Happy New Year 

Dec. 31 - To all of you, both readers and those I read, thank you for sharing the challenges of 2003 and bringing your insights and perspectives.

I remember reading a post (or maybe a comment?) where someone wrote that people in the blogosphere are participants in a civic class. Doesn't that just hit the nail squarely on the head? The degree of political debate going on in this medium is like the whole town showing up for one heck of a stormy meeting.

The internet has given a voice to some of the finest minds I've ever encountered: Lileks, Den Beste, Wretchard, Whittle, and Currie.

Some of the most prolific: Glenn R. and Charles J

And the funniest: Frank J., ScrappleFace and Allah.

I'd wax all eloquent and go on about the Renascence but heck, you already know it or you wouldn't read blogs.

Goodness to all of you in this new year, and enjoy the party!

Let the pundits do the work 

Dec. 31 - There's some good links over at Jack's Newswatch from Canadian columnists some year-end summations.

Rosie di Manno of the Toronto Star has Out with the crass, the cretinous declaring that 2003 was the year of living stupidly. She reminded us of things we'd much rather forget.

Gillian Cosgrove of the National Post writes about The dubious, devious and dumb of 2003. Note the reminder at the top of the page reminding us that as of January 24, only paid subscribers will be able to read the subscriber-challenged NP online.

Nice lead up to Mark Steyn's column in the Jerusalem Post (it may require quick registeration, and the paper is well worth the time.) He has some thoughts about predictions: The great, the good, the wrong.

The editorial in today's Calgary Sun (limited link life alert) has High Hopes but it's mostly because 2003, which they describe as "reeling from crisis to crisis," has finally ended.

Those those crisis had another common thread and Walter Robinson isn't happy that Some of our leaders are missing.


Plot to assassinate Saudi royals uncovered 

Dec. 30 - Plot to assassinate Saudi royals uncovered:
Islamic fundamentalists have mounted an unprecedented series of assassination attempts on senior Saudis, American officials said yesterday, lifting a veil of secrecy imposed by Riyadh.

The attacks appear to be a concerted effort to destabilise the kingdom's ruling elite. They include the failed shooting of the counter-terrorism chief, Maj Gen Abdelaziz al-Huweirini, the New York Times was told.


In addition, a car bomb exploded in Riyadh on Monday, narrowly missing a major in the Interior Ministry.

No one has been killed in the attacks, which came as Saudi security forces continued a months-long strike against al-Qa'eda and related terrorist groups. Hundreds of militants have been arrested and dozens more killed, including al-Qa'eda's reported chief in Saudi Arabia, Youssef al-Ayeri.
This could be interpreted several ways, but I tend to think that the Saudis are beginning to suffer the fate of those who try to play both sides against the middle and get caught in their own trap. We don't trust them, and the terrorists they finance are willing to kill the more inconvenient of them to keep the rest in line.

Hawks tell Bush how to win war on terror 

Dec. 30 - The things you learn when you can read tomorrow's news today: the Daily Telegraph (UK) reports that Hawks tell Bush how to win war on terror filed by David Rennie in Washington:
President George W Bush was sent a public manifesto yesterday by Washington's hawks, demanding regime change in Syria and Iran and a Cuba-style military blockade of North Korea backed by planning for a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear sites.
Demanding? Not urging, recommending, or advocating? and the use of the word "manifesto" seems to make much of a policy that has long been urged, recommended and advocated. That issue is more one of timing than of substance.
The manifesto, presented as a "manual for victory" in the war on terror, also calls for Saudi Arabia and France to be treated not as allies but as rivals and possibly enemies.

The manifesto is contained in a new book by Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and "intellectual guru" of the hardline neo-conservative movement, and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. They give warning of a faltering of the "will to win" in Washington. [The links provided were part of the article: the DT really gets the internet.]
We have a guru, and nobody told me? Danged thing is probably sitting in someone's blog and I haven't seen it yet. David Frum is a Canadian, by the way. There go those pesky Canadians again, stirrin' up the folks in Washington while there's still turkey leftovers in the fridge. [I have a great deal of respect for David Frum, in case my tongue-in-cheek was misinterpreted. He is one of my favourite reads at the National Review and was a columnist for the National Post up here before they decided to commit suicide.]
In the battle for the president's ear, the manifesto represents an attempt by hawks to break out of the post-Iraq doldrums and strike back at what they see as a campaign of hostile leaking by their foes in such centres of caution as the State Department or in the military top brass.
Battle for the president's ear. Leaking by their foes. Post-Iraq doldrums. Centres of caution as the State Department. I'm impressed. Ann Coulter is impressed. Neither of us have ever come close to such heights of alarmist and emotionally charged language. If this was a leaflet, I'd call it propaganda. Since this is a newspaper report, I guess it's yellow journalism. William Randolph Hearst is beaming with pride, and I'm not going to note Rennie's hyperbole further.
Their publication, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, coincided with the latest broadside from the hawks' enemy number one, Colin Powell, the secretary of state.

Though on leave recovering from a prostate cancer operation, Mr Powell summoned reporters to his bedside to hail "encouraging" signs of a "new attitude" in Iran and call for the United States to keep open the prospect of dialogue with the Teheran authorities.
Hurrah! Death Quotes Appear just when I've eschewed hyperbole! But wait, they're heaped onto Mr. Powell. What gives? Despite the placement in the article, I am fairly certain the book presentation was not on Sect. Powell's mind when he spoke to reporters. The fact that the Iranian government accepted aid from us means nothing, and the fact that they refused aid from Israel is far more significant.
Such talk is anathema to hawks like Mr Perle and Mr Frum who urge Washington to shun the mullahs and work for their overthrow in concert with Iranian dissidents.
What's wrong with that? Are we supposed to embrace them and try to help them stay in power?
It may be assumed that their instincts at least are shared by hawks inside the government, whose twin power bases are the Pentagon's civilian leadership and the office of the vice-president, Dick Cheney.
Hey, what about me? I'm a power base. I'm in the Constitution. I'm the part that says "We the people."
Such officials prevailed over invading Afghanistan and Iraq, but have been seen as on the back foot since the autumn as their post-war visions of building a secular, free-market Iraq were scaled back in favour of compromise and a swift handover of power next June.

The book demands that any talks with North Korea require the complete and immediate abandonment of its nuclear programme.

As North Korea will probably refuse such terms, the book urges a Cuba-style military blockade and overt preparations for war, including the rapid pullback of US forces from the inter-Korean border so that they move out of range of North Korean artillery.

Such steps, with luck, will prompt China to oust its nominal ally, Kim Jong-il, and install a saner regime in North Korea, the authors write.

The authoritarian rule of Syria's leader, Bashar Assad, should also be ended, encouraged by shutting oil supplies from Iraq, seizing arms he buys from Iran, and raids into Syria to hunt terrorists.

The authors urge Mr Bush to "tell the truth about Saudi Arabia". Wealthy Saudis, some of them royal princes, fund al-Qa'eda, they write.

The Saudi government backs "terror-tainted Islamic organisations" as part of a larger campaign to "spread its extremist version of Islam throughout the Muslim world and into Europe and North America".

The book calls for tough action against France and its dreams of offsetting US power. "We should force European governments to choose between Paris and Washington," it states. Britain's independence from Europe should be preserved, perhaps with open access for British arms to American defence markets.
Give credit where its due: there's a nice juxtaposition of words in that last paragraph: "tough [US] action" contrasts nicely with "French dreams."

I repeat: it's hardly a secret that we are going to have to confront North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and France at some point. Anyone who thinks we'd be safe while Syria, Iran, France, North Korea and Saudi Arabia continue stirring up mischief fails to understand how big the threat is. Col. Khaddafi certainly understood that, and took actions to remove himself from The List. That option remains open to North Korea, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Canadians in Afghanistan 

Dec. 30 - Troops wary after attack yesterday by a homicide bomber in Kabul who killed 4 Afghan security officers and their driver after they took him into custody. The Taliban claim that 60-120 would-be terrorists are already in the country and set to attack UN workers and ISAF forces during the upcoming conference being held in Kabul to draft a new consitution.
Kabul police chief Baba Jan said the suspect was a foreigner, but refused to identify him further.

It wasn't clear if the constitutional convention, being held by a grand council, or loya jirga, about 10 km from the blast, was the intended target.
Osama bin Laden had no comment. He's been awfully uncommunicative these days.

The Daily Telegraph reports from the conference: Like drinking water from the edge of a sword.
By mid-morning yesterday it was clear the debate was not going well. The anger among the 500 delegates of the loya jirga - now dragging into its 17th day - was palpable.

So the deputy chairman of the grand assembly did what any Afghan politician would do in a time of crisis: he announced a poetry reading session.


A powerful group of former jihadi leaders and Islamic fundamentalists demanded six major amendments, including the appointment of three vice-presidents and the establishment of provincial councils.

This would dilute the powers of the central government. Mr Karzai and his supporters are pushing for a strong presidential system to unite the country after years of factional fighting.

So far, 124 of the 160 articles have been approved and he seemed to be winning. But by mid-afternoon, the petition demanding the changes appeared and the chairman of the loya jirga, facing a major crisis, adjourned the proceedings with a suitably poetic speech.

"The job of our delegates to create a constitution is surely a difficult one," he said. "It is like drinking water from the edge of a sword."
Read the whole thing.


Britons told to avoid Saudi travel 

Dec. 29 - More on the report out of Australia on terror plots against BA planes sitting on the tarmac in Riyahd in the Washington Times Britons told to avoid Saudi travel
The British government yesterday warned citizens against travel to Saudi Arabia amid disputed reports that two small airplanes loaded with explosives were prevented from crashing into a British Airways jet. (Emphasis added.)
The official Saudi Press Agency released a statement yesterday claiming the assertions were untrue. British Airways cited security concerns for their no comment.

(I'm not posting the sections that deal with the sitution with France over the cancellation of the flights into LAX last weekend. They are well covered elsewhere.)

The State Department issued a warning similar to Britain's about Saudi Arabia on Dec. 17, just days before the Homeland Security Department put the nation on Code Orange, or high alert of a terrorist attack.

Free flights out of Saudi Arabia were offered to nonessential personnel and their dependents at the U.S. Embassy and consulates, and American citizens were advised to leave the country.

"Following terrorist attacks in Riyadh in May and November, we continue to believe terrorists are planning further attacks in Saudi Arabia and that these could be in the final stages of preparation," the British advisory read. "We advise British nationals against all but essential travel to Saudi Arabia."
Not a bad idea, considering this AP report Car Explodes in Street in Saudi Capital:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- An unmarked police car exploded in the Saudi capital Monday, but there were no casualties, police said.

Nobody was in the car when it exploded in Riyadh's eastern Al-Salaam district, and it was not known what caused the blast.
There are some conflicting accounts from witnesses who wished to remain unnamed, and this:
The blast destroyed the car and shattered windows in nearby buildings, the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel reported.

Security forces cordoned off the scene, and armored vehicles drove through the neighborhood. Police searched cars parked nearby and asked pedestrians in the area to present identification.

Islamic extremists have detonated four car bombs in Riyadh this year, killing 52 people, including the assailants, and wounding more than 100 others. The attacks on May 12 and Nov. 8 targeted housing compounds for foreigners.
I've seen this reporter's name, Adnan Malik, on a few AP reports, and he does a professional job. He gives us the facts; when the sources are questionable, he makes that clear without being snide or sarcastic, and when they are contradictory, as in this case, he reports both and leaves it up to the reader to take the appropriate grain of salt.

Steyn Speaks 

Dec. 29 - New Steyn column up at the Telegraph: The pundits in love with doom and gloom.

Terrorist attack kills 5 in Kabul 

Dec. 29 - You've all probably already read about today's attack and the claim that 60 bombers ready to strike: Taliban.

The bomber was identified as Abdullah, a 35-year-old from Chechnya.

Note: The discrepancy between the number given in the Australian article and the number I give is simple: I don't count the killer.

Cardinal says Pope unafraid of Vatican terror threat revealed by Berlusconi 

Dec. 29 - Not suprisingly Cardinal says Pope unafraid of Vatican terror threat revealed by Berlusconi.

It also confirms that special precautions have been taken around the Vatican.

This is the second mention I've seen of the story that Berlusconi told a reporter that the Vatican was targeted for attack so I'm going on record as believing the initial report. Heh.
Berlusconi shocked many in Italy by his comments to the conservative daily Libero, which ran a three-page spread on the new Vatican threat.

Berlusconi distanced himself from the remarks but didn't directly deny the contents. His office specified that the premier hadn't granted an official interview to Libero. "One cannot confuse a quick exchange of Christmas greetings with political declarations," it said.

Italy's opposition has cried foul over Berlusconi's latest remarks, saying they were irresponsible and needlessly heightened fears. Rome's provincial president, who attended midnight mass inside St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve, also expressed surprise that he knew nothing of the alleged threat.

Iranian Earthquake Aid 

Dec. 29 - Everybody wants to help victims of the Iranian earthquake. The article describes efforts being made in Toronto and encourages people to contribute to the Red Cross:
Last night a spokesman for the local Iranian community said an umbrella organization called the Bam Iran Earthquake Relief Committee has been formed in an effort to coordinate the fundraising efforts of over 25 Iranian-Canadian organizations.
Another article notes that concerns about the government and black marketeers have altered fundraisers strategies:
Mistrust of the Iranian government is "widespread through the Iranian diaspora across the world," said Sam Norouzi, a member of a Montreal coalition working to bring relief to people in the southern Iranian community of Bam, destroyed Friday in a strong earthquake.

Donated supplies shipped by families were sold through the black market during an earthquake in the early 1990s, he said.

This time, many members of the Iranian community in Canada are funnelling their money via the Canadian Red Cross to avoid a repeat of the situation.
Never give up hope! A young girl pulled alive from rubble. The article also notes that 3 men pronounced dead stirred in their shrouds.

According to this Fox report, a provincial government spokesman said that 25,000 bodies have been recovered. Aftershocks continue to tumble the few remaining walls and compares the city of Bam to a moonscape.

A New Mars Mystery 

Dec. 29 - I was a science fiction fan at a fairly young age. Anything science-fictiony, and I would watch it or read it. Needless to say, I read a lot of good short stores (especially from Amazing Stories magazine) and saw some incredibly bad movies.

There were also books, like Space Cat, but we won't discuss that. Ever.

Maybe that early fascination with the possibilities "out there" coupled with the number of probes that have been lost on Mars explains my imagination running full tilt. The canyons there are monstrously deep, and I remember a book by Ben Bova about Mars (I think it was called Mars) that had the discovery of permafrost under the surface and hinted there might be more to the canyons than emptiness and rocks.

Maybe there is something, or some thing, on Mars that is an unknown unknown. Maybe the rocks are sentient and felt insulted at being named after cartoon characters.

The really sad part is that I started thinking about this stuff a couple of years ago when the Polar Lander and the two independent probes went AWOL.

Maybe I better find another news story quickly before someone notices that the Bova book isn't all that old. Move along, folks. Nothing here but a senior moment.

UPDATE: They are speculating that the Beagle landed in a crater which would explain the radio silence. Hmm, weren't the probes that accompanied the Polar Lander thought to have ended up - the both of them - in canyons? Bad sign when they start re-cycling excuses. I'm just sayin'.

UPDATE: I am not alone in my lunacy. Rantburg reports the Beagle is another kill for the Martian Defense Force. (Link via Jay Currie.

Papal nuncio assassinated in Burundi 

Dec. 29 - Burundi papal nuncio shot dead
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The pope's ambassador in Burundi was shot and killed by gunmen who opened fire at his car in the Central African nation, the Vatican and a missionary news agency said Monday.

Monsignor Michael Courtney was shot in the head, shoulder and a limb, according to the Misna missionary news agency. He died from a major hemorrhage during surgery.

A Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the death of the papal nuncio but would offer no details until his relatives had been informed.
CNN has some information about the intermittent civil war there.

The report from Fox is from the same AP feed, but they do offer a bit more information about Monsignor Courtney:
Courtney was born in 1945 in Nenagh, 85 miles southwest of Dublin. He was ordained in 1968, and worked as a parish priest around Ireland until 1976, it said. He then moved to Rome and entered the Pontifical Diplomatic Academy.

Beginning in 1980, he was a papal representative in South Africa, then in Zimbabwe, Senegal, India, Yugoslavia, Cuba and Egypt, the 2000 announcement said. Prior to going to Burundi, he worked for five years as special envoy in Strasbourg, France, monitoring the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.
Given the rumours about a terrorist threat against the Vatican, I thought it worthwhile to find out what I could about religion in Burundi. According to this, 67% are Christians (62% are Roman Catholics and 5% are Protestants,) 23% retain indigenous beliefs, and 10% are Muslims.

The civil war there is the most likely connection, but I haven't found any theories as to which faction could be behind it or how it would advance anyone's cause.

UPDATE: This report from the Daily Telegraph (UK) says that Courtney was well-known to the rebels of the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), the prime suspects, because last year he had negotiated the release of a fellow priest held hostage by the FNL.


Gratuitous Monarchist Moment 

Dec. 27 - I've been trying to resist the temptation, but I just can't. Go here and think "South Park:"

Canadian Ambassador: "We've already apologized for Bryan Adams. In fact, we've apologized a number of times."

Are they prophets or what?

Mark Steyn Round-Up of Mark Steyn 

Dec. 28 - Mark Steyn looks back on 2003 and gives a good collection of past columns and epigrams here.

Also, Mark's latest column in the Chicago Sun-Times is here.

War on Terror 

Dec. 28 - An article from Australia (Al-Qaeda blueprint exposed) has some information and speculations that, if true, explain the recent terror alert and maybe give some indication as to future measures to stop planned attacks.

The article says that officials confirmed terror threats have been issued for the maiden voyage of Queen Mary II.

A British MP says the Saudis arrested two pilots who were planning to crash light planes loaded with explosives into British Airways passenger jets while they were still on the tarmac in Riyadh.

There's also a very strange claim that acoustic sea-mines which disappeared from a naval base in North Korea might have been meant for use in the Straits of Gibraltar to attack the British carrier Ark Royal.
Plans for the attack emerged after a US spy plane discovered scores of acoustic sea-mines had disappeared from a naval base in North Korea.

US intelligence services believe the mines could be aboard 28 "terror ships" Osama bin Laden has assembled in the past year. The capture of Al-Qaeda's chief of naval operations, Ahmad Belai al-Neshari, has helped to reveal the extent of the organisation's maritime ambitions.

Al-Neshari was found carrying a 180-page dossier that listed "targets of opportunity". These included large cruise liners sailing from Western ports.
The article also cites some very common sense problems with trying to carry out some of the proposed attacks.

Interesting article.

2003: A year in review 

Dec. 28 - Okay, these round-ups happen as every year ends, but Michele Mandel's take of events captured both the Biblical and the Absurd:
We must have done something very, very bad to deserve the year that was. We were smote by the biblical 10 plagues -- we had wind, fire and darkness, we had cattle disease, plague and pestilence. All we were missing were the frogs.
I suspect she already knows that the frogs were busy in Colorado. It's not all funny, as we recall Holly Jones and still-missing Cecilia Zhang, but invokes hope as we recall Elizabeth Smart.

Before any posts in the comments, I know that Mandel remains opposed to US action in Iraq. That's her right, and doesn't change the fact that she's right on so many other issues.

Iran Earthquake 

Dec. 28 - Good round-up of international search-and-rescue efforts and delivery of supplies and aid (including safe drinking water) here.

Kitchener resident Mahmud Pouladuand is waiting for information about his father, uncles and other family members who lived in Bam and has some interesting criticisms of the Iranian government's response.

Toronto student Bahman Kalbasi is also waiting for word from Bam, and with other Iranian students here, are encouraging people to donate to the Canadian Red Cross. He revealed some I didn't know: the southeastern part of Iraq isn't a known earthquake zone as the north is, which surely deepened the suprise and lack of preparation when the quake hit. There is also information in the article about fund raising events being planned by Iranian-Canadians.

Little is worse than being thousands of miles away and the only thing one can do to help loved ones is to hope. My memory of those hours before I got through my family in SF back in '89 still make me shudder. I really hope Mahmud Pouladuand and Bahman Kalbasi get some good news.

UPDATE: That sounded incredibly fatuous. Sorry, it was meant sincerely. I just can't find encouraging words for people who desperately need to know how the people they love are. Maybe because there are no words.

One ray of hope for survivors:
Most of the thousands of homeless slept in tents or cars Saturday night, compared with a day earlier when most had only blankets against near-freezing temperatures.
Despite the attention focused on the US offer of aid and the Iranian government's acceptance of that aid, I hesitate to read too much into it. It is enough that both sides overcame distrust long enough to respond to the needs of so many victims of the earthquake, but I can't help feeling it is a small step forward.

Wow! Jack's analysis and terrific idea (it's been updated, check it again) hit the mark!

Lord of the Rings and Iraq 

Dec. 28 - Ran across this interesting post by Fayrouz, an Iraqi woman who lives in Dallas at Live From Dallas (or hit Ctrl+F "Lord of the Rings"):
It's been said to me that each person interprets J. R. R. Tolkiens story of the Middle Earth in a way that reflects his/her beliefs. I believe that's true. I heard different interpretations of the story from different people. Each of these people has different life views.

The first installment, "The Fellowship of The Rings," came three-months after 9/11. I don't know if it was a coincidence, but 9/11 shaped my view of the story.

If you ever read "The Hobbit," you would know that danger was already building up in Middle Earth. However, people kept going on with their lives. As we always think, "if it's not on my doorsteps, it has nothing to do with me."
This isn't a deconstruction, it is an honest view of how her view of the trilogy has been affected by world events. Her comparison of Frodo's and Gollum's inner struggles with that of the Iraqi people is excellent, and reminds us of another reason why Tolkien's work has survived so long.

Okay, I really wish that I had thought of it. Sometimes even Tolkien purists fanatics like me get too bogged down in the overall sweep of the epic and forget the day to day observations Tolkien made that make his work eternal.

Baghdad blast kills one U.S. soldier and two Iraqi children 

Dec. 28 - More details on the terrorist attacks that killed 4 Bulgarian and 2 Thai soldiers and information about the latest attack which killed one US soldier and two Iraqi children here and here.

Kevin reports on the attacks from Iraq and the response:
The CPA has been doing a great job thus far fighting militarily. Capturing DOZENS of terrorists on a daily bases. Sometimes, innocent people get rolled up sometimes. I am sure it upsets them, however, it is necessary. One good thing though, more and more counter-terrorists groups are being activated and taking over the job of raids and everything else. Though, our military has done a fantastic job with fighting the terrorists, despite an average of 1 death a day. The only way it will be won is by cooperation between Iraqis and CPA and IP (Iraqi Police) and Iraq's own military. I think the Coalition has set Iraq up for success. I don't any doubt in my mind that the new front on the war on terror in Iraq will be won by both CPA and the Iraqi people. We just have to be resolved and patient.
Resolve. Patience. Faith in the Iraqi people. He summed it all up with 7 words.

Heh, he also reports on a new song making the rounds.

New bloggers from Iraq 

Dec. 28 - Zeyad of Healing Iraq welcomes two new Iraqi bloggers:

Sarmad of Road of a Nation, and a family blog called, appropriately,
A Family in Baghdad by Salem Pax's friend Raed and his brothers Khalid, Majid and their mother Fayza.

A spectrum of bloggers has emerged in Iraq giving voice to optimistic, cynical and critical thoughts. To me, that means that one of the transitions to democratic ideals is happening right now because of that spectrum, they already "get it." The difference now is that they can publish their thoughts and don't need to whisper.


Dear Pfc. Smith 

Dec. 27 - I don't think Ralph Peters would mind if this was re-directed to the many Canadian soldiers stationed overseas and missing their homes and families this Christmas.
Dear Pfc. Smith,

Most of your fellow Americans Canadians won't think of you today. Some may see a news clip of your Christmas dinner in Iraq Afghanistan, filmed against a backdrop of holiday decorations your unit scraped together. Those who once served in the ranks themselves will think of you at least briefly. And you'll be cherished in the hearts, if not in the arms, of your loved ones.

But most of us won't think of you at all. And that's a wonderful thing.

It's your great gift to us.

Because of you, hundreds of millions of Americans Canadians who celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace will spend this holiday in peace themselves, with their loved ones safe and our blessed country secure.
Read the whole thing.

You can read about Canadian efforts in Afghanistan at the Operation Athena Homepage (from Winds of Change via Right On!.)

Canadian view on Iraq reconstruction bids  

Dec. 27 - This should provide plenty of ammunition for those who already think Canada is an amoral nation of free-loaders: U.S. policy on Iraq reconstruction bids is not justified, Canadians say.
A strong majority of Canadians feel the United States is not justified in refusing Iraq reconstruction contracts to companies from Canada and the other countries that did not support its war effort there, a new poll suggests.

Seven in 10 Canadians - 71 per cent - believe that Canada should not be excluded from bidding on projects to rebuild the Middle Eastern country, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid for The Globe and Mail and CTV.

Residents of Quebec are the most adamant, with four out of five of those polled agreeing that the United States was not justified in making this decision.

Almost as many British Columbians - 77 per cent - offered the same opinion, as did 69 per cent of Atlantic Canadians.
Obviously, I don't know how truly accurate this poll is, nor how maniupulative the questions. But we have the interpretation of the poll from the good old Globe and Mail, ever the revisionists:
Companies from countries including Canada, Germany and France - critics of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq - were told that they need not apply for any of the $18.6-billion (U.S.) worth of new contracts being awarded to rebuild the country.
Critics? More like obstructionists. More like used a corrupted oil-for-food program to help Saddam and his bloody regime get around UN sanctions in exchange for lucrative oil contracts despite the costs to the Iraqi people the program was supposed to protect.

More like Oil. For. Palaces. Tatoo that and wear it with all the shame it deserves.

More like acted as a go-between for Saddam and North Korea for the illegal purchase of missiles. (Hey there UNSC member Syria, how much is oil costing you now that the illegal pipeline is turned off?)

More like sold Saddam weapons and plastic shredders to use against Iraqis and keep him in power.

More like supplied Saddam with enough money to keep his torturers and police state apparati in clover.

More like sent military experts to advise Saddam on his military planning.

Tell me: as Canada did not support the Iraq War, just what justifies Canadian bids on those contracts?

Canada's PM Chretien travelled to UNSC member Mexico to enlist their support against regime change in Iraq. (Read the article, it may stimulate a few memory cells.)

Chretien (who is also connected by marriage to a family that controls majority interest in France's TotalFinaElf) collaborated with the countries of the Axis of Weasels, Syria and Saddam Hussein to maintain the pretenses of the oil for food program all the while circumventing the stipulation that the proceeds be used to purchase food, medical supplies, and those things needed to keep the electrical and water supplies functional.

The UN took a 2.2% cut to help foster the illusion. Kofi Annan personally signed off on all expenditures under that program, yet the proponents, including PM Martin, of the "international community" have the balls to proclaim themselves best suited to conduct a trial of Saddam in the international court dominated by frigging Belgium?

A change in faces in the Cabinet does not reflect a change in policy, PM Martin, except to the deliberately delusional. It's still the same Canadian Parliment, a majority of which voted not to support the US and only reluctantly, and with much prodding from the Canadian Alliance, voiced lukewarm support that Saddam had been removed as more mass graves were uncovered.

PM Martin, in the name of Canada, is whining that Canadians want a) US tax dollars and b) to turn Saddam, the man Chretien and Parliament tried desparately to keep in power, over to an international court run by the very people who collaborated with Canada's former PM Chretien to keep Saddam in power with the approval of the Canadian Parliament.

Weasels they were, and weasels they remain.

Yet Chretien, in the name of Canada, had ordered Canadian ships in the Persian Gulf not to detain Saddam or any members of his family if they were caught fleeing Iraq despite a truckload of reports from international human rights organizations that accused them of torture and murder.

That is all way, way beyond "criticism."

Canada wants better relations with the US? On the surface, the Martin government will get it. But if Canadians want better relationships with Americans, which would mean restoring trust, it keeps getting more elusive. The US electoral system and our separation of powers guarantees that the will of the American people will be heard in Washington DC, and no elected official forgets that.

Like it or not, this poll is guaranteed to earn contempt from Americans, because the perception will be that when it comes to lucrative contracts paid for by US taxpayers, 71% of the "morally superior" Canadians are eager to hop aboard the gravy train.

Furthermore, too many Americans know that when it comes to self-defense, Canada is too freaking cheap to spend money on her own defense capabilities so US forces will have to babysit provide security for any Canadian contractors in Iraq.

How can Canadians convince Americans that they are worth it? I live here, and even I can't be persuaded that US soldiers should risk their lives to defend greedy Canadian contractors.

Damned right I want that money to go to countries like Bulgaria and Thailand. Bulgarian and Thai soldiers were killed today, and I am grateful for their sacrifices and to their people. We share something with them we don't share with Canada: the willingness to bear the heavy burdens.

We know who are friends are, who we can count on, and who stands tall in this world. I am overjoyed that we are building stronger and closer relations with them as well as with the British, Australians, Italians, Danish, Poles and Spanish, and if I regret that Canada is not numbered among them, it doesn't mean I'll overlook Canada's lack of moral imagination and give her a pass.

One last time: the US is not the one on trial. The rest of the world is.

Nothing can long withstand those who passionately love freedom. If the day comes when we do fall, we'll go down fighting and give future generations such examples of courage and determination as to light their souls with our passion.

UPDATE: I usually enjoy Ralph Peters' columns, but this one has me fuming because it appears the US is again stiffing the Poles. I have an idea: let's not do that. We're still trying to shake off the stench of Yalta. (It is an excellent column, by the way. I just hate the message.)

(Globe and Mail link via Neale News, FrontPage Mag link via Instapundit.)

Mad Cow Was From Canada; U.S. Exports Down 

Dec. 27 - Please note that this is a tentative conclusion: Mad Cow Was From Canada; U.S. Exports Down. It's nice to see the investigation is proceeding so well:
Based on the Canadian records, the cow was 6-years-old - older than U.S. officials had thought, DeHaven said. U.S. papers on the cow said she was 4- or 4-years-old.
Huh? Am I the only wondering if they are talking about the same cow?

UPDATE: Evidently not.

Sorry for being so irritable, but we went through all this in Canada just last spring. The one clear fact that emerged was that there were precious few facts: most of what was being said about the disease was speculation: they aren't sure how (or even if) the disease is transmitted from cow to cow, if it can jump cross-species (referring back to elk in Alberta stricken with lung wasting disease,) and if it can occur spontaneously which in turn would render much that has been done to stop the spread of the disease (including the wholesale slaughter of herds) an expensive public relations act which had no real effect in containing the disease.

As I commented yesterday, they still don't know how the Alberta cow became infected. That just might be the starting point for a new series of investigations to test current scientific theory about the disease.
The age is significant because the United States and Canada have banned feed that could be the source of infection since 1997.
Ah, usage of the word could which implies some doubt, but remains the number one solution for prevention of the disease.

I really, really hope that the federal, provincial and state meat and argricultural agencies have been conducting ongoing tests and discussions since last spring when the disease hit the beef industry in Canada.

UPDATE: Paul and Jack have some other thoughts on this.

UPDATE: Maybe one of my New Year's Resolutions should be not to fall behind reading Glenn R.'s blog. Here is the link to his round-up of the Washington BSE case links, including one from a Canadian government agency stating that the Alberta case was determined to be spontaneous (science types might be especially interested in that link.)

UPDATE: The Toronto Sun has a brief Q & A about mad cow disease. As I stated early in this post, Canadians have already been through this. The best solution is don't eat cow brains (which is totally easy for me because there are just some things I won't do anyway. It's just a part of my cultural bias. No offense to Capers, but I don't eat fish heads either.)

Here's a link to the UK Dept. of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs webpage for BSE.

New Blog Showcase 

Dec. 27 - Time to vote in the The Truth Laid Bear's New Weblog Showcase.

I enjoyed viewing (and reading!) Reality's Angry Howie and "the point". I can't recall a similar photojournal in the showcase, and it's a good innovation. He makes some pretty shrewd guesses about "the point" too.

Dan K. O'Leary highlights one of the things I admire most about President Bush in the post Bush, Saddam, and Howard Dean and that he knows what is priority is even if his opponents don't. While Dean prattles (and points!) away, the president is committed to doing the job with which he is entrusted and ignores the slights and slurs aimed his way because protecting Americans is his concern.

Dan says the president delivered a smackdown by reminding Dean that the primary focus right now is to defend our beloved country. GWB is more concerned with that than with defending himself against spitballs from the opposition.

Give Justin full marks for research! He read the NR piece with John Rhys-Davies and set about discovering the political views of the cast of the LoTR and found that Sean Astin considers supporting the troops a duty and another Rhys-Davies gem in which he explains his views on Tolkien's LoTR Politics of the Lord of the Rings. I think Justin would agree that dropping The Scouring of the Shire made JRRT roll over in his grave. (I am not voting for this because it's about the LoTR. No, I'm not. Really. You'd think I'm obsessed with the collected works of LoTR or something. Sheesh.)

Eric adds another layer to the interview with Rhys-Davies in Someone in Hollywood is FOR Western Civilization? adding emphasis on the fact that slavery was and continues to be one of those things about which the UN talks but does nothing. And Rhys-Davies' father saw the contradiction way back when.

Read these and enjoy, and remember, you too can vote simply by linking the posts on your own blog.

Coalition forces attacked 

Dec. 27 - In Karbala, Fatal attacks hit Polish-controlled Iraq. Reports are contradictory, with one report saying the dead included Polish, another saying Bulgarian soldiers died, and another saying two Thai engineers were killed.

This Fox report has a death toll of 11 including 6 Iraqi police officers and 4 coalition soldiers.
Armed with car bombs, mortars and machine guns, insurgents launched three coordinated attacks in the southern city of Karbala on Saturday, killing 11 people — including six Iraqi police officers and four coalition soldiers, military and hospital officials said.

An Iraqi civilian also was killed.

The attacks also wounded at least 172 people, with U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt saying 37 of them were coalition soldiers, including five Americans.

Some 135 Iraqi police officers and civilians also were wounded, said Ali al-Arzawi, deputy head of Karbala General Hospital.

"It was a coordinated, massive attack planned for a big scale and intended to do much harm," said Maj. Gen. Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, head of the Polish-led multinational force responsible for security around Karbala, from his headquarters at Camp Babylon in comments carried on Polish television.

The car bombers were shot before they could enter the military bases, he added.
The city's university, police station and mayor's office were also targeted.

UPDATE: Fox has identified the nationalities of the eleven dead to include four Bulgarian and two Thai soldiers, six Iraqi police officers and one Iraqi civilian.

Christmas Terror Threat at Vatican? 

Dec. 27 - Berlusconi: Christmas Terror Threat at Vatican:
Berlusconi told Milan's Libero newspaper of a "precise and verified news of an attack on Rome on Christmas Day."

"A hijacked plane into the Vatican," Berlusconi is quoted as saying. "An attack from the sky, is that clear? The threat of terrorism is very high in this instant. I passed Christmas Eve in Rome to deal with the situation. Now I feel calm. It will pass."

He added, "It isn't fatalism, but the knowledge of having our guard up. If they organized this, they will not pull it off."
I admit I was somewhat skeptical when Berlusconi previously said a leader of an Arab nation (later identified as Khadaffi of Libya) had appealed to him for help in healing the breach with the West, so although I still retain skepticism at any unverified report, I don't find it so easy to brush this one off.

UPDATE: Instapundit links to this from Reuters in which Berlusconi denies telling Libero newspaper there was a terrorist threat to the Vatican.

Meanwhile, media reports about the elevation of the US terror threat to orange and the cancellation of Air France flights into LAX are pretty speculative including this report that US officials want to talk to "no shows" for the cancelled flights as well because, according to this, unnamed French sources say that all 13 were on terror watch lists.

At least 5,000 die in Iran quake 

Dec. 27 - The dominant story today is the Iran earthquake (At least 5,000 die in Iran quake) and although international search and rescue teams have not yet arrived, this struck me simply because it is so universal a response:
Shocked Iranians mobilized to help. In Tehran, volunteers jammed a blood-donation center. In Fars province, neighboring Kerman, the government asked for donations of blankets and food and for volunteers to head to Bam to help in relief work.
According to this CNN report, international assistance has begun to arrive and highlights responses from Turkey, Russia, Spain, Britain and the United States. The UN is sending food, blankets and water purification units.

Canada's military Disaster Assistance Response Team has been put on stand-by awaiting possible deployment orders.

The above article states that help was coming from Germany, Russia, Italy, France and Switzerland.

UPDATE: US Rescue Teams from California and Virginia are loading equipment and ready to depart for Iran.

UPDATE: Michael of Discount Blogger notes that Iran is accepting help from everyone except Israel.


Kids in the hall 

Dec. 26 - Actually, they are right behind me, and they would really, really like this computer. (It's the DSL, you see.)

I'll be back later, so take care.

Dean touts a 'Jesus strategy' 

Dec. 26 - I pretty much ignore Dean as others comment on his campaign so well, but this tops his performance thus far: Dean touts a 'Jesus strategy':
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Howard B. Dean, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination who had said little about the role of religion in politics, yesterday told the Boston Globe that he is a committed follower of Jesus Christ and suggested that this would be a winning campaign issue.
Mr. Dean said he will start mentioning God and Christ as the campaign moves into the South.
Given the attacks on Pres. Bush because he is openly Christian, I have to wonder how this will affect the idealists who believe Dean is "their" candidate.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that most Americans (and Southerners) will see this for the cynical move that it is.

Garbage disposal going hi-tech 

Dec. 26 - I'm not a science person, so I don't know how feasible this really is: Garbage disposal going hi-tech.
"I have heard of success stories around the world and even in other North American cities," she [Councillor Jane Pitfield] adds. "I don't think the City of Toronto needs to make this complicated; I think we need to show leadership."

Earlier this year, 51 companies answered the city's call for firms that are interested in eliminating trash by means other than landfilling or mass incineration. Many of those firms are involved in using extreme heat in the absence of oxygen to eliminate garbage and form gases that could be used as fuel.

Under current plans, council will formally ask companies in the first quarter of the new year to submit proposals to establish test sites for new disposal technologies.

Honourable mention for the stars of 2003 

Dec. 26 - The Scrawler weighs in with his choices for Honourable mention for the stars of 2003:
Not going to knock those choices but if Scrawler were choosing, I would have given our Canadian men and women in the armed services the honour in what was a year of war -- whether the government in Ottawa wanted to acknowledge it or not.

The troops in Afghanistan certainly know they are in a war and when I was in the Persian Gulf, onboard both HMCS Regina and HMCS Iroquois, the understanding was this was serious and dangerous business.

The troops do us proud and for that I'd give them the number one spot. But that's me.
Not only you, Joe, not only you.

Read the column, his other choices for honurable mention. He invites email for other contenders, so I'm firing off mine for Dr. Donald Low, who's professional demeanour certainly helped reassure me during the SARS crisis.

Muslims turn against al-Qaida terrorists 

Dec. 26 - I used to ask people up here who they thought most Canadians would blame should a terrorist attack take place on Canadian soil, and a depressing number of them responded "America." That has caused me to wonder if those carrying out terrorist attacks that kills Muslims were hoping for a similar reaction against the US, and if so, they may have misjudged the ability of people to see that guilt cannot be so easily deflected from those who do the killing.

[That's not a scientific poll in any sense of the word, and don't take it as more than anecdotal especially as I was asking people what they thought other people would think.]

Toronto Sun columnist Bob MacDonald touches on the question of who is seen as guilty in Muslims turn against al-Qaida terrorists. Interesting overview on the war on terror, something that cannot be won without the will and desire of Muslims to defeat it.

He concludes with this:
And so, as the world looks towards 2004, we can expect to see an even more accelerated anti-terrorist campaign led by Bush, Blair and their allies. In doing so, they probably can expect even greater support from the people of Iraq, Turkey and other al-Qaida afflicted Muslim nations.
He left out Saudi Arabia, but then, so would I.

Blast Near Tel Aviv; Airstrike in Gaza 

Dec. 26 - This happened yesterday: Blast Near Tel Aviv; Airstrike in Gaza. Good ol' Fox:
JERUSALEM - A Palestinian homicide bombing at a bus stop outside Tel Aviv killed four people Thursday just minutes after an Israeli helicopter fired missiles at a car in Gaza, killing a senior Islamic Jihad commander and four others.
None of this "activist" or "alleged" senior commander crap to obscure the fact that there was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem and that Israel is fighting in a war against terrorism.

The Toronto Sun gets a partial for printing the AP story: they identify the killer as a "suicide bomber" but don't use the dreaded "alleged."

We watched the movie "Young Guns" yesterday, and when the Regulators are reading inaccurate newspaper accounts of their identities and proclaim "The papers never get anything right" we fell over laughing. It was a good reminder that the press has always been viewed with suspicion for precisely the same reasons as they are being held to account today.

Give us the facts, we'll make the determinations. Don't editorialize, don't depart from the 5 W's (who, what, where, why and when) and don't patronize us. When you base an entire report on unnamed sources, don't expect us to blindly accept it. Yeah, and don't patronize us.

UPDATE: The Washington Times article Palestinian bomber slays 4 at Israeli bus stop says the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) claimed responsibility and has a great deal more information about the bombing and the PFLP.

Thousands Feared Dead in Iran Earthquake 

Dec. 26 - Thousands Feared Dead in Iran Earthquake which hit in Bam in southeast Iran. Both Fox and CNN are speculating that the death toll may reach 10,000.

How can we read numbers like 4,000 dead and 10,000 feared dead with any degree of acceptance? Because they happen in Third World countries, of course, where people are building homes and other structures with less adherence to the kinds of rules and regulations we take for granted here.

Engineering techniques that protect us better from natural disasters is one value I'm happy to export.

Jack has a terrific idea for the US to offer troops for assistance in recovery efforts. I don't know that Iran would accept it, but it would be something they'd never expect.

Boycott French products, says cleric in Iraq 

Dec. 26 - Boycott French products, says cleric:
A Shiite cleric called Friday for an Iraqi boycott of French products in protest at France's decision to ban Islamic headscarves and other religious insignia from schools.

"We condemn the French government's decision prohibiting the Islamic veil and we demand the liberty that France says it embodies," Sayyed Amer al-Husseini told some 10,000 worshippers in the Shiite-populated Baghdad Sadr City district.

"We encourage a boycott of French products and call on Muslims in France to continue wearing the veil," he said in a sermon at the main weekly Muslim prayers.

Belated good wishes 

Dec. 26 - I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a new sense of optimism for the coming new year. Life is indeed interesting: how else can you explain how I shared symptoms with someone over 3,000 miles away?

Having a work ethic really sucks sometimes. I've been fighting off a cold for a week, and my first day off Bang! I'm sick. I'm too young for this! My body is supposed to recognize that you're sick during the work week, not on days off!

I've updated the stories about the Queen's message, and it struck me that someday I'll have to explain how a fierce American can have so much affection for a foreign British monarch. Then it struck me that I'm hardly the only American who will have to explain that one . . .

I have more optimism about 2004 than I did about 2002 and 2003. I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I think al Qaeda has been having more moments of shoes actually dropping than the one I'm worried about, and it seems to me that they are in a bind. They must, must attack us again on the homefront, but haven't been able to.

They must produce a bin Laden tape that proves he's still alive or risk him being branded a coward or dead. I personally believe that he is dead, but I was never as interested in capturing him as I was in capturing Zawahiri and the true masterminds in al Qaeda. Getting the figurehead is all very nice, but the masters of strategy and organizations are what made that organization so lethal.

If he is dead, and the top brass know it and are concealing it, I have no issue with that either. On top of worries that official confirmation of his death could unleash "martyrdom" operations, that his death is being concealed by al Qaeda puts them in an awkward spot, not us.

That's the name of the game this year: putting them on the defensive. I like it.

Nations bar American beef after first mad cow case 

Dec. 26 - When the single case of mad-cow disease hit Canada, the Daily Telegraph was full of interesting links about the history of the disease and the degree to which the science was speculative, but they haven't the links up (yet?) this time around (Nations bar American beef after first mad cow case.)

The same questions will be raised in this investigation as were raised when the disease hit Canada: How did the cow contract the disease?

I'm going on memory here, so correct me if I'm inaccurate or downright wrong, but as I recall, the speculation was that the cow contracted it through contaminated feed, it got it from infected elk (even though prior evidence indicated it wouldn't) or the disease occurred spontaneously.

TIME Person of the Year: Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of War 

Dec. 26 - The first time I saw Don Rumsfeld referred to as the Secretary of War was at Frank J.'s last winter, so I'm going strictly on personal bias to proclaim that they stole that from him.

This is actually an interesting article, even if they can't hide their dislike of him (guess they'd prefer a warm, cuddly touchy-feely type to run the War Department) although the heading has me somewhat baffled: TIME Person of the Year: Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of War. As the American soldier has been proclaimed Person of the Year, both Rumsfeld and Pres. Bush get assists as Sect. of War and Commander-in-Chief (in my world!)

But TIME still doesn't get it:
In the old days, Rumsfeld might have been called the Secretary of War, and it would have better fit his style and sensibility. To be in his presence or, worse, in his employ is to risk being lulled, lured, ambushed, bludgeoned and, always, conquered in the end.
We are at war, which is why we do call him the Secretary of War. We intend to win this war, which inevitably means conquering our enemies by confrontation or, as in the case of Libya, getting them to stand down.


Paul Martin too sensitive? 

Dec. 25 - Beau Jon Sackett, another American in Canada, sent me this link from Boing Boing: Canadian Liberal party trying to shut down political parody site with crappy Trademark claims which refers to this report at the Paul Martin Time website.

Canadians should read the two links and compare the parody site with the official one (link below) and make their own judgements. I take paraodies for granted: as an American, I am more likely to be annoyed when something isn't satirized than critical when it is. (How else can we explain the popularity of The Daily Show, which is an equal opportunity satire?)

The intimidation tactics used by the webmaster at the official Paul Martin site, Paul Martin Times, including his (false?) assertion that he tracked them down by breaching the privacy terms at privacy.ca, should get media attention and become a national scandal, but as I've commented before, the Canadian media is much more comfortable commenting on and criticizing US affairs than Canadian affairs.

In other words, until the Canadian media can find a way to blame John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act, most of them will ignore attempts to repress free speech in their own back yards and divert public attention to what's happening in their neighbours' back yards.

I've fussed before that so much focus on US concerns do Canadians a disservice (as well as my own weariness at how relentlessly the US is brought into nearly every controversy in Canada.)

Canada has so much more to offer her people than ducking responsibility by invoking what the US does or does not approve of. I may be an American, but I don't think that how the US feels about decriminalizing marijuana use should be relevant to Canadians, and attempts to make that a factor in the discussion up here should be viewed with suspicion. As someone pointed out long ago, did the legislation passed in Oregon regarding marijuana possession change US relations with that state?

When freedom of speech in Canada is under attack, the first priority for the Canadian media must be to investigate and publicize it. Will they?

Armed Forces personnel abroad for Christmas 

Dec. 25 - Too often, we overlook the fact that the military force in Iraq is multi-national, and that they too sacrifice to serve their countries in the defence of freedom. Reading this article from the Daily Telegraph (UK), Quarter of Armed Forces personnel abroad for Christmas, I was astonished at how many British service men and women are deployed abroad, not only in Iraq but throughout the world:
The largest deployment of British forces abroad remains Germany with 21,500 soldiers and airmen still based there. An additional 13,500 are serving in northern Ireland.

But the next largest deployment is 8,300 in Iraq with a further 1,270 in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. The number of British troops in Afghanistan has dropped to just 377. Deployments in the Balkans have also been heavily cut but 1,449 servicemen and women remain in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

There are 3,250 British servicemen and women in Cyprus, 1,240 in the Falklands, 420 in Gibraltar and small numbers in Nato bases in Europe.

There are also 456 on UN missions abroad. Most are in Cyprus but there are 22 in Sierra Leone and smaller numbers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Liberia and Ethiopia and Eritrea - the smallest detachment with three people.
Over 2,000 Australians are deployed abroad including Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands:
Australian forces are spread in more countries now than at any time since World War II.

They will miss their wives, husbands, children, relatives and friends. But from Baghdad to Dili to Honiara, they're doing their best to replicate a traditional Aussie Christmas, enjoying a cold beer and a hit of cricket.

In the Solomon Islands capital Honiara, Australian Federal Police agent Darren Booy has organised a cricket grudge match against his Kiwi colleagues.
There are also American, Canadian, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Bulgarian, Danish, French, German, Indian, Japanese and soldiers from other nations who have sworn to serve their countries and "hold the line" far from their native shores.

Never forget them. Never take them for granted. God bless the men and women who serve, and let them know that their sacrifices are known and valued.

UPDATE: The Queen's Christmas message this year was a departure from tradition, filmed from Combermere Barracks at Windsor and praising the valor of the men and women serving as well as those volunteering in the UK.

UPDATE: The Daily Telegraph (UK) is carrying more coverage of the Queen's Christmas address here, and their leader (opinion) proclaims The Queen inspires national team.

UPDATE: Pride and gratitude for the troops and their families were also the main feature of President Bush's Christmas Message (full text not online yet, although there's a press release dated Dec. 19 here.)

Canadian troops in Afghanistan got snow and enjoyed a brief snowball fight, and in the tradition of servicemen and women everywhere, American soldiers count one another as family until they get back home, and to bring the Christmas spirit of giving wherever they are.


Axis of Evil Plus 

Dec. 24 - I'm a little late posting this link, but wanted to note it: Libya's fatal blow to axis of evil:
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took the decision to renounce all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on Friday night, but while at first it was thought this only had implications for Libya it is now clear that his decision has scuppered a secret partnership between Libya, Iran and North Korea formed with the intention of developing an independent nuclear weapon.

New documents revealed yesterday show that the three were working on the nuclear weapons programme at a top-secret underground site near the Kufra Oasis of the Sahara in southeastern Libya. The team was made up of North Korean scientists, engineers and technicians, as well as some Iranian and Libyan nuclear scientists.

North Korea and Iran, originally dubbed by Bush as the axis of evil along with Iraq, avoided detection by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) inspectors by each member farming out vital sections of its projects to its fellow members.

Iran, which is now in the final stages of uranium enrichment for its program, is badly hit, having counted on fitting into place key parts of its WMD project made in Libya. North Korea may also be forced to scale back the production of nuclear devices as well as counting the loss of a lucrative source of income for its Scuds and nuclear technology.
If the claims in the report are true, this alliance raises a number of unsettling questions.

There are a couple of loose threads from past news reports. For example, a North Korean ship with 15 hidden Scud missiles aboard was intercepted by the Spanish Navy. Yemen claimed ownership of those Scuds, the ship was released, and the media dropped coverage, but I have to think that it raised several red flags in intelligence circles despite Yemen's promise not to purchase any more weapons from North Korea.

There is also this report on the $10 million Saddam paid to North Korea for missiles which were never delivered.

The biggest loose thread remains the failure to find WMD in Iraq, and although the debate has focused on whether they ever existed, the possibility remains that they were shipped out of Iraq (or, less frightening, are well-hidden and still there.)

The fact that Iraq was not included in this conspiracy could mean a lot or nothing, including the possibility that they were part of it but Khaddafi purposefully ommitted them (and that in turn could have been because British and US officials didn't want him to.)

Although it is exhilarating to live in interesting times, it is also frustrating because too many questions won't be answered for several years.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: ESR has a post on a report that Al Qaeda was targeting Gaddafi (aka Khaddafi) as another strong incentive for him to try to better relations with the US and UK.

America: A Spartan Athens 

Dec. 24 - An interesting essay well-worth reading by Michael Novak: America: A Spartan Athens.

After a quick look at how the US tries to combine the intellectual spirit of Athens with the martial spirit of Sparta, he makes this pointed remark:
Yet there are still people in Europe, not least at the Jesuit monthly Civilta Cattolica, who write that the motive for the U.S. efforts in Iraq is not to deny support and bases to terrorists. The motive, they insist, is oil.

One wonders if those who make such accusations know how to do a profit-loss statement? Can't they see that U.S. costs in Iraq alone have gone over $200 billion, whereas the entire annual GDP of Iraq is only $22 billion? At that rate, it would take twenty years for such an investment (which will probably have to increase by a lot over the next few years) even to be recouped. It will never show a profit.

But the greatest blindness of the critics of the U.S. is not financial accounting. It is spiritual. They do not see that safety from terrorism means not only depriving terrorists of bases, but also building democracy and a dynamic economy for the Iraqi people, as an alternative to terrorism. Creating such an alternative, not only for Iraq, but for all the young people of the Mideast, is worth a lot more than 200 million dollars. Such costs and benefits are not counted in dollars.
(Via Instapundit.)

The Clinton View of Iraq-al Qaeda Ties 

Dec. 24 - From the Weekly Standard, The Clinton View of Iraq-al Qaeda Ties:
ARE AL QAEDA'S links to Saddam Hussein's Iraq just a fantasy of the Bush administration? Hardly. The Clinton administration also warned the American public about those ties and defended its response to al Qaeda terror by citing an Iraqi connection.
Interesting reading, and good rebuttal to those who persist in thinking that al Qaeda is a bogeyman dreamt up by the current Administration.

Changes in Pakistan 

Dec. 24 - Some news from Pakistan: Pakistan's President Agrees to Quit Army Post. Musharraf will resign from the army by the end of 2004, scale back the special powers he granted to himself under the Legal Framework Order (which gave him the right to force the PM to resign and disband Parliament,) and ask for a vote of confidence in Parliament within a month of resigning from the army.

The Daily Telegraph (UK) is carrying a report that says Pakistan could be the nuclear quartermaster for the Axis of Evil.
Pakistan admitted for the first time yesterday that some of its scientists "motivated by personal ambition or greed" might have sold nuclear technology to Iran.

Faced with growing evidence that Pakistani nuclear know-how made its way to several "rogue states" - including Iran, North Korea and perhaps also Libya - Islamabad tried to argue that any transfer of technology was the work of individuals rather than of the government.

But President Pervaiz Musharraf will not easily fend off accusations that Pakistan, despite presenting itself as a vital ally in the war on terrorism, may in fact be the nuclear quartermaster for the "axis of evil".


Until this week, Pakistan dismissed all accusations of nuclear proliferation as part of a Western plot to divert attention from the action of Western companies that sold nuclear-related technology to "rogue states".

Western intelligence agencies have long suspected that Pakistan provided nuclear technology to North Korea in return for help with its missile programme.

But Iran's decision this year reluctantly to open up its nuclear facilities to UN inspectors has revealed a trail of hard evidence leading to Pakistan.

In particular, the uranium enrichment centrifuges discovered in the Iranian town of Natanz were based on European designs that Khan is accused of stealing in the Seventies.
Pakistan authorities are currently holding 4 scientists for "debriefing" but denies they are under arrest.

UPDATE: And there has been yet another attempt to assassinate Musharraf.

Grocery giant turns back on Gardens buy 

Dec. 24 - Loblaw's has withdrawn its offer to buy Maple Leaf Gardens saying renovations would be too expensive.

Why not keep it for minor hockey? According to this article, doing so would pose direct competition to the Maple Leafs Sports' Air Canada Centre.


Almost done 

Dec. 22 - Two more days to go until I'm off for Christmas. I'm sorry I haven't had time to answer any comments (although it looks as though everyone is doing fine without me!) but you've all been spared any, you know, deep and insightful posts from me so there is indeed a bright side to everything.

I'm just catching the local news on Global, and give them their due: they are broadcasting messages from the troops in Afghanistan back to their families.

A dominant feature of the media on both sides of the border is the elevation of the threat level to orange. Please: is anybody surprised?

Jack has some posts that make excellent reading: Illusion, which Canadians and Americans should read and I'm still pondering, and Justice - Canadian Style about his feelings about the recent sentences handed down in the Matti Baranovski case and his feelings - as a cop- about the failure of the judicial system in general.

So long, and take care. And for crying out loud, make sure there are no pedestrians in the driveway before turn left into mall parking lots. Sheesh.

Egyptian foreign minister attacked at al Aqsa mosque  

Dec. 22 - Al Aqsa, Islam's third holiest site, was a scene of pandemonium when demonstrators attacked Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher as he tried to pray there.

He was in Israel to try to restart peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, and CNN reports the attack occurred shortly after Maher met with Israeli PM Ariel Sharon.

The report said that the demonstrators were members of the Liberation Party and that Saeb Erakat said that the PA condemned the attack.

Iran and Syria are next to feel the heat 

Dec. 22 - I am continually astonished that too many in the media can only view events through the lens of re-election. Seriously, how many people heard of Saddam's capture and immediately set to pondering how that will affect the 2004 US presidential election? I shouldn't be overly surprised that the Daily Telegraph, which supports the Conservative Party, adds that dimension, I guess.

This article Iran and Syria are next to feel the heat indicates that talks have been secretly ongoing with Syria and Iran over the past few months but can't resist tying it into PM Blair's political fortunes:
Tony Blair will seek to use the diplomatic breakthrough with Libya to secure similar concessions on weapons of mass destruction from Iran and Syria. Ministers believe that his New Year offensive will restore his fortunes.

Secret "back channel" talks, which have been going on for months with both countries, will be stepped up as London and Washington try to capitalise on the surprise U-turn by Col Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator.

The capture of Saddam Hussein and Libya's announcement on Friday that it would dismantle its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes were being seen in Downing Street as vindication of the Prime Minister's strategy for tackling the threat of WMD.
An opinion piece in that paper does give credit to Blair for his farsight and wishes him a merry Christmas, but points out that, come the New Year, Normal service will resume next year.

The Sun (UK), which supported Labour in the last election but takes a Euroskeptic stance on the EU, has a more up-beat approach:
TONY Blair will seal a sensational peace deal with Libya by shaking the hand of Colonel "Mad Dog" Gaddafi, it emerged last night.
The Sun Says proclaims Peace on Earth:
THE world is a safer place after Libya's welcome decision to stop trying to make weapons of mass destruction.
Maybe those who feel slighted because Pres. Bush doesn't read their columns should consider that their compulsive desire to relate everything to an election (especially one that is a year away) cheapens the astonishing events of this past year and their narrow interpretations insults those of us who understand that we are at war.

Will history record that there was a determined effort to bring democracy to the Mid-East and reduce the chances for terrorist attacks using WMD and even another war fought with nuclear or chemical-biological weapons, or that there was to be a presidential election three years after Sept. 11?

(USA Today link via Neale News.)

Afghanistan is in her soul 

Dec. 22 - Another dispatch from Licia Corbella of the Calgary Sun about a rather remarkable young women, Raija-Liisa Teigen, who believes (with justification) that Afghanistan is in her soul. She has been running a woman's centre in Zaranj, a city of about 70,000 people in southern Afghanistan near the Iranian border.

Read the whole thing.

Canadians in Afghanistan 

Dec. 22 - Some interesting observations in this article on Dave "Tiger" Williams' visit to Kabul about reconstruction progress in Kabul and how the people living there feel about the presence of Canadian and other forces.

The forces at Camp Julien held a ball hockey tournament in memory of the two soldiers killed last October by a land mine:
To help out, the Maple Leafs donated 2,000 t-shirts and the Vancouver Canucks gave 2,000 ball caps for a raffle to raise money for a Canadian Mine Awareness program.

"It doesn't only benefit the charity itself, it benefits everybody that's over here, trying to help out the people of Afghanistan," said Cpl. Steve Posthumus of Burlington, Ont.

"So far they've cleared a 60,000 square foot ( 5,570 square metres) area (of landmines), and that's 60,000 square feet that is safe to walk on for the troops that are over here."

A number of hockey jerseys, hats, headbands and pins were also donated by Team Canada, the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Leafs and Canucks, with many of the items autographed by Williams, former Canucks goalie Kirk McLean and Olympic Women's Hockey Gold medalist Cassie Campbell.
McLean and Campbell are also in Kabul with Williams.

Hockey figures in Canada have been very active in supporting the troops. I don't know how well known Don Cherry is to non-hockey fans in the US, but his strong denunciation of the Sept. 11 attacks as well as his staunch support last winter of the US in Iraq eclipsed anything said by any national leader, and Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Tiger Williams have been among those active in reminding Canadians that the soldiers are in harm's way and letting the troops know that they are appreciated.

UPDATE: The Toronto Sun has an update and picture of the rink (Hockey night in Kabul) and a bit more information on the raffle and jersey auction held to raise money for the Mine Awareness Program.

Worthington on Khaddaffy 

Dec. 22 - I like Peter Worthington (not the least because he spells the name of Libya's ruler almost the same way I do!) and he delivers his judgement on the unilateral move by Libya to break with the Axis of Evil with a suggestion for a Canadian application in today's column Khadaffy's new stance break in war on terror.
When Libya (Khadaffy) was elected to chair the UN Human Rights Commission (members included such repressive regimes as Zimbabwe, Vietnam, China, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria) it was a low-water mark for the UN -- and typical of the flaccid values of that increasingly impotent body.

Only three of 33 countries voted against Libya's chairmanship (the U.S., Canada and Guatemala), while 17 ideologically craven countries (mostly European) abstained.

Is it too much to hope that Khadaffy will now take human rights seriously? His is a brutal regime that dabbles in torture and slavery, but if he benefits from abandoning his WMD program and terrorism, perhaps the next phase will be easing intolerance inside Libya.


Iraqis, too, want normality, and already have more freedom than they ever had under Saddam.

Arab countries aren't brainless.

The gesture of Moammar Khadaffy, who is as "Arab" as any, will not be lost on other tyrants and quasi-despots.

That Libya will now benefit should be a guide for our own foreign aid policy: Help countries that behave decently, give nothing to tyrannies that use our aid to entrench their repression.
The Cold War is over. It's past time to adjust policies and use foreign aid to encourage better, higher goals such as the pillars articulated by Pres. Bush in his Whitehall Speech and principles of international human rights the Canadian federal government claims to respect.

Torontonian honours those who fell 

Dec. 22 - There is one Canadian who knows the Price of freedom and is expressing his gratitude directly to the families who have lost loved ones: 76-year old Les Shaw is sending the families of American soldiers who died protecting democracy overseas $2,000 and $2,500 to the familes of the 6 Canadian soliders who died in Afghanistan.
"We in North America and other parts of the world, we take freedom for granted," Shaw, who now lives in Barbados, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

"Yet here's these young fellows and their families who are giving the ultimate sacrifice to sustain the freedom we enjoy."
Shaw sent a letter with the gifts:
"It is too easy for many of us in North America to take our wonderful freedoms for granted; obviously, your loved one did not," Shaw's letter reads.

"Please accept this small token as a gesture of heartfelt thanks from an appreciative Canadian. Spend it however you think your fallen hero would want."

The letters prompted more than 100 heart-wrenching replies, many stuffed with family photos and other tokens of remembrance from grieving parents, widows and widowers whose anguish leaps from the page.
Shaw's 22-year old nephew is in Baghdad with US forces. He went public with his gifts when casualties continued after his planned cut-off date of July 31 and hopes another will step in to continue his philanthrophy.

UPDATE: Smug Canadian has some interesting thoughts here.

Dirty deeds 

Dec. 22 - Days before the Toronto City Council voted to stop the construction of a bridge linking the mainland to Toronto Island, the Federal government quietly sold a portion of lakefront property located at the end of Bathurst to the Port Authority. The land is the loading point for the ferry slip and a parking lot and be necessary for the building of the bridge. The property is valued at $7,028,000 and was sold dirt cheap for $300,000.

The unannounced sale was discovered by a lawyer going through land registry documents.

NDP federal leader and former Toronto City Councillor Jack Layton brought the sale to the attention of the media:
Layton said while the federal government announced they would respect the wishes of Toronto city council, they were handing over a vital piece of land needed to build the bridge.

"Not only that, they're subsidizing the construction of this bridge because they gave the land at cut-rate prices," Layton said.

"You can't buy a house in Toronto for $300,000, never mind a prime piece of real estate on the waterfront. This is incredible."
MP Dennis Mills (Lib.) said he knew nothing about the deal and that he believes that no more condos should be built on the shoreline preserving the land for public use.

MP Dennis Mills spoke at last April's "Friends of America" rally in Toronto, and recently announced he will not seek re-election.

UPDATE: The government responds that there was nothing secretive about the deal, and that the land can only be used for parking or getting to the Toronto Island Airport.


Saddam takes heat off Bush 

Dec. 21 - The reaciton to Libya's announcement is muted, but a columnist at the Toronto Star actually asserts that Saddam takes heat off Bush (which reflects how she sees the world) and makes this astonishing statement:
None of the countries opposing the war at the U.N. — nor any of the millions of people who joined street protests around the world — ever doubted that the U.S. could use its superior military power to crush Saddam's regime and, ultimately, capture him. Rather, the debate centred on Washington's allegation that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed such an imminent danger to the world that an invasion had to be launched immediately. (Emphasis added.)
Still re-writing history, are we? FOAD, bitch.

Nobody doubted that Saddam had WMD, including the pompous Toronto Star. And the president never claimed the threat was imminent, but precisely the opposite (that's been cited too many times to have to do it again, but I'll stick in the link when I get home.)

So long!

Canadians in Afghanistan 

Dec. 21 - These days, one Canadian in Afghanistan is former Maple Leaf Tiger Williams (Vancouver playing time recognized but overlooked.)

Canadian Newsmaker of the Year 

Dec. 21 - Time Magazine has named the Canadian Newsmaker of the Year: This will tell you who.

UPDATE: Here is another (and more permanent) permalink.

Khaki Christmas in Kabul 

Dec. 21 - Another dispatch from Calgary Sun editor Licia Corbella: Khaki Christmas in Kabul. Arghh, the clock is ticking on me, so read the whole thing!

Operation Booster Shot 

Dec. 21 - Some time ago I posted an item about EMS stations gathering things to send to Canadian soldiers stationed overseas and today found these in the Letter to the Editors of the Toronto Sun Toronto Sun: Editorial/Letters (I'm posting the whole thing because this link has only a one-day life):
The birth of 'Operation Booster Shot'

THIS FALL, three paramedics of Toronto EMS - Sarah Zourdoumis, Marco Colabella and Steven Henderson - had an idea. After receiving a letter from Sarah's brother (who is serving in Afghanistan), it was brought to our attention that morale on the Canadian base was low. So we took it upon ourselves to begin a morale-boosting mission for our Canadian troops.

With this, "Operation Booster Shot" was born. Collection boxes were placed in the 40 or so EMS stations in Toronto and the donations began.

We collected snacks, candies, "Canadiana" and, most importantly, Canadians were able to send their good wishes to our boys and girls serving abroad.

With a bit more effort, we were able to convince some corporations to empty some of their pockets too. Mac's convenience stores opened their warehouse to us, Costco Downsview opened its wallet and the Toronto Blue Jays joined in too!

On Oct. 29, we set out for CFB Montreal to deliver an ambulance full of donations, packed to the brim! Today, six weeks after delivering our load, we would like to share with you the letter below, sent to us by Sarah's brother, Cpl. Aesop Zourdoumis.

Marco Colabella

Sarah Zourdoumis

Steven Henderson
The letter they mention follows:
SO THE other day I make it to the mess hall just in time for breakfast and one of my bosses gets hold of me and says in a rather gruff tone, "Get up to the orderly room. They've been looking for you."

"Uh-oh," I think. What did I not get away with? After wracking my brain I sheepishly ooze my way up to the office and poke just my head in the door so as to make a quick escape if the yelling starts.

"Get in there!" a voice sounds from behind me.

Crraaaaaap. No escape. Just have to ride it out. I cross through the doorway and instead of being met with a flurry of shouting I get handed a box. Then another. Then another until I'm holding five in total.

"Somebody out there must care about you," I hear. I take a look at what I'm holding and sure enough, a whole lot of somebodies do.

The first load of packages from Operation Booster Shot had arrived. I struggle them back to the tent and take a closer look. "Good God! There's enough sugar here to put us all in a diabetic coma," I giggle. Nobody complains, they just start eating. Through the brief pauses in our pigfest we start to open the rest and discover mountains of candy, enough writing instruments for every soldier to scratch out about 15 letters, several games for the mess that are fiercely Canadian and, near and dear to everyone's heart: books on hockey.

More digging and we discover sun hats, keychains with Canadian flags and a whole lot of baseball caps. We've got time for one more so we open the largest. Tucked within we discover a small black teddy bear that immediately finds its way into my sleeping bag (I think he was cold), and a ballcap emblazoned with the EMS logo.

A brief struggle occurs and the cap ends up on someone's head as they run for daylight. I turn back to the boxes and find the colours - Canadian flags covered with signatures and thank-yous. The fighting stops and everyone takes a closer look.

"Those need to go in the mess," someone says. Suddenly everyone's lost interest in killing each other over the hat and is examining the flags.

Very little is said after that. I think everyone was simply taken by surprise by the amount of unsolicited support from the home front.

A while later, we're driving to a heavy weapon containment site outside the city where we have to photograph and catalogue some Scud missiles. The silence breaks and gives way to discussion of how to pass out all those sugary treats. Nobody's thinking too deeply about the local threat or that the area off-route is mined or that we're in Afghanistan.

Everyone is smiling and light-hearted and feels a little better about the job and that we're almost coming home. Without saying it, every person present knows where this change in mood has come from. Every one of us feels that much more pride knowing the folks back home have us on their minds.

We do the job and make our way back to camp. After dinner, we head to the mess to discover a crowd around the small bar.

A bit of pushing and we discover that in our absence Cpl. Boudreau has hung the smaller of the three signature flags above the bar. A glance to my left and I see three soldiers perusing the 2004 hockey yearbook, sitting directly under a Canadian flag marked proudly with "45 Station." To my right, at the opposite end of the mess tent is Cpl. Ash, trying to figure out if he can get the largest of the three flags into his pocket before he gets pummeled for it.

Wisely, he leaves it up.

I look around and the mood has visibly changed. There's more smiling and more laughing and, yes, one or two good natured wrestling matches over the damned EMS hat. But it isn't the big load of loot that's done it. It's the fact that someone made such an effort to care about someone so far away.

From all the soldiers at Camp Warehouse to all the Toronto paramedics and their families back home, I can't thank you enough. Your efforts couldn't possibly be forgotten.

Cpl. A.S.R. Zourdoumis


(We're all proud of you. Merry Chistmas, and come home safe in the new year)
Canadians do remember those who serve.

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