Friday, March 31, 2006

Russell Smith would go to jail if Colin Mayes had his way

At the risk of sounding like we're flogging a dead horse, Russell Smith's article in yesterday's Globe and Mail which was critical of blogs, bloggers and the traditional media organs who use them in their presentation to the public, has served to actually substantiate what I pointed out here.

Now, make no mistake. Smith's column (now behind the Globe and Mail's paid firewall) was highly critical to the point of being insulting to bloggers. But it was the study he used as the source of information for his column that was interesting. Reading the entire study gives you a whole different perspective. And what was written certainly differs from the angle fed to you by Smith. The State of the News Media 2006: An Annual Report On American Journalism, takes blogs at face value and provides a balanced and extremely useful critique. It also points out the uniqueness of blogs and the fact that blogs do indeed add something to the journalistic endeavour.

Canadian Cynic did a lot of the work on this, so rather than repeat his perceptive take on this, I'll stongly suggest you read his latest.

Now, if Smith is indeed attempting to manipulate readers by cherry-picking his reference to suit his ends, he would be guilty of breaching the public trust. That is, if he was in a position which subjected him to such law. He isn't. He's a journalist. He can say what he likes and discipline is up to his editors and publisher.

But not if Conservative MP Colin Mayes has his way. The MP from Okanagan-Shuswap thinks journalists should be jailed for writing "distorted" or "inaccurate" articles. Nunc Scio has it here.

Now his press secretary says he was joking. Really. We're not done then, are we? Mayes is a raving wingnut and the legs on his ideas are way too long.

Now... for the benefit of Russell Smith, if you look at what happened above, I gathered the content from one story, the content from another story, pulled up the reference, gave the readers access to all of it, (should they be interested in reading the WHOLE thing), and then gave credit to the two other bloggers who did most of the work in getting closer to the source material.

That, my dear Russell would be the same as if you wrote your column, offered to have your reference material couriered to any reader who asked for it and then told all your readers that there is equal or better material in the Montreal Gazette and the Victoria Time-Colonist written by different people.

Updated to fix a broken link. My apologies to Nunc Scio.

Noah, build me an ark. Xisuthrus, you too.

And when you write up your after-action reports, no copying from each other's work!

It seems like Box Turtle Ben may have learned his "craft" from an ancient source: The book of Genesis in the Christian bible.

Beep Beep! It's Me, has unearthed some information on unearthing some information.

It appears the story of Noah and the flood was written elsewhere, at a different time and it starred a different cast of characters. The similarities between "Deluge" stories make one wonder who's story is actually the real one.

Maybe it was a franchise thing. Anyway, hop on over and have a look. It's more than a little interesting.

Guess the country

Let's play a little game. Last Thursday US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld held a press conference and this issue came up again: (Guess the country)

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday the United States must retain wartime command of (country's) military until that country's forces are strong enough to maintain stability (geographic region).


Asked whether he thought the change in command structure could start this year, Rumsfeld replied: "No, no, I don't at all."


He said no time has been set for the turnover, but (country's) forces already are taking increasing responsibilities. "They're doing that," he said, "and as they continue to take on more and more responsibility, the United States will be able to reduce its troops."
We've heard words like this before. It sounds promising. It could be Iraq if it weren't for the fact that every effort is being made to turn command over to the Iraqis before the Fall of this year. Well... maybe not.

But, it's not Iraq. No, it's a different country. And, if you said Afghanistan, you'd be just as wrong.

Try this. South Korea. (ROK)

55 years after taking control of the South Korean armed forces when the North Koreans invaded, the US remains in complete command. The South Korean armed forces are under the command of General Burwell Bell.

The Koreans are getting a little antsy about getting their armed services back. They figure 55 years is long enough. They've had several senior officers who joined the service as 18 year old cadets, progressed and then retired, having served a full career. But they could never hold overall command.

Rummy is working on it. And nothing will happen. As long North Korea is on the other side of the 38th parallel and China is on the other side of the Yalu River, the ROK armed forces will be a resource of the Commander in Chief... of the United States.

The original article was in Stars and Stripes, the US military newspaper. I'll bet the troops in Iraq were happy when they read about that time frame.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sometimes the Globe and Mail is so irrelevant

Canadian Cynic puts Russell Smith in his place with a short, succinct one-liner. Smith, writing in the Globe and Mail in which he declares that bloggers demean the discourse and lower the tone of public debate. Smith's column is a perfect example of punditry without the research. And while he is quick to dismiss blogs as cranky and scornful of the MSM (traditional media is the definition here), he demonstrates that he knows little of the impact blogs have made and the service many of them actually perform.

We know that blogs have the advantage of speed: News and rumours (more likely the latter) can circulate the globe on the Internet three times before our magazine or news hour rolls around. We have heard that they can break important stories.
Indeed. Let me clarify that for Smith. Sometimes blogs do break important stories. For example, AmericaBlog in the US broke the story of Jeff Gannon, the male-hooker-turned-reporter who, with seemingly unfettered access to the White House press briefings, became famous for softball questions to the administration. Gannon, I'm sure Smith will remember, was sitting amongst the heavyweights of the traditional media - the White House press corps. While they were curious about the methods employed by Gannon, they let the story brew right under their noses. In the end, it was bloggers who exposed Gannon - not the "hard nosed" investigative reporters of the White House journalism squad.

Not a big deal? Wrong. The presence of Gannon exposed a Republican attempt to control the message by planting their own shill. What did the "hard nosed" reporters do? Nothing.

Then there's this little bit from Josh Marshall, where not only did he break information on a tip, but had it stolen from his site and repeated by an Associated Press reporter. Josh might have been a lot less hostile if the AP reporter had at least given the blog, from which he lifted the story, the proper credit.

Perhaps what Smith is missing is the fact that many blogs are run by subject matter experts. And while it's true that a majority are little more than opinion boards, many of those opinion blogs have an area or two of strong expertise.

The same cannot be said for the traditional media or the reporters who work that field. Most reporters are trained in journalism. Nowadays very few advance far enough to actually become good at it. While they pursue the occupation of a communicator, they regularly digress into commentary on subjects in which they have no real knowledge.

Smith is critical of the fact that blogs tend to feed off each other. Why he considers that a bad thing is curious. What actually happens is that the research and the story expand and move. Unlike what occurs in a newspaper, information grows as the story is fleshed out. And while Smith holds blogs in disdain because they extract their information from the very media sources many blogs love to scorn, he conveniently circumvents the fact that scrutiny by blogs is responsible for holding the feet of the traditional media to the fire. When traditional media reporters fail to properly research the material they present, bloggers are more than willing to jump in. Where a reporter is under pressure to meet artificially imposed deadlines and fulfill the demand of the news cycle, bloggers can spend as much time as necessary digging and pulling information together. What is damning for the traditional media is that often, the whole story a particular media report touched on and missed, is available through other media sources. Gathering all of those short media stories together often exposes a different and more complete story, as demonstrated here. Where the original story suggested that male firefighters were harassing their female co-workers, further digging proved that the men were fully supporting the women against a solitary antagonist - the fire chief.

