Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Latest News on the Troubled F-35

Things just keep getting better and better in this sad little tale. First we have President Obama threatening to veto a defense authorization bill to develop a second engine. This has been bandied about for some time now, with various arguments for and against, but Defense Secretary Gates has come out firmly against it as wasteful.

Then there's the news that Japan is rethinking its plan to purchase the F-35 in light of the delays that keep cropping up in the program. They're considering the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon as alternatives.

Or the news that the F-35's operational range falls short of estimates and program requirements. Fantastic, so the plane that Canada will need to maintain Arctic sovereignty has a range that falls 15% below the original estimates? I should note that carrying external fuel tanks does seriously degrade the vaunted "stealth" capabilities of the F-35, rendering it just as visible as any of its competitors (which, far from being six years from operational testing, are already operational with numerous countries).

I think my favourite piece of news to crop up of late is this one: Lockheed doesn't actually have an estimate of the cost of the F-35 program. They claim it will be less expensive than the estimates others have advanced, but when asked for a number, they reply "insufficient data". Come on, guys, at least have the courtesy to lie. You could always state later that "our estimate was made with too little information, but on further testing cost estimates are being revised upwards."

Even I could come up with some convincing weasel words there, and I'm just one of the plebes. You lot are the largest supplier of the United States Military (and, let's remember, the worst and most notorious war profiteers) and the best you could manage was "insufficient data"? That's really just sad. I expect better from the crowning beacon of the Military Industrial Complex. It's like you're not even trying.

Finally, just to round up this set of links: the U.S. Senate and the Department of Defense are in agreement that the F-35 program is going to cost too much. Lockheed of course claims they can bring costs down (any takers for THAT particular bet?) and that they can build them and run them more cheaply. They just need more time for testing.

While the meter is running, of course.

It's really quite simple: Canada has been sucked into the U.S.A's most expensive (or is that costly?) military acquisition ever, along with numerous other countries that have fallen for the hype. The F-35 development has been a morass of unanswered questions, extended delays, cost overruns and diminishing expectations. Other nations are starting to see the writing on the wall, but extracting themselves from this whirling vortex of failure promises to be quite a challenge.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Canada needs to start over from scratch with a completely open and competitive bidding process. Replacing our CF-18's isn't a question, it needs to be done to protect our men and women in uniform. What we choose to replace them with, however, remains to be determined. Throwing our money into the black hole that is the F-35 is just folly.

In spite of what our glorious, dead-eyed leader and his cronies would tell us, there ARE other options. Most of them cheaper, already tested and ready for delivery.

It's really just that easy.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mankind's Greatest Creation

When I first started this blog, I didn't necessarily intend for it to be relentless political and social commentary. That's more a side effect of my own obsessions than an actual intent.

So today I would like to rant and ramble about something else: Mankind's greatest and most lasting achievement. Our finest creation, and one that is as important and valuable today as it was when we first began crafting it.

I speak of course of the Dog.

Nowhere on this Earth will you find a more loyal, loving, hard-working and reliable companion than Canis lupus familiaris.

Whenever I start to doubt my own worth and contribution to the world, I never have to look further than the eyes of my dog, Jasper (well, his full name is Jasper Tobias Friendly-Bear, he was named by committee). The love and faith he puts in his human family surpasses anything I have ever seen in my fellow man. If I have earned his approval, I cannot be so vile as all that.

Dogs are our greatest creation for a simple reason: they genuinely love us. Dogs can live without humans, but without us they are never quite complete. We took wolves and we made them just a little human. They have all the best of both worlds, and that makes them special and precious.

History is rife with stories of the loyalty and unswerving devotion of Dogs, even in spite of our own failings. We do not give them the credit they deserve, but Dogs have followed us through the rise of civilization and even today they work tirelessly for us. There are breeds of dog that were created JUST to save human lives (like the Newfoundland or the Saint Bernard). They work alongside their masters at a thousand different tasks, happy just for the chance to be useful, asking only for approval.

We are not always the most loyal of masters, we do not always deserve the credit our Canine companions offer us, but to me that makes their steadfast adoration so much more genuine. Dogs love us because of what they are, and because of who we made them.

All they want of us is to be one of the group. Some food (and maybe a snicket or two of whatever delicious thing we're having, hmm? ohpleaseohpleaaaaaasssseeeee...) and a warm spot to curl up at night are perks but I think they would be satisfied just to be given a place beside us.

