Thursday, June 23, 2005

Great timing, as usual

Babble on.

Well, isn't this perfect. As usual, my timing is impeccable.

Just as I'm about to go on a camping vacation for the next week, just as I'm going to let the blog go silent for a little while, Gerry Nicholls and the good folks at the NCC decide to publish a newsletter for their members. A newsletter with a small piece on blogging, written by yours truly. A piece that incidentally invites readers to drop by and visit my blog.

And what awaits my brave guests as they make their first journey into the blogosphere? My blog's porch lights are off, the doors are locked, and nobody's home. Some host I am.

So, dear NCC readers, in the absence of any of my Babbling to keep you amused, let me recommend you click through to a few sites on the blogroll - that's the list of links running down the right side of your screen (anything underlined is a link to another site). If you like what you see when you get to a site, stay and read awhile. If you don't, click on your back button, come on back to Babbling Brooks, and try again with another site.

If that sounds too daunting for you, here are a few places you might want to start:
  • InstaPundit - it's an American site, but it's a clearinghouse for all the stories you won't read about on the front page of the New York Times, or see on CBS Evening News.

  • The Blogging Tories - this is a collection of those of us in the blogosphere who have declared our support for the Conservative Party of Canada. That doesn't mean we're blind to the party's faults, or that we take our instructions on what to blog about from head office, or that we all kneel down three times a day facing Parliament Hill and pray for Stephen Harper. It means we support the party - with our criticism if necessary, and with our praise when warranted - and want to see it form the next government.

  • The Red Ensign Brigade - another group of bloggers, with no particular party affiliation, but with a deep and abiding respect for our country's past history and traditions. Every two weeks, one of our number rounds up the best posts of the member blogs in The Red Ensign Standard.

Beyond the groups, here's a handful of other places you might like to visit:

This is by no means a comprehensive list. In fact, I could go on, but I'd be here all night, and that kind of defeats the purpose of, y'know, taking a break from blogging. Besides, with over six million blogs out there, I'm sure there are some fantastic writers ranting away in the ether on blogs that I've never even read. Get out there, Stanley, and find yourself a Livingstone.

With that, we now return you to our regularly scheduled dead air, already in progress. Later 'gator.

Babble off.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Ladies and germs...

Babble on.

The time has come for me to take an extended break. Sunshine, vacation, various projects around the house and at work all call to me. I need to get offline for awhile.

Enjoy the next couple of weeks without Babbling filling out the background noise.

Babble off.

Friday, June 17, 2005

It Begins...

Babble on.

I've been waiting a long time to see Batman Begins, but the waiting ended last night.

The verdict is: Oh, yeah. Hell, yeah. Don't-let-your-kids-hear-you-saying-it-profanity, yeah!

Flea is similarly impressed, as is The Hack.

First off, Christian Bale is perfect. He's Bruce Wayne, and he's Batman. Finally, we see someone playing the role who can tap into the intensity of the character.

For example, one of the things I think has been overdone in Hollywood is the quiet tough-guy. Quiet is appropriate at times, but it's like everyone has forgotten what it's like to get screamed at by someone you find intensely frightening. It's disorienting, it's surprising, it's intimidating, it raises your heart-rate, and it can be quite terrifying. When appropriate, Batman screams at people, and it works for the character.

He also beats the snot out of criminal types. Not in a "You are the Chosen One, Neo" exquisitely choreographed, slow-motion, hanging on wires way, though - Bale's character just beats on them until they drop. The fight scenes are aggressive and chaotic, not pretty or graceful. And unlike the reviewer for the NYT, I think that's the way it should be. As Liam Neeson's character says to Bruce Wayne while they're fighting near the beginning of the film, "this is not a dance."

There are solid supporting performances from Michael Caine as Alfred (I liked both the humour and sincerity he brought to the role), Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox (have you ever seen a movie where Freeman even came close to delivering a poor performance?), Liam Neeson as...well, we'll just leave it at that, and Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon.

Oh, and the scenes from Bruce Wayne's childhood were very well done. The young actor Gus Lewis was given just enough leeway to make the trauma that starts Bruce on his journey believable. While regular readers (enough to staff a pee-wee soccer tournament these days!) will remember I'm a complete sucker for parent-child on-screen connections, I must confess my heartstrings were not so gently tugged in the aftermath of the deaths of Dr. and Mrs. Wayne. It was essential to set that up properly, because if that event doesn't impose the idea of a boy wounded to the core, the rest of the story isn't credible from a character standpoint.

To borrow The Hack's phrase, "if I had to squint and come up with a fault," I could probably come up with a few small quibbles. First of all, don't make Rutger Hauer say "Didn't you get the memo?" Secondly, cast someone - anyone - other than Katie "I'm a Gotham City District Attorney" Holmes to fill the screen with a female face periodically in an overwhelmingly male movie. Thirdly, show Jim Gordon's tough side. It's not like Oldman isn't capable of playing it. I would have loved to have seen Gordon's corrupt partner try to push him around for being a straight cop, seen Oldman's character kick the living bejeezus out of him with a tire iron or something, and then seen Oldman tell the weasel to get up off the ground and into the car so that they can respond to a call. That would have worked. Batman chooses Gordon as an ally not only because he's honest, but because he's solid, and I would have liked to have seen more evidence of that solidity written into the film. But these are truly nits, and I refuse to pick them any further.

The Dark Knight has returned. And that's all that really matters.

