Pro-foxhunting demonstration as Bill is rushed through parliament

Two days ago hundreds of pro-foxhunting demonstrators crowded around Westminster as the Bill to ban foxhunting was debated for about the eighth time. This time it was to be rushed through in one day even if the House of Lords tried to stop it. A two year delay in implementing the ban to allow people to reorganise their lives was reduced to eighteen months.

Thousands of people are destined to lose their jobs and their tenancies.

The demonstration got quite rough and police used their batons. Several people were hurt and complaints of police unreasonable behaviour have been served.

Five young men got into the Houses of Parliament disguised as building workers with a forged letter. They were then helped by someone inside to negotiate corridors and burst through a door where the electronic lock was known to be out of order. They got into the Chamber and were eventually arrested.

I confess I went beagling every week for about three years around 1970 which I enjoyed so I sympathise to some extent with foxhunters. It is a sport and the thrill of the chase is a basic human emotion like anger and sex. It is a pity that we are becoming so "civilised" that these basic emotions have to be curtailed.

However, I now believe that foxhunting is cruel to the fox but that the alternative will be worse. There are lots of rough, tough country men who will go out at night with their terriers, nets, snares, guns, gas bottles or poison to kill foxes some of which will be injured and die slowly.

At present these men are controlled to a very great extent by the Hunt management in that they get an outlet for the blood-lust at set times which everyone knows and under the direction of the Hunt. The foxes themselves are chased and killed swiftly. The lead hound will snap the fox's neck and it will lose consciousness before the following hounds tear it to pieces. That's the theory anyway and it happens in most cases; otherwise the fox escapes unharmed. It will be very different when anyone can go out unsupervised trying to kill a fox.



American tactics in Iraq are much too violent

The Sunday Times reports that the US is accused of running torture flights to other countries with Iraqi insurgents for "torture by proxy".

Countries with poor human rights records to which the Americans have delivered prisoners include Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Uzbekistan according to confidential logs obtained by the Sunday Times.

It is suggested that prisoners for serious interrogation go to Jordan, those for torture go to Syria and those to disappear go to Egypt.

Even if this is not true, the mere suggestion makes me lose confidence in the American tactics in Iraq. They are always rough, as they were in Vietnam. The only way they know to deal with a situation is to go in with massive firepower and obliterate everyone and everything, including civilians.

The Falluja offensive against insurgents has resulted in possibly more than a thousand deaths compared with only eighteen Americans. It isn't only the human toll that disturbs me. The city is severely damaged. The troops hardly ever enter a building by the door in case it is booby-trapped; they blast through a wall. The Iraqis are poor. How will a family be able to get a new door lock, let alone a new house? Reconstruction will cost billions of dollars financed probably by the World Bank, the UN or the United States. Taxpayers all over the world will be paying for it.

Like many others I was uneasy about the war in the first place but went along with it because Saddam Hussein's regime was torturing to death about twenty-five people a week and Saddam's successor was likely to be Uday who was a psychopath, even having his own football team tortured.

The Americans have smashed the people and the infrastructure and conditions are now far worse than when Saddam was there. It is suggested that many of the leaders of the insurgency have escaped to other cities where they will continue the fight. US actions will only encourage more men to join the insurgency.

There is still bad feeling between Muslims and Christians eight hundred years after the crusades and I believe America has ensured that this will continue for another millennium.

There are other ways of getting rid of a regime. A common one is to persuade one of the generals who controls a large number of troops to mount a coup. This often ensures that the army, civil service, electricity supplies and so on remain intact and the previous dictator and his family are exiled. It's a pity this was not possible on this occasion.

Have the Americans and British really considered what would happen if they pulled out immediately? The insurgents would be surprised and there would be a pause in fighting. A window would be created for the new government to be established. Even a civil war wouldn't create the carnage now seen in Iraq.

It's just been announced that Colin Powell, who I think was the most senior military commander in the first Gulf war (not the general who ran the war but the senior staff general above him) has resigned from George W Bush's cabinet. Although a military man he was considered a moderate and hadn't managed to get his views accepted much. He was in favour of another UN resolution before the latest Iraq war but the hawks like Rumsfeld won the day. He also failed to get a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. This emphasises my view that America is being much too heavy-handed and brutal in it's foreign policy and the way it conducts it's wars.


Why is buying Christmas presents so hard?

Recently some large stores have installed special rooms for fathers to avoid shopping with their wives; they can watch football on video or play computer games or with model cars on a racing circuit. A good idea in my view.

I find Christmas shopping not so much boring as extremely difficult. Most of my relatives have everything they want already - except really expensive presents like a holiday.

I look around the shops and see expensive gadgets that will be used once then discarded or cheap plastic things made in China that are useless gimmicks.

If I buy something like a book or clothing I am certain to make a choice that they don't like. Money is my current choice of present for my nieces as they need spending money but for my elder relatives I usually fall back on food which will be consumed or given away and won't lie around their houses as an unwanted present.


The Indian Ocean Tsunami

The tsunami occurred on 26th December during a sunny morning when people were fishing or sunbathing on beaches around the Indian Ocean. It was caused by an earthquake registering 9 on the Richter scale - the fourth largest since 1900. Scientists say that the ocean bed moved fifteen metres vertically where one tectonic plate moved under another.

