Friday, February 08, 2008

The Decline of Western Civilisation

This comment by Matt Helm at Captain's Quarters is one of the most profound things I have read in a long time:

In many ways, Williams is representative of the primary problem facing the West: A lack of pride in our culture because of perceived feelings of guilt over the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. This masochistic, and I would argue nihilistic sense of guilt has been promulgated by proponents of multiculturalism since the 1960s and has settled upon Western culture like a burial shroud. The sad truth is many Western intellectuals and thinkers do want to see the destruction of our culture and society. They do want to be punished for the 'sins' of Western imperialism. They do want to die at the hands of "the oppressed." The problem is, they want to take the rest of us with them! If the West is going to survive as a cultural and civilizational entity; if we want to pass on our values of freedom and liberty; if we want our children and their children to enjoy a Bach cantata, to read Voltaire, to play Mass Effect; if we want to keep who and what we are, then we are going to have to get over this guilt and accept ourselves for who and what we are. We have to accept that Western culture did do some horrible things--just like all the other cultures throughout history. So, what do we do? We learn from our mistakes and move forward--not wallow in our guilt. Contrary to what the multiculturalists would have us believe, the West is not evil--in fact, I'd contend that, warts and all, Western civilization has contributed the most benefits to the human condition than all the other cultures put together.

Friday, July 06, 2007

USS Kitty Hawk

The U.S.S. Kitty Hawk is in town and parked at Garden Island, inside Sydney Harbour (which is our main naval yard). I went there to take some photos. I don't have time to clean them up just now, but here's a quick one.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lesser Known GWoT Allies #1


Romania's name comes from its historical position as part of the far eastern extent of the Roman empire and it is a traditionally Christian nation. Here is a small map for the curious. Romania recently joined NATO and the EU. Their troops in Iraq (860) and Afghanistan (550) are garnering a little more attention lately, but one still rarely hears of them. On a per capita basis they have a significant commitment. Shamefully for me, it is greater than that of Australia, which has a similar population to Romania.

It seems that the current high level of NATO/US Military friendliness with Romania is likely the result of their co-operation during the Balkans campaigns, fighting which was took place close to their home. Interestingly, some of the Romanian soldiers are conscripts, but they are planning to phase out conscription for an all-volunteer military some time in 2007.

Their military seems fairly modern, despite the image created by the Soviet hand-me-down equipment they are frequently seen operating, and they work fairly closely with the other nations involved in the GWoT. In Iraq, 149 Romanian Engineers and 56 Military Intelligence types operate in Ad Diwaniyah under Polish command. Working with the British in An Nasiriyah is an Infantry Batallion approx. 500 strong, along with 100 Military Police (including with the scary-looking fellow on the right). There is also a medical contingent at Abu Ghraib and a few staff officers here and there. In Aghanistan the main Romanian force is an approx. 400 strong Infantry Batallion stationed in Kandahar as well as some officers training Afghan forces.

Sadly several Romanian soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The colourful names of units which had been deployed to the sandbox under the Romanian flag include "Black Scorpions", "White Sharks", "Bold Eagles" and "Carpathian Hawks".

The Romanians remain staunch allies with no plans to pull out until they finish the job. You can find information about Romania here (looks like a great holiday destination!), more pictures of their military here and their official military home page here.


Italy has a significant contingent of troops in Iraq – 2850 strong – assisting with security operations since the end of the invasion phase in 2003. They plan to have them back home by December 2006. Sadly, Italian forces have suffered significant losses, around 32 dead. One week which saw the death of eighteen of their Special Police (including fourteen in one bombing) likely contributed to their decision to remove their troops. I think the Italians deserve more international recognition for their sacrifice than they seem to receive.

The Italian forces also brought along some air transport assets, seen at right flying over relics of Ancient Babylon (which happens to be the name of their operation). They are also bringing in attack helicopters and IFVs at the moment. Most Italian troops are deployed at Nassiryah as mentioned above in relation to the Romanians who are operating with them. They in fact took over control of the area from US forces in July 2003. Italy also contributes maritime patrol, mine clearing and a hospital ship to the overall operation. Along with the Italian troops are a number of civilian engineers working on projects such as railroad reconstruction and desalinisation plants.

Here is a nice article written by an American National Guard soldier returned from Iraq detailing his positive interactions with the Italians. On the other hand, no mention of the Italian participation in Iraq can be complete without the mention of a slightly less positive interaction (perhaps "schlemozzle" would be a better word) involving the journalist Giuliana Sgrena. To their credit, despite the hysterics at the time, there was no Spain-like folding of will amongst the Italian politicians. I thank them for their significant commitment. After watching enough Hogan's Heros episodes it's easy to form an impression of the Italian military as a bunch of bumbling fools but this expidition has put paid to that stereotype. There is an Italian Defence Forces web site for more information but I can't find an English version unfortunately.


I mentioned Japan recently in relation to the Australian soldiers who have been helping guard them as they perform their reconstruction work. Unsurprisingly, in addition to contributing engineers they have also sent medical personnel (pictured on the right). Projects their engineers have worked on (and in many cases, completed) include a medical center, water purification plants and schools.

It's wonderful to see their commitment so echo my own sentiments:
 On the basis of our experience, we believe that reconstruction of a peaceful Iraq is necessary not only for the peace and stability of the entire Middle East region and the international community but also for the peace and prosperity of Japan itself. In cooperation with other countries, therefore, we plan to provide active assistance to Iraq with Japan Self-Defense Forces troops and civilians as well as with financial aid so Iraq can rebuild itself as soon as possible and its people can live in a free and prosperous society without concerns about their present or their future.

(More information about their commitment to Iraq can be found here.)

Many people are very cynical about the reasons for liberating Iraq (and in fact many would object to my use of the word "liberating") but I feel, regardless of what the reasons for the decision may or may not have been, the opportunity itself is unique and we owe it to the Iraqis and the world in general to make the most of it. Oops, this is Murdoc's blog and it's HIS opinion that you are entitled to, so I should avoid any further political discussion at this point. However I hope that he would agree with my sentiments. And of course I won't mention that if Iraq does turn out to be a bastion of freedom, security and stability in the otherwise trouble Middle East that would bode well for the security of western countries like the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia. Oops.

Happily, our Japanese friends won't be leaving any time soon.

To be continued...
(I will attempt to write up every nation which has at least 250 total troops, engineers and/or medical personnel in Iraq. Therefore, stay tuned for parts 2 and 3).

Foot note: I was saddened by how difficult it was to find the information for this post. Every time I searched for keywords like "romanian" "soldiers" "iraq" or "italian" "soldiers" "iraq", most of the results I came up with had three types of titles: "Italy vows to pull troops out of Iraq", "Romania says it won't pull troops out of Iraq" or "Italian and Romanian soldiers killed in bombing attack". I don't know whether to roll my eyes or shake my head.

—cross-posted at Murdoc Online.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Third Army in Iraq: Photos

Earth-Shattering Ka-boom!

COB SPEICHER, Iraq (June 16, 2006) - Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment fire the M198 howitzer during an exercise at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. Photo by Staff Sgt. Alfred Johnson.

Smiles All Around

SINJAR, Iraq (June 16, 2006) - Pfc. Chris Lunsford, from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, makes a friend while on patrol in Sinjar, Iraq. Photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Bailey.

Three Colours: Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq (June 15, 2006) - While covering their movements with smoke, a Soldier attached to the I Marine Expeditionary Force signals a Marine to cross a street during a firefight with insurgents in Ramadi, Iraq. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Samuel C. Peterson.

Black-Hawk Up

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SUMMERALL, Iraq (June 9, 2006) - An Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter descends to extract U.S. Army soldiers from an area west of Forward Operating Base Summerall, Iraq, during operations on June 9, 2006. The soldiers are attached to the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Photo by Spc. Charles W. Gill, U.S. Army.

Nary a Tomcat

PERSIAN GULF (May 20, 2006) - The Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Rainier, center, provides fuel for the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, bottom, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell in the Persian Gulf May 20, 2006. All three ships are assigned to the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which is conducting maritime security operations in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Steel Beasts

MUSHAHADA, Iraq (May 18, 2006) - Iraqi soldiers from 9th Mechanized Division pass through a highway checkpoint while en route to Camp Taji, Iraq Thursday May 18, 2006.

All these great photos, and more, over at the US Third Army Coalition Forces Land Component Command web-site.

Note: Click on a photo to see it full at size.

—cross-posted at Murdoc Online.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Multiunilaterial Force?

While looking for some information about what our friends the Poles are up to I came across this somewhat recent AP article which details what the troops from each of the 25 unilateral allies are up to in Iraq.

While many of us are aware that Albanian, Armenian, Australian, Azerbaijanian, Bosnia-Herzegovinian, British, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, El Salvadorian, Estonian, Georgian, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Moldovian, Mongolian, Polish, Romainan, Slovakian and South Korean soldiers and engineers are on the ground, for me at least, it's a little hazy remembering where they are and what they're getting up to these days.

If you too are wondering what your favorite sneaky foreign soldiers are doing sticking their noses into “America's War”, follow the link and read on. Although some of the contingents are quite small—I suppose they are symbolic in a way—every one contributes something towards the stability so sorely needed.

—cross-posted at Murdoc Online.

Australian Troops in Iraq Mystery Assignment

Hello, this is my first post on Murdoc Online and it's not only an hono(u)r to be here, but somehow I am sharing it with Instapinch, a guy eminently more qualified than me to discuss military issues! More to come soon, however I would like to kick this off with a little story plugging my country-men and reminding the Americans that read this blog (yes, Canadians included) that you have some buddies all the way across the ocean to the West.

Your allies down under, currently in Iraq, may soon find themselves a little more in the thick of things.

AUSTRALIAN troops in southern Iraq were set to embark on a potentially far more dangerous mission assisting Iraqi troops and police to provide security.

Southern Iraq has been handled mostly by British troops so far and has its share of problems. Perhaps our soldiers will bring a slightly different style and help to calm some of the violence involving death squads and other assorted nastiness. Sadly, the Australian contingent in Iraq is rather small but hopefully is both a strong symbol of our support, and an effective force despite its size.

So far our soldiers have been spending most of their time guarding Japanese engineers—a worthy task considering just how important reconstruction is in a counter-insurgency war. The Japanese constitution prevents them from sending combat troops overseas after their sailing expedition through the Pacific in the late '30s and early '40s, but I'm glad they could see fit to help out in this way. Japan is an important ally and trading partner both for the USA and Australia so their involvement generates political goodwill as well as concrete results (pun not intended).

Update: While searching for more information on the Japanese contingent, I came across this article with a couple of small, but nice photos. You gotta love the little girl holding that sign...

—cross-posted at Murdoc Online

Friday, May 05, 2006

High Quality Movies - Back of the Napkin calculations

Discussion of Blu-ray and HD-DVD got me thinking, and I made the following back-of-the-napkin calculations:

A DVD9 disc holds roughly 9 billion bytes, 9×1000×1000×1000.

If you dedicate an entire DVD9 disc to a movie (i.e. put all special features, fancy menus, etc. on another disc), and assuming your movie is 135 minutes (which is a pretty safe assumption - there are longer movies but they're rare), that means you can have an average bitrate of 9×1000×1000×1000×8÷60÷135 = 8888888 bits per second or nearly nine megabits.

Now, let's say you have a 384kbit Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1/6.1/7.1 soundtrack, and a 192kbit stereo foreign language soundtrack (say French, or Spanish) and a 192kbit stereo Director's Commentary soundtrack. That leaves you with 8888888-384000-192000-192000 = 8120888 or just over 8 megabits for video.

Now, regular "NTSC" DVDs contain 480p content (720x480). A higher quality HDTV standard is 720p (1280x720). 1280×720÷720÷480 = 2.66. Or in other words, 720p content is 22/3 times the size of 480p content, or 166% bigger.

That means that the 8.12 megabits of video, if it were 720p content, would have an equivalent bitrate for 480p of 8.12÷2.66 = 3.05 megabits.

Now, 3.05 megabits average is too low for high quality DVD-resolution MPEG2 video. However, it's not totally unreasonable for high quality MPEG4 or VP7 or similar advanced CODEC video at that resolution. The 8.12 megabit 720p video would be as high quality, or higher, than a 3mbit MPEG4/VP7 encoded DVD. I encode most of my DVDs to around 2mbit for acceptable quality. I think 3mbit would be virtually indistinguishable from the source material with these codecs.

Please note that when I discuss equivalent quality, I'm not talking about the overall quality of the video itself - I'm talking about the distortions pixel level. Because 720p is a much higher resolution, you would get a much higher quality even if you lose a little more information at the pixel level. What the equivalent quality tells you, is whether you get the full improvement of the higher resolution of HDTV or only part of it. If 3mbit VP7 is equivalent in quality to 8mbit MPEG2 for 720x480, then using VP7 on 720p at this bitrate will mean you get the full benefit of HDTV. If it's slightly inferior, you still get a benefit, but not as much as you would from going to a higher capacity medium which allows you to have a higher bitrate, such as HD-DVD.

My point? Using existing DVD physical storage and modern CODECs, it should be possible to store and play back high quality HDTV content. All that would be required on the player is a more powerful/advanced decoding chip for the newer CODECs. (At the same time, it might make sense to install newer audio codecs too, to squeeze some extra bits in. For example Ogg Vorbis audio for stereo soundtracks is very reasonable at or below 160kbit).

I think this solution would make an excellent intermediate product between regular DVD video and Blu-ray/HD-DVD. The discs would cost no more than regular DVD discs, the players would not cost much more - they could use exactly the same components except for the decoding chip(s) and the DAC which drives the video outputs. Until Blu-ray and HD-DVD are ready, ubiquitous and cheap, why not?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Thief, commenting over at Dean's World, said:

Every time a genocide happens, the world cries, puts on sackcloth and ashes, and wails "Never again! Never Again! Never Again!" And it ALWAYS happens again. Why? Because the people crying "never again" are the same people who refuse to accept that the only way to stop a genocide is to march up to the people committing the genocide, stick the barrel of a gun in their face, and say "Enough!"

Don't believe me? Ask a Kosovar. Or a Bosnian. Or a Cambodian. Or a Kurd. Or a Rwandan. Or a Jew. Or an Armenian. They will tell you that if human beings are so far gone that they are slaughtering whole peoples, the only way to bring the enterprise to a halt, short of allowing it to be taken to its end, is to threaten the genocidaires with the only language their crazed minds can understand: Force. If the world but had the will to meet every bullet of genocide with ten of justice, if the genocidaires had to live in the same fear of imminent death that their victims endure every say there would never be another genocide again.

When scorn and mockery is replaced by will and resolve, there will not only be an end to genocide in Darfur, but an end to ALL genocides. But as long as we try to end genocide with meaningless words and vapid consciousness-raising, Darfur will continue. And history will hold our words, our cries, and our apologies cheap. We see, and our sin remains.