Archive for June, 2006


Could anything be worse than this?

June 30, 2006

Via A Western Heart, this dreadful story of a victim of Uganda’s ongoing carnage.

Africa. Heart-breaking, heart broken. I’ve never lived there, though I hope to one day, but I’ve met many Australians who have, men and women who spoke stoically, understatedly — fearing the ‘racist’ tag — of their love of it, of how it got into your bones; of how it was that once you’d been in Africa, you never ever left it. (This they said quietly, with an echo of longing, amidst the sands and spinifex and the running giant lizards, and the great rock outcrops  of the central Australian desert. Another place never to leave.)

To think Uganda once had shown such promise, before Idi Amin took the country down the short post-colonial road from socialism to hell in 1971, where it remained until he was overthrown in 1979. Nor has it recovered by much since then. (Amin died unmourned in 2003, exiled in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.)

An interview with Joseph Kony, leader of Uganda’s murderous Lord’s Resistance Army, and rival to Amin in the atrocity stakes, given on June 28th, is here.


Movies from space

June 30, 2006

A recent, awesome image of two of Saturn’s moons, Titan and Enceladus, taken from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft.

Cassini has been loitering in the neighbourhood of Saturn since July 1st, 2004.

NASA has constructed some stunning film clips from photographs taken by the spacecraft.

More here.


Summer rain in Gaza

June 29, 2006

Israel has invaded the territory it formerly occupied in an attempt to rescue a young soldier kidnapped during last Sunday’s attack on a border post, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed. The operation is codenamed ‘Summer Rain’, of all things.

For those, like me, who needed to catch up, Vital Perpective has been live blogging here (scroll down).

I suppose this was inevitable, given the best use to which the Palestinians could put their newly-gained territory was to employ it as a launch pad from which to fire daily barrages of Qassam rockets across the border at Israel. It doesn’t augur well for the purposes to which they will put the West Bank when they finally assume governance of that as well.

In other news, missing Israeli teenager Eliyahu Asheri, from the settlement of Itamar, was found dead today.

On the other side of it, from the Palestinian blog From Gaza, with Love, this hurried, wrenching account:

I am writing while the jet fighters are in the sky, with their horrible sound, bringing death and horror, it is 10.30pm, I am still like everyone waiting, i hope they will not go ahead with their operation into Gaza, the outcome could be horrible, the resistance movemet are going ahead with their preperation too, but the balance of power is obvious to wich side any way Israel with resistance or no resistance is attacking us all the time, but this time will be different, and in the process many civilian lives will be lost, i am listening to the local radio, it seems that the operation started in khanyunis, the artilary started shelling, under the cover of apachi heliocapters, and jet fighters, i am able to write now, do not know what will happen next,the power might cut off soon, few hours ago, Mohammed and Sondos had a narrow escape during their way home, a car exploded 150 meters from my home, close to the president home, one person died and 4 injured, i cannot help feeling of worry, i am after all a mother, i shall stay strong, tommorrow i am going to the red crescent society office, we are supposed to get some medications to be used at Alawda hospital for the emergency department, that was stopped at the closed borders, i am hoping to get it through with the help of WHO, i am not sure if we shall receive them in time, but i shall keep trying. the aeroplanes sound in the sky is geting louder.

So is the sound of scorpions scuttling, feeding off the rain.


Going about in guilt and shame

June 25, 2006

hawkinsA few days ago, a curious ceremony was enacted in the West African republic of Zambia. A young British man, swathed in chains, sought forgiveness before a crowd of 25,000 Africans for Britain’s involvement in the African slave trade.

Andrew Hawkins is the descendant of the Elizabethan swashbuckler, Sir John Hawkins, England’s first slave trader. For years now, he has been going about in guilt and shame, trying to make amends for the crimes of his distant ancestor, who seems to have been one of the original ‘roaring boys’.

So there he was, kneeling in symbolic penitence before Gambia’s Vice President, and expressing contrition for the sins of his forefathers. Graciously, she accepted his apology.

Good on him, I guess. As a personal gesture it may have much to commend it. But there seems to be something distasteful about this colonising of the past as a stage on which to enact contemporary rituals of cultural self-abasement. Read the rest of this entry ?


Bin Laden and the damage done

June 24, 2006

For almost five years now the United States and its allies have been fighting a war in Afghanistan, and for three years, another in Iraq. The second war, in Iraq, has the same foundation as the other — the events of September 11th, 2001, which saw the continental United States attacked for the first time in two centuries, and a death toll of over three thousand.

No-one could doubt back then then that the US would have to respond. No-one can fail to wonder why that response now has every appearance of having gone horribly wrong. Read the rest of this entry ?


Two American soldiers

June 22, 2006

Two American soldiers were killed in Iraq in the recent days. In circumstances that are still unclear, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker became separated from their unit, possibly because an attack by insurgents was staged to draw away the main force of their patrol, leaving the two, and their driver, vulnerable. They were attacked in force and overwhelmed. One was killed, the other two captured. They were dragged away. A recovery effort made up of 8,000 US soldiers scouring Baghdad’s ‘triangle of death’ failed to find or rescue the captured men.

Days later their dead bodies were found. As far as can be ascertained from the information released thus far, they had been horribly tortured, their thoats slit, their heads cut off, their features mutilated beyond recognition. The corpses were left surrounded with bombs, and the road to the site where they were thrown down was lined with IEDs, the better to kill those who came to recover them.

Two responses, which must speak for themselves:

Occams hatchet at Daily Kos:

So our boys were tortured – how “quaint “
by occams hatchet
Tue Jun 20, 2006 at 07:18:50 AM PDT

The bodies of the two captured U.S. soldiers were found in Iraq – bearing signs of “barbaric torture.”

How “quaint.”

I hope Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo will sleep well tonight, with visions of those boys’ bodies and the horrible barbarities inflicted upon them dancing in their heads. Perhaps Gonzales, and Yoo, and Rumsfeld and Bush will be able to envision the same inhumanities being visited upon their family members and loved ones as they drift off to peaceful slumber.

This cannot stand. We cannot allow this administration and its incomprehensible defense of and support for torture in violation of the “quaint” Geneva Conventions to remain.

The chickens have come home to roost. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

I weep for my country, and for the families and loved ones of those in Iraq and Afghanistan, those yet living and those already dead.


The post was later amended to include the following:

I do not wish ill to Messrs. Gonzales, Yoo, Bush or Rumfeld, nor to any members of their families. I was writing out of anger, and what I wrote in that paragraph was wrong. I apologize for having written it. I cannot pretend that I did not write it, but I do not wish to perpetuate what I wrote. I have changed the offending sentences.

And: The torture and murder of these soldiers was a barbaric and indefensible act of savagery, as is all torture and murder.

Wretchard at The Belmont Club:

My own testament, for the record, are that if I should ever be tortured, have my throat slit, beheaded, mutilated and then have booby traps planted round my corpse so that they might kill any relatives and friends — should any of this ever happen to me — that Amnesty International kindly refrain from extending it’s “sincerest condolences” and weasely condemnations and offering its insulting and gratuitous advice. I don’t want them. I would much rather lie forgotten in some open field than have one of Amnesty International’s sick letters on my casket. Not that they would write it.


Eyeless in Gaza

June 19, 2006

I doubt we will ever know what really happened that day on the beach in Gaza, other than that a family was killed and a little girl orphaned. Perhaps that’s all we need to know, anyway, or all we need to remember when the shouting finally stops.

Claim and counter-claim. It is the Middle East, after all.

A story popular in Lebanon tells of a scorpion on the bank of the Nile who asked a frog to ferry him to the other side.

“Oh no,” the frog said. “You would sting me.”

“That’s ridiculous,” the scorpion replied. “I won’t sting you, because I can’t swim, and I would drown as well as you.”

Convinced, the frog took the scorpion on his back and began to swim the river. In midstream, the frog felt a terrible pain as the scorpion suddenly plunged his stinger into the frog’s neck.

The stricken frog groaned and asked, “Why, why did you do that? Now we’re both going to die.”

As they both sank under the water the scorpion hissed, “You fool. You fool. You forgot that this is the Middle East.”

One of my favourite bloggers, Lisa Goldman of On the Face, came in for some flak when she attributed the deaths to an errant Israeli shell — as did the first media reports, as did Israel’s Defence Minister, who rang President Abbas to apologise. Logic and common sense seemed to suggest it was so, yet logic and common sense seem to lose their traction in the morass that is Israel/Palestine.

Another cry of pain from the world’s open wound that is the Middle East.

Matchless in might,
The glory late of Israel, now the grief!
We come, thy friends and neighbours not unknown.
From Eshtaol and Zora’s fruitful vale,
To visit or bewail thee; or, if better,
Counsel or consolation we may bring,
Salve to thy sores: apt words have power to swage
The tumours of a troubled mind,
And are as balm to festered wounds.

From John Milton’s Samson Agonistes.

Update: Further information suggests it was not IDF live fire that caused the deaths. Human Rights Watch has altered its position, and does not contest the IDF’s findings. The pity is that it will make so little difference. This tragic incident has already passed into myth. Once there, it’s impossible to dig it out again, and return it to history.

(Via Adloyada.)