Babble off.

Penny and Kaplan are right

Babble on.

Via the inimitable Damian Penny, we are pointed to an insightful article by Fred Kaplan in Slate, regarding the Downing Street memos many of the "Bush LIED!" crowd are trying to use as proof of their predetermined conclusion. If you instinctively don't trust the man, you're liable to see any information through that filter.

The problem for them is that the memos simply confirm the U.S. administration truly believed Saddam had WMD's. They were wrong, but they weren't lying.

The implicit point of these passages is this: These top officials genuinely believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction—and that they constituted a threat. They believed that the international community had to be sold on the matter. But not all sales pitches are consciously deceptive. The salesmen in this case turned out to be wrong; their goods were bunk. But they seemed to believe in their product at the time.

I've said before that the intelligence failures of 9/11 and Iraq - not to mention the fall of the Soviet empire before that - are extremely worrying. But Penny sums it up most succinctly when he says: "I don't think this should be a debate about honesty. This should be a debate about competence."

Hear, hear. And the debate should have at least two parts: how competently is the gathering and analysis of information by the U.S. intelligence community being conducted, and how competently are the politicians charged with making the big decisions acting on that intelligence?

Babble off.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Adding my voice to the chorus

Babble on.

The CPC already has much of the so-con vote, but doesn't enjoy a similar command of the economic conservative vote. So what's their strategy to make inroads in this critical demographic?

The Opposition Conservatives are willing to support the NDP's $4.6-billion budget amendment, but only if the Liberals agree to delay same-sex marriage legislation.

On Wednesday, Conservative House Leader Jay Hill said the trade-off has been subject of discussions between his party and the minority government.

"There's been some negotiations," Hill said. "If we were to get a delay of C-38 (the marriage bill) until the fall and perhaps some other concession, we'd be happy."

In exchange, Hill indicated the Conservatives would be willing to quiet their criticism of the budget legislation. That would be a dramatic about-turn from the 90 speakers the Opposition is reportedly prepared to have filibuster in an effort to stall the budget vote.

You can't see it, but I'm shaking my frickin' head here. A more stupid move they could not have made. Here's a sampling of the majority opinion from across the political spectrum: Declan, Skippy, Andrew, Paul, and Aaron. I especially like the title of Aaron's piece: "Oh Look - We're For Sale, Too." My feelings exactly.

My favourite post so far, however, comes from The Flea:

What a difference a poll makes. May 19 of last month, that would be less than thirty days ago, Conservative leader Stephen Harper is reported to have called the NDP budget grab a "deal with the devil". Now it turns out that principled Conservative opposition to wasteful government spending is just as moral, just as imperative and just as consistent as last month's moral imperative to topple the government, a moral imperative that vanished along with a hiccup of support in the polls. Now it turns out that the C$4.6b so shamefully offered to the socialists as a bribe to prop up a tottering Liberal minority will be just fine so long as the Liberals forestall same-sex marriage. That "deal with the devil" turns out to be a bargain for Conservative party leadership provided it prevents gay people in Alberta from getting married for a few more months.

Those Conservatives gamely trying to defend the gambit as "worth a try" or "something for nothing" need to pull their heads out of the sand. This was nothing but a loser from minute one. I mean, play it out for heaven's sake. If the Liberals had accepted the offer, they look like they're in firm control of the House, and they gain a tool with which to bash the CPC at a later date ("They don't like Liberal fiscal management? Hell, they voted for it! And just so they could keep their homophobic bigotry alive a few months longer!"). By refusing, which they have, the Liberals come out looking even better: they're the national defenders of minority rights, the Conservatives ship is being steered by the so-cons who are willing to trade billions of dollars away for a short delay in passing the SSM bill (way to endear the fiscally responsible, socially liberal voter), and - by the way - the NDP budget passes anyhow.

The only option you should ever give an opponent is a fork: the choice between bad and worse. This was just about the opposite of that time-honoured tactic. The choice they offered the Liberals was between winning and winning BIG.

I'll say it again: the Conservative Party of Canada needs new strategists. The current bunch would manage to get swindled at a church bazaar.

Babble off.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The mob is scared of the Mob

Babble on.

For more evidence of the folly of poll-driven policy, go read Debbye's latest rant.

She makes an astute observation regarding Canada's national tunnel-vision regarding the U.S., and how our media compound that myopia.

The 1,500 people contacted for the poll, conducted last February for the Department of National Defence, listed "International Organized Crime" as the top danger, with 38 per cent ranking it as a great threat to security concern and another 50 per cent listing it as moderate.

But tied for second in the poll were "U.S. Foreign Policy" and "Terrorism," with 37 per cent rating it a great risk. Just behind those worries came "Climate Change and Global Warming."

Organized crime worries Canadians, but the article doesn't touch on that but rushes over to the number 2 concern.

Experts said the results reflected a continuing "schizophrenia" in the Canadian public's attitudes towards defence -- still worried about international terrorism even three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, but also concerned about the power and aggressive policies of the Americans.

One expert (me) says that the continuing schizophrenia is manifested by an exclusive focus on the second highest rated threat rather than the first.

But here's my favourite snippet:

Most of those contacted for the poll had "great confidence" in the Canadian Forces' ability to respond to natural disasters in Canada, but only 25 per cent felt the same way about how our military would handle a terrorist attack on Canadian soil.

That's just sad. It's akin to feeling confident about the ability of the fire department to rescue a cat stuck up in a tree but not about their ability to handle fires.

