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#98 - 24th April 2005
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
more policemen (3½%
somewhat tougher on immigration,
a little more choice over hospitals and
improved efficiencies in government
slightly smaller increases in overall
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
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
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
+ 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
But do Michael Howard and his Conservatives have the
guts? I very much doubt it, so they will deserve to lose, and lose
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.
to List of Contents
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
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
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,
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
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
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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
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.
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
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
That's dishonest blogging.
to List of Contents
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
model for our heuristic consists of four independent components:
simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the
study of reinforcement learning
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
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
complete with diagrams, graphs and now fewer than 22 scholarly references, authored by a
certain, ahem, Tony Allwright.
Try it. See you in Florida.
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
to List of Contents
Quotes of Week 98
: Habemus papem
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
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
BBC's satirical news quiz
Have I Got New for You
makes fun of Tony Blair's fake election suntan and the expectation
hand over to
Chancellor Gordon Brown
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#97 - 17th April 2005
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
Subito proclaimed many of those banners in Rome, Make
him a saint immediately.
Paul the Great was another phrase that quickly gained
traction; only two prior popes have been so called.
demanded that be decreed “Doctor of the Church”
joining an élite pantheon of just 33
in the 2,000-year history of the institution.
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
chief executive officer of the Roman Catholic Church, and though they were
certainly intertwined you can arrive at rather different conclusions for each
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
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
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
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
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
Finally, this persona was the relentless traveller
and pre-eminent communicator. His itinerary of 104
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.
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%.
Welch's 20-year Reign
Shareholder Value, $ billions (109)
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
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.
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
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
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
Meanwhile, may he rest in peace.
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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 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
The Chinese people are free to mount
They are not
They have spontaneously become inflamed by some
They haven't, though they may have been stirred
up by the authorities
Tiananmen Square didn't happen
guarantees freedom of religion
only to religions sponsored by the Party
Three Gorges Dam will solve China's problems of flooding, energy,
inland shipping, and not turn into an environmental
won't and it will
Tibet is Chinese
is a democratic nation
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
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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
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
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
three years, so the rugby and soccer organizations need to find an
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
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
more brotherly towards their fellow
more patriotic by keeping Ireland's home
games at home, for otherwise they will have to be played in British
more mindful about retaining the match-day
tourist €uros within Ireland to support our impoverished
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
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
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.
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
and self-interest have prevailed.
to List of Contents
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.
to List of Contents
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
Mr Yorozu's blog. Maybe the whole thing's a hoax.
to List of Contents
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
I am heartened though to hear that Peter will
continue to make posts via the Freedom
to List of Contents
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)
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
Following the craven flight of
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
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
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.
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
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
to List of Contents
the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
to Top of Page
to Tallrite Blog
Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
Click for details
Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
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
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
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
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
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics