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#85 - 15th August 2004 
|Drugs : The New
Future for Sport
With the Olympics now upon us, talk naturally turns to sport - and the
drugs that enhance sporting performance.
Ireland kicked off the season by unmasking Cathal Lombard as a
drug-taker. He is a 28-year-old solicitor with a talent for
middle-distance running, who since turning professional just two years ago
has shown marked improvement, reaching his zenith last May by knocking
fully thirteen seconds off the Irish 10,000 metres record. But as
well as being celebrated, this achievement raised suspicions in the
eyes of the sports administrators. Simultaneously, the post office
and customs had intercepted packages containing EPO that he had ordered from
Brazil over the internet. The naturally
occurring hormone EPO, or erythropoietin, enhances
performance by increasing endurance through boosting the
production of oxygen-rich red blood cells in the body.
Mr Lombard's urine was therefore tested several times during 2004 and
it eventually showed up positive. Subsequently, he has admitted
taking the drug (saying that everyone does it), his 10,000 metre record
has been rescinded and he has been kicked off Ireland's Olympic
Other would-be Athens Olympians recently caught doping include
world 100 metres champion 27-year-old Torri Edwards (banned for two years)
and from Russia two weightlifters and an athlete. Host Greece is itself
mired in shame because its adulated world-class sprinters, Costas
Kenteris and Katerina
a drugs test (which counts as testing negative). They then
decided to hospitalise themselves after a motor
cycle accident that conveniently occurred just before having
to appear before a disciplinary board.
However, taking drugs to improve athletic performance is by no means the
black-and-white issue it is usually made out to be. Moreover, in the next
few years it will become an integral and unavoidable part of every serious
sportsman's and sportswoman's regimen.
Years ago, in an amateur age, how did sportsmen train ? Typically, they would turn
up for practice for an hour or so one or two evenings a week, and then
take part in the big event (race or game) at the weekend. Even
Olympic sportsmen, such as gold-medallist Eric Liddell depicted in the movie Chariots of Fire, did little more.
When I played rugby in the 1960s (at nowhere near Olympic
level), teams who trained more than a couple of times a week were regarded
almost with suspicion for taking unfair advantage through superior
fitness. They were virtually cheating.
For unequal training regimes meant an uneven playing field,
with outcomes determined not solely by whichever team was the more
Yet so it continued through the years in all competitive sports, with
each team or person trying to gain
that unfair advantage through superior training,
equipment and so forth.
Low/gentle/occasional training gave way to medium training
The next move was to intensive, daily training
Training occupied so many hours every day that athletes no longer
had time to hold down a job, so had to turn professional
Specialist trainers, physios and doctors were engaged to look after
different aspects of the athletes' performance and bodies, enhancing
Athletes underwent surgery on their necks, shoulders, elbows, knees
to correct for - or pre-empt - sports injuries, as bodies were pushed
beyond God's design limits
Diets became tailor-made, with strict attention to the balance of
protein, carbohydrates, avoidance of alcohol etc.
Legitimate extra additives - vitamins, oils, supplements and nutrients
- were ingested
Equipment and apparel were tuned to optimise performance - spiked
shoes, air-cushioned soles, slick bodysuits, space-age
Thus life for a top athlete has become one of continuous, year-round
training in strictly enforced conditions, all under the supervision of
Meanwhile an athletic drug-race was being played out, by
drug manufacturers eager to produce and sell performance-related
many (though not all) athletes eager to use drugs to gain further
competitive edge, and
officials keen to detect and stamp-out drug-taking.
Offer any young athlete the chance of competitive glory in youth
in a Faustian exchange for ill-health in later years, and many will
eagerly say yes (not to mention their unscrupulous trainers). Even
so, the side effects are likely to be considerably
less than those of the drugs alcohol or tobacco.
Meanwhile, whilst ever-new drugs are being developed which are designed
to be not only more effective but less detectable, so the anti-drug forces
are finding ever more sophisticated ways to test and detect drugs, in a never-ending
At the same time, the athletes' ever-improving performances attracted larger crowds, which
in turn sucked in greater commercialism, advertising, sponsorship, TV. All this
generated the funds needed to finance athletes and their back-up teams,
not to mention the drugs.
The one constant in all this, is the same one which motivated my
opposing rugby team to additional training. It is to gain an unfair
advantage that would outweigh any deficiencies in innate skills between
their team and mine.
We are surely now getting near the end of the drug-free line.
There are no more hours in the day in which to train. The
techniques of training and the sophistication of equipment are surely
converging on the buffers. As James Gleick, author of Faster:
The Acceleration Of Just About Everything, says, athletes are
approaching the limit of human perfectibility.
Just one example. Since 1904, the Olympic record for the marathon
from 2:58.50 to 2:09:21, set in 1984. That's an astonishing 28%
improvement in eighty years, yet nothing for the past twenty (though the
current world record, set last year, stands at to 2:04:55).
So where are future improvements to come from ?
There is only one
avenue left. Dope. As Mrs Thatcher famously remarked, TINA -
there is no alternative. Like it or not, before very long, drugs are
therefore going to become mainstream within sport and accepted. Sports medicine
will concentrate not only on better drugs, but (hopefully) ones with less
long term damage, such as performance-enhancing gene therapy. And
crowds will thrill to the fall of further sporting records, the power and
endurance of contact sports, the lengthened careers of sporting
The quest for that unfair advantage, by any means, will never
the drugs I use to enhance my Olympics viewing performance
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The Secret of Happiness Revealed
Robert Frank, an Economics professor Cornell University, has argued that we are irrational to seek so many tangible goods because they give us less happiness than we would enjoy if we had more quality time (ie worked fewer hours to pay for those goods). He thinks tangible goods only make us happy if we have more of them than our neighbours, and that this in effect locks us and them into an unhappy cycle of one-upmanship.
Economist Arnold Kling refutes this in Tech Central Station.
He points out that this model is not supported by the evidence, or else everyone would converge to a similar laid-back, technology-free,
time-with-the-family lifestyle. Instead, what we see is great lifestyle diversity, with no measurable differences in their perception of happiness
People who work long hours for big money, others who are content with an easier, simpler
women who work outside the home, others who choose to stay at
people who retire in their fifties, others who work well into their
people who are TV addicts, others who rarely watch it.
I have my own theory about what makes people happy or unhappy. It is much simpler,
trumps all this academic guff, and may be written in a simple equation, which expresses your
equals [Aspiration] minus
Thus, the bigger the gap between achievement and
aspiration the unhappier you are, and vice-versa.
Trying to close that gap is what motivates people. It's a powerful model because
they can work on both of the driving factors. For example, to reduce my
own gap, I can
work harder so as to increase my achievement, and/or
reduce my aspirations (as an act of will or commonsense).
Yet human nature also works on it. As my achievements go up, eg I
get a salary increase, and that gap closes, what happens ? My
aspirations also go up, often by a similar amount. Thus I am
constantly driven to greater achievement.
In my experience, most people are unhappy because they have aspirations that are completely out of keeping with their abilities yet they cannot see this (even if everyone around them can).
This makes a good sense-of-reality an extremely important factor in ensuring you are reasonably happy.
The equation also explains why in Mediaeval times,
people suffering from overwork, cold, malnutrition and disease, could be happier than people living in the lap of luxury today.
In those days, aspirations were way lower than they are today.
Believe it or not, they had no idea what a washing machine, a car, a
mobile phone, central heating were, so they didn't aspire to them. It is
thus perfectly conceivable that those downtrodden peasants lived their lives with a smaller gap than today's disgruntled billionaire on his yacht who can't understand why he's not a trillionaire.
The equation also explains the role of peer pressure and envy. If my neighbour drives home in a flashier car than I have, I get
jealous and start aspiring for an even bigger car for myself. So if I want to regain my previous contented state, I better
either buy my dream car (as Oscar Wilde observed, the best way to get rid of temptation is to give in to
force my commonsense to kick in and stop being silly and drag my aspiration back down.
