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March 2011 in Tanzania through the eyes of an Englishman

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A beetle I have not seen before.

29/3/2011 - Marginal Changes.

Nearly finished on the furniture for the last guest bedroom. It would be finished if it were not for the fact that I am now making myself treat all the local hardwoods with wood preservative before I oil or varnish them. Since they are local woods, it follows that there are local insects that like to eat them. Application of the preservative costs a few hours until it dries off. But tomorrow I should be able to rub the remaining items - a TV shelf, and the large mirror frame - with linseed oil. After that, the whole set will have to be gone over with wax polish once the linseed oil has fully dried, but that's not necessarily my job.

The beetle was on the doorstep of my workshop. I have not seen one like it before - interesting pattern. It has been there for some time, which probably means it has a problem, and the ants will have it before morning. It's a rough old world.

I see from the latest news that the Libyan freedom fighters are now retreating from Bin Jawad - the town before Sirte. Perhaps this is a ploy to persuade Gadaffi's forces to advance, with the view that an advance might persuade the coalition to strike them from the air.

Of course it could also be a sign that the fighting is going to be like that between Germany's general Rommel and British forces during WW2. Then, the two sides were regularly up and down the coast road of Libya like a fiddlers elbow, as each side in turn got overstretched and outran its supply lines.

Sadly, unless the freedom fighters can take Sirte fairly quickly, and then move rapidly to help the beleaguered forces in Misrata, it seems that the latter city might fall. The coalition air forces are having problems with the sort of attack it is under without risking civilian casualties. It would help if better communications had been stitched up - simple radio broadcasts would probably suffice. Then the population could be told to take cover at some particular time so that at least any tanks within the city could be taken out.

Bedroom furniture.

A new ceiling support frame.

27/3/2011 - Libya, Furniture, Figs, and Ceilings.

If you Google for 'Libya', then select 'realtime' in the results screen you will be see an enormous amount of - mostly Twitter - commentary that is 90% garbage. The things I find strange about the ongoing twittering - 'real time news' - about events in Libya, are as follows:
  • Most of it is about US politics - people are just using the #Libya tag to get their political slant flashed up on the web.
  • The bulk of the remainder quotes no source or reference - just a statement - yes, of course we trust you! Alternatively it takes a sentence from a web page out of context, and refers to a bland article summarizing stale news.
  • Robert Gates is the new spokesman for the US, OK? I thought he was Secretary of Defense, a job in which you say as little as possible to avoid assisting the intelligence organization of the opposition.
  • 30% (maybe even 50%) of tweeters don't take the trouble to find out what has already happened, and has been confirmed and widely reported, before they announce it as news, or express their opinion as to what might happen.
  • Many of the people who tweet can't read a map, or have never bothered to look at a map of Libya. Classic example was "why are rebels concentrating on all these coastal town - they should go straight for Tripoli?"
  • There has been no commentary or speculation on who will be bombed when the freedom fighters attack Sirte - maybe it will then be they who are attacking a civilian population.
  • People use appalling and ill defined abbreviations to express something they could easily have said in plain English within the number of characters allowed.
My principle gripe about the whole thing is the long list of politicians who say that regime change is not part of the agenda. I assume from their statements that the official policy is to work for a stalemate with all the resulting instability and uncertainty that would entail. NATO has also been infected with this attitude, and is now making noises about watering down the attacks on Gadaffi's forces aimed at preventing attacks on civilians.
Anyway, back at the ranch here I'm getting on well with that last bedroom. The outstanding items are a stool for the dressing table cum computer desk, a shelf for an LCD TV, and another general purpose shelf.

We ate a fig that had been bagged today. Even that had some damage where the birds had stuck their head into the bag. I have discovered now that the way that fig trees synchronize with the seasons here in East Africa is not ideal. Just as the figs are ripening, the rains come, and the result is fat ripe figs that are OK, but not as sweet as they should be - too much water. Having said that, the one we ate today was pretty good.

Our love/hate relationship roofer - Spemba - is back on site this week replacing the ceilings in the Old Cottage. The original ceilings had the supporting timbers incorrectly supported, so they were flexible. To compound that, the chipboard ceiling boards had been put on the wrong way up, rough side up instead of rough side down. Consequently the coat of skim plaster on them never stuck properly, and bits were always falling off. Spemba may be a crook and a drunkard, but he knows his job, and I have a good level of confidence that the new ceiling will last for many years.

My little furniture factory.

23/3/2011 - Situation Report.

So anyway, before any more Libya stuff, what have I been up to? Well, I'm working on the last unfurnished bedroom. So far I have made shelves and fitted them into the room, and a bed. I have done most of the work on two bedside shelf units, and have glued up a table top for what will be the dressing table cum computer desk.

Outstanding are another shelf, and a full length mirror. Then there's work to do on the associated bathroom.

I have also been trying to substantially reduce my alcohol - more specifically beer - consumption. More on that, and why, later in the week.

Our battle with the birds over who gets to eat our figs is intensifying as more figs ripen, and more birds know they are there. I need a no-fly zone.

This has been interspersed with frequents visits to my computer to check what is going on in the world. If you've been reading my recent commentary you'll know that I have been suffering from impatience. Today though, it seems that the coalition forces have just about caught up with where I wanted them to be. First a quote from someone in Misrata:

Misrata was in a desperate state yesterday, we almost lost all hope, but the strikes came at a good time with good intensity and frequency. They even managed to take out some convoys inside the city which was very impressive. Gaddafi's forces have been hiding in a hospital... I can tell you that there've been zero casualties from international strikes... There are snipers on top of buildings; Gaddafi's forces are still stationed on the main street - Tripoli street - but there's no random shelling anymore... I've been able to go out, I've seen bakeries and groceries open for the first time in many days. The strikes made such a difference - Gaddafi's forces are scared of them.

This is backed up by what one of the coalition senior officers is saying:

The Libyan air force no longer exists as a fighting force... Air Vice Marshall, Greg Bagwell, on a visit to RAF airmen based at Gioia del Colle in Southern Italy, said that the allies could now operate 'with near impunity' over the skies of Libya. He went on: 'We have the Libyan ground forces under constant observation and we attack them whenever they threaten civilians or attack population centres.'

I personally feel that under the present circumstances any of Gadaffi's forces that are not in their barracks, or exercising on a practice range, constitute a threat to civilians! I'd be happy to to read tomorrow that the coalition had dealt with the concentration of Gadaffi's tanks reported close to Zintan.

Wrecked tank.

21/3/2011 - Toward an End Point.

Well, quite a bit happened since Saturday. However Gadaffi's forces, despite two cease-fire declarations, still appear to be attacking the towns/cities of Misrata and Zintan. Given that the no-fly zone is in place I've been hoping that the coalition will be able to do something about the artillery or rocket launchers and tanks that are bombarding these places.

In terms of reaching a sensible and finite end-point - i.e. Gadaffi must go - maximum use needs to be made of the provisions of UN1973 that call for protection of civilians. This is the current legal mechanism for the destruction of Gadaffi's ground forces. So the forces attacking Misrata and Zintan need to be vigorously attacked. Only if this is done consistently wherever there is a threat to civilians will it be possible for the lightly armed and untrained freedom fighters to liberate these cities and Tripoli, and put an end to the Gadaffi regime. That is their aim, not the aim of UN1973, but this should not stop members of the coalition giving them as much help as possible within the terms of the resolution, since it is an outcome that they would applaud.

If of course the freedom fighters are to be regarded as civilians (even though they may be armed civilians - there's an interesting press conference exchange on that subject here), then 1973 would appear to make it possible for the coalition air forces to provide them with close air support. They would of course have to learn quickly to be much more disciplined, and have some kind of formal command structure, otherwise the air support would never have any idea of where they were or in what direction they were heading, and a 'friendly-fire' nightmare could be expected.

The population of Tripoli can help in this. Some brave souls on the anti-Gadaffi side really need to make a move again there, while the area is under air surveillance. If they are fired on by Gadaffi's forces, then it can be argued that any of Gadaffi's forces close to Tripoli are a threat to civilians.

Speed is of the essence. Gadaffi's forces need to be minimised before the UNSC changes its mind like the Arab League, or accepts some contradictory resolution, or public opinion in the coalition countries puts a stop to the air support.

There's been a lot of hoo-ha today about the missile strike on a command and control centre within Gadaffi's compound. Perhaps it would be a good idea if the coalition published a satellite photograph giving an indication of the scale of the compound, and marked up with the strike location and the location of Gadaffi's residence, bunker, etc. This might help to dispel widespread confusion on the motives of that attack. An attack on a central command facility would appear to be legitimate, since this would presumably be the source of orders to ground forces to attack civilian centres such as Misrata and Zintan.

French Aircraft Carrier.

19/3/2011 - More Haste, More Speed.

Britain and France have been saying for ages that preparations were being made to enforce a no-fly zone. They got the go ahead for action against Gadaffi on the night of Thursday/Friday. So today they are meeting in Paris to decide what to do!

Gadaffi's forces are apparently moving into Benghazi. If the preparations had been made, it would have been good if they had got a short sharp shock today. But no, the politicians have talked another day away.

Some French fighter jets are said to have made reconnaissance flights over Libya, but the sun will set there in 10 minutes as I write, so I don't think there'll be any action against his forces today.

It has been reported that the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) is approaching Libya, and that vessel could make life difficult for Gadaffi's forces.

Unconfirmed reports have UK Tornado jets leaving for an unknown destination - possibly Cyprus.

The freedom fighters in Libya can probably hold Gadaffi out of Misrata and Benghazi for a day or two, but they need to get help soon. Attacks on tanks would be best done before they get into the city. The no-fly aspect may be superfluous there, since there is talk of taking out the bases they fly from, and it would be a brave Libyan pilot in the elderly planes they have that would take on any of the NATO fighters. I have some doubts that they love Gadaffi that much.

Where no-fly may be effective is in preventing the influx of further mercenaries.

We will see what dawn tomorrow brings.

Something Happens.

18/3/2011 - A Different Game.

So! There was an eleventh hour - the US has eventually got into gear, and we have a reasonably effective UNSC resolution. The only thing it missed out appears to be some specific clause allowing weapon supplies to the freedom fighters to maintain a relatively level playing field. This may be covered by the language of the resolution, but if so, it is not clear.

Before I continue, I should mention the most remarkable example of political or diplomatic double-speech that I can remember for some time (North Korea and Gadaffi excluded.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her country will not take part in military intervention, but adds:

"We unreservedly share the aims of this resolution. Our abstention should not be confused with neutrality." I can't believe that she OK'd such a statement. But that will be fine Angela, you can just pay for the whole thing instead!

The old desert fox Gadaffi has, of course, made a shrewd move - publicly accept the cease fire. That way he can avoid getting his planes shot down, and his tanks and artillery destroyed by air power or naval gunfire. But it leaves him in control of maybe three quarters of the country - wait it out, the western nations have a notoriously short attention span.

So basically now, it is down to the citizens of Tripoli. If they genuinely want rid of Gadaffi, they must now demonstrate in the streets, without weapons, in as large numbers as possible. They should march on his compound, climb over the walls, and if possible, drag him out. But there are a couple of factors that may slow this down.

Number one, not many of them may even know that the situation has changed, that this is what is required, since Gadaffi controls the media. Number two, it will require some balls, because at some point in such a process, shots will inevitably be fired against them, and must be fired to allow the forces supporting the UN resolution to take action against Gadaffi's forces, and finish him.

The situation has changed profoundly, but it is still up to the citizens of Libya to choose their future, and for civilians to put their lives on the line when that is required.

Sometimes a Little Nonsense.

17/3/2011 - A Lighter Note.

If you want further depressing news about the Japanese reactors or the deteriorating situation in Libya, then there's a previous post today.

Lying in bed this morning though, I had a strange train of thought - nothing to do with anything, and with no connection to reality. I hope that as an antidote to the present doom and gloom some of my readers might find it amusing

Dear Sir,

I am a registered disabled person on account of suffering an attack of Brock's Palsy when I was an infant. Like most Brock's Palsy victims, I subsequently developed unusually extreme shyness, to the point where I find it impossible to enter a public place or to talk to any one.

After many unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable job, I eventually found employment on a casual basis with the University of East Morton Biology department, working with their Vole Husbandry Program, which is sponsored by the Department of the Environment.

I work as an observer in the Spalling Fields area of Bingley, between the thermal underwear factory and the canal. This is an area of grass, small rocks and bushes. The groundwater chemistry there encourages a thriving earthworm population, which in turn supports a large colony of the Common Field Vole.

My workstation, or 'hide' consists of a vertical circular hole in the ground in which I can stand with only my head above ground level. Mounted over the hole is my Observation Unit - a fibreglass enclosure disguised in this case as a rock, that covers my head and conceals me. This unit contains the specialized infra-red vole mating camera, miniature video recorders, and other observation devices. It also houses a compartment where I can keep my packed lunch. I can rotate the unit very slowly using silent battery-driven servo motors so as not to alarm the voles. This occupation is ideal for a Brock's Palsy victim, as I am quite comfortable with the voles.

Unfortunately, Spalling Fields are also used occasionally by Cyclo-Cross enthusiasts as a practise area. Last Saturday, one of these riders collided with my rock, smashing the fibreglass enclosure, puncturing her tyre, and inflicting a painful neck injury on me.

The doctor says my neck injury should get better in a couple of weeks. However the University say that it may take up to 12 weeks to make a new observation unit, and that they will not be able to pay me during that time because of the casual nature of my employment.

They suggested that I write to you, explaining the circumstances, to determine if I was eligible for unemployment benefit.

Yours Sincerely
Ernest N Devor.

PS. The girl cyclist fell off the bike, and became lodged head-down in my narrow observation chamber. We had considerable difficulty in extricating ourselves from this predicament, in the course of which I somehow lost my shyness in her particular case. We are to be married as soon as my neck recovers, and our baby is due in November.

17/3/2011 - The 11th Hour.

A brief #1 post for today.

The situation with the reactors in Japan is not much clearer. There's talk of getting a decent electricity supply connected that might improve the capabilities to cool the cores. However, there's also talk of a dangerous situation in one of the fuel rod cooling ponds. Certainly there's no indication that we are out of the woods yet.

The message seems to have finally got through to the core of the US administration that if something forceful is not done very very soon, Gadaffi's forces will prevail, and the consequences will be bad. A UNSC vote is now expected at about 22:00 GMT today. There is a slim possibility that this may allow action against Gadaffi's forces that is more aggressive than a no-fly zone - maybe a no-drive zone.

At the same time, the freedom fighters seem to be giving Gadaffi's forces a harder time on the way to Benghazi than had been anticipated. They will need to do so. The primary weapon that could be used to stop Gadaffi - the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise - has actually been moved further away than it originally was. It seems to me that for the last couple of weeks in the US administration, the tail has been wagging the dog. Word is that Hillary Clinton is really pissed off with Obama about his lack of leadership. We can do it?

Enough already, my #2 post for the day will be more light hearted.

16/3/2011 - Where is Statesmanship?

If president Bush senior had followed up properly on the expensive liberation of Kuwait from Sadam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 1990/91, and removed Hussein, then the later even more expensive invasion of the country, and the resulting debacle would have been unnecessary. If the USA had not had an irrational objection to communism per se, then the Russian intervention in Afghanistan in support of a communist government could have been allowed to proceed. Any inappropriate situation resulting there would have been corrected over time by the people of Afghanistan.

If the EU/NATO had recognized the opportunity to remove a madman from control of a country to their immediate south, then ... (whatever it is - undoubtedly bad) would be unnecessary in the future.

The opportunity was clear enough. Gadaffi has limited resources, and most would have deserted him given any difficult level of opposition. There was a credible body to hand power to as soon as the Gadaffi family fled, and their supporters threw in the towel. It's doubtful that boots on the ground would even have been required. Some ships offshore, war planes operating from airstrips controlled by the freedom fighters, and supply of appropriate and limited arms to the latter should have done the trick in short order.

Britain and France together could have done the required thing. Who would have called them? As it is, they - and the other countries of the EU - will have to spend vast sums of money to counter the security threats, and illegal immigration problems, that will arise.

They might as well pull out of NATO at this point, since it seems to be a body that is incapable of dealing with palpable security threats, or of responding to the concerns of its members. It was originally created to counter the might of the USSR after WW2. Now it seems that it's just an irritant that prevents the normalization of relationships between the EU and Russia.

The UK should also immediately remove any vestige of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. If a rogue state to their close south does not require any action, then neither do those two more remote countries. The excuse that they will become havens for terrorist organizations is now clearly a load of flatulence. Numerous other states can fulfil that role.

All of these arguments follow from the attitudes adopted about the situation in Libya. 'What's in it for us right now?' Nothing, so we don't need to do anything.

Death of a Tyrant?

15/3/2011 - The Ides of March Revisited.

Today is 'the Ides of March'. The day of the Roman calender on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC by the politicians of Rome before he could declare himself Emperor. Things have not changed much since then. Politicians still control our societies, whether dressed up as religious leaders or not. War, civil strife, hunger, poverty, and death are all on a much greater scale now than they were in Caesar's time, simply because the Earth's population is vastly larger than it was then.

To be more specific, Japan's problems first today.

If you want to see a classically bad example of science/engineering reporting, check out this article.

Gadaffi claimed that the freedom fighters were on drugs. I don't think the author is. He/she just has no idea of what's they're writing about. I mean "fuel rods cause a chain reaction, which releases radioactive ions. The high energy of fission, in turn, splits the chemical bond in water". So how does a boiling water reactor manage to run reliably most of the time if shit like that is happening? There's a lot of reporting around at the moment that is of similar value.

I'm afraid though that there are real problems. The reality of the situation is that 50 brave men are in the stricken plants, making their best efforts to dissipate the unwanted and dangerous heating that persists after a nuclear reactor has been 'shut down', and from fuel rods that have been removed from reactors. They are working under dire conditions. There's no reliable electricity supply, and the place is in the middle of a disaster area. Some of them will probably die in the attempt. If they don't succeed a lot of other people may die in time as large amounts of radioactive materials are released. Fortunately there are quite a number of remaining 'if's'. Prediction of the outcome is difficult, if not impossible. There is a a probably reasonably objective analysis here.

Nuclear fission power looked attractive at one time. I can remember being quite taken with the idea, and I have since tolerated it. Given our current knowledge about what burning of fossil fuels is doing to the earth ecosystem, some have been tempted to believe that it is our future. But really, it is a Pandora's box. Once the box is opened, nobody can predict the consequences. The clearest manifestation of this is the problem of dealing with the horribly radioactive waste products from nuclear reactors. These have to be contained and hidden away for 10,000 years. Mankind does not have any experience of operations over such a time scale, and probably never will. So just assume automatically that the stuff will get spread around eventually.

As for the engineering of nuclear power plants, well there's a thing called Murphy's law, that makes the design of 'safe' nuclear power stations virtually impossible. They are like balancing a ping-pong ball on an upward-pointing jet of water, with the understanding that if the ball is dropped, the consequences will be 'bad'. All manner of ingenious mechanisms have been designed to stabilize the ball on the water jet, but sooner or later something happens that invalidates the assumptions of these devices. Among these, in the long term, the most likely is human error - the one factor in the operation of man-made devices that can never be eliminated.

It is not impossible that the world economic system will be plunged back into recession by the disaster in Japan, however stoical, capable, and long suffering the Japanese people may be in dealing with their own problems. Certainly they will not be the only ones to suffer. The crisis will create shortages and increase prices - "To them that have shall be given, and from them that have not shall be taken away."

In Libya, I read today that two of Gadaffi's defected pilots attacked and maybe destroyed some of his ships. That was brave, because they and their aircraft must now be marked for death. Their sacrifice is unlikely to be enough to effect the outcome. The western nations now officially don't care. All talk on the possibility of intervention is being stifled by diplomacy's current obsession with consensus. The scale of killing of civilians in Libya is apparently not large enough to qualify as a humanitarian disaster. It follows as in a corollary that when it is, it will be too late. I think there are a lot of people in Libya who would welcome an 'Ides of March' event'.

But keep smiling. It's being so cheerful that keeps you going.

13/3/2011 - Careless Wishes.

A no-fly zone - NFZ - in Libya will be old news before is is started.

From all reports, it is primarily artillery, which is now being brought to bear in a much more traditional military fashion, that is driving back the freedom fighters. My guess is that even if a NFZ was applied, Gadaffi's forces would be able to continue to drive them back - the Gadaffi forces have simply got themselves organized (however), and have the equipment and training to be able to do the job, air strikes or otherwise.

So the rest of the world, which has been dithering to the point of incredibility, now has to face the plain fact that the NFZ option is irrelevant. They must either walk away, and watch Gadaffi's security forces slaughter people on a Rwanda scale, or they must intervene, and at least use air power to take out Gadfaffi's tanks and artillery units.

Given the writhing and vacillation that was going on over a NFZ, the chances of a more robust approach are now 'snowball in hell'. Gadaffi will prevail. Takers for his oil will quickly emerge once the world media have found a new topic. Given that level of income, he will be able to afford to build a supply highway through Somalia and Chad or wherever to bring in anything that he can't get shipped in through the black market. Sanctions don't work - greed prevails.

He will, once again, become a very uncomfortable thorn in the side of the western nations - particularly the EU. So after some time, the west will probably have to do the hard way what they could have done easily by providing timely overt and covert support to the freedom fighters.

Where are our leaders? Can none of them see further than the end of their nose? OK, so Iraq and Afghanistan were complete cock-ups presided over largely by a president with shit for brains, but wrong decisions then should not be an excuse for wrong and inhumane decisions now. Roosevelt and Churchill must be turning in their graves.

The people of the developed nations, including me, have had many of their wishes granted. We were not careful in what we wished for - in many directions - and sooner or later our wishes will bring forward the unwanted and unforeseen conclusions.

Once again I must, and want to, express my sympathy for the people of Japan. The science and technology of the situation suggest that the nuclear reactor disasters will not have major external consequences - though it is still early days. The plant will have to be written off, but then it was 40 years old anyway.

But the more general effects of the earthquake and tsunami are so vast that they will not only provide enormous grief and loss to the people of Japan, but are likely to depress the world economy as well. That in turn will impose further suffering on those people of the world who can least afford it.

Confusion.

12/3/2011 - What Chances Freedom in Libya?

Gadaffi's war machine now appears to be on a roll, having given up all pretence of humanity to his own people. Also for at least another day, he can probably get away with doing almost anything, since Libya is not getting reported. Assistance to the freedom fighters may depend on:
  1. Unanimous agreement to a no-fly zone by the Arab League,
  2. A Security Council resolution with no vetoes,
  3. Agreement of all the members of NATO,
  4. Planning better than that which put together the crippled UN resolution 1970.
Well, number 1 has already failed. Syria and Algeria (Libya's next door neighbour) voted against.
Number 2 stands little chance. It will suit China quite well if Gadaffi wins. Then Gadaffi will probably sell Libya's entire oil output to China at a discount price - Chinese analysts are already discussing this. So China will probably veto. Russia and Germany could then conveniently abstain.

Number 3 is possible, but by the time all the national governments have got their political price and military/budgetary comittments sorted out, the match might be over.

Number 4 leaves you wondering. The way NATO members have been talking, a Libyan plane would actually have to have dropped mustard gas bombs on a crowd of civilians before it could be shot down. Planes attacking armed freedom fighters would be exempt - not attacking civilians.

So I have to say to the armed youth of Libya, my heart goes out to you, and the thought of the outcome makes me feel sick. But don't hold your breath.

Do not think me callous about Japan's problems and loss of lives, homes, and businesses. The biggest recorded earthquake, and everything it has brought with it, constitutes a disaster of truly biblical proportions. But the Japanese people know where they live, and that geophysics will take its toll regardless of politicians, religion or whatever. 'Twas ever thus for them. They are an outstandingly capable nation, and they will probably get it sorted out in notably short order. If they ask for help, they will get it - no if's, no but's, no conditions.

Libya.

France.

10/3/2011 - Will A Leader Please Step Forward.

So now that France has recognized the #TNC as the legitimate government of the state of Libya, the two countries can quickly sign a mutual non-aggression and mutual assistance treaty with initial duration maybe 6 months, then to be reviewed.

At that point France will have a treaty obligation to come to the aid of the Libyan government completely outside the scope of the UN, and those nasty French fighter jets will be able to take out Gadaffi's personal air force, tanks, etc, from airfields in east Libya or elsewhere at the request of the Libyan government.

I say personal. Remember that Gadaffi has stated himself on numerous occasions that he has no official position in Libya. Apparently his only source of authority is a large and well supplied private army that is now attacking the country's government.

Probably all very simplistic, but it works for me!

I say again, there's a UN resolution that virtually classifies Gadaffi as a criminal, but it seems that nobody in a position of power has the balls to do anything about him. Vive la France!

The UK response was frankly pathetic. My English is not bad, but I had to look up the word they used - 'interlocutor' - to find out exactly what it mean't. This only to determine that the meaning is so vague as to render the statement almost an insult. Cameron; please state your position with regard to the TNC in plain, simple, English, so the world can understand you. Do it quickly, then do something about it (or not, as the case might be), or be prepared to live with the responsibility for another Rwanda round your neck!

There's a very tight and interesting article at guardian.co.uk.

RPG-7.

8/3/2011 - Bust Some Sanctions!

OK, so nobody has the balls to do a no-fly zone over Libya. However, as has been stated, that would not be terribly effective against helicopter gunships anyway, and in the hardest pressed areas - Zawiha and Misrata, it does not appear to be air strikes that are the most pressing problem.

The problem is mostly tanks, which have been reported to enter the city and indulge in indiscriminate shelling. How they could do this is not clear to me. Almost certainly a good proportion of the defenders are armed with RPG-7 launchers. Fired from a rooftop at the top of tanks, or at ground level against the lower parts of tanks, these should be sufficient to deter tanks from entering the city centre, or disabling those that do.

If as seems more likely now, the tanks are parked at a distance from the city and being used as mobile artillery, then it's a different problem. These would probably require the use by the defenders of wire-guided anti-tank missiles. A few hits from those would quickly deter the use of tanks in that role.

They could dig in, but then they would be prone to night attacks by local people who knew the ground. Similarly, modern infantry-launched surface-to-air missiles could probably wreak havoc with the elderly fighter aircraft being used by Gadaffi for air strikes.

But the freedom fighters (I don't like 'rebels', or 'opposition') don't have these. Unfortunately, UN-1970 placed something of a blanket arms embargo on Libya, and therefore it is legally a moot point to simply ferry these weapons in. This however is a matter of interpretation. 1970 was basically aimed at a dictator who was killing his own people, so it seems unreasonable that it should prevent those people from being given the means to defend themselves.

Obama, please resuscitate your testicles. I'm not asking for boots on the ground, or foreign air attacks against Libyan SAM sites. In the east it is presumably quite easy. A ship can dock in Benghazi, and the stuff can be carried off by Libyan citizens. The problem is with cities like Zawiha. Maybe you'll have to get an Arab ship to dock there, and have the weapons delivered by Arab league forces. Alternatively, you can go to Benghazi and pick up a bunch of volunteers. Then they can take the weapons in on small boats. The delivery ship can have SAMs and air support - no boots on the ground. I'm doubtless talking hot air, but will someone who knows what they are talking about please come up with the degree of ingenuity that is required and usually displayed in wartime.

Remember the miners trapped underground in Chile. Everyone helped. Brain power was applied, and they were rescued. Aren't the people of Libya worth that kind of effort?

Perplexed.

7/3/2011 - General Situation.

So, time for a more general report on life here in Tanzania.

My figs are still looking healthy, but their growth is quite slow. Of course this is characteristic of the beasts. When they will choose to swell and ripen is unpredictable.

Adia has had guests for the last two or three weeks, several of who have now departed. But unusually we have got almost immediate replacements. I hope this will be an omen of things to come.

The electricity supply situation is deteriorating. It is currently on the lower side of 50%. One day in two you'll be turned off during the day, and then the next day you'll be turned off during the evening. The scary thing is that the government does not seem to have any transparent plan for dealing with this situation. It could be years!

For us it is reasonably OK. We have the new generator, so we can get by. But if you are running a woodworking shop, or a business that makes products out of welded steel, or lots of other businesses, you are forced onto half time working, and layoffs are inevitable. Also of course, the electricity supply company is only getting half the revenue it would expect to have in any rational planning system. It seems clear that in those circumstances it will quickly become bankrupt. What then I don't know - I can't see the government running the system.

The Tanzanian currency is losing value quite quickly, and that will make things worse as food, oil, gas, and other import prices rise. Here though I'm getting too close to Tanzanian politics, so I'd best shut up - I need my residence permit.

I no longer feel any confidence in predicting what might happen in Libya, and as far as I can tell I am by no means alone in this. The opposition continue to reject external help, but if they don't get it in some form, and Gadaffi is still in a position to buy arms and mercenaries, I can't see how they can prevail in the long term, brave though they may be.

Candidates for Death.

5/3/2011 - Alternatively Do Nothing.

The western governments seem content to see escalating use of air power by Gadaffi. They seem happy to ignore the repeated requests from the opposition for a no-fly zone - after all, these don't come from any body that can officially recognized. It's also ironic that since the Security Council resolution, they can't even support the opposition by supplying weapons and ammunition - there's an embargo in place..

Gadaffi might just get by. It probably depends on who has the most weapons, ammunition, and money. The revolution has a large number of angry young men and women it can draw on, who can pretty well be guaranteed to die for a lost cause if necessary. But without ammunition, they will die.

At the same time, as long as he has money, Gadaffi has several countries to his south where there is no shortage of young men who will do almost anything to escape from the non-life that they lead in ultra-poverty, or in strict Muslim societies now.

If Gadaffi does prevail, a lot if people will die in the process. After that many more will die in anonymous security force buildings after they have been tortured to make them reveal the names of their collaborators.

Another American president will be able to say in ten years time - "Yes, one of my great regrets is that I did not do something about that."

A tweet from Zawiya today reads "Please help us, we're all dying here, all we need is medical help and food supplies from you, please help!"

The Wishes.

2/3/2011 - Ask, then Act.

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates is reported as saying "Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down."

The UNSC has essentially agreed that crimes against humanity are being committed in Libya. Gadaffi is regarded as a madman. Clearly something ought to be done to prevent another Rwanda or whatever. If you see someone in the street beating a child to death, what do you do - walk by on the other side?

So presumably the US and the UK are talking to the new provisional government leaders in east Libya. If not, why not? (Yes, just confirmed.) Ask them - they've already tacitly asked for a no-fly zone, and are starting to ask for air strikes. If they're not contactable, or say no, then tell the world that is the case and forget it. Otherwise, do it.

Gadaffi is already making increased use of his air power. It does not matter if France, or Russia, or China is pissed off - they'll get over it. What matters is that at the end of the day, lives should have been saved, and the Libyan people should be able to say "we asked the US and the UK for help, and they gave it", or "we asked them to stay away, and they did."

I don't see this as an oil grab, Libya is an oil producing country, with existing infrastructure. It needs to sell its oil, and the EU countries, and to a lesser extent the US, need to buy it. That's trade, not colonization.

Boots on the ground should be avoided except possibly for rescue purposes. Moving troop carrier ships toward the Libyan coast, even if for "humanitarian" reasons, seems to me to send the wrong message. The aircraft carrier might have been a better choice.

Blowing my mouth off? Well, just for the record, I pay taxes in both the US and the UK, so I feel little shame.

Two Days of Ripened Fruit.

1/3/2011 - March Already.

At home, it seems to be passion fruit ripening time. They have now started dropping off our active vine, and the number in the picture have accumulated just in the last two days. You can't tell when they are ripe by looking at them - when they're ready they just drop off. This behaviour could be taken as a parable by the international community when it comes to revolutions in the Arab belt.

In Libya, the way it looks to me is that the east of the country has liberated itself, demonstrating in the process the willingness of the protesters to do or die. Now though, the enthusiasm to die seems much more muted in the larger city of Tripoli in the west.

This may account for statements coming out from the organizers in the east saying essentially "We will help when the people of Tripoli ask us to". In other words "Tripoli, don't expect us to do the hard stuff for you - we've done our share. We'll come and help when there's something to help with."

This kind of stalling stand-off favours Gadaffi, and does rather support the idea of a no-fly zone. The protesters in the east did not have big exposure to air power - it was early days. But I suspect the residents of Tripoli have a better appreciation of what air strikes could do to them, even though Russian military satellite monitors say there have been no air strikes so far.

A no-fly zone would level the playing field a little. It would probably do the trick if, in the first instance, the zone was restricted to say 100km around Tripoli. That would be much easier to set up than one for the whole of Libya, but it would give the inhabitants of Tripoli the opportunity to kick Gadaffi out of the capital. Tanks and artillery are well known for their relative uselessness in urban combat - under those circumstances, foot soldiers and civilians are on a much more equal footing.

An initial limited no-fly zone would also put in place an infrastructure that could be widened if Gadaffi managed to escape and start a process of destruction from Sirta, or the remote desert, or somewhere.

I just hope he gets the point ASAP, and takes himself and his sons off to Venezuela. I'm sure he must have some money salted away there. But regardless, everyone should read this excellent piece on the wishes of the Libyan people.

Usual caveats for the first day of the month - music links not yet adjusted, other errors likely.

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Check out the BEV retrospective
currently covering 1942 - 1974.

1975 is WIP (work-in-progress).

What is BEV?

Brits Eye View is the personal blog of a 68 year old Englishman - Steve Teale, started in January 2003. It's currently about life in Arusha (Tanzania), and previously in Bangalore, Manhattan, and the Bronx. It deals with life in general, building a house, food and drink, computer programming, opinion on current affairs, 20th century history, and so on. It may give you some insight into what life is like in 'the third world', or encourage you to visit Tanzania.

I started playing with it in January 2003, when I was living in Manhattan. At the time I felt I was going nowhere, and exposing the details of my life could be no worse than not. Almost immediately I changed partners, and quickly recognized that while I might be prepared to live in a goldfish bowl, other's weren't.

The same year I lost my job - recession, exhausted my NY State unemployment benefits, and got a job in India. Consequently a large proportion of BEV was written in Bangalore. India was OK, but I could not see what I was going to do there when I retired.

This uncertainty was resolved when I met my current partner Adia in 2006. She was a Tanzanian, studying law in India, so I came Tanzania in 2007. Here we have built a house, and made new friends. The rest, you can read on BEV.

At about the same time I had the ridiculous idea of extending BEV backwards to cover the years 1942 to 2002. So far I have got to 1974. For the years 2003 - 2010, choose a year/month from the tool bar. For 1942 - 1974, choose a year.

Visiting Tanzania?

If you have done all the usual tourist destinations, then make a leap and discover Africa! Come and visit Arusha, Tanzania.

You might be able to stay at - a great centre for safaris to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro, and of course our own pet volcano, Mount Meru.

Please feel free to contact us. We can tell you about hotels, facilities, prices of basics, etc.

We now have very pleasant bed and breakfast rooms available at $20 per night. The Old Cottage and the South House are also available for longer term visitors.

This Month's Posts

If there's something particular you'd like to go back to, just click it here

Top 20 BEV Pages.

Exchange Rates.

BEV Software Blog.

There are a couple of new items described on the current software blog post. The first is a site mapping script in PHP - this is what provides the new 'Site map' item on the BEV main menu.

There's also a rather convenient page that provides for translation of 'difficult' characters in computer code so that the result can be safely used in a web page.

Moods of Meru.

Mt Meru

Blue.

Random BEV Poem.

60 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Perry Como: If

- Mario Lanza: Be My Love

50 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Chubby Checker: Pony Time

- Elvis Presley: Surrender

UK Chart number 1

- Elvis Presley: Wooden Heart

- Temperance Seven: You're Driving Me Crazy
Link not found

40 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- The Osmonds: One Bad Apple

- Janis Joplin: Me and Bobby McGee

UK Chart number 1

- Dave & Ansil Collins: Double Barrel

30 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Eddie Rabbitt: I Love A Rainy Night

- REO Speedwagon: Keep On Loving You

- Blondie: Rapture

UK Chart number 1

- Bucks Fizz: Making Your Mind Up

20 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Whitney Houston: All the Man That I Need

- Mariah Carey: Someday

- Timmy T.: One More Try

- Gloria Estefan: Coming out of the Dark
Link not found

UK Chart number 1

- Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go

- Hale & Pace & The Stonkers: The Stonk
Link not found

10 Years Ago - Hits of the Month.

US Billboard #1

- Joe: Stutter

- Butterfly - Crazy Town

- Angel - Shaggy featuring Rayvon

UK Chart number 1

- Shaggy featuring Rikrok: It Wasn't Me

- Westlife: Uptown Girl

- Hear'Say: Pure And Simple
Link not found.

Contact BEV.

If you want to get in touch outside the built-in comment system, email Steve Teale.