Friday, July 29, 2005

One candle

Babble on.

I know it seems like I've been droning on forever, but as it turns out, it's only been a year. A year today, in fact.

Blogging is a strange hobby. It's like having a mosquito bite that you can't stop scratching; one that never goes away. I've discovered much this past year, but one thing in particular surprised me. I don't always enjoy the writing process, and I'm rarely completely satisfied with what I write. I'm regularly frustrated by online research that goes nowhere, and by a shortage of time to address certain subjects in the detail and depth they deserve. All the peripheral baggage that goes with blogging - trolls, technical glitches, lost posts, policing comments, and the rest of it - swarms around my head like a cloud of gnats, a distraction I don't want or need. But in spite of all of that, to my surprise, I've found that I need to write.

Thanks to all who have inspired this binary scribbling. I've said it to most of you individually over the course of the past year, but I want to say it again.

And thanks to all who read. I've had 63,404 unique visits in my first twelve months. Some of you have supported me, some have challenged me, and all of you have let me know by your simple presence that I'm not just yelling into a great, dark void.

Hopefully, I've done the same for you. And if I haven't...well, I'm going to keep trying, and we'll see how things work out: even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile. Wish me luck.

Babble off.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Buffet time

Babble on.

All I have time for is a bit of a blogging salad bar: pick and choose. What can I say? Some days you're the pigeon, other days you're the statue.
  • So now our top soldier is a "truly barbaric" "beast." What a complete. frickin'. imbecile. I won't even address her misconceptions, since Penny's already gone there.

  • Wouldn't it be nice to know what the Canadian claim is?

  • Line of the day: "Some things in life are morally ambiguous. The killing of Israelis in cafes and pizzerias, however, is not one of them. When we argue that the immorality or illegality of suicide bombing is contingent upon political considerations, we're on a dangerously slippery slope."

  • Damn: "Until we fix this, we're not ready to fly again." Pending Discovery's safe return, we should refrain from saying 'it could have been worse' though. It may yet get worse.

  • Korea then. Korea now. Personally, I think the one giving security guarantees should be the government that started the conflict in the first place, the DPRK. Call me old fashioned.

I hear a fat lady singing. Later folks.

Babble off.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Babble on.

I had the pleasure of lunching with Canadian blogdom's undisputed fisking champion, Bob Tarantino today. For a couple of guys whose lives couldn't be much more different outside of blogging, it's interesting that we don't actually find ourselves talking about blogging that much. Anyhow, once we'd gotten past catching up, talking work, shaking our heads in unison over the latest transgressions of The Grope and Flail and Pravda Canada, and dispassionately discussing the artistic merits of Jessica Simpson's These Boots video, the topic of a beer-up was raised. And Nicholas, it doesn't matter if you're swilling wine, it's still called a beer-up - but I digress.

August and September are generally busy times, as folks scramble around to take vacations before the end of summer overtakes them, and then hit the reset button on the family schedule once school restarts. But surely we can find time in there somewhere to raise a pint or two with each other despite all that.

So, for any interested in a VRWC (Toronto Chapter) pub night sometime before October, please drop me a line by e-mail or comment to let me know which dates would be inconvenient for you. I can't guarantee we'll be able to please everyone, but a straw poll certainly can't hurt as we try to pick a date.

Babble off.

Update: Is there a building consensus around Friday, August 26th?

A study in contrasts

Babble on.

Infantile: "They talk about me being outspoken," [MP Carolyn Parrish] said. "I'm speaking on my own behalf. This man is purporting to speak on behalf of the government, and I think he's dangerous.

"I'm totally offended by him. ..... We are also not a country that is going to easily throw away 100 years of peacekeeping reputation and noble reputation in the world by a testosterone-filled general, and I think somebody should put a clamp on his mouth." (Babbler's italics)

Mature: The plain-speaking general said he hadn't seen Parrish's comments but wasn't particularly concerned about them.

"I'm part of ensuring that Canadians understand and appreciate just what these fine men and women . . . just what fine work they do on their behalf," Hillier told reporters at Edmonton International Airport. "I'm not offended at all. I have a job to do, and I'm concentrated on doing that job." (also Babbler's italics)

Babble off.

A day late and a dollar short, as usual

Babble on.

Seeing as my mind is already on movies...

Remember when the unabashed propagandist Michael Moore said this?

"Democrats need to embrace Hollywood because this is where they need to come to learn how to tell a story."

Well, here's a man who has decades of experience in the L.A. film industry (ht:GS):

"The idea [of writing a book] was to have fun with Hollywood because Hollywood is a place that needs to be made fun of – desperately, because they take themselves very seriously."

Y'know, I think if you combine the ideas from both quotes, the concept has merit. Follow the bouncing ball with me here: Democrats embrace Hollywood, the rest of us make fun of Hollywood - because it begs desperately to be made fun of - and because of the close affiliation between the two, the rest of us have a wonderful, endless way to make fun of Democrats.

Oh, wait a minute. My bad. It's already been done.

Never mind.

Babble off.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Movie tag

Babble on.

Well, since I've been tagged, get ready for some fluff. Movie tag it is, folks:

Teen favourite: Tough call. Return of the Jedi was released in my teen years, but the Star Wars saga really transcends that decade, so I don't think that's fair. I'll admit to liking WarGames, Ferris Bueller, and Breakfast Club way too much. The first Die Hard was cool at the time. But if I had to pick just one movie, it would have to be Top Gun. Between the flying scenes, the one-liners, Kelly "Nice Tongue" McGillis, and the fact that I was already shooting for an flying career in the CF, I was hooked. Funny thing is, it was also one of Litlbit's favourites, although for a completely different reason...

University favourite: Another difficult one for me to pick. I'll stay away from movies available only from a closed off section of the video store, featuring little or no dialogue, and sporting soundracks with a lot of wacka-chicka-wa-wa, although university was certainly my first exposure to that...genre. I remember being deeply affected by Glory, and swept up by Dances With Wolves. Dead Poets Society was excellent. Although it was made earlier, I discovered Highlander in university. Y'know, thinking about it, I'm not sure any of them stands above the rest. I guess movies didn't really feature prominently in my university years.

Recent favourite: Geez, this isn't getting any easier. Technical advancements have made possible excellent movie adaptations of books and characters I loved growing up. The Lord of The Rings trilogy is probably the best example of that. How recent is recent? Saving Private Ryan was such an important film. I can't say enough about all the Pixar flicks, although The Incredibles stands head and shoulders above the rest for me. Batman Begins is probably my favourite so far this year.

All-time favourite: Bah. This is just stupid. How can you pick just one movie? Even as an adult rediscovering them with my kids, I absolutely love the Disney classics. Anything with Hepburn, Grant, Tracy, Peck, or Stewart. The Great Escape. Aliens. Raiders. The Sting. For heaven's sake, I can't get through Christmas without Boris Karloff narrating The Grinch.

What a silly, silly game. Which does not in any way stop me from propagating this little blogging virus.

In the interests of diversity, I'll avoid tagging anyone I clipped with the book game: Skippy is infested, Andrew is Bound to answer, and I'm sure The Armorer will yell Argghhh! before he's done with this little treat.

Babble off.

A walking argument for preventative sterilization

Babble on.

Carolyn Parrish is in desperate need of an education and a muzzle, although not in that order.

True to form, Ms. Parrish couldn't resist a little demonstration of her outspokenness in yesterday's interview, criticizing Canada's new Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, for his recent comments.

She called him "dangerous" and a "testosterone-filled general," and added that "somebody should put a clamp on his mouth."

Ms. Parrish, a self-described "peacenik," said she was particularly offended by Gen. Hillier's aggressive comments this month that the job of Canadian soldiers is "to be able to kill people."

He had been speaking to reporters about the Canadian troop deployment to Kandahar, where the troops will target terrorist "murderers and scumbags."

"They talk about me being outspoken," she said. "I'm speaking on my own behalf. This man is purporting to speak on behalf of the government, and I think he's dangerous.

"I'm totally offended by him. ..... We are also not a country that is going to easily throw away 100 years of peacekeeping reputation and noble reputation in the world by a testosterone-filled general, and I think somebody should put a clamp on his mouth."

I was going to respond to both the dismissive tone and truth-bereft content, noting that our elected representatives shouldn't sound like they've been drinking the Kool-Aid at Did I say drinking? Hell, making the toxic brew.

But Angry in the Great White North has crafted such a fine post in rejoinder, I'll leave it to him. He recounts a number of stories that typify Canada's military action over the past century, and shows what a shallow lie Parrish has told.

For my money, though, his best line is this one:

The military has more respect for the civilian government than the civilian government, including the likes of Carolyn Parrish, has ever shown the military.

He's absolutely right. And that has to change. That's yet another reason why Canadians need to Demand Better and ditch the Liberals at the very next opportunity.

Babble off.


Babble on.

I still get goosebumps.

Every weekday morning as I walk out the front door, my wife says "Drive safe" as though that simple phrase will ward off the evil spirits of traffic accidents. I think I've become as superstitious about it as she is, because on the odd day when I leave before the rest of the house is awake, I miss hearing it.

Drive safe, Discovery.

Babble off.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Say what you mean, and mean what you say

Babble on.

I hope the police who shot the Brazilian man in the London subway on Friday followed their procedures to the letter. I also hope those procedures can withstand some scrutiny, because heaven knows they will be picked apart in the wake of this stupid, pointless death.

I say 'stupid' and 'pointless' because if Jean Charles de Menezes was nothing more than a young man afraid of being deported because he was working illegally in Britain, he didn't deserve a violent death, in the grand scheme of things.

Having said all that in an attempt to soften my next remarks, and nonetheless finding it impossible to make this point without sounding glib, I'll just spit it out: when police officers tell you to stop, it's not a polite suggestion, to be followed at your leisure. Anyone with the state's permission to mete out lethal violence should be obeyed, immediately and fully.

Skippy the Commie Canine has an excellent post up about process versus results in life-and-death security matters, but he cuts a corner that I can't let slide:

Police have procedures and rules for a reason, and if they follow them, bombings should be prevented. But there is no way to be 100% effective, short of killing everyone who drives up to your checkpoint, on principle. Those who think we can justify killing people for behaving suspiciously need to accept that the risk will not go away.

