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


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

Ill-informed and Objectionable

You can write to


ISSUE #4 - 4th August 2002


ISSUE #5 - 11th August 2002          


ISSUE #6 - 18th August 2002


ISSUE #7 - 25th August 2002


ISSUE #7 - 25th August 2002 [36]


"Miserly" Aid Giving by the USA


Plastic Bag Levy in Ireland Succeeds Spectacularly


Franco Stole Children of Murdered Enemies


Struggle Against Corruption


Mad Fish Disease 


Ukraine Air-Show Crash

"Miserly" Aid Giving by the USA

At the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next week, the USA will no doubt again be pilloried for being miserly on foreign aid.  In 2001, the US government gave 0.11% of GNP as aid which indeed ranks it last out of the world’s 22 richest countries (the members of the OECD). 


Denmark, giving 1.01% of GNP will be lauded as top giver.  It, along with Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sweden, are the only countries to meet the OECD target of giving at least the 0.7% that everyone agreed at the 1992 Earth summit at Rio de Janeiro.  (Ignore that in absolute terms, the USA gives by far the most - $10.9 billion in 2001, which is 21% of the total, compared with Denmark’s $1.6 bn, or just 3% of total.)  


But as a recent article points out, these figures, which count only public sector contributions, are deceptive. Americans help others abroad - just as they do domestically - primarily through private donations, foundations, corporate and university giving, religious offerings, and direct help to needy family members. Scandinavians and other Europeans give abroad primarily as they do at home - through their governments (the socialist approach which is much less painful for individuals !). 


While there are no complete figures for international private giving, conservative estimates from surveys and voluntary reporting are impressive : 



Americans privately give some $34 bn overseas -- more than three times US official foreign aid of $10.9 bn. This $34 bn is made up of : 

International giving by U.S. foundations : $1.5 bn 


Charitable giving by U.S. businesses : at least $2.8 bn 


Groups like Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children, in grants, goods and volunteers : $6.6 bn 


Religious overseas ministries, for health care, literacy training, relief and development : $3.4 bn 


US colleges, in scholarships to foreign students : $1.3 bn


Personal remittances from the USA to developing countries : $18 bn 


Moreover, the US provides the bulk of the world's R&D, which saves millions of lives with improvements in food and medicines


And most significantly, the US continues, especially in the Balkans, to carry at enormous expense much of the burden of European defense which allows the Europeans the luxury of making larger aid contributions. Europeans will also benefit, at low cost, from America's War on Terror


But do not expect anyone, rich or poor, to applaud or thank the US for any of this.  

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Plastic Bag Levy in Ireland Succeeds Spectacularly


People often look at the idea of improving environmental performance with a groan, thinking here is another burden they will have to bear.  Yet protecting the environment frequently makes good business sense for everyone.  Take, for example, CO2 emissions.  Most experts agree they damage the ozone layer and contribute to global warming, although there is fierce disagreement about how much (and for that matter how much damage global warming will actually cause).  The CO2 mostly comes from burning fossil fuels, so the simplest way to reduce the emissions is to burn less fuel by improving the efficiency of the machines that burn it (cars, power stations etc).   The result : fewer emissions and less money spent on fuel.  A clear win-win.  


Another example.  Last March, Ireland activated an innovative piece of environmental legislation.  Throughout the land, all 3,000 retailers (supermarket, chemist, newsagent etc) may provide a plastic bag only if they levy a government tax of €0.15.  The aim is to cut the use of such non-biodegradable bags and at the same time raise cash for environmental causes.  


This been a spectacular overnight success, as people, from day one, have resolutely refused to part with fifteen cents for a lousy supermarket bag.  As a result, bag consumption has dropped from 1.2 billion per year to just 200,000, and the effects are already visible in terms of plastic bags no longer stuck to hedges and floating in the wind.  Meanwhile the tax has raised €3.5 million in the first four months, a rate of about around €10m per year, and has of course also saved retailers some cost which will help curb inflation.  


Denmark is the only other country with such a bag tax.  Across the water, the British Government is looking favourably at a similar scheme for Britain.  


A true win-win situation (except if you are a plastic bag manufacturer).

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Franco Stole Children of Murdered Enemies

The Independent reports that the children of slaughtered opponents were secretly taken, renamed and given to families sympathetic to General Francisco Franco in the years after he seized power in Spain, according to a new book Francoism's Lost Children, to be published in October by Montse Armengou and Ricard Belis.   


Franco’s fascists rounded up, imprisoned and executed thousands of “reds”, ie supporters of the democratically elected socialist government that Franco deposed in the bloody Spanish civil war of the 1930s.  That much was well known.  What this book reveals is the shameful secret that their children were often forcibly torn from them and given for adoption to Franco’s supporters.  Trainloads of bewildered, uprooted orphans crisscrossed Spain, taking them far from their original homes.   Some of these unfortunate children, now in their 60s, are finally beginning to learn about their true identities.   One can only imagine the turmoil this must be causing them.  


The justification at the time was that “segregation from infancy could liberate society from the terrible plague of Marxism” – as described in the neo-Nazi theory perpetrated by the army's psychiatry service.  


It was only a few years ago that similar   stories emanated from Argentina concerning happenings during what they refer to as their dirty war of the 1970s.  Some 200 children born in captivity of the “disappeared”, including those whom the military tossed live out of aeroplanes over the ocean, were donated to childless members of the armed forces.  The children are now on average 24 years old. 


The armed forces took a perverse pride in killing subversives and saving their children to give them to military families who would teach them the evils of terrorism, according to Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group formed by people whose children and grandchildren disappeared during the repression.  


See how similar the two so-called justifications are - saving children and society from the evil beliefs of their murdered parents.  


Did the Argentines get this whole vile idea from the wretched example of their former colonisers and mentors forty years earlier ?

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Struggle Against Corruption


Governments of the world fall into only two categories.  Democratic ones who get their mandates from their populations via free and fair elections held at pre-agreed intervals.  And non-democratic ones who do not ask whether their populations want them.  Non-democratic government leaders, ie dictators, can range from the benevolent (eg Sultan Qaboos of Oman, General Musharraf of Pakistan) to the malevolent (Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe), with all shades of grey in between (the Chinese politburo, President Lukashenko of Belarus).  


A remarkable article by a Sudanese researcher recently appeared in the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, under the (translated) title, “Fighting Corruption [in the Arab World] is Like Fighting Catholicism in the Vatican.”  


It makes the central point that corruption is the underlying basis and philosophy of dictatorial regimes, without which they cannot survive.  


Though the article targets Arab governments in particular, the central points it so graphically makes apply to any dictatorial regime anywhere, be it in the Middle East, China, Africa, Europe.  


Corruption only has meaning in an open and transparent regime where the institutions and media provide means for it to be detected and curtailed, and these conditions prevail only in democratic societies.  


By the very nature of a non-democratic system of rule, however, the regime has no choice but to behave corruptly, as, in the absence of any other mandate for legitimizing its authority, it has no other avenue to remain in power.  Moreover, it is essential to constrain, pack or disband the parliament, courts, press, TV etc in order to ensure that these institutions to do not expose and hinder the ongoing business of corruption.  


Indeed, when such countries declare they are "struggling against corruption", as for instance aid donors often demand, you enter  Humpty-Dumpty world (“what I say means exactly what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less).  This is because the real goal is in fact to increase the state of corruption by using corruption charges (the donors like this) to weed out only those who threaten the corrupt nature of the regime.  Thus, a former prime minister of Syria was accused of corruption, not because of his actual corruption (which, by the way, is necessary behaviour in such a  regime for anyone to hold down high office) but because he opposed the idea of transferring presidential power by inheritance (from Assad Sr to Assad Jr).  By removing someone who was not corrupt enough, the state therefore became more corrupt.  


If a corrupt regime were to obey the popular will of its people, spend its income on public services and reviving the economy, there would be little left for bribing supporters and generously funding the military/security apparatus essential to keep it in being.  


In sum, in non-democratic countries, fighting corruption is impossible, because corruption is the foundation of these regimes and the main instrument enabling the continuation of their existence.  Were the regimes to really fight corruption, as in Italy's 'clean hands' campaign in the 1990s, what happened in Italy would happen there : the entire political élite would end up in the courts and in prison.


Since it is inconceivable that the courts in such countries will sentence top ministers or the sons of the president (unlike South Korea's President Kim Young Sam who has two sons in jail for corruption), cleaning hands will have to await regime change. 


For under the existing regimes, the fight against corruption is like fighting :


capitalism in the USA or 


Catholicism in the Vatican – 


that is, destruction of the very foundations of the existing order. 

The article is definitely worth reading and thinking about.  

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Mad Fish Disease

On a recent visit to Union Hall, a lovely little fishing village in the south-west of Ireland, I visited the spotlessly clean local fish factory to buy a few fillets of monkfish, fresh off the boat that morning. 

The young man in the factory skilfully removed the fillets for me and tossed into a nearby container the remaining fish, comprising the head, spine and tail - about 50% of the original body weight. There was still a lot of meat on the carcass, albeit harder to dig out than the fillets, so I asked him what happened to the offcuts. Were they sold to make, for example, seafood chowder or catfood ? 

To my astonishment, he told me that EU regulations forbade the further use of the fish and required that it be taken and dumped several miles offshore. This is because it contains bone, and dumping it offshore prevents the bone getting into the human food chain and propagating BJD, or mad cow disease. 

Now let's see if I can understand the mechanism for this. 

bulletAs everyone knows, monkfish swimming wild and free in the Atlantic Ocean are riddled with mad cow disease.
bulletTherefore, if their bones are turned into catfood the cats will get infected. 
bulletThen when the cats die their bodies will, as per widespread practice, be mashed up and fed to cattle. 
bulletSo, finally, when we eat T-bone steaks and chew up the bone the way we do, we too will become infected and die of BJD. 

Is this EU regulation gone mad or what ?  

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Ukraine Air-Show Crash

Apropos my piece three weeks ago contrasting the RAF's cover up of its Chinook helicopter crash in 1992 with Ukraine's reaction to its air-show crash of an Su-27 fighter jet last month, a reader who was at the time sailing in the Black Sea provides a personal angle.  Since he also asks what a blog is, have a look here.  

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ISSUE #6 - 18th August 2002 [71]

US Bosses Must Swear their Financial Accounts are True


Why Do Leftist Europeans Hate America ?


NATO Still Seeking Indictees Karadzic and Mladic


Airport Scanners


Saudi Arabia Confiscates 8000 Cloaks  




Kyoto Protocol is Bad for Humanity 

US Bosses Must Swear their Financial Accounts are True

Interesting that George W Bush's new stricture, that the CEOs of America's 947 largest corporations, those with turnovers exceeding $1.2 billion per year, must sign their names to signify that the accounts of their companies are accurate, is regarded as a breakthrough in restoring investor confidence in those accounts.  

Under pain of fines and imprisonment, each CEO now has to swear under oath in front of a notary that his reports contain no untrue statements and omit no material facts.  

This is to differentiate from what pertained before when, presumably, the CEO could happily issue reports that would be padded with lies and leave important stuff out.  And, should the accounts then be found to have an Enron or WorldCom type of aura, the CEO needed only say, heck, don't blame me, it's my accountants who prepared the numbers, they must've deceived me.  And, because the accountants who actually did the work were so low down the hierarchy, and there were so many of them, they couldn't be held responsible either.  

I was a director of a major company which a few years back introduced a similar rule.  Each director had to sign off personally for the accuracy of the formal annual reports, financial and operational, in his area of responsibility and to confirm that no unreported bribery or fraud had taken place.  I can tell you that, where we were once much more laissez-faire, we very quickly sharpened up our scrutiny of our respective directorates so as to satisfy ourselves that what was reported was accurate.  This included requiring similar undertakings from our lower level managers, which had a similar salutary effect on them.  The bottom line was that everyone gained a more thorough understanding of his areas of responsibility, which in turn improved significantly our overall company performance.  

Edgar Online, an investor relations adviser, has started an excellent new sideline in keeping track of which of the 947 CEOs have signed by the deadline of 14th August 2002 and which haven't.  The score seems to be about 700, or 74%.  Eventually, the new legislation will be extended to another 13,000 smaller companies.  

The legislation, long overdue, is only to be applauded.  Personally, I wouldn't dare buy any shares in the companies of non-signers.  


I see meanwhile this is The Economist's 
cover story for 17th August

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Why Do Leftist Europeans Hate America ?

There is a superb piece on European/American paradoxes by Victor Davis Hanson in the National Review Online.  

To many left-leaning Europeans, America is, according to Hanson, a bully who rashly uses military force in lieu of dialogue, snubbing international agreements on everything from the environment to world jurisdiction over [its] military's improprieties; [American} culture is cutthroat and greedy, as the recent Enron and WorldCom scandals attest; it supports right-winged governments such as Israel's and is often in opposition to the aspirations of third-world oppressed peoples, to the authority of the United Nations, and indeed to the growth and power of international organizations.

Hanson poses uncomfortable (for Europeans) rejoinders to these and other familiar charges, with brutal, logical analysis, which basically exposes the embarrassing extent of European hypocrisy.  

Nevertheless, he ends with the upbeat observation, Europe won't like publicly what we do, but privately they will agree that we did what we had to do”.  Wasn't this exactly Kosovo and Afghanistan ?  And won't it be with Iraq also ?  

Read it !

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NATO Still Seeking Indictees Karadzic and Mladic

For Mr Karadzic, the noose is closing. - Scott Lundy, spokesman for the Nato-led SFOR mission in Bosnia as it closes in on alleged Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic.  

There have been renewed bouts of searching for both alleged war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, still hiding mainly in the Bosnian capital Pale and Belgrade in Serbia, respectively.  Two of the world’s most wanted men, they have been at large for almost seven years, with the United States sponsoring a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Karadzic.  

The two men were indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal for, inter alia, the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of some 6,000 of Muslims in the eastern town of Srebrenica in 1995, during the 1992-95 war of the Yugoslav succession which killed over 200,000 people. 

Many people bemoan the failure of NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) to catch these men and put them on trial in The Hague, to join their erstwhile colleague Slobodan Milosevic.  However, the indictment process itself wreaks terrible punishment on the indictee.  

Think about it from Karadzic’s own point of view, for example.  His movements are extremely constrained.  Not only dare he not stray beyond Bosnia or perhaps Montenegro, but even within these relative safe havens he cannot move without extreme caution and surrounded by up to 80 body guards.  The Bosnian capital Pale, pretty dismal at the best of times and still not recovered from the war, must be a pretty boring place to be stuck in, virtually forever.  For the man will see no end in sight, but constant hiding and harassment.  Though he has squirreled away ill-gotten millions, there will be


no sunny holidays for him,


no shopping trips to Harrods,


no celebrity blondes on his arm,


no Caribbean cruises with his grandchildren,


no meals in world-class restaurants,


no ringside (or any) seats at international concerts and events,


no meetings with the great and the good. 

Just  Pale.  And it is a lifetime sentence. All his money is good for is paying his army of personal bodyguards.  And one day - perhaps in 10 or 25 years time - the money will have disappeared and therefore so will the bodyguards.  Yet the risk of arrest will persist.    

Think about how the indictment process has ruined the retirement of General Pinochet of Chile and  Idi Amin of Uganda to name just two others. 

And here’s the thing.  These ghastly people have, effectively, been charged, tried, found guilty and then sentenced to these miserable life-long punishments.  This has all been done, in absentia, via the presentation of unchallenged evidence to a faceless committee operating behind closed doors, and without the defendants ever having the chance to put up a defence.  Their only way out, if you can call it that, is to present themselves for trial to the tribunal that has indicted them and hope that the terms of their imprisonment are shorter than the lifetime sentences they are otherwise serving.   

So do not think that Radovan Karadzic and his ilk are “getting away with murder”.  They are certainly undergoing very lengthy, bitter, life-long punishments.   

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Airport Scanners

These are becoming such fun.  The Washington Times reports on a future high-tech development and the Daily Telegraph tells up about two existing ones.  

First, the mind-reader.  NASA is adapting space technology to receive and analyze brain-wave and heartbeat patterns, then feed that data into computerized programs to detect passengers who potentially might pose a threat.  Non-invasive neuro-electric sensors will apparently be imbedded in airport gates, to collect tiny electric signals that all brains and hearts transmit. Computers will apply statistical algorithms to correlate physiologic patterns with computerized data on travel routines, criminal background and credit information from hundreds of thousands of data sources.  

Late Note (21st Aug) : In response to this report, the spoil sports at NASA have issued a denialNASA does not have the capability to read minds, nor are we suggesting that would be done..  Our scientists were asked to think outside the box with regards to ideas that could aid the nation in the war on terrorism and that's what they are doing. We have not approved any research in this area.”  
But they would say that about secret work, wouldn't they ?

Then there's the blush-detector.  Terrorists who attempt to conceal their real identity while trying to board a plane or enter a Government building will be identified by their blushes thanks to a sensitive thermal imaging technique.  In a trial, volunteers were randomly assigned to commit a mock crime - stabbing a mannequin and then robbing it of money - before answering the question Did you steal the $20?.  80% of the guilty (and 20% of the innocent !) were caught because of subtle but dramatic changes in their facial heat patterns caused by blood flow increases around the eyes.

Of course blushes may also arise due to the third new development, the naked body revealer.  This handy device, on trial at Orlando Airport in Florida, uses low-level X-ray technology to scan a body through clothing and can detect plastics as well as metal and human flesh.  Footage obtained by MSNBC show the front and rear views of a man who had been through the scanner. He appeared naked except for a thin belt at his waist, with his genitalia and buttocks clearly defined.  No images of women passing through the scanner have been released by the airport or the device's manufacturer. Those associated with the project, however, say that it reveals everything women try to hide.  A British vacationer returning from Orlando said, It's not the kind of picture I'd want to see among my holiday snaps, and I don't see why anyone else should get to see it either”.  

Regretfully, I've not been able to find out when Pamela Anderson and her female curvature will next be transiting through Orlando Airport.....  

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Saudi Arabia Confiscates 8000 Cloaks

And while we're on the Pamela Anderson problem, Al-Jazirah, the independent TV station that broadcasts in Arabic all over the Middle East from Qatar, reported on 18th June from Saudi Arabia that the office in charge of the prevention of trade fraud, with the help of the Saudi moral police, had confiscated 8,000 cloaks made for women.  The cloaks are known as ‘Abaya, and the moral police, who are responsible for “the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice”, confiscated them because they showed a degree of “female curvature” and as such failed to meet Islamic requirements.  


The mufti (senior cleric) of Saudi Arabia has now issued a fatwa (a religious edict) specifying the properties of a proper cloak that meets the law of the Shari'a.  An ‘abaya should:



be of thick material that will not show any part of the body and won't stick to it;


cover the entire body and not show its contour;


open only in front but the sleeves should be narrow;


have no decorations or writings to attract attention;


not look like a dress worn by female infidels and by men;


be placed at the top of the head.


Violators would be prosecuted, the broadcast concluded. 


So, ladies, now you know what to pack for your next holiday to Jeddah.   

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Did you know that just one gram, say a saltspoonful, of fully concentrated Botox, divided equally among eight thousand people, would kill half of them ?  Botulinum toxin, to use its full name, poses a major bioweapons threat because of its extreme potency and lethality.  The Aum Shinrikyo sect, which poisoned the Tokyo Undergound with Sarin gas, had tried to use botox as a biological weapon, but (luckily) failed.

Some of us might be slightly disturbed by the thought of injecting death, literally, into our faces.  Nevertheless, Botox injections, as a means of disabling the facial muscles in order to restore a youthful appearance, is a big hit among celebrities of all ages and countries.  

Scary !  

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Kyoto Protocol is Bad for Humanity

Faithful readers will recall my piece a few weeks back deriding the Kyoto Protocol.  I pointed out that it would cost $100 billion per year to meet the CO2 restrictions of Kyoto, in return for negligible impact.  On the other hand $200 billion - just two years Kyoto subscription - would provide all humanity with clean drinking water and sanitation and thereby avoid 2 million deaths per year in the developing world.  

Well, the Sunday Times published a long letter from me on 18th August 2002, making the same point, in response to a lengthy article the previous week by from John Humphrys, the anchorman for BBC Radio 4's renowned Today programme.  Unfortunately, though, you have to subscribe £45 per year to read the Sunday Times online, and also the letter only appears in the Irish edition and not the UK edition.  

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ISSUE #5 - 11th August 2002


"The Sun" & Squids


King of Abdullah of Jordan


Alcohol Over-Consumption


China's Military Ambitions


The Catholic Church & Sexual Abuse


Booby-trapped Civilians in Northern Ireland

"The Sun" & Squids

Britain's indomitable Sun newspaper informed us last week that “Giant squid are now breeding so fast they take up more space on Earth than humans, food is plentiful and their predators have thrown in the towel”.  Dr George Jackson, of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies, in Tasmania, said “They eat anything and breed whenever possible.” 

Actually, there is a genuine scientific basis for this "silly season" story.  It is that as industrial fisheries progressively remove all the larger predators, invertebrates (such as squid) and smaller plankton-eating fish can flourish – at least until the fishing industry turns its attention to them as well.  Squid have very short life cycles of only 2-12 months and they just keep on growing and reproducing until they die or are eaten.  Some estimates suggest that the standing stock of squid in the waters of the Southern Ocean could be as high as 100 million tonnes of which 30 million tonnes are consumed annually by predators.  Take away the predators and they can spread like weeds on land and fill all available niches. 

The overfishing of predators is surely bad news, however the  huge stocks of nutritious squid must be some sort of silver lining.  

Oh, and here are a few recipes for cooking all that squid.  

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King of Abdullah of Jordan

I wonder how many people are aware what good pals are Saddam Hussein's murderous son Uday and Jordan's King Abdullah, son of the late King Hussein, according to this article in the Daily Telegraph.  They've apparently  been friends and fishing companions for many years, and Uday once presented the young king with three Porsches.  

Not only that, but the Jordanian monarchy, as shown in this organigram from the Economist, are cousins to the late kings of Iraq (the last one, Feisal II, having been assassinated in 1958).  

Meanwhile, Hassan, the brother of the late Jordanian King Hussein that a month before dying deposed him as crown prince in favour of Abdullah, has been cosying up to Iraqi dissidents, most recently in a London conference in July 2002.  Without a current rôle, he would doubtless see himself has an excellent king of Iraq in a post-Saddam monarchy, and not a few Iraqi dissidents seem to think so too.  

It appears however that Saddam is now pressuring King Abdullah to restrain his uncle Hassan in his enthusiasm for a post-Saddam world.  Indeed, it is alleged that King Abdullah has virtually  become Saddam's lawyer in America, defending Saddam and using every opportunity to warn off any American attempt to help the Iraqi people liberate themselves. Whilst in London, there were signs that Tony Blair may be wavering in his support of American action against Saddam after King Abdullah of Jordan, en route to Washington, stopped in London for a meeting with Blair. In the US, the king said Blair had deep reservations about the wisdom of an attack.

The king is going to have to make his mind up pretty soon whose side he is going to be on when (not if) the war with Iraq is launched.   

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Alcohol Over-Consumption

It seems that Ireland's per-capita consumption of alcohol is outstripping that of other countries. 

According to a study commissioned by the Irish government, Ireland in the year 2000 consumed on average 11.1 litres of pure alcohol per person, second in the EU only to Luxemburg with 12.1 litres and way above the EU average of 9.1 litres.  Moreover, whereas Luxemburg decreased its consumption over the preceding decade 1989-99 as did ten other EU states, Ireland ratcheted it up by an astonishing 41%.  The remaining four states also increased their consumption, but by less than 10%.  

This indicates that, booze-wise, Ireland is way out of line and dangerously so.  

But Dermot Stokes has pointed out that these figures have very little meaning unless they are analysed from the viewpoints of both demographics and personal behaviour.  Research has shown that in the UK and Ireland, 18- to 24-year-olds drink considerably more, and more dangerously, than those in older age groups; conversely, older age groups, ie those over about 34 years, progressively drink less, and more moderately.  

Meanwhile, over the past 15 years, 


Ireland's high birthrate (still influenced by the Catholic Church) and 


the switch from net emigration to immigration (thanks to the economic roar of the Celtic Tiger) 

have together resulted in a massive population bulge in the 18-34 age group, when compared to the rest of the EU, where this group is shrinking and the populations are ageing.  

Consequently, with so many younger heavy drinkers and so few older moderate drinkers, it is no wonder that Ireland compares so unfavourably with the rest of the EU.  It doesn't mean that the Irish are more dissolute than their peers elsewhere in the EU.  

On a positive note, however, over the next 15 years, according to an EU report, the bulge will grow steadily older leaving fewer youthful bingers and more dullard sippers.  And so the overall picture will slowly become less embarrassing.  

It just goes to show that you can't just accept statistics at face value without understanding something about what's behind them.  

Interestingly, Ireland's life expectancy is three years less than the EU average, but I can't figure out if the youth bulge is to blame for this as well.  

As Mark Twain said in his autobiography, "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics". 

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China's Military Ambitions 

Read this rather sobering account of China's preparations for a future large-scale conflict with America. 

It is based on a new report of Congress's US-China Security Review Commission which states that, China's leaders consistently characterize the United States as a 'hegemon', connoting a powerful protagonist and overbearing bully that is China's major competitor, but they also believe that the United States is a declining power with important military vulnerabilities that can be exploited. China views itself as an emerging power.

Specifically, China's military leaders are focusing on several investments and advances that cannot be mistaken for anything but preparations for conflict against the US.   

Drawing on two millennia of Chinese strategic tradition, their ambitions include: 


developing the capability to sink a US aircraft carrier; 


developing a so-called assassin's mace with which to attack perceived US weakpoints such as computer networks, military reconnaissance systems, business communications, the New York Stock Exchange; 


focusing on space with a modest Global Positioning System of satellites and developing ground-based anti-satellite technology. 

While these advances, buttressed by a recently announced  17.6% expansion of its military spending (and that's just what they're admitting to), won't turn China into a US peer, China is definitely a competitor.  

Its military planners seem to think that the possibility of a large-scale, future military conflict between them and the dominant Pacific power is real, and should be prepared for. There's no reason Washington would be planning on a different basis.  

Let's hope they're both wrong.  Personally, so long as China's economy continues to grow robustly, I doubt if there will be the real political will among the hierarchy to challenge the US militarily.  

I would be more concerned about the growing male-female imbalance caused by China's one-child policy.  Chinese revere sons over daughters and the rules that allow them only one child are resulting in the aborting and killing of disproportionate numbers of baby girls.  When all the boys become men what are they going to do about the shortage of women?  Make no mistake - it will run into millions.  No doubt the rich ones can find a peaceful way to import wives and girlfriends (though thereby exporting the shortage).  But the poorer ones might feel the urge to attack neighbouring countries both as an outlet of pent-up youthful energies and to obtain women.  Many empires began life as a result of under-occupied young men seeking women in foreign lands.  Think of those Vikings ..... 

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The Catholic Church & Sexual Abuse

A reader comments poignantly on my piece in Issue #2 (21st July) concerning the 97% of non-abusing clerics who, for zero pay, worked their entire lives for the betterment of society's rejects.  Some excerpts:  

 I befriended a nun here in Limerick, whose order ran a laundry in the old days, for girls that found themselves in the family way. She told me some depressing stories of the treatment of some of the girls by their families. They were cast out and told they were fallen women and had disgraced their families. In many cases their fathers would not have anything to do with them and forbade the mother and any of their siblings contact. At times it was the father who was responsible for their condition and I was also told that a priest was sometimes the guilty party.

The nuns never had anything for themselves. They got pocket money.  Later on, when the laundry was closed, when my wife and I used to call for our friend, to take her to a concert in the University Concert Hall, it was a major outing for her. Such a simple thing, yet it gave her great joy. 

Society, the vast bulk of which were not educated to think and reason for themselves, reacted in fear of condemnation to everlasting flames and eternal misery. Is it any wonder that some banished their own daughters for what they believed to be "the most deadly sin of all". 

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Booby-trapped Civilians in Northern Ireland

At 7.20 am on Thursday 1st August 2002, family-man David Caldwell, a 51-year old civilian construction worker at a Territorial Army base for volunteer medical services on the outskirts of Derry (Londonderry) in Northern Ireland, picked up a lunch box. It contained a bomb with a booby trap tilt switch.  It blew up in his face and he died a couple of hours later, leaving behind a partner and four children. Security forces blamed the Real IRA (and on 21st August the Real IRA claimed responsibility).

At noon on Friday 8th February 2002, family-man Peter Mason, a 49-year-old civilian worker at an army training centre near Magilligan in County Derry (Londonderry), picked up a thermos flask. It contained a bomb with a booby trap tilt switch.  It blew up in his face but did not kill him.  Instead, when he awoke from a coma fully two months later he found himself blind, deaf and with both arms gone.  The security forces blamed the Real IRA. He lives on to this day in a private, silent, touchless hell, though I am told that against all medical expectations he has regained some marginal sight in one eye. Read this heartbreaking comment about Peter Mason, reproduced with the author's consent. 

Words fail me concerning these two despicable crimes, but to quote Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen: The people who carried out [these] cold blooded and cowardly act[s] represent nobody but themselves.

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ISSUE #4 - 4th August 2002


The War on Terror


Palestinian/Israeli Casualty Figures


Oil and Gas in Ireland


Malampaya Oil & Gas Field, Philippines


Chinook Helicopter Crash

The War on Terror 

Donald Rumsfeld in a press conference at Nato HQ in Brussels on 6th June :

The message is that there are no 'knowns'. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns. 

It sounds like a riddle. It isn't a riddle. It is a very serious, important matter. 

There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist. And yet almost always, when we make our threat assessments, when we look at the world, we end up basing it on the first two pieces of that puzzle, rather than all three. 

Rumsfeld's phraseology has excited a lot of commentators who consider it further proof : 


of his confusion,  


that the War on Terrorism has been overplayed, and  


that it will be more so if extended to an invasion of Iraq.   

But read those words again, and remember they were uttered on the fly in response to a journalist's question. They scream of logic, and you would have to be very clear-headed indeed to utter them the right way round, and on the record, and at the first attempt.   

His central point is that you must not ignore your unknown unknowns - you need to at least allow for their existence. Seems pretty sensible to me.   

This applies not only to wars but to many business contexts as well. For example, the oil industry talks about : 


known reserves (oil that they know is there and how much), 


unknown reserves (oil that they know is there but don't know how much) and  


undiscovered oil (oil that they don't know is there but from experience may be there if they look hard enough).  

Inasmuch as an oil company's long-term future depends on continually finding new oil - which is what oil exploration is - it is essential that how to deal with undiscovered oil ("unknown unknowns" in Rumsfeld's lexicon) should constitute a strong element in strategic planning.  Furthermore, no responsible company will fail to have plans in place for tackling other unknown unknowns such as future undreamt-of business catastrophes.   

I think the real objection to Rumsfeld's words - apart from his right-wingedness - is that many commentators are hearing about the concept of different types of knowns and unknowns for the first time, find it complex (it is) and can't understand it. Therefore, they conclude, it's bad.   

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Palestinian/Israeli Casualty Figures 

According to the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), a think-tank, between the start of the second Intifada almost two years ago and the end of June, the war had killed 561 Israelis and 1,499 Palestinians. Therefore, the Israelis are 2.7 times nastier than the Palestinians. 

True ? 

Well, no, actually. Because the recent ICT study that includes those numbers, as summarised in an excellent article by Tech Central Station (a Washington-based technology newsletter), claims that they obscure the reality of the conflict, by combining combatants with the non-combatants, and suicide bombers with their civilian victims. 

The ICT makes rigorous definitions of what constitutes a combatant and what a non-combatant, with doubtful cases being assigned non-combatant status so as not to understate the non-combatant fatalities.   

On this basis, ICT concludes that 


about 579 non-combatant Palestinians (some 38 percent of all Palestinian casualties) were killed by Israelis and 


433 non-combatant Israelis (about 80 percent of all Israeli casualties) were killed by Palestinians. 

Or to put the figures the other way round, 


62% of Palestinians killed were combatants whereas 


only 20% of the Israelis killed were combatants. 



amongst Palestinian non-combatants killed, 9% were female; 


among Israeli non-combatants, 39%. 

12% of Palestinian deaths were caused by their own side - suicide bombers, accidents while preparing explosives, collaborators, and people killed in intra-Palestinian fighting. 

Now who’s nastier ?   

The figures make a pretty strong case that, contrary to widespread belief, the Israelis have not noticeably targeted Palestinian non-combatants and that the Palestinians have overwhelmingly targeted non-combatants.   

If these numbers gain wide acceptance as a truer depiction of what is happening in Israel than the numbers more usually quoted, their effect on public opinion worldwide could be dramatic. They seem to tell us a lot more about the nature of the conflict than has been possible before.   

Here, however, is a health warning – the ICT think-tank is predominantly Israeli, though this does not make their figures wrong. If we think the figures might be biased, we should scrutinize the research. But not throw it aside before doing so.   

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Oil and Gas in Ireland 

Ireland has one active gas field, Kinsale, and a second, Corrib, currently under development. A number of Irish people have noted that Ireland's tax take on Corrib is to be 12½% whereas Norway charges the oil and gas companies a thumping 78% in tax. Therefore, they conclude, the Irish Government is giving away the nation's patrimony and this is an outrageous scandal.   

Such people need a lesson in reality.   

Ireland is a dreadful oil and gas province, with no oil at all and just the two gas fields - and they are small by world standards. Kinsale, containing 1.7 TCF started producing gas back in 1978. And now Corrib, half the size at only 0.85 TCF, is expected to come on stream - planning permissions notwithstanding - in 2004. (TCF stands for trillion cubic feet and 1 TCF is equivalent in energy terms to about 0.17 billion barrels.)

Compare with the Norwegians.  They began their extraordinarily successful North Sea exploration began in the 1960s and to date they have proven reserves of 36 TCF of gas plus 5.7 billion barrels of oil, with the same amount again not yet proven. In energy terms, that is either 27 times Ireland or 54 times, depending on whether you exclude or include the unproven reserves. The UK's North Sea reserves are in the same order of magnitude.   

So perhaps Norway's gargantuan hydrocarbon riches explains why their Government can drive such a hard bargain with the voracious oil companies, in contrast to the comparative driblet that Ireland has to offer. So without a competitive tax regime that is considerably more favourable to the oil companies than Norway's or the UK's, Ireland would have no chance at all of attracting away from the North Sea the 840 million €uro of private money needed to develop Corrib.   

Maybe one day Ireland will indeed become another Saudi Arabia and will be able to extort punitive pecuniary conditions on oil companies. But until then, it is important it continues to recognize its own negotiating weakness and not to allow dreams to displace reality.   

Note: This piece formed the basis of a letter 
to the (subscription-only)  Irish Times that was published on 5th August 2002

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Malampaya Oil & Gas Field, Philippines 

While we're on hydrocarbons, I was interested to note that the Philippines has decided sell its 10% interest in the hugely expensive Malampaya offshore gas project, and expect the sale to realise $400m.  This values the 3 TCF field at US$ 4 billion.  Royal Dutch/Shell operates the project with a 45% interest, with ChevronTexaco holding the other 45%.  

My personal interest is that I was the founder chief executive of Shell Philippines Exploration when my team discovered this field in very deep water off the coast of the beautiful tropical island of Palawan in 1992, and it is very gratifying to learn that this success that I was privileged to lead is now worth so much.  The field was brought into production on 1st October 2001. 

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Chinook Helicopter Crash 

On 2nd June 1994, an RAF Chinook helicopter crashed in fog in the Mull of Kintyre killing all 29 on board.  It had been transporting virtually all of Britain's senior intelligence and security officials in Northern Ireland from Belfast to Scotland for a secret meeting to discuss strategy and tactics in the war against the IRA. 

There were no witnesses, no radio calls, no radar and (extraordinarily) no black boxes. Nevertheless, despite this dearth of evidence, the subsequent RAF enquiry, conducted in secret by the RAF and led Sir William Wratten, concluded that the crash was the result of gross negligence on the part of the two dead pilots, John Tapper and Richard Cook, and effectively cleared the RAF as an organization.  The negligence claim has been much disputed by pilots’ families who have pursued it as far as a House of Lords select committee inquiry which last February exonerated them.  However, the British Defence Secretary, Mr Geoff Hoon has now repudiated that finding and effectively said that pilot error was the only "plausible explanation".  So the verdict stands. 

Regardless of whether the negligence verdict is actually true or not, commentators have spoken as if there are only two possible explanations for such an accident - human negligence or mechanical failure.  But neither of these would have been the true CAUSE of the accident, but merely a SYMPTOM of a much more serious malaise in the RAF's overall management. 

If you doubt such a malaise, try thinking of answers to these questions, that Sir William's enquiry never addressed.  


How was it that two of the most skilled pilots in the RAF, flying VIPs on a crucial and secretive mission, jointly chose to flaunt the rules in bad weather and not apply their undoubted skills? 


And who would pretend that this would have been their one and only act of such negligence in their long careers? 


If they were known to be so cavalier, who assigned them to this delicate task? 


If they were not known to act this way, surely it was their supervisor's job to know? 


How many other RAF pilots are out there today, who fly in an equally cavalier manner with either the collusion or the ignorance of their supervisors? 


Who is supervising their supervisors and how? 


Who is managing this whole process? 


How many layers of supervision of the two dead pilots have been disciplined on account of their evident gross incompetence in managing their flyers? 


Who decided it was OK to load "virtually all" of Britain's senior intelligence officers into the same aircraft (no business would ever dare put all its management team into the same plane)?


What specific actions have the RAF taken to redress the gaping hole in their management system that this horrible accident has revealed? 


And will Sir William be censured for doing only half the investigation job (the easy half) and missing the most important findings, namely the shortfalls in the RAF's management system, that would help avoid future such accidents? 

Contrast the RAF's craven behaviour in protecting their own with the immediate and decisive action of Leonid Kuchma, President of Ukraine, following the crash of a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet at an air show near Lviv on 27th July 2002 killing at least 78 spectators.  Within 24 hours he had reportedly sacked both the commander of the air force, General Viktor Strelnikov and General Sergei Oniszhenko, the head of the 14th air force division which had been putting on the show, and they were both then arrested, along with two other officials, on suspicion of a "negligent attitude", a euphemism for sloppy safety procedures that allowed pilots to perform their stunts too close to the public.  Chief of Staff Petro Strulya, who was deputising for the Defence Minister Volodymir Shkidchenko at the time of the crash was also sacked and Mr Shkidchenko himself tendered his resignation.  

President Kuchma believed, There are two main versions of events. The first version is negligence on the part of senior management in the air force. The second version is that the plane failed.  You may think that President Kuchma over reacted, but he also made it absolutely clear that it is management he holds primarily responsible for such a catastrophe, and merely punishing the pilots will not avoid future disasters.   

For when symptoms are confused with causes, life is easy because you simply treat the symptom (eg fire the pilots if they're not already dead).  You then walk blithely away thinking you have solved the problem, whereas you actually haven't touched it and have probably made it worse (eg by reinforcing the self-belief of incompetent supervisors).  

Recall also the Exxon Valdez oil spillage in Alaska in 1989. The captain ran the ship aground when he was drunk.  Does his guilt exonerate Exxon?  Of course not!  The captain was such a known drunk that he had lost his driving licence - yet Exxon put him in charge of a supertanker.  Exxon has been held responsible and severely and rightly punished for this environmental catastrophe - by the courts, by the clean-up costs, by the adverse publicity and by the swingeing blow to the share price over a long period.  

Meanwhile, having blamed the dead pilots for the Chinook crash, the RAF seems to be coming up smelling of roses.  

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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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