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August 2008


ISSUE #180 - 3rd August 2008


ISSUE #181 - 31st August 2008


Date and time in Westernmost Europe

ISSUE #181 - 31st August 2008 [397+ 352=749]


Putin - Czar of the New Russian Expansionist Empire


Obama the Empty Gong


Irish American Election - the role of beer


Peruvian Lady Godiva


Issue 181’s Comment to Cyberspace


Quotes for Issue 181

Click here for PDF Version of Issue #181 (132 kb)

Putin - Czar of the New Russian Expansionist Empire

That which we call an empire by any other name would smell as foul.
(to bastardise Shakespeare and Juliet for the second time in six months)

Even as Russia deplores the internationally endorsed breakaway of Kosovo province from Serbia, Russia’s military invasion aimed at breaking two provinces away from the sovereign democratic country of Georgia, should really come as no surprise.  One might have thought that a breakaway province was either good or bad.  But Russia and its leadership have, over the centuries, never been able to resist the drug of imperialism, and it still intoxicates today, more headily than vodka.  Thus


if provinces can be detached from an ex-Soviet state now successfully implementing Western democratic freedoms (Georgia) it’s “good”,


but to break away from within Russia’s sphere of influence and friendship (Slavic, Orthodox Serbia) is ”bad”.  

Russia, like that other Security Council big power China, has never allowed any piffling interference such as “international law” to stand in the way of what it wants to do.  That is something for countries like America and Britain to worry about and be eternally castigated over. 

In the long years of the cold war, there was only one kind of imperialism that the world heard about – Western imperialism, or its constituents such as American imperialism, British imperialism, French imperialism. 

And who were the commonest utterers of these curious, pejorative phrases – none other than the two most dedicated totalitarian imperialist powers of the age, the Soviet Union and China, aided and abetted by countless “useful idiots” (to misquote Lenin) in the West and elsewhere. 

The Soviet Union was comprised of what is now known as Russia, plus an array of neighbouring countries that it managed to acquire in the rubble of the Second World war.  Thus were the Baltic states and eastern Poland subsumed, against their will, into becoming an integral part of a foreign “country”, whilst swathes of Eastern Europe, without the consent of their populations, ended up as de-facto vassal states of that country.  The Romans would recognize the Soviet Union for what it was – an old-fashioned empire, run by the emperor (Stalin and his successors) in the Kremlin, for the sole benefit and satisfaction of him and his cronies. 

China was and is, in essence, no different.  It has been an empire since time immemorial comprising territory and peoples with alien languages and cultures, acquired through mainly military means. Yet notwithstanding the formal end of imperial rule in 1912 under Emperor Puyi of the Qing dynasty, it has remained an empire in all but name, for it has released none of its acquired territories.  Moreover, after the Communists came to power in 1949 its imperialist expansion resumed under the all-powerful de-facto Emperor, Mao Tse-Tung, when the following year he conquered and occupied Tibet, a massive piece of real estate bigger than all eleven countries gobbled up by the Soviet Union in 1945 combined. 

 China's imperial snatch of Tibet was bigger than all the Soviet grabs combined

By contrast, America has never been a recognisable empire, while Britain, France and other European nations spent the early post-war decades divesting themselves of their imperial acquisitions in a massive liberation movement that swept across Africa and Asia. 

That is the irony of imperialistic Soviet and Chinese leaders propagandising about so-called Western imperialism.     

The Soviet Empire collapsed in 1990 following economic impoverishment brought on by gross administrative incompetence and by trying to match America’s arms build-up of the 1980s, coupled with a string of peoples’ revolts starting in Poland.  The vassal states broke free, as did several constituent Soviet states: the nations in the Baltic and in the Caucasus, as well as Ukraine and the Stans in central Asia.  

What was left was today’s Russian Federation.  However it too is the result of imperial conquest back in Czarist days.  Today it comprises 22 constituent republics, from Adyghaya to Udmurt, each with its own flag, anthem, history, traditions and often language, each supposedly a “voluntary” member, though the populations have never been asked.   And each is headed by a chief executive or governor appointed by ... the Kremlin. 

Most are members of the “federation” because they were swallowed up by Russia in its ever-expanding and colonising empire of the 16th century (Czar Ivan the Terrible) and onwards, either through military conquest or focused marriages or both.  Indeed, Russia was proud to call itself the Russian Empire until the Communists overthrew the Czar in 1917. 

The Reds loved the concept but hated the name, so they called their inherited empire a “union” and in due course annexed or subjugated those eleven European nations.  In recent years it has become clear that the latest Russian leadership also loves the empire concept but prefers the name “federation” as it sounds, well, friendlier.  And indeed was friendlier to its own people and to the rest of the world in the Boris Yeltsin days when it tried to embrace, however clumsily, constitutional democracy and individual freedom for the first time in its history. 

But that has changed dramatically under Vladimir Putin, truly an old-style Czar, whether he calls himself president or prime minister.  A one-time KGB boss, he was gifted the Russian presidency by a barely compos mentis Boris Yeltsin on the eve of the new millennium.  No-one really knows why, but there are suggestions that in exchange Putin agreed not to pursue Yeltsin for financial shenanigans. 

Mr Putin lost no time in flexing muscles, exerting authority and centralising power. 

A dreadful, unsolved bombing of apartment blocks in Moscow provided him with a flimsy excuse to mercilessly flatten Grozny and much of Chechnya, with no regard for human rights, for daring to seek independence.  

He pretty soon reversed many of Yeltsin’s democratic reforms; in particular, powerful regional governors were no longer to be elected by the people they would serve, but appointed by himself. 

Troublesome individuals were assassinated, whether journalists exposing Russian misbehaviour in Chechnya such as Anna Politkovskaya, or outspoken critics in exile like Alexander Litvinenko.  Wealthy businessmen with political aspirations were ruined, notably the boss of Yukos, Russia’s most professional and ethical oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now banished interminably to Siberia on manufactured charges of tax evasion and fraud. 

As former components of the Soviet Empire such as Ukraine became more democratic and opted to cosy up to the West, Mr Putin showed his displeasure and power by cutting off gas supplies, a move that had repercussions throughout the Russian gas supply chain that stretches across Europe. 

This was all in keeping with his appalling observation that “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” and his obvious desire to recreate that benighted empire.  That’s one reason he resurrected the Soviet Union’s anthem extolling “Communism's deathless ideal”, an admittedly stirring musical ditty which had supposedly been consigned to the dustbin after the collapse. 

Russia’s invasion of Georgia finally makes clear the objectives of Czar Putin.  It is no less than to expand the ancient Russian Empire to once more engulf as many fragments of the Soviet Empire lost in 1991 as possible.  The reasons are twofold.


First and foremost to restore former Russian glory and pride. 


Secondly to acquire millions of additional Russian citizens to make up for the almost a million a year that are currently self-extinguishing through age, ill-health, vodka, net emigration, abortion and an abysmal, population-destroying fertility rate of just 1.3 babies per woman. 

The converse of this imperialism is of course Russia’s terror at the thought of its own fragmentation, with Chechnya but the first in line of subject countries yearning to escape the Russian yoke.  And it explains its horror that Kosovo has successfully broken free of friendly Serbia, setting a dangerous anti-Russian precedent, which its own 22 constituent “republics” have been watching carefully, many wondering when their own chance of independence might come. 

Meanwhile, Georgia was just the first step in Russia’s new imperialisticCourtesy of The Economist march, conveniently facilitated by President Mikhail Saakashvili’s intemperate decision to attack Georgia’s South Ossetia enclave in a vain and violent attempt to reclaim it.

Already, Russia has recognized the “independence” of both South Ossetia and Georgia’s other Russophile enclave Abkhazia.  It is surely only a matter of time before they are both reabsorbed into the new Russian Empire. 

Then look around Russia’s borders and speculate who might be next on the Russian Empire’s menu.  For instance, Ukraine has eight million ethnic Russians plus a wonderful port in Sevastopol which houses Russia’s fleet under a lease agreement expiring in 2017.  Is it conceivable


either that Ukraine, long oppressed under Russian hegemony, will extend this lease,


or that Russia will allow its navy to be unceremoniously ejected in 2017? 

Most of the former Soviet states have big Russian populations, largely the result of forced colonisation to embed them better into the erstwhile Soviet Empire.  Such territories, bordering on the current Russian empire, are therefore tempting targets for expansion.  It is unreasonable to expect Czar Putin not to explore ways to reabsorb them, by fair means or foul. 

Russian imperialism is undoubtedly the new realism the world has to get used to.  There are only two responses to it:

  1. either accept it as unstoppable short of nuclear war,

  2. or pull every non-military non-nuclear lever available – diplomatic, financial, technological, sporting. 

But has the West got the stomach for the second alternative? 

What Rumsfeld derisively called “Old Europe” made a wobbly start, but “New Europe” further east, which knows from bitter experience exactly what being under a Russian imperial thumb is like, did not.  The Czechs and the Poles rapidly signed up to America's anti-missile system, ostensibly aimed at Iran.  The Baltic and Ukrainian leaderships rushed to express their support for Georgia and its territorial integrity.  This seemed to stiffen the spines of “Old Europe” somewhat and threats followed of excluding Russia from bodies such as the G8 and WTO and other measures. 

For the thought of constant expansion of Czar Putin’s modern Russian Empire is just too awful to contemplate for the tens of millions of independent citizens that this would place under subjugation.  Everyone has a moral duty to resist, object, cry “foul”. 

For foul indeed is this new imperial enterprise. 

More about Russia's impending demographic calamity
in my following issue.


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Obama the Empty Gong
Alternative permalink:

The more I read about and watch Barack Obama, the more I am reminded of Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, 13:1: 

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love,
I am but an empty gong or a clashing cymbal

With his soaring rhetoric, Mr Obama certainly speaks with the tongues of men and of angels”, but It is unfair to suggest he lacks love.  He clearly loves his family and has many friends.  And it is after all not he but his wife who has trouble with the concept of loving America. 

But the talk of an empty gong or a clashing cymbal” strikes a chord, so to speak, with me. 

Even after more than a year of vigorous campaigning it is impossible to know what he would actually do were he to be elected.  Not that he hasn't told us, he has told us plenty, but he keeps telling us different, contradictory stuff.  So what are people supposed to believe?  Does he even know himself what he believes? 


Is he for unconditional talks anywhere anytime with Iran or not?


