Click to access RSS




























































































































To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search


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

You can write to

bulletISSUE #26 - 2nd February 2003
bulletISSUE #27 - 9th February 2003
bulletISSUE #28 - 16th February 2003
bulletISSUE #29 - 23rd February 2003

ISSUE #29 - 23rd February 2003 [93]

bulletPresident Chirac Embarrasses His Citizens
bulletMugabe Evicts Landless Black Farmers
bulletIraqi Kurds Will Lose from the War
bulletIraqi Defence Minister Under House Arrest
bulletTraffic Congestion and Plastic Bags
bulletBeware Extended Warranties
bulletNip in the Air
bulletWacko Jacko's Face in Real Time

President Chirac Embarrasses His Citizens

The French left can thank themselves for stupidly engineering the re-election of right-of-centre President Jacques Chirac by a thumping majority last May.  Because they wouldn't unite around their front-running candidate, the Socialist Party's Lionel Jospin, then Prime Minister, their votes in the first round were shared among Jospin (16%), Arlette Laguiller (Workers Struggle, 6%) and five other left-wing candidates totalling a further 9%.  This allowed Jean Marie Le Pen, the poisonous leader of the semi-Nazi Front National to sneak in as runner-up (with 17%) behind Chirac (on 20%).  Aghast, the left were forced in the two-candidate second round to vote overwhelmingly (82%) for their mortal enemy Chirac just to keep out Le Pen, who got 18%.  

Emboldened by this landslide, Mr Chirac is now running rampant on the world stage, determined to get noticed at any cost, convinced of his own invincibility, annoying his friends and embarrassing his countrymen.  

In recent weeks he has : 

bulletblocked at every turn attempts by America and its friends to deal decisively with the unarguable threat posed by Saddam Hussein in the only manner Saddam understands, and cajoled Germany and Belgium to join him (to form the so-called axis of weasel” !); 
bullettried to veto the deployment of NATO matériel to defend Turkey in the event Iraq mounts a war-driven counter-attack (to its credit, NATO found a procedural way to outflank him); 
bulletberated the many would-be EU member states because they openly sided with America over Iraq (they were, he fumed, dangerous, reckless, infantile, not very well-behaved, badly brought up, frivolous; they missed a great opportunity to shut up, and their action could reduce their chances of entering Europe); 

greeted that racist murderer, Zimbabwe's tyrannical President, Robert Mugabe (see photo and next article), as an honoured guest at the Elysée Palace in defiance of EU sanctions.  Britain's shadow foreign secretary, Alan Duncan, called Chirac's fulsome welcome to the 22nd bi-annual France-Africa Summit the bloodiest handshake of the year”. 


Leading Germany's Gerhard Schröder and Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt in opposition to America's Iraq policy in the axis of weasel, or Old Europe as Donald Rumsfeld prefers to call them, Mr Chirac is banging on about a transatlantic America/Europe split.  

He is very mistaken.  

Of the 15 existing EU countries and 10 planning to join in May, only three - Germany, Belgium and France - openly oppose America.  The remaining 22 either publicly support America (Britain, Spain, Italy and ten others) or remain silent.  

Thus Mr Chirac's split is within Europe itself, and Old Europe is in a distinct minority.  America is but a spectator in this dance macabre.  

However his personal vanity comes first, above any consideration of world security.  Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how he will endeavour to save his face when presented with a second UN resolution next week authorising war.  Or, indeed, when war breaks out.  

This is not a time when honourable Frenchmen - the vast vast majority - can feel very comfortable with their leadership.   He is an embarrassment.  

Back to Index

Mugabe Evicts Landless Black Farmers

According to Africa Confidential, a British-owned newsletter analysing the situation throughout Africa, a recent Zimbabwe government audit of the country's land reform programme, has backfired, causing embarrassment to the President Robert Mugabe.  This is because it has found (suprise, suprise) that numerous senior politicians, military officers and Mugabe relatives have been using corruption and violence to evict landless small farmers (all black) ­ the very people the President claimed the land reform policy would help. 

Moreover, not only has the policy precipitated a catastrophic fall in food crop production which, along with the regional drought, is causing some seven million Zimbabweans to go hungry but, above all, the policy has financially benefited the nomenklatura of Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

The report of those violating the one man, one farm rule reads like a list of the ZANU-PF elite and their allies.  

I'm not sure why I'm relaying this information.  it contains nothing we didn't already know.  But it is notable that the report has been written by the Government itself, which of course has instantly tried to suppress it.  

Luckily, Africa Confidential manage to obtain a copy.  

Back to Index

Iraqi Kurds Will Lose From the War

Towards the end of the First Gulf War in 1991, when it was quite clear the Iraqi armed forces were going to be ejected from Kuwait, the then US President George H Bush, father of W, used the radio waves and dropped leaflets to encourage ordinary Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein, saying that the West would back them up.   

Vast numbers of Iraqis believed him, particularly the non-Arab Kurds in the North-east and the Shi’ite Muslims in the South.  Fifteen out of eighteen provinces staged joyous uprisings across the country.  But they shouldn’t have trusted H, because the American back-up never arrived.  Instead, Saddam’s ever-loyal Republican Guard arrived from Baghdad and brutally put down the rebellions, killing everyone in sight, driving the Kurds and Shi’ites into their respective hinterlands.   

bulletRead Memories of a Free Iraq by Zainab Al-Suwaij, a courageous Iraqi lady who experienced all the euphoria, abject disappointment and suffering of those momentous times. 

When the slaughter was over, notwithstanding their terrible suffering, the result was, however, not all bad for the Kurds and Shi’ites, because the Americans and British set up no-fly zones over northern and southern bands of the country.  

Saddam’s forces were not permitted to patrol them, either by land or by air, which effectively turned these areas into military protectorates. 

The Kurds in particular seized this opportunity with gusto, and quickly - 

bullet set up their own Kurdistan Regional Government
bullet elected the suave Dr Barham Salih of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan as their Prime Minister and 
bullet opened for business.  

Within a short time, 

bulletrazed villages were rebuilt, 
bulletschools and hospitals sprung up, 
bullet use of the Kurdish language was permitted/encouraged, 
bulleta free press was fostered,  
bulletoil revenues were re-invested in infrastructure, 
bulletfarming flourished, 
bullet manufacturers set up enterprises, 
bullet trading blossomed.  

And the sanctions on the rest of Iraq have served as an additional business opportunity for ambitious Kurdish traders. 

So, over the intervening decade, the Kurdish protectorate has come more and more to resemble a sovereign country, to the delight of its inhabitants.  But neighbouring Turkey and Iran are not happy at all, as they see their own restive Kurds watching this development enviously.  Moreover, the three sets of Kurds live above many of the largest oilfields of the area, so you can see why Turkey, Iran and Iraq have a common interest to keep the Kurds divided rather than let them coalesce into a single entity. 

Meanwhile, the forthcoming war now puts the Iraqi Kurds in a bit of a dilemma.  

bulletOf course on the one hand they could not be more pleased to see the back of Saddam after all he has done to them.  
bulletOn the other hand, a successful war will result in a new pan-Iraq regime, hopefully democratic, but certainly acceptable to the Americans. 

And the first things that the new Iraqi government will do, under the approving gaze of the rest of the world, will be to unify Iraq, abolish the no-fly zones, lift all the sanctions, re-open the oilfields, and encourage trade and industry, while benign foreigners pour in copious aid for reconstruction. 

But that means no more special status for the Kurds, no more sanctions-busting opportunities and the end of their dream of having their own state. 

There is no doubt that once Saddam is overthrown and the Americans and their allies march in to Baghdad, the streets “will be filled with jubilant Iraqis”, as Dr Salih last month told the Socialist International Council in Rome. Let us remember, he said - 

bulletthe joy of liberation in Rome in June 1944,
bulletthe scenes of cheering crowds in Kosovo in June 1999, 
bulletthe Afghans who danced in the streets in November 2001.

Liberation did not create paradise in any of these places, but it created hope and opportunity. 

On balance, I am sure the apprehensive Kurds will be rejoicing as well.  

But it is well to remember that they are one group of Iraqis that will conceivably be worse off after liberation. 

Back to Index

Iraqi Defence Minister Under House Arrest 

The Guardian reports that, to prevent a coup, President Saddam Hussein has placed under house arrest his heir-apparent and defence minister, whose daughter is married to Qusay, Saddam's 36-year-old younger son.   Several other high-ranking military and government officials have also apparently been arrested in the past few days. 

Apprehension is growing in Baghdad that the Iraqi army, including the elite Republican Guard, might desert in the event of an attack.  

As well they might.  The American forces will give them the choice of certain death or humane treatment as POWs.  

As for the commanders, their choice will be 

bulletgrave (death), 
bulletcave (a lifetime in Tora Bora or equivalent), or 
bulletHague (a war-crimes trial and sentence).  

The abiding fear of Saddam's senior lieutenants that I wrote of last September is devouring them from the inside outwards.  

Saddam is right to fear for their loyalty.  

Back to Index

Traffic Congestion and Plastic Bags

According to the (subscription-only) Economist, Britain has the most congested roads in Europe.  London in turn has the most congested roads in Britain.  

For this reason, London's rabidly socialist mayor, Red Ken Livingstone, turned capitalist last week by introducing a controversial £5 congestion charge for those driving into the city's eight square mile central area.  

His numerous opponents within the Labour party hierarchy, Labour's opponents the Conservatives, the motoring organizations, the media, and not a few actual car-drivers all avidly awaited disaster in the form of chaos on the roads as the scheme came into effect on 17th February.  

Disappointment.  No bedlam.  

bulletTraffic in central London was down 25%, 
bulletthe roads were clear, 
bulletbuses that should have been stuck in jams piled up in the terminals, 
bulletonly 10% of cars failed to pay the congestion charge.  

The media were especially forlorn because there were no calamities to report.  And that's more or less been the story ever since.  As it would had the charge been only £1.  

That the scheme is proving so successful could have been predicted by anyone 

bulletwith a passing understanding of humans' abhorrence of paying for something they're used to getting for nothing, and 
bulletwho had been a recent  observer of plastic bags in Ireland.  

Plastic bags ?

A year ago, as discussed in a previous blog, Ireland introduced a spectacularly successful government tax of just €0.15 on every plastic bag given out free by shops, supermarkets etc.  This was in order to cut their polluting usage, while raising cash for environmental causes.  With people resolutely refusing to part with fifteen cents for a lousy supermarket bag to carry home their €100-worth of groceries, bag consumption dropped overnight from 1.2 billion per year to just 200,000, raising around €10m per year in the process.  The reduction in plastic bags cluttering up the streets, stuck in hedgerows, floating around in the air, is palpable.  


In both cases, it is not the size of the levy that deters people, nor the effect on their bank balances.  


It is the principle of the damn thing.  Never underestimate the perversity of human nature.  

Back to Index

Beware Extended Warranties

Earlier this month, the Consumers' Association lambasted the extended warranties sold by electrical retailers, saying they were "too expensive, generally go unused and you'll probably get a better deal elsewhere". Last year, the Office of Fair Trading made much the same point.

Dixons claims to be Europe's largest specialist retailer of consumer electronics.  John Clare, its new Group chief executive has taken exception to the attack on extended warranties and has written a public letter in response.  But it's not at all convincing.  

He asserts that because we buy more electrical/electronic products today than a few decades ago, we suffer more breakdowns.  

bulletThis is technically true, the absolute number of breakdowns has indeed gone up.  
bullet But it's mathematically dishonest.  For with vastly improved reliability built in to modern products, the breakdown rate per device has reduced substantially.   

Therefore this is no reason to buy an extended warranty, which is sold per device. 

Dixon's extended warranty apparently covers things like 

bulleta toddler sticking toast in the VCR, 
bullet bra wires jamming in the washing machine, 
bullet dropping a digital camera in the sea or 
bullet spilling coffee on your keyboard.  

Great, but so will your household contents insurance.   

Mr Clare publishes a table in his letter which shows - extraordinarily - that you can expect that between a third and all of the white goods and TVs you buy from Dixons will break down within three years, and within five years many of them will break down twice !  He tells us this to convince us to take out Dixons' extended warranty.  

Rather, it is a clear sign never ever ever to buy any of these utterly untrustworthy items from Dixons.  An own goal if ever there was one.  

In summary, 

bulletExtended warranties are a waste of money; it is rare to have to claim.  
bulletIf you do suffer from a breakdown, 
bulletyou may well be covered by the original warranty of usually twelve months, sometimes longer;
bulletor you may well be covered by existing sale-of-goods legislation which protects all consumers against faulty merchandise; 
bulletand in any case just calling an independent repair man will usually be cheaper.
bulletAccidental damage will already be covered under your household insurance.
bulletBut if you still want an extended warranty, shop around.  The shop selling you the goods is rarely the cheapest supplier of the warranty. 

The only positive thing to say about extended warranties is that they are great little earners for the shareholders.  

Back to Index

Nip in the Air

On 3rd May, the world's first nudist flight leaves Miami for Cancun Mexico with 170 lucky tourists.  Castaways Travel, a Texas agency which specialises in nudist holidays and cruises, has chartered the aircraft and will transport passengers afterwards to the nudist El Dorado Resort and Spa for a week's holiday. 

The airline has agreed to increase cabin temperature for the comfort of the naked passengers, but has insisted that towels are placed on all seats.  No hot beverages or ice-cold drinks will be served; all meals will be catered at, er, blood temperature.  To protect the tourists' privacy (very shy people these), Castaways is keeping the flight time and airline's name secret

If you want to join, hurry.  They're still looking for bums on seats (provided you use the towels).  A seven-day holiday costs just $3,100 for four cheeks.  

Back to Index

Wacko Jacko's Face in Real Time

Last November, I wrote about Michael Jackson and his ghastly plastic plastic surgery.  

You can watch the deterioration of his face over his lifetime by clicking on the image on the left. 

Back to Index


ISSUE #28 - 16th February 2003 [74]

bulletThe Blix/Baradei Report and Debate
bulletUndermining the UN, NATO, EU
bulletLove-Sick Royals : Margaret, Charles & Edward
bullet Cricket World Cup Wobbles
bulletSingle Black Female

The Blix/Baradei Report and Debate

So Doctors Blix and El Baradei have delivered their Valentine's Day report to the UN Security Council, chaired by the redoubtable Joschke Fischer of Germany’s Green party (the premier refuseniks in Europe).  

There is something in it for everybody. 

Iraq, the inspectors said, is continuing to co-operate in “process”, and has started to in “substance” by, for example, permitting scientists to be interviewed in private, U2 overfights (Bono eat your heart out), fewer minders of inspectors, commissions to investigate what happened to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, decrees forbidding further work on WMD.  More inspections, they believe, will lead to more co-operation in substance. 

bulletThis is exactly what France, Germany and Russia want to hear as it provides cover for further appeasement.  Let’s carry on inspecting and have another UN progress meeting in a month's time, which will no doubt result in another step-up in co-operation and an opportunity for a further month of inspections and reports, until the weather gets too hot and/or the troops too bored to fight.

On the other hand, inspectors criticize the Iraqis for failing to cooperate actively and unconditionally.  They say it possesses banned missiles and facilities to construct new engines. Moreover, Iraq continues to fail to account for 1,000 tonnes of deadly  anthrax and VX nerve gas.

bulletAnd this is what the warmongering US, UK, Turkey, Spain etc want to hear as it provides evidence of the material breach for which the UN Resolution 1441 requires “serious consequences”, ie war.  

Each side argues that it’s own interpretation of the situation is correct.  Yet only one can be right.  To see which, you need to read the resolution in detail, because it is very cunningly crafted with the express purpose of providing clarity and removing wriggle-room.  

Here are a few key points : 

 1441 Stipulates

Which Means ...

Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations

This puts the onus on Iraq, not the inspectors, to prove it is no longer in material breach

The Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations

Continued violations” 
continued material breach” 
serious consequences” 

The resolution affords a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations

One opportunity to comply, not a string of partial compliances

Iraq must make a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems

A single omission is a breach, and the inspectors have found several, including : 


those chemical weapons shells;


non-accounting for the 1,000 tonnes;


missile-building facilities.

How many breaches equal a material breach ?

Demands that Iraq co-operate immediately, unconditionally and actively with UNMOVIC and the IAEA If they were doing this, Doctors Blix and El Baradei  would be only too delighted to say so

False statements or omissions in the declarations and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach

The inspectors state unequivocally that Iraq is failing to comply fully.  This is self-evidently a continuation of the pre-existing material breach

Other than the Iraqi ambassador, nobody at the UN debate :


claimed that Iraq has fulfilled its obligations, 


denied that serious consequences means military action, 


disputed that, just three months ago, Resolution 1441, which threatens serious consequences for material breach, was passed unanimously by the council’s 15 members.   

The key words are complete, unconditional”, “immediate.  Resolution 1441 deliberately makes no provision for half-measures, steps in the right direction, making progress” and as such they represent continuation of the material breach.  To use such phrases as a reason to prolong the inspection regime is to wilfully flout 1441.  

So will the UN Security Council really sanction the overt flouting of its own unanimously-adopted, legally-binding demands ?  


If so, it will have become a paper tiger.  


And how ironic it would then be if America and those who choose to join its coalition were to uphold the Council’s Resolution 1441 in the teeth of opposition from many Council members.  

However I don’t believe it will come to that.  Before 16th March, the Council will have specifically authorised, by a majority and with no veto, the use of force to disarm Saddam

Now for those peace marches on 15th February.  

We are told one million anti-war protestors (1.7% of the UK's population) turned up at Hyde Park and proportionately comparable levels in other cities around the world.  Huge numbers, but are they a majority ?  Those who, like myself support the Blair/Bush position, were not there.  Does our absence make us a minority ?  Sky TV conducted a UK poll the next day in which 


56% advocated immediate action against Iraq, versus  


26% for more inspections and 


just 16% who rule out war altogether.  