The lady's on a roll.

Babble off.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Boiling the frog one degree at a time

Babble on.

Not content to monopolize the supply of alcholic beverages on Prince Edward Island, the province's Liquor Control Commission is now setting minimum prices for drinks at Island bars. I kid you not.

The commission has introduced minimum prices of $2.85 for a beer and $2.35 for a shot.

"There was overconsumption. We have inspectors out there every night, and they are the pulse for the commission to guide their decisions," said Wayne MacDougall, chairman of the liquor control commission.

There's much evidence that increasing liquor prices decreases the abuse of alcohol. Even if one is willing to concede that discouraging alcohol abuse through price manipulation is a perfectly reasonable function of government - and at that my libertarian readers begin digging up the boxes of rifles and ammunition buried in their backyards - this is still a bad policy.

Instead of simply bumping the price at the point of supply, which they're perfectly capable of doing, the Liquor Control Commission has instead chosen to determine an independent business owner's profit on each drink sold. Think about it: the bar owner is forced to buy beer, wine, and spirits from the LCC at set prices, and then forced to sell it to customers at LCC-mandated prices. Oh, technically, a proprietor could bump the price of booze higher than the government minimums, but we all know how long that would last in the face of cheaper drinks at the establishment just down the street.

The problem with nanny-state intervention in issues like this one isn't just that the state is trying to nanny, it's that the state can never, ever nanny enough to keep each and every citizen safe and tame. And so it struggles to plug each inevitable hole in the societal pen with yet more regulation and control, chipping away at individual free choice until it exists in name only, and spawning a myriad of unintended consequences that each require their own government interventions.

Here are the only results of this policy that I'd be willing to bet money on: the minimum drink pricing will reduce alcohol abuse, but not enough for the mommy-knows-best LCC; and the next measure they impose from behind the fig leaf of "the public good" will be even more intrusive and insulting than the last.

Babble off.

Monday, June 13, 2005

India, not China

Babble on.

Mark Steyn says to a wide audience what I've been saying to friends and relatives for a couple of years now (generally as their eyes glazed over, and they fell into their soup in an induced narcolepsy): India's the emerging powerhouse, not China.

The internal contradictions of Commie-capitalism will, in the end, scupper the present arrangements in Beijing. China manufactures the products for some of the biggest brands in the world, but it's also the biggest thief of copyrights and patents of those same brands. It makes almost all Disney's official merchandising, yet it's also the country that defrauds Disney and pirates its movies. The new China's contempt for the concept of intellectual property arises from the old China's contempt for the concept of all private property: because most big Chinese businesses are (in one form or another) government-controlled, they've failed to understand the link between property rights and economic development.

China hasn't invented or discovered anything of significance in half a millennium, but the careless assumption that intellectual property is something to be stolen rather than protected shows why. If you're a resource-poor nation (as China is), long-term prosperity comes from liberating the creative energies of your people - and Beijing still has no interest in that. If a blogger attempts to use the words "freedom" or "democracy" or "Taiwan independence" on Microsoft's new Chinese internet portal, he gets the message: "This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech." How pathetic is that? Not just for the Microsoft-spined Corporation, which should be ashamed of itself, but for the Chinese government, which pretends to be a world power but is terrified of words.
India, by contrast, with much less ballyhoo, is advancing faster than China toward a fully-developed economy - one that creates its own ideas. Small example: there are low-fare airlines that sell £40 one-way cross-country air tickets from computer screens at Indian petrol stations. No one would develop such a system for China, where internal travel is still tightly controlled by the state. But, because they respect their own people as a market, Indian businesses are already proving nimbler at serving other markets. The return on investment capital is already much better in India than in China.

What's the fundemental difference between the two? Democracy, liberty, and the rule of law - including property rights. While I will not gloss over the gross injustices, including colonial racism, that have marred India's history over the course of the past two hundred and fifty years, I will say that overall, British rule set that nation on a course of steeper ascendancy than any other country on the planet right now. Which is not to say the Indians themselves have had nothing to do with their own success, nor to overstate the success of a society still mired in caste and always hovering at the edge of a pointless war, but rather to acknowlegdge the role of the British foundation in the grand edifice of state the Indians are building.

With the developed economies of the West looking for competitive advantages in an increasingly flat labour market, the opening of China attracted scads of capital, which has had the predictable effect of supercharging their economy. But as wages rise along with standards of living, this influx of money will taper off, and the Chinese economy will have to grow on the merits of Chinese abilities. What will drive that growth in a totalitarian society? As Steyn so perceptively notes, the Chinese haven't invented anything of note in five hundred years, and they certainly aren't formenting creative thought in their population.

No, the Indians have tackled the more difficult issues of democracy and liberty up front, freeing their economy to grow sustainably for decades to come. China, on the other hand, has set itself up for a fall by failing to create the conditions for long-term prosperity. Only once China has resolved the dichotomy between personal freedom and economic freedom in its society - and eventually it will be forced to deal with the issue, and the associated chaos and upheaval - will we see which of the two emerging giants stands tallest.

Babble off.

If our politicians were leaders, this wouldn't matter

Babble on.

The National Post has published a government opinion poll showing relatively high levels of public support for funding the Canadian Forces:

Just over three-quarters of those surveyed in a government opinion poll obtained by the National Post said the Canadian Forces was underfunded, and 44% believed that a decade of government cuts to the defence budget had hurt Canada's international reputation. According to 43%, the cuts have put the safety of soldiers at risk.

Asked how to find more money in the federal budget for the military, the most popular suggestion -- favoured by 36% -- was to reduce other programs and services. Another 22% was willing to see taxes increased, while 14% favoured running a deficit to pay for a revamped Canadian Forces.

Quite frankly, I wasn't astonished at the level of support - it's easy to say yes on the phone, if it doesn't have any negative and immediate personal repercussions for the individual being polled. But I was a little surprised that over one in eight Canadians were willing to run a budget deficit in order to fund our military better. Maybe, just maybe people are beginning to understand how dire the situation truly is for our Armed Forces.

Of course, that doesn't mean their heads are screwed on entirely straight enough:

Most Canadians appeared to be clinging to the notion of their soldiers being used for humanitarian or peacekeeping missions rather than more aggressive "peace-making" roles, and preferred co-operation with the United Nations to working with the United States.

Two-thirds of those polled said it was important for our military to be able to work effectively with the United Nations. Only 49% felt it should be able to operate with the U.S. military.

Since the UN doesn't have a military, does that mean Canadians want our Armed Forces to be able to operate with everyone from Bangladesh to Belgium? Given the fact that we share a continent with the U.S., as well as a number of military alliances, I'm disappointed half the people polled didn't think working well with them was a priority. Disappointed, but again, not terribly surprised.

It's sad that our government requires unequivocal polls to get them to do the right thing. True leadership isn't about finding out what the popular position is and figuring out how to occupy that policy space before your opponents do - especially in areas where stability and long-term planning matter, like National Defence. It's about determining what's best for the country, taking the country in that direction, and convincing those who require convincing along the way.

Babble off.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


Babble on.

Ten years ago today, to my everlasting surprise and overwhelming joy, the most magical woman in the entire world married me.

Happy Anniversary, darling.

Babble off.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Getting my hopes up

Babble on.

Adam Daifallah points to this story with the hope it signals a major shake-up at CPC Galactic Command Headquarters on high:

Sources said Harper's chief of staff, Phil Murphy, is on the hit list to be axed, in favour of Doug Finley, who was recently brought in as the deputy chief of staff.

Director of communications Geoff Norquay yesterday denied rumours he's about to go as well.

Last week the party's veteran communications man Jim Armour - with longtime ties to the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties - announced he was leaving to take a job with the Canadian Medical Association.

Days later, communications staffer Mike Storshaw announced he's leaving to take a job with Ottawa lobby firm Bluesky Strategy Group. Both Armour and Storshaw deny they were pushed out of the inner circle.

OK, I don't know if Adam is actually hoping for a major shake-up, but I can tell you I sure as hell am.

Out with the brooms!...or enemas...or whatever cleaning analogy blows your whistle, OK? Just keep the spring-cleaning-at-grandma's-house pot-pourri to yourself. Unless it's lemony-fresh. You can never get enough lemony-freshness in your day.

Babble off.

Time for a change - but not of leaders

Babble on.

I'm leery of letting snapshot polls drive my mood, but it's hard not to with the latest Decima offering:

The Liberals vaulted to a 14-point lead over the Conservatives in popular support, suggests a new poll released to The Canadian Press.

A Decima survey last week suggests support for the federal Tories crumbled, putting them in a virtual dead heat with the NDP.

The Liberals were at 37 per cent support, the Tories had 23 per cent and the NDP were trailing them closely at 21 per cent.

Most surprising were the numbers in the critical battleground of Ontario, where the Conservatives were running neck-and-neck with the Grits barely a month ago.

Decima said the Tories had fallen 26 points behind the Liberals and were in third place behind the NDP. The Liberals had 48 per cent in that province, the NDP was at 24 and the Conservatives held 22 per cent.

Of course, the Canadian political blogosphere, left, right, and mushy middle, has been abuzz with the news.

Mike Brock calls for Harper to resign for the good of the party, as does Steve at Angry In The Great White North.

The Hack is willing to give Harper some time at least partly because - let's be honest here - who can replace him at this point? "...I'm of the belief that there are no viable leadership candidates waiting in the wings right now that can win both the party leadership and the federal election. Many people can do one or the either. I'm not an "Anybody But..." supporter. Should Harper does step down - if he's pushed it'll create war within the party - we need to have someone suitable to pick up the torch. There are plenty of worst options than Stephen Harper."

Andrew at Bound By Gravity is hosting a most interesting discussion around the issue of "should he stay or should he go?" for Conservatives.

Alan at Occam's Carbuncle has given up entirely. I've been reading him for almost a year now, at his own blog and in comments at other blogs, and I doubt this change of heart is nihilistic in nature. But Alan, unless you spell out your alternative, it sure looks that way to the casual reader.

The funniest post on this - albeit from an unapologetically leftist perspective - comes from Skippy The Mangy Cur:

It is a bitter pill to swallow that a party run by a gang of slavering, half-rabid fools and employing a communications staff composed chiefly of baboons, a party which has embarrassed itself at every turn with its manifest incompetence, and a party which has snatched ignominious and final defeat from the jaws of victory with a few badly edited tapes is somehow neck and neck in the polls with the only party in Parliament that counts adult Homo sapiens among its MPs.

His advice to the NDP on how next to proceed is well worth reading. Let's all hope Jack! is still too enraptured by his own image in the mirror to listen to Skippy's barking. Besides, his advice is much easier said than done.

