My buddy Mo and I were fishing on my boat close to Al-Fahal Island just four
kilometers off Muscat the capital of Oman, having caught very little in deep
water far out. It was noon, the sun was out with not a cloud in the piercing
blue sky, the temperature was about 40 deg C, the humidity low and the sea
was crystal clear and flat like a millpond. Perfect fishing
conditions. The water depth was only about ten metres.
Then Mo foul-hooked this poor octopus minding his own business rummaging
around in the rocks on the sea floor. (“Foul-hook”
is where your hook happens to snag the fish in his side or somewhere, rather
than the fish grabbing the bait with his mouth on your hook.) Octopi are far
too smart to be fooled by a baited hook, but this guy was just being
So Mo hauled him up to surface, but he was too heavy to pull on board using
the fishing line, so I gaffed him and pulled him inboard. I would
guess he weighed about seven kilos, and each of his eight thick muscular
arms was about a metre long.
Then the fun started. He was fully compos mentis and fighting mad.
When you catch a fish, you normally just leave him to die or else hit him on
the head to kill him. But this enraged guy had no intention of going
quietly.He was using his arms
to reach out and grab us, or grab anything, all the time fixing us with a
beady black eye consumed with hatred.
So you would remove a
tentacle from your leg and then find another one pulling on the helm and
another grabbing Mo’s arm and another waving around looking for something to
get a grip of. His tentacles were everywhere grabbing and pulling
things and limbs; I am sure he had a lot more than just the eight.
As fast as you detached one tentacle another two attached themselves
somewhere else. Then he started spitting black stinky ink at us
and making a complete mess of my lovely white motor-boat and making Mo and
me look like something out of a horror movie.
That’s when I decided on the nuclear option and reached for my big black
mallet to send him to octopus fairy land. With great difficulty
because everything was so dynamic and slippery, I managed to land a couple
of blows on his head. But his head was so soft and rubbery that the
mallet just sank in a bit, then bounced right off again. Other blows
just slide sideways off his bald, oval shaped head.
We tried knives and gaffes to dispatch him but again the weapons just
bounced off him, without even causing a wound. If there had been say
ten of us on board instead of two, we might just have been able to hold him
down in one place long enough to drive a knife or screwdriver into his heart
or brain, but we were only two. Two grown men against one seven-kilo
octopus is just not a fair fight.
The drama seemed to go on for an hour (maybe it was only ten minutes) and Mo
and I were tiring from our exertions - flagging both physically but even
more so mentally and emotionally. Mr Tentacles wasn’t tiring at all,
in fact seemed to be getting even more energetic.
So we changed our focus to one thing only, hauling the wretched fellow back
overboard. Eventually we were able to dislodge sufficient tentacles
from their grips simultaneously to just about heave him over the gunwales.
With immense relief to us, and no doubt him, he plopped back into the water
and disappeared from sight.
We had no energy left, so I started the engines and we headed back to our
beach club. Within thirty minutes of landing, Mo was at home tucked up
in bed and didn’t get out till the next morning so stressed was he by the
ordeal. I wasn’t much better, but had to get my boat out of the water,
clean it (of ink!), park it and do all that mariner stuff before I could
stagger to the bar and get a reinvigorating iced beer or five. I too
wasn’t fully composed again till the next day.
So next time you’re tucking into your
polpo a la marinara in some distant sunny resort – respect that guy on
your plate, and the ten strong men who wrestled to get him there!
A century ago in 1914, from a mixture of pride and hubris after the
assassination of the heir to the throne of one of Europe's great empires,
the Austro-Hungarian, war broke out across Europe as different countries for
different reasons took different sides.
As we now now, this quickly escalated into what became known as the Great
War, World War 1, the war to end all wars. By the time the last gun
fell silent in 1918 at the Eleventh Hour on the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh
9.7 million soldiers on all sides lay dead,
plus a further 7 million civilians. In the two years that
followed, returning soldiers brought home with them the virus of a deadly
new illness, Spanish Flu, for which there was little immunity and less
treatment. Spanish Flu spread like wildfire across Europe killing
between 20 and 40 million people -
more than the toll of the Great War and in half the time, and most had been
non-combatants in the Great War. (For the record, my grandfather in
Tipperary was one of those non-combatant victims, leaving behind a penurious
widow with nine children, including my beloved mother.)
Although the Great War produced clear victors (America, Russia, Britain,
France) and vanquished (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria), the
war ended not with a surrender but with an Armistice. It was quickly
followed by a conference and treaty at Versailles to decide on
massive economic reparations to be paid by the losers,
their permanent disarmament and
rewriting the maps of the dismantled empires in Europe and the Middle East.
The map-rewriting resulted in millions of people finding themselves
overnight living in different countries, many now unwelcome minorities where
once they had been (often oppressive) majorities. For example,
after Hungary was stripped of two-thirds of its landmass, many ethnic
Hungarians woke up as Czechoslovaks despised and surrounded by mainly
Slovaks over whom they yesterday been lords.
Ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland region unhappily discovered they were
also now Czechoslovaks
The victorious armies, principally the Americans, occupied defeated Germany,
guarding against renewed hostilities, but only in small numbers and only for
five years. By 1923 they were gone.
And we all know what happened in the 1930s, when with Germany in the grip of
economic collapse and hyperinflation largely due to those reparation
payments, and emboldened by the non-surrender of the Fatherland and a sense
that it had been stabbed in the back by its representatives at Versailles,
Adolf Hitler rose to power, proclaiming he would restore Germany's pride.
He would deal with its financial problems, which were all the fault of the
Jews anyway, and would address the injustice of ethnic Germans being trapped
in foreign jurisdictions, and - crucially - he would re-arm and restore the
pride of Germans. It proved an irresistible cocktail.
UKIP's Nigel Farage
reckons that the non-defeat,
non-surrender and non-humiliation of Germany in 1918 was the West's biggest
mistake of the 20th Century. In another six weeks of war, the Allies
could have driven Germany out of France and Belgium and forced it into an
unconditional surrender, albeit at the probable cost of another 100,000
casualties. This would have been a small price compared to the carnage that
was yet to follow just a couple of decades later.
With Germany's former antagonists bitterly opposed to returning so quickly
to conflict, Hitler was allowed far too much leeway in violating Versailles,
particularly in his massive re-armament of Germany. So by 1939, this
led inevitably to another six years of dreadful war,
in the first instance by invading Czechoslovakia on the pretext of
reclaiming the Sudetenland,
then, with Poland next on the list, to conquer all of Europe for Naziism,
and of course to liquidate every Jew on the continent.
So with that, World War 2, which quickly drew in Japan and spread across the
killed a further 48 million people
(more than half of them civilians), making it the deadliest military
conflict in history.
WW2 was, in effect, really a continuance of WW1, because the loathed (by
Germany) terms of Versailles were not enforced, especially after Germany got
rid of its hated American occupiers in 1923. Germany's anger and
resentment were exacerbated by the country's hyper-inflatory economic
ruination in the 1920s and 30s, which most Germans blamed on Versailles,
although it was predominately the result of
budgetary mismanagement, worsened by
protective foreign tariffs on German exports.
But in 1945, that war DID end with clear unconditional
surrenders, by Germany and Japan. Not only that, but the victors,
particularly American and Britain, had learnt the danger of economically
destroying and then abandoning a defeated enemy.
So they sought to help Germany and Japan rebuild themselves from their
ruins. Crucially, they also maintained hundreds of thousands of Allied
soldiers on German and Japanese soil, not only to ensure there would be no
resurgence of Naziism, imperialism or other fascistic tendencies, but to
protect those countries from foreign aggression from, in particular, Comrade
Stalin's malign expansionist Soviet Union in the West or the evil regime of
Mao Tse Tung in China.
In 1953, North Korea under Soviet tutelage and with Mao's help invaded the
American-sponsored South Korea. After a savage two-month war, the
military might of American, other Anglophone countries and South Korea drove
back the invaders to the 38th Parallel.
In all these cases - Germany, Japan, South Korea - American troops are STILL there, more than seven decades later, albeit not as
occupiers but as welcome protectors and allies.
It is no coincidence that these have become thriving, democratic,
Western-oriented economic power houses.
How different from defeated Germany in 1918-1939!
Apart from untold prosperity for hundreds of millions of citizens, how many
millions have NOT been killed by further wars because the
that the military gains in these three countries were securely kept in place
by a continuing military presence,
while the countries themselves were not allowed to regress in the way that
Germany regressed in 1918-39.
This continued military presence, first as occupier, later as invited
defender and helpmate, is what provided the secure environment that allowed
those countries to blossom both economically but also democratically.
And so to the third millennium.
In October 2001, America and its so-called Coalition-of-the-Willing invaded
Afghanistan to root out the ruling Islamic Taliban who were providing safe
haven for Al Qaeda. Under Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda had perpetrated
the unprovoked Islamic Jihadic attacks on America on Nine-Eleven, just the
previous month. The overthrow was swift, but it was followed by over a
decade of vicious insurgency, as America and its allies struggled to install
an (albeit flawed) democracy with a modicum of human rights and freedoms.
In March 2003, the Coalition invaded Saddam Hussein's Iraq as part of the
same fight against Jihad, although this was given the more polite moniker of
There were a number of specific reasons given for the invasion, including
the dismantling of Saddam's WMD programme. But the most potent of
UN Resolution 1441 which threatened
“serious consequences” (a euphemism for war) should Saddam fail
comply with a list of demands - which he duly ignored.
Saddam was swiftly overthrown, but due to botched management of the
aftermath (ie zero planning), Iraq then descended into four years of
sectarian civil war and war against the invaders, which left up to
half a million dead, with
Muslim-on-Muslim violence the biggest single contributor. This carnage
was eventually quelled when President Bush launched his highly successful
2007 surge (though much derided by Senator Obama).
So by the time the Senator was elevated to President Obama in 2008, a degree
of peace, albeit fragile, had been wrought in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the new president immediately started looking for ways to
both wars. End not “win”.
This, combined with his general insouciance about the manner in which the
places were being run by locally elected leaders but still under America's
benign imperium, gave great heart to those who sought to re-de-stabilize
On the one hand, for example,
a leader such as Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (2006-14) was
able to implement sectarian pro-Shi'ite anti-Sunni policies with Iran's help
and without US interference, thus building up huge resentment among Sunnis
(in the minority but under Saddam the Sunni they had been the ruling class);
omeantime Afghanistan's president Hamid Kharzai (2004-14) was able to
pocket his corrupt proceeds, while introducing ever more draconian Sharia
laws and simultaneously denouncing America's supposed perfidy.
On the other hand, other tribal trouble-makers knew at the very least, they
only had to wait for the Americans to disappear (indeed, Mr Obama gave them
departure dates) before they could restart the mayhem.
And guess what's happened since. Iraq initially headed towards
sectarian strife, but events in Syria took over. As a result, ISIS has
head-hacked its way to control of huge swathes of Iraqi territory, killing,
enslaving or converting Christians, Yazidis and others, imposing terror
everywhere and implementing the most primitive forms of Sharia law on
This desertion of Iraq by America and its allies was, if not de-facto
defeat, to deliberately ignore the lessons so brutally learnt via WW1 and
WW2. Victories must be held on to and the vanquished countries
protected from their enemies and helped to rebuild, over several decades.
Post-American Iraq once again shows that those who refuse to apply the
lessons of history are condemned to watch it repeat itself. In this
case the blood is being shed by innocent others, while the US looks on and
thinks the odd bombing mission will put things to rights.
The Taliban are biding their time and licking their lips. Their day
will shortly return. Unless ISIS get there first. Either way,
Afghanistan is not a place that ordinary Afghans are going to enjoy, any
more than ordinary Iraqis are having fun.
Thanks, Uncle Sam. Or, more correctly, thanks Mr Obama.
If you say something often enough, you will end up believing it, whatever it
or bad, benign or malign, true or false.
Hat tip: Jonathan Ryan
― Pontius Pilate, Caesar's representative in Judaea
“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a
psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact
a circle. They are mere words, and words can be moulded until they clothe
ideas and disguise.” ― Joseph Goebbels
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they
will believe it.” ― Adolf Hitler
“All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the
comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.”
― Adolf Hitler
a child's non-necessity of his/her natural mother and/or natural father
the desires and wishes of adults supersede the needs and natural rights of
The Emperor's clothes: Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John-Paul simply pointed
out that Communism's only clothes were layer upon layer of lies, enforced by
the secret police, the propaganda machine, the Communist party itself.
Evidence and threats combine to
redress an anti-Semitic calumny
Repeatedly, during the month of August,
World Vision Ireland, the
Irish branch of an international charity, broadcasted a 15-second
radio advertisment seeking donations, which included a grievous
calumny against Israel relating to the Hamas/Israel war that was
then raging in Gaza. Initially I assumed this was just a
careless mistake, but after lodging a serious of complaints to WVI
that were effectively ignored, I had to conclude that WVI wanted its
false inference to be believed. After all, it made Israel and
Jews look bad (as usual).
My complaints to WVI pointed out that its
advertisment opened with a declaration that "Children should not
be a target". No-one can argue with this.
However it then immediately linked this statement to
the ONLY current conflict in the Middle East where
children are NOT a target, namely Gaza. As
anyone who pays attention to current events surely knows, the IDF
unprecedented lengths to avoid
civilians and children, even though too many (a number that is
nevertheless historically low in proportion to the quantity of
munitions hurled by the IDF) were, sadly, getting killed and
injured, either as collateral when the IDF would attack legitimate
Hamas targets (exacerbated by Hamas's human shield policy) or due to
On the other hand untold numbers of innocent children were and are
directly and deliberately targeted by, for example,
snipers in Syria and
head-hackers in Iraq. World Vision
Ireland's advertisment ignored such documented truths in favour of
falsehoods about Gaza. An obvious conclusion to draw is that this
was because only in Gaza can Jews be blamed, which would be
tantamount to anti-Semitism.
To add force to my complaint, I prepared this short
Youtube clip, which I think is pretty damning:
I kept stressing that the deliberate linkage
of child-targeting to the Gaza conflict is an anti-Semitic calumny that
should not be broadcast.
Very quickly, Newstalk responded, saying the
WVI had reworked the ad to exclude the remark inferring that Israel was
targeting children. It was broadcast in this form on 22nd August but
entirely withdrawn shortly afterwards.
The lesson I take from this episode is that
if you are polite no-one will pay attention to you . But if you are
direct, evidence-based and threatening, you can be surprised at how quickly
people will respond.
Anyway, I am pleased at the small way I have
helped to redress an anti-Semitic wrong.
ISIS will continue rampaging across
fresh territories until militarily stopped,
but will be incapable of running its own state, ISISstan
ISIL, ISIS, IS or whatever they choose to call
themselves on whatever day of the week, have been rampaging across huge
swathes of first Syria then Iraq over the past few weeks, striking
terror into the hearts of all those they come into contact with as well
as great chunks of people observing from afar.
Their carefully choreographed and videographed
decapitations of the unfortunate yet indescribably dignified and
courageous US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have only
served to remind the world that there is no depravity to which they will
not unhesitatingly descend.
Koran 47:4 Beheading of Infidels:
“So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle],
strike [their] necks …”
Their religious cleansing of
kind of Muslims (Shi'ites),
kind of monotheists (Christians) and
kind of worshippers generally (Yazidis)
is of a scale, ferocity and brutality scarcely seen
since that murderous thieving paedophile warlord Mohammed first launched
his bid to conquer and destroy the world in the Seventh Century.
As of now (September 2014) ISIS have effectively
dissolved portions of the Syria/Iraq border and created a new caliphate, which for
convenience I will call ISISstan. It is not only territory that ISIS are
They are breaking into the banks and removing billions of US dollars,
Syrian pounds, Iraqi dinars, bullion and other valuables.
Where there are oilfields (eg
in Syria) and gas fields (al-Shaer),
they will of course grab those and the resultant revenues.
The Iraqi army, lavishly equipped by the Americans with the best in
uniforms and weapons, fled at the first onslaught of ISIS into Iraq
leaving all the US matériel behind as they tried to melt back into the
civilian population. Thank you very much; ISIS now have their
hands on that too.
So with enormous reserves of cash, oil and
military equipment, not to mention tremendous motivation and sense of
righteousness as they carry out to the letter the depraved word of Allah,
ISIS now looks unstoppable.
Of course the successes of ISIS have been predicated on
the massive power vacuum created by the craven flight from Iraq of US forces under the benighted leadership
of Barack Obama, unarguably the worst, most malicious, ahistorical
president the US has ever seen. The rise of ISIS was entirely
foreseeable. Indeed George W Bush described it very precisely way back in
Right now, it is very hard to predict
where this is all going end, other than to state with great confidence
that the valley of tears that ISIS are causing to fall is far from being
filled. This hell will go on for years, or decades.
But, even if ISIS is as unstoppable as it
seems, will it be able to create and run an ISISstan Caliphate that by any
recognizable definition is some kind of functioning state that would
secure at least a chance for even medium-term survival? I very much
doubt it, for these reasons.
it is great to have at your disposal countless up-to-date US Hummers, tanks,
armoured personnel carriers,
artillery, small arms, maybe even aircraft
etc. But these items have to be operated and
maintained, for which they will need expertise, spare parts, and of course
ammunition. Especially expertise. Where is all that going to
come from once the first tank breaks down?
A body such as ISIS whose whole philosophy is centred on
Islamic destruction in the name of Allah is psychologically ill-suited
to the grind of technical maintenance and administrative organisation
needed to keep complex equipment in tip-top working order.
Its wonderful US arsenal is going to steadily degrade and
certainly the chunkier items are going to pretty quickly become
Secondly, it is one thing to
follow your Prophet's example and instruction by rampaging across territory
mercilessly killing, crucifying, abducting, enslaving or converting every
child, woman and man you encounter, and stealing everything you can lay your
hands on. But what do you do then, once you've set up your Caliphate?
Are the boys from ISIS really the type of people who can set up
each run by a governor reporting back to
Yet without an organization along such or similar lines, how is Mr
al-Baghdadi to ensure both that he both holds the land he has conquered
and that they continue to be run, over the long term, along strict
How will he ensure that the oil revenues, for example, do not dissipate
among rabbles of warlords that will inevitably spring up,
For that matter, how is he going to run those oilfields and gasfields?
Who, with access to the necessary large-scale expertise and complex
equipment, is going to dare get involved with the constant, looming
threat of beheaded foreigners, reneging on deals and simple looting?
The multi-nationals? The independents? Russia? China?
Saddam's oilfields were in constant decline, so are
Iran's. Yet their problems with gaining access to expertise
and technology were as nothing compared with those that ISISstan
if ISISstan is to survive as a state, it must do so economically.
There is no way round that central constraint. Oh, for a while the
plundered billions will be sufficient to keep things going, assuming
ISISstan has figured out how to safely store the stuff (I doubt a numbered
Swiss bank account is the answer). But ultimately, some kind of commerce
will need to re-emerge, some semblance of civic services (water,
electricity, hospitals, schools) to be re-established, all of which requires
the engagement of the ordinary populace.
Yet how can such activities reasonably be
facilitated by an outfit that holds its cowed people - those it doesn't
kill or incarcerate - in such utter and obvious contempt?
And will the excitable young ISIS lads
really be interested in such boring administrative stuff that includes
very little killing or pillaging?
How can an ISISstan cope with economic
realities when it is mired in Seventh Century thinking?
In conclusion, an ISISstan is doomed to
implosion from the very start. That does not mean it doesn't pose
an existential threat to millions of people, merely that it is unlikely
to become a state.
ISIS can continue only for as long there are
fresh areas to attack, murder, rape, terrorise and plunder for that is all
it knows how to do.
ISIS will stop only when it is stopped and
effectively exterminated as Naziism was exterminated, and this will happen
only through determined military action with boots on the ground. In other
words another Middle East ground war is almost inevitable, if not under
Obama's baleful watch then under his successor's.
Under no scenario, is the future in that
benighted region other than ugly.
Impressionist/comedian Mario Rosenstock takes off Joan
Burton singing Miley Cyrus's infamous "Wrecking Ball", without doubt his
best ever performance. At least it always makes me crack up, and Mario's
certainly better than Miley.
For those unfamiliar with Irish politics, Joan was till recently deputy
to Eamon Gilmore, leader of Ireland's Labour Party, whom she sought to
depose and to whom
“she” dedicates the song.
Since 2011 Labour has been the junior
party in a ruling coalition with Fine Gael. Joan has since succeeded in
getting rid of him and stepping into his shoes as party leader and Tánaiste
(deputy prime minister).
I've decided to return to blogging, but on as-and-when
basis and in chronological order of writing, rather than trying to publish batches of pieces in a kind of
magazine format as I did for over a decade since starting in 2002.
The main reason I have been off the blogosphere for over a
year is Facebook. Facebook is also why I am now returning.
On the one hand, FB is wonderfully easy for accessing interesting news
stories, expressing your thoughts, getting feedback, engaging in
discussion. You can spend hours every day, and indeed I often
have, to the detriment or exclusion of other more worthwhile activity.
So, yes, I have been sucked in by FB, like a junkie after a few heroin
jabs. And to a lesser extent by
On the other hand, FB is not an appropriate medium for expressing any
kind of deep or detailed analysis, thoughts or ideas. So while I have been
chattering away on FB mindlessly, other mentations have been nibbling
away at my brain saying come on, grow up, get a bit more depth to your witterings, develop your arguments properly.
So I am back. The itch must be scratched once
more, with a mixture of depth, shallowness, prejudice, snarkiness and sometimes even
But first, let us stand for the Argentine Anthem ...
There are four categories of casualty in Gaza. It is not
clear, due largely to Hamas obfuscation, how many fall into each, but
only two of the groups deserve sympathy.
1 First, there are the Hamas fighters who have
fallen, whom Hamas make every effort to hide or else miraculously
turn into post-mortem civilians. At the same time they threaten local and foreign journalists alike
who might otherwise reveal the truth about such casualties. Such
worthy only of contempt.
2 Then there are the children and babies. Without doubt
everyone of those is an innocent victim, whose loss is unequivocally a
terrible human tragedy, whatever the circumstances.
• The other two categories are the non-fighting adults.
A free-ish election in 2006 brought Hamas to power with a plurality of
votes - 440,409 (45%). A year later, Hamas consolidated its grip through
extreme violence against Fatah who had come second with 41%.
• The Gazan population in 2006 was 1.4m of which some 45%
were/are under 16. Thus it is reasonable to assume that half, ie 700,000,
were 18 or over and thus eligible to vote in 2006. This, incidentally,
compares with the 991,000 who actually
many Gazans subscribed to the Sinn Fein mantra -
“Vote early vote
3 Anyway, as noted some 440,000 Gazans voted for Hamas
(including Hamas fighters of course). In other words these men and women
took positive action to bring the current catastrophe upon their own
heads. They are thus unworthy of much sympathy as victims and constitute
the third category.
4 That leaves in the fourth category: those non-fighting
adults who did not vote for Hamas and so as casualties must be
considered as genuinely innocent civilian victims. Depending on what
electoral or population numbers you want to believe, they number
anything from zero to half a million.
• There is also a kind of fifth category: those
non-existent victims that are included in the casualty numbers Hamas
that release. Bloggers have done some analyses which show the same names
popping up on the same Al Jazeera lists. There are probably a lot of
invented names there as well.
Think of all this when the media slavishly broadcast
Hamas's propaganda casualty figures.
Jihadists - It's all just a scam; you're being conned
We in the West should declare loud and often that there
are no 72 virgins for shahids or anyone else, it's all a scam.
They won't believe this, of course, at least not at
first. But the idea is simply to sew little seeds of doubt in the minds
of the sex-crazed Jihadists hot for martyrdom and an eternity of carnal
debauchery unavailable at home. Even a tiny such seed could be enough to
deter them at the last minute.
And when one of them hesitates, so surely will another
... then another ... and another ...
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
Tol (2006), is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel
and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from
either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF