February 26, 2002

MAIL CALL A couple nice


A couple nice notes recently received:

Ever since grade school, I have been signing my name as Bruce R., confident that, while there may be many B. R.’s, everyone that counted knew who Bruce R. is -- me. Even when I dated a girl with my same initials and birthday there was never any real confusion because I am Bruce R., and she isn’t (although she was clearly angling to be Mrs. Bruce R.)

So, imagine my horror at seeing a reference on U.S.S. Clueless to some blogger named Bruce R. Now when people see Bruce R. they may think that you are me, or worse, that I am you. Clearly there is some sort of conspiracy here, so I'll have to keep my eye on your site just to make sure that you're not up to no-good.

By the way, keep up the good work.

--(The other) BRUCE R.

Just out of curiousity is the image at the top of your blog is of the jantar mantar in new delhi?


(Yes, although I personally prefer the one in Jaipur. --BR)

Finally a subject I know something about! Short, heavy vehicles with high aspect ratio tires, soft suspensions and a high centre of gravity don't brake very well either. Ask any female driver (and probably a lot of male drivers as well) why they love driving an SUV, and you will probably hear "I feel more secure", but nothing could be further from the truth. The illusion comes from the high seating position and image of ruggedness, neither of which does anything for safety. I heard a radio interview with someone who works for Consumer Reports, and tests SUV's. He was bemoaning
the deficiencies of all SUV's, but admitted that his wife prefers a SUV because she is of small stature, and the SUV gives her a false sense of security. I have driven SUV's for three years and 240,000 kms, because my employer wants me to, but I would never spend my own money on one.

The other issue is that most drivers today can't handle a tire blowout. They panic, and jerk the steering wheel instead of driving straight until they can slow down. The only way to roll over most cars is to drive off the shoulder of the road into a ditch and then jerk the steering wheel towards the road. A little driver education to practice emergency maneuvers would save more lives than photo radar, but generate a lot less revenue.


I was interested to see your numbers. The reason I singled out the SAS contributions is because I think there's a distinction to be drawn between those guys and what the Norwegian/Jordanian de-miners and the Germans and Finns in Kabul are doing - not necessarily in the risk to those involved but in the political spin that's put on them back home. Those activities can all be presented in some even-handed multilateralish stabilisational peacekeepery global traffic-cop kind of way. What the UK-NZ-Oz SAS fellows plus JTF2 are doing is helping the US hunt down al-Qa'eda members and either capture them or kill them: that's soldiering of the basic kind; there's no pretence of being neutral referees; you're one team and the enemy's the other - and, from what I hear from SAS sources, some of those cave battles were very bloody.

I'm not an anglospherist in the way Iain Murray or my colleague John O'Sullivan is, but I do think it's significant that so far the only countries willing to go into battle on the American side are Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Other than that, we think alike, and I enjoy your blog.


Posted by BruceR at 01:13 PM



Sometimes newswire stories are so well-done you wish they did give the author's names. Cases in point:

Iguana tosser convicted (AP)

Squatters to be evicted from B.C. Legislature lawn (CP)

Bravo, you anonymous wage slaves!

Posted by BruceR at 12:37 PM

February 25, 2002



The University of Toronto Varsity is the largest-circulation student newspaper in Canada. It's also, this week, a fascinating set of snapshots of how low Canadian student protest has sunk since my salad days, that I can't resist commenting on. Full disclosure: in addition to being the former editor of the Varsity in the early 90s, I currently collect a paycheque from the university, just so you know. (Warning: some articles may require free registration to read in full).

In "U of T financial report 'dishonest'", the Canadian Federation of Students tells reporter Graham Scott what to think about of U of T's latest study of its student aid situation. CFS is Canada's largest national university student lobby group, and is always after more money for need-based aid, and lower tuition rates. Obviously they're mad at the report, which paints a fairly positive picture, but Scott doesn't tell you why, instead focussing on some rather minor concerns about the methodology.

You see, the report establishes fairly conclusively that the mean student debt for U of T undergraduate students is around $7,000 Cdn. upon graduation. For years, CFS has been using the figure of an average Canadian undergraduate debt of $25,000, which they more or less seem to have pulled out of the air. Certainly their study doesn't have the rigorousness of this one, which pretty much means every press release they've sent out in those years was a lie. Oops. It's not the pot calling the kettle black... it's the pot calling the toaster off-hue, surely.

In "New student code a major threat", Kaisa Walker again uncritically quotes a leading student activist, this time the frequently arrested Elan Ohayon, who for some reason didn't bother to offer both sides of his beef:

Many students who have been disciplined or threatened with suspension or expulsion under the code, said Ohayon, "have historically been the most socially aware students on campus." During the teaching assistants' strike of 2000, Ohayon said, some members of the T.A. union bargaining committee were charged with violating the code and threatened with disciplinary action. The administration later withdrew these threats, but Ohayon claims they affected the outcome of the strike.

Sounds draconian, doesn't it? What Ohayon conveniently mention was what really happened during that strike. In fact, no teaching assistants were "charged with" anything. On one occasion, when a mob of student strikers blockaded the doors of a teaching awards presentation at Hart House, and refused to let any of the attendees leave for several hours (they wanted to confront the president, who was inside), Toronto police had to be called to get the attendees, many of them elderly friends of the profs being honoured, out safely. Afterwards, the then president said forcible confinement was not permissible free speech under the Code of Student Conduct, and that those who organized the protest should beware. (Previously, Ohayon and his friends had been told they could also run afoul of the code if they continued to vandalize the portraits of dead university presidents in the council chambers, too... some had apparently felt they were too white and male.)

That's the kind of "socially aware" hooliganism Ohayon's clique wants to protect from reprisals. As you can read from the story, their latest protest this month completely disrupted the very meeting called to pass the new student code of conduct amendments, forcing the student and staff governors to evacuate to a new location under a campus police escort. That pretty much guaranteed the new amendments would pass... and gave a taste of the mob rule that would ensue if they didn't at the same time.

Finally, student politician Mona Ahmad's letter (bottom of this page) conveys her deep sense of outrage at being at a student council meeting where another student councillor brought a case of beer to pass around. Apparently that offended her as a Muslim: she twice calls the action "racist and chauvinistic." Since there's no evidence anyone tried to force the beer down Ahmad's throat, that apparently now means it's a sin for Muslims to even be in a room with alcohol, let alone drink it. I can't say my Muslim relatives have ever mentioned that prohibition... I apologize to them all, I guess, for keeping a liquor cabinet all these years. But this sentence is still classic:

While I do not expect SAC [U of T's student council] directors to follow the traditions and faiths of other SAC directors and their constituents, I demand respect for my culture and faith and that of other students.

Thanks, Mona, for keeping your expectations of the rest of us heathens so limited. It's so nice to see a Muslim who doesn't feel forced conversions are necessary, at least for the moment, isn't it?

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM

February 24, 2002



Yonge Street below me is one long, raucous Hockey Night in Canada melee tonight even as I write this. For a couple hours this afternoon, my entire country essentially ceased to function. In downtown Toronto, it's ceased again now. The Americans can have their closing spectacle in Salt Lake. This is our closing ceremony...

In 1928, the University of Toronto Alumni Grads represented Canada at the St. Moritz games. With future senator "Stonewall" Sullivan in nets, they beat Sweden 11-0... Switzerland 13-0... Britain 14-0. They were called the greatest hockey team Europe had ever seen. Three years later, in the Statute of Westminster the British government formally relinquished any residual influence it might have over Canadian politics, and finally gave them their own nation.

In 1952, Canada won its seventh hockey gold medal in eight Winter Olympics. The year before, the Princess Patricias had become the only Canadian regiment ever to receive a U.S. Presidential Unit Citation for saving the day at Kapyong Hill. The RCAF's Canadian-built CF-100 was the best all-weather interceptor in the world. And Canada's aircraft carrier, the HMCS Magnificent was flying Sea Furies off its flight deck.

Don't doubt it: tonight a whole nation dreams of what was, and what once may be again. Comebacks are possible in things besides hockey, you know.

Posted by BruceR at 09:40 PM

February 22, 2002



Awesome documentary on PBS' Frontline last night... "Rollover," about the SUV industry, and the danger of rollovers in pre-2000 SUVs. The most amazing moment is at the end, when, just out of camera range during an interview (but not out of range of the microphone, and in full view of the interviewee) an SUV actually rolls over, injuring the woman driver. Sometimes you find the story and sometimes the story finds you, I guess.

In other news, eminent historian Jack Granatstein has come to the same conclusions I did re Canada's defence policy: we're never going to spend the extra $5 billion a year it would take to produce a force capable of pursuing independent military policy, so the only sane response left is to find a couple niches that make us useful to the United States, and do those well. Being a longtime pessimist in these matters, however, I have no doubt the national defence review announced yesterday will only produce an opposite and counterproductive result. Oh, well: it's not like Western civilization is lacking its defender right now. If anyone's looking for us for the next century or so, we'll be on the sidelines... or over at the concession stand, I suppose.

Posted by BruceR at 12:38 PM



Time to spend some time away from the university desk job getting back in touch with my khaki-clad roots. I haven't had a photo go nationally in a little while, so the shutter finger's already twitching a little... but they're promising a lot of cool kit and explosives on the particular maneuvers I'm covering, so it'll be fun regardless. See ya all Monday.

In the meantime, a buying recommendation: if it's not in the remainder bin near you yet it soon will be (I got it at half-price), but Microsoft's Crimson Skies is just about the cutest little computer game I've played in a while. Excellent visual quality, great plot, and the kind of hopelessly generous flight physics that just piss true flight sim fans off, but allow the rest of us to at least pretend we're von Richthofen for a little while, convincingly. Fun manual, and acceptably modest required system specs too... the theme, 1930s aerial combat in an alternate timeline seems designed only to people of my father's generation who thought Captain Midnight and the Secret Squadron were the epitome of radio entertainment... but the first time you zoom climb out of the superbly rendered volumetric clouds to realize there's no way you're not going to collide with that pirate Zeppelin... well let's just say I've more than recouped the discounted price in play value.

Lots of mail... will try to answer some of it when I get back. Cheers.

Posted by BruceR at 11:37 AM

February 21, 2002



You'll already no doubt have read Mark Steyn's latest, which I love for all kind of reasons... even if I anticipated his comments on Steven Glover somewhat with this post. As I've said, though, he's a much better writer than I am.

In it, Steyn lists the countries involved on the ground in Afghanistan. He just lists the English-speaking countries to make a point, but he's not far off. Here's the full list, in case you're curious, as of this week (numbers where given are actual boots on Afghan soil, not theatre-area deployments, naval warships, and the like):

Special Forces operations: United States (2,500-plus), Britain (1 SAS squadron), Australia (150), Canada (40), New Zealand (30);
Demining task force: United States, Britain, Norway, Jordan (numbers not available);
Kandahar main body ("Task Force Rakkasan"): United States (1,600-plus; a battalion-plus of the 101st Airborne), Canada (750; one small battle group).

There is also the UN-mandated soccer players of the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, which to date consists of troops from:
Major contributors (battalion- or larger strength): Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain;
Minor contributors (company-size or smaller): Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden.

(Hmm... wonder where the Belgians are... -ed.) There are also those persistent rumours of large numbers of Russian advisers working with the Northern Alliance, of course.

None of this detracts from Steyn's point in the slightest ( the Special Forces at the pointy end are, in fact, all English speaking): just wanted to be thorough.

Posted by BruceR at 03:00 PM

February 20, 2002



"The relative influence of riches on politics was far higher in 1789, when the communications media of the day, pamphlet printing and pubic lecturing, strongly favored the well-to-do." -- Gregg Easterbrook, in the no-doubt-soon-to-be-corrected TNR Online, today.

Posted by BruceR at 01:03 PM



"The Geneva Convention is deliberately constructed to be tit-for-tat. It says explicitly that a nation is obligated to follow the convention only if the other nation is also a signatory and is also following it." -- Stephen den Beste, on the Geneva Convention and game theory. His argument is only somewhat marred by the fact that, according to Article 2, para 3 of the 3rd Geneva Convention, his sentence should really read: "...if the other nation is a signatory OR is following it." Signatories who don't follow the rules of war (one variety of game theory "sinners") must still be treated in a saintly fashion, if you wish to follow the Convention.

While we're on the topic, Grossman argues convincingly that while game theory tit-for-tat can work fine in decisions made by world leaders off the battlefield, it has no place in highly charged situations, particularly those involving atrocities committed by combatants. The possibility for confusion, of weakening your own side's will by a policy that in situations of imperfect communication and agreement can only seem inconsistent and hypocritical, is too high, he argues... and that the only alternatives that offer long term consistency are to be an aspiring saint, or a determined sinner.

By the way, den Beste is also wrong about nuclear deterrence, at least as it was practiced by the West. NATO's nuclear tripwire strategy (fight for West Germany, then resort to tactical nukes once defeat was inevitable) was always implicitly a "first use" nuclear strategy. If anyone was playing "tit-for-tat," it was the Soviets, not us.

Posted by BruceR at 11:18 AM



"If you stipulate that these detainees are members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda then there is no fact-specific question for a tribunal to decide." -- Guantanamo apologist Ruth Wedgwood, in TNR, on why due process is not a requirement for the Afghan detainees.

True. But who has so stipulated? The Americans, in their position as the effective trier of fact, cannot... and the Taliban prisoners in Cuba have no lawyers to so stipulate to any such matter on their behalf. No, what Wedgwood really means to say there is that, if you assume these people are war criminals, then there is no need for further inquiry, is there? And you know, she's right. Just as if the government had just assumed Guy-Paul Morin or Hurricane Carter were guilty, then their trials would have been a waste of time and taxpayer money, too... think of all the money we'd save!

Posted by BruceR at 10:58 AM



"If we practice diplomacy and military action creatively and forcefully, in the future we [Americans] can be far less visible and active in the Middle East than we are now." -- Victor Davis Hanson.

My children will be old and gray before the USAF leaves Incirlik, and the Navy stops patrolling the Persian Gulf, Victor. Surely you can see the oil itself guarantees that. I'll even go one further... Americans aren't leaving Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo any time soon either. For better or worse, you're a global empire now. Please get used to it.

Posted by BruceR at 10:38 AM



A little known fact of wars in Afghanistan: the big defeats never come during the initial invasion. They always come during prolonged periods of using foreign military resources to prop up domestic regimes. In 1839, of course, it was Shah Shujah, installed by the East India Company, who had overthrown his predecessor, the Islamicist Dost Mohammed. The Company lost an army there, as we all know. Of course, in the 1980s, it was Babrak Karmal and later Najibullah the Soviets were propping up. Shujah and Najibullah both had painful ends.

That's why this is so ominous... and why Interim President Karzai might want to be thinking of checking out the St. Petersburg area condo market about now.

UPDATE: Good piece, this.

Posted by BruceR at 10:30 AM



As a web and PR practitioner, I've really been impressed recently with defenselink.mil, the Pentagon's online communications apparatus. It's first-rate internal communications/online communications/PR: timely, thorough, effective. That's why this piece was surprising, alarming, and thought-provoking.

UPDATE: The Post's take. Andrew Sullivan, meanwhile, misses the point: the part of the office's mandate that's worrying people isn't the spreading of disinformation to America's enemies, but to its allies. To repurpose Sullivan's analogy, not about Churchill lying to the Germans... it's about Churchill lying to Americans.

Posted by BruceR at 09:58 AM

February 15, 2002



Interesting piece, this.

Posted by BruceR at 09:13 PM

SHUT UP, SCOTT I'm trying


I'm trying to remember the last time Slate military columnist Scott Shuger had anything intelligent to say. It's certainly been awhile. Recently, Dahlia Lithwick, of all people, has been mopping the floor with him in a running debate about the PoWs. Even if you take Shuger's side that the American policy towards Afghan prisoners is justified, you had to be embarrassed by his ineptness in defending it. Before that, of course, was his inaccurate and slanderous attack on the Air Force pilots who didn't shoot down jetliners on Sept. 11.

Shuger's latest piece is also an embarrassment, in which he declares that only a major international commission chaired by George McGovern (!) can ever settle the question of how many thousands of civilians died in Afghanistan. Yes, that vexing question. Because there's been all those different numbers thrown around, you see? Except there hasn't. Let's take a look again at the estimates made thus far, of civilian fatalities due to bombing.

Associated Press (based on fatalities reported at major Afghan hospitals): 600+
Project for Defense Alternatives (based on extrapolated results from reliable first-hand accounts): 1,000-1,300
Reuters (rough estimate): c. 1,000
Human Rights Watch U.S. (rough estimate): c. 1,000

Now where is the disagreement again? If a conservative-assumptions method comes up with above 600 fatalities, and a liberal-assumptions method comes up with under 1,300, and two other expert assessments corroborate the general range, any idiot's metanalysis will tell you the number's going to be a couple hundred either side of, say, 950, 19 times out of 20. Unless you want to make up a list of their names to display at the next Superbowl, that's pretty good data already. What is it, exactly, that an expensive government commission could add to the determination that hasn't already been done? Nothing. Zip. Nada. There's always going to be a higher degree of uncertainty on this number than at the WTC, because of the breadth of attacks in time and geography, and the lower census standards of post-occupation Afghanistan.

Of course, there's the ludicrous Herold overestimate, but no one who's bothered to read his "evidence" and ever took an undergraduate course should have seen through that in a minute. For this we need to commence the thawing of George McGovern?

And Shuger shows once again he doesn't know what he's talking about, stating, "And good luck trying to find out how many civilians died in the Gulf War." Actually, if he's talking unintentional deaths due to bombing, both the Iraqi government and the Washington Post accept a number of c. 3,200, while Human Rights Watch and the Defense Intelligence Agency use a lower number of 2,500-3,000 (admittedly with a rather low degree of confidence). That's a pretty small range, don't you think? Does any argument one might wish to enter into around the Iraq bombing hinge on that differential? What point will be won or lost, what aspect of American strategy will be reconsidered if the number of Afghan fatalities turns out to be c. 900, or around 1,100? Better to spend all that money a commission would spend on improving the lives of the surviving Afghans, or punishing their killers and oppressors, rather than just recounting the dead AGAIN. There is no new information worth gathering.

Now Gregg Easterbrook, he knows the military. Now that he's not doing that TMQ stuff any more for Slate (more's the pity... how about a special Olympic edition, Gregg?), he should send "naval intelligence" Shuger to the Microsoft showers.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM



The New Republic announces today that the new director of the Pentagon's Information Awareness Office is... John Poindexter? Aww, come on... the man said "I do not recall" a documented 184 times during the Iran-Contra hearings. 184 times. He was proven in nationally televised hearings to be either hopelessly duplicitous, or too dumb to live. My stapler is more "informationally aware" than he is.

Posted by BruceR at 12:30 PM

February 13, 2002



Also from the Post. One wonders if the powers behind the throne even let him have real bullets by this point.

Posted by BruceR at 10:37 PM

BRITTLE CHINA Just to stay


Just to stay with the theme of Orwell's vision having come true in China that we're running with this week, here's the latest revelations from the Washington Post. Even Christianity, it seems, is doubleplusungood now.

Posted by BruceR at 10:25 PM



There is a particular kind of piece that the New Republic has specialized in over the years, that it does somehow better than any other magazine: for lack of a better word, call it the "survey" piece. A writer takes an aspect of culture and politics, and the standard feature thesis "everything you think you know about this subject is wrong." But where the writers at other magazine, such as the New Yorker, remain firmly rooted in the today of the issue, exhaustively chronicling the NOW of the subject, TNR's writers, right after establishing their thesis, go back to the distant past, somewhere between Greece and the Enlightenment, and run you through the entire "story so far," before returning at the end to the present dilemma, which inevitably comes off as just one more chapter in an epic story. The reader, if he makes it that far, is left with the feeling at the end of experience like someone has plugged a data firehose into their left ear and left it running for a couple hours. You may not know anything more at the end than you did at the beginning, but left with a feeling that you'd be capable of that if you wanted to be. And throughout, their writers continually show off technical virtuosity, passion for the subject, and fearless critical judgment. In my undergrad days I picked up TNR every week for those pieces... it had to be a pretty good lecture that would reward me more cerebrally than sitting crosslegged on the Quad grass with a bunch of their think-pieces next to my elbow would.

A classic example is today's piece on ballet. I have as much to say about ballet as I do about quantum computing, and I still doubt I'll ever see that as any great shortcoming on my part. But after reading today's superb piece by Jennifer Homans, I feel I see its sociocultural significance a little better: For the first time I feel, if I had time to listen, that ballet might have something to say to me. As it has so many times in the past, TNR refused to accept my indifference: demanding instead that I resummon the wonder and curiosity of my youth, in order to visit whatever yet-uncharted realm they wished to point me towards this time. THAT'S what writing's about. Bravo.

Posted by BruceR at 04:44 PM

February 12, 2002



I haven't seen anything in the papers or on the web, yet (NOTE TO SELF: never try and make a political statement when the Olympics are on) but I have it on good authority that the two Canadian and American anti-China protesters were literally thrown onto the next available flight out of Beijing, and the Canadian, Loftus should have touched down in Vancouver a couple hours ago. Again, I have no time for their particular belief system, but people should be more aware of the monstrosity that passes for government in China today, and this pair did as much as any two intelligent young people could do to that end. I wish them luck in their future endeavours.

Posted by BruceR at 02:40 PM

February 11, 2002



loftus and browdeI'm not a big fan of organized religion, or major spiritual movements in general, but this is an interesting story. U of T engineering student Jason Loftus, a Canadian, and a New York software engineer named Levi Browde are in Chinese custody tonight, having been arrested in Tiananmen Square yesterday for carrying around a laptop and trying to show random Chinese people on the street this video (14 MB download). Both are practitioners of the Falun Gong movement, which has been brutally repressed in China.

A little backstory: the Chinese government has justified their crackdown largely on the basis of the alleged self-immolation of five people in Tiananmen Square, pretty much the only violent act that has ever been associated with this explicitly non-violent spiritual movement (whose teachings, by the way, explicitly forbid suicide). As the video shows, there are all kinds of inconsistencies with the Chinese story and the horrific footage that saturated state-run television as that crackdown got underway, so much so that many now believe the whole thing was staged, and the participants were entirely non-willing, possibly not even Falun Gong, killed to produce the TV images the state required.

You can believe that if you want, or not. As a conspiracy theory video, this one lies somewhere between the Waco black helicopters stuff the white supremacists used to send me and Stone's JFK... if this were a non-despotic government we were talking about. I may dismiss out of hand claims the Osama tapes were faked, but I've got a lot higher readiness to believe this one for some reason. And even if it isn't, to be carted away by the cops for just trying to get people to watch it is pretty much against everything Western civilization stands for, I figure. Loftus and Browde clearly took their lives in their own hands, in the hopes the Western media would be alerted to a possible other side to this story, and pressure the Chinese a little harder to stop killing their own people for meditating a lot. Hopefully, these two will just be thrown on a plane back home, soon, but in the meantime I've had my conscience pricked, re the Orwellian horror that modern China amounts to. A sincere thanks for the reminder, guys.

Posted by BruceR at 05:20 PM



Den Beste challenges us to come up with significant European innovations in the last 50 years. Well, I mostly know war stuff, so here's what I've thought of so far:

1) The "Bullpup" automatic rifle (now part of the American OICW);
2) The Infantry Fighting Vehicle (there were Marders and BMPs long before there were Bradleys);
3) The V/STOL jet (ie, the Harrier);
4) And while we're on aircraft, the Concorde;
5) Composite tank armour (Chobham, etc.);
6) The sea-skimmer anti-ship missile (Exocet).

Not saying it's a long list yet, or that anything on it is particularly earth-shaking, but they were genuine European innovations all.

Posted by BruceR at 01:11 PM

February 07, 2002



We've gotten so used to the "fake" accidentally inserted editor's note... the [what's wrong, are you drunk --ed.] inserted in a text where a commentator wants to make fun of themselves and prick the balloon of their own pretensions. (Kaus is particularly annoying in this regard.) The fake is so common a device now, that we almost forget these things really happen every now and again... the editor's annotations make it into the final copy, uncut.

This appears to have happened to Jacob Weisberg today on Slate. Because this is the web, and this will no doubt soon be memory holed, I'll reprint verbatim for the ages:

But if this seems a propitious moment to finally get Saddam in certain ways, it's a distinctly impractical one in others. We are still engaged in a complicated campaign against the far-flung and not inconsiderable remnants of al-Qaida. Moreover, that war has left us militarily depleted. It will take months to replenish our [Jake, do you want these so close to each other?] stock of precision-guided missiles.

Classic. It opens so many questions... which proximity is it the editor is concerned about? Is Jake keeping his missiles too close together, or his nouns? Did he make the classic writer's mistake of using the same word twice in adjacent clauses? Likely whatever error was there was repaired... the editors' note, however, stayed in until after posting. It's kind of like if the long-believed extinct and known-only-by-reputation dodo showing up alive and well and living in a timeshare in Seattle. [Okay, that's enough similes about grammar -- ed.]

Posted by BruceR at 05:23 PM



In what should be something of a journalistic first, but probably isn't, there is not a single original thought in the entire column by failed Anglo Quebec politician William Johnson in the Globe today. It's a complete waste of space, devoted to reiterating the old, fallacious pro-Bush arguments on the Guantanamo issue every other commentator either made or refuted to weeks ago, if they were so inclined. Apparently English Montreal really is its own solitude. I'm accordingly opening nominations for the William Johnson Commemorative Bursary, for those commentators who decide the world needs yet another column on an already well-debated issue, and don't let the fact they haven't the slightest thing to add to the debate slow them down. The Prize is one original column idea, emailed to the winner. We'll hold a vote in December, or something. Other nominations welcome.

Maybe next week Bill will give us his Superbowl predictions...

Posted by BruceR at 01:42 PM



(Thanks to Den Beste for finding this first.) An important first pass at an overall analysis of the Afghan campaign over at the PDA site, by Carl Conetta.

I'm going to part with the Captain of the Clueless again on this one, for I feel this is a very balanced and judicious report, which clearly outlines the reasons the war developed the way it did, and what the alternatives would have been, and what likely trade-offs would have resulted. The Afghan campaign was not, cannot have been, perfect in planning and execution. It had problems: for instance, Conetta rightly points out the unsatisfying results of the Tora Bora cave searches, which would have been impossible to improve on without substantially more U.S. troops on the ground. That's the trade-off. He also mentions the lack of rapid deployment of a proper stabilization force early on, which has made and is making Mr. Karzai's life exceedingly difficult and dangerous right now. The trade-off to that, however, as Conetta clearly states again, is the potential for resentment and quagmire a massive influx of foreign troops would have produced. But that doesn't mean, nor do I believe Conetta is arguing, that this was not then "the best of all possible wars:" any alternative war plan would also have been imperfect in its achievements as well.

I believe Conetta, with this, and his previous study, the first serious estimate of Afghan civilian casualties, has established himself as a responsible scholar and important contributor to the Afghan debate. He's actually trying to answer the questions people want answered now. I really don't sense an agenda here, just serious, stolid military scholarship. I, for one, will be looking forward to his byline in future.

Posted by BruceR at 01:24 PM

February 05, 2002



Den Beste, evidently feeling cocky, in the same day takes on aviation expert Perry de H on comparative strengths of WW2 planes, and yours truly on something I kind of feel is my home turf, 19th century warfare.

Re the Mustang vs Spitfire debate, it's only fair to point out, as my little contribution, that the captain of the Clueless is wrong about the Mustang being a better plane than the Spit because it was faster. The P-51D Mustang had a top speed of 437 mph at 25,000 ft. The contemporaneous Spit XIV had a top speed of 448 mph at 26,000 ft, according to standard sources. Advantage, Perry.

Re the defense of Alistair Cooke and the importance of the Civil War (q.v.), I'll respond point by point:

1) Railroads. Unlike Steven, I don't believe Cooke is thinking of the "tactical" use of railroads (ie, during sieges) when he praises the Americans. Knowing his generation, I believe it's a fuzzier, more Tuchmanesque conception of railroads being able to move troops fast, Guns of August style. That, however, is a European invention, first used to win a war by the French in 1859, and perfected by the Germans thereafter. (The Americans relied much more heavily in their war on riverine movement). Where the American war did have revolutionary innovations was the use of railroads in logistical sustainment... no armies that large had ever been sustained that far from their depots for so long. (That was also why Sherman ripped up Georgia's railroads, not to stop troop movements.) I just don't think Cooke knows any of that... logistics is a sadly underappreciated facet of war in the best of times.

2) Steamships. Again, if all Cooke is talking about is the use of "gunboats on the Mississippi" that's not revolutionary. What was revolutionary was the first major fleet action fought predominantly by steam-powered deep water ships of the line. That, as mentioned, was 1853 at Sinope, when the Russians knocked the Turkish fleet out of the Crimean War. Every major battleship and frigate built in the decade before Sumter was already steam-powered. Take a look at this inventory of the British and French fleets at the time. (In the Monitor and Merrimack, the Americans did have the first solely steam powered ships, however.)

3) Entrenchments. In 1864-65, the siege of Petersburg, which den Beste sees as previously unparalleled, saw the Union beseige a 10-mile long line of entrenchments for 10 months. But in 1854-55, the siege of Sevastopol, the Allies beseiged a 12-mile-plus long line of entrenchments for nearly 12 months. I'm a big fan of the Petersburg campaign (I recommend Trudeau's The Last Citadel for a good treatment of the subject) but in terms of just its sheer scope and length, the Crimean campaign is still considered, by McNeill, Griffith, and many other serious students of the era to be the more obvious progenitor of the trench battles of 1916. (As McNeill said in his seminal The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force and Society Since A.D. 1000, "Only the machine gun was missing.")

Was the Civil War the first major war of the industrial age? Yes. Was it revolutionary? In many respects, yes. But not for most of the reasons Cooke outlines.

Posted by BruceR at 03:07 AM



Samizdata makes the strong, if obvious, case, that vegetarianism was an evolutionary dead end for hominids, and therefore should be frowned on today. Quoth David Carr:

Robust Man was a vegetarian. We know this because of the extraordinarily prominent sagittal crest found on its skull. This crest could only have evolved in order to provide an anchor for enormous jaw muscles of the kind required for rumination.

But Carr misses the obvious much more important ramification of this line of research. I'm speaking of course, of that other species with a sagittal crest of whose origins we know little. This connection with vegetarianism provides an important clue to their odd overcompensatory behaviour, too don't you think? One can only assume the ancestors of the Klingons evolved on a planet made entirely of tofu...

(In a nice piece of blog serendipity, Den Beste, meanwhile, is arguing in a different vein that evolution itself has been superseded by culture, a conclusion that leaves the Samiz line of argument true but irrelevant).

Posted by BruceR at 01:11 AM

February 04, 2002



Alistair Cooke's latest "Letter from America" has "officially ended" the Guantanamo dispute, quoth Andrew Sullivan. Hardly... unless you're still silly enough to still believe the trumped-up allegations of mistreatment, as opposed to the American disregard for legality, was ever the issue. But even then Cooke makes a hash of his history.

[Cooke's chum] had done what many failing scholars do - he'd decided to take Military Subjects A. He was going to be a soldier. So throughout his last year I would find him in mid-morning actually buried in a book, just one book, but a strange one.

Cooke should have borrowed the book. His grasp of military history is notably weak. There are four flagrant errors in the following two sentences: can you see them?

Transport and tactics transformed by the revolutionary invention of the railroad, naval strategy by the steamship and the ironclad and the torpedo, infantry warfare by the repeating rifle and - a point I'm sure was stressed in this compulsory textbook - the device or invention of entrenching. The Southern armies, on the defensive from the start, made possible the lengthening of war by resting between battles in the trenches.

1) Railroads: Actually the railroad had already had a profound influence in a previous war... the 1859 French victories of Louis Napoleon (two years before Sumter) were due in part to France's rapid railborne mobilization. The Americans utilized the rails more than anyone up to that point, but they didn't invent the idea. 2) Steamships: Steam-powered shell-firing frigates were devastating as far back as the battle of Sinope (1853). (Cooke is right about the ironclads, of course.) 3) Torpedoes: if Cooke is talking about the spar torpedo (ie, explosives on a long stick), yes, that was sort of a Civil War invention... admittedly one that never caught on, or really revolutionized anything. If he's talking about the self-propelled torpedo, that was first taken into service by the British in 1871, six years after the Civil War. 4) Entrenching: Tell anyone who survived Crimea (1854) that the Europeans didn't know how to entrench a battlefield. Now, Cooke is partly correct, that the advent of rifled artillery (less so the overrated rifle-musket) meant concealment was more of an issue than ever before. But it's wrong to give the South the sole credit. If anything the South should have paid more attention to the value of entrenchments, instead of throwing the flower of their youth away in suicidal charges at Malvern Hill, Shiloh, and Gettysburg, to name a few. Even in the Sevastopol-like sieges of Petersburg and Vicksburg, the South still attacked out of their entrenchments as often as they defended them.

I'll give Cooke a pass on the repeating rifle claim. Yes the late-war Union Cavalry was the first ever large body of men armed with repeating rifles, and they showed how to use them, too... never mind that after the war they were all but withdrawn from service from armies all over the world for another generation, as they were seen as too wasteful of ammo. An idea ahead of its logistical time, yes, but still a legit Civil War innovation. And as I said, he is right about the ironclads. Still one-and-a-half correct assertions out of six is not a strong record.

Cooke continues, about the battle of Solferino in 1859, which launched the Red Cross movement:

There was one memorable battle, not for any tactical novelty but for its outrageous casualties

Well, other than the tactical novelty of being the first battle EVER where both sides were armed predominantly with rifled firearms (no doubt contributing to the high casualty count, btw), no I suppose there wasn't anything important about Solferino, no. Geez... You know. that guy should watch more PBS, don't you think?

I don't think Cooke's a bad eggo, nor do I disagree with his thesis... that it's very hard for either warfighters, or those who would regulate them to predict the next turn of history, whether it's Al Qaeda or whatever. I just believe, like Den Beste, that the truth shouldn't have to be distorted to bolster any argument, for good or bad.

Posted by BruceR at 08:39 PM



A fellow named Patrick wrote in to ask me, in light about what I said below about American hesitancy in the Congo, what I thought about Canadian general Romeo Dallaire's work in Rwanda. For those who don't know, Dallaire was the controversial UN commander in Rwanda when the genocide broke out. He had warned the UN a calamity was coming, and once it started did what one man could in the general flight of white Westerners from Kigali to save lives. But in the chaos, ten Belgian peacekeepers were savagely killed by Interahamwe militias while guarding the life of the country's leading moderate Hutu politician. Opinions on Dallaire range wildly: to some he was a manifestly unqualified, ineffectual catatonic, to others a tragic Cassandra figure, to others a good soldier who could have done so much more if, immediately post-Somalia, the West had any interest in going back to Africa again. I know and respect people who take each of those beliefs to heart. This is ONLY my own take:

Patrick, I can't tell how much you've read on Dallaire from your question, so I'll keep it simple: opinion, at least within the circles I travel in, is profoundly mixed.

On the one hand, you have the Belgian accusations, not without evidence, that as UN commander in Rwanda he failed to divert resources to save the Belgian soldiers who were then captured and massacred. On the other hand, you have the collective opinion of most commentators on the war as a whole, who see Dallaire as doing everything to save RWANDANS that could possibly be done, before and after the genocide, given the support he was granted from New York.

Dallaire will always be compared, favourably or unfavourably, to that other Canadian UN brigadier, Mackenzie, who was seen, conversely, as putting the protection of his troops ahead of civilian relief during his coincident intervention in Sarajevo. Even in the most favourable interpretation, Dallaire, by contrast, clearly put the mission of trying to preserve peace in Rwanda ahead of the concerns he should have had for his soldiers' safety. By doing so he provided the unwitting archetype in one of the oldest command decision debates in any army: balancing continuing with your mission vs the risk of losing soldiers' lives.

Personally, I'm torn. As a soldier I'm appalled by reluctance to intervene positively for fear of losing lives (a la the Powell Doctrine), but I'm equally appalled by interventions that waste lives to no purpose (a la Black Hawk Down). The middle way seems to be the best course... and Dallaire, by that reasoning, a cautionary example of going too far in one direction. But I wasn't there with him. And it's hard for me to totally crucify someone who made the wrong decision under that kind of pressure and imperfect foresight. He was a soldier. He made the best decisions he knew how to. And yet the mission was lost, and an unfortunate number of his men died. The history books are littered with failed generals, who like Dallaire, will never get a second chance on the most important decisions of their lives. Would a different soldier (like Mackenzie) have made different decisions? Almost certainly. The overall result in Rwanda, most likely, would have been the same, except maybe with fewer dead Belgians. But I don't believe anyone could have foreseen that so clearly at the time.

Dallaire himself is certainly a wartime stress casualty. After at least one very public suicide attempt and countless hospitalizations for PTSD, he'll never hold a serious job again. You can't say the guy isn't paying a personal price. (Mackenzie, by contrast, is a very successful speaker and commentator.)

In artillery messes, where I hang out the most, Dallaire is not a good topic of conversation, as he was an artilleryman before he was a general, and by all accounts an excellent gunner and peacetime officer. But there's no doubt the Mackenzie-Dallaire dichotomy will remain a centerpiece of how thoughtful Canadian officers define themselves and their actions abroad for decades. It definitely merits further study by any soldier who wonders for himself, "what would I do?"

A good summary of the accusations against Dallaire, and the beginnings of a brief for the defence, if you're curious in reading more, can be found here. Here's another.

Posted by BruceR at 05:31 PM



Steven Den Beste has culled the popular sites out of his blog links at USS Clueless. Fortunately (unfortunately?) I'm still there.

Interesting this comes on the same day Perry the H is castigating Jonah Goldberg for his bad form in not linking to bloggers he mentions. There seems to be a left-right continuum developing on the linkage question: Left (den Beste): sort of a socialist-philanthropic "from each according to his ability" fading to working-class liberal (Perry): "the rising tide of linkage lifts all blogs" turning into an advocate for sheer elitism (Goldberg), who evidently feels some of us have risen above all those working-class social conventions...

Well, as a thankful recipient of linkage handouts, I blame my self-evident failure to rise out of the blogger welfare class on a lack of pretty-girl pics. Time for an update on Shakira, I guess...

Posted by BruceR at 05:05 PM



I have no idea from whence Glenn Reynolds' recent hate-on for the International Red Cross comes from. I thought maybe someone had stuck him with a needle the wrong way, but of course he knows the national Red Crosses have little more than a name in common with the Swiss ICRC, which is responsible under international law, among other things, for monitoring prisoner-of-war detentions, right? Maybe there's some other reason he detests the land of finely honed timepieces, useful knives, and chocolate?

First there was his out-of-thin-air, and completely unsubstantiated "briefcases of unaccountable cash" accusation.

Then there was:

But to be fair I believe that all the Guantanamo noise has been made by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is not the same as the American Red Cross.

Okay, so now we know Glenn does know the two are different. And what is the "Guantanamo noise" the ICRC has made exactly? Someone might want to read their one and only official statement on the Guantanamo internment to date. Hell, it's so short I'll quote it in full:

Geneva (ICRC) – On 18 January 2002, four delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), including a medical delegate, started visiting the prisoners transferred from Afghanistan and detained by US forces at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. The delegates will register the prisoners and document the conditions of their arrest, transfer and detention.

Under an agreement with the US authorities, the visits are being conducted in accordance with the ICRC's standard working procedures, which involve talking to the prisoners in private and giving them the opportunity to exchange news with their families by means of Red Cross messages.

These procedures include submitting strictly confidential written reports on the delegates' findings to the detaining authorities. In no circumstances does the ICRC comment publicly on the treatment of detainees or on conditions of detention. The ICRC delegates will discuss their findings directly with the detaining authorities, submit their recommendations to them, and encourage them to take the measures needed to solve any problems of humanitarian concern.

That's it. The ICRC has said nothing else officially on the subject (True, a couple officials have been quoted unofficially pointing out possible Geneva Convention violations in the Afghan prisoners' treatment so far, particularly the long-accepted ban on taking prisoner photos without consent). Oh, yeah, that's noise making...

Finally (in a piece mentioning the entirely legitimate criticism of the ICRC that it doesn't give equal pride of place to the Jewish Star of David as it does to the Muslim crescent, a question the organization itself is currently deeply divided over), Glenn writes:

Yeah, and they're not very good at telling the difference between an extermination camp (which they stayed away from in World War Two) and a humane prison camp like Guantanamo, either.

The actual history of the ICRC v. the Nazis is much more complex (not unlike that of the Catholic Church and the Nazis: some good, some bad, some heroic). There's a good, impartial writeup of it here. Basically the ICRC had to deal with a lack of any international law in 1939 prohibiting the genocide of one's own population; an ongoing war which prevented free travel, and forced them to rely on the German Red Cross for any intervention in Germany; a refusal by the Nazis to allow them anywhere near the concentration camps; and a perfectly understandable fear that protesting too much would result in Nazi reprisals against German Red Cross members, Allied prisoners-of-war in German hands, or even neutral Switzerland itself. At least one small-scale ICRC intervention with the more pliable Hungarian government certainly saved thousands of Jews. Could they have done more, sooner? Maybe. But Reynolds is wrong to suggest their behaviour in the 1940s and now has not been self-consistent: they've politely asked Germany and the United States to live up to the letter of their international commitments. The difference (to the Americans' great credit) is that the Americans don't mind being asked, much.

Come on, Glenn. Stop this irrational hatred of all things Swiss. There's more holes in your arguments than... well, you know...

UPDATE: In case you were wondering, the ICRC itself believes its actions re the Jews were "a failure" for the organization, one that prompted a lot of re-examination about what they really stood for. It should be noted that individual ICRC members were frequently heroic... as well as the Hungarian intervention, one might want to mention the husband-and-wife ICRC delegation that was executed by the Japanese for trying to reach Allied prisoners-of-war.

Posted by BruceR at 02:02 PM



No, I wasn't hacked, like Stryker. Just couldn't get near a computer all weekend.

Posted by BruceR at 01:23 PM

February 02, 2002



With all due respect to the estimable Steven Den Beste, his most recent in his polemic series on why American government is better shows a surprising lack of knowledge about North American immigration and ethnicity patterns.

And none of Canada, Australia or New Zealand had the kind of ethnic mix that the United States had by 1910, nor have any of them ever permitted the kind of free flow of immigrants or had the same kind of cultural crosspollination that this caused in the US.

None of that sentence, at least with regard to Canada, is true. Canadian immigration patterns closely mirrored the United States throughout the 19th century. Both nations had significant numbers of conquered peoples within their 1900 borders (French and Indians vs Mexican and Indians), although in America it was a much smaller proportion of the total population. Both countries had significant Chinese immigration during the railroad years, and both governments enacted measures to check it... likewise for Japanese immigration to their west coast fishing fleets. Both countries had substantial waves of Catholic Irish immigrants, and in both countries those Irish were treated badly at first. Up until 1890 in America, and 1900 in Canada, however, the vast majority of immigrants were from the British Isles (and to a lesser extent Germany), when the floodgates of Eastern Europe were finally opened up. Xenophobes in both countries worried about these new arrivals. The only other really significant difference in ethnicity was the American Negro, of course... however, the Underground Railroad did a fair bit to redress that difference too. And of course, as now, millions of Americans and Canadians crossed the border in both directions throughout the 19th century seeking better work, better land, etc.

Given Canada's generally better treatment of its native populations in this period, its peaceful abolition of slavery over two generations before America, and at least three ethnically-based rebellions (1837, 1870, and 1885), admittedly all quelled far more efficiently and satisfyingly than proved possible down south, it would be hard for Den Beste to make an argument that the positive (and negative) influences of ethnic diversity were unique to the States. One should not even need to point out the generally more rapid rise of the new arrivals to join society's elites in Canada--Canada's first prime minister, Macdonald, was a first-generation Scottish immigrant, and his closest colleague in government (and Canada's most famous political assassinee), McGee, was a first-generation Irish Catholic; not to mention the French-Canadian founders of Modern Canada, Lafontaine, Cartier and Laurier--but it was certainly faster than in the States, where electing even as innocuous a breed as an Irish Catholic to the presidency still had the power to shock some people even in 1960.

I agree, Canada has certainly followed a different political trajectory than the United States. But it's not because Canada in the 19th century was any less a nation of immigrants or of multiple cultures than its southern neighbour... if anything it was the other way around.

Posted by BruceR at 02:01 AM

February 01, 2002



How ironic that multiculturalism demanded romance — not reason, parochialism — not inquisitiveness, and prejudice — not impartiality.

--From Victor Davis Hanson's latest.

PS: I don't mind a little triumphalism now and then, but this is beyond the pale:

Had any of these international relief and rights organizations [the UN and the Red Cross] possessed the moral fiber of the U.S. Army, then they would have exited Cuba and sent their entire staff to the Congo, where millions have been butchered in silence in the last few years — more dead than the entire population of the West Bank, and a sequel to the prior holocaust in Rwanda. We know that our enemies are strong and evil, but it is disappointing to keep learning each day that our allies, though they sometimes mean well, remain continually weak.

It's well documented that President Clinton declined to get involved in Rwanda of course, while the French deployed in force to save who they could. Less well known (by Hanson it seems, at least) is that several attempts to establish a UN peacekeeping presence in the Congo have been stymied by American reluctance to provide logistical support. Canadians will remember a Canadian-led initiative (that my unit, at the time, was warming up for) that fell apart due to post-Somalia American opposition to a new commitment in the region. As for the Red Cross in the Congo, I'll just let the facts speak for themselves. Hanson's an all right writer, but he never lets the facts get in the way of a good turn of phrase, either.

Posted by BruceR at 02:48 PM



I've successfully gotten my computer to tick over fast enough (gotta love AMD) that I can now play high-end computer games and keep Windows Media Player running in the background simultaneously. I don't hear the bad guys sneaking up on me much anymore, but I can't say I really care that much. Before, I could only hear that canned music that comes with the games over and over again so much before I longed for something else, like the Grim Faeries, and I'd go websurf/MP3 hunt awhile. Now I have absolutely no reason (other than hunger, ablutions, and occasional bouts of caffeine-combatible bouts of fatigue) to ever leave the task at hand. Last night I was on a "Faerie Raide" until dawn...

Posted by BruceR at 02:39 PM