I think, in all of this, my namesake Mr. Penny comes closest to my own feelings on the matter:

The simple fact is, Canadians have grown numb to the Adscam revelations, and while the Tories have concentrated 100% on bringing down the this corrupt government, they have not shown what they would actually do if they won an election. And when we Conservatives aren't openly talking about our policies, people assume the worst about us. It might not be fair, but that's just the way politics works in this country.

It's also obvious by now that the Grewal mess has done untold damage to the Conservative Party of Canada. The Tories now look paranoid, incompetent and dishonest - and that's the worst thing that could possibly happen if we're savaging the Liberals for their corruption and arrogance.
I've been a Harper supporter ever since he won the leadership in 2004. But as the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, he must be held accountable for the complete, utter mess the party has made out of what should have been a tremendous opportunity. I'm not calling for his head yet - but I'm a lot closer to doing so than I ever expected I would be.

I voted for Harper in the leadership race over a year ago. Simply put, he was the best option in a thin field. The problem Conservatives face, as The Hack so ably pointed out, is that he still is.

Over the course of the past year and a half, we've watched the Liberal brand lose all credibility, seen Martin and his gang in Parliament melt down on just about every issue imaginable, and in the midst of this we the Conservatives have made absolutely no headway at all with the electorate.

It's absolutely indefensible.

Harper can't be replaced at this point. But his advisors should be. The brain-trust running the CPC puzzle palace should be thanked politely for their past service, and asked to quietly step aside so the party can try another approach. I think a year and a half in these circumstances is long enough to determine the current strategy isn't working.

For the good of the party - hell, for the good of Canadian democracy - Harper should start putting faces other than his own in front of the cameras. We need to show Canadians our bench strength, and we need to see who's capable of taking the reins should Stephen Harper lose the next election. Succession planning is a difficult but necessary task for any organization that seeks long-term viability. Besides, this isn't the Harper Party of Canada, it's the Conservative Party of Canada, and there are a lot more Conservatives out there than Mr. Harper.

It's high time we started seeing more of them.

Babble off.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

It can't get any worse, right?

Babble on.

I'm knocking on wood right now, because it surely could get worse for our submariners: "hitting rock bottom" takes on a whole new literal meaning when you're talking about the 'silent service'.

Having said that, the situation with our retread British cast-offs continues to disappoint:

Maintenance problems have forced the submarine HMCS Windsor back to port after just a few days at sea.

A couple of "maintenance issues" were discovered that the captain was not comfortable with, according to navy public affairs. So the sub was brought back to the dockyard Monday afternoon.

The navy isn't specifying what is being looked at or the extent of the problem.

Windsor left Halifax last Thursday on its first trip to sea since last fall's fire aboard sister sub HMCS Chicoutimi.

Once again - and I feel like I'm stuck in a bad Groundhog Day remake - this isn't an isolated incident. The West-Coasters have had a rough time of it as well:

The Canadian navy is dealing with more questions and more controversy as one of its submarines was forced back to port less than a day after it went to sea.

"The ship's company noticed a little bit of unusual sparking in the motors," Capt. Chris Henderson of the Dept. of National Defence said Friday in Ottawa about HMCS Victoria.

I think a submarine force is a very cost-effective tool for a cash-strapped Navy like our own with thousands of miles of coastline to patrol, and international commitments coming out the wazoo. But the Upholder purchase is looking more and more like an unsalvageable fiasco.

Most bad decisions can be fixed with enough time and effort, and I'm sure this one can too. But at some point it may become evident that simply starting over again from scratch would be the more efficient option. Let's hope that if we reach that point, those empowered to make such decisions will have the courage to do what's best for our country and those who serve in uniform, instead of covering the political backsides of their elected bosses.

Babble off.

Only the truly stupid care that much about grades

Babble on.

Greg Staples is a smart man. Smart enough to know just how much marks in school tell you about how capable a Presidential candidate someone is:

In undergrad my marks were horrible until 4th year. I was life and death to keep a B- average. I failed a course. Almost failed another. But I received a B.Sc. in Physics at the end of 5 years (co-op made it five years). Which one accurately reflects my intelligence, failing Biophysics or getting a Physics degree? Neither. It reflects my poor work habits early in my University career. I would guess the same for Senator Kerry.

Want further proof. I averaged an A- in my MBA studies because I was a more effective and efficicent student by then. Not smarter.

That being said, I wish I was as dumb as President George W. Bush.

One of the most competent individuals in my office took the same professional course as I did at U of T last fall. I can honestly say that she knew more of the course material than I did - she attended more of the classes, and she studied longer hours. I got a better mark, though. Why? Because I'm good at taking tests, a completely separate skill set from what we were being taught.

In my experience, those who place undue emphasis on school grades tend to be educated beyond their intelligence.

Babble off.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Babble on.

I cannot believe most of us maple-leaf-tattooed-over-our-hearts Canadian bloggers completely forgot to take note of a seriously patriotic moment just last week:

A stunned Natalie Glebova of Canada was crowned Miss Universe 2005 on Tuesday, beating out four finalists from Latin America in a pageant watched by an estimated one billion people in 170 countries.

Brown-haired and blue-eyed Glebova, a 23-year-old motivational speaker, was born in Russia but emigrated to Toronto as a young girl, 11 years ago.

Of course, I bring this to your attention because I feel strongly that we should celebrate our triumphs on the world stage, not because she's hot.