In a way, it doesn't matter whether the man the Metropolitan Police killed today was wearing a bomb or not. What matters is whether there was good reason to believe he was wearing one - "good reason," outside the world of rabid bloggers, being something more than jumping a turnstile while being south Asian in a public place. (Babbler's emphasis)

Of course, nobody was shot for jumping a turnstile. Police weren't standing just inside the gate, picking off any who dared to skip over without paying. This man was shot for disobeying and running from police. He was shot because he made some extraordinarily poor decisions: to not renew his visa, to run from police when confronted, and to run into a Tube station - of all places. Those decisions have probably ruined a number of lives, not the least of which was his own.

So I hope the police followed procedure and I hope the procedure was sound, because there are times when truly innocent lives will depend upon an officer's ability to pull the trigger at the right moment. Second-guessing isn't useful in those situations - the first guess is all you generally get.

But while I'm hoping here, I also hope those of us in the public at large will realize that if we expect those our society arms for our own protection to, in fact, protect us, that in return we must obey their instructions when required. I hope we can all remember that the serious consequences to disregarding those instructions are a vital part of protecting our safety.

'Stop' means stop. 'Get down on the ground' is not idle chit-chat. 'Put your hands on your head' is an imperative, not a casual recommendation.

It's a shame that it took the death of this particular young man to bring one of the foundations of the rule of law back into such clear focus.

Babble off.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Aussies and us

Babble on.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard's terrific response (ht:Instapundit) to an idiotic question by a dimwitted reporter in London yesterday had Greg Staples thinking about the good folks Down Under. Specifically, Greg questioned the wisdom of allowing Australia to replace Canada as the third leg of the Anglosphere stool.

He commented that by any number of economic measures, Canada should be more important to the UK than Australia. He went on to point out:

...I was struck by how well Australian PM John Howard carried himself and how a bi-lateral meeting between Canada and the UK is pretty much the furthest thing from anyones consciousness. (Babbler's italics)
So by the quick measures I have found Canada should be more important to the United Kingdom than Australia. For political reasons it appears that Canada and the United Kingdom are drifting apart and Australia and the United Kingdom are tightening their relationship.

Canada's influence on international politics is negligible (ht:Inkless) for a country of our size, position, history, and economic clout.

Speaking of economic clout, as Derek Burney pointed out earlier this year, Australia is a natural competitor to Canada, and the similarities between the two nations provide a good opportunity to measure Canadian performance in a number of areas. In fact, a StatsCan paper was written on just that topic:

In the 1990s, Australia’s standard of living increased more rapidly than its Canadian counterpart (2.1% compared to 1.4% in Canada) as a result of higher productivity gains (1.8% compared to 1.3% in Canada) and improved labour utilization performance (0.4% compared to 0.1% in Canada).

Note that we're talking about more than simple GDP per capita, here. StatsCan is talking about a complex formula that blends a number of factors to arrive at a measure for "standard of living."

I won't even mention international athletics. Or military strength (or budget) for that matter.

When folks like me express concern that Canada's place is slipping in the world, that we're not living up to our potential, this is the sort of thing we're talking about. That's why a slogan like "Demand Better" resonates for us.

Successive federal governments over the past few decades (most of them Liberal) have underperformed - not in one specific area, but pretty much across the board - and Canada with them. I have two young children, and I'll be damned if I hand over a country that's worse off, a country of which they can be less proud, than the one I inherited. We need to do better in the years ahead.

Babble off.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

What's next? Cats sleeping with dogs?

Babble on.

First I find myself patting the CBC on the back, and now I'm forced to applaud Comrade Mayor Miller's Toronto City Council? What the hell is the world coming to?

From today's Pravda Canada:

Veterans will get free parking at city lots and meters for the rest of the year.

City council voted 41 to 0 last night in favour of the proposal put forward by Councillor Michael Walker to give those with a provincially issued veteran's licence plate the small perk.
While Walker didn't know what the price tag would be for the program, he argued that it shouldn't matter.

"There is a cost to the city, but it's a price they have already paid." (Babbler's emphasis)

I couldn't have said that better myself. I congratulate Mr. Walker and his fellow councillors on their unanimous expression of gratitude towards those who so richly deserve it. This is a classy gesture.

Babble off.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Kudos to the CBC

Babble on.

Don't adjust your set - you read it right.

For two years now, CBC has been publishing the thoughts of an active-duty Master Corporal on their website, following him through a tour in Afghanistan, and now in the lead-up to another deployment over there.

MCpl Storring's latest piece caught my attention this morning. Rather than being flowery or eloquent, it's heartfelt and straightforward - quite representive of soldiery, in fact:

We watch the Canadian Forces Gun Race, view static displays, watch fireworks. The highlight for the boys’ weekend is watching the world-class parachuting display put on by the Sky Hawks. Both my sons instantly want to become Sky Hawks when they grow up, and while they run around getting autographs, I head over to see the veterans, one of whom I recognize from books and from veterans videos.

I stop in front of Mr. Jan DeVries, introduce myself and, shaking his hand, I thank him for everything he and his fellow veterans have done. I think I catch him off guard, as he almost doesn’t know what to say at first. Not intending to put him on the spot, I ask if my father-in-law and I can have our picture taken with him. Although I don’t think he knows it, when the flash goes off, three generations of soldiers are immortalized forever.