Also, I am reminded of a brilliant Alistair Cook Letter from America a couple of weeks ago.  He recalled that in 1938, 10 million British voters out of 11 million signed an unconditional peace ballot whose slogan was against war and fascism”, which is like being “against hospitals and disease”.  How wrong they were as Hitler and events proved.  But in fairness, they backed the war as soon as it broke out.  

We are all in favour of peace.  But being responsible for 


saying the words or 


taking actions that have consequences 

are two quite different things.  Blair and Bush are right to trust their own consciences in this matter.  They will have to live with the consequences.  The protestors will not.  

It seems to me that the major part of the anti-war movement have become so obsessed by a rabid anti-Americanism that they prefer to support a genocidal tyrant against the liberation and democratic aspirations of his own people.  Why else would you not want to remove him ?  

Finally, I recommend you read Tony Blair's stirring and coherent speech delivered on the day of the marches.  Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane.

Reader Michael comments, The American and British armed forces are acting as world policemen. With, we hope and trust, the full authority of the United Nations they will execute their policing duties, release the peoples of Iraq held hostage and apprehend the master criminal and his gang of thugs. How can anyone demonstrate against police carrying out their duty?”  I certainly can't.  Read the full letter

Back to Index

Undermining the UN, NATO, EU

We are hearing a lot at the moment about how 


America is undermining the UN by threatening to go to war with or without another resolution; 


France, Germany and Belgium are undermining NATO by refusing to allow NATO equipment to be mobilised to defend Turkey; 


Britain, Spain and others are undermining the EU by openly siding with America over Iraq rather than with France and Germany.  

Here is a philosophical question.  

How do you determine who is doing the undermining ?  For if you and I have different views, am I undermining you or are you undermining me ?

In all three examples above, you can make a plausible case for saying the opposite party is actually the underminer.  It’s not at all clear cut.  

I guess what it means is that if from time to time a multilateral body finds itself unable to act in unison, it either has to live with that uncomfortable reality, hope it doesn't happen too often and move on.  Or else be prepared to disband itself.  

In either case, the failure, if that’s what you want to call it, belongs to the body as a whole, not to particular constituent members.  

Maybe it’s time for some of these bodies to rethink and perhaps reconstitute their structures.  Why should they stay the same forever ?

Back to Index

Love-Sick Royals : Margaret, Charles & Edward 

I must have been really bored last week because I found myself watching two programmes on ITV about Britain's Princess Margaret and Prince Charles respectively.  

But they set me to thinking.  


Many share the view that Princess Margaret led a pretty pointless existence, where regular hedonistic splurges in her Mustique paradise were interspersed with deadly-dull royal engagements  back in Blighty, along with half-hearted wifely duties and occasional childrearing.  And as, with the help of copious quantities of whiskey and cigarettes, she grew old and frail ahead of her time, even the holidays withered away, until she died a year ago.  

It is often claimed that the turning point for her was in 1955 when she wanted to marry the love of her life, Group-Captain Peter Townshend, a dashing RAF fighter pilot hero of World War II.  Inconveniently, though, he already had two children and a wife, although she obligingly agreed to a divorce when his affair with Margaret became known. 


Nevertheless, a princess marrying a divorcé was seen as unseemly and neither Parliament nor her sister the Queen would accept it.  This, we are told, broke her heart and her life began to deteriorate from then on.  


The Queen never objected to the marriage.  She merely said that if it went ahead, Margaret would have to forego 

bullet her title, 
bullet her £6,000 annual stipend (= £¼m today), 
bullet her royal palace, and then
bullet live outside England.  

In other words, become an ordinary wife.  

This was unthinkable for Margaret who adored her creature comforts and so she dumped the hapless Townshend.  

Her heart was so broken that only three months later she was engaged - for a while - to a Billy Wallace.  A few years later she married photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones and produced two children, before reverting to her party-centred lifestyle.  


We all know (though don’t remotely understand) that Prince Charles was desperately unhappy being married to the enchanting Princess Diana, because all along his heart belonged to the more, er, robust Camilla.     

But commentators never ask the simple question, why didn’t he marry the love of his life, whom he knew (in the biblical sense) long before Diana ?  


The reason is rather straightforward.  Camilla was (and remains) a Roman Catholic.  And you can't just resign.  You need to be formally released by the senior bishop of the land after a lengthy bureaucratic process, which very few undergo.  So once a Catholic, always a Catholic.  

In 1701, Parliament passed the so-called Act of Settlement” designed to pacify belligerent Scottish and English Protestants who wanted to ensure the likes of Catholic bonny Prince Charlie (the First) or James Stuart II would never again ascend the British throne and rule over Protestants.  The Act stipulates that the sovereign may neither become nor marry a Catholic.  Jews, Buddhist, Muslims, Hindus, Rastafarians - they’re all fine.  But no Catholics please.  

So had he married Camilla, he couldn’t have become King, and this was too heavy a price to pay.  So enter Protestant Diana whose job was to produce an heir and a spare (which she did).  Mean while, in the best traditions of monarchy, Charles continued to cavort with Camilla, then herself married, to their mutual hearts' content.  “There were three of us in the marriage”, declared Diana.  

So don’t feel sorry for Charles. His disastrous personal life is entirely of his own making, driven by his desire to be King.  Regardless of whether the British people want him or not (which many don’t).  


Then there’s King Edward VIII.  In 1936, just a few months after ascending the throne on the death of his father George V, he faced similar choices to those of Margaret and Charles when he fell for twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, she who said, a woman can never be too rich, too thin or have too many silk blouses  

But Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister of the day, told him that if he (that is Edward, not Stanley) were to marry her, he would have to surrender his throne and move into exile.  


And, no quibbles, that’s exactly what he did.  He accepted demotion to Duke of Windsor, she became his Duchess and they moved to France.  And, as far as we know, the two of them lived more or less happily ever after in peace and tranquillity.  

What a shame his niece and grand-nephew chose to ignore his admirable example.  Rather than marry the spouses they wanted, they chose lives of personal misery instead, for the sake of hanging onto their pathetic titles, fat income and juicy perks.  

So we needn't feel a bit sorry for Margaret or Charles.  

Back to Index

Cricket World Cup Wobbles

Under intense political pressure, England last week pulled out of their opening Cricket World Cup game in Zimbabwe and will thus be punished – 

bulletthrough loss of World Cup points since Zimbabwe has been deemed to have won, 
bulletfinancially because a fine will be imposed, and 
bulletby cancellation of Zimbabwe’s planned summer tour of England.  

But England’s cricketers have used the mealy-mouthed and dishonest excuse of players’ safety.  Dishonest because the personal security of 20-odd people for a few days can always be assured with sufficient resources (bodyguards etc).  It only costs money, and the English Cricket Board has plenty.  

The real reason is honourable disgust at the tyrannical and brutal behaviour of the racist president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, toward unfavoured sections of his own people.  So in exchange for the heavy price the English cricket team are paying, they won’t even get the kudos of having taken a moral stand against Mr Mugabe. 

But cricket seemed to be taking second place as the World Cup kicked off last week.  There were : 

bulletthe English boycott; 
bulletblack armbands bravely worn by Zimbabwe’s Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, who issued a passionate statement about the death of democracy” in their country; 
bulletShane Warne, Australia’s cricket hero and an international icon, being drummed out of South Africa in disgrace after failing a drugs test (how dumb can you get ?).  

At least, though, there has now been some actual cricket at last.  Let's hope it will remain the principal feature for the rest of the tournament.  

Back to Index

Single Black Female ....
seeks male companionship, ethnicity unimportant

I’m a very good looking girl who LOVES to play. I adore long walks in the woods, riding in your pickup truck, hunting, camping, and fishing trips, cozy winter nights lying by the fire. 

Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand. Rub me the right way and watch me respond !  I’ll be at the front door when you get home from work, wearing only what nature gave me. Kiss me and I’m yours.

Call xxx-xxxx and ask for Daisy.

This ad recently appeared in the Classifieds section of the New York Times.  


Over 15,000 men found themselves talking to the 
local Humane Society about an 
eight-week-old black Labrador retriever.

Back to Index

Gerhard Schröder : I speak to Germans daily, and to say they are embarrassed by their leader is putting it mildly.  At least one reader seems to share my own negative views about him.  See the full letter.  


ISSUE #27 - 9th February 2003 [89]

bulletGerhard Schröder Going Downhill
bulletKilling People on Building Sites
bulletCut-Price Airline Triopoly to Duopoly
bulletPresident Dobby of Russia
bulletA Tale of Two TV Interviews
bulletWorld War 2.5

Gerhard Schröder Going Downhill

Gerhard Schröder, of the Social Democrats (SPD) came into office as Germany's Chancellor in 1998 full of socialist dreams.  He booted out out the 15-year incumbent Helmut Kohl of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who then rapidly lost grace as his financial shenanigans came to light (corruption the consequence, as always, of being in power for too long).  

Mr Schröder's main promise was to get unemployment down - in fact he said he would not deserve to be re-elected unless be got it to below 4 million.  

Well, four years later unemployment had climbed to 4½m but he got re-elected last September anyway, though only by the skin of his teeth.  Today it's 4.6m, or one in nine.  (Actually, because the figures get massaged, some say the true jobless count is closer to 6m - the nightmare figure associated with the country's pre-Nazi Weimar era of the 1920s and early 1930s)

Now, however, his world is falling apart as his venality becomes apparent to all.  


Throughout his rule, the economy has remained sluggish:

last year's GDP growth was just ½% or less 


the Government spends almost 50% of GDP, compared with 33% in the US, 


40% of workers' earnings go in payroll and income taxes, and 


people angrily accuse him of waiting until after his re-election to reveal a large hole in the budget.  


And as the economy continues to stagnate, he has signally failed to introduce meaningful reform of Germany's pandemic anti-business bureaucracy.  

For example, German stores, to this day, are forced to close from Saturday lunchtime until Monday.  


Meanwhile, he has raised taxes, which has angered voters and cut consumer spending. 

Raising taxes is typical of a venal socialist politician when faced with cost-overruns, rather than the tougher option of cutting costs which is what a competitive business has to do.


On Iraq, he acknowledges that Saddam is an evil dictator, but says he will not support the US in a war under any circumstances, whether or not the UN supports one.  

What kind of policy is that ?  


Is it designed to make Germany ignored as a serious participant in world affairs ?  


Oh, and Germany currently holds the presidency of the UN Security Council !


In his rush to demonise President Bush's warmongering, he seems to have forgotten that it was the Americans who :

liberated his countrymen in 1945 from their mad dictator Hitler (just as they will liberate the Iraqis from Saddam),


protected the West Germans for 45 years from the threat of the Soviet Empire, and then defeated it,


Forced an end to the Yugoslav war when Germany (who provoked it by prematurely recognizing breakaway Croatia) and the other Europeans could only dither,


Charged nothing for the aforesaid services. 


He successfully sued a German newspaper for daring to suggest that he dyes his hair 

Has he nothing better to do with his time ?


He is trying to sue Britain's Daily Mail for suggesting he has marital problems with wife number 4, Doris.  

NicknamedAudi” for his four wedding rings, again has be nothing better to do  ?


His opinion poll rating has plummeted from 55% on re-election to 33% in December.  Furthermore, according to pollsters Forsa :

69% say his ability to run the country is minimal” 


His SDP has sunk to 27% approval compared to 49% for the rival CDU conservatives.  


He has just suffered a humiliating defeat in regional elections, including his home state of Lower Saxony, which means the SDP has lost control of the Bundesrat (upper house) to the CDU with whom he will now have to co-habit”.   

This is a man who has lost the desire and ability to lead.  

He seems to have no ideals of his own, no views that he is prepared to argue and advance in the face of opposition.   Instead, he will do only what the loudest protesters tell him he should do.  He has become a follower not a leader.  

But it looks like the German people have finally found him out.  They're sick of him.  My prediction is he will be driven from office well before completing this his second term as Chancellor.  

Back to Index

Killing People on Building Sites

Ireland is not unique in the poor safety record of its building industry, but it's worse than many.  