Does he want to pull out of Iraq regardless of what happens or does it depends on circumstances?


Is he for NAFTA or against it?


Does he love business or hate it?


Is Jerusalem to be undivided or separated?


Does he respect the white grandma who raised him or despise her as a racist?

Over the long campaigning months, his uplifting speeches and (rare) debates and interviews have at different times adopted both sides of these questions, and many others, in what almost amounts to Orwellian doublespeak.  His big nomination speech last week didn't add much light, and for much the same reason.  For example, how long will it be before he clarifies what he means by, say, his trumpeted tax cuts? 

So let's see if what we can learn about him from other aspects of his life sheds any light.  Views about people are often formed by what they have achieved in their lives. 

But Mr Obama's career before this campaign has thrown up no accomplishments of note, other than two biographical books that are, admittedly, earning him millions of dollars, though more because of his rock-star status than their content. 


He began his working life as something called a community organizer”, but no-one ever explains what that means, and if he had left a legacy you can be sure we would have been told about it.   


He then lectured on law at the University of Chicago Law School but published not a single piece of academic work, which is most unusual for someone termed a professor as he apparently was.  


He was elected a two-term senator in Illinois with another term in the federal Senate, but without sponsoring any legislation of significance. 


In the latter forum, his voting record last year placed him as the 100th most left wing senator out of a hundred. 

So you certainly can't evaluate him by his achievements. 

An empty gong”?

So how about the people he mixes with?  They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps.  But some of Mr Obama's friends (that we know about) look decidedly odd.  


Racist, America-hating pastors Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger. 


Unrepentant Weather Underground” terrorists Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers - about whom the Obama campaign is trying to suppress


this Youtube video reminding us that Mr Ayers tried to blow up the Capitol, and


a fascinating 70-minute interview with Stanley Kurtz about the murky Obama/Ayers relationship.   


Rashid Khalidi, an Israel-hating supporter of Palestinian terror.


Property developer, Obama fundraiser and convicted fraudster Tony Rezko.

These are the kinds of people he likes to hang out with, so what does that tell us about the future behaviour and sympathies of a President Obama?  Anyone can make a mistake by choosing a friend who turns out to be a knave.  But six of them? Then, contrast this motley, awkward and embarrassing coterie of buddies with his intoxicating speeches. 

A clashing cymbal”?

This similar article appeared in the Irish Times on 10 Sep 08Extraordinary oratory; flip-flopping policies; accomplishment-free; dodgy company.  That to me is Mr Obama.  A handsome but empty shell which makes a pleasing noise, along the lines described by St Paul. 

But you be the judge.  In fact here's a better idea.  Let the American people be the judge this coming November. 

Full Disclosure: I have no vote

Alternative permalink -

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Irish American Election - the role of beer

The Irish consider Ireland to be the 51st American state (though not while George W Bush is in charge, obviously) but are unable to understand either the election process or why the Irish aren't allowed to vote in it.  In this context, the following e-mail has been doing the rounds in Ireland and parts of the US. 

We here in Ireland can't figure out why you people on the other side of the Atlantic are even bothering to hold an election in the United States.

On one side, you had a pants-wearing female lawyer, married to another lawyer who can't seem to keep his pants on, who just lost a long and heated primary against a lawyer, who goes to the wrong church, and makes friends with convicted fraudsters and unrepentant terrorists, who is married to yet another lawyer, who doesn't even like the country her husband wants to run!

Yet on the other side ... you have a nice old war hero whose name starts with the appropriate Mc terminology, married to a good looking younger woman, a blonde babe who owns a beer distributorship!!

What on earth are ye lads thinkin' over there in the colonies!

Hat tip: Ted M in Uganda

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Peruvian Lady Godiva

In the interests solely of prurience and cheap publicity, let me share this photo with you.

Leysi Suarez riding a horse and using the Peruvian flag as her saddle

It shows a Peruvian model, dancer and singer called  Lacey Zamudio, also known as Leysi Suarez.  She recently got into hot water, but not for her Lady Godiva impression (Godiva was a lady who through Coventry did ride / To show the local gentry there colour of her hide).  After all, it's not as if she is unclothed: look at that cowboy hat.

No, her sin is that she is using Peru's sacred flag as her saddle, for which she was recently arrested and faces charges that, amazingly, could put her in jail for up to four years for offending patriotic symbols, as this is  apparently a violation of Article 344 of the Peruvian Penal Code.  Judicial hearings began in August, though she has already said she is sorry

When not out riding horses, her main job is singing and dancing for the all-girl pop-group Alma Bella, or Beautiful Soul, which seems to specialise in a lot of wiggling female backsides. 


When the horse photo was splashed on the cover of D'Farándula magazine it caused a political uproar because it was just days before the 187th anniversary of Peru's independence from Spain, a deeply solemn day in Peru apparently.

Ms Suarez herself believes she was in fact expressing a patriotic gesture: “I haven’t committed a crime. I love Peru and show it with my body and soul”. 

I'd be on Lady Godiva's side on this one. 

Oh, and the rest of that verse?  It's from the first stanza of “The Engineers' Song”. 

And the only one to notice that Godiva rode a horse
Was the local dipsomaniac an engineer of course

Full disclosure: I am an engineer,
though not from Coventry nor (quite yet) a dipsomaniac.

