September 27, 2004

Mental retreat, contd.

"There are fewer attacks here because we're out on the road less," an officer at the Marine headquarters near Fallujah said on condition of anonymity. "But you shouldn't conclude from that that things are any safer."

--Washington Post, Sunday

Posted by BruceR at 01:02 PM

Why things just keep getting worse

The Iraq Revolt, in one statistic:

From that date [June 10, 2004] until Sept. 10, 1,295 Iraqis were killed in clashes with multinational forces and police versus 516 killed in terrorist operations, the [Iraq health] ministry said.

From farther up in the article:

While most of the dead are believed to be civilians, the data include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen. Many Iraqi deaths, especially of insurgents, are never reported, so the actual number of Iraqis killed in fighting could be significantly higher.

The article states the data set excludes armed resisters, who do not go to hospitals, and is a conservative estimate in other ways.

It is patronizing and false to assume that Iraqis are not basically rational actors here. They didn't wait for the statistics to draw the rational conclusion that American forces are more dangerous to them at present than the Americans' enemies are. You do not need to share a particular civilizational or religious worldview to see the logic of their reality. We would all draw the same conclusions in their place. A few more scenes from the occupation:

At al Kimdi Hospital, Dr. Mumtaz Jaber, a vascular surgeon, said that three months ago, his 3-year-old nephew, his sister and his brother-in-law were driving in Baghdad at about 9 p.m. when they saw an American checkpoint. His nephew was killed. "They didn't stop fast enough. The Americans shot them immediately," Jaber said. "This is how so many die."

At the Baghdad morgue, Dr. Quasis Hassan Salem said he saw a family of eight brought in: three women, three men and two children. They were sleeping on their roof last month because it was hot inside. A military helicopter shot at them and killed them: "I don't know why."

And of course, as soon as a little light threatens to shine through...

Iraq Health Ministry will no longer release casualty figures to media (Sept. 23)

Posted by BruceR at 10:09 AM

September 24, 2004

It turns out he really meant 'AXES of evil'

So it turns out that the invasion of Iraq was really just about making Americans safe from the threat of international axe murderers. Good to know. The "hatchet-related program activities" should be much easier for the us to find, at least.

Posted by BruceR at 02:39 PM

September 23, 2004

What's that sound?

The return of Ray Bradbury's "The Sound of Thunder" to the cultural consciousness should spark a revisiting of a classic sci-fi geek debate... at the end of the short story, what is "the sound of thunder?"

The old Ray Bradbury Theater TV show took the minimalist approach, that the sound is the last sound the time traveller who stepped on a Jurassic butterfly hears (aptly spoofed in Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V, btw), as his comrade blows him away for screwing with history.

Me, I always preferred the alternative... apparently taken up in the new movie, that the thunder is something much worse. Bradbury, always careful with these things, has the sentence "There was a sound of thunder" exactly twice in the story... after a second reading I concluded the second sentence was meant to evoke the first, and the time travellers have altered much, much more than a presidential election and some English syntax.

Paul Wells, on the other hand, evidently is old-school about these things.

PS: What is it about butterflies as agents of catastrophic change? Bradbury's story apparently has nothing to do with the coining of the phrase "butterfly effect," at least on any conscious level, but there it is.

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 AM

September 17, 2004

Samarra bridge-pushing update

You may have missed this one from last week:

"Criminal charges against two of four Fort Carson soldiers accused of forcing Iraqis to leap from a bridge into the Tigris River have been dropped, the Army said Tuesday.

"Sgt. Reggie Martinez and Spc. Terry Bowman, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, will receive nonjudicial punishment..."

Martinez, is, of course, the fellow who it turns out actually pushed Zeyad's cousin off a dam, drowning him. He was acquitted on the involuntary manslaughter charge, claiming he was only following orders. Amazing that still works, isn't it?

Here's a little more background:

"Sgt. Alexis Rincon, a member of the patrol that night, testified the soldiers forced the men to jump and that Martinez leveled a rifle at one of them. Rincon said the man hesitated, but jumped after the second Iraqi said something to him in Arabic.

"None of soldiers thought the men were in danger because one quickly made it to shore, Rincon said. He said he would not have left the scene had he known one of the men was drowning, but asked if he would have gone to the man's aid, Rincon replied: 'I don't know about jumping in and saving him.'"

The 1st Sgt and Lieutenant also faced charges, but those are likely going to be dropped soon, too, reports the Rocky Mountain News:

"Army investigators testified that they never saw [the victim] Hassoun's body and had no evidence confirming that a body existed, except for the account of Hassoun's cousin and a videotape of a body during funeral preparations by Hassoun's family.

"Other members of the platoon testified they saw two men standing on the riverbank and believed both men were safely out of the water.

"The soldiers' testimony coupled with the lack of a body prompted the hearing officer, Capt. Robert Ayers, to recommend that manslaughter charges be dropped..."

Who's going to tell Zeyad? Be careful if you do... Andrew Sullivan is already concerned today that he isn't sounding "too optimistic." Meanwhile Jeff Jarvis, who has constantly promoted everything Zeyad has had to say that buoyed the pro-occupation viewpoint, continues his nine-month silence on anything related to this incident.

Posted by BruceR at 02:05 PM

Air power, vs. air time

"As a US military spokesman announced on Monday that it had mounted a "precision" raid on Islamic militants in Fallujah, Iraqis were watching television pictures of a Red Crescent ambulance in the city torn apart by a US bomb. It killed the driver, a paramedic and five patients."
--Patrick Coburn, the Independent

Posted by BruceR at 01:04 PM

Nice little piece on memorial here

The Star and Post both did the Pickersgill-Macalister memorial, but the Post is subscription and the Star didn't put it on their site, so I'm linking instead to this nice little local paper piece with a teeny-tiny pic of the event. Well, there's another of my 15 minutes gone.

Posted by BruceR at 11:55 AM

Truth or half-truth?

"The last thing the Americans are going to do now is Stalingradize Fallujah. They're Marines; they're good at this. They'll come up with something far more subtle than, say, the Russians would in this same situation, so much so that I think a lot of the jingopunditry will be disappointed by the apparent mildness of the response, if and when one becomes obvious."
--Flit, April 5

"We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Fallujah, that we ought to probably let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge,"
--General Conway, commander of the first Fallujah offensive.

Conway goes on to say he was overruled by higher on the need to attack, which was obvious, and that he was also then overruled on the need to stop it. Conway's comments have been interpreted in the blogosphere as Washington suddenly one day (with Conway on the cusp of victory, no less!) saying, "stop, we're flinching over here."

It's interesting, though, that he says the final decision that the Marines would stop and pull out came only three days into the attack. Given that the Marine attack began on April 5, that meant the American senior leadership had decided it was going to be a failure somewhere around April 8... so that next three weeks of siege, culminating in the "Fallujah Brigade" announcement of April 30, were all just extrication, without any plan of returning to the attack. Conway doesn't spell out what exactly happened on April 8, but one presumes he's referring to the decision, under IGC pressure, to lift the cordon to allow aid from Baghdad into the city around that date... once the Fallujans had a road in and out, with food and medical supplies coming in again, the Americans accepted the battle was effectively over.

Remembering that the 1st Sadrist revolt was in full swing on April 8, and that the Iraqi IGC was threatening to resign en masse if Fallujah wasn't preserved, ending any hope of keeping the inexplicably crucial June 30 deadline (remember that one?), one can understand the political calculus here, too, of course. Conway sees the stopping and starting of what he clearly sees as an episode of unforgivable knee-jerkism as equivalent sins. I disagree. At the time, allowing the Marines to continue would have destroyed the Administration's political plan (however ill-advised it might have been), cost many more lives, and allowed the Sadrists to dig in in their new gains in the Shiite areas while attention was focussed on Fallujah. I agree, the starting WAS a stupid disaster.... but the stopping was best-of-a-bad-situation damage control. It's a microcosm, anyway: we shall inevitably see the same excuses and arguments made about any future American disengagement from Iraq as a whole, too.

Posted by BruceR at 11:01 AM

September 16, 2004

Not a righteous shoot

That Al-Arabiya clip (part of it is in this BBC report) of the killing of their journalist on-camera by an Apache is telling. The exploding missile (presumably a Hellfire) goes off in the middle of a street, with dozens of people calmly standing around, without any warning whatsoever. There is no obvious shooting, and no indication of weapons in or gunfire coming from the crowd.

Yes, the Bradley (abandoned by its wounded crew after damaged by a car bomb) probably had to be destroyed if it could not be recovered, just to deny the recovery of any remaining ammunition and weapons inside. But to do it in this way, killing over a dozen civilians without any warning, was callous and inhumane.

An army that expected to win this war would have announced charges against the pilot, rather than defending his actions, one suspects. An army that expected to win that neighborhood back someday would certainly have made clear Rules of Engagement that prohibited denial-of-equipment attacks in the middle of a crowded, peaceful street. But I really don't believe this is an army that expects or is likely to win out, this time. This increasingly feels like those on the ground have concluded they're just punching the clock until Bush wins, so that victory can be declared and they can come home. (Hopefully not too many more will die before that happens, or there won't be too many intervening attempts to reinforce failure.) So they execute the orders of the moment (destroy the Bradley, using much suppressive fire as you think you need to preserve lives) without worrying too much about the long-term.

If I were an Iraqi insurgent, I'd be buoyed by this: it's the Americans' telltale lack of any concern for what will happen when they control these neighborhoods again... because at this point they don't ever expect to... that is a tell-tale sign of their mental retreat. Historically, physical retreat generally follows, sooner or later.

Posted by BruceR at 07:48 PM

Attack timing

My thesis: the most propitious time for any genuine Iraqi nationalists and other local anti-American factions to attack American forces in Iraq is before the U.S. election, to try and knock Bush out. The most propitious time for any major attack from Al Qaeda or other transnational Islamist groups is AFTER a Bush/Kerry victory, to prompt a continued policy of American overreach in the Middle East.

I wouldn't be too concerned about flying a plane or visiting a landmark this autumn. This Christmas, on the other hand...

UPDATE: Case in point -- quoth the terrorists: "[Mr. Bush,] we are not going to find a bigger idiot than you."

Posted by BruceR at 03:02 PM

Okay, this was funny

"Right now, at a Kinko's in Abilene, TX, a $5.75 an hour counter clerk named Donna is covering the phones, answering in a courteous and professional manner the barrage of reporters' questions unrelated to Velo binding or glossy prints. But what's she's thinking is..."
--Protein Wisdom. Read the whole thing.

Posted by BruceR at 01:55 PM

September 13, 2004

Two worth remembrance

I'm currently helping organize a memorial for Wednesday, Sept. 15 for J.K. Macalister and Frank Pickersgill, two U of T students who signed up for military intelligence, volunteered to work with the French Resistance, were captured and died in Buchenwald. There's a lovely garden in their memory at U of T that was just recently restored, so we can do the 60-year commemoration properly. It's the only grave they have, really... their bodies were consumed in the same crematory fires as the concentration camp's tens of thousands of other victims.

Work with the Special Operations Executive in 1943 had to one of the most hazardous duties imaginable... of the first ten Canadians parachuted into France with the SOE, seven were tortured and executed. They didn't die on a battlefield, but their passing up of multiple opportunities for safer billets, plus their courage right to the very end, remains an inspiring story. Both men were just out of university, and like so many of us, taking a year off to travel in Europe when the Nazi hammer fell... the choices they made from then on, out of a deep concern for those living under oppression, may have led inexorably to their horrible end, but I still have to believe they were the right ones to make.

Anyway, if you'd like to know more, there's more information about the memorial at the 2 Intelligence Company website.

Posted by BruceR at 02:24 PM

September 10, 2004

Okay, now we can officially stick a fork in this one

The latest argument that the forged Bush memos are genuine: they could have been done on a 1970s IBM desktop typesetter!

PC Magazine (after successfully reproducing a 1970s typeset document in a word processor): "Of course, none of this demonstrates that the documents dated from the early 1970s are in fact genuine. It only demonstrates that the fact that the disputed documents can be reproduced in Microsoft Word is not convincing evidence that they are inauthentic."

From PC Magazine's own link for what the user of a typesetter had to do back then to get such modern looking copy:

"Since it has no memory, the user was required to type everything twice. While typing the text the first time, the machine would measure the length of the line and count the number of spaces. When the user finished typing a line of text, they would record special measurements into the right margin of the paper. Once the entire column of text was typed and measured, it would then be retyped, however before typing each line, the operator would set the special justification dial (on the right side) to the proper settings, then type the line. The machine would automatically insert the appropriate amount of space between words so that all of the text would be justified."

All this for a memo. By a National Guard officer. For a file only he would ever see. Yah-huh.

Posted by BruceR at 11:34 PM

More on memos

The curved apostrophes gave the game away for me, as soon as I heard, but out of idle curiosity I typed in the other three Bush memo forgeries that LGF didn't parse, and tried to see if they, too, matched line breaks and line spacing exactly.

As anyone older than 35 will remember, line breaks were, if nothing else, kind of random... determinant upon the individual typist's decision to either carriage return at the ding, hyphenate, or try to get in another word. The chances of one typewritten memo matching what Microsoft Word's standard algorithm produces would be near zero: matching all four would be astronomical, I suspect.

And as you no doubt didn't feel like wasting time confirming yourself, all four memos can in fact be reproduced nearly exactly by typing them out in Microsoft Word and running them through a fax machine/XEROX/scanner a few times. The two signed memos were composed in 11 pt Times New Roman. The other two were done in 12 pt. All the line breaks and line spacings match exactly, in all four memos.

No, I'm not going to do screenshots. Every computer owner in the world can do this for themselves and verify my statement in about two minutes. Art forgery works because only a few people can pick up the subtleties between a painting and an imitation. But literally anyone could reproduce this. Worst. Forgery. Ever? Or: it was meant to be caught. What that means as far as its provenance is the real question now.

Posted by BruceR at 02:05 PM

September 09, 2004

So, once again, it seems they've been had

Google news reports as of 6 p.m. EST there are roughly 1,100 near-identical English-language news stories on the forged "Bush AWOL" memos dating back to yesterday, with more still being added every hour. Apparently not a single editor bothered to look at the in-retrospect obvious forgeries posted on the CBS website and decide to qualify, even a little bit. This may be the most remarkable example of mass media groupthink in history.

LGF had this one nailed as of 10 a.m. EST. There is absolutely no excuse for the mass media to be still posting these stories without the slightest qualification 8 hours later.

It really is like watching Kent Brockman sending two cameras to catch that escaped octopus at Springfield Elementary, isn't it?

PS: Here's a good example of what a military document from the period really looked like. Note the non-proportional fonts, the use of the lower-case "l" in place of "1", the non-angled apostrophes. I'm not so young I didn't type all my high school and early university papers on either a manual or electric typewriter, plus numerous military memos, so I'm somewhat familiar with the form. But I can't believe anyone over the age of 35 fell for this for a minute if they actually *looked* at the documents... which itself says something about the CBS news team, I suppose. But what's Kevin Drum's excuse?

Meanwhile, in other news of the kind that would be actually helping the Kerry campaign, if they weren't tied up in the Bush AWOL stuff, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the guy behind Sept. 11, is now almost certainly still alive. Oh, joy.

Posted by BruceR at 06:21 PM

Couple Slate articles worth reading

Interesting piece here on the U.S. Army's new uniforms. What I find interesting is the profound difference the color balance on a jpg can make... the image on the main Slate page I believe has truer colours (sand/light green) than the image inside (where the uniform looks gray/blue).

Having been part of the first military with pixelized combat gear, I continue to be amazed by how easily the Canadian Forces CADPAT blends into our traditional light infantry training setting (the Canadian woodlands of a Gagetown or Petawawa). Slate is right that the U.S. army's use of a grayish pixellation, optimized for an urban environment, is a telling indication of where they expect the battles of the next few years to be.

This is also an excellent piece. How to recruit good people to intelligence work is a conundrum in any country. At some point the need for operational or source security trumps the need to explain or publicize the achievements. In a world of publicity and marketing, intelligence recruiters basically have to work in a marketing-free environment... you don't find out how cool things really are until you're inside the multiple Maxwell Smart doors. Until they figure out how to solve that conundrum, they'll never get the good people they need.

Posted by BruceR at 01:56 PM

September 07, 2004

Good to see you, fly safely

The absence of any reports with any outbound flights from Pearson Friday night suggests long-term Flitters correspondent-pilot and Gulf War vet Cecil T. survived our mutual encounter with each other, and me with a pint glass, earlier that same day.

I haven't missed the old discussion forum much recently, to tell the truth (haven't been around to miss it) but I will say it was good to finally meet one of its more distinguished denizens. Of all the encounters with people I've "met over the Internet," this was definitely the most pleasant. Bar's open next time you're in Toronto, C.T. Maybe you'll even be able to drink next time.

Posted by BruceR at 09:58 AM

Good Chechnya summary

About everything useful I had to say about Chechnya was poured into this excellent analysis piece, so I won't bother.

I will say this, though... if you are willing to unquestioningly accept Russian claims, on the basis of zero impartial evidence so far, that "Arabs" were involved in the school massacre, or even worse, that you are able to then make the logic leap that therefore "Fallujah delende (sic) est," congratulations, you are now officially part of the problem.

For the record, here's pretty much the total evidence so far that there was Arab involvement in the recent school massacre:

"Officials have said nine or 10 of the dead extremists were Arabs, but the evidence provided by an unnamed "regional security official" to the Itar-Tass news agency leaves room for skepticism.

"'Experts are almost positive, judging by the type and size of their faces and other signs, that the nine Arabs come from countries near the equatorial part of the Arabian peninsula, such as Sudan and Yemen, the official is quoted as saying."

Sudan? In Arabia? Who knew?

Not that Al Qaeda involvement in these recent horrible events isn't possible, of course (and it's a certainty that the majority of suicide terrorists were Muslim). But foreign terrorist support certainly wasn't essential to this enterprise... Chechen leader Basayev has been engaged in acts as horrific as this for at least a decade now. This summary probably gets it about right (although I think it falls down in failing to mention the serious questions about the Putin faction's possible role in enabling some of the extremists behind the 1999 "invasion," in order to solidify their own power).

This is the ineluctable logic of suicide attacks. There's always going to be the human response of wanting to strike back, but you can't, because the certifiably villainous are all dead. Somewhat fortunately, advocates of more collective punishment for all Chechens or Muslims generally will run up against the reality that collective punishment has been ongoing, by forces far more ruthless than we, against Chechnya for decades. You just can't hurt them any worse than Stalin did, and that failed. So the present-day governments, regardless of their political orientation, will therefore ultimately reject this in favour of some more targeted approach. Which makes it imperative we understand where the political forces see those targets as residing, and how their various advocates are going to twist reality now in order to move the targeting hairs over in a pleasing direction... such as this professor's leavening of blame for Chechnya on "Iran (!) and Saudi Arabia", for instance. See also Iraq, invasion and conquest of.

Posted by BruceR at 09:52 AM

September 03, 2004

The new age of Canadian foreign policy

"Canada, in fact, was one of a consortium of countries that pressed the Security Council to address the situation in Darfur. Now Canada has an opportunity to take the lead in committing whatever funds are necessary to help the AU do its job."

--John Ibbitson, today

I'm personally not sure contributing a million or two towards bankrolling/equipping a Nigerian army expeditionary force (which is what "AU peacekeepers" really boils down to) is really going to get Canada a whole lot of credit for humanitarian altruism, in Africa, or elsewhere. It is, however, the only realistic option here, and is increasingly the only option Canadian foreign policy planners have.

Posted by BruceR at 01:21 PM

September 02, 2004


" one expects Bush to start another war..."

Kevin Drum. I guess I'm out on my own on this one, then, but I still expect some aerial bombardment of Iran or possibly Syria to commence by the end of 2006, assuming, as I fully do, a Bush second term. Iraq will have sorted itself out into its new totalitarianism by then, and ruthless repression by "Iraqi forces" there will provide the requisite ground staging base. The current American leadership has a lot of stock invested in the prosecution of foreign wars. I believe is capable of doing whatever it takes to cajole the country into a new one. I really don't see it playing out any other way. I guess we'll see who's right.

Posted by BruceR at 12:55 PM

Makes you start to believe that Illuminati crap

Canadians are following with interest/disgust the revelations about the personal looting of the former Hollinger newspaper empire by chief executives David Radler and Conrad Black. Black and Radler appear to have siphoned every dime they could out of the company for their profligate lifestyles, with the tacit acceptance of a third member of the company's executive committee, appointed by the board to keep a watch on the two of them.

That easygoing third member, who scored $5 million for himself out of the deal? Richard Perle. No, I'm not kidding.

Posted by BruceR at 12:33 PM

'Craziest pilot' says farewell to fans

Royal Canadian Artillery Capt. (retd.) James "Scotty" Doohan made what should be his final public appearance in Los Angeles this last weekend. Doohan, who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's apparently, was wounded at D-Day and is remembered for his work later in the war as an artillery air observer, when he was christened the "craziest pilot" in the air (which for Canadians, is saying something). He's 84.

Oh, yes, I understand he also did some TV/movie work after that. Some kind of space show, I gather.

Posted by BruceR at 10:46 AM