Tuesday, May 31, 2005

While we're pointing fingers here...

Babble on.

The New York Times has highlighted the recruiting crunch currently being faced by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Predictably, it is blaming Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration for screwing up by the numbers:

Why this is happening is no mystery. Two years of hearing about too few troops on the ground, inadequate armor, extended tours of duty and accelerated rotations back into combat have taken their toll, discouraging potential enlistees and their parents. The citizen-soldiers of the Guard and Reserves have suddenly become full-time warriors. Nor has it helped that when abuse scandals have erupted, the Pentagon has seemed quicker to punish lower-ranking soldiers than top commanders and policy makers. This negative cycle now threatens to feed on itself. Fewer recruits will mean more stress on those now in uniform and more grim reports reaching hometowns across America.

The NYT editorial board makes some interesting assertions, tying the recruiting drought to troop level decisions in Iraq, and the failure of the Bush Administration to adequately prepare the American populace for the true costs of the war on terror.

While their arguments might have some merit, it's worthwhile remembering that Monday-morning quarterbacks always throw a perfect spiral, never get sacked, and never get intercepted. More troops might have gotten in each other's way, and provided a higher concentration of targets for the insurgents. The truth is that low-intensity warfare and garrison duty both wear on the professional soldier more than just about any other task. Likewise, asking a government to sell public policy to the electorate on the basis of a worst-case scenario just isn't going to happen. Even if the White House had offered a more grounded assessment of the duration and intensity of the Iraqi conflict, there's no guarantee this would have positively affected recruitment numbers - in fact, it's more likely that would have hampered recruiting efforts even earlier.

But let's get beyond the audacity of a handful of rumpled New York journalists telling the foremost military strategists in the world how they should have run the war. Even if these editorialists - whose experience of battle injuries seems to be limited to spraining a typing finger during a lunchtime squash game at a posh Manhatten club - even if they were 100% right on all other points, they've completely ignored the effect of their own reporting on the American public. If perception of military life is what entices prospects to sign up, can the foremost newspaper in the country honestly take absolutely zero responsiblity for shaping that perception?

Frank Schaeffer certainly doesn't think so:

As a military parent, why do I read the most positive stories about our troops in a sort of military-family samizdat e-mail underground network and not on Page One? And how many times does the same type of editorial about the same handful of abused prisoners have to be repeated before an inaccurate impression of our military is given?

Maybe reporters and editorial writers think that reporting too often on the many selfless acts our troops undertake will reflect well on an undeserving president who likes to grandstand with our troops in photo ops. But is the truth about the character of our military being accurately, or should I say proportionately, reported? Does the public, which has woefully little personal contact with our military, know that most men and women in our services are not torturers but people like them trying to do the best they can with compassion and honor? Does the public know that acts of kindness are routine and acts of abuse are rare?

The truth is that America is fighting a war on many fronts right now, and that that means hardship for the men and women in uniform. Nobody wants to sign up for hardship. But the other part of that truth is that U.S. Soldiers and Marines are performing their duties with honour, with courage, and with fierce tenacity. Recruits will sign up for that sort of a job.

The trick is to make sure they hear the other side of the story. In this, the American main-stream media mavens like those at the New York Times have failed in spectacular fashion. While they have quite rightly resised the urge to become unalloyed cheerleaders for the U.S. military and its political masters, they have resisted so strongly as to become lopsided in their portrayal of the war and the soldiers fighting it.

The NYT isn't solely responsible for the dearth of recruits for the U.S. armed services. But it isn't without blame either.

Babble off.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Another feather for Chretien's cap

Babble on.

It's days like today that I want to invent a time machine that will transport me back to 1993 so I can slap Jean Chretien and his star-chamber advisors silly.

The troublesome Sea King helicopter has apparently hit a new low.

In a high-seas operation earlier this year, the chopper aboard HMCS Ville de Quebec was available only about one day in every five because of frequent malfunctions. It's believed to be the worst-ever performance aboard a ship.
The military had to send one helicopter pilot back to Halifax early since there were virtually no training opportunities.

Asked whether he had ever seen such a poor performance in a Sea King, the man in charge of all Sea King maintenance said: "I can't say that I have."

Lt.-Col. Bruce Ploughman, commanding officer of 423 Squadron, said repair crews "had to deal with issues that I, quite frankly, have never encountered in my time at sea.

Just in case anyone is still interested in the Canadian Armed Forces, and why the Liberal Party of Canada shouldn't be allowed near it, I should recap the pointlessly long history of this fiasco: in 1993 Chretien cancelled a $4.8 billion contract for 43 helicopters to replace the aged Labradors and Sea Kings (SAR and shipborne helos, respectively), incurring a $478 million cancellation penalty and requiring the $71.5 million Sea King Life Extension Program (I have found another $50 million life extension project, but have no idea how many of these have been undertaken since 1993, nor at what cost); in 1998, Chretien signed a $790 million contract for 15 Cormorants, a version of the EH-101 cancelled by his government five years previously; in 2004, Sikorsky won a highly disputed bid to provide 28 shipborne helicopters, service and spare parts for a total cost of $5 billion.

In other words, it has cost the Canadian taxpayer at least $6.4 billion and a dozen years of sub-optimal operational capabilities to do what a $4.8 billion contract would have accomplished if the Liberals hadn't been willing to score cheap political points with it just to get their corrupt asses elected.

We won't even talk about the submarine purchase. I don't need any more Liberal lawyers suing me for pointing out the truth, thank you very much.

This isn't isolated to procurment either, folks.

The problem, according to all three commanders, is money. There's a $1.3 billion funding shortfall this year alone. The effect, they say is planes unable to fly, ships at dock and an army in danger of rusting out.

Gordon O'Connor, Conservative party defence critic, is also a retired general whose last job in the army was planning the forces' future.

"They're [the Liberals] going to have to decide which bases get closed, what equipment fleets are not operated anymore, what capabilities are dropped. They're not on a track to expand the armed forces no matter what you hear," said O'Connor.

How long am I going to have to sound like a broken record before someone changes the tune?

Babble off.

Standard Monarchist

Babble on.

I guess monarchists - not royal-watchers, unless you're looking for a punch in the mouth from one of them - are okay with being fashionably late. Well, so am I.

...Canadian business leaders have argued in the past that Victoria Day would be better placed if it coincided with America's Memorial Day, which occurs one week later. Just as The Monarchist says hooey on changing the name, we say hooey on changing the date. Hey, while we're at it, why don't we change our July 1st holiday to coincide with America's July 4th; that way we might better coordinate trading activity on the North American market. They're all for history it seems, just so long as it doesn't prove too bloody inconvenient, and get in the way of economic continental integration. The Monarchist is all for business, free trade and profit, but we are also for heeding history and paying a little respect to our forefathers who crafted a society so that we might profit in the first place. Victoria Day should not be compromised, period. (Babbler's emphasis)

Well said. Read the entire Red Ensign Standard here.

Babble off.

Welcome back, Chris

Babble on.

Well, well - look what the cat dragged in. One of the Brotherhood of Bald Bloggers is back in business. And about time, if you ask me.

Babble off.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Don't have them if you won't raise them

Babble on.

I'm not a big fan of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, but this post's title was swiped from one of her books, and I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. Not everyone does:

A child care plan, for example, might have the aim of enabling parents to find and afford child care, allowing said parents to work, earn money, and participate in the national blood sport we call the economy. Child care is expensive, and can be difficult to find and to work around. The hard, pointy reality is that the difficulty and expense create a threshold below which it's simply easier to stay home and take care of the kids yourself. Raising that threshold is a worthwhile aim.

Of course, Skippy the Wondermutt is talking about childcare in Canada. In a single paragraph, he's summarized exactly what is wrong with the Liberal plan enthusiastically supported by this country's left.

A childcare program shouldn't aim to get people out of their parental duties and back into the 'workforce', it should aim to give parents the tools they need to best raise their children. For many, the best way to raise their children is to do it themselves - a perspective completely ignored by Skippy and his comrades.

The idea that the aim of a childcare strategy should be to make it easier for parents to distance themselves from the raising of their children is backward. We need more children reared by loving full-time parents, not less.

Babble off.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

More geekerrific Star Wars stuff

Babble on.

Well, it seems I'm not the only one whose lifelong affection for the Star Wars story has allowed me to applaud the best and ignore the rest of the latest installment (ht:GMS):

Just came home from seeing it. I'm not ready to parse it apart yet, or look for flaws, or search for inconsistencies. Not ready. I'm sure they are there, but I just am not ready right now. I have to say I thought the movie was spectacular. And strangely moving. It's certainly the most unremittingly dark of the movies. I wonder how much of my emotional response has to do with the fact that I have had a relationship with this movie-series for the majority of life. I was 10 years old in 1977. Star Wars is one of the first movies I remember seeing in the movie theatre. You know? The whole thing is like an evocation of my childhood - so I'm not sure what's what. And you know what? It just DOESN'T MATTER.

To those oh-so-sophisticated friends of mine who have decided to hold a pillow firmly over the face of their inner child by dissecting Revenge of the Sith flaw by flaw, please accept this heartfelt - and splatteringly wet - Bronx cheer. I hope it hits you right in your upturned nose.


It's probably a much worse movie than I can admit, but it's undoubtedly a much better movie than you're willing to say. And you know what? I don't care if I'm looking at it through rose-coloured glasses. Movies for me are about feel, and this one felt right.

Babble off.

Political Amnesty

Babble on.

Last night on CBC radio, I heard a clip of some Amnesty International twit calling Guantanamo Bay the "gulag of our time." I made a mental note to blog about what a completely ludicrous statement that was, about how far AI has fallen, yadda, yadda. Fortunately for all of you, a much better writer beat me to it:

The sheer ignorance of that statement is astounding. How many people are being held at Guantanamo? Between 500 and 600. Read the full AI report. Try to ignore the hysterical tone. Compare what is going on in Guantanamo to what happened in the Soviet gulag (I can only assume that is the gulag to which Khan is referring): more than twenty million people were condemned to spend time in the gulag; more than four million died there. Four million. Even if the US had slaughtered every single person who ever passed through the gates of Gitmo, the number wouldn't approach one thousand.

If you read the whole piece, as I would strongly encourage you to, Bob makes mention of his general respect for Amnesty International and its mission. I used to share that respect. I remember being deeply affected in high-school learning of the brutality of the Pinochet regime in Chile through Amnesty International. Exposing that sort of systematic, ongoing, unrepentant abuse is an extremely important task, one at which AI excelled.

That's what makes AI Secretary General Khan's statement so irresponsible. When a trusted organization engages in such obvious hyperbole about such a critically serious subject, it does immeasurable damage to its own credibility. In the case of Amnesty, that loss of credibility eventually hurts the political prisoners and victims of real torture they try to protect. Calling Gitmo the "gulag of our time" cheapens the much greater suffering of state victims in North Korea, to pick one example. How is Amnesty supposed to describe those concentration camps at this point? The "double gulags of our time?" By using this terminology, Amnesty has put an equals sign between groups of prisoners whose situations are wildly different. I believe that can only lessen our sympathy for those whose plight is the most dire.

I find it disgraceful that an organization devoted to alleviating human suffering should dilute our sympathy for true victims through such blind partisanship and incompetence.

I'm not suggesting that Amnesty International ignore the extrajudicial situation in Guantanamo - far from it. Point out loud and long and clear that the U.S. can't have it both ways: the prisoners are either POW's, in which case military protocols apply, or they aren't, in which case civilian ones should. This legal pergatory at Gitmo should shame a country built on the rule of law. But the failure to place this particular American disgrace in its proper context set against state-sanctioned mutilation, mass executions, and the extermination of entire families to stifle dissent is exactly what drives committed, principled liberals from the modern left.

As long as they allow politics, rather than suffering to drive their agenda, they will have forfeited my support. What a crying shame.

Babble off.

Update: It turns out Tarantino isn't the only fine fellow who can write more eloquently on this topic than I can. Read this WaPo editorial, and thank Damian Penny for pointing it out to me:

It's always sad when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings and joins in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse. It's particularly sad when the institution is Amnesty International, which for more than 40 years has been a tough, single-minded defender of political prisoners around the world and a scourge of left- and right-wing dictators alike. True, Amnesty continues to keep track of the world's political prisoners, as it has always done, and its reports remain a vital source of human rights information. But lately the organization has tended to save its most vitriolic condemnations not for the world's dictators but for the United States.
Turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for Bush-bashing or America-bashing undermines Amnesty's legitimate criticisms of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations of prison systems in closed societies. It also gives the administration another excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as "hysterical."

I'll say it again: what a crying shame.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Points of disinterest

Babble on.

My interest in the following topics isn't quite enough to overcome the inertia of my laziness, hence you get a bunch of links in one awkward post. When you start paying for content, feel free to complain.

  • I don't know nearly enough about the Poundmaker First Nation controversy, but Darcey at Dust My Broom is taking the lead, along with Ian Scott at Ianism. What I do know is that First Nations governance is a serious issue, that burning down a band office to prevent documents from reaching an RCMP investigation is highly suspicious, and that peaceful resistance to oppression is taking the moral high-road. In short, I know which group I choose to believe, and why.

  • Most of my friends and relatives have asked how I feel about the Liberals surviving the latest Commons vote and maintaining their grip on power. I think they've expected me to rant about Adscam and theft of taxpayer dollars, or to rant about the infidelity of our new Minister of Complex Files. Every single one of them has been surprised when I say my biggest concern at this point isn't the graft - every government has it to some degree or another, although the Liberals have refined it into an art form - it's the erosion of the traditions that underpin our parliamentary democracy. You boil a live frog by turning up the temperature of the water slowly, degree by degree (ht:sda). Unlike some of my compatriots, I don't believe Canada can yet be reasonably compared to a banana republic, but we are undeniably inching in that direction overall, and it worries me.

  • If Treehugger can get his lazy-assed act together *mischievous grin*, we may have a blogger beer-up to attend. This wouldn't replace our VRWC Toronto Chapter meetings, as organized by Tarantino, but instead would combine mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging right-wing wack-jobs like me with weak-kneed, latte-sipping left-wing moonbats in a social situation. With adult beverages. If that sounds like fun to you, go heckle Treehugger in the comments to this post.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled life. Move along, people, nothing to see here.

Babble off.

Update: And another thing...

True, it took a while to see what was right before my eyes. A certain misplaced loyalty kept me from grasping that a view of individuals as morally capable of and responsible for making the principle decisions that shape their lives is decisively at odds with the contemporary left's entrance-level view of people as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces, hence political wards who require the continuous shepherding of caretaker elites.

The rest of this reformed liberal's epiphany is equally clear-minded and worth reading (with props to Paul Denton).

Paired ideology? We should be so lucky.

Babble on.

As I was obsessively checking my Technorati profile yesterday, I noticed a french-language blog called La sphère des idées J.H. had linked to mine - through the Blogging Tories no less. How very, very cool.

Since my days at RMC, where I worked diligently to become functionally bilingual, I have lost the vast majority of my french. Still, unless I've totally misunderstood him, J.H. makes an interesting connection between Quebec sovereigntists and sixties socialists:

En lisant des souverainistes sur des forums, on a l’impression que si le prochain tombait encore, ce serait alors la fin du monde. On peut voir une telle fatalité dans leurs paroles qu’on voit quasiment un message de détresse suicidaire, c’est très malheureux d’être ainsi prisonnier d’un symbole, d’un drapeau, d’une nation.
On a l’impression en écoutant les Loco Locass, les Cowboys Fringants, les Zappartisites, Paul Piché et tous les autres artistes souverainistes (et péquistes) que la souveraineté du Québec, c’est un État qui serait plus interventionniste – pour régler tous les problèmes sociaux, à savoir de premiers chefs : la pauvreté et la dégradation de l’environnement. C’est la mentalité des années 60, croire à un État-providence qui veille à tous les maux.
Veut-on d’un État encore plus interventionniste?

He hints at a most interesting question: if the separatists are almost uniformly for a more interventionist state, and if heavily interventionist states are becoming increasingly discredited as unwieldy and ineffective, then are separatists fighting against a worldwide political tide on more than one front? And if the younger separatists choose to abandon their socialist fantasies of a huge machinery of state, how can they successfully reconcile that shift with their perceived need to defend Quebec language and culture from the rampaging anglophone hordes surrounding their besieged bastion of sanity and civilization? He seems to feel they somehow know this will be their last kick at the can.

If the Quebec separatist movement is inextricably tied to the worldwide socialist movement, it makes me feel a whole hell of a lot better about the prospects for Canada in the long run. Because with an anchor like socialism around its neck, separatism isn't going anywhere.

Babble off.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Liberals asked the wrong man

Babble on.

I'm with MGen (R) MacKenzie on this one (ht:H&W):

To suggest, as Mr. Dallaire has done, that the African Union's modest and ill-equipped force can successfully operate in an area the size of France and bring deadly force to bear to stop the killing in Darfur -- and that a few unarmed Canadian observers and advisers will make them even more effective -- is naive in the extreme.

And before I hear any of the knee-jerk cries of political bias from those who know his politics lean to the right, I'd suggest you read about MacKenzie's vigourous support of an NDP candidate vilified by his own party and the press.

The Liberal plan for Sudan is a complete sham, and while I respect the depth of Senator Dallaire's sacrifice in service to his country and don't wish to disparage the man, I don't know how he can lend this ill-conceived farce the credibility of his name.

Babble off.

Repetitively redundant

Babble on.

I freely admit I don't have a good grasp on what the average voter is thinking when it comes to politics. If I was an average voter, I wouldn't stay moderately well-informed about current events, I wouldn't be a member of a political party, and I certainly wouldn't blog.

For reasons ranging from Francois Beaudoin to the Upholder sub purchase – without even touching on Adscam – I think the Liberals should be hounded from office in such a way as to make them wish for Kim Campbell's fate. The fact that the Grits still have the vote of nearly a third of Canadian adults quite literally boggles my mind.

So when it comes to political strategy designed to win the hearts and minds of the average voter, I’m not much of a guide.

I seriously doubt that professional pundits, including those currently wandering the halls of academia, have any firmer a grasp on the mood of the electorate. At least bloggers have the advantage of a real job to keep them honest and grounded. Still, I found it interesting to see a fellow like Chris Waddell echo much of the blogosphere this past week:

For the Conservatives, it isn't good enough just to oppose the government. An opposition needs policies, too. What are the policies that are going to help the Conservatives win the seats the party must take in suburban Ontario if it hopes to win the next election?

Stephen Harper needs to showcase his MPs elected last year, talking in detail about their party's policies, not just screaming about scandals, if he hopes to persuade Canadians he leads a government in waiting, not just an opposition.

This isn't anything you haven't seen from Andrew, or Bob, or Alan, or Greg, or Taylor, or a host of other intelligent bloggers. But maybe if the All-Knowing, All-Seeing Main Stream Media&trade starts saying it, the mandarins pulling Stephen Harper's strings will get the message.

Then again, maybe they won’t (ht:Andrew):

"The difficulty with laying out our platform right now is the Liberals have demonstrated they are prepared to steal everything," Peter Van Loan, the Conservative MP for York-Simcoe in Central Ontario, said yesterday.

"Obviously, if we laid it out right now, I have no doubt it would be stolen within hours. And for that reason, to a large extent, the platform elements of a positive message will be seen most obviously during an election."

It seems the only people more out of touch with voters than journalists and bloggers are politicians and the Svengalis who advise them.

I know this will seem blasphemous to some, but if the Liberals were to steal and implement all our Conservative ideas, wouldn’t that be a good thing? I mean, for everyone not angling for some sweet sinecure in a Conservative government?

I don't believe Joe and Jane Canuck trust Harper and the Conservatives. Unless Harper gets a personality transfusion sometime before the election, he's not going to earn their trust through his folksy, down-home demeanour. The only way voters will learn to trust him is if they hear him consistently laying out a solid vision for the country and defending it against all challenges. And if he waits for an election campaign he simply won't have time to establish that credibility through consistency.

In the meantime, the longer they stay solely negative, the longer the Conservatives cement their current image in the minds of the voting public. In case any of the Conservative brain-trust is reading, I'll remind you that the current image isn't a winning one.

I'm beginning to believe we're going to have to get extremely lucky to win the next election. I hope I'm wrong.

Babble off.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Oh, about the vote...

Babble on.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

As I predicted, our precious planet continues to rotate on its axis, and thus I witnessed a breathtaking sunrise this morning. In fact, it continues to shine down on the dirty concrete of Toronto outside my office window even now.

Time to start talking policy and vision, folks. Time to get some competent tacticians advising the committed policy wonk we've elected as party leader. Time to win the next one.

Pitter-patter, let's get at 'er.

Babble off.

Update: And in case any of you were wondering who penned the best line on this whole sordid incident that culminated in a farcical Mulligan for the oligarchs yesterday, it was Debbye:

CTV puts a curious spin on it:
Prime Minister Paul Martin put his 11-month-old Liberal minority government to the test today, and passed.

Huh. I guess they see the vote as the test, whereas I see the events and manipulations leading up to the vote as the test. (Babbler's italics)

That sums it up quite neatly, I think. I wish I'd written that one myself.

Revenge of the Sith: Spoiler Alert!

Babble on.

If you're one of those folks like my brother K-Jan who doesn't want to see a single shred of information on the latest, and maybe last of the Star Wars double-trilogy, then don't read any further. I'm not going to reveal anything you couldn't find a million other places online, but I'm not going to tiptoe around the details either. Fair warning, right?

Driving home from the theatre late yesterday afternoon, I tried to figure out what I was going to say about the movie, but I never did get it straight in my head. I'm still not sure what I'm going to say, so I'm just going to start typing, and see what comes. (It's not like you're paying for this content, so pipe down.)

First of all, I'm not going to make fun of the movie. Star Wars is what it is. If you go into it looking for world-class acting, or snappy dialogue, you're setting yourself up for a disappointment. It's high-tech fantasy, science fiction in its purest form. Having said that, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, and yes, even Hayden Christensen did a remarkably good job with typically awful Lucas dialogue. In fact, my hat is off to McGregor - I watched A New Hope with my son last night after getting back from Episode III, and he is Obi-Wan, as much as Alec Guiness ever was. It's uncanny the continuity in that character between the two series, and I give McGregor full credit for that.

Second of all, I'm not going to try to place the series in some sort of grand cultural context. Enough other people are doing that, or picking it apart from a literary point of view, or trying to put it into some sort of film-historical perspective.

Instead, I'm going to tell you what I liked, and what I didn't. More than that, I'm going to relate a little of how the movie made me feel, because in the end, that's why I watch movies - for the feelings they invoke in me.

The opening scene, a rescue of Chancellor Palpatine by Kenobi and Skywalker, was brilliant. Fantastic flight battle sequence, followed by a thrilling they-did-not-just-do-that tandem lightsaber-wielding fight through the innards of an enemy battleship to where Palpatine is 'held', and then the duel where Dooku is defeated and killed. Not to mention R2-D2 kicking some battle-droid can all on his own. This is among the best action sequences in the entire series, and it had the whole theatre oohing and aahhing.

Then the mushy stuff between Anakin and Padme - she's pregnant, but everyone's still in the dark about their relationship. To be honest, I always cringed at how central the love story was to Episode II, and this didn't make me any happier. Of course, while I'll freely admit it could have been done better - dialogue and characterization, again, are Lucas' Achilles heel - I also have to admit the love story was absolutely required for this movie to be believable. More on that as we go along.

Palpatine wants Anakin on the Jedi Council, and they reluctantly agree, but refuse to grant him the title of Master, which he takes as a slap in the face. Then they ask him to spy on the Chancellor, which runs against the Jedi code, and opens the door for him to split his loyalties with more than just immature petulance as a justification.

Anakin has also been getting visions of Padme dying during childbirth. After what he went through with the visions about his mother, this terrifies him, and he's determined not to have his visions come true once again. Palpatine starts telling him stories - "Sith legends" the Jedi would understandably prefer to ignore - about abilities apparently available to those willing to study both sides of the force in balance. Abilities like saving the lives of those you love: hook set. Anakin figures out Palpatine's the Sith Lord, and tells Mace Windu.

I have to tell you, Windu comes across through the first three movies as a blind fool. He constantly craps from a great height upon Anakin, with no regard at all to his feelings, and when he orders Anakin to wait by himself in the Council chamber while he and three other Jedi go to arrest Palpatine, it just leaves you shaking your head. What an idiot: don't even try to understand what motivates your subordinates, or what scares them - just expect them to blindly obey.

Good call, Mace *mocking thumbs up*. After Anakin cuts your sword arm off and Palpatine lightnings your sorry, obtuse ass out the skyscraper window to splat your crispy corpse on some flat surface below, I gotta wonder how that's working out for you. Lesson? Open your eyes, die a little less.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. Palpatine kills the other Jedi quickly with surprise, then Windu manages to disarm him. Finger-lightning ensues, but gets reflected back on to the Chancellor, disfiguring his face. When Anakin arrives, scared senseless that the ability to save Padme's life will be lost if the Sith Lord is killed in the battle, Palpatine plays up how helpless he is at Mace's hands. Windu has changed his mind about arresting Palpatine, deciding he's too powerful to be let live. As he strikes to kill, Anakin snaps. Once that step has been taken, Anakin can't really go back.

I was wondering how Lucas was going to handle Anakin's turn to the Dark Side, and this turn of events was more believable than I'd expected. He makes a classic Deal With The Devil: Padme's life for his fealty and the lives of the other Jedi. It's consistent, and it's a conscious choice - the wrong one, but a choice nonetheless. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the fact that Lucas tells us the circumstances that put Anakin in this situation - the death of his mother, the pressure of being the Chosen One, always striving to live up to expectations and always falling short, having to hide his relationship, etc - but reminds us that each of us that despite our circumstances, evil is always a choice. Good stuff, that.

The one scene in the movie I had trouble watching comes right after that: Anakin goes into the Jedi temple with a bunch of clone troopers, and kills everyone there. Including the little ones. I saw a young blond boy actor pretending to be a padawan, and it was like seeing my son - trusting and about to get ruthlessly massacred along with his classmates. Don't worry, it's not graphic, but if you have strong momma-bear or papa-bear tendencies as I do, it's a difficult scene. Again, this is only believable if it's in the context of Anakin paying a price for Padme's life.

Jedi away from the temple, leading troops in battle, get cut down by their own men. The only two to survive are Yoda - two clone heads, one sweep of the lightsabre! - and Obi-Wan. Oh, I've forgotten to highlight Obi-Wan's battle with a four-sabre-wielding cyborg named General Grievous (creative naming your villians Grievous, Tyrannus, Sidious, and Vader, eh?). They show that while Obi-Wan's key strength is his ability to strategize, when he needs to, he can be audacious. After defeating Grievous, clones try to kill Obi-Wan, but he escapes.

Palpatine sends Skywalker (newly renamed Darth Vader) to a lava-world where the separatists formerly led by Dooku and Grievous are hiding to kill them. No need for a separatist movement now that Palpatine has eliminated the Jedi and consolidated his hold over the Senate, declaring himself Emperor. Anakin goes through them like a hot knife through butter. He very obviously hates himself for doing it, but if it's the price he has to pay, he will. Watching the character let go of what emotional restraint he's had, watching his passion feed his power with the Dark Side, is downright spooky. Hayden Christensen is at his most convincing when his character is at his most mercurial - emotionally frayed and unbalanced seem to play to the actor's strenghts.

Yoda decides to go after Sidious, and sends Obi-Wan after Anakin. There's a cool fight scene between the two heavy-weights, that ends up set against the Colliseum-like backdrop of the Senate chamber. Yoda has to bail out, with the help of Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa.

Obi-Wan stows away aboard Padme's ship as she goes to confront Anakin. You see some good acting though some cheesy lines by Natalie Portman - the way her face cracks when she realizes Anakin has completely turned is compelling. Anakin sees Obi-Wan, thinks Padme has betrayed him, and chokes her in his now-unbridled rage.

Then the sabre-duel between Vader and Kenobi. Egad. As in holy frickin' crap. I happen to own the DVD set of Episodes IV-VI, and it includes a Special Features disc that has a profile of the lightsabre through both halves of the series, and a preview of Episode III. You see Christesen and McGregor practicing with sticks in sweats, overlayed by Lucas saying they'd practice for hours at a time, almost in a trance for this final battle. Watching the final version, all I can say is that all that practice sure paid off. In the story, the characters have been paired with each other for decades - most of both of their lives. They know each other's moves and style, strengths and weaknesses intimately. It's fantastically quick, often at extremely close quarters, and it's thrilling to watch.

In the end, Obi-Wan wins not because of any superior skill, but because he makes a strategic move to higher ground, and Anakin ignores his warning and lets his emotions spur him into a disastrous attack. By disastrous, I mean Anakin ends up without a single limb intact, then catches fire and burns on the edge of a river of lava, while Obi-Wan leaves him to die. Unlike the scene in the Jedi temple, this one is extremely graphic. You see Anakin's leg stumps start to burn, and then watch the fire consume his entire body as he uses his prosthetic hand to try to claw his way up a slope. By the time the Emperor reaches him, he's pretty much a lump of tattered, screaming flesh, and you see it all.

Which reminds me, in case I haven't mentioned it yet: this movie is most definitely not for kids. Really and truly, people. I'd let a kid watch Lord of the Rings before I let him watch Revenge of the Sith. Both emotionally and visually, this is an adult movie. Period. End of lecture.

Back to the flick: Padme goes into labour induced by the trauma of getting choked by Anakin. She dies because she's lost the will to live. If you think about this, it's...tragic, ironic? I'm not sure of the correct term, but here's how it works out: Anakin goes over to the Dark Side because he has forseen Padme's death and wants to prevent it, but if he hadn't gone over to the Dark Side, he wouldn't have caused Padme's death. Nice twist, eh? After getting the black suit and helmet put on him, he freaks out when he finds out, but by then it's too late.

The only thing left is for baby Leia to go to Alderaan, and Luke to go to Tatooine. Oh, and for Yoda to tell Obi-Wan that the spirit of Qui-Gon is going to teach him how to live on in death. It was good of Lucas to tie up that loose end from the original movies.

The one point that's not addressed explicitly in the film is the prophecy of the Chosen One that predicts Anakin will defeat the Sith and bring balance back to the Force. At the end of their epic duel, Obi-Wan even bemoans Anakin's betrayal, not just of himself and the Jedi, but of the prophecy. The thing is, Anakin eventually ends up fulfilling it in Return of the Jedi: he kills the Emperor, and dies in the attempt, taking the last of the Sith knowledge with him. Cool, albeit in a roundabout sort of way.

As well, the way Anakin is turned in Episode III makes his final act in Episode VI more plausible. He has known for decades now that he made the wrong choice going to the Dark Side and losing Padme and all that he held dear, but with nothing left to lose, it's too difficult to break free of the Emperor's shackles. Then Luke comes along, and when presented with the same choice, does the right thing. Anakin sees in his son a nobler version of himself, and if he lets the Emperor kill Luke, he will have compounded his original mistake. Once you've seen the rest of the straws heaped upon that camel's back, the last one assumes a more appropriate weight. Otherwise, why fight back now? Fatherly love? He was just battling Luke to the death a few seconds ago! No, this just makes more sense - twenty years after the fact.

When I arrived home after the show, Litlbit asked me how it was. I replied that it was like watching a train-wreck in slow motion: horrible but fascinating at the same time. I came away vaguely depressed, and I'm still trying to figure out how much of that comes from the story's predetermined descent into evil and darkness, and how much comes from the absence of anticipation in this story for the first time in my living memory.

You see, while I suffer no illusions regarding Star Wars' weaknesses any more, it remains one of the few stories that have captured my attention for my whole life.

I was seven when I saw A New Hope, over the objections of my mother. We played Star Wars in the schoolyard at recess and lunch hour, with action figures as props, and without. The only things I've ever stolen in my life were tiny guns for those figurines, surreptitiously prying as little of the plastic shell off the cardboard as I could, and taking only the weapons I'd somehow lost from my own collection. If you had asked any of my friends in grades five and six what we wanted to be when we grew up, Jedi Knight would have been the unanimous answer. If it were possible, I'm not so sure Jedi Knight wouldn't trump insurance broker even now.

You can pick apart Revenge of the Sith, and all the Star Wars movies if you want, but for me, the story has been a treasured constant in my life. I'm not going to engage in any mock-introspective speculation as to why that's the case; suffice that it is.

To all those involved - actors, special-effects artists, the guy holding the boom mike for twelve hours of shooting, and George Lucas himself - I'd like to offer a heartfelt thank you. I am a richer person because of what you have shown me, and I am grateful.

Babble off.

Update: Paul Tuns points out just how mind-crampingly stupid some folks can be.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

To hell with politics

Babble on.

Well, to hell with politics this afternoon, at least.

I'm taking the rest of my day off to go see Revenge of the Sith with my brother the horn-blowin', code-writin', human Q-Tip (you gotta see the hair to know what I'm talking about, 'kay?).

Review to follow.

And in the meantime, keep your chins up. No matter what happens with Parrish's appendix, or Cadman's vote, or The Wicked Witch of Aurora's ice-cold knives, the sun will rise tomorrow. And we'll still be living in the only country I'd ever want to call home.

We'll get it figured out, you'll see.

Babble off.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

When even the CBC thinks you're a traitor

Babble on.

On my way into work this morning, I got tired of listening to endless strings of amateurish, annoying radio ads, and switched over to CBC's The Current. Normally, a few minutes of Anna Maria Tremonti is enough to set me pining again for ham-handed car commercials featuring a Liberal MP and the worst GM in Leafs history (those who know are nodding right now). But this morning, Anthony Germain was sitting in, and he interviewed Benedict Stronach, the Honourable Sock Puppet for Wealth Redistribution (just not too much of her wealth or her Daddy's, for heaven's sake).

While I'm on that, does anyone else find it funny that someone who would need a chair lift to reach the top of her personal fortune, were it heaped in a pile of twenties, is in charge of student loans, homelessness, Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan, and the like? It's not like that disqualifies her, but...I'm taking bets on how long it will be before she handles a public complaint with "Let them eat a larger economic pie." Wait for it.

Back to the matter at hand: Germain really lit into her. My chin was bouncing off the steering wheel as I listened to a CBC radio host *making the sign against evil* play back a shiny new Liberal's past speeches, where she called Martin either criminal or incompetent for his role in handling the nation's finances and as the senior Minister from Quebec while Adscam was perpetrated. Heck, the guy even suggested she dumped Harper and MacKay at the same time!

Although she stuck like glue to her talking points, the area where she seemed as close to sincere and passionate as you're likely to get from Belinda Stepford was when she talked about national unity. Apparently, "lining up with the separatist Bloc" to bring down the government was too much for her to take. Her big epiphany? "The country is more important than partisan politics." I'm glad she cleared that up for us, 'cause I was all ready to flush Canada down the toilet just to stick a finger in Paul the Dithering Weasel's eye.

Unlike many, I never thought Belinda was a dummy. I have a blonde wife who's sharp as a tack, so the bimbo stereotype never really sunk in. Sure, I cringed at her speaking style - but I cringe listening to GWB and Harper too. That's just a matter of polish, and I was willing to cut her some slack. I also spoke briefly with her at a small fundraiser last year, and found her much more serious and well-spoken in person than she comes across on TV.

But if she's using national unity as an excuse to jump ship to the Liberals, she's a complete dope. Voting against an incompetent and corrupt government that ignores parliamentary tradition in order to buy time to buy votes is what a principled Opposition does. The fact that the separatists have lined up on the right side of an issue for once in their fetid little lives is a check mark for them, not a strike against the Conservatives.

She accused Stephen Harper of not being "truly sensitive to the needs of each part of the country and just how big and complex Canada really is." Yet the consequences in both Quebec and the West of propping up a government both regions viscerally despise are lost on her. Having a central Ontarian jump in such a self-serving fashion into the Liberal trough to gorge herself on Ministerial power provides more fuel for separatist fires than she is obviously capable of comprehending.

She is an untrustworthy twit, playing games with consequences she does not understand, and I sincerely hope the good people of Aurora and Newmarket turf her Armani-draped tush out of public office at the next available opportunity.

Babble off.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Too far

Babble on.

This is way, way over the line.

What, there aren't enough official ways of making your displeasure known to the woman? She's an MP, a cabinet minister, and a public freakin' figure for crying out loud. She hasn't gone underground. It's not like we need a frickin' bounty hunter to track her down.

Publishing personal cell phone numbers on the 'net is reprehensible. Kate, I'm a fan, but you were dead wrong to do this.

Dead. Wrong.

Babble off.


Babble on.

I don't get it (ht:Bourque). Belinda pulls and pulls to get the Alliance and PC's together. She campaigns for the leadership. She wins a squeaker in her riding, based mostly upon the fact that she's a local girl with a fresh face and a fresh outlook in a fresh party.

Then she goes and makes herself look like a slimeball opportunist like Scott Brison.

No wonder people think politicians are all a bunch of liars and crooks, when they can switch sides without batting an eye, and take a cabinet post too.

Stronach was elected a Conservative. She should have had at least Keith Martin's decency to sit as an independent until she could win the Liberal nomination in Aurora. Ugly.

Babble off.

Update: Calgary Grit has the laugh-out-loud funniest take on this whole affair:

I really have no clue what this means. I don't think anyone does. However, I am prepared to offer a preview of today's question period in another round of virtual QP.

The honourable member from Central Nova

Peter MacKay: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Human Resources Development Minister. Belinda...I thought we had something...how can you do this to me?


Upperdate: While I'm not the biggest fan of Peter MacKay, I cringed when I read this. Breaking up is never easy, but to have it play out in the press like this must be completely humiliating.

Not to be too much of a stick-in-the-mud here, but if I'd spared a thought for MacKay, I probably wouldn't have found CG's mock Hansard quote quite so funny.

Monday, May 16, 2005

So, how's the blogging going?

Babble on.

My wee Scottish mother-in-law is in town this week. Tonight at dinner, she valiantly tried to engage this tired and frustrated blogger in conversation - not an easy task after my tiring day at work, and a long commute home.

Wee Mum: So, Damian, how's your blogging going?

Babbler: Enh. *shrugging* Not great.

Wee Mum: Nobody's reading?

Babbler: Nah, I'm just not really inspired to write much.

Wee Mum: *surprised* I would have thought with all that's going on in Ottawa that you would have had a lot to talk about.

Babbler: Not really. Everyone's making too much of it all, one way or another.

Wee Mum: What do you mean?

Babbler: *pauses, puts fork down* There are a bunch of people who are going completely nuts over the Liberals clinging to power right now. I mean, they've lost the confidence of the House, right?

Wee Mum: *shakes head, puzzled*

Babbler: The big vote everyone's talking about, the one the Liberals lost? It was a vote to recommend to a committee that the committee recommend the government resign. Not super-clear, as non-confidence votes go. People who know about this sort of stuff are split: some think it was a confidence vote, some don't. But then the opposition shut down the House early a couple of days in a row. Generally speaking, when the opposition controls the business of the House, it's a sign the government has lost control - lost confidence. You with me?

Wee Mum: *nods*

Babbler: *ignoring dinner in favour of the wine at this point* So if it seems the government has lost the confidence of the House, they should do one of two things: tell the Governor General it's time for an election; or if they think the opposition has just been playing games, schedule an explicit confidence motion immediately. Governments who actually control the House will handle it this way, because when they win the confidence vote, they make the opposition look like they were trying to pull a fast one. Goes over like a brick with the voters.
*pausing for a quick bite*
But the Liberals haven't done either one. It's close enough in the House, and more importantly, in the polls, that they don't want an election yet. So they've left Adrienne Clarkson alone so far. But it's iffy enough that they're having trouble bringing themselves to call a clear vote. So they've put it off as long as possible. Some folks say longer than that, and they're royally pissed off about it.

Wee Mum: That's what all the talk in the papers and on the news is about.

Babbler: Yeah.

Wee Mum: So why aren't you writing about it?

Babbler: *considering, fork down again* I guess I'm kind of split. I think the Liberals are being duplicitous here - surprise, surprise. The votes so far may not have technically been confidence votes, but anyone who's been watching this knows Martin doesn't have the confidence of the House. In a Westminster parliamentary system, tradition plays a big part - there's all sorts of gray areas because a lot of the rules aren't written down, they're just kind of followed by feel. A specific confidence motion is just a way of measuring that feel. But in this case, the government is really pushing the limits, both in terms of time, and in terms of what they will recognize as a confidence vote, and what they won't. And with the gray areas in our system, they can do that.
*pausing for a gulp of wine*
I think the idiots should have resigned last week when they lost the first vote. The wording may not have been the best, but a committee vote was all the opposition was left with, since the Liberals decided to push back opposition days. The intent was clear - anyone watching the news or reading a paper would have known that. Martin should have either resigned or scheduled an explicit confidence motion immediately. The fact that he didn't shows just what a weasel he really is. There's zero respect for parliamentary tradition - for anything other than staying in power right now. I hope nobody forgets all the tricks Martin pulled to postpone the inevitable as long as he possibly could. I hope they remember it when the candidates start knocking on doors and talking about the 'democratic deficit'. This guy has given up any credibility he might have had.

Wee Mum: So why aren't you writing about all of this?

Babbler: Well, I started to tell you right off the top: it's become too polarized. The people who support Martin - or more accurately, oppose the Conservatives; nobody supports Martin - the people who support this guy are willing to completely overlook the precedent this sets in a system founded on precedent. The Dippers...

Wee Mum: ...the what?

Babbler: ...Dippers, uh, the NDP supporters who watched Layton push their agenda into the budget are being shortsighted about this. They figure as long as they get what they want, it's all politics. I think they're making a big mistake. They're never going to hold a majority in parliament, so they're always going to be relying on procedure, not power, to get anything done. But they're turning a blind eye to Martin's abuse of procedure here.

Wee Mum: *shaking head* What do you mean?

Babbler: I mean, if you live and die as a party on the traditions of the House - allocating questions at Question Period, getting seats on committees, and all that - shouldn't that be more important to you than one budget that won't pass anyhow? This is going to haunt them, and they can't see it. Some government years from now is going pull a fast one and cite Martin's precedent here - and the NDP's support of it - and the Dippers are going to go completely ape. And I'm going to shake my head and remind them of this stupid situation, and so will half the press.
But I'm getting off topic. You asked why I'm not writing about this: frankly, I'm getting sick of the rhetoric from my own side of the argument.

Wee Mum: What are they saying?

Babbler: They're talking about protests on Parliament Hill with dyed fingers and orange scarves. I'm as sick of the Liberals as they are, but they're just going too far. I mean, can you really compare what we're going through with the Iraqi voters who stood in line for hours, braving suicide bombers and snipers, after years of brutal rule under Hussein where thugs would come after their relatives in the middle of the night and feed them into wood chippers - can we really compare ourselves to them? It's idiotic. And completely - completely disrespectful. Same thing with the orange scarves. Nobody's shipping foreign troops into our country to stuff ballot boxes and intimidate voters. We don't have sign interpreters on TV clandestinely refusing to push the official government lie. Nobody's risking their life to tell the truth about the situation in parliament. To pretend our situation is analagous to theirs is absolutely ridiculous.

Wee Mum: So you just don't want to seem like you're supporting either side? Is that it?

Babbler: Yeah. It's more serious than the lefties want to admit - we're trashing some of the parliamentary tradition that makes our democracy work here. But it's not dye-your-finger-and-camp-out-on-the-Hill-in-a-tent-city serious.
*fork down again, pushing plate away disgusted*
People need to sort themselves out. I mean, really and truly: Get. A. Frickin'. Grip.

Wee Mum: So why don't you just write that?

Babbler: *pause* You're right. You're absolutely right...

Scottish mother-in-laws should be standard-issue...

Babble off.

Update: The underhanded dealings with Stronach have changed the calculus somewhat. I still think engaging in hyperbolic comparisons with Iraqi or Ukranian voters does our cause no good, because it makes ordinary non-political-junkie folks tune us out as frothing, raving moonbats. But the abuse of our democracy is much more serious at this point.

Jay Random has a good post up about the whole darn thing right now, 'bimbo' shot notwithstanding.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Thinking coherently is beyond me today

Babble on.

The snarkier among you are asking "...and that makes today different than any other day because???" Yeah, well STFU.

Since I'm currently cognitively deficient, I'll just refer you to a few folks who seem to be able to add single digit numbers together and blog about the results:

  • Andrew at BBG starts talking policy, which puts him ahead of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Dithers McF***Stick; ahead of Stephen Harper, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Circular Firing Squad of Whining Finger-Pointing Vote-Liberal Advertisements; and certainly ahead of Jack! In case you weren't aware, any man who appends an exclamation mark to his first name is in desperate need of testicles. Desperate, I tell you.

  • Steyn agrees with Andrew (ht:BS).

  • I happen to believe the Upholders are rehabilitable. And before the good-english police issue me a citation, I don't care if it's a word. For the second time in a single post: STFU. Having said that, Rayzilla's on to something here. Although at the risk of sounding like a bitter, broken record of a man, I said it first, then deleted it on legal advice.

  • I had dinner with old compatriot Not the Pointy Haired Boss (think Dilbert, folks, and remember that he didn't canvass his employees before coming up with the name) the other night, and a pleasant time it was. For me, at least - I'm guessing he unlisted his phone number and changed e-mail addresses immediately after. He's moving shortly, and in packing up, he found a piece of my past lost for more than a decade. It's a history essay my classmates wrote and submitted on my behalf in second year at RMC, when I was having some trouble meeting deadlines. Or giving a flying copulative act about it. Here's a snippet:
    Once upon a time there was a big country on the other side of the ocean. When you think about it, however, it didn't actually exist, as it had not yet been discovered. After it was discovered in 1492 by Cristufer Columbus [who sailed the ocean blue]1, there were many wars and the Liberal party...

    With friends like that, I've become a loner sitting at my keyboard in pajamas. Yes, the essay actually gets worse from there. At least the professor had a sense of humour. After rereading it, that's more than I can say about the guys who wrote the essay (after all these years, I get the last word).

Speaking of last words, this meaningless debate over what exactly, technically, dotting all i's and crossing all t's constitutes a non-confidence vote drives me completely nucking FUTZ (with props to Beth for coming up with the perfect phrase)! The last word is that Paul Martin, World's Worst Prime Minister&trade, does not have the confidence of the House. Period. Westminster parliamentary democracy relies on all parties following the spirit of the traditions as well as the letter. Every day the Liberals delay dissolving their dysfunctional 'government' is another day of dropping their pants and defecating on Canadian democracy.

And while I'm on this topic, blaming Harper and Duceppe for this mess is the cherry on top of the steaming pile of crap that falls out of his face every time Martin opens his mouth. The BQ and CPC are forcing an unwanted election on Canadians? No, no, no. He's not going to get away with that. Martin's inability to even mimic Chretien's cardboard-cutout excuse for statesmanship has sunk this caretaker government, not the Opposition. His job is to lead, and if he had even the hint of an aptitude for it, the catcalling adolescents on the opposition benches wouldn't dare bring him down. The regicidal Martin has precisely one person to blame for his pathetic multi-millionaire woes, and that person looks hollowly at him from the other side of the mirror when he works up the guts to check it from time to time. It takes some kind of nerve to accuse the other guys of procedural shenanigans when you've manipulated parliamentary conventions to such a point that that's all they have left.

The fact that our electoral choices have now boiled down to Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Dumber is bad enough. The very real possibility that Canadians will choose Tweedle-Dumber yet again is enough to make me despair.

What will it take to get a true leader into politics today? This is just embarrassing.

Babble off.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Standard Fog

Babble on.

When I asked Litlbit how she wanted to spend her Mother's Day this year, she asked if I'd mind driving to London to cheer on her brother as he ran his first marathon. Her day, her call, I said. So cheer we did. Congrats to Chris on a 3:50:54.1 time in his first race!

In more good news out of London, the proprietors of The London Fog have posted the latest edition of the Red Ensign Standard:

Just as the Red Ensign group is made up of bloggers whose opinions range from conservative to libertarian to plain ol' cranky and otherwise, so the London Fog is composed of individuals whose interests cannot be summed up in a unitary label. What we do agree upon is that the Red Ensign is a voluntary association — and that in kind it represents voluntary associations as the proper yet now enervated mechanisms for self-governance among strong and independent people.

There's good reading out there, under a Red Ensign crackling in a stiff northern breeze. Or should I say 'average' reading? Heh.

Babble off.

And now, for something completely different

Babble on.

Listening to the CHUM-FM morning show on the way into work this morning, I heard an interview with a couple of guys from Coldplay in town for a small warm-up concert before their latest album release, and the big tour that will surely follow. One line in particular caught my attention:

"We work incredibly hard, and we think we're quite good. But we're constantly amazed that anyone else agrees."

A genuinely self-effacing rock band. How refreshing. I can't say I have their talent, but I do think I can identify with their sentiment.

I don't work particularly hard at blogging. It's a theraputic hobby; I'm not pushing to be known as the 'hardest working man in blogdom', or anything like that. Putting aside any false modesty, I think I write some quality posts - although I'm not satisfied with the inconsistency of my good stuff.

But like the folks in Coldplay, I'm constantly amazed that anyone else thinks my thoughts are really worth reading. So to those who drop by to cheer, to jeer, or to crack open a cold one and watch the train wreck each day: thanks for coming out.

(That's it. I'm not going to segue into some grand polemic berating Paul Martin for being such a dithering twit, or anything like that. Just "thanks.")

Babble off.

Monday, May 09, 2005

A little sheepish...

Babble on.

Five months into the year, and I'm just now getting around to recognizing the Year of the Veteran here in Canada. *shakes head* That's what comes from being a lazy blogger.

Anyhow, you'll notice a new graphic in the sidebar, which will stay up until at least the end of 2005. As I know I've mentioned before, remembering is the least we can do. The very least.

Thanks for the reminder to Not the PHB. Way to lead by example.

Babble off.

Proving the point

Babble on.

Until I read this article by LGen (R) Ray Crabbe, former DCDS, I had no idea who the man was. I don't know if he was a leader or a political climber when he wore the uniform. But if his piece in the Winnipeg Free Press is typical of him, I'm guessing he was one of the many senior officers who 'got along to get along'.

Why do I feel that way? Crabbe acts as a cheerleader instead of as an analyst, dutifully lining up behind the new Defence policy statement in Pavlovian fashion. This is stereotypical of NDHQ and its alumni. Crabbe applauds at all the right places, instead of probing the policy's obvious holes.

First off, we must correct Crabbe's one factual error: DND has been instructed to acquire 'medium- to heavy-lift helicopters' to support land and special operations missions. While he has chosen to read only the 'heavy-lift' portion of this instruction, I prefer to take the policy statement at its word, and admit the possibility that the CF may eventually wind up with only a medium-lift capability.

Reading the remainder of his paean to the new Defence policy, I'm struck by the lack of any sort of critical thought. Surely Crabbe isn't unaware of the questions surrounding the Mobile Gun System. Surely he has an opinion regarding the acquisition of Joint Support Ships versus other types of hybrid carriers. Surely he has some thoughts about Canada's airlift options for the future. Surely he has something to say about Canada's artic sovereignty plan - if only to ask what it is, let alone assess whether it's workable. While a piece for the local paper doesn't allow him to delve into issues such as these in any great detail, an attempt to touch upon them would have been useful.

Instead, it almost seems as though Crabbe has a political axe to grind. Why else would he make a ludicrous statement such as this: "These changes will not be easy. The political distractions and potential defeat of the current Liberal minority government could torpedo the entire policy."? Does he honestly believe a Conservative government would do less than a Liberal one for the CF? Could he possibly be that delusional?

I'm afraid he might be. How else could Crabbe second Gen Hillier's subtle rebuke ("Sometimes in the past, I felt consensus was actually a replacement for leadership in the Forces.") unless he didn't understand it was aimed squarely at yes-men like himself?

This is the sort of mentality Rick Hillier must overcome if he is to rejuvenate the CF. And it's the sort of mentality that leaves me worried about his chances to accomplish that goal.

Babble off.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Late, but better than never

Babble on.

If a big part of our strategy for foreign military deployments is to focus on failed and failing states, as the Defence paper suggests, the ongoing tragedy in Sudan should be a litmus test.

So far, our government has a failing grade. Of course, I can't think of a single government or extra-national body - like the UN or African Union - that has earned a passing grade in this crisis.

Hopefully, that will soon change. From today's Globe & Mail:

Canada's top general has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Africa and is preparing an action plan for the cabinet.

General Rick Hillier, the chief of the defence staff, said the Canadian Forces will be ready to deploy a large contingent overseas for "significant operations" by late summer after a year of recovery and rebuilding.

The Darfur situation, he said, "is a complex and a relatively dangerous environment and the tragedy that is unfolding there is on a scale that is very tough to determine."

Defence Minister Bill Graham said whatever the Canadian military does in Darfur, it will be in a support role to the African Union, which is in charge of the peacekeeping operation and whose member states will supply most of the ground troops.

I know I should be skeptical. I know I'm just setting myself up for a fall if the Liberals continue their "walk loudly and avoid carrying sticks" policy, as one would expect them to.

But, gawd, I hope they finally do something here. When Canadians say they're proud to think of themselves as a 'peacekeeper' nation, this is exactly the sort of thing they're thinking of. It's long past time we put our money where our mouth is. Boots on the ground in the Sudan would be a good start.

Babble off.

Update: Instead of lazily linking to an online article and throwing in a snarky comment or two as I have here, Debbye has done some serious blogging on this topic. Go read her analysis, while I prepare my next shallow effort.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Disappointed in defence

Babble on.

I have the worst time putting titles on my posts. They're almost invariably corny or unimaginative. This post is no exception, although at least today's header is descriptive: I've finished reviewing the Defence portion of the International Policy Statement, and quite frankly, I found it disappointing.

One of the heartening aspects of the Overview was a noticeable lack of self-congratulatory content and tone. The Defence document can make no such claim, pushing lines like: "This policy is the right one for Canadians." Oh, well since you say so, I guess that's that, isn't it? Someone needs to remind the wonks who write this empty pap that Jedi mind tricks only work on the weak-minded, and people who read policy statements don't generally fall into that category.

Beyond the shoulder-dislocating attempts to pat itself on the back, however, this policy paper is nothing more than a series of half-hearted compromises and contradictions. I think I'm doubly disappointed because the Overview was good enough to raise my hopes for the Defence policy to unrealistic levels. I should have known better.

The "new" first priority of the CF will be the defence of Canada and North America. If you're shaking your head in surprise that this wasn't always the first priority of our military, let me assure you, you're not alone. Some of the proposals to support this mandate are extremely general: improved cooperation with the Americans, better interagency cooperation within Canada, hiring 3,000 more reservists and 5,000 more regualars. Other proposals are more specific, and more useful: establishing interdepartmental Marine Security Operations Centres on both the east and west coasts, creating an Integrated Threat Assessment Centre in concert with CSIS, putting more High Frequency Surface Wave Radars on both coasts. The revamping of our Command and Control structure into a 'Canada Command', while holding promise, will remain a cipher until the details become public.

But there remain gaping holes in the policy. For example, the Defence paper stresses Arctic sovereignty as a critical aspect of domestic defence:

The demands of sovereignty and security for the Government could become even more pressing as activity in the North continues to rise.
Adversaries couold be tempted to take advantage of new opportunities unless we are prepared to deal with asymmetric threats that are staged through the North.

But other than a specific commitment to replace the workhorse Twin Otter aircraft currently used for Northern operations with a more modern platform, and a nebulous promise to improve regular force coordination with the Rangers and conduct more Arctic patrols, there is little to support this objective.

We have three ocean coasts, but we operate on only two. Where is the commitment to purchase or build icebreakers that will allow us to conduct naval patrols of our northern coast?

As the policy paper notes, activity in the North continues to rise: diamond mining, oil pipeline construction, increased air traffic, and the possibility of commercial vessel traffic if warming trends continue. The area of land and sea Canada claims is enormous - almost 3.7 million square kilometres in our three Northern territories. Just as a point of comparison, the entire country of India is only 3.3 million square kilometres. Where is the commitment to preposition significant land and air assests closer to the Arctic than Edmonton?

I'd bet a month's wages that at least three foreign navies operate submarines in Canadian arctic waters. Where is even an acknowledgement of this hole in our sovereignty, let alone a discussion of how to develop a crucial under-ice naval capability to counter it?

I'm not the first military-watcher to say this, but we should OWN Arctic op's. This policy statement pays only lip service to Arctic sovereignty.

When it comes to foreign deployments, the same sorts of gaps and inconsistencies exist. More money for capital expenditures - if it ever actually materializes - will be welcome. More troops - assuming the CF are given the resources and time to equip and train them - will also be a definite improvement. A focus on the "three-block war" in failed and failing states - if the politicians adhere to it in their international promises - is encouraging.

I don't like the fact that we've formally given up on the idea of Canadian heavy armour in favour of a light- and medium-weight replacement (LAV's, Mobile Gun System, and Multi-Mission Effects Vehicle), though. While this is probably the most justifiable compromise in the policy paper, the proven effectiveness of tanks in an urban environment and the widespread availability of RPG's to 'insurgents' in failed and failing states around the world give me pause. I wonder if survivability tests with Mister Dithers and the Honourable Sock Puppet for Defence inside the vehicles would elicit a call for more armour? Sheila Martin's not going to be waiting for her husband to come home from a six month tour in some war-torn hot-spot anytime soon, so I guess we'll just have to hope the armour we're getting will be enough for the missions we'll be undertaking.

The Defence statement places great emphasis on "Military Training Assistance" as one of our specialties, citing our role in training the militaries of Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. While I'm certain our troops do the job well when tasked with it, I have difficulty believing this is a capability much associted with the CF outside of the rarified air of NDHQ. Where is the CF Training Assistance school for officers and non-com's? Of all of our international deployments in the past ten years, how many personnel were devoted to Training Assistance? I have the feeling this 'capability' is a little overhyped.

Airlift is also a critical need - almost as critical as the manpower shortage, in my opinion. Renting Antonovs to deploy the DART team is simply disgraceful, as is having to beg a ride with allied forces. Yet the policy statement only specifies that the CF will:
  • acquire, or ensure access to, the right mix of capabilities to meet the increasing requirements for domestic, global and in-theatre airlift; (Babbler's highlight)

Ensure access to? Weasel words. How exactly will access be ensured if we don't own the assets, pray tell? Will we rely on foreign pilots to fly foreign equipment? Civilians? This is a non-solution to a big problem for our military.

The proposition that absolutely blows my mind, however, has to do with marine assets. According to the Defence statement, the CF will:
  • proceed with the acquisition of ships that will be able to:
    • pre-position or deply the Standing Contingency Task Force,

    • support land operations,

    • provide a sea-based national or multinational command capability,

    • deploy tactical unmanned aerial vehicles, and

    • sustain naval task group operations worldwide;

Now I don't know about you, but this sounds a lot like the hybrid carriers the Conservatives were proposing in their defence policy last summer. You know, the ones the Liberals misrepresented in their televised attack ad's, mischaracterizing them as full-sized American nuclear carriers like you see in Top Gun? The ones they implied were evidence of a 'massive military build-up to fight George Bush's wars'? Those hybrid carriers.

What massive hypocrisy on the part of the Liberals.

And at the end of the day, that credibility gap represents my biggest concern with the Defence policy as stated. I don't trust the Liberals to stay within their proclaimed parameters for determining whether to deploy troops overseas. I don't trust their commitment to long-term funding and planning. I don't trust their resolve to bridge the gap between objectives and resources perpetuated by this document. I don't trust them to fix the Byzantine procurement process.

In short, I don't trust the Liberals with control of our nation's defence, and with good reason.

Babble off.

Your future Conservative candidate for Fredericton

Babble on.

From my Irish Embassy Correspondent comes news of an Ex-Cadet taking the leap into national politics. Brian Macdonald is running for the Conservative candidacy in Fredericton, NB:

Many of you likely know Brian from the Royal Military College, the Canadian Forces, the London School of Economics, or from growing up in Halifax. Some of you may not know Brian well, but may share similar passions and beliefs. He is an intelligent and hard working guy, who is willing to take a risk for something he believes in. After serving in the Canadian and British militaries, Brian has settled in Fredericton and has started a business in the riding. The riding also contains CFB Gagetown, which is the most important Army base in the country. The seat has been held by the unimpressive Andy Scott, better known for chatting on airplanes about hanging the RCMP out to dry at the APEC inquiry.

I am sure that many of you would agree that part of the mess in Ottawa has been caused by the poor quality of many of the MPs that occupy the government benches. Public service is in a state of decline. Joe Volpe's despicable outburst yesterday is evidence of this fact and explains why so many Canadians are cynical about politics. It would be nice to get some fresh faces elected to the House of Commons. Brian would bring a welcome intellect and an important understanding of the Canadian Forces and Canada's declining position in the world. He is running in, quite possibly, the most challenging nomination race in the country and has a shot to win. A small donation of $25, $50 or $100 will help him get a direct mailing to the membership and some printed materials for the days leading to the nomination of May 13th. He has signed up a large number of new members and is doing most of the work himself. More than just helping defray his increasing costs, I think a small donation might be better for his spirit than for his campaign coffers.

Unfortunately, a nomination donation is not tax deductible and time is of the essence. A bank or internet transfer would be the best way to help. Pass this along to anyone that might know Brian or want to help.

Many thanks - Per ardua ad Astra!

Here's where you can contribute:

Brian Macdonald Campaign
RBC Royal Bank of Canada
504 Queen St
PO Box 1420
Fredericton NB E3B 5G1
SRF# 695 355 768
Transit # 0884
Account # 101-2285

And if you live in the riding, make sure you get out to vote at the nomination meeting. Even the best of candidates can't elect themselves.

Babble off.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Once we all stop shouting...

Babble on.

Nick Packwood and I have had a productive e-mail exchange about what I felt was an unjustified blanket demonization of Conservatives like myself, and I feel it appropriate to share some of what Flea wrote with you:

...I hope that I am wrong and that the work of honourable people - including both my own parents - is not misguided in support of the CPC. I am making the case I am because some of Stephen Harper's actions scare the hell out of me and I believe the situation to be much more serious than is commonly credited. I think some of the CPC platform needs to be opposed and I do not aim to leave that argument in the hands of the socialists or the criminals currently running this country.
If my rhetoric goes over the top on gay marriage it is because I am scared out of my wits and I am baffled that more conservatives aren't scared too. If the socialists tried to pull this crap we would call them on it. We should be even more vigilant about our own.

If you disagree with the Conservative position on this issue, as both Nick and I do, the question becomes how best to oppose it: by working within a Conservative party that on all other counts is superior to the competition, or by attacking the party as a whole. I've chosen my course, and Nick has chosen his. Incidentally, both of us hope to God that I'm right.

Hopefully, we can both confine ourselves to more precise rhetorical weapons in the future.

Well, except when it comes to lying, cheating, rat-bastard, demon-spawned Liberals. They're all a bunch of thieving crooks. Fleets of rhetorical B-52's should be sent at them in waves... ;)

Babble off.

Time to become better informed

Babble on.

There's a very interesting discussion going on in comments to this post at Treehugger's place. I would strongly encourage you to head on over there, and jump into the comments if you feel you've something to add.

When it comes to climate change, I quite frankly don't know what to believe. Most scientists seem to agree global warming is real, and that human factors are a significant driver of the trend. Or do they?

Even if they do, I don't know if I trust them. In fact, that's yet another reason to oppose political imbalance in academia: it undermines trust in what should be unbiased information.

Uber-commenter Balbulican provides a harsh synopsis of my position:

So to sum up the loyal opposition:

  • We don't know enough to have an informed opinion

  • We don't care enough about it to learn enough about it to have an informed opinion, but,

  • Notwithstanding (a) and (b), we don't trust the people who are telling us there's a problem, so

  • Let's just let things slide until...?

He's right: this is too important an issue for me to remain as woefully underinformed as I am. But where to go for credible information? I can wade through executive summaries to my heart's content, but unless I can understand the science that drives the conclusions, I don't know how to judge the counterpoints I hear and read from the odd dissenter.

Balb is typically dismissive with his third point, but I submit it's a serious problem. Unless I can trust the science, how the hell do I know which political and economic policies to support?

He goes on to state:

...I've found the evidence challenging [the premise of significant impact of human intervention on climate change] to be pretty weak. It seems to me to be largely accumulated by a very small group of scientists, almost none of whom are climatologists, pointing out what they perceive to be anomalies in the current models. That's fine, and it will certainly help to refine the current models: but those arguments are seized on by ideologues as definitive rebuttals of the major premise, which, frankly, is just about as accepted in the community as evolution is among biologists. That doesn't mean that the current model of evolution is universally understood or accepted: but pointing out possible anomalies in the model does not invalidate the general finding.

Again, though, unless I'm willing to take Balbulican's word for it, I don't know if the dissenters are more like Gallileo or 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Are folks a hundred years from now going to look back on our generation and wonder why we were so eager to overlay massive political interpretations on what amounted to a natural climatological phenomenon? Or are they going to wonder how we managed to ignore a dangerous environmental trend that was as plain as the nose on our face?

LrC raises many of my own issues far more concisely than I would have:

I reiterate:

  1. Intuitively, human activity affects climate.

  2. Factually, we currently are observing mostly warming trends.

  3. Factually, all the models and estimates of the impact of human activity on warming trends are just educated guesses. The hypotheses remain hypotheses.

  4. Factually, we have finite resources with which to try to counteract climate change mechanisms and climate change effects.

Now add what we don't know intuitively or factually:

  1. Whether the human component of climate change is significant.

  2. Whether the human or natural components of climate change can be meaningfully negated or reversed.

  3. Whether it is within our resources to negate, reverse, or adapt to climate changes.

  4. What compensatory mechanisms exist in nature which will act to unseat the assumption that the trends we observe are monotonic.

In short, as much as some exhort us to believe we know, I disagree that we know enough to pursue policy solutions at significant expense. You want to spend money right now to provide the fix which you believe is the answer to all our problems; I want to continue to spend money to determine whether we are trying to solve the right problem and whether the problem is within our means to solve.

Out of all of this, the only thing I know for sure is that I need to know more.

Babble off.

Monday, May 02, 2005

My wife rocks

Babble on.

My wife Litlbit just called me at work. She said our four-year-old Boo wanted to learn how to sing O Canada, and she was trying to teach him. But each time she ran through the song for him, she got caught up on a couple of lines. Here's how she described it to me:

"...so each time I sing 'We stand on guard for thee' I'm thinking 'Not if we don't do something about our military, we don't.' More like 'We cross our fingers and hope to hell our American neighbours stand on guard for thee'. And then it hits me: if I sold it as some sort of national unity project and promised to donate heavily back to The Party, I could probably get a Liberal government contract to pay me for the re-write! And then you wouldn't have to work anymore!"

That's my Litbit: always looking for ways to keep me home and in high clover. Have I mentioned that I absolutely love this woman?

Babble off.

Update: Well, so much for that idea. Angry beat us to it.

Paragraph K

Babble on.

Chuck Guité testimony at the Gomery Inquiry may well be even more incendiary than that of Jean Brault. But for those expecting Justice Gomery's report to provide the final word on the whole sordid mess, paragraph K of the inquiry's mandate should be required reading:

k) the Commissioner be directed to perform his duties without expressing any conclusion or recommendation regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization and to ensure that the conduct of the inquiry does not jeopardize any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal proceedings;

The fact that Gomery has a limited mandate doesn't bother me because inquiries are not trials. The fact that Paul Martin and his cronies are selling Gomery's report as the definitive judgement on Adscam and its spin-off scandals (judicial appointments with a nod and a wink?) when it was clearly intended to be no such thing, and are thereby convincing voters to leave the Liberals in office until the report is released bothers me to no end.

Ginna says it best:

If I believed that we Justice Gomery could deliver a scorcher, a document which included his opinions on the veracity of testimony, I could see the reason to wait.

But the testimony, as "explosive" it is, will be it. And I believe that Canadians are just as qualified as Justice Gomery to listen to it, and make their own judgements. As Harper has pointed out, we don't need to go beyond a reasonable doubt here.

It's time for an election.

Babble off.