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December 2007

ISSUE #167 - 5th December 2007


Time and date in Westernmost Europe

ISSUE #167 - 5th December 2007 [545+2817=3362]

bullet Fighting Climate Change:
Whom Do They Think They're Helping?

CNN and the Gay Brigadier General


Tipoo's Tiger


Murphy's Lesser-known Laws


Issue 167's Letters to the Press


Quotes for Issue 167

Click here for Word Version of Issue #167

Fighting Climate Change:
Whom Do They Think They're Helping?

This week a huge jamboree kicked off in the delectable Indonesian holiday island of Bali.  More than 190 countries have sent along senior representatives, and then there are the NGOs and other special interest groups.  Thus the whole conference will probably host somewhere in excess of 1500 earnest people, travelling in from all the corners of the globe, each flying an average of perhaps 13,000 km round trip (the transatlantic span).  According to the CarbonNeutral Company such a return flight - on a commercial airliner - produces 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per person on board.  So, roughly speaking, even if you exclude private jets, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, mistresses, toyboys, journalists, cameramen, commentators and myriad other hangers on, the conference in Bali will generate nearly two thousand tonnes of that environment-unfriendly special gas, not to mention the delegates' unlimited hot air emitted in the conference hall. 

Not bad for a UN summit attempting to broker a worldwide deal to defeat climate change and replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.  And while they're there, you can be sure they'll be enjoying some out-of-season global warming in Bali's beautiful beaches and resorts. 

Beach resort in Bali

The event bears the enigmatic name COP-13, where COP stands for the equally enigmatic Conference of the Parties. 

COP-13 participants will vigorously maintain that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming is a man-made, man-controllable phenomenon.  This conclusion is mainly based on the series of reports produced this year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Nearly 4,000 scientists from 130 countries have helped to produce these, which certainly makes the enterprise feel like there is an overwhelming scientific consensus”.  Until you realise that dissenting scientists - and there are very many of them - have been deliberately excluded and ignored.  Moreover, where the dissenters are largely reviled in the media and typically starved of the money they need to pursue their own climate change research, those who keep the faith are showered with almost limitless funds by governments and corporations anxious to prove their green credentials.  Why, they will even get awarded Oscars and Nobel peace prizes. 

So no, there is no scientific consensus on climate change.  Not yet; not by a long shot.  Click to access this 400-page door-stopper

Just in time for COP-13, the UN Development Programme has produced a massive 400-page door-stopper, its annual Human Development Report 2007/2008.  It's opening sentence sets the tone: 

Climate change is now a scientifically established fact. 

No it's not - see above.  And neither is how to fix it. 

The rest of the report goes on to explain the catastrophe we're all facing and how we have to cut back on our CO2 emissions to save the planet for future generations, blah, blah, blah. 

There is of course a pivotal issue of whether anything humans do or don't do will have the slightest effect on a climate dominated by that massive violent nuclear-exploding star, a mere 333,000 times heavier than the earth, which we call the sun. But, putting that aside, the question I would always put to members of what I call the cult of climate changeology when they advocate various mitigation measures, is whom do you think you're helping?  After some mumblings about mother-earth, great-grandchildren, flora, fauna and so forth, the world's poor people always emerge at the top of the list. 

And of course, nowhere on the list can the rich be found, for the simple reason our Western capitalistic decadence has made us wealthy enough to take measures to protect ourselves from the ravages of climate change, whether by installing powerful air conditioning, moving up a mountain, building our houses on stilts, buying a boat, desalinating our water, translocating to tropical Siberia, whatever it takes. 

The HDRP 07/08 report is no different in stressing that the main and moral purpose of fighting climate change is to help those who are too poor to help themselves: 


Millions of the world’s poorest people are already being forced to cope with the impacts of climate change ...


Climate change will undermine international efforts to combat poverty ...


Failure [to deal with climate change] will consign the poorest 40% of the world’s population - some 2.6 billion people - to a future of diminished opportunity ...


It is the poor who are bearing the brunt of climate change ..


Increased exposure to drought, to more intense storms, to floods and environmental stress is holding back the efforts of the world’s poor to build a better life for themselves and their children ... 


When people in an American city turn on the air-conditioning or people in Europe drive their cars, their actions have consequences [that] link them to rural communities in Bangladesh, farmers in Ethiopia and slum dwellers in Haiti ...


Allowing [climate change] to evolve would ... represent a systematic violation of the human rights of the world’s poor ...


The world’s poor cannot be left to sink or swim with their own resources while rich countries protect their citizens behind climate-defence fortifications ...


Many of the world’s poorest people ... are already being forced to adapt to dangerous climate change ...

And the good news is that putting all this to rights, by the simple expedient of controlling emissions and so forth, will cost a piffling 1.6% of GDP between now and 2030, a0 mere two-thirds of military spending.  It's right there in the report on page 23, and in case you're a slow learner, also on p32, 66 and 67 (thrice).  And since the CIA tells us the world's GDP last year was $66 trillion, the bill for the next 23 years is a paltry $24 trillion - that's 24 with twelve zeroes. 

Can you just imagine the unremitting joy the world's poor people will experience when they learn that this sum is going to be spent to save the world - for their benefit.  I don't know exactly how many they number.  The HRDP 07/08 would have you believe the world's poorest 40% (2.6 billion) are all poor, but that's clearly nonsensical.  On the other hand, the World Food Programme says 854 million people in the world don't have enough to eat, which I reckon is a pretty good proxy for poverty.   That's more than the combined populations of the USA, Canada and the EU. 

So here's a question.  If you have a budget of $24 trn to help the poor, this works out at $28,000 each, or about $3 a day until 2030.  Given that another definition of poverty is having to live on less than one dollar a day, I wonder what a poor person would actually say if you were to give him/her a choice:

  1. Save his/her environment from the effects of climate change (maybe, if the measures actually work)? or

  2. Quadruple his/her income from now and for the next generation?

Actually, I don't wonder.  I know exactly what the answer would be as I am sure you do.  But B has the disadvantage that it amounts to a debilitating, humiliating, disincentivising handout; moreover what happens when the money is spent? 

As the current witty ads for Carlsberg say, It's not just A or B. There's probably C It's the old story of give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life. 

Option C, the answer of what to do about the poor in the event that climate change does become a serious problem, can be found hidden within that list of quotes from the High income countries are far less vulnerable to natural disasters, page 76UN report.  It's all about the ravages of poverty.  People who are poor can't cope with disasters like we rich people can.

The UN report tells us that

climate shocks already figure prominently in the lives of the poor. Events such as droughts, floods and storms are often terrible experiences for those affected: they threaten lives and leave people feeling insecure.

This is true, but the disparity between rich and poor though bad - as this (pink) chart from the UN report illustrates - is actually not nearly as bad as it once was. 

Last week the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change, a coalition of forty independent civil society non-profit organisations which holds an opposite view to the UN, produced its from Page 6own “Civil Society Report on Climate Change”, also timed for the Bali conference. 

The document contains the fascinating chart on the right. You can see how, over the past century, disaster-related death rates have fallen dramatically as people have become, on average, less poor.  Much of this is, of course, because the rich West has been quick to assist the poor in their hour of need - just think of how the much-reviled US and Australian armed forces rushed to the aid of the victims of the 2004 tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake - whilst others just watched and talked. 

Incidentally, Greenpeace tried to refute this chart by the rather insipid (and incorrect) claim that a particular constituent member of the CSCCC is “in the pay of the world’s biggest oil company”.   The CSCCC itself says that its study was funded “entirely from private individuals and foundations” who had no input to it. 

Nevertheless, the UN's solution - and indeed that of all climate-changeologists - remains that the only way to protect poor people is for rich people to take action such as controlling emissions. 

But here's a revolutionary thought.  What about, instead, making it possible for poor people to become rich so that they can look after themselves just like we do?

Whoah, I hear you say.  That's impossible.

But is it?  In mediaeval times, everyone everywhere bar the tiny ruling Úlites were miserably poor, just like in many parts of Africa today.  What changed all this was the introduction of some simple, post-Enlightenment concepts:




Free markets


Free trade


Property rights


Law and contract enforcement


Political freedom




Honest governance

These - and nothing else - are the secrets behind the people's riches of America, Europe, Japan, to name but a few. 

So why not use some of that $24 trn to encourage precisely these principles? 


Back pro-democracy organizations that seek to replace dictatorships such as Robert Mugabe's - John O'Shea of the excellent Irish charity GOAL rightly observes that “it is only when the international community has the courage to stand up to all dictators that we will begin to see an end to abject poverty.


Provide assistance and training for establishing civic institutions such as courts, police, parliaments. 


Some of the measures will even make money for the rich world - in particular if Europe and America would only tear down their despicable agricultural subsidies and trade barriers, which would provide lucrative markets for developing world farmers as well as cheaper food for the West. 


But there are other areas where direct investment by the West will make a huge difference in terms of enabling the poor to get back on their feet and start making money. 



First of these is undoubtedly to provide clean drinking water and efficient sewage systems.  Kofi Annan and the World Bank, back in 2002, told us that US$ 200 billion would be sufficient to provide this to all of humanity and thereby avoid two million disease-ridden deaths per year in the developing world.  It's a thumping sum, but only 8% of that $24 trn and will have a massive humanitarian payout for the poor. 


Much cheaper, but also with proven massive life-saving potential, is making available insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets to protect against Africa's biggest killer, malaria. 

Across the world, malaria kills more than a million people each year, mainly African kids under five years of age. 


In Kenya, these nets have cut child death rates by 44% at a cost of just $4-5 per net.   


When mothers sleep under the nets, miscarriages and still births are cut by up to a third while the number of underweight babies drops by a quarter. 


Other steps in the developing world should include

an expansion of credit, particularly the microcredit regimes that have proved so effective in places like Bangladesh, and


encouragement for private companies to invest in infrastructure, both physical and cyber. 


In fact all the things that helped make the rich world rich. 

If you were to ask any penniless peasant from Bangladesh to Chad to Uruguay whether he would prefer you to concentrate on reducing your emissions or helping him to become rich, you know very well his answer. 

So whom do the wealthy climate changeologists think they are helping with their pathetic attempts to counter sunspots and cosmic rays by foregoing Christmas tree lights and the like? 

Certainly not those peasants - but perhaps their own consciences.  As I've said before, climate changeology is the equivalent of a religious cult, relying on faith and feeling good rather than evidence and constructive action. 

Late Note (7th December):
Columnist Kevin Myers excoriates the Bali ballyhoo
in typically robust and humorous fashion,
and publishes a comment from me based on this post. 

Back to List of Contents

CNN and the Gay Brigadier General

Last week, CNN and Google subsidiary Youtube staged a two-hour debate in Florida between the eight presidential candidates who are competing for the Republican nomination for US president in 2008.  The debate is available in two hour-long chunks: 


Part One download: iPod compatible | Microsoft Windows Media (158 Mb)


Part Two download: iPod compatible | Microsoft Windows Media (179 Mb)

I must say, I found it quite entertaining and revealing.  CNN selected thirty assorted questions from five hundred Youtube clips apparently submitted at random by the general public, with candidates given ninety seconds to respond.  The questions were varied and many of them were tough, yet I thought the candidates handled them skilfully, articulately, courteously and with occasional humour. 

Having taken it all in, I intend on balance intend to vote for Mitt Romney, and if he drops dead Rudy Giuliani, and definitely not for abject defeatist Ron Paul.  Except I'm not American (despite disparaging accusations to the contrary), so I'm not allowed to vote for anyone. 

I was, however, somewhat taken aback by the blogosphere storm that followed, when it quickly emerged that at least five of the Youtube questioners were openly anti-Republican activists, whether in support of particular Democratic candidates or of militant trade unions or of dubious Islamic organizations.  Blogger Michelle Malkine has the lowdown, gleaned solely through a little bit of googling.  CNN are furious at having been caught out, and don't know whether to say that


they knew such people were deliberate plants (but dishonestly withheld this information from the candidates, audience and viewers) or


they didn't know and so had been unforgivably slapdash, cavalier and incompetent in selecting the questions. 

This short clip is a compilation of four of the plants ...

When, however, you download the entire debate, you will find no sign of the intrepid Brigadier General Keith Kerr, who is both angry and gay.  He should have appeared at Minute 43:22 of Part Two - but has found himself excised. 

You can, however, reprise a transcript of his question and the candidates' (albeit rather feeble) responses here [do a Ctrl-F search on Keith Kerr].

My unresolved question is this: why has CNN decided to censor this particular man and this particular question?

I think there is more yet to emerge.  And I've no doubt other bloggers will uncover other plants. 

Back to List of Contents

Tipoo's Tiger

With India under British rule, Tippoo was an Indian sultan born in 1750 in the state of Karnataka, who in 1783 he was enthroned as the ruler of Mysore. 

He was a constant pain to the British Raj which occupied the country because he refused to submit to them as did most other leaders and maharajas (in exchange for continued riches and a quiet life).  Instead it was one war after another.  After winning two of them over a period of 23 years, thanks to alliances with the French, Afghanis and Turks, he was eventually defeated in 1792 by Lord Cornwallis, Britain's Governor General, to whom he had to submit his two sons as hostages against payment of massive reparations. 

Not long after, Lord Cornwallis's own son went on a tiger hunting expedition but ended up being killed by a tiger.  This understandably caused great joy to Sultan Tippoo, and even greater pleasure when in 1793 one of his subjects presented him with a curious, life-size depiction of the happy event. 

Moreover, he was so encouraged he adopted the tiger as his emblem, and had his throne shaped like a tiger, carrying the head of a life-size tiger in solid gold. 

He went on to recreate his war machine, modernise his administration on the European model, build a chain of excellent roads, and construct tanks and dams to promote agriculture. He introduced new industries, promoted trade and commerce, established factories, and sent commercial missions to Oman, Persia and Turkey.

He had once more become a threat to the British.

So in 1799 found himself in yet a fourth Mysore war.  This had an even worse outcome for him, because - apart from being again defeated by Lord Cornwallis - he ended up dead, with his favourite sword looted. 

The British plundered a lot more of Tipoo's stuff, all of it ending up in London. In particular, within Tipoo's palace they came across a curious wooden tiger apparently mauling a prostrate British soldier.  It was a long time before the true provenance of Tipoo's Tiger emerged, and its connection to the hated Lord Cornwallis. 

But Tipoo's Tiger is itself an extraordinary curiosity in its own right, quite apart from its history.  For it is an automaton, combining movement with two windpipe mechanisms, and still operates despite the attention of Luftwaffe bombers during the Second World War.  

The crank on the animal's shoulder turns a shaft within the body. A wire connects to this shaft, which passes down from the tiger between his fore-paws into the soldier's chest, where it works a pair of bellows, forcing air through a pipe that exits through the soldier's mouth and emits a whistling wail. The soldier's hand covers his mouth, but when the air is forced through the pipe the arm rises in a manner which the artist intended to show helplessness.  Moreover, the movement of the hand in front of the mouth causes the wail to ululate. 

The wail is repeated as often as the handle is turned, and while this process is going on, an endless screw on the shaft turns a worm gear slowly round, which has four cams. Each cam progressively raises the actuator of a larger bellows in the tiger's head. When the bellows is full, a lead weight falls, closes the bellows suddenly, expelling air through two pipes which emit a harsh two-tone growl.

The man in the meantime continues his wailing, and after a dozen cries the tiger's growl repeats.

Meanwhile, if you open up the tiger's body lengthwise (it is hinged), you will reveal a small musical organ completely unconnected to the growling and wailing mechanism. The strange keyboard has 18 ivory keys, behind which are two rows of copper pipes. Each row can be made silent via stops that emerge at the tiger's rear end. Behind the pipes, on the other flank of the tiger, is another bellows that provides wind for the organ.

Tipoo's Tiger, V&A Museum, Mysore, India, about 1793

So you can take your pick - whether you want to play dulcet music or listen to the death throes of a British soldier being eaten alive by a hungry tiger.

Tippoo Sultan had been so delighted with the device that he is said to have passed many hours in his music-room with an attendant turning the handle of the machine, until the fun ended with is own violent death in 1799. 

See and hear Tipoo's Tiger in action here

You can see the original in the magnificent Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which I visited last week.  I joined up with a small tour in which the curious story was related by the guide. 

Back to List of Contents

Murphy's Lesser-known Laws

Murphy, it seems, has been reflecting on life once again, and has come up with some new laws, such as:

  1. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

  2. He who laughs last thinks slowest.

  3. Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't. 

  4. Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

  5. The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.   

  6. The things that come to those who wait will be the things left by those who got there first.

  7. The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.

  8. A fine is a tax for doing wrong; a tax is a fine for doing well.

  9. When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

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Issue 167's Letters to the Press

Two letters this time.  I not surprised the one criticising Saint Al Gore was not published, but I was astonished to see the Israel/Palestine one appear which says that the Palestinians simply have to stop attacking Israel for the problem to cease.  I have been trying for over a year to get a letter published along these lines, and confess that the original concept was plagiarised from Mark Humphrys (with his post-factum permission). 

bullet Al Gore Eschews Debate
- to the Irish Times
So former US Vice-President Al Gore has been and gone to Ireland, where at a conference in Dublin he spoke on climate change to 400 Irish and international company executives and investors as well as Green party ministers.  You note, significantly, that  all media apart from official photographers were barred from attending his address, and there is no suggestion that climate-change dissenters were admitted either ...   
bullet Israel and the Palestinians P!
- to the Irish Times
Raymond Deane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign once again attempts to portray Israel's self-defence actions, such as the separation barrier, as unwarranted acts of aggression. And, typically, he refuses to address the issue in David M. Abrahamson's letter of November 14th, to which he purports to be responding.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved at a stroke. The Palestinians merely have to stop attacking Israel ...

Back to List of Contents

Quotes for Issue 167

- - - - - - - - - - Z I M B A B W E - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: If Mugabe and I walk together into a black township, only one of us will come out alive. I’m ready to put that to the test right now. He’s not.”

The late Ian Smith in 2002, the one time RAF fighter pilot hero from WW2,
who later, as the prime minister of a hugely prosperous Rhodesia,
made his famous Unilateral Declaration of Independence
(from British colonial status),
and continued to rule until forced in 1980 by the British
to relinquish power to Robert Mugabe,
who proceeded to systematically lay waste to the new Zimbabwe.

[Hat tip: Nautical Tim in Dublin]

- - - - - - - - - - S U D A N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Shame, shame on the UK.  No tolerance: Execution.  Kill her, kill her by firing squad.”

The (no doubt orchestrated) chant of a Sudanese mob against
the leniency of the 15-day prison sentence handed down by a Sharia court
to volunteer British primary school teacher Gillian Gibbons
for having permitted seven-year-old children
to vote to name a teddy-bear Muhammed. 

So quick to demonstrate against teddy-bears, cartoons and knighthoods,
it is abjectly shameful that Muslims never protest
the cold-blooded murder of Muslims by fellow-Muslim jihadists.

It is in fact they who bring
ridicule to the Prophet and disrepute to Islam.

- - - - - - - - - - P H I L I P P I N E S - - - - - - - - - -

Quote ... Quote: There will be no surrender. We are not going to negotiate ... Dissent without action is consent.

Filipine Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, ex navy lieutenant,
holed up in the luxury Peninsular Hotel in Manila
as part of a farcical attempted coup,
on the point of surrendering, negotiating and ceasing action
by capitulating to the heavily armed forces surrounding the hotel.

For leading another coup attempt in 2003,
- which, coincidentally, also fizzled out in a Manila hotel -
he and fellow coupsters had been on trial in Manila when,
shortly before the verdict was due to be delivered,
they broke out of the courthouse and invaded the nearby Peninsular.

The Philippines is a constitutional democracy
led by its elected executive president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,
daughter of a previous elected president succeeded by Ferdinand Marcos.

- - - - - - - - - - U S - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Probably, the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in Southeast Asia.

US presidential hopeful Barak Obama tries to impress US voters
by revealing the fountainhead of his vast expertise in foreign affairs

Quote: Well, now the fun part starts.”

Hillary Clinton announces that she's going to start attacking Barak Obama,
who is her chief rival for the Democratic nomination

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

Quote: Ireland will be the laughing stock of Europe if its citizens reject next year's European Union treaty referendum.”

Charlie McCreevy, Ireland's EU Commissioner for the Internal Market,
addressing the Association of European Journalists. 

What he means is that he, personally,
will be laughed at by his fellow Commissioners,
which he clearly doesn't relish. 

The populations of the EU - all but Ireland denied a referendum
- will be applauding the Irish if/when they vote No.

Latest Irish polls say 25% are minded to vote Yes,
12% No, while 63% are Don't-Knows.

- - - - - - - - - - U K - - - - - - - - - -

Quote (minute 10): “The House has noted the Prime Minister's remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean, creating chaos out of order rather than order out of chaos,

Vince Cable, acting leader of Britain's Lib Dems,
demolishes Gordon Brown at Prime Minsters Questions on 28 November.

No wonder Lib Dem colleagues are asking him
to enter the race for the party leadership.

Misquote: Mila kura si planina

English opera star Tony Henry singing the Croatian national anthem
in front of a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium,
before Croatia dumped England 3-2 out of the Soccer Euro 2008 competition. 

Only thing is, he should have sung Mila kuda si planina
You know my dear how we love your mountains). 
What he actually sang was
My dear, my penis is a mountain”.

English bravado or English incompetence?
Either way, the delighted Croatians have adopted him as their soccer mascot.

[Hat tip: Sporty Graham in Perth]

Misquote: The British Empire at its peak was even better than America.” **

Rowan Williams, (caricature of an) Archbishop of Westminster,
head of the Anglican Communion,
talks more of his usual anti-American anti-freedom drivel,
in a typical act of dhimmitude,
while he continues to fear US success in Iraq.

He was giving a (dhimmi) interview to the Muslim magazine Emel

**The actual headline reads, Archbishop of Canterbury: US ‘is worse than the British Empire at its peak’”


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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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