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Slow learners

Toronto mayoral candidates appeared at a debate focused on faith issues on Monday, May 10, 2010. (CTV News)

Some people can watch an event unfold before them and fail to comprehend its import. But to see an event unfold several times, have it explained to you by the municipal affairs columnist for the city’s largest-circulation daily, and still fail to grasp the essentials—that level of obtuseness can only be found in politics and political punditry.

Here, for example, is the Toronto Star‘s Royson James explaining why Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign continues to gain traction:

They call him names. They mock him. They tell anyone with a microphone and a pen that the rambunctious councillor is a buffoon with foot-in-mouth disease, a one-trick pony incapable of competing in the sophisticated world Toronto must navigate.

As if the voters don’t know this already. Ford’s been a councillor for 10 years. His file of verbal indiscretions is thick and well worn.

In fact, with every effort like George Smitherrman’s launch of the FordonFord.com website, intended to showcase the celebrated gaffes of the councillor from Etobicoke North, Ford gains in popularity.

The Toronto electorate, circa 2010, is not looking for a silver-tongued prophet with a vision of an ascendant Toronto. They had one for seven years and are decidedly unhappy with the result. That’s the reality. And any reasonably skilled candidate for mayor, especially an outsider or someone looking to change direction at city hall, should have been able to capitalize on this gift.

— James, Royson. “Despite attacks, Rob Ford’s simple message takes hold.” Toronto Star, 18 August 2010.

It’s not rocket science, in other words. James is giving Smitherman, Rossi et al a freebie here. The voters are indicating that they hear Ford’s message and like it. One can tear down the messenger, but if the competing message isn’t particularly appealing, people aren’t going to get on board with it. Ford’s congenital oafishness isn’t news to the electorate; spending one’s time and money pointing it out, yet again, doesn’t deflect voters who have already decided it doesn’t matter to them.

The truly, epically stupid thing about this mayoral election is that there is no mystery to Ford’s supposedly inexplicable rise. If his prospective opponents were taking notice, Rob Ford’s modus operandi was laid bare four years ago by Eye Weekly writer Edward Keenan.

This, he says, is his favourite part of his job: “I love my constituents. They are second only to my family in my heart.” By that standard, there’s been a lot of loving in his day so far: 8:30am at a roach-infested apartment on Kipling to mediate a landlord-tenant dispute; 9am and 9:30am at two places on Bergamot to deal with more tenant complaints; 10:30am on Golfwood Heights to help a guy whose backyard is being flooded by a city-owned drainage ditch; 11am down the street on View Green to meet a woman upset that the crossing guard has moved down the street from the end of her block. Later, he’ll chat with a man who wants Urdu language books at the local library and meet staff from three different city departments at the home of a man with multiple complaints about the state of his neighbour’s property.

Sometimes Ford can get his constituents’ complaints resolved and sometimes not. Either way, he feels this — not the blustering at city hall — is his job. “I always tell my constituents, ‘Call my office first; I will find the right people,'” he says, “They’re hard-working people, so I try to go to bat for everyone.”

He returns every call to his office personally, often within hours, and usually he’ll make a trip out to see anyone with a complaint, bringing city staffers with him.

…Rob Ford may be a raving lunatic, but he’s a raving lunatic who will come to your home and stand in the rain to ensure you get 15 minutes with the city staffer who can help you. And that, as anyone who’s tried to navigate the city hall bureaucracy will know, is no small thing.

…A deep thinker he is not, and that could be a problem for his opponents. Rob Ford only has two priorities: saving money and serving constituents. Crazy as he appears, those happen to be popular priorities. Besides, he doesn’t need to think; he’s out impressing the voters every day with his actions.

The people who want to beat him might want to start thinking about that.

— Keenan, Edward. “The Rob Ford problem.” Eye Weekly, 27 July 2006.

Rob Ford may be, as James says, a buffoon—but as Keenan makes clear, he is a buffoon that helps the Ordinary Joes in his ward get things done. And that is a legacy that his mayoral opponents may find hard to match, much less beat. It’s something they should have been working on for themselves at least four years ago.

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Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths

Surviving wing tips of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow, Storage Wing, Canadian Aviation Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Flickr: DSC_4420, originally uploaded by GRB_Ott.

We have all heard the Avro Arrow mythology promulgated for the public.  That the Canadian division of UK-owned A.V. Roe and Company was contracted to provide a supersonic delta-winged interceptor; that an interceptor of unprecedented capabilities was built, and flight tests begun; but then the American military-industrial complex and unconscionable perfidy from the Prime Minister of the day (John Diefenbaker) conspired to kill the wonder jet so that money would be made, political ambitions furthered, et cetera.  The power of the mythos is such that a 1997 made-for-television movie featuring Dan Akroyd was crafted with this storyline.

Problem is, the tragic fable is almost entirely false.

In the Spring 2010 edition of Airforce magazine, Colonel Layne Larsen, CD (Ret.) has penned a thorough takedown of the Arrow mythology.  The colonel goes to no small pains to debunk the three main myths of the Arrow legend:

  • That PM Diefenbaker’s short-sightedness or incompetence killed the Arrow program
  • That Diefenbaker ordered the destruction of all program materials to prevent it from ever being resurrected.
  • That the Arrow was so far ahead of its time, we would still be flying them today; also that we would not have bothered to buy four other fleets of foreign-designed aircraft (CF-101 Voodoo, CF-116 Freedom Fighter, CF-104 Starfighter, CF-188 Hornet).

[Point of clarification: There are two similarly named publications; Air Force magazine—often mentioned in this space—is the journal of the US Air Force Association, while Airforce magazine is the journal of the Air Force Association of Canada.]

I’ll try and summarise Colonel Larsen’s article here, but you’d be well-advised to pick up the magazine and read it, if you want the facts in greater detail.

Myth 1: Diefenbaker’s short-sightedness or incompetence killed the Arrow program

Although PM Diefenbaker made the official announcement on February 20th, 1959, the federal Cabinet made the decision, and it came after five months of deliberation—which was in fact initiated by a recommendation from the service chiefs of the Canadian military.  The minutes of that August 1958 Cabinet meeting are available at DFAIT’s website, and they clearly indicate that the program costs had escalated to the point where “the Chiefs of Staff felt that, to meet the modest requirement of manned aircraft presently considered advisable, it would be more economical to procure a fully developed interceptor of comparable performance in the U.S.”  In other words, the RCAF didn’t want the Arrow, and had already determined that its support and logistics costs outweighed its potential military value.

For what it’s worth, I have read elsewhere that the previous St. Laurent government had also decided it would kill the Arrow, had it been returned to office in the 1957 federal election.

Myth 2: Diefenbaker ordered the destruction of program materials to prevent it from being resurrected

Documents declassified in 1990 indicate that the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshall Hugh Campbell, was the source of this direction.  Normally the Department of Defence Production (DDP) had six months to dispose of program materials to other government departments, research centres, and scrap.  A memo from G/C Ray Footit (signing for CAS) to DDP ordered that everything was to be cut up before being sold as scrap, and that no major components were to be sold as intact entities.

Myth 3: The Arrow was extremely advanced for its time, we’d still be flying them, and would not have bothered to buy other fighters.

The best way to answer this is to use Col. Larsen’s chart that accompanies the article.  It compares performance data from several aircraft designs of the time.

(click to enlarge)

The Arrow doesn’t lead the pack.  It has good top speed and an acceptable service ceiling, but a thoroughly mediocre radius of action.  Radius of action being the distance an aircraft can travel from its base and return, without refueling (this figure also includes a measly five minutes of combat engagement).  The Arrow would have been the last to achieve IOC—whereas the very similar Convair F-106 had comparable speed, a slightly higher service ceiling, almost twice the radius of action, was available four years earlier, and was several times cheaper ($2 million per F-106 versus $8-10 million per CF-105.)

The F-106, incidentally, remained the backbone of USAF’s interceptor fleet until replaced by the F-15 Eagle.

As Col. Larsen makes clear, the Arrow died because of multiple factors.  The RCAF had already accrued some bad experiences with the Avro-built CF-100, and they didn’t like the support they were getting from the company on that product.  The RCAF’s senior brass very much doubted whether Avro could build an even more complex aircraft and still make it reliable and easy to maintain.

Unfortunately, Avro’s CF-105 prototypes were not built with ease of maintenance in mind; in one case it would take 70 hours to inspect a part whose inspection interval was only 50 hours.  In other words, every two days’ flying time you had to ground the plane for three days in order to inspect the part.  And that’s for a brand-new airplane, where most things should not be breaking too often.  Imagine what would happen once that airframe had been in service for 10, 15 or 20 years.  The Arrow would have been a ramp queen par excellence.

Worst of all, in just four years the Arrow’s program budget nearly doubled (going from $261 million to $400 million) while completing only five percent of the scheduled flight tests, and the radar/fire control system had yet to be installed, let alone tested.  In 11 months the Arrow racked up only 80 hours of flight test time, while the F-106 managed to conduct 1,000 hours of flight testing in a year.

All our national myth-making aside, when you add up all the things that went wrong, the Arrow was a weapon system doomed from the start.

Thanks to Colonel Larsen for his bracing deconstruction of the Arrow mythos; if this is a subject that interests you, you ought to pick up the magazine and give it a read.

On the census

I am a little torn about making the long-form census voluntary.  From a statistical perspective, it is always better to have accurate data with varying levels of granularity; making the long form voluntary would seem to make that less likely.

But then Statistics Canada has admitted in the past that it does not enforce the mandatory census provisions equally.  If you live on a First Nations reserve you can ignore the census with impunity and the authorities will not seek legal recourse.  If you live off a reserve, you roll the dice and you take your chances:

Thousands of natives across Canada refused to complete the 2006 census – including the Six Nations in Ontario – and will not face any legal consequences, despite the fact that 64 people not living on reserves were charged under the Statistics Act.

…The maximum penalty for not completing the census is a $500 fine and three months in prison. Of the 64 charged, nearly all decided to complete it rather than go to court.

Some 35,000 people living on reserves refused to complete the census, [director general of the census program Anil] Arora said. As a courtesy, Statistics Canada seeks permission from the band office before entering the reserve, although it isn’t legally obligated to do so. The census isn’t mailed out to reserves, because many still use a P.O. box system, which means census takers can’t verify addresses, Arora said.

— Doolittle, Robyn.  “No charges sought for 35,000 natives who ignore census.” Toronto Star, 15 January 2008.

Seems to me that if the supposedly mandatory census is not actually mandatory (the key variables being one’s ethnic background and place of residence), then Stats Can’s past practice has rendered it de facto voluntary.  You might even say that the government is merely seeking to extend the same courtesy to all Canadians.

I would be interested in finding out why Stats Can chooses to ignore 35,000 holdouts, but goes after a specific set of 64.  The reason given in the article is that native participation has always been poor, and they are worried about curbing the increasing First Nations compliance by charging offenders $500 bucks and throwing them in jail for 3 months.  One wonders why the agency doesn’t think these same kid gloves should apply to non-native Canadians.

Category: Amor Patriae, Current Affairs  Tags:  Comments off

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Toronto’s own Financial Post does some digging and finds out that the Dutch offered considerable oil-containment expertise to US authorities in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident, but were turned down because it wasn’t a perfect fit.

Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. “Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour,” Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill.

…The U.S. government responded with “Thanks but no thanks,” remarked Visser, despite BP’s desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer –the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge.

Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

— Solomon, Lawrence. “Avertible catastrophe.” Financial Post, 26 June 2010.

Desperate times require desperate measures; something that bureaucracies, in general, are not too adept at handling.

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Strange threshold

The director of CSIS claims that cabinet ministers and municipal officials in two provinces are under the influence of foreign govenrments.

“We’re in fact a bit worried in a couple of provinces that we have an indication that there’s some political figures who have developed quite an attachment to foreign countries,” Fadden said.

“The individual becomes in a position to make decisions that affect the country or the province or a municipality. All of a sudden, decisions aren’t taken on the basis of the public good but on the basis of another country’s preoccupations.”

There are several municipal politicians in British Columbia and in at least two provinces there are ministers of the Crown who we think are under at least the general influence of a foreign government.

— “Some politicians under foreign sway: CSIS.”  CBC News, 23 June 2010. [Emphasis mine]

The director went on to say that he was in discussions with the Privy Council Office to determine what future action might be taken.

The wise will know that foreign influence of government officials is not a new phenomena; every country on the planet seeks to influence others—overtly or covertly—in order to advance its national interests.  No nation—and especially not a relatively wealthy Western one—is immune to such treatment.  Part of the role of any nation’s security intelligence apparatus is to monitor such activity and, if it seems like it may present a danger to the governance of the nation, to bring it to the attention of higher authorities (and eventually law enforcement) so that the damage may be contained and those responsible may be prosecuted.

It is odd, then, to see the director backpedal  two days later and reveal that he did not think the matter serious enough to bring to the attention of the federal government.

The statement by Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, followed an uproar over comments he made in a CBC interview broadcast on Tuesday night.

I have not apprised the Privy Council Office of the cases I mentioned in the interview on CBC. At this point, CSIS has not deemed the cases to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities,” the written statement says.

— Bell, Stewart.  “CSIS head did not warn Ottawa of spy infiltration.”  National Post, 24 June 2010. [Emphasis mine]

First, the director stated an untruth on national television—he had not, in fact, informed the PCO.  And that omission was because his agency did not consider the degree of influence to be great enough to be brought to the attention of federal authorities.  Which makes one wonder why it’s of sufficient interest to mention to a television audience.

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Simmer down

As doutbless everyone knows, General Stanley A. McChrystal, COMISAF, is in hot water over a Rolling Stone article in which he and his staff are breathlessly reported to have mocked Constitutional officer-holders, leading many commentators of greater and lesser stature to speculate that he had denigrated the majesty of the Presidential office, violated the UCMJ, kicked puppies and stolen candy from babies.

I have no particular love nor hatred for the general, but I do hate to see military figures lynched on specious grounds.

You can read the article for yourself; I’ll excerpt the most damning things directly attributed to General McChrystal here.  First, he is unhappy about being recommended into a job for which the policymaking principals do not appear to support his methods:

Last fall, with his top general calling for more troops, Obama launched a three-month review to re-evaluate the strategy in Afghanistan. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal tells me in one of several lengthy interviews. “I was selling an unsellable position.” For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks.

— Hastings, Michael.  “The Runaway General.” Rolling Stone, 22 June 2010.

Not exactly damning stuff.  The worst thing McChrystal does in the entire article is imagine waving off a question from the vice president at a Paris dinner party, regarding a prior disagreement with the VP about strategy.

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

So all of the hand-waving we see in the press and electronic media is really predicated on those two instances.  Yes, there are plenty of worse things said in that article, but none of them can be attributed directly to General McChrystal.  They are instead attributed to his staff.  Broadly speaking a commander is responsible for the conduct of his subordinates, yes, but if a lesser rank commits treason or murder, the commander is not automatically guilty of same.  His offence is most likely a failure of command—whether that is failure to provide sufficient discipline and leadership, or a failure to recognise a dangerously corrosive situation and take steps to remedy it.

Now, allowing one’s staff to mock the great officers of state and speak impertinently about State Department officials in the AOR is not fine and dandy, either.  At the very least General McChrystal should have rebuked or reprimanded them, and reminded said officers that they were in the presence of the press.  Some things you can say over drinks in the officers’ club, but those are not—generally—things you want to appear on the front page of the New York Times.  The sin lies not in saying them, but in saying them indiscreetly and to the wrong audience.

If the general is guilty of a crime, it is dereliction of duty by permitting his staff to verbally run roughshod over the civilian administration.  That is miles away from the hysterical media coverage that has been provided thus far.  This is not Truman versus MacArthur, where a general specifically went and made public statements at odds with the policy prescriptions of the President.  MacArthur was insubordinate (announcing a strategy that was in fact opposed by the White House) and in his arrogance, challenged a key principle of civil governance; McChrystal was negligent; nowhere in that article does he utter a policy at odds with that of his masters in Washington.

They are both firing offences, but there is a world of difference between them.  Enough of the hyperventilating comparisons.

RELATED: A poll at milblog Neptunus Lex, with unsurprising results.

ALSO RELATED: Jay Currie, Ben and Skippy Stalin want to see McChrystal get the boot.

BUT THAT’S DIFFERENT: Of course nobody remembers General Eric Shinseki’s public falling out with SecDef Rumsfeld during the 2003 run-up to the Iraq War.  Funny how Shinseki wasn’t compelled to make obeisance to his political masters then.

Category: Foreign Affairs  Tags: ,  3 Comments

Peter Principle

Minister of State (Status of Women) Helena Guergis arrives to appear as a witness at a at commons status of women committee meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday March 15, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

So, the Hon. Helena Guergis, PC, MP is rude and has clownish would-be puppeteers on her staff.

Dump her, please.

You could always dual-hat someone else with a small portfolio.  Oda, Ablonczy or Yelich, for example.

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