Saturday, February 03, 2007

Disturbing images

For the past few days, I've had enough time to get on with producing the fourth edition of 'Capital Ideas',a newsletter about the city centre from my viewpoint as an urban missioner. It's a good three months behind schedule, as a result of the extra 'terminal care' demands of the Benefice of Central Cardiff, but my three weeks away from Cardiff did me the world of good. I was able to tackle necessary writing and layout tasks with gusto, and enjoyed the task greatly.

Naturally at this time, when redevelopment work gathers pace, there's much to tell about what's going on, to 'Capital Ideas' readers across the diocese and the city. I'm often out and about with my camera recording visually extraordinary moments (I must find time to get a photo narrative website up and running) and it's irritating to find that when I write about what I've seen, the matching photograph may not be there among the hundreds I've taken. What's eye-catching and what's relevant is not always the same. So, make myself a 'shopping list' of images to match the text I've put together, and try to capture them next time I'm out.

With this as context, it was a co-incidence when, yesterday evening, I was making my way back to church to collect my bicycle for the journey home, when I spotted of one of the demolition machines at work on the Oxford House site - they seem to operate in bouts of activity with long pauses in between - so I stopped to take a photo. It was using its long claw like arm to pick up pieces of wood and metal and deposit them in a giant skip. As I was getting the camera into focus for a shot, it picked up what I soon realised was a tree trunk shorn of its branches, but still attached to its roots.

Earlier in the week a colleague remarked on the sudden disappearance of several trees from the northernmost end of the demolition site. I'd just assumed that a team from the City Parks and Gardens outfit had been in and removed them, perhaps to a better home, since they were healthy well established specimens, not so big that moving them would have caused them serious injury. Now, it was evident that nothing of the kind had happened. Indeed, I noticed that bark had been stripped off the tree trunk in places, in a manner that implied the tree had been dragged from the ground by some machine's powerful claw, swiftly and efficiently.

Now I've seen the master plans, so I know the uprooted trees are to be replaced. I don't recall what if any proposals were made to take out and re-cycle the existing trees that could be removed. I must presume that somebody somewhere evaluated the situation and made a decision based on what would be the most efficient procedure. If they were worth saving and could be saved, somebody more conscientious and capable than I would have insisted on it. So why do I go on about it at length?

In my last posting I mentioned, without knowing anything about the fate of the trees, how demolition machines of this kind (Made by Caterpillar Corporation of Peoria USA) have been used by the Israeli military in Palestine to demolish Arab homes, AND to uproot thousands of olive trees, some of them hundreds of years old.

The sight of an uprooted tree in the grip of a demolition machine outrages me. It reminds me of the proud Palestinian farmers I met when I stayed there two months in 2000, rendered helpless by the violence meted out by both sides to no good purpose, left angry and quietly despairing of humanity. And it only gets worse for them.

These vehicles remain impressive as pieces of modern technology - they show what the machine-human interface can achieve. But, they are tainted by what men, notably armed men do with them in the Holy Land. Destroying homes and communities with them is bad enough, ecocide is another. It's the solemn guarantee that nobody wins.

Invent such capable machines, and somebody will work out how to misuse them. Do the manufacturers ever think of things like that? We can't undo what's been done. Will there be enough future for us to try and change things for the better?

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