May 27, 2003


The Instaman cites Rich Lowry approvingly on the Iraqi National Museum story. Yes, I agree, it's very nice that the museum will someday open with most of its treasures still around. But the piece, which quotes two antiquities dealers without any refutation saying that (surprise!) more artifacts should be in private dealers' hands and out of museums is yet another one of Lowry's usual disasters of slant. What, he couldn't find a single museum curator before deadline? Did he try phoning, I don't know, a museum, perhaps? Maybe they hang out there.

Anyone who's actually done museum-based research knows that those chests of "coins, coins, and more coins" are sometimes essential to numismatists. In the case of my own research, there was a literally tangible value to the Royal Ontario Museum's "arms and armour" collection that no database could ever approach. Sometimes you need to see the actual THING... lots of the actual things, actually, to compare and contrast and evaluate. It's the traditional museum divide between the "front of the house," where the crowds are entertained, and the back-of-the-warehouse where the actual scholarly work is done. To say that once all the uninteresting item are catalogued (what does that mean, anyway? photographed? itemized? scanned for DNA?) they can then be sold is to, in essence, turn museums into art galleries for real, and cripple the practice of modern archaeology and archeologically-based history. Of course, Lowry's two quoted sources will make more money selling stuff, so that would be okay, I guess.

In any case, the Koranic library and the Baghdad University library were also neglected after the occupation and were burned to the ground, an Alexandrian blow to Islamic history scholars. The good fortune of the National Museum doesn't change that. Several priceless collections WERE destroyed, but Lowry would rather engage in misdirection it seems, than honestly appraise the actual loss to culture from the early days of Iraq's occupation.

Posted by BruceR at 02:10 PM


A must-read in the Standard on Tommy Franks' war. The obvious quote (at least for this site):

After Private Jessica Lynch was snatched from an Iraqi hospital, Franks was wary of publicizing the rescue excessively. He reminded aides of the warning by Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry against spiking the football in the end zone after a touchdown. You don't want to look surprised at having scored.

Posted by BruceR at 12:58 PM


Peter Langille feels Canada should send two battalions of infantry as Congo peacekeepers.

Canada could and should be doing more. Despite cutbacks, Canada retains a regular force of 19,500 soldiers in three brigade groups, augmented by 15,500 reserves, which provides a total force of 35,000 troops. The key question for the PMO is whether Canada's land force is really overstretched. Our total deployment abroad is 1,500 troops; assuming the need to train replacements and rotate personnel after six months abroad, as well as the need to provide rest and recuperation for those returning, it appears that 4,500 soldiers are already committed.

Yet, even with the pending deployment to Afghanistan later in the summer of another 1,600 soldiers, the army retains substantive capacity. Why can't two battalions of mechanized (wheeled) infantry (approximately 1,200 troops) be sent to the Congo?

This is unlettered analysis, to put it kindly. The numbers are wholly specious. First off, the reserves he mentions are a nullity, which the government does not currently have the power to force to leave their jobs for training, let alone operations in Africa. (Legislation to force employers to let reservists keep their jobs if called up even in a Sept. 11 style domestic emergency has been in limbo for a year and a half, and is going to die on the House of Commons order sheet again this summer. It would have no effect on foreign deployments.)

That leaves the regular force. There are exactly 9 battalions of regular infantry left to Canada. None are manned or equipped over 80 per cent: that means that every time that a battalion is deployed overseas, all the other combat units still need to be cannibalized to send it, but let's pretend that there are still 9 discrete deployable units. Everything else in the army is more or less dedicated to keeping one of those 9 battalions working... they are the only chess pieces on the board, and it would require drastic overhauls to add even one to their number (more on that later.) There is, as Langille states, currently one in Bosnia, and two more getting ready to go. Two more are getting ready to leave for Afghanistan. That's 5 out of 9.

Langille wants to send two more to Congo. That would leave two battalions left to get ready for the next rotation. Assuming that the rotations are more or less synchronous with the Bosnia and Afghan ones, that means we'd need four battalions to keep all the commitments going past next March, but we would only have those two. That means you've got to start closing foreign operations down. You have to assume Congo's not going to clean up its act overnight, and replacements are going to be needed there, so you'd have to at a minimum close down the Bosnia mission by March, and probably ditch Afghanistan, too, if you still wanted to keep those 2 in the Congo, that is. In the end, you're falling back inevitably on the "three battalions overseas at a time" maximum that our 9-battalion force structure forces on us...(3 overseas, 3 just coming back, and 3 getting ready). So Congo is certainly not a sustainable deployment with more than one battalion, in addition to our current commitment of two elsewhere.

Even then, three overseas at a time essentially uses up every last deployable asset the army has, leaving nothing at all for any unforeseen emergency, foreign or domestic (flood, earthquake, terrorist, what have you) for the next year. It also means professional soldiers spend 6 out of every 18 months with their families for the period of max deployment, which inevitably leads to high attrition. Congo's important, but is it important to the exclusion of all else? One rather doubts you could make that argument.

Um, okay, Bruce, so what's the answer? Well, there isn't one, really. Canada's economy is booming, and federal programs protect the livelihoods of people in the traditional high-recruitment areas (Newfoundland, etc.) The pay's okay now, but no one NEEDS to join the army anymore. Hence expansion in the current circumstances simply isn't going to happen. The reserves are no help: a mass callup of those reservists who could leave their lives behind, as was done in 1950 when brigades were needed in Germany and Korea simultaneously, might generate one additional battalion to add to the orbat, but would gut the reserves for decades, ending their fairly modest but steady contribution that helps pad out the regular forces now. And, because of the abroad/getting ready/just got back split, one more battalion by itself is useless... we'd really need three and the whole reserve couldn't generate that today if it had to. (The upcoming Land Force Reserve Restructure would begin to address that for future years, but there's not currently money in the federal budget to get that process rolling.)

So how would Canada expand the regular force if it needed to? Well, we'd essentially be talking a national mobilization scheme at this point to get the additional numbers in... incentivizing the process by tying Canadian federal college loans to voluntary national service, or something drastic like that. (An ammunition jackpot for pacifist groups that no major political party could support.) That might get you enough to go up to a sustainable 12 battalions, giving you a little more flexibility for this sort of thing. It would be a drastic revision of Canadians' relation with their military that it's fair to say wouldn't even be contemplated unless there was a clear and present threat to the Canadian way of life... Congo doesn't cut it.

No, the only answer, if we wanted to kick into the Congo, would be to announce that we were closing down Bosnia. Not that that would be a bad thing... we've been there under the NATO mandate going on seven years now, and there was the UN mandate before that. I would not argue that Africa would not be a better use of our national resources. But it would come with a political price... it's fair to say that every NATO country wants to get out of Bosnia at the moment, and the country isn't exactly a going concern yet and certainly would NOT benefit from everyone taking off. But if Langille wanted to make that argument, I could see the merits. To argue that there are somehow military resources lying around unused, however, is divorced from reality.

UPDATE: The Star has the same view. Particularly annoying are the words, "drawing on the Reserves if necessary." Never mind that the reservist volunteers are already providing about a quarter of the Bosnia mission's combat troops, and a significant portion of the Golan and Afghan ones, as well. Presumably the Star expects the remainder of Canada's reservists to now voluntarily quit their other job(s) and obligations to fill in for a Congo deployment, then, without job protection of any kind. That's nice. The day I see the Star using that same space to encourage regular Canadians to choose the military life is the day I'll know they're serious: until then, this is all the usual hot air.

Posted by BruceR at 11:32 AM


Andrea Harris doesn't like this article on Col. Tim "Nails" Collins. Tough. It rings true from this cheap seat, every last bit of it.

PS: This is the Collins speech to his troops the White House allegedly had framed. This was a man soldiers will follow, no question... anyone who crossed a guy like this, like his American accusers in this case, I think they'd suspect automatically.

It's notable that, despite all the allegations that Collins had no problem, for instance, with firing a bullet in the ground to get a non-cooperative Iraqi's attention, no Iraqis have actually DIED on Collins' watch, as far as anyone knows; indeed the Ulster approach of forceful but not excessive use of force the British have been using in the south seems to have been pretty successful in getting rapid civilian compliance. There are already a lot of dead Iraqis from incidents involving American soldiers, however. It's a lesson that Sam Steele and his early Mountie comrades knew in their bones... it's the soldiers who don't feel they have other options who end up shooting into riots... the guys who successfully keep the peace are those who can successfully achieve their aims in other, sometimes subtler, sometimes franker ways.

(It's actually remarkable how much the rival British and American ways of dealing with Iraqis are coming to resemble the rival ways the Mounties and the U.S. Cavalry had of dealing with native Americans and white settlers in the 1870-1910 period, come to think of it... any Canadian hearing stories like this surely can't help but think back to Chilkoot Pass, Fort Whoop-up, and Sitting Bull, and the impact they had on our own national myths. Seems to me a few Iraqis might be valuing "peace, order and good government" over "life, liberty, etc." about now, too.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:48 AM


Colby commented the other day about how a stupid mistake in a lead ended any interest he had in..., well whatever the columnist in question was prattling about this time. Same thing just happened to me... I see what he means. The funny thing is that it happened with perhaps the closest thing Colby has to a counterpart as the conservative gadfly in the local Toronto media, veteran right-wing journalist Judi McLeod:

In eras past, pirates plumbed the seven seas, stealing and plundering. The Bluebeards of the 21st century, now in control of our water, are the pirates of the present day...

Okay, Judi, take notes, cause I'm only going to do this one once. BLACKbeard (aka Edward Teach) was the psychopathic pirate, hunted down and killed after a famous Royal Navy manhunt (the "Sink the Bismarck" of its day) that ended in Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina in 1718. BLUEbeard is the villain from an odd 17th-century Charles Perrault fairy tale, involving a serial wife killer. In the early 20th century it was repurposed as an epithet for men who serially romanced women and ruined them in other ways; the name has never had anything to do with piracy. (Yellowbeard, on the other hand...)

Now, unless Judi seriously suspects Maurice Strong has a couple armoires full of dead environmentalist girlfriends on his Costa Rican estate somewhere (okay, I admit it, the thought's crossed my mind, too...) then her lead, which heads an apparent story on how much of the world's water resources are being tied up in lawsuits by environmental groups, is nonsensical. (It goes without saying the metaphor doesn't make much more sense if she had meant Blackbeard for that matter... if the infamous Teach had contented himself with sweeping the Caribbean of its shipping for his six month reign of terror simply by firing frivolous LAWSUITS at ship captains, it probably would have been unnecessary for Lieutenant Maynard and his men to hunt him down and put five bullets into him.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:12 AM


Trying out Opera 7.11 tonight... nice browser for the most part, still big problems with password boxes and other form inputs (Blogger, among other sites). Not sure why that is... you'd think by v.7, they'd have noticed... The freeware version still loses you part of the screen for the in-frame ad, too. On the upside, they seem to have figured out the display problems that made sites with lots of ads imbedded in the page look like ass... in v6,, for instance, was completely unreadable, but that appears to have been cleaned up now.

It also still has what was always the award-winner for "most useless browser feature ever," that being the ability to spoof web traffic logs as to which browser you're using (you can choose to identify yourself as one of the last three versions of NS/Mozilla, or IE 6, instead). Given that the reason Opera's never taken off outside the EU has been largely due to its low market penetration, I never saw the value of giving website managers like myself a misleading idea of how much of our consumer market was actually Opera (it's certainly over 5% of users in countries like Germany now, but given that this particular setting is almost always misconfigured in my experience, I suspect it could be as much as twice the recorded figures for North American users, as well), encouraging us to design websites accordingly, etc. etc. At the very least, I thought they should have set the default choice to "tell people I'm using Opera," but what would I know? Some people like to be #3, I guess...

Posted by BruceR at 12:39 AM