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Issue 181’s Comment to Cyberspace

Only one minor scribbling during the past few weeks when I have been out of action. 


Barack slips away as ‘Obama fatigue’ sets in
To: Sunday TimesOnLine
Has anyone any idea what "community worker" and "community service" actually mean?  Apparently this is what Mr Obama did before he became a senator.  To me it sounds like just hanging out.

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Quotes for Issue 181

- - - - - - - US ELECTION - - - - - - -

Mr Obama plays race card
Quote: “They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. ‘He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?’”

Barack Hussein Obama plays the race card. 
His message is that those who oppose him, ie Republicans,
do so solely because they are racists,
for surely there can be no other explanation
(such as his obvious incompetence).

I guess that makes me a racist too.

Mr Dean also plays the race card
Quote: “We are an inclusive, accepting Party.  If you look at folks of colour, and even women, they're more successful in the Democratic Party than they are in the White, uh, excuse me, in the [laughs] Republican Party.”

Howard Dean, failed Democratic presidential nominee in 2004,
plays the race card so beloved of Democrats,
by suggesting the Republicans are the “White Party”. 

I guess he never heard of Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice,
George Bush’s notorious – in the sneering words of Harry Belafonte in 2002 –
house niggers”. 

McCain smart remark
As you may know, not long ago a couple of hundred thousand Berliners made a lot of noise for my opponent. I'll take the roar of 50,000 Harleys any day.”

Republican US presidential hopeful Senator John McCain
disparages Barack Obama's huge rally of Germans in Berlin,
at a McCain rally in South Dakota
of all-American Harley-Davidson motorcycle fans

Quote: “You need to get your butts moving out of New Orleans.”

Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans
prior to the arrival of Hurricane Gustav

- - - - - - - R U S S I A N   I M P E R I A L I S M - - - - - - -

Quote: “This is not 1968, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can invade its neighbour, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed.”  

Condoleezza Rice on military clashes between Russia and Georgia.  

Sadly, I don’t think she’s right. 
As argued above, Russia is attempting to revert to its Czarist norm
of capturing and subjugating neighbouring countries. 

Unless the West is prepared to vigorously resist this trend,
such behaviour will become faits accomplis. 

- - - - - - - C H I N A - - - - - - -

Quote: “I don’t think any other country in the world, apart from North Korea, could get such a quality of performance from its actors as we did.”

Zhang Yimou, a well-known filmmaker,
Southern Weekend, a Chinese newspaper,
on the Olympics opening ceremony, which he directed.

Ah yes, the beauty of Communist totalitarianism. 
You can tell people what to do, and by God they do it.
None of that uppity back-chat you get in a depraved democracy.

- - - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - - -

Quote: A second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty will ultimately be required.”

Dick Roche, Ireland's Minister of State for European Affairs,
expresses his profound contempt for the Irish electorate,
the ultimate repository of Irish sovereignty,
for its temerity in voting down the Lisbon Treaty
against his advice. 

Despairing of the inconvenience of democracy,
this dilettantish Minister thinks the Irish should be forced to keep re-voting
until they produce the right answer.

Quote: “There's nothing big or clever about being stupid.”

Irish columnist Donald Clark bemoans the fact that
people schooled in classics or arts will frequently brag
that they know nothing about science or mathematics. 

But scientists or mathematicians who
confess ignorance of literature or the humanities
are derided as ignorant nerds. 

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

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ISSUE #180 - 3rd August 2008 [455+1192=1647]


Big-Boss to Fugitive to Captive


Ancient Greeks' Astronomical Computer


Let's NOT Roll


Ryanair Finger


Venta Los Condes - Restaurant Review


Issue 180’s Comments to Cyberspace


Quotes for Issue 180

Click here for PDF Version of Issue #180 (481 kb)

Big-Boss to Fugitive to Captive

His arrest is immensely important for victims who waited too long.”

So said Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on the arrest of Radovan Karadzic after thirteen years on the run.  In 1995 he was indicted for genocide, complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, killing and persecution between 1991 and 1995 in Bosnia, where he led the Serbian campaign to destroy and partition the country and drive most non-Serbs out of territory claimed by Serbs.

In only my second month of blogging, back in the halcyon days of 2002, I wrote a post about the two indicted, on-the-run Serbian war criminals Ratko Mladic and his boss Mr Karadzic.  Both had once been big bosses amongst their fellow Bosnian Serbs: Mladic a senior army general and Karadzic the president.  During that summer, between long periods of lethargy, the Nato-led SFOR stabilisation mission was having one of its periodic bouts of activity when it would pretend to search for the two fugitives in the mountains of Serbia and Bosnia, the Serbs would pretend not to obstruct them, and the media would use the story to brighten up an otherwise news-free silly-season August. 

Two years later, as the indictment saga once again hit the headlines and nothing much had changed, I regurgitated much of it in a letter kindly published by the Irish Times. 

I pointed out that being indicted is itself a lifetime sentence whether or not you are captured.  You have, effectively, been charged, tried, found guilty and then sentenced to a miserable life-long punishment of fugitivism.  This is all done, in absentia, via the presentation of unchallenged evidence to a faceless committee operating behind closed doors, and without your ever having the chance to put up a defence or even knowing the details of what exactly you are being accused of.  Your only way out, if you can call it that, is to present yourself for trial to the tribunal that has indicted you and hope that the terms of your imprisonment are shorter than the lifetime sentence you are otherwise serving as a fugitive.   

As an indictee, a life of constant hiding and harassment - real or imagined - lies ahead, spent in mountain hideaways, secret chalets, unknown monasteries, anonymous villages, faceless towerblocks, with no end in sight.  Despite how many ill-gotten millions you may have squirreled away, they will not provide much fun - 


no sunny holidays,


no shopping trips to Harrods,


no celebrity blondes,


no Caribbean cruises with adored grandchildren,


no obsequious appearances on TV or in Hello! or OK! magazines, 


no meals in world-class restaurants,


no champagne receptions,


no ringside (or any) seats at international concerts and events,


no meetings with the great and the good. 

Radovan as Big Boss, Fugitive, CaptiveIn fact, the only thing your money is good for is to pay your bodyguards.  Mr Karadzic reportedly had eighty of them when he began his career as a fugitive after he was indicted in July 1995; by the end of the decade this was down to forty.  Sometime around 2000, hiding his face behind a magnificent disguise of chunky spectacles and mountainous white hair and beard, he decided to pursue a new profession as some kind of new-age faith-healer, a trade not known for high income levels. His bodyguards were gone, he lived in a modest flat on the outskirts of Belgrade, rode public transport and consumed things like yoghurt, fruit, cheap Serbian wine, dried beans, fish-meal.  When finally arrested aboard a bus, he was off on holiday somewhere with just €600 in his bag.  Clearly his big money was gone.  I don't know what a Bosnian bodyguard costs, but I would guess around $20,000 a year, which would mean he spent some $2m on them between 1995 and 2000.  So, whatever his other crimes, he does not appear to have filched money at anything like the same rate as many other dissolute political leaders. 

What we now see of the experiences of Mr Karadzic bears out what seemed pretty self-evident six years ago, at least to me.  From the moment that the International Criminal Court, or equivalent body, decides to indict someone, which it does unilaterally though only for the most heinous of crimes, that person's life is effectively over.  He must either spend his remaining years


as a fugitive haemorrhaging money until it is all gone


or else serve the decades-long sentence that the court will inevitably hand down - an acquittal is unthinkable. 

These stark alternatives - fugitivism or captivity - confront every recent indictee I can think of, some now liberated through death. 


Idi Amin, brutal, murderous, ethnic-cleansing dictator of Uganda, who spent his last 24 years hiding away in those renowned funspots, Libya and Saudi Arabia.


Manuel Noriega, brutal, murderous drug-dealing dictator of Panama, languishing in an American jail since 1989.


Augusto Pinochet, brutal, murderous dictator of Chile, who spent his last eight years miserably confined to his house in Santiago after a Spanish judge nearly engineered his arrest for murder and torture during a visit to Margaret Thatcher in England.


Charles Taylor, brutal, murderous, war-mongering dictator of Liberia, unexpectedly extradited from his bolthole in Nigeria and now awaiting trial in The Hague, followed no doubt by a life sentence. 


Goran Hadzic, a brutal, murderous Croatian-born Serb indicted in 2004 for ethnic cleansing, imprisonment, torture and/or extermination of non-Serbs in the Krajina area of eastern Croatia. 


Omar al-Bashir, brutal, murderous current dictator of Sudan, indicted just last month for the genocide, systematic rape and ethnic cleansing that is still going on in Darfur; he will never dare leave his wretched country again. 


Fugitive Ratko Mladic is being sought by war crimes prosecutorsAnd of course, there's Ratko Mladic, the brutal, murderous Bosnian Serb army general who, in addition to many other crimes, oversaw the massacre of 6,000 men and boys at Srebenica, whilst reporting to his buddy Mr Karadzic.  With his big-boss phase long over, he is now in his fourteenth boring year as a fugitive.  Because he used to be a military man, he probably still has quite a following among his erstwhile soldiers, who doubtless continue to provide physical protection but with less drain on personal resources than Mr Karadzic could manage. So he might last a decade or so longer, but he too will one day fall captive into a prosecutor's arms, unless he simply dies prematurely due to stress, as did Slobodan Milosevic in 2006 during his own war-crimes trial.  

Either way, Gen Mladic's life has, thanks to the indictment, long been over; he is irrevocably locked into the trajectory from big-boss to fugitive to captive.  He is certainly not getting away with murder” as his many victims might feel. 

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Ancient Greeks' Astronomical Computer

The latest Olympiad, to be held in Beijing, begins, auspiciously, on Friday 8th August 2008, better expressed as 8/8/8, to reflect the root of its auspiciousness in Chinese lore.  Single digit numbers are always special for the Chinese, and the more the better, but eight is the most special of all.  This is because In Cantonese it is pronounced Bah, in Mandarin Fah, and the word forms part of the expression for get wealthy.  That's the reason I will be attending a nephew's wedding that day, the date selected because he is half Chinese, and (like the rest of us) hopes to get wealthy” thanks to 8/8/8

In this context, I was astonished to learn recently of the story of a Roman merchant vessel from the second century BC, whose wreck was discovered in 1901 by divers off the Greek island of Antikythera.  It turned out to be stuffed full of Greek treasures, artefacts and bronze statuary, which in due course made their way to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. 

Some months later, an indiscriminate lump of metal split apart, to reveal some small precision gear-wheels and mysterious, indistinct inscriptions.  This was clearly a machine of some sort.  But its state of deterioration prevented anyone from properly understanding it, until the advent of 21st century technology in the form of 3D X-Rays and modern IT, combined with astronomical expertise and classical Greek scholarship, allowed its secrets to be delicately prised open. 

The Antikythera mechanism turns out to be a clockwork driven clock, which is astounding enough for a device over two thousand years old, but it's not just any old clock.  The ancient Greeks' Antikythera computerised chronometerIts intricate gears with hundreds of tiny teeth and epicyclical trajectories betray its true function as a mechanical astronomic computer which uses the predicted movement of the stars and planets to calculate time and dates. 

An animated, functioning copy has been reconstructed on a virtual (computerised) basis, allowing it to be rotated and viewed on a screen from every angle and in great detail.  Don Unwin, a master instrument-maker of historic clocks has been commissioned to build a working physical replica, and is clearly excited at the prospect.  

The original had two calendar functions which have attracted particular attention, with separate sub-dials on the face of the clock from which the ancients could read off the information. 


The first would tell them when the next lunar and solar ellipses were due in a manner that would remain valid for up to fifteen centuries. 


The second dial traced a four-year cycle.  While this had no astronomical or scientific purpose, it had a profound cultural meaning, for the Olympic games were conducted then as now on a quadrennial basis.  However, since they had to begin on the full Moon closest to the summer solstice, expertise in astronomy was needed to calculate the timing required. The games continued for over a millennium until the the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius I banned them in 394 AD, to be resurrected only in 1896, just five years before the Antikythera wreck was discovered

Those involved in unscrambling what amounts to a mechanical computer built by the ancient Greeks describe it as a complicated model doing complicated and extremely sophisticated things in a design which is pure genius

In the latest issue of Nature magazine you can find an article explaining the work done to date.  But there is an even better, utterly compelling video here, as we approach the get wealthy” Olympic date of 8/8/8. 

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Let's NOT Roll

Amongst the tragedy and misery of the 9/11 outrage, one particular act of incredible, selfless courage stood out.  When United Airlines Flight 93, flying out of New Jersey, was forced by Islamic suicide hijackers to U-turn from its trajectory to San Francisco and start heading back towards the White House, the passengers realised what was happening, because over their mobile phones they had learnt about the the two planes which had already been flown into the Twin Towers. 

The hijackers on Flight 93 had already killed one passenger and wounded the flight crew.  But rather than cower in fear and wait for the inevitable” to happen, they got together and took action in the American way.  A hitherto nondescript IT account manager, Todd Beamer, became a heroic leader.  He and a hastily assembled team of other passengers launched a counter attack on the hijackers, which successfully aborted the White House mission, but at the price of crash-landing in a field in Pennsylvania with everyone on board killed.  Just before the fateful attack, Todd Beamer was overheard on a mobile phone shouting Let's roll!”.  This later later became a battle cry for those fighting Al-Qaeda, inspiring thousands all over the world - civilians and military alike - to fight back against evil-doers, to this day. 

One of those was undoubtedly Jake in England.  A couple of years ago I wrote about this baby-faced then 12-year-old who, when a 95-kilo thug in a balaclava demanded his mobile phone and threw a punch, delivered to Mr Balaclava a broken nose instead.  Young Jake, who turned out to be a karate brown-belt, in his own Let's roll!” moment dodged the punch and landed a kick squarely on his assailant's nose, which cracked loudly.  The man ran away in pain.  Shamefully however the police said he should have meekly handed over his phone. 

Sadly, Todd Beamer's heroic example does not seem to have permeated to all parts of Canada.  Last week a 40-year-old passenger on a Greyhound bus in western Canada calmly murdered the 19-year-old man sitting beside him.  Garnet Caton, one of 35 other passengers aboard the bus , describes what happened -

We heard this bloodcurdling scream and turned around, and the guy was standing up, stabbing this guy repeatedly, like 40 or 50 times ... When he was attacking him, he was calm ... like he was at the beach.  There was no rage or anything. He was just like a robot stabbing the guy.”

From reports, it is apparent that the 35 other passengers calmly allowed the killer to proceed with his grisly business unmolested, but then stampeded off the bus in terror at the first opportunity.

When you think about the heroism of Todd Beamer and his fellow passengers, there can be no starker contrast than the abject, shameful, unmanly cowardice of the bus passengers.  Despite a 35:1 numerical advantage, they simply made no effort to stop a sole man armed only with a hunting knife from committing a most foul murder. 

The story gets worse.  Once the passengers and driver had jumped off the bus, they bravely” jammed the door shut on the murderer and his victim.  He then proceeded to hack off his victim's head and proudly displayed it aloft.  Later he started cutting up the rest of the body.

Someone must have phoned the Royal Canadian Mounted Police because in due course they arrived and arrested the perpetrator.  However they have refused to give out any identity details such as his name or nationality. 

Now why would that be?  Is it possible that this information might provide a clue as to what this ghastly episode was about?  Perhaps he was white?  Or maybe an African?  Canada has countless Chinese and Koreans, especially in the West; could it have been one of those?  And if so, would the Police have been nervous about revealing this?  Why?


But what if he was of dusky complexion and called Abdullah or Mohammed?  Surely this is the only circumstance that would explain the Mounties' coyness.  I would put money on it that these exemplars of Canadian manhood are simply too politically correct and too frightened to reveal that the killer/beheader was a Muslim, in case that leads people to conclude that the murder was an act of Jihad and everyone blames the Mounties for stirring up religious strife.  No other explanation makes sense. 

In my view, the Mounties' craven reticence is on a par with the passengers' cowardice.  Moreover, they actually praised the craven passengers for making no effort to stop the crime.  Cowardice rules. 

Pretty much a collective Let's NOT roll”.  

You would have expected more honourable behaviour from Canadians.  Someone please tell me these people are not representative.

Late Notes (5th and 13th August 2008)
Well, I was completely wrong about
the identity of the killer. 
Despite the Mounties' curious reluctance
to divulge his identity,
he is
not an Islamic Jihadist
but a recent Chinese immigrant to Canada,
Vince Li Wei-Guang, who is apparently a Christian
- and a cannibal. 

But this takes nothing from the cowardice
of the other passengers. 

And if you have any doubts about this,
just watch this videoclip starring Garnet Caton,
blissfully unaware of his own abject cowardice.

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Ryanair Finger

Michael O'Leary, the boss of Ryanair, is renowned for giving the (metaphorical) finger to all and sundry, in particular governments, grandiose magnates, airport operators and national-airline competitors, though never to other low-cost operators such as EasyJet.  The fury that this behaviour induces always generates further publicity and additional ticket sales. 

Recent objects of his derision and finger, expressed in Ryanair advertisements, have included


A photograph of the newly betrothed Sarkozys, with Carla Bruni thinkingWith Ryanair’s low fares, my whole family can come to the wedding”.  The French were furious. 


Irish billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien who escapes Irish taxes by becoming a tax exile in Malta; Ryanair offered customers free flights to Malta, with a photograph of Mr O'Brien and the tag line, All you pay is taxes”.  Fellow tax-exiles were furious. 


A potpourri including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon (“The Great Plane Robber”) Brown, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Irish transport minister Mary “gun-totin’ cowgirl” O’Rourke, Sweden's prime minister Goeran “Time to flee the country” Persson, most of them eliciting howls of fury. 

But the latest is the best because it includes an actual finger - that of maverick Italian politician Umberto Bossi who leads the Northern League party which is currently in coalition with Silvio Berlusconi.  Apparently Minister Bossi, who wants the wealthy North to break away from the rest of Italy, was snapped on 18th July at his party's congress in Padua giving the finger when the National Anthem was played, specifically at the words Slaves of Rome, never again

This is Michael O'Leary's advertisement, capturing the moment. 

It reads,

The government ...

bulletsupports Alitalia's high tariffs
bulletsupports its frequent strikes
bulletdoesn't give a damn about Italian passengers

And here is the furious response from Italy's Transport minister Altero Mateoli -

It is quite unacceptable and vulgar that a foreign airline company, a guest at our airports and in our air space, should use a government minister in this offensive manner just to generate publicity ... That Ryanair ... should now attack both the Italian national carrier and the policies of the Italian government is really too much.”

Strangely there is no criticism directed at Mr Bossi's own, treasonous finger.

You can always rely on Michael O'Leary to add to the hilarity of Europe.  May his finger never rest.

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Venta Los Condes - Restaurant Review

Take a drive northwards and upwards into the hills overlooking  the industrial town cum holiday resort of Fuengirola on Spain's Costa del Sol and you shortly come to the pretty little village of Mijas, a clump of white-washed houses, shops and a picturesque little bull ring. 

If you get your timing right (ie mid June) you can attend its annual Blues Festival, annual in the sense it held its first in 2007 and it was even better in 2008.  It's free and goes on for 12 hours non-stop on a Saturday.  With acts from all over the world, there is great music (sample), while on sale in stalls for nominal amounts there are great sizzling sausages, steaks and chicken wings, washed down with ice cold beer sold by the litre or goblets of wine.  With cloudless blue skies and temperatures made for T-shirts and shorts, no wonder everyone was in a good mood with spontaneous dancing throughout the day and night.   The only problem is logistics.  Drive and there's almost no parking and anyway you're in no state to drive home.  Take public transport and, er, there isn't much, so you have to hope sufficient taxis show up. 

Having recovered from this diversion, you need to choose a different day to retrace your steps in search of lunch.  Beyond Mijas, you will find on your right on the road halfway to the much less pretty Coin a little restaurant perched on the side of the mountain, with spectacular views over the Costa del Sol and the sparkling Mediterranean in the distance. 

Venta Los Condes is a small family-run typical Andalucian venta, or small brasserie, owned by the patriarch Juan Quero Leiva, that always seems to be buzzing. The menu is small by some standards but enticing, with the barbecue fizzing and smoking on the patio in front of the guests.  (My own view/experience is that the bigger the menu the lower the quality, for how can the chef be good at everything?).  It also serves tapas and a speciality is the local diesel (sherry) which is behind the bar in casks. 

Venta los Condes on a typical summer Sunday 2008

It's most definitely not a fast-food joint so be prepared to take your time and enjoy the scenery, aromas, ambience and relaxed service.  Everything cooked fresh. 

My beloved wife began with Sopa Ajos, a garlic soup with saffron, whilst floating on top was an omelette impregnated with potato and ham.  It sounds a bit weird, but was hot, delicious and left you unable to talk to anyone else who hadn't also ingested vast quantities of garlic. 

I went for the Gambas Pil Pil, comprising about ten fat prawns in a sizzling sauce of oil, garlic, saffron and chillies.  The prawns were a bit overcooked, but the whole point of this dish is actually the oily sauce, which requires copious amounts of bread to soak it all up.

We followed these with a Brocheta Pescado and the Chuleta Cerdo.  

The former was a two-foot long skewer of white fish, prawns, onion, peppers and tomatoes, barbecued over coals, served with thin French fries and a fresh salad.  Some of the fish was a bit overcooked, the onions undercooked, the tomatoes just right – the hazard of different cooking times when they're all on the same skewer.  Nevertheless the whole thing was a delicious experience. 

Chuleta Cerdo - too mouth-watering not to photographThe Chuleta Cerdo was a large, thick pork chop complete with a layer of fat and crackling, cooked over open charcoal, served with deep-fried baby green peppers, potatoes cooked in stock and some ghastly verdure (green vegetables).  It was too mouth-watering not to photograph.  The chop wasn't quite as good as it looked (slightly overcooked and underseasoned) but it was still a memorable dish.

Having eaten so much, we couldn't face deserts so just finished with coffees.  The whole bill for two, including a couple of glasses of wine, some fizzy water and a tip was a modest €36. 

Looking back, the food alone wouldn't draw me back.  But when you combine it with the views, sunshine, those aromas, atmosphere, the sense of being in a different world, Venta Los Condes becomes irresistible.  My overall assessment is 75%. 

The restaurant's address is Sierra Blanca 9, Carretera Mijas, Coin Km 3, Málaga (Andalucia).  No GPS co-ordinates this time because I forgot to bring my machine.  You can phone for a reservation on +34-95-248.5714, and as you would expect from such a traditional little place there is no website. 

Late Note (October 2009):
A commenter, "Tony", kindly provides the GPS co-ordinates as

36°36.059'N x 4°40.473W. 

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Issue 180’s Comments to Cyberspace

Two scribbles during the past fortnight, of which one was actually published. 


Position harmful to children P!
Published in: The Irish Independent
At least we know now that the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) does not believe in a child’s right to a mother and father where possible. Nor does the Free Legal Advice Centres nor does the Irish Penal Reform Trust.  On July 29, the heads of the above three organisations attacked David Quinn for having the temerity to criticise their view on human rights ...  


Melanie Phillips must be the most incompetent journalist in Britain
To: CentreRight, a site dedicated to the British Conservative movement
As Brian Wilson and others infer, since Mr Kawczynski MP, as a co-author, did not publicly dissent from the report, he therefore endorsed it. Period.
If through embarrassment he has now decided to change his mind ...


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Quotes for Issue 180

- - - - - - J I H A D - - - - - -

Quote: The only successful way to free the prisoners is by kidnapping soldiers.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, points out
the obvious conclusion to be drawn from
Israel's release of child-murderer Samir Kuntar and other prisoners
in exchange for the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers
whose kidnap sparked the Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza in 2006. 

Expect more such kidnaps.
And the assassination of Mr Kuntar. 

- - - - - - I R A N - - - - - -

Ahmad Batebi on the Economist's cover of 17 July 1999Quote: I wish each and every Iranian could travel abroad, come to the US or go to Europe for just one week, and feel, smell and breathe freedom, human dignity, and realise the value of their lives.

Ahmad Batebi after escaping to America
following nine years of imprisonment
and crippling torture
for having appeared (unwittingly)
as a human-rights protestor
on the cover of The Economist on 12 July 1999

- - - - - - W T O - - - - - -

Quote: If states cannot even work together on something as obvious as world trade then how can we effectively address other issues that require a multilateral response such as climate change.”

Peter Sutherland,
who as director general of the GATT, forerunner of the WTO,
presided over the last global deal in 1994

- - - - - - O B A M A - - - - - -

Quote: The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.

So keen to be seen as a citizen of the world”,
Barack Obama speechifying in Berlin seems to think that
the 327 non-Americans murdered on 9/11 amount to
thousands from all over the globe”,
to the distaste of Americans everywhere,
who lost
of their countrymen, women and children.

Quote: So let me be clear.  Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel and must remain undivided.  What I mean by this is simply that there should be no barbed wire between the divisions, and my very consistent policy has been that Bill Clinton's plan, proposing a partition of Jerusalem, provides a starting point for negotiations on this final status issue.

Rich Richman, a blogger at American Thinker,
summarises Barack Obama's flip-flops describing
his position on the future status of Jerusalem,
based on his public utterances between 2000 and now. 

Glad that's been clarified then.

- - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - -

The Economist, 19 June 2008Quote: A French kiss for an Irish Taoiseach on the steps of Government Buildings.

Journalist Miriam Lord,
after President Nicolas Sarkozy
kissed Taoiseach (Prime Minister)
Brian Cowen on both cheeks,
much to the latter's horror. 

Mr Sarkozy was visiting Ireland
understand” why the cheeky Irish
had dared vote down the Lisbon Treaty.

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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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