November 25, 2005

WP and the SMAW-NE

The irony of the silly white-phosphorus-in-Fallujah fracas is that the Italian documentarists that started this out and all those that followed them evidently didn't know about the anti-personnel use in Fallujah of a weapon that is indisputably covered by international protocols about incendiary weapons.

The Marines' Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW), an 83mm rocket launcher, was equipped for the fight with the new thermobaric "Novel Explosive" round. The extensive use of thermobarics (improved fuel-air explosive weapons) in the Russian siege of Grozny was condemned by the international community.

Unlike WP, the SMAW-NE would undoubtedly be covered by the Geneva protocol on Certain Conventional Weapons, which prohibits their air-launched or indiscriminate use in civilian areas. Also, unlike WP, thermobarics are considerably more destructive than a high-explosive round of the same size would be.

There's been no specific incident reported where this weapon was used indiscriminately in Fallujah. My only point here is that, unlike WP, it would be a clear violation of internationally accepted laws of war if they were.

Adding irony to irony, the Russian Parliament, whose country was condemned for using thermobarics to level Grozny, and recently used an undisputed chemical weapon (fentanyl) to "solve" the Moscow theatre standoff, has condemned the relatively innocuous American use of WP in Fallujah.

ASIDE: Just noticed in the article that started all this that the Fallujah attackers had no other kind of artillery smoke round available to them other than WP (see p. 26), for any of their indirect fire systems. I'm curious why that would be the case... supply difficulties?

Posted by BruceR at 10:50 AM

Theories on Emmanuel Zarq-stein

Of course, Josh Marshall and Mark Steyn could both be right. The Big Z could be an overhyped figure who is now on the run and at the end of his rope, and whose death/disappearance will have no measurable impact on the level of violence in Iraq.

Posted by BruceR at 10:18 AM

November 24, 2005

A little torture challenge

Okay, here's a challenge to anyone still reading this space: name one time where history was changed by a truthful confession derived from torture. Doesn't have to be a ticking bomb scenario or anything, just a time where without a torture-induced confession the winning side of history would have lost. There must have been one, in all of human history, right? Then why can't I think of one? Any valid examples will be reprinted here.

PS: Personally, I think the only reason there's even a debate about torture in America today is because the Books of the Maccabees never made it into the Standard Edition Old Testament.

Posted by BruceR at 12:33 AM

November 21, 2005

Saving for posterity, contd.

True story. A conversation with the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency hotline this morning:

Me: Hello, I have received this notice from you in the mail and I am following the instructions on the notice to call you to resolve the issue in question.
Tax office reverse Turing test* candidate: Certainly, sir, please give us your name, social insurance number and address from the notice to confirm your identity.
Me: Certainly (provides said info).
T.O.R.T.T.C: Sir, that postal code is not what we have in our records.
Me: It is in fact my real postal code. Plus I'm reading it right off the notice your office sent me that asked me to call you. Your records must have a discrepancy.
T.O.R.T.T.C: That's not the postal code in my computer system.
Me: Obviously it's correct in some part of your computer system, because it's correct on the notice you sent me, and that notice successfully arrived at my house in the mail, no? So could we proceed with the business of me forking over the money in question?
T.O.R.T.T.C: You'll have to take it up with the change-of-address desk.
--several minutes of Muzak pass--
Me: Hello, I'd like to straighten out a discrepancy in your records concerning my postal code.
TORTTC #2: Yes sir, what is your personal information?
Me: Certainly. (As above).
TORTTC #2: Sir, that's not the postal code we have in our records.
Me: Yes, I know, that's the problem. It is the postal code I live at, and the one you're mailing these demands for me to call you to, though, so I'd like it corrected.
TORTTC #2: Yes, but it's not the one in our records. We can't change your address information without confirming your personal information.
Me: Can you tell me what postal code you have in your records now?
TORTTC #2: No, I can't do that without confirming your personal information, including your...
Me:... postal code, check. So how does this particular Beckett play end, anyway? How can I confirm who I am so that I can help you straighten out your records so that I can send the government my earnings more effectively, exactly?
TORTTC #2: You need to provide us with the postal code on my screen.
Me: But it's not my real postal code.
TORTTC #2: Yes, but you still need to provide it.
Me: So how many guesses do I get, exactly?

Suffice it to say it went downhill from there. Bottom line is the tax agency is sending me notices telling me to call them, and then refusing to talk to me when I do. If anyone is out there from CCRA, please don't take offence from the apparent silence from me: I really, really am trying to get through to you, as soon as the robots let me through.

*Reverse Turing test: A test I have recently proposed, involving a complicated algorithm that a call centre attendant needs to pass to be proven to be a human instead of a computer by demonstrating some measure of empathy, intelligence, or compassion.

Posted by BruceR at 03:08 PM

November 18, 2005

Today's Koufax award goes to...

And the award for blog comment of the week I wish I'd written goes to:

Dr. Morpheus:

"Your not going to catch me in that logical trap! It's losers all the way down!"

Posted by BruceR at 05:07 PM

I just wanted to save this

...for posterity.

"I do see that Steven Den Beste is doing his best to stir the crap with his usual phony hysteria over at Dean Esmay's ("commenting is a privilege, not a right") page. Ann Althouse launches an over-the-top attack on OSM, Charles Johnson comments that she has "jumped the shark," and SDB, true to his latest "I can dish it out, sort of, but I can't take it for diddly" persona, shrieks, rips his damp panties off and waves them wildly about his head, and wails that Charles has "heaped abuse" on poor Ann. Tell you what, Steve - when it comes to writing chops, compared to your endless, turgid prose, Ann needs no help from you in defending herself..."

I long ago concluded that blogger Steven Den Beste was a very intelligent man I happened to disagree with on the politics of the day, Charles Johnson was also a smart man once who now enjoys the cult-leadership aspects too much to show weakness around the ravening subhuman hordes who read him, and Ann Althouse frequently spoke before she thought (NB: That one's something we're all guilty of, mind you). Bill Quick, on the other hand, is a batshit loony of anthropological curiosity only. I'm obviously enjoying this whole contretemps immensely.

Posted by BruceR at 02:38 PM

100 best books, and one so-so review

I was at the announcement at Massey College yesterday of the Literary Review of Canada's list of the 100 most important Canadian books, on the occasion of the magazine's 14th birthday. I think it's an excellent project that editor Bronwyn Drainie and her team took on here, and I'm ever so glad to be tangentially associated with a magazine that would take the time and effort to do something like this.

The coming December issue of LRC (orange cover, not listed their site yet) features my review of Canadian media studies prof Tim Blackmore's War X, about the scary future of warfare. To be frank, it's not one of Canada's most important books. Just in case anyone out there (Mom?) is interested in reading my deep thoughts in a more subway-friendly format again.

Posted by BruceR at 10:30 AM

November 17, 2005

The continued story of white phosphorus

I'm currently involved in a (no doubt ultimately futile) Wikiwar on the WP issue. Neil Macdonald's piece on CBC last night was particularly misinformed, I thought.

I always saw the serious issue with Fallujah as being the numerous reports of refusals to let civilians leave during the sieges, no doubt trapping many non-combatants within. Whether their lives were threatened with bullets, high explosive or WP really seems a secondary issue.

Posted by BruceR at 08:58 AM

November 16, 2005

Up is downism writ large

Do the collective geniuses of "Open Source Media" not even know what "open source" means?

Obviously not.

Posted by BruceR at 07:37 PM

That was fast

Wow, it's only been a day since the Liberals launched their election pre-campaign, and they've already permanently lost my vote.

Posted by BruceR at 04:59 PM

White Phosphorus and the Medal of Honor

I love this story.

It's not just the consistent misspelling of "phosphorus" throughout, it's the complete ignorance of what WP (white phosphorus) shells are and do on all sides of the issue.

On the anti- side, of course, you have accusations that WP is a "chemical" weapon or an "illegal" one. It's not.* WP was heavily used in the Second World War by the Allies, including Canada, against both Germany and Japan**, for exactly the same reasons and missions it's being used now. But yes, a WP artillery shell is a bad thing to have land near you... not nearly as bad as a regular high-explosive artillery shell of the same size, but certainly the next worst thing.

The job of those opposed would be much harder, of course, if the pro- side had any more of a clue what they were talking about. The State Department's retracted statement, that WP was "fired into the air at night," is classic. It should go without saying that using a smoke shell to try to light up a dark sky would be a failure... I guess only the State Department could confuse phosphorus with magnesium, which is what real illuminating rounds are made of.

*I've seen a lot of people claiming that the 1980 Incendiary Weapons protocol of Geneva forbids the use of white phosphorus against civilians. It does not. It forbids the use of "incendiaries," and specifically excludes weapons like WP where the incendiary effect is a secondary effect of smoke production (incendiary weapons by definition are those weapons designed to create fires... WP occasionally will start fires, but it's not very reliable in that role... generally it just creates a lot of smoke). Whether the U.S. has signed it or not is irrelevant.

**From the Medal of Honor citations pages:


First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 339th Infantry, 85th Infantry Division... For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy. In the course of an attack upon an enemy-held hill on 11 May, 1st Lt. Waugh personally reconnoitered a heavily mined area before entering it with his platoon. Directing his men to deliver fire on 6 bunkers guarding this hill, 1st Lt. Waugh advanced alone against them, reached the first bunker, threw phosphorus grenades into it and as the defenders emerged, killed them with a burst from his tommygun. He repeated this process on the 5 remaining bunkers, killing or capturing the occupants...


Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company C, 362d Infantry, 91st Infantry Division... Sgt. Harmon ordered his squad to hold their position and voluntarily began a 1-man assault. Carrying white phosphorus grenades and a submachine gun, he skillfully took advantage of what little cover the terrain afforded and crept to within 25 yards of the first position. He set the haystack afire with a grenade, and when 2 of the enemy attempted to flee from the inferno, he killed them with his submachine gun...


Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division... Boldly taking the initiative when his platoon's left flank advance was held up by the fire of Japanese troops concealed in strongly fortified positions, Pfc. Jackson unhesitatingly proceeded forward of our lines and, courageously defying the heavy barrages, charged a large pillbox housing approximately 35 enemy soldiers. Pouring his automatic fire into the opening of the fixed installation to trap the occupying troops, he hurled white phosphorus grenades and explosive charges brought up by a fellow marine, demolishing the pillbox and killing all of the enemy. Advancing alone under the continuous fire from other hostile emplacements, he employed similar means to smash 2 smaller positions in the immediate vicinity...


Platoon Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve... Determined to force a breakthrough when Japanese troops occupying trenches and fortified positions on the left front laid down a terrific machinegun and mortar barrage in a desperate effort to halt his company's advance, P/Sgt. Julian quickly established his platoon's guns in strategic supporting positions, and then, acting on his own initiative, fearlessly moved forward to execute a 1-man assault on the nearest pillbox. Advancing alone, he hurled deadly demolition and white phosphorus grenades into the emplacement, killing 2 of the enemy and driving the remaining 5 out into the adjoining trench system. Seizing a discarded rifle, he jumped into the trench and dispatched the 5 before they could make an escape...


Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company E, 20th Infantry, 6th Infantry Division. ... when his platoon was attacked by an enemy tank, he advanced under covering fire, climbed to the top of the tank and dropped a white phosphorus grenade through the turret, destroying the crew...



The Band of Brothers and WP: According to this page, one in five of the 81mm mortar rounds U.S. airborne troops jumped into Normandy with were WP.


Previous uses in city-shelling: In the battle shortly after D-Day to liberate Cherbourg, the 4.2 inch mortars of the 87th Chemical Battalion fired 19,129 rounds of HE and 11,899 rounds of white phosphorus, in at least one case in an deliberate antipersonnel role.


Finally, from an 1945 U.S. army pamphlet on pillbox clearing:

"After an embrasure has been blown out, the Germans often will remain in the pillbox until they have been persuaded to leave by a flame thrower or by hand grenades. A hand grenade in the ventilator of a pillbox sometimes stuns the Boche, but a white-phosphorus grenade in the same air shaft is likely to prove a great little reviver."

NOTE: For the record, the case that WP is a "chemical weapon" under the terms of the 1993 UN Chemical Weapons Convention is probably stronger than arguing it is an "incendiary weapon" under the terms of Geneva. WP is a lousy way to start a fire in anything less flammable than a dry haystack. It does, however, easily cause burns to its victims, due what is essentially a violent chemical reaction between the phosphorus and the surrounding air, and the CWC defines prohibited chemicals in weapons as "any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals." That clearly excludes explosive effects (sorry, Colby) but it is inclusive of caustics and chemical burning agents, which WP could reasonably be compared to.

Posted by BruceR at 04:56 PM

November 10, 2005

You say potato-masher, I say pohtahto-masher

Colby Cosh is ticked at leftie Antonia Zerbisias for not knowing the difference between an incendiary weapon and a chemical weapon.

Funny, Canadian soldiers are ticked at the Conservative Party defence critic for not knowing the difference between a grenade and a landmine.

Posted by BruceR at 01:33 PM

November 09, 2005

Bomber boys instructors

Stayed up late tonight to watch Bomber Boys on History Television... Canadian reality TV about some Canadian grandkids of bomber pilots put through some of the same paces, running four nights this week.

I was surprised and pleased to see that the ersatz bomber crew had as their sergeant-major an old professional colleague of mine, RSM Roger Noke. I've known Mr. Noke since I was a young Lt. back in 1989, and he's always been a gentleman and a support for my endeavours, and a credit to the Toronto garrison. I see he managed to rope another acquaintance, RCHA Capt. Chris Bigler, into a supporting role. It was entertaining to see both of them again, even if it was dressed in air force blue. All the best, RSM: Ubique.

Posted by BruceR at 02:00 AM

November 08, 2005

Confections that please me

Apropos of nothing, unless it's the Willy Wonka DVD coming out today, I suppose, here are my votes for the two best candy bars currently findable in Canada:

*Caramilk Maple -- Finally a maple flavoured dessert that doesn't make you retch!

*Dark Chocolate Zero bars (no website I could find) -- Disturbingly addictive.

I've tried a lot of the "gourmet" (ie, more than $1.25) bars, and these two regular priced ones beat them all hands down.

Posted by BruceR at 10:41 AM

November 07, 2005

Poppy police

So let me get this straight. The poppy is a registered trademark of the Royal Canadian Legion, and using that symbol without their consent is to be treated as a trademark violation. On the other hand, if you're in the Canadian Forces, you are under order from Nov. 1 to Nov. 11 to wear the poppy on your uniform, no matter how many times you lose it and have to fork over another quarter for the next one.

In fact, I'm currently required to wear two... the Year of Remembrance poppy pin that we have been ordered to wear since March on the right chest, and the Legion poppy on the left lapel.

If the poppy is a registered trademark, doesn't that mean space on Canadian soldiers' uniforms has been dedicated to advertising purposes?

Hey, an order's an order. But I'm with Colby. In civilian clothes, the poppy can be done without from now on. A la Bourque, I'll still wear a British-style poppy if I can find one, though.

Posted by BruceR at 06:14 PM