Missing Mubarak - 14th July 2013
Middle East Turmoil Explained
At last, some one has provided clarity as to who is on what side in the midst of Middle East turmoil. This letter appeared in (I think) the London Times, during the month of August; my Portuguese friend Augusto kindly sent it to me.
But of course I could not let it rest there. So I turned Mr Al-Sabah's erudite epistle into a graphic that will surely explain everything to everyone with even greater clarity.
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Quote (25th July 2013): “We’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence.”
Most Rev Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of
worldwide head of the the Anglican Community including the Church of England.
He was speaking to the head of
which provides small, short-term loans
at extortionate interest rates of typically over 300% pa.
Rev Welby wants CofE credit unions
to attack and undercut this market by charging much lower rates.
Quote (23rd July 2013): “”
Cork-based journalist David Monagan, writing in Forbes magazine.
Within hours this was followed by a
retraction and abject apology,
“I made a terrible mistake and I apologise to Michael D Higgins who[m] I have respect for.”
No, no, no, the mistake was not simply
calling him a
apparently it was the words “” that were unacceptable.
Though you would have
thought such a misrepresentation would
in this modern anti-homophobic age be a source of pride not shame.
Quote (15th July 2013): “This is a tissue of lies and the idea that somebody who has spent over 20 years in this House [ie me!] should have to listen to the ‘Regina Monologues’ from someone who is only here a wet weekend in this House. [She is] talking through her fa*ny. We should have a revolution.”
Ireland's excitable Senator David Norris
excoriates, in his characteristic falsetto crescendo,
Senator Regina Doherty in the Senate
for having an, er, opinion.
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Rugby World Cup Sevens in Russia - 1st July 2013
Over the weekend Friday 28th to Sunday 30th June 2013, the quadrennial Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament took place in - of all locations - Moscow. I was there, as I have been at every RWC7s event since Hong Kong in 1997. This time the rugby was the most skilful ever while the venue was the most unsuitable ever.
The problem with the venue is that the vast majority of Muscovites make it abundantly clear that they loathe all foreigners and wish we would simply go away (but leaving our money behind of course).
I wrote these two “before” and “after” posts, which also formed the basis of newspaper columns in the Irish Times, here (or view the Irish Times' online article) and here (published as print-only, ie not online).
Rugby Sevens Hits Moscow -
1st July 2013
Dispatch 1 of 2 (“Before”)
In Rio de Janeiro in 2016, a big innovation in the Olympic Games will be the inclusion of seven-a-side rugby. Quick question: what country is the current Olympic rugby champion? What? You didn’t know there was one? The surprise answer is not New Zealand or any of the usual suspects but the USA which bagged the title and the gold medal in 1924 defeating France 17-3 in the final, the last time rugby featured.
Meanwhile, however, the 2013 quadrennial Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament kicked off in Moscow on Friday 28th June, the first time that Russia has hosted a major rugby occasion. It was expected to be the last ever such event, killed off by the Olympics, but an unexpected reprieve earlier in the month means it will now continue, but two years out-of-phase with the Olympics.
So whichever victorious nations were to trot up to the podium to hold aloft the hallowed men’s and women’s respective trophies on Sunday 30th June, wrenching them from the despairing grasp of the current champions Wales and Australia, would be hanging on to them for five long years, until 2018.
In the days building up to the tournament, there was a strange aura in the streets of Moscow as this unfamiliar global happening unfurled in a country most of whose 143 million people haven’t even heard of rugby despite Russia having long competed in international Sevens competitions and qualified (in the same group as Ireland) for the Fifteens world cup in 2011. Nevertheless, Moscow has allocated its giant, Croke Park sized Luzhniki Stadium, an icon built by the Soviets for the 1980 Olympics.
For the tens of thousands of fans who had - supposedly - flown in from all over the world (albeit only a handful from Ireland), Thursday 27th was for
finding your way around Moscow (some hope!),
seeing some of the breathtaking sights (along with some pretty grim ones),
getting the hang of the rouble,
recovering from the shock of high prices,
generally coping in a country where few ordinary people seem to speak other than Russian and the Cyrillic script of public signs is unintelligible to the Western eye.
Sadly, for the first time in any rugby world cup, Ireland did not enter a Men’s team and not through lack of ability. At the last RWC7s in Dubai in 2009, John Skurr coached Ireland’s men into the Quarter Finals, knocking out Australia on the way. Why Ireland has spurned men’s Sevens ever since only the Irish Rugby Football Union can answer – and should. The wider Sevens circuit, involving annual competitions around the world is not only a magnificent show piece for rugby, but allows talented youngsters who might not quite make it into the professional Fifteens game to show what they’re made of – future stars such as Simon Zebo for example.
Happily, however, since April of last year, the IRFU has given full support to a Women’s squad, ably managed by Gemma Crowly and coached by the same John Skurr, which has been competing around the globe, and with some success, ever since. The players are all amateurs, so the rigorous demands of arranging training around work/study leaves no time for other pursuits, yet they would have it no other way. This World Cup is the ladies’ biggest challenge so far and despite being as beset by injuries as the Lions they would give it all they had. It helped that eight of the twelve players were doughty veterans of this year’s epic Grand Slam victory in the XVs game against England, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France. (In over a hundred years, Ireland's men have only ever won two Grand Slams).
As for Moscow, it proclaimed that it was actually staging something closer to a festival of sport, culture and hospitality than a mere event, for there was to be more going on than just the Men’s and Women’s World Cup tournaments. In fact there were, simultaneously, no fewer than nine other Sevens tournays involving over two thousand players from across the vast Russian republics battling it out for different prizes on the various side pitches that form part of the huge Luzhniki complex. The music element of the festival was to comprise an array of bands, headlined by Space from France, while various shows and displays would emphasise Russian space technology and achievements.
And of course for the less cultured rugby aficionados there
was the promise of a
wild variety of food and drink in abundance. For how else could your humble
correspondent and fellow-fans survive 2˝ days of frenetic, high-speed,
try-scoring rugby without a steady supply of caviar and vodka? Wipium!
Note: “Wipium” is the Russian for Cheers
(or so I am told).
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for Sevens - and Crapdogs - 1st July 2013
Dispatch 2 of 2 (“After”)
“Space” was the curious theme chosen by the Russians for the Rugby World Cup Sevens which they hosted over the last three days of June 2013 to showcase their ability to stage international sporting events. They mean of course their considerable astronautical achievements dating back to the 1950s. But on entering the cavernous, 89,000 seater Luzhniki Olympic stadium, space was the first thing that hit you – empty space, for it was only about a quarter full - and that was only on the final afternoon.
Likewise, the distant Gorodok stadium (between the main stadium and which no transport was provided) where the women played had seating for 6,000 but barely 2,000 attended at its busiest moment. The turnout below was more common.
Both stadia also ensure there are acres of space between the hapless fans and the edge of the pitch, just to make viewing that little bit more irritating.
Considering how the 40,000 seater stadium in Hong Kong and the 50,000 facility in Dubai were heaving, raucous sell-outs for previous RWC7s, Russia’s failure to put bums on seats has been a huge lost opportunity in both revenue and atmosphere.
However the three-day try-fest of actual rugby was more scintillating than ever – fast, skilful, passionate, and displaying an astonishing level of physical fitness. To aid recovery after each game, players would climb into wheelie-bins emblazoned with their national flag and filled with iced water. They seemed to enjoy it. Brrrr.
An exciting feature of Sevens is the enthusiastic participation of nations not widely recognized for their rugby prowess, such as the Philippines, Tunisia, Portugal, Kenya, Netherlands, China, Zimbabwe, yet here they are fighting it out with New Zealand and the other big boys and gals to compete for a World Cup.
In fact there are three sets of trophies. After the group stages, teams were split based on performance into new groups which then competed for a bowl, a plate and for the best the hallowed cup itself. Ireland’s women, under Gemma Crowley and John Skurr, played magnificently in their group games to qualify for the cup. But two last-minute tries by the USA denied Ireland of the 5-0 lead it sported for most of the quarter-final, so Ireland exited the tournament, though with heads held high.
It was eventually New Zealand who were crowned Sevens World Cup champions of both the Men's and Women's variety, with cups and medals to prove it.
With the two World Cups they already hold for the XVs game (Men's and Women's), this brings New Zealand's haul to four. Oh, and just for good measure, the Sevens Player of the Year is Tim Mikkelson from - you guessed it - NZ. (How insufferable is all that? !!)
But enough about the rugby.
Russia’s “space” theme was evident in an interlude where 200 beautiful women clad in inter-galactic silver with huge balloons in different hues of pale-grey signifying the planets leapt energetically around the pitch as music throbbed across the stadium. This was followed by a parade where further curvaceous space women (not at all like the original Valentina Tereshkova) pushed 29 big, wheeled pseudo-sputniks around, each adorned with the flag of a competing nation. Ireland’s was green with the emblems of the four provinces.
Perhaps the interminable Ministerial speeches in Russian were also about space – it was hard to tell. And on the second evening, a French electronic music band from the 1970s, named, er, Space, performed on a stage specially constructed in the stands, though only after most of the already thin audience had already gone home, thus creating even more space. Periodically, when space appeared in the tightly-choreographed programme of rugby, fans were regaled as further groups of cheerleaders in colourful skimpy outfits bounded and somersaulted on to the turf brandishing Russian flags rather than pom-poms.
But the secret ingredient that has made every RWC7s heretofore a roaring success is the fans – and there were just far too few to generate the usual party ambience. Moscow is difficult and expensive to get to and the marketing was very poor. The (few) fans’ usual boisterousness was further dampened by
excruciating security arrangements every time you entered or left the stadium,
the women's Gorogok Stadium being fifteen minutes unsignposted walk away, thirty if (when) you got lost,
a ban on alcohol,
very rudimentary food arrangements (see pic),
an absence of interesting stalls and merchandising,
the blanketing of the venue by armed soldiers and police, and
stern signs admonishing fans to be well behaved and inoffensive (even when the ref makes a wrong call?).
This photograph illustrates the pathetic “catering” arrangements at the Luzhniki stadium (note the long queues amid the vast surrounding space), where the only food available was grim burgers, stale sandwiches and cold hot-dogs, or “crapdogs” as the Russians evidently seem to call them.
“Crapdogs” seems a wholly appropriate metaphor not only for the victualling but for the tournament as a whole.
The venue was a poor and avoidable choice by the International Rugby Board and will have done little to popularise RWC7s, which is a great pity. And every foreign fan I spoke to swore he/she never wanted to return to Moscow - ever.
We will to have wait until 2018 for the next RWC7s, so as to intersperse it on a two yearly cycle with the Olympics since the latter will include rugby Sevens as from Rio 2016. Until then, however, for those who need their regular Sevens fix, there is always the IRB Sevens World Series with regular competitions in great venues around the world; it throws up an overall league winner every year.
And nothing at all about space.
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On 25 January 2011, the people of Egypt erupted in nationwide protest at the country's long-standing kleptocracy under the smarmy President Hosni Mubarak, in power for three decades ever since his predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated 1981 (for making peace with Israel).
It took nearly nine hundred deaths but just seventeen days for Mr Mubarak to resign - and promptly find himself under arrest charged with causing the deaths of protestors and other crimes.
The Arab Spring had gripped Egypt and ushered in hopes of a new democracy and new freedoms in the world's largest Arab state. Mr Mubarak, though pretending to be sick, was meanwhile convicted of complicity to the murder of protestors and sentenced to life in prison where he remains pending an appeal.
The Egyptian armed forces held power for the next sixteen months while democratic parliamentary and presidential elections were organised. Then, on 30th June 2012, Mohamed Morsi became the first elected leader of Egypt in its five-thousand year history. Mr Morsi is a senior member of the notoriously Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, who together with even more extreme Islamists grabbed three-quarters of the vote. Thus the new, rabidly Islamist regime proceeded to implement as much Sharia as they could think of with scant regard to economic policies that might improve the actual livelihoods of citizens. Moreover, as Mark Steyn wittily points out, Mr Morsi was a one-man-one-vote-one-time type of guy who would have expected to remain in power at least as long as Mr Mubarak. To this end, he quickly set about granting himself unlimited powers and clamping down on any dissenters or opponents.
But life became so much more miserable for the ordinary people that a second uprising exploded on 30th June 2013, this time against Mr Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. So in just four days he found himself, to his astonishment, kicked out in a military coup by General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, the Army Chief and defence minister Mr Morsi himself had appointed just the previous August. So after just 368 days in power there he was sitting in a filthy Cairo jail cell, no doubt next door to Mr Mubarak.
Meantime, of course, America's Buffoon-in-Chief has, as usual, no idea of what just happened. He is asking his advisers if this was indeed a coup (hello - when the army drives up to the presidential palace, locks up the president and announces that he has been deposed and it is now in charge, that is the very definition of a coup d'état. Just ask any Nigerian; they've all seen plenty). The B-i-C is dithering because if it is a coup, America has to suspend the $1.3 billion that its taxpayers are strong-armed into handing over to Egypt every year as part of Jimmy Carter's 1979 peace deal with Israel that caused Sadat's death (Israel gets a handout of perhaps double Egypt's).
So from kleptocracy to martial law to sharia to martial law in just 2˝ years, with more fun no doubt to follow and no sign or prospect of any improvement for the ordinary Egyptian.
There are many protestors today who must be wondering was it really such a good idea to get rid of Mubarak.
And did I really photograph this billboard on the drive into Cairo?
Note: this billboard has of course
to do with this one.
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Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Good to report that as at
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
My Columns in the
What I've recently
See detailed review
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,