Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Straining" Kuwait? Really Canadian Press?

There's a Canadian Press piece on CBC announcing the arrival of RCAF fighter-bombers in Kuwait tonight.
Canadian warplanes have taken up position in Kuwait, a country straining to hold back the tide of Islamic extremism from its borders.
"[S]training"? A few lines later we learn it is actually more of a "debate" in Kuwait about something happening a very long way away on the other side of a mass of heavily armed Shia militias and the Iraqi Army.
With Islamic State fighters on the outskirts of Baghdad, about 600 kilometres away, much of the debate in the tiny country is about how much of a security threat is posed by the extremist movement, and also whether it is a long-term political danger.
 Incidently, the Canadian government travel advisory service notice on Kuwait reads:
There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Kuwait. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to crime and the general threat of terrorist attacks.
 Just for fun I looked up the UK travel advisory service notice for Canada.
There is a general threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. You should monitor media reports and remain vigilant.
How 'bout that, eh?

Leading from the cupboard

You and I don't know precisely what went on in the Conservative's caucus room last week. That said, the information we do hvae suggests that when the gunfire was heard, a good number of Tory MPs acted swiftly to barricade the doors and create makeshift weapons to defend against whatever lethal violence might come through them. Gunfire indicates a very real risk to life and those who took action in that room might legitimately be said to to have risked their lives to defend their colleagues. There are few actions we humans hold in higher regard.

However, one prominent MP seems to have found it more convenient to locate himself in a storage cupboard.

Now, it's a perfectly normal and evolutionarily helpful instinct to hide in fear of your life when violence closes in, and I personally cannot fault most people for it. However, most people are not political leaders who have made it their thing to militarise foreign policy and turn an otherwise serviceable peace-creating nation into a "warrior-nation" and deploy military forces on combat missions where they die.  It's this point that sticks in the craw.

Maybe it's a truism that politicians who send soldiers to die in optional wars end up being found hiding in small spaces when the shooting gets closer to them.

Indeed. It's not hard to read his life as one spent in hiding. Hiding from the Opposition when scandals and coalitions were proposed. Hiding behind the certainty of ideology. Hiding from the press. Hiding from questions in Question Period with his scripted answers. Hiding in the loo at international meetings. Hiding behind a trained voice and rhetoric. Hiding behind an emotionless face. Hiding behind specs that hide the eyes.  Hiding behind the boys in short-pants. Hiding behind the protections of his Office. Hiding behind power.

You know, I don't think we've ever had such an emotionally troubled Prime Minister hiding in plain sight.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stephen Harper's Ottawa speech.

“We are also reminded that attacks on our security personnel and our institutions of governance are by their very nature attacks on our country, on our values, on our society, on us Canadians as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all. But let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.” (Stephen Harper, 22 October 2014)
Our security personnel, eh? Try this. Or this. And this. This too. Note especially that on 1 March 2009 Stephen Harper publically declared the Afghan war unwinnable.  The FIFTY-ONE Canadian Forces members killed in Afghanistan since that date are effectively wasted lives according to his own logic. By that logic too, the only group that benefitted from these dead Canadian troops is the Taleban.

Our institutions of governance, eh? This. Or this. And this. Oh hell, basically all of this.

Trudeau, Mulcair, either of you want to call him out and actually own the narrative on this? Didn't think so. Instead, you're going to let him have it because unity in crisis and he gave you a hug or something. Oh, good luck with that there next 'election' eh, war PM and all.

The Ottawa attacks and ISIS: A strategy?

The following assumes ISIS is the motivator.

It is interesting that the attacks in St. Jean and Ottawa focussed exclusively on military and political targets, not specifically civilians (although two were apparently wounded yesterday).  Three times (pray not a third), and it's a strategy. I don't know what ISIS propaganda says about strategy, but if they're calling themselves the Islamic State and are the ones inspiring these attacks, then perhaps this is a sign they intend to fight like a state.  These attacks targeted the political leadership and the military of a state (Canada) presently at war with ISIS.

This is an interesting point to consider.

An attack on civilians like 9/11 or the train and tube bombings in Europe mobilises politicians and publics to send large numbers of soldiers to Afghanistan, or Iraq or anywhere Muslim and disfavourable because innocents are reprehensibly killed and the public is legitimately fearful. The response that sends large numbers of Western troops to works as an Islamist recruiting tactic. However, it is useful only to a point as so much military attention of a long period just inhibits the project of setting up a Caliphate or whatever the big actual goal is called. People don't exactly thrive under military occupation and attacking civilians in the West tends to encourage lots of military occupation.

However, attacking the political and military targets in the West doesn't provide a lot of public outrage that would fuel more war because it wasn't the public that was hit. I imagine that right now ISIS is looking at the growing number of forces arrayed against it and starting to wonder about its short or long-term survival. Perhaps it thinks that it is much harder for leaders to justify to Western publics military intervention in Iraq and Syria if ISIS can be seen to attack 'legitimate' wartime targets. Unlike terrorising the public, it is very difficult to logically justify risking more soldiers lives as some kind of vengeance for killing soldiers.  Maybe ISIS has two goals.

1. If ISIS can convince the West that it isn't interested in killing large numbers of Western civilians, maybe it thinks the US and other countries will fail to sustain interest in hammering ISIS.

2. It has also demonstrated that it can hit back in the Western countries that are now attacking it. In Ottawa, it got perilously close to the leadership in one of them.

In a few days, ISIS has also forced the entire Canadian military to adopt a defensive posture in Canada. It has forced them to conceal themselves in public against an enemy they can't see, right around the corner from Remembrance Day when they'd all be on display.  When that happens on a battlefield, it's described as denying freedom of movement and is a major tactical gain if it can be done.

That makes these attacks a helluva move. It's also how states fight wars with each other.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

At the going down of the sun...

With condolences and respect to the family and friends of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise's), Hamilton.

Albainn Gu Braith

At the going down of the sun...

With condolences and respect to the family and friends of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 438 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.

Going Down

Sic Itur ad Astra

Friday, October 17, 2014

Where "decolonization" goes off the rails [updated]

In another venue, fellow inkypixelcreature Alison kindly drew my attention to some aspects of this case that escaped my initial vexatious outburst below. The case is clearly not settled, and the discussion is partly one of collective versus individual rights. The quotes are also from a neighbour, not the child's mother as I missed in my hasty misread.  As with most things, context is critical and this is an extremely complicated case involving the potential for the state to remove an Indigenous child from her parents. The residential school experience and intergenerational impact it left adds a hypersensitivity to this case that would otherwise be absent.

Should this hypersensitivity guide decisions that affect well-being of children or adults to the effect that a failure to act on the part of the state may also risk harm?  Should the state even be involved in Aboriginal issues when it comes to decisionmaking inside those communities that embrace autonomy and self-determination, including child welfare? 

I stand by my comments about the presently popular decolonization discourse and problems it poses.

This case is appalling. The judge, misguided. The parent, equally so. A child's life likely hangs in the balance because of a deeply flawed application of cultural relativism and the reluctance to challenge popular postcolonial and anti-oppression discourses.

The rationale goes a bit like this. European society created modern science and colonialism. Colonialism was bad because it suppressed and oppressed Indigenous peoples and purported a Eurocentric worldview. Modern science, which is also medical science, is bad because is the product of an epistemology that grew from Europe more or less at the same time as colonialism (although in reality the geneology of science goes back to antiquity). In order to "decolonize", or undo the influence of colonialism, Indigenous people must eschew historically Eurogenic ideas and practices, and "reclaim" or "rediscover" traditional practices and knowledge in order to "resurge" and become sovereign. Ok, nothing wrong with that on the surface if you're somone who holds your ethnic or cultural identity and community to be the defining feature of who and what you are. It's completely understandable if your ethnicity has been oppressed and marginalised for generations. But I'm insulting your intelligence if I assume you can't see the flaws in the reasoning that says traditional knowledge and 'science' are either held as equal and interchangeable epistemologies, or the latter is totally dismissed in favour of the former. However, to do this so uncritically is lethally dangerous. The quote by the child's mother neighbour is shockingly telling:
“There’s a fear of [aboriginal remedies] or denial of it. If things can’t be quantified or qualified, to them it’s irrelevant,” said Ms. Hill, as she shopped at Ancestral Voices Healing Centre Thursday. “Who are they [doctors] to say she will make it with their treatments. Just because they have a degree, that makes them more knowledgeable?
Yes, actually, it fucking does. That's why there is an emphasis on providing access to and improving education for Aboriginal people. I'm humourlessly reminded of Tim Minchin.

I suppose I could argue that the blinkered worldview that leads someone to possibly kill their child because she mistrusts doctors and white people is a result of colonialism's centuries abuse of Indigenous people, and so its not really her or the judge's fault. But then I'd be denying her and the judge's agency and intelligence - doubtful as they may be. I'd also be subverting the many Indigenous communities across Canada in perpetual and desperate need for healthcare workers and resources. Sadly the door is now may be opened to deny resources to these communities because they 'can just use their "traditional' medicine'.

Maybe now we will see a restraining or recalibration of the decolonization discourse as the bloody excesses of its internal logic are plain to see. Or not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Canadian carbon bubble

Mark Carney, present Bank of England governor, former Bank of Canada governor thinks we're in a fossil energy price bubble. If the world reaches a global climate deal, fossil fuel reserves are "unburnable" and therefore pretty much valueless. Indeed, divestment is already fast catching on.

If this happens, the Tar Sands, Canada's single economic bet, becomes nothing more than icky oily sand of use to no one.

