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To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search


This archive, organized into months, contains all issues prior to the current week and the three preceding weeks, which are published in 
the main Tallrite Blog (  
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July 2002

You can write to blog-at-tallrite-dot-com

April 2004

ISSUE #73 - 4th April 2004


ISSUE #74 - 18th April 2004


ISSUE #75 - 25th April 2004

ISSUE #75 - 25th April 2004 [134]


Realities on the Ground


Hunt Museum and Nazi Looting


Paramilitary Violence in Northern Ireland


Vectorial Elevation


DG for the BBC


Quote of the Week

Realities on the Ground

George Bush shocked the world when he announced a couple of weeks ago that he supported Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank whilst consolidating Israel's grip on (annexing?) other settlements in the West Bank.  Curiously, no-one expresses joy at the unilateral withdrawal yet everyone condemns the consolidation part.  

Hitherto, the accepted wisdom has been that Israel should retreat to approximately its 1967 borders in exchange for Arab guarantees for peace, as (unbindingly) demanded under UN Resolution 242.  

37 years later there are no such guarantees extant or on the horizon, therefore no such withdrawal.  As a consequence, Israel has felt free to build settlements on their captured land (which since the Palestinians have rejected every attempt to grant them their own state is technically not Palestinian” but “disputed”), and many of the West Bank settlements have grown into substantial townships.  

Mr Bush justifies his imprimatur by saying he is simply recognizing realities on the ground”.  It's been blindingly obvious to everyone for a very long time that Israel was never going to hand back the major settlements.  No more than it would allow the return into Israel of hundreds of thousands of refugees and their descendents, since this would create “realities on the ground” of a different nature by turning the Jews into a minority.  

As always, the world measures Israel using a different yardstick from everywhere else.  


Nearly everyone recognizes the communist regime in China as its legitimate government, even though it represents a rebel insurgency that governs only as a result of having chased away the democratically elected Kuomintang party in 1949 to Taiwan, where the KMT continued to claim legitimacy over mainland China.  But in 1971, the United Nations wrenched China's UN membership and its Security Council seat from the KMT and gave it to the Communists, since they had created “realities on the ground”.  


Other than Chechens and their supporters, no-one doubts that Russia, despite its perennial brutality there, is the legitimate federal authority in Chechnya, even though Tsar Alexander II added Chechnya to its present day empire only through military conquest in 1858, thereby creating “realities on the ground”.  


Only the Argentines still dispute Britain's sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, yet this is predicated simply on the fact that the first to claim them was Englishman John Byron in 1765, who was quickly followed by English settlers.  Only in 1820 did Daniel Jewitt make a similar claim on behalf of (what is now) Argentina.  But Britain had already created realities on the ground”  and these are what count.  A sound military victory against Argentina in 1982 underscored this.  

So from a dispassionate viewpoint, it's hard to see why recognizing Israel's realities on the ground” is any different.  

What it does do, of course, is pitch the Middle East issue at a different, more realistic level.  And makes plain that the longer the Palestinians fail to find an effective leader and fail to negotiate seriously, the less they're going to have to negotiate about.  Just listen to Yasser Arafat saying that the latest development “means clearly the complete end of the peace process”, as if his own pro-terrorist behaviour had not ended it the moment he stalked out of President Clinton's Camp David 2000 talks and launched the current intifada.  Israel has nothing to lose.  

I remember attending a negotiating skills course many years ago when we learnt that one technique to harry your opponent into reaching agreement is to progressively withdraw your previous concessions.  It doesn't make you popular but it can work.  

Having offered 94% of the land the Palestinians demanded in those Camp David talks, progressively withdrawing concessions is what Israel is now doing in acting on its “realities on the ground”.  

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Hunt Museum and Nazi Looting

The magnificent Hunt Museum in Limerick is one of Ireland's leading repositories of art.  

Gertrude, a German, and her Anglo-Irish husband John Hunt, an antiques dealer, moved to Ireland in 1940, in the case of Gertrude to escape the strictures of Nazi Germany. For the rest of the war, this gentile couple devoted a lot of effort from their new Irish home to helping Jews escape from Germany.  

After hostilities ended and for the remainder of their lives, they then set about assembling over two thousand antiquities and fine and decorative objects, including Picassos, Gauguins and a Leonardo da Vinci sculpture.  In due course they bequeathed their collection to the Irish nation, which resulted in the establishment of the Hunt Museum.  

In 2003, Ireland's president presented it with the Irish Museum of the Year Award.  

Then, out of the blue last February, the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal centre in Vienna issued a withering letter to the president of Ireland inferring - 


that the Hunts had fostered Nazi connections, 


were member of the non-existent English Fascist Party (sic) and 


that the museum contained artifacts looted from Jews by the Nazis.  

It proposed that all items be placed on the internet so that would-be claimants could lodge demands to get them back.  

And yet, the Wiesenthal centre has up to now provided not a shred of evidence to support its grave allegations in respect both of the character of the now deceased and thus defenceless Hunts and the provenance of their collection.  

The Irish Times scooped the story, and in such high esteem is the Wiesenthal centre held that it quickly spread across the world's print, TV, radio and internet media.  Little double-checking was done and in many cases the reports were embellished by references to Ireland’s war-time neutrality and to what accusers have called the murkier aspects of (Ireland’s) relationship with Hitler’s Germany”. 

However, as Brian O'Connell, Chairman of Shannon Heritage which has responsibility for some of the exhibits, recently pointed out, every major museum in the world, including the National Gallery in London, has found looted art in its collections, even though it may have acquired such items in all good faith. Only when all items in a collection are properly archived, checked against databases of looted art and then put on line is it possible for any museum anywhere to assert an untainted provenance.   Few can.  

Viewed in this context, the Wiesenthal assault looks like nothing more than a scurrilous kite-flying exercise.  

Nevertheless, to defend its reputation, the Hunt Museum has felt obliged to launch a major independent inquiry by a distinguished panel comprising a Supreme Court judge, a Jewish international specialist on looted art and an antiquities expert from the British Museum.  It is in effect undertaking, at considerable cost, the research that the Wiesenthal centre should have done before launching its tirade.  

Do-good outfits often face a familiar dilemma.  Whether as a result of their own efforts or other factors, they sometimes find the problem they were created to solve diminishing or gone.  They are then faced with three choices: 


go out of business, 


find a fresh set of genuine problems to deal with, or 


exaggerate/reinvent the existing problem.  

In a desperate attempt to keep the donations coming in whilst avoiding the unknown, too many opt for the latter and fall into disrepute.  Just think of how Greenpeace exaggerates global warming fears, Amnesty objected to Britain's use of its Iraq human rights abuse data to justify a war, charities befriend corrupt regimes, Human Rights Watch distort inconvenient data that shows human rights abuses are being successfully tackled.  

So it probably is with the Wiesenthal centre, which Simon Wiesenthal, now 96, set up in 1977 in order to hunt down Nazis, at which he has been heroically successful, Adolf Eichman having been his star prize.  

However there are very few Nazis left - they're dying out fast, as are their Jewish concentration camp victims.  So the centre is looking for fresh sources of outrage and thus donations.  Seeking redress for the (often wealthy) descendants of Jews whose art was looted by the Nazis is one.  In fact this is a line of business that could run and run.  

But it should really do its homework first.  

If the Hunt Museum's panel of experts gives the Museum a clean bill of health, it should launch a hefty lawsuit against the Wiesenthal centre for wanton defamation.  

Read the fascinating follow-up article here.

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Paramilitary Violence in Northern Ireland

What a great, ventilating document the British/Irish Independent Monitoring Commission produced on 20th April, innocuously titledFirst Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission” (pdf, 195 kb, 55 pages), into paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.  

Worth a hundred Google searches for the uninitiated, it first of all explains the origin and organization of the main paramilitary groups, their political wings and their alphabet soup, viz the 


CIRA/RSF = Continuity IRA / Republican Sinn Féin, 


INLA/IRSP = Irish National Liberation Army / Irish Republican Socialist Party, 


LVF = Loyalist Volunteer Force, 


PIRA/SF = Provisional IRA / Sinn Féin, 


RIRA/32CSM = Real IRA / 32 County Sovereignty Movement,


UDA = Ulster Defence Association, 


UVF/RHC/PUP = Ulster Volunteer Force / Red Hand Commando / Progressive Unionist Party

It then reviews and compares paramilitary activities since 1998 by so-called Loyalists” (the British could do without such loyalty) and “Republicans” (desiring no republic recognizable by any Irish democrat).  Whilst killings have decreased since the Good Friday Agreement, ferocious attacks have gone up, and in both cases the “Loyalists”  are twice as active as “Republicans”, however are much less intimate with political parties.  

And lest we be blinded by statistics or romantic notions of national liberation, the IMC also reminds us of the viciousness of assaults, eg - 


The victim of one PIRA attack was beaten about the head with pick-axe handles and then shot nine times in the lower legs. 


A UVF victim was so severely beaten that he is permanently brain-damaged, unable to communicate or lead a normal life. 


Many others who suffered shooting in the legs are left crippled and limbless.

Political objectives of these groupings have largely taken second place to organized crime  (cigarette smuggling, drug dealing, robberies, extortion, illicit fuel, counterfeiting), which has become the main activity of the paramilitaries. It is enforced by the use and threat of violence, and earns enormous sums.  

It is chilling to read, for example, that the PIRA is engaged in the use of serious violence, that the UVF and RHC are heavily engaged in major crime and in punishment attacks and that both retain the capacity for more widespread violence”.  

The IMC also claims that on the political front, leaders of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party exert appreciable influence on the paramilitary UVF and RHC, while Sinn Féin leaders have even greater influence on PIRA decisions.  These parties are therefore held at least partly responsible for the criminality of their paramilitary protégés, and as a result somewhat modest financial penalties were imposed.  (You know the charges ring true by the volume of squealing from Sinn Féin leaders when the report was published and the fines announced).  

In all, the report is a towering indictment of the hypocrisy that surrounds paramilitary exponents and their apologists, all acting selflessly in the interests of the ignorant Irish masses north and south of the border.  

Well worth downloading the whole report.  The IMC plan a follow-up report in six months time.  

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Vectorial Elevation

You know how, ever since Mexico City pulled this stunt as part of its Millennium celebrations, you sometimes wake up in the morning just aching to design enormous light sculptures in the sky over a European capital city, using as your paint brushes a couple of dozen robotic searchlights beaming out 150 kilowatts of lumen?

Help is now at hand for your chronic condition at  

To celebrate the admission of ten new countries into the European Union during Ireland's presidency, it's laid on a free, do-it-yourself light sculpturing business, which it calls Vectorial Elevation.  What you design gets projected for fourteen seconds over the skies of Dublin, visible from fifteen kilometres away, and your efforts get acknowledged with a personal web page.  

The instructions for making your design are totally mystifying and you have no idea what you have produced, but this is probably all part of the cunning scheme.  

You can view my pathetic attempt at light-sculpture here.  See if you can do worse.  

But maybe it's better just to roll over and go back to sleep.  

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DG for the BBC

The timing was perfect.  



 The BBC releases from custody its traitorous and angry Director General, Greg Dyke, amid noise and fanfare.  

Just three months later, Israel releases from custody its traitorous and angry Mordechai Vanunu amid noise and fanfare.  And he's looking for a new job ... outside Israel.  


The DG is dead.  Long live the DG.  

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Quote of the Week  

Quote: “The PIRA remains active and in a high state of readiness, is engaged in the use of serious violence ... and possesses the range of necessary skills [for] much more widespread violence ...   

“... The UVF and RHC are ruthless and reasonably well controlled organisations, heavily engaged in major crime and in punishment attacks. They retain a capacity for more widespread violence in which they would not hesitate to engage if they judged the circumstances made it appropriate.” 

From the First Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission” 
into paramilitary activities in the North of Ireland, 
under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement

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See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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#74 - 18th April 2004 [202]


Right to be Right


A Tale of Two Islamist Peace Offers


The Passion, The Movie


Chernobyl Twenty Years On


Graham's Sporting Week


Winning Beer


Quote of the Fortnight

From the Irish Times, 8th October 2008Right to be Right

If there is one universal term of derision propagated in much of the media and so-called liberal organizations, it is that someone is right wing” as an explanation of all that is wrong with the person and the values he/she embraces.  The term conveys a sense of 


money-crazed heartlessness, 


devotion to self-aggrandizement through oppression of the less fortunate, 


dishonest and/or unethical behaviour in a relentless pursuit of profit.  

Broadly, a right-winger favours laissez-faire Capitalism and free markets, whereas a left-winger opts for Socialism and fair play.  

It's worth looking at these concepts a little more closely.  

Capitalism is about individuals free to use their skills and money to produce things that people want to buy in free markets, and enjoying the profits that this activity brings.  More profit goes to those who do this better, less to those who don't.  

Socialism is about ensuring, through central planning and control, that the available wealth is shared equitably among all, regardless of ability or effort.  

On a first reading, both sound reasonable and honourable, though clearly Capitalism produces losers whereas Socialism doesn't.  

Or does it?  

Look around the world and where are the economic winners and losers?  Without exception the winners are the entities, eg the US, Europe, Australia, Japan, that have adopted Capitalism, whilst those that have embraced Socialism always lose, most notably the Soviet Union, but also places such as Cuba, most of Africa, North Korea, Syria.  Remarkable for the effect of transition from Socialism to Capitalism is China, where an explosion of new-found wealth (60% growth in five years) is occurring in response to the introduction of a limited amount of Capitalism.  

It's when you ask why Capitalism always produces winners and Socialism losers that things become interesting.  

Capitalism is predicated on millions of individuals making countless free choices in a never ending quest to better themselves, and in general making good ones because they quickly learn that bad ones spawn bad results.  


Entrepreneurs choose to invest their money in profitable enterprises, 


workers choose to take up jobs that maximise their satisfaction and wages, 


consumers, shopping around in free markets, choose to buy those things that best improve their lives at lowest cost, 


which happen to be precisely what the successful entrepreneurs and workers produce, as they constantly compete to improve quality and reduce cost.  

It is a virtuous, wealth-generating circle that derives directly from individual freedom.  The sole reason that some people fare worse than others under Capitalism is that they happen to possess less ability and/or are less energetic, not that they are kept down by the actions of others. (This inability to blame others for your own shortcomings is a main reason left-wingers hate Capitalism.) 

In addition, the freedom to innovate and invest cannot fully prosper except in an ambience of free political choices, where free people may freely choose their own leaders.  Capitalism and democracy are thus inextricably intertwined around freedom.  

Socialism, on the other hand, is predicated on the decisions of the central planners, who decide how industry, employment and wealth are to be distributed.  They are few in number compared to the whole population, and are necessarily the authority in the land as otherwise their decisions cannot be enforced.  The populace on whom these decisions are imposed have no freedom to make different choices.  And since the central planners do not themselves usually suffer directly the effects of poor decisions (the hoi-polloi do), there is little incentive to improve on such decisions.  So you have a climate in which 


the choices are few, and made by only a handful of brains - rather than the millions available among the population - and 


the absence of the discipline of feedback ensures a steady deterioration in the quality of those choices.   

Moreover a repressive regime is essential not only to enforce the central decisions, but to suppress criticism and ideas lest they threaten the beleaguered but arrogant central planners as they slide into self-perpetuating incompetence, accountable to no-one but themselves.  

No wonder economies and peoples under the thumb of Socialism are the most miserable in the world, whilst the richest, healthiest and happiest live under Capitalism.  No wonder it is Capitalist countries that asylum-seekers and economic migrants seek.  

Left-wingers, or Socialists, favour massive State intervention with its inevitable inefficiency plus the crushing of personal liberties.  This has proven to be a truly wicked philosophy which found its true soul in the Soviet Union of Stalin and in Mao Tse Tung's China.  These two individuals'  death toll was some eighty million (Stalin 43m, Mao 30-40m).  

Right-wingers, or Capitalists, simply favour freedom to act for all coupled with free markets, with minimal State interference in people's pursuit of wealth and contentment.  

That's why it's wrong to be Left and right to be Right.  And why it's an honour not an insult to be labelled right-wing.  (And it's not for nothing that this is the Tallrite Blog.)

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A Tale of Two Islamist Peace Offers

Two peace offers from Islamists this past week.  

A tape by (the late) Osama bin Laden, or should I say RoryBremner bin Laden, has Al Qaeda offering a truce with Europe if it stops attacking Muslims or interfering in their affairs”.  Undoubtedly this hope of troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan was encouraged by Spain's craven appeasement following the Madrid Massacre.  Yet how heartening that not a single European country has caved in.  


Not even Italy which has just suffered the murder of an Italian hostage and whose population among the Coalition is the most hostile to its Government's involvement in Iraq.  


Not even France and German who are busy helping in Afghanistan.  


Amazingly, even Spain dismissed the tape (some first glimmers of a new reality?).


Even inveterate appeaser Romano Prodi said there would be no negotiating under a terrorist threat.  


And obviously Britain poured scorn on the offer.  

Even more heartening, in a sense, is the offer itself, for it shows that Coalition actions are hurting Al Qaeda, making it difficult for them to function, otherwise they wouldn't be offering concessions.  This defies those anti-warriors who proclaim that attacking terrorists just makes them stronger.  

Meanwhile the 30-year-old madman Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been leading a Shi'ite revolt against the Americans in Iraq, seems to have had a bitter taste of reality.  

He and his rag-tag Al Mahdi army gave the Americans a stiff fight in Faluja, but despite killing 70 Coalition soldiers, they suffered massive losses (700) of their own.   Mr al-Sadr retreated to Najaf in the belief the Yanks would not dare attack such a holy city, and from there issued blood-curdling warnings and brave statements of his eagerness to die a martyr's death.  But the Americans surrounded Najaf making it abundantly clear they have every intention of attacking in order to capture or kill Mr al-Sadr. (If they could take all of Iraq in three weeks, Najaf would be a matter of days, albeit with casualties.)  

At this point, the enigmatic Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's senior Shi'ite cleric, stepped in.  He was concerned at being upstaged by the upstart, but his real fear was that a widespread Shi'ite conflict with US forces might jeopardise the chances of the majority Shi'ites winning power in the new democratic Iraq.  It makes sense for Shi'ites to keep the Americans onside.  So he told Mr al-Sadr to behave himself.  

The result was that Mr al-Sadr, indicted for complicity in a murder a year ago, sent an envoy, Abdul Karim al-Anzi, to strike a deal with the Americans.  Surrender is a better word, for the message is that 

the would-be martyr 


does not want to be attacked, 


wants his personal safety, 


wants coalition forces to withdraw from Najaf and 


might be willing to go before a legitimate Iraqi court 
after the planned transfer of sovereignty

Political resolve plus military might plus moral authority.  A winning combination that might yet 


prove the saviour of 25 million Iraqis as well as 


help turn the tide in the wider war on terrorism.  

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The Passion, The Movie

Despite my reservations, I went to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ during Holy Week (ie the week before Easter).  

Overall, I found the movie to be a convincing representation of what the four Gospels portray (It is as it was” as the Pope apparently remarked), but a few aspects struck me as odd.  


The Roman soldiers behave throughout like drunken yobs on a Saturday night, with slipshod officer command.  There is none of the military discipline that enabled Rome to conquer and rule all of Europe and North Africa for several centuries.  Such a lack of control is not credible.  


There is an extraordinary amount of gratuitous and unnecessary violence in addition to the scourging and crucifixion.  Throughout the movie, Jesus is struck repeatedly with fists, sticks and whips and is for no reason thrown over a wall.  Yet his only injury is a closed - yet unbruised unpuffy - right eye.  No broken nose, no teeth knocked out, no cracked jaw, not even a swollen lip.  This is simply not credible.  The scriptures foretold that not a bone of his body shall be broken”; the movie's level of violence should have respected this.


The pain caused by the scourging is very realistic and truly terrible to behold.  But the resulting injuries, frankly, are laughable.  I counted over 70 blows (there were apparently 190), initially with canes and whips but later with two cat-o'-nine-tails equipped with ferocious one-inch metal barbs.  Yet Jesus' body ended up delicately criss-crossed with shallow lesions, not unlike some I used to receive across my backside as a schoolboy punishment at boarding school.  The cruel instruments used against Jesus would have ripped him to shreds, tearing through muscle fibres that would have crippled him, exposing not just bone but bone with chunks gouged out.  There would have been no carrying of the cross to Calvary.  Again, the scourging is not credible.   


There are frivolous and unnecessary inventions, such as 

small boys taunting Judas till he hangs himself, 


an androgynous devil mingling with the crowd, 


a crow pecking out the eye of the bad thief.  

These childish constructs detract from the central story.  (Yet curiously, after Veronica wipes Jesus' face, the movie declines to depict his image appearing on the towel.)  

Notwithstanding these complaints, I found the film to be a very moving experience which deepened my sense of religion.  

And seeing what Jesus endured, willingly, for our sins, reminded me of the true meaning of martyr.  A martyr is someone who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty for refusing to renounce [his/her] religion” (WordWeb dictionary).  It is a gross affront to bastardise the term to describe someone who commits suicide in order to slaughter other people.  

As for anti-Semitism, I detected none in the movie.  You certainly end up 


hating the Jewish high priests (Archbishop Makarios look-alikes to a man) for whipping up the mob, 


enraged by the wanton brutality of the Romans, and 


despising the lily-livered cowardice of Pontius Pilate who against his better judgement was intimidated by the mob into making those fateful decisions to torture Jesus to death.  

But the movie makes no inference at all that abhorrence for the Jews who participated in the death should mean odium for all Jews for ever more.  As indicated earlier, it was Saint Paul who falsely invented such a conclusion, disgracefully ignoring the eye-witness evidence of the Gospels.  

Moreover, if anyone should be hated through the ages, it is surely the Romans/Italians who didn't even have a proper reason for what they did.  What an irony, therefore, that the Vatican in the heart of Rome should today be the home of the Catholic Church.   

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Chernobyl Twenty Years On

What does Chernobyl look like today, two decades after its nuclear reactor blew up due to sloppy construction, operation, maintenance and management?  

Well, a brave (reckless?) Ukrainian biker has recently completed a freelance tour armed with little more than her leathers and a radiation counter.  Elena has created an intriguing online diary, arranged into 27 chapters, with many poignant pictures accompanied by brief, pithy commentary.  The Chernobyl disaster, with its malign effects that will continue to pollute an area the size of Britain plus Ireland for centuries to come, is yet another example of the evil that happens when Socialism is given free reign.  

See for yourself, and my thanks for the link to the Defiant Irishwoman, newly blogrolled on the right.  

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Graham's Sporting Week

I've added a new feature.  

Graham, a colleague in Abu Dhabi, has for some time been preparing a weekly review of the juicier sporting events around the world, and has agreed to let me publish it on this site.  This week's offering, for example, includes the Masters golf, Super 12 and Heineken Cup rugby, cricket in the Caribbean and Zimbabwe, and round-the-world yachting.  

Click here; I think you'll enjoy it.  It's also been added to my blogroll as Graham's Sporting Week”.  If you like/dislike it, perhaps you'll add a comment below.  

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Winning Beer

His name is Beer, he loves boozing, he's Welsh, he's 27, he's a comedian, he works with children.  Oh and he's a poet.  

So what's a British, communist-style State-enforced State Monopoly, that extracts money from the poorest largely to subsidise the frivolities of the richest (eg opera fans) and zaniest (see below), to do?

Simple really.  Give the poet £2,500 (equals one thousand pints of beer) to go out and get wrecked, to use his own, er poetic, phrase.  Apparently Karl Beer writes his best poetry in this besotted condition, and any change after paying for his beer will go towards poetry workshops for children in an effort to produce a book and CDs for the community.  

I'm not making this up.  This is one of the projects being supported by proceeds from Britain's national lottery.  

This is the same lottery that squandered £600 million on London's £1.5 billion Millennium Dome without the faintest idea what to do with it beyond throwing a Millennium Eve party.  So it sat idle for 2½ years before being given away free to an American in 2002.  (It's still idle and costing taxpayers £250,000 per month to maintain).  

Ah, those central planners (see Right to be Right above).  

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Quote of the Week

Quote: The [Bush] administration's actions in Iraq [are] one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life ... 

“... Right now, what I would do differently, is, I mean, look, I'm not the president and I didn't create this mess so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made.

John Kerry, US Democratic Presidential challenger, 
decrying George Bush's actions in Iraq and 
explaining to CNN what he would be doing differently. 

Like all the anti-war brigade, 
he is incapable of coming up with plausible alternatives

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See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #73 - 4th April 2004 [147+126 = 273 ]


Common Sense from Muslim Leaders


Northern Cyprus Squanders a Further Last Chance 


Cigarette Smoke vs Car Pollution


Protesting Too Much 


A Ruby for Caroline


Quote of the Week

Common Sense from Muslim Leaders

I have long argued that Muslims, unlike Christians with their hierarchies of pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, suffer from a serious lack of leadership structure.  As a result, we hear no loud and concerted refutation to the obscene claim that outrages such as 9/11, the Bali Bombing, the Madrid Massacre etc, are perpetrated in the supposed name of Islam.   From this silence, non-Muslims, and no doubt many Muslims, are left to conclude that this must indeed be the formal Islamic position.  This in turn has led to widespread feelings among non-Muslims that every Muslim they see in the street, other than their personal friends, is a potential terrorist not to be trusted.  Nothing can do more to divide society and alienate Muslims living in the West. 

It is therefore a great and welcome surprise that last week Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain wrote a letter (pdf file, 107 kb) to a thousand British mosques and Islamic organizations quoting the Koran, 

"He who killed any person, unless it be a person guilty of manslaughter, or of spreading chaos in the land, should be looked upon as though he had slain all mankind, and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he had saved the lives of all mankind."(5:32),

and urging them to remind their flocks that it is their Islamic duty


to help preserve the peace,


to maintain the utmost vigilance against terrorism and


to co-operate with the police in the fight against both crime and terrorism. 

Tony Blair was spot-on when he said the council’s unprecedented letter made clear to Muslims (and the rest of us) that terrorism had “nothing to do with the true message of Islam”.  (At least I hope he was.  Some have doubts.)

The Muslim Council of Britain is, fortunately, not the only Islamic voice of reason that is beginning to be heard.  (Though not by everyone - in London militant Muslims publicly ripped up copies of the letter.

Meanwhile, however, Ahmed Nassef, editor of Muslim WakeUp! in California rejects Hamas’ violence and urges that Palestinians not launch a new wave of terror in the wake of Sheikh Yassin’s assassination.   This is not through pacifism but because


Hamas’ terrorism was not started with the support of the Palestinian people,


it targets innocent people,


it causes disproportional suffering on the Palestinians and


not least it fails to produce any positive results.


Jews in Israel, frightened by Hamas terrorism, 

vote against concessions to the Palestinians,


elect the biggest bully to protect them and


persuade the US and others to give money to protect their tiny threatened state

So Hamas’ actions on democratic, moral and practical grounds should be opposed and condemned by those who seek justice for the Palestinians.  

Then there is Abu Mahzen, the Palestinians’ previous prime minister, reluctantly appointed by Yasser Arafat last May, then four months later forced to resign for being too sensible.  He has long argued that 


militarization of the Intifada has invited vicious Israeli retaliation that has brought about 

the complete destruction of the Palestinian Authority, 


disproportionate Palestinian deaths, and 


unspeakable hardships on the Palestinian people;   


violence plays to Israel's strength; and 


the Palestinians can never overcome by military means a country that can defeat the entire Arab nation at once.  

He therefore believes that the Palestinians should not play Israel's war game but focus instead on the political arena.  

Similarly, the rabidly anti-Semitic ex-prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammed, in his infamous speech last October, The Jews Rule the World by Proxy”, actually urged Muslims to behave more like the Jews he hates, ie to act smart. His slur on Jews was in fact a compliment to them.   

Being smart does not mean being soft or giving up.  

Muslims are fully entitled to their views, to vigorously oppose the policies of the West or of Israel, and to promote their own agendas.  But if they want their interests to prevail, they have to argue their case using solely the power of reason, so as to convince a broad swathe of Muslim and non-Muslim opinion.  As soon as bombs and guns start going off, logic and understanding fly out of the window and they have lost the argument yet again.  

It is therefore encouraging that some Muslim leaders and opinion-formers are beginning to appreciate this simple lesson and are trying to communicate it to their people.  

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Northern Cyprus Squanders a Further Last Chance

In January of last year, Cyprus was on its last chance in terms of reunifying prior to joining the EU in June of this year.  

The Greek Cypriots in the South were keen on unification.  Moreover demonstrations in the North suggested that the Turkish Cypriot people at last also wanted to reunify.  aware that 


their economy had stagnated for three decades, 


no-one but Turkey recognized the legitimacy of their republic,


they were three times poorer than the open, free-trading Greek Cypriots, and 


the gulf was likely to widen if they were to be left out of the EU.  

However two octogenarian dinosaurs - Rauf Denktash leading the Turkish half and Glafcos Clerides the Greek half - despite being egged on by their respective patrons Turkey and Greece, failed to reach agreement, as they had similarly failed for the previous thirty years.  Though his side had the most to lose, Mr Denktash was particularly obdurate.  Just as Ian Paisley’s favourite phrase is Ulster says no, so Mr Denktash is similarly addicted to the No word.    

Negotiations terminated when the Greek half went ahead with a scheduled referendum the following March, which overwhelmingly approved the plan to sign up to the EU.  

So Greek-Cyprus will definitely join.  

But the Turkish Cypriots are being given yet another last chance.  Over the past few months, the UN has reworked for the umpteenth time its draft agreement that envisages a loose federation comprising two largely autonomous cantons, linked by a weak central administration, with various provisions for exchange of land, compensation, population.   

This process culminated in a curious summit last week in Switzerland presided over by Kofi Annan, attended by President Tassos Papadopoulos of Greek Cyprus and and Mehmet Ali Talat of the Turkish half, as well as by the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey and by an EU Commissioner.  

Curious, because the deal was that an agreement would be put to two parallel referendums on 24th April irrespective of whether the actual negotiators agreed it.  And they didn’t.  Specifically, it was the no-doubt by-now cocky Greek-Cypriots who demurred this time, though back in Nicosia Mr Denktash as usual said No.  Therefore, Mr Annan has unilaterally made a few further changes to the 9,200 page document, which will now be put to the people. 

Polls indicate that the Turkish-Cypriots will agree but that the Greek-Cypriots, now confident of their own future, will disagree; effectively a reversal of the position a year ago. 

This will mean that, come June 2004, the Turkish half will remain excluded from the EU.  This has longer term consequences:


With the Greek-half a full member of the EU, it will be in a much stronger position to impose tougher terms for any future entry of the Turkish half.


It will also be able to form a two-state bloc with Greece proper to obstruct the entry of Turkey proper (to the delight of recalcitrant EU parliamentarians). 

Whichever way you look at it, the obduracy of Mr Denktash a year ago has ensured that Northern Cyprus remains a backward pariah state for the foreseeable future, as well as adding a pile of headaches for Turkey, which so desperately wants to join the EU.  

In the words that Shakespeare put in the mouth of Mark Antony, The evil that men do lives after them.  

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Cigarette Smoke vs Car Pollution

As noted last week, there are very many vintners in Ireland highly indignant at the newly introduced pub tobacco ban, which they fear will hurt their businesses.  One of them made an angry complaint on RTÉ, the state broadcaster, that “vehicle pollution is far more dangerous than tobacco smoke”. 

This prompted a research project in University College Dublin (my own alma mater) to test this provocative statement.  It sounded reasonable - 


the seven billion cigarettes smoked in Ireland per year produce 188 tonnes of pollution,


whereas the country’s 1.85 million vehicles churn out an annual 3,339 million tonnes of pollution. 

However, the key to human health (as distinct from environmental harm) is not the quantum of particular pollutants, but their concentration in proximity to humans and whether they are indoors or out of doors. 

Using average Irish conditions as basis, the researchers reckoned that a typical pub hosted 80 people of whom 30 smoked two cigarettes per hour, and that the ventilation system changed the air 2½ times an hour. 

This generates an ongoing ambience containing 1,482 microgrammes of ETS pollution per metre cubed. 

To compare this with car pollution, use was made of existing data from the most traffic-polluted spot in the country, which is in central Dublin, outside the rival Trinity College Dublin, where the air is thick with carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons.  Here, ETS was measured at around 37 microgrammes of per metre cubed, with peaks of 127.  

The conclusion, as published in the March issue (print-only) of the journal of Institute of Engineers in Ireland, is that, with nearly 1,500 mgm/m3, pre-ban pubs were between ten and forty times more toxic than the dirtiest place in Ireland.  The difference is down to the rate of air change.  Out of doors it’s very high, indoors very low.  

The vintner therefore is wrong.  Smoke-filled pubs are worse for your health.  

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Protesting Too Much 

The lady doth protest too much.  

They who declare their innocence too loudly, too emphatically, too shrilly are always guilty, disbelieved or dishonoured, usually all three, especially if they are prominent in society.  

UK’s Minister for Citizenship and Immigration joins a line behind such inglorious fellow protestors as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.  


President Richard Nixon, 1973, I am not a crook”; forced to resign


President Bill Clinton, 1998, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”; leaves office in discredit


Minister Beverley Hughes, 30 March 2004: I am neither incompetent nor dishonest”.  

You can be sure Ms Hughes will be forced to quit despite pretending she bears no responsibility for the bumbling of her immigration department over visas for East Europeans.  


I wrote the above on 31st March.  She resigned on, appropriately, April Fools Day.  Hers may not be the last resignation, since her boss David Blunkett looks very vulnerable over the same issue.  But provided he denies nothing, he may just survive.  

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A Ruby for Caroline

Last week, the ruby anniversary passed of the now long-defunct Radio Caroline, which had single-handedly and illegally brought non-stop popular music to the airwaves, apologising to no-one, to the wild delight of every youngster within its UK/Ireland ambit. 

I can do no better than to quote/edit a letter by a Michael Joseph in London to the (subscription-only) Irish Times. 

On Thursday 1st April a rather special birthday went largely uncelebrated, which is rather a shame.  Exactly 40 years ago, on April Fool’s Day, a converted merchant ship, the “Mi Amigo”, anchored in international waters off England’s Essex coast, began to broadcast. 

The British government was apoplectic, listeners throughout the British Isles and Ireland cheered, and ten weeks later a national opinion poll revealed that Radio Caroline – named after the late President Kennedy’s daughter – already had more listeners than all the BBC’s radio stations combined. Dear old “Auntie Beeb” had to undergo immediate surgery - out with all the superficial pop, and in with the new, hip sounds of the Swinging Sixties. Caroline had changed the face of European popular music broadcasting forever.

Who was behind this phenomenon? 

Ronan O’Rahilly, a young maverick and visionary, and grandson of Michael O’Rahilly, a hero of Ireland’s revolutionary 1916 Rising, who died leading a charge against an English barricade in Dublin. It says much about Ronan that his response to the loss of his revered grandfather should have been the invasion of England, almost half a century later, but with affection and music, rather than with hatred and artillery.  (This was after all, the age of making love not war - unlike today!)

So began a running battle between Britain’s Labour government and Caroline which lasted for more than 20 years. On one notable occasion, Ronan was invited to the House of Commons by the Conservative shadow home secretary, Reginald Maudling.

The prime minister, Harold Wilson, caught sight of the “pirate”, stuck a finger in his chest and said, “You’re finished!” A few months later, Mr Wilson was out of office – and Caroline continued to broadcast.

Ronan O’Rahilly must look back with deep satisfaction on an adventure which created so many careers and made so many people millionaires – although he himself, ironically, is not one of them.

He was never in it for the money, but because he has had a lifelong respect for the music, which rose from the ghettoes and outlands on both sides of the Atlantic and which eventually – with Caroline’s help – became mainstream.

Countless people in Britain and Ireland of a certain age still remember the Caroline years with great affection. To quote Grandfather Michael O’Rahilly himself, describing the 1916 Rising in a valedictory letter a day or two before he died in a hail of English bullets, “It is madness, but it is glorious madness.” 

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Quote of the Week

Quote: For the French, cheese is alive.  That’s why people smell it and touch it and poke it and never put in the fridge.  Americans find this disgusting.  For them, cheese is dead.  They never touch it, they wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge like a body bag in the morgue.

French-born US-based marketing guru Clotaire Rapaille, 
child psychiatrist turned adviser on American consumer psychology, 

He was apparently explaining to the John Kerry presidential campaign 
that whereas in American culture 
it doesn’t matter  whether you make mistakes 
so long as you take action (eg invade Iraq), 
the French culture is to think forever before acting, 
if you act at all (eg continue weapons inspections).  
Mr Kerry is apparently too French.

No, I don’t understand the analogy either. 
The French are right about cheese but wrong on Iraq. 

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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
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
May, June, and July 2010


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


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


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


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,


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 Singapore’s docks,


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 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.


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.


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


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 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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