July 29, 2005


I'm concerned about the quality of history teaching at Stanford. David Kennedy's piece likening the current American army to the Hessians is, simply, completely uninformed on the topic of Hessians:

"THE United States now has a mercenary army. To be sure, our soldiers are hired from within the citizenry, unlike the hated Hessians whom George III recruited to fight against the American Revolutionaries. But like those Hessians, today's volunteers sign up for some mighty dangerous work largely for wages and benefits - a compensation package that may not always be commensurate with the dangers in store, as current recruiting problems testify."

It has been pointed out elsewhere that the current limited American military franchise hardly equates to mercenarism. (And that Kennedy's accusation of mercenarism directed at any soldier who works "largely for wages and benefits" would logically include nearly every professional military person in any non-conscripted army.) But even if you stipulate to Kennedy's point on that, he still has obviously done next-to-no previous reading on Hessians.

The fact is the historical Hessians who served in the American War of Independence on the British side were not exactly mercenaries, at least not as we would understand the term today. Even for their time, they were rather atypical.

There were lots of mercenary units in 1770s Europe, of course: the French army alone had Irish, Scottish, Walloon and Swiss-speaking units, generally comprised of independent volunteers from those regions. The British would also use true mercenary units in the Napoleonic wars, particularly German and Swiss outfits. But the units of the German principalities that served with the British army in the 1770s were different. They were military units recruited by the states (Hesse-Cassel, Brunswick, etc.) and sold BY THE GERMAN PRINCES to the British crown. This is something of a key distinction... the soldiers themselves had been enrolled under the same conditions any soldier in a national army would have been enrolled... it was the whole unit itself that was then auctioned off for the prince's personal profit. The individual soldiers themselves were never given the choice to become mercenaries, as recruits for the French Foreign Legion, or the Gurkhas, or Blackwater today, are given. The Hessians were, in a sense, indentured or coerced soldiers, practically the exact opposite of mercenary contracting as it's traditionally understood.

More historical yammering follows:

As Edward Lowell, the first and most influential of the Hessian historians puts it, the Hessian princes were frowned upon even in the Europe of their day for openly trading in men:

"The action of these princes was opposed to the policy of the empire and to the moral sense of the age: but the [Holy Roman] emperor had no power to prevent it, for the subjection of those parts of Germany which were outside of his hereditary dominions was little more than nominal."

The Hessians received the same pay and benefits as British soldiers. It was the princes who received an additional stipend for each body they delivered. Lowell again, on the specific terms in the case of the Brunswickers (the second-largest "Hessian" contingent):

"The King of England agreed to pay to his Most Serene Highness [The Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg], under the title of levy-money, for every soldier the amount Of 30 crowns banco, equal to 7 4s. 4 1/2d. He was to grant, moreover, an annual subsidy amounting to 11,517 17s. 1 1/2d. from the day of the signature of the treaty so long as the troops should enjoy his pay, and double that amount (viz., 23,035 14s. 3d.) for two years after the return of the troops into his Most Serene Highness's dominions."

The Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, whose large contingent gave the whole German corps in America its common name, received roughly twice as much per head.

Contemporary military leaders respected the Hessian soldiers, but openly equated their princes to slave-dealers. Frederick the Great wrote to Voltaire: "Had the Landgrave come out of my school he would not have sold his subjects to the English as one sells cattle to be dragged to the shambles... Such conduct is caused by nothing but dirty selfishness. I pity the poor Hessians who end their lives unhappily and uselessly in America."

Napoleon agreed. "The House of Hesse-Cassel has for many years sold its subjects to England. Thus have the electors gathered such great treasures. This vile avarice now overthrows their house."

Of course, to have a slave-seller, you need a slave-buyer, and the English practice of buying soldiers en masse did not endear that country to either philosophes or revolutionaries, either. The American revolutionaries were rightly outraged with a British government that was perversely using foreign, purchased, soldiers to suppress a revolt by those it was still claiming were its own citizens: it seemed the English pamphleteers' concerns about the standing army taken to the next level. It wasn't popular in Britain, either: Lowell's account of the English Parliamentary debate shows the depth of Whig opposition feeling on this issue.

The Hessians themselves were hard fighters, although their reputation for cruelty on the battlefield seems overblown... the English and Scottish soldiers seem to have bayonetted surrendering Americans about as frequently, although it's true in general that the language difficulties would have made surrendering to the redcoats appear a slightly less risky proposition. Nor is there any real evidence they were any less restrained in their conduct with American civilians than British soldiers were (not that that would have seemed a particularly high standard if you were an American farmer in the path of their foraging parties). George Washington wrote, before Trenton: "One thing I must remark in favor of the Hessians, and that is, that our people who have been prisoners generally agree that they received much kinder treatment from them than from the British officers and soldiers."

In short, Kennedy's use of Hessians as a shorthand term is at best unilluminating. Calling all soldiers mercenaries glosses over the probably more significant concern in Iraq of the extensive use of legally unaccountable "military contractors," which in many cases are certainly comparable to the historic mercenary outfits (although they really don't resemble the peculiar Hessian circumstances above, either). I can only presume that the professor was trying to evoke all those deep concerns about the standing army as an instrument of civil repression that had deep roots in pre-revolutionary republican literature, culminating in the famous Declaration of Independence lines, " He [George III] is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation." It's easier to say "Hessians," I suppose, than to try to summarize the fears behind the 1628 Petition of Right.

In a sense, of course, Kennedy has mangled the facts so badly that he has ended up still being sort of correct. The current American army is comprised of professional soldiers in the service of their country. So, in their own way, were the Hessians. By saying "all professional soldiers are mercs," and then "the Hessians were mercs," he's basically got two wrongs making a right there.

Interestingly, the closest contemporary comparator to the Hessians would be a country that joined a "coalition of the willing" solely for national economic gain... one could argue that some of the Eastern European military participation in Iraq would fit that bill, as would much of the participation in United Nations peacekeeping by developing world countries such as Bangladesh.

Agreed: any country with a military participation rate lower than its current military needs potentially has a problem. And adding soldier-surrogates who are outside the chain of command and civilian oversight (whether those be mercs/"contractors" or Hessian-style foreign auxiliaries) only compounds that problem. But rather than addressing that important issue with a clear argument, Kennedy has only muddied the waters here.

PS: Kennedy's description of the adventurism of Napoleon as an example of the threat posed by standing armies is historically illiterate, as well. Surely he knows that it was Revolutionary France's pioneering use of levees en masse (the historical analogue to the drafting of his Greatest Generation in the middle of the last century) that allowed Napoleonic armies to venture beyond French borders at all. If Napoleon had contented himself with a professional standing army as the English and American pamphleteers would have understood it a century previously, he would not have been half the threat. If anything, the Napoleonic period shows the dangers to the world of countries that mobilize their entire citizenry, which is what Kennedy appears to be arguing for.

UPDATE: About 5,000 Hessian veterans remained in North America after the war (another 17,000 returned home). Some settled in the United States, but many others took up land in the Canadian colonies, as part of the original 35,000 white Loyalist refugees. Indeed, the province of Upper Canada (now Ontario) was formed in 1791 from the four Western Quebec districts of Mecklenburg, Luneberg, Nassau, and Hesse, which had been so named, partly perhaps in reflection of their large numbers of German-speaking Loyalists, in 1788 (It wasn't just the Hessians: the Loyalists also included veterans of more conventional British mercenary-based units like the Rangers and the Royal Americans, which also had a German (voluntary) recruiting base). Even more had settled with the pre-existing German community in the western part of Nova Scotia, part of the reason it was severed off and renamed "New Brunswick" in 1784. So theirs is a Canadian story, too.

Posted by BruceR at 12:07 PM

July 22, 2005

Recent attacks make 'unwilling suicides' pretty unlikely

It should go without saying that the current events in London would tend to rule out any idea of the attackers in this case being bomb mules, or unwilling suicides, as some have suggested. Unfortunately to say, as there would have been some reassurance, at least. The chance of the 21/7 "bombers" being unknowing suicides is effectively zero, and the m.o. is so similar one now has to assume the 7/7 bombers were likewise. Pity.

Posted by BruceR at 12:10 PM

July 18, 2005

'Insert' 'headline' 'here'

The BBC policy of random headline quotation marks continues, I see. We first commented on this two years ago.

Posted by BruceR at 08:11 AM

As he was saying

These would be the "murderous scumbags" Gen. Hillier was talking about.

Posted by BruceR at 08:06 AM

Perfume containers?

Why did Jermaine Lindsey buy 10 metal perfume bottles just before embarking on a London bombing attack? I'm betting on the containers it was in, not the alcohol.

Posted by BruceR at 07:58 AM

July 17, 2005

Blogging: hazardous to your health

An Iraqi blogger has been in prison without charge for a week now. The secret police at his Baghdad university carted him off. (Yes, this is a current entry.) Just thought I'd mention it here since it doesn't seem to be that big a deal yet for Jarvis, et al.

In other Iraq news, the UN says child malnutrition rates in Iraq have doubled since the days of Saddam and sanctions. This could have something to do with it.

UPDATE, July 22: The blogger Khalid was released today, Raed reports.

Posted by BruceR at 05:52 PM

On Naeem Noor Khan

It's rare when I can say I feel Jim Henley's overreaching a bit, but he may just be in this entry.

It's certainly not implausible that this current American government would burn a key intel source solely to discomfit the Democrats, possibly contributing to a failure to catch the London bombers ahead of time. But it's a theory that involves a lot of second-guessing of lower-level U.S. intelligence and security staff, who may have been playing a deeper game. In Slate, Lee Smith argued there may have been other reasons for the exposing of Noor Khan at that specific time.

I have a problem with getting out ahead of the facts on this for the same reason I have a problem with certain right-wing voices in the Nom de Plame affair. At its root, I believe we need to assume baseline competence in the members of the intelligence community charged with protecting us, in the absence of concrete evidence that they're failing at their job. That means journalists shouldn't refer to a CIA WMD expert as "little wifey", (or a "Home Depot clerk") but it also means that in the absence of an actual source within the U.S. intelligence community saying they were betrayed for political reasons here (and I have no doubt if Noor Khan's outing was opposed by the actual case experts at the time, that it eventually will come out, just as it did after 9/11 and the Iraq invasion), we don't yet have enough info to read so much into the timing of that arrest and Tom Ridge security alert just yet.

Posted by BruceR at 04:03 PM

If we learn anything, the terrorists win

Damian Brooks has the head-in-the-sand mentality of the Canadian left just about right:

"We will not live in fear! This is not America, and we won't learn how to provide basic first aid in the event of a disaster!"

Brooks is right that Anne McLellan's London-bombing comments per se were opportunistic and CYA in nature. He is equally right that the underlying issues of poor emergency preparedness in this country are significant.

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM

Reaction to Hillier: predictable

Reaction to the Canadian Chief of Defence Staff's recent bluntness over the nature of his current enemy and the Canadian Afghan mission has been predictable. Letters in the Globe ran seven-to-two opposed to them, although to their credit both the Star and Globe editorial boards, and NDP leader Jack Layton, concluded he was basically saying what needed to be said. The pacifist Polaris Institute and Council of Canadians demanded a retraction... the defence minister and PM both declined to censure their top general.

Probably the worst columnist's take was James Travers in the Star, who evidently doesn't waste his time thinking too deeply about these issues. (Travers is a classic Ottawa press gallery denizen... all that matters about any issue, anywhere, is its effect on the timing or result of the next Canadian federal election).

Travers: "Hillier's messages have a certain appeal. Dehumanizing the enemy is as old as war..."

Yep, the fear of dehumanizing Al Qaeda keeps me up at night. I'd say they'd done that to themselves, kinda.

Big T: "Still, the spectre of a general expanding his commentary from a mission to the underlying politics, foreign policy and core values is at least unusual..."

The Canadian soldier's dilemma: you must internalize Canada's values in everything you do. You must not ever try to explain what you suspect those values are.

Over lunch with reporters, Hillier essentially endorsed two popular but increasingly discredited theories Washington favours and proselytizes. One is that Al Qaeda attacks are a symptom of civilizations clashing, the other is that the best place to meet that threat is over there.

Curiously, Travers doesn't say where he would like Al Qaeda to meet us instead. Pity.

Those notions are easily marketed to audiences shocked by the outrages of 9/11, Madrid and now London. But they suffer when exposed to quantitative analysis and qualitative experience.

In his book Dying to Win, University of Chicago terrorism expert Robert Pape draws on a unique data base to expose popular misconceptions about suicide bombers..."

The Pape thesis is an important one, helpful in understanding bomber behaviour in zones of military occupation like Palestine and Iraq. It should be obvious that it has almost zero value in explaining global terror attacks in Western countries, at least since 2002. Attempting to extend Pape's conclusions to those attacks only serves to twist the insights he has beyond all recognition.

Pape says when the foreign troops withdraw, then the suicide bombings in that region will stop. Leave aside the Madrids of the world, where suicide was not part of the original plan, how does this knowledge equip us to deal with the Balis (where the occupiers are Western tourists) and Londons (homegrown residents of a democracy)? Answer: it doesn't. Unless you believe that all Muslims everywhere from Leeds to Istanbul are united in a common sense of oppression and rebellion against the West, but of course, that would be that "clash of civilizations" thesis again.

To a degree, this is all the Americans' fault. Their Iraq adventure has tangled up all kinds of previously generally understood concepts of retributive strikes, preventative war, etc. Parliament Hill columnists should probably be forgiven for getting mixed up themselves. But saying, as Gen. Hillier did, that the London attacks reaffirm that we must deny global terrorists a safe haven, in Afghanistan or anywhere else, is not the same in any sense with the Iraqi "flypaper thesis", that it's better to create a war in Iraq to suck them into battle over there. Travers can't tell the difference. Saying that the specific characters we're dealing with in Afghanistan (Taliban holdouts, etc.) are implacably committed to certain religious and moral orthodoxies that Westerners find alien and dangerous (or as a Newfie would say, "they're murderers and scumbags") is not to say that we are all of us engaged in some Lewisesque "clash of civilizations," either. Surely they're the ones taking on civilization, not us.

Travers' whole notion that evaluating the intentions of the remnants of the Taliban is somehow in the exclusive domain of foreign affairs, is especially perverse when you think about it. War is diplomacy by other means, of course, but the value Travers feels in being diplomatic with the Talibs at this point is simply lost on me.

Having obviously read Pape just recently, Travers has evidently concluded, rather baselessly, that military occupations are the root cause of all forms of global terror attacks. (We have had troops in Afghanistan ourselves since 2002, but Travers strangely is not arguing for their removal in saying this.) Hillier's argument, by contrast, is that the existence of global terror networks that could threaten Canadians necessitates our continued military presence overseas. Only in Canada would this simple statement of reality constitute speaking truth to power.

More of the deep thoughts of the Canadian left on Hillier's remarks can be found here.

Posted by BruceR at 11:55 AM

July 15, 2005

Re security clearances

I have no further deep thoughts on the Nom de Plame affair. I will say one thing, though. Everyone who has and values a government security clearance in the Canadian military has one thing drilled into their heads from day one: negligence is no excuse. In fact, there is no excuse whatsover. Let classified information under your control enter the unclassified realm, and you will face consequences.

Regardless of his reasons, if yon Mr. Rove (or anyone else) inadvertently or intentionally passed on classified information, you either have to revoke the clearance in question, or send a horrible message to all the other people who have dutifully and to sometimes great lengths tried to fulfill their responsibilities to guard this kind of information on the goverment's behalf. Presumably without that clearance, he cannot perform whatever current White House advisory function that entitled him to it, so he must leave that portion of his responsibilities behind now, as well. It really seems a no-brainer to me.

Posted by BruceR at 11:57 AM

'We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people'

Army public affairs, done right. Step one, put the kind of quotes that simply can't NOT be printed in the mouth of an unimpeachably important person, and then step two, use the opportunity to explain in exhaustive detail what you're doing overseas, for a mission that so far has been mostly flying under Canadians' radar. Nicely done.

Posted by BruceR at 09:46 AM

July 13, 2005

The return of suicide terror

That the London bombings are revealed to have been the result of what I would have thought was the most unlikely possibility, that of suicide Pakistani Muslims rather than Arabs, is deeply depressing. Mark Steyn is right when he points out how appalling it is how self-appointed spokesmen for British and Canadian Muslims have turned the whole situation around to be about their coming oppression, every time, but it's hard to see how there could not be a backlash of some sort coming after this one. Juan Cole is proposing passing new RICO laws against cults, including extremist Muslim ones, which at least is an original approach. The only alternative that collective self-preservation allows , frankly, will be some systemic discrimination against Muslims or Indians generally, in Canada as well as the U.K. Historically, when a minority in a state starts to pose a physical threat to the majority, only one of two things will happen: either the minority will self-police or otherwise mitigate their members' apparent dangerousness, or the majority will do it for them. The only question here, as Cole rightly recognizes, is which minority we're going to be talking about.

Posted by BruceR at 04:42 PM

July 09, 2005

Further thoughts on the planning

Assuming that the explosives were on timers (see entries below), then the bombers would not have known precisely where the trains were going to be in the subway at the time of the explosion. It's interesting then, that the three underground explosions were on lines converging at King's Cross station (map).

One explanation would be that this is where the bombers got on and then split up to attack different trains from. But the easternmost explosion was on a train that was headed toward King's Cross, so that seems unlikely. At least equally likely was that this was meant to be an effect that hit three trains as they were converging on one station. This was the actual plan in Madrid, were the bombs were supposed to explode simultaneously on four trains while they were all in the Atocha station. Assuming the backpacks were planted at other Tube stations, with their detonations based on thebombers' estimates of travel time into King's Cross, even slight delays in subway traffic could have led to the trains going out of synch from the bombers' optimal timings, leading to the more apparently random pattern that resulted, with two trains already having passed King's Cross and one (the eastern) still to arrive.

Note also that the single bus explosion was on a bus that was leaving the King's Cross area, and which had, as it turns out, picked up a number of survivors from King's Cross. So this theory would certainly strengthen the possibility that the bus attack was an attempt at a follow-on bombing.

Posted by BruceR at 06:29 PM

Italy to accelerate Iraq pullout: Berlusconi

The coalition's third-largest military partner has had enough.

Part of this, along with the British drawdown news last week, is an indication of the relative calm in the Shiite south of Iraq, where both national contingents were stationed. It will put more pressure on the American and Iraqi forces in future upsurges of violence, however, as this becomes ever more a unilateral U.S. enterprise.

Posted by BruceR at 05:39 PM

Another comparison with Madrid

Police are saying now the London bombs had about 5 lb of high explosive each. This 20 lb total is significantly less than the Madrid explosions, which were originally planned to involve 13 20 lb-plus bombs.

The upside of this is that the London terrorists either didn't have the local means or freedom to operate to assemble Madrid-size bombs (the Madrid bombers obtained their estimated 250 lb of explosive with the help of several willing non-Muslim Spaniards connected with that country's mining industry). The downside is that, due to the tighter passenger density, difficulties of retrieval, and compression effects of subway explosions, or explosive composition, the casualties per pound of explosive would appear to have been about four times greater in London (2.5 fatalities per pound and still climbing in the UK, compared to less than one fatality per pound in Madrid).

NOTE: Part of the reason that the British attack was less successful could be the bombers would have been less embedded in the community than the Moroccan bombers in Madrid. Juan Cole has a good theory why that might be the case.

Posted by BruceR at 05:20 PM

Cellphones and bombs, part two

There seems to be a lot of confusion about this, so it bears repeating. While there is no doubt cellphones can and have been used as command-detonation devices for explosives (ie, triggered on an incoming call), neither the Madrid, nor the Bali, nor probably the London bombings used them that way.

The Bali attack was triggered by the two suicide bombers involved. The bomb makers had set the bombs up with backup cellphone call-triggers in case the bombers had lost their nerve, but these were not used. A third, non-fatal explosion near the American consulate that night was detonated by a cellphone, however.

The Madrid attack plan was for 13 devices to go off simultaneously on trains when the ALARMS on the attached cellphones went off, NOT when the phones were called by someone. Ten successfully detonated... one, which had the alarm set for "pm" instead of "am," was recovered intact by police.

The London tube bombings were almost certainly, given the lack of wireless access in the subway, not command-detonated, either. That does not mean they could not have used cellphones as cheap electronic timer-alarms, however.

The reason this is important is that fear of cellphone command detonations would be a really dumb reason to limit cellphone access in public places, in emergencies or otherwise. If anything, cellphones, so long as the network stays unjammed, can help notify emergency services, allow off-duty emergency personnel to assemble faster, etc. etc. And no shut-off of the network is going to prevent a bomber from setting up their phone to explode the device off the phone's countdown, timer, or alarm features. In almost any case where the targetting is fairly indiscriminate (ie mass transit or packed nightclubs) the use of cellphone call-triggers increases the complexity of the operation without increasing the payoff (to start with, a single triggerman would have to fire multiple explosives sequentially, rather than simultaneously, by phone calling them individually, and also can be foiled by the various random reasons for dead air we all experience every day).

The exception, again, is a situation like Iraq, where you want to hit a mobile high-value target (the American unarmoured Hummer passing by) and not waste your efforts on the other mobile targets before and after them in the same space (the invulnerable tank, the Iraqi farmer on the tractor), or if you want to combine the attack with something like a small-arms ambush, which involves human-machine synchronization.

Posted by BruceR at 04:55 PM

July 07, 2005

Cellphones in the Tube?

A couple thoughts on today's vicious London bombings:

The apparent shutdown of the London cell network probably has more to do with overuse by users, or possibly expanding the emergency frequency range, than preventing further attacks... cellphones aren't a reliable remote triggering mechanism in subways, unless the metro and trains themselves are rigged for wireless.

The City of London recently announced plans to put wireless antennae in the Tube, but presumably coverage is still spotty at best... they may well reconsider those plans now.

With remote detonation by cellphones an unlikely possibility, that leaves a timed detonation as the most likely trigger for the London subway bombs. (note: see below)

The interesting leftover is the bus attack. Half an hour later than the others, and in an location that doesn't indicate a lot of planning (logically, you'd think you'd want it to go off on the lower deck of the bus for maximum effect). A second-wave attack (to get people using the bus instead of the now-dangerous subway) seems somewhat illogical, too... the better place for that would be close to an entrance, and besides, the bus was going towards an affected station (Russell Square), not away from one carrying survivors. A likely possibility is that this was a fourth subway bomb that failed to be planted in time (would you want to be in the subway tube with a bomb with a timer anywhere within fifteen minutes of its planned detonation time?) and switched by its carrier to a secondary target. In which case, it probably could have been worse (the subway fatalities so far have averaged 11 per bomb, while the bus explosion may have killed as few as two).

UPDATE: Just to be clear, this doesn't mean they might not find cellphone parts in the bomb debris. The Madrid bombs were detonated with cellphones, but using a cellphone timer function to create a timed detonation: something similar is certainly possible in this case. Shutting off a cellphone network will have no effect on such a device, obviously, and it will work fine even deep in a subway tunnel. This is different from a typical Iraqi IED cellphone bomb, which uses the cellphone for remote command detonation of the device by its planter just as an American vehicle passes over it, and so needs to have the ability to make the wireless connection.

UPDATE, Friday: We're now up to 36 dead and climbing for the three subway bombings, and 13 dead for the bus attack, possibly mooting one of the subpoints, above.

Posted by BruceR at 02:03 PM

July 06, 2005

War of the Worlds mini-review

Like Jaws, a film version entirely faithful in its spirit and narrative arc to the written source, to the point where the movie's flaws are pretty much Wells' own. That either bothers you, or if you're like me, it doesn't much. The "bringing your kids" subplot is restrained, adding dramatic tension without leading to any Jurassic Park kids-save-the-day idiocy. The differences between Independence Day and this are the differences between an awful movie and a tolerable one.

Posted by BruceR at 04:34 PM

The sun sets, redux

This is fairly big news:

"Military commanders are making plans for a major cutback in the number of British forces in Iraq as they prepare to take over responsibility for security in Afghanistan which, they say, the US wants to leave as soon as possible.

"They say the number of British troops in Iraq could be cut to fewer than 2,000 over the next 12 to 18 months. There are some 9,000 there now. That would make it much easier for Britain to meet its commitment to take over the lead Nato role in Afghanistan from next May."

UPDATE, July 7: It should be interesting to see how today's disgusting London subway attacks will affect the redeployment plans. It's hard to see how the British government could countenance anything that looked like a Spanish-style withdrawal from Iraq, whether it made strategic sense or not, at least in the immediate term.

Posted by BruceR at 02:31 PM

July 05, 2005

Why was I not informed?

One of the biggest problems with the Saitek Cyborg Evo joysticks, which are otherwise excellent entry-level tools for computer flight sim fans, has been the lack of good "deadband" control... being able to refine the area in the center of the stick's axes that the stick is neutralized within. I have found this frustrating at times, but last night I managed to locate the better-late-than-never downloadable tool from Saitek that fixes the problem. Okay, I like Saitek sticks again now.

Looking back at my "things that please me" post where I first mentioned Saiteks, I feel compelled to extend it just a little, while I'm at it:

6) I'm reasonably pleased with Canon's low-end desktop bubblejet printers, which have followed a steady progression of improvement from the BJC-1000 through the 4000, then the S200, and now the IP1500/2000 models. (All of the above, purchased by friends and family over the years, still work fine, btw). If all you want is a printer, not a scanner/fax/coffee machine, I really think Canon's the way to go these days. (PS: When did they stop including USB cables in printer packages? That's really annoying, and contributes to some real sticker price deception.)

7) While I still vote Canadian-owned Viewsonic for CRT monitors, I honestly think the best value for LCDs these days is Samsung's Syncmaster line.

8) And as much as I hate to say it, because of their predatory attacks on Canada's own ATI and before them Voodoo, I have to say Nvidia did a great job with their Nforce motherboard chipsets. I still say Asus makes the best mobos, but when I'm looking at them these days, I'm looking for the Nforce components as well.

Posted by BruceR at 10:39 AM