What's that? Why yes, I am sticking with that story, thank you very much for asking.

Babble off.

Incompetence transcends borders

Babble on.

I just realized I haven't ever posted about the so-called 'friendly fire' incident that killed four Canadian soldiers outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan in the spring of 2002, and injured eight others. I don't like the term 'friendly fire' because, while it may be useful or necessary in specific tactical situations, incoming fire is never truly 'friendly'. Call it 'blue-on-blue' or 'fratricidal' fire - anything but 'friendly'.

With Stone Phillips recently interviewing Maj Harry Schmidt, one of the ANG pilots who bombed the PPCLI troops, for Dateline NBC, the story is back in the news again.

Personally, I believe Schmidt needs to take his head out of his ass and apologize for disregarding the instructions of his AWACS handlers, and killing allied soldiers through his recklessness. The idea that the bombing was conducted in self-defence is ludicrous. Schmidt was flying a high-performance aircraft that could have accelerated out of the area - far beyond the range of the small-arms fire he witnessed - in mere seconds. That would have been the prudent course of action. Of course, if he were a prudent man, he would have accepted the reprimand that his wingman Maj Umbach did and left the Air National Guard, instead of fighting an unseemly legal battle that hurt both him and the families of the men he killed.

Having said that, those who use this incident as yet another excuse to hate the hateful and hated Americans also need to extricate their craniums from their rectums. Would there have been such a hue and cry had an overtired, overzealous, or overworked PPCLI platoon commander screwed up and led his men into an obvious ambush? Had it been an incompetent Canadian officer killing his own men through negligence, would we have whipped ourselves into such a self-righteous frenzy? But put an American face on the pilot, one who exemplifies our own stereotypes of American arrogance and 'cowboy' hot-headedness, and watch our dander rise.

Any time soldiers' lives are squandered through incompetence, it is a tragedy. That doesn't make the soldiers 'victims' or make their deaths 'useless' or make their lives 'wasted'. To characterize their sacrifice that way diminishes it, and that is an unconscionable way to remember these men.

Maj Schmidt should be pilloried. But he should be pilloried for his indefensible actions, not for his nationality.

Babble off.

Monday, June 06, 2005

It's going to cost how much?

Babble on.

Seeing as I live in a house I can barely afford - or barely not afford, depending on the month - over an hour's commute from work, on a postage stamp lot, in a shiny new development with no mature trees and a park that's still being built, I think about housing prices. A lot.

So, it seems, does the irrepressible Sean of PolSpy fame. Especially since he's selling his house at this very moment - or trying to. And of course, Sean thinks about all of it in much funnier terms than I do.

Being Canadian, the best way to deal with stress is to hand it over to the government. We obviously need a massive federal program that buys homes from Canadians at the listed value and then takes care of selling it on their behalf after they have moved out. I think this is a very viable idea with tremendous social engineering opportunities. In fact, I think I’ll write a letter to the PM suggesting this right away.

My old comrade Not the Pointy Haired Boss is thinking about this stuff as well, having just completed a move to a locale about ten minutes' drive from my own (sounds like backyard barbeque time!).

Let's assume that you have a two-storey home and that your overall tax burden nets out at 27%. Based on this, 42.6% of your pre-tax income becomes a whopping 58.4% of your post-tax income! That's a little scary.

Yup. Lie-awake-at-night sort of scary sometimes. Snap-at-your-wife-for-no-good-reason sort of scary. Or, um, so I've heard.

But here's a little good news, for a change, on the cost of buying a home.

With a national average home price of almost $250,000, having a real estate agent sell your house could cost as much as $12,500.

Are you okay with that? Most people are, but in case you're not there's a new website you should know about that aims to change the way people sell their homes in Canada. is building a national database of on-line home listings that you can get your house into for $99 to $179 (free trials available). You also get a sign for your front lawn, open-house signs and legal documents.

Full disclosure: one of my family members is behind this site, and I'm hoping he does well by it. But I also just think it's a good idea, for the same reasons as Rob Hyndman:

To my mind, real estate agents provide three types of service. First, they help project manage the sale process. Second, the provide information about similar sales to help with valuation of a home to be sold. Third, they help with information about homes for sale.

#1 continues to be a useful value-add, for some people. But the internet, had it been left alone to do its business, would by now have obliterated the traditional value proposition for #2 and #3. And if it is allowed to do that, the only way for commissions to move, of course, is down. Which they will, once we can get past the obfuscation.

It won't help with the ongoing costs of owning a home, or the unexpected ones that seem to crop up when you can least afford them, but if it can save you thousands of dollars up front by using it, and drive down the costs of those who insist on using a real estate agent as a side benefit, a venue like is worth supporting.

Babble off.

Remembering the Normandy landings

Babble on.

June 6th, 1944: a proud and sad day in Canadian history. Sad because of the price we had to pay. Proud because Canadians paid it.

As the troops waded ashore, there was little fire at first—mainly because the German gun positions did not aim out to sea but were set to enfilade the coastline. As the Canadian soldiers worked their way through the obstacles and came into the enfilading killing zones, the first wave took dreadful casualties. Company B of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles was cut down to one officer and 25 men as it moved to reach the seawall. In the assault teams, the chance of becoming a casualty in that first hour was almost 1 in 2.

For me, this is a humbling day as well. For I know very well that I did not pay the price. I'm only a grateful beneficiary of the valour of those who did.