The only threat to regular reporters and media organs is that if they don't do their job as expected by the public, there is now a system which will do it instead, and they're not members of the "press gallery". They are no longer competing with each other; there is a whole new crowd out there. Unruly, unsupervised and voracious in their desire to solve "mysteries", bloggers may be the entities which force news organs to actually return to thorough research, reasoned investigation and accurate reporting. If Smith views that as a bad thing, then it's working. Smith needs to acknowledge that the traditional media which increasingly produces reports confirmed by "unnamed sources", "a source close to the investigation" or "an administration official" has created suspicion and distrust.

On analysis, Smith's article is written not necessarily to take a swipe at the blogosphere, but more to allay the fears of newspaper readers that the traditional media is becoming redundant. And it is in many ways.

Blogs have proven that the simplex communications of the traditional media, where readers are forced to yell at the paper or scream at the TV is rapidly fading as an acceptable means of communicating with the public. Given a duplex system, interested readers will opt for that as a means to participate.

I'm afraid Smith's article doesn't stand for much, except sour grapes. I hope that's what he intended.

Update: Dig in those spurs and get over to the Canadian Cynic. CC has put up a challenge to The Globe and Mail. Max participation will return max results.

Harper's Key Principle: The GST Cut

I've been accused by a right-winger of lying about Harper's "five key principles". He started to retract the accusation and then went on and did it again. OK, let's look at these "five key principles", and then we'll see who is actually distorting the truth. This post will address one of those principles.

GST cut. Conservative claim - The Liberal income tax break at the lowest tax bracket did absolutely nothing for the one in three Canadian households who already pay no income tax. And you can't hide from the fact that lower income families spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities than high income families do.

Actually, the Liberal tax cut reduced the tax rate from 16% to 15% at the lowest tax bracket and it increased the personal exemption by $500. That increased the number of people who pay no tax at all and lowers the tax taken on those who pay tax in the lowest bracket. To say it did absolutely nothing for those in the lowest tax bracket is patently false. It is quite correct to say that those paying no income tax saw no benefit - they have no tax liability. And 500,000 people were relieved of paying any income tax as a result of the November tax cut.

The suggestion that a reduction in GST will benefit low-income Canadians because they spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities is ridiculous. Necessities, such as food and rent are GST exempt. Given that most low-income earners spend a greater proportion of their income on GST-exempt items, less money is available to purchase taxable goods. Hence a reduction in the GST rate has a minimal effect. If a person's income is below the personal exemption level there is little or nothing left to spend. If however, that person has the ability to spend $500 annually on taxable goods and services, the annual savings realized from a 1% cut to the GST amounts to 42 cents per month.

Further, Canadians at the lowest income levels (below $30,270.00) receive a quarterly GST rebate based on their gross annual income. Those at the lowest income levels, who pay no income taxes, receive the highest GST rebate. What Harper hasn't told us is whether a reduction in GST carries with it an accompanying reduction in the quarterly rebate to the lowest income earners.

The comment, "one in three Canadian households who pay no income tax", is deliberately misleading. The actual statistic is that 32% of tax filers pay no income tax. That includes stay-at-home spouses filing zero income returns in order to receive child-tax-benefits, owners of business who choose to have earnings taxed in the corporation and file a personal return with income below the personal exemption rate, plus a multitude of others who file returns in order to gain a benefit. Filing a "no tax" income tax return does not necessarilly mean the filer is poor. Further, a tax filer is NOT a household. There can be any number of tax filers in a given household.

A GST cut, with an accompanying return to pre-November 05 income tax rates does, however, body-slam the lower-middle and middle class. The federal tax cut returns an average of $246 annually to earners not receiving the GST rebate. In order to achieve the same $246 savings by way of a GST cut to 6%, a consumer would have to spend $24,600 on GST taxable goods and services. In addition the increase in the basic personal exemption gives a further $97 to those same earners. In order to save that using a GST cut you now you have to spend $34,343. If you spend less than the aforementioned $34,343 on taxable goods, you have just suffered a tax increase. Wealthy Canadians, with a much higher disposable income, have the ability to achieve more savings from a GST reduction then through an income tax reduction.

Oh, there's more. The cost of compliance will rise. A reduction in income tax produces a minimal compliance cost to government. A reduction in GST passes on a huge short-term compliance cost to businesses who have to change everything from cash registers to point-of-sale software to accounting programs. How does a business recover costs? Raise the price of a product or service.

The "marginal efficiency cost" is the cost to government of collecting taxes and is also relevant. In the last study conducted by the Canadian government (1997) the MEC for collecting income tax was 56 cents for every dollar collected. The MEC for collecting GST was 17 cents for every dollar brought in. And if you want a shock, look at the MEC for corporate taxes - $1.55 for every dollar taken in revenue. The most efficient tax to collect, according to the Canadian government and the Fraser Institute, is the GST. Just having the others is costly. It's little wonder economists are shaking their heads at Harper's ideas.

A reduction in the GST will have a positive immediate short-term effect on the poorest Canadians, however that doesn't make it a progressive tax. The greatest benefit falls to the wealthy who are able to neutralize the tax shift. But there is that return to higher tax rates which immediately impact the lower-middle and middle income earners and the fact that Harper vowed to reduce the basic personal exemption by $400. That will return somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 Canadians, who were paying no income tax at all, to the status of taxpayer. That further reduces already meagre discretionary funds.

Harper has said he plans to simply eliminate the 2006 tax cut completely. CCRA will not be able to implement new tax tables until July 1st. That means that the government will be collecting 12 months worth of the increase in taxes off Canadian paychecks in a 6 month period. A 1% annual tax increase will look and feel like a 2% increase until January 2007 to everybody, including those who can least afford it.

If Harper really had the poor in mind, there were better ways to address them. Leaving the existing tax cuts in place and then providing a transfer of funds to those with low incomes would have been more effective. Leaving the GST at 7% and then increasing the amount of the GST rebate or even creating a GST prebate would have actually made the GST more progressive by effectively reducing the rate further at the low income level. An across-the-board cut leaves the GST in the category of a regressive tax, and adding low-income earners to the income tax roles in order to reduce a sales tax by 1% is even more regressive.

I said that Harper's GST cut was smoke and mirrors, and that the most benefit was gained by the wealthy. I have no reason to change that position.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Scotty McWhatshisname, and that steel trap of a memory

Via Michael J. Sticking, at least Scotty didn't call him Prime Minister Poutine.

Kind of reminds me of the time the Prime Minister went to an acid rain conference in Washington D.C. where Senator Claireborne Pell of Rhode Island kept referring to Brian Mulroney as "Muldoon".

In fact, at the Shamrock Summit, in Quebec City in the Spring of 1985, Ronald Raygun, then US President, said of Mulroney, "My old friend, Byron Muldoon".

Way to go, Scotty! Now we know why Bobby Goldsboro wrote a song about you. "BRLFQ spells mom and dad".

A quick round-up while I kill the phone

It's been one of those days that remind me of the time I hopped into the old Chevy Vega, slapped in an 8-track cartridge and sputtered home to see if I could write enough of a program in Commodore BASIC to make a turtle move across my TV screen.

Between ships and cars, today has been one continuous interruption. I would love to shorten my answers to people. Just fix the freakin' car and, yes, the ship needs that new piece of equipment because it's a regulation. How these turn into 10 minute conversations is a mystery to me.

Anyway, just thought I would point you in a few directions for now. I wanted to post on these, but hey, these blogs have already put great stuff up.

Canadian Cynic gets right to the point on Harper's secrecy program. Yes, it's a program. And go into comments for Katrina's take on it.

AmericaBlog has the link to Jack Abramoff's sentencing. 5 years 10 months in the can... and they're not done with him yet.

Creature over at The Reaction wants to know what Bush is afraid of, and T(L)GND provides at least one of the answers.

The Happy Feminist isn't happy about a report involving five Duke University lacrosse team members and their criminal behaviour at a stag party. Read this.

And Pandagon is back up!! (That was a long log out. Glad to see Amanda, Pam and Jedmunds back in action.)

Back to posting tonight... I hope.

Usted habla a presidente griego

The guy doesn't speak English either! (via DKos provided by John Whitesides, AP political correspondent)

Bush, a former Texas governor who speaks Spanish, increased his share of the Hispanic vote to more than 40 percent in 2004, up from 35 percent in 2000

Except that George W. Bush doesn't speak Spanish.... and Whitesides isn't much of a reporter.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bad News From Afghanistan

This is just in from CBC. Reports say that a Canadian soldier has been killed in Afghanistan during a fight with insurgents.

A Canadian soldier has been killed in a remote area outside of Kandahar, according to reports.

CBC's Keith Boag reported that Ottawa would only confirm there was an incident resulting in Canadian casualties in Kandahar. He said officials will not elaborate until the next of kin have been notified.
Separately, the Pentagon is reporting that one U.S soldier and one coalition soldier were killed and three coalition soldiers injured in a firefight with insurgents.
More information will be available soon.

Update: This is the update from CBC.

One Canadian soldier has been killed and three others injured during a firefight with Taliban insurgents in a remote area outside of Kandahar.

Pte. Robert Costall was killed in a battle which took place in Helmand province about 110 kilometres northwest of Kandahar, Canadian Forces Brig.-Gen. David Fraser confirmed early Wednesday.


Canadians had been repositioned to the area in response to an earlier incident in which eight Afghan army soliders were killed.

Fraser said that around 10 p.m. local time, Taliban insurgents attacked coalition forces.

A significant number of Taliban were killed during the battle, he said.

Earlier, the Pentagon confirmed that one U.S soldier was also killed in the attack.

A U.S. soldier and an Afghan National Army soldier were also wounded.

The injured soldiers were taken to a coalition medical facility in Kandahar for treatment.

The Pentagon also reported two other incidents in the same area. Five private security contractors will killed on the highway between Helmand and Kandahar and another incident involving one US and three Afghan army soldiers.

Sunken Queen Of The North Video

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board has released a short video of the stern of Queen Of The North resting on the bottom of Wright Sound.

The TSB says their field investigation is almost complete. They will then move back to the office and complete the administrative investigation, compile information and provide a report with conclusions and recommendations. Overhead views of the area and estimated positions are here.

The video is here, courtesy of CBC, in wmv format for media player. Click on picture.

Mr. Harper, secrecy is a demonstration of poor accountability.

Stephen Harper's secrecy campaign keeps on building. His muzzling of cabinet ministers and his communications director's bizarre belief that she has the right to tell the media, (and by extension, the population), nothing, is bad enough. Now he pushes further and declares that he has the constitutional right to keep the existence of cabinet meetings secret. Scotian and Cerberus cut right into this latest cyst to develop and start to drain the puss.

Constitutional right. So what?! Where is the need? He has the constitutional right to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause too, but he said he'd never do it. I never did believe that and now I know he'll use it without hesitation.

This is a man desperately afraid that the media, and thus the public, will find out something. As some of the commenters on here suggested, this is a desperate attempt to keep the "flaming wingnuts" quiet, and many of the cabinet ministers are flaming wingnuts. And that goes to the hidden agenda.

Harper lives in terror of a cabinet dispute breaking out. Once the wingnuts start to demand action on the Reform agenda to which they are wed, the moderate conservatives will object and the fight will be on. We can only hope that it will spill out into the hallway because then, and only then, will we hear what this crowd really intends for this country. Until that happens, you can expect more of the same silence, and where there actually is comment, it will be a pre-cleared talking point.

By way of demonstration, I'll go back to the comments. Scott from Montreal provided this comment which, although to the point, was intended as a bit of humour.

Graham: Mr. Speaker, will the honourable member please tell us why our troops in Afghanistan aren't getting the armaments they need to do the difficult job this Parliament has tasked them with?

O'Connor: We are cutting the GST by one percent this year, and another percent at some time in the next four years.
Now take a look at this after Kamloops-Thompson MP and parliamentary secretary for Veterans' Affairs, Betty Hinton, was having her feet held to the fire softballs tossed at her for missing the AGM of her Conservative Riding Association.

Hinton is looking forward to getting down to business with the Conservatives’ five policy priorities to enact in the coming month.

Those five key priorities are a federal accountability act, a GST cut, a child-care allowance, tougher criminal sentences and a patient wait-time guarantee.

“I’m hoping it will be co-operative for all parties,” she said. “These are fundamental things that Canadians have been asking for for a long time.”
Nevermind that the two issues which really counted to that riding were dismissed as unimportant.

And let's look at those five key priorities:

A GST cut. That little game of smoke and mirrors is going to cost us all but it is the lower income Canadian who pays heaviest since, what the Conservatives keep avoiding is that they are going to repeal the income tax changes made by the Liberals. I'll quote Rob Carrick here,

To really make the GST cut pay, you have to spend large amounts, say on furniture or a car. The tax savings on a $27,000 car would be $270, although that's just $54 annually if you own the vehicle for five years.
Childcare allowance. $1200 taxable dollars per year which does nothing to provide daycare spaces. This is nothing but tossing money about. Further, it provides working mothers or working couples with nothing. Count on all of this being taxed back.

Tougher criminal sentences. The crime rate is falling steadily and there is absolutely no proof that "tougher" sentences reduces the recidivity rate. In fact, the US model proves exactly the opposite.

Patient wait-time guarantee. That was Liberal policy before Harper pulled the rug out from the government. No details have come out on this. Just the same empty words. Will you be really really mad if I tell you this is going to be very very costly, and get ready for the solution. Look south.

Federal accountability. Absolute rubbish. Given the example of Harper's and his cabinet lack of ethics, his lack of transparency and his bunker mentality, anything produced by this crowd with respect to "accountability" is worthless. We've seen the performance standard of the Conservatives. Legislation isn't going to change that.

Of course, he could fire the lobbyist who holds the communications director's post in the PMO and I might be persuaded to change my mind on the last point.

Harper Declares War On The Media (and his general is a lobbyist)

Stephen Harper and the clowns in his office have stepped over the line. They have also proved that they have no idea how Canadians view politics. This British reporter from the Guardian noted this about Canadians on a tour through the U.S. and Canada:

Canadians are obsessed by two things - politics and national identity. I am on a book tour here and have been amazed how knowledgeably and intensely these things are discussed in ordinary conversation. Canadians are engaged in their politics in way that Americans aren't, and they read obsessively.
Except, if Harper and his sycophants get their way, there will be nothing to read. Steve at Far and Wide details how Harper's "message control" is being implemented so stringently that the media is now being barred from harmless photo ops.

CFSR picked-up on this from HarperBizzaro. The Parliamentary Press Gallery executive met with PMO staff to discuss the fact that reporters are now being barred from traditionally open events. What they came out with was this:

In the course of our short meeting, the PMO indicated that:
* They are considering no longer announcing Cabinet meetings to Canadians ahead of time in order to circumvent the Gallery's right to post cameras and reporters on the third floor of the Parliament's Centre Block (as per our understanding with the House);
* They reserve the right not to inform Canadians of the visit of foreign heads of state;
* They will no longer systematically grant access to a pool reporter at photo opportunities between the Prime Ministers and his guests.
In short: Harper's government will operate in complete secrecy and the only information we will get will be PMO spin-dried, sanitized and safe... for Harper.

Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler, spewed out this bit of arrogance in response to questions about lack of access and information:

"I don't think the average Canadian cares as long as they know their government is being well run."
I would refer her back to Henry Porter's Guardian article and then point out to Buckler that what I care about is not within the purview of some self-inflated political hack to decide. And, in any case, how the hell would we know? She's clamped down the lid on information. All of it.

Of course, Sanda Buckler isn't what can be described as squeeky clean either. In fact, she's pretty dirty in terms of ethics and integrity. Harper, who made a point during the election campaign of spouting ethics as the centre of his push for power and then issued an "ethics package", made sure that senior civil servants, government officials and politicians could not leave government and become lobbyists. One could be excused for believing that his "ethics" went both ways in providing a reasonable time period before a lobbyist could hold high office in government. No such luck. Not only is the Minister of National Defence a recent former lobbyist but so is Harper's communications director.

Sandra Buckler de-registered as a lobbyist just four days before the last election was called. Some of her clients included the Canadian Payday Loan Association, Coca-Cola Canada, Canadian National Railway (CSX in the US), De Beers Canada, Rogers Wireless and Power Financial Corp. Buckler was also the Associate Vice-President of GPC-Canada Inc. which has a standing offer and supply arrangement with Public Works and Government Services Canada.

This individual, a recent lobbyist and government contract holder, is now sitting in the Prime Minister's Office. And she's telling us what we're allowed to know.

A quick analysis would suggest that she's not very good at her job. Harper's recent trip to Afghanistan, as scripted as everything was, presented an amateur performance as a communications director. Lines like "Canadians don't cut and run" and "Canadians died in the World Trade Center too" were enough to make peoples' heads explode. Far from defining the Canadian role and raison d'etre in Afghanistan, what spilled out of Harper's mouth were worn-out Bushisms and neo-con tripe.

Buckler's communications strategy is simple. Say nothing and the media reports nothing. Democratic process and government transparency be damned. Everyone keep their mouths shut and do not answer questions. The same advice an attorney gives a client who has committed a crime.

What reason could Harper and his communications director have for shutting down public access to government unless he is hiding something? Why doesn't he want Canadians to know what he and his government are doing?

And that is the answer. Harper is hiding something. The hidden agenda is real and he knows it won't be popular. He knows what he has to offer the majority of Canadians goes against the public will. So, he just won't tell us.

It's time the media got off their collective duffs and started dealing with this bunch. The media gave Harper a pillow ride during the election campaign. Now it's time to get hard-nosed with him. A reminder that he might not survive his first budget will be a good start.

End this crap and dispatch the scum-sucking lobbyist while your at it.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Belated Spaced Out Sundays

I'm fascinated by pictures of galaxies. It probably goes back to my first glimpse of the heavens in the brand new telescope Dave bought me (as a reward for surviving tax season) when we managed to zero in on the Andromeda galaxy. I was hooked.

This glorious picture, courtesy of NASA's Hubblesite, is of a cluster of galaxies two billion light years away. The galaxy cluster is so massive that its gravitational field deflects light rays passing through it, thereby acting as a lens that brightens and magnifies images. If you look closely, you can see "arcs" throughout the picture. These are ancient galaxies, formed during the early stages of the universe, that are 5 to 10 times further away than the galaxy cluster, visible due to the "zoom" effect caused by the gravitational lensing.

The colours in the image tell their own stories. Blue indicates young, hot stars; red shows cool, older stars; and the white/yellow colour is the result of the combined light of many stars.

Queen Of The North Sinks Update

Global TV has reported that sources close to the Transportation Safety Board and BC Ferries have stated that Queen Of The North was on autopilot (gyro steering) at the time she collided with Gil Rock and things suddenly went terribly wrong.

The doomed B.C. Ferries vessel Queen of the North was on autopilot when it went off course and sank after striking Gil Island, sources told Global TV on Monday.
Being in autopilot is not illegal nor even bad practice, but there must be a means to switch to manual steering immediately. Three possibilities here:
1. The autopilot, which is fed information from various devices stopped receiving information and started to move the rudder wildly in either direction; or,
2. The ship was moved off course by wind, tide or both and the steering system was required to apply more than standard rudder in an attempt to re-acquire the dialled-in course. In this instance, with the gyro steering searching for its course, the ship could actually end up doing a complete circle before regaining its proper course; or,
3. The gyro, the primary device which feeds the automatic steering system, toppled and was no longer providing accurate information. If this happened, (and it's not uncommon), the compass heading would swing uncontrollably on the primary read-out and the automatic steering would follow it. In short, the gyro compass card would begin spinning slowly and if the ship's automatic steering was engaged, it would follow it thinking it was keeping an accurate course.

The two members of the bridge crew also failed to get the problem under control, said Global, citing sources close to the investigation and people who had spoken to crew members.
As odd as this is going to sound, switching from automatic steering to manual steering isn't as easy as just flipping a switch. However, there was at least one other option.

Global said the ferry was on autopilot as it neared Gil Island, where it was scheduled to make a turn.

An alarm sounded as it veered off course moments before the collision.

That triggered a cascading series of errors, one ferry official told Global. The key mistake was a failure to reduce speed, causing the ship to sail past it's turning point and plough into the rocks of Gil Island at 19 knots.
This is a personal thing, but I have never been happy being in automatic steering when I am that close to shoal ground. Given the nearness of Gil Island I would have ordered a shift to manual steering and used the helmsman to alter, thus the helmsman would have been steering well back in Grenville Channel.

The failure to reduce speed is a cardinal sin. Whenever a ship starts to have difficulty with steering the immediate response is to stop or slow engines in order to minimize the speed at which any future incident will occur. It's better to hit something at 2 knots than 19 knots.

As a matter of reference, if you look at the picture at the bottom of this post, once the officer of the watch realized that there was a problem and the course alteration would not occur, if the ship was one nautical mile from Gil Rock, it runs aground in about 3 minutes at 19 knots. If the speed was reduced, even accounting for the time to slow down (head reach), once slowed to a mean speed of 6 knots, that same mile takes 10 minutes to cover. That adds critical time to react and correct any problem.

The two crew members also failed to ask for help from other officers to cope with the off-course warning, sources told Global.
The officer of the watch, the person responsible for the ship at the time, should have immediately called the captain.

The Global report also points out that one of the three bridge staff was off the bridge having a meal. That's no big deal since there would always be a qualified watchkeeping officer on the bridge, but if it was one of the officers away eating, he/she should have been called back at the same time as a call went to the captain.

This updates previous information here, here and here.

Click image to enlarge.

The 3 Day Story - Day 50

The story simply will not die. David Emerson's opportunistic stroll across the floor is about to go to airborne. Manuel Pereda, a Vancouver-Kingsway constituent has hired a pilot, a plane and a banner specifically for the opening of Parliament.

A Vancouver-Kingsway resident has hired a small aircraft and pilot out of Toronto to fly over Ottawa as Parliament opens April 4, towing a banner with a message for Emerson.
That message will read "David Emerson Call Home" in 1.5-metre-high letters along a 40-metre banner.
Voters in the Vancouver-Kingsway riding have lost their patience with Emerson. Since his defection to the right-wing Conservatives, he has refused to meet with constituents.

"We're going to send a message to him in Ottawa," said Pereda. "This has gone beyond just the matter of crossing the floor. Now it's a matter of Mr. Emerson not even being available to his constituents."
Emerson hasn't been available to the media either. The daily Vancouver Province has been attempting to contact him with no success.

Emerson's press secretary has repeatedly declined to return calls and e-mails from The Province seeking comment on the minister's troubles in the riding.
Of course, he's a cabinet minister in Harper's cabinet and that means he's not allowed to talk to anybody. How convenient for him.

The Parliament Hill protest will come a day after critics hold a Walk for Democracy in the riding to express their anger at Emerson.
Pereda has launched a website called Message in the Air to raise money for the protest and register names of supporters for the stunt.
You can find the website here.

Meantime, protests continue elsewhere in the riding. Nine teams hit the streets Saturday, filling requests from homeowners for lawn signs that read De-elect David Emerson.
About 600 signs have been posted in the riding since last weekend. There is a backlog of 180 requests.
In other news of Conservative MPs (those who actually ran as conservatives), Kamloops MP Betty Hinton, who unbelievably tried to compare Emerson's treachery with the actions of former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, was a no show for her Reform Conservative riding association annual general meeting. Further, she offered no explanation short of being "called back to Ottawa".

Hinton has been accused of being unavailable in the past and any call to Hinton now results in: crickets chirping.

That really was fast! Normally it takes about a year before government MPs forget who gave them their job. Hinton can probably be excused. She grovels in the presence of anybody she deems superior and behaves with unbelievable arrogance when challenged by the public.

Emerson is another story. If ever there was a poster-boy for effective recall legislation, Emerson is it.

Queen Of The North Sinking Update

Monday, 27 March 2006.

On Saturday, 25 March, 2006, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board seized the Queen Of The North for purposes of its investigation. That is a normal procedure for a disaster of this magnitude. What that means is that the TSB now effectively has control of the vessel, the bottom she rests upon, the water column, the surface and all surrounding waters. Access to the site is at TSB discretion and all materiel gained by access goes directly to the TSB.

It should be kept in mind that the TSB is not in the business to "assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability".

The TSB has interviewed crew members and have made the determination that mechanical failure was not the cause of QOTN hitting Gil Rock. (CBC report). What makes this an even more interesting statement is that the TSB made that determination without actually having seen the vessel. More on that shortly.

The site was surveyed yesterday by a manned submersible. The ship was found in 427 meters (1388 feet) of water resting in an upright position, in one piece. She is in deep silt which is up to the rubbing strake and in some cases, over the rubbing strake.

What that means is that the part of the hull normally underwater is not visible, and that means there is no way to see the actual damage without either raising the ship, turning it over or excavating the silt around her. Given the depth, none of that is likely to be attempted very soon.

From interviews with passengers and crew the TSB has been able to determine that the ship hit Gil Rock on the ship's starboard side (right hand side when looking forward), and it was probably torn open from the bow all the way to the stern; literally the entire length of the ship.

Weather may have been a factor. The ship was experiencing high winds and rain squalls at the time of the accident. However, that is not unusual weather in that area at that time of year and crews on that run are quite used to dealing with it.

The pictures taken by the mini-sub have been sent to TSB headquarters in Ottawa for analysis and it is very unlikely the public will get to see them for quite some time. There will be attempts to recover the electronic charting system (ECDIS) from the bridge of the ship. The ECDIS, aside from being a navigation device, acts as something similar to a bridge data recorder. It retains a history and any course and speed changes will be recorded as they occurred. It also has the ship's intended track, if it was inserted, which may determine the actual distance off-track the ship might have been at the time of hitting Gil Rock.

All that taken into account, the ship was a good 1/2 nautical mile (1 kilometer) to the right of her normal track in that spot. (Click on the picture for a larger image.)

Interviews with the crew would have immediately been conducted with the officer of the watch (in control of the ship), the engineering officer of the watch (in control of machinery, steering gear, etc.) and the helmsman (steering under orders from the officer of the watch). From those initial interviews, the TSB determined that there was no mechanical failure which led to the QOTN hitting Gil Rock.

There has been a call to have the TSB declare that it was human error. They cannot do that at this point. Without complete bridge data there is no way to determine whether there was an instrument error or whether the officer of the watch actually had a grasp of his/her position.

Some factors:

The presence of rain squalls presents a radar problem. Dense squalls show up as a near solid object on X-band marine radars and might have obscured the shoreline of Gil Island, or even the lead mark into MacKay Reach.

Wind, depending on direction may have set the ship further to the south than the oow wanted, but that is correctable. Further, if weather conditions are causing problems the first reaction would be to slow down. QOTN appears to have hit Gil Rock at full speed (19 knots).

GPS error. The ECDIS navigation system is fed information from several sources. The Automated Radar Plotting Aid (ARPA) provides real-time surface data and the Global Positioning System provides near real-time position fixing. The problem with relying soley on these systems is that accuracy, while normally reliable, can be affected by a multitude of things. As I always tell my trainees, that is why the bridge has lots of windows.

For now, all we can do is speculate and that will not provide the answer to why this horrible event took place.

For what it's worth, it was a disastrous weekend for the global merchant marine. Not only did we have our own deadly accident on the BC coast, but a ferry sank in Cameroon with a huge loss of life and the cruise ship Star Princess had a fire which killed one person and injured 11.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mrs. Mills, fighting crime.

Ah, yes, Mrs. Mills thinks of not only the personal problem, but the wider implications as well.

I am 15 and have a huge problem with blushing. I go red at everything, and it is really annoying. Is there any kind of make-up I can wear that will hide my blushing completely?
And of course, the answer.

No — wearing a back-to-front balaclava is still the only guaranteed way to avoid blushing trauma, though you have to steer clear of banks, and eating is a messy business.
Read the rest here at the Times.

The US is on the brink of an economic meltdown

This diary by Bonddad at Daily Kos is an eye-opening piece which can't help but give you cause for concern.

Bonddad does a thorough job of analysing the US economy and then presenting six fundamental reasons the current US economic condition needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed quickly. From the conclusions of Bonddad's diary:

The US economy's foundations are weak. Current job growth is poor by historical standards. This has lead to weak wage growth, forcing consumers to fund their purchases with a massive increase in debt acquisition. Because consumers have spent beyond their means, they have little savings to help them through economically difficult times. In addition, their increased use of debt makes them more susceptible to insolvency should they experience a financial problem.

At the national level, the federal government has returned to deficit spending, decreasing its effectiveness in the event of a recession. And finally, the trade deficit which is financed by foreign capital inflows could correct violently, spiking US interest rates, slowing the US economy and creating a huge financial problem.
Bonddad demonstrates that job growth is stagnant and the labor participation rate has actually dropped.

The Bush administration continually uses May 2003 as the starting point for their employment figures (largely because this was the lowest point of total establishment jobs on their watch).
True to Bush form, this is a false representation of the real picture. One needs to take a longer view to gain perspective.

