Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Strike while the iron is hot

Babble on.

While some folks at NDHQ undeniably bear a strong resemblance to equine hindquarters, a report from the National Post's Chris Wattie stands as evidence some of them do in fact know their rear end from a hole in the ground.

The Canadian air force wants to spend $6-billion on a fleet of more than 50 new transport and search-and-rescue aircraft under a proposal to be presented to Cabinet this month, the National Post has learned.

Senior defence sources said the air force is putting the finishing touches on an "omnibus" plan to solve the looming crisis in its air transport system.

The plan would allow the Canadian Forces to buy badly needed replacements for its Hercules cargo planes, long overdue new search-and-rescue aircraft and a fleet of new heavy-lift helicopters in one fell swoop.

I suspect some of our senior uniformed officers have realized the promised increases in the Defence budget may well disappear in another Liberal minority - especially one propped up by the NDP - and have decided to spend the promise before it gets retracted. Smart manoeuvring, says I.

So what are they asking to buy?

The proposal now on the table would see the Department of National Defence buying between 15 and 20 of the latest model of Lockheed Martin's long-serving Hercules transport plane, the C-130J, to replace its fleet of model E Hercules, which are more than 40 years old.

It also includes 15 new fixed-wing search-and-rescue planes -- likely the Italian-made C-27J Spartan -- long overdue replacements for six CC-115 Buffalo aircraft now in service in British Columbia.

The air force also wants to buy 20 CH-47 Chinooks -- twin-rotor helicopters capable of carrying as many as 44 soldiers or more than 13 tonnes of cargo, vehicles or heavy weapons in overseas theatres such as Afghanistan.

The bill for the new aircraft and the necessary support and servicing contracts would come in at more than $6-billion, at least some of which will have to be new money allocated by Cabinet to the defence budget, the sources said.

The acquisition of the new planes would be spread over the next five to 10 years, but the air force has already said it needs to replace the Buffalos and the oldest of its Hercules planes by 2010 at the latest.

This is ambitious, but smart. Our existing fleet of 32 C-130E's is getting into Sea King territory as far as maintenance costs and headaches are concerned. But instead of putting forward a proposal to simply replace the current Hercs with more Hercs, the mandarins at DND have realized they can get better bang for the buck by splitting tactical airlift duties among different aircraft.

The C-130J "climbs faster and higher, flies farther at a higher cruise speed, and takes off and lands in a shorter distance" than earlier models. Hopefully, we can pick up some of the stretched C-130J-30 models - fifteen extra feet in length, they can carry more stuff, improving upon a well-known shortfall of this workhorse plane.

The C-27J would be primarily a SAR platform, but with roughly 80% of the capacity of the Hercules, it could double up if necessary on less demanding transport missions. One of the great attractions of this aircraft is the fact that it shares the same engines and propellers, the same avionics, and fully compatible cargo systems with the C-130. More interchangeability equals lower operating, maintenance and training costs, all other things being equal.

I'm probably most excited about the prospect of bringing the latest model of CH-47 Chinook back into the CF inventory. It seems obvious when you say it out loud, but heavy-lift helos can do things other aircraft simply can't. Like recover broken equipment in rough terrain. Like get troops in and out of difficult situations at longer ranges. Like transport needed supplies into remote areas without airstrips. In a country with as much inhospitable wilderness as Canada, these are useful capabilities.

Of course, as Wattie points out (and he's one of the few Canadian journalists who write credibly on military matters), this proposal leaves the question of strategic airlift unanswered. If it goes through, due to costs, I'd suspect the plan would put us one step closer to leasing heavy-lift instead of buying it. This will still pose a problem if we need a quick international deployment, but if we can get the JSS hulls built, and have Chinooks flying off them where required, our ability to move personnel and materiel will be substantially improved.

It will be most interesting to see the Liberal political response to this idea. Approving it will require they put their money where their mouth has been. Nixing or indefinitely putting it off will show their fine previous words to have been a lie. A nice fork this leaking source has caught the Martinis in, no?

Babble off.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Pretty soon I'm not going to recognize the place

Babble on.

As Andrew has pointed out, PolSpy has joined the swelling ranks of abandoned Canadian political blogs. At least Sean was kind enough to leave a goodbye post in way of explanation:

It was never supposed to be like this. Really.

PolSpy was originally conceived as an online database of quotations from Canada's political leaders. We would have been able to help you track how an individual's position had changed on certain issues over time. Except that a certain asshat never finished writing the code for the back end of the Web application.

In the middle of the project, PolSpy somehow turned into a blog offering political commentary, and everyone had great fun.

For a while.

At some point (when we had passed a couple thousand visitors per day), it started feeling like work and the burnout set in. Besides, how many original ways are there to point out through a song parody, or otherwise, that Paul Martin is an incompetent [Babbler: deleted - family blog]? How many jokes can you tell about Smilin' Jack Layton huffing too much canned compressed air? And if you think Stephen Harper is boring, just imagine how freakin' hard it is to come up with new jokes about him day after day.

Bah. Trudeaupia, Heart of the Matter, The Monger, Occam's Carbuncle, and now PolSpy - all gone.


Babble off.

Ex-Athlete Man!

Babble on.

Timmy's making up memes.

If you were a super hero, what would your name be, and what would your super power be?

This takes me back a few months. Litlbit and I are sitting in the darkened theatre, watching Mr. Incredible land for the first time on Nomanisan Island. He stretches, giving us a little too intimate a view of his belly, and then takes off into the forest at a trot. We then watch as his trot becomes more and more laboured, as he gasps for air, as he tries to make his body do what he remembers it used to. My wife snickers beside me, leans in and whispers "I recognize that - it's the Ex-Athlete Shuffle."

I laughed, because while that's cruel, it's also the truth.

Since the job of Mr. Incredible is already taken, and because I'm not as partial to Feckless Sidekick as I let on, I'll just have to go with [ringing announcer voice] Ex-Athlete Man!!! [/ringing announcer voice].

As far as my powers are concerned: I can run fast, but not nearly as fast as I used to, and waterborne evil-doers should beware of my devastating cannonball. I believe I can wheeze villians to death, but only after lunching on something especially garlicky. I can be defeated by throwing a ball in front me - I'll chase it until my face turns red and I drop. Oh, and I have a superheroic memory! Just ask me, and I'll regale you with stories of my past athleticism.

Now, who to tag? How about the entire Cirque du Blog crowd from Friday night? You're it!

Babble off.

Blogapalooza? Blogstravaganza? Blogstock on Queen?

Babble on.

Well, now that the main players have all chimed in with their version of events, let me tell you about what really happened on Friday night...

Actually, it's kind of like Vegas: what happens at The Belcher stays at The Belcher (generally in the form of stains on the carpet, but I digress).

I will say it was a pleasure getting together with The Regulars: Bob, Greg, Nicholas, Kathy, Brian, and yes, even Mike. It was also fun to finally speak face to face with Kateland_62, Tipper, VW, Girl On The Right, D&D, Ianism, and The Big V. Those in attendance better known for things other than blogging included Sam Goldstein, Paul Tuns, David Warren, and the very funny mustcontrolfistofdeath. She's welcome anywhere Boggle is played and alcohol is served.

And just to annoy those who weren't there, I'll hint at some inside jokes before I let this go: "nice rock Heather, but you could do better"; "diminished capacity!"; "you've shut it down anyhow, haven't you?"; "we assumed you weren't with us, since you're actually good looking"; "half an hour this time - that's got to be some sort of record"; "I keep waiting for 'BOOB' to come up"; "I don't need a book to tell me Jean Chretien was a dink"; "all you guys do is talk to each other"; "Red Dawn - tell Rick it has to be Red Dawn."

You want to know more? Come to the next one, since I'm sure we'll just be rehashing the stuff we talked about this time, boring right-wing nutjobs that we are.

Babble off.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Increasingly impressed

Babble on.

I'm a bit late with this story, but it arrived at an e-mail address I rarely check anymore. Thanks to JMH for passing it along.

The Ceremonial Guard (CG) welcomed two new recruits July 20.

Admittedly a little green, it had been years—a lot of years—since they had performed drill, nonetheless both beamed beneath their bearskin hats even in the beating sun.

Guardsmen Rick Hillier and Daniel Gilbert—known on any other day as the Chief of the Defence Staff and the CF Chief Warrant Officer respectively—paraded with the Old Guard one day later on Parliament Hill.

In fact, just moments before leaving Cartier Square Drill Hall for the Hill, General Hillier says he had chills down his spine. Describing the CG as a Canadian institution, encompassing teamwork, fitness, cohesion and leadership, he says it reflects superbly on the men and women in uniform. “To be part of it, if only for one day,” says Gen Hillier, “was phenomenal. I’m thrilled.”

Some folks see this sort of event as more of a gimmick than real leadership. I say if showing the troops you're willing to do what they do - even for only a day - is a gimmick, then I'm all for gimmicks.

When I worked for a credit union out west years ago, we used to have all the bigwigs from Head Office, including the CEO, take a day as tellers, and it was always well received.

Civilian or military, much of leadership is about making your people want to follow you, and hokey or not, exercises like this help. It's yet another positive sign that Rick Hillier is the right man for the job.

Babble off.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Apples & oranges

Babble on.

Colby Cosh is smarter than this:

...for all you hockey lovers out there who have been calling for Todd Bertuzzi to be thrown out of the league forever and put in prison. Is it a particular problem for you that the Ottawa Senators just gave $13 million to a guy who killed a teammate and got zero jail time for it?

Personally, I think both Dany Heatley and Todd Bertuzzi got off lightly - although with a civil suit pending in Bertuzzi's case, we'll have to wait to see just what all his punishment adds up to in the end. Unfortunately, I don't think Cosh thought this one through. Because it's pretty obvious why reactions to the two situations have been so very different.

The first reason is intent. Heatley didn't mean to kill Snyder. Bertuzzi meant to hurt Moore. Like it or not, people will forgive unintentional mistakes more quickly than they will intentional ones.

The second reason is where the incidents occurred. People called for Bertuzzi to be banned from hockey because what he did was in hockey-space, on the ice. Heatley's transgression was away from the game and unrelated to it, and game punishments are therefore inappropriate.

For me, the real question is why neither of these guys are in jail, while this poor idiot's career has gone poof because he'll be spending the best part of his playing years behind bars.

Oh, that's right: Mike Danton was never a star.

Babble off.

Rules for Gunfighting in War

Babble on.

Awhile back, I posted something about the Rules of Combat. In that same vein, I give you a sampling of the Rules for Gunfighting in War, with due props to Castle Argghhh!!!

1. Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns.

2. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.

4. If your shooting stance is good, you're probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.

9.5. Use a gun that works EVERY TIME. "All skill is in vain when an Angel pisses in the flintlock of your musket."

18. Watch their hands. Hands kill. (In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see them).

21. Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

24. Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun, the caliber of which does not start with a "4." (Babbler: more than ten years ago my old squadron-mate P'tit Luc Dandu owned a Desert Eagle mod'ed with a .50 caliber barrel - which he kindly let me fire at the range once. Unless you're built like Shaq Daddy, you're better off staying with something the caliber of which starts with a "4".)

...and my personal favourite...

20. The faster you finish the fight, the less shot you will get.

Truer words were never spoken. Go visit John's place to read the whole list.

Babble off.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Hawkish on new jets for the Snowbirds

Babble on.

It's high time the Snowbirds got new jets.

A Snowbird pilot managed to eject safely from his jet, just seconds before it crashed into a rural field in the northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

The Department of National Defence said Capt. Andy Mackay, Snowbird 8, was released from hospital after being treated for undisclosed injuries.

Maj. Ian McLean said he was told in a brief phone conversation with Mackay that the downed plane experienced a loss of engine thrust.

Experience has shown us that at some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in with older aircraft. I'm not the first person to suggest it, but the CT-155 Hawk appears to be perfectly suited as a replacement. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be a priority:

Even if the Snowbirds survive the budget cuts, they'll still be flying obsolete aircraft for the next several years. In December 2002, Col. Dave Burt, the officer in charge of buying new aircraft for the Canadian Forces, said he's in no hurry to replace the Tutors and said they'll be able to fly safely until 2020.

In 2003, a military study recommended replacing the Snowbirds' Tutor jets with the British Aerospace Hawk T1. The Canadian Forces currently uses the Hawk as its advanced training jet at CFB Moose Jaw. The Red Arrows, the British demonstration flying team, also use the Hawk.

Here's a suggestion for Bill Graham, gratis: start thinking creatively about ways to find the money for new planes. Make the case for sharing the capital costs of the Hawks through the Department of Canadian Heritage as a cultural icon, as an international Canadian symbol, and pitch it to Cabinet. The reality is that the Snowbirds provide far more value as a cultural symbol than they do as a military unit, and it's not unreasonable to expect they be funded accordingly.

Then slap some red and white paint on ten Hawks, and mothball the Tutors. The quicker, the better.

Babble off.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Pat Robertson's fatwa?

Babble on.

I've long thought that Pat Robertson is a Class A, no-qualifiers-required asswipe. His latest utterances have done nothing to change my opinion:

Robertson told viewers of his longtime show, "The 700 Club," on Monday that Chavez was turning his oil-rich South American country into "a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent."

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it," said Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition.

Now, I'm no fan of Hugo Chavez. I happen to believe he fudged last year's recall vote, and that he's generally bad news for both the people of Venezuela and the entire hemisphere of the Americas. But calling for his assasination by the United States is just plain wrong.

Of course, I'm not the only one who thinks Robertson needs to stifle himself. In a post entitled "American Taliban" Timmy the G shows he's equally unimpressed:

American Mullah Pat Robertson issues the fatwa against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez...Yes, that Muslim extremism is awful stuff. Christian extremism, however, is as American as...well...wingnut religious "leaders".

It's nice to know that Timmy and I can actually agree on a thing or two, despite our obvious and frequent differences. Where I part ways with him, however, is in his over-the-top invocation of the Taliban.

Yes, Robertson has some influence - that's why we're even talking about this. If it was just some nut on a street corner, it wouldn't be news. But he and other more extreme Christian elements in the U.S. are not stoning women to death. They're not committing state-sanctioned atrocities on a daily basis.

As someone who wants to see Robertson soundly thrashed in the court of public opinion, I cringe at the use of the Taliban as a point of comparison. I think it's a bad idea for a couple of reasons. First of all, by exaggerating the vileness of Robertson and his kind, you give doubters an excuse to dismiss your valid points about the danger he poses. Cry wolf every time you spot a rat and after awhile folks will stop listening to you. Secondly, by equating a fellow like Robertson with Mullah Omar and his band of theocratic thugs, you diminish the memory of the true horrors perpetrated by the Taliban. If Robertson's just a batty old crank, free to blather on like an idiot on the airwaves, and the Taliban was no worse than that, then what was all the fuss about? We should not trivialize mind-numbing brutality, lest we desensitize ourselves to it.

Robertson's brand of thinking deserves to be denounced. But if it's as serious an issue as Timmy asserts, then a more serious treatment is merited. Specious comparisons are counterproductive.

Babble off.

Update: Timmy's response is here, and it's a pretty good one. Apart from the fact that I don't fear the Christian extremists as much as he seems to, I have only one real quibble (which he has since corrected):

"Damian views Robertson as a "crank" with relatively little influence..."

I guess I should have been more clear. What I was trying to get at is this: while some of us understand that the Pat Robertsons of the world pose a real danger, most people don't. They think he's just some harmless crank with a TV show watched only by senile bigots in red states. Only by treating the topic seriously will we have a chance of convincing the average guy to be vigilant.

More on this topic here (ht:Right Ho).

CanConv is all over the story as you might expect, and many of the posts listed are worth reading. One I'd like to point out, however, falls a little short:

Democracy only matters when it’s friendly
and conversely, dictators are only bad if they’re hostile to your interests.

These basic principles of The Real Politik as we all know it, was confirmed again today when Pat Robertson, leader of the Christian Coalition of America said...

Hmm. Robertson stepped down as President of the CC in December 2001. Is it still fair to call him the group's 'leader'? Without clarification of his role in the organization, I think this is a little misleading.

And lastly, half-assed backtracking is just pathetic. If you spoke without thinking, make a full apology and retraction. If you didn't, then stand by your words. But this whole "I didn't say what you think I said" thing is a joke, since we can all go back and read the transcript.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record... What. An. Asswipe.

Oh, and one more thing: it is possible to excoriate Robertson without supporting a brutal thug like Chavez, and without seeing sinister CIA/DoD conspiracies. Just not if you're a lefty. They never learn.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Drenched, but smokin'

Babble on.

I like camping, really I do. But this last time, not so much. During this, we were sleeping in one of these (although ours is an earlier model - lacking the full rain fly), right about here. Using Pampers size 4 to mop up puddles caused by horizontal rain in the tent at oh-dark-thirty is less than fun.

Still, it allowed me to build one King-Kong-meets-Godzilla of a campfire to dry out the next morning, so some good came out of the whole fiasco. Just how wicked a fire, you ask? After multiple cleansings, my wife and kids still smelled of woodsmoke this morning when I kissed them on the way out the door. That wicked.

And speaking of woodsmoke, my mother, my siblings and I all chipped in to buy my dad a Weber 2820 Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker for his birthday. Which meant that after we wrung ourselves out and dispersed the animals who had been lining up two by two hoping we'd build a boat, we took a page out of Meat's book and smoked us some chickens. For those of you who haven't had the divine pleasure of tasting my dad's chicken, let me assure you it kicks some serious booty.

Silver linings, people. It's all about the silver linings.

My usual ramblings on politics, the military, and current affairs will will resume when I say so, and not a moment sooner.

Babble off.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Great Outdoors

Babble on.

I won't be sitting in front of a computer screen for the next few days, so behave yourselves while I'm gone.

Who am I kidding? Just try not to break anything, 'kay?

Babble off.

Mistakes of the correctable and permanent varieties

Babble on.

It seems the proprietor of flit has low expectations of me:

I look forward to the various expressions of anger now that initial reports [regarding the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes on a London subway], as they always were, proved wrong, from Ann Althouse, Glenn "suicide by cop" Reynolds, Damian Brooks, and others. I figure I'll be waiting a while.

BruceR obviously hasn't been reading me for very long if he belives me unwilling to admit my mistakes. When it proves necessary, I like to swallow my crow quickly to minimize the discomfort.

In this case, the mistake I need to admit is that I trusted initial reports. BruceR's may be that he's trusting a leaked document from an incomplete investigation. We'd both do better to wait until the final report to admit our mistakes.

But since BruceR has decided to throw down now, let's address his concerns. I think this is the key line from my own post:

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.

According to leaked documents from the investigation into the de Menzes shooting, my assessment doesn't look to be true:

The documents, including witness statements, also suggest Mr de Menezes did not hurdle the barrier at Stockwell tube station and was not wearing a padded jacket that could have concealed a bomb, as eyewitness reports previously suggested.
The latest documents suggest Mr de Menezes had walked into Stockwell Tube station, picked up a free newspaper, walked through ticket barriers, had started to run when he saw a train arriving and was sitting down in a train when he was shot.
Despite the eyewitness reports that Mr Menezes had worn a large winter-style coat, the leaked version suggested he had in fact worn a denim jacket.


But according to leaked documents from an independent police inquiry, Menezes was not challenged by police until he was already seated on the train. Menezes apparently walked calmly through the turnstile, picked up a free newspaper and only began running--along with other commuters--when his train had pulled into the station.

If the police didn't identify themselves before shooting, if de Menzes didn't run from their challenge, if his behaviour and dress weren't actually suspicious, then this is an inexcusably botched effort by British law enforcement.

As suggested by the New Statesman, the police aren't the only ones who made mistakes:

Another unsettling aspect of this affair, and one that is unlikely to fall fully within the remit of the IPCC, is the manner in which false information gained currency. No one with an interest in accountable, democratic government can be comfortable with what occurred. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, referred in a press conference to suspicions aroused by the clothing and behaviour of Jean Charles de Menezes. There seems to be no doubt that some of his subordinates then supplied journalists with considerably more information that tended to mitigate the shooting - much of it, it now seems, just as inaccurate.

We need to be told at some stage how this happened, who was responsible and what they have to say for themselves. Journalists and editors, too, should be asking themselves questions: if they had been more scrupulous about identifying their sources of information from the outset, would the public have swallowed so many falsehoods?

Not as pressing a concern, in my view, but a concern nonetheless, and a pertinent one in discussing my own error. Quite simply, I assumed that the initial reports contained more truth than they actually did. And notwithstanding BruceR's disbelief, I am in fact angry at being mislead.

As I mentioned in the opening sentences of my initial post about this incident, it seems to me there are two issues here:

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.

Procedurally, the Met seems to have fallen down. While suspecting the wrong person is an unavoidable part of police work, a lack of communication between the unarmed surveillance team and the armed officers assigned last-minute to apprehend de Menzes might well have been the key factor in his death:

The surveillance team were under strict instructions not to allow de Menezes to board a train and a rapid decision was made to arrest him using armed officers, a procedure known as a 'hard stop'. But because the officers in the surveillance team had no weapons, they had to change places with officers from SO19, the Metropolitan Police firearms unit.

By the time the armed officers arrived, De Menezes was already inside, using his Oyster card to enter the station and casually walking down the escalator towards the platform.

The officers who shot de Menzes also need to answer some difficult questions. What information did they receive from the surveillance team or whatever authority tasked them that led them to believe this suspect was dangerous enough to justify a killing shot? Did they follow their own procedures? If so, why was de Menzes tackled and restrained before being shot?

At this point, it seems that both the procedures in place and their implementation by the officers involved were faulty. If this turns out to be the case, both senior officers and those on the ground bear responsibility for this tragedy. There should be consequences commensurate with the seriousness of their misjudgements.

Having said all that, I stand by the rest of my piece. In certain situations, police should shoot to kill. A suspect wearing bulky clothing who runs from their challenge into a Tube station invites a poor assessment of his intentions. Tragically, Jean Charles de Menezes doesn't fit that description, and certainly didn't deserve to die.

Babble off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mountains, molehills, and the citizenship of the Queen's viceregal representative

Babble on.

I started to reply in comments to this post by Chris Selley on the whole Michaëlle Jean dual citizenship issue, but realized about two paragraphs in that I should really post my diatribe on my own site and not hijack Tart Cider.

Chris' argument seems to boil down to the idea that dual citizenship doesn't divide any loyalties, and besides, the idea that French and Canadian interests would diverge in a such a way that they would put Ms. Jean in a position to be disloyal to Canada is ludicrous. The second passport is simply a convenience to bolster her job prospects, as Chris sees it.

That's certainly one way of looking at it.

I don't have a problem with dual citizenship as a practical matter. While I believe the benefits of citizenship should come with an obligation of loyalty to the nation providing it, I understand that in everyday life there's no conflict of interest between being Canadian and being say, French. But I do think it should disqualify a person from certain public offices, because both the duties and the symbolism of those offices go far beyond everyday life.

Call me old-fashioned - and if that's the worst you can do, you need to get out more - but one of those positions is Governor General. I think the Canadian representative of our Head of State, the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian military should be solely Canadian. Solely.

Ms. Jean seems to be well-respected for both her work, and her volunteer efforts on behalf of women's shelters, and I have no reason to cast aspersions on her sincerity when she professes her willingness to discharge the duties of Governor General in exemplary fashion. In fact, I'd guess she will exceed the expectations of her critics in much the same way Adrienne Clarkson has (champagne socialist and overspending elitist that she is, Clarkson has also been the best Commander-in-Chief to our men and women in uniform in decades).

Nonetheless, it seems to me that Ms. Jean and her sponsors at the PMO don't quite understand that if push comes to shove, if the interests her two nations diverge, they will all have put her in a position where she will have to ignore her duty as a Canadian stateswoman, or ignore her duty as a French citizen. And yes, I understand the chances of this sort of a conflict arising are infinitessimal. So were the chances of her becoming Governor General in the first place. Never tell me the odds, Goldenrod. Ask Peter Milliken about the odds. Positions like Speaker and Governor General are lightning rods for legal and moral exceptions and anomalies, and the consequences of decisions taken by a constitutional nexus are not negligible.

To be blunt: if Ms. Jean feels no duty to France, then she has no business holding that citizenship. Of course, that's between her and France. But as a Canadian, I feel she should have a little more respect for the institution than that. Otherwise, how do we know what the Canadian oath meant to her? Citizenships should not be like a pair of shoes that happen to coordinate with tonight's outfit, to be lined up upon a shelf and chosen from at whim. At least, they shouldn't be if you wish to represent the monarch to whom new citizens swear their allegiance.

If Ms. Jean's French citizenship was obtained, as Chris suggests, only as a matter of convenience to enhance the job prospects of a multilingual journalist, then she should simply renounce it. It has become a hindrance to the faithful execution of her new duties. For a position so rife with symbolism and ceremony, one would expect a candidate who understood that even the appearance of divided loyalties is inappropriate.

Besides, this sets a tricky precedent. Chris suggested that the fact her second passport is French and not Australian, or British, or - gasp! - American is the sticking point for many right-of-centre critics, and he's probably right. But that line of thought cuts both ways: if French citizenship shouldn't be a big deal, should Russian? What about Brazilian, or Chinese, or Indian? Or Zimbabwean, or Indonesian, or Colombian? How about Kazakh, or Nepalese, or Sudanese? Is there a second nationality that would give us pause? And how would we justify that pause to our multicultural society? "Excuse me, but your dual citizenship isn't nearly as acceptable as hers. Greek citizenship is palatable in Canadian public office, Turkish is not. So sorry." Tell me how we could avoid the phrase 'second-class citizen' at that point.

At the end of the day, citizenship - Canadian, French, or Ethiopian for heaven's sake - either means something or it doesn't. Likewise, the office of Governor General either means something or it doesn't. To say that one can simultaneously be a French citizen and a Canadian Governor General denies the obligations of those institutions, and diminishes them both.

The position of Governor General symbolizes the Canadian state. While Ms. Jean acts in that capacity, we have the right to ask her to be exclusively Canadian.

Babble off.

Update: Apparently the French see the conflict of interest even if Ms. Jean and Paul Martin's oxymoronic brain-trust don't (ht:Greg Staples via VW):

Late Thursday, one well-placed source confided to Bourque that "the situation is untenable, how can a citizen of La Republique be the Monarch's representative of another country?"

How indeed?

Monday, August 15, 2005

The one good thing about a lifetime appointment

Babble on.

If you asked me to count the Canadian Senators I could identify, I'd run out of names before I ran out of fingers. Some might find it odd that the first person that jumps to mind when I think of our Upper House is a Liberal: Colin Kenny. It's because he doesn't really act like a Liberal: he doesn't fall into the caucus zombie-line with each and every PMO mistake-of-the-day, and in fact, he'll criticize his own party's government when he feels it's out of line; he speaks and writes publicly where many Senators are prone to live out their sinecure in affluence and indolence; and he focuses his efforts largely upon military matters, an area of good government most Liberals pointedly ignore.

In short, Senator Kenny is the one good example I can see of a lifetime appointment to the Upper House used to its greatest effect.

Today, yet again, our good Senator has challenged the Paul Martin placeholder administration to actually show some leadership, and explain why Canadian troops are in Afghanistan, what we're trying to accomplish, and how long we'll have to be there to achieve our goals.

Along the way, he floats some shaky ideas. Like "The Americans are notorious for storming in, winning bloody battles, and then failing to put forth the resources to sustain the peace." Really? Like where? The Marshall Plan in Europe, MacArthur in Japan, and a commitment to the Korean south that has guaranteed a fifty-year peace are all counter-examples. I'm curious where he can point to the Yanks storming in, winning a bloody battle, and then pulling out and letting things go to hell again.

Or "There is no doubt that Canada should play its part in attempting to suppress terrorism in particular, and global instability in general." I'm all for suppressing terrorism, but a little bit of instability might not be entirely bad for the world. Stable dictatorships aren't a good thing. In fact, there's an argument to be made that short-term instability now could be the best way towards long-term peace later.

But apart from these peripheral remarks, the thrust of Kenny's argument remains sound:

Being up front about why you're at war is called political leadership. It's what our soldiers and their families deserve, and it's what 32 million Canadians must have if they are to believe that this dangerous mission is being fought on their behalf and if they are going to cast aside their reservations about throwing their support behind it.

Unfortunately, most political observers have long ago given up on true leadership from the mob in power today. It seems a reasonable and civil debate on issues like Afghanistan really is too much to ask from the Martin Liberals.

Babble off.

Friday, August 12, 2005

We don't do cold

Babble on.

For our Liberal overlords, the Canadian North is a vast land that stirs the patriotic heart, a rugged expanse that taps into the core of each and every true Canadian's deep connection to our home and native land.

And that's it.

Actually being able to assert some sort of national sovereignty up there is obviously just plain silly. The North is just...scenery, a backdrop for urban Ontarians to stand in front of when they want to look outdoorsy. There's no need to do anything out there, is there?

I mean, why would anyone want to go way up North? It's cold! And not just walking-from-Parliament-Hill-to-The-Market-in-January cold, I mean no-Blackberry-service cold!

If the soldier-boys want to play with their awful guns in the snow, by all means, they're welcome to go as far away from civilized Canadians as possible. But don't expect any attention or money or support.

Overconfidence, inadequate training and out-dated equipment all contributed to difficulties experienced by the Canadian military during recent exercises in the High Arctic, according to an internal report.
But whiteout conditions delayed the arrival of troops for several days. Once the nine regular force members, dozen Canadian rangers and several Twin Otter pilots and crew members were on the ground, troops only had time to perform two of the four scheduled exercises, one patrol to Amund Ringnes Island and another to Meighan Island. The much-hyped air crash simulation never was performed.
Pilots and support staff from the 440 Squadron, which flies four Twin Otter aircraft based in Yellowknife, don't have the experience or training to be deployed in the field for any length of time, especially in the extreme conditions found in Isachsen, the report said.

"They're not used to operating in harsh conditions in the Arctic," said Col. Norman Couturier, who is commander for the Northern Area. "Typically we operate from airport to airport."
Communications trouble during the exercise also revealed the weakness of current technology used the by Canadian military in the High Arctic. This is partly because satellite phones become unreliable north of 70 degrees latitude, Couturier said. The military is currently looking into the feasibility of building a string of hi-frequency radio antennas across the North.

If the concept of national sovereignty meant anything at all in Canada, we'd be able to deploy a respectable land and/or naval force anywhere inside our borders, and support them indefinitely by air. We would at least be able to drop two dozen trained people into a relatively short northern exercise, and support their basic efforts for a reasonable period of time. We would at a bare minimum be able to maintain communications, and complete an unambitious training mission. As I've said previously, we should own Arctic ops.

But the truth of it is that our equipment, our training, and in particular, our national will is lacking. The only reason we hold title to so much of the North, quite frankly, is that nobody else has come to take it from us. Yet.

Babble off.

Will you be putting that scrap of fabric on your Sears card?

Babble on.

Boo met me on the front porch when I arrived home last night. As I climbed the steps, he spotted the local rag lying there - you know, the one that gets delivered for "free" as a "community service". Don't get me started.

Anyhow, it was three times the normal size, and standing there with a mischievous grin on his little mug, he asked me to hold the door open so he could throw the bundle past me into the front hall. "Flyers flying!" he yelled, eyes crinkling as he giggled at his own clever joke.

Later that night, after the kids were both in bed and Litbit and I were leafing through the various loss-leaders designed to lure us into Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Dominion, et al, I spotted this on sale at Sears. The blue fabric, not the woman.

Now, is it just me, or is this a little racy for plain old Sears? Not that I'm objecting, of course. I've just always thought Sears bloomers had to double as both butt-cover and schooner rigging. Since when do they carry anything you'd like to see your wife in? Or out of for that matter?

As it turns out, some...interesting...soul has actually researched the portrayal of women's undergarments in catalogs and advertising over the years. He has charts. I kid you not.

Although usually displayed in ideal circumstances with relatively ideal models, nonetheless, the portrayal of women's underwear for sale in store catalogs represents a type of realism. These publications were what real women read and used to make their choices about the clothing (and underwear) that they bought and wore. Also, these images and their portrayal represented a real person's idea of what was attractive, what would sell, what represented current style, and (I suspect) some level or standard of censorship on what was acceptable for the depiction of underwear to be advertised in a family context. In that regard, the manner of portrayal of women's underwear at a particular period may indicate how the "erotic aspects of women's underwear" were controlled! Much of what follows here will focus on this last point. Therefore, I consider this as a sociological monograph as well as an exploration of the originally proposed subject.

Whatever floats your boat, I guess - although graphing the advertising of bras and girdles and stockings and garters by type of garment over a sixty-year period - let alone publishing your findings on the web - seems like a bit of a creepy hobby if you ask me.

Anyhow, according to this guy, Sears stopped showing stockings and garters for about a twenty year period from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. Aha! Since the last time I seriously studied the women's lingerie section of a Sears catalog would have been in the early eighties, prior to the sexy skimpies renaissance, this puts my mind at ease. My confusion is suddenly understandable.

If you're shaking your head wondering at the trivialities that attract my interest, don't worry, my wife did too. At first. And she married me anyhow.

Babble off.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"the peril of taking tolerance literally"

Babble on.

This unexpected blogging hiatus has been brought to you by hot grease and second-degree burns to my better half this weekend. She's fine, although as you can imagine, this sort of an injury to a woman who takes care of two preschool children - not to mention a thirtysomething husband - tosses the family schedule like a salad for a few days. Pain management, avoiding infection, and potential scarring are our biggest worries at this point, and unlike me, Litlbit is being stoic. An extraordinary woman, my wife.

Those of you lucky enough to remain concerned with more mundane matters such as the worldwide threat of militant Islam will already have noted Irshad Manji's latest offering in the New York Times. In it, she wonders "what values are most worth defending" in Western societies, and finds that pillar of feel-good multiculturalism - tolerance - lacking.

As Westerners bow down before multiculturalism, we anesthetize ourselves into believing that anything goes. We see our readiness to accommodate as a strength - even a form of cultural superiority (though few will admit that). Radical Muslims, on the other hand, see our inclusive instincts as a form of corruption that makes us soft and rudderless. They believe the weak deserve to be vanquished.

Paradoxically, then, the more we accommodate to placate, the more their contempt for our "weakness" grows. And the ultimate paradox may be that in order to defend our diversity, we'll need to be less tolerant. Or, at the very least, more vigilant. And this vigilance demands more than new antiterror laws. It requires asking: What guiding values can most of us live with? Given the panoply of ideologies and faiths out there, what filter will distill almost everybody's right to free expression?

Manji's answer is "individuality": the idea that society as a whole benefits from each person's uniqueness. I'm not sure this differs much from "tolerance" unless we can define the limits of either of those concepts. I've always liked the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. line: "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Listen to whatever music you want, but don't play it at the volume of a jet engine inside a crowded bus. Get as kinky as you want with your chosen partner, but don't do it in front of the swingset at the local park. Pray to whichever God, on whichever terms you feel called to, but don't force me to do the same.

My own patience for unlimited, unreciprocated "tolerance" finally ran out in 1999 with the firebombing of the U.S. Consulate in Toronto over the NATO Kosovo air campaign. I feel a great pride that people from all over this planet want to live in my country of birth. I welcome all those who wish to trade their individual contributions for an opportunity to prosper in a mostly peaceful society. And I have no problem with immigrants maintaining some of their own cultural traditions in their adoptive home. But if one of those cultural traditions is throwing Molotov cocktails in the streets, my tolerance ends. Abruptly.

Setting limits on our societal tolerance is difficult in these politically-correct times and circumstances, but essential nonetheless. As Manji states:

Let's have that debate - without fear of being deemed self-haters or racists by those who twist multiculturalism into an orthodoxy. We know the dangers of taking Islam literally. By now we should understand the peril of taking tolerance literally.

Hear, hear.

Babble off.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Dumb name, great idea

Babble on.

And speaking of transit - am I turning into a one-trick pony here? Ah well, the drawbacks of free content and all that, folks.

My latest investigations into the crazy, upside-down world of not using a car to get to work have turned up this gem: Viva. I keep wanting to grow my sideburns and say Las Vegas after that, but so far I'm resisting, thanks so much for asking.

I tell ya, if I can shave time off my commute, AND save money, I don't mind being a slave to an every-ten-minutes bus and subway schedule. The Newmarket to Finch route passes about a kilometre from my house, and I can guarantee you I'll be checking it out come September. If it works as advertised, this will be a quantum leap forward in commuting from the 'burbs.

Babble off.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Showing that CPC competence isn't an oxymoron

Babble on.

Thanks to blogger and commenter VW for noticing that the CPC has published the details of their transit tax credit plan:

“We would institute a 16% federal tax credit for transit users that will put hard-earned dollars back in the pockets of Canadians, and at the same time help our environment,” said Harper. “A real incentive like this encourages more people to take public transit which, in turn, means fewer cars on the roads and cleaner air.”

An average commuter paying $80 per month for a transit pass will see savings of $153 annually, while users of more costly commuter services like Ontario’s GO Transit will save up to $485. Importantly, the tax credit will provide real support to hard working Canadian parents, who will be able to claim the transit costs of their dependent children as well.

Within the narrow confines of this initiative, I see only one glaring hole: employer deductions. If you'd really like to push public transit, provide an incentive for employers to provide free transit passes the way they provide free parking.

And this line of attack made me cringe:

• As public transit becomes more affordable through this tax credit, more people will begin to use transit systems, and this will result in greater revenues for Transit Authorities and the municipalities which operate them. In turn, this will help them to expand service, leading to even fewer vehicles on the road.

• So, not only are we making it more affordable for people to use public transit, but municipalities will benefit from the revenues from increased rider-ship as well. And then they can provide better services which will in turn generate more use.

Municipalities may benefit from increased public transit revenues, but public transit will - and should - remain a net expenditure on government books. That is to say, each fare a rider pays is subsidized by one government or another. And if there's a tangible societal benefit to bolstering public transit use as opposed to private vehicle use, then that subsidy should remain.

Increased ridership will undoubtedly reduce the amount of subsidy per rider, which may free up resources to improve service. But even if it has that effect, this is a bit of a sleight of hand, considering that it's all prompted by a government subsidy in the form of a consumer tax credit. Since this is a classic closed system, what are the expected effects on government coffers from reduced gas taxes, reduced sales taxes on new vehicles, and reduced business and income taxes from the automotive industry? I think this entire argument is a bit spotty.

Of course, I still think this is a good idea. Unless public transit has a real competitive advantage - either price, convenience, or a combination of both - it will remain an also-ran to those with a choice of transportation means. For example, I commute by car because, while public transit would cost somewhat less than what I pay to drive, it would add a good two and a half hours on to my weekly commute, and tie me to a train or bus schedule. It's simply not worth the trade-off at this point.

Either Conservative plan - federal or provincial - might change that for a 'choice' commuter like me.

I also like the way the CPC plan outlines Liberal weaknesses. Firstly, it points out that the ruling oligarchy nicked the gas tax idea from the Conservatives. Since the Conservatives would continue that policy to help municipalities fund things like public transit, it's a winner - but I'm glad the Conservatives are taking their credit here. Secondly, it slams the Liberal Kyoto 'plan':

The Liberals have dedicated money towards buying hot air credits from other countries – instead of dealing with pollution and other causes of smog here at home; they’ll simply pay other countries for the right to pollute in our country. Everybody knows that this is buying time instead of providing real solutions.

What a lovely summary of the Liberal chicanery on this issue.

Lastly, I'm pleased that the Conservatives have provided a helpful money-in-your-pocket calculator to drive their point home. This is Salesmanship 101: for each feature your product provides, you need to answer the question "So what?" for your client. "What's in it for me?" forms the basis of any transaction - from a driver looking at switching to public transit, to a voter looking at switching to the CPC.

All in all, this is a good plan, well communicated, and well-timed to attract a headline or two. I was beginning to worry they didn't have it in them.

Babble off.

Progressive enough for ya?

Babble on.

As it turns out, maybe the Lord High Mucketymucks at CPC Galactic Headquarters didn't get the idea of transit tax breaks from the Dippers after all. Maybe they got it from one of their provincial colleagues, sitting on the Opposition benches at Queen's Park.

The Bill amends the Income Tax Act to permit taxpayers to obtain a non-refundable income tax credit for expenses that they incur and pay for using public transit. If another person pays the expenses on behalf of the taxpayer, that other person is entitled to the tax credit.

I'm no legal beagle, but it seems to me this includes both an incentive for individual taxpayers, and one for employers, should they pay on behalf of the employee. It doesn't address any of the other issues I've raised: incentives for telecommuting, infrastructure funding to handle increased demand, or the questionable political effect of this one policy in isolation. Although, I admit upon reflection that the tax credit for existing transit users coming from the suburbs - those more likely to vote Conservative provincially and federally - might help bring some Harris voters back into the fold.

Here's the bigger problem, though: the bill is a private member's offering from the Opposition side of the legislature, and as such, it has a snowball's chance in hell of ever becoming law. Unless there's a groundswell of support...

Apropos of nothing at all, here's contact information for the Ontario Minister of Finance, Minister of Transportation, and Premier. In case you wanted to get something off your chest.

Babble off.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The last VC

Babble on.

Sgt "Smokey" Smith, Canada's last surviving winner of the Victoria Cross, has died at the age of 91 (ht:Smyth). He was a warrior:

"I don't take prisoners. Period," Smith said 60 years later. "I'm not paid to take prisoners. I'm paid to kill them.

"That's all there is to it."

While remarks like that tend to knot up the undergarments of some of our more historically illiterate Canadians, the warrior spirit remains alive and well in today's CF. Armies throughout history have known men like Smokey Smith. Poems have been written about these fellows:

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints:
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints

RIP, Smokey. And in your particular case, I'd guess RIP stands for Revel, Imbibe, and Party.

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, raise a glass of scotch, take a long pull on your stogie, and say your thanks for men like Sgt Smith.

Babble off.

"Nice transit policy, but you're still scary."

Babble on.

As a general rule, I prefer incentives over coercion in public policy initiatives. From that standpoint, the CPC transit policy about to be unveiled might have some points in its favour:

The Conservatives have moved into the fast lane on green transportation policy, promising to make bus and subway passes tax deductible if they form the next federal government.

Details of the proposal, aimed at attracting urban voters, are to revealed Thursday at the party's caucus meeting in Toronto.

I won't get into the never-ending debate over whether the tax code should be used to encourage specific behaviour, except to reiterate that I favour carrots over sticks for this sort of thing. I won't speculate about the effect of tax incentives on 'choice' versus 'captive' transit commuters, or give you my opinion on the optimal mix of employer deductions and employee deductions in transit tax policy. I won't get into the dangers of incenting a behaviour for which adequate infrastructure is lacking - although I will ask rhetorically how long those who switch to public transit because of a couple C-notes at tax time will remain on public transit if their commute is 50% longer or stinkier, or if they have to change their work schedule drastically because there are only three buses heading their way, and they can't afford to miss one. Just askin' is all. And I certainly won't get into the idea of tax breaks for companies who let their employees telecommute and thereby do more than anyone to reduce gridlock and smog.

Anyhow, I'm not going to get into all that because James Bow already has, and besides, I simply haven't got time. Do the reading yourself if you're interested, and form your own opinions.

I will say, however, that I don't think transit trumps gay marriage - to pick an issue out of thin air - in the minds of the urban voter. Surely by now you know that the Conservatives are a bunch of scary, narrowminded bigots who eat small immigrant families by the light of bonfires heaped with copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A transit policy doesn't change any of that. Just ask John Bennett of the Sierra Club, as quoted in the NP article cited above:

"It's a sign to lots of urban dwellers that the Conservatives are starting to think about things in broader terms than they usually do." (Babbler's italics)

Starting? Broader terms? Than usual?

Let me translate from PR-speak for you: "Wow, the Conservatives have stolen an NDP idea. While it doesn't change the fact that they're a scary bunch of homophobic, Bible-thumping, earth-raping, corporate puppets of the imperialist Amerikkan Bushitler military-industrial complex, engaged in a conspiracy to subjugate the world, we're going to applaud this initiative in public, because it gives us leverage to push the more palatable national parties' transit, environmental, and social-justice policies even further. Thanks for the big stick, Stephen."

I'm sorry, but the chances of a low-to-middle-income immigrant city-dweller, or a young female urbanite voting for Stephen Harper's Conservatives at election time are about the same as the chances of me taking Dalton McGuinty at his word on the campaign trail: not bloody likely. This policy may help open a few voters' minds, but it won't win a single vote on its own.

So while I believe that, apart from the strengths and weaknesses of this particular policy, acknowledging urban transit issues is a good small step into the world of the city-dwelling-voter, I think Conservatives do themselves a disservice if they mistake it for anything other than that. If we're taking small steps, we'll need a lot more of them to reach the Langevin Block.

Babble off.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Tarantino has a big mouth

Babble on.

Now that we've completed the Royal Commission On When To Hold The Next Blogger Bash, the Department of Social Drinking of the provisional Vast Right Wing Conspiracy world-domination government-in-waiting is pleased to announce...what? Whaddaya mean he already announced it?

Well, now that my bubble has been burst, my thunder has been stolen, my parade has been rained upon (Which raises the question: is there such a thing as a 'drama king'? Just asking.) you might as well know we're getting together on Friday August 26th, at the Bishop & Belcher. I'll be there pretty much right after work, although Mr. Big Mouth doesn't generally show until later. Luckily his better half makes up for his complete lack of social graces.

Oh, and Kate, no excuses this time!

Babble off.