The one thing I can offer them is my remembrance. A year ago, the Globe & Mail was kind enough to put my own small tribute up on their website for the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

People who have never been in the military often think of it as a frighteningly efficient machine. As with most stereotypes, this is partly true. Equally true is that the military is a frighteningly impenetrable bureaucracy, which is why just this week I received in the mail a copy of my 1992 yearbook from the Royal Military College in Kingston. It had mistakenly been left in frighteningly efficient military storage until recently. I suspect that the hapless officer cadet who stumbled upon and reported the cache was promptly tasked with distributing the books to their long-lost owners, which proves the adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

I thumbed through the pages of my yearbook in front of the television last night, keeping one ear tuned to the news as I studied grainy pictures of faces grown fuzzy in my memory over the past 12 years. When the anchor's voice diverted my attention from the book in my lap to a profile of veterans returning to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of the allied landings, I couldn't help noticing the similarities between the young men in my yearbook and those who invaded Europe in 1944.

Of course, the differences are equally significant.

Military college is a self-contained world of extremes, and my time there was the most intense period of my life. RMC's mandate is to take kids right out of high school and in four brutally short years, turn them into professional military leaders. Recruiting literature states that cadets are required to simultaneously earn a university degree, achieve proficiency in both official languages, excel militarily, and maintain a high standard of physical fitness.

As I recall, the unofficial requirements - drink like a fish, swear like a biker, and always back up your buddies - were a lot more fun than the official ones.

We would pack our waking hours with stress, and then rouse ourselves in the middle of the night to pull ridiculous pranks on each other in order to relieve that stress. Seniors returning from a birthday celebration in town could find their entire room dismantled and reassembled by recruits in the middle of the parade square. They would count themselves lucky that they hadn't been suspended by duct-tape eight feet up a flag-pole for the evening.

When you sign away nine years of your life - four to get your degree, and five more of compulsory service following that - you develop an obsidian sense of humour: sharp and dark. We counted the days to graduation on a board in the mess hall, and had blow-out parties on milestone dates starting with "500 Days To Grad" in third year. When I was a cadet, calling someone "bitter and twisted" was a compliment. Our class T-shirts were emblazoned with a black thundercloud subscribed by the acronym BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again).

My military career was short-lived and undistinguished - I battled depression and eventually washed out academically a year before graduation. But my life was immeasurably changed by my experience at RMC. It shaped my concepts of leadership and fairness, ethics, friendship, and accountability. I unearthed competencies I didn't know I had, and for the first time in my life I realized what a complete idiot and jerk I could be. The military brought out some of the best and the worst in me.

These formative experiences have helped determine what sort of husband and father I am, what sort of employee I strive to be, what sort of man. Of course, you don't have to join the military to become self-aware or to push your limits. But it is an exceptionally hot furnace in which to forge oneself, and the imprint it leaves on an individual is indelible and unique.

It is from this perspective that, on the eve of the D-Day anniversary, I can't help wondering how profoundly our Juno Beach veterans' lives were changed by their own indelible and unique military experiences.

I went to school and came away different, but they went to war. I lost classmates to training accidents, to car accidents, to suicide. They lost comrades to bullets, bombs, and shrapnel, in terrible numbers, day in and day out, for months on end. The stresses my classmates and I endured engendered a lasting camaraderie. How much greater the stresses placed on our veterans, and how much deeper the currents of uncommon experience that draw them together, even now.

After 13 weeks of recruit training, I cried when I saw my family again. Our Normandy veterans left family, country, and safety behind for years; they crossed an ocean; they killed and faced death. They liberated a continent, and in so doing, they changed the course of history. One wonders how they adjusted to some of the inescapably mundane elements of civilian life so shortly after engaging in such a momentous military undertaking.

When you've been forced to decide what is worth dying for at age 21, how does that affect what you believe is worth living for at age 22, or 42, or 82? We are rapidly losing the ability to ask that question of our Normandy veterans, as the natural ends of their lives loom closer with each passing day. Very shortly now, all we will have left is their legacy, an unmatched record of public service in both war and peace. But we will not have their stories of conflict and what came after. We will lose the priorities their experiences set for them, the impact that war had on their political decisions, their business practices, and their social lives. While history will record the events of the Second World War, we will soon lose the personal lessons of that war, learned differently by each individual veteran.

How much paler would their lives have been had they not united to defeat the defining threat of their century? Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam has called those who fought in the Second World War "the long civic generation." Would my classmates and I have risen to the challenges of fighting that war and fortifying the subsequent peace as admirably? I page through my yearbook, I look at the young faces with their invincible smiles, and I wonder who we would have lost. And then I wonder what we would have gained.

Unless the effort to remember is made, sacrifices made by others on our behalf will fade, and eventually wink out except in the most dusty of archives.

Never forget.

Babble off.

Regional Standard

Babble on.

Temujin at West Coast Chaos has posted the latest edition of the Red Ensign Standard.

As Alzheimer's disease ravages my maternal grandmother like it did her husband in the 1990's, it has become more important to me to remember the things she told me as a boy. My grandmother was fully aware of history. She told me stories of her life as a young girl in Saskatchewan, and recalled the times that her husband played band for the troops that were set to depart. It is the ultimate irony that such a woman would have her mind taken from her in this way. And people in this country choose to forget.

You're not the only one amazed and disappointed by that, Tem.

There's very good reading out there, under a Red Ensign crackling in a stiff northern wind.

