Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Last week, I linked to a letter from a serviceman aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, which was reprinted on the Global Recon section of Command Post. I thought it was valuable not only for the details of their day-to-day activities to extend all available capabilities toward saving and preserving life, but also for the genuine compassion expressed by the writer. A little different slant on the relief efforts by the Lincoln and her crew, is offered in this article, written under a pen name by a career Navy officer on the Lincoln.

I have heard that many times already during this operation, that things have frequently ground to a halt because of some international politician, UN bigwig, or news celebrity who needed to be catered to. Now it seems that chauffeuring around disaster tourists -- that is, international relief workers who are too high up their various food chains to actually sleep in tents near to the people they are supposed to be helping -- is the new duty for the hard-pressed Sea Hawk helicopter crews. Add to that, the directive from the host country that training flights from the deck of the Lincoln may not take place in Indonesian waters (the pilots must have such flights frequently, or lose their proficiency -- and must re-qualify), and the choppers are burning more fuel and time running back and forth between the desperate emergency camps of Aceh, and international waters. But because there seems to be an ongoing, pressing need for more experts conducting assessments, many of these unnecessarily long chopper flights are carrying the life-saving cargo of international disaster assessment coordination experts back and forth between their guest bedrooms aboard the Lincoln and the field locations where they presumably spend their days assessing things.

I certainly don't intend to tar all the international volunteers with the same brush, but I just bet that the volunteers are sleeping in tents with or near to the disaster victims, and that these people who expect to be put up on a warship (about which I would guess, most of them would normally not have anything nice to say, nor indeed about the US military, period) are a small number who think nothing of eating up far more than their share of available resources. Some of whom seem to have a distinct lack of basic social graces, even while accepting the free food:
He said something along the lines of "Nice china, really makes me feel special," in reference to the fact that we were eating off of paper plates that day. It was all I could do to keep from jerking him off his feet and choking him, because I knew that the reason we were eating off paper plates was to save dishwashing water so that we would have more water to send ashore and save lives.
Whatever these "coordinators" are doing to warrant the special treatment, while thousands of others are able to stay ashore in the Land of the Rencong, they certainly cannot be so oblivious to limited available resources and the allocation thereof. Asked by a ship's officer who would be paying for all the meals they were eating, the leader of a relief group replied, "We aren't paying, you can try to bill the U.N. if you want to."

Damn stingy Americans. (and no, I don't mean that, it's sarcastic irony... or something)

This was spotted on Best of the Web Today:
Who Did You Call 'Stingy'?

"Tsunami-struck Thailand has been told by the European Commission that it must buy six A380 Airbus aircraft if it wants to escape the tariffs against its fishing industry," reports the Scotsman:
While millions of Europeans are sending aid to Thailand to help its recovery, trade authorities in Brussels are demanding that Thai Airlines, its national carrier, pays £1.3 billion [$2.43 billion] to buy its double-decker aircraft.
Jan Egeland could not be reached for comment.
Oh Ho! I bet not! Best of the Web Today, a fine addition to anyone's daily read, from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Pages.

Well, it's a better headline than another ACEH UPDATE, isn't it? Plus I thought I should explain the rencong reference above in the tourist post. The two commonly used figurative names for Aceh, are Serambi Mecca (Mecca's Veranda) and Tanah Rencong (Land of the Rencong). A rencong (ren-chong) is a small traditional Acehnese weapon, something of a ceremonial or symbolic object like the Javanese keris.

There are a lot of positive and negative indications, pertaining both to the Aceh conflict and the process of recovery on the part of many refugees. The number of refugee encampments is reported to be dropping -- probably due as much to the intolerable camp conditions as anything else. But to me it sounds like an indication that people are taking their lives back into their own hands, which can only be a positive thing. I think that no matter how often we have seen the clear evidence of deep trauma over this past month, and not just in Aceh of course, it is just not possible for us to fully appreciate just how heavily this trauma really weighs people down. The sheer prevalence of the feeling among survivors, "why did I live?" and even "what have I left to live for now?" when one has lost every single member of one's family, must make the camps very difficult to stay in. The numbness and shock has to dissipate before grieving could even begin, not to mention acceptance of the reality. The reality is that the Indonesian government now gives the number of their dead and missing as 228,422. There are thought to be over 600,000 homeless.

Imagine sitting in a crowded camp with nothing to do but wait... and think. People are starting to rebuild on their own, as they begin to get past their trauma and grief, and then their boredom. Some of the refugees have found alternate shelter with friends or extended family, while some have just decided to start rebuilding their homes and towns with whatever is at hand. This is a good sign, but of course it doesn't mean the crisis is over -- there are still many inaccessible areas which have yet to receive much in the way of help or supplies. The emergency aid efforts will be needed for some time yet, and they still need to reach into more locations along that "ground zero" stretch of coastline. Speaking of which, the Electric Lamb Mission has been outfitting and stocking the Batavia for a base of operations. She was due to depart Padang last Friday, so she ought to be up the coast by now and reaching some of those communities. Batavia joins two (or is it three?) other ships already working in the area under the organisation of this Padang-based effort.

