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)
to break away from within Russia’s sphere of
influence and friendship (Slavic, Orthodox Serbia) is ”bad”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
appointed by himself.
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
age, ill-health, vodka, net emigration, abortion and an abysmal,
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 imperialistic
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
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:
either accept it as
unstoppable short of nuclear war,
or pull every non-military
non-nuclear lever available – diplomatic, financial, technological,
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,
The more I read about
and watch Barack Obama, the more I am reminded of Saint Paul in his first
letter to the Corinthians,
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,
I am but an empty gong or a clashing cymbal.”
With his soaring rhetoric, Mr Obama certainly speaks
“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
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
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,
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
Property developer, Obama fundraiser and convicted
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.
Extraordinary 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 - http://tinyurl.ie/obamagong
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
“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
In the interests
prurience and cheap publicity, let me share this photo with you.
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
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
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
began in August, though she has already said she is
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
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”.
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
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
Barack Hussein Obama plays the
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
Mr Dean also plays the race
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
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 –
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
“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
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
in Southern Weekend,
a Chinese newspaper,
on the Olympics opening ceremony, which he directed.
Ah yes, the beauty of
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 - - - - - - -
“A second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty will
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
until they produce the
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
confess ignorance of literature or the humanities
are derided as ignorant nerds.
“His arrest is immensely important for victims who
waited too long.”
said Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor
at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on the arrest of
after thirteen years on the run. In 1995 he was indicted for genocide, complicity in genocide,
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.
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.
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 shopping trips to Harrods,
no celebrity blondes,
no Caribbean cruises with
appearances on TV or in Hello! or OK!
no meals in
no ringside (or any) seats at international
concerts and events,
no meetings with the great and the good.
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
brutal, murderous, ethnic-cleansing dictator of Uganda, who spent his
last 24 years hiding away in those renowned funspots, Libya and Saudi
brutal, murderous drug-dealing dictator of Panama, languishing in an American jail
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Olympic date of 8/8/8.
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
Well, I was completely
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
of the other passengers.
And if you have any doubts about
just watch this videoclip starring Garnet Caton,
blissfully unaware of his own abject cowardice.
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
thinking “With Ryanair’s low fares, my whole family can come to
the wedding”. The French were furious.
billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien who escapes Irish taxes by
becoming a tax exile in Malta; Ryanair offered customers free flights to
a photograph of Mr O'Brien and the
pay is taxes”.
Fellow tax-exiles were furious.
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
“Slaves of Rome, never again”.
This is Michael O'Leary's advertisement, capturing the
supports Alitalia's high tariffs
supports its frequent strikes
doesn't give a damn about Italian passengers”
And here is the furious
Italy's Transport minister Altero Mateoli -
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,
You can always rely on Michael O'Leary to add to the
hilarity of Europe. May his finger never rest.
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
If you get your timing right (ie mid June) you can attend
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
the Costa del Sol and the sparkling Mediterranean
in the distance.
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.
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
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.
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.
followed these with a Brocheta Pescado and the Chuleta Cerdo.
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
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
The restaurant's address is
Sierra Blanca 9, Carretera
Mijas, Coin Km 3,
(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.
A commenter, "Tony", kindly provides the GPS co-ordinates as
36°36.059'N x 4°40.473W.
Two scribbles during the past fortnight, of which one was
Position harmful to childrenP! 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 ...
“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
Expect more such kidnaps.
And the assassination of Mr Kuntar.
- - - - - - I R A N - - - - - -
“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
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 - - - - - -
“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.”
who as director general of the GATT, forerunner of the WTO,
presided over the last global deal in 1994
- - - - - - O B A M A - - - - - -
“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
327 non-Americans murdered on 9/11 amount to
“thousands from all over the globe”,
to the distaste of Americans everywhere,
who lost 2,646
of their countrymen, women and children.
“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 - - - - - -
“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
why the cheeky Irish
had dared vote down the Lisbon Treaty.
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF