Monday, February 26, 2007



I often get a lot of ribbing about my handle, Inkonkoni, which is generally a Zulu word used to describe a gnu. Unfortunately is it aslo a Xhosa word used to describe a lesbian.

Why I chose the name:

1) The gnu used to be the symbol of my home province, Natal, as can be seen above, and is currently one of the supporters of the KwaZulu Natal crest.

2) SAS Inkonkoni is the name of the citizen force naval base in Durban with which I have been affiliated. SAS Inkonkoni

3) Furthermore, as I work in a newspaper the word is just too punny to resist - "gnuspaper" get it?

4) As I like unicorns, other mythical horned animals, it was a no brainer.

5) No one else had chosen it on yahoo and my family instantly recognise it.

All of this was before the GNU freeware came along. Now everyone wants GNU.


Thursday, February 22, 2007



The South China Morning Post reports that citizens in Guangzhou, are finding the influx of Africans a little too much to bear.
In the traditional Chinese communities - where cooking a good Durban curry can cause wrinkled noses, and the loudest sound is the clattering of mahjong tiles residents have been aghast at the noise and dirt the newcomers are bringing in.
Flat owners are telling estate agencies not to rent their flats out to Africans, saying the foreigners are dirty, noisy and leave the flats in a bad condition.
The Post reports that the Guangzhou government is trying to find a way of dealing with the surging, and often illegal, foreign population which has been blamed for the city's high rate of crime.
Frustrated residents at Xiatan Xil have put up a notice requesting foreigners to make less noise at night to avoid being a nuisance. Residents were quoted as saying Africans liked to play loud music and sing and dance all night.
A security guard at the Jiazhou Cuiting flats said Africans were not welcome to rent there, but the Huanshi East Road was almost entirely overrun by Africans.
Locals complain about foreigners dirty habits, including littering the passageways of the buildings and causing a health hazard.
Peggy Lubanghe, a Cameroonian who came to Guangzhou as a student six years ago and has since settled down in a middle-class neighbourhood with her Congolese businessman husband, told the Post said she did not blame the Chinese for complaining.
Tianxiu is so dirty. I don’t know why they must all converge on Tianxiu,” she said. “It’s not the only building in China. Guangzhou is very big.
"Why must they all go there?
"I condemn this,” she said.
Ms Lubanghe said many Africans who were in Guangzhou illegally banded together for criminal activities, “destroying the reputation of Africans because the Chinese cannot tell one African from another”.
A Guangzhou police spokesman was quoted as saying that if flat owners decided that they wanted to bar the renting of properties to foreigners, there was no law to stop them.
“We won’t tolerate excessive behaviour, like turning people out, but if they don’t want to rent, we can’t do anything,” he said, adding that the cleanliness issue as well as differences in lifestyle were problems for Guangzhou residents. I personally feel that we may have to regulate and control rental housing," the spokesman said. “Landlords must show their ownership documents and tenants have to show their sponsorship certificates in passports.”
He said Guangzhou was more liberal than Shanghai in dealing with foreigners because Shanghai it did not require foreign tenants to report where they were working.
The spokesman said that police would direct their attention to the control of rental housing, which was a source of crime. "It's not just directed at foreigners," he said. "We are targeting all outsiders,” he said.
Mayor Zhang Guangning has said Guangzhou would step up publicity to educate foreigners about mainland laws as well as educate locals on how to deal with foreigners, and place more people with foreign-language skills in communities to help manage the foreigners.
Guangzhou is right across the border from Hong Kong which boasts a multiracial society although Africans are definitely in the minority and hardly seen outside Kowloon's Nathan Road area and the notorious Chung King Mansions where accommodation is cheap and police raids an almost nightly occurrence.

Monday, February 19, 2007


The success of Communism?

One of my regulars asked me to point out the successes of communism. So here goes:
Growing up in the west we were fed the line of Communism being about equal to murder. Being called a Commie was an insult. The mere sign of the sickle and hammer was enough to get any "decent" person frothing at the mouth.
Why is this, I wondered.
Let us first deal with the ills brought about by Communism. Mostly Communism came into power by violent revolution, an uprising of the underdog against the establishment. Power was taken at the point of an AK-47. The simple reason for this is that those rising up were unable to gain power in any other way. Later it began to assert itself through the ballot box.
Any form of violent uprising requires a period of adjustment afterwards of rebuilding and filling in the vaccuum left by the previous power. Often there is a lack of suitable leadership in all areas of government which leads to a number of disasterous decisions. The constant threat of outside powers (and it was constant and very real) brings about a dictatorship mindset, as was seen during Stalin's era, and then in an attempt to protect the gains the leader has made he tightens his grip over the populace to near strangulation. That is not what communism is about, but it is an understandable reaction given the tactics of destabilisation faced during that time.
This element of fear leaves conditions ripe for corruption and abuses of power, and that is exactly what happened.
And each and every time Communists have come to power, whether by revolution or by ballot they have had to face not only reversing the ills of the previous regime but the constant subversion by the capitalists. The struggle which should have ended with the party gaining power continues indefinitely.
So it is against this kind of backdrop that the successes or failures of communism should be measured.
After WWII Europe, China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan were a mess. Japan and Italy teetered on the brink of Communism but were pulled back by America's Marshall plan which basically said "Stay Capitalist or you won't be getting any aid from us." Which is fair, it's their money and they can choose to spend it however they wish.
What this did, however was to boost Europe and Japan undermine those war ravaged countries (i.e. the Communist countries) who had to make it on their own. Russia had just experienced three devastating wars and a plague. It had also experienced a famine which began with a drought and caused a 20% crop failure and the death of millions.
Yet out of this chaos it was still able to develop a nuclear weapon, put the first man into space, and industrialise what had been an agrarian feudal society. The great promises of Lenin which at the time had seemed impossible of Land, Peace and Bread, were eventually fulfilled.
Generally speaking the "peasants" were far better off than they had ever been. The literacy rate had turned within a single generation because of the rapid industrialisation. Tribes that had been nomadic and on the edge of survival benefitted from agrarian techniques and education. Medical attention was in the reach of every man, and huge advances in medicine and nutrition were made, one of my personal favourites was the discovery and use of adoptogens.
So while the populace might not have been able to buy blue jeans or listen to The Beatles, they were, for the most part, fed, clothed, educated, employed, housed and at peace.
Prosperity was a distant dream, but the average man in the street was far better off than he had been under the Tsar.
Something that is often forgotten about the Soviet regime was its effect on women's rights in the Islamic states that fell under its control. Women in these regions were also educated, even attending university, female circumcision died out as did honor killings, women were free to walk around unescorted and unveiled. They were allowed to become doctors and were able to recieve proper medical attention. They could work, dance, enjoy an ice cream on a hot day. All these things were taken from the women of Afghanistan by the direct interference of the capitalist world.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


When dead is not dead

“At the site, the execution commander gave the order, “Go!,” and the prisoner was shot to the ground. Either because the executioner was nervous, aimed poorly, or intentionally misfired to keep the organs intact, the prisoner had not yet died, but instead lay convulsing on the ground. We were ordered to take him to the ambulance anyway where urologists Wang Zhifu, Zhao Qingling and Liu Qiyou extracted his kidneys quickly and precisely. When they finished, the prisoner was still breathing and his heart continued to beat. The execution commander asked if they might fire a second shot to finish him off, to which the county court staff replied, “Save that shot. With both kidneys out, there is no way he can survive.” The urologists rushed back to the hospital with the kidneys, the county staff and executioner left the scene, and eventually the paramilitary policemen disappeared as well. We burn surgeons remained inside the ambulance to harvest the skin. We could hear people outside the ambulance, and fearing it was the victim’s family who might force their way inside, we left our job half-done, and the half-dead corpse was thrown in a plastic bag onto the flatbed of the crematorium truck. As we left in the ambulance, we were pelted by stones from behind.”
This was the sworn testimony of Wang Guoqi, a former mainland doctor, given before the subcommittee on international operations and human rights of the US House of Representatives, June 2001.
The testimony shocked the world and was vehemently denied by official sources who claimed that any prisoner who surrendered his organs had done so with consent. Dr Wang was branded a liar.
But recent revelations have added strength to his harrowing account of the execution of a 30-year-old farmer that took place in October 1995.
Professior Chen Zhonghua head of the Tongji Hospital’s Institute of Transplantation, recently admitted that organs used in the thousands of transplants performed on the mainland each year, come from executed prisoners. He stated that the government had been using the organs of prisoners for years to perfect their techniques: “All the organs were acquired free of charge then and nobody ever thought of any personal benefit. On the contrary, we were excited to be part of the lofty drive for a bright future of China’s medical system,” he said.
He also revealed that out of the thousands of transplants that had taken place since 2000 he knew of less than 20 cases in which the donor had given permission.
But perhaps most chilling of all, he asked for a clear definition of the term “brain dead”.
Dr Wang was a specialist in the burn victims unit at the Paramilitary Police Tianjin General Brigade Hospital in Tianjin. According to his testimony his work involved removing skin and corneas from the corpses of over one hundred executed prisoners.
This particular man was not yet dead before his kidneys were removed. In fact he was still alive when Dr Wang attempted to harvest the skin from his torso, something that usually took his team 10 – 20 minutes.
He told writers for German weekly Stern that as he used his scalpel to slice open the man from the hips to the shoulders in order to remove the skin from the torso, blood squirted into the incision. He said the kidneys of the prisoner were whisked away for transplant, one for a party official.
Now it seems, organ transplants, like so many industries on the mainland, are becoming big business. Only, in this industry, the raw materials are human beings. And it seems China has a glut of prisoners on the production line.
With the big transplant hospitals paying out thousands to officials to have dibs on fresh organs the justice system is sidelined. Executions happen when the hospitals are ready, donors culled from the herd of wretched human flotsam viewed as garbage to be recycled.
The implications are the stuff of nightmares.
And as the industry grows along with the potential for bringing in high paying, desperate, overseas patients the potential for abuse multiplies.
China’s justice system is notoriously poor, and along with its appalling human rights record it would seem many of the prisoners are not hardened criminals as many would like to believe.
The prisoner Dr Wang skinned alive was convicted of killing his friend during a fight. This is not something likely to garner the death penalty in a western country. The liberal use of capital punishment concerns human rights activists with some saying the only crime some executed prisoners committed was to belong to the Falun Gong.
In an article last month the Epoch Times revealed that Falun Gong practitioners, detained on the mainland were being tortured to death, their organs destined for transplant. “Informants revealed that doctors of the Drug Rehabilitation Centre in Baiyun District, Guangzhou City openly “directed” thugs who torture Falun Gong practitioners, ”Don't beat them [at the] waist, the kidneys can be used”.”
An insider told The Epoch Times that the doctors and merchants involved in the purchases of Falun Gong practitioners' organs were told that the organs were from Falun Gong practitioners who "developed insanity from the practice and died" or "became evil after practicing and murdered other people, and therefore were sentenced to death and shot by the authorities."
People from all over the world, desperate for a life saving organ transplant find themselves on a long waiting list at home where they hope a donor will become available in time. No such wait in China, if the promises of the China International Organ Transplant are to be believed. According to their website they can provide a kidney within two weeks – although they do not guarantee a perfect match.
On the surface, using the organs of executed prisoners may seem like a logical solution to the problem of organ shortage. But, medical professionals warn, it is open to the potential of abuse on a level not seen since the Nazi death camps.
Briton, Dr David Nicholl, consultant physician and human rights activist, commented “These allegations are akin to what happened at Auschwitz with experimentation on inmates, although the practice in China, if true, could be much more lucrative. At current rates, with at least 3,400 prisoners executed per year according to Amnesty International, this translates into a potential market of over £170 million per year, just for the kidneys
alone, this figure does not include the potential revenues for corneas, pancreas, hearts and livers.”
The Associated Press has reported that the true number of transplants carried out each year is not known, but new regulations in the pipeline will require written permission from the donor for organs to be used.
“It is a complete fabrication, a lie or slander to say that China forcibly takes organs from the people convicted of the death penalty for the purpose of transplanting them,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters last year.
And on the flip side, it may not only be the donors who are suffering. Both Japan and Malaysia have reported several transplant patients dying after they received transplants on the mainland. Their deaths were due to several factors such as infections or their unsuitability as transplant candidates.
The new regulations hope to address that issue. They forbid the buying or selling of organs and demand that written permission is given by the donor. Donors, they say, will have a right to refuse.
In the west the debate rages as a shortage of willing donors means patients in dire need of a transplant are put on a long waiting list and the life saving organ may never materialise.
One solution raised in Kidney International by American physicians is that people be allowed to sell their kidneys for a fair market price. The belief that human beings are owners of their own bodies and therefore should be allowed to sell their own organs – as long as this poses no threat to their lives – is one way to approach the problem.
But until a similar system reaches the mainland activists remain believe the system falls far short of protecting both donors and recipients.
“Given that the Chinese government has steadfastly refused to give precise figures about the number of people executed, in defiance of international treaties,” says Dr Nicholl, “their instance that they have now banned this practice has to be taken with a healthy degree of scepticism given the lack of regulation to date.”

