Friday, September 29, 2006

Off The Deep End

A twofer from Michael Dudley at the IUS blog.

America Undone:

You may not have noticed when you glanced at the paper this morning, but the United States ceased to exist yesterday.

Oh, physically it's still there of course, but its documentary basis -- its Constitution -- has been rendered void.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to approve a bill that would, as an editorial in the New York Times describes it, give President Bush the power to name anybody anywhere -- including "foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal...The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.' By relying on secret evidence, allowing no judicial review, permitting "coerced evidence" (read: torture) and obviating the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, the bill (which Bush is expected to sign into law next week) undoes centuries of progress towards the recognition of universal human rights, and the structuring of liberal democracy around a division of powers. It will also certainly endanger any future U.S. soldier taken prisoner in combat.


President Bush has now officially been granted the powers of a despot -- and not just any despot, but a global one.

And "...Systems Irrationality...":

That the Harper regime has chosen to mimic the Bush playbook shouldn't surprise us; in almost every instance the present government has appeared to find common cause with the Bush Republicans. However, that the Bush Administration is almost universally reviled throughout the world and is spiralling into uncharted depths in the polls at home should, one would think, give them pause. As well, by choosing at so late a date to adopt the Bush lexicon -- the tired catch-phrases of which have long since become the staple of late-night comedians -- to justify military expenditures abroad, shows a genuine lack of sophistication.

More than this: the entire "conservative" movement as it is expressed in the West appears to be sliding into a morass of irrationality, and taking with it all the institutions ostensibly designed to guard against the collapse of reason: the press, the electoral process, democracy itself. When the irrational becomes so embedded in the political and social culture of a society, each component of the construction -- however illogical -- serves to support the others. This is a particularly dangerous state of affairs as the principal element around which all else revolves -- terrorism -- is so unknowable. Not only is an understanding the watershed event that precipitated the West's slide into irrationality -- the 9/11 attacks -- woefully lacking, but the nature of the threat emerging from those tragic events is so amorphous that its definition depends more on ideology than evidence. This epistemological vaccuum has resulted in nothing short of national madness: What else can explain a "war on terror" that encourages terrorism, degrades ones national defences, bankrupts the treasury, finds virtue in torture, leaves domestic cities unprotected from disaster -- and then brands as treason any effort to name these threats?

In short, we are living in an age of illusion, in which verifying those very things most essential to defining the national purpose is almost impossible; and like an hallucination experienced while driving the conclusion may be terminal. In their 1982 book on "indefensible weapons," Robert Lifton and Richard Falk wrote:

"The illusion is of a 'systems rationality' -- of a whole structure of elements -- each in "logical" relation to the other components and to the whole. We are dealing here with nothing less than the logic of madness -- [a] social madness and collective 'mad fantasy' ... For the builders of such 'rational systems' ... are, like the rest of us, confronted by an image they really do not know how to cope with, and seek desperately to call forth, however erroneously, the modern virtue of reason."

The Harper government may be projecting an image of confidence, standing firmly with Canada's traditional allies, but they are surely just as lost as the rest of us. Whatever the merits of the argument for Canada's role in Afghanistan, these need to be debated, and in a rational fashion that speaks to traditional Canadian values, as well as to international law and obligations. This means that such a debate should be one that has nothing whatever to do with "the war on terror", which is proving to be nothing but an epistemological black hole.

On the upside, nothing lasts forever. As much as these people believe they're shoring up their power by appealing to their base and promoting fear, they are putting nails in their own coffins. It is not a question so much of if they fall, but more of how messy it will be when they do. If what remains of the democratic systems here in North America manages to evict them in favour of something much saner in the next election cycle we might be alright. If not, then things will get tricky.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Watch where you sail on the Great Lakes

There's no doubt that back in 1817 Charles Bagot and Richard Rush probably could not forsee the development of the machine gun. They would have laughed at the prospect of an FN M240 GPMG firing 600 rounds per minute.

So, when Bagot and Rush exchanged diplomatic letters which would become a binding standing agreement as to the maximum allowable militarization of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, they were thinking in terms of small 100 ton ships, each armed with an 18 pounder, muzzle-loaded gun, capable of speeds up to, oh, say, six knots.

The Bagot-Rush agreement did not totally demilitarize the Great Lakes. It allowed four lightly armed ships on each side of the border. That agreement has not been annulled or superceded, although modern advancements would suggest that if there was a need, more modern vessels with something other than 18 pounder muzzle-loaders would be permitted within the spirit of the agreement.

Today's Globe and Mail reports that the US Coast Guard, which qualifies under international law as an armed force, is not only mounting 7.62mm machine guns in their patrol boats, but have now established live-fire safety zones in order to conduct exercise shoots.

This is not a new story. Back in March it was announced that the USCG was mounting machine guns on their boats. In early August the USCG applied for safety zones.

The Canadian government is treating this as a "law enforcement" issue and says that there has been an agreement in place for three years which allow the up-gunning of law enforcement vessels. And, whether anyone likes it or not, the USCG is also a law enforcement arm of the US government.

That doesn't change the fact that the USCG is a part of the Department of Homeland Security and the role of those particular boats is anti-terrorism... to stop the hordes of terrorist crossing the Great Lakes.

The truth is, the US Coast Guard itself doesn't seem to know why they now have mounted machine guns on their boats.

“We're trying to be prepared in case something happens,” said a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Petty Officer Robert Lanier.

I don't know what it is, but I know I want to be prepared for it when it happens. We need to conduct these live-fire exercises so we are prepared for whatever it may be. If we are not prepared for it, there are going to be questions about why we weren't prepared for it.” (Emphasis mine)
Really? Why not just read a book?

The Coast Guard live-fire safety zones are all on the US side of the lakes, but pleasure boaters and commercial traffic from both countries use the lakes as an open, bilateral waterway. Interestingly enough, the live-fire zones seem to be angering more American vessel operators at the moment. One of the zones is right over the best fishing areas on the Michigan side.

“We don't have any cannons or rocket launchers or anything like that,” CPO Lanier said.
But, Chief, you're allowed to have a cannon. It's just a sonofabitch to load.

Plugged in toilets in Baghdad

From the Parsons website.

Parsons has more than 50 years of success in designing, building, and maintaining mission-critical facilities that demand 24/7 reliability. We deliver facilities and technical services that provide highly secure physical, electronic, and threat resistant environments.

Parsons has earned international praise for addressing some of the most urgent global issues of our time: safely detecting and eliminating unexploded ordnance; designing, constructing, and operating chemical weapon neutralization facilities; destroying legacy strategic weapon platforms; and reconstructing post-conflict facilities and infrastructure.

Parsons supports universities, school districts, and healthcare providers with design-build services that support the best use of funding with minimal disruption to daily operations.
OK, so they didn't say anything about competently installed plumbing. And maybe they believed the Iraqis wanted the sewage system hooked up to the light fixtures.

A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.

The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed "the rain forest."

"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress. "The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."
Let's face it. Even the newest building is bound to have a few minor problems.

The most serious problem was substandard plumbing that caused waste from toilets on the second and third floors to cascade throughout the building. A light fixture in one room stopped working because it was filled with urine and fecal matter. The waste threatened the integrity of load-bearing slabs, federal investigators concluded.
It's not like Parsons hasn't been mentioned before when it comes to Iraq. Back in May the Washington Post reported:

A reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq is running out of money, after two years and roughly $200 million, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.


Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say the project serves as a warning for other U.S. reconstruction efforts due to be completed this year.
And back to the Police Academy:

The U.S. military initially agreed to take a Washington Post reporter on a tour of the facility Wednesday to examine the construction issues, but the trip was postponed Tuesday night. Federal investigators who visited the academy last week, though, expressed concerns about the structural integrity of the buildings and worries that fecal residue could cause a typhoid outbreak or other health crisis.

"They may have to demolish everything they built," said Robert DeShurley, a senior engineer with the inspector general's office. "The buildings are falling down as they sit."
As Parsons says about themselves - Delivering innovative solutions for over 60 years.

Who would have thought? And, oh yeah:

The Parsons contract, which eventually totaled at least $75 million, was terminated May 31 "due to cost overruns, schedule slippage, and sub-standard quality," according to a Sept. 4 internal military memo. But rather than fire the Pasadena, Calif.-based company for cause, the contract was halted for "the government's convenience."

Good Fences Make Good Neighbours?

Except in this case it simply demonstrates the inability of some people to grasp the obvious lessons provided by the past.

Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead with plans to build a fence to block terrorists from crossing its 560-mile border with Iraq, another sign of growing alarm that Sunni-Shiite strife could spill over and drag Iraq's neighbors into its civil conflict.

The barrier, which hasn't been started, is part of a $12 billion package of measures including electronic sensors, security bases and physical barriers to protect the oil-rich kingdom from external threats, said Nawaf Obaid, head of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, an independent research institute that advises the Saudi government.
It makes one wonder where such ideas originate.

Maybe I should rephrase that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Anticipation of Preemptive Exclusion (APE)

Keep your eye on the G&M/CTV, Post, Star, CBC, Quebecor and of course the ubiquitous CanWest Global over the next few days.

It will be interesting to see which of them, if any, cover the story out of Great Britain regarding UK forces involvement in Iraq - and Afghanistan.

This MOD report characterizes Great Britain having gone into Afghanistan '"...with its eyes closed." and that now passe favorite "The war in Iraq ... has acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world ... Iraq has served to radicalise an already disillusioned youth and al-Qaida has given them the will, intent, purpose and ideology to act." There are also some oddly familiar sounding accusations levelled at Musharraf's Pakistan.

Well here, read it yourself.

But which Canadian media outlet(s) cover(s) it?

Wagers, ladies and gentlemen?

The gentle tinge of hypocrisy

Among the multitude of reasons one will hear for Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan is the pronouncement that we are projecting "Canadian values". Not the least of these are culture and education and, respect for human rights (including the promotion of the rights of women and children, with attention to their role in the economy.)

The promotion of democracy, not simply in the form of elections but, a form of democracy that encourages "the development of a democratic culture and civil society - one that is pluralistic and participatory, that allows for the expression of diverse views and that offers its members the opportunities and resources to participate in the life of their community and country".

All very noble and worthwhile. And, not my words. They come from the Foreign Affairs and International Trade website of Canada's "new" government.

So, if we are so intent on ensuring that Afghanistan eventually benefits from the projection of these "Canadian" values, why is the very same Canadian government starting to dismantle or disable the institutional structures which promote those sophisticated values here in Canada?

If we view the Taliban as religious extremists who have no place in the development of Afghanistan, should we really be allowing religious extremists to infiltrate our own government? Or does anybody think that Dave Quist didn't work directly for Steve Harper?

Looks to me like a government which speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

Douglas Rushkoff piece in Arthur Magazine.

Have you ever encountered Douglas Rushkoff?

Once upon a time, in another pixilcarnation, I was a member of an online community called Brainstorms where Rushkoff was an occasional participant.

He is undeniably one of the most cogent and coherent thinkers of the early 21st century.

So I was rather excited to learn that he was now a regular at Arthur Magazine, which The Guardian has called "...the American counterculture's answer to the New Yorker."

This piece, from the current issue, deserves wide circulation and particular attention. Commenting allowed too.

Rushkoff also links to the piece from his blog which is also worth some attention.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More on Musharraf

I haven't seen or heard the full interview, only just read the online CBC article but I have a initial thoughts on his comments. The first thing that is apparent is that he doesn't piss around with spin. Two points stand out. First:

Musharraf reacted angrily to the question of whether his government was doing enough to root out the Taliban and al-Qaeda and their sympathizers.
"We have suffered 500 casualties," he said. "Canadians may have suffered four or five."
Musharraf said any nation that enters a war-torn area must be prepared to suffer casualties or get out of the operation.
"You suffer two dead and you cry and shout all around the place that there are coffins," he said. "Well, we have had 500 coffins."

Hard to argue with that, but something else needs to be said. Musharraf's 500 dead soldiers got him nowhere but the negotiating table with the same sort of people that are in Afghanistan. In order to save his job, and keep Pakistan relatively stable, and save troops he had to concede a big section of real estate to the tribal militants. Would 500 dead NATO troops accomplish anything more?


He dismissed the suggestion that Canadian soldiers could help alongside the Pakistani military in his country, made by Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor recently.

"Nobody comes on our side," he said. "I would not like to challenge the Canadian troops, but I can assure you, our troops are more effective and we have more experience at war, and this shows a lack of trust in Pakistan."
Did O'Connor pull a colonial "Listen here old boy, I know your men are good, but we're Cana..." on Musharraf, because that was a 'get the fuck out of my face' reply if I've ever heard one?

The Harper government does not know what it is doing.

Crisis at the Pentagon

This can fall under many categories: From, "What are you going to do to me? Give me a haircut and send me to Baghdad?" to something even more poignant, "Go ahead, fire me. You dragged me out of a nice comfortable retirement to do this job."

Six weeks before the US mid-term elections, US Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Shoomaker has put the gun to Donald Rumsfeld's head. (All emphasis mine)

DONALD RUMSFELD, the US Defence Secretary, is facing a new challenge to his authority after the US Army’s Chief of Staff refused to submit a budget plan for 2008 in protest at the demands the Pentagon is placing on America’s overstretched military.


General Schoomaker took the highly unusual step last month of delaying submission of the Army’s budget plan, arguing that the service requires either a much bigger budget than the Administration has proposed or relief from some of its worldwide commitments.


The overstretch is hitting troops serving in Iraq the hardest. The 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, is being extended in Iraq because the unit that is scheduled to replace themthe 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, needs more time to prepare. If it had deployed as scheduled, it would not have had the minimum 12 months at home between combat tours.

The 3rd Infantry has already served two tours in Iraq, including the initial invasion of the country in March 2003.

