Friday, March 24, 2006


Babble on.

More and more, today's Canadian Forces is encouraging individual authority and responsiblity within a structured environment.

So what's the problem with personal kit?

Babble off.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Here's your hat, what's your hurry?

Babble on.

Just put our house up for sale. No time to talk. I'll bring anyone who cares up to speed at a later date.

Babble off.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Go directly to hell. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

Babble on.

Yet another reason to despise Pierre Elliott Goddamned Trudeau:

Typically, when I once asked Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau how he rated national defence among his priorities, he shrugged: "Oh, about 14th, just behind pig subsidies."

To steal a phrase from Kate: Pierre Trudeau - not dead enough.

Babble off.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

On the job

Babble on.

Nothing - and I mean nothing - gets my blood boiling worse than the victimization of children. The vile and subhuman creatures who prey upon little kids should be staked out in the sun and left to feed the crows.

Barring that, they should be hunted down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And for doing just that, I salute every single individual involved in pursuing this case:

What started a year ago with an Edmonton woman overhearing a disturbing conversation between two children ended yesterday with the Attorney-General of the United States announcing the dismantling of a large, highly organized child porn ring that swapped pictures and live video of children being sexually abused and raped.

More than 40 people were under arrest, at least 10 of them in Canada. Two "administrators" who allegedly helped run the Internet child porn trading post are from Canada, one in Edmonton and the other in Longueuil, Que., police and prosecutors said.

Others charged are from at least nine U.S. states, Australia and England, with other arrests expected, including several more in Canada.

I'm especially impressed by both the Toronto and Edmonton police departments.

The Toronto Police are are acknowledged as world leaders in flipping over the rocks under which these vermin hide, and were instrumental in creating one of the most fantastic tools yet conceived to battle the proliferation of child pornography:

The Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) was developed by Microsoft Canada and law enforcement agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Toronto Police Service. The technology lets investigators spot trends and link pieces of information in, for example, child pornography cases, which often span borders and involve unknown perpetrators and victims. Also, CETS is accessible to multiple agencies and can be linked to systems used by law enforcement agencies in other countries.
The program had backing at the highest levels within Microsoft. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates instructed Microsoft Canada to work with law enforcement to develop CETS after he received an e-mail from Gillespie in January 2003. The Toronto Police detective sergeant told Gates that officers in his unit were falling behind sex offenders because they lacked the tools and training to properly investigate crimes on the Internet or penetrate shadowy communities of pedophiles.

"I sent the e-mail and about three weeks later I was contacted by Microsoft Canada. They wanted to know what they could do for me. To be honest, I thought it was people in my office playing a joke on me. When I sent the e-mail I really did not expect to hear anything back," Gillespie said. Following the first contact, Microsoft and Gillespie had several meetings, the collaboration ultimately led to the development of CETS.

The more I read about Bill Gates - in spite of all Microsoft's many faults - the more I like him.

The Edmonton police are to be commended on pulling off an extremely audacious raid to perfection:

By January, it became clear that one of the alleged ringleaders lived in Edmonton -- the same city where the investigation had started.

This user was an "administrator" for the site and was one of its most trusted members, authorities allege.

On Jan. 26, Edmonton and Toronto police officers raided his home in a lightning fast strike.

"With good planning we were able to take him out while he was logged on and we then assumed his identity," said Det. Krawczyk.

The man did not have a chance to disconnect, erase files or warn others; no one in the chat room knew he had been taken into police custody.

The investigators who had been monitoring him and analyzing him for months were then able to perfectly mimic him online in the chat room.

The undercover infiltration was so sound that the man's account was still active late yesterday, uncompromised and still getting responses online.

The tolerance for error on such a raid is precisely nil. The officers who pulled it off are true professionals.

This is a fight that can never be completely won, but one that absolutely must be fought. I can't imagine the emotional stress and trauma that working on these cases must cause to the police and lawyers who make up the investigative teams. I know I couldn't do it. But they have my most heartfelt admiration and respect.

Babble off.

Whatever happened to grey?

Babble on.

Greg Bester's a good guy. Yes, he's an unrepentant lefty, but having shared many conversations and at least one pint with him, I can assure you he's not one of the dangerously hydrophobic ones.

That's why when he posts ridiculously black-and-white rhetoric like this, I get frustrated:

Harper rejects the need for a national visionary -- someone who will speak for and help coordinate the nation as we move forward on, all fronts. That is not compatible with Stephen Harper's provincialist agenda.

I've heard this line of argument before, and it always rankles.

First off, let's dispense with the fiction that our federal government can't "speak for and help coordinate the nation" without passing down stone tablets from Mount Rideau. Coordination is not coercion. And we don't elect only one set of representatives to speak for us at one central level of government. We elect different representatives at different levels to speak for us on different issues - because we have differences.

Which leads to my second point: bitch and complain about the outdated division of powers between federal and provincial legislatures all you like, but unless you want to abolish provincial distinctions entirely, please acknowledge that some division is necessary and useful. Trudeau's famous quip about decentralization was that the federal government would become nothing more than "headwaiter to the provinces." Unfortunately, those opposing Trudeau's vision have never had an equally charismatic leader to point out that the provinces under his plan have crept ever-closer to being nothing more disgruntled clerks and fall-guys for the federal bosses.

The truth is that neither absolute is accurate: provincial and federal governments share power, responsibility, and means in various proportions on various policy fronts in an ever-shifting balance. Harper's position is simply that it's time for the pendulum to swing back the other way a little.

William Thorsell's characterization of this longstanding debate seems far more accurate than Greg's:

[After Meech Lake]...we fell back into the cartoon version of Confederation, in which war rages between trust in ourselves as a federation of varied provinces, and bitter rivalries between two levels of government that hold each other in mortal contempt.

It absolutely baffles me that otherwise reasonable people can't bring themselves to admit that a federal government focused more on its own exclusive areas of responsibility and a little less on those delegated to the provinces might actually be more effective in strengthening our union than one which is jack-of-all-trades but master of none.

Greg likens a rebalancing of federal and provincial responsibility and authority to "strip-mining the federal government." A bit of deliberately ugly imagery, that. I'd argue that Trudeau clear-cut old-growth forests of provincial bailiwicks, and that Harper just wants to plant a few seedlings.

Babble off.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Words matter

Babble on.

Reading about Capt Trevor Greene this morning, and having heard anecdotally about Muslim standards of hospitality, I decided to do a bit of digging. I wanted to determine if the Afghanis who sat down with the Canadian officers broke any of their own rules. After all, according to Capt Kevin Schamuhn, the expedition commander that fateful day, the Canadians and Afghanis were engaging in a shura:

Capt. Kevin Schamuhn, the commander who was leading the expedition, told CBC News that the Canadian troops had already visited several villages during the day to attend shuras, or meetings with village elders.

He said all of them had been peaceful events where they shared lunch or tea and introduced themselves.

Schamuhn said the last shura of the day started off well as the troops sat down with about 30 villagers, including many children.

Once I started to look into codes of conduct appropriate for shuras though, the project spun into something entirely different than what I'd intended.

You see, while I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on Islamic tradition - far from it, in fact - I'm not sure that what the Canadians are conducting with Afghani village elders across the countryside actually qualify as shuras:

We now come to the fourth and central constitutional principle of shura. It is important to make two observations here. The first is that the etymological form of shura, derived from the root shawr, or advice, means mutual consultation in its widest scope — a collective deliberation in which all parties are exchanging counsel. The term shura, as such, is to be distinguished from the term istisharah, which means one side seeking counsel from another, and from the term tashawur, which means mutual consultation but on a lesser scale than that envisioned in shura as a nationwide participatory political exercise. For instance, in my country, Oman, the present assembly was first named al majlis al istishari, and only several years later renamed as majlis al shura, thereby claiming a more democratic posture.

The second point to observe is that, in the context in which the term has been used in the Quran, shura consultation is predicated on equality among those consulting in order to arrive at a collective decision. This clear Quranic depiction of the shura as essentially a decision-making process among equals has to be distinguished from the notion that depicts shura as merely an optional exercise in the seeking of non-binding counsel by the ruler, acting from a superior position, from those of his subjects with whom he may choose to consult. This rather disparate version of shura, claimed by the rulers and conceded by the clergy has historically co-opted real shura, thereby condemning Muslim and Arab political life to centuries of despotic rule. However, current Islamic scholarship is showing increasing inclination to restoring shura to its full-fledged legitimacy in the Muslim public life. (Babbler's bold)

Are these meetings really consultations among equals? And even if the Canadians behave as though they were, do the Afghanis consider them to be? How does this affect the dialogue, if the two sides come at the discussions with different assumptions?

Most importantly, is our limited understanding of the complexities of Afghan society hurting our ability to accomplish some real good over there?

Babble off.

Cross-posted to The Torch

Monday, March 13, 2006

With apologies to Mr. Churchill...

Babble on.

The Canadian Forces training system is the worst in the world, except for all the rest.

I know, I know. Bastardizing quotes is never pretty.

Babble off.

The end of helmet-hair

Babble on.

Long hours on a Herc will kick the crap out of you. Trust me on this (and check out photo 16 here).

Getting a VIP into and out of a place like Kandahar in one piece is a massive undertaking, and the obvious question is whether it's worth it. It seems to me this question is actually more complicated than people make it out to be, because there's more than one audience watching the PM and his government's actions.

I think the Canadian people need to see the PM aggressively and proactively explaining the government's rationale for our involvement in Afghanistan. But the truth is that he can explain that from Parliament Hill. The only thing flying halfway around the world does is draw some attention to the story.

To those outside Canada - from allied governments to enemy insurgents - the PM's visit shows commitment. Sure, it's symbolic, but that's part of the point in international affairs. The name of the game here is 'resolve' and while a visit alone won't show it, a visit that backs up a strong and ongoing civilian and military presence will.

The third audience is the Canadian Forces, and specifically those on the ground in Kandahar. Some feel a political visit is about as useless as "an empty Tim Horton's coffee cup with the rim ripped off."

Perhaps in the abstract that might be true, but a visit from the PM - even a PM you don't personally like too much - is a morale booster. I remember shaking Mulroney's hand at RMC during the first Gulf War - his was the first visit by a sitting Canadian Prime Minister to the College, if memory serves. Mulroney was hardly a popular figure at that point, but his visit struck all the right notes among the military personnel stationed there.

The Canadian Forces has been ignored for so long by its elected masters that positive attention from our nation's top politician is entirely welcome, like him or not.

Babble off.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Big boats and big risks

Babble on.

It seems that the British and French are going all Concorde-in-flat-grey on us:

Britain and France finally signed the deal to build three new aircraft carriers. This followed several years of negotiations. What's surprising about all this is not the large size of the carriers (about 58,000 tons, the largest ships ever for both navies), or the unique cooperation (two of the carriers are British, one is French, and both nations will cooperate on design and construction, with the Brits taking the lead.) No, what is amazing about all this is the aggressive plans for automation. These "Queen Elizabeth" class carriers are planning on having a ships crew of 800 (or less) and an air wing complement of 600 personnel. Currently, you need a ship crew of about 2,000 for a carrier that size. The reduction in size of the air wing personnel is even more aggressive.

Ambitious doesn't cover the half of it.

Warships have a lot of unique functions, like damage control, and manning many systems for high alert, and combat, situations. Some crew reduction ideas are pretty obvious, like installing conveyers to help move supplies when ships are replenished at sea, or even when in port. Many maintenance tasks can be eliminated by using materials that require less effort to keep clean, and are just as safe as those used in the past. It's also been noted that many maintenance tasks can be left for civilians to do when the ship is in port. Most navies has also not kept up on automation. There is still a tendency to have sailors "standing watch" to oversee equipment that, with the addition of some sensors, can be monitored from a central location. If there is a problem, a repair team can be sent. But in the meantime, thousands of man hours a week are saved, and another few dozen sailors are not needed.

I've never done more than a day-outing on a warship. But I do know a great many folks who have spent years of their life on big grey ships, and from what I understand, ships don't always work tickety-boo. Electical systems go on the fritz, fires break out, bad things happen. And the first people to respond to those bad things are those on watch in the affected area.

My concern with reducing manning levels isn't that fewer sailors couldn't handle the ship perfectly well in normal operations, it's that they couldn't handle the ship if a large number of things went wrong all at once.

On an automated ship, I'd worry about overload. Smoke in the engine spaces, send a team. Man overboard, send a team. Explosion on the port side, send a...what, no teams left to send?

Remember, warships are built for war, which is exactly when things tend to go wrong in multiples. In situations like that, too much automation can be as crippling as too little.

I'm sure people far brighter than me, and with far more of a personal stake in the success of this move have already thought this problem through and are working on solutions. But it still makes me nervous. Best of luck to them, and I'm sure the navies of the rest of the world will be watching.

Babble off.

The dwindling population of Realityville

Babble on.

The MSM won't soon be giving you a piece chock-full of actual, y'know, facts about Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. Like this one, which concludes with a statement not enough Canadians understand.

No matter how comfortable people are inside our borders at the moment, they should realize that the world has become a much more dangerous place, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can stick your head in the sand and just not look at the problem, but you'll probably get your ass shot off. (Babbler's bold)

My question is when some intrepid reporter is going to call Jack Layton on the bullshit he's talking. You now have a primer, ladies and gents of the media. Educate yourselves and then start educating the public.

In other words, do your job.

Babble off.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lightning's double-tap

Babble on.

When Christopher Reeve died just over a year ago, I found the way it affected me peculiar. I'm not a star-watcher - in fact, my feelings for most of Hollywood range from annoyance to disgust, when I notice them at all.

Now Dana Reeve, Chris' wife, has followed him at the obscenely-early age of 44, a victim of lung cancer. They have a 13 year old son who will now face the daunting task of going through his teen years without a parent. I can't imagine.

It's not like tragedy doesn't strike other families - the Reeves didn't have the misfortune to be born in Darfur, for example. But stories like this one provide a very real there-but-for-the-grace-of-God perspective to me. And like their politics or not, they were good people, courageous people, positive people.

Bad things happen. I understand that. I just wish the bad things could limit themselves to bad people.

Babble off.

Monday, March 06, 2006

You, Mr. Emerson, are no Winston Churchill

Babble on.

From The Galloping Beaver, we learn that Conservative MP Betty Hinton is comparing David Emerson and Winston Churchill since both happened to switch parties during their parliamentary careers (see Tory mutes don't surprise NDP MP).

"Churchill, for example, crossed the floor twice. Nobody says anything terrible about Churchill," she said, adding later that "it's politics, and people do change parties."

This isn't the first time I've seen Churchill's name brought up in connection with the Emerson fiasco, although it disappoints me to no end to see such hogwash emanating from a Conservative Member of Parliament.

Let's be clear here: David Emerson said he'd still be a Liberal if Paul Martin was running the show, and if the Liberals still formed the government. He's admitted that his defection was not on grounds of principle.

Compare that with Churchill's party switches - there were two - where principle arguably trumped common political sense.

Churchill marched from government benches to opposition over trade protectionism in 1904. Oh, hurt feelings certainly entered into the equation, but the rift between Churchill and his fellow Conservatives stemmed from his opposition to his party's tariff regime.

Understanding his switch back to the Conservatives twenty years later requires a bit more background. Churchill watched the decline of the Liberal party and the rise of Labour, and worried openly about the influence of socialism in the country. Realizing the Liberal party was a spent force, he ran as an "Independent Anti-Socialist", losing one election before winning the next as an independent "Constitutionalist" with Conservative backing. He was only then invited to join the Conservative government.

Let's leave aside the fact that the party system in the UK at that time was nowhere near as rigid as it is in today's Canada. The bottom line is that in neither case did Churchill put his own selfish interests - and believe me, he had them in spades - ahead of the wishes of his constituents as Emerson did.

Those who would justify Harper's and Emerson's mistake would do well to leave Churchill well out of it.

Babble off.

Friday, March 03, 2006

In praise of actual thinking

Babble on.

After reading him for almost two years now, first at the now-defunct PolSpy, and now at The Urban Refugee, I can testify that Sean McCormick will reliably show up on whichever side of an issue you least expect him to. Just try to pigeonhole him. I dare you.

Look, most of us living out here accept that the world economy is powered by hydrocarbons and will be for some time. We accept that we need to keep pumping this stuff out of the ground to keep everything going. But those of us who live in the communities where the oil and gas is being produced would appreciate it if people stopped bullshitting us about how safe we are. We see the damaged fields and pastures. We get sick every time the wind blows in from nearby flare stacks. We see the crap that gets spilled on the roads and in the ditches. We know better.

Reasonable, honest, grounded. And extremely unusual.

There are at least two sides to every issue. That's not to say each side is of equal merit. But shutting out any argument other than your own means your contribution to the understanding of any given problem declines rapidly to nil.

The Amazing Wonderdog illustrates this time and again. Read his brilliant post on gun control. Or on the LAVIII. Tell me you don't come away with a better understanding of the subject because he chooses honesty over loyalty to a particular side.

Some folks are all about the party line. You know who they are. They've tied a tourniquet of partisanship around their own necks, with the expectation that it will cut off the blood supply only to the section of their brain that processes doubt. The truth is that it cuts off the blood supply, period. Apparently being completely brain dead is not an impediment to blogging. A crying shame, that.

I'm not immune to the affliction, although I try my hardest to innoculate myself against it by reading intelligent contrary views. I tolerate hacks on my side of an issue much better than hacks on the other side, it's true. But like junk food, you can only scarf back so much before it starts to make you ill.

I wouldn't go so far as Skippy does, suggesting that "life isn't a team sport." I look into my kids' eyes and hope to God they have more happiness, more prosperity, more of a life than I do, and if that means giving up the rest of mine, so be it. No matter whether they're on my team, I'll always be on theirs.

But while life might be a team sport, blogging at its best certainly isn't. His point is well-taken as it applies to political discourse: independence for its own sake is immature and pointless, while blind partisanship is downright stupid.

Babble off.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Run, rodent, run

Babble on.

Even a blind squirrel stumbles across a nut every once in a while. Me? I've stumbled on to The Galloping Beaver, an ex-military leftie.

Disagree as I may with Dave's politics and his interpretation of events - especially in the Middle East - I find that he at least avoids the all-too-typical descent into rabid, spittle-flecked blaming of the world's woes on Chimpy McBushitler and his cabal of multi-national oil executives. Or Zionists. Or both in unholy coupling.

For example:

A little understood mindset in the Middle East is the view of government. Democracy in many areas holds no sway. A Bedou for example, whether he be Iraqi, Saudi or Omani is, first and foremost, a Bedou. While Bedouin tribesmen will take note of government, they view their independence and freedom to pursue their lifestyle as all important. The same can be said for urban Arabs in many cases. Government to most Arabs is the simple provision of services. Community leadership comes from local religious leaders. Some of the concepts being bandied about by the Bush administration are so totally foreign to the average Iraqi that they serve only to raise suspicion. Religious leaders see their authority being impinged upon and immediately choose the side of the fight that will leave leadership intact.

Dave's exploration of the cultural differences that frame questions of leadership, accountability, and power in the Middle East is most welcome; these are not well understood by most of us in the West, including me. Of course, he blows it by looking only at the Arab mindset within a Middle East that he surely knows is not monolithic. He's also wrong to assume that culture can't change if it is seen to be standing in the way of a better life: democratic government isn't where the populations of the Middle East turn for leadership at least partly because they've never truly had one to turn to. It remains uncertain whether they will, given the option.

It's useful to study the past, but it's a mistake to assume that study can predict the future.

Still, since housetrained lefties are always in short supply, I'm adding Castor Dave to the ghetto in the sidebar, right under Skippy.

Babble off.

Protocol and pats on the back

Babble on.

When will the Canadian government figure out that denying our troops foreign decorations does nothing but hurt CF morale?

Not anytime soon, apparently.

Babble off.