If there is any lasting good that Humans have achieved, I think it lies in Dogs. Our first attempt at playing God, and the only one that seems to have paid constant, positive dividends for all of us. Buildings and inventions crumble, knowledge is forgotten (if it's ever listened to) and empires collapse but through it all Dogs have followed us and will continue to. Loyal to the very end.

The reason for this post is simple: I was just watching my dog, Jasper, chasing off a red squirrel from the bird feeders. I'm out at my parents' home in the country, and the red squirrels are a pleasant change from the large (and aggressive) black variety we get in the city.

When he was younger, Jasper and I had a game: I would sit down in a chair on the lawn, with him laying down beside me, and we would wait while one of those awful black squirrels climbed down the trunk of the maple tree beside the driveway. Jasper would tense up as soon as he saw it, but I trained him to wait until I gave the word. Once the squirrel was a few feet from the tree, just far enough to give both of them a sporting chance, I would tell Jasper to "go get him" and Jasper would take off like a black, furry guided missile, barking all the way.

He never caught a squirrel, but that was never the point. I would check him before he did in any case. The point was chasing off a small furry thing that was on our territory, because that's just not allowed, is it? Well, then there's the barking and running. Jasper does love the running and barking.

I should point out that both of Jasper's parents were foundlings. He is as purebred a mongrel as it is possible to get. There's some terrier in there, somewhere, and quite possibly some coyote as well from the way he howls and whines, but his ancestry is and always will be a mystery. What Jasper IS, is the most Dog dog I have ever known: chasing squirrels, chasing cats, burying everything, digging up the yard, chasing his tail, fetching sticks/balls/anything you care to toss and any other classically "Dog" behaviour you can think of. He's not perfect (well, I think so) in that he's a mooch, and he's often quite excitable and protective of my family when strangers are around, but he is as much my brother as my brother is. I would not change him in any way, except to give him the same long lifespan that humans enjoy.

Well, and possibly heat vision, just for an afternoon. That would surprise the hell out of those black squirrels that keep disturbing the birds and red squirrels at the feeders. Not to mention the mailman back in the city.

Suffice to say that my family has had several dogs over the course of my life and all of them have been special. Most importantly, though, they have been parts of the family rather than simple pets. I adore Dogs, and not just because they are floppy, loyal companions.

I can never look into a Dog's eyes without seeing echoes of all the generations of Dogs that came before, and feeling an obligation to repay some of that loyalty and love that we have been paid by our four-legged companions.

Colour me shocked: Harper & Senate Appointments.

What. A. Surprise.

Scarcely any time at all has passed and lo and behold, our all-powerful, well-coiffed Prime Minister has decided that he will go ahead and make some appointments to the Senate after all.

Rather than wait and begin a process to make the Senate more democratic, Stephen Harper has decided to appoint a trio of Senators from the ranks of Conservative candidates who lost their ridings. I suppose there had to be a use for all those failed candidates, and after all two of them are previous Senators.

Look forward to more of this in the next five years. There are a LOT of Senate retirements scheduled before the next election: twenty five, to be precise. The Conservative majority in the Senate is going to last a long, long time.

Add in the three Supreme Court appointments that our right honourable Hagfish-with-a-Haircut will be making over the summer and Canada is going to have a very different political landscape by the time the next election rolls around.

I'm really not certain what we can do to fight this? A legal omnibus bill chock full of nasty little goodies like Internet Lawful Access (1984 is 2011?) will just be the beginning. Op-eds in favour of healthcare privatization are already being published, just to prepare the ground for an eventual assault on our hard-won universal medical programs.

Is there going to be anything left of my country by the time the Conservatives come up for reelection? Or will Harper and his fascist little gang have carved out the heart and soul of my nation?

(Sources with far more details than my own rant. They do the heavy lifting so we don't have to, bless their hearts: CBC NewsThe Sixth Estate)

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

On the Long Gun Registry and Gun Control in general

It is the intent of our incoming Conservative government to scrap the Long Gun Registry. Leaving aside the fact that police associations across the nation have spoken out against this action, the money's already been spent. Cancelling the Long Gun Registry will save a very small amount of money.

But more important is the simple question: why object to registering your firearms?

Let me explain - in a very general way, I am against gun control. Every repressive government in history has limited access to weapons, from the Japanese Shogunate and Feudal Europe to Communist Russia and China. A disarmed populace is a helpless populace, and therefore incapable of opposing the government. Without weapons to defend ourselves, we are sheep at the mercy of the wolves and beholden to the dogs who are set out to protect us.

I'm also of the opinion that an armed population is a polite one. Or would be, in the generation or so after natural selection was given time to demonstrate its effects. Of course, I'm also of the opinion that an educated population is a free one, and our current level of education and awareness is woefully lacking at the moment. So no, I would not support a dismantling of gun control in Canada at this time. Canadians are insufficiently mature to handle that sort of personal responsibility.

Please note: I include myself on that list. Given license to carry a firearm on a daily basis, I would give myself three months before I used it in a fit of pique on some slack-jawed moron. Six at the outside, but I do not suffer fools gladly. So no, we're not there yet. Not as a whole, not as a nation.

Gun control, of various sorts, has been a reality in Canada since 1892. It has been trending steadily upwards from the first. It isn't new, and it's not a surprise. Anyone who has been paying attention during the last century could view the curve towards control of firearms. While from a philosophical point of view I am troubled by this restriction of my freedom, I am both a practical and deeply cynical man. I have no illusions that the restriction also applies to people who are far more dangerous/foolish/deranged than I. The laws may keep interesting and entertaining technology out of my hands, but they do the same for criminals, potential criminals, idiots and the insane.

So I am both willing and ready to register any firearms that Canada will allow me to own. I may bemoan the fact that some firearms are restricted or prohibited (often for reasons utterly divorced from their capabilities, in many cases based entirely on their appearance) but I accept it. If I truly felt a need to own, say, an FN FAL like the one my father carried while he was an officer in the Camerons, or a Kalashnikov, I would move somewhere less restrictive.

Will the Long Gun Registry save lives? Possibly, but a significant percentage of firearms used in crimes aren't registered and a great number have been smuggled in illegally from the United States. It goes without saying that criminals are less likely to register their firearms. In the same sense that locks are for honest people, the Firearm Registration is for law-abiding citizens.

But the Registry has proven to be a valuable resource for police, and while I have less respect for the Rozzas than I did when I was younger (see the G8/G20 protests, Stacy Bonds, Robert Dziekanski, etc) they still serve an important purpose for the public and if the Canadian Firearm Registry is a useful tool to them then I have no serious objections to it. More than 10,000 hits a day, or so wikipedia informs me here. The RCMP certainly believe that it works.

The objections to the Long Gun Registry seem to come down to cost overruns, which are a feature of virtually any government program (F-35 jets? G20 security? Those damned submarines we bought used?) and that it doesn't make us any safer.

Originally, the Long Gun Registry was supposed to pay for itself, with taxpayers only on the hook for $2 million. Back when this was announced, I was in high school and I still laughed uproariously. Government programs, especially ambitious ones that have never been implemented before, rarely come in under budget, and even more rarely are they "self-funding". However now that the registry is finally up and running, ongoing costs are fairly modest. We pay for our police and the RCMP to protect us, and if they find the CFR-Online to be a useful tool in crime prevention, doesn't it make sense to maintain it? Certainly I would rather offer them a tool like that than Tasers that are used more as devices of torture than as an alternative to their own firearms.

On the safety point, I tend to disagree. Deaths by firearm have been trending steadily (if slowly) downwards in Canada. Here is a reference page from Statistics Canada listing deaths by firearms from 2000 to 2007. Suicide by gun and accidental death have dropped, while homicide by firearm has increased slightly. I would be interested to see the statistics on death by registered versus illegal firearm, but I was unable to find that on StatsCan's website. A quick look shows that homicide statistics as a whole have been relatively stable the last decade and that the trend in death by homicide has been downwards since the 1970's.

In any case, you're more likely to be murdered with a knife, and I haven't seen any suggestion that the government wants us to register anything sharp longer than 2.5 inches.

Overall, I find the thought of the Long Gun Registry being scrapped both pointless and partisan. It's self-evidently a sop to western and rural residents who feel put upon having to inform their government that yes, they own some guns. It does not cost anything to register or transfer the registration of rifles and shotguns, so the complaints about it costing too much loses even more credibility: the boondoggle of organizing it has already happened, the waste that was going to happen has already happened and keeping it running will be really quite reasonable.

My problems with gun control are largely with the restrictions on purchase and availability. If the government wants to know that I am armed, and even with what, I'm perfectly willing to tell them. Again - if I had any objection, I would simply do what real criminals do and go to the black market. My problems are also largely philosophical, because there are far better candidates for my ire than gun control.

My concerns with scrapping the Long Gun registry are far more concrete and immediate: if it is removed, in ten or fifteen years we will just have to waste the money all over again starting from square one. It has proven a valued resource for law enforcement personnel and may well be reducing deaths by firearms.

We have to license cars, planes, boats, bicycles, pets... is it so outlandish to require that one also registers their rifle or shotgun?

If anyone could present me a cogent, reasoned and logical argument in favour of scrapping the Long Gun Registry, I would change my tune. Until such time, it remains just one more Conservative plan - long on partisan agenda, lacking in benefit for Canada.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Something to take careful note of

Six thousand, two hundred and one.

That's the margin of victory. Something is very, very wrong when such an insignificant number can change the course of a country's politics.

The U.K. are looking at electoral reform and in four years time Canadians need to make a reform of our First-Past-The-Post system a major election issue.

Alternative Voting for Cats?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Fire that Burns Within and Without.... 12/8/2004

Finding the Spark

Fanning the Flame

Feeding the Blaze

Loosing the Conflagration

Watching the Pyre


Sifting the Ashes

in the hopes of...

Finding the Spark

On the Death of Osama Bin Laden

I'm Canadian, but I don't see the point. Ten years ago, it would have mattered. Now, it's too late. He's a symbol to both sides, but a decade of occupation, drone strikes, guerrilla warfare, security state paranoia, friendly fire casualties, roadside bombs, IED's, government corruption, burning poppy fields, Private Military Contractors, foiled terrorist strikes and successful ones have taken their toll.

Maybe, just maybe, if all the troops stood down and came home, I could celebrate. But Canadian troops are overseas where we never should have sent them, not keeping the peace but fighting and dying for... what? What have we accomplished, by pouring out our treasure and the blood of our soldiers?

Has democracy suddenly broken out in Afghanistan? Is Karzai suddenly no longer criminal and corrupt?

Am I glad Bin Laden is gone? No, not really. He was an evil man, but you don't want to hear my list of evil men. I could go on for days without running out of candidates.

It's too late. The next few months, when American and Canadian troops DO NOT come home to return to peacetime lives will drive home that point.

Osama Bin Laden may be dead, but his 'children' are alive and well. Prospering, even, as distasteful as that may sound. Prime Minister Stephen Harper (and I taste bile every time I speak that name) was already on the news yesterday telling us that the "war is not over".

The War on Terror was lost a long time ago. It was over the moment the West decided that it was alright to resort to terror tactics, torture, extraordinary rendition, "precision" drone strikes, an ever escalating security state and a laundry list of other crimes and obscenities. We lost that war. They won.

The real war is still ongoing, and this latest news just shows that for every skirmish progressives and rational people win, we lose just as many. Last night my nation lost a catastrophic battle, and I fear we're going to be in the dark for a long, long time to come.


We, collectively, are Fucked.

I'm sorry if that seems harsh. It's still true.

Fuck you.

If anyone in this fuckwit country had been paying attention for the last five years, I wouldn't be watching this happening. Let me refresh your memories with a few choice images:
-an elderly man being arrested by helmeted thugs, his prosthetic leg forcibly removed.
-prisoners handed over into torture by Canadian troops.
-a three time convicted, disbarred lawyer working in the Prime Minister's Office while his prostitute mistress collects a salary he arranged through patronage.
-a Canadian General commanding an airstrike that ended with the death of several children under the age of twelve. Children murdered because a Canadian gave the order.
-the largest mass arrest in Canada's history, incarcerated women threatened with gang rape.
-one hundred and fifty five of Canada's soldiers dead in a mountain land where Empires go to die.
-twenty two Canadians dead of listeriosis because the Conservative government loosened regulations and procedures.
-a Prime Minister who is on record saying Canada is shameful for its socialized medicine.
-an environmental catastrophe so large that it can be viewed from space, shepherded by a Conservative government so disinterested in the environment that their environment minister resigned rather than make his annual reports.

Are you smiling? Do the memories cheer you up? The little people suffering as they should be while your life goes on so utterly unchanged? Good. You've finally gotten the government you wanted. You've finally got the government you deserve. The RCMP can do what they like, the CPC can do what they like, the Corporations can do whatever they like and so can you.

Without your government mandated medical care, public education, civil rights or human rights of course, but you weren't even using those were you? Everything will be just fine, business as usual, smiles and sunshine everywhere...