The Army has an active-duty force of about half a million soldiers. About 400,000 have done at least one tour of combat duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and more than one third of those have been deployed twice.
The picture is that of an army stretched too thin, an army which cannot recruit enough new members and a Secretary of Defense who, some thirty years after Viet Nam, pulled an almost perfect McNamara.

While Rumsfeld has been roundly criticized by many retired generals, to have the general he personally picked and called out of retirement for the job of Chief of Staff finally turn on him is especially damning.

At this point Rumsfeld may actually be wishing he had Eric Shinseki back in the Army COS chair. Not that Shinseki would be likely to go near the Pentagon with Rumsfeld still in the building.

And the accusations against Rumsfeld continue to build.

Yesterday three retired military generals bluntly accused Mr Rumsfeld of bungling the war in Iraq, saying that US troops were sent to fight without the best equipment, and that critical facts were hidden from the public. “I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq,” retired Major General John Batiste said.

It is rare for retired military officers to criticise the Pentagon while military operations are under way, particularly at a public event likely to draw widespread media attention.

A second military leader, retired Major General Paul Eaton, assessed Mr Rumsfeld as “incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically”. “Mr Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making,” he said.
And, the generals have the results to hold up their point. Rumsfeld, in defying sound military advice, has always been wrong.

Sorry... no. He was right when he said this:

"There are so many cartoons where people, press people, are saying, 'Is it Vietnam yet?' hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it isn't. It's a different time. It's a different era. It's a different place."
True enough, but as Knute Berger said over three years ago, "Yes, Rummy, it's a wonder the Vietnam question ever comes up."

Iraq is not Viet Nam. It's hotter and drier. And this time the generals, the serving ones, are starting to revolt.

Rice throws a hissy fit

And invents a new history. In a meeting with editors and reporters of the New York Post:

What we did in the eight months [before Sept. 11, 2001] was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years

The secretary of state also sharply disputed Clinton's claim that he "left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy" for the incoming Bush team during the presidential transition in 2001.

"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice responded during the hourlong session.
Really? From the Washington Post 45 months ago:

On a closed patch of desert in the first week of June, the U.S. government built a house for Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden would have recognized the four-room villa. He lived in one just like it outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, whenever he spent a night among the recruits at his Tarnak Qila training camp. The stone-for-stone replica, in Nevada, was a prop in the rehearsal of his death.

From a Predator drone flying two miles high and four miles away, Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency ground controllers loosed a missile. It carried true with a prototype warhead, one of about 100 made, for killing men inside buildings. According to people briefed on the experiment, careful analysis after the missile pierced the villa wall showed blast effects that would have slain anyone in the target room.

The Bush administration now had in its hands what one participant called "the holy grail" of a three-year quest by the U.S. government – a tool that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. The CIA planned and practiced the operation. But for the next three months, before the catastrophe of Sept. 11, President Bush and his advisers held back.

Think Progress compares Rice's claims with the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report which clearly dispatches her statement of the Bush administration being at least as aggressive as the Clinton administration in attempting to kill Osama bin Laden.

The truth is, the Bush administration didn't try at all.

Bush's engagement with terrorism in the first eight months of his term, described in interviews with advisers and contemporary records, tells a story of burgeoning ambition without the commitment of comparably ambitious means.
And now that the administration is being called on it, they're attempting to blame others. They're lying.


And the results of the Tenth Crusade....

The conflict in Iraq is evolving into an ideal training ground for a new breed of seasoned urban terrorist capable of striking anywhere in the world, according to security and terrorism analysts.

The hard core of combatants in the anti-American jihad, whether foreign or Iraqi, are potentially more mobile and dangerous than the fearsome Muhajedeen fighters who drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the 1980s and who, not incidentally, gave rise to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda...

12 January 2006
All of this is, of course, a George Bush creation. His failure to properly secure Afghanistan in the first place before he became totally distracted with an unnecessary adventure in Iraq has caused south west Asia to become an expanded war. Not to mention that Iraq had no indiginous terrorists until the Bush administration attacked it and then failed to establish order on the ground.
14 January 2006
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.
23 September 2006

To date, al-Qaeda’s top leaders have survived the superpower’s most punishing blows, adding to the near mythical status they enjoy among Islamic extremists. The terrorism they inspire has continued apace in a deadly cadence of attacks, from Bali and Istanbul to Madrid, London, and Mumbai. Even discounting the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the tempo of terrorist attacks—the coin of the realm in the jihadi enterprise—is actually greater today than before 9/11.
Council on Global Terrorism
Five-Year Mark Post 9/11
Heckuva job _______(Pick one or more)
1. Bush
2. Cheney
3. Rumsfeld
4. Wolfowitz
5. Perle
6. Feith
7. Rice
All of you should take a bow. Really. You had to work hard at screwing it up so badly.
UPDATE: Keith Olbermann pulls no punches and lays it all in the lap of the War President.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Esprit de Corps magazine

Head on over to Esprit de Corp magazine and read the recent op-ed pieces there.

Small wonder Scott Taylor has been conspicuously absent from the national press echo chamber lately. As has anyone else from the magazine for that matter.

I wonder how long it'll take the Conservative sofa brigade to label the magazine as not supporting the troops.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Rise of the Christian Right in Harper's Canada

Get ready for the storm.

The religious right is on the move in Canada and will not be slowing down.

The G&M yesterday published this piece outlining how non-christian Canadians can expect to have their choices dictated to them.

Of course, that's not the way the piece is presented but speaking from personal experience as well as from observing our friends below the 49th that is the lesson I took.

Flagging NATO ally

Evidently there is another NATO ally who is beginning to adopt a worsening view of the likelihood of rapid triumphant success in Afgahnistan.

In fact, according to this Newsweek story one retired US general says ""This standoff could go on for 40 or 50 years... (but)... it's not going to be a takeover by the Taliban as long as NATO is there. Instead this is going to be like the triborder region of South America, or like Kashmir, a long, drawn-out stalemate where everyone carves out spheres of influence."

He's disagreed with of course, as he must be at risk of his job, by Bush's top commander in the field, Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry. The disagreement however is a mere quibble about the "decades". Rumsfeld could still fire the man for insufficiently vehement denial of reality, which soon will be considered a firing squad offence in the Pentagon.

Followed shortly thereafter by the Canadian DND taking the same step, all in the name of "improving morale", "troops supporting the troops", no doubt.

Not only have no lessons been retained from Vietnam but apparently none from World War 1 either.

Mrs.Mills does it again!

One cannot help but love Mrs. Mills for her practicality..with just a hint of the devil in it.

