Archive for 11/05/2019

Greece Anzac story ‘overlooked’

They bore the name Anzac, and many had fought in Gallipoli a few decades years earlier.

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They were told that this time, they would be victorious.

“The task ahead though difficult is not nearly so desperate as that which our fathers faced in April twenty-six years ago. We go to it together with stout hearts and certainty of success,” said General Thomas Blamey in 1941 as he announced the formation of a new Anzac Corps.

What awaited was a grim repetition of history.

“(They were) probably having a moment of deja vu, because again they were in another diversion, and facing a suicidal mission and fighting against unequal odds,” says historian Dr Maria Hill, author of ‘Diggers and Greeks’.

For the second time, Anzacs were caught by surprise due to leadership decisions over which there is still much controversy.

The 6th Australian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division were evacuated to Crete as German troops invaded in a pincer action that saw Greece and Yugoslavia fall.

But on May the 20th, 23,000 German troops landed on the island – half of them by parachute.

“The sad thing about that campaign is that the Allies outnumbered the Germans three to one, and they really shouldn’t have lost Crete,” Dr Hill says.

The campaign bore ‘uncanny parallels’ to the slaughter in Turkey a generation earlier, according to Peter Ewer, author of ‘The Forgotten Anzacs’.

The ‘second Anzacs’ made up 83 per cent of prisoners of war taken by German and Italian forces, according to Dr Hill.

More than 6,000 Australians spent the next three or four years in Nazi camps, suffering hunger and deprivation on top of the trauma of battle, she says.

They came home shell-shocked and jittery, and told of nightmares that plagued them for the rest of their lives.

‘OVERLOOKED’

In the decades after the war – until as late as 1982 – the government of Greece tracked down every Anzac who had served in the campaign, and awarded them a special medal.

But Australia’s defence force forbade diggers from wearing theirs, as it wasn’t an Australian honour.

Veterans of the campaign lobbied defence ministers to recognise them, but were rebuffed, says Dr Hill.

Few veterans remain alive today, but their descendants and supporters have signed an online petition in their thousands, urging the government to award them a posthumous medal.

Dr Hill – who began the petition – says many more signatures are needed before the Defence Department will consider the proposition.

“You basically need a federal minister to champion the cause,” she says.

Watch: Dr Hill explains the significance of the Greek service medal awarded to the second Anzacs.

SBS has contacted the Defence Department for comment, and has been assured of a reply in the coming days.

NEW AUSTRALIANS

The story of the Greek campaign was not wholly one of loss.

Anzac troops formed such enduring bonds with Greek villagers, who in some cases helped escaped prisoners of war to hide from the Nazis for years.

They risked execution if they were found out, and the Nazis frequently reminded them of this via air-drops of threatening pamphlets over villages suspected of harbouring Allied escapees.

Xanthoula Papadopoulos was 14 when the local shepherd brought a bedraggled Australian soldier to her family’s home in a small village in north-eastern Greece.

Bert ‘Slim’ Wrigley had escaped a German camp in Thessaloniki and walked for days. His feet were bleeding, and he was starving.

Xanthoula’s father found him a hiding place and brought him food and medicine until he was strong enough to make the treaccherous trek up Mount Olympus to British military headquarters.

Her father was later sent to a prison camp, where after a year he was executed for his political views.

The family knew no more of Slim until the late 1940s, when they discovered his address written on a scrap of paper in their photo album.

Having studied to be a teacher, Xanthoula’s English was good, and she struck up a correspondence with him on behalf of her family.

Slim sent help as her family struggled through post-war, fascist-controlled Greece.

He was battling his own demons – scarred by the trauma of his time as a Nazi prisoner, Xanthoula recalls.

“He couldn’t settle anywhere, he went up to Queensland, back and forth (it was) very hard after what he went through to pick up a normal life again,” Xanthoula says.

In 1951, Slim sent Xanthoula a letter asking her to marry him.

Listen to Xanthoula tell her story:

 

 

Resolving that she wouldn’t accept if she didn’t like him after arriving, she travelled to Melbourne, where she has now lived for 60 years. She turned 86 two days before Anzac Day.

IMMIGRATION

Slim had learnt to speak fluent Greek, and after joining the Commonwealth Police, became known throughout Melbourne’s huge Greek community.

He became involved in migrant affairs, helping others escape to Australia and guiding them through the bureaucratic process once they arrived.

He passed away recently.

Other Greeks who knew diggers during WWII came to Australia for reasons other than love. Many were sponsored by those they’d helped during the conflict.

While there are no exact figures on how many people came to Australia as a result of the Anzac campaign in Greece, Dr Hill has heard many such stories.

Another veteran became known around Melbourne for his fluency in Greek and skills at making feta cheese. He sponsored Greeks who had helped him to come.

Commander of the 2/2nd Australian Battalion, Sir Frederick Chilton, brought out several members of the Mourtzakis family, whose descendants still speak fondly of him.

‘LESSONS FOR AFGHANISTAN’

Dr Hill draws a parallel between the diggers who served in Greece and those in Afghanistan today.

She says the Greek people loved the Australians for being friendly and deeply respectful of their culture.

She believes the Defence Department could use that experience as the basis for further training in cultural interchange in Afghanistan, where Australia’s mentoring task force deals closely with Afghans.

Factbox: What are ‘black holes’?

By Robert Braun, CSIRO

The concept of a “black hole” is one of the most curious in astrophysics.

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It’s the answer to the question: “What happens if the density of matter in a region becomes so high that not even light can escape?”

The reason this question even arose dates back to Einstein’s prediction of 1916, in his Foundations of General Relativity, that the direction light travels will be bent in the direction of any nearby mass.

That prediction has been spectacularly confirmed in recent years by the discovery of “gravitational lenses” – where a background source and a foreground mass are so closely aligned that the light from the background source is highly distorted, even to the point of forming an almost complete arc around the foreground mass.

Before 1916, we had not considered that this might be possible. After all, why should the mass-less particles of light, photons, feel the influence of any mass they pass? The surprising answer is that the basic shape of our universe is influenced by each mass within it, like the dimples in a rubber sheet caused by an occasional marble.

University of New Mexico

Passing light can be thought of as confined to the rubber sheet and when it passes near a marble it will be deflected from its original path by passing through the dimple. If the dimple becomes too deep, light that passes sufficiently close will be deflected into a spiral path that ends on the marble and it will not escape at all.

The boundary between light paths that just manage to pass a density concentration and those that do not is called the “event horizon” – the greater the mass of a density concentration, the larger the size of this “surface of no return”.

For an object as massive as our sun, the event horizon is about 6km in diameter. The matter density needed to form such a black hole is extremely high – about 2 x 1019 kg per cubic metre. That’s more extreme than the density of an atomic nucleus.

Animated simulation of gravitational lensing caused by a black hole going past a background galaxy.

The densest form of matter so far observed in nature is that encountered in so-called neutron stars, an entire star composed only of neutrons. Yet even a neutron star is not dense enough, by a about a factor of 50, to form a black hole of the sun’s mass.

Density

Curiously, the density needed to form a black hole scales as the inverse square of the total mass. So, the density of a neutron star would be sufficient to form a black hole if the object had about 2,500 times the mass of the sun. What exactly happens when so much mass is concentrated in the same place is not understood.

Will it compress into some new state, such as the quarks that are thought to be the building blocks of neutrons, or some even more fundamental building block? We just don’t know.

The

average density

of the sun – about 1 gram per cubic centimetre – which also happens to be the density of liquid water on Earth’s surface, would be sufficient to form a black hole were it associated with a mass of 100 million times that of the sun.

This is the mass of the compact objects within the centres of massive galaxies. Continuing this line of reasoning, we can ask: “Do we live in a black hole?” – a question that’s dominated cosmology for the past century.

Is the average density of the universe so high that light and everything else around us could never escape? The answer appears to be “no”. The universe is undergoing an accelerating rate of expansion that implies an insufficient matter density to represent a black hole.

How do we know black holes exist?

What evidence is there that the black hole phenomenon actually occurs? At this time, it’s all indirect.

On the scale of individual stars, there are cases where a normal star appears to orbit a compact object that’s very faint but is perhaps ten times as massive as the sun. Since there are no current theories to explain this, such objects have been called “black hole candidates”.

On larger scales, there’s evidence of a massive but compact object at the centre of many, and possibly all, galaxies. The object that resides in the very centre of our Milky Way has been studied by tracking the movements of many nearby stars.

The orbits of these stars have been used to deduce that the central object must be about 4 million times more massive than the sun and that it must be smaller than about 1/1000 of a light year (a light year being equal to approximately 10 trillion kilometres).

Although this is the best current evidence for a very massive, very compact object, it’s important to note that this limit on matter density, of about 10 grams per cubic metre, is still 100 million times smaller than what’s needed – about 1kg per cubic centimetre – to qualify as a black hole of this mass.

Supermassive black holes

It’s thought so-called supermassive black holes – as much as 1 billion times the mass of the sun – reside in the centre of galaxies that are significantly more massive than the Milky Way, particularly those which have an elliptical rather than a disk-like distribution of their stars. Many of these massive galaxies have been host to the “quasar phenomenon” at some point in their history.

The quasar phenomenon is the most energetic type of event that has yet been witnessed in the universe, outshining all of the stars in the hosting galaxies for millions of years, and is understood as a consequence of matter falling into a central massive object.

The extremely strong gravitational attraction of compact massive objects tends to tear apart and pull in anything that comes too close. The tearing action is due to “tidal forces”, the fact the gravitational force acting on the nearest portions of an object is significantly stronger than that acting on the most distant portions.

This same phenomenon causes tides on Earth, since the gravitational attraction of the moon is significantly larger on the side of Earth facing the moon than the side facing away. As material is pulled toward the compact massive object it tends to gather in what is called an “accretion disk”, a very hot, rapidly rotating structure that channels material toward the central object.

The reason for the rapid spin is the preservation of angular momentum, akin to what a slowly rotating ice skater experiences when they draw in their arms from a more extended position. Any small initial rotational motion is strongly amplified during contraction.

The high temperature is the result of the high-speed collisions between material falling in and that already in place.

The final stage of channelling material inward is a challenging one, since somehow the energy associated with the rapid rotation must first be shed. The solution nature has found to this problem is dramatic: the rotational energy of the accretion disk is shed by sending high-speed jets of matter out along the rotation axis of the disk.

The same jet ejection phenomenon is found to apply over an extremely wide range of scales, from the formation process of individual stars, such as the sun, to that of quasar accretion disks, where the result can be the largest distinct objects yet seen, measuring millions of light years from end to end.

But are the compact massive objects seen on a wide range of scales truly black holes, in the sense of having achieved a sufficient mass density to become disconnected from the rest of the universe? Or are they merely a highly condensed state of matter that we don’t yet understand?

A concept drawing showing the accretion lines from a black hole. NAS

Seeing is believing

Direct evidence for the black hole phenomenon might be possible if an image could be made of the event horizon. While this has not yet been done, the best prospects might come from looking at the object at the centre of our own galaxy, since it provides the best combination of a large event horizon size with the closest possible distance.

The expected image size is about 0.2 milli-arcseconds, or about 10,000 times smaller than the typical image size of a star observed with an optical telescope from the ground.

The required resolution could be achieved by a network of radio telescopes separated by thousands of kilometres and observing at wavelengths of about a millimetre. Such a project – the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – is being developed by astronomers at the Smithsonian Institution. If successful, the EHT will demonstrate that nature has truly found a way to squeeze matter together to a required density that even light cannot escape.

Probing the detailed shape of the event horizon and how it depends on total mass should provide clues about the state of matter under these extreme circumstances; circumstances that we can not approximate in a laboratory.

Its likely that nature will have some surprises waiting for us when we do. Each time we peel off a layer of the onion there seems to be another one inside.

Robert Braun does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Mubarak gets life sentence

A judge sentenced former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to life in prison on Saturday after convicting him of involvement in the murder of protesters during the uprising that ousted him last year.

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Also given a life term for the killings was 84-year-old former strongman’s interior minister Habib al-Adly, while six former police commanders were acquitted.

Corruption charges against Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, were dropped due to the expiry of a statute of limitations, as the former president was acquitted in one of the graft cases.

Scuffles erupted soon after the verdicts were delivered and chants of “Void, void” and “The people want the judiciary purged” could be heard, as furious lawyers told AFP they feared Mubarak would be found innocent on appeal.

Mubarak, who wore dark sunglasses and a beige track-suit, had his arms folded and showed no emotion inside his caged dock, however, as Chief Judge Ahmed Refaat read out the verdict.

His two sons, Alaa and Gamal, looking tired with dark circles under their eyes, appeared close to tears on hearing the verdict.

Outside the courtroom, clashes broke following the sentencing, forcing police to use stun grenades to control the crowds.

Mubarak, the only autocrat toppled in the Arab Spring to be tried, Adly and the six others were facing charges over their involvement in ordering the deaths of some of the estimated 850 people killed.

The former strongman, his sons Alaa and Gamal and business associate Hussein Salem, who fled to Spain, were also on trial over an alleged bribe.

And the former president was also accused of selling natural gas to Israel at lower than market prices.

A security official said 5,000 policemen and 2,000 soldiers were deployed to secure the court, at the Police Academy on Cairo’s outskirts, to which the ailing Mubarak was helicoptered in from a military hospital

Egypt has been ruled by the military since Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11 last year, after 18 days of nationwide protests.

Mubarak has been detained at a hospital in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh since his arrest last year, after the military appeared to bow to protester demands that he and former regime officials be put on trial.

But the military insists the prosecution’s investigations and the charges eventually filed were independent judicial decisions.

However, critics say the investigations were hasty and sloppy, resulting in a trial based on patchwork evidence that may see Mubarak acquitted.

During the trial, Mubarak was wheeled into the lecture hall that serves as a courtroom on a stretcher. He reportedly suffers from a heart condition, but the health ministry has denied his lawyer’s claim that he has cancer.

Along with Adly, Mubarak’s co-defendants include six former police commanders.

They have all denied that they ordered police to shoot protesters or use deadly force during the uprising, in which demonstrators torched police stations across the country.

The verdict comes just two weeks before a run-off in presidential elections that will pit Mubarak’s former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi in a highly polarising race.

It is the first openly contested presidential election in any of the Arab countries swept by regional protests and uprisings that challenged decades of autocratic rule.

But the revolt also led to a deteriorating economy and increased lawlessness in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, that has helped Shafiq, a symbol of Mubarak’s regime, win a surprising amount of support.

Israel to build more settler homes

Israel has revealed plans to build 3,000 more settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank after a historic UN vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, with Washington describing the move as “counter-productive”.

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In the Thursday vote in New York, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution recognising Palestine within the 1967 borders as a non-member observer state.

Israel lashed out in response on Friday, with an official confirming to AFP plans to build the 3,000 settler homes, without specifying exactly where they were to be sited.

Washington said the plan would make resuming peace talks harder.

“We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and east Jerusalem construction and announcements. We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that, despite past failures, Washington would keep trying to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.

“That’s the only way that we are going to get to two states for two peoples with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel,” she said.

Like Israel, the Obama administration had tried to stop the Palestinian push for UN recognition, saying it would put another obstacle in the path to peace and that statehood could only come through negotiations with Israel.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called for a return to peace talks, but criticised Israel’s latest settlement plans.

“I’ve said a thousand times that we want to resume negotiations and we are ready to do it,” Abbas told reporters in New York.

“We are not setting any condition but there are at least 15 UN resolutions which consider settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace which must be removed,” he said. “Why do (the Israelis) not stop settlement?”

Palestine Liberation Organisation official Hanan Ashrawi told AFP “it is an act of Israeli aggression against a state, and the world needs to take up its responsibilities.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that by going to the UN, the Palestinians had “violated” previous agreements with Israel, such as the 1993 Oslo Accords, and that his country would “act accordingly.”

Such talks have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions.

Israel has long feared that if the Palestinians won the rank of a UN non-member state, they could pursue the Jewish state for war crimes at the International Criminal Court — particularly over settlement.

With their newly acquired status, the Palestinians now have access to a range of UN agencies as well as to the ICC, but Abbas said he had no plans to immediately petition the tribunal.

“We now have the right to appeal the ICC, but we are not going to do it now and will not do it except in the case of Israeli aggression,” he said.

Israeli media reports said that some new settlement construction would be in a highly contentious area of the West Bank known as E1, a corridor that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.

Palestinians bitterly oppose the E1 project, as it effectively cuts the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and makes the creation of a viable Palestinian state highly problematic.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their state and vigorously oppose expansion plans for Maaleh Adumim, which lies five kilometres (three miles) from the city’s eastern edge.

Linking the settlement and the city is an idea espoused by hardliners within Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party but strongly opposed by Washington.

Arab east Jerusalem was captured by Israel with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its “eternal, indivisible” capital, and does not view construction in the eastern sector to be settlement activity.

Proposition 8 overturned

During the 2008 election that swept Barack Obama to power, Californians were also asked in a state referendum to vote to ban gay marriage.

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A quirk of American politics, if enough public support for proposed legislation can be raised, a “proposition” can be put to voters at the ballot box.

Proposals can range from legalising marijuana to immigration issues to Proposition 8.

Last Wednesday Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker overturned the 1998 vote, which was challenged on the basis that it violated civil rights under the US Constitution.

Turning convention on its head, the case supporting gay marriage was led by Ted Olson, a former Solicitor General of the United States who argued for George W. Bush against Al Gore during the 2000 Election that was decided in court.

There’s no more fiery debating point in the US than interpretation of its Constitution and what the country’s founding fathers intended back in 1787.

The right of gay couples to marry also produces polarised opinion with well-organised church groups and usually conservative political bodies mobilising to counter supporters.

Judge Walker was not ambiguous in his ruling on the high-profile California case.

“Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license,” he wrote. “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

“Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre,” he added. “Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.”

Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. Civil unions are permitted in New Jersey.

The ruling has some relevance to the current election in Australia – if only for limited options available to Australian gay couples who want to marry.

Australia often boasts of its egalitarian qualities but Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government is opposed to the gay marriage.

Here’s a video that suggests Gillard is pandering to religious groups with her opinion. (Warning – explicit language!)

With a hint of surrealism, Senator Penny Wong, the country’s first openly gay Cabinet Minister, strongly supports Gillard’s view claiming a “cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect.”

There’s little to split with Tony Abbot, Leader of the Opposition, who claimed, “I guess I’m old fashioned, in that a marriage is between a man and a woman,”

But back in California, last week’s victory is not yet seen as a complete victory but an important legal step that will see the issue eventually before the US Supreme Court.

Not everyone is happy, of course.

“It’s as if we have absolutely no say in what is going on all around us,” said conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, no doubt with no irony intended. “Decisions are being made for us, in lieu of us and imposed on us.”