Provided you don't get in the way of the CPC, the Corporations and the RCMP.

What could be more delightful than this, you ask? Why, you get to pay them for the privilege. Oh yes, and don't worry, your loss is their gain and that's just how they like it.

Do you like it when people in authority they don't deserve lie to your face? When they break the law and laugh when you point it out?

Congratulations. We're all in this together now, and we will be for the next four years.

Fuck you.

And Fuck Me too.

Because with a Harper Conservative Majority, ALL of us are Fucked.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Election Day!

The polls open in just a few more hours. If you haven't voted already in the advance polls, get out there and cast your ballot.

Tomorrow my nation decides what kind of future we want. Will we look forward or will we curl in on ourselves? Will we open our minds or will we close our eyes? Will we prove to ourselves and the world that we are still of that same courageous stock as our fathers and forefathers, or will we denounce ourselves as cowards and paranoiacs?

There are many candidates running for office in tomorrow's election, but there are really only two messages. Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are petty, small-minded, theocratic, authoritarian, cowardly, corrupt, venal and thuggish. The campaign Harper and his people (and the lazy, complicit "liberal media" *hawk-spit!*) have run has been the most negative I can ever remember: attack ads, cheap smears, outright lies, people thrown out of town-halls or banned from gatherings, candidates campaigning in hiding and ducking debates.

All of this is of a piece. The Conservative Party follow their leader, and he is a low, vicious, vindictive excuse for a man. He would happily sell out the ideals of my country for his vision of what we all should be - dismantle our socialized medicine, engage us in every brush-fire war the United States sees fit to start, play spendthrift with our tax dollars and have nothing to show for it but photo ops, shiny toys that don't work (courtesy of Lockheed-Martin and their lovely F-35... we'd be better off buying BAC English Electric Lightnings to protect our borders), withdraw funding from charities and NGO's, deny women and homosexuals their human rights and trample all over all of our rights and freedoms with his band of handpicked goons.

That is the message of the Conservative Party of Canada.

The other parties, while they bicker and snipe at one another, all have things in common: principles, ideals, hope, moral courage and a vision for Canada that is positive instead of negative.

Are they perfect? No. Are they flawed? Yes. Do I agree with all of their platforms? No, there are issues that none of the opposition parties have touched on that I feel are very important.

But they they stand for something positive. They all want to build something, instead of tearing down what others have striven so hard to build.

Tomorrow, you have a choice. You can decide the direction of Canada's future, along with every other citizen.

As a people, Canadians can choose to move forward courageously into an uncertain future. Or we can place our heads back into the sand for another five years and hope that the trials and tribulations afflicting the world will mostly pass us by.

Canada was once a leading nation, a shining example to other countries. In technology, in foreign aid, in democracy, in caring for one another.

We can be again.

We stand on the brink of a collapse into authoritarian chaos, if we allow it.

We stand at the cusp of a Golden Age, if we will it.

Today we decide what shape the future will be.

Get out there. Vote your conscience. Vote strategically.

But Vote.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Election is Tomorrow...

And in my riding, John Baird is running for reelection for the Conservative Party of Canada.

This is a man who, in his time in the House of Commons, is best known for shouting down his party's political opponents and carrying water for Stephen Harper. He is, quite frankly, odious and vile. He is a thug, and his presence as Ottawa West-Nepean's representative in Parliament lowers the tone and the standard for all those he speaks for.

He was the MP who introduced the "Accountability Act." I'll pause a moment while you savour the irony of that. This act has failed systemically and entirely to render a scandal-ridden government anything close to accountable. I would suggest reading Democracy Watch's summary for a series of examples of the failure of the Conservative government to address accountability.

In the five years he has worked in the House of Commons, John Baird has been responsible for cuts to social programs including medical marijuana, the Status of Women, employment for youth and more. He has supported a lackluster environmental policy that saw Consevatives fighting the Kyoto Protocol and Clean Air Act and been personally criticized by such luminaries as David Suzuki and Al Gore.

His presence in the House of Commons is an insult and a joke to every rational citizen of my riding. His policy failures are a matter of public record and his party's policy decisions are crippling Canada's reputation internationally. Tomorrow I have hope that he will find himself out of a job.

Because he's a thug and a toady, because he puts the CPC ahead of local interests, because like the CPC he works to make Canada worse instead of better.

So cast your votes tomorrow, and let's toss Stephen Harper's lapdog out on his ear.