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TALLRITE BLOG 
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August 2007
 


Time and date in Westernmost Europe

ISSUE #160 - 19th August 2007 [453+2143=2596]

Click here for Word Version of Issue #160

What Is Morality?

Last week's lead post was about illegality and immorality in Iraq.  But what actually is morality

Christianity's Ten Commandments; click to enlarge into a new windowFor most of us it means, in broad terms, a distinction between right (moral”) and wrong (“immoral”).  In practice, we tend to concentrate on what is wrong, and conclude that if it's not wrong it's right.  Right?  For instance, eight of Christianity's Ten Commandments begin with negatives: “Thou shalt not [kill, steal etc]...”

Perhaps there are many more good acts you can do than bad ones, so it's easier to concentrate on the bad.  However, I (unlike, evidently, God) am reminded of author Michael Losier's admonishment never [sic] to use the words don't, not and no because their negativity not only fails to convey what is actually required, but also draws attention to the unwanted.  (Admit it - what picture does “Thou shalt not commit adultery” conjure up in your mind?  Be honest!) 

But, returning to the bad stuff (that we all enjoy, in the movies at least, if not so much in real life), this seems to fall into two categories. 

Into the first category fall what I would call natural wrongs.  These are things that feel intrinsically evil, regardless of your culture, religion or upbringing.  I can't prove it, but I think there must be no groups of (sane) humans anywhere that think it is OK to steal from or kill other people within their own community on a whim.   I mention own community” and “whim” because these can often provide excuses or reasons to justify actions that would otherwise be considered wrong.  For example,

  • I killed him, but this wasn't wrong because he was from another tribe or religion, or

  • I executed him, but only as a punishment for his crimes, or

  • I stole from him, but purely because my children had no food. 

Take away the excuse, and I very much doubt that the individual would consider the killing or stealing to be acceptable. 

Such natural wrongs don't seem to be very many in number.  I reckon if I can only desist from killing, injuring, raping, robbing, defrauding and deceiving people, I can start living to a pretty high moral standard.  The key determinant that makes these things wrong is one ingredient: other human beings.  In every case they inflict harm, to varying degree, on another person. 

Maybe I should also put a stop to my habit of needlessly killing and injuring animals.  This would certainly be virtuous, though I am not sure I would consider such acts to constitute natural wrongs (after all, foxes in chicken houses don't). 

Nevertheless, apart from the animal thing, I think we can all agree about the natural wrongs. 

But for many, including Christians, Jews and Muslims, the moral code extends equally to other matters.  Well, just two other matters. 

The first is suicide.  Is this a natural wrong?  I don't think so.  No-one is harmed but yourself (although your family will be pretty upset), but if you don't have the right to your own life, then who does?  An intrinsic right to life surely includes a right to terminate it. 

And yet we all hate the idea.  Certainly, from an evolutionary point of view it makes sense to abhor suicide, especially if you are of child-bearing/rearing age, as it damages the survival chances of your genes.  But this is a dangerous argument because, without a moral dimension, it would then advocate raping any and every woman you could find in order to maximise your DNA propagation. 

Which brings me to the second other matter - sex.  It's both right and wrong. 

  • Right within marriage, wrong outside it (remember Thou shalt not commit adultery”?). 

  • Right when it's consensual, wrong when it's forced. 

  • Right when it's heterosexual, wrong when it's gay. 

  • Right when it's the missionary position, wrong when any other variation is tried. 

  • Right between the same races, wrong between different ones. 

  • Right without birth control, wrong with a condom.

I could go on, but a couple of things stand out.  Firstly, not everyone would agree with this list (no, really!).  Secondly, assuming we're talking consensual adults, who - other than the cuckold's feelings - is getting hurt?  Why, then, should any non-adulterous sex be classified as wrong? Or suicide? 

The answer is that there is no reason based on logic.  Rather, one or both of two things intervene. 

  • People throughout history have always agglomerated themselves into groups (family, gang, tribe, country, race etc), which then draw up particular codes of acceptable behaviour, sometimes backed by legal measures and punishments. 

  • Most people have always believed in the existence of God(s) and certain rules that he/she has [have] laid down, for instance those Ten Commandments.  This is called religion. 

These agglomerations/religions then adopt a schedule of morality, morality map in my illustration, that proscribes not just those natural wrongs, but several other types of behaviour to be frowned upon.  However they make no distinction between the natural wrong and the imposed wrong, and therein lies much of the confusion over what we call morality.   

The source of morality, as we understand it, is a mixture of religion, culture and nature, of which religion claims the lion's share, followed closely by culture. 

But religion and culture are erroneous in preaching that they are the sole authors of morality, since they ignore the natural order that forbids certain wrongs.  Indeed, as the Morality Map shows, they are obsessed with sex, and to a lesser extent suicide. 

  • Thus Christians are brought up with a huge guilt complex over non-marital sex, yet the only explanation ever offered is that non-marital sex and solo sex and homosexual sex and fancy positions sex are all a sin simply because ... God says they're wrong and/or society says they're wrong.  Of course there's usually a bit of fluff about self-respect or you'll be sorry in the morning or you'll go blind, but these are not explanations for the wrong. 

    • The one exception, arguably, is sex which procreates another human being without providing the full commitment to provide for its upbringing.  This falls into the category of natural wrong since it harms and deprives another person - the child. 

  • Muslims, for similar non-reasons, are taught to obsess over sex.  Women must be covered from head to toe, and if they step out of line they can be killed.  Men may not meet them before marriage, but on the other hand can marry and divorce at will (even for just one hour) to create an aura of respectability for sex.  And all the time, there is that ridiculous lure of 70 or so virgins and unrestrained sex for all eternity in the afterlife, that which Mohammed Atta was so meticulous in preparing for prior to leading the 9/11 attacks. 

So what is morality? 

In the absolute sense it is sticking to the natural law, ie avoiding the natural wrongs.  This is a code of conduct that applies universally, to atheists as much as theists, to wildmen in the jungles of Papua New Guinea as much as to sophisticates on the Champs-Elysées

Yet the additional sex and suicide morality imposed by cultural and religious norms have their place too.  But that place is more to do with ensuring an orderly society that the majority of people feel comfortable living in.  But breaking those taboos, if it doesn't harm another person, is not really wrong is it?  A bit like parking in a no-parking zone. 

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Electricity and Money - An Iraqi's Solution

The Hammer is the pseudonym (for security reasons) of a courageous Iraqi interpreter who has been working for several years with the American military.  Journalist and blogger Michael Totten recently conducted an exclusive and heart-felt interview with him.  It is fascinating on many levels to hear the words of a young Iraqi man so close to military operations, so aware of the calamitous state of his country, so in-tune with the thinking of his countrymen, so patriotic and so astute in recognizing that only the Americans can help. 

But two sets of observations particularly caught my eye.  Knowing the way his people think and behave, he proposes two remarkably inventive solutions which he believes would go a long way towards pacification of his sorry country.  Electricity and money.  Here's how. 

  • Electricity:  One hour a day is the average supply in Baghdad and elsewhere, and what do young men use it for?  TV and air-conditioning.  That cool hour is spent watching Al Jazeera, which constantly urges them to fight.  There are plenty of other programmes with different ideas, but no chance to watch them. 

If a reasonable amount of power were made available to the population, there would be less heat-induced craziness combined with an injection of fresh, non-propaganda ideas. 

  • Money: Here the Hammer's ideas is not to give it but to take it.  Levy heavy fines - thousands of dollars - against the families of every insurgent captured, killed or otherwise identified.  Money speaks louder than words, or it would seem guns, for he reckons the families would soon put a stop to the violence perpetrated by their sons. 

I wonder is anyone in the Bush administration picking up on these shrewd ideas.

Read the whole fascinating interview for yourself.  Then see whether you agree that such interpreters should be granted residency in the Coalition country they have served. 

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Anti-Smoking Nannies Escape from the Nursery

Ireland introduced the world's first nation-wide indoor workplace smoking ban in 2004, and it has been an outstanding success, despite (or more likely because of) the lack of any exemptions whatsoever other than in prisons. 

  • The ban is observed religiously everywhere - even in late-night illegal drinking dens, known as shebeens.

  • It is universally popular, even among smokers who say it has helped them give up or reduce their smoke intake. 

  • Studies have shown that non-smoking workers previously exposed to passive smoking (specifically, bar staff) have exhibited a marked improvement in their health metrics and respiratory condition. 

A major factor in its overwhelming acceptance is the way the ban was presented, as something to protect workers who hitherto had no choice but to inhale second hand fumes, rather than as a measure to improve public health.  People respond to an appeal to help their neighbours, but instinctively dislike others telling to do something “because it's good for you”. 

Nannies should remain in the nursery. 

Some fifty countries in six continents have since introduced their own similar bans, to a greater or lesser extent, most recently England last July.  But it has been notable how less scrupulous about presentation they have progressively become.   By and large, the recent smoking bans have been unashamedly promulgated purely as a public health matter - to hell with the workers.  As England's official website proudly proclaims, A smokefree England ensures a healthier environment, so everyone can socialise, relax, travel, shop and work free from secondhand smoke. 

And some places have gone further and even introduced outdoor smoking bans such as on beaches (Australia), patios (Canada), streets (Japan).  Just last week, here in Ireland, I encountered an outdoor smoking ban at a hospital patio.  With no pretence that this will improve anybody's health, it is just a bit of smoking fascism to promote a no-smoking ideology.  Of course, the whiff of other people's cigarette smoke at the beach is offensive, but so is their boom-box blaring out the latest hits not to mention their barbecue because you're not invited, and no-one is talking about banning those. 

Now corporations are leaping onto the militant anti-smoking fascist bandwagon.  For example,

  • Clarian Health [which in 2011 became IU Health], a renowned Indiana hospital chain with 12,000 employees, will from 2009 dock smokers $5 from their (presumably monthly) paychecks.  And if they're also too fat, then, to add insult to injury, they'll lose a further $30 until they get their weight, cholesterol and blood pressure down. 

  • Another US company in the health business, Weyco stopped hiring smokers four years ago and will fire you if they find out you're smoking at home. 

Moreover, according to Mercer Human Resource Consulting, such companies are merely trailblazers for corporate bandwagons to follow in similar vein. 

Ireland's smoking ban will long be successful because of its appeal that we spare the health of downtrodden workers by not smoking in their workplace. 

In my view, those other, more robust, more ambitious approaches on the other hand, are doomed to failure, one way or another.  There is bound to be some kind of backlash because people hate to be forced to do stuff, though they are very amenable to persuasion.  I am reminded of Aesop's fable where, in a trial of strength, the Wind failed to remove through blustering force a traveller's cloak, whereas the Sun merely by shining hotly induced him willingly to remove it. 

The anti-smoking nannies have, it seems, escaped from the nursery after all.  But for how long?

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Week 160's Letter to the Press

Just one letter this time, based on a post from last week.  But I was not surprised it went unpublished as you're not supposed to make jokes about the Palestinians. 

  • From North Pole to West Bank - to the Irish Times
    If the Russians get away with their claim to a million square kilometres of hitherto stateless real estate beneath the Arctic on the basis of planting their titanium flag on the seabed, and the UN eventually ratifies it, this could set an interesting precedent ...

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Quotes of Week 160

Quote: I am astonished at those who are afraid of the people: one can always explain that what is in the interest of Europe is in the interests of our countries ... Britain is different. Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?

Jean-Claude Juncker, tiny Luxembourg's (pop 0.5m) long-serving premier
makes the eminently sensible observation that
the British people (pop 61m) should be kept in the dark
about the EU's (pop 490m) new would-be constitution,
because they're bound to oppose it. 

When it comes to ideas above his station,
Mr Juncker has form.

This is the same man
who famously - and disgracefully - remarked,
prior to the French Non and the Dutch Nee
in their respective EU constitution referenda,

If it's a Yes, we will say on we go,
and if it's a No we will say
we continue’”

Quote: Is it fair to slaughter enemy spies?  Answer “Yes

From Military Teachings - for the Preparation of Mujahideen,
a new, 144-page, minutely detailed field manual by the Taliban
on how to spring ambushes, run spies and conduct an insurgency
against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
It includes helpful advice on subjects ranging
from tactics and weapons to building training camps and spycraft.

Don't do jihad without it.

Quote: Scratch a liberal, find a dhimmhi

Kathy Shaidle, Toronto author, editor, writer and blogger,
comments on the appalling appeal on Dutch TV of
Breda's Catholic Bishop Martinus Muskens
to Christians to address God as
Allah,
presumably in the interests of outreach - rather than of grovelling

Quote: [Chief Executive of Aer Lingus] Dermot Mannion can't come along on a bank holiday Monday and turn into a latter day Oliver Cromwell” ... “[it's an] Armageddon situation.

Willie O'Dea, Ireland's laughable Minister
of (laughable, <1% of GDP) Defence,
gets laughably worked up, simply because Aer Lingus
is transferring a Heathrow route from Shannon to Belfast. 

In Ireland, Cromwell,
the seventeenth century English republican leader
is synonymous  with brutality and wide-scale massacres.

Armageddon is the mythical final climactic battle
between God and Satan

Jordan, baby and husband Peter AndreQuote: I don't want a baby drinking from me - the thought of it makes me feel really funny. I think there's only a certain person could handle my knockers!

Supersize mammalia Jordan makes clear
her giant glands have only one purpose,
and it's not feeding infants

 

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

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ISSUE #159 - 12th August 2007 [484]

Click here for Word Version of Issue #159

Illegality and Immorality in Iraq

I have found myself engaged in another tiresome and fruitless debate in the pages of the Irish Times about the illegality and immorality (or otherwise) of the war in Iraq, and I am left bemused, befuddled and of course outnumbered. 

There is a very large, noisy anti-war constituency in Ireland and many if not all other countries in the world.  Why, in America, not only are a majority against the war but a whole political party, the Democrats, are devoted almost exclusively to this cause and are likely to win the next presidential election on the strength of it. 

At least in America, the anti-war crowd are (relatively) honest about it.  They think America is losing, cannot win and so there is no point in expending further young lives and taxpayers' treasure.  So what they want from America is withdrawal, which is a polite euphemism for retreat, which is a polite euphemism for defeat.  What happens in Iraq after that doesn't concern or even interest them.  Just as they couldn't have cared less about the South Vietnamese when they abandoned them in 1975, and so allowed Vietnam to become a Communist dictatorship that prevails to this day, and set the scene for the rape and genocide of next-door Cambodia by the Communists of the Khmer Rouge. 

Strange isn't it, how their desires line up precisely with those of the insurgents and jihadists within Iraq and everywhere else on the globe.

  • They too want those pesky infidel troops out of the way so that they can get on with the slaughter of their civilian fellow-Muslims without interference, and spared any danger to themselves. 

    • With fewer adherents tied down in Iraq, the jihadists would also have freer range over the rest of the world, including the West. 

  • And remember how in the last US presidential election the late Osama bin Laden (ie his Rory Bremner impersonator) campaigned for John Kerry , who largely as a result then promptly lost

    • Well, he must be smiling now from the Tora Bora stone
      under which his ashes are smeared, as he simultaneously
      ravishes his 70 white raisins in Paradise. 

    • I definitely know he cannot be in Afghanistan, president Hamid Karzai helpfully remarked recently.  He's right only if talking about a living breathing OBL. 

Outside America, the anti-war crowd have a slightly different focus.  First and foremost their objective is the unequivocal defeat of George Bush.  Then, it is the pubic humiliation of America.  Everything else is secondary.  Actually stopping a war from raging within Iraq does not feature anywhere, because not even they argue that withdrawal would be followed by the emergence of peaceful democratic politics in the mold of, say, New Zealand. 

The Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, John Neill, recently rambled,

Many people in Irish society were questioning, and for a while the Green Party were very much to the fore in questioning it, but I think as a nation there has not been sufficient questioning of these rendition flights and the link of Ireland with the war in Iraq, whether we like it or not ... I feel that the Irish Government have compromised themselves ... People will say that politics always has an element of compromise, but I believe one of the chief moral issues of today is the issue of war.

This was quickly picked up in Ireland to mean that he was condemning the use of Shannon Airport not just for CIA rendition flights but for refuelling of US troop carriers to and from Iraq, which takes place on a daily basis. 

A case can certainly be made for keeping out rendition flights with their overtones of outsourced torture, but that was forgotten in the rush to embrace the archbishop as an anti-warrior who excoriates all use of Shannon by the US military (even though he restricted himself to rendition flights). 

An assortment of ex-MEPs and councillors from the Green Party jumped to congratulate the Archbishop for his courageous” [sic!] criticism of the US military and to decry the complicity of the Irish Government, of which the Greens themselves are - ironically - a part, as well as the alleged silence of Catholic bishops.  This was followed by standard boilerplate about American illegality, immorality, plus responsibility for half a million Iraqi deaths (no doubt culled from the Lancet's fraudulent claims). 

I then pointed out that to object to the current Iraq war was to disdain the (sainted) UN, under whose Resolution 1723 - unanimously approved at the request of the legitimate Iraqi prime minister - the Americans were fighting.  Moreover, it is insurgents and jihadists, not the Americans, who are doing their best to kill innocent Iraqi children, women and men. The multinational forces are trying to protect them, in light of the 72% per cent of Iraqi adults who voted in December 2005 - in the face of enormous intimidation - for a new, democratic Iraq.

Therefore, Ireland should be proud of its small contribution in making Shannon available to the brave American soldiers as they try to help the Iraqis.  Those pursuing a policy of obstructionism should be ashamed of the additional loss of Iraqi life this could entail were they successful in thwarting the Americans.

It was gratifying when these observations elicited a torrent of opprobrium, since this simply allowed me to expose further the venality of many Leftists' antiwar arguments. 

  • So enraged do they remain at George Bush's illegal and immoralinvasion that they seem unaware that a completely different conflict is now in progress.  If the original war was immoral and illegal because the UN failed to endorse it (though I would argue that there was plenty of endorsement), then the current war is moral and legal because of Resolution 1723.  They can't have it both ways. 

  • Then they flip back to children dying during the sanctions and no-fly zones, conveniently forgetting that it was the UN which mandated these because Saddam refused to implement the peace treaty he signed to stop the first Gulf war, and then ignored twelve years of UN mandatory disarmament resolutions.  Nevertheless, since they blame America for kids dying a decade ago, how dare Mr Bush try to protect Iraqis today.  Yes, I know.  It makes no sense to me either, unless the Leftists actually prefer that the insurgents and jihadists prevail rather than have Bush enjoy a success.  I guess they do. 

  • The third argument thrown at me is even more ludicrous.  Iraq's democracy (remember those 12m purple fingers?) is a newly established one and not fully functioning.

  Finger stained purple after voting in the Iraqi election of December 2005

These are, apparently, reasons that America should abandon it, despite Resolution 1723.  One correspondent even advised me that there will not be a constitutional democracy in Iraq. There will be an Islamic state aligned with Iran.  Talk about wishful thinking.  

I have transcribed the whole wretched debate here (wrong link now corrected)

Sadly, you have to conclude that the white, liberal, anti-war” movement, whether here in Europe or across the Atlantic, is so consumed with its hatred of Mr Bush, America, the West and indeed itself, that only a rampant global jihad, starting in Iraq, will make it feel vindicated.  And to provide cover for this yearning for defeat and subjugation, they have to invert the meanings of words such as “illegality” and “immorality” as applied to Iraq. 

In the great scheme of things, we Europeans are irrelevant since we spend so little on our own defence, always assuming that when push comes to shove, the Great Satan will once again rescue us from death and destruction, as it did in the last century not twice but thrice (don't forget its Cold War victory). 

Therefore, we should be grateful that those in the US who inhabit the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy - to coin a phrase -  don't (yet) have the reins of power.  But let us fervently hope that in the likely event they do come to power in the not too distant future, the burden of executive responsibility, as opposed to the freedom of voluble rhetoric directed at the galleries of adoring fans, will exercise some restraint from their wilder impulses. 

That's you I'm talking to, Hilary. 

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John-Charles de Menezes, the 53rd Victim

The British recently released a 142-page report into how London's Metropolitan Police Service mishandled the flow information to the public following the erroneous shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes on 22 July 2005.  He was the unfortunate Brazilian whom police mistook for a suicide bomber and killed, following failed attacks the day before, which themselves followed successful jihadist attacks two weeks earlier, on the Double-Seventh.  Those earlier attacks had murdered 52 innocents and injured or maimed a further 700. 

Tensions across the city were running high, the police were jumpy, their communications systems inadequate.  So they chased Mr Menendez onto an underground train, thinking he was yet another bomber, and shot him seven times in the head before he could detonate himself.  But, sadly, he turned out to be an innocent electrician going lawfully (albeit as an illegal immigrant) about his business. 

When the news of Mr de Menezes came out, 52 funerals and countless people still screaming in pain in hospital or learning they had lost limbs or were permanently crippled or disfigured, were instantly forgotten.  The only story was the police cock-up; public outrage reserved solely for the men in blue.   At least that was the hysterical storyline of the TV, newspapers and radio. 

The very next day, the police apologised for their fatal blunder, saying that for somebody to lose [his] life in such circumstances is a tragedy and one that the Metropolitan Police Service regrets.

Yet two years later, with the issue of this latest report, the overwhelmingly Leftist media are still at it.  Google London Bombings”, and under News Police slammed for Brazilian's killing comes up as the secondmost headline.  The broadsheets, tabloids, TV and radio can scarcely conceal their glee that the police have been caught doing something wrong, exacerbated by a bit of contemporaneous fibbing. 

  • The Times: Terror chief should resign over Menezes shooting

  • Washington Post: Inquiry: London Police Withheld Info

  • Daily Mail: Stockwell victim had no chance to protest innocence’”

  • Daily Telegraph: Do you trust the Metropolitan Police?

  • Daily Mirror: Menezes police chief ‘misled’ public

Of course it is perfectly correct to hold the police to account when they wrongfully kill someone and then dissemble about it.  And it was, moreover, an unspeakable tragedy for young Mr de Menezes himself and his heartbroken family back in his Brazilian home village of Gonzaga. 

But where is the sense of perspective?  No-one believes that the police deliberately set out to slaughter an innocent foreign tradesman.  No-one seriously doubts that the police were in fact doing their best to thwart further fatal attacks and to catch the perpetrators, and prepared to risk their own lives to protect the general public.  In such volatile circumstances as prevailed during July 2005, mistakes made in good faith would have been par for the course and should be accepted as such.  Friendly fire, if you will. 

Be angry by all means.  But direct the anger at the proper target. 

The people to be enraged about are not the police.  It is the jihadists, who cold-bloodedly planned and carried out the attacks on 7th and 21st July, in the adolescent, sexually-perverted belief that Allah would reward them in heaven with the nookie they couldn't get on earth.  They and their mentors need to be relentlessly tracked down and neutralised. 

Mr de Menenez was simply their 53rd victim.  Those who joyously seek to blame the police for his death are in fact excusing the true murderers.  They behave as if they would really rather the jihadists won the current war and just got on with their convert/enslave/kill agenda.  Don't they realise that they themselves are already on the menu just like the rest of us?

With the unbelievable brouhaha over one mistaken death (whilst ignoring the other 52),  you once again have to wonder why the Left seem so keen for jihadists to win the current war

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Diary of Botched 2007 UK Bombings

Two years have passed since the jihadist events of July 2005 in London

But, as someone once said in 1995 about different terrorists, they haven't gone away, y'know.  And they won't, anytime soon. 

Their latest attempted outrages, thankfully botched, took place at the end of June 2007.  Jihadists attempted to blow up London's Tiger Tiger nightclub on a Thursday evening, and it should have been no surprise to discover that this was the weekly Lady's Night.  The victims were to be not just infidels, but infidel whores - a double whammy.  But the car bomb never detonated. 

So shortly afterwards two of them drove a Jeep-bomb into the plate glass window of Glasgow Airport's main concourse, but so pathetically they couldn't even penetrate the glass.  And then the cargo of gas-filled canisters also failed to blow up.  So one of the Islamic would-be bombers, in best Buddhist tradition, poured petrol over himself and lit a match. 

Now, finally: click for the true, unexpurgated inside story about these attempts to do Allah's bidding in London and Glasgow, by their prime perpetrator and apparent diarist, Dr Khalid Ahmed.  After the events, he took up residence at Scotland's Royal Alexander Hospital, where NHS infidels treated him for his self-inflicted 90% burns, at a taxpayer cost of £30,000 a day.  But he succumbed to his injuries a week ago, which was a shame since he escaped forty years of incarceration. 

In the said must-read “diary”, he seemingly left one comment which was particularly apposite and rueful: “Well, that didn't work out so great”. 

Hattip: Mark Humphrys

Meanwhile, for selfless courage in helping arrest Dr Ahmed and his pal Bilal Abdullah, Glasgow Airport baggage handler John Smeaton has been awarded Britain's highest honour.  Forget knighthoods and peerages: 1,400 pints of beer lie waiting for him at his local pub.  Use this link to add to this total if you wish. 

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North Pole; East Russia; West Bank

Early this month, the Russians told us they had launched a couple of mini submarines with manipulator arms, through a hole in the ice not far from the North Pole, and sent them down 4,261 metres to the seabed.  There, somewhere close to the Pole, they said they had planted a Russian flag, made of indestructible titanium.  Then, providing a photo as evidence, they announced they were Russia plants its flag on the seabed at the North Polenow entitled to all the subterranean riches between that point and the Siberian coast in Eastern Russia, a vast million-square-kilometre triangle formerly considered to be a chunk of stateless international real estate. 

The main attraction seems to be that expert bodies, such as the US Geological Survey, have estimated that the Arctic region contains a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves, along with huge amounts of gold, tin, platinum and nickel, not to mention fish. Meanwhile, global warmmongers are saying that Arctic ice is steadily melting, which would make such resources easier to access.

Now of course, nobody really knows whether the Ruskies are telling the truth about their derring-do and the photo could have been snapped anywhere.  They could just as easily be launching the story for a bit of divilment and/or muscle-flexing. 

Nevertheless, the event brought forth a lot of bluster (see quote below) and hot air from Canada and the US, which also border the North Pole, but they clearly don't know what to do about it.  Doing nothing may well result in Russia's claim being in due course accepted on a de-facto basis, which would doubtless be followed by a rush by the remaining bordering states to claim their respective pieces.  And the UN will provide the rubber stamp. 

This could raise an interesting legal situation with a precedent extending well beyond the frozen, watery, peopleless, barren north.    As far, in fact, as certain sweltering, arid, populated, often blooming deserts.  In the Middle East for example. 

For if, by simply staking a claim to a piece of ground on the basis of statelessness and a flag, a UN state can acquire that soil as part of its own sovereign territory, it would be hard to deny Israel the same courtesy in the stateless West Bank.  So if ever the Palestinians had a case to accelerate the  creation in the West Bank and Gaza of their own second state (after Jordan), it should be the thought that the West Bank may have, thanks to Russian antics, potentially become fair game for any member of the UN with a Star of David flag, titanium or otherwise, and a camera. 

But of course who, in that seething hotbed of anti-Semitic vitriol known as the UN, is ever going to allow what many of them fondly describe as the pigs and apes to get away with any such thing?  Certainly not the Russians. 

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Week 159's Letters to the Press

Three letters this time, of which two to the Irish Times about Iraq, were published, as part of a heated exchange (which, naturally, I think I won).  They are also the subject of this week's lead post

  • Time for a coup d'état
    Out of Ireland's adult population of 3.4 million, not all of whom are drivers, there are - as Kevin Myers astutely points out - no fewer than 400,000 provisional licence holders, and no political party has attempted to change this arrangement.  The reason is that those people are voters who constitute a potential bloc of some 12%, which renders the problem utterly intractable for a democratic society.  For you can be sure ...
  • Role of Shannon in Iraq War P!
    In their attack on my views, your correspondents Fr Declan Deane and Martin Noone seem to have thrown logic out of the window.  Firstly, if the original invasion of Iraq was illegal and immoral because it did not have UN support, then the current war is legal and moral because it is scrupulously in line with a UN mandate, Resolution 1723.  They cannot have it both ways.  Secondly, even if...
  • Shannon Role in Iraq War P!
    Madam, - How shocking that Green Party luminaries including former MEP Patricia McKenna should hold the United Nations in such evident disdain that they wish Ireland to cease co-operating with the implementation of one of its most prominent resolutions. They similarly have such little regard for one of the Arab world's few constitutional democracies that they likewise would wish to impede its legitimate Government's desire for foreign assistance in trying to bring security to its beleaguered people ...

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Quotes of Week 159

Quote: Of course I identify with Christian values but what have those got to do with going to bed with a prostitute? This is a private matter. Are you saying that I cannot be ... a good husband just because ... I had a little adventure?

Cosimo Mele, of Italy's Christian Democrat UDC party,
parliamentary deputy for Brindisi,
after admitting adultery with two prostitutes. 

The Sixth Commandment,
Thou shalt not commit adultery”,
is a Christian value.

The Eighth Commandment,
Thou shalt not steal", is another:
Mr Mele was jailed in 1999 for taking bribes.
 

Quote: This isn't the 15th century. You can't go around the world and just plant flags and say We're claiming this territory,”

Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay gets upset
because Russia has put a claim on a huge triangle beneath the North Pole

See also my own comment above.

Quote: He's a completely normal five-year-old.  Yet he's completely obsessed with the game at the minute, he loves it.

Mark Quinn of the Irish Chess Union,
commenting on child chess prodigy Shane Melaugh from Donegal,
who, though he's not yet even learnt to read or write,
is a member of Ireland's Under-12s international chess team.

I love it [chess] up to heaven, he says

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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:

  • 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.

+++++

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:

  • 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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