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


This archive, 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 2005
Linkmania, who run the voting system which I've used to measure approval/disapproval ratings and trends over the past three years, seems to be imploding, so I have discontinued the weekly chart, at least for now. 

To my readers' immense relief, obviously.

bulletISSUE #105 - 14th August 2005
bulletISSUE #106 - 21st August 2005
bulletISSUE #107 - 28th August 2005

ISSUE #107 - 28th August 2005 [200]

bulletLow Cost Taxis Please
bulletWorld Voting for Presidents
bulletMass Child Abuse in Palestine
bulletMen Are Like Turtles
bulletEngineering a Physical Rose, Theoretical & Cool
bulletQuotes of Week 107

Low Cost Taxis Please

In most of the developed world, taxis are paid for by means of a meter making charges set by a regulator.  That means all taxis charge the same, so that they are competing not against each other but with other forms of transport (trains, buses, legs).  And everywhere users deem them to be too expensive.  

The charging methodology seems perverse in a capitalist society.  If a taxi is not getting enough work, why should it not simply drop its prices, or vice versa, as happens in every other business?  Similarly, why should it not, albeit at the risk of being lynched by other cabs, be allowed to reduce its prices as a means to jump the taxi queue at, say, the airport? 

Perhaps a case can be made for a regulator to set a legally enforced maximum fare in order to protect consumers.  

But there is no case at all for a legally enforced minimum fare if a willing taximan and a willing passenger wish to undercut it.  Retail price maintenance was abolished for most consumer products years ago, and indeed is generally against the law if manufacturers (such as book publishers) try to enforce it.  

So how would a variable fare work?  

It seems to me, the innocent one, that the advertising sign on the roof of each taxi should incorporate a simple LCD board which displays in large letters the percentage discount (if any) that the driver is willing to offer at any particular moment in time.  If you like the number you hail him.  When booking a taxi over the phone, the control room would quote you the percentage.  Then you merely pay the metered fare minus the percentage, plus any tip you feel like giving.  

Such a system would provide important benefits.  It would


make the taxi business run more smoothly by connecting sellers and buyers who would not otherwise meet at undiscounted prices;    


thereby increase the volume of business, ie the number of taxi journeys undertaken; and


constitute a better market indicator to the taxi regulator to enable him to periodically re-set fares, whether up or down, according to supply and demand.  

Ireland's regulator, Ger Deering, said on 22nd August, 

I want to see a fare that first of all is value for money, that encourages use of a taxi particularly for short journeys, while at the same time making it worth people's while supplying the service. In some cases the hiring charge may be far too high. Having a graduated fare based on distance will make it easier to understand and more straightforward to use.” 

But allowing individual taxi drivers to vary their own fares downwards will achieve his objectives with a  more dramatically beneficial effect for all parties then any tinkering with the fare structure.  Low cost taxis will generate more business and more profit and more convenience all round.  

How many times must Ryanair teach us the same low-cost lesson?

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World Voting for Presidents

I've always believed Time magazine must be staffed by teenagers because its reportage and analysis never seem to get beyond the adolescent stage.  My mind was not changed when, cleaning out my bookshelves the other day, I came across an unopened copy dated 27th September 2004 (I've never subscribed but unsolicited free copies occasionally arrive in the mail).    

It is apparently a European issue because the cover differs from what the Time website carries for that date, which is a juvenile apologia for Dan Rather's infamous defence of a forgery about George Bush's military service (remember the story?).  

Interestingly, the back page Essay is also different (I've transcripted it here), perhaps because the European essay would outrage an American audience. For it is a puerile proposal by Simon Robinson, an Australian who is Time's Africa boss based in South Africa, that because the US has huge influence on the global stage, the inhabitants of the whole world should be allowed to vote in US presidential elections as if all of non-America were a large 51st State.   

The idea is that everyone would then love America and all its works and there would be no further need for the Yanks to threaten or invade anyone.  Moreover, once Cubans, Saudis, Darfuris and North Koreans were to participate in a free-for-all US election they would demand - and be granted by their respective despots - similar privileges in respect of their own national governance.   

The concept is so laughable, it's hard to know where to begin.  


Voting without the concomitant responsibility of allegiance to the USA, not to say payment of its taxes?


Americans ever accepting a president if his election depends on the swing votes of the 51st State


The world accepting a disputed outcome settled by the US Supreme Court (rather than a mythical World Supreme Court)?


Despots who won't permit voting at home nevertheless allowing their citizens to vote for an American president?


Despots agreeing to universal suffrage just because their people demand it?

But then Simon the Africa editor lives in the cocoonish comfort of South Africa, so perhaps that is why he is so out of touch with the working of thugocracies in the rest of that continent and elsewhere.  He should be moved to a slum in somewhere like Khartoum or Brazzaville. 

If there is one area, however, where a universal franchise might indeed have some merit, it is in the selection of the UN Secretary General, who could for good measure be renamed World President.  To listen to the wails of the pro-UN faction, this is a position of arguably even more international importance than America's president.  And by definition he is supposed to represent the entire globe.  

Koffi Annan is trying, vainly, to get some lacklustre reforms adopted (like enlarging the Security Council), but amongst them is nothing so radical as ensuring that the UN boss himself has a universal mandate.  Why, Koffi might not even get elected as World President.  That would be a risk too far, one that he's not prepared to take.  

But it probably wouldn't work anyway because those pesky North Koreans etc still wouldn't be allowed to vote in case they got ideas above their station.  

So Simon and the rest of the Time Magazine crew, let's just grow up and leave the job of electing an American president solely to Americans.

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Mass Child Abuse in Palestine

Al-Arabiya TV, launched in 2003, aired a Hamas-produced propaganda film on 22nd July, which glorifies homicide-suicide and shows how Palestinian children are being deliberately seduced into the martyrdom cult as part of the jihad against the existence of Israel.  

Indoctrinating young boys and girls with a desire to kill themselves and as many others as possible represents mass child abuse at its purest and most degenerate. It is no surprise that many of them grow up and fulfill the fantasy, which has been instilled in them at so young and impressionable an age and then assiduously fostered throughout their childhood and adolescence by perverted, malign adults.  

Needless to say, no-one ever suggests that old men past their useful economic life should sacrifice themselves; only the young in their prime, those who would otherwise be the seedcorn of a successful democratic Palestine State.  And of course candidates for suicide are never to be found among the sons and daughters of the said perverted, malign adults and numerous other fire-breathing suicide-advocating orators.  

You can read the transcript of the programme, but it is more compelling to view the vile TV clip here (with English subtitles).  

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Men Are Like Turtles

Whilst browsing recently in the stationery department of Easons, which is one of Ireland's major bookstore chains, I noticed on display near the cash desk, amongst a lot of back-to-school paraphernalia, a hardback file for sale.  Coloured purple, it carried a picture of a green and yellow turtle with the inscription, Men are like turtles - they're slow!

Naturally I could not disagree with the sentiment, but I wondered what other groupings could acceptably replace the word Men.  

For example, how about Women, Gays, Pensioners, Blacks, Asians, Innuit, French, Poles, Cubans, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Bhuddists?  

I don't think so.  Especially not Women.  We live in a very politically correct world where humour is strictly circumscribed.  

In fact the only entity that would similarly raise no howls of protest, at least in (the Republic of) Ireland, would be
The English.  They are the only people in respect of whom (so long as they're white) you can be as rude as you like with impunity.  In fact with approbation. 

I wrote to the bookstore to suggest its management might care to think about this, and also to the Irish Times (twice).  I'll update this post if they respond.  

They never did respond - what a surprise!

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Engineering a Physical Rose, Theoretical & Cool

For years, many youngsters, goaded on by propaganda in print, TV and movies, have looked upon technical pursuits as something grease-monkeyish or geeky/nerdy but definitely not cool.  

Cool are 


artistic interests (writing, TV, movies, painting, music}, 


caring professions (doctors, teachers, social workers), or 


quick-buck avenues (high finance, the law).  

When, for example, was the last time you watched a movie or TV storyline about engineers, physicists or chemists which did not deride these occupations?  Then think about all the films starring people in the cool” types of job listed above.  You just can't escape from yet another hospital drama, anguished writer or sexy lawyer. 

We all like to be viewed as cool by our peers.  So if young men, who happen to have a fascination for uncool technological subjects, apply themselves to scientific studies, they do so only with a measure of trepidation.  And if it's women, they run screaming in the opposite direction (I exaggerate of course).  

But maybe, in Ireland at least, this may be about to change.  

Last week the 47th annual Rose of Tralee pageant took place in (you guessed it) Tralee.  I last wrote about this event three years ago and my observations still hold true.  

But this year there was an interesting difference; well two actually.  

Michelle Emery, Engineering Rose of QueenslandFirst there was the lovely Engineering Rose of Queensland, Michelle Emery.  With a background in telecommunications, she's an honours graduate in Electrical Engineering and plans to return to university for further study (though to pursue something called “health studies”, which sounds worryingly do-goodish, ).  

Nevertheless, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland was quick to award her its August 2005 Engineer of the Month title in recognition of her contribution to raising the profile of the engineer in Irish society.  This was surely a first, both for the crusty (yet now as a result slightly more cool) IEI and for a Rose.  

Then there was the captivating winner herself, the Physics Rose of Mayo, 22-year-old Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin (Little Eve’ O'Sullivan).  

Rose of Tralee, 2005Aged only 22, she already sports a first class honours degree in Theoretical Physics no less, and plans to continue her post graduate studies in Bio-Physics.  She is also the holder of numerous academic awards and scholarships for her scientific prowess, in such esoteric fields as mathematical modelling.  In addition, she earned a student placement at the European Nuclear Research Centre (CERN) in Geneva, the world's largest particle physics laboratory, where they smash atoms. As if this weren't enough Aoibhinn is also a singer who plays the concertina, piano and guitar, and holds prizes for her singing in the traditional sean-nós style, and for her short stories and poetry. Her turn on the big night was a marvellous rendition of Summerfly, accompanying herself on the guitar.  A truly accomplished young person.  

Most disarmingly of all, when quizzed on TV during the Rose of Tralee competition about her theoretical physics, which she is passionate about, she said it's really not that hard and she clearly finds it lots of fun.  All you have to do is set your mind to it.  

Listen to that girls (and boys), she's talking to you.  

Am I detecting that technical studies, such as physics and engineering, are becoming slightly less uncool with the example being set by these two young beauties?

Vested Interest Disclosure: 
I am an engineer (though neither a young nor a pretty one)

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Quotes of Week 107

Quote: They taught a technology that we had never seen that killed many Colombians. ... We want them in Colombia. We want them to pay their jail term in Colombia. ... We as a community of nations, and especially democracies like Ireland and Colombia, should confront terrorism with the strictest and most expeditious and most rapid and most politically full actions.

Francisco Santos, Colombia's vice-president, 
makes his country's position clear 
regarding the Columbia Three, 
who were convicted of aiding FARC terrorists 
and sentenced to 17½ years in jail.  

They skipped bail and absconded back to Ireland

The Taoiseach has said this whole issue is a matter for the gardaí and the Irish courts and I think Mr Santos should respect the legal system in Ireland. It's a matter for Ireland, not Colombia.

In response, Catriona Ruane of the Bring Them Home Campaign 
explains that Columbia should respect Ireland's judicial system 
but not vice versa.


Quote: Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ.”  

Pope Benedict XVI addressing 800,000 young Catholics 
at the conclusion of World Youth Day festival in Cologne

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

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ISSUE #106 - 21st August 2005 [146]

bulletDoes Protestantism Stand for Anything?
bulletPope Honoured by 193(?) Countries
bulletBelow-Cost Selling in Ireland
bulletAn Imaginative Arctic War
bulletBetter Fly Sultan Air
bulletQuotes of Week 106

Does Protestantism Stand for Anything?

I've never really understood the enduring attractions of Protestantism, though have infinite regard for the vast majority of its adherents. 

It seems to me that if Jesus Christ is the man whose behaviour you wish to emulate and teachings you wish to follow, rather than Buddha's or Mohammed's or Confucius's, then why would you choose to do so via a church other than the one that Jesus founded?  That is, of course, the Roman Catholic church from which the various other Christian faiths split over the intervening two millennia.   Needless to say, there have been plenty of practices, wrong or otherwise, by Catholics that would drive any sane person away, whether it was Martin Luther's revulsion at the sale of indulgences or Henry VIII's fury at being told he had to stick to his irritating till-death-do-us-part wedding vows.  

But that expresses the essence of non-Catholic Christianity.  It is not for” anything; rather it is a protest movement, hence the name Protestant.  Yet for how many centuries do adherents want to continue protesting, claiming their identity in terms of what they are not rather than what they are?.  Institutions such as the Church of England and Church of Scotland seem to me to be prime examples of a religious movement with neither purpose nor direction, and an unerring eye in being led by a succession of weird dilettante Archbishops of Canterbury who embody such principles (1961 Arthur Ramsey, 1974 Frederick Coggan, 1980 Robert Runcie, 1991 George Carey, 2002 Rowan Williams).    

If you want an example, just look at the recent funeral of Robin Cook at St Giles Presbyterian Cathedral in Edinburgh.  By all accounts, he had a wonderful send-off, with some grand ceremonies and uplifting eulogies, in the presence of hundreds of mourners, including senior British cabinet ministers and both of his wives.  Christianity at its finest.  

But wait a minute.  Wasn't Robin Cook an avowed atheist?  And wasn't one of the eulogies delivered by a fellow-atheist, his racing buddy the buffoon John McCririk?  And didn't Mr McCririck use the occasion to lambaste Tony Blair for not being there?  And wasn't one of the readings given by a Muslim, Right Reverend Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, officiator at Robin Cook's Christian funeralMohammad Sarwar MP?  

The officiating minister was the distinguished Right Reverend Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, whatever that means (you can listen to him sermonising here).  

But was he not paying attention at this religious ritual?  


Why did he even allow a funeral for someone who rejects the very existence of God to take place on his hallowed premises, 


much less allow another atheist to climb into the pulpit to speak to the congregation, 


much less to allow the occasion to be digressed for a political diatribe, 


much less to allow a Muslim to deliver a reading at a solemn Christian ceremony.

It's because Protestantism itself doesn't stand for anything.  

Anything goes; do whatever you want; its teachings are important only if you like them; divorce is not allowed but you can do it; ditto abortion; forgiveness is available without even asking;  there is no hell for wrong-doers only heaven for everyone, good bad, believer or non-believer.  

By God, fetch me a clergyman, I think I'll become one.  

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Pope Honoured by 193(?) Countries

More than 400,000 Catholic youngsters from 193 countries visited Cologne last week for the Pope's bi-annual World Youth Day.  This is interesting because 193 is the total number of countries in the world, including iffy ones like the Vatican and Taiwan.  

Are we really to believe, therefore, that Catholic youth have gone to Germany to see the Pope from such holiday resorts as North Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Burma?  If so, we need to re-think our condemnation of those thugocracies, for their leaders are clearly enlightened respecters of personal intellectual freedoms.  

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Below-Cost Selling in Ireland

A battle has long raged in Ireland concerning so-called below-cost selling.  This has been illegal since 1987 when an indigenous supermarket chain, H Williams, went bust, allegedly because its dastardly foreign competitors were selling some goods below cost.  Always ones to gang up against consumers in order to protect their (bankrolling) producer friends, the ruling party Fianna Fáil under its corrupt leader Charles Haughey as Taoiseach introduced the new law, called the Groceries Order which bans below-cost selling of packaged groceries.  

Ireland's Competition Authority points out (pdf, 320kb) that 


it is anti-consumer, 


it is anti-competitive (promoting commercial behaviour that would otherwise be illegal under Irish & EU competition law) 


it adds €481 to the average household's annual food bill, while

It also provides some interesting comparisons

Despite constant farm-gate prices, grocery prices have inflated by nearly 10% in the past five years, compared with a 10% drop in household goods, clothing and footwear.  

Groceries prices covered by the ban went up by 7½% whereas those not covered went down by 5%.  

It could also add that those most vulnerable to high prices are the poorest in society who can least afford them.  Moreover, from a purely liberal point of view, why ever should retailers be forced to sell goods at a higher price than they want to?  

Those in favour of the ban include, unsurprisingly, small shopkeepers' organizations such as RGDATA (pdf, 300 kb) who are understandably worried about losing business to supermarket chains.  But they also include left-leaning anti-poverty groups and charities who you would have thought would welcome downward pressure on grocery prices.  Instead they say, in effect, ah yes, but what if low prices end up causing high prices.  No I don't understand this train of reasoning either, but as I've previously noted, the Left is always weak on logic.  

Some have latched on to a 500-page report issued in 2000 by the Competition Commission in Britain, where below-cost selling is permitted.  It says in Paragraph 2.390 (pdf, 876 kb)

We have weighed up these different effects of persistent below-cost selling carefully.  There is a clear advantage to low-income consumers from having access to very low-priced staple products.  

At the same time, other disadvantaged consumers, for example the elderly or less mobile, will suffer if the viability of smaller stores on which they rely is jeopardized by the practice.  

This will occur if such stores are forced to raise prices on other products in order to remain competitive on the items that the main parties are selling below cost.  There will also be costs to consumers generally, when they buy other, higher-priced, products from which the below-cost prices are subsidized.  

We therefore view the existence of the practice as against the public interest. 

This represents an extraordinary non-sequitur.  Apparently, if the out-of-town supermarket cuts the price of, say, bread, a small corner-shop will be forced to follow suit in order to retain the custom of its less-mobile shoppers - who cannot get to the supermarket anyway.  And to compensate he will have to raise the prices of non-bread goods to ensure he gets the same revenue from a typical shopping-bag of items.  In other words, his customers will be experiencing the same spend, just distributed differently. 

Moreover, there is a ridiculous assumption that corner-shops are operating in the same market as the out-of-town supermarkets and megamalls.  Their real competitors are the convenience store down the street, against whom they can compete on equal terms, in a market that is actually growing faster than the supermarket market.  

If this is the best the pro-ban lobby can do, punishing the whole consumer population by banning below-cost selling, it is the wrong way to solve what amounts to a mobility problem.  If society is to help less mobile people, the simplest way is to give them some kind of tax-funded allowance that covers their specific increase in costs caused by below-cost selling, not to thwart the efficiencies of the market place which generate growth in personal wealth and thus in tax revenues.  

As for the other canard of the pro lobby, that the ban keeps prices down, then why fear its removal?  Because it's sole raison d'être is of course to keep prices high and enjoy the extra profits resulting.  

Examples are given of English villages with no shops, allegedly all down to below-cost selling by predatory supermarkets.  Again, no logical link is provided, but neither is any evidence that the less-mobile inhabitants are suffering.  Moreover, how do you explain the thousands that cross to Northern Ireland to avail of the lower prices for their weekly shopping?  

Small shopkeepers and other interest groups are of course right to fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the ban.  The livelihoods of some may indeed be in jeopardy.  But in the battle between producer and consumer, there is never a sound business or moral case for a government to protect a particular group of producers (relatively few in number) at the expense of consumers (relatively many).  The protection should be balanced the other way round.  

Unfortunately, no political party ever puts consumer interests at the top of its agenda.  Producers always come first, more's the pity.  

That's why the ban will remain in Ireland.  I hope I'm wrong.  

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An Imaginative Arctic War

From Mark Humphrys never tires of telling us, democracies never go to war with democracies.  

Well not in the conventional shooting and bombing sense, though it sometimes comes close.  You may remember the three so-called cod wars between two democratic NATO allies, Britain and Iceland, over the period 1958 to 1976.  They were arguing about fishing rights in the Arctic and North Atlantic; it was all a cod.  

When disputes between democracies stretch diplomacy until it approaches the limits of Clausewitz's classic dictum, war is diplomacy by other means, democracies use their imaginations to wage war by other means”.  

So it was with the cod wars, where we saw trawlers' nets being cut, boats being (carefully) rammed, and even some chary pot-shots.  A few injuries did occur, though as much as by accident (ramming is hazardous for the rammer) as by intent.  

Now another inter-democracy intra-NATO war is raging in the Arctic, From this time between Canada and Denmark, another irksome Scandinavian.  The eye of this latest storm is Hans Island, which is located 900 km south of the North Pole in the five-kilometre wide Nares Strait which runs between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Denmark's Greenland.  It's only a tiny  (130 x 100 metres), snowbound, uninhabitable dot, discovered by a Danish expedition in 1852 (the Canadians would dispute this), but both countries jealously claim it as theirs.  

Their imaginative “war by other means” means 


soldiers and warships hovering nervously around the area (with guns firmly packed away);  


each antagonist periodically planting and supplanting nationalistic flags, plaques and cairns; 


bragging about relative military strengths (Canada apparently ranks 36th to the Danes' 137th); 


Canadian Defence Minister Bill Graham (in an impersonation of Ariel Sharon visiting Temple Mount) stopping over provocatively on Hans Island without the Danes' permission or even fore-knowledge;


Danish protest notes and howls of anguish in response;  


belligerent websites which, for example, glorify a Canadian conquest or plead for liberation; 


burying bottles of disgusting Danish acquavit and Canadian rye for the other side to dig up and drink.  

The list of imaginative war crimes is endless.  For a liberated imagination is one of the features unique to a democratic society.  

As for resolving the matter, one ingenious pundit suggests building an ice rink on the island so that a year's ownership would be the trophy for the winner in an annual series of ice-hockey matches.  

Personally, I would encourage the two countries to jointly offer the island as a safe haven for undesirable Islamists in democratic countries that will not deport them home because of persecution threats.  Last week I suggested Nauru for this rôle.  Hans Island could be an even better (or indeed additional) choice. 

What Mark Humphrys should really be saying is that wars between democracies are, well, imaginative and kinda fun.  

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Better Fly Sultan Air

I know that most of my readers fly first class; no Ryanair or Easyjet for that class of person.  

However I hate to disabuse you.  You're not really flying in style.  

To do that you have to be the Sultan of Brunei.  

A spy in the US Air Force says he toured the Sultan's latest personal aircraft after it had just been remodeled in Waco, Texas.  The Sultan bought the Airbus A340-212 brand new for roughly $100m and had it flown to Waco from the Boeing factory where the interior was completely removed. Then he had the US defence contractor Raytheon install $120m worth of improvements inside and out.  And yes, he says, the sinks are indeed solid gold and one of them is Lalique crystal. 

The spy said he had gained entrance into nuclear weapons storage areas more easily than getting in to see the Sultan's latest toy (with his concealed camera).  

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge his secret snapshots.


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 B-Sultanair9.jpg (24128 bytes)

Maybe the mega-rich really are different from the rest of us!  Better fly Sultan Air.  

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Quotes of Week 106  

Quote: “We could have a constitution within a couple of days if we cut the phone lines between Baghdad and Tehran” 

An unnamed source involved in 
the Iraqi negotiations for a new constitution 
complains about the Shi'ite representatives' 
excessive consultation with, 
and interference by, Iran's Shi'ite mullahs


Quote: “Take the military option from the table. We know from experience that it's for the birds ... No one [is] interested in letting Iran become a nuclear power, but that the ongoing dispute must be resolved by developing a ‘strong negotiating position’ through peaceful means and not through military aggression.  For that reason I can definitely rule out that a government under my leadership would participate in that.

German Chancellor Gerhardt Schröder, 
using tortuous logic to appease Iran 
as a (vain) means to get himself re-elected in September

He does not explain how a declared eschewal of force 
will result in a ‘strong negotiating position’.  
(My personal experience is that 
giving away your strongest card upfront
generally makes your negotiations more difficult)

Iran had difficulty replying, because it was laughing so much


Quote: This land has been special - holy - for our people since Abraham and the days of the Bible. But land is not more important than life. Nor is land more important than peace.

Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish, director of the 
Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, 
who has lived in Gaza for 26 years, 
on why he chose to leave his settlement without protest

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

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ISSUE #105 - 14th August 2005 [143]


IRA Stand-Down and Sinn Féin Bona Fides


Culturally Sensitive Policing

bulletSend Deportees to Nauru
bulletFreeing Up Literature
bulletQuotes of Week 105

IRA Stand-Down and Sinn Féin Bona Fides

Even the most hardened cynic (ie the Rev Ian Paisley) must in his heart welcome the IRA's recent statement that it is ending its armed campaign, dumping arms and will henceforth pursue its goal of a united Ireland through exclusively peaceful and democratic means.  It's certainly an improvement on the status quo and is fully endorsed by Sinn Féin.  

Nevertheless, these are of course only words so far, and as Condoleeza Rice recently retorted to Sudan's dictator Omar el-Bashir when he mumbled about stopping the crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Darfur, action, not words” are what count.  

So far, the only action has been on the British side: the release from jail of a ninefold IRA killer (Sean Kelly), the dismantlement of surveillance watchtowers, and a start to disbandment of the Royal Irish Regiment.  

The main actual action promised by the IRA is the dumping of arms, though they certainly won't be dumping all of their arms or they would have said so.  Nevertheless, it is supposed to be done in a verifiable manner so might actually happen.  

But their main promise is a commitment not to do something (kill, maim, steal etc), which is harder to measure, other than through the lapse of time.  Hence Mr Paisley's statement that he wants to wait two years to see if the good behaviour holds.  

There will, however, another way to measure whether IRA - and thus its political bedfellow Sinn Féin - are truly committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic activity.  

Back in 1995, Gerry Adams famously warned, of the IRA, “they haven't gone away, y'know”.  And they haven't.  Nor will they, at least not until the Mafia also go away, because both outfits have metamorphosed from political beginnings into major criminal enterprises earning lucrative returns.  What are the volunteers now expected to do?  Go back to delivering milk, plumbing, tilling the land for EU subsidies?  No more big money, no more excitement, no more deference every time they enter a pub?  There's just too much at stake.  

So criminal activity will certainly continue.  Claims will probably be made that the activities have been perpetrated not by the IRA itself but by “rogue elements” or “freelance individuals” who just happen to be IRA members, and this may even be true.   

However we will know the bona fides of Sinn Féin by its reaction.  Its sincerity will be proven when it dissociates itself from and condemns future crimes of any sort committed by IRA members, just as the Protestant parties do in respect of crimes committed by loyalists, and co-operates fully in the authorities' fight against crime.  

This will be a very tough call for Sinn Féin, to effectively turn its back on its lifelong friends, but if they pass this test it is hard to see how anyone can refuse them full political recognition and participation.  

But initial omens are not good.  

The three Irish peace missionaries to Columbia (Sinn Féin/IRA members Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan) who in 2004 were convicted in Bogotá of training FARC guerillas and are on the run from 17-year jail sentences, suddenly turned up in Ireland last week.  Mr Monaghan, sporting a scruffy beard, hair dyed orange and a lot of new wrinkles, gave a comical TV interview and then joined the other two in hiding.  Despite their protestations that they had been in Columbia (with the help of their false passports) only for eco-tourism or peace-propagation or whatever, they are now convicted terrorists with Interpol arrest warrants on their head, who need to be locked up.  

So far Sinn Féin is the only party that is categorically saying they should be left alone.  But if they continue not to double-cross their three terrorist-colleagues, there is little hope they will condemn future IRA crimes either.  

Mr Paisley and Dr Rice are right to wait to see whether painful actions will match easy words.   

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Culturally Sensitive Policing

The Freedom Institute drew my attention to an 18-point guideline for police raiding the homes of Muslim suspects in southern England.  

Whoopee, as your average Islamic terrorist might say.  

Consider these extracts.  



Rapid entry needs to be the last resort and raids into Muslim houses are discouraged for a number of religious dignity reasons.

Keep the prayer mat near the front door; drop to your knees at the first sign of trouble

Police should seek to avoid looking at unclad Muslim women and allow them an opportunity to dress and cover their heads.

Ensure that at least one of your womenfolk is only partially clad, eg a bare arm in the chadour would do

For reasons of dignity officers should seek to avoid entering occupied bedrooms and bathrooms even before dawn.

Leave your bedroom door open whenever you're in it; make a lot of noise.

Use of police dogs will be considered serious desecration of the premises and may necessitate extensive cleaning of the house and disposal of household items.

Keep a nice piece of meat beside a religious-looking document or object.  Once the dog has eaten the meat, call in Mini-Maids to do your spring-cleaning at police expense

Advice should be sought before considering the use of cameras and camcorders due to the risk of capturing individuals, especially women, in inappropriate dress.

As above, always ensure one of the women is inappropriately attired and positioned in front of the cameras

Muslim prisoners should be allowed to take additional clothing to the station.

Make sure the extra clothing includes a hacksaw

If people are praying at home officers should stand aside and not disrupt the prayer. They should be allowed the opportunity to finish.

You only have to pray only five times a day; but each of these sessions can last for hours, or until the cops have got tired of waiting

Officers should not take shoes into the houses, especially in areas that might be kept pure for prayer purposes.

Leave plenty of upturned drawing pins in the doorways

In the current climate the justification for pre-dawn raids on Muslim houses needs to be clear and transparent.

When dawn-raided, lodge an immediate complaint to the Ombudsman on grounds of non-justification 

Non-Muslims are not allowed to touch holy books, Qurans or religious artefacts without permission. Where possible, Muslim officers in a state of 'Wudhu' (preparation before prayer) should be used for this purpose.

Scatter plenty of religious items around, disguised where possible to hide their holy identity.  Then complain to the Ombudsman.  Tell the Muslim policeman he is haram and a fatwa is coming his way. 

As I've argued before, it is time to forget cultural sensitivity; the stakes are too high.  There's a war on global terrorism to fight and win.  

If certain police behaviour within England is good enough for the established Church of England, it's good enough for Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, Episcopalianism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Scientologism, Voodooism, Satan, Atheism and the rest.  If they don't like it, they should move somewhere else that makes them more comfortable.  

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Send Deportees to Nauru

Britain recently arrested ten foreign Arabs with the intention of deporting them for their pro-terrorism activities and/or speech.  But they anticipate big battles with human rights advocates who will argue that returning them to their homes in Algeria and Jordan will put them in danger of degrading treatment, torture or execution, regardless of what promises to the contrary such countries might make.  The reason these people are in danger is that they have committed punishable offences in their native lands, which is why they fled in the first place.  Ever since, they have been shamelessly suckling the British taxpayer's nipple, while simultaneously urging fellow-Muslims to engage in terrorist behaviour against Britain and the West generally.  

Judicial appeals are likely to delay their deportation for months if not years; human rights law will prevent them from being kept under lock and key for any length of time; with no source of income they will continue to bleed the welfare system.  So the danger they present, not to mention cost, to the ordinary British people will persist.  

This calls for an imaginative solution.  

There are 193 countries in the world.  The would-be deportees are under threat in only a handful, whereas a huge number of them are close to destitute.  It doesn't take much brains to see the outline of a solution.  A global tender should be mounted to invite suitable countries to bid competitively for the provision of residence visas for the deportees in exchange for payment of up to what it costs to keep the miscreants in jail or on welfare.  The necessary legislation should then be rapidly rammed through, no doubt with the support of opposition parties. 

This won't make the men disappear - only long-term incarceration or execution will do that.  But it will certainly put distance between them and their terrorism targets in the West, place obstacles in the way of their terrorist ambitions, whilst making life less easy and idle than in the UK.  Why, they might even be reduced to finding a job in order to eat.  As for the new host nation, you can be sure it will be keeping a very close eye on these dodgy characters, if only to secure the ongoing payments.  

The tiny Pacific island of Nauru, half-way between Australia and Hawaii and 3,000 kilometres from each, springs to mind as an excellent candidate.  It has virtually bankrupted itself by selling off its guano reserves, incompetently/corruptly investing the proceeds and destroying its own environment.  It could use the money, and it's a long swim if you choose to flee.   

This could have the makings of a whole new international industry, and a very lucrative one.  

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Freeing Up Literature

Here's an imaginative  solution for getting rid of all those hardbacks and softbacks, that you acquire over a lifetime, know you will never read again and weigh down your shelves. 

Free them!  Liberate them!  Release them into the wild!  Go here.   

Under so-called book crossing, you paste a special label into the book with a unique identification number supplied by, and then leave the volume lying around somewhere where you hope someone will pick it up and read it.  A cafe perhaps, or an airport, or a nursing home.  Under the scheme, people who read your book are encouraged to register online that they have found it, much as if it is a ringed bird or a tagged fish or a message in a bottle, and then to release it once more for someone else to enjoy. 

Over time, you can, if inclined, then trace your book's journey and readership.  It works and it's fun and it's amazing how far some books travel and how many countries they visit.  

Try it

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Quotes of Week 105  

Quote: “the Magnificent 19”; “the Fantastic Four” 

Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

A welfare-sponger in Britain for the past 18 years, 
he has since been barred from returning to the UK 
after turning up in Lebanon for a holiday 


Quote: “It's a terrible thing to say, but Al-Qaeda is really good for Northern Ireland.  It reminds people of how horrible terrorist violence is and puts moral pressure on anyone who wants to be a serious politician to distance themselves [sic] from bombing.” 

Richard English, 
author of “Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA


Quote: “The war is over, the IRA's armed campaign is over, paramilitarism is over and I believe that we can look to the future of peace and prosperity based on mutual trust and reconciliation and a final end to violence” 

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern reacts to and interprets 
the IRA's statement of 28th July, 
though if the IRA truly meant the war is over
you'd have to wonder why they're afraid to simply say so themselves 


Quote: It was extraordinary that [the Columbia Three] were able to return to Ireland given that there are no direct flights to Colombia and ... so many countries had arrest warrants in their names.” 

Mary Harney, Ireland's acting Justice Minister, 
comments on the surprise return to Ireland 
of three convicted Irish terrorists 
who have spent the last several years in Columbia under arrest, 
and the last eight months on the run

Quote: I thought about the Columbia crew every single day, frankly every single day for the last two years.  The Columbia crew believed in what they did.” 

Oh-oh.  Wrong Columbia crew 

This is Eileen Collins, commander of the shuttle Discovery, 
on its return to earth, 
reflecting on the crew of its doomed predecessor, Columbia

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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review


Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

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

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

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

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

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

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


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


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


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


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

More details on my blog here.


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

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

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

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

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


part of a death march to Thailand,


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


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


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


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:


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


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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


Other books here

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