Monday, July 31, 2006

Far too late, Dr Rice

It's time to talk ceasefire, says US

THE 19-day-old war in the Middle East has reached a turning point, with Israel's deadliest attack yet killing 54 people in southern Lebanon and the United States declaring it is time for a ceasefire.

Images of dead children - 37 children, police said - being dragged from the building in Qana, southern Lebanon provoked international condemnation and shattered the ceasefire talks.

In Jerusalem, Dr Rice said she was saddened by the attack: "I think it is time to get to a ceasefire. We actually have to try and put one in place."

Photo: AP/Nasser Nasser

63 members of the Chalhoub and Hashem families had been sheltering in the basement of one house when the attack occurred at 1.30 in the morning. One little blond boy of about three years was placed limply on a stretcher by a Red Cross volunteer, his dummy still attached to his shirt by a plastic chain.

Abbas Kassam, 31, a local man, said he knew both families, whose menfolk worked in construction and in tobacco. "There was a 13-month-old baby and a lot of children," he said. "The Israelis have planes and they see everything on the ground. They must have seen kids playing in front of this building.

Mothers embraced their dead children, still wearing their pyjamas they had gone to sleep in, while others retrieved the bodies and took them away.

The bodies of 23 children were among those recovered from the rubble of dozens of buildings that collapsed after the bombardment, said Salam Daher, the civil defence chief in the region.

"I retrieved my son and my husband, Sheik Mohamad, who were wounded. But when I came back to get my daughter who had stayed in the shelter, it was too late because the building had crumpled," cried a woman identified as Rahba.

Sydney Morning Herald

Hundreds of innocent people killed, very many of them children, on both sides of the border, lives torn apart, thousands have lost their homes, their livelihoods...and the best we can get from the one country that could have stopped it, but refused to do so, is "I think it is time to get to a ceasefire."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Israel/Lebanon. Blame the bigots.

On the insanity going on in Israel/Lebanon, reading through various blogs in The Australian Index I don't see much from a Lebanese/Palestinian perspective. A balanced view is essential if we're to even begin to understand what's happening.

Pre-determined blind prejudice is the root cause of the death and destruction and effectively bars any discussion, any chance of a peaceful solution.

There's a blindingly obvious need for willingness to accept that there are two sides to every argument. Without that there can never be a solution.

So here's some balance, two sides of the same story.

In another blogosphere there have been photos reprinted, including from the Sydney Morning Herald, of Israeli children writing messages on artillery shells prior to them being launched at Lebanon. Their authenticity was questioned (PhotoShopped? asked more than one blogger) and so backtracking was done.

An Israeli blogger tracked the photographer down, then found a reporter who was there. Yes, the photos were genuine, no they hadn't been doctored. But, naturally, there was a background to the photos.

"Kiryat Shmona has been under constant bombardment from South Lebanon since the first day of the conflict. On the day that photo was taken, the girls had emerged from the underground bomb shelters for the first time in five days. A new army unit had just arrived in the town and was preparing to shell the area across the border. The unit attracted the attention of twelve photojournalists - Israeli and foreign. The girls and their families gathered around to check out the big attraction in the small town - foreigners. They were relieved and probably a little giddy at being outside in the fresh air for the first time in days. They were probably happy to talk to people. And they enjoyed the attention of the photographers.

There's much, much more of course, and you can read the whole story here under "Putting things in perspective".

Now here's the comment from the other side of the border, from a Palestinian refugee who'd read the posts:

please stop this. i couldnt even read the whole article i had to skim through it trying to reach the point, and you know what this is a terrible empty excuse for demonic pictures. if the children were unaware of the meaning of such an act, i'm sure the parents looming around in the background are well aware. the parents were simple letting of steam and frustrated after being in shelters for 5 days??? WE WISH WE HAD SHELTERS THAT WE COULD HIDE IN FOR 5 DAYS. 7 of my family were killed, my niece was found in the field next to our house because she was blown out completly ... can you compare what is happening to us to what is happening in isreal, can u even compare??? you are an educated rational logical person, tell me is there a comparsion between what is happening, please enough, kill us, we are dead, but do not take away the peace of death by tormenting us with excuses to make it sound like the isrealis are not to blame... they took my home and my land, they now live on it and call it their home while i am a REFUGEE with no passport no identity no rights no nothing and u say that they r right, they r fruestrated becasue they have been in shelters for 5 days, i have seen my family murdered right in front of my house, they have the whole international worl supporting them, what bulshit what bullshit what bullshit what bullshit u say... this is injustice and God will not let this go, this is our suffering, God will not let this go.

it took us so much time to build our house, we built it with our own hands and everymorning my grandmother would spend hours in the garden, perfecting it, growing tomatoes and pears that were celbrated through all of lebabanon and we had our own heaven on earth with swings and flowers and trees and now it is all destruction with my grandmother lying dead with so many of the hands, my family that built this ruined house just for nasrallla whom i do not even support, after we were kicked out of palestine, when the isrealis took our land, we came here and through hard work we were able to start again and have a new life away from home, but now the isrealis have ruined us again, our second try, and they killed the half of my family that was left after the first time, i am so depressed i do not know what to do with my self or who to tell my story to or who will care to listen when i am a palestinian muslim, i am nothing in the eyes of the west, 2 isreali soldiers for so much destruction that is the balance in the modern world lieave me in my grief i cannot read such utter injustice anymore.

As I said, there are two side to every story.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Turning a blind eye...

Ministerial standards continue at an appalling level under the blind-eye approach of Our Great & Fearless Leader:

THE federal Minister for Tourism, Fran Bailey, has acknowledged making several private stopovers in Singapore to go shopping and visit her daughter while on official overseas trips.

The veteran MP upset embassy staff in Singapore on two stopovers when she insisted on one of her daughters being driven to and from the airport by official vehicles, sources in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have told the Herald.

Asked about the stopovers yesterday, a spokesman said the minister would not discuss private matters, adding: "Fran Bailey has travelled five times overseas in her capacity as Minister for Small Business and Tourism. All travel, including accommodation, was approved and complied with Commonwealth requirements. All travel was via the hub of Singapore. Two involved transits only and three involved stopovers. The three stopovers included one official visit and two private visits. The minister stayed in private accommodation for all three stopovers at no expense to the Commonwealth."

It is not the first time Ms Bailey's spending habits have come under fire. In May it was revealed that taxpayers had paid $5156 to train her in public speaking - an outlay she defended, saying: "I think it is essential for every employer to maintain personal skill levels and to provide professional training for their staff."

Last month Ms Bailey was listed by the Department of Finance as one of the top 10 spenders on travel among federal MPs, having spent $73,137 last year.

Ms Bailey's office has yet to answer questions, posed by Labor at the Senate Estimates Committee two months ago, which focused on three taxpayer-funded trips the minister took in the past year. The first related to an official visit to India between September 17 and 24
last year. The trip, which cost $28,082, was justified "to promote bilateral tourism relationship" as well as to sign a memorandum of understanding and attend Tourism Australia's Indian travel mission.

But it was not the purpose of the trip that prompted questions by the ALP's Kerry O'Brien during a Senate Estimates Committee hearing on May 29. Rather, it was where she stayed and whether she moved from the Hilton Hotel, where rooms start at $250 per night, to the more expensive Taj Mahal Palace, where the cheapest rooms cost $600 a night.

Senator O'Brien also wanted to know who had travelled with Ms Bailey and, if she made a stopover in Singapore, why a stopover was necessary and if taxpayers had picked up the tab. The questions were all taken on notice by departmental officers.

Senator O'Brien then turned his attention to a two-week trip in July last year to South Korea, Japan and China, which cost taxpayers $29,485, again asking if she had made an unscheduled stopover in Singapore.

A stopover was not mentioned in the official explanation, filed with the Department of Finance and Administration, which referred to "discussions on the developing tourism market" with China and the Aicho Expo in Japan.

Senator O'Brien wanted to ask similar questions about the minister's dash to London in March at the height of the row over the "So where the bloody hell are you?" advertising campaign, but ended up placing them all on notice.

Ms Bailey's office said answers would be provided in Parliament within the next fortnight.

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Foodies' delight.

In Singapore last week, where the food is excellent. Good fresh ingredients cooked freshly for you.

One evening we were out with a dozen or so people, way off the tourist track. Plenty of dishes appeared on the table and this one looked pretty good...

But I gave it a miss.

Five minutes earlier it was this...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Pots & kettles

The old phrase "the pot calling the kettle black" came to mind when I saw this item:

Unions dishonest on IR ads: Howard
Prime Minister John Howard has accused the union movement of resorting to dishonesty in its campaign against his government's new workplace laws.

"Resorting to dishonesty" eh. That's rich, coming from John Winston Howard.