May 12, 2003


This never occurred to me before. Thirty-five years have elapsed, and in every day of every week of every one of those years, the presence of a bear in the jungle has not troubled me. If Walt Disney said there were panthers and pythons in the wheat fields of the Dakotas, I would have bought it. Think of it: he had the trust of an entire generation, and his worst abuse was the fanciful interpolation of ursine archetypes into rain-forest settings.

Lileks, today. Okay, first off, it's unfair to blame Disney for a perceived failing of Kipling, since Baloo did play just as large a role in The Jungle Book (1893). You know, back when it was still a book.

But of course, it's not a mistake... Kipling seeming to have had a middling knowledge of the whole India thing, where The Jungle Book is set, after all... There are bears in India... sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), to be exact. The Hindi/Urdu word for sloth bear is, of course, bhalu.

Posted by BruceR at 05:53 PM


Michele Landsberg shows once again why you can't even trust her to tell the time, with a truly silly column on Barrie Zwicker, and the "myth of Sept. 11". I'll just take on the military side of this one... the rest is just as laughable, I'm sure.

Why did the United States Air Force fail to scramble interceptor jets — in defiance of all long-standing rules and well-established practice — for almost two hours after it was known that an unprecedented four planes had been hijacked?

From official NORAD records:

American Airlines Flight 11 – Boston enroute to Los Angeles
FAA Notification to NEADS -- 0840
Fighter Scramble Order (Otis Air National Guard Base, Falmouth, Mass. Two F-15s): 0846
Fighters Airborne -- 0852
Airline Impact Time (World Trade Center 1) 0846 (estimated)
Fighter Time/Distance from Airline Impact Location Aircraft not airborne/153 miles

United Airlines Flight 175 – Boston enroute to Los Angeles
FAA Notification to NEADS -- 0843
Fighter Scramble Order (Otis ANGB, Falmouth, Mass., Same 2 F-15s as Flight 11): 0846
Fighters Airborne: 0852
Airline Impact Time (World Trade Center 2) -- 0902 (estimated)
Fighter Time/Distance from Airline Impact Location -- approx 8 min/71 miles

American Flight 77 –Dulles enroute to Los Angeles
FAA Notification to NEADS -- 0924
Fighter Scramble Order (Langley AFB, Hampton, Va., 2 F-16s) -- 0924
Fighters Airborne -- 0930
Airline Impact Time (Pentagon) -- 0937(estimated)
Fighter Time/Distance from Airline Impact Location -- approx 12 min/105 miles

United Flight 93 – Newark to San Francisco
FAA Notification to NEADS -- N/A
Fighter Scramble Order (Langley F-16s already airborne for AA Flt 77)
Fighters Airborne (Langley F-16 CAP remains in place to protect DC)
Airline Impact Time (Pennsylvania) -- 1003 (estimated)
Fighter Time/Distance from Airline Impact Location -- approx 11 min/100 miles (from DC F-16 CAP)

Two hours, six minutes... same difference to Michele, it seems. It should be noted that a Canadian was in operational command of NORAD that day, so Landsberg is actually slandering a Canadian Forces member here.


Why did the two squadrons of fighter jets at Andrews Air Force base, 19 kilometres from Washington, not zoom into action to defend the White House, one of their primary tasks?

The units at Andrews are actually the F-16s of 113 Wing, D.C. Air National Guard, a formation of part-time pilots obviously not at a high level of operational readiness. The interceptor units protecting Washington are at Langley AFB, which as noted above, fully participated in the D.C. defense on Sept. 11.

Simple web searching, that's all it is folks. The big problem with the Star, as with so many major papers, is the ludicrous freedom of any professional sense of responsibility their editorial staff allows their named "columnists."

UPDATE: For the record, the fellow in effective command in NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain HQ was Canadian Brig. Gen. Jim Hunter, the organization's deputy commander.

UPDATE: I wrote even more on this later on.

Posted by BruceR at 02:24 PM



One last suggestion that came up in the presidential-uniform argument: "Old Rough and Ready" Zachary Taylor's official office portrait has him in a U.S. army uniform. So there? Not quite. Taylor was only president for 15 months before his untimely death... he had himself been elected to the presidency literally weeks after returning from field command in the Mexican War, and evidently did not have time or inclination to have a new court portrait done after his hasty retirement from the military. Other than Washington's, his is the only presidential portrait with military trappings.

As to what Taylor actually looked like in person, the Encyclopedia Americana writes:

"Stocky, sturdy, of medium height, with furrowed face and graying hair, he habitually wore civilian garb during the Mexican War--preferring a wide-brimmed straw hat and unmatched trousers and coat... Afoot he was often taken for a farmer. In Washington, dressed more formally but with his top hat perched on the back of his head, the President frequently went about unrecognized."

While I do have a soft spot for Taylor, who along with Scott and possibly Jackson is an extremely important figure in the evolution of American military leadership culture between the Revolution and the Civil War, it's important to recognize that his refusal to wear uniforms, in the military or outside of it, was certainly just as much of an affectation for him as the carrier landing stunt was for Bush. The objective may have been different, but the means was the same... it benefited presidents (and senior generals) at the time to look non-military while in office, so he and others did so. (Ulysses Grant, an admirer and subordinate of Taylor, stole his own casualness of dress from the older man.)

