Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sunday History Blogging

There are few high school students who could tell you who Alexander Roberston Dunn, VC actually was. He doesn't form a part of the Canadian psyche.

Alexander Robertson Dunn was born in the town of York, Upper Canada (Toronto) September 15, 1833. He was a graduate of Upper Canada College. To say he was Canadian, at that time would have been incorrect. Everyone living in Canada was a British subject, but that does not diminish the fact that he was Canadian born and he stood out among his peers, both British and North American.

Dunn joined the 11th Prince Albert's Own Regiment of Light Dragoons (Hussars), British Army after his father had moved back to England. It was a typical commission of the day, purchased and awarded by Horse Guards.

Dunn, although a stern disciplinarian, was reportedly popular with and well respected by his men. At 6 foot 3 inches, he rode tall in the saddle and had a reputation as an outstanding cavalry officer. In 1854 his unit sailed for Crimea as Britain and France attempted to halt the Russian advance into Turkey.

On the morning of October 25th, 1854, the 11th Hussars formed up on the Plain of Balaclava. They were one of two lines about to attack the enemy. The first line, made up of the 13th Light Dragoons on the right, the 17th Lancers in the centre and the 11th Hussars on the left were followed by a second line comprising the 8th Hussars on the right and the 4th Light Dragoons in the centre. During such frontal attacks, the centre was most at risk. The flanks rode to protect the centre - under normal circumstances, and in this case the left was protected soley by the 11th Hussars. Lt. Alexander Robertson Dunn commanded the 11th's F Troop.

On that October morning, as the order was given, 638 cavalrymen, in two lines, rushed into the Northern valley of the Plain. Both flanks were heavily defended by Russian artillery and they faced twelve batteries of guns, wheel-to-wheel, at the head of the valley. The most disastrous cavalry charge in the history of British warfare had begun - The Charge of The Light Brigade.

From the Legion Magazine:

Time and again he led his troop against the Russian guns. Finally the regiment was forced to withdraw when it came under withering fire from Fedouikine Hill on the right. While retiring from the scene, Dunn saw that Sergeant Robert Bentley from his troop was wrestling with his horse, which had been severely wounded, and the Russians had singled him out as a straggler. Three of them concentrated their efforts to knock him out of his saddle and were preparing to finish him off. Seeing his predicament, Dunn wheeled around and galloped through a maze of dead and dying as well as riderless horses charging about in all directions to rescue him.

Prancing, side-wheeling, rearing his thoroughbred, he parried, thrusted and slashed at the assailants, felling them all in a matter of minutes. But Bentley was still in dire straights, desperately hanging on to his horse by one of the stirrups so Dunn dismounted, lifted Bentley back into his own saddle, then belted the horse on the rump to send it galloping towards the British lines. On foot Dunn suddenly caught sight of Private Harvey Levett from his troop who had lost his mount and was in danger of being cut down by a Russian hussar. Dunn rushed to his aid and skewered the enemy to death with his giant-sized sabre. When he returned to his unit and saw how badly it had been decimated in what had been a full-scale slaughter he broke down and cried.
Dunn would wait two years for an honour which had yet to be established. When Queen Victoria assigned the Order in 1856, the eligibility was pre-dated to the Fall of 1854. The only officer* of the charge into the "valley of death" to receive the British Empire's highest honour was Lieutenant Alexander Robertson Dunn, one of 25 survivors of his 110 man unit that day. He was also the only cavalry officer to receive a VC during the Crimean War.

Dunn, while not the very first recipient of the VC was a member of the group of "originals" so honoured and can quite appropriately be considered to be not only the first VC won by a Canadian born soldier, but among the first won in the British Commonwealth.

Dunn returned to Canada after Crimea, having run off with the wife of a fellow officer. He was, however, an adventurer and, after two years at home, helped form the Prince of Wales Royal Canadian Regiment. He eventually went on to become a full colonel, the first Canadian to command a British regiment and the youngest colonel in the British army. He transferred to the 33rd Duke of Wellington's Regiment of Foot, took postings to Malta, India and eventually Abyssinia.

It was in Abyssinia that he met his death, supposedly through a hunting accident, although the circumstances of his death have always been mysterious. Some believe he may have been murdered, perhaps by a husband seeking revenge for Dunn's well-known womanizing.

In any case, his body lay undiscovered until 1945 when an Eritrean Mounted Police patrol, led by a British soldier discovered his grave. In 2001 Canadian military engineers traveled to Senafe and rehabilitated the gravesite.

Dunn's medals, including his VC, are in the possession of Upper Canada College in safe keeping. Replicas are on display.

* There were five VCs awarded to soldiers who participated in the actual Charge of The Light Brigade. Dunn was the only commissioned officer to receive a VC. The others were sergeants and troopers. Further awards made for the Battle of Balaclava went to non-commissioned troops of the Heavy Brigade, which did not make the charge, and to medical personnel who, under heavy fire from Russian guns, rescued wounded soldiers over the two days after the battle.

My turn with Joe Klein.

Reading American pundit Joe Klein makes me want to grind my teeth -- hardly an original position for anyone who reads American blogs. Forgive this rehash of the 2004 presidential election. But one moment in his radio interview with Michael Krazny (thanks to Pacific Views) stands out because it's one thing that lazy pundits like Klein repeat ad nauseum and never get called on:

Klein: I do believe, on the other hand, that Americans are pretty good judges of character and in the 2004 election, they are not going to vote for someone who says I voted for it before I voted against it. You know, in the lesser of two evils, they're going to take someone they disagree with go with but they know where he stands. Now that was on John Kerry, by the way. After he said that, by the way, and after it became the heart of the Republican advertising campaign, he said it to camera. John Kerry had a responsibility as a politician and as a candidate to go to the places where Americans don't watch politics, to go on the Tonight Show, and to make jokes about how stupid a statement it was, the way that Bill Clinton did after he gave that long boring speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention. You know, creativity is not forbidden in Politics, and also, self-deprecating humor will get you a long distance. You have to be able to communicate with people in ways that doesn't involve dental drilling. You know, you have to try and make yourself entertaining, because you are going to be living in their kitchens, as I said before.

Good God. Leaving aside how astonishing this paragraph is coming from the author of a book called Politics Lost : How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You're Stupid, Klein is wrong. When Kerry made his "voted for" ramark, he didn't "say it to the camera". If I recall correctly, he actually said to to an audience member at a rally, as part of a longer explanatory quote about the votes for the appropriation. But more important, Kerry never said "I voted for it before I voted against it." The famous quote is "I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it." Democrats all know the story -- Kerry voted for the bill in which the money for "the troops" was offset by a tax hike, and voted against an alternate Billionaire Protection Bill.

You can say -- correctly I think -- that it's a trivial misquotation, compared to groaners like "invented the internet" from 2000 or "who amongst us doesn't love Nascar" from 2004. You can say -- correctly I think -- that the Kerry campaign and its surregates did a piss-poor job of making Americans understand the distinction between his votes on the different appropriations. But the fact remains: (1) it's never ok for professional pundits to paraphrase what politicians actually say into nicer-sounding soundbites in order to enhance whatever narrative is going about said pol. And (2) The quote in question was an attempt by Kerry to justify what actually happened in the Senate. By dropping "the 87 billion", Klein like so many before him, drops the substance of the question altogether. We're left with awkwardness -- which Klein demands be dealt with by having the overspun pol in question yuk it up on the Tonight Show (being creative by immitating Bill Clinton). This is the same guy who, later in the interview, rhapsodizes about "our most precious institution, the presidency". Good. God. Banging. Head. On. Wall.

Klein is so full of shit it's amazing that he can walk. Anybody who followed the 2004 campaign knows, as Klein surely must, that the Kerry campaign was roughly the opposite of "trivial". Kerry was in many ways (and for reasons I think largely beyond his control) an abysmal nominee. But he was an extremely substantive candidate. His platform was capped by a complicated public-private hybrid health care plan that Kerry explained at length to audiences on the trail, even when pundits complained he ought to be spending his time engaging with Bush in meaningless brinksmanship over Osama bin Laden. It also contained a few brave surprises, like the reneging of support for the domestic death penalty and a strong, essentially unbidden labour plank (the unions, except the firefighters, hadn't supported Kerry in the primary; and the campaign was already overflowing in GOTV cash. One might surmise that Kerry's support for labour was -- gasp -- genuine. Part of that "authenticity" Klein says he likes so much when it involves riffing to sympathetic crowds about state holidays, the sort of thing -- come to think of it -- Kerry did a lot of too. In fact, Kerry's refusal to just recite his talking points was criticized at length by carping pundits.) Moreover, the people who fed him or indulged that diet of substance were the very same consultants that Klein rips in his new book for "trivializing" politics.

Sadly, Klein is right about one thing: most voters, in the US or Canada, aren't political junkies and candidates do need to reach them where they're not looking for politics and get into their heads in unconventional ways. The problem is that Klein takes it as given that Americans who don't follow politics approach politics exactly as he does -- as theatre critics searching for thematic cues. But isn't it more likely that people who don't follow the news and write blogs and grind their teeth listening to Joe Klein also don't have the same minute emotional reactions to candidates' performances that Klein, a political junkie, has? Isn't it more likely that trivial, awkward comments by politicians wouldn't matter to voters if opposition operations, abetted by pundits like Klein, didn't fetishize them... for the simple reason that voters wouldn't catch them and, if they did, wouldn't think to read so much into them? Most voters weren't fully aware of the Kerry campaign's substantive approach because they didn't watch Kerry rallies or read the 200-odd page "Kerry-Edwards Plan for America". And because Joe Klein is allergic to substance, he wasn't likely to help them understand. Maybe that's because Klein is stupid. But I don't actually believe the author of Primary Colors is stupid in the conventional sense. I think it's more likely because he thinks you're stupid.

The Sliding US Dollar

David Smith writes today in The Times of London, quoting Tony Norfield of ABN Amro that the decline of US dollar may now be underway. "The dollar has embarked on a big decline that will see it fall against all leading currencies, according to analysts. The plunge is being prompted by America’s $800 billion (£438 billion) current-account deficit, they say." [...]"The euro has already risen to an 11-month high of more than $1.26, while the dollar is at a three-month low of 113.70 against the yen. The Canadian dollar, known by traders as the “loonie”, rose to a 28-year high on Friday, boosted by a hike in Canadian interest rates. "

If this chappie is correct, tighten your seat belts, the ride could get very choppy it the US Reserve doesn't handle this well.

No telling what it could mean for new home construction in the US. If new home construction slows dramatically enough then the cost of US lumber drops and all bets about new trade agreements are off.

But then again, if the Reserve doesn't manage the fall of the dollar well more bets than just those related to softwood could be off.

At this point it probably wouldn't take much for OPEC to announce a change to EUROs or China to announce they're not buying any more USD.

Could be very unpleasant for a while.

Colbert rips off their heads and craps in the hole

Stephen Colbert, of the Colbert Report, spoke at the White House Correspondent's Dinner last night. One could expect comedy from Stephen - he's a comedian.

He's also a new kind of hero.

Colbert "ripped a new one"*, for Bush, the US traditional media and anyone else he could gather into his sights. It was unabridged, unfettered and merciless. It was perhaps the best frontal attack on the things that are hurting the US and the world that you may ever witness.

From Editor & Publisher:

[Joe] Strupp, [E&P]in the crowd during the Colbert routine, had observed that quite a few sitting near him looked a little uncomfortable at times, perhaps feeling the material was a little too biting--or too much speaking "truthiness" to power.

Crooks & Liars has the video here. Click through and watch. It's worth your time.

*To gather in what such language means, Laura has a great post.

Spaced out Sundays - The Face on Mars

Remember when you were a little kid and your Dad tried to convince you there was a “man in the moon”? Remember how disappointed you were when you were old enough to realize there was no such thing? Well, some people never got over their disappointment.

Back in 1976 one of the Viking orbiters captured an image of a geographical feature on Mars that bore a striking resemblance to a face. It started the stampede to see who could come up with the most half-baked, unhinged theory about alien-built structures. Quite possibly, the runaway winner of the contest was Richard Hoagland. Hoagland began his career in science in a respectable manner (a science writer, curator of the Springfield Massachusetts Museum of Science, science advisor to CBS). But he soon deteriorated into a conspiracy kook. The “face in Mars” has been the high point of his career. He wrote a book about it, claimed that not only was the “face” artificially made by aliens 500,000 years ago, but it was a part of a larger set of “ruins” on Mars that also included pyramids, a fortress and an artificial cliff. You would think his outrageous theories would make him the laughingstock of the media, but instead, he gloried in the attention and made the rounds of the television shows, the radio talk shows, the lecture circuits.

Over twenty years later, in 1998, NASA released new and higher resolution photographs of the same geophysical feature (taken by the Mars Global Surveyor). The “face” was nothing more than an eroded mesa. Swallowing his disappointment (and embarrassment) Hoagland maintained his defiance and concocted an elaborate conspiracy theory that NASA had doctored the photos in order to keep the public in the dark about this mysterious alien race that once lived on Mars.

Sigh….why is it that the natural beauties and wonders of the Universe are not enough for some people? (although I have my own theory…I think the Man in the Moon was evicted from the moon due to non-payment of rent and is currently claiming squatter’s rights on Mars).

Saturday, April 29, 2006

So, did Rover get a target letter saying he's about to be charged?

According to Jason Leopold he did. That means that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is now aiming the investigation into the Plame leak case at Karl Rove and possible charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

Despite vehement denials by his attorney, who said this week that Karl Rove is neither a "target" nor in danger of being indicted in the CIA leak case, the special counsel leading the investigation has already written up charges against Rove, and a grand jury is expected to vote on whether to indict the Deputy White House Chief of Staff sometime next week, sources knowledgeable about the probe said Friday afternoon.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was in Chicago Friday and did not meet with the grand jury.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, was informed via a target letter that Fitzgerald is prepared to charge Rove for perjury and lying to investigators during Rove’s appearances before the grand jury in 2004 and in interviews with investigators in 2003 when he was asked how and when he discovered that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA, and whether he shared that information with the media.
We could say, it's about time, but that would be unfair.

Patrick Fitzgerald is still the federal prosecutor in Chicago and has to keep that office running. Among other things, he has to provide oversight into this case.

Moving too quickly, of course, would be a mistake for several reasons. First is to make sure all ducks are in a row, but being too speedy would be something of a mistake. If Rove is guilty of any offence, it would be nice if he was out of the brackets for a Presidential pardon.

Nothing Certain But Uncertainty

There is one thing and one thing only that is certain about the new softwood deal between the US and the branch plant office in Ottawa. It's not signed.

There is a lot of heavy lifting to be done and it's far from clear that what's been announced is what the final deal will look like. It's even far clear that what's been announced is an accurate articulation.

I refer you to this story in this morning's Vancouver Sun.

"B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell has threatened to withdraw his crucial support for the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber truce after learning the U.S. government has decided to legally challenge a Canadian victory before a NAFTA trade dispute panel."

But the fact that the appeal was filed raised questions over how binding the April 27 agreement is and over the need for a deadline to sign a deal. If there was no deal by April 27, the U.S. threatened to file the appeal. And despite having the framework before the deadline, they proceeded with the appeal anyway.

Equally controversial is the clause that could pose a threat to B.C.'s new timber pricing system. It was not in the draft industry leaders approved Thursday but then popped up in the final version. If the clause -- called an anti-circumvention clause -- stands, forest companies will face higher operating costs. (emphasis mine)

Emerson is claiming that this came too late in the process to be properly debated.

Emerson said the circumvention issue surfaced too late in the negotiating process to be resolved but that he believes the Americans will not scuttle B.C.'s new system.
"There was a debate right at the very end when it was too late to resolve it, on the degree to which some of the market-based changes . . . could be explicitly included as being not in contravention of the anti-circumvention clause," he said.
"It was zero hour, and the United States trade representative did not have the information on which they could examine whether that would be an appropriate thing to do or not.
"And so in the absence of having enough time and information to actually work our way through it, they would not explicitly agree to it."

Which in essence means either that the announcement was premature or there is some wool pulling going on.

And even though the so called deal has been agreed on the US lobby filed another court case anyway, even though the acceptance of the deal stipulates the termination of all court actions.

This whole so called deal could turn out to be so much balderdash.

Could also turn out to be a pig in a poke.

Or a straightforward sell out.

But we may not know for sure until it actually takes effect, until companies or provinces tell us what the effect is. Because by the time a signing ceremony happens Harper's new Accountability Act will have been passed, and as Dave notes, we may no longer be able to find out exactly what they signed.

Y'all gotta find alternatives to big gas-guzzling SUVs

And with that, Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the US House of Representatives and a group of other "concerned" congressmen boarded hydrogen-powered vehicles and drove away from the press conference they had held at a Washington DC gas station to make happy with the unwashed masses about high gas prices.

And then, they did this.

Hat tip to This Space For Rent.

The 101st Fighting Keyboarders are getting their own body armour

Well, I'm impressed. The seaman's apprentice has organized the mommy's basement brigade. Tired of hearing the term "chickenhawk" in the pejorative sense, Morrisey has managed to get some of his typists to abandon their extra-blogging internet cruising long enough to invent a badge. They've labeled themselves the 101st Fighting Keyboardists.

Hmmm... I hate to pop your bubble, but I'd stop producing the T-shirts right now. The name is 101st Fighting Keyboarders. I'm sure if you ask this guy, he'll be happy to assign the copyright, since he first coined the term.

Now, as to some of the other symbology. There's already a chickenhawk badge which resides in the pages of the New Hampshire Gazette, America's oldest newspaper.

Morrisey's suggestion that these terms originate with one corner of the blogosphere indicates a lack of research. Chickenhawks, the derogatory term, originated during the War of 1812, another adventure of dubious purpose.

But I digress. I'm here to help.

Morrisey's brigade of qwerty bashers will need some kind of typing song, or perhaps something akin to a Gregorian chant. Well, how about that! Somebody has already put one together for them.

And now we wait... for the next badge. The one when they proudly embrace another one of Tbogg's terms. Bush Cargo Cult.

Friday, April 28, 2006

John Reid reports to Parliament - and trashes Harper's plan

John Reid believes in two things: honest accountability and open access to government information by the shareholders of Canada. And, according to John Reid, Canada's information commissioner, Stephen Harper's proposed Accountability Act provides less of both.

"No previous government has put forward a more retrograde and dangerous set of proposals to change the Access to Information Act," he wrote. "The new government has done exactly the things for which its predecessor had been ridiculed."


Harper promised more accountability, but the proposed act will "reduce the amount of information available to the public, weaken the role of the information commissioner and increase the government's ability to cover-up wrongdoing, shield itself from embarrassment and control the flow of information to Canadians," he wrote.

Reid called the latest proposals "a bureaucrat's dream."

One of Reid's complaints is that the proposed legislation actually creates 10 new methods by which civil servants and politicians can refuse to comply with information requests.

Perhaps Harper still doesn't get it. When Canadians expressed, through various messages and behaviours, that they wanted better accountability and much more transparency, they meant they meant accountable to the public, the employers of the government.

John Baird, President of the Treasury Board says he's willing to work with Reid on amendments.

I don't believe that for a minute.

All groups are diverse, unless they're not

I'm not totally certain, but I think Roger L. Simon just called himself a mutt.

In referring to Glenn Greenwald's post Using generalizations to describe political groups, Roger takes issue with Glenn's view that, whatever position one takes on the political spectrum, we have a tendency to generalize and peg people as belonging to a group. When one takes a side in a discussion or argument one is labeled, correctly or incorrectly, as belonging to the general group which supports that particular position.

Glenn points out generalizations are invariably inaccurate:

As necessary as they are, generalizations are fraught with risks and dangers. In any group of any size, the generalized statements which accurately describe the group's behavior will be inapplicable to various individuals who compose the group.
Somehow, Roger seems to have missed that and goes on to argue that Glenn's observations overlook large numbers of people who do not line up behind any particular voice.

No, Roger, he didn't.

Glenn was simply pointing out the traits which go to group-think. He also points out that even the most independent person can fall into group behaviour and inversely, one who regularly speaks with the group voice can occasionally emerge to speak in opposition or behave differently from the generally known traits of their associated group.

Roger claims to be a more complex person with passionate political views which cross the lines many times.

Well, Roger, welcome to the world. That's why we have elections and why we can't forecast the outcome based soley on group affiliations.

I think Glenn's main point was that if you cheerlead for Bush, you're a part of the Bush Cargo Cult, regardless of your other views.

A Softwood Lumber Dispute Heresy

Between April, 1999 and April, 2001, the 2 year period immediately preceding the instigation of the latest softwood lumber dispute, the value of the Canadian dollar against the US dollar ranged between a high of $.69 and a low of $.63.

Effectively this meant that a US based purchaser of Canadian softwood was receiving between $1.45 and $1.57 worth of lumber for every $1.00 spent.

If those same US lumber buyers chose to buy US produced lumber, the dollar they spent bought them a dollar’s worth of lumber.

So why would they buy the US lumber?

This hurt US lumber producers as can be well imagined.

But trying to make an effective complaint based on the vagaries of international exchange rates was a non-starter.

Still, they had to find a way.

They did. They fell back on the old tried and true subsidy complaint.

Historically this complaint has been struck down on many occasions but it’s always proven to be playable given the confusing differences between the two systems employed by the respective countries.

It worked.

They got relief from the exchange rate under the guise of a trade complaint.

And now?

Now, and for the foreseeable future, the US government is content to let the US dollar devalue as part of their attempt to address their enormous trade deficit.

So while today a US lumber buyer spending one US dollar is receiving added value of 11 cents, next month or next year that 11 cents could well become 8 cents, 5 cents or even nothing.

That’s an acceptable differential to the US lumber producers.

Thus they’re willing to drop their complaint about subsidies.

Told you it was heresy.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why does the Bush administration hate the National Guard and the Armed Forces Reserve?

People join their country's armed services for a multitude of reasons. Whether it is out of a sense of public duty or whether it is for economic reasons, most modern armed forces provide incentives to attract and retain members. Given that remuneration for service is generally only just adequate, those incentives are an important part of maintaining a loyal and willing force.

Since the end of the 2nd World War, the US military has stood ahead of most western armed services in providing specific rewards to members for service completed and extended benefits to those who provide long service. The Montgomery GI Bill is one of those benefits and, among other things, provides a reasonably generous education allowance to those who have been discharged or released from active duty (regular force). Those benefits remain in force for 10 years after the member leaves the service.

National Guard members and the various military and naval reservists also have access to the Montgomery GI Bill, but there's a catch.

The Reserve GI Bill was written for the likes of George W. Bush. During the Vietnam conflict, the Reserve and National Guard were not called to active duty. Members continued to serve on a part-time basis and could refuse long-term active duty, thus avoiding combat, while involuntary conscripts were compelled to serve two years full-time, often in a combat zone. Draftees received full GI Bill benefits commensurate with the length of their active service.

Members of the National Guard or Reserve have a reduced benefit, understandably, because their service is part-time. They also have to use any benefits within 14 years of joining or before they go to discharge, whichever comes first. In short, they have to use the benefit while they're still members. It's still not a bad deal and it operates as intended. The Guard and Reserve members have the opportunity to go to school while serving... as long as there isn't a war.

A member of the National Guard has to use GI Bill benefits while they are actually in the Guard. The moment they leave the Guard, their benefits expire. From Stars and Stripes:

“It’s unconscionable how these young men and women are being treated now that they have served their nation in time of war [and] completed their enlistment contract,” said [Arkansas Rep. Vic] Snyder (D-AK).


consider the experience of Reserve and Guard members, said Snyder. An initial commitment of up to six years can include up to two years of involuntary active duty, with a year or more in a combat zone. Yet reservists who leave service after completing their obligations forfeit any unused Reserve GI Bill benefits.

Because Reserve MGIB was designed mostly as a retention tool, only members who stay in drill status, subject to call up, can use education benefits. In wartime, Snyder said, this is “terribly unfair.”
Get that?

The only way a Guard or Reserve member can keep GI Bill benefits is by re-enlisting. They are then subject to immediate call-up. Given the stop-loss policy and the need for skilled troops, re-enlisting Guard and Reserve members end up right back on full-time service, unable to use their education benefit.

In fairness, the administration did provide for greater benefits to those Guard and Reserve personnel called to active duty. They passed the Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP) in 2004. Under that program Reservists and Guard members who are called to active duty for a period greater than 90 days get extra education benefits - which expire the day the member is discharged.

“They are put in situations where they are not going to be able to go to school,” Snyder said. “You say, ‘You can only use this benefit while in the reserves. Oh, by the way, for the next 18 months we’re going to put you in places where you ain’t going to go to school.’”
The long and short of it is that a member of the National Guard or Reserve can now spend as much time on active duty, in a combat zone, as the draftees of the Vietnam war and, if they don't re-enlist and subject themselves to further risk, come out with nothing.

Add to all this that service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often had to undergo GI Bill briefings on arrival while their families waited. After 18 months away, most would have been so totally distracted that such a briefing would fly right over their heads... except for one part: If you don't re-enlist, you get nothing.

Unconscionable indeed. But then, you'd need a Commander-In-Chief who actually had a conscience.

A Rotten Deal

Now we know what a "more mature realtionship" means to Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada.

It means capitulation.

The softwood deal, if it goes through, and it looks like it's a done thing, is a travesty. There's really no other word for it.

And the worst part? This is almost exactly the same deal that Emerson reportedly scuttled during the election campaign. One analyst referred to it as the same pig just with lipstick and a nice dress.

Which again throws Emerson's actions into stark relief.

It undercuts NAFTA, rewards US thuggery with a billion point three dollars from Canadian producers, limits access to US markets, has no exit clause...jaysus's just a dreadful outcome.

If all you were going to do was drop to your knees and pucker Stephen you could have at least waited until the BBQ at George's ranch in Texas.

Car bombs and WMDs

For all the recent talk about the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the arguable potential/goals for the leadership of Iran, terrorists or any other unfavourable regime or group to aquire them, there exists a weapon of far better economical and practical utility to use - the car bomb. Mike Davis in a two part article published on Tomdispatch and Znet discusses the morbidly fascinating history and development of the car bomb beginning with its first use in a 1920 (horse drawn wagon) attack on J.P Morgan offices in New York and ending in present day Iraq with its,
some 1,293 between 2004 and 2005, according to researchers at the Brookings Institution -- have devastated Iraq like no other land in history. The most infamous, driven or left by sectarian jihadists, have targeted Iraqi Shiites in front of their homes, mosques, police stations, and markets: 125 dead in Hilla (February 28, 2005); 98 in Mussayib (July 16); 114 in Baghdad (September 14); 102 in Blad (September 29); 50 in Abu Sayda (November 19)...

A nuclear Iran is feared because it would shift the balance of strategic power away from the Israel/US alliance and "destabilise" the region. However, as Iraq demonstrates, a sustained car bomb campaign is much more destabilising in real terms, and can be used far more easily for much lower cost than any high-tech/high cost, nuclear weapon.

Indeed, a nuclear weapon's greatest value is in its potential for use. In this way it acts as a guarantor against attack, and allows the possessor much greater clout when engaging in state level confrontation. This is a double edged sword though, because as the Cold War demonstrated, one nation possessing means others will want to as well to counter - MAD doctrine ensues. Not so with the car-bomb. In real terms, they have high practical utility. They are not counterable by traditional means. You can't neutralise them by building your own and you can't build sophisticated radar and missile systems to shoot them down. They can be used to attain tactical and strategic goals, and wreak massive damage in the process for very low cost compared to NBC weapon production and delivery systems or even conventional military weapons. Even the type damage inflicted by a carbomb or IED attrition campaign can possibly be worse in the long-term than a one shot nuclear or chemical attack. A state can recover from the instant loss of hundreds of thousands of its population relatively quickly if the majority of its economic and social infrastructure remains intact whereas a sustained multi-year carbomb campaign even though it may slaughter less has the effect of turning the state into an economically, politically and socially non-viable state entity. [Hmmmmm... it just occured to me an interesting comparison could be made between the effects of various types of wars on non-colonial and post-colonial states.]

Vehicles, people, fertiliser, fuel and in some cases military grade explosives are part of the landscape of the modern industrialised state and so employing them does not require the heavy overhead involved in building and maintaining a separate uniformed armed forces. Robert Bryce explains below:

More than half of all U.S. casualties in Iraq have been caused by improvised explosive devices and those weapons have fundamentally changed how American troops approach the battlefield. First and foremost, the IEDs have changed the very idea of where the battlefield is. Second, the IEDs are employing modern technology that can easily -- and more important, cheaply -- defeat America’s huge horsepower advantage. By using a cell phone-activated detonator for an IED, an insurgent employs miniscule amounts of energy – less than one watt.[9] Put another way, an insurgent employing 0.00099 horsepower can (given a large enough explosive charge) disable or destroy an uparmored Humvee (190 horsepower), an M2 Bradley tank (500 horsepower), or even an M1 Abrams tank (1,500 horsepower).

This is the very essence of asymmetric warfare. For the cost of a disposable cell phone, a detonator, and some (probably free) ordnance, an insurgent can destroy vehicles worth millions of dollars. And in the process, at no extra cost, he gets the chance to kill, maim or injure American soldiers whose training cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

The car bomb with its cousin the improvised explosive device (IED) are attrition weapons used in to change political situation in favour of the user - much different from the potentials discussed when speaking of NBC-WMD systems.

When the neocons speak of war with Iran over the potential of middle-east destablisation or atomic terrorism, they would be wise to examine what is actually happening today in Iraq and the weapons and techniques that are being employed instead of worrying about what might happen in a dozen years...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Not a Day Goes By

Just when you thought L'Affaire Plame couldn't become more taut with hollow suspense and pre-emptive pardon comes news via Raw Story that the blonde bombe she'll always be was heading a team looking into Iran's nookyulur aspirations. Gratifyingly enough the Plame outing may have made a significant contribution to the convenient fog surrounding Bush's recent sabre rattling toward Iran. Nothing like multi-tasking when planning for Armageddon. Anyway, according to several unnamed agency sources (for reasons of not naming CIA people) the team's work was compromised to the tune of a decades worth of recovery.

Probably going to be about the average recovery time for the Bush FUBARs.

But take heart Valerie and Joe. You live in a country that's just as class infested as Great Britain according to a story in Reuters about this study conducted by economist Tom Hertz from American University.

"He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe."

One must wonder if low levels of inter-generational mobility are a pre-requisite for credulity.

Geez, I believe it.

The Flag - Rick Mercer's View

I think all should read Rick Mercer's take on the lowering of the Flag.

More goodies in the memory hole

There is some good reading at TGB Memory Hole. We've added, in no particular order, the following:

The NDP 2006 election platform document. Given some recent events, it might be worth hanging on to.

Dana plucked a couple of really interesting documents out of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Abbreviation is CSIS. Makes you sit up for a minute.)

American Strategic, Tactical, and Other Mistakes in Iraq: A Litany of Errors. The title speaks for itself, and Iraqi Economic Reconstruction and Development an honest look at the reconstruction of Iraq.

We don't know if the above two documents will disappear or not. CSIS is a think-tank and would be unlikely to be pressured to dump such stuff. We'll hang onto them for a while and see what happens.

We're also putting the Liberal Party 2006 platform document up in the next day or so.

Update: All the broken links are now fixed. Apologies for the delay.

The English Language Is Evolving

The largest English language research database in the world has reached 1 billion words.

A massive language research database responsible for bringing words such as "podcast'' and "celebutante'' to the pages of the Oxford dictionaries has officially hit a total 1 billion words, researchers at Oxford University Press said Wednesday.
That's pretty impressive when you consider that the vocabulary of university graduates with a batchelor of education degree in the US is estimated at about 50,000 words in 20,000 word families.

Drawing on sources including weblogs, chatrooms, newspapers, magazines and fiction, the Oxford English Corpus spots emerging trends in language usage to help guide lexicographers when composing the most recent editions of dictionaries.

The press publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, considered the most comprehensive dictionary of the language, which in its most recent August 2005 edition added words such as "supersize,'' "wiki'' and "retail politics'' on its pages.
I wonder if they picked up some of my old favourites? Hang-down, pencil-neck and dickweed tended to get a lot of use, and I notice they're coming back into vogue among some of my old friends and collegues.

As add-on and hybrid words _ such as "geek-chic,'' "inner-child'' or "gabfest'' _ increase in usage, Pearsall said part of the research project's goal was to identify words that have lasting power.
Aha! So they probably do have them in there.

The corpus collects evidence from all the places where English is spoken, including North America, Britain, the Caribbean, Australia or India, to reflect the most current and common usage of the English language.
I wonder if they have "Harperite" yet?

Canadian infantry rifles really get around, don't they?

Looking at these two pictures most observers with a cursory interest in military small arms will say that they are looking at American M16 rifles. They might even clarify that by saying that they are looking at an M16A2 and an M4/A1 respectively.

A trained Canadian observer would come up with a different answer. Both weapons are Canadian-made by Colt Canada, (formerly Diemaco) and are the C7A2 C7A1FT and C8 carbine. While they appear identical to their American-made cousins, there are subtle differences.

Why is this of interest?

Well, for one thing they were made exclusively for the Canadian Forces. Diemaco also supplied both variants to the Norwegian, Danish and the Netherlands armies. British SAS members sometimes also carry one or the other of the Canadian rifle. American troops do not carry the Diemaco-made weapon. They have their own stuff.

Now, I'm sure my information on the disbursal of the C7 and C8 is probably a little out of date. I don't generally keep a watch on small arms sales.

So, why then, has there been a report that troops involved in direct combat operations and raids, wearing American uniforms, have been observed carrying Canadian weapons? In Iraq.

There's probably a perfectly reasonable explanation.

Update: And there is a "reasonable" explanation. Thanks to Dana and readers Roman and Foulis for this link.

It appears the new British Special Forces Support Group, operating in Baghdad, is wearing American uniforms and carrying Canadian weapons. As odd as that may sound, it probably makes sense. The Canadian C7 and C8 are the "weapons of choice" for the SAS, so it stands to reason that the SFSG would be outfitted with the same rifle.

The article goes on to explain the "American uniforms".

"They wear US uniforms so they can blend in in Baghdad where a British paratrooper would stick out and draw unwanted attention," an intelligence source said.
Ahem... don't get any of that on your shoe.

I would have a tendency to believe the reason the Brits are wearing American uniforms in Baghdad is so they can avoid getting shot... by their own side.

I wonder. Does Rumsfeld know about this? When you have to bring the SAS and SFSG into town, it doesn't usually mean things are going very well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why I Quit The NDP

Winnipeg NDP member Pat Martin was recently asked by Paul Wells in Macleans magazine what the NDP game plan was. Martin replied, "We want to do to the Liberals nationally what we did to them in Manitoba: remove them from the game board."

Take that in.

The New Democratic Party, which has never won more than 43 seats in a Parliament where more than triple that number is required to form government, thinks they have what it takes to remove from the game board the political machine that has governed Canada with only a few interruptions since 1896.

I don’t know what Pat Martin is smoking and I don’t want any. With the Harper led Conservatives lurking and smirking in the weeds of the government side of the House now is no time for wacky tabacky illusions.

But this illusion, or delusion, expressed by Pat Martin appears to be shared by Jack Layton.

This eventually could mean that Jack Layton is handing the Harper Conservatives a majority government.

About 3 years ago I rejoined the NDP, after an absence of almost thirty years. Today, April 25th, 2006 I placed a stop payment order with my financial institution to terminate my automatic monthly contribution to the NDP. I’ve cut up my membership card and dropped the shreds in the wastebasket.

The Harper Conservatives pose significant enough perils to the future well being of this country that foolish hubris and bravado like Pat Martin’s or narrow partisan triangulation like Jack Layton’s have no place.

Over the past few months some small windows have opened into the processes and aspirations of the Harper Conservatives in power.

Harper hates the press, the eyes and ears of the people, whom we can thereby infer he would rather keep in silent darkness. Harper is as contemptuous of those who expected he would be a politician to keep his campaign promises as he is of those who did not expect he would. Harper has constructed his centrepiece Accountability Act in order to give himself cover for his Defence Minister, who himself appears to want nothing more than to emulate Donald Rumsfeld. Harper’s centralization of power in his own office is in near diametric opposition to what he has led us to believe his governing style would be. His aping of the tactics of the Bush Republicans are now fully exposed and we can expect more, including the rhetorical contortions and protestations of the Bush-lite Harper fanatics. (I fully expect they will be showing their ruddy, puffy, spittle-flecked faces not too long after I make this post.)

This is the crowd that Pat Martin, and by his silence on Martin’s comments, Jack Layton and the rest of the NDP caucus wants to legitimize in order that they can exercise their delusion that they have the electoral clout to remove the Liberals from the board.

Jack, I will not participate. The old place commands my affections too much to allow me hock it to the Conservatives in exchange for your fantasies.

At the going down of the Sun, and in the morning...

With respect and condolences to the family and friends of
Corporal Matthew Dinning,
Bombardier Myles Mansell,
Corporal Randy Payne,
Lieutenant William Turner.

Rumsfeld trashes another treaty

Canadian Cynic aimed me at this Washington Post article which describes Donald Rumsfeld new plans to fight "The Long War". In short, it has taken five years to develop three plans, all of them SECRET NOFORN, which provide the details and operational guidance to deal with terrorist groups worldwide. Part of it, however, should be raising more than a few eyebrows. (All emphasis mine.)

Details of the plans are secret, but in general they envision a significantly expanded role for the military -- and, in particular, a growing force of elite Special Operations troops -- in continuous operations to combat terrorism outside of war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Developed over about three years by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, the plans reflect a beefing up of the Pentagon's involvement in domains traditionally handled by the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.
Did the CIA and the State Department suddenly go somewhere? What possible reason could exist to create new elements of the Department of Defense to duplicate the functions of the CIA and State Dept?

For example, SOCOM has dispatched small teams of Army Green Berets and other Special Operations troops to U.S. embassies in about 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America, where they do operational planning and intelligence gathering to enhance the ability to conduct military operations where the United States is not at war.
Gather that in because it's likely to get lost in the fog.

The Department of Defense and specifically US SOCOM is working out of US embassies to do operational planning and intelligence gathering... to prepare for military operations.

That's illegal.

But when has that ever stopped the Bush administration? The Geneva Conventions were described as "quaint" and obsolete by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It stands to reason that anything else that stands in the way of whatever Rumsfeld wants to do must also be, well... inconvenient, at least. It's still illegal.

Rumsfeld is using American diplomatic missions as military planning and operations centers. Far be it from him to let a pesky little thing like the Vienna Convention get in the way. Given that the Bush administration doesn't have a diplomatic bone in its corporate body, those embassies were something of a waste anyway. Better to use them as military garrisons.

But that damned Vienna Convention is still there. There is a pretty basic description of what a Diplomatic Mission is actually established to do.

The role of such a mission is to protect in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State as directed by the sending State; ascertaining by lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.
Now we all know that countries have intelligence officers lodged in their embassies. They're actually legal provided the name is on the list submitted to and approved by the receiving nation. Further, there are military personnel in most embassies. They traditionally hold positions as attaches and are there to assess and, in some cases, liaise with the receiving nation's equivalent military and naval authorities. They are also listed, submitted and approved by the receiving nation. Many embassies have additional military personnel assigned as "private staff". They're legal too, provided the numbers and role do not exceed what the receiving nation considers reasonable.

And in a subtle but important shift contained in a classified order last year, the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform -- rather than gain the approval of -- the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country, according to several administration officials. "We do not need ambassador-level approval," said one defense official familiar with the order.
The ambassador to a country is the supreme representative of the sending nation. Except now the Bush administration has subordinated that role to the US Department of Defense and Special Operations Command - in direct violation of the Vienna Convention.

That's not new. The United States has a long record of Convention violations although they have mostly occurred in the US when dealing with foreign nationals.

When SOCOM first dispatched military liaison teams abroad starting in 2003, they were called "Operational Control Elements," a term changed last year because "it raised the hackles of regional commanders and ambassadors. It was a bad choice of language," said one defense official, adding: "Who can pick on Military Liaison Elements?"
I can.

If the ambassador of an overseas embassy is no longer consulted but merely advised that such a team is infiltrating, and then that team operates without the advice and consent of the ambassador, they aren't conducting liaison - they are in control. The ambassador is relegated to 2nd fiddle.

State Department officials, meanwhile, said that although, for the most part, cooperation with the military teams has been good, they remain concerned over continued "gray areas" regarding their status. "Special Ops wants the flexibility and speed to go in there. . . . but there's understandably questions of how you do that and how you have clear lines of authority," one U.S. official said. There remains "continuing discussion, to put it politely, in terms of how this is going to work," the official said. SOCOM says the teams work for the regional commanders.
Gray areas? Continuing discussions? To put it politely?

This is not a happy relationship. This is no less than a takeover of the US diplomatic corps and another trashing of an international treaty.

Now, I'm pretty certain you imagine that US Special Ops is made up of tough Green Berets and Navy SEALs. They constitute only one element of Special Ops Command. This is also a part of SOCOM and it's worth your while to buy, borrow or beg this book.
(click for larger image... please!)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lights off and full-mast.

I was about to add my two cents to Dana's post about the Harper government's decision not to fly flags at half-mast anymore for Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan when I saw Dave's report that the Tories have further adopted the Republican playbook by barring the press from the airfield where the bodies of four soldiers are arriving home.

The Toronto Star reports:

Canada’s death toll in Afghanistan has reached 17, and Conservative government officials fear the mounting casualties could present a political problem.

Why, one wonders, if the Tories are so concerned about the political problem, did they acquiese to the NDP's demand to open up Parliament to a non-binding (i.e. irrelevant except for restating the parties' positions) debate on the mission just a few weeks ago?

I'm still more intrigued, though, by the flag decision (announced by the Tories a few weeks ago and noted, though I missed it, by Mike at Rational Reasons), because it raises questions beyond just straightforward politics and spin-management. While the Liberals rightfully pounded yesterday on the "callous" decision to keep the flag at full mast as the soldiers' bodies returned, the CBC provided the other side of the debate: many military people don't think the decision to lower the flag should be made at politicians' discretion, and veterans groups don't like the practice because it affords a status to current casualties that wasn't afforded to Canadian casualties of other wars.

It has to be said that Sheppard's piece wasn't helped by its invocation of some run-of-the-mill WSJ op-ed page hyperbole about the Liberals showing "an almost pathologically antimilitary" streak in lowering the flag too often. But that seems, if anything, like a symptom of a larger problem. In today's Globe and Mail, Roy MacGregor gets at it really well:

Greg Clark, who is best remembered as a humour writer for the old Star Weekly, won the Military Cross at Vimy and spent the Second World War filing dispatches from the front. After so much experience, so much horror, he could only conclude that "War is so small, so sad, so inexcusable."

Small numbers -- such as the single soldier in the tomb and the four who died on Saturday morning -- are quantities the mind can grasp. According to the Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, the last 100 years saw 42 million die in wars. It is a number with far less effect on the imagination than the one that was a carpenter, the one that delivered mail, the one who liked to laugh.

No wonder the roses cringe.

The only rationale for war deaths is just cause. It is why we say they have made the "ultimate sacrifice" and, undeniably, they have. We salute them and, as the concrete letters beside this monument promise, "We shall remember them . . ."

It feels odd, though, to look up at the Peace Tower from this place and see that the Canadian flag has not been lowered. From now on, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said this weekend, tribute will be paid as it was in the past, "all casualties of war or operations on one day -- November 11."

It is almost as though the government of the day realizes there are more days like this coming, perhaps many more. We hope not, but fear so.

It seems to me that the biggest implication of lowering the flag for every soldier killed in Afghanistan -- so long as it's done consistently -- is that we can, in fact, afford to honour every life lost in battle -- a (for lack of a better word) luxury that wasn't available to us in the largely necessary but terrible bloodshed that dominated global politics just a little over a half a century ago (and, in fact, has dominated most of Western history). So isn't this a profoundly good thing, the clearest sort of sign that, despite our technological capacity for evil, we live in a better world, a better century, than the ones that are behind us?

And is it therefore insulting to the soldiers of previous generations to demonstrate how their largely anonymous sacrifice brought us to a place where every Canadian who falls in Afghanistan -- and every American who dies in Iraq -- can be remembered individually as a specific life lost? Granted, I'm a yuppie grad student who will never have to face combat or even boot camp. I don't claim to understand military culture or mores. But even so, that the Tories want to return to the practices of the past in honouring the dead strikes me less as a sign of respect for the formalism and stoicism of military life and history than as a somewhat ominous warning that the worst of that history isn't yet behind us, that we haven't actually come as far as we think, in Afghanistan or beyond it.

Mick Jagger dumps on Dubya - and wins

Some things are just too hard to resist. George Bush getting seen off for a good bunk is right at the top of the list.

From Julie Farby comes this story of a little flap between Dubya and Mick Jagger. That's right... Jumpin' Jack Flash got some Satisfaction with this one.

The 62-year old Rolling Stone star booked the luxury Royal Suite at the five-star Imperial Hotel in Vienna, Austria, for when the Stones are due to play a gig in the city in June.

So when President Bush’s aides tried to book the same room for a summit meeting, they were told the room was already taken.

Jagger, who is a fierce critic of the war in Iraq, refused to give up his hotel digs for the President, with a source close to the rocker saying, “Bush’s people seemed to be under the impression that they would just hand over the suites but there was no way Mick was going to do that.”
Maybe Bush should have sent out a message to Gimme Shelter.

Mick's answer... Get Off Of My Cloud.

Dubya should know better than to take on a Street Fighting Man like Mick.

Maybe Bush can just light a fire, pitch out his bedroll and sleep under the stars like the cowboy he likes to make himself out to be.

Oh, that's right. All hat, no cattle. Maybe Mick will play Wild Horses for him.

Harper bans the media from repatriation of fallen troops.

Remember this from October 2003?

In March, on the eve of the Iraq war, a directive arrived from the Pentagon at U.S. military bases. "There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover [Del.] base, to include interim stops," the Defense Department said, referring to the major ports for the returning remains.

Now, look at this.

Media will be barred from the airfield when the plane carrying the remains of four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan lands at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont.

Miltary sources say reporters will not be be allowed to cover the repatriation of the remains when the aircraft lands at the base Tuesday evening.

In the past, the media have been invited to cover the arrival of the remains of soldiers who have fallen overseas.

Not much difference except for the location.

Is there anything else Harper can copy from his Bushco heros?

Oh, jesus, I'm sorry I asked that.

This is unmitigated bullshit, and it's only the start.

Update: Dana predicted this with unbelievable accuracy just 2 days ago. His next prediction also follows the Bushco line.
I went to the DND/CF site to check for the promised press release on this subject, given that it is now evening in Ottawa. Crickets chirping.
However, there are two releases on Canada's involvement in the Azalea Festival in Norfolk, Virginia.

When The Shit Hits A Really Big Fan

Yesterday Cyclone Monica (blue dress unverified) became the most intense tropical cyclone in Southern Hemisphere history with sustained winds of 180 mph. By the time this storm came ashore early today on Australia’s north shore it had weakened to a Cat 4 storm. Monica was the second Cat 5 storm to form in a month this season down under and the season is usually over in March. The climate science community is still working out whether there's a causal link with global warming but they have worked out that there's a link with rising surface sea temperatures.

And opening in a theatre near you one month from today is An Inconvenient Truth. You can see the trailer here.

How will we tell the kids we just didn't care?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday Attention Grabbers

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was Colin Powell's Chief of Staff when Powell was SecState. Today in The Baltimore Sun he writes:

"In January 2001, with the inauguration of George W. Bush as president, America set on a path to cease being good; America became a revolutionary nation, a radical republic. If our country continues on this path, it will cease to be great - as happened to all great powers before it, without exception."

I'm perfectly willing to accept that he believes this. I do as well. But the ringing question in my mind is this.

Is he Powell's proxy voice? It increasingly seems so to me. Former SecStates are constrained by convention, tradition as well as legislation. Former Chiefs of Staff are not.

As we get closer and closer to November it's going to be very interesting to see who Republican candidates invite to speak at their campaign events. Will it be members of the administration offering up their rhetoric or will it be dissenting Republican voices like Wilkerson's?

One of the other things that grabbed me today was reading, in a couple of places, that Vietnam was not lost on the ground but rather in Congress, on the university campuses, in the media and among the people. One of the places I read this today was in a US soldier's blog from Iraq. He/she mentioned that today's Generals were the Lieutenants and Captains of the Vietnam years and this was one of the things they learned from Vietnam.

If a meaningful US victory was possible in Vietnam, which I strongly doubt, would it have to have been a victory that was then acknowledged and celebrated "in Congress, on the university campuses, in the media and among the people" in order for it to have had military merit?

Or would it have been enough if the US military had been able to declare it a victory even if almost the entire rest of the country, if not the world, believed it to be a pointless, tragic, mindless debacle?

If the latter were true, and the opinions of Congress, the world, the people and so on were irrelevant to the considerations of the military, what would that mean to the robustness of the concept of civilian miltary control?

Sunday History Blogging

Son of a gun!

There are several stories around this term, all of which originate on the lower decks of British warships and all of which involve the presence of naval guns.

During the most active point of the Royal Navy's fight with Napoleon, the Americans and whomever else the British were in the process of fighting at sea, crews normally remained onboard when the ship was in harbour.

The first story suggests that when wives and other women came onboard, the only place offering a modicum of privacy on the gundecks, (where the seamen lived), was between the guns. Most sex took place in that area and a good number of pregnancies occured. Of course, wives were a minority group. Local prostitutes were more common on the gundeck. Their offspring were often of questionable male parentage and the definition given to a boy born of such an encounter became known as a Son of a Gun.

Oxfords has a slightly different variation. Given that the women, who were often allowed onboard when the ship was both in port and at sea, were pregnant, the area between the guns is where they gave birth. A boy born on the gundeck was called a Son of a Gun.

There were hundreds of sayings surrounding the guns which made their way ashore into commonly used English. One which would strike fear into the hearts of a young boy was a punishment known as Kissing the Gunner's Daughter. In a ship, this involved one of the ship's boys, a midshipman or a master's mate being bent over one of the guns, baring his buttocks and being severely thrashed with a cane. (Adult ratings were flogged with a cat-o-nine tails). Ashore, although there were no guns over which to hunch a young defaulter, any time a caning was ordered, the young offender was told, "You'll kiss the gunner's daughter."

Trivia: In 2001 a group of Canadian army engineers travelled to Eritrea to clean up and repair a gravesite. Who's buried there and why is he considered so important?

Spaced out Sundays

The top photo is of the Eta Carina Nebula, a large diffuse nebula 8000 light years away. In the middle of the photo is a large brilliant star, Eta Carinae, one of the strangest stars scientists have come across.

The bottom photo shows a closer view of Eta Carinae, a star whose magnitude changes with remarkable speed (magnitude refers to how bright an object appears as viewed from Earth. The higher the magnitude, the less bright it is. For example; Sirius, the brightest star, is -1.46, Vega is less bright at 0.03, and Antares appears even dimmer yet at 0.96).

It was first recorded in 1677 by Sir Edmond Halley who recorded it as a 4th magnitude star. In 1730, it reached 2nd magnitude brightness, fell to mag 4 in 1782, reached first magnitude in 1827, faded back to mag 2 for about 5 years and then rose back to mag 0. In 1843 a violent outburst saw the star became so bright (-0.8 magnitude) it outshone every star in Earth’s night sky with the exception of Sirius. It released as much visible light as a supernova explosion, but the star somehow managed to survive. The explosion produced the two “lobes” of stellar gas and dust. By 1868, the star became almost invisible and in 1900 it was classified as an 8th magnitude star. It stayed that way until 1941 when it slowly became brighter and brighter until it reached 6th mag by the early 1990's. In 1999, it suddenly brightened to 4th mag.

Eta Carinae is estimated to be 100 times heavier than our Sun, which would make it one of the most massive stars in our galaxy. Such massive stars usually have a lifespan of less than a million years and many scientists think Eta Carinae will probably end itself in a supernova explosion in the next 100,00 years (or less).

Saturday, April 22, 2006

New captives in the Memory Hole

Dana's sharp eye picked up two documents from the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. We're archiving them at TGB Memory Hole for future use. Given the proclivity of the Bush adminstration to classify previously unclassified documents and given the current state of affairs in Iraq, these documents stand a good chance of vanishing.... down the hole.

David C. Hendrickson and Robert W. Tucker


Though critics have made a number of telling points against the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war, the most serious problems facing Iraq and its American occupiers—criminal anarchy and lawlessness, a raging insurgency and a society divided into rival and antagonistic groups—were virtually inevitable consequences that flowed from the act of war itself. Military and civilian planners were culpable in failing to plan for certain tasks, but the most serious problems had no good solution. Even so, there are lessons to be learned. These include the danger that the imperatives of "force protection" may sacrifice the broader political mission of U.S. forces and the need for skepticism over the capacity of outsiders to develop the skill and expertise required to reconstruct decapitated states.

Edited by Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson


As Iran edges closer to acquiring a nuclear bomb and its missiles extend an ever darker diplomatic shadow over the Middle East and Europe, Iran is likely to pose three threats. First, Iran could dramatically up the price of oil by interfering with the free passage of vessels in and through the Persian Gulf as it did during the l980s or by threatening to use terrorist proxies to target other states' oil facilities. Second, it could diminish American influence in the Gulf and Middle East by increasing the pace and scope of terrorist activities against Iraq, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Israel, and other perceived supporters of the United States. Finally, it could become a nuclear proliferation model for the world and its neighbors (including many states that otherwise would be more dependent on the United States for their security) by continuing to insist that it has a right to make nuclear fuel under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and then withdrawing once it decides to get a bomb. To contain and deter Iran from posing such threats, the United States and its friends could take a number of steps: increasing military cooperation (particularly in the naval sphere) to deter Iranian naval interference; reducing the vulnerability of oil facilities in the Gulf outside of Iran to terrorist attacks, building and completing pipelines in the lower Gulf region that would allow most of the non-Iranian oil and gas in the Gulf to be exported without having to transit the Straits of Hormuz; diplomatically isolating Iran by calling for the demilitarization of the Straits and adjacent islands, creating country-neutral rules against Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty state members who are suspected of violating the treaty from getting nuclear assistance from other state members and making withdrawal from the treaty more difficult; encouraging Israel to set the pace of nuclear restraint in the region by freezing its large reactor at Dimona and calling on all other states that have large nuclear reactors to follow suit; and getting the Europeans to back targeted economic sanctions against Iran if it fails to shut down its most sensitive nuclear activities.

There is nothing about these two documents that is not explosive to the Bush administration and the fact that they sit high on the reading list at the War College indicates the bubbling up of dissent. Shockwave has even more.

Each document, in the whole, is available at TGB Memory Hole in PDF.

(Updated with more commentary)

Fair and Balanced = Republican Hacks

Fox News, which claimed the title "fair and balanced" has always been in the Republican camp, or more accurately, the Bush corner. Right-wingers argue that Fox is totally unbiased. Of course, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to quickly conclude the opposite.

Well, there's been a study by two UC Berkley students. The National Bureau of Economic Research took a look at Fox News to see whether they actually affected voting. Guess what? Fox is estimated to have convinced between 3 to 8 percent of their viewers in various markets to vote Republican.

Does media bias affect voting? We address this question by looking at the entry of Fox News in cable markets and its impact on voting. Between October 1996 and November 2000, the conservative Fox News Channel was introduced in the cable programming of 20 percent of US towns. Fox News availability in 2000 appears to be largely idiosyncratic. Using a data set of voting data for 9,256 towns, we investigate if Republicans gained vote share in towns where Fox News entered the cable market by the year 2000. We find a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000. Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News. The results are robust to town-level controls, district and county fixed effects, and alternative specifications. We also find a significant effect of Fox News on Senate vote share and on voter turnout. Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican. We interpret the results in light of a simple model of voter learning about media bias and about politician quality. The Fox News effect could be a temporary learning effect for rational voters, or a permanent effect for voters subject to non-rational persuasion.
Oh Rupert, it looks like these people were right after all.

Of course the right-wingers are all confused about the last line of the posted abstract. Some say they have no idea what it means. That figures.

No Half Staff Flags On Parliament Hill For You, Soldier

The Harper government will not lower flags on the Parliament Buildings or other government buildings in Ottawa.

They claim to be returning to tradition whereby one day a year is set aside, November 11, to honour fallen soldiers. They say that the Paul Martin government was the first to lower the flags in Ottawa to the honour the deaths of specific soldiers and they are just returning to an older tradition.


They'll be trying to ban news reports of returning coffins next.

The truth about Carter's skybox.

This is pretty frivolous, but as someone who believed that canard about how the elder Bob Casey wasn't allowed to speak at the '92 Democratic Convention because he was pro-life for years (would any organizer worth his salt schedule a speaker who was busy providing anti-Clinton fodder to the National Review?), I think this story, via Tom Tomorrow at HuffPo, should be wider knowledge:

So. You want the true, inside scoop on how Michael Moore ended up in the Carter skybox that evening [at the 2004 DNC]? Simple: utterly at random. After Michael went head-to-head with fightin' Bill O'Reilly (the reason we were on the skybox level in the first place), we were walking through the corridor and the crowd was gathering around us and starting to get scary in that Hard Day's Night kind of way. We happened to be passing the Carter skybox at that moment, as one of Jimmy Carter's sons -- Chip, if memory serves -- was coming out. He saw us about to get crushed by Michael's fans, and offered us sanctuary.

That one random moment of kindness has fueled right-wing conspiracy theories for two years now.

For the record, my theory has always been that, whatever you think of Micheal Moore, President Carter can do whatever and fraternize with whoever the hell he wants -- so I've never bought the Joe Klein "disgraceful" line on the subject. But this version of events seems imminently more plausible and appealing than the idea that Carter purposely brought Moore up just to personally stick it to Bush one more time, pundit-, conservative- and Kerry-handler-opinion be damned. I also makes the wingers who perpetually harp on this non-event seem that much more histronic.

Neil Young Album Update

Neil Young's new album "Living With War" will be first released as a streamcast at his website next Friday, April 28th. On May 2 it'll be available for sale as a digital download and sometime after that in stores. I suggested making it available as an ultra-low MP3 download using the AlbumWrap format instead of streamcasting due to bandwidth problems but who listens to me? My dog that's who. Sometimes.

More at the Living With War blog.

Send in the clowns

Shorter Ed Morrissey: If you break the rule of government imposed silence for reasons of conscience you should go to jail for a very long time... unless it's me, because I had a blog to promote. And secret CIA prisons are good.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Call The De-Programmers! This woman needs her brain drycleaned

I live unaware of the contents of most popular daily advice columns. It's not that I don't think the advice is useful, it's that I believe the personal problems people are willing to have splattered on the pages of North American daily papers are often only symptoms of a greater issue. I suppose that's the Dr. Phil view, but anyway...

When Cheryl pointed out this letter in today's Dear Abby, my jaw dropped. (Emphasis mine)

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Ron," and I are at odds over parenting our 7-year-old son, "Brett." My husband is very domestic. He cooks like a world-class chef and does more housework than any man I know of.
I have read Dr. James Dobson's books on family. He clearly states that a father should be the manly role model for the son, to prevent the son from being homosexual. I'm concerned that Brett will learn feminine ways from my husband and turn out to be gay. How can I convince Ron that he needs to teach Brett the more manly things in life? -- WORRIED MOM IN FLORIDA

DEAR WORRIED MOM: From my perspective, you don't need to change a thing. With all due respect to Dr. Dobson, your husband is already a manly role model to your son. He is teaching the boy important survival skills that will be invaluable when he is older. With luck, your son will turn out to be every bit the man -- and father -- that your husband is.
Jeebus H. Christ on a popsicle stick! I almost don't know where to start with this cornucopia of issues.

I have an overwhelming temptation just to say to WMIF, "Just put the guy on waivers." There must be at least six or seven women on this continent who would find a guy who cooks like a world-class chef and immerses himself in housework as mildly attractive. But no, that would be too severe. She does, after all, have a 7-year-old son, presumably as a result of conjugal relations with "Ron" whereby he willingly assumed the role of a heterosexual male.

While it's impossible to identify which of her beliefs is more ludicrous, of all the bothersome items in WMIF's letter, it is her suggestion that her husband is somehow "out of role" that first caused me to react. Something has gone terribly awry if cooking, cleaning and doing housework is viewed as "feminine". The vision of a woman scrubbing a toilet bowl does little to stir sexual feelings in most men but it does have images of slavery. Fear that her young son's sexual orientation will somehow develop because of a form of physical labor is beyond the pale. Why doesn't she just buy him a gun? He may become a serial killer but, at least in the eyes of many, he will be manly.

It is a sad testament to the state of WMIF's thinking that she somehow associates character modeling with sexual orientation. Had she picked up a book by someone other than a flaming homophobe perhaps her mindset would be different. However, a quick look at the bookshelves of the 'big box' outlets illustrate a depressing trend. Big Daddy Dobson has the market cornered for popular titles on the subject, which does more to suggest that he knows how to promote his books more than he cares about raising healthy, happy children. He does, after all, suggest that corporal punishment is a good thing and while he expects all mothers to stay at home they are more than permitted to wail away on their children should they become frustrating.

WMIF would have been better served had she read something by Jerome Kagan, a world renowned child psychologist. That is, if you could actually find it on the shelf at major bookstores. Dobson produces homophobic bile under the guise of psychological expertise; Kagan presents suggestions based on long-term peer reviewed studies and collaboration. Where Dobson is obsessed with penises and assholes, Kagan's focus is genetics, environment and achievement. You can find Dobson's books in the Parenting section of major bookstores; you'll have a tough time finding Kagan's work without ordering it.

The thing I found the strangest however, is that this woman, consumed with a personal dilemma, after reading the tripe produced by a bigoted gay-basher, decided to seek advice from a populist advice columnist. Jeanne Phillips provided an answer that was properly aimed although I suspect due to editorial brevity she may have held back. I would not have suggested that "Ron" is teaching "Brett" survival skills, but something more important. The 7-year-old is learning that the performance of domestic duties is not related to one's genitalia in any way. And sexual orientation is not determined by one's ability to operate a vacuum cleaner.

Why do I get this niggling suspicion that Worried Mom In Florida has some literal bible interpreting fundie preacher whispering in her ear that her husband isn't a real man?