old news

While George W Bush accounts for the state of the nation there are certain subjects he avoids…such as the on-going detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the force-feeding of hunger strikers. ..speaks to some of those involved…

“About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.
The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again,” Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky wrote in the Washington Post, in an article that brings home the horror institutionalised force feeding. Bukovsky spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons where he was regularly force fed after going on a hunger strike.
So he and other activists around the world have been particularly outraged that hunger striking detainees at Guantanamo have been subjected to this controversial procedure. The US military denies that their force feeding of inmates at Guantanamo is anything like the torture described by Bukovsky.
“Force feeding is a misleading term,” insists LTC Jeremy M. Martin, Director of Public Affairs, Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. “Detainees are tube fed when required, in a prudent manner by doctors or registered nurses. This feeding is consistent with what occurs in US hospitals or US correctional facilities. Tube feeding is performed humanely. Detainees on hunger strike are treated humanely.
“Detainees are not sedated during tube feeding, are given a mild local anesthetic if requested. Detainees are sitting up-right when tube feeding occurs, and the process lasts 1-2 hours. DoD policy is to preserve life by appropriate, lawful, clinical means.”
But the latest row to hit the military has not been about the humaneness or cruelty of the procedure, rather the ethics of those involved.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaking about the issue to a Pentagon press conference in November 2005, said, “I’m not a doctor and I'm not the kind of a person who would be in a position to approve or disapprove."
He had the political savvy to distance himself from what would turn out to be an international storm of protest and a brewing legal drama. This public washing of hands may seem to make Rumsfeld untouchable for what in some people’s minds amounts to war crimes, but some of his minions are feeling the backlash of judicial and international sentiment.
London solicitors Allen and Overy, who represent some of the detainees at Gitmo, have filed court action in California, asking the judiciary to look into the ethical liability of Captain John S Edmondson, then commander of Guantanamo's hospital,
The procedures are carried out by licensed doctors, which brings them into conflict with the World Medical Association. Whether or not that has any jurisdiction over Captain Edmondson is still being decided by the San Diego courts.
The military's policy of tube feeding prisoners on hunger strike is controversial, and military health care providers are "screened" before deployment to Guantanamo "to ensure that they do not have ethical objections to assisted feeding," Captain Edmondson told Susan Okie, M.D. who wrote about her October visit to Guantanamo in December’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
But, according to Nepalese Dr Bhogendra Sharma, (telephone interview) international programme advisor of medical foundation Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture the practice is unethical. “It is the Duty of doctors to respect the autonomy a person has as a patient.” To carry our any sort of procedure, he said, the doctor needed the “informed consent of his patient”.
In his sworn affidavit, seen by the South China Morning Post, Captain Edmondson states “The actual feeding process, both at the detention hospital and on the cell block, is very voluntary. Detainees retain a large measure of control over the administration of the nutrition. Once the feeding tube is inserted (or if it has remained in the detainee) a bag is connected to the tube and the nutrition flow begins. The detainee himself controls the flow of the nutrition so that any discomfort is minimized. . . . The detainees within their cells come voluntarily to the door and hand their naso-gastric tube out to a nurse, who connects the bag of nutrition to the tube and hangs the bag connected to the tube on a hook outside the cell door. … The length of the tube allows the detainee to move about within his cell for the two hours of feeding.”
Dr Sharma is puzzled by this assertion. If detainees were willing to receive nutrition, he wonders, why not just eat instead of going through the discomfort of tube feeding.
He, like many other vocal activists believes this is a form of torture.
“Force feeding is very painful,” he says. “It can be used as a form of coercion.”
The recent trial of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer in the death during interrogation of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, the shocking photographs from Abu Ghraib, affidavits of detainees telling of beatings, sexual assaults and religious pressures and the United States’ history of torture have badly dented America’s image.
So it is perhaps understandable that LTC Martin, is at pains to point out that this is not “force feeding” but rather a medical intervention to save the lives of detainees under the department’s care.
No prisoner has died at Guantanamo Bay. The officers are justifiably proud of this record and aim to keep it that way. Activist UK neurologist David Nicholl (telephone interview) believes it is this very record which is helping to motivate the medical staff to cross the ethical boundaries.
“It’s a face-saving effort,” he says.

On 11 January, Captain Edmondson handed over command of US Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay to Captain Ronald L Sollock, MC, USN. In a move that raised eyebrows among activists, he was awarded his third Legion of Merit Medal. His new task will be head of the Future Operations Division of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.
Dr Nicholl wrote a strongly worded letter to Captain Edmondson, calling him out on the ethics of this dispute and pointing out: “I would thus urge you to consider very carefully the consequences of your current actions, which are in direct contravention of internationally agreed legal and ethical standards, that have been ratified by the American
Medical Association, amongst others. I suggest that following these guidelines, you
should stop any further involuntary feeding. In the UK, we stopped force-feeding inmates 100 years ago with the suffragettes as the practice was felt to be barbaric then, it still is.”
The British government faced this exact dilemma during its incarceration of Irish Republican Army members and allowed them to starve to death, he said in his interview
Captain Edmonson replies: “You have a responsibility to base your conclusion on facts. Not on the accusations leveled [sic] in the media and broadcast by defense attorneys who are more interested in publicity than in the rights or health of their clients. In actuality I am not currently force feeding any detainees. I am providing nutritional supplementation on a voluntary basis to detainees who wish to protest their confinement by not taking oral nourishment.”
Yet in his affidavit he mentions prisoners having to be restrained, of them removing their tubes.
One of the greatest problems the media faces in reporting the truth is that the only non-partisan organisation allowed unfettered access to the detainees and facilities at Guantanamo Bay is the Red Cross.
And they, for fear of losing this right, do not make public their reports. “Access to every person in every conflict zone who needs protection or help, everywhere in the world, is our raison d’être. One thing is clear: if parties to a conflict see us leaking what we know to the outside world, the chances of our operating effectively will shrink dramatically But like I say, confidentiality is not what it’s actually about.” ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger says in an article on the ICRC’s website.
The media has been invited to the facility for carefully managed PR tours and many of them decline.
Even the UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, has not received the access he has requested.
So for now, Guantanamo Bay remains a festering sore on the face of human rights, under the auspices of the country that styles itself as the paragon of such rights.
And Bukovsky’s words ring true. “Think what effect your attitude has on the rest of the world, particularly in the countries where torture is still common, such as Russia, and where its citizens are still trying to combat it. Mr. Putin will be the first to say: "You see, even your vaunted American democracy cannot defend itself without resorting to torture."

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