Monday, March 21, 2011

A Famous Grouse: March 19

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted for publication. -- AD

IT was with no small surprise here at the Mahogany Ridge that we noted that the UN Security Council had finally voted to authorise a no-fly zone over Libya and approved a resolution permitting “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi’s soldiers.

“All necessary measures”, by the way, is bureaucratese for “brute arse-whipping military action” -- something the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, hinted at when he told a congressional hearing in Washington: “Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defences.”

For those beleaguered rebels in Benghazi, digging in to prepare themselves for Bother Leader Daffy’s much-vaunted “moment of truth”, the security council’s vote was all very in-the-nick-of-time stuff, and there has been much in the way of celebrating in the streets of the eastern Libyan port as a result.

But nowhere, I’d imagine, was the relief more immensely tangible than at Nkandla and, indeed, in the the corridors of Luthuli House.

The no-fly zone ruling means that next week’s high-level African Union mission impossible to Tripoli to somehow sweet-talk Daffy into stop laying waste to those who want to see an end to his rule will, alas and sorry for that, now have to be called off.

Quite how the members of that mission -- which included President Jacob Zuma and his counterparts from Mauritania, Mali, Congo and Uganda -- ever supposed they’d be able to convince an utter nutter like Daffy to do the right thing is perhaps a little beyond our ken.

Naturally, being the top chops on their own patches of turf they are a little dysfunctional themselves, and perhaps one characteristic of their own base urges to power is the delusion they are capable of miracle work.

Here at the Ridge we thought it far more likely that Zuma and his fellow presidents would somehow wind up as Daffy’s hostages.

You could imagine them all held against their will, far from their families and many loved ones, and the unbearable torture they’d have to endure, forced to recline on big cushions in a luxurious tent somewhere in the perfumed desert night with sloe-eyed beauties popping dates into their mouths as they watch an endless stream of Daffy’s henchbabes performing the dance of the seven veils.

But we digress.

There is a tidy symmetry to the prospect of the Libyan air force being destroyed, or rendered incapable of being used against the rebels in Benghazi.

This, after all, is the year in which we mark the 100th anniversary of the world’s first aerial bombardment of a civilian population -- an atrocity that coincidentally took place in Libya, which was then part of the Ottaman empire.

Italy, with imperial ambitions of its own, had invaded the country in October 1911 and, retaliating to local resistance, an aircraft from its fledgling air force was dispatched to drop bombs on Arab tribesmen at oases outside Tripoli shortly afterwards, thus opening a whole new dimension to modern warfare.

Which brings me, conveniently, to another atrocity -- this time closer to home. Exactly what is this drivel we’re hearing that the disasters from the massive earthquake and the subsequent tsunamis in Japan are all part of some karmic come-uppance -- because of the way they fish?

As I was told, one evening at the Ridge, “It’s the revenge of the tuna and the whales and the parrot fish.”

It’s of course nothing of the sort. But why do some of us believe that is the case? Are we that screwed up, that insensitive to the suffering of others?

There’s a fluffy sentimentality out there, and there are people, usually those who eat cheeseburgers and still believe in the magic of Disney, who can comfortably rank certain species -- dolphins, for example -- as being more important than others, like humans. What do these people feel for the rights of the tapeworm, I wonder?

On a related, and perhaps more serious matter, events at Japan’s Fukushima power station have reawakened the fear over nuclear energy, a fear which can be traced all the way back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Unsurprisingly, Eskom officials have had to reassure nervous parliamentarians that our Koeberg plant has been designed to withstand both earthquakes and tsunamis.

Maybe. But here’s something to ponder. Imagine the worst-case scenario at Fukushima. There’s a complete meltdown with adverse weather conditions and wind blowing radiation over Japan’s most populated areas. Is there a problem? This is what the UK’s chief scientific adviser, John Beddington, told the British embassy in Tokyo: “The answer is unequivocally no.”

Does he know something we don’t? 

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