Friday, August 25, 2006

If you do it at a park, why isn't it called 'parking'?

Babble on.

Have you ever been to Presqu'ile Provincial Park? Either have I. I'll let you know what it's like when I get back.

If the kids don't run me into the ground, and the wife doesn't disown me first, that is. I tend to like the whole living outdoors thing more than they do.

Just to be prudent, I'm shutting down comments until I get back - around Labour Day. Until then, try some of the blogs in my sidebar, especially The Torch.

Babble off.

Update: Well, much fun was had by all. Bleached seagull skulls and maggoty fish carcasses on beaches ripe with the stink of blooming algae proved quite interesting for the bairns. I got to start and finish the latest Gabaldon novel, which I will return to my mother's library smelling heavily of woodsmoke. My lovelier half met new friends, as we took over a whole section of the campground with fourteen other souls connected by a somewhat unique university experience more than a decade ago. I would heartily recommend Presqu'ile to any and all.

But now we're back. Senior kindergarten starts tomorrow for Boo. Home improvement projects await my hand. The office is spooling back up after the typically slower pace of summer. Pitter patter, let's get at 'er.

Minarets should be for muezzins

Babble on.

U.S. forces in Iraq used direct fire from an Abrams to take out a building insurgents were using to launch a fierce attack. How is this noteworthy? Well, usually you don't fire a tank's main gun in an urban environment, but that's not why Reuters cares. They care because the building U.S. soldiers took out was a mosque (ht:JD)

U.S. tanks shelled a mosque in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi on Friday after coming under rocket-propelled grenade and machinegun fire from the building, the U.S. military said.

A doctor at Ramadi hospital told Reuters three people had been killed and 22 wounded by the U.S. fire, which the U.S. military said was provoked by a "complex attack" that also included hand grenades and improvised explosives.

"Coalition forces returned fire in self defense, using escalation of force procedures, and finally fired several main gun rounds from M1 tanks into the mosque in order to defeat the attackers," the military said in a statement.

The mosque suffered serious structural damage to the dome and minaret, it said, adding that one soldier had been slightly hurt in the attack.

U.S. forces generally refrain from damaging religious buildings but say they will attack them if fired upon. They accuse militants from both Sunni and Shi'ite factions of using mosques for military purposes.

A couple of years back, I commented - roughly, to be sure - on how much that sort of tactic drives me nuts. To launch an attack from a religious building, a spiritual centre is absolutely indefensible.

Now I know that it may be counterproductive from a 'hearts & minds' perspective to return fire into a holy site. I know that that's one of the reasons the fanatics do it - to turn general opinion against their opponents.

But there's something that resonates for me about a policy that boils down to this: "We will accord religious sites precisely the same respect as our opponents do."

Do not hide behind innocents, do not attack from sacred ground, do not use Western decency against us. Because one day, the West - whether it be Canada, Israel, Britain, France, or, God forbid, the U.S. - might well feel the time for Western decency has passed. And at that point, it really will be about killing them all and letting God sort them out, as the old slogan goes.

The capability exists, it's the will to use it that doesn't...yet.

Poking an elephant with a sharp stick when it's tied up presumes the leash will hold. That's a dangerous presumption to make. Hopefully this escalation will forestall further provocation. But given the jihadis' historical pattern, I'm not holding my breath.

Babble off.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Blog eradication team reporting, General Canute!"

Babble on.

Did you know that, according to a story in the Toronto Star, the Canadian Forces has no official policy on blogging? Neither did I. That surprised me enough that I wrote a post about it at The Torch - one I hope you'll read.

The truth is that the CF should have two policies: one for uniformed personnel who choose to blog, offering guidance on how to do that without running afoul of their military obligations; and one for DND Public Affairs on how to utilize blogs to the benefit of the CF.

Some will cry foul over the last part of that statement: " wouldn't allow yourself to be manipulated by a PAO, would you?" No, I wouldn't. But I would consider putting stories out on my blog that had come from CF Public Affairs and weren't getting any MSM press, if I found those stories had merit. And besides, the CF shouldn't be concerned with how I run my blog, they should be properly concerned with how to get their message out to the Canadian public.