Tomorrow will be the one month mark following the disaster. Last week, the first and only two United Nations helicopters began contributing to the international effort. Sorry to be a little repetitive, but the Australian, Singaporean, Malaysian and American militaries have been delivering aid from the first days, and the Indonesian Navy naturally also have their ships in the effort. Civil society is great, but isn't it also great that there are these other outfits which can respond when help is needed, not three weeks later? Heretical thoughts, I know -- especially since everybody is now under the leadership, direction and coordination of UN bigwigs. Supposedly.

There is a good roundup of the Aceh situation over here at Dogfight at Bankstown (cool blogname), with many links to all the good, bad and ugly stuff -- including this account of one group of Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), now finished with their grief, and ready to continue the fight. The other side of this is the report of recent days regarding a Finnish-sponsored peace meeting between the Indonesian government and the GAM leadership, which would be mediated by a former Finnish president in Helsinki. The news media seems to have missed something in reporting this, at least the ones I've seen. If true, it represents a real policy adjustment by the government -- which has gone to great pains since Megawati relaunched the war against GAM, to avoid any internationalisation of the dispute. Could it be so quickly forgotten that her government singlehandedly scuttled an ongoing peace process which was being shepherded along by the Swiss-based Henri Dunant Centre? There were several other high-profile figures helping in the reconcilliation process -- for example retired American General Anthony Zinni was quite involved. The process advanced so far as to have an ASEAN-based peace keeping mission accepted by the Indonesian government, under the leadership of an officer of the Thai army, which was by all accounts quite effective and well respected.

Then one day, a number of GAM's political negotiators set out for Banda Aceh's airport, to begin their journey to Tokyo and participation in a peace conference there. They were apprehended by police, arrested, put on trial, convicted of their charges, and remain in prison to this day. That was the end of the "Aceh peace process" and "internationalisation of the dispute". The Thais and other ASEAN peacekeepers went home, Henri Dunant Centre was asked to remove itself from Aceh and get on home, and within days TNI airforce jets were shown bombing "separatist hideouts" in Aceh. Since then, the involvement of any international body or representative has been a line that absolutely would not be crossed.

Until now, if this report is true. What a difference a tsunami makes. Maybe President SBY is also a difference here, and we might dare to hope for a new approach to the Aceh issue. I hope so.

I just noticed that I made a silly mistake in the Zhao Ziyang article I posted last Monday, when I called current president Hu Jintao the "former governor of Tibet". I must have been writing hurriedly, because everybody knows that the big cheese in any Chinese province is the Party Secretary. The "governor" is basically a nobody -- in fact they probably even allow Tibetans to hold that position now. It sounds good and means nothing. The Party is the sole legitimate people's leadership for evermore, and Party Secretary in any jurisdiction is the top dog. I've corrected the article, and made a note of the correction in an update to the article.

I also notice that that day's posting got screwed up somehow, and I'll try and repair that. It's all there but part of it got posted again (incompletely) for some reason. Oh, and one correction to my snide remark last week about Germany, Syria and Canada not allowing Iraqi expatriates to vote on their national territory. I've just watched a news report about the process for Iraqis voting in Syria, to they're off this list of shame. That leaves Germany and Canada. Lovely. Shown up by Syria.

Oh, one more: Winnipeg Times got taken over by a 6 year old apparently, so it's off the blogroll (no idea what happened to Raskolnikov...).

Besides being the one month mark after the tsunami disaster, tomorrow January 26 represents a couple of other important calendar marks. Tomorrow will be exactly two years since Lobsang Dhondup was denied his appeal in a Chengdu "court", led away and summarily shot to death. His co-accused, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche also had his death sentence upheld by Chinese "justice" on that day, which offered him the mercy of having this sentence held back as a reprieve for two years. This period expires tomorrow as well.

It was a fine time for our lovely and talented Prime Minister of Canada to visit the Peoples Republic of China and declare the wonderful progress which has been made by that totalitarian state, in the area of human rights. As near as I can gather, he made some squeaking noises about two Chinese-Canadian journalists who were denied permission to accompany the Canadian party -- denied visas without justification by the lovely and talented Chinese Communist Party state aparatus, that is. One Conservative Party MP had planned to visit the home of the late Zhao Ziyang to pay his respects, but upon inviting Mr. Martin to join him, the PM replied that his dance card was regrettably filled up already. Did the word "Tibet" even escape the Prime Minister's lips during his tour? What was it that he promised us all last April? Does Canada have any clout at all anymore?


Last Friday I was pretty annoyed at a couple of Boxers, and there are some interesting replies to one of these which I can offer this time around. First of all, if anybody wants to read the original hatchet piece without registering for the NYT, you can get it here. Just remember that it's fundamentally a rehash of conspiracy-minded um.. moonbat-like accusations which were raised, and debunked by the blogosphere at large, months ago.

Whether you bother with Sarah Boxer's piece or not, please do yourself a favour and read Ali's reaction to it. After all, he was the one she used the most to make her pitch, so only fair to read his take on it. Do yourself another favour and read his brother Mohammed's take on it. The whole kerfuffle has now been picked up by the BBC, seemingly as a way to simply repeat Boxer's misleading hooks, including her prize quote which she infers is the only genuine thing Ali said during their phone interview. She twisted and recombined his words, and flatly misquoted him - as he states very clearly at the above link -- and BBC jumps at the chance to reinforce this to a world audience. "Iraq blog spat leads to web chaos"?? Where do they find such excellent headline writers?

I'm just itching to quote from both Ali and Mohammed's pieces, but I can't select just a paragraph or two above the others. These guys (and brother Omar) are extremely admirable and brave people, full of the idealism and hope for the future of their country which will surely carry them far, and faith in the power of freedom to transform people and nations. By the way, Mohammed is running for the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party in this weekend's election. One could not find a better couple of bloggers to be reading during this historic time, than Iraq the Model and Free Iraqi.

But I just have to share a bit of fun at Boxer's expense, a taste of a masterpiece at Truth Laid Bear by N.Z. Bear, creator of the blogosphere's Ecosystem. Sandwiched between the following two paragraphs, is Sarah Boxer's tedious hack job:
When I telephoned a man named Ali [name witheld-agam] in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A CIA operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? Until he picked up the phone, he was just a ghost on the Internet.


"Me and my brothers," he said, "we generally agree on Iraq and the future." (He is helping his brother Mohammed, who is running on the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party ticket in the Jan. 30 election.) But there is one important difference: "My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions."

Now that seems genuine.
Whereas, sandwiched between these two paragraphs, is N.Z. Bear's tasty satirical response:
When I telephoned a woman named Sarah Boxer in New York last week, I wondered who might answer. A DNC flack? A hack posing as a journalist? Someone paid by The New York Times to craft hatchet-jobs on Iraqis who dare to express thanks to America for deposing Saddam? Or simply a lazy writer with some confused ideas about fact-checking and objectivity? Until she picked up the phone, she was just a ghost on the page.


"Me and my journalistic colleagues", she said, "we generally agree on the important things about reporting: spelling; grammar; having a killer lede." But there is one important difference: "Other journalists think checking facts and not floating unsubstantiated rumors that might get people killed are an important part of journalism. I have my questions."

Now that seems genuine.

Well, maybe not exactly a thousand words, but maybe a few dozen anyway. Here is the picture, and here is the caption to hook you with:
Protesters, many carrying signs and wearing homemade aluminum hats, walk through the streets of Portland, Ore., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, during a demonstration against the inauguration of President Bush for his second term.
You read that right: many were "wearing aluminum hats". Do anti-inauguration protesters feel they have more gravitas when they voluntarily play the part of the so-called "tin-foil hat brigade"? Are they just having fun, or really believe they are protecting themselves against nefarious broadcasting of mind-melting Bushitler Beams, or maybe even the devastating Zionist Neo-Con Rays from Krauthammer himself?

On a related note, I came across a comment somewhere recently, I know not where -- but whoever it was that wrote this question is a genius, whose riddle has me completely stumped. After the Prince Harry wearing - a - Nazi - tunic - to - a - fancy - dress - party kerfuffle, some big shots in the European Onion started making noises that all Nazi paraphernalia and symbolism should be banned EU wide, the way it is in Germany. I have to wonder whether there would be this much fuss if the boy had worn a hammer and sickle armband instead of the swastika. After all, that ideology actually killed way more people, and still rules the most populous country on earth, while the Nazis (evil and murderous as they were) have, after 60 years, become the legitimate butt of jokes -- in addition, of course, to the never forget, never again part. Or did somebody forget to tell Mel Brooks? Anyway, the genius commenter on somebody's blog (my humblest apologies to the uncredited sage) has presented a conundrum which has me stumped. If the Euros ban the swastika, not only might it inconvenience traditional followers of the Hindu faith, but how ever will the Bushitler bashers be able to properly vent and protest against their adversary again? Without Nazi symbols? Hmmm?

Afterthought: The speech was terrific. If the reader is one of those who has a physical aversion to W, hates the sound of his voice, or for whatever reason just couldn't stand to listen to it, give yourself just a little leeway here, and read it. There hasn't been this much idealism from a president, or so much emphasis on the power of freedom, since John F. Kennedy in 1961 (I saw it, and many of the recent ones on C-SPAN last weekend). Read it with JFK in mind, and it may seem very different. I think it's a great speech either way.

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