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Octopus in Oman

TALLRITE BLOG 
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ISSUE #226 - Quarters 2+3, 2015

A serious software issue took the Tallrite Blog off the air for six months. 
(No doubt to the relief of my many critics and opponents!)
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Octopus in Oman - 28th June 2015

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Fleeing From Iraq and Afghanistan - 30th February 2015

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Turning Lies Into Truth - 29th February 2015

Octopus in Oman - 28th June 2015

                           A true story, from an earlier time in my life

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. 

Al Fahal Island, off Muscat, the capital of Oman

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 careless. 

This octopus can get pretty enraged

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!

Polpo a la Marinara

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Fleeing From Iraq and Afghanistan - 30th February 2015

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 Month, 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 globe, 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 victors ensured

·         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 war against terror”.  There were a number of specific reasons given for the invasion, including the dismantling of Saddam's WMD programme.  But the most potent of these was 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 “end” 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 them. 

·         On the one hand, for example,

o    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);

o    meantime 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. 

So it was that the president pulled the last US troops out of Iraq in 2011 after nearly nine years of war, the loss of 4,500 American lives and a cost to US taxpayers of two trillion dollars.  The British had quit six months earlier

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 Iraqis. 

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. 

And if all that is not sufficient, this wretched president (supported by his UK lackey David Cameron) is doing exactly the same again to Afghanistan.  In October 2014, British troops fled the country.  Meanwhile, American troops are also hightailing out with the last combat units gone early in 2015

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. 

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Turning Lies Into Truth - 30th February 2015

If you say something often enough, you will end up believing it, whatever it is,
good or bad, benign or malign, true or false. 

Hat tip: Jonathan Ryan

What is truth? ― 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

 

Like

·         same-sex marriage

·         global warm-mongering

·         the human right to abortion

·         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 children

End of communism and the victory of truth over lies, Daniel Johnson: Once truth and lies are indistinguishable, it is child's play to excuse the inexcusable.

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.

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Why not tell your friends and colleagues to click on www.tallrite.com/blog.htm
See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #225 - Quarter 3, 2014

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Quote of the Day (5th October 2014)

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Falsely Inferring that Israel Targeted Children in Gaza - 20th Sep 2014

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Non-Future of ISISstan - 6th September 2014

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Wrecking Myley Cyrus - 5th September 2014

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Prodigal Blogger Returns - 12th August 2014

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African Grey Sings Argentine Anthem - 12th August 2014

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Gazan Casualties: Who Do/Don't Deserve Sympathy - 12th August 2014

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Saddam's WMD Still There - 12th August 2014

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There Are No 72 Virgins! - 12th August 2014

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That Sinking Feeling - 12th August 2014

Quote of the Day (5th October 2014):

Surrogate motherhood “is and will be banned in France; it is an intolerable commercialisation of human beings and commodification of women’s bodies”. 

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls of the socialist party,
speaking to the Catholic daily, La Croix

Falsely Inferring that Israel Targeted Children in Gaza - 30th September 2014

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 goes to 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 IDF mistakes.

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:

 However it was only when I eventually upgraded my complaint by directing it to the broadcaster Newstalk itself that there was finally some action.  I accompanied this renewed complaint with reference to formal guidelines published by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, on the basis that the advertisment contravenes Article 3.2 (Offence, Harm and Human Dignity) of the BAI General Commercial Communications Code, and threatened that my next step was an appeal to the BAI itself.

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.

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Non-Future of ISISstan - 6th September 2014

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.

ISISstan as at June 2014; since increased

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.

Beheading the brave, dignified Steve Sotloff May God have mercy on the soul of Steven Sotloff

Koran 47:4 Beheading of Infidels:
So when you meet those who disbelieve [in battle], strike [their] necks …”

Their religious cleansing of

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the wrong kind of Muslims (Shi'ites),

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the wrong kind of monotheists (Christians) and

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the wrong 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 seizing. 

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They are breaking into the banks and removing billions of US dollars, Syrian pounds, Iraqi dinars, bullion and other valuables.

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Where there are  oilfields (eg in Deir Ezzor in Syria) and gas fields (al-Shaer), they will of course grab those and the resultant revenues. 

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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 2007:

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.

Firstly, 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? 

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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. 

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Its wonderful US arsenal is going to steadily degrade and certainly the chunkier items are going to pretty quickly become unusable. 

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? 

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Are the boys from ISIS really the type of people who can set up Ottoman-style vilayets each run by a governor reporting back to Caliph al-Baghdadi?

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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 Islamic lines?

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How will he ensure that the oil revenues, for example, do not dissipate among rabbles of warlords that will inevitably spring up,

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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? 

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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 will encounter. 

Thirdly, 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. 

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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? 

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And will the excitable young ISIS lads really be interested in such boring administrative stuff that includes very little killing or pillaging?

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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.

ISIS will continue its rampage until it is militarily stopped

Under no scenario, is the future in that benighted region other than ugly.

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Wrecking Myley Cyrus - 5th September 2014

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).

abcdef
The real Joan Burton The real Mario Rosenstock

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Prodigal Blogger Returns - 12th August 2014

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 Twitter also.

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 humour. 

But first, let us stand for the Argentine Anthem ...

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African Grey Sings Argentine Anthem - 12th August 2014

All rise for the psittacotic anthem

I had intended to publish this clip to celebrate Argentina's World Cup victory. But with a parrot like this, no-one needs to cry for Argentina for only claiming silver.

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Gazan Casualties: Who Do/Don't Deserve Sympathy - 12th August 2014

Treat Hamas propaganda as ... propaganda

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 casualties are 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 voted (evidently many Gazans subscribed to the Sinn Fein mantra - Vote early vote often).

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.

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Saddam's WMD Still There - 12th August 2014

They haven't gone away, y'know. 

People still trot out the old saw that Saddam never had any weapons of mass destruction, especially when it came to invasion in 2003, and that WMD were the only reason for that invasion. 

But here's the thing Saddam's WMD: they haven't gone away, y'know. And they never did.  And with ISIS now running the show they'll probably be back in action before too long.

My (somewhat truncated) letter to the Sunday Times on 3rd August 2014:

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There Are No 72 Virgins! - 12th August 2014

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 ... 

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That Sinking Feeling - 12th August 2014

Fancy going down with the ship?

I recently stumbled over an online ad for Stena Lines.  How bizarre to expect you to pay good money to join a sinking ship. What were they thinking?  I wrote to them to ask, and now await their reply.

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“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
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review

+++++

Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
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 technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

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 carelessness. 

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.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
in
May, June, and July 2010

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

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how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,

bullet

the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

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Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.

+++++

Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible 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 garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,

bullet

part of a death march to Thailand,

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a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),

bullet

regularly beaten and tortured,

bullet

racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

bullet

a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

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shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,

bullet

torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,

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a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, 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 unputdownable book.

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 document.

+++++

Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
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 it is.

+++++

Superfreakonomics
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:

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Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

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People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.

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Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.

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Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 

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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.

++++++

False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
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

bullet

Why does asparagus come from Peru?

bullet

Why are pandas so useless?

bullet

Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?

bullet

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:

bullet

Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)

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Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

bullet

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 digest. 

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. 

+++++

Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
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 India.   

Irwin 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 Brennan.

+++++

Other books here

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