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April 2008


ISSUE #174 - 20th April 2008




Time and date in
Westernmost Europe

ISSUE #174 - 20th April 2008 [397+306=703]


Prosperity vs Democracy in Africa


External Interference by Lisbon Foreigners


Newt Gingrich on Islamic Violence


Heroic Hillary Under Fire in Bosnia


Biffo's Limericks/Offalies


Issue 174’s Comments to Cyberspace


Quotes for Issue 174

Click here for PDF Version of Issue #174 (174kb)

Prosperity vs Democracy in Africa

Zimbabwe is much in the news at the present, as its corrupt, bigoted, incompetent, thuggish dictator tries to cling to power in the face of overwhelming electoral evidence that its people no longer want him.  Let's hope that one way or another Robert Mugabe is deposed and finds himself in due course in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, alongside his old pal Charles Taylor, with both of them locked away until death for their abominable crimes. 

Kenya is another African country where a defeated president refuses to bow to what President George Bush Senior, when confronted with his own electoral drubbing in 1992, graciously and aptly described as the majesty of the people.

In the same continent over to the West - both geologically and politically - lies land-locked Botswana.  Its president, 68-year-old Festus Mogae has by contrast just amicably handed over the reins to his vice-president Seretse Khama Ian Khama, merely because he had reached the ten-year limit imposed by its 1966 Constitution. 

Mr Mogae breaks the mould by both ceding power peacefully and by respecting the constitution.  Compare:


Nigeria's president from 1999 to 2007, the septuagenarian Olusegun Obasanjo, tried (unsuccessfully) to amend his country’s constitution to allow him a third four-year term in office (actually a fourth term because he had already served 3½ years as president following a coup in the 1970s). 


Cameroon’s fellow septuagenarian president Paul Biya, who has been in office continually for the past 26 years, has just strong-armed his rubber-stamp parliament to scrap the Constitution's limit of 14 years so he can be “re-elected” for another seven years.

Of these five African countries, four have a GDP per person of only $4½ per person per day, yet one generates $40 a head, and that's Botswana.  Might there be a connection?  It's true prosperous Botswana has diamonds, but poverty-ridden Nigeria has oil, so it's not resources per se that makes the difference. 

So I thought it would be interesting to compare GDP figures of all sub-Saharan African countries with the quality of their respective democracies, which vary from fully democratic (Mauritius) to highly authoritarian (Guinea Bissau).  


GDP figures came from the mighty CIA World Fact Book; I used annual GDP on per capita as a proxy for average income of the population.  The units are 2007 US$ calculated on a purchasing power parity basis. 


I found democracy measurements published by the Economist Intelligence Unit [link repaired 22 Apr], which scores 167 countries from 10 (perfect democracy) to 0 (perfect authoritarianism). Sweden with 9.88 ranks top of the list, while at the bottom - to no-one's surprise - languish the unfortunate oppressed North Koreans with just 1.03, whose score for individual liberties is zero. 

The chart below summarises my findings in respect of the 44 countries that comprise sub-Saharan Africa.  The four referred to above are shown and tagged in red, while the other forty are in blue, a few of which have labels.  Forlorn North Korea, the world's least democratic state, appears in green.

If you discount the anomalies - such as Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and perhaps Angola - there is a clear trend.  The more entrenched your democracy, the richer you get, but only once you can claw your way well into the flawed category, ie with a score of 6½ (such as Namibia) or above. 

Click for data behind this chart

But what about those anomalies.


For the past three decades, the 600,000 citizens of little Equatorial Guinea have been under the firm thumb of the President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who since 1979 has been routinely winning elections with over 90% of the vote.  The government functions poorly and civil liberties are severely constrained.  Yet a windfall from recent oil discoveries around its outlying islands (leading to exports of nearly 400,000 barrels a day) coupled with a small population, have  provided a huge GDP figure of $44,000 per person.  That's up there with Hong Kong ($42k), Ireland ($46k) and the USA (also $46k).  But most of it is pocketed by the president, his family and cronies, leaving the vast majority of his people uneducated, housed in slums and scrabbling for a living.  From this, you can get a sense of why EG was such an attractive coup target for Simon Mann, Mark Thatcher and those mercenaries in 2004.  It is likely, moreover, that the local people would have benefited from it, because the mercenaries would have ensured that whoever they appointed to rule EG would have had to conform to certain minimum levels of competence, unlike the current incumbents. 


Gabon is another country which seems to buck the trend: very authoritarian (2.72) yet wealthy ($13,800 pp).  But it too has a small population (1½ million) along great oil wealth (exports of 250,000 bbl/day), most of it snaffled by president-for-life Omar Bonga (oops, I mean Bongo), who has had himself handsomely (80%+) re-elected for the past 41 years.  So again, though the GDP pp is high, most Gabonese (including pygmy tribes in the forest) remain very poor, so the high $ per person figure is misleading. 


It is also noteworthy that island states all seem to embrace democracy more readily than on the mainland, for example Mauritius (8.0), Cape Verde Islands (7.4), Madagascar (5.8), Mozambique (5.3).  You could almost call Lesotho an island, surrounded as it is by South Africa instead of the sea, which with its democracy score an impressive 6.5 could be on the verge of an economic breakthrough despite some grim fundamentals. 

In conclusion, this study reinforces what has been said many times but ignored even more often, that the secret to prosperity is democracy. 

It's also the secret to peace because no two democracies ever go to war with each other and even their internal conflicts (eg Northern Ireland, Basque country, Italian Red Brigades) are limited.  In the chart above, all the serious civil strife in Africa (eg Sudan, Kenya, Zimbabwe) takes place in countries whose democracy ratings are less than 6.

Mark Humphys explains how, there is a way to have eternal peace. We have discovered it already. It is not religion. It is not hippie love. It is not being nice to people. It is not transcendental meditation. It is not World government. It is not the UN. It is democracy.

He's right. 

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External Interference by Lisbon Foreigners

Last week I went to a high-falutin' meeting in Dublin Castle, one of Ireland's poshest venues for serious gatherings. It was put on by the National Forum on Europe, a taxpayer-sponsored neutral body which is however unashamedly exhorting the Irish electorate to vote Yes to the execrable Lisbon Treaty.  The meeting was chaired by some barely conscious geriatric called Maurice Hayes, and for some reason they let a foreigner wander in and give both the opening and closing addresses.  Though it is none of his business to insert himself between the Irish and their constitutional referendum, this slick Portuguese guy did his passionate best to persuade the Irish to vote Yes.  Inexplicably, the NFE also did what it could to help his (partisan) cause.  It carefully seated various Irish dignitaries in a horseshoe around the top table - Yes advocates all together and cosy, No advocates scattered.  The great unwashed masses (including me) had to sit beyond the horseshoe and out of sight of the TV cameras. 

In a carefully choreographed open discussion”, eighteen horseshoe people were invited in a pre-decided sequence to ask questions and put their views via a three-minute speech.  According to my count, twelve spoke in favour of Lisbon and six against - what a surprise that 2:1 ratio was!  Once again I was intrigued by some of my No bedfellows (eg leftist Sinn Fein, Socialist Workers, Communist Party, Irish Farmers Association), and opponents (rightist Progressive Democrats, Irish Business & Employers Confederation).  But I don't care how mistaken the reasons for which some might vote No, so long as they vote No.  One particular contribution stands out for its punchline and the delighted applause it attracted from fellow-dissenters like me.  Sinn Fein's ghastly Mary Lou MacDonald ended her short diatribe with the stirring clarion call “No way, José!”.  Ah yes, I remember now the name of that favoured foreigner - José Manuel something

Needless to say, no opportunity was granted to us the general public (who as far as I could tell were overwhelmingly against Lisbon) to put questions to the great man.  Otherwise, I would have asked him what he was doing here as a foreigner.  I would have also alluded to another alien interference and to an alien non-interference. 

For just three days earlier, the NFE accorded, equally anti-Constitutionally, a similar platform to another foreigner.  This time it was some frumpy woman from, apparently, eastern Germany.  She too spouted off at length trying to tell the Irish people how to vote in their own private referendum (hello-o-o, you're not Irish).  My spy tells me the format was the same - pre-planned questions from favoured panjandrums, in the same approximate proportion of two Yes contributions for every No.  Naturally, there was no chance in this open discussion for the ignorant hoi-polloi to butt in.  And as with the Portugese guy, the foreign lady - I think her name was something like Angular or Angela - was given the last word, just in case anyone thought too much airtime was being granted to the treasonous naysayers. 

Meanwhile, over in the rest of the EU, frustration is seething that no-one but the Irish are being allowed a referendum.  In fairness, the seethers are all against Lisbon, since the pro-Lisboners are very happy to have the treaty ratified by pliant parliaments.  Thus there are thousands of people who would love to help Ireland's No campaign - not least the majorities in France and Holland who voted No to the almost identical Constitutional Treaty. plus three-quarters of Britain.  They see this country as the last bastion that can put a stop to Lisbon - even though the European Parliament has, astonishingly, already voted 4:1 to disrespect the Irish referendum.  (Interestingly, one of the disrespecters was actually an Irish MEP, Proinsias De Rossa, who was involved in a much publicised fracas last week over his - in my view perfidious - vote.)

So why aren't they here in numbers and being given platforms by the NFE and by other worthy neutral” bodies as well as partisan ones?  The most notorious of these people is probably the rightist Jean Marie Le Pen, who reached the two-man run-off stage for the French presidency in 2002.  But he set down a marker when he decided not to visit Ireland, specifically because he feared those in favour of the treaty would exploit his presence as external interference in a national debate”.  Other aliens have kept their voices down for precisely the same reason, though I would be surprised if they are not - albeit covertly - providing assistance, just as pro-Lisbon foreigners like José and Angela have been.   

I am just amazed to see the brutish Jean Marie exhibit a diplomatic sensitivity badly lacking in those two otherwise polished interlopers. 

It is time for the No camp to speak out against external interference in a national debate”.  We shouldn't let them away with it. 

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Newt Gingrich on Islamic Violence

I have nothing to add to these few words by Newt Gingrich, and urge you to view this five-minute clip. 

Hattip: John D in Dublin

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Heroic Hillary Under Fire in Bosnia

For a bit of light relief, let's now re-visit Heroic Hillary's renowned visit to war-torn Bosnia in 1996.  It seems she wasn't spoofing after all.  Stuff really did happen ...  

Eat your heart out, Barack the pansy - and so-called tough-guy McCain. 

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Biffo's Limericks/Offalies

Bertie Ahern recently announced he would step down in May as Ireland's Taoiseach (prime minister) after eleven years in the job.  He is under a cloud for having trousered, when he was Finance Minister in the 1990s, chunks of money (up to IR£500,000 and counting) which he can explain neither to a planning-corruption Tribunal nor to the general public, despite extraordinary verbal contortions

Brian Cowen, the current Finance Minister and Tánaiste (deputy Taoiseach), has been appointed as the new leader of the Fianna Fáil party which heads the ruling coalition, and as such he will be crowned the next Taoiseach.  Biffo, Taoiseach-designateHe is an imposing presence, though no beauty in Ian Paisley's rheumy eyes, what with those Jagger-esque over-thick Catholic lips.  He hails from Clara, a village in Co Offaly, and his endearing,  affectionate nickname is BIFFO, Big Ignorant F***er From Offaly. 

As part of the general merriment that accompanies such transfers of power, RTE the state broadcaster ran a competition, with a handsome prize of a coffee pot plus €1,000, for the best Limericks submitted - though in deference to Biffo's origins, the ditties are being renamed Offalies. 

Here are the best four Offalies - and as you can see they are of peerless quality.  Those of a strong constitution can even listen to them in the original (minute 19½ onwards). 

4th Prize:  (Dept of Finance) Michael Duffy

There's a man from Clara called Brian

Who wanted to be Taoiseach from age 9

Now he's nearly there

With his full head of hair

And he's hoping he'll keep everyone in line. 

3rd Prize: Sean O'Callaghan, Waterford

There was a gruff lawyer named Cowen

Who was famed for his scowl and his frown

Then Bertie resigned

And so Brian was divined

With a smile to take over the crown

2nd Prize: Donal Purcell

There once was a man named Brian Cowen

An Offaly man of renown

He looked after our treasure

With skill and great measure

And now he's the jewel in the crown.

Winner: Silvia di Pianni

There was a TD born in Clara

Who said I'll be Taoiseach tomorra

Cause though I'm not purty

Old Bertie is dirty

So pass me the baton, A Chara[*]

[*]A Chara is Irish for Dear Sir

Let's hope the calibre of Biffo's leadership at least matches the dizzy heights of these masterful Offalies. 

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Issue 174’s Comments to Cyberspace

Since my ability to get published in the Irish Times has been curtailed because I now write occasional columns, I will from now on include below various published contributions I make to major websites.   The titles refer to the articles on which I am commenting.


Terror in academia
Comment in the Spectator-hosted Melanie Philips Blog on 15th April 2008

Anyone who wants to equate Israeli self-defence (or as Dr Jackson would have it, "state terrorism") with Palestinian terrorism should consider the following ...


Winning an asymmetric war
Comment in the Spectator-hosted Melanie Philips Blog on 12th April 2008

Maj-Gen Yaakov Amidror and Melanie are of course right.

I am surprised she didn't also cite the Northern Ireland peace process, which came about only after the IRA was if - not defeated - neutralised, giving the British army in effect a ‘sufficient victory’ ... 


My narrow escape from an ambush by the liberal left
Comment in the Irish Independent on 11th April 2008, on a column by Kevin Myers

Kevin [Myers], you start off with We know what anti-war and peace mean in the current argot: it means Yanks out.  Well, I for one don't know this, and disagree with your diagnosis except ...


Notions of gender have been corrupted by sexual politics
Comment in the Irish Independent on 8th April 2008, on a column by Kevin Myers

Frankly I couldn't care less how freakishly people choose to behave, so long as it is by and/or between consenting adults. But this Thomas Beatie has crossed the line ...


The Club of Tyranny
Comment in the Spectator-hosted Melanie Philips Blog on 7th April 2008

We should not be surprised that the UN has become a despots' club - only 42% of its member-stages, each with an equal vote, are proper democracies and many of those are just "dots" like Andorra. So, being the thoroughly democratic institution that it is, the UN is dominated by tyrants ...


Should the permitted level of blood alcohol for drivers be lowered?
Comment in the Irish Times on 24th March 2008

Seán Coleman is right to point out many reasons to punish the illegitimate Communist dictatorship ruling China for its appalling human rights record. However I agree with Pat Hickey that traditional Olympic boycotts don't work. But there is another way; another more democratic way ...

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Quotes for Issue 174

- - - - - - - - - - J I H A D - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: If Israel wants to take any action against the Islamic republic, we will eliminate Israel from the scene of the universe.

Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, Iran's deputy commander-in-chief,
who would clearly not utter such an apocalyptic statement
without prior clearance from his political bosses.

Quote: We promise our Muslim brothers that we will strive as much as we can to deal blows to the Jews inside Israel and outside it, with Allah’s help and guidance.

Al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri
reminds us in a recent audio recording that his organization
is not enamoured of apes and pigs
” anywhere.

But since, though vociferously denied, Osama is long dead,
Mr al Zawahiri would have to in fact be Al Qaeda's first-in-command

Quote: I condemn, in the strongest terms, the airing of Geert Wilders’ offensively anti-Islamic film. There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon,
in the best tradition of his illustrious (
LoL) predecessor,
incites Al Qaeda to perpetrate violence on Geert Wilders
for having produced a short movie,
Fitna (meaning strife),
which accurately links well-known acts of Islamic violence
to Koranic exhortations for same. 

- - - - - - - - - - Z I M B A B W E - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Zanu-PF did not fight a liberation war to have Zimbabweans vote incorrectly.

Henry Muchena, Zimbabwean air vice-marshal (fearing indictment)

- - - - - - - - - - T I B E T - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: One country which has been exploited and suppressed and suffered for far too long is Tibet.”

The description of Tibet as a country by John Gormley,
Ireland's Minister for the Environment and head of the Green Party,
provokes the Chinese Ambassador
Liu Bi-wei

to stomp out of the Green Party's annual conference in a huff. 

Quote: If someone dares to sabotage the torch relay in Tibet and its scaling of Mount Everest, we will seriously punish him and will not be soft handed.”

Qiangba Puncog, China's appointed governor
of the paradoxically-named Tibetan Autonomous Region
shows his soft side

Quote: If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives,
before cheering crowds of Tibetans in northern India,
where - to the fury of the Chinese Politburo -
she had gone to meet the Dalai Lama.

- - - - - - - - - - U S A  - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

Videos show that in fact she walked calmly from the plane,
accompanied by daughter Chelsea.
They were greeted by a young girl
in a small ceremony on the tarmac
and there was no sign of tension or any danger.

Faced with the damning evidence widely available
in this wretched Youtube clip,
she then decided to un-remember her graphic description.

Quote: We don't have slave masters, we got mayors.  But they are still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able to be educated. You got some preachers that are house niggers. You got some elected officials that are house niggers. Rather than them try and break this up, they're gonna fight you to protect that white man.

Baptist pastor James Meeks, who is also a State Senator for Illinois,
preaches from the pulpit. 

He is another dubious religious mentor
attached to presidential aspirant Senator Barack Obama.

- - - - - - - - - - U K R A I N E - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: You will forgive me, but I would not like to see the key, fundamental principle of the Alliance's activity, open doors, to be replaced by a veto for a country which is not even a member.

Victor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine,
commenting on baleful threats from Russia
should NATO invite Ukraine to join

- - - - - - - - - - E U R O P E - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: No way José!

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou MacDonald tells
EU Commission President
José Manuel Barosso
what she thinks of the Lisbon Treaty
which he wants the Irish electorate
to approve in a Constitutional referendum.

Quote: I am mad.”

Silvio Berlusconi reflects
on his (successful) bid for the Italian Prime Ministership,
which he has already held twice, for a total of six years

- - - - - - - - - - B R I T A I N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: I don't think anybody in this city is shocked about what consenting adults do.  As long as you don't involve children, animals and vegetables, they leave you to get on and live their own life in their own way.

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone
after his paternity of five sons and daughters by three mothers was revealed.
Which, of course, does involve
children - five of them.

He so despises at least one of them
and so disrespects his/her fundamental rights to parenthood
that the
father column on the birth certificate has been left blank.

By the way, what's wrong with sex with vegetables?

Quote: My comments do not accurately reflect my views.”

Britain's junior culture minister Gerry Sutcliffe,
as immortalised on a beer mat,
who can't decide whether alcohol taxes are too high or just right.

The beer mat helpfully clarifies that
Gerry Sutcliffe refreshes the parts other ministers can’t reach”.

Quote: Who would have thought that Nelson Mandela would have been free in our lunchtime.

Britain's dour Scottish prime minister Gordon Brown
gets his words deliciously twisted,
when he tries to lighten up, without his usual life-saving notes,
at a conference of the
Scottish Labour Party

- - - - - - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: The Omagh bombing was an infamous terrorist atrocity which [has] led to a civil legal action unprecedented in the UK and probably in the world.  For the first time, the victims of terrorism are confronting the alleged perpetrators ... private citizens are confronting terrorists in our courts.

Lord Daniel Brennan QC in the Belfast High Court,
acting for those bereaved by the Real-IRA Omagh bombing of 15th August 1998,
in an innovative civil action against five men believed to be responsible.

None have been convicted in a criminal court,
so the victims hope to punish the perpetrators
in a civil court where the standard of proof is lower,ff
though punitive damages (which they will probably be unable to pay)
but mainly through public naming-and-shaming.

Quote: I have done no wrong and wronged no-one.”

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in his resignation speech,
reflecting on Tribunal proceedings that strongly suggest
he took payments corruptly when Minister of Finance in the 1990s

Quote: We had no money on him.  I thought he was going out for a run to keep himself warm.

Gobsmacked zillionaire owner Michael O'Leary,
notorious boss of Ryanair,
when his horse
Hear the Echo
unexpectedly won the Irish Grand National at 33-1

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Neda Agha Soltan, 1982-2009
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Good to report that as at
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ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,

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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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