Tell me, if you're Canadian and Albertan governing party, do you think it's smart to gamble on the sustained value of your giant pile of toxic sludge? Kinda gives new meaning to the term "toxic asset".

We smugly thought we were awesome in Canada because we didn't have the over-leveraged banks due to stricter regulations when the US and much of the world shat themselves when they realised they'd invested in a US housing-debt bubble. It's how Mark Carney got his current job.  I don't know what the economists would say would happen to Canada if the price of Alberta oil fell through the floor, but I doubt it would be fun...

You know, the opposition parties could make this an election issue.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Top 5 small arms ammo suppliers to ISIS by sample

The usual suspects. [pdf]

1. China

2. Soviet Union

3. United States

4. Russian Federation

5. Serbia

Number six in the sample is Romania, at half as much as Serbia. Some ammunition is manufactured in Russia but marketed by a US company. Others seems to be the result of captured US or US-supplied equipment in Iraq. Soviet is obviously quite old but then that country made enough bullets to fight a world war and supplied a bunch of proxy countries and other states over the years. What's remarkable though is the new manufacture stuff that's barely a year old.

You could say western action against ISIS is like cops taking the easy route and targetting the addicts and not the dealers.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Fin de siècle . . .

WEALTH ACCRUES UNEVENLY. Always has, probably always will, as history shows. But things can get distorted and then there's a market 're-adjustment'. Sometimes such a re-adjustment turns revolutionary. 

When I was a child, there were Rolls, Bentley, Mercedes Lincoln and Cadillac plus the rare Ferrari or Maserati or Aston or Bristol or Alvis, and that was about it. Today, there are around 200 cars that are more than $100,000.

Perhaps owning a carwash might be a good idea. Because with Fin de siècle we might get Louis XV's and Madame Pompadour's prediction, "après moi le déluge" . . .

How bad is the disparity in wealth? According to Autoblog, the average Bugatti owner has 84 cars, 3 jets, 1 yacht. I got an old Pontiac. Newer than Fred's, but gaining antiquity.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Canada in Iraq: Suppressing fire

So Harper announces that he's sending six very old fighter airframes to Iraq (the desert is very hard on advanced fighter aircraft and takes years off airframe life), along with Aurora surveillance and other assets. These are essentially providing air support for local forces: (Kurdish, anti-Assad Syrian militia, Syrian army, Iraqi army, Iranian military, and whatever western and Gulf state special forces operators are milling about there. I know I know, we're not incursing Syrian airspace, yet. (Does the line between Syria and Iraq it matter given the large tracts of territory with an ISIS presence or control?)

He now has his own shiny hobby war of indeterminate duration and aim to milk for votes and flags. How much good the small numbers of strike aircraft are actually doing in a tactical scenario is an interesting question. If you read this Guardian piece, the RAF is dropping precision bombs on single machine gun positions and pick-up trucks. Iranians, Iraqis and the Americans have been bombing ISIS for quite a while now, but still that organisation is holding its own. Elsewhere, Juan Cole draws attention to an item where an Iraqi close support  aircraft was forced to withdraw due to ground fire.

These kinds of report may illustrate an interesting problem. ISIS controls vast tracts of territory but they are not a conventional army. They appear more like a mix of light infantry, Mad-Max gang, and guerilla force. While they have captured armour and artillery, they don't have the organisational structure or background to use these conventionally, making it difficult for high flying fast jets to find high value targets to bomb. These jets are instead seem to be hunting jeeps and machine guns, destroying them with bombs designed to wreck much more fortified and valuable targets. They can't get close because that would expose them to dangerous volumes of small arms and light anti-aircraft fire, like the Iraqi support aircraft mentioned above. It isn't meant to defeat ISIS because ISIS cannot be defeated by bombs and bullets alone. Here's why:

The Kurds in the North, and states like Turkey are only interested in keeping ISIS off their turf, holding their own borders. There isn't the will or numbers to sweep into Sunni/ISIS Iraq and Syria to destroy ISIS. The Shia groups in southern Iraq, including the army, would have to fight tooth and nail to push ISIS fanatics out, which would mean they'd be left holding large tracts of Sunni Iraq under a Shia militia control. Something tells me that would not lead to good things.

So it's a low intensity war of suppression, probably aimed at keeping ISIS from seriously expanding or consolidating its gains. Nobody wants to put large numbers of "boots on the ground" necessary to destroy ISIS because everyone understands that sort of action would mean (1) de facto support for Assad, (2) a lot of casualties and money; (3) the continuation of insurgency for a long time to come.

There's no solution but containment. Except you can't tell a voting public you're joining a war with no path to resolution. People don't get that, let alone political leaders. Now Canada is going to drop bombs on the infinite and indefinite in the desert until something else happens. What, exactly? Well, I suppose we'll know when it happens. Or we won't.