Babble off.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Babble on.

Sorry about the low posting rate, folks. But you know the old saying: the worst day of golf is better than the best day of work.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for sunshine.

Besides, at least it keeps me away from the All-Grewal All-The-Time soap opera on Parliament Hill. That's something you just can't put a price on.

Babble off.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Babble on.

Alan (not Lefty, I'm talking about the Libertarian Boil) has tagged me in a web-game. Not very interesting blogging, I'm sure, but as it involves books, I'll play along.

# of books I own: Well...let's see...four sevens are...carry the six...squared...about three hundred, not including a couple of book cases stacked with the collected works of Dr. Seuss and the like.

Last Book I Bought: That was Dragon's Kin by Todd & Anne McCaffrey. Incidentally, it was the second-last book I read too...

Last Book I Read: Well, this is going to sound silly, but it was I Want To Go Home! by Gordon Korman, just this past weekend. Yes, I'll wait until you've stopped laughing before I continue...when you're quite finished...

I've been looking for the next level of story to read to my four-year-old Boo - something beyond I Wish That I Had Duck Feet. Instead of dropping a chunk of change at Chapters, as I am wont to do, Litlbit encouraged me to rummage about in my parents' basement through some of my own old boxed books first, to see if there was anything suitable buried down there. Well, not only did I find some stories I'll be reading to my boy this summer - we've already started Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl - but I also discovered a treasure trove of the 'young adult' material that sustained me before high school: Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators series, the Danny Dunn books, all my Roald Dahl books, the Narnia series, and more. Included amongst these was my Gordon Korman collection: This Can't be Happening at Macdonald Hall, Who Is Bugs Potter?, and the rest of them.

On the way home, Litlbit had to stop at the mall, and as both Boo and Mini-Boo were sleeping in their car-seats in the back, I decided to stay in the car and pull out one of my old favourites: I Want To Go Home! I read most of the book in the car while my wife shopped, and finished it up over a sandwich when we got home. Good memories, but light fare.

5 books that mean a lot to me: This is a tough one. I think I pick something up from most of what I read, fiction and non-fiction alike. And different books have affected me greatly at different times in my life. I mean, the first time I read Ayn Rand? As a young and idealistic Officer Cadet, diving into Tom Clancy before the Berlin Wall fell? I still remember the night I devoured Roald Dahl's short story The Swan from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, because I was going through some difficult times with bullies at school myself. So, how to choose? Ah well, here goes:
  • Jonathan Livinston Seagull by Richard Bach has been in my life for as long as I can remember. In fact, I used to listen to Richard Harris reading it on vinyl in a dark room at my grandparents' house as a small child. I can still see the glowing blue dial on the hi-fi across the room from the couch where I lay. Yes, I was raised by a reformed hippy, in case you were wondering. My current copy of the book is hopelessly dog-eared, as it should be.

  • Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk were my introduction to good historical fiction. Wouk was truly inspired writing these - nothing else he's penned feels quite the same. His passages written from the perspective of a fictional Wehrmacht general imprisoned as a war criminal are downright creepy, he gets so deep into the twisted psyche that drove the German war machine.

  • The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov opened my eyes to the world of science fiction, and led me to his short stories (especially the ground-breaking Robot stories), which led me to his contemporaries like Heinlein and Bradbury. Just the original three books, mind you; we won't talk about the prequel or sequels.

  • Can I name Tolkien's Lord of the Rings epic without sounding trite? The books completely consumed my twelve-year-old self at first reading, and I've revisited them every few years ever since. My love of McCaffrey, Jordan, Whyte, Martin, and others flowed from this well-spring.

  • This will undoubtedly have some of you reaching for the Gravol, but I absolutely love Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books. This historical fiction saga with a fantastic twist, a great love story, and some of the most fascinating characters I've met anywhere in literature has captivated me. They are most definitely not romance novels, and I don't see why some ignorant book-sellers and reviewers have mischaracterized them that way. Hmmph.

By naming series, I've stretched my five, and still I've missed W.E.B. Griffin's Brotherhood of War and The Corps books, John Christopher's White Mountain books, the collected works of Roald Dahl (which sustained me far beyond my childhood), the techno-thrillers of Clancy who led me to Bond and Coonts and untold weeks of enjoyment, Jack Whyte's extraordinary Dream of Eagles multi-generational saga, and many more.

This is an impossible task.

Tag 5 More:
Let It Bleed
The Tiger In Winter
Ghost of a flea
Jerry Aldini
Sinister Thoughts

Worse than a frickin' chain letter, I tell ya...

Babble off.

401 Blog Squadron - Mors Celerrima Hostibus

Babble on.

I just thought it was a stupid quiz, and I don't do stupid quizzes. Nobody told me they were recruiting for a frickin' squadron, fer gawdsake.

What military aircraft are you?

F-16 Fighting Falcon

You are an F-16. You love to flaunt your slick appearance, but aren't afraid to get your hands dirty, either. You can outmaneuver any of your contemporaries, and you possess a technological edge. And above all, you are a true showman.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

Well, I'd hardly describe my appearance as 'slick', and I haven't really flaunted it in years, but I have no problems steering a Falcon around. Air-to-air, air-to-mud - it's a helluva plane.

I think it's time for that greatest of Air Force traditions, the TGIF. And a good game of Full-Contact Combat Blood Crud. Watch your fingers.

Per Ardua!

Babble off.