, firing rifle bullets from a magazine;
*A submachine gun is any automatic weapon that fires pistol bullets.

The differences between rifle and pistol ammunition are significant, both in accuracy and the damage they do to a target. An MP5 fires 9mm rounds, and is by any definition a submachine gun, not a machine gun or or assault rifle. To those who work with guns, they are as different from each other as fork, knife and spoon.

If I was reading a story about cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal's two SUVs and their contribution to the Kyoto problem, if the writer in the lede and second sentence called those two vehicles first convertibles and then motorcycles, my faith in the paper's ability to grasp the issue would be fundamentally diminished. See why Western Canadians, and gun owners in general, feel poorly served by the media in the current debate on gun registration, yet?

Posted by BruceR at 11:30 AM

January 03, 2003



The surprise of the season on the computer gaming front (I talked about my disappointment with Neverwinter Nights below... thanks to those who offered suggestions... the solution, of course, of getting NWN to work with a Radeon is to use ATI's 7000-series drivers instead of the new 9000-series "Catalyst" ones... which itself leads to a degradation in graphics card performance for all the other games on one's system, which is why it ticks me off so much)... where was I... oh yes, the surprise on the computer gaming front has to be the entirely successful expansion for Mythic Entertainment's Dark Age of Camelot, called Shrouded Isles.

The added content is first-rate... I've started three new characters, one in each realm, just so I can see it all. I'm particularly fond of the new Sylvan race... so far as I know DAoC is the only game on the market that currently allows you to roleplay an ent, which I'm now doing with gusto on the Percival server, if anyone's in that neighbourhood... Recent additions, particularly of duelling and movie-soundtrack-like ambient music, have made the gaming experience richer. And there are by my count 4 different kinds of servers, suiting just about anybody's playing style. The game's still popular, if not crowded, with over 30,000 simultaneous users during peak hours over the holidays. What really impressed me about the expansion, though, was, in addition to the reasonable price, the first ever system specs that I was pleasantly surprised by.

The game box clearly states you should have a 1400MB system with a 64MB graphics card (pretty much a beginner system these days). For various reasons, I'm running games currently on a 750MB Duron with a Radeon LE 32MB (still the best graphics card for the money ever made, IMHO, but running outdated drivers currrently... see above). So I assumed when I loaded up that it was just going to be screwed, stuttery, basically unplayable: that's certainly been my experience whenever I've defied manufacturer's recommended specs before: it really was an act of masochism on my part to try in the first place.

But no! Amazingly, the game runs like butter. Now, I'm sure it's nowhere near as pretty as it could be if I had all that extra power under the hood -- which is saying something... the Sylvan vale I'm in now is nothing less than stunning -- but the fact that it runs at all (meaning the designers thought long and hard about engineering for a legacy system, a real surprise in this industry) is just wonderful to see. The graphics processing needs have been scaled down seamlessly and automatically for low-end systems, evidently. I can't think of another game that's ever run anywhere near this nicely on a system one quarter of what it should be. Mythic continues to set the standard for this industry.

A lot of people don't get the whole Everquest/Ultima/DAoC massively multiplayer game phenomenon. The monthly fees are expensive, it's often extremely frustrating dealing with other humans online, and frankly the products are often sub-par (World War Two Online offered to let me play for free over the holidays, trying to win me back... hmph, maybe if they start paying ME...). But the moving and interacting of virtual avatars, in a persistent, alternate reality where the sun still rises and sets whether you're there to see it or not... that may be the future of more than just computer entertainment. I really do believe everyone should try one of these games just once, if only to take the measure of them, and try and figure out where they could be a couple decades from now... if you do feel the urge, I once again recommend DAoC as the best of the lot.

Posted by BruceR at 10:53 AM