It's accident rate in recent years - insofar as accidents are even reported - was 8.1 lost-time accidents per million man-hours worked, which, for example, is at least 

30% worse than that of the UK building industry, and 


twice as bad as that of the worldwide oil drilling industry 


Click to enlarge

Last year 22 construction workers were killed, which for small country of only 4m people is an awful lot.  

There have been demonstrations in the streets of Dublin and calls for tougher safety legislation.  Such demands, while well-meaning, are however misplaced.  

Accidents only happen due to one or more of just three things: 

  1. inadequate procedures; 

  2. inadequate knowledge of procedures; 

  3. inadequate motivation to apply known procedures.

Only management, starting with the CEO, can resolve all three things. And unless the CEO is personally motivated to protect his workforce, and demonstrates this by his own daily behaviour, his organisation will continue to hurt and kill people.

His daily behaviour might include: 


reviewing every safety incident; 


making regular safety inspections; 


joining or leading safety audit or investigation teams; 


ensuring safety measurements are made and publicised so everyone knows whether safety is getting better or worse;


giving safety talks to the workforce; 


making safety the first item on the agenda of every meeting; 


unequivocally backing up anyone with safety concerns; 


ensuring adequate training is provided as required; 


treating sub-contractors with the same respect as his own employees.

The CEO also has to motivate his own managers to ensure that 


adequate procedures exist, 


the workforce is trained, 


people willingly comply with the procedures and 


their own daily behaviour demonstrates their personal commitment. 

This is a continual and strenuous process. It doesn't cost much money but it takes an awful lot of effort. The reward is always a dramatic reduction in accident rates.

No amount of legislation or threats will result in anything close to what will be achieved if the CEO is, on a personal level, utterly and demonstrably committed to keeping his workforce alive and healthy.

CEOs alone can reduce the building industry's appalling death toll.

But an awful lot of them are driven by but one safety objective : doing just enough safety things to stay out of jail. 

The Irish Times published a letter from me last week along these lines.   

Back to Index

Cut-Price Airline Triopoly to Duopoly

Five weeks ago I wrote about how the three European cut-price airlines, Ryanair, Go and Buzz, compete only with the major airlines, never with each other.  

Well, just as Easyjet bought Go from British Airways a year ago, a couple of weeks back Ryanair suddenly purchased Buzz from KLM (for a bargain £24m).   

Before Ryanair 
bought Buzz

After Ryanair 
bought Buzz

Ryanair, Easyjet and Buzz flew to and from no fewer than 102 airports in fifteen European countries.  

But only seventeen of these destinations were serviced by two of the airlines, and only one – London’s Stanstead – by all three.  

Ryanair and Easyjet now fly to and from no fewer than 102 airports in fifteen European countries.  

But only fifteen of these destinations are serviced by both the airlines, and no route is duplicated.  

See this tabulation for the details.

In other words, the Cut-Price Airline Triopoly I wrote of last time has now become a Duopoly offering the customer even less cut-price choice.  

Someone once said, competition is all about avoiding competition.  Just look at Ryanair and Easyjet.  

Meanwhile, Ryanair has set about slashing costs at Buzz (17½% layoffs) and imposing its own low-cost work model.  

No wonder Ryanair's share price has been performing so robustly compared with, say, British Airways.  

Back to Index

President Dobby of Russia

Harry Potter has made it to the Tallrite Blog for an unprecedented second time.  

A key character in the movie Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is Dobby, a short, pink, filthy, floppy-eared, pointy-nosed, bug-eyed house-elf who tries to discourage Harry from returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft.  
The Russians are understandably enraged. 

They rightly ask how dare their president allow himself to be distracted from 

bulletthe crumbling Russian economy,
bulletthe Iraq crisis and
bulletother vital affairs of state

in order to put on funny clothes and become embroiled with a child's truancy. 

Harry Potter websites and chatrooms have been inundated with angry Russians posting messages, while Russian lawyers are threatening to sue Warner Bros for wasting their president's time or something.  In the best traditions of Kremlinology, however, the President himself is maintaining gritted-teeth silence.  Read all about it in Novaya Gazeta (in Russian of course).   

  How different things are in laid-back Holland.  The Dutch think nothing of their talented former prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, leader of the Christian Democrats, changing into short pants to learn the occult arts of witchcraft and calling himself Harry.  

Perhaps he is right now applying some of the magic he has learnt in order to renegotiate himself back into the prime minister's slot following last month's general election.  

Back to Index

A Tale of Two TV Interviews

Two compelling TV interviews of weird middle-aged men last week - 

Journalist Martin Bashir (of Princess Diana interview fame) spent eight months following, filming, quizzing and embarrassing Michael Jackson; 


Long-running British MP and former post-office minister Tony Benn sat down for a polite chat with Saddam Hussein with no nasty questions.  

Both interviewees surround themselves with yes-men - Mr Jackson by using his enormous wealth, while Mr Hussein prefers torture and murder (he killed his doctor for diagnosing him as schizophrenic).  Both clearly have no concept of the real world out there, as their respective staffs only dare tell them those things they want to hear which merely reinforces their own misbeliefs and values.  


Some say that Tony Benn, smiling benignly at his friend, made the case for war more cogently than Colin Powell.  Suddenly we saw what we were up against, face-to-face, lying and mocking, and it galvanised even the most faint-hearted.


Others have transcripted the real (unexpurgated) Benn interview - Quote Let me tell you my friend - and through you the world - that Iraq has never possessed such weapons. And those we had, we never used. And even when we used them it was purely in self-defence. And then we destroyed them. Except for some warheads and bombs that got lost.”


 Still others just got the whole thing mixed up.  Fighting back tears, Saddam Hussein lashed out at the British interviewer who, he said, has left me distraught and humiliated.  I welcomed him into my family. I let him hold the hand of my son-in-law. Then I made him put it back on the mantelpiece.

Aren't you glad not to be weighed down with the burden of fame.  

Back to Index

World War 2.5

Try this for a doomsday scenario; it's excellent (if that's the word).  

World War 2.5 is the name given to the upcoming war against Iraq.  Hope this version is only a game and not a forecast.  

Back to Index


ISSUE #26 - 2nd February 2003 [128]

bulletState of the Union Speech & Polls
bulletAmerica's Threats
bulletStop-the-War Movement
bulletCND Fears Too Much Nuclear Disarmament
bulletSuicide Bomber Condemned
bulletLula da Silva at Davos
bulletHow Good Is Your Credit ?
State of the Union Speech & Polls 

Sky News broadcast a replay of the  “retarded monkey-moron's spell-binding State of the Union speech from 9 to 10 am on Wed 28th January, which I watched.  Simultaneously, they launched a phone-in poll asking British viewers whether President Bush had made the case for war.   The results developed during the day like this : 

  "Has President Bush 
Made the Case for War ?"



0900 hrs -    Start of State of the Union Speech



1000 hrs -    End of Speech



2200 hrs -    12 hours later



It just shows how a good speech with a strong rationale, skilfully presented, can rapidly change people's views.  

Never misunderestimate W.  

Back to Index

America’s Threats

Since the awful attacks of September 11th, the US in its war on terror has issued a number of pretty naked threats.  (Though not to the Taliban in Afghanistan, who were just attacked and overthrown.)  

America's threats have been directed not only at Saddam but also to the UN and to its friends and allies, with some interestingly benign results.  Consider a few of them.  

bulletThreat : Having dispatched the Taliban, America threatened, convincingly, to invade Iraq to enforce the numerous binding UN Resolutions on Iraq that have been passed since the Gulf War ended in 1991 and routinely flouted ever since.  President Bush told the UN that if they didn't take action to enforce their own resolutions he would. 

bulletThe result : Fearful of making itself irrelevant, the Security Council voted unanimously for Resolution 1441, calling for Saddam 
bulletto make an arms declaration, 
bulletto accept weapons inspectors and 
bulletto disarm, 

or else face force.  

bulletThe other result : Saddam accepted Resolution 1441 and re-admitted inspectors, having booted them out four years earlier.  

No amount of polite diplomacy would have achieved either result.  

bulletThreat : Hans Blix has now issued his well-balanced report.  
  1. It says his inspectors have found no hoard of forbidden weapons (thus he's not in breach say France, Germany and others), but 
  2. it also says that Saddam has provided no evidence of having destroyed them (which is a material breach say the US).  

America now wants to bring a second resolution to the UN Security Council to authorise an attack, yet threatens to attack anyway even if it doesn't get it.  

This puts France, Germany, Russia and China, all of them keen to avoid war, in a quandary.  
bulletIf they support the Resolution, they will be forced to share responsibility for it.
bulletIf they don't, not only will they once more make the UN irrelevant, but they will be cut out of any opportunities that arise out of the rebuilding or Iraq, and the $8 bn Iraq owes to Russia will be in jeopardy.  

bulletThreat : Meanwhile, France's TotalElfFina, Russia's Lukoil and China's CNPC have respectively signed huge oil deals with Saddam’s regime linked to the lifting of sanctions.  If these countries try to obstruct the war, there is every chance America will ignore the three agreements and award them to oil companies from supportive countries.  
bulletYou can be sure America has made them well aware of this threat.  
bulletThreat : France will be feeling threatened from yet another, more personal angle.  Although they hate the idea of the war going ahead, they hate even more the thought of being left out of it.  For them, French pride, prestige and influence will be damaged in the eyes of the world, especially of their beloved Francophone countries, if their own troops are not seen playing a prominent rôle.  A reader suggests that the French may also fear that a successful war might expose sanctions-busting.   

The effect of these pungent threats all point in one inescapable direction.  The Americans will get their second UN Resolution authorising the use of force, although perhaps not unanimously.  And they will attack at the head of a willing coalition.  Crucially, none of the permanent members will veto it, although my guess is that China will abstain.  

And if some members are voting yes despite not believing in the war, they will be voting for their own national interests.   

But the most curious aspect is that, apart from launching the war itself, none of the threats will have been consummated.  And it is a moot point whether they ever would have been as they would have caused enormous damage to Western alliances.  It was sufficient for the threatened parties to think the threats might have been serious.  

A classic game of poker.  

Back to Index

Stop-the-War Movement

Many people are strongly opposed to launching a war against the Iraqi regime under any circumstances.  They are entitled to their view, but would be much more convincing if they would come up with reasons backed by logic.   Even to say, I think Saddam causes fewer innocent deaths than would a war to remove him would be at least be coherent.  But they never say anything coherent.  

Have a look, for example, at the UK's Stop the War" website.  It is very busy, crowded with lots of information, but is basically dishonest.  
bulletIt's full of exciting material about past and future demonstrations in different countries
bulletThe names of hundreds of distinguished supporters are provided
bulletYou are invited to take part in online and offline petitions
bulletThere is an appeal for participation and funds (£20 yearly subscription); 
bulletTwo CDs are for sale, with noxious titles like Public Enemy “Son of a Bush” (though actually some of the tracks are quite good)
bulletThere are judiciously selected extracts from Hans Blix' recent report to the UN Security Council, yet no link to the entire text (it's here by the way).  

Above all, however, there is not a single mention of an alternative strategy for dealing with Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction.  No weighing of the pros and cons of war with a view to showing that on balance war should be rejected.  Just phrases like inspire people towards non-violent action against the War on Terror”, whatever that means.  

This kind of approach only serves to underline the vacuity of the anti-war movement.  The pro-warriors are bursting with reasons for launching the attack, which may be good or poor.  But why do the vociferous anti-warriors never 

bulletconfront the issues ?
bulletpick holes in the pro-warriors' arguments ?
bulletlay out their own case ?
bulletparticipate in mature evidence-based debate ?

One excellent item on the website, however is this chart which shows who has nuclear weapons, with the US and Russia each holding 20 times more than anyone else.  But again, left-wing dishonesty shows through.  North Korea isn't shown at all. 

Back to Index

CND Fears Too Much Nuclear Disarmament

Billy Fitzpatrick is the Chairman of the Irish branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  He recently wrote to the (subscription-only) Irish Times decrying the upcoming war against Iraq.  

Is it not odd that Irish CND should object to action whose primary purpose is to prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons ?  

It is as if CND is afraid it may have to disband if there is too much disarmament.  

In the same issue, Mary van Lieshout of US Citizens in Ireland for Alternatives to Waralso decried the war, but she provided no alternatives to war.  (Of course such people never can).

What is it with these organisations? 

Neither could come up with a coherent response when I put these points in the following day's issue of the newspaper.  

Back to Index

Suicide Bomber Condemned

Richard Reid, the self-confessed suicide shoe-bomber and self-proclaimed soldier, was convicted in Boston last week, and in passing sentence, Judge William Young delivered a stinging rebuke.  

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist.

And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists.

We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.

You hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.

We will bear any burden, pay any price, to preserve our freedoms.

The sentence was massive : 

bulletLife imprisonment, plus
bullet4 x 20 years + 30 years = 110 years, plus
bulletFines/Restitution of $250k + $2m + $298 + $5,784 + $800 = $2.26m.  

For a young suicide-bomber, the thought of living out your long life in a hostile prison is about as dreadful a prospect as one can imagine.  Because he is someone who - 

bullethas psyched himself up to die; 
bulletas a martyr, has been promised eternal happiness in heaven (including those 70 virgins);
bullet is convinced he is a holy warrior; 
bullet has been encouraged, nurtured and revered in these beliefs by all those around him.  

And so he is not afraid of dying (a quick, painless death of course).  Even death by judicial execution.  

But to rot forever behind lonely prison walls, despised if not forgotten ?  

Even the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay will have some (probably misplaced) hope of one day being freed.  But not Richard Reid.  

His sentence will give pause to many other would-be suicide bombers who want to ply their wicked and godless trade against the West.  

Back to Index

Lula da Silva at Davos

Lula da Silva, Brazil's new socialist president, was born in penury in 1945.  He started work at age seven selling peanuts, tapioca and oranges in São Paulo, and by 12 he was a shoeshine boy, dry-cleaner and office boy.  In adulthood, he learnt to be a lathe operator and mechanic, and as a metalworker became a fiery and radical trade unionist leader, eventually founding the Workers Party in 1980 which launched his political career.  

So he was greeted with some trepidation a couple of weeks ago when he rose to address the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, that talking shop of the world's heartless capitalists and business billionaires.  

But his impassioned speech had them entranced.  

bulletHe urged rich countries to "create a global fund to fight poverty"
bullet"Many times, poverty, hunger and misery are the trigger for fanaticism and intolerance", he declared
bullet"We still see walls that separate 
bulletthose that eat from those that are in hunger; 
bulletthose that have jobs from those that are jobless; 
bulletthose who live in dignity from those who live in the streets or in shanty towns"

But his punch line was 

bullet"Export efforts will be worth nothing if the rich countries continue to preach free trade and practice protectionism."  

This was a forthright attack on the West's protectionist policies in the huge areas of agriculture, textiles and steel.  

bulletNot only do these disgraceful policies keep poor countries poor by shutting out the lucrative markets in the rich countries, 
bulletbut it also punishes rich Western consumers by forcing them to pay exorbitant prices for uncompetitive home-produced goods.  

The honesty of Lula's hard-hitting speech made him the star of the whole conference, and as he sat down, the chamber filled with applause and cheers.  

He has made a most impressive start to his presidency of the world's fourth largest democracy.  

Back to Index

How Good Is Your Credit ?

If you've ever been refused credit, you might wonder how you've ended up blacklisted, so to speak.  

Central records are kept of your credit standing and behaviour which banks and credit companies consult before offering you a loan.  

You're a good risk if you : 

bulletHave lived at your current address for at least three years
bulletReceive a regular income, the higher the better
bulletHave been in your current job/business for three or more years
bulletAre married but childless (as far as lenders are concerned, DINKYs - Dual Income, No Kids make good borrowers)
bulletAre over 30 (they assume the older you get, the wiser you become with money)
bulletAlready have a good credit history and/or have no adverse credit history
bulletHave a home telephone.

Another very important factor is the number of applications for credit you've made. This is registered on your file and it counts against you if you've been applying for credit willy-nilly over a short period of time.  

If you live in the UK, for £2 you can check what your file holds from Experian or  Equifax.  Other countries have their equivalent sources of credit information.  

Worth checking, if only to correct any misinformation that may be filed away. 

Back to Index

Back to Top of Page

Return to Tallrite Blog


Now, for a little [Light Relief]

Hit Counter

2013 RWC7s Logo

Gift Idea
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home

Click for details  “”

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.

ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,

Support Denmark and its caroonists!

Thousands of Deadly Islamic Terror Attacks Since 9/11



Adam Smith  

Alt Tag  

Andrew Sullivan

Atlantic Blog (defunct)

Back Seat Drivers

Belfast Gonzo

Black Line  

Blog-Irish (defunct)

Broom of Anger 

Charles Krauthammer

Cox and Forkum

Defiant  Irishwoman  

Disillusioned Lefty

Douglas Murray

Freedom Institute  

Gavin's Blog 

Guido Fawkes


Internet Commentator

Irish Blogs

Irish Eagle

Irish Elk

Jawa Report

Kevin Myers

Mark Humphrys 

Mark Steyn

Melanie Phillips

Not a Fish

Parnell's Ireland

Rolfe's Random Review


Sarah Carey / GUBU

Sicilian Notes  

Slugger O'Toole

Thinking Man's Guide

Turbulence Ahead

Victor Davis Hanson

Watching Israel

Wulfbeorn, Watching



Awareness Project



Iona Institute
Skeptical Bible  

Skeptical Quran  



Razzamatazz Blog  

Sawyer the Lawyer

Tales from Warri

Twenty Major

Graham's  Sporting Wk


Blog Directory


Discover the World


My Columns in the


Irish Times


Sunday Times


 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

Rugby World Cup 7s, Dubai 2009
Click for an account of this momentous, high-speed event
of March 2009

 Rugby World Cup 2007
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.


After 48 crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are, deservedly,

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

No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes

Over the competition,
the average
points per game =
tries per game =
minutes per try = 13

Click here to see all the latest scores, points and rankings  
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by