The current estimate of deaths is 120,000 but there are still many people unaccounted for and some large towns as well as small villages are still inaccessible. Cholera, typhoid and dysentery are expected to cause at least the same number of deaths.

The epicentre was off the north-west coast of Sumatra opposite Aceh, a poor province largely cut off from the world by Indonesian troops because of rebels and their independence movement. At least 80,000 of the dead are here.

Other countries affected are Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Andaman Islands and the east coast of Africa. Burma must also be affected but news reports have never mentioned this country as they are isolated from the rest of the world because of their human rights record.

The tsunami only reached fifty metres inland in many places but because the coastal strip of most countries is heavily populated with fishing villages and tourist resorts, the effect has been catastrophic.

In one case the wave undermined a railway embankment and a train with over a thousand people toppled over. No survivors were found.

There was a video of the tsunami on one particular beach which showed a small child looking at two low harmless-looking waves approaching the beach. The first was about fifteen inches high and the second just over two feet high. He was soon engulfed and the video stopped as the water reached the camera-person, but the camera-person must have survived. People often surf in breakers ten or fifteen feet high but these lose their momentum when they reach the beach as the sea level behind them is lower than the top of the breaker. The main difference with a tsunami is that the water level behind the wave is at the same higher level and this huge volume of moving water surges up the beach and smashes beach-side villages.

Reports said the tsunami moved at about 300 mph but the pictures of it reaching the beach showed only the normal speed of a breaker. However, after surging up beaches through timber villages and beach-side buildings it smashed glass in substantial hotels and surged though basements and ground floors and reached first floor in many cases before rushing back towards the beaches dragging timber, rubbish and bodies out to sea.

Several videos showed a wave about six to twelve inches high rushing across hotel sunbed areas and pools but the weight of water behind meant that it just kept on going into hotel ground floors where the surge took it up to first floor. If the wave hit a sea wall then it threw up a high spray like a winter seaside storm in the UK. Even a wave twelve inches high is enough to throw someone off their feet and then they are injured by rubbish. However, the wave must have been deeper at some places.

Some smaller low-lying towns are completely swamped and death rates of 80% or more are forecast. Roads are cut and airports are non-existent in isolated areas. Large naval ships with rescue equipment are on their way to Aceh but will be unable to dock at the small fishing villages so aid will have to be laboriously unloaded into small boats. Some towns in Aceh are just mud and scattered pieces of timber. A few Andaman Islands were completely submerged.

Hospitals are so busy that many people are just lying around outside them. People with minor cuts are finding that they have turned septic and there are so many people in and around hospitals that gangrene is affecting wounds because victims are getting no treatment at all.

Bodies are being photographed and buried in mass graves quickly to avoid disease but the stench of dead bodies is everywhere as many are still buried in rubble or lying in pools of water.

Tourists in more civilised places have been taken to airports wearing only their swimming costumes and put on planes without passports and baggage. Other tourists in out-of-the-way places are scavenging for water and food just like the local people.

Food and water is not a problem in most areas as towns and villages just inland have plenty and are untouched. The main problem is finding and disposing of dead bodies. In future the main concern will be rebuilding timber villages and providing a livelihood for local people. There are already reports that some solidly built hotels are still open and tourists are carrying on as normal.

I was thinking of contributing to a charity but not sure which one or how when I saw a message on a discussion board for Equitable Life insurance problems by a lady who posted the links for the International Red Cross and Medicins Sans Frontiers so I was able to contribute to the Red Cross online - a very simple and quick procedure.

I posted a message of thanks and mentioned that I was often reluctant to give to charity when I thought that people had largely caused their own problems through fighting, corruption, mismanagement and so on but I was much more willing to give after a natural disaster. My message got three recommendations so others must agree with me.

Postscript 01/01/05

The death toll is now expected to exceed 150,000 but the Indonesian government has given up counting the dead. Lorry-loads of corpses are being buried as quickly as possible without the bodies being counted. As whole villages and towns have been wiped out there are no relatives or friends to inform the authorities who has died or is missing so the exact death toll will never be known.

The videos we saw were generally from tourist areas in Thailand where the death toll was far less than in isolated areas of Aceh and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The tsunami there must have been much higher. Even in Thailand the wave about two feet high caused massive damage and thousands of deaths but in Aceh it may have been twenty feet high and the wall of water behind swept miles inland over low-lying ground.

Meulaboh, a Sumatran town in Aceh of 95,000 people, has been completely destroyed and over 40,000 are assumed dead. Satellite pictures of Banda Aceh, the main town in Aceh, show that the sea has flooded a large area. The Indonesian government says that over 100,000 people may have died in Sumatra.

The internet says that 90 people have died in Burma according to the UN and 17 fishing villages have been affected so the Thai and Burmese coast seems to have got off fairly lightly.

Postscript 22/01/05

The Indonesian government has now estimated the death toll as more than 160,000 so the global death toll is now more than 225,000.

Postscript 02/02/05

The Indonesian government has now stated that confirmed deaths in Sumatra are more than 237,000 so the global death toll is now more than 290,000. There must be many more unknown deaths.