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This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
time and alphabet, contains all issues since inception, including the current week.

You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com
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April 2005
bulletISSUE #97 - 17th April 2005
bulletISSUE #98 - 14th April 2005

ISSUE #98 - 24th April 2005 [180]


British Conservatives Need to Radicalise Themselves

bulletRivals Provide an Easy Election for Sinn Féin and the DUP
bulletDishonest Blogging
bulletTowards Academic Excellence
bulletQuotes of Week 98

British Conservatives Need to Radicalise Themselves

Michael Howard won't win with "modest" proposals on tax, health etc

Britain is now half way through its month-long election campaign and Labour has been drawing steadily ahead of the Conservatives in the opinion polls, initially by just a couple of percentage points, now by around 39% to 33%.  This means that without an extraordinary turnaround, or the polls being drastically wrong, the Conservatives are heading for a record-breaking third landslide defeat.  

Tony Blair has moved New Labour so far rightwards that it is pretty much sitting on the rightish centre ground dominated by the Conservatives throughout Margaret Thatcher's 1980s and much of 1990s - liberal markets, privatisation, curtailed union power, individual freedoms, low(ish) taxes.  This has placed the Conservatives in a desperate situation if they want to distinguish themselves from their rivals.  In theory they could abandon their ideology, leapfrog over Labour and occupy the vacated socialist ground, appealing to the workers oppressed by Tony Blair's rampant capitalism.  Only problem - that ground is already firmly occupied by the dithering Liberal Democrats who become more loony every day under the wishy-washy Charles Kennedy who openly promises high taxes, free-of-charge everything and flight from Iraq.  

So what are the Conservatives continuing to do?  Offer policies which are almost identical to Labour's, just a little more rightish.  


A few more policemen (3½% increase),


somewhat tougher on immigration,


a little more choice over hospitals and schools, 


improved efficiencies in government administration, 


slightly smaller increases in overall expenditure, 


just a bit less tax (and sack anyone like Howard Flight who suggests otherwise)


and definitely no spending (= job) cuts.

Uncommitted thoughtful voters, whether left-leaning or right-leaning will look at the two manifestos, discern little between them, and probably opt for the devil they know, who has demonstrated a reasonable degree of competence for the past eight years.  Labour.  And this is the effect we are seeing in the polls.  

There is no glory in losing an election by a landslide, nor indeed by any margin.  Therefore, the Conservatives don't really risk anything in if, even at this late stage, they propound a profoundly radical agenda that for the first time since before 1997 puts clear blue water between them and Labour.  The worst that can happen is another crushing defeat and a career move southward for Michael Howard.  But on present trends, that's going to happen anyway.  

So what should that radical agenda comprise?  With movement leftward effectively blocked, it's pretty obvious, really, especially if you're already a Conservative.  You start promoting a truly right-wing agenda, you say it out loud and proudly, you explain the virtues of the capitalism, freedom and opportunity which are the essence of right wing thought and the source of all the world's wealth and wellbeing.  And you start using leftwing” and “socialism as the terms of abuse that they should be, and asking why anyone would want to be associated with the 20th century's most murderous ideology and cretins like Mao, Leinin, Stalin, Pol Pot.  

Thus, you promote, inter alia,


Free markets, which includes a determined assault on the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, whose taxpayer-subsidies which 

+ not only eat up half of the EU budget but distort world - especially developing world - markets, and thus lower living standards in both spheres, 

+ but also turn farms into factories which then visit environmental destruction on their lands, and at the same time

+ destroy wild fish stocks.


It also means tearing down existing subsidies across the land, on the simple basis that it is unjust that successful tax-paying businesses should pay money to unsuccessful ones, encouraging them to remain unsuccessful.  

Assistance to firms that fail should be restricted to providing re-training for the workforce to enable them re-market themselves.  


A process of selling by open tender to private investors every school in the country, then issuing an education voucher for every child equal to what is being spent per child under the current system. Parents will be free to use these vouchers on any school of their choosing, and schools will be free to charge top-up fees if they wish.  Only the very best will be good enough to do so, however, when the vast majority of the school population holds the same fixed-price voucher and resists top-ups.   The result, for no extra expenditure : 

free education and total choice for every child, 


relenting pressure on schools to improve and attract more students and thus revenue,


the better schools investing in growth, the worse schools improving or else going bust though lack of students.  


Similarly, the sale by open tender of every hospital.  Thereafter, the Government sets prices for different procedures in line with current NHS costs and allows patients to choose their own hospitals yet still receive treatment free of charge.  Once again, for no additional cost, better hospitals will attract more patients and revenue, and so be in a position to invest in better and expanded facilities.  Incredibly, patients will become a desirable commodity for hospitals, rather than a burden.  


Direct the capital released by these sales towards reducing the National Debt and thus future repayments.  


On immigration, simply take the best of what Australia and America do.  Define clearly and publicly the kind and numbers of immigrants you need and apply a points system to prioritise applicants.  And quickly confer nationality and passports on immigrants who pass citizenship and language tests, and swear allegiance.  

Meanwhile keep asylum-seekers in humane, purpose-built institutions pending rapid evaluation of their claims, after which they become either immigrants or deportees (those genuinely fleeing persecution will not object to, say, four months in such an institution).  


On crime, adopt the Patten pattern that is proving so successful in administering the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  Accountability of the Chief Constable to a community board, and the existence of an effective Ombudsman, have been shown to do wonders for the professionalism of the force.  (Which is why the Gardaí in the Republic are terrified of Patten.)

Furthermore, police should be measured, compared and rewarded based on crime reductions in their areas, coupled with their success in securing criminal prosecutions.  Study after study has shown that it is not the length of a prison sentence that gives would-be criminals pause for thought, but the fear of being caught.   


Wage a war against waste in the administration of government and public services, and constantly seek opportunities to introduce competition into the provision of both internal and external services.  


These measures will all tend to reduce the size of government, foster competition and increase consumers' choice.  Expenditure is bound to fall as a result, in addition to reduced debt payments, which together will enable substantial tax cuts.  

It is surely time to blow this insipid election apart and introduce some real issues and alternatives that people will love or hate.  

But do Michael Howard and his Conservatives have the guts?  I very much doubt it, so they will deserve to lose, and lose again, until they wake up.  For some extraordinary reason, they are embarrassed by the thought of supporting the individual freedoms inherent in open market capitalism, though this is the founding ideology of their party, an ideology that has tremendous moral integrity as well as being of proven economic benefit ever since the Industrial Revolution.  

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Rivals Provide an Easy Election for Sinn Féin and the DUP

The Westminster election is also being played out in the parallel universe that is Northern Ireland, where issues like health, education, taxes, defence etc play no part.  

You might think that the big issues are Unionist vs Republican, Catholic vs Protestant, Pro Good Friday Agreement vs Anti.  Not so, for the simple reason that nobody on one side of these divides has the remotest hope of securing a vote from someone on the other side, so it's not worth the bother of trying, though no party will admit this.  

Instead, the real battles are between the two dominant parties on either side, viz the DUP and UUP for the Unionists, and Sinn Féin and the SDLP for the Republicans.  Except that, curiously, the UUP and the SDLP don't want to recognize their electoral enemies as enemies, a sentiment not shared by those enemies.  


Thus, the DUP leader, Rev Ian Paisley, feigns an insulting amnesia when it comes to the name of David Trimble, who leads the UUP, while his deputy Peter Robinson says the UUP leadership is reeling, stupefied, rudderless and deeply distrusted.  The DUP makes no secret of its desire to oust the UUP.  But Mr Trimble does not retaliate in kind, simply promoting a manifesto that it is but a watered down version of the DUP's.  

The UUP thus hastens its own demise.  


Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is savagely dismissive of the SDLP (for example, the SDLP ...are increasingly directionless”), and indeed has every chance of annihilating it at the poll.  Yet this is possible only as a result of the SDLP's insistence that Sinn Féin be rehabilitated under the Good Friday Agreement in the first place - and yet the SDLP is still at it.  It insists that (regardless of the ongoing paramilitarism and criminality of Sinn Féin/IRA) the Shinners should not be excluded from any future Northern Ireland executive, or indeed punished in any way.  And indeed it scarcely levels any criticism at all.  

The SDLP thus hastens its own demise.  

Why the UUP nor SDLP both prefer suicide to a bare-knuckled showdown with their principal rivals remains a mystery.  No wonder Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams are all smiles.  They're having an easy election, and since they're both bare-knucklers, they will equally enjoy sparring with each other afterwards.  

Of course none of this is to the slightest benefit of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland.  But they have always come last.

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Dishonest Blogging

US Theocons equate liberal democracy to Nazism?

I've been a great fan of Andrew Sullivan's sensible, incisive writing ever since I first discovered him in the Sunday Times some four years ago, and then started following his daily blog.  But as from about a year ago, his blog started wobbling.  He went off George Bush largely for economics reasons (understandable), yet deliberately ignored the evidence of John Kerry's ignominious military record and appeasing attitude towards terror.  He became obsessed with gay marriage to the point of hysteria, abandoning much of the cold reason he had formerly applied to the issue.  

And he has taken a real turn against Pope Benedict XVI, because he fears there will be no warming towards gays, women priest, divorce etc.  Moreover, he's taken to providing quotes out of context so that they seem to mean one thing when in fact they don't.  A recent example is the following quote, lifted from an article by Princeton's Daniel Maloney whom he derides as a theocon and who supports the new pope.  

In this regard, the consumerism and relativism of the West can be just as dangerous as the totalitarianism of the East: It's just as easy to forget about God while dancing to an iPod as while marching in a Hitler Youth rally. There's a difference, to be sure, but hardly anyone would contest the observation that in elite Western society, as in totalitarian Germany, the moral vocabulary has been purged of the idea of sin. And if there's no sense of sin, then there's no need for a Redeemer, or for the Church.

This, says Andrew, means that Mr Maloney is equating Nazism with today's democratic freedom to listen to iPods.  I was shocked, so went to the source article, entitled “Sin’s the Thing : What Benedict XVI learned in the shadows of the Nazis”.  

Mr Maloney's point is quite different.  He says that Nazism preached that there was no God and thus you should feel no guilt for your sins.  This made it easier to commit them.  

In the West today, many people also decry the notion of sin and guilt - if it feels good, do it.  So of course the net result is similar; if I don't feel bad about something I'll do more of it.  

But the causations and extent are totally different.  


In the case of Nazism, an élite at the top tried to instill a guilt-free ethos in the populace to facilitate heinous crime (eg the Holocaust).  


Today, it is the populace itself which decides it doesn't want to feel guilty about certain, some would say relatively minor, moral issues (eg adultery), to the despair of particular élites, such as church leaders and theocons like Mr Maloney.  

But unlike Nazism, today's guilt-free ethos is entirely voluntary; moreover it has very severe limits.  Sexual picaddillos are one thing, but few would feel guilt-free about committing murder or robbery or rape or paedophilia.  

Nevertheless, by selective extract, Andrew would rather we think the theocons believe we are living in a Nazi world.  

That's dishonest blogging.   

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Towards Academic Excellence

My thanks to Graham for alerting me to one of those rare news items that are guaranteed make you smile.

Jeremy Stribling, Max Krohn and Dan Aguayo are three students at MIT who are concerned about the standards of some academic conferences.  So they decided to try an exposé, which worked to perfection.  They developed a computer programme to generate phony research papers by putting together randomly selected text and charts, and used it to generate and submit two papers to the World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics to be held next July in Florida. 

To their delight, one paper, Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy was selected for presentation, despite - or because of - such erudite gems as 


the model for our heuristic consists of four independent components: simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the study of reinforcement learning  
and ... 


We implemented our scatter/gather I/O server in Simula-67, augmented with opportunistically pipelined extensions

The penniless students are currently soliciting donations so they can go to the conference and give what they call a randomly generated talk.  So far, they have raised $2,000 over the Internet, and they still plan to go even though the Conference, once the hoax was revealed in the foreign media and elsewhere, promptly disinvited them.  

The fun thing is, you can generate your own scholarly paper using their algorithm by typing in a few author names.  Here's one I generated earlier, entitled Deconstructing Web Browsers Using LopsidedKale**, complete with diagrams, graphs and now fewer than 22 scholarly references, authored by a certain, ahem, Tony Allwright.  

Try it.  See you in Florida.  

**Late Note : I am outraged to note that my erudite paper has been cavalierly deleted by the authorities.  Nevertheless, if you click on the link you are invited to generate a new paper.  This will provide for your edification an equally esoteric offering by the same prolific author .  

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Quotes of Week 98 

Quote : “Habemus papem” 

Cardinal Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, 
the Vatican's Senior Cardinal Deacon announces to the world
that the College of Cardinals has elected a new pope; 
shortly afterwards he was revealed to be 
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the first German pope in five centuries
who took the name Pope Benedict XVI

Quote: “I'm a national politician, I don't care about the Welsh situation.  Bugger off, you amateur, get back on your bus ... Ooooh, I'm scared.” 

John Prescott, the Old Labour, famously pugilistic 
British deputy prime minister, 
patiently explains to an inquisitive journalist why Peter Law, 
a Labour member of the Welsh Assembly, 
has decided to stand against Labour as an independent in the election.

Quote : Vote Blair, get browner

Tony Blair, pasty-faced in early April 2005
last week

Tony Blair, the picture of suntanned health, iin mid-April 2005
this week

The BBC's satirical news quiz 
Have I Got New for You” 
makes fun of Tony Blair's fake election suntan and the expectation he will/might 
hand over to 
Chancellor Gordon Brown

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

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ISSUE #97 - 17th April 2005 [194]


The Opposite Personas of Pope John Paul II


Anti-Japan Mobs Protest Too Much in Beijing

bulletCroke Park and the Hated Foreign Games
bulletExtreme Accounting
bulletSit Down on a Commuter Train
bullet The End of the Line
bulletQuotes of Week 97

The Opposite Personas of Pope John Paul II

Now that the drama of the Pope's slow death and spectacular funeral has passed, it is time to reflect a little on his legacy.  


Santo Subito” proclaimed many of those banners in Rome, “Make him a saint immediately”.  


John Paul the Great” was another phrase that quickly gained traction; only two prior popes have been so called.  


Some demanded that be decreed “Doctor of the Church” joining an élite pantheon of just 33 in the 2,000-year history of the institution.  

 "Santo Subito" = Make him a saint right now!

There is no doubt he was by any measure a giant of a man, yet he seemed to project two quite distinct personas.  One was the public face of morality and the other the chief executive officer of the Roman Catholic Church, and though they were certainly intertwined you can arrive at rather different conclusions for each persona.  

Public Face of Morality

Raised and honed under two despicable tyrannies, Nazism and Sovietism, he was a man who had learnt to truly understand both the nature and the inherent evil of these twin ideologies.  This was the man 


who strutted the world stage as the supreme statesman, 


who began the undermining of European Communism in the shipyards of Gdansk in 1979, 


who had Poland's head of state and Soviet puppet the dour General Jaruselski trembling with fear as they met in 1989, 


who reinforced the resolve of Ronald Reagan and others to face down the hard men in the Kremlin, 


who brutally exposed the rotten foundations of the Soviets' evil empire, 


who gave the lie to Stalin's sneering comment on papal impotency, how many divisions has the pope got?.  

He it was, also, who made plain the immorality of divorce, abortion, birth control, homosexual practices, excessive materialism, the rich/poor divide, and who insisted that priests should be exclusively male, straight and celibate.  You may not like his position on these matters, and indeed even many Catholics ignored or fulminated against them, yet there was no doubting his beliefs and his teaching.  And his irreproachable piety, sincerity and integrity gave his proclamations a force that no other person could convey, or indeed gainsay. 

And there was a flood of proclamations: 14 encyclicals , 13 apostolic exhortations , 11 apostolic constitutions, 42 apostolic letters, 3 books and a book of poems.  Oh and 2,300 speeches.  

Though a mortal enemy to Nazism and Sovietism (though, strangely not to Ba'athism), he was also no friend to unbridled capitalism, believing that the excessive materialism that it can foster should be resisted.  As Melanie Phillips put it,  the Pope could not be categorised as belonging to either the left or the right. What he stood for was upholding faith against secularism, spirituality against godlessness, and morality against selfish individualism.

He was the first Pope to reach out to other religions, seeking victory of the religious over the irreligious”.  In 1986, he organized a conference in Assisi in which 130 leaders of the world's major religions joined together to pray for peace - snake worshippers, spiritists, animists, witch doctors, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and various Christians sects. But perhaps his most outstanding achievement was to seek forgiveness of the Jews for the grievous slander that the Catholic Church perpetrated through the centuries, starting with St Paul, that Jews rather than Romans crucified Christ and that this justified centuries of victimisation of Jews by Catholics.  He was also the first Pope to enter a mosque, in Damascus, an act that endeared him to Muslims across the world, despite the anti-Christian strictures of Mohammed.  Of course his opposition to the Iraq war endeared him further (though why he should have supported the totalitarian tyrant Saddam in this way remains a mystery.)

Finally, this persona was the relentless traveller and pre-eminent communicator.  His itinerary of 104 foreign pilgrimages, covering a million kilometres and the delivery of those 2,300 speeches outstrips all his predecessors combined.  And, quite apart from being fluent in no fewer than eight languages, he had a way of putting across his message whether to an audience of one or one million, that made each listener think he/she had the Pope's undivided attention and interest.  I once attended one of his regular Wednesday mass-audiences in the Vatican.  From the back of a huge hall, he appeared no more than a white dot in the distance, yet his charisma and the clarity of his language were palpable.  

He was indeed great”.  

Chief Executive of the Roman Catholic Church

Now, how do you judge the performance of a long-serving chief executive of a massive multinational organization?  Let's take Jack Welch, who until 2001 served for two decades as the chief executive of General Electric, one of America's largest and most successful multinationals.  His no-nonsense management skills and his reputation of being hard, even ruthless, but also fair, became almost legendary.  He gave his managers wide latitude but demanded that they drive constant change and improvement, insisting that each GE business be the best in its field or get sold.  On the same philosophy he would sack the 10% worst-performing employees every year. Though probably loved and hated in equal measure, his management ideas and leadership skills are both admired by business commentators and imitated by business leaders worldwide.  

And the objective measure of his success?  GE grew in shareholder value from $12 billion to $500 bn under his watch.  However, the US and the world also grew in terms of GDP, by about 83%.  

Jack Welch's 20-year Reign 
at GE

1990 Dollars, 
trillions (1012)

GE Shareholder Value, $ billions (109)


World GDP












Factor 42

Hence, allowing for this, you can say that Jack Welch enriched GE shareholders by a mind-boggling factor of about 23.  And if the share value is compared against movement of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which increased by a factor of 11.5 over the period, GE still out-performed by a factor of 3.6.  

Now that's success.  

Karol Wojtyla's CV is remarkable, probably better than Mr Welch's: a priest at 26, bishop at 38, archbishop at 44, cardinal at 47, pope at 58.  And he  served as Pope John Paul II for a comparable period - 27 years.  

So how do we comparably measure his performance as CEO?  

If we think of God as being the Catholic Church's shareholder, the direct equivalent of shareholder value is probably the number of souls getting in to heaven thanks to its teaching and guidance.  But since that's not something we on earth can measure directly, we have to look for proxies.  For example, numbers signing up to the Catholic faith, attending Mass, joining religious orders, obeying Church teaching.  

His record here is mixed, as my chart summarises (no data available for 2003 and 04).  

In terms of statistics, the best that can be said for John Paul II is that he managed to grow the number of Catholics from 0.7 to 1 billion, in line with the world's population growth, maintaining his market share” of Catholicism at around 17%.  On the other hand, the numbers in religious orders (priests, brothers, nuns and those in training) have actually gone down, 13% in absolute numbers, but a whopping 38% as a proportion of the world's population (and indeed of the Catholic population).  Clearly he has left a major recruitment headache for his successor, because a shortfall of religious ministers and teachers will inevitably lead to a drop-off in laity numbers.  

Meanwhile, Mass attendance by the laiety, at least in Western countries, has steadily declined, for instance in the US from 44% in 1987 to 33% this year.  This may be offset by higher attendance in Africa, Asia and South America, but figures are hard to come by.  

Even harder to measure is the extent to which Catholics actually obey the Church's moral teachings, especially in the controversial areas listed earlier.  However, the anecdotal evidence of people ignoring the teachings is so overwhelming that it is hard to believe it is other than widespread.  And, judging by the spread of AIDS, which is not sparing Catholics, it is not only in the decadent West where adherents practice a-la-carte Catholicism.  

So by many objective yardsticks, you cannot conclude that John Paul left the Church in better shape than he inherited it, surely the first priority of any CEO.  

And he has moreover departed the scene with one major stain on his reputation - his extraordinary unwillingness to deal decisively and ruthlessly with the child sex abuse scandal by clergy.  The most appalling example of this is that after Cardinal Bernard Law was forced in 2002 to resign in disgrace as Archbishop of Boston for having shielded abusive priests, the Pope immediately appointed him to the prestigious post of archpriest of the Basilica of St Mary Major in the Vatican.  Jack Welch would never have done something similar.  Indeed, it says something about the ethos of the Vatican hierarchy that Cardinal Law himself didn't insist on a lowly position.  He could perhaps, have emulated the former Anglican Archbishop of York, David Hope, who has voluntarily (and with no hint of scandal) chosen to end his illustrious clerical career as a humble parish priest.  

So, notwithstanding the genuine love and admiration that John Paul II inspired among his billion-strong flock, his performance as CEO of the Catholic Church was not memorable.  


But this in no way takes from his magnificent performance as the world's foremost moralist and statesman.  

To me, there seems little doubt he will end up, probably within a decade, as Saint John Paul the Great, Doctor of the Church.  And when I look at the totality of his papacy, the mighty pluses and the relatively lighter minuses, I have to say I hope that is the outcome.  

Meanwhile, may he rest in peace.  

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Anti-Japan Mobs Protest Too Much in Beijing

Well, who'd have thought that China has now joined the ranks of those countries that permit public protests by mobs numbering in their thousands?  That must be of great comfort to the countless 1989 Tiananmen Square protestors still languishing in Chinese jails, to the families of the thousands of colleagues killed by the Red Army, and of course to the exercise group Fulan Gong who have also been harrassed, jailed and in some cases killed by the Chinese authorities.  

Last week, we were told that in Beijing 10,000-strong mobs stoned the Japanese embassy and ambassador's residence, attacked Toyota cars and sushi bars and shouted anti-Japanese slogans in a rally. In the biggest such demonstration since 1972, we are told they were protesting against 


Japan's brutal occupation of China sixty years ago (1931-45), 


its bid to join China as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and  


the recent issue of a new history text book for its kids which plays down the occupation.  

Now, call me an old cynic.  But who really spends his time fretting over UN would-be machinations or a foreign country's latest schoolbook?  And why does it take six decades to start protesting about long-past atrocities?  

And if people feel (and are brave enough to be) in protest mood, would they really want to protest against one of their biggest foreign investors and foreign markets, rather than on issues closer to home?  For example,


The continued imprisonment of protestors, without trial, since the Tiananmen Square peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.  


The suppression of religion, in particular that brand of Catholicism that recognizes the Pope as its head not the Secretary General of Chinese Communist Party.  


The one-child policy which guarantees 

that most families will die out and 


a shortage of women that will lead to enormous social tensions. 


The forced relocation to less fertile land of over a million people to make way for the $24 billion Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric dam, a massive project for which there has been neither economic justification nor any consultation much less agreement with the people most affected, ie the displacees.  


The illegal military invasion, continuing occupation and forced colonial immigration into Tibet.  


The never-ending undemocratic rule of the Party, whose number-one priority is as always to remain in power at whatever the human cost.  

With those spontaneous anti-Japan protests, we were instead simply witnessing a little bit of orchestrated public diplomacy on the part of the Chinese Communist regime.  Maybe it simply wishes to re-register its displeasure over Japan generally, and in particular because Japan has decided to explore for gas in East China Sea waters that the two countries dispute.  

This is but an illustration of the veil of lies which necessarily form the foundation of any totalitarian state, where things and words, mean precisely what the dictators decide that they mean, though this may be diametrically opposite from what they appear to mean.  


The Chinese people are free to mount protests 

 They are not

They have spontaneously become inflamed by some Japanese textbooks

They haven't, though they may have been stirred up by the authorities

Tiananmen Square didn't happen

It did

The Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion But only to religions sponsored by the Party
The Three Gorges Dam will solve China's problems of flooding, energy, inland shipping, and not turn into an environmental disaster   It won't and it will

Tibet is Chinese

 It isn't

China is a democratic nation Free and fair elections have never been held

China has always played the long game, and continues to do so skilfully.  Anti-Japan mobs are merely a small part of it.  

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Croke Park and the Hated Foreign Games

Dublin has two sports stadiums.   


Lansdowne Road, whose main function is hosting major and international rugby and soccer matches; with a capacity of 45,000, it hosted its first international in 1878 and is the oldest in Ireland and the British Isles.  


The magnificently appointed, recently redeveloped Croke Park reserved for exclusively Gaelic games (football, hurling, camogie); with a capacity of 82,300 it is the largest in these islands - bigger than 

the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (74,300), 


Old Trafford (67,600), 


Elland Road (40,200), 


Celtic's Parkhead (at 60,500 the biggest soccer stadium in Scotland), 


Murrayfield (67,500). 

Lansdowne Road will itself, starting in 2007, be redeveloped into a 65,000 all-seater stadium, which will put it out of action for the following three years, so the rugby and soccer organizations need to find an alternative venue.  

Croke Park is the obvious choice but it is owned by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), Rule 42 of whose constitution forbids its use for foreign (read, English) games, being notably soccer and rugby, the games of choice of the imperial occupier of yore.  Hence there has been a debate raging within the GAA about whether to rescind Rule 42 during the Lansdowne Road redevelopment.  

So deeply ingrained is Irish republican mythology surrounding Croke Park that the heart of the debate is the GAA's horror at the thought of a Union Jack flying over the sacred turf of Croke Park when it's Ireland's turn to host an international against England.  Resistance is especially harsh in subsidy-dependent Ulster, where sectarianism kicks in, since rugby is played predominantly by Protestants whereas Catholics play GAA. The refuseniks ask,  


Why should we hand over our stadium when it's not our problem?  


Why should we dilute our cultural exclusivity?


Why should we encourage rival sports that might in time damage our own sports by stealing our supporters?


Sure aren't we motivated by higher things than mere financial considerations?

On the other hand, less emotional voices urge the GAA to be 


more brotherly towards their fellow sportsmen, 


more patriotic by keeping Ireland's home games at home, for otherwise they will have to be played in British stadiums, 


more mindful about retaining the match-day tourist €uros within Ireland to support our impoverished economy.  

All the political parties take this tack (except of course Sinn Féin).  

There is however a different, more convincing way to look at the issue, one that has barely surfaced.  

The rugby and soccer organizations are going to have to find the necessary stadium(s) somewhere and they're going to have to pay handsomely for the privilege.  I don't know how much, but these days €50 upwards is a typical ticket price, so let's say €15 of that is for rental of the stadium.  That means each match will command a rental fee of around a million €uros, a thumping figure by any measure.  

That cash is there for the taking should the GAA want it.  

If, on the other hand, they refuse it, it will simply fall into the hands of, for example, Manchester United for Old Trafford or perhaps the Welsh Rugby Union for the Millennium Stadium.   

Thus by retaining the Rule 42 ban, not merely will the GAA deprive itself of some €30 million over the period for absolutely zero effort, but it will direct that same money to the support not only of the very foreign games it disdains, but in the very foreign countries it disdains (well, England anyway).  Talk about nurturing your enemies.  

On this reckoning, the only way to truly reflect the spirit of the ban is in fact to lift it.  

I wonder how long it will take before common sense and self-interest prevail.  

Forlorn note: I'm the only blogger I know who publishes on a strictly weekly basis; others publish either daily or as and when they have something to say.  One of the perils of weekly blogging is that if I write something on, say, a FRiday, the story may get  undermined before I can publish it on Sunday.  

This has happened over Croke Park.  Miraculously, and wisely, the GAA's annual Congress, the only body that can do so, voted to lift the Rule 42 ban the day before I published, largely for so-called patriotic” and other altruistic reasons.  

Ah well, I've gone ahead and published my little piece anyway. For no-one seems to have aired my central argument, that it makes no sense to starve yourself whilst nourishing your enemies. 

Common sense and self-interest have prevailed.

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Extreme Accounting


Is skydiving over shark-infested waters just another drop in the ocean?


Does going backwards, on one leg, down a black ski run leave you cold?


Have white water rafters begun to seem just a bit wet?


Has free-running round your local sink housing estate become a walk in the park?


Are you so far out there that you're practically back inside again?


Are you an accountant?

Well if so, it seems that Extreme Accounting is for you.  Taking care to read the disclaimer (Extreme-Accounting ... accept no responsibility for any accidents or injuries etc), you might like to tip-toe over to their site and have a peek.  

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Sit Down on a Commuter Train

At last a new book not available on Amazon.  Blogger Hajimi Yorozu from Tokyo has written a best-seller called, Sit Down on a Commuter Train!, telling us how to detect when someone is going to vacate a seat on a crowded train.  Hints to watch for include:


People glancing at their watch or the station name or getting out their bookmark 


Eavesdropping on mobile phone conversations for the dream phrase, “I’ll be there in five minutes


Loving couples, who soon rush off the train, presumably for some urgent privacy


Learning the school uniforms of your route - so you know which kids will get off at which station


Avoiding people engrossed in thick books - they're ready for a long ride

However, a field-test of the author's theories on London's Underground was not a total success.

Nor am I when I try to source a copy to buy, or to find Mr Yorozu's blog.  Maybe the whole thing's a hoax.  

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The End of the Line

I'm sorry to hear that after more than a year, Peter Nolan has decided to terminate his erudite and imaginative Black Line blog.  I guess weariness and pressing commitments (such as earning a living) became too much.  

I know from my own experience that you start blogging full of enthusiasm and bursting with ideas that have been rattling about in your head for years.  But with the passage of months and years, the effort and time involved go up, as do your personal standards, while the font of ideas goes down.  So it becomes harder and harder, though remains satisfying.  

I am heartened though to hear that Peter will continue to make posts via the Freedom Institute.

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Quotes of Week 97  

Quote : “We will continue to expand our atomic forces as long as the United States conducts policies to isolate and suffocate ( North Korea)

Kim Yong Nam, president of the Praesidium of North Korea's 
Supreme People's Assembly (its puppet parliament) 
reminds the world of the danger that 
bankrupt and starving North Korea continues to pose

Quote : Today we reiterated our serious concerns about the consequences, which can evolve from attempts to take power by illegal methods ... I'd like to believe and hope that the actions of a mob high on narcotic substances will not totally destabilise this republic

Following the craven flight of 
Kyrgyzstan's  President Askar Akayev in the face of people-power, 
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov and 
chief of the military staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky 
explain the belief of Russia's own ruling élite that 
a rigged election is legal and 
that only the drugged would dream of self-determination.

With Georgia, Ukraine and now Kyrgyzstan getting democratised, 
and after revolutions in a few more ex-Soviet colonies, 
Russia's own turn cannot be far behind.
No wonder President Putin is so nervous

Quote: Reporters and editors think their readers are stupid. In any business, such an attitude toward one’s customers would not be healthy. But in the newspaper business, where we rely on people to come back to us each day, it will be disastrous if not addressed.

Rupert Murdoch, haranguing newspaper editors 
for not sufficiently embracing digital technology 
and the power of the internet - and bloggers - 
to shape the way news is presented 

Quote: “At times bordering on some sort of bizarre striptease

A passenger at Dublin airport describes 
the intensified security regime after the 
European Civil Aviation Authority had detected a number of lapses

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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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