You, gentle reader, may not realize it, but some bloggers - myself included - already get press releases. Personally, I receive information directly from a Canadian political party office (I'll let you guess which one), from an independent advocacy group, and from a PR firm who does defence lobbying, among others. Some of this information makes its way into the blog posts I write here and at The Torch , some makes its way into the e-mail trash bin.

Online media is only going to grow in volume and importance. The CF needs to get out in front of the wave, instead of forbidding it to come in.

Babble off.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The cat's among the pigeons, now...

Babble on.

I await the rending of clothes, the beating of breasts, the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Because the Canadian Medical Association's straight-out-of-the-box shiny brand new President not only owns a private orthopedic clinic, he actually has the temerity to believe Canadians should be able to pay for health care if they so choose.

Day said he has never supported the privatization of health care in Canada, and accused his detractors of deliberately distorting his position.

"Like most Canadians, and most physicians, I believe there is a place for the private sector and for public-private partnerships," he said.

Day believes the CMA has an important role in defining how the public and private sectors can work together to provide the best possible health care for Canadians.

Currently, my mother has more choice in how she handles her cat's health issues than she does over how she handles her own. For a CMA President to recognize the ludicrousness of this situation should not be cause for alarm.

But it will be. The calls to defend the integrity of Medicare will come faster than you can sign your name on a family practice waiting list.

Never mind that the CMA's mission statement eschews ideology in favour of results:

CMA Mission Statement
To serve and unite the physicians of Canada and be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.

In fact, never mind that the CMA President doesn't set policy for the group, and that even if he did, the physicians' association doesn't set policy for our various levels of government. Never mind that parallel public and private systems operate successfully around the world. Never mind that Canadians already access those systems in significant numbers. The health care Chicken Littles won't have any of it.

Having said that, the election of Dr. Day is not entirely insignificant, considering the discussion paper on this week's agenda:

Delegates at the CMA Annual Meeting Aug. 21–23 will be asked to use the paper to reconsider the private–public split. The CMA has traditionally supported a public system.

More privatization, however, may be problematic, the paper states, noting that reform of the system may be all but impossible without a significant increase in the number of physicians.

Drawing on international data and feedback from some 2800 Canadian doctors, the paper sketches 4 possible scenarios for the evolution of the Canadian system:

  1. Status quo

  2. Medicare plus: Including an evaluation of the basket of insured services, more cost-sharing arrangements (e.g., premiums), allowing physicians to opt out, and allowing Canadians to buy private insurance for some services and to get paid care elsewhere if wait times are exceeded (safety valve)

  3. Medicare complemented: Including a safety valve for more procedures, an expanded range of privately funded services (and private insurance for the same), and allowing physicians to deliver medically necessary services under both publicly and privately funded systems

  4. Medicare plus parallel private: Public services for all, but Canadians will have the option of private insurance for a full range of hospital and medical services.

None of the scenarios completely meet all the paper's 10 recommended guiding principles for the future of health care, CMA President Ruth Collins-Nakai said during the paper's release.

“At some point Canadians have to decide whether or not they want to continue with a tax-supported collective health care system or whether they wish to go with a more private, individual-rights type of system and ignore the collective. That's what it comes down to. Or whether they want something that is somewhere between those 2 extremes.”

One wonders if what the CMA sees as the biggest roadblock to reform is actually a chicken and egg scenario:

The paper indicates that it may well be impossible for Canada to adopt any alternative to the status quo without significantly increasing the number of physicians and hospital beds. It states that “All 12 countries with parallel private systems have a higher ratio of practising physicians to population than Canada.” Canada had the lowest ratio of physicians to 100 000 population at 2.1; the highest is 4.4 in Greece.

Does a more flexible system attract or help retain qualified physicians, or are they a prerequisite for a more flexible system in the first place.