I again thank him, and in turn thank all the other veterans with him for what they have done for me, my family and for Canada. I guess everyone has heroes of some sort, and while my sons finish admiring their newfound heroes, the Sky Hawks, I am grateful yet again that I have the opportunity to thank my own heroes for their sacrifice.

By the end of the article, with an early birthday party for a man who will be half a world away on the actual day, the author's tugging at my heartstrings. It's worth the read.

And again, my congratulations and thanks go to the CBC for publishing this insight into the life and thoughts of an ordinary soldier. Canadians need to hear these stories - they need to know those who serve on their behalf better.

Babble off.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Old school stylin'

Babble on.

A recent trip to the gift-shop at the CN Tower unearthed a most interesting Canadian clothing company: Dax Wilkinson National Heritage Brands.

Although my wife and I were dressed to the nines from dinner at the 360 Restaurant, I couldn't resist picking up a stone coloured ballcap with the RCAF Roundel on the front. Do you have any idea how much I enjoy wearing that cap?

Emphatically not "Air Element." Say it with me: Royal. Canadian. Air. Force. Egad, the spine straightens just voicing the words.

Babble off.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Depriving a village somewhere of a perfectly serviceable idiot

Babble on.

In case anyone's wondering why Matthew Good is sporting a shit-eating grin today: first he steps in it:

I’ll not mince my words – General Rick Hillier is bad news for the Canadian military, the Canadian government, and the people of this country. The rhetoric spewed by Hillier recently might as well have come straight from Bush administration talking points.

Then he jams both feet into his mouth at once.

If Hillier is a ‘tell it like he sees it soldier’ then perhaps he should not have been given the position. Perhaps they should have given it to someone with a little more tact.

To suggest that tact should be the deciding factor in who commands our Armed Forces and who doesn't shows an absolutely astounding ignorance. This twit would be out of his depth in a puddle (with props to Skippy the Bomb-Sniffing Dog).

Babble off.

Sauce for the Travers

Babble on.

James Travers, that expert on What Generals Should and Shouldn't Do - what, you didn't know he was an expert? - has chastised General Hillier for his comments on the upcoming mission in Afghanistan the other day. Specifically, Travers' article is subtitled: Generals ought to avoid commenting on foreign policy.

Me? I like what Hillier said, and I like how he said it. In fact, I think it needed desperately to be said.

Personally, I think Travers should heed his own advice, and not just with respect to foreign policy. He ought to avoid commenting. Period.

Babble off.

The Standard

Babble on.

Ed at Robot Guy has compiled the latest Red Ensign Standard. When I hosted The Standard in December of last year, the blogroll numbered only forty sites. Today's host must wade through two weeks of posts from sixty blogs, some of which are group blogs, and many of which post more than daily. Congratulations, Ed, for taking on such a daunting task.

Babble off.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Upping the reality dosage in Canada

Babble on.

"We're not the public service of Canada, we're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people." - Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier

Standing ovation. With no disrespect to Hillier, but much to some of his predecessors: it's about frickin' time a Canadian general said this in public. The politicians surely won't, and Canadians need to hear it.

Babble off.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Preparedness = Fear

Babble on.

The title of this post seems to be a valid equation for many writing in to the CBC to express their disapproval of Anne McLellan's recent comments about the relative unpreparedness of the Canadian public for a terror attack. In case you missed those comments:

Canadians who use mass transit systems need to prepare themselves mentally for the possibility of terrorist attacks, the federal public safety minister says.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan says only so much can be done to protect the millions of people who use mass transit in Canada. "I do not believe that Canadians are as psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack as I think probably we all should be," Anne McLellan told the World Conference on Disaster Management in Toronto on Monday.

"I think we have for perhaps too long thought that these were things that happened somewhere else.

"One never wants to unnecessarily scare or panic any individual. However, I think we need to start talking about the fact that we all need to be prepared for all possibilities."

I'm not a big fan of Landslide Annie, and I found Haligonian Carl Burns' take on his Deputy PM's admonition quite incisive:

Anne McLellan is the perfect Liberal; completely two-faced. For years the Liberals have been saying that no organization would attack Canada because we're so sympathetic, etc, etc, and now their second-in-command is now wagging her finger at our complacency.

Anne should now ask her Prime Minister to become serious about strengthening our armed services rather than another social program or more GST rebate cheques.

What Ms. McLellan is attempting currently is to float her "I-told-you-so" rhetoric so that when the time comes and one of our cultural icons is attacked or destroyed, Anne will be able to take a step back and wag her finger in that all-knowing-but-do-nothing stance that Liberals are famous for. The security of the country is her responsibility as Deputy-Prime Minister. It's also her duty to tell Canadians the truth about our ability to secure our borders and safeguard its citizens.

Although the Liberal hypocrisy on this issue makes my blood boil, being on both sides of the issue means that they're half right: Canadians aren't prepared. And from the look of some of the letter-writers, many Canadians are misunderstanding that message, and resenting it. Here's a sampling:

Come on Canada, let us get prepared for terrorism! Start watching your neighbours activities, call the authorities when you feel threatened or if you just feel uncomfortable with them.

Start putting together a terrorism response kit. Medical supplies,personal protective equipment and a personal action plan would top the list of items in a response kit. Look into the purchase of body armor, semi automatic hand guns, automatic rifles and surface to air missiles so you can do your duty and be the first line of defense against a terrorist attack! [remainder snipped for sarcastic redundancy]

Robert Perks | Calgary


How good it is to see that the reaction of other Canadians is the same as mine! They have given Anne McLellan's comment that we are not mentally prepared for a terrorist attack the scorn that it deserves.

What would she have us do? Stay at home with the covers over our heads? report any "suspicious" activities of our neighbours to the police? In other words, turn ourselves into a police state populated by paranoid citizens? If that happens, the terrorists will have won without firing a shot!

Bob O'Neill | Halifax


I have no desire whatsoever to become "psychologically prepared" for an eventual terrorist attack on Canadian targets.

I have two thoughts on this approach of self-destructive thinking. The first is that I have absolutely no desire to emulate our American cousins to the south, and become so paranoid I regard everything as a threat. The second thought is that if we don't participate in activities (i.e. bombing, killing innocent people) that militants perceive as threatening, we might not be regarded as a target, merits some thought.

I refuse to play Ms McLellan's game of feeling terrorized, and I refuse to play into the American's game of bullying everyone else into feeling terrorized. We Canadians have done nothing wrong in this war of control over lucrative petroleum deposits. I refuse to feel scared or bullied.

Rather, I encourage Ms. McLellan to buck up, stand separate from the American influence, and accept that we will differ on interpretations.

Russell Collier | Smithers, B.C.


McLellan is an irresponsible fear-monger who is spreading terrorism by telling Canadians to get psychologically ready for an attack.

How do you DO that, anyway? Yes, Live In Fear, just like the Americans. Great idea.

I have lost all respect for her and really wish she'd quit, her mouth is her worst asset.

Gunther Rall | Victoria, BC

Where to begin? With the gratuitous smears on American security efforts? With the misguided assumption that because we're not in Iraq that we're not a target?

I'll leave those alone, because I want to focus on the one monstrous misconception at the heart of each of the letters that accuse McLellan of encouraging paranoia: that somehow preparedness equals fear.

I sell insurance for a living. I encourage people to buy policies in case something bad happens, to be prepared. Am I a fear-monger?

Firefighters encourage families to have an evacuation plan in the event of a fire, to teach their kids the phrase 'Stop, Drop, and Roll' in case their clothes ever catch flame. In other words, they teach us to be prepared. Are they fear-mongers too?

Young Drivers of Canada puts the motto "Your licence to survive" right under their name. They encourage new learners to 'drive defensively' and to be aware of potential threats on the road. In other words, they teach kids to be prepared. Are they irresponsible fear-mongers as well?

Nobody is advocating exposing yourself to horrific images until you're numb enough to wade through body parts with a serene demeanour. Nobody is advocating learning how to use throwing stars and hand grenades in expectation of the day when the world goes Mad Max on us. Nobody is advocating spying on your neighbours and turning yourself into a paranoid conspiracy freak.

Get this through your thick skull: nobody wants you to be scared, other than the bastards who blow up buses in rush hour.

But ask people who come up against frightening and horrific situations as part of their job how they combat their own fear. Ask soldiers, firemen, policemen, trauma doctors and nurses: it's the training. When you're scared, the training - the preparedness - is what rises to the top of your mind and gets you through the situation.

If you're looking for information on how to prepare for an emergency situation without 'living in fear', I'd suggest you check out Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada's site. It contains some good information, and if - God forbid - something awful happens, you'll be glad you took a few minutes to think about it beforehand.

If proposing that reasonable precaution makes me paranoid in the eyes of the moonbats, I don't really mind. When they start freaking out in an emergency, I'll get to slap them quiet, and that's good enough for me.

Babble off.

Update: From the Christian Science Monitor, where you should go now to read the entire article:

As planning for terrorism becomes a part of daily life in the Western World, a growing number of disaster experts are calling for a dramatic reassessment in the way the nation plans for emergencies.

The problem, they argue, is that the current top-down approach views the public as a problem to be managed rather than an asset to be utilized. Officials don't take into account people's natural willingness to help or address their most basic needs - like concern about the safety of their spouses and kids.

This upstart group of sociologists, physicians, and terrorism experts contends that the use of ordinary citizens during a large-scale emergency could save hundreds if not thousands of lives. And they are determined to ensure the public is properly prepared before the next catastrophic event.

"It's critical that we readjust our thinking. If you look at the 9/11 commission report they talked about first responders versus what they called 'civilians,' as if all of the civilians did was just stand at the sidelines," says Kathleen Tierney, the director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "That is so radically at variance with what actually happened that day."
While police, fire, and rescue workers need equipment and training, this group of experts contends that it would be equally, if not more, important to organize local communities, schools, and businesses. They believe the public should be trained in what to do in an emergency response but, more important, that emergency managers base those plans on what people say they will need, and how they will react in the case of, say, a dirty bomb, or a smallpox attack.

If we tried to implement such a program in Canada, I wonder how the moonbats would react. Would they scrunch their eyes shut, put their hands over their ears, and yell 'LALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!'? Or would they shake their fists into the cameras covering their protests outside some government office, and spout vacuous slogans: "We will not live in fear! This is not America, and we won't learn how to provide basic first aid in the event of a disaster!" (My bet is on vacuous slogans. They've gotten good at those after years of picket-lines and anti-nuke marches.)

How to get through to these people that stoicism isn't the same as burying your head in the sand? That evacuation drills from office buildings aren't the first step in the destruction of all civil liberties? That prudent preparation by ordinary citizens for extraordinary events isn't akin to living in a culture of fear?

There are definitely some heads out there that need a good hard shake.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Nothing to Chance"

Babble on.

On the 7th of November, 1942, a new Canadian bomber squadron was formed with the designation 429 Squadron, the Bison as it's symbol, and the Wellington as it's aircraft. Before the end of the war, the Bisons flew Wellingtons, Halifaxes and Lancasters on 3175 sorties with only 78 aircraft lost. Squadron aircrew were awarded 2 bars to DFC, 45 DFC’s, 1 AFC, 1 CGM, and 7 DFM’s. That's right, 45 Distinguished Flying Crosses and two bars.

After being disbanded in 1946, the squadron was reformed in 1967 as a transport unit flying first Buffalo, and then Hercules aircraft. It moved from Montreal to Winnipeg to Trenton.

These are the Squadron Colours:

Sadly, those colours have just days ago been retired:

Members of 429 “Bison” Transport Squadron stood down here Friday, bringing a chapter in Canadian air force history to a close.

Gatherings of squadronmates were traditionally known as the “gathering of the herd” or stampedes, and the significance of Friday’s poignant ceremony drew Bisons from several stages in 429’s past.
But this summer, the Trenton base will begin opening its new Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC). The new unit will create 80 jobs and is to reach its full strength of 120 staff by 2008.

As a result, the Bisons are now amalgamating under the colours of Trenton-based 436 “Elephant” Transport Squadron.
Lt.-Col. Mike Hood, 429’s most recent commander, headed the group for two years and led Friday’s final parade. He said his position was a career highlight.

Hood said the changes are not about saving money, but about efficiency and the air force’s evolution.

“It’s about freeing up some people to tackle other challenges,” he said.

He said those under his command are proud of their work to date, but haven’t dwelled on 429’s fate.

“The guys have been so busy it’s not something we’ve sat around and pondered,” said Hood, noting virtually all squadron members have been to Afghanistan for at least two months, shuttling troops and equipment into the country. That work will now continue with 436 Squadron, he said.

“Tomorrow the guys are leaving to go off at other missions, so the work never stops,” said Hood.

True enough. I would guess, though, that it's small consolation to those who flew with the squadron, especially in wartime. There is a great deal to be said for unit loyalty.

At least the CFAWC - which is what has bumped the Bisons - will be carrying on the squadron's motto "Nothing to Chance" as they develop policies to optimize use of the Air Force. But it remains a sad day nonetheless.

Hopefully, one day Canada's Air Force will once again expand to meet operational needs that haven't really been addressed in recent years, and the opportunity will arise to pull the old, proud colours out of their glass case. How many lives does a Bison have?

Babble off.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A different threat from the terrorists

Babble on.

For all three of you who are actually interested in both terrorism and the property and casualty insurance industry, I point you to this editorial from The Washington Times:

TRIA's [Terrorism Risk Insurance Act] looming expiration date of Dec. 31 — combined with the recently released Treasury Department report that recommends that the current program not be extended and that the federal government's role in insuring terrorism risks be reduced — puts into focus the options Congress faces on this complex and critical issue. Congress must decide whether to allow TRIA to expire and let the private insurance market assume the entire financial risk of future terrorist attacks or replace TRIA with a long-term program that shifts more responsibility to the private sector.
Financial experts agree that a terrorist attack on the homeland is the biggest threat to the economy. These same experts, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, agree that a private market for insuring terrorist attacks cannot be made to work without some level of federal involvement. In comments to the House Financial Services Committee Mr. Greenspan said, "There are instances in which markets do not or cannot work, and ...I have not been persuaded that this [terrorism insurance] market works terribly well."

So what's the best way to create a terrorism insurance market? In our view, the most effective solution is a long-term approach that utilizes market forces to transfer more responsibility for covering terrorism insurance losses to the private sector, while maintaining high-level federal participation. The federal government would only pay for losses in the event of a catastrophe that results in claims beyond the financial capacity of an individual insurer or the insurance industry.

I was visiting with two friends this weekend - one a lawyer, and the other a management consultant - who confirmed my belief that the general public, and even many in business, don't understand how important a lubricant insurance is to free-market economies. Many lenders won't provide credit without insurance. More importantly, many business would be much more averse to taking the sort of risks that drive our prosperity without the safety net of an insurance policy strung below their entreprenurial high-wire act. Insurance facilitates enterprise.

If the financial consequences of terrorism are practically uninsurable - and without any sort of predictability regarding either frequency or severity of loss, there's a good argument to be made that they are - it can act as sand in the cogs of business, slowing the economy, and bringing some segments of business to a grinding halt.

Although TRIA is exclusively a U.S. construct, it had repercussions for the global industry (and you won't find a more global industry than insurance - it's all connected) because the U.S. market represents nearly 40% of the overall premium paid worldwide. The provisions of the act that forced insurers to offer a quote for terrorism coverage to U.S. businesses in the wake of September 11th were an important brake on economic decline, and the backing of the U.S. government allowed the insurance industry to provide the coverage without the massive uncertainty of underwriting that risk destroying their stock value.

As you might expect from someone who works in the industry, I agree with the sentiments expressed in the editorial. I have only one small quibble. As an insurance broker, I work with big insurance companies every day, and as with every other industry, I can testify that some insurers are more trustworthy than others. So instead of allowing terrorism premiums to be lumped into the general premium pool at an insurance company, where it could be used in good years to subsidize non-terrorism losses, I would have the government enforce the segregation of those premiums. This discipline would allow for the development of a capital base outside of the rest of the relatively predictable, and thus highly competitive insurance market, which would in turn gradually reduce the overall risk to both the industry and taxpayers in the event of a terrorism loss. Otherwise, the insurers will use the capital of premiums paid for terrorism risks to finance their drive for competitive advantage in the marketplace, and fritter away the nest egg we really need to develop to guard against the wildly volatile financial risk posed by terror.

The principles at the foundation of TRIA should be ensconced in more permanent legislation, but the U.S. government should also force insurers driven by Wall Street's expectations to segregate terror premiums for the long-term good of both the industry, and the country.

Babble off.

"Blogging is good -- action is better"

Babble on.

Chris Taylor doesn't post a gem every day. Heck, he doesn't even post most days. No, Chris collects his thoughts and saves his brilliant posts for special occasions. Today is our lucky day:

I suppose in Islamist Penthouse Forum fantasies, bold jihadis run through our crowded city centres waving flaming swords and visiting fiery death upon the infidels -- men, women and children alike. In return for their sterling service, they get the appreciation of seventy-two virgins in Paradise. It amazes me that guys fall for this sort of thing. Well gents, I hate to break it to you, but what makes you think you can get the time of day, let alone the loving affections of a single virgin, if your culture and attitudes right here on Earth are so far divorced from the aspirations of ordinary everyday women. Try making time with the women down here on planet Earth first, and see how far that "death to infidels and Crusaders" rhetoric gets you. Here's a hint: it takes a lot more effort and sensitivity than blowing up 50 people on their way to work. In the Islamist Disneyland that was Taliban-run Afghanistan, you had a hard time granting women basic dignities, like education, the freedom to choose their own wardrobe, and the freedom to move outside the house without the written permission of a male relative. Nobody, least of all a merciful and just God, is going to let you manhandle 72 virgins no matter how many kufrs get blown up first.
I have come to a sort of fatal acceptance that an attack in Toronto is not only likely but inevitable, and I am not going to stand around waiting for it to happen. In some small way blogging is important, but blogging doesn't take command and help coordinate evacuations when terror attacks take place. Blogging can't lead people out of darkened subway tunnels or treat the injured and comfort the broken-hearted [Ed. Well, maybe it can console.]. In a crisis, deeds speak louder than words -- and in the event of a London-style attack, our civil authorities are going to need all the cool heads, all the first aid, and all the assistance ordinary citizens can muster.

So I have decided to start contributing my time and efforts personally, even if my government is not yet ready to do so. Amazingly, there is hope even for middle aged I.T. jerks. The 709 (Toronto) Communication Regiment seems to have some roles that require I.T. and communications infrastructure knowledge. I'll have to start my own regimen of physical training to be sure I can easily pass the entry exams and BMQ (basic military qualification), especially the 5k run. I know, it's not the sexy pointy end of the spear like paratrooper or armoured crewman [Ed. Armoured crewman is sexy? Have you ever been inside a Leopard, Taylor?], but it's an area where I can make the best contribution given my age and experience.

Good on you, Chris. And you're right, of course: blogging is good, but action is undoubtedly better. I don't figure the Reserves would have much use for me, but surely there are volunteer organizations that would. Time to start making some inquiries.

Babble off.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Old Canadian military competencies don't die, they just fade away...

Babble on.

The Armorer at Castle Argghhh!!! has posted a tidbit on the Canadian Forces' attempt at restructuring, and as usual, he is being quite a gentleman about it. By that, I mean he expresses some polite enthusiasm for the effort, whether or not he actually agrees with the specific actions being taken. As a Red Ensigner, John has come to understand that the Canadians who actually read his site are already a little touchy about the problems plaguing the CF, and don't need any salt ground into their wounds.

John could have been much more critical, as the steps being taken to turn PPCLI troops into Strathconas aren't universally applauded, even within the CF. While I don't take the opinions of two Corporals as the Gospel-truth on matters of strategic restructuring, I can't dismiss them out of hand either. I'd be curious to hear from any serving or former Combat Arms soldiers, regardless of rank, as to how they feel about this process - in comments or e-mail, your call.

Unfortunately, the supposed "transformation" of our military hasn't yet even staunched the bleeding yet. Via my Chief Ottawa Correspondent, faithful readers of Babbling Brooks (who have now dwindled to a short-strength Pictionary team) will be interested to learn that private contractors will soon be providing basic weapons training to CF members. Yes, you read that right: civilians will be teaching soldiers how to shoot.

The successful applicants will have experience in heavy equipment and weapons. Among other things, they will train recruits how to fire the cannon on the army's LAV-III armoured vehicle.

Until now, the army has handled such combat training in-house.

It is wrong that our army has reached this nadir. It is wrong that we as Canadians have allowed it. And it would be wrong to trust that our Liberal oligarchy has the political will and discipline to fix the problems they themselves have either created or perpetuated throughout the last decade.

Since its release in April 2005, Canada's Defence Policy Statement (DPS) has been greeted with both enthusiasm and caution. The enthusiasm is warranted. Given the DPS' bold vision and a $13 billion increase in defence spending on the horizon, many in the defence community hope the Canadian Forces (CF) will become a stronger, more influential military. At the very least, Ottawa's promise of new money suggests that the CF is finally emerging from the decade of overstretch it endured following the end of the Cold War.

Yet the caution that met the DPS is justified, too. As Martin Shadwick notes, the volte-face is a Canadian defence policy staple. Defence spending commitments made by the current government could be diluted or reversed after the next election, especially if the balance of power in the House of Commons is held by the Bloc Québecois or New Democratic Party. Alternatively, an economic downturn might reduce projected federal surpluses, compelling Ottawa to cut spending or accept budget deficits. The federal government might be forced to choose between cutting promised social services or curtailing defence expenditures. Past experience indicates that defence would not prevail in such a trade-off, leaving the DPS' restructuring goals in limbo.

As Lagassé notes later in the article, even if the funding does come through as the Fiberals promised, it will almost certainly not amount to enough to complete the vision laid out in the DPS. And if the operational tempo remains at a higher-than-sustainable level, the CF will continue to bleed personnel - a huge problem for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Strangely enough, although the military seems to understand that hiring civilians with intimate knowledge of Canadian weapons systems means cannibalizing its own front-line and training units for experts, they're proceeding anyhow.

"This will be fairly new ground for us," said Lt.-Col. Steve Strachan, chief of staff at the Gagetown CTC.

He expects the winning contractors to be people who have left or are thinking of leaving the Armed Forces.

"We are anticipating a little risk that some of the people we have on staff now may opt to take their retirement and take some of these positions," Strachan acknowledged.

With stories like the ones highlighted here, it's hard to know if the CF is moving forwards, backwards, or standing still in the grand scheme of things. The only thing we know for sure is that we aren't out of the woods yet. Not even close.

Babble off.

Update: John has kindly linked to this post with an update to his own, and given me a gentle reminder of what he does to earn a paycheque these days:

And I should note, full disclosure, that the Armorer makes a living since his retirement doing things like, well, providing training to active military personnel, developing the tools to provide that training and now doing analytical work on myriad things about the Army of the future, which frees up the young healthy bucks to go do things like, um, OIF and OEF... and instead of a Major with 15 years of service under his belt doing it, you get someone with, um, (feh, this makes me feel old) 30 years of experience doing it... but cheaper than someone with equivalent length of service.

Fair enough. I responded in e-mail to him:

Just to be clear, I have no problem with civilians training military personnel in specific areas where the expertise lies outside the military, or where the training isn't military-specific. So, for example, letting civvies train soldiers on how to use PowerPoint isn't a big deal. Neither would having civvies train the trainers on a new weapon system (eg. the test pilots and engineers at Boeing and Lockheed Martin getting the military up to speed on the new F-22 they've bought).

I don't even have a problem with former active duty soldiers taking over instruction in areas where they've forgotten more about the topic than the young bucks will ever know.

But when you go about it the way our CF has - contracting basic flight training to a big civilian firm, recruiting civilian trainers from your own active ranks when retention is such a critical issue, using ex-servicemen to conduct general military-specific training on an existing system (like how to fire a turret gun) - you start to erode the ability of the military to sustain its own base of competency. Besides, if you deprive the young leader of training opportunities, you may eventually wind up with veteran contractors who have never had to teach before.

Think of it this way, John: who taught you? And how did you learn to teach? Do you think it would have inspired confidence in U.S. Army leadership to have had a civilian and/or retiree providing basic training on your main weapon?

Personally, I think having an active-service military trainer as the undisputed expert on things like that is important, if only because it sets an example for the trainee - a standard of competence through leadership.

At least pretend that you missed me

Babble on.

Well, I figure it's time to shake the cobwebs off and start posting again. I must admit, after having restricted myself to simply reading and adding the odd comment on other people's blogs over the past week, I'm not sure how much value I add to any particular discussion. There are a number of truly exceptional bloggers out there, and if I take an honest look at my own output, I don't think I'm of that calibre.

Having said that, there are some topics I feel need more attention - like Canadian defence matters - and some commonly discussed issues where I have opinions I just plain need to get off my chest. So I'm back at this, not really rejuvenated or reenergized, but with a more modest agenda, and a better understanding of what I can accomplish in this forum.

We'll see what exactly that means in the months to come. And yes, I'll spare you any further navel-gazing and post something else now.

Babble off.