March 26, 2007

Australian-Canadian reserve force agreement signed

I'm all in favour of these sorts of things. We lose too many good reservists when they pursue careers in other countries.

Posted by BruceR at 11:44 AM

Good for him

Having known Bob Walsh in a soldiering capacity for some years, it was great to see his unflinching dedication to students in his care recognized in this way when I opened the paper Friday, albeit in a somewhat unusual fashion. Good for him and for the Lorne Scots, his home unit. (As usual, the official unit website is junk, and the Canadian Forces public affairs site has no mention of the award.)

Posted by BruceR at 11:42 AM

Afstan casualties: knocking on wood

It has now been four months since the last Canadian combat fatality in Afghanistan, and two-and-a-half weeks since the last NATO combat fatality of any kind. Last year, there were 8 NATO fatalities due to hostile action in March. So far this month that number is 4.

If their enemies allow this long string of good-news days to continue, this trend can only inevitably lead to American and Canadian press coverage saying NATO is not doing enough to fight the Taliban this year, or taking enough risks by doing so.

Posted by BruceR at 11:31 AM

March 22, 2007

Reasons for the calm

Things are still fairly quiet in Afghanistan (to this point in 2006, there had been 12 NATO fatalities due to hostile action... this year so far it's 11). This could be part of the reason.

Posted by BruceR at 12:39 PM

March 20, 2007

He drew the sword from his thigh (a lesser man would have used a scabbard)

Haven't seen "300" yet, although looking at ludicrous stills like this one inevitably bring Armour's quote about Achilles, above, to mind.

The other memory it evokes is of "Go Tell the Spartans," a fascinating little war movie. The character of Lt. Finley Wattsberg remains one of the more interesting portrayals of a combat intelligence officer out there.

UPDATE: Gary Brecher gets it more or less right, again. That's the trouble with any story about the Spartans... they're about as inscrutable to our contemporary morality-influenced eyes as the Maya from Apocalypto. Frank Miller, et al, have imposed Mike Hammer-style (or as Brecher says, football locker room) ethics on them in the telling, because their real ethos, it seems, was just too weird. Imagine the movie where:

a) The Spartans don't say or shout anything when they prepare to fight. Hence the derivation of "laconic," of course. Their Greek enemies found it unnerving. Hard to capture on film, admittedly.
b) All the Spartans have Anthony Kiedis-length hair, and spend some considerable time combing it before battle.
c) "Boy-lovers" is not an epithet reserved for Athenians, but an extended plot element within Sparta's own ranks.
d) Finally, where the Spartans never, ever, ever say, "love you" to their wives, or use the word "freedom," in any sense (two concepts they seem to have actually despised) other than freedom from foreign overlordship, which was their real motivation back in 480 B.C. (and a noble enough aim by itself, mind). Individual Spartans did not enjoy a great deal of personal freedom as we would understand it, and do not seem to have been particularly disappointed by that.

Add all that, and some actual body armour while you're at it, to the movie, and you've had a really interesting anthropological study. Movie would likely have bombed, of course: it'd be like watching two armies of space aliens fighting, to most people. But the sad fact is Brad Pitt's "Troy" would seem to have captured certain aspects of the Greek mentality a lot more closely than this one does, and that's not saying much at all.

Brecher's right about the killing of peaceful people, too, and what it connotes. In some ways Hollywood is turning out better anti-Iranian and pro-American propaganda now than Goebbels' men ever could back in the day. On the other hand, telegenic Spartan historian Bettany Hughes doesn't seem to mind the new movie, the director claims, although I wouldn't mind hearing her thoughts directly.

UPDATE #2: Saw the movie. It's certainly not as bad as it could have been. There is a Herodotean "larger than life" feel about some of the spectacle that almost makes up for the warrior-in-thong ludicrousness, to some extent. Amusing, rather than amazing. And certainly, as Sullivan termed it, "Gayest. Movie. Ever." Not that there's anything, etc.

Posted by BruceR at 03:59 PM

The flag at Vimy

This is a silly argument.

The facts concerning which flag should fly at Vimy Ridge, brought largely by veterans' organizations whose oldest members date from another world war altogether, is accurately conveyed by the article. The decision to fly the modern flag seems the right one.

As the article correctly states, from 1904 to 1921 the official flag of Canada was the pure, unadulterated Union Jack, not any of the Red Ensign derivations that came before and after it. If there had been a flag flying at Vimy in April of 1917 where the Canadians fought, it would only have been that one. So if this was only an exercise in historical recreationism, the Union Jack should be flying over the Vimy Memorial. But it's not.

The flying of ancient flags in place of their modern descendants is most generally used to denote political entities that have disappeared... the obvious example is the Confederate flag at Civil War memorials in the States. However, if the political entity that survived is still extant, then the tradition is generally to fly the current flag of that entity: for instance, no one feels compelled to fly the 48-starred version of the American flag when commemorating Pearl Harbour (or lop off even more stars for even older victories.)

The veterans who are backing this are either remembering a different war (the Canadian flag by the time of World War Two was the Red Ensign), or, less charitably, they're subtly arguing that the Canada of today, or since the 1960s, is politically distinct from the Canada they once fought for. Neither of these motives deserves much respect. The government's right in sticking to their guns on this one.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that the Imperial War Museum has in its collection a nearly contemporaneous Canadian Red Ensign in their Vimy exhibit. The issue here is the rapidly evolving sense of Canadian national identity following the identity-shaping experiences of the First War. Up to the start of the war, English-Canadian patriotism generally meant a strong identification with Britain... hence the move to replace the Red Ensign with the Union Jack as Canada's national flag in 1904, as a sign of imperial loyalty. After Ypres, and the Currie-Snow Affair, and Vimy, and Passchendaele, Amiens and the Somme, where it was blatantly clear that Canadians and British, if still pursuing the same general aims, at least had different ways of doing it, more distance between each others' symbols seemed appropriate.

Also of issue is the fairly nebulous line between the Red Ensign (a variant of the British flag then still used, without the Canadian defacement, as the flag on all English merchant marine vessels and some warships) and the Union Jack. They were both, in the eyes of the time, "the British flag."

The year of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, arguably the real starting point of Canadian independence, was exactly 10 years after the first "Canadian" flag, insofar as the new Canadian coat of arms of that year, and new Red Ensign flag that came with it, were the first to exhibit explicitly pan-Canadian symbology. Before that the coat of arms had been a mash up of the various former colonies... the new flag of 1921 had, among other things, red maple leaves on a white background, emulating the maple leaf insignia worn by Canadian soldiers overseas. It's an illustration of how the need for greater distance arose directly, in part, from the veterans' experience.

It's an overstretch to say soldiers at Vimy were fighting for an independent Canada, or any of the symbols attached to it. It's not surprising that the Red Ensign, despite not being the official flag of the time, had evocative power to Canadian soldiers even before April 9, 1917. But to say they fought for it, or under it, still seems anachronistic.

NOTE: Typo corrected thanks to Mark C. Twice.

Posted by BruceR at 11:48 AM

March 19, 2007

CGM shuts down

This is unfortunate. It's always sad to see a magazine that once published you close up, but in this case, this was still, to its last day, the best of the three North American gaming magazines.

Greg Costikyan is right... with a paid circ of 200,000-plus, there would hopefully be someone smart enough to step in and take over the franchise from the incompetent hands of

Posted by BruceR at 02:24 PM

March 02, 2007

It begins

And after three months' respite, we appear to be back for round two. I think the guys involved who I happen to know personally are ready for anything, but Godspeed all the same.

Posted by BruceR at 05:03 PM

March 01, 2007

VDH insanity watch

The now almost perpetually amusing Victor Davis Hanson:

"Aside from the fact that most don't feel Iran's bomb would be 'progress,' why would the glorious Islamic revolution, and its brilliant Islamic scholars, need science from anyone else's hands? Can't Ahmadinejad go back into his well and conjure up some engineers that are Iranian trained, unpolluted by Zionist physics, and also religiously correct?"

He's referring to Ahmadinejad's recent complaint that the West was denying Iranians access to nuclear energy. Surely Hanson isn't arguing that Iran should just bull ahead with its nuclear program independently right? So either he's arguing that Muslims should devote their time in inventing a time machine so that they can go back and invent stuff before Newton, Einstein, et al so Muslims would get the credit for it instead, or alternatively he just felt like saying something stupid and racist today. You pick.

Posted by BruceR at 05:41 PM

Other news you didn't read today

It's been three months and a day since the last Canadian fatality in Afghanistan. Again, no streak like this can last forever, and the winter pause in Taliban ops had a lot to do with it (the mountains should be navigable again in about two weeks or so) but it has been a notable run.

Posted by BruceR at 10:25 AM

Airline travails

I don't know about this whole Sudafed issue. My example of clueless governmental overregulation would be the confiscation of a tin of boot polish from my carry-on bag on a recent Ottawa-Toronto flight of mine. I should probably mention I was in uniform at the time.

I do think it's reasonable to assume that the threat of a uniformed, accredited Canadian soldier threatening the safety of a Canadian plane with his can of black polish is even theoretically nil. Anyway, I decided to take another look at the current official list of prohibited flight items for Canadian airlines, figuring I'd missed the relevant regulation. I can't help noticing that boot polish is not on the list. Still, if you're like me and sometimes want to polish up before the briefing that you're travelling in the first place for, consider this a warning that you might need to look at other options. Not sure what those are, buying your polish on the other end at the way to the meeting, perhaps, but hey.

That's the problem with being in uniform, of course. We're sort of prohibited from raising a fuss in public places, too.

Posted by BruceR at 10:11 AM