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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Turning Lies Into Truth
- 30th February 2015
- 30th February 2015
If you say something often enough, you will end up believing it, whatever it
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.”
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they
will believe it.”
“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.”
· 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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BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded BP 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.
A horrific account of:
More details on my blog here.
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,
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.
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.
It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations. For example:
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.
It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as
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:
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.
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
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
No-one can argue with
Over the competition,