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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
time and alphabet, contains all issues since inception, including the current week.

You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com
(Clumsy form of my address to thwart spamming software that scans for e-mail addresses)

August 2004
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ISSUE #84 - 8th August 2004

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ISSUE #85 - 15th August 2004

ISSUE #85 - 15th August 2004 [344]

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Drugs : The New Future for Sport

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The Secret of Happiness Revealed

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Hubris Over Darfur

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Hide those Sexy Women in Athens

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Quotes of Week 85

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Mazda 626 GLX 2.0i Automatic For Sale

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  Subsequently, he has admitted taking the drug (saying that everyone does it), his 10,000 metre record has been rescinded and he has been kicked off Ireland's Olympic team.   

Other would-be Athens Olympians recently caught doping include America's 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 Thanou, missed 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 skilful.    

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.  

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Low/gentle/occasional training gave way to medium training

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The next move was to intensive, daily training

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Training occupied so many hours every day that athletes no longer had time to hold down a job, so had to turn professional

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Specialist trainers, physios and doctors were engaged to look after different aspects of the athletes' performance and bodies, enhancing and repairing

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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

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Diets became tailor-made, with strict attention to the balance of protein, carbohydrates, avoidance of alcohol etc.

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Legitimate extra additives - vitamins, oils, supplements and nutrients - were ingested

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Equipment and apparel were tuned to optimise performance - spiked shoes, air-cushioned soles, slick bodysuits, space-age materials  

Thus life for a top athlete has become one of continuous, year-round training in strictly enforced conditions, all under the supervision of professionals.  

Meanwhile an athletic drug-race was being played out, by

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drug manufacturers eager to produce and sell performance-related drugs,  

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many (though not all) athletes eager to use drugs to gain further competitive edge, and  

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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 cycle.    

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 has dropped 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 heroes.  

The quest for that unfair advantage, by any means, will never cease.  

Shopper buys beer to add to his cigarettes and vodka
They're the drugs I use to enhance my Olympics viewing performance

Back to List of Contents

The Secret of Happiness Revealed
Also at http://www.tinyurl.ie/happy

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 - 

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People who work long hours for big money, others who are content with an easier, simpler life; 

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women who work outside the home, others who choose to stay at home; 

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people who retire in their fifties, others who work well into their seventies; 

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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 unhappiness - 

 

  [Unhappiness] equals [Aspiration] minus [Achievement]

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 either

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work harder so as to increase my achievement, and/or 

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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 

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either buy my dream car (as Oscar Wilde observed, the best way to get rid of temptation is to give in to it), or 

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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 Reagan.  

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 yourself.  


Also at http://www.tinyurl.ie/happy

Back 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.  

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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).  

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Therefore it is more comfortable to play down the world's problems.  

Map of Sudan, showing DarfurHence 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 scaleWhat 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.  

Yet despite the fact that the abused villagers form a distinct group of black Muslims, which is 

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neither lighter-skinned Arab from the ruling North of Sudan, 

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nor black Christian/animist from the South, 

Mr Feith, extraordinarily, says there is “no evidence of genocide”. 

His solution to the widespread slow non-genocidal killings ?  Let's send up 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 silent.  

Only the Americans have been unequivocal : both chambers of their Congress have labelled the 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.  

So 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.  

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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 Taheri

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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 authorities have said that ... 

editors must take care to prevent viewers from being confronted with uncovered parts of the female anatomy in contests.  

Since this includes even her hands, it means in effect that no female athlete may be shown.  

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Sheik Yussuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian theologian based in Qatar, tells his followers that female sport undermines divine morality”.

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Ayatollah Emami Kashani, one of Iran's ruling mullahs, claims that allowing women to compete in the Olympics is a sign of voyeurism on the part of the male organizers.  (At least partially right !)

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Hijab theoreticians say that a woman's hair should be covered because it emanates dangerous rays that could drive men wild with sexual lust”  (the theoreticians anyway) and thus undermines social peace”.  

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Khomeinist authorities ban women riding bikes (or motorbikes), because this activates her thighs and legs, thus arousing uncontrollable lustful drives in her, while male onlookers (Khomeinists, obviously) could likewise be led towards dangerous urges.

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Mohsen Sahabi, a Muslim historian, pronounces that 

The 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 possible).  

Perhaps when not sermonizing they eat too much sauerkraut, or pickled cabbage, so perhaps this too should be banned.  The Daily Mirror informs 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 rice.  

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 world.  

Let's all simply turn off our TVs until the Olympics are over.  It's just too complicated.  

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Quotes of Week 85

Quote : “You bet we might have

John 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

______________

Quote : [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 ...
“[
The 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, 
qualifies.

__________________

Quote : Please all the men in the country, so that I won't be rude to you, do not attempt to kiss me.  I am conservative.  IPresident Gloria Arroyo doesn't want to be kissed here on the cheek do not want to be kissed by any man but my husband.

President 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 (kiss-kiss)

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Mazda 626 GLX 2.0i Automatic For Sale

Mazda automatic for sale - only €6,600My wife is selling her low-mileage 1998 Mazda Automatic, which is in excellent mechanical and bodywork condition, for only €6,600.  

If interested, click on the thumbnail photo for details. 

See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #84 - 8th August 2004 [142]

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The Contrariness of Humans

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Optimistic Afghanis

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The Left and War

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Unfare

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Japanese Error Messages

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Quotes of the Week

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 ever since.

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.  

Take alcohol.  

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 

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high prices and (in Finland) even rationing, 

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restricted outlets and 

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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 in large 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 - 

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fire people, 

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hire part-timers, 

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pay as little as they can, 

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extract as many work-hours as they need, 

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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,  

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global competition goading businesses to new efficiencies and judicious expansion;  

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bosses eager to take on new workers, and to do what it takes to motivate and retain them; 

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workers keen to take advantage of the new opportunities;

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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 opposite.  

The Economist, "35 hours of misery", 15th July 2004

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 achieve.  

But tell it to do stuff it doesn't want to do or try to impose restrictions, and everything begins to unravel.  

Back to List of Contents

Optimistic Afghanis

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 returned home.  

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 hundred citizens representing a broad cross-section of the population - men, women, young and old, from various tribes, in different parts of the country.  

Their 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 Americans.  

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.  

Back 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”.  

This 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 attack.  

As always, the people-hating Left have no credible, humane alternative.  

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They 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 15,000 lives.  

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Similarly, 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.  

In 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 innocent life.  

The same attitude is developing vis-ą-vis the charnel house of Darfur in Sudan.   

Ireland's biggest charity is Trócaire.  Its rabidly left wing director, Justin Kilcullen, about whom I've written previously, said on Trócaire's website last March, 

“Our 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.  

Civilians have been directly targeted in these attacks and this is clearly in breach of Sudan’s 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.”  

This was an excellent, objective summation.  

Since then the crisis has only worsened.  The (subscription only) Economist tells us in a cover story entitled, “Sudan can't wait”, 

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that the Janjaweed, backed up by government bombers, continue to rob, rape and murder their blacker countrymen in Darfur, often favouring burning them alive;  

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that the government is still obstructing aid deliveries; 

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that a thousand a day are dying; 

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that the regime will only stop killing if forced to.  

A UN investigator has unequivocally laid the blame for the widespread killings and humanitarian disaster in Darfur on the government in faraway Khartoum.  

Thus, if its behaviour is not immediately reversed, catastrophic consequences for two million people will ensue.  

There 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 ?  

There 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.   

So 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).  

Translation : “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.”  

Mr 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.   

Leftism 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.

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Unfare

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 lower fare.  

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 !

bullet

Booking via the internet, £47 pp (= €71)

bullet

Via the internet, if over 55, £41 pp (= €62)

bullet

Booking via the telephone, €22 pp

bullet

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 best deals.  

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 excellent.   

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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 operation

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 Japanese ... 

  1. The Web site you seek cannot be located, but countless more exist.

  2. Chaos reigns within. Reflect, repent, and reboot. Order shall return.

  3. Program aborting: Close all that you have worked on. You ask far too much.

  4. Windows NT crashed. I am the Blue Screen of Death. No one hears your screams.

  5. Yesterday it worked. Today it is not working. Windows is like that.

  6. Your file was so big. It might be very useful. But now it is gone.

  7. Stay the patient course. Of little worth is your ire. The network is down.

  8. A crash reduces your expensive computer to a simple stone.

  9. Three things are certain: Death, taxes and lost data. 
    Guess which has occurred?

  10. You step in the stream, but the water has moved on. This page is not here.

  11. Out of memory. We wish to hold the whole sky, but we never will.

  12. Having been erased, the document you're seeking must now be retyped.

  13. Serious error. All shortcuts have disappeared.

  14. Screen. Mind. Both are blank. 

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Quotes 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 moment” 

Father Desmond Wilson, celebrant at the funeral mass 
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 first
a tradition of faithful Christians and 
tempered with mercy.  
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was more honest when he 
described Cahill as a physical forcebrute republican.

___________________

Quote : Our 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.”  

President 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.  

___________________

Quote : We will double our special forces to conduct terrorist operations.

Would-be President John F Kerry 
at the 2004 Democratic Convention, 
showing that he can out-mangle Bush (audio here)

___________________

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 from
BBC TV's The Weakest Link on 4th August.

He previously wrote that Anne Robinson looked like 
a transvestite and an advertisement for the childless marriage.

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review

+++++

Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
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 technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
in
May, June, and July 2010

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

bullet

how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,

bullet

the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

bullet

Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.

+++++

Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,

bullet

part of a death march to Thailand,

bullet

a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),

bullet

regularly beaten and tortured,

bullet

racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

bullet

a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

bullet

shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,

bullet

torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,

bullet

a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.

+++++

Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.

+++++

Superfreakonomics
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:

bullet

Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

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People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.

bullet

Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.

bullet

Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 

bullet

Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.

++++++

False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

bullet

Why does asparagus come from Peru?

bullet

Why are pandas so useless?

bullet

Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?

bullet

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:

bullet

Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)

bullet

Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

bullet

The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 

+++++

Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.

+++++

Other books here

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