So, when are we invading Kyrgyzstan?

The pro-war liberal left is shamefully silent about the killings there.

The world obsesses over the oil spill off the southern coast of the United States while Osh burns.

From Luke Harding's depressing account in today's Guardian:

It was early afternoon when the mob surged down an alley of neat rose bushes and halted outside Zarifa's house. The Kyrgyz men broke into her courtyard and sat Zarifa down next to a cherry tree. They asked her a couple of questions. After confirming she was an ethnic Uzbek, they stripped her, raped her and cut off her fingers. After that they killed her and her small son, throwing their bodies into the street. They then moved on to the next house.

"They were like beasts," Zarifa's neighbour, Bakhtir Irgayshon, said today, pointing to the gutted bedframe where she had been assaulted. A few pots and pans remained; the rest of the family home was a charred ruin. Zarifa's husband, Ilham, was missing, Irgayshon said, probably dead. Only his mother, Adina, survived the Kyrgyz-instigated conflagration that engulfed the neighbourhood of Cheremushki last Friday.

Such horrific descriptions of the violence and killings plaguing Kyrgyzstan are reminiscent of Kosovo in early 1999, which led to the Nato bombing campaign of Yugoslavia and the subsequent toppling of Slobodan Milosevic. The death toll in and around Osh since fighting broke out on 10 June is believed to be closer to 2,000 Uzbeks, rather than the official estimate of roughly 200. Thousands of refugees have fled across the border from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan.

So where, I wonder, are the pro-war liberal-lefties this time round? I've yet to hear from the likes Johann Hari, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, John Rentoul or Christopher Hitchens on the need to "intervene" in Kyrgyzstan. And David Cameron and Barack Obama, unlike Blair and Clinton in 1999, have not despatched bombers in the direction of Bishkek. (The "latest news" section on the Foreign Office website has only two references to the fighting in Kyrgyzstan, and both relate to travel advice for British citizens in the region.)

Don't get me wrong: I'm not advocating armed intervention by western powers. I'm not one of those lefties who believes the first response to a humanitarian crisis or a civil war should be to launch a Nato bombing campaign. No, I'm just pointing out the double standard; I'm engaging perhaps in what Cohen calls "whataboutery".

Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about the background to the violence, check out the blog of Craig Murray -- our former man in Uzbekistan.

And if you want to know why we in Britain and the west should care about, and feel partly responsible for, what is going on, check out this blog post from the Telegraph's Richard Spencer. Or this provocative piece from the lefty American polemicist Ted Rall.

Spencer writes:

Are not the rapes and killings of hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks at the hands of Kyrgyz mobs, allegedly aided by Kyrgyz troops, just another terrible news story from a faraway place of which we know little?

Well, if I pointed out that just a few months ago the United States agreed to fund and train Kyrgyz troops who were gearing up to fight Uzbeks, that might raise a few eyebrows. And, as it's true, though surprisingly no one else seems to have noticed, point it out I will.

I will also point out that it is no coincidence that the man accused of fomenting the violence, Maxim Bakiyev, son of the leader ousted in a popular revolution in April, was arrested in Britain the other day. It wasn't just because he had, in the way of dubiously rich ex-Soviet princelings, bought a British football club. It was because we were his sort of country.

His father came to power five years ago on a wave of pro-democracy fervour whipped up by our own Tony Blair. George Bush of course had a lot to do with it -- it was his insistence that American power brought with it a responsibility to foment freedom, even in other powers' backyards, that sent a second wave of velvet revolutions across the former Soviet empire, from Georgia to Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan.

Rall writes:

This latest outbreak of violence represents something new. First, it's worse: bigger and more widespread. Second, as most central Asians know, it's delayed fallout from George W Bush's misadventures in regime change.

Bush's military-CIA complex had more than Iraq and Afghanistan on its collective mind. Over the course of six years, they toppled or attempted to overthrow the governments of Venezuela, Haiti, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine -- and, yes, Kyrgyzstan.

In March 2005 a CIA-backed (and in some cases -trained) mob of conservative Muslim young men from Osh drove up to Bishkek and stormed the presidential palace. President Askar Akayev, a former physicist who had been the only democratically elected president in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, fled into exile in Russia.

Kyrgyzstan, like so many central Asian nations, is an unlucky country. Save the Children is preparing to send emergency relief to Osh; you can donate to its campaign here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.