Sad Legacy

SBS reports that “Nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, its youngest victims are still in their infancy. Across the country, some babies are still being born with defects as a result of their parents’ exposure to dioxin found in in the crop-killing herbicide Agent Orange.” The US military sprayed about 44 million litres, or 12 million gallons of the substance over the country between 1961 and 1971.

The article tells the story of three year old Dang Hong Dan, who was born with a cleft lip and deformities in one hand and foot. Dan’s parents take work where they can get it, but their income is not consistent, and they have trouble caring for their young son.

There are about 1.2 million children in Vietnam who are living with disabilities. Of those, 150,000 are believed to be victims of Agent Orange. What a sad legacy of a sad war – one that should not have involved either the USA or Australia. Chemical warfare has no place in a civilised world.

“Last year,” SBS says, “the US government agreed to assist in clean-up efforts of Agent Orange, after a long period of bilateral discussions with the Vietnamese authorities. Australia is not involved in the clean-up effort, but through AusAID is funding programs to help those affected by the substance as well as other children with disabilities.” Dan’s family is one of those receiving help.

AusAID director Peter Baxter says the decision to provide aid is not related to our involvement in the war, but it is “not only the right thing to do, it’s a smart thing to do to ensure that the human resources that are available in developing countries are actually used to benefit those societies.”

While Australia did not use chemical weapons in Vietnam it is gratifying to see that we are helping in a small way to help the people there cope with the aftermath of the war.

Military intelligence?

The Age reports that in 2011, military police seized from a Canberra bookshop a number of obsolete service training manuals dating back to the 1930s. Last Monday the booklets were returned to the shop.

The reasons given for the seizure – that the manuals were restricted documents and that there was information in them that was not for ‘certain people’ to see – seem a bit specious considering that some of the same manuals were on public sale at the Australian War Memorial during the two years the booklets were held by the MPs.

The bookshop’s owner, Simon Maddox, said that when the items were seized, “I was partially stunned and thought it was pretty humorous. I wondered why things from 1937 would affect the security of Australia now.” He is now wondering why it took so long for the MPs to decide the manuals were harmless. “Even reading slowly you’d imagine you could get through it quicker than that.”

An interesting postscript to the story occurred in January when the bookshop received a donation of another 85 similar pamphlets. “The Canberra Times reported this and, within two or three days, they were all sold. I think the the general public was trying to protect us from the military police,” Mr Maddox said.

Rebooting a dinosaur

SBS reports that “The world’s oldest computer has been rebooted by two dedicated engineers who have spent nine years bringing it back to life.”

Roger Holmes and Rod Brown, working in a barn in Ashford, Kent, have returned the ICT1301 computer, known as Flossie, to full working order. The machine, which measures six metres by 6.7 metres (20 feet by 22 feet), and cost £250,000 in 1962, was originally bought by London University to organise exam grades and print certificates. Flossie was delivered to the University on 19 September 1962, so she has just celebrated her 50th birthday.

Working on the ICT1301
Working on the ICT1301 in Kent

The computer’s memory alone weighs half a tonne… all 12 kilobytes of it! Yes, that’s 12kb; there are 1024kb in a megabyte, and a modern smartphone can have 8192 megabytes (8 gigabytes), which makes Flossie’s memory seem rather inadequate :).

Roger Holmes at the ICT1301 console
Roger Holmes at the ICT1301 console

The front panel of an ICT1301 was used in The Man with the Golden Gun as well as Doctor Who and Blake’s 7.

It’s interesting to note that there’s an unrestored ICT1301 at Otago Settlers’ Museum in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The Computer Conservation Society (of which Holmes is a member) visited the restoration project and has a report, complete with photos.

The project has its own website, which includes the history of the machine, reports of public open days, photos and a video, and other information. It also includes a report of a visit by the original designer. (The site—appropriately enough, I guess—features a binary clock. Let me know if you can read it!)

Twisted logic

Another story from the USA. I’m sure that nation is schizophrenic! Collectively, US citizens have contributed so much to the world… but they also seem to be full of contradictions.

SBS reports that “A Republican congressional candidate once known as ‘Joe the plumber’ is in hot water after implying in a campaign video that German gun controls contributed to deaths during the Holocaust.”

Samuel Wurzelbacher, who became known as Joe the Plumber during the 2008 Presidential campaign when he questioned Barack Obama at an event, is running as a Republican in Ohio for the House of Representatives. In the video he loads a shotgun and fires at pieces of fruit placed on wooden posts:

In his commentary he lists several instances of genocide, in each case stating that the victims, “unable to defend themselves, were exterminated.” He finishes by saying: “I love America.”

Not surprisingly there were protests. Joe later claimed on Twitter that he didn’t say that gun control caused genocide.

Well, he didn’t actually say that… but what else is the viewer to conclude? Loading and shooting a shotgun while giving a running commentary about historical genocides in which people were “unable to defend themselves”, together with the throwaway “I love America” as he holds his gun at the end, doesn’t leave much room for any other interpretation.

As with most other arguments from the gun lobby, this bizarre video is based on twisted logic. Americans just love to talk about their right to bear arms, and even Christian friends (who I might have expected to have a more balanced view) have defended to me their possession of weapons. Don’t they understand that they have a higher rate of murder using firearms than most other places in the world, and that the number of weapons in the community might just have something to do with that? A friend once told me that his father keeps a gun in case he needs to defend his home and family. When I commented that I’ve never felt the need to defend my home or family – simply because there’s never been a threat, which I’m sure is the case for the vast majority of families in Australia – his response was, “That must be nice.” I just don’t understand that argument. If they didn’t have so many guns there wouldn’t be so many shootings. Simple.

To get back to Joe the Plumber… how exactly does he think the people who were killed during the genocides he mentions were going to defend themselves? Pistols, or even shotguns, would have provided practically no defence against the Nazis, for example. Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium and France all buckled under the might of the Blitzkrieg, and it took more than five years and concerted efforts from east and west to claw back that ground and subdue Hitler. If whole nations – who were able to defend themselves – couldn’t stand against that force, how were individual pockets of Juden (and even smaller other groups, such as homosexuals and disabled people) to do so? Yes, six million Jewish people were killed, but that figure represents people gathered from all over Europe; it’s not as if the whole six million were in one place where they could have taken a stand. In fact, those who did resist were brutally punished.

I love Australia, imperfect as it is, but I don’t need to resort to cheap shots (if you’ll pardon the pun) to try to make a point. In my opinion Joe is defending the indefensible, and causing offence.

Do the Easter Island statues have bodies?

An email doing the rounds at present expresses surprise that excavations have revealed that the stone statues on Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean are actually buried and that under the surface they have bodies.

This is not actually a surprise for archaeologists, who have been studying the statues on the island for about a century (that’s archaeologists in general – not particular people), and have been aware of the torsos since the earliest excavations in 1914.

The current digs referred to in the email are being conducted by the Easter Island Statue Project. In an article, Easter Island heads have great bodies! Jo Anne Van Tilburg, the director of the project, explains that about 150 of the statues on the island stand upright on the slopes of the quarry where they were carved. They are buried to varying degrees by material washed down from above. After the existence of the statues was reported to the outside world in 1868 “many sketches, essays, newspaper articles, and books were published describing the statues embedded in the slopes as ‘heads’.” More than 90 excavations since that time have uncovered bodies of statues.

The EISP website has excavation reports and lots of photos.