Totalitarian regimes understand this very well. That's why they
are so keen to restrict information their citizens can access about the
outside world. They fear that their populations will learn what they
are missing, their aspirations will rise, they will become (even) more
discontented and rebellious. There are those who consider that the
new availability of TV and movies from the West in the Soviet Union in the
1980s, coupled with the luxurious American lifestyle depicted in the TV
series Dynasty and Dallas, had as much to do with he fall of
Communism as the economic arms race waged and won by Ronald
Poverty exacerbates unhappiness among poor people only when they can
see rich people and what life might be like.
So, remember that equation, which reveals the secret of
happiness. It's quite simple, really. Try it out on
to List of Contents
Hubris Over Darfur
Like many, I have been shocked at the complacent attitudes of public
bodies over the unfolding racist massacre and ethnic cleansing taking
place in Darfur.
In one sense, it is understandable. If powerful
multinational bodies such as
the UN, EU, NATO, who are in a position to take action, admit
something bad is happening, then they logically should do something to
stop it. (Like depose Saddam Hussein for flaunting UN resolutions for
twelve long years).
Therefore it is more comfortable to play down the world's
when the EU completed a fact-finding mission to Sudan last week, its
leader Pieter Feith struggled with his words. He said widespread,
silent and slow, killing was going on, and village [looting and] burning on a
fairly large scale. What chilling
phraseology. You might wonder
how slow killing could be silent. Did no-one scream as the machete
struck flesh ?
He also thinks the Sudanese Government is unwilling to help dismantle
the mounted Arab Janjaweed who are doing the actual massacring.
the fact that the abused villagers form a distinct group of black Muslims, which
neither lighter-skinned Arab from the ruling North of Sudan,
nor black Christian/animist from the South,
there is no
evidence of genocide.
His solution to the widespread slow non-genocidal killings ? Let's
to 30 police officers to cooperate with the Sudanese authorities in
solving the Darfur crisis.
I'm not making this up. For once, I sympathise with all those
anti-war protestors who said Not
in my name. For, as a pro-EU European, that's
exactly what I feel about Mr Feith.
Also eschewing the word genocide,
the UN Security Council has passed a resolution
giving the Sudanese Government 30 days to stop the killing or face -
horror of horrors - sanctions, of the sort Saddam flouted for so many
years. Meanwhile the killing continues. NATO remains
the Americans have been unequivocal : both chambers of their Congress have
murder of 30,000 innocents as genocide. Yet the resolution does not
demand action, and after Iraq, the US has little stomach for another
military adventure. (The anti-war protestors who tried to protect Saddam
and his government would want equally to protect the somewhat less wicked Sudanese regime if the liberators were
to be American.) So nothing is likely to come of the resolution
but more hot air.
like some ghastly movie whose Rwandan ending everyone can surmise, the
genocide continues to unfold whilst those that could stop it avert their embarrassed
gaze, consumed by hubris. Perhaps some are already preparing their
Rwanda-style post-event speeches of repugnance and regret.
to List of Contents
Hide Those Sexy Women in Athens
The Athens Olympics
are creating theological problems for a number of
worthy Islamic scholars and journalists. According to columnist Amir
State-owned TV networks in many Muslim countries, including Iran and
Egypt, have been told to limit coverage of events featuring women
athletes at Athens to a
minimum. The Iranian
said that ...
editors must take care to prevent viewers from
being confronted with uncovered parts of the female anatomy in
Since this includes even her hands, it means in effect that no female athlete may be shown.
Sheik Yussuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian theologian based in Qatar,
tells his followers that female sport undermines divine
Ayatollah Emami Kashani, one of Iran's ruling mullahs, claims that
allowing women to compete in the Olympics is a sign
on the part of the male organizers. (At least partially right !)
Hijab theoreticians say that a woman's hair should be covered
because it emanates dangerous rays that could drive men wild with
(the theoreticians anyway) and thus undermines social peace.
Khomeinist authorities ban women riding bikes (or motorbikes),
because this activates her thighs and legs, thus arousing uncontrollable
in her, while male onlookers (Khomeinists, obviously) could likewise be led
towards dangerous urges.
Mohsen Sahabi, a Muslim historian, pronounces that
question how much of a woman's body could be seen in public is one of
the two or three most important issues that have dominated theological
debate in Islam for decades. More time and energy is devoted to
this issue than to economic development or scientific research.
These clerics really do have nothing but sex on their minds, and in a most
adolescent fashion. That
last remark sounds like something you would hear in any
gathering of healthy male teenagers, whose main interest to the exclusion of all
else is also how much
of a woman's body could be seen
(answer - as much as
Perhaps when not sermonizing they eat too much sauerkraut,
or pickled cabbage, so perhaps this too should be banned. The Daily
us that this disgusting German foodstuff contains
enzymes that fire up the sex drive.
Much like women's hair, it would seem, and thus another subject eligible
for Islamic debate more intense than economics or science.
Other products that should be banned because they too
could produce too many dangerous urges
are, according to the Daily Mirror's list, strawberries, sprouts,
blueberries, pumpkin seeds, avocado, cinnamon, ginger, parsley and brown
Funny. I seem to remember seeing all these products
openly for sale in every vegetable soukh I ever visited during my nine
years living in the Middle East. With all these erotic foods around,
no wonder Islamic countries have the highest birth rates in the
Let's all simply turn off our TVs until the Olympics are
over. It's just too complicated.
to List of Contents
of Week 85
bet we might have
Kerry showing his
qualities of decisive leadership, nay, presidentship,
honed during his four long months of Swiftboat service
three decades ago in Vietnam,
when George Bush asked
if Mr Kerry would have gone to war with Iraq
with the hindsight of knowing
there were no large WMD caches
[Teresa Heinz Kerry] says she's an African American. While
technically true, I don't believe a white woman, raised in Africa,
surrounded by servants, qualifies.
An astonishingly racist remark by
People of Color United,
a new pro-Republican black-advocacy group,
in a patronising advertisement attacking John Kerry's wife because,
having been born and brought up in Mozambique,
she had the effrontery to describe herself as an African American
at the Democratic National Convention last month.
Imagine the outcry that would be caused by
an advertisement that reversed the colours ...
black candidate's black wife] says she's an Irish American.
While technically true, I don't believe a black woman,
raised in Ireland by her parents who were servants,
all the men in the country, so that I won't be rude to you, do not attempt
to kiss me. I am conservative. I
do not want to be kissed by any man but my husband.
of the Philippines,
the glamorous Gloria Arroyo, 57,
who regularly receives kisses on both cheeks
by unknown admirers
in a practice known locally as beso-beso
to List of Content
626 GLX 2.0i Automatic For Sale
My wife is selling her low-mileage 1998 Mazda Automatic, which is in
excellent mechanical and bodywork condition, for only 6,600.
interested, click on the thumbnail photo for details.
the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
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#84 - 8th August 2004
The Contrariness of Humans
People are contrary beings; they'll always want to do the opposite of what they're told.
Tell them they can't do something, and that's exactly what they'll want
to do. Tell them that they can, and they probably won't
bother. Adam couldn't have cared less about apples, until God made
the mistake of telling him not to eat them. The world has gone downhill
There are so many instances of this that we see around us, yet many
politicians in particular never seem to learn the lesson.
A few examples.
The worst abuses are seen in those countries with the heaviest
restrictions and vice-versa. Scandinavia has Europe's most punitive
regime, in terms of
high prices and (in Finland) even rationing,
restricted outlets and
heavy penalties for drink-related offences.
Yet that's where you
seem to see most alcoholics on the streets, where people either binge or
else drink nothing, where no-one can bear to walk out of your house if
there is still a non-empty bottle on the table.
At the other end of the scale, drink in the Mediterranean countries is
readily available all day and all night everywhere to everyone, even
youngsters. Typical of this are the hand-drawn carts on the streets of
Rome that sell hot dogs, ice cream, beer, whisky, whatever.
Yet at home and in
restaurants, a single bottle of wine easily satisfies four diners, and children
are given it mixed with water. And in these countries you hardly
ever see a local who is the worse for wear due to alcohol. There
is no special mystique about alcohol, it is just another grocery for
everyday consumption, like bread and eggs.
The Anglophone countries (UK, Ireland, USA, Australia etc) lie
in-between. Enough restrictions on the sale of booze to encourage
widespread drinkomania, though not quite to the extent of the average
Swede, Dane or Finn.
And of course all these people - Scandinavians and Anglophones alike - go completely
crazy when they visit countries without the restrictions.
Then there's movement of money.
If you're a political leader and you want your citizens to ship their
money abroad, the best thing you can do is impose exchange controls that
make this difficult. As soon as the gates slam shut, the big
money flees abroad for safekeeping. It took decades for European
leaders to learn this simple lesson, but it is far from having been learnt
swathes of the developing world.
Who, for example, is going to
want to keep his lifesavings in Zimbabwean dollars, knowing they are not
allowed to be exported ?
Conversely, if you want people to keep their money at home, just open
up the gates and make it easy to export. Lo and behold, most people
will be happy to invest their hard-earned cash at home; moreover,
foreigners will also look for investment opportunities. This is a
major reason for the success of the main Western currencies.
And the emotive issue of employment
If you seek high levels of employment, you can do no better than allow
bosses free rein to -
pay as little as
extract as many work-hours as they need,
offer the minimum
by way of perks.
In other words, let those bosses do everything that drive
the unions nuts. And keep taxes, especially employment levies, at
rock-bottom, while dismantling all subsidies and other protections (which
will drive the unions even crazier).
The result will be, as exemplified by free-wheeling places such as America, Hong Kong, Britain,
Ireland and others,
global competition goading businesses to new efficiencies and
bosses eager to take on new workers, and to do what it takes to motivate and retain
workers keen to take advantage of the new opportunities;
and thus higher numbers of jobs in the economy.
You get exactly the converse result in sclerotic, bureaucratic
economies, noted for their protection of workers and businesses, as
this chart from the Economist illustrates.
Once again, promulgate one thing, and the contrariness of people will
drive them to do the
Human nature is a marvellous thing. If you can understand it,
nurture it, encourage it, motivate it, there is no limit to what it can
But tell it to do stuff it doesn't want to do or try to impose
restrictions, and everything begins to unravel.
to List of Contents
Afghanistan is the secret success that just keeps on
progressing, yet remains largely below the world's radar screen.
One year after the war that had the Taliban scuttling off
for their lives (no heroic martyrs among the leaders), I wrote a piece
recounting the numerous hospitals, roads, bridges and other infrastructure
that had been rebuilt, and noting that two million Afghan refugees had rapidly
So much for physical reconstruction, but how successful is
it in establishing democracy
and sound government ?
Well, an encouraging opinion
poll (pdf, 1.1Mb) emerged from Afghanistan last month about people's
perceptions of these issues. Trained Afghanis interviewed over eight
citizens representing a broad cross-section of the population - men, women, young and old,
from various tribes, in different parts of the country.
general attitude appears to be one of optimism for the future, with a keen
interest in the upcoming elections to be held in October.
Some questions dealt specifically with women - would they
need their husband's permission, would they vote freely etc. Though
females are still pretty much in thrall to males, nevertheless 80% of
males said they would allow their womenfolk to vote, knowing their vote
would be secret and thus uncontrollable.
Indeed, confidence in the secrecy of the ballot is such
that most voters said they would not be constrained by the advice of
others, or by intimidation. Moreover, 72% said
that even if they accepted a bribe, this would not change they way they would vote. (I must say,
I like the idea of taking a fat bribe and then voting for someone else
I've illustrated some of the main findings that caught my
eye in the 124-page report.
The high degree of support for President Karzai, the UN and the US (and
foreigners in general) following the overthrow of the tyrannical Taliban
is something of a surprise. I don't think any other country would
give a 65% approval rating to America, probably not even
The Afghan poll gives some hope that the views of ordinary Iraqis may
with time swing in a similar direction. Remember that Iraq is 17
months behind Afghanistan in terms of regime change.
to List of Contents
The Left and War
Now that the Democrats have become warmongers, having to
back the conflicts in both Vietnam (John Kerry's heroics)
and Iraq (not to be outdone by President Bush), where does
that leave the Left ? Was it really the Iraq war that it so hated or the man
(Bush) who propagated the war ? With the two Johns, Kerry and Edwards, having come
out of the closet as pro-war kind-of, and the process of handing over Iraq
to the Iraqis now well underway, the Left are effectively trumped, once
again on the losing side of the argument.
However that has not stopped Ireland's best-known anti-war protestor,
Richard Boyd Barrett, from exhorting
his cohorts to not
put your anti-war placards away yet.
is because the first handover step, to an appointed yet highly
representative Iraqi government, charged with organizing a new constitution
and elections, is to him but another false dawn. The government is a US puppet
and US troops remain as occupiers. So this makes both into legitimate
targets - for the anti-warriors to protest, and of course for insurgents to
always, the people-hating Left have no credible, humane
would rather Saddam had remained on seat and killing 30,000 per year, than see an American victory with a one-time cost of up to
they would now prefer to see the Americans rapidly disengage their
138,000 troops, even with the certainty that with such a vacuum, Iraq
would descend into tribal/religious civil war leading to the probable
establishment of a far-from-secular Islamic state.
fact, with a huge casualty rate this would be a splendid outcome as it
would all be blamed on America's illegal invasion followed by its cavalier
abandonment of Iraq. As always, humiliation of the USA and its
elected president is more important to the Left than conservation of
same attitude is developing vis-ą-vis the charnel house of Darfur in
biggest charity is Trócaire. Its
rabidly left wing director, Justin Kilcullen, about whom I've written
on Trócaire's website last March,
team on the ground have said that the Sudanese state forces and
government-backed militias have been involved in joint attacks on
civilians. Not only have villages been bombed from the air, attacked and
burned to the ground but killings, abductions, and gross human rights
violations have also taken place.
have been directly targeted in these attacks and this is clearly in
breach of Sudans obligations under international humanitarian law.
These problems are compounded by the fact that emergency relief cannot
be delivered within Darfur because of the ongoing fighting.
was an excellent, objective summation.
then the crisis has only worsened. The (subscription only) Economist
tells us in a cover story entitled, Sudan
the Janjaweed, backed up by government bombers, continue to rob, rape
and murder their blacker countrymen in Darfur, often favouring burning
the government is still obstructing aid deliveries;
a thousand a day are dying;
the regime will only stop killing if forced to.
UN investigator has unequivocally laid
the blame for the widespread killings and humanitarian disaster in
Darfur on the government in faraway Khartoum.
if its behaviour is not immediately reversed, catastrophic consequences
for two million people will ensue.
is talk of diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, African troop
interventions (though these have always turned into total
disasters.) Such measures may over time have some effect, but how
many innocents will have to die in the meantime ?
is of course one way in which further catastrophe can be halted at once,
and that is to send in Western soldiers, as Britain has suggested.
It may not be the only way, but it will surely work.
what is the same Left-dressing Mr Kilcullen's contribution ? On 6th
August he said
on TV that deployment of Western troops in Sudan's troubled Darfur
region should be ruled out - not even considered as an
option - because he thinks it would result in a war similar to the
conflict in Iraq and that the dire humanitarian situation there would
go into freefall (like it isn't already).
: It is preferable that even more Sudanese black Muslims die in
their thousands under genocide, than that Western military intervention
should succeed in saving them. A third humanitarian success by the
West (after Afghanistan and Iraq) is unacceptable.
Kilcullen is entitled to his Leftwing, tyrant-loving, death-propagating
views. But he should not be associating them with a supposed charity
such as Trócaire which he has helped turn irremediably political and partisan. So
long as he does and it is, give your money instead to competitors such as GOAL.
is truly a
wicked ideology. Melanie Phillips expresses
it better than I.
[America's] neo-cons, the liberals mugged by
reality, are still driven by the progressive desire to build a better
world. Bush, with his religious imperative, believes the same thing. They
both understand that the post-moral left is doing its damnedest to destroy
that world instead and has left a trail of harm, misery, accelerating
social breakdown and erosion of human dignity in its wake.
to List of Contents
Last week, I had to make a one-day business trip to Wales, so took
Stena Line's high-speed (hydrofoil) ferry that plies three times a day
between Holyhead (Wales) and Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin).
Naturally, I sought to make my reservation online, ą la
Ryanair, and after a quick google, found myself at www.stenaline.ie.
The fare was £47 (say 71), which I thought was OK. But if
I pretended to be over 55 (ha!), it dropped a few pounds. Then, just
for fun, I telephoned Stena in Dun Laoghaire, only to be quoted an even
But when I turned up to buy my ticket an hour before sailing, the fare
hit rock bottom - a mere 11, including an apology because it included a
one-uro fuel surcharge !
Booking via the internet,
£47 pp (= 71)
Via the internet, if over 55, £41 pp (= 62)
Booking via the telephone, 22 pp
Show up on the day, 11 pp, with an apology for
the 1 fuel surcharge
So you shouldn't always trust the internet to give you the
The other cheery news is that it was a marvellous service on a
super-comfortable fast boat, that makes a smooth crossing in 1½ hours that in
another boat takes three. And the restaurants are
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Japanese Error Messages
The following purport to be fourteen actual error messages seen on computer screens in Japan, where most are written in
Haiku. (For all you non-Japanese, a Haiku has to have something from nature as its subject, and its form is
five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables). Aren't these better than
your computer has performed an illegal
Maybe we in the western world should begin to adopt a more philosophical approach to the world in which we toil.
Meanwhile, I have taken the liberty of translating from the original mediaeval
The Web site you seek cannot be located, but countless more exist.
Chaos reigns within. Reflect, repent, and reboot. Order shall return.
Program aborting: Close all that you have worked on. You ask far too much.
Windows NT crashed. I am the Blue Screen of Death. No one hears your screams.
Yesterday it worked. Today it is not working. Windows is like that.
Your file was so big. It might be very useful. But now it is gone.
Stay the patient course. Of little worth is your ire. The network is down.
A crash reduces your expensive computer to a simple stone.
Three things are certain: Death, taxes and lost data.
Guess which has occurred?
You step in the stream, but the water has moved on. This page is not here.
Out of memory. We wish to hold the whole sky, but we never will.
Having been erased, the document you're seeking must now be retyped.
Serious error. All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.
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of the Week
Quote : For him and for all the people of his
tradition war is a last resort, not a first one, a last resort which can
be engaged in only when all other means to obtain justice have been tried
and have failed.
This is indeed a noble tradition among republican people in
Ireland. It is also the tradition followed for centuries by faithful
Christians. They all believe, if war becomes inevitable, as it may, it has
to be tempered by mercy and has to be stopped at the earliest possible
Father Desmond Wilson, celebrant at the funeral
for Joe Cahill who died on 23rd July, aged 84,
having been responsible for countless murders
during (and before) his many years as IRA chief of staff.
(Astonishingly he was never excommunicated;
But then no IRA member ever has been).
It was news to many that, for the IRA,
war is apparently a last resort not a
a tradition of faithful Christians and
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was more honest when he
described Cahill as a physical
enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never
stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and
neither do we.
George W Bush mangles his words
during a speech at the signing ceremony
for a $417 billion defense spending bill.
It's a long time since he last treated us
to such a classic Bushism.
will double our special forces to conduct terrorist operations.
President John F Kerry
at the 2004 Democratic Convention,
showing that he can out-mangle Bush (audio
Quote : Anne Robinson has the most incredible eyes.
They're like diamonds mixed with lasers mixed with razor wire
Tony, a London Times commentator, after being eliminated
BBC TV's The
on 4th August.
He previously wrote that Anne Robinson looked like
and an advertisement for the childless marriage.
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Cuddly Teddy Bears
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Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s
incredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics