Quotulatiousness

February 24, 2015

A Victorian-era effort equivalent to a moon landing in the 20th century

Filed under: Americas,Britain,Cancon,History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At sp!ked, Alexander Adams tries to put the Franklin Expedition into a context we can understand:

In May 1845, two Royal Navy ships, HMS Terror and Erebus, embarked from London on a voyage with ambitious aims. The mission would forge a passage through the partially mapped channels of northern Canada and pioneer the Northwest Passage. This route from Greenland to Alaska via the icy channels on the Arctic Circle would open new trading routes and allow vessels to forgo the dangerous and lengthy passage around Cape Horn. The attempt would use new technology pioneered in Britain — coal-fired engines powering propeller screws for locomotion, and tinned food.

The Admiralty decided on a large party in two ships under the command of Arctic veteran Sir John Franklin. Hostile conditions, the use of new technology, and — critically — operating beyond immediate assistance of the few trading forts and whaling stations to the south, meant the expedition was the equivalent of a Victorian-era moon landing. If men, supplies, technology, knowhow or leadership failed, then deaths could be expected. However, experience suggested that if the attempt met insurmountable obstacles there was a fair chance of retreating with only minor casualties, if leadership was decisive enough.

For the purposes of communication, the expedition was supplied with watertight brass tubes to hold written messages, to be left behind in coastal cairns. Provisions for three years were supplied, as it was expected that two overwinterings, locked in sea ice, would have to be borne. Without coal and food depoted ahead, and without a supply ship following the next season, the Admiralty’s plan left Franklin perilously reliant on his own resources.

[…]

It became plain, as search parties brought back the few clues, that 129 officers and men had died in the greatest single disaster in Arctic exploration. A rough outline became clear. All had started well but the ships had been woefully underpowered by their engines and relied on their sails. Much of the tinned food — produced by a contractor who was the lowest bidder — turned out to be rotten. A later expedition, using identical tins, discovered that much of their provisions were inedible. Some tins of meat included bone, which reduced the edible content to half of what it should have been. Loose beads of solder may have caused lead poisoning and inadequate preparation of tinned food may have given rise to cases of botulism. Franklin’s ships became beset during their second and third summers, rendering them prey to tidal movements in ice and leaving men dangerously short of supplies. Their margin for survival had been cut to a bare minimum, as evidence of a terse note (the only one ever found) demonstrates. The message said that Franklin had died and survivors were abandoning the ships to head south with rowing boats. It was an impossibly long journey for starving men. (One of those boats — with skeletons — was discovered.)

February 17, 2015

Ontario’s political future seems unusually feminine

Filed under: Cancon,Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

After the last serious challenger dropped out of the race to be leader of the Progressive Conservatives, Christine Elliot (my local MPP) now appears to be the default choice to fill the leadership role. Richard Anderson has a characteristic take on the near future of Ontario politics:

So that leaves Christine Elliott and a bunch of other people. I could, of course, look up the names of the other people but that would be a waste of valuable electrons. No doubt they are all honourable and public spirit individuals whose contributions to the political process Ontarians eagerly acknowledge. I guess. One would assume given the circumstances.

Christine Elliott is now unofficially the leader of the official opposition. In 2019 she will have the honour of being defeated by Kathleen Wynne in another improbable landslide. To some this sounds like a daunting and terrifying prospect. Don’t worry. When 2019 comes around you won’t be worried about another Win for Wynne. No sir. You’ll be too busy fighting for food at the burnt-out Loblaws to give a damn about politics. Change that you can believe in.

[…]

Growing up in that dark epoch known as the 1980s I well recall feminists complaining about how the world was run by cranky old men stuck in the past. Ancient dinosaurs who monopolized power and prevented those with youth and innovative ideas from coming to the fore of public life. So much has changed since that time. The male gerontocracy of the Reagan Era has been swept away by the female gerontocracy of the Wynne-Elliott Era. You’ve come a long way baby.

Now that feminism has utterly triumphed, with all three of the major parties run by women, we can appreciate how right the early feminists were about, well, everything. Now that women rule Ontario the economy is humming along splendidly, the finances are managed like a prudent housewife of old and peace and love has spread through out the land. Ordinary voters look to the Ontario matriarchy with a degree of trust and understanding that no male politician has ever commanded.

Let us give a moment of thanks.

February 16, 2015

Ontario Southland Railway plow chase

Filed under: Cancon,Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 12 Feb 2015

On February 3, Ontario Southland operated their first plow of the season from Salford south to Tillsonburg, then west to St. Thomas. This was also the first time a pair of F units have been used in plow duty on the railroad.

H/T to Laura Spring for the link.

Operation CRABSTICK

Filed under: Cancon,History,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Think Defence looks back at an anti-invasion project to deny airfields to German forces along the southeast coast of England after the Dunkirk evacuation and onset of the Battle of Britain:

A method was also sought to deny the runway to enemy gliders and transport aircraft and so the Canadian Pipe Mine was devised by the 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company. 50-70mm steel pipes were inserted into the ground using hydraulic pipe pushing equipment and laid in a criss cross pattern about 6ft under the surface. They were subsequently filled with explosives, usually a blasting gelignite called ‘Polar Blasting Gelignite’ which was very powerful.

They were also called McNaughton Tubes after the GOC of 1 Canadian Division who according to his biographer got the idea for using hydraulic rams from bootleggers who used the method for creating an offsite distribution point for their whiskey!

Only 9 airfields were identified for mining initially but this rose to include other locations, by the end of 1942, after the threat of invasion had receded, 30 locations were mined, not all of them airfields. It is estimated that over 40,000ft of pipe mines were installed.

During the war some of the pipe mines were made safe and removed because of the deterioration of the explosive filler but most were left in situ. After the war Canadian engineers were tasked with removal but it seems from reading different sources that records were incomplete and some doubt exists whether the clearance activity was completed. Additional clearance efforts were made, one that resulted in the death of a Ukrainian worker at one of the locations.

WW2 Canadian pipe mine

February 15, 2015

A new rifle for the Canadian Armed Forces?

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Popular Science has a brief overview of a proposed new small arm for the Canadian Armed Forces:

Maybe Canada’s Armed Forces are fighting a Wendigo infestation no one knows about. Perhaps they’re engaged in a secret war against Bigfoot and his moose army for control of the Northwest Passage. There’s also the reality that Canada is a NATO partner and fights regular wars overseas; Canadian troops fought alongside American ones in Afghanistan from 2001 until March 2014. Well, to make Canada ready to take on their next foe, Colt Canada just released a video demonstration of a new prototype gun for the Canadian military. And it looks ridiculous.

The gun is a “bullpup,” meaning the magazine is fed into the gun behind the trigger rather than in front. The main effect of the bullpup design is that rifles can be shorter without losing any effectiveness. The gun can install either a three-round grenade launcher or a shotgun. Shotguns are useful in close quarters, while grenade launchers give more range than just hand-tossing a small explosive. The main gun fires 5.56 ammo, a standard NATO round. Future plans for the gun include smart targeting systems, like those found in TrackingPoint rifles.

They also include a rather bland video of the proposed new weapon firing 5.56mm rifle rounds, 12-gauge shotgun shells, and 40mm grenades:

February 12, 2015

“… the Canadians have a reputation for being very effective in combat”

Filed under: Cancon,Middle East,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Strategy Page explains why Canadian military instructors in Kurdistan sometimes need to use their weapons even if they may not technically be “in combat”:

Canada has sent 625 troops (11 percent of them commandos) to train Iraqis (mainly Kurds) to more effectively fight ISIL. Canadian legislators (not to mention the media and many Canadians) insisted that these troops not be directly involved in combat. Then it became known that Canadian troops had, in the last three months, called in at least 13 air strikes on ISIL and in several instances Canadian commandos used sniper rifles to “neutralize” ISIL mortars and machine-guns. The military responded that this was not exactly involving Canadian troops in combat. Calling in air strikes is something you want to entrust to people with experience especially since Canada also has six F-18 fighter bombers operating over Iraq. Training Kurds to call in air strikes involves showing them how it is done. This is best done at the front line, and demonstrations by the more experienced Canadians is a very useful training technique.

The commandos firing on ISIL fighters was because some commandos were assigned as security for senior Kurdish commanders and Canadian advisors visiting the front lines. When the Canadians and Kurds came under fire the commandos quickly located and “neutralized” (killed or caused to flee) the ISIL men involved. Most of the critics accepted these explanations, which basically said that if you are going to train and advise combat commanders you have to spend some time near where the fighting it taking place. This is not only more realistic, but gives your trainers more credibility of your students can see their instructors in action.

World War II Relics: Juno Beach

Filed under: Cancon,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Feb 2015

National Geographic television series The Sea Hunters Relics exploring the history of World War II Juno Beach.

February 10, 2015

Smug Torontonians preen themselves over another meaningless survey

Filed under: Cancon,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Richard Anderson supplies the appropriate level of disdain:

It’s always nice when a big important magazine notices Canada. It’s also a big important British magazine. Even nowadays it’s extra special when mother says we’ve done so very well for ourselves. Did we mention the solarium we’re having installed? The Americans don’t have a solarium. Just thought we’d mention that. We got a great deal with the contractor. Excellent references.

Torontonians are known through out our fair dominion for two things: Having a gigantic tower that is no longer the most gigantic in the world and being incredibly smug. The original logo for Toronto actually featured a very smug looking beaver carefully ignoring the rest of Canada. If you paid close attention it was obvious the beaver was looking at New York but in a very nonchalant sort of way.

I hate it when The Economist or the OECD or UN or the OAS or whoever the hell puts out these surveys. Like most rankings the whole thing is a bit of numerical legerdemain. A recurring example of how the easiest way to bullshit your way through life is to use numbers. In what real common sense way is Toronto better than Sydney? Did you talk to someone who has lived in both cities?

Didn’t bloody think so. That would be journalism.

As a native Torontonian I would like to ask the editors of The Economist, those non-byline using smug bastards, why they think Toronto is so wonderful? Yes I know you visited here one summer for a conference. You strolled down Bloor Street and bought something at the Roots Store or Holts. It was so terribly clean and the homeless people were so very polite. Have you lived here? Would you ever in your right mind move from Chelsea to the Annex? Exactly. You’d prefer to be cramped and gouged in London than less cramped and less gouged in Toronto. Why? Because it’s friggin’ London! The potholes are older and more historic than the whole of Toronto.

February 9, 2015

The fantasy that CSE/CSIS oversight will actually protect the privacy of Canadians

Filed under: Cancon,Law,Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Michael Geist on the rather disturbing news that Canadian intelligence agencies are busy watching the uploads of every internet user (including the Canadian users that CSE/CSIS are theoretically banned from tracking by the letter of the law):

… the problem with oversight and accountability as the primary focus is that it leaves the substantive law (in the case of CSE Internet surveillance) or proposed law (as in the case of C-51) largely unaddressed. If we fail to examine the shortcomings within the current law or within Bill C-51, no amount of accountability, oversight, or review will restore the loss of privacy and civil liberties.

First, consider the Snowden revelations that the CSE has been the lead on a surveillance initiative that gathers as many as 15 million uploads and downloads per day from a wide range of hosting sites that even appear to include the Internet Archive. The goal is reputed to be to target terrorist propaganda and training materials and identify who is uploading or downloading the materials. The leaked information shows how once a downloader is identified, intelligence agencies use other databases (including databases on billions of website cookies) to track the specific individual and their Internet use within hours of identified download.

The Levitation program, which removes any doubt about Canada’s role in global Internet surveillance, highlights how seemingly all Internet activity is now tracked by signals intelligence agencies. Note that the sites that host the downloads do not hand over their usage logs. Rather, intelligence agencies are able to track who visits the sites and what they do from the outside. That confirms a massive surveillance architecture of Internet traffic operating on a global scale. Is improved oversight in Canada alone going to change this dynamic that crosses borders and surveillance agencies? It is hard to see how it would.

Moreover, these programs point to the fundamental flaw in Canadian law, where Canadians are re-assured that CSE does not – legally cannot – target Canadians. However, mass surveillance of this nature does not distinguish between nationalities. Mass surveillance of a hundred million downloads every week by definition targets Canadians alongside Internet users from every corner of the globe. To argue that Canadians are not specifically targeted when it is obvious that the personal information of Canadians is indistinguishable from everyone else’s data at the time of collection, is to engage in meaningless distinctions that only succeed in demonstrating the weakness of Canadian law. Better oversight of CSE is needed, but so too is a better law governing CSE activities.

February 8, 2015

An ordinary February day on the railway in New Brunswick

Filed under: Cancon,Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

EPIC CATCH!!! Dashing Thru the Snow – CN Train 406 West at Salisbury, NB (Feb 3, 2015)

I’m not even sure how many locomotives this train had …

Railfanning Post Blizzard of 2015 Storm #3.

Canadian National Railway locomotive 2304 (ES44DC) plows through huge snow drifts and gives me a big ass snow shower as it leads the daily CN manifest train 406 West (Moncton, NB to Saint John, NB) at Salisbury, New Brunswick.

I’m not sure how the train crew can even see with all that snow on the locomotive’s nose!

Southern New Brunswick was hit with three major blizzards in less than a week, and there is more snow in the forecast.

Filmed at 3:05pm, Tuesday February 3, 2015 at mile 11 of the CN Sussex Subdivision.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

February 6, 2015

Baird makes for the exit

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Paul Wells on the somewhat precipitate departure of Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird:

This is the third time Stephen Harper has found himself suddenly short a foreign minister and the first time it has mattered. On May 26, 2008, Maxime Bernier resigned the portfolio after he left confidential documents at a girlfriend’s house, and the capital was briefly awash in bad puns about “leaky briefs.” In the federal election of May 2, 2011, Lawrence Cannon lost his seat to a rookie New Democrat. Now John Baird.

But Bernier was — is — a libertarian who was convinced that if governments talk to one another they will find new things to do when they shouldn’t be doing much of anything, so he was never entirely sure Canada should have a foreign minister and a little put out that it apparently had to be him. And Cannon took no joy in a job that pushed his limited interpersonal skills beyond their natural breaking point. […]

Baird, on the other hand, has been an absolute breath of fresh air. Of course he’s been a conservative (as opposed to merely a Conservative) foreign minister, so DFAIT lifers Paul Heinbecker and Jeremy Kinsman would reliably get the vapours at the mention of his name. He sold embassies and official residences. He informed DFAT-D (as the newly renamed ministry came to be called) envoys that they would have no more space in their cubicles in Ankara or Canberra than their counterparts in Ottawa were permitted. He stuck close to talking points, which could make him maddeningly terse: following him around central Europe last April, I passed a dejected reporter for the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita leaving the Canadian embassy in Warsaw. “They gave me 20 minutes for an interview,” my Polish colleague said. “When I ran out of questions, we still had eight minutes left.”

But Baird travelled constantly, met everyone who’d talk to him, kept his eyes open, and radically expanded the breadth and complexity of the Harper government’s foreign policy. When the Conservatives were elected in 2006, they acted as if Canada’s relations with the world could be reduced to the anglosphere (friendly governments in the U.S. and Australia, the palatable Tony Blair in London) plus Israel. When those governments changed, usually for the worse from Harper’s perspective, Ottawa’s instinct was usually to turtle and blame the stupid world.

The Avro Arrow

Filed under: Cancon,History,Military,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Feb 2015

The Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow was a delta-winged interceptor aircraft, with nuclear rockets and missiles, designed and built by Avro Canada as the culmination of a design study that began in 1953. The Arrow is considered to have been an advanced technical and aerodynamic achievement for the Canadian aviation industry. The CF-105 (Mark 2) held the promise of near-Mach 2 speeds at altitudes of 50,000 feet (15,000 m) and was intended to serve as the Royal Canadian Air Force’s primary interceptor in the 1960s and beyond. But when it was canceled it was a ruin for Canada’s pride. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Canada_CF-105_Arrow

February 4, 2015

Justin Trudeau – future prime minister or future punchline?

Filed under: Cancon,Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson takes a somewhat jaded look at Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada:

Like the fella said Stephen Harper ain’t much of a conservative but he’s what we got at the moment. In fairness the NDP isn’t doing much better. Since the Apotheosis of Jack the Canadian Left has been terrifically annoyed at Thomas Mulcair. Just as we on the Right complain about the Tories’ Leftward drift, so the Left complains about Angry Tom’s Rightward drift. Jean Charest’s former Minister of the Environment is easily the most conservative figure ever to lead the NDP. I suspect that there isn’t that much real ideological difference between Stephen and Tom. Had the political winds been blowing a bit differently in the 1980s both men might have wound up caucus colleagues in the federal Liberal Party. There but by the grace of Pierre Trudeau go them.

Speaking of entitled sons of privilege we move onto the Liberal Party as it is today. Having been boldly lead into the political basement in 2011 by Lord Iggy of Harvard, so much for the value of a good education, in desperation the Party looked for a Messiah. Luckily he’d spent the last decade kinda just bumming around waiting for the right moment. Or perhaps he was just bumming around. Always hard to tell with the Eldest Son of Pierre and Margaret. Whatever you think of him Justin, or his entourage, he matters. At least for now.

Silly though it sounds these are the ballot questions in 2015: Is the undeniably adorable but quite likely stupid Justin Trudeau fit to be Prime Minister? If not then do we elect the angry guy with the beard or the less angry guy without the beard?

Monetary policy? Deficits? Terrorism? Health Care? Pensions? Just boring stuff. No need to concern yourself with such trivia. Wait! Is there a bouncing baby on the way? Yes!

So what are we to make of Justin? The man, the myth and the pending disaster. The short version, occasionally I do short versions, Justin is essentially a stalking horse for the Canadian far Left, much like his own father was half a century ago. Pierre Le Grande was elected to save Canada from Quebec independence. He did that and en passant remade the country along the fashionable Leftist lines of the era.

Today Quebec independence is an economic, demographic and political dead letter. Canada faces no serious existential threats. This makes it hard for Leftists to find a political hook. Thus the need for Justin’s luscious locks to distract people’s attention. A straight forward statist pitch would fall flat. The old political tag team of the NDP and the Liberals no longer works. The Dippers demand some crazy socialist scheme, the Liberals sensibly propose a less crazy socialist scheme and Tories follow along after some perfunctory remarks about the needs of business and international competition. This is how the Left advanced it’s agenda for decades. It doesn’t work anymore because the Liberal Party doesn’t work anymore. The dirty secret of the modern Liberal Party is that there is no there there.

[…]

Stephen Harper has proven that a majority government can be formed without Quebec. The West is now big enough that it can do a deal with Ontario. Despite the paranoid ranting of downtown Toronto Leftists most Ontarians actually like the West. The Redneck slanders that emanate from Trinity-Upon-the-Spadina-St. Paul are directed at pretty much anyone west of Etobicoke. Since the rise of Rob Ford they also include Etobicoke. The Toronto Sprawlands have a lot in common with the sprawlands of Calgary-Edmonton. We don’t agree on everything but enough so that we can do business.

The Rise of the West makes the Liberal Party obsolete. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dead. Public schools have been obsolete for some time. They’re not going anywhere. Baring a political miracle neither are the Grits. If they can no longer be the Quebec Party that everyone else can tolerate, they’ll be the party of Hype and Hope. The political train wreck that was the Martin-Dion-Iggy Years was the product of the Liberal Party no longer making sense. To question the absurdity of the career of Justin Trudeau misses the greater absurdity that is the party he leads.

CP Rail offering engineer training to office staff

Filed under: Business,Cancon,Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Laura Spring linked to this interesting bit of news that CP Rail is “encouraging” non-unionized employees to take training on how to operate locomotives:

A Canadian railway company is training its managers and office workers to drive locomotives and load trains, a move one labour lawyer says could be an attempt to prepare for a possible work stoppage.

Documents show CP Rail has encouraged office employees to step away from their desks and cubicles and sign up for training both on the trains and in the rail yards.

The use of office workers driving trains could be a major safety concern, said Wayne Benedict, a former railroader who now works as a labour lawyer in Calgary.

“You’ve got them climbing onto a train that’s a mile and a half long, with a hundred and some cars, weighing 16,000 tonnes, with dangerous goods, going through our cities,” he said. “And they are not professional, running trades employees. They are running human resource professionals, or other managers and supervisors.”

CBC News has obtained an internal CP Rail document dated Feb. 19, 2014, encouraging non-union employees to sign up for training as a locomotive engineer or conductor. It calls the training “a requirement at Canadian Pacific. It is also the single best way for a management employee to learn what the business is truly about. It is a fundamental cornerstone to the development of our railway culture.”

The document also suggests, “no matter what your role is at CP, this experience will make you better at what you do.”

The program is targeted mainly towards mechanical and engineering workers, but open to any non-union employees.

January 27, 2015

QotD: Political parties and principles

Filed under: Cancon,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Normally, [the voters] are suckered. The political class — the class of politicians, senior bureaucrats, self-interested lobbyists, and all their paid flunkeys in media and elsewhere — are much cleverer than “the people,” on political questions. “The people,” for their part, may be individually cleverer than they, but not, as a rule, on political questions, which don’t much interest the great majority of them. The political class have, in addition to whatever native smarts, plenty of experience manipulating “the people,” and the contempt required to be ruthless about it. In a fully-fledged “democracy,” it takes little sophistry for the bad guys to win. But the term is relative, and should the good guys win, it will be another victory for the politicians.

A few days ago, I found myself trying to explain this to a well-intended, rightwing person. He complained that the Conservative Party had turned its back on “conservative principles.” This struck me as an unfair allegation, for the party had never once in the history of Canada, whether at the provincial or Dominion level, embraced “conservative principles,” nor shown the slightest curiosity over what they might be. The purpose of a political party has nought to do with such “principles.” (This goes for all parties including, within five years of their founding, those founded on “principles.”) Rather it is to tax as much as they dare, and distribute the takings among their friends, while “nation building” — i.e. adding to the machinery of State. A party unclear on this essential “principle” of democracy (the one that defeats every other principle) might get itself elected by some fluke, but will not long retain power.

David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.

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