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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

This archive contains all issues prior to the current week and the three preceding weeks, which are published in 
the main Tallrite Blog (www.tallrite.com/blog.htm).  
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July 2002

You can write to blog@tallrite.com

DECEMBER 2002
 

ISSUE #21 - 15th December 2002 [135]

Paul O’Neill Fired

President Bush recently fired his Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who was also automatically US governor at the World Bank and of the International Monetary Fund.  Few who followed his puerile tour of Africa in June with do-gooder rock singer Bono, when they ridiculously dressed up for the cameras in African tribal attire, will be surprised.  This was not a man with sufficient gravitas to inspire confidence, and that’s exactly what he didn’t inspire.  

It also showed that Bush, the “retarded monkey moron”, has the cojones to take nasty decisions against his own when he feels he has to.  Let’s see whether he’s also brave enough to fire Trent Lott as Republican Majority Leader in Congress for praising the 1948 racist presidential platform of Congressman Strom Thurmond at his 100th birthday party, followed by a mealy-mouthed non-apology apology.  

Incidentally, the new Treasury Secretary, John Snow (63), was formerly head of SCX Corporation, America’s third-largest railroad freight company, was 

  • last year paid $20.5 million, 

and (according to the Wall Street Journal) will get, for life, 

  • country-club membership, 
  • home security, 
  • physicals (whatever they are), 
  • accounting services and 
  • “reasonable and occasional use” of company aircraft.  

Therefore, I am sure he will be content with his new salary of just $157,000 a year.

Back to Index

Is France Perfidious ?

Not long ago in a subscription-only service, I stumbled across a diatribe against France and its alleged perfidy since 1939.  

It was triggered by reports 

  • of French fury over the treatment of one of its citizens in the United States suspected of international terrorism and 
  • that the French describe American reaction to 9/11 as being “hysterical” (which many would find deeply offensive to the victims and their families). 

To many (most ?), the American reaction to 9/11 is everything that France is incapable of doing : ie 

  • taking a stand against terror, 
  • backing up their rhetoric with action making it 
    clear to all the world who their enemies are, and 
  • following through on promises.

This is the same country 

  • which ran away from the Nazis and then 
    collaborated with them, 
  • which left a mess in Indo-China which resulted 
    in the deaths of millions, 
  • which slaughtered multitudes of Algerians and 
  • whose only efficient fighting force is made up of foreigners 
    (the French Foreign Legion).

In response to the war on terrorism, France 

  • has tried to stall and hinder US efforts at every 
    angle, 
  • has held an international trade-fair in Iraq very 
    recently, touting for construction contracts to help 
    rebuild Iraq, and 
  • refuses to take action against known al-Qaeda 
    operatives in their safe houses in Marseilles for 
    fear of retribution, 
  • is meanwhile a major arms supplier to Arab 
    terrorists.  

France was also the “Friend of the Serbs” throughout the war or the Yugoslav succession, and in particular the friend of their despot leader Milosevic, now on trial in The Hague for war crimes.  

And whilst telling everyone else how to behave, they elect a president who is alleged to be neck-deep in corruption, though perhaps they had no choice seeing that the other candidate was a neo-Nazi !

I cannot find much to argue with in the above.  See what you think.  Let me know.   

Back to Index

Amnesty International’s Ambiguity over Torture

Last week I mentioned Tony Blair’s graphic and compelling dossier (197 kb) on Saddam’s “crimes and human rights abuses”.  Highly readable and cogent, it makes extensive use of data from Amnesty International, the hitherto thoroughly respected NGO which for several decades has been commendably exposing human rights abuses around the world, such as torture, imprisonment without trial, summary execution etc.  

Amnesty have, however, expressed outrage at the temerity of the British Government to denounce Saddam’s eye-gouging etc, as this is a task which Amnesty evidently believes should be reserved solely for itself and its ilk.  The British and Americans, who are in a position to take direct action to remove the offending Iraqi regime, should not criticise it as a means to garner support for an attack.  Only NGOs such as Amnesty who are incapable of taking such action may censure.  

This brutally betrays Amnesty’s real agenda.  They don't want change.  They want the torture to continue because otherwise they will have nothing to criticise and thus no reason to attract further donations.  Their own continued existence is their number-one priority.   

Amnesty member Sarah Baxter wrote a devastating  and enraging indictment of this attitude in last Sunday’s Sunday Times (8th Dec).  To give you a flavour, it begins, 

For sheer cynicism it is hard to beat the current assertion on Amnesty International’s website that it has not yet had time” to study the report issued by the Foreign Office detailing human rights abuses in Iraq. Not had time to form an opinion on the gouging of eyes, the electric shocks administered to penises, the rape of women or the amputation of tongues in Saddam Hussein’s jail of a country? No thoughts on the execution of dissidents and the torture of their families, even though the contents of Jack Straw’s dossier were drawn in large measure from Amnesty’s own reports?

Absolutely recommended reading, which would surely make you reconsider your continued support of Amnesty International.  

Read it here if you are a Sunday Times subscriber, otherwise here.  

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It’s the Lies that Get Them - Every Time

Poor old Cherie Booth, Queens Counsel barrister (the highest kind there is), part-time judge, mother of four, wife of the British Prime Minister, daughter of a reprobate actor.  

She has recently been exposed for a number of ill-judged actions.  

  • To buy two apartments in Bristol, one for their son studying there, she dipped into the family’s so-called Blind Trust (set up to avoid potential conflicts of interest by the Prime Minister, and supposed to be administered solely by a Trustee).  
  • As purchasing agent she appointed Australian Peter Foster, the boyfriend of her curious “personal style guru”, Carole Caplin, but Foster turned out to be a convicted fraudster jailed in three continents and currently under extradition proceedings to Australia for more fraud.  He in turn appointed two additional fraudsters as solicitor and finance adviser.  
  • Cherie got on the phone to the authorities and Foster’s lawyers in connection with his deportation proceedings, supposedly to help him.  

All pretty embarrassing stuff, but nothing earth-shattering.  

So why is she in trouble ?  Because when the story broke, she lied about the whole affair, then prevaricated.  

In public life, that is the ultimate sin for which it is very difficult to gain the public’s forgiveness.  

It is never the original sin that causes the problem : 

  • RIchard Nixon was felled from the Presidency for lying and covering up Watergate, not for the Watergate breakin itself.  
  • John Profumo lost his job as British War Minister for lying to Parliament about his affair with Christine Keeler, not for actually sleeping with her.  
  • Bill Clinton disgraced himself by lying about Monica Lewinsky not for actually cavorting with her (and numerous other women).  
  • Jeffrey Archer, the Lord, is in jail for lying about being with prostitute Monica Coghlan on a particular night, not for the dalliance itself.  

With such a history to look at, why do public figures lie if caught, when admitting it is so much easier and instantly forgiven ?  I don’t know.  

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Prince Obolensky’s Try

Prince Obolensky, born in 1915, was a Russian aristrocat and émigré to Britain, sent there for his own safety by his father.  He was educated at Oxford where, apart from his academic achievements, he distinguished himself as a rugby player par excellence.  Nicknamed “Obo”, he played many times of England but is best remembered for a classic solo try he scored in 1936 against the (then as now) virtually unbeatable All Blacks of New Zealand, leading the way to their first defeat by England, with a scoreline 13-0.  This was the first time England had conquered the All Blacks, and they have rarely done so since, apart from last month.  

View the Obolensky try, as recorded by the Pathe News service that used to screen news bulletins at the cinema prior to every movie.  Click here, or if that doesn’t work, here.  The video clip is 1.2 Mb so be patient, it’s worth the wait.  

Back to Index

==========

CHRISTMAS NOTES

This will be the last issue of the Tallrite Blog 
before Christmas and the New Year.  
So, to finish off, here are a few yuletidish items.  

Mortality of Santa Claus

The Reverend Lee Rayfield, vicar of Maindenhead in England, recently got into hot water when he used his weekly sermon to make a scientific analysis of Santa Claus’s annual trek round the world to deliver Christmas presents to children.  He concluded that with only 31 hours available to deliver the necessary 378 million presents to 91.8 million homes in the UK alone, the reindeer would have to travel at 3,000 times the speed of sound.  This would vaporise them in four milliseconds and Santa himself would be killed by an acceleration force of almost 2,000 tons. 

There was the sound of small children wailing up and down the land as they learnt of the demise of their beloved Father Christmas.  Eyes were dried only when they learnt that Father Christmas does his stuff by magic, and has no need of the laws of physics.  

The Reverend duly apologised for his apostasy.  

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Sex of Santa’s Reindeer

The Reverend was not the only one to have a go at poor, beleagured Santa.  According to the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game, both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year. 

  • Males drop their antlers at the beginning of winter after their annual rut, usually late November to December. 
  • Females retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.

Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolf to Blitzen, had to be a girl.

We should have known that only females would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.  

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Peace to Men of Good Will

Some who feel uncomfortable with the above Godly injunction, the stuff of many Christmas cards and homilies, prefer to see it translated from the original Aramaic as “Peace and Good Will to All”.  

Leaving aside the feminist thing that objects to the use of “men” to mean “men and women”, the reason for the desired change is obvious.  The original requires us to earn our peace through goodness; the other gives us infinite latitude.  

But not everyone is taken in.  

Earlier this month, more than 8,000 sailors and marines left the US naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, bound for the Gulf region. 

As the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman led the battle group out to sea, a voice on a loudspeaker said, “Peace on Earth to men of good will. All others stand by.

Back to Index

 

ISSUE #20 - 8th December 2002 [55]

Beauty of the uro

Britain is at the moment congratulating itself for not suffering from the constraints of the uro as it deals with the current slowdown.  For when you surrender your own currency in favour of the uro, you are no longer able to adjust interest rates or float your exchange rate; moreover under the Stability and Growth pact you must restrict your borrowing to just 3% of GDP.  

This reduces your wiggle room considerably.  If you over-spend you must either raise taxes, cut costs or both.  

Of course, it is exactly during a downturn or recession that you :  

  • suffer from reduced tax takes, yet
  • are forced to increase spending on things like welfare and unemployment benefits,
  • seek to step-up spending on public works (roads etc) to boost jobs, 
  • need to borrow heavily to finance all this, and meanwhile 
  • want to reduce interest rates to stimulate business investment and personal spending, and
  • are tempted to encourage inflation so as to reduce the burden of debt repayments.

Under the uro, you suffer from the first two on the list, but can’t do the next four.  Therefore the downturn can be more savage that it otherwise would be.  

Britain’s chancellor Gordon Brown boasts that sterling’s fiscal rules, unlike the uro’s, take account of the state of the economic cycle, so that he can borrow more freely when the economy is weak.  The Economist concludes that by doing so, he helps boost demand – one reason why Britain has fared better in the global slowdown that has the uro area.  

But this is a short-term view of the situation.  

uroland countries are indeed right now suffering directly from their lack of fiscal freedom during a recession, but this in fact is the uro’s strength.  For a bitter lesson is going on.  In future, finance ministers will know they must set aside funds in the good times to tide them through the inevitable bad times without borrowing, devaluing or inflating, and at the same time must seek ever-better value for money through efficiencies and modernisation.  

For isn’t that exactly what you and I must do in our lives ?  

If our incomes are suddenly cut, we also must find ways to reduce our daily expenses, whilst seeking new ways to boost our earnings.  And meantime, we will dip into the savings we have prudently accumulated to help us through the difficult period.  The options of borrowing with abandon, much less devaluing and inflating our way out of trouble simply don’t exist.  

The beauty of the uro is that it has taken currency control out of the hands of venal politicians who are therefore forced to manage the finances responsibly over both the short and long term, and to be honest with the voters.  

No wonder so many of them are squealing !

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War of the (Iraqi) Dossiers

In helping to make the case for war against Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, Tony Blair has produced two graphic and compelling dossiers that are well worth reading - 

  • in September a 55-page assessment (427 kb) of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) and 
  • this month a 12-page report (197 kb) on Saddam’s “crimes and human rights abuses”.  

In response to Iraq’s requirement under UN Resolution 1441 to produce a full statement of its WMD by 8th December, Saddam has now tried to trump both these puny efforts with the issue of his own massive dossier comprising 529 megabytes, 11,900 pages.  It apparently covers Iraq’s entire biological, chemical, nuclear and missile activity.  (He has also apologised to Kuwait for raping it in 1990 though says nothing about releasing the many Kuwaiti prisoners-of-war he still holds).  

In  releasing his mega-dossier, Hussam Mohammed Amin, who is the head of Iraq’s “National Monitoring Directorate” said that Iraq was “empty of any weapons of mass destruction”, although the document did contain some activities which were potentially for dual military and civilian use.  This statement means you don’t even need to read the report, doubtless an extraordinarily tedious burden.  

This sounds a very curious and dangerous tack for Saddam to take because it makes America’s task so easy.  

As everyone knows, America alleges that Iraq does hold WMD and that it has proof of same.  It seems inconceivable that America holds absolutely no such proof at all, that it possesses not a single shred of evidence of Iraqi WMD.  

Therefore, with Iraq declaring that the dossier says it is WMD-free, America has only to point the UN weapons inspectors to a few of the known sites to prove to them, to the UN and to the world that 

  • Iraq is not WMD free and 
  • that it is therefore lying
  • which is a material breach of UN Resolution 1441.  

President George W Bush needs no more than that to launch his war, with or without a further UN resolution.  

The end-game is very close.  

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Miss World 2002

Last week I wrote about the pogrom mounted against Christians in Nigeria by some Muslims who took offence at a newspaper article saying that the Prophet Mohammed might have wanted to marry one of the contestants.  

The pageant has now been concluded in London.  By a wry irony, it has been won by Miss Turkey, the gorgeous Azra Akin, a Muslim, seen here being congratulated by last year’s Nigerian winner Agbani Darego .  

She deserves our best wishes.  

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Anti-Catholic Ireland

Until maybe 20 years ago, “Catholic Ireland” was virtually one word, such was the pervasive influence of the Church throughout the land.  It was, in effect, an old-style theocratic state.  

How things have changed.  The country is now fully secularised with the Church playing no role at all in how the country is run, and being regularly castigated for its failings, particularly in relation to child sex abuse.  In fact you can say anything you like about the Catholic Church provided it is bad.  

Extraordinarily, Irish broadcasters are not, however, allowed to say that the Catholic Church does any good at all.  The relevant Broadcasting Act prohibits the broadcast of “any religious advertisement which addresses the merits or otherwise of adhering to a particular religious faith.”  

The small Irish Catholic newspaper (circulation just 27,000 and no website) recently wanted to run an advertisement on the Irish airwaves, which said,  

These are hard times for the Catholic Church, so hard that its easy to forget all the good the Church does. To remind us of that, the Irish Catholic will be running an Advent series, starting this week, showing how the Church puts Christ into Christmas through the countless good deeds of thousands of ordinary Catholics.”

RTÉ, Ireland’s state-owned licence-funded national broadcaster, together with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland which regulates privately-owned broadcasters, have refused the ad because the words I have highlighted suggest - shock ! horror ! - that there might be a good side to Catholicism.  

Perfectly acceptable are 

  • unremitting promotion of Ireland’s drug of choice, alcohol, the liquid route to instant happiness, sporting prowess and sexual success
  • sex used to sell everything from cars to pot noodles, 
  • incessant programmes about the misdeeds of the Catholic Church.  

But nothing remotely positive about Catholicism.  

Fordham University in New York recently hosted a conference entitled “Anti-Catholicism : The Last Acceptable Prejudice” which contrasted Western societies’ acceptance of anti-Catholic hostility with their strong outlawing of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia.  There is no logic to accepting one form of bigotry but not another.  

Meanwhile, Ireland has indeed reached a sorry state when a statement of Catholic goodness cannot be broadcast - at least not if it is made by Catholics.  

Meanwhile, the mainly-Catholic Philippines reports that its 100,000 policemen are to undergo spiritual renewal seminars and will each be given a pocket-sized Bible or Quran.  This will apparently provide “spiritual cleansing of policemen, rid the service of scalawags and misfits and bring them closer to God”. 

Horses for courses, I suppose.  

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One Nation Indivisible

Ireland is not the only country with childish confusion over religious issues. 

Every day in the USA, teachers and over 60 million schoolchildren, along with thousands of citizens at meetings of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, American Legion and many other fraternal and patriotic organizations, recite the Pledge of Allegiance (to the flag). It was written back in 1892 by a socialist journalist, Francis Bellamy, in a family magazine called The Youth Companion, and contains the phrase “one nation indivisible”. The pledge was codified into Public Law by the US government in 1942 at the height of World War II. 

Then, in 1954, in a wave of religious fervour and McCarthyism, and in a deliberate ploy to differentiate God-fearing America from the godless communists of the USSR, two key words were added, so that the whole phrase now reads, “one nation indivisible under God”.   

Recently, some atheists, agnostics and other citizens with scant regard for religion are anxious to remove the two offending words as they see them. 

One American wit has proposed that the phrasing should be altered to, “one nation indivisible under Canada”. 

A thoroughly appropriate response to such a ridiculous controversy, don’t you think ?  

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Smokers Pay For Themselves

Last week’s Sunday Times ran a story on the back page saying, Smoking related diseases kills 120,000 Britons a year and hospital treatment for the 360,000 people a year made ill by it costs about £1.7bn”.  

Do the sums. 

Even if the tax on a packet were only £1 and those sick people smoked only one packet a day, it would mean that they pay for their own medical treatment in just 13 years.  But 

  • cigarettes take far longer than 13 years to make smokers sick, 
  • not every smoker gets sick, 
  • the tax is far in excess of £1 per packet, and 
  • smokers die disproportionately younger than non-smokers thus drawing less in pensions. 

Therefore, a truly successful anti-smoking campaign would have dire consequences on the exchequer which would necessitate compensating tax rises for all and/or cuts in services such as hospitals.  This goes for any country that taxes tobacco heavily. 

So next time you see smokers, smile at them and thank them for their self-sacrifice that so benefits the rest of us.  

Oh, and see my letter in this week’s Sunday Times.  

Late Note (very late), 20th July 2012

This letter appeared in the Irish Times.  Ten years later, and my point about smokers funding themselves (and others) still stands up:

Smokers' health care

Sir, – If, as is often reported, smokers die 15 years early at the average age of 72, then each smoker is actually saving the State, €163,000 in pensions (at €10,868 per annum x 15), in addition to the high cost of longterm healthcare for the “expensive” years from 75 to 85.

Based on these maths, one might expect our indebted HSE to encourage smokers. But then, my maths are probably wrong, because Japan has the highest life expectancy, yet they are the fourth highest smokers. – Yours, etc,

EOGHAN MAGOWAN,
Carrig Court,
Blackrock,
Co Dublin.

Oh, and as I wrote in 2008 (Altruism of Smokers and Drinkers), drinkers fund themselves too. 

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ISSUE #19 - 1st December 2002 [62]

Don’t Harmonise Taxes

To me, the crowning achievement of the European Union is the creation of the common market under which people may freely trade their goods and services without regard to the national borders that otherwise separate them.  Willing buyers and willing sellers can trade without interference.  

The common market has been a remarkable success despite some of the EU’s trade distorting policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and numerous protectionist devices for individual industries like insurance, that directly punish the EU’s citizens as well as people throughout the third world who are prevented from freely trading with the EU.  

Free trade under a transparent legislative environment that ensures open competition always results in the same thing : lower prices and higher quality for consumers.  Because it is only through lowering prices and/or raising quality that producers can survive when their competitors are constantly snapping at their heels.  

With this therefore as a central pillar of the EU (notwithstanding the distortions mentioned), is it not curious that several EU countries are agitating for what they call tax harmonisation ? 

Countries such as Italy, Germany and France with corporation tax rates of 35-40% are annoyed at Britain (30%) and especially Ireland (15% about to go down to 12½%), because the latter two use their lower tax rates to attract foreign direct investment away from the former three.  “Unfair !” they cry, “we should have a level playing field !”  

Meanwhile, Ireland and Britain are still growing providing employment for (nearly) all, while Italy, Germany and France are stagnating if not in recession with heavy dole queues.  

Taxes are the charges that governments impose on their citizens for providing services - roads, schools, hospitals, defence, welfare payments, rubbish-collection etc.  

While the EU governments thoroughly agree that companies and indeed citizens should be subjected to the rigours of open competition, is it not curious that they feel they themselves should be exempt by harmonising taxes ?  If, in the real world, a new shop opens that undercuts the existing shop, the existing shop must either find ways 

  • to cut its costs, or 
  • provide a better service that its customers are willing to pay extra for, or 
  • get into another line of business or 
  • close down.  

As indicated, the result for the consumer is always lower prices and higher quality.  

Governments should take the same approach.  Cut their costs and improve their services so that citizens feel they are getting value for money.  In other words, give their citizens lower taxes and better services.  

Tax harmonisation is but a ruse whose sole purpose is to protect ruling politicians from their own incompetence at the price of their citizens.  

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Miss World and Islam

In 2001, the lovely Agbani Darego of Nigeria won the Miss World competition, the first time a black from Africa has done so.  

As a consequence, Nigeria, a West African federation of 130 million people, comprising 31 states of which 12 are governed under Sharia law, was selected as the venue for the 2002 competition.  

Thus it was that early this November, 92 beautiful young contestants - Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists - from all over the world flew in.   Another eager 21-year-old woman, from Nigeria, who had recently graduated from a journalism course at the University of Lancaster in England, penned an article for Nigeria’s This Day newspaper.  Isioma Daniel suggested that had the Prophet been alive he would have approved of the pageant and might have selected one of the 92 as his bride.  

This offended many Muslims and sparked a three-day rampage against Christians which 

  • killed 220 people, 
  • left 12,000 homeless and 
  • destroyed 
    • 22 Christian churches and 
    • eight Islamic mosques.  

The competition was rescheduled for London and the 92 contestants gratefully flew out of Nigeria.  

Meanwhile, the Deputy Governor of Nigeria’s Zamfara State, Mamuda Aliyu Dallatun Shinkafi, issued a fatwa (religious sentence of death) against Ms Daniel, remarking that the Holy Quran has clearly stated that whoever insults the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed, should be killed.”  He went on to liken her to the British author Salman Rushdie who for over ten years has been subject to a fatwa imposed by Iran’s late Ayatullah Khomenei for offending Muslims in his book, the Satanic Verses.  

Understandably, Ms Daniel resigned her job and fled to the USA.  The editors of This Day then issued an extraordinarily grovelling apology for publishing the article.  

But where is the apology for the monumentally criminal anti-Christian pogrom that killed 220 ?  As is sadly becoming all too familiar, no senior Islamic voice is raised against those who commit atrocities in the so-called name of Islam.  At the same time, there are many, many wonderful, humane, God-fearing Muslims in the world who lead lives that are an example to all; I have been privileged to know many of them.  

Yet the silence of Islamic leaders leaves many people to conclude the criminal acts of a few do indeed accord with the teachings of Islam, which puts into question the whole “Islam is Peace” mantra.  

With one crucial difference, it seems to me that Islam, which came into being 600 years after Christ, shares many characteristics with Christianity of several centuries ago.  In European cultures, the Roman Catholic branch of the Christian Church used to reign supreme.  

  • Dissenters, such as Galileo who dared suggest the earth was not the centre of the universe, were persecuted.  
  • Heretics were burned at the stake.  
  • Christians mounted crusades to North Africa to either convert or else kill Muslims.  
  • Cardinal Richelieu, prime minister of France in the 17th century, famously told his troops, in respect of non-Catholic Huguenots and any unwitting Catholics among them, to “kill them all, God will know his own”.  

Pretty nasty things done in the so-called name of God.  

The one crucial difference, however, is that this despicable behaviour is not backed up by the four gospels.  Christ did not tell us to kill our enemies or non-believers.  He unequivocally told us to love our enemies, forgive those who trespass against us, turn the other cheek, try to convert (but not murder) pagans.   

By contrast, we are constantly told that the Quran supports the killing of infidels.  

Nevertheless, I would like to think that in time a peace-loving version of Islam will emerge, just as it did with Christianity.  But let us all hope it doesn’t take the centuries it took Christianity.  

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The Baralong Affair

I am currently editing the memoirs of an elderly Irishman who has led a very eventful and colourful life and met many interesting people.  He recalls a little-known First World War event told to him by a number of ancient mariners he sailed with in the 1930s.  The Royal Navy was involved in a very shameful affair, if understandable under the circumstances, involving a German U-boat that had caused many Allied casualties.  

When you read it, it will be clear why the Navy did its best to suppress it.  

It became known as the Baralong Affair, after the main ship responsible for what happened.  Click here for the whole story; it’s well worth reading.  

Note : you will find a toolbar at the bottom for flipping pages.  

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E-Mail Irritants De-Bunked

Do you sometimes get e-mails that tell you things like

  • If you send this to your friends, some big  corporation will make a donation to a charity

  • There is a kidney-theft ring in New Orleans

  • Something “bad” will happen to you if you don’t respond as directed

Click here to find the truth about all this nonsense.  

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Neda Agha Soltan, 1982-2009
Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia

Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least alive.

FREED AT LAST,
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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

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

  • the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

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

More details on my blog here.

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

  • part of a death march to Thailand,

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

  • regularly beaten and tortured,

  • racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

  • a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

  • Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

  • Why does asparagus come from Peru?

  • Why are pandas so useless?

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

  • Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

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

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

  • Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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

+++++

Other books here

Rugby World Cup 7s, Dubai 2009
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After 48 crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are, deservedly,
SOUTH AFRICA

England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze.  Fourth is host nation France.

No-one can argue with
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Over the competition,
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tries per game =
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minutes per try = 13

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