I don't know the answer to that question. But if the CMA is discussing this, and the membership has elected a president with a vision that departs from the status quo, one wonders if we're seeing the first signs of a sea change in Canadian health care. At least the CMA isn't backing down from this discussion. Good on them for realizing our health system is a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself.

If only the defenders of the status quo would have the same revelation.

Babble off.

Update: Egad. I'm disappointed, but can't say I'm surprised. Tip of the toque, as Andrew would say, to his own Bound By Gravity, where he weighs in himself.

When to talk, and when not to

Babble on.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj is wrong. I don't just mean wrong about what he supposedly said to CanWest, I mean wrong even in his clarifying press release (ht:Akin):

“What I did say, however, is that the legislation surrounding our banned list of terrorist organizations must be evaluated to ensure our role as mediator is not compromised. Currently, the legislation forbids Canada from having any discussions with those on the list, and I believe this is not the way to achieve peace.

“Canada must be a partner in any efforts by the international community to bring peace and stability to the region, and we can not play that role if we are shackled by this legislation which forbids us from even speaking to those groups on our list. Discussion, negotiation and diplomacy are paramount to a lasting peace.”

From that CanWest article, here's a bit more of his rationale for this position:

He likened the situation in the Middle East to that of Northern Ireland, where "if there wasn't the possibility for London to negotiate with the IRA, you'd still have bombings."

"Hezbollah has a political wing. They have members of parliament. They have two Cabinet ministers. You want to encourage politicians in this military organization so that the centre of gravity shifts to them."

Sounds reasonable, right? I mean, the old saw about making peace with your enemies, not your friends is actually true. If you can't talk with your enemies, how will you ever make peace with them?

Well, the Phantom Observer makes a good start chipping away at Borys' argument by tackling the IRA angle:

The big problem with Borys’s analogy, of course, is that the IRA never denied that Britain had a right to exist, never claimed that England was their territory.


And that's actually symptomatic of an even bigger problem for Borys and all those who think like him: Hezbollah doesn't want to achieve peace through negotiation. The only peace they're interested in is one resulting from the destruction of their enemy.

"I am against any reconciliation with Israel. I do not even recognize the presence of a state that is called "Israel." I consider its presence both unjust and unlawful. That is why if Lebanon concludes a peace agreement with Israel and brings that accord to the Parliament our deputies will reject it; Hizballah refuses any conciliation with Israel in principle."

I'm all for talking with your enemies - once they're ready to talk. Sometimes that requires a bit of aggressive persuasion. Until Nasrallah and his band of thugs are interested in talking about a lasting peace - not a strategic pause - we shouldn't grant them any legitimacy whatsoever.

Babble off.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What to say about Vic and the kids?

Babble on.

I'm all for accountability, and I'm all for learning about consequences at a young age. Caring for kids isn't the same as giving them unlimited licence to do whatever they please; in fact, caring for kids expressly calls for instilling a sense of accountability in them that prepares them for responsible adulthood. On the basis of that, you'd think I'd be in favour of Justice Minister Vic Toews' plan to allow the legal system to address crime in kids down to the age of ten. Actually, I'm leery.

Chris Selley takes a run at Toews' position in a piece today, and I find myself in agreement with much of what Chris says. What Tart Cider doesn't do, however, is acknowledge in any real way the legitimate concerns that have prompted Toews' move. Today's Calgary Herald does, though:

Several years ago, when Winnipeg was plagued with a rash of car thefts by under-12s, police expressed their frustration at their inability to deal with these kids who, when caught, brazenly told the officers they knew the law couldn't do anything to them. Police dubbed one of the repeat offenders the Tiny Terror, but they had to wait until he turned 12 before they could formally charge him. In 2005, Brian Smiley, a spokesman for the Manitoba Public Insurance Corp., said: "We hear of kids as young as nine and 10 years old getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and driving it."

Adults would have to be in the throes of extreme naivete to believe these kids don't understand that stealing a car is wrong. Or that the 11-year-old arrested last year in Burnaby, B.C., in connection with a series of armed muggings didn't know it's wrong to threaten people with a knife and take their money. Yet, all police could do was release the child to his family.

Those who dismiss these examples as isolated incidents have a point, although not quite the point they believe they do. It's true that you don't turn an entire justice system upside down because the Calgary Herald quotes two examples of kids not responding to the current system. But talk to a primary school teacher, and you'll find that these are simply the most extreme examples of a widely acknowedged trend that sees parental control declining as state control in schools, law enforcement, and child welfare agencies becomes increasingly toothless and ineffective. Just because too much fear is decidedly a bad thing, doesn't mean a touch of fear of authority isn't a good thing in a child - and on this front, the battle isn't running in society's favour.

Releasing a young but delinquent child to his or her family simply isn't enough these days, especially in instances where violent or repeated crimes have been committed.

But is the answer to this real issue to have the heavy-handed justice system intervene? It seems to me that Toews' biggest problem is that he sees this issue as a nail, and as Justice Minister, he thinks he's holding an awfully big hammer.

"The theory is that the child welfare system will take care of those children, but that is not the case in most provinces," [Toews] said. "In most provinces, in fact, the child welfare system is allowing criminal conduct to continue among those types of children."

This illustrates the weakness of his position. Throwing kids to the courts to prevent continuing criminal conduct can only plausibly be projected to work if the criminal justice system in this country isn't "allowing criminal conduct to continue" among adult offenders as well. And that is decidedly not the case in Canada. So why does Toews think he can fix problems for kids that his justice system can't even fix for adults?

The real answer to this problem, as with most problems involving kids, starts at home with parents. Parenting isn't an easy task, but I firmly believe it's the most important one anyone with kids faces in their life. Setting limits and enforcing them, following through with consequences to kids' actions - good and bad alike, and giving children love without giving them unlimited licence is essential.

But as you can't legislate good parenting beyond some incredibly broad strokes (your child must be fed, you must not endanger your child, etc), what is a government to do? Well, it could start with strengthening the ability of schools to reinforce good parenting instead of undermining it. Teachers' hands are tied in many respects when it comes to enforcing good behaviour in the classroom and schoolyard. I'm not talking about a return to the strap, but something more than "Johnny, that's not very nice" is needed. And yes, I do understand that changes to the country's school systems don't fall within the Justice Minister's purview.

Another thing government could do is bolster the child welfare infrastructure. Minster Toews himself admits that part of the impetus for his proposed changes stems from a perception that some kids simply slip through the cracks between child welfare and the YCJA. If the child welfare system isn't shouldering their load, the logical response would be to encourage, cajole, or force it to do so. But again, changes of that nature aren't up to Canada's Minister of Justice.

So what should Toews do? He should show some restraint. Nothing within his repertoire as the elected head of Canada's legal system is going to be useful here, and accordingly, he needs to resist the urge to 'do something.' His proposed cure will not ameliorate the situation a bit, and it may even worsen the disease.

Instead, he should advocate the changes that will lead to less people ending up in his criminal justice system at all. Advocating isn't exciting, but surely a Conservative would understand that some things are the proper responsibility of someone else.

Babble off.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The good Trudeau

Babble on.

I thought it would be a cold day in hell before you ever saw me associate the name Trudeau with anything good. But today, the devil's wearing longjohns, apparently.

Here's why: Trudeau knows customer service. Following is the text of an e-mail exchange I had with them just the other day (with some personal details removed).

From: Damian Brooks [mailto:damian.brooks - at -]
Sent: August 9, 2006 3:40 PM
To: SAC - Trudeau Corporation
Subject: Salt shaker

I bought a tall, elegant stainless steel Trudeau salt and pepper set about a year ago. The pepper grinder is fantastic - the best I've ever used. Unfortunately, the plug in the bottom of the salt shaker has never fit properly. I didn't want to go through the hassle of taking it back to the store I bought it from, especially since I would have had to return the pepper grinder too. My wife managed to jerry-rig the plug for a while with some tape, but it leaks salt out the bottom.

I never wanted to return the set - we really like it. All I want is a plug that fits.

Any ideas?

Damian Brooks
1 Address Street
Aroundtoronto, ON
L** ***
ph: 905-***-****

From: Sylvie ******* - Trudeau Corporation
To: Damian Brooks
Date: Aug 9, 2006 3:59 PM
Subject: RE: Salt shaker

Hi Mr.Brooks

Since we have some replacement parts, we will send a new plug at no cost to replace the defective one. Give us a couple of days and you should receive the plug by Canada post.

Thank you and have a great day

Sylvie Mickel

Gestionnaire de compte National
National account manager
450-***-**** #314
450-***-**** fax
sylvie.NOSPAM - at -

Note the time and date of the response. Sylvie got back to me, not with just an acknowledgement, but with a solution, nineteen minutes after I e-mailed the corporation from a simple website link. That is kick-ass customer service, period.

And sure enough, the replacement plug arrived in the mail yesterday. My wife put it into the salt shaker, and it fits perfectly. Problem solved, repeat customer solidified, and good word-of-mouth advertising secured.

Well done, Trudeau. (As Satan absolutely nails a triple axel.)

Babble off.

What we don't know

Babble on.

Further to the ongoing discussion about how sports reporters bring more to the table professionally than war reporters do these days, I recommend reading Occam's Carbuncle's abridged list of things we don't know about the recent Israel-Hezbollah state of open hostilities. Feel free to add to that list in comments.

And ask yourself if there's any good reason we don't know at least a bit more about each of those points - heck, why the points are only raised at all on a couple of relatively obscure Canadian blogs like BB and OC.

Memo to news organizations: time to start probing deeper into the dynamics of conflict than "look at all the refugees."

Babble off.

Airlift - let it roll off your tongue

Babble on.

Over at The Torch, Chris Taylor has written an excellent post, complete with graphics, about strategic and tactical airlift in the context of the CF's projected purchase of C-17 Globemaster aircraft. Worth the read if you're interested in matters of airpower.

Which, it goes without saying, all thinking people, including readers of this blog, surely are.

Babble off.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Globemasters and Chinooks

Babble on.

Apparently the federal government is ready to move on strat-lift aircraft and heavy-lift helos. More here at The Torch (ht:DA).

Babble off.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Would this be the last nail?

Babble on.

I hope, I hope, I hope this comes true:

Remember this number: $1.4-billion over 10 years. That figure could deliver the most coveted prize in Canadian sports television to CTV-TSN, according to sources.

The prize, of course, is Hockey Night in Canada, the CBC's long-time ratings leader, rights to which will expire at the end of the 2007-08 National Hockey League season.

According to insiders, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has already talked to the CBC and CTV-TSN about the bidding process.

Two well-placed sources say Bell Globemedia, which owns CTV and TSN as well as The Globe and Mail and part of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is likely to proffer a bid that the CBC may find impossible to match -- $140-million a year for 10 years, for a total of $1.4-billion.

With Chris Cuthbert, and more recently, Brian Williams moving over from public to private, it's easy to see how the talent could make the shift. I would hope that if Don Cherry's still around, he gets an offer. And it would be silly not to bring in Ron McLean - he's trusted, recognizable, and it's not like he'd have anything else of importance to do at CBC.

The only thing I'd miss would be the old HNIC theme song...assuming CBC or Dolores Claman or whoever controls it wouldn't put it up for purchase in a fire-sale. Wouldn't that be delicious: take it all, lock, stock, and barrel?

It seems a bit morbid to start a two-year CBC deathwatch, but what the hell? It's a lot more fun than watching the CPC try to gift-wrap turd.

Babble off.

Do NOT try to spin this

Babble on.

Maxime Bernier says defence contracts will go to whichever companies are competitive.

OK, Max, then why the hell did your government find it necessary to invoke a frickin' loophole clause to accomplish that? The market doesn't work without you tapping into a national security exception? How stupid do you think we are?

Screwing around with defence procurement, turning it into a hopped-up regional development program, is the sort of total crap we were supposed to have done away with by electing a Conservative government.

And so help me, if I hear one more "loyal Conservative" defend shit like this with a weak-assed line like "think of the big picture" I will frickin' puke. The "big picture" is that our guys were supposed to break from the realpolitik philosophy that was used to justify so much Liberal graft, cronyism, and pork-barrelling. We didn't put up with a garbage rationale like that when Liberals tried to justify Adscam by saying "look at the big picture: national unity!" We should be ashamed spouting the same noxious crap now. I said in a previous post that putting party before country is wrong, and I damned well meant it, my party included.

If I'm wrong, if there's a solid reason for invoking a national security exemption on these contracts, I wish to hell someone would lay it out for me. Because right now, none of the explanations I'm hearing pass the smell test.

Babble off.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How time flies when your blood pressure's spiking

Babble on.

The second anniversary of Babbling Brooks came and went without my notice. Without a single post, for that matter, as I was otherwise engaged with more productive pursuits. Ah well, such are the pitfalls of being a dilettante blogger.

Looking back, my first post was about Ben Mulroney. We've come a long way, baby. Thanks for letting me beat you over the head and drag your senseless body along with me on my journey - you, gentle reader, have been commendably patient with me.

Babble off.

The Politician's Dilemma

Babble on.

It seems pretty obvious to me that many MP's in the federal Liberal caucus have fallen into a politician's version of the 'liar's dilemma.' You know:

"The liar's punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else."
- George Bernard Shaw

For withered souls like Minna and Karygiannis, Harper's motives in inviting Wajid Khan to contribute to Canada's foreign policy in a direct way must be solely political, since their own motives in public life are solely political. How pathetic.

Now I'd have to be a complete naïf to believe Harper and his staff didn't factor political considerations into this move, and I'm equally sure Khan considered the politics of his decision before he made it. Both looked at the potential positives and drawbacks, and decided that cooperation was in the best interests of the country, politics be damned.

Not good enough, the shrill cynics cry:

"Wajid's appointment is a slick, sick, calculated move on Harper's part," MP Maria Minna said in a letter to Liberal caucus colleagues yesterday. "Liberals shouldn't touch this thing with a 10-foot pole."
"Membership in caucus has its privileges and a Liberal is a Liberal is a Liberal," [Karygiannis] said. The only advice he would be comfortable giving Mr. Harper was, "Resign."

Putting party before country is wrong. I cannot say it more plainly than that.

Liberals could have approached this as an opportunity to show Canadians that they have put their selfish tendencies behind them, that they will do whatever it takes to see Canada on the best course possible, that they want to influence government policy rather than simply obstruct it.

Instead, they, rather than Wajid Khan, have fallen into "Harper's trap," in reality a trap of their own making: if anything, he dared them to show their vicious partisanship, and they couldn't resist the challenge. Minna and Karygiannis have just reinforced why the Liberals remain unfit to govern.

Babble off.


I'm waiting for the Liberal press release: "The pretence of pet fostering is a transparent ruse, propagated by the PMO to mislead voters. The kitten shown in this blatant piece of propaganda is actually Harper's lunch. It was consumed shortly after the photographer snapped the picture, with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The 'I think' buffet

Babble on.

I think the heckling of a Canadian tennis player in Canada by other Canadians (or Canadian residents) based solely upon ethnic background is despicable. If Daniel Nestor was black, or Jewish, or gay, there would be a cross-partisan shitstorm directed at these twits, and rightly so. So why the relative silence on this one?

I think reviewing the nomination process for candidates that have run unsuccessfully twice in the past is a good thing (ht:CG). In my former riding, the CPC candidate has now run twice for that party, and once for the Canadian Alliance prior to that, without success. As I understand it, he was set to run yet again the next time around. He's a party insider, and has a lock on the riding membership - so much so that nobody even bothered to run against him for the nomination last time around. Having a loyal and disciplined following within a riding association is important for a prospective candidate, but it shouldn't be the only factor in deciding who runs.

I think the end times must be near when I find myself agreeing with Ujjal frickin' Dosanjh, of all people, on a defence matter (ht:Torch). There had better be an explanation for this move that isn't spelled P-O-R-K. My time and money will not continue to go to a party that uses defence like this.

I think I can actually hear the galloping hooves of the Four Horsemen when I read a former Liberal Justice Minister eviscerate a former Supreme Court of Canada Justice (ht:SG) for ignorant and unhelpful pronouncements from her pulpit at the United Nations. Good on Irwin for playing against type.

I think I'm done thinking for today.

Babble off.

Friday, August 04, 2006

"Fingers are getting increasingly cold in the stands as this so-called 'game' wears on, Lloyd."

Babble on.

Has anyone else noticed the gargantuan, fly-a-Herc-through-it hole in the war reporting from Lebanon?

We have story after story after story that zeroes in on civilian loss of life. Dreadful, tragic, and important to report, absolutely. But only part of the story, one would think.

I mean, it is a military operation, isn't it? So how's the military part going? Anyone? Bueller?

If I were editor at a newspaper, or producer at a news show on TV or radio I'd be calling CDA and getting in touch with a couple of retired colonels. I'd ask one to take the Israeli side, and the other - hopefully with some expertise in asymmetrical warfare - to take the Hezbollah side, and get them to lay out how they think each would prosecute their respective campaigns. I'd have them dredge the publicly-available intelligence information to determine how each side's effort is proceeding, and ask them to lay out the conditions by which each side could reasonably claim victory. I'd rely on them to help my staff put together graphics that illustrated, for example, how Hezbollah's supplies are projected to be depleting, and on what timelines. Or maps that show why certain bridges were just dropped in terms of the fighting around them or the supplies moving over them.

In other words, I'd devote a hefty chunk of page space or airtime to educating the public - who mostly have no clue about military tactics or strategy - about the how and why of each move both Hezbollah and the IDF make, so that they could put the other information they receive about the wider conflict into context.

Because right now, I have to agree with Kate's assessment from a few months back about a different war with the same media myopia:

...perhaps the time has come to send sports reporters to war zones. It seems to be one of the last refuges of journalism in which a) reporters have basic knowledge of the subject matter they're assigned to, and b) they're expected to report the details and outcome of the race, even if a contestant is injured or dies during competition.

It's astonishing that the same country that still celebrates the envelope pushing performances (and near-death experiences) of the "Crazy Canucks" downhill ski team, hasn't figured out that covering a war in the context of body counts is the sports journalism equivalent of limiting Olympic coverage to the daily injury reports of the various countries in competition.

For me, taking in the current coverage of the war in the Levant is like watching a hockey game on TV where the cameramen don't know how to follow the action; where the play-by-play and colour commentators don't know the players, the objective of the game, or how to keep score; and where accordingly, the entire focus of the broadcast is on how cold the people in the bleachers are growing as the game wears on and on, suffering without purpose as pucks fly randomly into the stands, and the crash of bodychecks shatter the fragile tranquility of the stands.

Babble off.

Update: Back to playing editor/producer for a moment, given the fact that war reporting seems to be upon us for the forseeable future, I might even hire a few ex-military reporters or pundits. We have far too few Chris Watties in the Canadian media.

And before you even go there, I'm not fishing here; I'm quite happy selling insurance for a living, thank you very much.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The best choice from a list of bad ones

Babble on.

Much as the slanted coverage raises my blood pressure, I find CBC Radio's newscasts superior to anything else I receive on my anemic AM/FM car radio. So I listen, and occasionally talk back to the voices on the radio that can't actually hear me, and even more occasionally yell back at them.

A couple of mornings ago I yelled.

Dr. Michael Byers was on the line, dutifully deploring the Israeli destruction of Lebanese civil infrastructure. There was no excuse, in his mind, for bombing the Beirut Airport, for taking out Lebanese ports, or for cratering roads across the country.

Had I been the show's host, the question I would have asked - was positively burning to ask - was this: Which military airfield does Hezbollah use for international travel? Which naval base flies the flag of Hezbollah proudly? Which military roads do they use for resupply? Show me their dedicated military logistics and support infrastructure, please, so that I may join with you, Dr. Byers, in condemning the Israeli choice to bomb exclusively civilian apparatus.

This kind of simplistic thinking - from an academic, no less! - drives me batty.

Fighting paramilitary irregulars, or guerillas, or insurgents, or terrorists on their own turf is more than tricky: it's damned near impossible given the constraints faced by a Western military.

The easiest and most effective way to eliminate the the threat to Israel's northern border would be to level Lebanon. Total warfare. Kill everything that moves, take every structure and implement of modern life and destroy it, bomb everything in sight until the rubble bounces, and then salt the earth like the Romans did in Carthage so that Hezbollah can't creep back in when Israel leaves.

For Israel to engage in a Holocaust of its own would be unthinkable, however.

Another option would be for Israel to turn the other cheek, to stop fighting back against those who would destroy them. An acceptance that they live among mortal enemies, and that they cannot defeat those enemies without giving up their own humanity, would satisfy the extreme pacifist crowd, but would also seal Israel's defeat. And when mortal enemies defeat you, that's it: you're dead.

For obvious reasons, this course of action is also unthinkable to Israelis.

The answer, then, lies somewhere between these two extremes. Israel must defend itself and defeat its enemies without engaging in total warfare. What level of compromise between war and civilization this should entail is the subject of deep and passionate debate. But that painful debate should at least be informed by the trade-offs necessary to such a compromise.

Although written in terms of the U.S. military's struggle within Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the information in Military Doctrine, Guerrilla Warfare and Counter-Insurgency is relevant to today's Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

This points to the essential problem of guerrilla war. At its lowest level -- before it evolves into a stage where it has complex logistical requirements supplied from secure areas in and out of the country -- guerrilla war is political rather than military in nature. The paradox of guerrilla war is that it is easier to defeat militarily once the guerrilla force has matured into a more advanced, and therefore more vulnerable, entity. However, by the time it has evolved, the likelihood is that the political situation has deteriorated sufficiently that even heavy attrition will be overcome through massive recruitment within the disaffected population.

A decisive military solution to guerilla warfare requires elements that the Israelis don't enjoy - near-perfect intelligence, the support of moderate elements within the general population, and an ability to cripple regeneration of the guerilla force going forward.

The obvious solution, then, is to achieve a political resolution before a guerilla movement gains any momentum. In the case of Israel and Lebanon, that's like saying the obvious solution is to close the barn door before the horses get out. Yes, yes, but what the hell should we do now that they're already gone, is the equally obvious rejoinder. From Hezbollah's perspective, the only acceptable final political solution to the conflict is the annihilation of Israel, and the establishment of an Iranian-style theocracy in Lebanon. At least the PLO eventually came to the conclusion that a two-state solution was the only way forward - Nasrallah and his sponsors in Damascus and Tehran have yet to experience that epiphany.

With a political solution out of reach, and a decisive military victory equally improbable, what was Israel to do? Especially since disengagement from south Lebanon was regarded by Hezbollah as a strategic pause, and opportunity to rearm, regroup, and retrench, and since Hezbollah's main ideological and material backer is actively pursuing nuclear weapons?

Well, what Israel has chosen to do is deal with its short-term security issues, while deferring the long-term ones.

Knowing it has a limited window of opportunity, and an equally limited surgical counter-insurgency capability, Israel is using as blunt a military instrument as its national conscience can stomach to degrade Hezbollah's paramilitary capabilities to an acceptable level, in the full understanding that this will cause political problems for it in the future, as formerly moderate Lebanese find in this war personal justification to support Hezbollah. If all this campaign does is buy Israel another six years to let other trends in the region develop, it will be counted as a success.

That's the short answer to why the IDF is currently bombing roads and airports and docks and homes: they don't have a better option. If an amateur like me can do it rudimentary justice in a web-post, one would think that CBC Radio could do a bit better.

Babble off.