On returning from our recent holiday in France, I had some photos processed. Unfortunately, what came back in the post were not our snaps, but some shots of people in rather raunchy situations. This was quite amusing, until on closer inspection we recognised some of the people in them, who are well known to us. In fact, they live just down the road (hence, I guess, the confusion) and we have been invited to a dinner party that they will also be attending. Should we ask them if they have received any other people’s processed photographs, or just ask if they have interesting parties

Mrs. Mills responds

As long as what they were doing was legal (more or less), it would be in poor taste to do anything other than use the dinner party as an opportunity to hand over their photographs in a plain envelope without a word. Of course, I would then put pointed questions to them all evening on the practicality of plastic sheets versus their comfort for lying on, and the use of exotic fruit as a sexual aid, just to watch them squirm, but you may be a better person than that.

Spaced out Sundays

The Hubble Telescope reveals a rainbow of colors in this dying star, called IC 4406. Like many other so-called planetary nebulae, IC 4406 exhibits a high degree of symmetry. The nebula's left and right halves are nearly mirror images of the other. If we could fly around IC 4406 in a spaceship, we would see that the gas and dust form a vast donut of material streaming outward from the dying star. We don't see the donut shape in this photograph because we are viewing IC 4406 from the Earth-orbiting Hubble telescope. From this vantage point, we are seeing the side of the donut.

This side view allows us to see the intricate tendrils of material that have been compared to the eye's retina. In fact, IC 4406 is dubbed the 'Retina Nebula.'

Photo and commentary from

Saturday, September 23, 2006

I wore blue, green, khaki and black. I'm not wearing red for anybody.

OK, so it's Saturday. What colour am I supposed to wear today?

Apparently "Wear Red Friday" was a howling success with thousands attending a rally on Parliament Hill to show support for Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

That's nice.

I have no doubt this idea germinated some time ago. It might have even been intended to be an impromptu event. However, despite all the good intentions of the original organizers, it became a political rally supporting the Conservative Party of Canada.

Some skeptics believe the CPoC may have actually had a hand in organizing the whole event.

I don't think there's any question of that.

The telling point is that Steve Harper made an "impromptu" appearance.

Although billed as a non-partisan rally, Mr. Harper used the occasion to slip in a not-so-subtle jab at NDP Leader Jack Layton, who has called for the withdrawal Canadian troops from the combat portion of the mission.

"Friends, I believe you cannot say you are for our military and then not stand behind them in the great things they do."

The rally came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed a joint session of Parliament and thanked Canadians for their efforts in the poverty-stricken country. Later, Mr. Karzai laid a wreath at the National War Memorial to honour the 36 Canadians who've died serving in his country since 2002.
Pure choreography. And Harper doesn't do "impromptu". He isn't capable of it. The only way Harper makes an appearance is if it is managed, safe and pre-arranged. His words are always pre-prepared, cliche-riddled and unoriginal, just as they were yesterday. He gave away the game.

If the CPoC didn't originally organize this event, then they highjacked it long before the actual date. It looked and smelled Rovian. Radio station CFRA, an ultra-conservative media organ, was the biggest booster and put a great deal of effort into promoting the event. It leaves one wondering how hot Sandra Buckler's fax machine was running in the days before the rally.

As for the original idea, I really have no problem with it. Yes, the troops in Afghanistan will hear about it. It will make a difference to them - for a very short moment. They will then get back to their business because they have other more serious things to worry about.

And, while I have no problem with the idea, the optics, mechanics and real effect leave me cold. In ascending order of importance the problems appear as:

1. Red Fridays, as a symbol for supporting troops overseas is a purely American idea, as is detailed here and here. One could suggest a coincidence but that's not likely. In fact, given the similarities of the "movements" it strongly suggests that the American idea was exported to Canada. That gives rise to another problem.

2. Red Fridays, the US "support the troops" movement, claims to be non-partisan and grass-roots . Nothing could be further from the truth. Red Fridays is an ultra-right-wing US Republican initiative of the Move Off network run by LB Neal of Move Off LLC. Following the links in any of the Move Off sites produces a litany of jingoistic rubbish and in many cases, blatant racism. If you go, take a vomit bag. Keep in mind that red is the distinctive colour of the Republican party. Of course, another problem arises.

3. The whole idea of wearing a visible symbol for anything like this leads to an argument that those who do not wear red on Fridays obviously do not support the troops. Joe Warmington of the right-wing Toronto Sun made that clear in his latest column when he was whining that the organizers of Toronto's car-free day event weren't wearing red. That translation is inevitable to the weak-minded. Warmington, like Harper, erects a strawman. If you don't visibly demonstrate support for Canadian troops in Afghanistan, you must be against them. You must be FOR the mission in order to be FOR the troops. Regardless of my view, I have never accepted that anyone opposed to the mission in Afghanistan has any less feeling of support for the troops on the ground than anyone who supports the deployment. Whether Warmington wants to enunciate it or not, the wearing of red on Fridays becomes support of the mission - the only way you can support the troops. Warmington, if he wants to support the troops, might do well to trade-in the ridiculous fedora for some kevlar. Of course, that creates some other issues.

4. Aside from the immediate families of those members actually serving in Afghanistan and the CF, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who more strongly supports the troops than me. I want every single one of them to come home safely. I'll wear whatever I want on a Friday. Further, I find the idea that wearing red, going to a "Rah-Rah" rally and listening to a speech is supposed to provide any tangible level of support for expeditionary troops near ludicrous. It is the least committed, laziest and least demanding of a multitude of things that one could be doing to show real support. It boils down to: they fight - you sit and whistle, and garner praise for doing it. I would question whether anyone gave up a day's pay to attend the rally in Ottawa. I would not be surprized, however, to hear that a lot of people booked off "sick" to get the day off. And, for what it's worth, red has always been the colour of enemy forces on a combat plot. Friendly forces are blue. (A commenter on another blog pointed out that most Republicans are unlikely to know that.)

Do you want to show support? Try doing it in a fashion that demonstrates at least a little bit of knowledge of their situation. This guy certainly has a better idea.

An even better idea is to get directly involved. Find out what the troops on the ground in Afghanistan want and cannot get. Go here, and you can write to any CF member and ask. Go here, and you can send some of the things they might like to have. Try to keep it small, but don't spare the expense. A few ideas would be to send 2000 of these. Or maybe send some of these - enough for a platoon - in various sizes. Or, what ever the troops might ask for.

You want to really support the troops? The best way you can do it is to make sure that when the next rotation to Afghanistan comes up it isn't the same people going back. Join now and make sure your training is completed in time for the next roto. If you're too old, send your kids.

Do something real. Breaking your arms while patting yourself on the back for wearing red and attending a political rally is so.... safe, cheap and way too easy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Just for a Friday laugh while I make the pasta

How many web forum 'Regulars' does it take to change a Light Bulb?
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
1 to change the light bulb and to post that the light bulb has been changed

14 to share similar experiences of changing light bulbs and how the light bulb could have been changed differently

7 to caution about the dangers of changing light bulbs

1 to move it to the Lighting section

2 to argue then move it to the Electricals section

7 to point out spelling/grammar errors in posts about changing light bulbs

5 to flame the spell checkers

3 to correct spelling/grammar flames

6 to argue over whether it's "lightbulb" or "light bulb" ... another 6 to condemn those 6 as stupid

2 industry professionals to inform the group that the proper term is "lamp"

15 know-it-alls who claim they were in the industry, and that "light bulb" is perfectly correct

19 to post that this forum is not about light bulbs and to please take this discussion to a lightbulb forum

11 to defend the posting to this forum saying that we all use light bulbs and therefore the posts are relevant to this forum

36 to debate which method of changing light bulbs is superior, where to buy the best light bulbs, what brand of light bulbs work best for this technique and what brands are faulty

7 to post URL's where one can see examples of different light bulbs

4 to post that the URL's were posted incorrectly and then post the corrected URL's

3 to post about links they found from the URL's that are relevant to this group which makes light bulbs relevant to this group

13 to link all posts to date, quote them in their entirety including all headers and signatures, and add "Me too"

5 to post to the group that they will no longer post because they cannot handle the light bulb controversy

4 to say "didn't we go through this already a short time ago?"

13 to say "do a Google search on light bulbs before posting questions about light bulbs"

1 forum lurker to respond to the original post 6 months from now and start it all over again

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why Things Happen

From the BBC :

The United States threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" unless it joined the fight against al-Qaeda, President Pervez Musharraf says.

General Musharraf said the warning was delivered by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Pakistan's intelligence director.

"I think it was a very rude remark," Mr Musharraf told CBS television.

Pakistan agreed to side with the US, but Gen Musharraf said it did so based on his country's national interest.

"One has to think and take actions in the interest of the nation, and that's what I did," he said.

Which is probably one the reasons Pakistan did this.
Musharraf/Pakistan sees no more interest in losing soldiers in a campaign in its own tribal regions in much the same way it is no longer interested in having the US and NATO fighting a war next door. Wars and insurgencies spread and can be disasterous. Musharraf came to power in a coup and can leave power the same way (not in his interest, I imagine). You also do not threaten a national leader, especially a military leader, with the destruction of his country and expect him to be your forever friend.

Breaking News! Conservative Create Chaos

The rapid-transit system in the BC southern interior city of Kamloops has reportedly been thrown into chaos.

Unconfirmed reports state that senior members of the Conservative Party of Canada are tossing junior party members onto the tracks in an effort to create deliberate casualties.

In a scheduled 20 minute interview, Stevie Harpie said:

If this is true it is a good thing. The party is certainly engaged. The party is now blooded and that will make it a better party.
Harpie then ended the interview 17 minutes early while waving at reporters with one finger.

Clarifying Harpie's comments Carolyn Competent-Charming, Harpie's press secretary, said this is good for the Conservatives.

The way this makes the party stronger is that we'll be able to attract more money and recruit more members. People like a party which has been blooded.
Competent-Charming then slapped a photographer, told him to shut up and then went on to have her hair dyed a lighter shade of blonde.

With files and direction from:
Kevin Michael Grace
Adam Radwanski

Well worth reading

Just a short round-up of noteable posts on topics not yet covered here.

Ted at Cerberus holds the feet of Canada's New Government™ to the fire by pointing out that, despite Harper's words on accountability, he and his party are setting the worst possible example - Rules are for others. Ted's post is a "must read".

Alison at Creekside does her own round-up of a story which she first brought to my attention earlier in the week. The Anschluss watchdogs details a story which was completely ignored by the traditional media about a group of powerful corporate and government types in a "deep integration" meeting held at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel last week. The whole meeting, from 12 to 14 September, was shrouded in secrecy. In addition to Alison's links I will add The Agonist with this post with a list of those invited and a draft agenda.

One of the questions which keeps arising from this meeting is whether US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld actually accepted the invitation and attended. I would suggest that he wasn't there if only because the necessary security protocols, even those which aren't generally visible, were never implemented. That's not proof but I would hesitate to think of the reaction if something had happened and it turned out there wasn't adequate security.

Both posts are well worth the read.

Fire the bitch!!!

Jesus. Fucking. Christ!!!

Never, never in all my time in uniform, whether living in a floating bomb or up to my ass in mud have I ever encountered a statement which so succinctly expresses the cavalier disregard for human life from a supposedly enlightened individual as this one:

The military gets stronger when casualties occur, she said, because it means more money is put into equipment and recruiting.

Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister
speaking to remarks made by Stephen Harper
20 September, 2006
I have an idea.
Take this useless individual out of her comfortable office, cut her pay to that of TQ3 infantry private, ship her to Afghanistan and send her for a walk in an old Soviet minefield.
When the explosion occurs, we'll all cheer and the PMO can ask for more money and more conservative airhead staffers because if more of them get killed its a good reason to give the PMO more money and hire more staff.
And, Hillier called the Taliban thugs and scumbags.
Apparently he didn't have to look any farther than 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Spot the camels

Show me the camels. I dare you. WRONG!!!! Those dark camel-like images are the shadows of the camels. If you look very carefully, there's a thin white line beneath the dark shadows. The white lines are the real camels. This amazing photograph was taken by George Steinmetz for National Geographic and is considered one of the best pictures of 2005...and with good reason.

(Posted for the purposes of relieving the drudgery of Steve Harper, Afghanistan, Iraq and Dubya...I figure we all need a break now and then)

The Mission of the New (tm) CMA

Here's hoping Brian Day, the new head of the CMA, gets his way. No relation to Stockboy BTW.

"WASHINGTON - The United States spends far more on health care" than any other country but gets only mediocre care in return for its investment, according to a report released Wednesday.

That's what Canada needs.

Better health care.

Better for doctors.

Here's how the Vancouver Sun covered him today.

"In his first public appearance in B.C. since being voted president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association, private medicine maverick Dr. Brian Day demonstrated how much he wants to shed his Dr. Profit persona.

Since being elected in a controversial voting process last month, Day has reiterated in media interviews that he thinks it's unfair to portray him as the medicare bogeyman...snip... Day even went so far as to criticize St. Paul's Hospital for accepting payment and allowing private use of its imaging equipment in the middle of the day...snip...

"I don't have anything against it philosophically," Day said...snip..."but if they've got a time slot in the middle of the day that's open, then it should be offered to someone on their own wait list," Day said." (emphasis mine)

Useful insertion of that "but" in the middle of his flaccid disclaimer.

I lived through the doctor's strike in Saskatchewan in '65. A couple friends of my family didn't because they couldn't get care.

I have no doubt in my mind - none, zero, zip, zilch, nada - that such a thing could happen again.

Is Day the stalking horse?

British soldier admits war crime

This is a first for the British military in what might be described as modern times.

A corporal today became the first member of the British armed forces to admit a war crime in court when he pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating civilians detained in Iraq.

Corporal Donald Payne is one of seven British troops who went on trial today facing charges linked to the death of an Iraqi civilian who was in British custody and to the alleged ill-treatment of other detainees.

The charges against all the defendants - which include two officers - relate to the death of Baha Musa, 26, an Iraqi civilian, in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003.

The opening of today's court martial at Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, marks the first time British service personnel have been prosecuted for war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act 2001.
Curiously, Payne's admission of guilt isn't going to prevent a hearing on the charge since his version of events is different from those known to the prosecutor.

The trial is scheduled to last 16 weeks and includes charges against the colonel commanding the regiment. Which is more appropriate than the methods used against the Bushveldt Carbineers in the last century.

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

With respect and condolences to the families and friends of Corporal Glen Arnold, 2 Field Ambulance; Private David Byers, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry; Corporal Shane Keating, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry; Corporal Keith Morley, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.

In arduis fidelis

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sophomoric Wankers

"A federal scientist who was fired after sharply objecting to a political directive from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has won back his position, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said Tuesday.

Andrew Okulitch, a 64-year-old "scientist emeritus" based in Salt Spring Island, B.C., objected to a Sept. 5 e-mail directive from Lunn’s office asking bureaucrats to refer to the Government of Canada as "Canada’s New Government."

Okulitch replied to the e-mail by writing: "While this ridiculous and embarrassing policy is in effect, I shall use Geological Survey of Canada ... as opposed to idiotic buzzwords coined by political hacks."

"Lunn said Tuesday the government has reversed that decision because Okulitch shouldn’t have received the e-mail in the first place.

He said the requirement to use the phrase "Canada’s New Government" was intended for bureaucrats providing correspondence for the minister’s office."

"We're proud to be the New Government of Canada,"

Unbelievable. That is all. Just. Unbelievable.

Harper with Mansbridge. I still want to puke.

Far and Wide Steve's assessment of Harper's responses to Mansbridge in last night's CBC interview is bang on the spot and a "must read".

I would add that what Harper accomplished during that interview was to shed any illusion of possessing knowledge related to the Canadian military.

A corpulent Steve Harper sat there and presented his view; something quite different from the truth.

"If I can be frank about this, you know, in some ways I think we can complain that only a handful of countries are carrying the bulk of the load and the bulk of the danger there," Harper said.

"But, you know, the shoe was often on the other foot. For a lot of the last 30 or 40 years, we were the ones hanging back."
So, what is it: 30 years or 40 years? Perhaps he should have been more specific and avoided the broad generalization.

For what it's worth, Harper, in an attempt to portray Canada's past military involvements as benignly obscure, told a blatant lie.

I don't know what occasion Harper is suggesting Canada held back, but without coming out and saying it we can assume that he would have, had he been more than 6 years old at the time, had Canada participate directly in the Viet Nam conflict.

We already know that had he been prime minister at the time, when the Bush regime invaded Iraq, he would have committed the Canadian Forces - without a question regarding the quality of intelligence or the validity of the threat.

Other US involvements such as Grenada and Panama were exclusively US operations. They neither asked for nor wanted Canadian participation.

We supported the British retaking of the Falkland Islands but were never asked to commit forces, though Canadians on exchange postings served with their British units.

Through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Canada was the world's most active peacekeeping nation, committing more troops to UN missions than any other country. And peacekeeping was the poor sister of military commitments.

Through that same period Canada was engaged with NATO at the front of the Cold War. While there is justification in criticism of some of the resolve, particularly during the Trudeau years, the truth is the operating tempo of the Canadian Navy, the maintenance of Canadian Forces Europe (Lahr and Baden Baden) and the alert state of the Canadian Air Force was higher than a majority of other NATO allies.

After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Canada committed forces immediately to the US-led coalition. While the commitment was primarily air and naval forces, the offer of infantry and armour was made. The holding back of Canadian ground forces during the Gulf War was done at the request of US Central Command - not Ottawa.

We did not hold back in Kosovo.

Harper then added this:

"It's certainly engaged our military," Harper said. "It has made it a better military."
And, just how the fuck would Harper know what makes a better military? The man doesn't know the difference between a good or a bad military.

One can only assume that he feels "sustained combat" is what makes a better military. It's an overly-simplistic and faulty view.

What makes a good military is the conditions that existed before the commitment to combat. A good military is well-led, well-trained, disciplined, adaptable and able to respond to a multitude of emergencies. It is employable in a variety of roles. A military force which is highly motivated before they face an enemy is just as likely to dispatch themselves as well as a group of veterans.

The truth is, prolonged combat operations wear down a military force. With attrition and a high casualty rate, a military force becomes blunted. While blood-spattered combat clothing provides a level of hardening and does heighten individual awareness of the enemy's tactics, it also eats away at the ability of leaders to motivate troops. There is a breaking point, and it isn't a long stretch from baptism of fire to debilitating fatigue.

Of course, Harper wouldn't know or understand any of that. He hasn't spent a second of his life in the military much less experience life under fire. He's a military dilettante and a political thespian. He comes from the ranks of militaristic zealots who talk tough but couldn't find the cocking handle on an infantryman's rifle if their lives depended on it.

Every time I hear Harper mouth the words "ultimate sacrifice" when referring to the abruptly-ended life of another young Canadian soldier my blood starts to boil. "Sacrifice" isn't a word Harper understands. He doesn't make any and the troops who have been killed didn't want to be the ones sacrificed - particularly for this:

"It's certainly raising Canada's leadership role, once again, in the United Nations and in the world community where we used to have an important leadership role," Harper said.
Is that why Canadians are fighting and dying? As the combat casualties mount, the prestige of the Canadian government rises?

I dislike all politicians, but Harper is a particularly odious animal.

More blogs for the roll...

First, Driftglass. Possibly an aquired taste for some, but he does write some gems when he gets going. Scotch drinkers take note.

Second, some siblings from John Robb: John Robb's Weblog and its Global Guerrillas parent site. These two I find very interesting for their conceptualisation of the world in which we now find ourselves plodding through. They illustrate the decline of the state in face of globalisation through the "open source warfare" and "global guerrillas" descriptors. Some readers might know this as 4th Generation War (4GW) (h/t to G and Lexington in the comments). Both Robb's terms and 4GW are extensions of historian Martin van Creveld's "non-trinitarian warfare" theory illustrated in this excellent book.

Wind In The Willows and evolution

Ratty was a water vole. A beady eyed rodent.

J. Andrew DeWoody of Purdue University has made a discovery about voles which is causing a rumble in the scientific world. Voles are the world's fastest evolving mammal.

Purdue University research has shown that the vole, a mouselike rodent, is not only the fastest evolving mammal, but also harbors a number of puzzling genetic traits that challenge current scientific understanding.


The study focuses on 60 species within the vole genus Microtus, which has evolved in the last 500,000 to 2 million years. This means voles are evolving 60-100 times faster than the average vertebrate in terms of creating different species. Within the genus (the level of taxonomic classification above species), the number of chromosomes in voles ranges from 17-64. DeWoody said that this is an unusual finding, since species within a single genus often have the same chromosome number.


A final "counterintuitive oddity" is that despite genetic variation, all voles look alike, said DeWoody's former graduate student and study co-author Deb Triant.

"All voles look very similar, and many species are completely indistinguishable," DeWoody said.
The research is focused on mitochondrial DNA and its unique ability to insert itself into the vole's nulear DNA causing rapid evolutionary change in the animals. It is hoped that the vole model will provide a greater opening into genetic therapy studies.

Of course, there are those who believe Ratty couldn't possibly be a creature of evolution, which prompted this Minnesota newspaper editor to weigh-in on a debate which is taking place in the "letters" pages of his paper.

I’ve hesitated to wade into the ongoing evolution debate that has been raging again in recent weeks in our letters section, in part because it often seems people’s minds are made up on the issue. That’s unfortunate, because those who take the view that evolution does not occur are, in essence, rejecting biological science as we know it today— since evolution is among the foundations of modern biology.

And when large numbers of Americans reject one branch of science, it is that much easier to sow doubt in their minds about other forms of science. If biology is based on a ruse, why not physics, or chemistry, or astronomy? Why believe the warnings of climate change if all science is political and anti-religious?

This is a concern that is uniquely American, since America is the only western nation where a majority of residents say they don’t believe in evolution.


Despite all the evidence, it is a disturbing fact that the percentage of Americans who believe in evolution has fallen in recent decades. And that is certainly not the result of any lack of evidence for evolution. Sad to say, organized religion— especially the growing number of fundamentalist sects— must share a good bit of the blame for this trend. These groups are actively engaged in the diseducation of America and it’s frightening to think of the long term implications of this organized effort. This is a nation where science and sound education have played key roles in our success. To abandon science, and remove critical information from our student’s classrooms is flirting with disaster. (Emphasis mine)
There has, to date, been no apparent move by the Bush administration to pass legislation banning research on voles. But, wait for it. It's coming.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hungary’s Prime Minister admits lying to get re-elected

Protestors called for the resignation of Hungary’s prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, when a Hungarian radio station broadcast a tape recording of a meeting between Gyurcsany and his fellow Socialist MPs. The tape recording reveals the Prime Minister admitting that he lied to the Hungarian voters in order to secure his re-election. And it’s pretty clear that he has no illusions about what he’s and his “boneheaded” government has done.

There is not much choice (regarding his draconian economic policies). There is not, because we screwed up. Not a little, a lot. No European country has done something as boneheaded as we have.

Evidently, we lied throughout the last year-and-a-half, two years. It was totally clear that what we are saying is not true.

We lied in the morning, we lied in the evening.

You cannot quote any significant government measure we can be proud of, other than at the end we managed to bring the government back from the brink. Nothing. If we have to give account to the country about what we did for four years, then what do we say?

And how did he keep the economy from falling completely off the deep end?
divine providence, the abundance of cash in the world economy and hundreds of tricks

During the election campaign, Gyurscany claimed that Hungary’s budget deficit would be about 4.7% of the Gross Domestic Product. In fact, it was closer to 10%, and the PM knew the 4.7 figure was a lie. He also acknowledged that a law introducing tax cuts was a mistake.

So far, he is refusing to resign.

Harper and Guns

Harper vows 'more effective laws' in Montreal tragedy's wake

What are the odds Harpie is going to suggest legislation requiring teachers and students carry guns and be prepared to use them.

UK Leadership Shows Signs of Adulthood

Labour admits: we made mistakes on Afghanistan

"The defence secretary, Des Browne, will admit today that Britain and its Nato allies seriously underestimated the strength of the Taliban and the violent resistance faced by western forces in Afghanistan. "The Taliban's tenacity in the face of massive losses has been a surprise, absorbing more of our effort than predicted and consequently slowing progress on reconstruction," he will say in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London."

What are the odds we never hear such words from anyone in the Canada associated with this looming fiasco.

Maher Arar and the Little Piggies

How did a Damascus born Mulsim Canadian citizen whose wife bared her face to the world and was not only educated but a PhD. to boot become identified at any time by anyone as a Muslim fundamentalist terrorist?

Were we not told that "the education of girls" was one of the reasons we were willing to fight them over there so we wouldn't have to fight them over here?

Then answer me please which fuckwit dullards in CSIS or the RCMP or wherever thought it probable that a Muslim terrrorist could be married to a bare faced woman as highly educated as Monia Mazigh?

If this incident is any indication of the wit to be found among members of the RCMP and/or CSIS who are working on the investigation of terrorism then we might as well throw in the fucking towel right now.

Perhaps they were never told that wives of fundamentalist Muslims can't be at all educated let alone hold a PhD. Or that they can't show their faces in public let alone speak.

Why the fuck didn't they know?

I've been pissed about what was perpetrated on this poor family before this but today's report just raised my blood pressure through the fucking roof.

Heads should fucking roll for this but of course they won't.

I hope a court awards the family tens of millions of dollars and I hope it's upheld - I hope it bruises the Treasury badly enough that such stupid, ignorant, fuckwads are never again brainlessly put in the position of having that kind of power.

Speaking too soon

A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting. - General George S. Patton

Declaring success.

NATO and Afghan government forces have forced Taliban troops out of a southern Afghan district after a two-week operation in which NATO said hundreds of militants were killed.

"This has been a significant success and clearly shows the capability that Afghan, NATO and coalition forces have when they operate together," the British commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Richards told a news conference on Sunday.

The offensive, codenamed Operation Medusa, was launched on September 2 to clear well dug-in Taliban forces from a farming district about 25 km (15 miles) west of the southern city of Kandahar.
And speaking too soon.

Four Canadian soldiers were killed and several more were wounded in a suicide bombing which targeted troops in southern Afghanistan Monday, the head of NATO forces in the region confirmed.


"An individual on a bicycle detonated himself near the Canadian soldiers," Brig.-Gen. David Fraser told reporters.


While the military vows to continue on with the mission, the attack raises questions as to whether it's secure enough for residents to start returning home.
What has not been made clear is that Operation Medusa was mounted, not so much as an action to clear out Taliban forces from Panjwaii district, but to pre-empt an expected major attack on Kandahar.

18 months ago US Major General Eric Olson stated, "The Taliban is a force in decline." From Declan Walsh:

Today, to many observers those words look foolish. While northern and western Afghanistan remain stable, President Hamid Karzai is isolated and unpopular. Comparisons of the southern war with Vietnam are no longer considered outlandish. And dismayed western diplomats - the architects of reconstruction - are watching their plans go up in smoke. "Nobody saw this coming. It's pretty dire," admitted one official in Kabul.

No single factor explains the slide. But some answers can be found in Ghazni, a central province considered secure until earlier this year. Now it is on the frontline of the Taliban advance, just a two-hour drive from Kabul.
Nobody saw this coming?! Who the hell is he trying to kid?


Somebody isn't reading their intelligence reports.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

First Rabbis Ordained in Germany Since WWII

In a small but symbolic step, three rabbis were ordained in Dresden, Germany, the first time Germany has had a rabbinical ordination in 64 years. The ceremony was considered significant enough that it was broadcast live on television and prompted congratulatory comments from both German President Horst Kohler

a very special occasion indeed
and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

This is a moment of hope that these first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since 1942 will be followed by many more.
Since the Nazi destruction of the College of Jewish Studies in Berlin in 1942, Germany has had to import rabbis, mostly from Israel and the United States. The 1999 opening of the Abraham Geiger College near Berlin will now help to serve the small, but growing Jewish population of Germany, a community many doubted would ever return to Germany. In the early 1930’s, the Jewish population of Germany was about 500,000. In the 1980’s, it was about 15,000. Today, the Jewish community numbers about 115,000 and is growing, due almost entirely to the influx of Soviet Jews, a result of Germany’s 1990 relaxation of immigration laws.

Casting a shadow over this encouraging development is the recent news that Neo-Nazis seem poised to win a number of Parliamentary seats in the upcoming elections. Germany’s Jewish community still has a long road ahead of them.

Spaced out Sundays

Resembling the puffs of smoke and sparks from a summer fireworks display in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope, these delicate filaments are actually sheets of debris from a stellar explosion in a neighboring galaxy. Hubble's target was a supernova remnant within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a nearby, small companion galaxy to the Milky Way visible from the southern hemisphere.

Denoted N 49, or DEM L 190, this remnant is from a massive star that died in a supernova blast whose light would have reached Earth thousands of years ago. This filamentary material will eventually be recycled into building new generations of stars in the LMC. Our own Sun and planets are constructed from similar debris of supernovae that exploded in the Milky Way billions of years ago.

Mrs. Mills on tricky toilets

Mrs. Mills takes on an unusually delicate problem with indelicate candor.

At a dinner party the other day, I had to visit the loo, probably as a reaction to the starter course. It was embarrassing enough having to leave the table while the remaining guests continued to fill themselves, but I managed to complete the task rapidly, except for one thing. The evidence, as it were, would not disappear, even after several noisy flushes. I spent an age refilling and reflushing without success. Was there a problem with the plumbing? Would the hosts wonder what the noise upstairs was all about? In the end, I returned to the table and kept quiet. What would be the correct thing to have done?
I wish I'd thought of this.

Rather than plugging away with an ineffectual cistern, after the second failure, you should have retrieved a large bucket, filled it from the bath tap and hurled the contents down the lavatory pan. It never fails to swoosh the contents away. If challenged to explain why you require a bucket, say you just want to soak your toenails, though, of course, the smart thing would be simply to announce that you are “off to deal with a recalcitrant turd”.
More at the Times Online.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

More to the blogroll

As earlier reported, the blogroll is getting a bit of updating. I had meant to do it in a week. I have sought and received an extension on the deadline.

Anyway, two more noteable blogs to make their way onto the roll:

Far and Wide by Steve V (and his new human unit)

Rational Reasons by Mike.

An Army Of Scum

Nick Turse is back at TomDispatch after a turn with the Los Angeles Times. With clear Turse style he pulls back the tarpaulin on the US military recruiting with an article entitled The Dirty Dozen.

Earlier this year, the Army admitted that, to maintain desperately needed numbers, it was forgoing almost any measure of quality when it came to its officer corps. According to 2005 Pentagon figures, 97% of all eligible captains were promoted to major -- a significant jump from the already historically high average of 70-80%. "The problem here is that you're not knocking off the bottom 20%," one high-ranking Army officer at the Pentagon told the Los Angeles Times. "Basically, if you haven't been court-martialed, you're going to be promoted to major."
Even a 70% promotion flow is huge and most armies would consider that rate excessive.

... two Virginia-based companies, Serco and MPRI Inc., "have more than 400 recruiters assigned across the country, and have signed up more than 15,000 soldiers. They are paid about $5,700 per recruit."


While an Army report recommended continuing the $170 million program, it also noted that the civilian headhunters "enlisted a lower quality of recruit."


Undersecretary of Defense Chu admitted in July that almost 40% of all military recruits scored in the bottom half of the Armed Forces' own aptitude test.


Ohio recruiters were quick to sign up a recruit "fresh from a three-week commitment in a psychiatric ward… even after the man's parents told them he had bipolar disorder -- a diagnosis that would disqualify him." After senior officers found out, the mentally ill man's enlistment was canceled, but in "[i]nterviews with more than two dozen recruiters in 10 states," the Times heard others talk of "concealing mental-health histories and police records," among other illicit practices.


Army recruiters, using hard sell tactics and offering thousands of dollars in enlistment bonus money, signed up an autistic teenager "for the Army's most dangerous job: cavalry scout." The boy, who had been enrolled in "special education classes since preschool" and through "a special program for disabled workers…ha[d] a part-time job scrubbing toilets and dumping trash," didn't even know the U.S. was at war in Iraq until his parents explained it to him after he was first approached by a recruiter. Only following a flurry of negative publicity, did the Army announce that it would release the autistic teen from his enlistment obligation.
Those are just some of the sad examples. Then they go from recruiting those who have no control over a condition which should preclude their enlistment to those with serious character flaws.

In February of this year, the Baltimore Sun wrote that there was "a significant increase in the number of recruits with what the Army terms ‘serious criminal misconduct' in their background" -- a category that included: "aggravated assault, robbery, vehicular manslaughter, receiving stolen property and making terrorist threats." From 2004 to 2005, the number of those recruits had spiked by over 54%, while alcohol and illegal drug waivers, reversing a four-year downward trend, increased by over 13%.


In fact, as the military's own data indicated, "the percentage of recruits entering the Army with waivers for misdemeanors and medical problems has more than doubled since 2001."


According to the Chicago Sun-Times, law enforcement officials report that the military is now "allowing more applicants with gang tattoos because they are under the gun to keep enlistment up." They also note that "gang activity may be rising among soldiers." The paper was provided with "photos of military buildings and equipment in Iraq that were vandalized with graffiti of gangs based in Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities."

Last month, the Sun-Times reported that a gang member facing federal charges of murder and robbery enlisted in the Marine Corps "while he was free on bond -- and was preparing to ship out to boot camp when Marine officials recently discovered he was under indictment." While this particular recruit was eventually booted from the Corps, a Milwaukee Police Detective and Army veteran, who serves on the federal drug and gang task force that arrested the would-be Marine, noted that other "[g]ang-bangers are going over to Iraq and sending weapons back… gang members are getting access to military training and weapons."


In July, a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, found that -- due to pressing manpower concerns -- "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" are now serving the military. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members," said Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator quoted in the report.

The New York Times noted that the neo-Nazi magazine Resistance is actually recruiting for the U.S. military "urg[ing] skinheads to join the Army and insist on being assigned to light infantry units." As the magazine explained, "The coming race war and the ethnic cleansing to follow will be very much an infantryman's war… It will be house-to-house… until your town or city is cleared and the alien races are driven into the countryside where they can be hunted down and ‘cleansed.'"
Turse goes further to describe the transformation of the US military to something other than the high-tech force that Rumsfeld was looking for.

Billmon adds even more.