I've tried to avoid making any value judgments about Bush being the first president (at least technically) in uniform since Washington, which I think is largely undisputed, because I think other than perhaps for its iffy precedental value, the act itself is values free... it's what you want to read into it. Either it's a sign of a new American toughness, or it's a visual shorthand for the first American pre-emptive war outside its own hemisphere (now THAT'S a precedent worth noting). But it should suffice for defenders of the president to state the facts, as many eloquent Flitters posters and emailers have done... that for various reasons, it suited this man and this occasion. In another time, under different circumstances presidents, as noted above, went out of their way to look unmilitary, and it was no more or less phony when they did that, either.

What I always hate, though, and I hate it just as much when Ted Rall or Robert Fisk does it, is the distorting of real history or proven fact purely to suit political ends. The other defenses of Bush, like saying Clinton ever made anything like the same kind of political statement, is just disingenuous and, frankly, demeaning to Bush and other real soldiers in real uniforms more than anything else... I've given basically the same attire to business executives our army was trying to impress with a tour: it didn't make them soldiers. Or jet pilots, for that matter.

But the attempts to draw false historical parallels with past presidents are even more annoying, and smack even more of desperation. Washington, of course, was sui generis in any case, as the first to try to define what a President should be, but expanding his brief accompaniment of militia on the march to the 1794 "Rebellion" who didn't see any actual fighting is a real stretch (especially when the whole army was hurriedly summoned militia, and wearing at best unconventional uniforms themselves). Even worse are comparisons to Madison, whose behaviour along with Monroe's at Bladensburg in 1814 more than anything else served to confirm the opinion, at least among American soldiers, that the President and Cabinet should be kept off the battlefield at all costs.

The civilian-dressed Madison (he did, sensibly, carry a pair of pistols) and his entourage came to rubberneck, but were startled by how close they'd come to the British lines, and preceded to flee the battlefield while in full sight of the troops, before a shot had been fired. Secretary of State Monroe, meanwhile, (a Revolutionary War hero himself, it should be noted) showed up in his old uniform and may even have tried to take command from Winder, moving several American units to new positions as the British approached (if Winder had been a halfway-competent general, Monroe might be blamed today instead of him as the man whose errors led to the burning of the White House, rather than becoming Madison's successor as President. But Winder would almost certainly have lost regardless**).

Bush's behaviour, of course, was nothing like what happened at Bladensburg. So why bring it up, and remind people exactly why the idea of presidents "embedded" in the military was considered a bad idea in the first place? If there are reasons to start messing with precedents, surely it's at the minimum a bad idea to remind people of the perfectly good reasons they once existed.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I meant no disrespect towards Madison, above, who I actually have something of a fondness for, too. All the contemporary accounts seem to indicate that, apparently not having been fully briefed on the tactical situation, the President was reportedly seen riding alone toward the British lines when it no doubt suddenly occurred to his aides to perform a proto-Secret Service function -- and no doubt also realizing they were suddenly one lucky bullet away from the frail and soon-to-die-himself Elbridge Gerry (creator of the original "Gerry-mander") becoming the fifth president -- and hustle old James off the field immediately before he got hurt. Still, it can't have been edifying for the untrained militia watching the whole scene unfold, with Wellington's veterans already closing fast on their position.

**One last thing re Monroe. William Winder, the brigadier in charge at Bladensburg, was a known incompetent of zero military skill, whereas Monroe was a former colonel who knew the smell of gunpowder well, having led troops at Monmouth and Trenton. The conventional historian's wisdom about Monroe is that his intervention at Bladensburg only made things worse. A good revisionist history thesis, if time permitted me, would be the supposition that Monroe's moves were militarily sound corrections of Winder's flawed plan, but historians, guided by the otherwise sound principle that Secretaries of State shouldn't be messing with battlefield deployments regardless, have frowned on him after the fact.

Posted by BruceR at 01:45 PM



The real problem with the Citizen letter Colby Cosh unconscionably delayed his journalistic duties for isn't that it contemplates irradiating American cities over Canadian tundra (although I suppose that's a corollary)... it's that the simple and unargued fact is that, the technology being up to it, the Americans are always going to choose to intercept an incoming missile before it gets to the U.S., whether we like it or not... the debate in this case, as the Globe and Mail said today, is whether we would prefer a sort of rarefied moral purity, or would we prefer a voice at the table in determining the rules of engagement that might lead to a missile being intercepted over the tundra if possible, or over Winnipeg instead? The missile debris will "fall on our heads" regardless... the only question is whether we let Canadian companies bid for some of the work in the anti-missile systems, and possibly donate some resources to early warning apparatus, in return for some say in whether it would in the final tragic event kill Manitobans or caribou. The problem here isn't anti-American cruelty, it's sloppiness of thinking.

PS: Speaking of sloppiness of thinking... what, exactly, is "nuclear rubble?"

Posted by BruceR at 12:42 PM



I should mention in advance that I'm an inveterate party crasher. I've never RSVP'd for anything in my life, and I doubt I ever will. I'll still pick up my share of the cheque, but I just would miss the freedom to pull the pin right at the restaurant door, if I had to.

That said, David Janes was an excellent host and certainly didn't seem to mind my sudden appearance at his Toronto blogbash. I'll look forward to a repeat some day.

Posted by BruceR at 11:01 AM