Friday, August 30, 2013


Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what are we going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.
Ulysses S. Grant- the only time he ever lost his temper on the battlefield, after hearing once too often about Lee's ability.

My Pix

Names of Pennsylvania Civil War soldiers, Pennsylvania Monument, Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Meme Watch

My Pix

Pennsylvania Monument and mist on Cemetery Ridge, viewed from the Emmitsburg Pike just south of Gettysburg.  The Southerners briefly captured this part of the ridge late on the 2nd day.  Click on the image for big. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Red Line in Syria

     Photo: Al Jazeera

It was beginning to look like the Syrian civil war would end in a permanent stalemate.  The Economist predicted the country would be functionally be divided in 3.  The Alawites taking the belt from Damascus to Aleppo and west to the coast.  The rebels controlling the Euphrates valley, and the Kurds their North East portion.  Such a result might be viable as the many 3rd parties to the affair could maintain their interests at a relatively low price.  Nobody would win, but nobody would lose either. 

However, that assumes no game changers.  The apparent chemical attacks this week near Damascus could be such a game changer.  Somewhere there is a red line, and Assad may have just crossed it.

Chemical weapons have not been used widely since they were banned after WW1.  Expensive, finicky, subject to wild swings in efficacy due to weather, and just as dangerous to the attackers as the defenders, chemical weapons have been more trouble than they were worth.  It's simply too difficult to get a reliable tactical advantage on the battlefield sufficient to outweigh the political costs.  Those political costs are based on the terror chemical weapons inspire in civilians.

Assad seems to have found a way to use them as a poor man's nuke.  Lobbing chemical weapons into opposition neighborhoods overcomes the tactical disadvantages.  If they are ineffective due to weather, its no loss.  The distance between your forces and the targets will be sufficient to avoid exposure if the wind blows the wrong way.  There is no effective counter-measure for the rebels.  Though their usefulness is limited to terrorizing civilians.

But there is a political cost.  At some point, after some red line, the International Community will put aside their differences and squash the Assad regime as a common threat.  Last year, the Russians let it be known that they strongly opposed the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Their current rhetoric insists not that its OK to use the weapons, but absent conclusive proof, they have not been used at all.  Widespread and blatant use by Assad would render that position untenible.  In the big picture, Assad is not an essential asset to the Russians.  They will throw him to the wolves if it suits them.  Iran will still be there, but Iran cannot stop the Western powers if they decide to intervene.

All this means that Assad can go too far and lose everything.  As of today, it looks like the red line has been found.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gettysburg Gate

This is the gate of the Evergreen Cemetery, which gives Cemetery hill its name.  It looks much the same as it did in July 1863, apart from the paved road and the nice landscaping.  On the second day, the Southerners took the crest of this hill, along with the gate.  But they were unsupported, and were driven off by Union re-reinforcements.  Lee's best chance to win the battle slipped away due to poor generalship by Ewell, who turned out to be a disappointing replacement for the dead Stonewall Jackson.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gettysburg: Stars & Bars

I've just come back from a few days at Gettysburg.  More photos will be forthcoming.

To start, I was surprised at the number of Confederate flags on the battlefield and at the trinkets and trash stores around town.  The almost equal time given to this symbol creates the impression that this was all a civilized discussion that got tragically out of hand.  I wonder how Americans would feel about the Germans putting swastikas all over Omaha beach?  To me its almost the same thing.  This is a symbol of slavery, discrimination and the ruthless exploitation of people for profit. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013


The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make the rest of us wonder at the possibility that we might be missing something.
Gamal Abdel Nasser

On further reflection, I have to admit that Nasser thought glib sound bites were the same as practical solutions.  


The uprising in Egypt was initiated by the young generation. The uprising achieved two things. One is it made the lives of dictators impossible. Today, if you are looking for a safe job, don't become a dictator.
Shimon Peres

Why Morsi Had To Go

Debate over the legitimacy of Mohammed Morsi's defenestration continues, with John McCain calling the action a coup. "Coup" is a loaded word because political activity by the Egyptian Military would stop American military aid.  However, this was not a coup.  It was not an abrogation of democracy.  For the future of democracy in Egypt, Morsi had to go.

The Morsi government was a disaster by any measure.  The economy was a shambles and getting worse.  Foreign Policy was incoherent and sporadic.  The security situation in Sinai is a shit show.  Morsi pissed off everyone, the Army, the Police, the Media, the Judiciary, the Copts, the Shia, Islamic clerics, and even other Islamic political parties.  While the country fell apart around their ears, the Morsi government proved interested in only one issue, institutionalizing the Muslim Brotherhood's grasp on power.  At the same time, they frightened just about everyone who did not vote for Morsi by pushing Islamization when he had no mandate to do so.  Indeed after promising they would not.

In the days before Morsi was deposed, 15 million Egyptians came out in the streets to demand his ouster.  Egypt is 3x the size of Canada.  Imagine if 5 million people came out here to demand a change of government.  There would be a change of government. 

The key point is that while elections are the lungs of democracy, political accountability is its heart.  Do a bad job and lose your job.  Morsi and his party were building a system where the Muslim Brotherhood could not be held accountable.  In this way, Morsi was subverting democratic institutions on a permanent basis. For all these reasons, Morsi had to go.

UPDATE Aug 20:
It's important to say that because Morsi had to go does not mean the suppression and murder of his supporters by the military is justified in any way whatsoever.  Morsi's mistakes were political, and subject to political accountability, not criminal prosecution.   The Army is massacring protesters on the streets. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Secret Coup

In a secret coup, US security agencies have apparently taken over the United States Government.  With key members of Congress, the Executive has given itself secret powers, authorized by secret laws, interpreted by secret courts.  There is no accountability at all.

To facilitate this takeover, the President, his Administration, its agencies and House and Senate leaders have conspired to conceal the nature and scope of these activities from Congressional and Judicial oversight.  They have subverted the Constitution and broken both the law and their oaths of office, an impeachable offense.

These are crimes under US law.  You can argue all you want, but from Obama on down, the defense of these programs amounts to "If the President does it, its not illegal", to quote Richard Nixon.  He was wrong about that.  And what we are talking about here is 10x worse than anything Nixon did.  Watergate was a personal scandal.  Here, the Administration has declared a permanent state of war, and is permanently suppressing Constitutional rights.

This is not an abstract issue.  Reuters has uncovered that the DEA was getting information from these illegal programs and concealed the source of their evidence from Federal Judges in criminal cases.  That is a major crime and people should go to jail.  Another impeachable offense.

Note I am not just specifically accusing Democrats.  The Republicans are in this up to their necks as well.

Its all going to lead to a political crisis.  At least it better. 

Reuters is reporting that the IRS also participated in concealing the source of evidence gained from NSA intercepts.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
Otto von Bismarck 


Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.
H. L. Mencken

From The Campaign Trail

 Peter Milczyn interviewed at his campaign headquarters, July 29, 2013. Only the cameraman showed up.  The reporter asked questions on speaker phone. 

No posts in the last few weeks because I was working on Peter Milczyn's campaign in the Provincial by-election.   It was a great experience.  The best part was scrutineering.  I got to watch the votes counted on my poll and was responsible for checking the count and challenging any ballots I saw as invalid.  None were.  We won my poll, but lost the election.  From my lowly viewpoint as a volunteer (volunteers get the mushroom treatment), the vote was decided by Liberal voters who elected to punish us by staying home.  I managed to turn out less than half the Liberal voters in my poll.  On the other hand, Conservatives came out in droves. 

Yet it was a respectable loss; 46.6% for Holyday, 40% for Milczyn.  Turnout was a bit above average for a by-election: ~35%.  I made a complete fool of myself by saying we would win despite the polls.  I could see we had the votes, and thought we could turn them out with our superior ground game.  That was spectacularly wrong.  I had slipped into magical thinking. 

There were many funny and interesting things that happened.  Like the man who wouldn't vote for Peter because he didn't like his neigbours's fence.  Or the woman who screamed that I'm an asshole, just like her son.  One man called me a dictator for knocking on his door.  The best conversation was with a voter who wanted me to tell him if it was OK to put diesel in his gas car.  I thought not, but he advised that you could get away with 20% and wanted my views about going to 30%. 

Here are a few pictures:

An apartment door in Maybelle.  Pat's in deep shit.

Toronto Hydro's attitude to danger.