February 28, 2007

Study on Afghan human bombs

From Spencer Ackerman. The conclusions seem basically correct: foot-borne suicide bombs are a highly effective method of killing civilians. They are essentially a low-payoff provision in aggregate against a force of soldiers with their guard up. I'd like to read the actual study, and see whether a distinction was made between vehicle-borne and human-borne weapons, which I'd have said have somewhat different profiles in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

UPDATE: Direct link.

Posted by BruceR at 11:58 AM

February 26, 2007

News flash: tanks not invulnerable

Thank you, political science professor Michael Wallace.

In other news, the fact German soldiers had access to machineguns and anti-tank weapons proves conclusively that D-Day could not have actually happened the way we all think, and the first Neanderthal's use of a shieldy thing he made from some wicker in order to block his enemies' pointed sticks has left us all "trapped in an arms race" for, oh, about 10,000 years and counting now.

"Mr. Wallace acknowledges he has no easy answers on [how to prevent people from killing you with impunity]. But he also notes the Canadian Forces and government don't appear to know either."

Yes, they do. It's called fighting. By contrast, I found this informative.

Posted by BruceR at 05:59 PM

Confession of the day

Psst. I secretly think Disturbed's "Land of Confusion" is a superior-to-the-original cover (not that that would be too hard). Video's putrid, of course (sorry, Spawn fans), but I really like that the remake has given the actually-half-decent Mike Rutherford lyrics a new, relatively unironic fanset. "The men of steel, men of power/are losing control by the hour..." Sounds about right, no?

Posted by BruceR at 04:14 PM

February 12, 2007

A reader response to dental care post

Longtime reader Rick G. amplifies the remarks on dental care in my post below:

"I don't care if it's politically motivated by an imminent provincial election, the lack of publicly funded dental care for the poor is a disgrace. What makes a basic level of dental care different from a basic level of health care?

"Maybe it's because all those champions of of Medicare have jobs with benefits, and they care more about preserving a very expensive status quo (the economic sector that provides the most jobs in Canada) than actually helping poor people.

"I've known single mothers who quit their jobs to go on welfare to get dental care for their kids, when they should have been getting a hand up to be able to work their way off of welfare. Similar situations arise when someone without work benefits is faced with bills for necessary prescription drugs. Our social programs don't work very well at moving people from dependent to independent."

Posted by BruceR at 04:44 PM

February 10, 2007

Dental care for the poor

Personal qualms about expansion of government aside, this is a serious issue. I well remember being in that place between university and a job with a dental plan, and the choices I was forced to make at that time about my employment, etc. I would personally support any program that raised the floor even a little on baseline dental care available to the unemployed and uncovered in this country, a lot sooner than I would almost any other form of government assistance.

Posted by BruceR at 03:50 PM

How DOES one back away slowly with a browser?

Maryland computer science professor James Purtilo claims that Australian science gadfly Tim Lambert combined efforts with Google, and Wikipedia, in a vast international conspiracy to deny Tim Blair and John Lott site traffic:

"Interestingly, during the time he mirrored the sites, search engines from companies having a relationship with WP (like google) tended to rate the mirrored site (from Lambert) over the actual sites of Lambert's targets (like Lott.)"

Instapundit, who has clashed with Lambert previously, links approvingly.

Posted by BruceR at 03:33 PM

February 09, 2007

Attaran allegations: questions, questions

"Attaran says it appears that one of the men was beaten during an interrogation."
--Star today

This is not the first time Prof. Attaran has alleged that the superficial injuries to an Afghan detainee that concern him were the result of a Canadian interrogation, as opposed to the result of being taken into or being held in custody. In fairness it must be noted that he has, to date, offered no evidence to support this element of his claim whatsoever.

Posted by BruceR at 01:27 PM

February 08, 2007

Roggio on helicopters: wrong

I can say one thing right away about Bill Roggio on the cause of an uptick in recent helicopter casualties: they're not going to be due to SA-7 missiles, as his intelligence sources are telling him. Way too old and primitive for this kind of kill rate: you'd have to fire a barrage each time, and the only reason there can be any doubt to the cause at this point is that these seem to be one- or at most two-shot kills.

Russian-manufactured shoulder-launched missiles basically fall into two very different families, the Strela (aka SA-7, SA-14 and the Chinese HN-5), and the Igla (aka SA-16, SA-18, and the Chinese QW-1 and 2). The Igla, which first entered Soviet service in 1981, is a Stinger-equivalent, modern missile, quite deadly against helicopters and other slow low-flying aircraft. The Strela, even in its last incarnations, was still essentially a Vietnam-era piece of junk.

If there's an uptick in helicopter kills now, it certainly could be an indication the more modern Iglas are beginning to make their way into Iraqi insurgent hands in sufficient numbers. Igla missiles, and their licensed and unlicensed copies, are produced in Pakistan, Iran, and China, as well as Russia.

Posted by BruceR at 02:33 PM

Goo bombers update, #2

Dick Destiny has more pictures from the trial proceedings for the hapless British goo bombers.

Posted by BruceR at 01:50 PM

Damned if you do...

"It is inexcusable that they [the military] have not investigated. This is not right."
--Afghan detainees' rights advocate and law professor Amir Attaran, Feb. 7, on allegations that an Afghan detained at an apparent bomb-making facility received superficial injuries while resisting attempts to take him into custody.

"In light of what happened a decade ago in Somalia, I very much doubt that [the military] should investigate internally."
--Attaran again, Feb. 8, upon hearing that the military had immediately launched separate criminal and administrative inquiries into his allegations.

Read Damian Brooks at the Torch for more.

The real question here is whether the independent Military Police Complaints Commission, established after the 1992 Somalia affair, should hold only its second-ever public inquiry into the new Attaran allegations, in addition to the two internal inquiries now ongoing. It certainly seems like it will be bureaucratically difficult for the MPCC to resist the kind of pressure it's under on this from Attaran and the Globe and Mail: to say no now would seem to be dooming itself to irrelevancy as a government watchdog agency. But Brooks' suggestion that this is a kind of forum-shopping by Attaran, who appears to be seeking a public venue for himself where he could gain standing to argue in relation to the larger issue of whether Canada should be handing over all its detainees to local Afghan authorities, does seem justified.

I've got a couple other questions myself about today's article, the third top-of-front-page screamer in the Globe in as many days on the Attaran allegations. I don't see how the Globe can characterize Attaran as a "whistle-blower;" isn't that term normally reserved for people inside the organization they are criticizing? He's more accurately an advocate for Afghan detainees, Taliban or otherwise.

Also, this, from Attaran: I have an obligation as a citizen, he said. I also have a super-added obligation as a lawyer to be vigilant of possible illegality; lawyers are officers of the court. And I have a further obligation as a professor, when it comes to sharing my research and educating policy makers and the public; research and education is what professors do.

Why then hasn't Attaran posted these documents he's received through his Access to Information requests, upon which the allegations are based, publicly, so others could review the conclusions he's been drawing? He's succeeded in making them public now, after all. It seems that would be the appropriate scholarly (and lawyerly) thing for him to do.

UPDATE: Finally, I'm surprised by Attaran's and the Globe's use of the word "intimidation" here. My understanding is that that word is normally reserved, at least in a legal sense, for acts of criminal threatening. For a lawyer to use it in this context is to suggest he felt the military officer in question was attempting to induce in him a fear of potential acts of physical violence by military members, or at least acts intended to damage him financially or reputationally. I don't see how one obtains that from either party's description of the conversation in question. It should be possible in to cast aspersions on someone's motives without being accused of threatening them. (Otherwise, journalists and bloggers would all be in big trouble.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:32 PM

February 06, 2007

Comments on Star's slavery in Canada article

A couple historical points left out of this article, on the lack of celebrations in Canada of the bicentennial of the end of the British slave trade:

1) It quotes celebration advocate Afua Cooper: "This is a country where the enslavement of black people was institutional and practised for the better part of three centuries"

The author, Royson James, writes: "By now, it should be common knowledge, passed on through our school's history books, that Canada benefited from the trafficking in black people for more than 200 years."

The first documented instance of a slave living in Canada occurred in 1628. The Osgoode decision of 1803 effectively ended slavery in most of Canada. That's 175 years, not more than 200. Even if you accept the end of the trade in 1807 as your end date on the "trafficking," it's 179.

2) Note the date above. The Osgoode decision effectively ended the keeping of slaves in Lower Canada, four years before the cross-Atlantic carriage in British ships was prohibited by law. A decade prior to that, Upper Canada governor John Graves Simcoe had made his the first British colony to prohibit the slave trade (although not slaveholding), with the Anti-slave Law of Upper Canada of 1793. It was one of the first legislative acts of Canada's largest English-speaking colony, which had been separated from Francophone Lower Canada in 1791.

Neither the Anti-slave Law nor the Osgoode decision are mentioned in James' article.

3) One estimate of the total number of slaves in Canada by Marcel Trudel came up with 1,400 blacks (native Canadians were also sometimes enslaved during the French period). Another estimate came up with 1,132 total black slaves during the French period, and about 2,000 arriving with the Loyalists. One might to wish to compare that to the estimated 30,000 Black Americans who escaped to Canada and freedom in the 19th century. The article, unfortunately, does not.

4) Historians have concluded that slavery in New France and later the English Canadian colonies was largely in the form of domestic servitude, rather than plantation work. As well, the price of human labour in the colonies was so high in the early years of Upper Canada, and life so tough for all concerned, that slave holding in those circumstances effectively became impractical (the reason for its rapid abolition). No, that does not make it any better. But it means the sentence, "Africans became field hands, domestics, the ones forced to do the hard work the colonialists [sic] refused" is rather... imprecise.

Posted by BruceR at 09:27 AM

February 02, 2007

Coderre on C-17s

With there still some possibility of an election this year, it's nice of the Liberals' new defence critic to get to work and lock in the pro-Canadian Forces vote early.

Posted by BruceR at 02:08 PM

Good for Rick Mercer

The comedian gets it.

Posted by BruceR at 02:05 PM