This archive contains all issues prior to the current week and the three
preceding weeks, which are published in
the main Tallrite Blog (www.tallrite.com/blog.htm).
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July
You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org
ISSUE #7 -
25th August 2002
Aid Giving by the USA
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 worlds 22
richest countries (the members of the OECD).
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 Denmarks
$1.6 bn, or just 3% of total.)
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
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
Europeans the luxury of making larger aid contributions. Europeans
will also benefit, at low cost, from America's War on Terror
do not expect anyone, rich or poor, to applaud or thank the US for any of
Bag Levy in Ireland Succeeds Spectacularly
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.
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.
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.
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.
true win-win situation (except if you are a plastic bag manufacturer).
Stole Children of Murdered Enemies
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
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 Francos 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.
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
was only a few years ago that similar
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.
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
according to Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a
human rights group formed by people whose children and grandchildren
disappeared during the repression.
how similar the two so-called justifications are - saving children and
society from the evil beliefs of their murdered parents.
the Argentines get this whole vile idea from the wretched example of their
former colonisers and mentors forty years earlier ?
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).
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.
makes the central point that corruption is the underlying basis and
philosophy of dictatorial regimes, without which they cannot
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
two sons in jail for corruption), cleaning hands will have to
await regime change.
under the existing regimes, the fight against
corruption is like fighting :
capitalism in the USA or
in the Vatican
is, destruction of the very foundations of the existing order.
is definitely worth reading and thinking about.
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.
|As everyone knows, monkfish swimming wild and free in the Atlantic
Ocean are riddled with mad cow disease.|
|Therefore, if their bones are turned into catfood the cats will get infected. |
|Then when the cats die their bodies will, as per widespread practice, be mashed up and fed to cattle. |
|So, finally, when we eat T-bone steaks and chew up the bone the way
we do, we too will become infected and die of
Is this EU regulation gone mad or what ?
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.
#6 - 18th August 2002
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
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
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
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
The legislation, long overdue, is only to be
applauded. Personally, I wouldn't dare buy any shares in the
companies of non-signers.
see meanwhile this is The Economist's
cover story for 17th August
Do Leftist Europeans Hate America ?
There is a superb piece
on European/American paradoxes by Victor Davis Hanson in the National
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
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 !
NATO Still Seeking
Indictees Karadzic and Mladic
Mr Karadzic, the noose is
- 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 worlds
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
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,
1992-95 war of the Yugoslav succession which killed over 200,000 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 Karadzics 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
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
sunny holidays for him,
no shopping trips to Harrods,
no celebrity blondes
on his arm,
no Caribbean cruises with his grandchildren,
no meals in
no ringside (or any) seats at international
concerts and events,
no meetings with the great and the good.
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
how the indictment process has ruined the retirement of General Pinochet
of Chile and
Idi Amin of Uganda to name just two others.
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
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.
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
Late Note (21st Aug) : In
response to this report, the spoil sports at NASA have issued a denial
: NASA 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
But they would say that about secret work, wouldn't they ?
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,
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.
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,
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.
not been able to find out when Pamela
Anderson and her female curvature will next be transiting through
Arabia Confiscates 8000 Cloaks
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
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:
of thick material that will not show any part of the body and won't
stick to it;
the entire body and not show its contour;
only in front but the sleeves should be narrow;
no decorations or writings to attract attention;
look like a dress worn by female infidels and by men;
placed at the top of the head.
would be prosecuted, the broadcast concluded.
ladies, now you know what to pack for your next holiday to Jeddah.
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.
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
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.
#5 - 11th August 2002
Sun" & Squids
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
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.
overfishing of predators is surely bad news, however the huge
stocks of nutritious squid must be some sort of silver lining.
and here are a few recipes
for cooking all that squid.
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
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
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
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
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
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
It just goes to show that you can't just accept statistics at
face value without understanding something about what's behind
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".
China's Military Ambitions
Read this rather sobering account
of China's preparations for a future large-scale conflict with
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
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
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
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
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 .....
The Catholic Church & Sexual Abuse
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.
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".
Civilians in Northern Ireland
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
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
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.
#4 - 4th August 2002
War on Terror
Donald Rumsfeld in a
conference at Nato HQ in Brussels on 6th June :
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
only 20% of the Israelis killed were combatants.
amongst Palestinian non-combatants killed, 9% were female;
12% of Palestinian deaths were caused by their own
side - suicide bombers, accidents while preparing explosives,
collaborators, and people killed in intra-Palestinian fighting.
whos 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
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
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.
Oil and Gas in
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
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
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
Malampaya Oil & Gas
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
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
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
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
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
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
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What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s
incredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
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the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
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