8 May 2004

He saved the elephant. But can he save the Great Apes?


Approximately 180,000 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are thought to be left in a long belt of forest stretching from Uganda to the Atlantic from an original population of perhaps 2m. The four races of the animal are all threatened by hunting and habitat destruction.


Our closest animal relative, sharing 98.4 per cent of our DNA, the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee may the great ape species we lose first. Numbers are thought to be down to around 10,000 in its forest home in the Congo, recently ravaged by war.


There are three races or sub-species of lowland gorilla; their total numbers are probably now less than 110,000.

The most numerous is the western lowland gorilla,(Gorilla gorilla gorilla) found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, and Gabon. It may number about 95,000.

The cross river gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli), found in Nigeria and Cameroon, is critically endangered: with numbers of only 150 to 200 it has the lowest population of any of Africa's great apes.

Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla berengei graueri) is found on the eastern side of the Democratic Republic of Congo: there are thought to be about 16,000 left.


Only a few hundred of the mountain gorillas (Gorilla berengei berengei) of the forests of the Virunga volcano region of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are now left, making them one of the world's rarest animals.

Numbers of Asia's only great ape are now thought to be down to between 15,000 and 20,000, with the Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus) numbering 12,000 to 15,000, and the Sumatran orang-utan (Pongo abelli) thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000.

Leakey's idea is to substitute the great apes for the panda as the symbol of conservation. I think it would work. I think an earth where only one great ape (the sapient one) proliferated in increasing numbers without the other four would be a poor place.

King Kong

The advantage of reading screenplay reviews is that you get to publish extracts from the new Peter Jackson effort like:

The SURVIVING NATIVES scatter! KONG rampages after them, STOMPING ON THEM and BITING THEIR HEADS OFF ... in a scene that not only gets a PG 13, but is PRAISED by the MPAA for it's sensitivity!


7 May 2004

deplanning from Iraq

Richard Woolcott, who is about as heavy a retired diplomat s Australia can produce, writes in todays Sydney Morning herald:

First, US and British occupying forces should be withdrawn and replaced by a UN peacekeeping force composed mainly of Arab and other countries not tarnished by the invasion of Iraq and its subsequent occupation. The high cost of such an operation should be born mostly by the architects of the present situation, the US and Britain.

Such a UN force should maintain the peace while a genuine democratic election, supervised by the UN, is organised, to produce a new government for Iraq.

The Interim Governing Council, hand-picked by the US, has no credibility and even the alternative appointment with the help of the UN of a technocrat administration can only be an interim arrangement.

It may be too late now but it would also seem preferable to look to an Iraqi federation of three states, rather than the unitary nation originally planned by the US.

The reality is that, despite continuing US Administration spin, invented 'facts' and wishful thinking, the creation of a functioning democracy in a reconstructed Iraq will take years if, in fact, it can be fully achieved. If Australia does 'stay the course' for political reasons, some Australian forces could remain in Iraq for many years.

The so-called transfer of sovereignty on June 30 will not be a transfer of sovereignty to an elected government responsible for Iraq's defence and security. It is no more than an American political device.

George Bush may want to 'change the world' but ultimately the future of the people of Iraq must be determined in Iraq and with the assistance of the UN, not in Washington or London.

I'd go a lot further. Westerners (especially those in the coalition countries) should stop making plans for Iraq's future. We never really had the ability to see into Iraq's future and Abu Ghraib certainly excludes us from any moral claim to do so. What will work in Iraq is what Iraqis decide. While I hope they do it in an open and transparent process the West does not have the capacity or the right to force that cause of action.

The neocon dream was always silly. Let us not now play variations on a theme gone bad by producing neo-progressive plans or neo-whatever plans. Let's just find a dignified way to go away.

6 May 2004

Macam-Macam | Indonesia's 2004 DPR Elections: Final Result

The KPU has finished their counting and Golkar tops the tally. PDI-P ran second and PKB a distant third. Only 7 political parties gained more than 5% of the popular vote thereby permitting them to nominate candidates for the Presidential and Vice-Presidential election on 5 July.

I suspect support for Golkar is overstated and I expect their standing to fall in the presidential election. When an authoritarian regime collapses, the party of power often survives into the transition. In South Africa the New National Party's trajectory was:

  • 1994 20.3%
  • 1999 6.87%
  • 2004 1.65%

The Russian Communist Party's record is:

  • 1999 24.3%
  • 2003 12.6%
  • 2004 13.7%

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. I think it does show there's often a lag time in an authoritarian party's collapse as people look back with nostalgia to the authoritarian period. At this election Golkar recorded its lowest vote ever, although PDI-P's spectacular collapse eclipsed Golkar's. The PDI-P does not have Golkar's level of institutionalisation and is essentially a personal vehicle for Megawati, whose own standings have crashed faster than her party's.

Presidential polling shows Yudhoyono far in front of Megawati with Wiranto a distant third. I doubt that will change between now and 5 June.

BAD ATTITUDES | Timeline of detainee abuse allegations and responses

I've never crosslinked to a comment before, but this one deserves it. Like a close reading of the Taguba report, the timeline just does not support the Rumsfeld claim that this abuse is not systemic. Nor can I really see Rumsfeld's distinction between 'abuse' and torture'.

It seems to me that treatment ending in death or forcible sodomy amounts to torture in most books. Evidently this true of the Pentagon. Certainly they're putting a lot of effort into covering their collective arse.

Read the timeline.

reading the Taguba report

Let's start with the isolated abuses issue. Major-General Taguba writes under the heading Assessment of DoD Counter-Terrorism Interrogation and Detention Operations Iraq (MG Miller's Assessment)

2.With respect to interrogation, MG Miller's Team recommended that CJTF-7 dedicate and train a detention guard force subordinate to the Joint Interrogation Debriefing Center (JIDC) Commander that 'sets the conditions for the successful interrogation and exploitation of internees/detainees.' Regarding Detention Operations, MG Miller's team stated that the function of Detention Operations is to provide a safe, secure, and humane environment that supports the expeditious collection of intelligence. However, it also stated
'it is essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees.' (ANNEX 20)

According to US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Myers:

MYERS: Well, it's like I say, it's working its way up the chain to me. I have not seen the report. Although, I take a very direct � I'm very directly involved in making sure that there is not a systemic issue here. That is something that we try to push. And Secretary Wolfowitz, Secretary Rumsfeld, we've all pushed this to make sure we don't have a systemic problem.

In Myers' defence, he had not read Taguba at the time of the interview.

According to US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld:

It's, I guess the way to put it is that the department has been aware of it since it was first noticed, and up the chain of command we're told that there were investigations into alleged abuses as long ago as last Jan. 16. It takes time for reports to be finished -- correction: to be gathered. This is a very comprehensive report. I mean, the fact of the matter is that this is a serious problem. And it's something that the department is addressing.

The system works. The system works. There were some allegations of abuse in a detention facility in Iraq. It was reported in the chain of command. Immediately it was announced to the public. Immediately an investigation was initiated. Six separate investigations have been undertaken over a period of months since January.

In Rumsfeld's defence he had only read Taguba's executive summary at the time of the interview.

But why had neither of them read the report? How slow can a decisional loop be?

So, we had a US Army recommendation to encourage guards to soften up prisoners. Prisoners were softened up. Some died. One was raped. But of course the Miller recommendation was never put into action.

There's a bridge in Sydney I want to sell these people. Plus Tasmania. But I digress. The real question is what action, part from waiting for the memo, did Myers and Rumsfeld take to ensure the abuse stopped on 16 January when they learnt of it? More later.

5 May 2004

spying a rat

The Bulletin's article Threats, spies and audiotape alleges:

The most explosive of the new allegations is that for six weeks no action was taken after Collins passed on details of an alleged spy. Collins says in his taped interview: 'Shortly before I was deployed to East Timor I had a junior officer of the corps came up to me and made an allegation about a mid-ranking army officer being involved in espionage on behalf of a foreign government. I thought on it for some time and decided I had no option but to report it, so I reported back to the Director of Army Security ... I didn't hear back from him, so I rang him some six weeks after that and asked whether there'd been any follow up, and he claimed not to know about it.'

Frustrated that nothing was being done about an allegation as serious as espionage, Collins wrote to Cosgrove, then head of the army. Cosgrove arranged for Collins to go higher and Collins ended up meeting Jason Brown, then with defence security, and now an assistant secretary in the Defence Department.

'In the course of that interview,' Collins alleges, 'I was reluctant to name my source to them, for a range of reasons, and in attempting to give an opening into doing so, Jason Brown indicated that he possessed such power - such coercive power - that things he set in train could even force people to commit suicide, which was a reference to the Merv Jenkins case.'

Jenkins hanged himself in 1999. He was DIO's senior officer in the Australian embassy in Washington, DC, and committed suicide after officials in Canberra decided to investigate him for passing Australian intelligence on East Timor to his US counterparts. Defence sources say Jenkins felt sharing intelligence with his American colleagues was acceptable but that after he was interviewed by the officials who had flown from Canberra, he became convinced he was going to be charged and killed himself.

The Bulletin also thoughtfully provides transcripts of evidence by:

These are chilling documents that suggest the Canberra bureaucracy does not recognise any limits to its power. It is a pity their prediction of events in Southeast Asia and elsewhere is so much less effective than their skill in corridor catfights.

tortured disclosure

The full text of the Taguba report on prisoner abuse in Iraq is now online.

reversing fantasies

In Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology Lee Harris wrote about Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia:

Why invade, then? The answer is quite simple. Ethiopia was a prop -- a prop in the fantasy pageant of the new Italian Empire -- that and nothing else. And the war waged in order to win Ethiopia as a colony was not a war in the Clausewitzian sense -- that is to say, it was not an instrument of political policy designed to induce concessions from Ethiopia, or to get Ethiopia to alter its policies, or even to get Ethiopia to surrender. Ethiopia had to be conquered not because it was worth conquering, but because the fascist fantasy ideology required Italy to conquer something -- and Ethiopia fit the bill. The conquest was not the means to an end, as in Clausewitzian war; it was an end in itself. Or, more correctly, its true purpose was to bolster the fascist collective fantasy that insisted on casting the Italians as a conquering race, the heirs of Imperial Rome.

The enterprise of Iraq does not have a high factual content. The number of thinkers who regard it as a diversion and distraction from the War on Terror grows each day. Richard Clarke told Lateline last night:

If you look at the years of Al Qaeda propaganda, spread throughout the world by its various affiliate organisations, what they said over and over again was the United States should be viewed as the crusaders coming from a afar to the Islamic lands to occupy them, install their governments and steal their oil.

And that they would do this even though the Islamic governments were not threatening them in any way.

So, now what we see is that the United States has indeed done what bin Laden said we would do and most of the Islamic world watches television every night and sees a far different story than they see here on ABC or on ABC in Australia.

What they see on Al Jazeera and Al Arabia are bodies of civilians in Fallujah having being killed as collateral damage.

They see, when there are house to house searches, film of women being dragged out of their houses by American soldiers.

Although the United States is doing many great things in Iraq, that's not what is seen in the Islamic world and now they see pictures of American soldiers torturing Islamic prisoners.

All of this provides enormous propaganda to bin Laden and the Jihadist movement.

It's convincing millions of people around the world that the United States is, in fact, the enemy and if you look at the public opinion polls, the reliable ones taken in Morocco, in Egypt, in Jordan, in Turkey, in Pakistan and even in Indonesia, the United States is now an object of hatred by 70, 80, 90 per cent of the people in some of these polls.

This is exactly the kind of propaganda that Al Qaeda wanted and George W Bush handed it to them on a silver platter.

Why, with all those disadvantages, would any US president invade Iraq? Or is the Bush administration just running a fantasy ideology? I always thought the Harris idea was massively overstated. His examples are the conquest of Mexico and Italian fascism. He misreads the Mexican example. Several of Moctezuma II's ministers (chiefly Cuat�moc and Cuitlauac) thought their leader was insane, repeatedly urged him to take measures for the defence of his empire and were ignored. By the time Cuitlauac replaced Moctezuma it was too late. Smallpox, the real conqueror of the Aztecs, had struck with full force.

Harris' prescription is equally bizarre -- that the War on Terror be recast as a campaign against disease. Evidently he is unaware that is precisely how the German Nazis described their war against the Jews. Maybe the notion that everybody else's wars are symbolic dramas and ours are rational needs more examination.

Perhaps the jihadis feel their grievances are real. Perhaps we should do something about that. Something other than Abu Ghraib.

4 May 2004

blogging Abu Ghraib

Today's SMH reported:

The head of the US military has admitted he was unaware of a damning military report written two months ago that outlined the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers and intelligence officers at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

The report detailed evidence of sexual humiliation, including the sodomising of a prisoner, and beatings that may have led to the murder of at least two detainees.

In a round of US television interviews designed to contain the deepening scandal which has inflamed Arab public opinion, General Richard Myers, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that only 'a handful' of US officers had taken part in the abuse, and they were facing legal action.

General Myers insisted that an army investigation had not found wide abuse. 'There is no, no evidence of systematic abuse in this system at all. We want intelligence information but we have to stay inside international norms and international law. We do that.'

But he admitted he had not read the report by General Antonio Taguba that points to the systematic abuse of prisoners after US Army intelligence officers, CIA agents and private contractors had asked soldier guards to help set up conditions for interrogations.

Abu Ghraib itself is almost impossible to blog. The Fafblog quote I posted probably comes closest. The bureaucratic manoeuvres to try evade responsibility are easier to analyse.

Part of the Bush administrations governing style is to argue that the president can do anything. I am not exaggerating. Appearing before the US Supreme Court, they've argued that neither the US Congress nor the courts can restrain presidential action in the War on Terror. Abu Ghraib is the end result.

The US army has a months old report detailing what happened at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. This is the Taguba report that Myers tells us he has not read. Among other things General Taguba reported:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee

Now General Myers might not have read this report immediately, but CBS delayed broadcasting the photos by 2 weeks at the Pentagon's own request. Did no-one think, during that delay, to dig out the Taguba report? Did no-one ask why the hell are we doing this and try to stop it?

Bush has created a culture, evidently, where anything goes, and where no-one is responsible as they long they don't read the memo. Traditional checks and balances were invented for a reason. One of them is to ensure that stunning incompetence does not lead to abuses like Abu Ghraib.


Christopher Hitchens has hit the press, or least the web, with the following:

This is only the rehearsal for one's revulsion. One of two things must necessarily be true. Either these goons were acting on someone's authority, in which case there is a layer of mid- to high-level people who think that they are not bound by the laws and codes and standing orders. Or they were acting on their own authority, in which case they are the equivalent of mutineers, deserters, or traitors in the field. This is why one asks wistfully if there is no provision in the procedures of military justice for them to be taken out and shot."

For once I agree with his analysis. As far as his shock at the 'mid- to high-level people', I suggest he read the government submissions in some WoT court cases.

Aircraft carrier - going (really) cheap

Further proof of the growing influence of auction site EBAY in the global economy is the recent listing of an aircraft carrier for sale. Given there are less than 20 serving aircraft carriers in the world, and the shipbrokers representing the vessel appear to operating from somewhere in mainland China, this is indeed testimony to the power of EBay. Oh, and if you fancy an aircraft carrier with sleeping facilities for 1300 people, read on ...

The world gets more and more like Snowcrash every day.

It's a worry.

3 May 2004


A New Zealand astronomy group is bulding its own henge at Wairarapa on the North Island. They are not building a replica. Stonehenge Aotearoa will be a new structure with its own alignments to the southern sky.

Grow-your-own to replace false teeth

The choice of growing a new tooth is likely to appeal to patients. 'Anyone who has lost teeth will tell you that, given the chance, they would rather have their own teeth than false ones,' said Prof Sharpe. The average Briton over 50 has lost 12 teeth from a set of 32.

The procedure is fairly simple. Doctors take stem cells from the patient. These are unique in their ability to form any of the tissues that make up the body. By carefully nurturing the stem cells in a laboratory, scientists can nudge the cells down a path that will make them grow into a tooth. After a couple of weeks, the ball of cells, known as a bud, is ready to be implanted. Tests reveal what type of tooth - for example, a molar or an incisor - the bud will form.

Using a local anaesthetic, the tooth bud is inserted through a small incision into the gum. Within months, the cells will have matured into a fully-formed tooth, fused to the jawbone. As the tooth grows, it releases chemicals that encourage nerves and blood vessels to link up with it.

Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. 'There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same,' said Prof Sharpe.

News you can get your teeth into!

The Medium Lobster strikes again!

- The activities that occurred at Abu Ghuraib prison are not to be compared to those of Saddam Hussein's rape rooms and torture chambers. After all, those were rape rooms and torture chambers. These were merely rooms in which rape occurred, and chambers in which individuals were tortured.

- In war, atrocities will happen, as dew on the grass in the morning, or flower blossoms in the spring. The dew gathers. The buds open. The atrocities bloom. It is all according to the mysterious, ever-unfolding cycle of life - a cycle too vast and complex for mere mortals to comprehend.

- These were isolated incidents, and the behavior of these prison guards should in no way reflect upon the military superiors who endorsed and promoted such behavior. This is because atrocities are supervenient on subordinates, but not on command structures. Those with greater learning will understand.

Fafblog just gets better and better.

Bambang widens lead over Mega in survey

Soft-spoken former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has widened his lead over President Megawati Sukarnoputri ahead of Indonesia's July presidential election, a public opinion poll found yesterday.

Mr Bambang received 30.6 per cent of respondents' backing compared with Ms Megawati's 14.6 per cent, according to the survey by The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES).

Mr Bambang, Ms Megawati's former security minister, is continuing 'his rapid ascent as the favourite', IFES said.

His lead shot up from 18.4 per cent recorded in IFES's last survey conducted between March 21 and 28. The earlier poll gave Ms Megawati 11.6 per cent.

IFES conducted its latest survey after the April 5 legislative elections but before official presidential candidates had become known.

The Golkar party which claimed victory in the general election has named another retired general, Wiranto, as its candidate for Indonesia's first direct presidential ballot on July 5.

This is good news. Golkar seems to have backed the wrong horse, although presumably the Golkar endorsement will lift Wiranto above his current standing of 2.2%. Gus Dur is in severe difficulties because the KPU has issued a regulation excluding blind candidates. I plan on following the IFES standings through the campaign over the next month.

The news from Ambon is worse. The SMH reports:

Indonesia's military yesterday denied allegations that soldiers had taken part in an attack on a church in the eastern city of Ambon, which has been racked by five days of Muslim-Christian violence.

Witnesses said uniformed infantrymen fired into the air before ordering seven families living close to the city's Protestant church to leave their houses early on Wednesday. Minutes later, unidentified men torched their homes and the church.

The claims - the latest in a string involving the poorly trained military - have angered Christians in the Maluku islands capital, where 34 people have been killed since Sunday.

TNI has a long tradition of inciting regional violence at the behest of individuals within the Jakarta political elite. Wiranto's history in East Timor is the worst example. The recent violence may be part of such a campaign - create a security crisis and then offer yourself as the man on horseback.

2 May 2004

Scottish NHS has best punchline to lightbulb gag

It is one of the most commonly asked questions in the history of humour, a comedic puzzle that has spawned hundreds of variations.

But it appears we may finally have an answer to that most persistent of posers: how many people does it take to change a lightbulb?

In the case of the Scottish NHS, the answer is seven. Troubled insurance giant Standard Life manages the same job with three. BBC licence fee payers may be interested to know the corporation typically needs five people to change a bulb.

Joking aside, the quest to find out how many people large organisations need to keep the lights on started with a serious purpose.

When a fluorescent strip light in the office used by Dr Graham Ellis, a clinical research fellow in geriatric medicine at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, began to flicker, he decided to conduct an experiment in NHS efficiency.

He said: 'I wanted to find out exactly how many people it takes to change a lightbulb in a large inner-city teaching hospital. In the past I might just have wandered down to 'Bill in supplies' and got a bulb and put it up myself or have him do it. That would have been two people, including myself. This was a lot more complex.

This feels like a meme with legs. I see parliamentary questions about the number of people required to change a lighbulb in the Defence Materiel Organisation...