Comparing Bush's establishment job growth to all other expansions since 1960 indicates Bush's job creation is the weakest of the last 40 years.
In fact, when you compare Bush's average annual percentage change in the employment numbers to all the other economic expansions in the last 40 years Bush's record of job creation comes up dead last. Bush's average annual percentage change in payroll employment is .6%. The next lowest is Clinton's expansion, where the average annual percentage change in payroll employment was 1.9% -- three times higher.
Bonddad's assessment of consumer debt is even more terrifying. Coupled with a savings rate that has now fixed itself in the negative column, a US national debt that has increased from 5.8 trillion to 8.2 trillion under Bush's leadership, personal tax revenues that have decreased by $67 billion annually, a trade deficit that will eventually have to be corrected against consumers who actually have no savings (deferred spending) and one picture starts to form: The US middle-class, with wages shrinking, jobs vanishing and no money in the bank to weather an economic correction, faces extinction.

From a Canadian standpoint, the loss of the American middle-class is more than just a disaster which will be witnessed. Canadians may not be in the same boat, but they are certainly in the dinghy being towed astern.

With the US as a major trading partner the only thing Canadian exporters and manufacturers can do to avert a concurrent disaster is to diversify export markets enough to prevent being destroyed by a US economic meltdown. To do that, Canadian producers would have to reduce dependence on US markets to much less than that of current levels while giving priority to new markets. Unfortunately, this is a part of the disaster scenario in Bonddad's post.

Canadians can't observe the US consumer debt load or miserable savings rate with any smugness. While Canada has a continuing trade surplus and a shrinking national debt, the employment participation rate has gone into negative numbers and the personal savings rate has also entered the negative column.

Given that a US economic failure would have an immediate impact on Canadian exports of raw materials and durable goods, a large swath of the Canadian middle-class would also be swept away.

Bonddad's diary is a must read. While he doesn't suggest that an economic correction is going to happen tomorrow, he describes what is now a slippery slope and the tank is certainly in sight.

Sunday History Blogging (naval variant)

Cut and Run

This is a term which is now always used as a pejorative, (a description provided by William Safire).

But, it wasn't always that way.

The meaning dates back to the early 18th Century, the Royal Navy and the days of sail. According to The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship 1794, by David Steele, it involved the practice of cutting the anchor cable and making sail quickly, then running before the wind. In a later edition of the same book (1821), the definition took on a different process. It referred to the furling lashings on the yardarms as being cut to release the sails and get underway or gather speed quickly.

Added info: The Oxford Companion To The Sea 1976, edited by Peter Kemp states: an expression often thought to imply the cutting of a hemp cable with an axe, thus abandoning an anchor, when the ship needed to get quickly under way in an emergency. The more accurate origin of the saying was the custom of square-rigged ships, when at anchor in an open roadstead, of furling their sails with them stopped to the yards with ropeyarns, so the yarns could be cut and the sails let fall when the need to get underway quickly was urgent.

I have a tendency toward the Oxford's definition for two reasons: a) As a mariner I would be loath to leave an anchor behind. Further, given the anchorages of the 18th century, recovery was not as long a process as some might believe. Further, while cutting the cable might speed along release from ground tackle, it does not advance the setting of sail, which was a lengthy evolution in itself. b) Oxford's and Kemp have sourced their material thoroughly. Further, Peter Kemp has the distinction of having provided long service as Head of the Naval Historical Branch of the British Ministry of Defence.


The term, to cut and run in it's naval vernacular describes a tactic. Typically, the captain of a ship would order the anchor cable cut and sails made. The anchor cable was made of hemp and with some perseverence and a relatively sharp axe, could be severed. With enough sail made, a ship would run out of her anchorage having avoided some of the longer preparations required for getting underway.

The term was never derogatory when used in naval service. It simply referred to the speed at which a ship could sail in an urgent situation. In an 1801 action between a British squadron and French and Spanish squadrons at the Gut of Gibraltar, the ships were ordered to cut and run, turning toward and engaging the enemy. When ships did cut and run as a means of escape it usually meant they were outgunned and escape provided the ability to return and fight another day.

The meaning implied by recent political figures leans toward "cutting losses" and "running away", doing a disservice to the original meaning which in no way suggested an act of cowardice.

Trivia: Where does the term The devil to pay originate and what are the implications of having to pay the devil?

Sunday Dog Blogging (including Dick Cheney's dog)

Important things are happening in the dog world. TBogg's basset hound, Beckham, turned green. Oh yeah, he also had surgery... and now he's a gelding!

I'm not sure why Beckham had to be de-nutted. I've owned two basset hounds and the only thing I've noticed is that they hump everything... including pillows. You wouldn't think there'd be much left of value by the time they recognized a female of the species. Anyway...

Perhaps it was this thing from the Boston Globe which tells us that Los Angeles is requiring pit bulls and rottweillers to be spayed and neutered. If they're going after those two breeds, bassets can't be far behind.

And then there's this little bit. I am informed that it is Vice President, Dick Cheney's dog. The one he goes hunting with.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Kids At Powertools Are At It Again

One of the morons over at InstaPajamaLine is whining that the fixed media isn't reporting the fact that fewer U.S. troops are being killed now than in previous months. He then goes on to project the exceptionally good news...

based on data through March 25, the count should be about one-third of what it was in October.
What a morbid little sonofabitch. He's treating combat deaths as though they are quarterly sales reports and suggests that, by his reasoning, 7 more serving members of the US armed forces are going to die before the end of the month. Odds on a lottery nobody wants to win.

This is "good news"(tm) over at chicken-hawk central.

Well, how about this then. Using statistics, period 4 (which included last October), was 318 days long and records 715 U.S. serving men and women slaughtered. Period 5 has only been counted for 100 days and 170 U.S. serving men and women have been returned to Dover AFB in a box. If we extend period 5 to the same length as period 4 that will bring the total number of U.S. serving men and women who had their lives cut short to 541. That means 371 more people are going to get blown-up, shot between the kevlar, or bleed to death after having their legs radically amputated by a landmine. What great news!

The Bushco cheerleader and good news (tm) merchant fails to mention that every one of those service members leaves behind a shattered family, an empty chair and perhaps a picture to remind the recipient of the SGLI insurance who it was paid the 65 cents per $1000 of coverage.

Of course, once they're killed and become nothing more than a statistic to the yellow elephants, there's little need to stand on ceremony. After all they're just another number... and freight.

Maybe, if we could pry our heroic member of the 101st Keyboarders out of his comfy basement chair, we could give him a quick shot of basic training, stuff his pinhead into a hunk of kevlar and make him one of his, oh so good, statistics.

The loss of one chicken-hawk, when taken against the current number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, constitutes .04 percent of the total. Great news! Statistically meaningless and materially insignificant. Just another blown-up carcass in a body-bag.

So much for right-wingers supporting the troops.

The Few. The Proud. The Geriatric.

I have always had the utmost of respect for the Chelsea Pensioners, but I doubt anyone would dream of recruiting them for anything more than a history seminar.

The US Marines, however, tend not to discriminate and have actively sought at least one special person for her unique skills.

Sonia Goldstein was flattered by the nice recruiting letter asking her to consider becoming one of "the few, the proud." But at age 78, she believes she's just a little old to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Maybe not. The Marines have a lot of things for people to do. And, hey! They say they can turn anybody into a great Marine. Well... except for this guy. He's too busy to be a Marine.

The letter told her the corps could use her unique language skills, but also warned that life as a Marine would test her physical and mental abilities "beyond anything you've ever known."
There ya go! The Marines know. They need you, Sonia. I'll bet it's the Farsi. The Corps likes to be ready for anything. Y'know... like Iran.

"There I am with my walker. I can't maneuver from here to there without it," said Goldstein, who added that her only language is English.
Walker? That could pose a bit of a problem. I suspect you may not be able to apply for Force Recon.

Don't let the language thing worry you. The Marines need English speakers too.

"I'll do whatever I could for this wonderful country we live in," she said. "But you know, this is kind of stretching it a bit."
Sonia, if you join, perhaps if you join, we can make a case for recruiting this guy. That'll kind of make up for those half-dozen deferments he got back during the Vietnam thingy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Domenech Resigns. Where do we send the bill?

"Box Turtle" Ben Domenech, after a long two day stretch at the's new blog Red America, has resigned to spend more time with his family. Well, maybe that wasn't what he intended to do but that is what's going to happen. This, from Jim Brady,, executive editor:

Ben Domenech Resigns

In the past 24 hours, we learned of allegations that Ben Domenech plagiarized material that appeared under his byline in various publications prior to contracting with him to write a blog that launched Tuesday.

An investigation into these allegations was ongoing, and in the interim, Domenech has resigned, effective immediately.

When we hired Domenech, we were not aware of any allegations that he had plagiarized any of his past writings. In any cases where allegations such as these are made, we will continue to investigate those charges thoroughly in order to maintain our journalistic integrity.

Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious offense that a writer can commit or be accused of. will do everything in its power to verify that its news and opinion content is sourced completely and accurately at all times.

We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the the practice of journalism.

We also remain committed to representing a broad spectrum of ideas and ideologies in our Opinions area.

Jim Brady Executive Editor,
My gawd, Jim, what were you thinking?

It took two days for... well... the entire left-wing blogosphere to explode over the idea of a blog dedicated to a single extremist view, written by... well... an extremist. Even some of the right-wing scream-merchants saw through this one and had to begrudgingly admit that Brady's selection of Ben Domenech was beyond the bounds of journalistic integrity. Despite the fact that Malkin turns the incident into something about her and although she spits and farts like a chicken being drowned in vegetable oil, she had to lower her wand long enough to say this:

I certainly understand the impulse on the Right to rally around Domenech. But I can't ignore the plain evidence. And the charges can't be dismissed as "lies" or jealousy attributed to Ben's age.


The bottom line is: I know it when I see it. And, painfully, Domenech's detractors, are right. He should own up to it and step down. Then, the Left should cease its sick gloating and leave him and his family alone.
(That's right, Honey, and none of the base insults in the remainder of your post do anything to mitigate the episode in the slightest.)

It speaks poorly for the Washington Post that blogs from Fort St. John, British Columbia to Fort Lauderdale, Florida were, within hours of the WaPo's announcement of Domenech's ascendancy to the "big daily", completely able to expose him of holding extreme views, being possessed of arrogance and of having engaged in plagiarism. Even attempts by his right-wing supporters to dismiss charges of plagiarism hit the spike within hours of their publication, as demonstrated by Scott's dismantling of two such efforts here and here.

Where the Washington Post apparently engaged Domenech with blind faith and without the due diligence of a background check, the blogosphere turned into a massive link-farm of evidence exposing Domenech's intolerant views and journalistic theft.

Malkin's concern that Domenech will be further harassed demonstrates that she is reasoning at the same level as a garden slug hot on the trail of a lettuce leaf.

The target wasn't Domenech. It was the Washington Post and Jim Brady. It was the ludicrous idea that the readers would accept the journal, in all its forms, could portray itself as unbiased when its executive editors intentionally created an organ dedicated to a single constituency, without making provisions for all others. Domenech was nothing more than collateral damage.

Brady's announcement contains at least one elevated finger. It is defiant and his last line speaks volumes. Short Brady: Screw you. I'll just go out and hire another one.

Indeed, he probably will. And he can expect that the blogosphere will conduct a thorough vetting of whatever shill he tosses on the chair.

Given that so many of us are doing the employee reference checks on behalf of the HR department and executive editors of the Washington Post, I think it only proper that they tell us where to send the bill for service.

Are Those US Bases In Iraq Permanent?

So now the concern starts to develop. Why, if there is an intention to withdraw large numbers of US troops, is the Bush administration asking for hundreds of millions of dollars to build massive bases in Iraq? Of the $67.7 billion emergency spending bill for military operations which was passed in the House of Representatives, $384 million is earmarked for base construction.

Although the House approved the measure, lawmakers are demanding the Pentagon explain its base plans and have unanimously passed a provision blocking the use of funds for basing agreements with the Iraqi government.


The base intrigue also is problematic in the Middle East, where it lends credence to charges that the U.S. motive for the invasion was to seize Iraqi land and oil. It also feeds debate about the appropriate U.S. relationship with Iraq after the new government fully assumes control.


Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Baghdad, last week told Iraqi television that the U.S. has "no goal of establishing permanent bases in Iraq."
There seems to be a little confusion though.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander in charge of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, replied, "The policy on long-term presence in Iraq hasn't been formulated."
That's a little more realistic, although it lacks veracity. The bases that are getting the massive funding are Al Asad air base, Balad air base, Camp Taji and Tallil air base, all of which are massive. In that three of the four huge bases are major air bases, turning them over to the Iraqis would seem a little irrational - Iraq has no air force and no air force is being trained.

Step back from Iraq, look at US military positioning and a better view starts to form.

On March 17th, the US military quietly boosted its strength at Anderson Air Force Base on Guam in the Mariannas Islands by making the expeditionary air wing permanent. What the press release doesn't say is that in 2004, the USAF permanently stationed a B-52 bomber squadron at Guam and has been rotating B-2 bombers through the base. Guam also became the first installation outside the continental United States to store 3,000-pound conventional air-launched cruise missiles. Guam has also increased its naval strength in the past three years by increasing its base operation and improving its ship and submarine repair facility.

The US is also realigning bases in Japan, South Korea and Okinawa. While there is some streamlining going on, there is a net increase in the forces at all bases. The US Marine air base at Iwakuni, Japan, for example, will increase personnel from 3500 to 5100 and its aircraft from 53 to 110.

Bush's cozying up to India recently, and his push for congressional approval of his provision to India of nuclear technology adds significantly to the picture. Nobody is under any illusions as to the state of India's military nuclear capability and Bush's nuclear deal, along with an expanded military aid package, including the sale of Aegis combat systems , improved components for India's combat aircraft development and new airborne early warning radar, will make India a formidable power in the region.

The US military, under US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, is carrying out a strategic realignment. 50,000 US military personnel will be pulled out of Europe, reducing the European command by one-half, and disbursed to new stations, most of which are in the Pacific.

The US re-introduced troops to the Philippines in 2003, ostensibly for a joint exercise with the Philippine army. Except, when the exercise was over, the troops never left. The US naval base at Subic Bay has had its lease extended again giving the US Navy four bases in the western Pacific from which to conduct surge operations.

So, while the US dodges the words "permanent bases" in Iraq, their growth in one area of the eastern hemisphere suggests that there will always be a strong US presence in Iraq. While those bases provide a strike capability in the region, if you marry them up with the current re-alignment of US forces you can see what's actually happening and why those bases in Iraq are so important.

They are part of an encirclement.

It's all about China.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Queen Of The North Update

Updated: 1430 pst Friday 24 March, 2005.
I have been receiving requests for any more detail on the Queen Of The North sinking March 22, 2005.

So far, it looks like the ship sank in deep water, about 385 meters (1250 feet) deep.

It now looks like there is a clear possibility that two people went down with the ship.

But there's every indication Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, both of 100 Mile House, B.C., did board the vessel.
Foisy's brother, George Foisy, saw them off at the dock Tuesday evening, his last memory of them a digital image in his camera.
Hahn said B.C. Ferries contacted the couple's relatives to find out if they had found their own way out of Hartley Bay, which has no road and is accessible only by water and air.
RCMP were still checking Hartley Bay but Hahn said there's now no sign they were ever there.
These snapshots from Google Earth (TM) may give a bit of perspective: (Click on picture for a larger image)

Grenville Channel, Douglas Channel centered on Wright Sound. The north end of Gil Island is the estimated point of impact.

The village of Hartley Bay just beyond the entrance to Douglas Channel.

A slightly more planar view of the area. Small mark to the northwest is Prince Rupert. Small mark to the northeast is Kitimat at the head of Douglas Channel.

I did talk to another mariner last night about this. He told me that a deep sea cargo ship had been moving northbound earlier in the day and, if in fact it was proceeding to Kitimat or Prince Rupert, would have met the Queen Of The North at about the time of hitting the rock. It is possible that QOTN had made an earlier alteration to avoid traffic, although there is absolutely nothing to indicate so. I have doubts since no other ship was engaged in the rescue.

Some media reports are making something about the Captain not being on the bridge when the ship hit the rock. That isn't an issue here. There are several fully qualified bridge watchkeeping officers in a ship. The middle watch (midnight to 4 am) is usually stood by the 2nd or 3rd mate and that would be the standard practice in a ship this size.

What is interesting is that the watch may well have just changed over before the ship struck. We probably won't know that for some time to come, however, and everything is just speculation at this point.

Update: After a discussion or two with other ship's masters we've pinned down where the Queen Of The North actually connected with the rock. I've put together another picture from Google Earth (tm) with the latitude and longitude of Gil Rock. (Click to enlarge)

What this tells us is that QOTN was WAYYYY off course. She should have turned to the north by altering to port well ahead of ever having reached that point. It also suggests that the Officer of the Watch did not have a handle on where he/she actually was.

This is pure speculation, but it seems to me the Officer of the Watch may have felt, by misreading the radar picture, that the ship was still much further back on its track and just exiting Grenville Channel.

Time (and an investigation) will tell.

The Stain of Peacekeeping

Law and Order on the Cambodian Border

It was bad enough that we were sent into Cambodia without so much as a sidearm. Considering that we were undertaking what the UN believed to be the most complex "chapter 6" peacekeeping mission ever attempted, one would have thought the Canadian government would have ensured our safety.

No such luck.

It didn't help that the Khmer Rouge had not complied with orders to disarm and anyway, they had business deals such as illegal land use, theft of resources and a hefty drug trade to keep alive.

There was trouble from the start. The armed service members found there was a wild variance in pay rates between countries with some troops receiving UN rates of pay while others received home rates. The police contingent was also multi-national and while rates of pay were an issue, wildly varying concepts of law enforcement created even more difficulties. In the end, the police contingent would prove a liability, particularly when confronted by members of the Khmer Rouge. All too often we would find a police checkpoint abandoned and some thug with an AK47 assault rifle instead.

Cambodia itself was a mess. Surrounded by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, the country had just endured 13 years of civil war, preceded by the bloody regime of Pol Pot, whose Khmer Rouge had killed around 1.7 million people through starvation, over-work and execution. When we arrived there were over 200,000 people under arms. It was our job to bring them in, disarm at least 70 percent of them, train the remainder to become the army and police force, provide protection for future elections and prevent the various factions from robbing the country blind. All with a Swiss Army knife.

Except the Khmer Rouge didn't like the game and they kept killing people, including UN troops.

The decision not to arm us was not a UN edict. It came from the Canadian cabinet room. And before anyone starts to mutter, "Damned Liberals," under their breath, keep in mind that the Prime Minister of Canada was the Right Honourable Martin Brian Mulroney. We had a tendency to believe all politicians were the same - stupid.

Good peacekeeping story:

An early morning coastal patrol saw a Canadian navy petty officer, a New Zealand navy petty officer and their Khmer speaking interpreter beach their boat and start a survey of the beach to the east. There had been reports of trees being cut and stolen by one of the armed factions and the three were to confirm and report back.

They had moved some distance down the beach when they noticed a sign. It was a skull and cross-bones with some Khmer writing on it; the traditional sign of a minefield. (Some minefields were marked with beer cans hanging from trees.)

They looked around and realized that they were surrounded by copies of the same sign. Things did not look good at all. They began to plan their route out.

The decision was taken to do everything possible to find their footsteps and extricate themselves, gently, by making foot fall on their inbound footprints. The interpreter shrugged and agreed to follow the lead of the two petty officers.

It took over an hour to get back to the boat. By the time the three had arrived the two petty officers were soaked with sweat and just controlling their fear. They noticed that their interpreter had not only maintained his composure, but he appeared quite cool.

The two petty officers asked their interpreter how it was, after having transited a minefield, he could not have broken out in the same nervous sweat.

"What minefield?" asked the interpreter.

"The minefield! You know. The one identified by those signs," said one of the petty officers.

"Oh! Signs," said the interpreter. "I wonder why you walk out so funny. That not a minefield."

The POs were a little stunned. "What? What was it then?"

"Oh yeah. Signs say, 'Man kill anyone who steal coconuts. Stay out.'"

* * *

Anyway, the Cambodians held their elections and the UN declared the mission a success. 62 UN military and police were killed along with 5 UN civilian staff. The Khmer Rouge never were disarmed. They rejected the election results and continued fighting for six more years. In the latest Cambodian election the results were so fragmented that it took a year to form a coalition government.

Wow. That worked.

Knowing where the line is drawn

Something's been bugging me about this article from the Toronto Star of almost a week ago. You have to go to the bottom for the last two paragraphs.

Yesterday afternoon, when the Star's van fell in behind another Canadian patrol travelling through downtown Kandahar, a soldier riding in the back of the vehicle could be seen draining a bottle of water and then pinging the plastic container off the head of a young Afghan male walking along the street.
Pinging? I am presuming that means he tossed it at him.

If the story is true it suggests a serious discipline problem. That soldier should have been hauled up on an orders parade and summarily tried for conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline at the very least. It is that kind of behaviour which leads to extended lapses of discipline and a decline in the integrity of the unit.

For what it's worth, no soldier should be throwing any waste out of any vehicle anywhere.

The question now exists: Did the news crew in the Toronto Star's vehicle report the incident to the proper military authorities? If they did, good.

If they didn't, they need to be reminded that while in Afghanistan they are not absolved of their responsibilities as Canadian citizens.

I would hesitate to suggest that a reporter would intentionally avoid reporting the act of the soldier in question to the proper authorities in hopes that such acts would continue and provide all that good copy.