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


This archive, organized into months, 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 blog-at-tallrite-dot-com

February 2004
bulletISSUE #66 - 1st February 2004
bulletISSUE #67 - 15th February 2004
bulletISSUE #68 - 22nd February 2004

ISSUE #68 - 22nd February 2004[150+153]

bulletPalestinians Condemned to Unthinking Leadership
bulletMaking Light of Slaughter
bulletTrilateral EU Meetings Upset Others
bulletGay Marriage
bulletJohn Kerry's Accidental Heroics
bulletAchievement by Arithmetic
bulletQuote of the Week

Palestinians Condemned to Unthinking Leadership

Raymond Dean is one of Ireland’s leading contemporary composers.  With over 80 compositions and operas to his name, he is an accomplished musician with a well-deserved reputation. 

However, that’s just his day job.  For he is also Chairman of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and I recently attended one of his talks about the Palestine question. 

He gave an excellent review of the history of modern Palestine and the creation of Israel, starting with the arrival in 1882 of the first Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, which I have summarised and fleshed out below.

Early Zionism


bullet the Jews pursued their Zionist dream with single-minded vision, organization and determination, and 
bullet the British as the occupying power up to 1945 showed benign neglect and a desire to get out
bulletthe Arabs just wandered about disorganized and not really understanding what was going on in their homeland and being ignored by both the Jews and the British. 

Then came the newly founded UN’s (non-binding) Resolution 181 in 1947, which established the State of Israel in 55% of the Palestinian lands and handed the West Bank to Jordan.  It was swiftly followed by further post-Holocaust Jewish immigration and the build-up of a well armed Israeli Military.  

The UN resolution was however rejected by most Arabs, understandably.  But their rejection also means that the areas occupied by the Palestinians do not form a State and are thus, in effect, unallocated land.  (This is important, because it means the so-called occupied territories where Israel has built settlements are in fact disputed territories.)  


In 1948 the first Arab/Israeli war broke out, which resulted in defeat for the Arabs.  Israel took the opportunity to ethnically cleanse some 750,000 Palestinians, who became refugees and whose numbers have today swollen to nearly four million. 

Some years later, Gamel Abdel Nasser, the strongman president of Egypt, began to flex his muscles, culminating in the nationalisation of the Suez canal in 1956 (to finance building the Aswan Dam).  Outraged, the Israelis, British and French invaded Egypt to reclaim it, only to have to retreat humiliatingly under disapproving US financial pressure.  This was the Arabs’ first and sole victory over Israel, albeit only because of the Americans. 

Following the Suez crisis of 1956, the PLO was formed and Yasser Arafat emerged to found Fatah, both bent on armed guerilla resistance to the Jewish presence in Israel/Palestine.  

Meanwhile, Nasser, spurred on by victory and thus now a hero, talked of uniting the Arab nation and “driving the Jews into the sea”.  He found a ready audience among not just Palestinians but all Arab countries, who spent fortunes on armaments.  In alarm, Israel prepared for war, simultaneously provoking Nasser by encroaching on demilitarised zones between Israel and its neighbours. 

In June 1967, Israel pre-emptively attacked all its neighbours at once. In just six stunning days, it 

bulletdestroyed their air forces and armies on the ground, 
bulletreunified Arab East Jerusalem with Israeli West, and
bulletthe Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, 
bulletthe West Bank from Jordan, and 
bulletthe Golan Heights from from Syria.

Shortly afterwards, the UN passed (non-binding) Resolution 242 which essentially calls for three things :

  1. Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the conflict (territories, not the territories);
  2. The need to achieve a just settlement of the refugee problem;
  3. Acknowledgment of the right of every States in the area to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

From then to now, the Arab/Palestinian side and its advocates continually stress the first two items but remain silent on the third.  

But so long as the Arabs ignore #3, they provide a cast-iron excuse for the Israelis to ignore #1 and #2. 

The weary story goes on.  

bulletIn 1964, Yasser Arafat assumed leadership of a merged PLO/Fatah and they set themselves up in Jordan as the pre-eminent violent resistance movement against Israel.
bulletBut by 1970, Jordan felt they had become so powerful its own sovereignty was threatened, so evicted them (they ended up in Lebanon) and killed over 100,000 resident Palestinians deemed to be PLO supporters.
bulletThe Yom Kippur war of 1973 resulted in another Arab defeat.  
bulletIn 1980 the Israelis returned the Sinai Peninsular to Egypt in return for recognition and peace (it cost Egyptian president Anwar Saddat his life).  
bulletIn 1982 they invaded Lebanon to drive out the PLO, and turned a blind and shameful eye to the Christian massacres of Palestinians in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps.
bulletIn 1991 the PLO backed Saddam against the US, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and in effect suffered yet another defeat.  

Peace Beckons

Finally, 1993 brought something positive : the Oslo accords between the PLO and Israel, the first real peace process.  It earned the Nobel Peace Prize for Mr Arafat and Israeli ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin (and Rabin his assassination).  

Mr Arafat returned home to chair the new Palestinian Authority after a pseudo-election, and aid money poured in.  The process sputtered on, with acts of bad faith on both sides, throughout Bill Clinton's presidency until, just before it ended, he eventually managed to corral the two antagonists in Camp David in a final thrust for peace.  

Yet as we know, the Camp David talks between Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 failed, and the current deadly intifada broke out, with no end now in sight.  Several first-hand recollections have been published of what went on and why the talks collapsed, but they are biased towards one side or the other and frequently conflicting.  You therefore have to read an array of different accounts to get some sense of what actually happened.  The New York Review of Books has published a good series of such articles featuring the memories Robert Malley (pro-Palestinians), Dennis Ross (pro-Israelis) and Mr Barak.  

From these and the pro-Palestinian views of Mr Dean, this is my best understanding of what happened and why.  

The basis of the 1993 Oslo accords was that a series of relatively easy steps would be taken by each side over time.  This would build the confidence to negotiate the most contentious issues (Jerusalem, settlements, refugees) at some later undefined date.  The easy concessions were always easy; but they did not make the hard concessions any easier, so the tough items were never tackled at all.  The process was eventually going nowhere. 

Mr Barak's big idea at Camp David in 2000 was therefore to tie everything, big and small, into one great all-or-nothing deal, and nothing would mean no Oslo either.  High risk, high reward.  But he was afraid to put his proposals all on the table at once, or in writing, for fear Mr Arafat would grab the concessions and run.  Therefore they were communicated personally and verbally by Mr Clinton as a series of what-ifs”.  

For his part, Mr Arafat apparently never wanted to attend in the first place - so I wonder why he did.  Nevertheless, once  there he was so acutely suspicious of a trap, that he gave no serious consideration to any of the proposals and just said no to everything for two solid weeks, to the exasperation of Mr Clinton.  

Other than vague threats of a unilateral declaration of independence, he made no proposals of his own whatsoever and eventually just walked out and launched the present violent intifada.  He was not helped by the internal wrangling and indiscipline of his own team. 

Mr Barak's offer for peace was so extraordinarily broad it might never have been sold to the Israeli population.  It is quite incredible that Mr Arafat turned it down, letting Mr Barak off the hook :  


A demilitarized Palestinian State would be established on some 92% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip,


with some territorial compensation for the Palestinians from pre-1967 Israeli territory.  


Most of the settlements would be dismantled, with the bulk of the settlers concentrated inside the 8% of the West Bank to be annexed by Israel;


East Jerusalem would become the Palestinian capital, with the various  Arab and Christian neighborhoods reverting to either sovereign Palestinian territory or Palestinian functional autonomy.  


Temple Mount, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, would come under Palestinian custodianship though remain under Israeli sovereignty.  


Refugees would be settled in the new Palestinian state, though with no right of return” to Israel.  


A massive international aid program would be organized to facilitate the refugees' rehabilitation and compensation.

There can be only one conclusion from Camp David.  

That Mr Arafat was simply incapable - or (more likely) selfishly unwilling - to make peace.  He knows only war and sees no function for himself in a peaceful landscape.  

The Palestinians' Curse

This encapsulates the curse of ordinary well-meaning Palestinians, and indeed citizens in nearly all Muslim countries.  Most are led by corrupt, illegitimate, selfish thugs such as Mr Arafat, and no analysis or thought goes into their wild actions.  

This was the very lament of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed in his (in)famous valedictory speech to last October's Islamic Summit Conference in Kuala Lumpur, remembered for the line The Jews Rule the World by Proxy”.  But his true message was that fourteen centuries of Muslim failure are because Muslims, unlike Jews, lash out blindly at their enemies, instead of thinking first.  In fact, as Muslim pundit Irshad Manji says in her new book The Trouble with Islam, their clergy actively prevent free thought and this has led directly to failure.  

Until Mr Arafat goes, to be replaced by a thinker with 

bullet some sort of democratic legitimacy, 
bullet a genuine desire for a solution and 
bullet an ability to think, perhaps like the short-lived previous prime minister Abu Mazen

the Palestinians have absolutely no hope for peace or victory, regardless of how many suicide-bombers their cowardly leaders dispatch.  Their outlook is truly bleak.  

The Israelis, surrounded by large enemies who openly want to drive them into the sea, are thoughtful, determined, strong, armed with nuclear weapons, democratic and have nowhere to go.  They will never give up or be defeated.  Those Holocaustan words “never again” ring in their ears.  

Back to Index

Making Light of Slaughter

A curious little kabuki of words was played out last week in the columns of the (subscription-only) Irish Times and on RTÉ's Liveline radio programme.  

It began innocuously when Arthur Morgan, a Sinn Féin TD (member of the Irish Parliament) complained on 12 February that the Minister of the Environment sometimes poses for the cameras surrounded by comely models.  The Minister, he said, is treating women wearing brightly coloured and unusual attire ... as ornaments in campaigns ... to enhance a photo and get him publicity ... He should remember he's a Government Minister, not Michael Schumacher, and instead be encouraging the participation of women in politics and decision-making.  How very worthy.  

Sean Ward then wrote in to ask whether Mr Morgan also had  a problem with four Sinn Féin TDs (including Mr Morgan) being photographed, smiling proudly, beside the killers of Detective Jerry McCabe in Castlerea Prison last year ?  

Garda McCabe had been shot dead during a post office robbery in 1996 by thugs who claimed they were members of the IRA, even though the IRA was on ceasefire at the time.  Seventeen bullets were fired in two bursts.  Four men were convicted and are currently serving sentences of up to fourteen years.  

Last September, Sinn Féin published in its weekly newspaper An Phoblacht the photo in question, taken within Castlerea Prison (but unfortunately I have been unable to locate a copy to share with you).  

Mr Morgan quickly responded to Mr Ward by saying the real question should be, Why are the prisoners convicted of involvement in the tragic events that led to the death of Garda McCabe still in jail, when they should have been released a long time ago, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement ? 

That's where I stepped in with an innocent question.  Is that clumsy phrase in red a new Sinn Féin euphemism for convicted killers

The debate then shifted to the airwaves, or tried to.  Mr Morgan refused to come on air to defend his words fearing he would be ambushed”.  Three other Sinn Fein TDs likewise refused to come on air.  From slaughtering Garda McCabe, the discussion moved to the ethics of the IRA's blowing up of Lord Mountbatten in 1979 together with an old lady and two young boys.  Other ex-IRA Shinners made verbose attempts 

bullet to avoid calling killers killers, 
bullet to avoid apologising for killing bystanders, 
bullet to justify killing for Ireland.  

It went on for three days.  The level of Irish fury at IRA behaviour and Sinn Féin dissembling was extraordinary.  I've never heard anything like it.  

Sinn Féin needs to keep well out of such public discussions in the future if it doesn't want to be heavily punished in the polls.  

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Trilateral EU Meetings Upset Others

On 10th October 2001, Belgium in its role as EU President, hosted a summit of EU leaders at Ghent.  But Romano Prodi, Silvio Berlusconi and others took great offence when Jacques Chirac set up a private one-hour pre-meeting with Gerhard Schroeder and Tony Blair to discuss Afghanistan.  It was unprecedented for such a meeting of EU leaders to take place outside the framework of the EU.  

Then just three weeks later, even more umbrage was caused when Tony Blair invited Messrs Chirac and Schroeder to 10 Downing Street for a private little dinner party for further talks about ejecting the ruling Taliban out of Afghanistan.  

Mr Berlusconi and Spain's José María Aznar wondered why they were being excluded, considering the earlier row.  Oh, all right then,” Tony Blair eventually told them, “you can come to my dinner party too”.  

Not good enough.  Hours before the aperitifs were served and the hors d'oeuvres hit the table, Guy Verhofstad, prime minister of Belgium which then held the EU presidency and - oddly - the EU's “High RepresentativeJavier Solana demanded an invitation, so they got one too.  So, at short notice, poor Cherie had to increase the seating arrangement from a cosy three to a bad-tempered seven.  And still the other non-invited EU leaders were grumbling.  

How then was Gerhard Shroeder able last week to assemble the same Big Three Cabal that had got Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair into hot water, with barely a squeak out of the rest of the EU, nor even EU President Bertie Ahern of Ireland, today's EU President ?  Maybe because no food and drink was involved.  

But the others have made it clear that they have absolutely no intention of implementing any of the bright ideas about competitiveness dreamt up by the Cabal.   So there.  

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Gay Marriage

The case against gay marriage is based on the axiom that marriage is the union of a man with a woman.  To extend it to same-sex unions would “undermine” the “sacred institution” of true marriage. 

The case for is anti-discrimination.  If straights can marry each other why not gays? And if gays commit to each other through marriage, it would surely reduce undesirable promiscuity amongst gays, while in no way affect a single marriage of the man-woman variety.  

Where to go from here ?

First, the “sacred institution” is already grievously undermined – by heterosexuals.  For what other function has divorce?  And the more liberal the divorce laws, the more undermined is marriage.  There is great entertainment in Britney Spears’ 55-hour marriage and Zsa Zsa Gabor’s eight, not to mention Henry VIII’s six which started it all (in the English-speaking world anyway).  But these and countless other examples of a frivolous approach to marriage all serve to undermine its central tenet – that it should be an inviolable union “until death do us part”.  With easy divorce available on demand, we can therefore – unless constrained by religious beliefs – go into marriage in a much more relaxed state of mind than if it were a real life sentence.  

And for a further “undermining” of marriage, just think how in France you can even marry a corpse, which of course begs the question does it only dissolve when the second partner dies?  (Or, indeed, when the corpse dissolves.)

Thus, there is surely a case for having two discrete institutions.  


One would be an inviolable lifetime union (“marriage”) with no possibility of divorce, a contract closely aligned with religious customs, a marriage that is essentially un-underminable. 


The other would be a civil union with clauses dealing with, inter alia, duration.  For example a one-year, five-year, ten-year term, or evergreen union, renewable or otherwise, with or without mutual termination provisions.  This would be deliberately flexible in nature, requiring only that the couple agree terms and conditions before signing up.  Underminability would be built in. 

Each type of union would attract the same civil advantages of marriage, such as tax breaks, inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights etc.  But the civil union would permit people with doubts to be more honest in their vows. 

Now for the gays. 

Reserving marriage for man-woman unions (excluding corpses and animals) is not actually discriminatory.  


For no gay is prevented from marrying someone of the opposite sex; 


likewise, the institution is equally closed to same-sex unions whether the participants be heterosexual or homosexual.  

This may sound pedantic, uncompassionate, unreasonable, but it's not discriminatory. 

Under a two-union regime, the more flexible civil union would be open to same-sex couples, though not marriage.  This would take care of all the factors, real or imagined, that undermine traditional marriage. 

In the longer term, as society becomes more accustomed to the concept of gay civil unions, people may see that gays would not be undermining traditional marriage, and that many are opting for lifetime durations - and sticking to them.  In that case, it will be time to re-consider whether marriage be opened to gays after all. 

But it is too much of a leap to do so in one fell swoop today.  It is more pressing to re-establish marriage as a sacred institution for those who want it. 

Late Note (January 2008): Over the following three years or so, I changed my position somewhat.  Like, totally.  Have a look at Recognizing Non-Marital Unions, which I posted in November 2007 and my newspaper column and discussion which followed this.

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John Kerry's Accidental Heroics

We’ve heard the stories.  George Bush is a faithful deserter; John Kerry is an adulterous war hero.  Mark Steyn picks the two scandals apart in a scabrous piece. 

But let’s have a closer look at the war hero part.  

Where Mr Bush wangled himself into the Texas Air National Guard and became a fighter pilot, Mr Kerry volunteered for Vietnam service in 1966, which was very patriotic, courageous and creditable.  However by volunteering instead of waiting to be drafted, Mr Kerry was allowed to choose his service.  He chose the US Navy, where only pilots were seeing much combat and he wasn’t a pilot.  Moreover it positioned him to try for officer candidate school, a cinch for a Yale graduate.  All in all, an excellent Vietnam survival plan. 

According to “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War”, he spent his first few months of duty serving on a ship offshore, the frigate USS Gridley, far from the reach of the Vietcong.  By the time he was an officer, he asked in 1968 for the command of one of the small aluminium vessels, so-called “Swift” boats, that were confined to doing uneventful (and safe) Coast Guard patrol duty off Vietnam. 

But it was his bad luck that a few weeks later the mission changed, and the Swifts were sent perilously up Vietnamese rivers into the heart of the enemy, essentially to draw its fire. So it was that Mr Kerry saw action, largely against enemy (and sometimes civilian) junks.  In fairness he distinguished himself in combat, earning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.  He was also wounded, which qualified him for an early trip home, which he gratefully took.

Mr Kerry is to be admired for his undoubted heroics under fire, but it is relevant to point out that he faced action despite every effort he made to avoid it, and he then bailed out at the earliest opportunity. 

He was an accidental hero. 

Meanwhile, Mr Bush’s own Vietnam survival plan had him flying F102 fighter planes all over Texas and keeping the Mexican Airforce at bay.  Though he was no hero and faced no combat, last week’s piece below – Baa Baa Two Bags Full” – suggests that even his war was not all beer and skittles.  Though by all accounts there was plenty of beer. 

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Achievement by Arithmetic

From a strictly arithmetical viewpoint It goes like this:

What makes one hundred percent ? 

What does it mean to give MORE than 100% ? Ever wonder about those people who say they are giving more than 100% ? We have all been to those meetings where someone wants you to give over 100%.  How about achieving 103% ? What makes up 100% in life ?

Here's a little arithmetical formula (thanks, Zeynap) that might help you answer these questions:




























is represented as: 




























K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E becomes

11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%,



8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%,



1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%, 



2+21+12+12+19+8+9+20 = 103%.

AND HEY, look how far ass kissing will take you.

A-S-S-K-I-S-S-I-N-G becomes

1+19+19+11+9+19+19+9+14+7 = 118%. 

So, one can then conclude with mathematical certainty that while 


Knowledge and Hard work will get you close, and 


Attitude will get you there,


Bullshit and Ass kissing will put you over the top.

Back to Index

Quote of the Week

Quote : “Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear.

John Edwards, the only remaining serious challenger 
to frontrunner John Kerry,
and the candidate the Republicans fear most,
reminds Mr Kerry in Wisconsin t
hat his 40%-to-34% lead is only slender

[162]    Back to Index


ISSUE #67 - 15th February 2004 [112]

bulletJournalism During the Iraq War
bulletGang Warfare in Warri, Nigeria
bulletMark Humphrys
bulletBaa Baa, Two Bags Full
bulletStrange Body Movements
bulletQuote of the Week

Journalism During the Iraq War

I attended a seminar recently on ethics in the media, and found particularly interesting the concluding talk by Richard Downes, a foreign correspondent with Ireland’s state broadcaster RTÉ, who covered the Iraq war from Baghdad.  Embedded or In Bed – The Search for Truth in  War”, but since it won’t be published for some months, let me share some key points. 

There were three principle categories of Western reporter in the lead-up to and during the war

  1. Those in Baghdad working for juggernauts like the BBC, CNN, Reuters, ITN, Fox, Sky

  2. Those in Baghdad working for minor broadcasters or freelancing

  3. Those embedded and travelling with either the US or British forces

He contrasted the role and freedom of the three categories. 

Not only were Category 1, because of their prominence, monitored by better-quality Iraqi minders.  But their 24/7 rolling news format, with live dispatches every 15 or 30 minutes, meant they could never leave the hotel, even for an hour, which necessarily restricted their ability to gather good quality data. 

Conversely, Mr Downes and his ilk in Category 2 could roam fairly freely, tell lies to their minders, evade them from time to time, hide proscribed broadcasting equipment, and thus see and talk to ordinary Baghdadis.  This enabled more of the human stories to emerge, such as a mini-epidemic of gastro-enteritis that broke out days before the war, just when hospitals were closing down and staff leaving for fear of what was to come. 

Nevertheless, Iraqi minders made special effort to keep reporters from seeing bomb damage in Baghdad, especially in the early stages of the war.  However, as the war progressed and they began to see the writing on the wall, those minders eased their draconian control and eventually slipped away back to their families.  

The world of the Category 3 embeds was very different again.  There were 777 of them, including - interestingly – one French crew embedded with the US forces.  Wearing the same fatigues as the soldiers, eating and sleeping among them, the embeds got to see real front-line action, but then were severely constrained by the Military in what they could report.  Each had been required to sign up to a stringent set of ground rules, with the sanction of being sent home (terminated”) should they disobey them.  (The US Military have made the rules available online as a 48kb pdf file here, but in such a difficult format that I have transcribed the document into a more reader-friendly version in htm here.) 

On first reading, the ground rules suggest a rather liberal regime.  However, everything broadcast was subject to clearance by the unit commander, and he was not generous.  The list of items forbidden to be broadcast made most reports thoroughly anodyne, as anyone who watched the broadcasts can attest.  Juicy bits left out would usually include identification of locations, troop numbers/types/names, aircraft, equipment, movements, methodology, tactics, special operations and – particularly – enemy effectiveness.  In other words, pretty much everything of interest. 

Yet, bizarrely, the ground rules end by saying that lipstick (yes) and helmet-mounted cameras on combat sorties were not only approved but “encouraged to the greatest extent possible” ! 

Only two journalists were actually de-embedded. 


Philip Smucker of the Christian Science Monitor was removed for speaking too freely to a CNN interviewer but it turned out he wasn’t properly embedded anyway. 


When Judith Miller of the New York Times embedded with a special operations team requested to be moved to a different unit because she was “unhappy”, she promptly found herself out of action in Kuwait. 

With information an intrinsic part of the war effort, the Military did not shrink from sometimes feeding false stories to their embeds, including the so-called


Basrah uprising


Fall of Um Qasr on the first day of the war (it is a tiny town which was many times reported to have fallen), 


Sudden break-out from Basrah of an Iraqi tank column.

For embedded journalists, therefore, the Military that was hosting them was in fact the enemy of good journalism.  Dedicated journalists had to resist the trap of becoming military mouthpieces and find every way to circumvent the restrictions without being terminated.  Similarly it was the Military’s job to prevent this, because for them information”, the journalist's stock-in-trade, was often “intelligence”, to be guarded jealously. 

For non-embedded journalists, such as Mr Downes, the problem was the Iraqi Ministry of Information and its minders.  Therefore it was incumbent on reporters to bribe, ignore, lie to and subvert the officials in every way possible.  This included applying both low-tech and high-tech solutions as appropriate.  He gave the example of spending just $500 on a wooden hut installed on the roof of the Palestine Hotel, in which he could lock himself in order to use sophisticated recording and transmitting equipment unsupervised. 

In the modern age, no major military operations will again be undertaken without close media observation.  For this reason, the Military has in recent years set about acquiring the skills necessary to deal with the media.  Even the tiny Irish army has sponsored officers on MA and PhD courses in media studies. 

Likewise, however, it is equally incumbent on journalists to acquire military skills, yet the media industry has by and large been derelict in this area.  No media outlet would assign to a business story a reporter who lacks financial expertise.  But they think nothing of sending into military situations reporters who have no knowledge at all about military matters. 

Mr Downes concluded his talk with a plea for journalists to recognize their need to acquire military expertise before going into battle again. 

From a reader's perspective, this talk drove home to me the need to read many sources for information about a war - embeds, non-embeds, major outlets, minor publications and of course blogs from both sides.  

In this way, as was the case with Iraq, you can get a reasonably accurate overall picture, which because of constraints and often flimsy evidence, no one reporter can project.  

Back to Index

Gang Warfare in Warri, Nigeria

By Guest-Blogger Michael

Historically, three major tribal groups inhabit the swampy region of the Delta State of Nigeria. 


The Ijaws, living in poverty and deprivation in the muddy inlets and channels of this part of the Niger Delta; 


The Itsekiri, seen as the wealthiest, landowners; and 


The Urhobo, a kind of middle class, or merchant.

In the lawless oil town of Warri (pop 600,000), these distinctions are hijacked by street gangs of disaffected youths battling for control of different swathes of the squalid conurbation, wherein they suck an evil living through protection rackets that gather piles of low value Naira notes from fearful stall holders, shopkeepers, small businessmen.

Behind and loosely controlling the street gangs, tribal chiefs play a crude game of territorial dominoes and front up with local political aspirants who stand for election for the few constituencies within the town. As an election season nears, so the general level of local violence rises.  

A recent election was preceded by nearly three months of kidnappings by Ijaws. Kidnap income is used to stock up with small arms and ammunition and so gain an upper hand on opponents.  Expatriate workers are especially favoured because they will always command much higher ransoms than locals.  

During those three pre-election  months, therefore, seventeen expatriates were kidnapped at various times by Ijaw youths. Some had been taken at gunpoint from popular bars late in the evening. Two Eastern Europeans were grabbed as they came out of Lords, the only gambling hall in town.  And most bizarre, the headmaster of the sole expatriate school and his four year old son were spirited away from the waterfront within an oil company residential camp. They were forced into the bottom of a dugout canoe, covered with blankets and paddled off to the nearest village.  

All in the end were freed in exchange for handsome if unacknowledged payments.  

Yet all this kidnapping and violence is having but one outcome : it is reducing the value of what the gangs are fighting for. Businesses are leaving Warri in droves and heading for Port Harcourt in the East, the oil companies are shifting their operations to there and thus the total wealth left in Warri reduces.  

The Ibos, Ogonis etc of the Port Harcourt area are smiling.  

Read the rest of Michael's whimsical tale Henry to the Rescue”, set against this backdrop.  

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Mark Humphrys

Last week I tumbled for the first time (thanks, Frank) on the blog of Mark Humphrys, robustly and unapologetically describing itself as 

bulletPro-free private life: Atheist. Pro-science. Pro-reason. Pro-free speech. Pro-liberal democracy.
bulletPro-free economic life: Pro-capitalist. Pro-West.
bulletPro-interventionist: Anti-isolationist. End tyranny everywhere. End communism. End Islamic law.

Particularly sparky is a recent ding-dong with the Irish Peace Society which he accuses of being 

anti-western-democracies, and pro-third-world-tyranny”.  

They take offense of course and what follows is a lengthy e-mail exchange.  

To give you a flavour, the IPS calls itself to be

a-political and non-discriminatory an all matters of race, ethnic origin, religion, sex and any other form of discrimination ... [and] seek[s] to promote the study, appreciation and awareness of peace ...

But Mark takes it to task for, inter alia, consorting with Hizbollah without condemning it for bombing the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires (in 1993 killing 29), as well as its other attacks on civilians.

I thought you were a peace society. Surely you would be against all killers?

Now I'm not against all killers myself. I'm in favour of the Israeli military for example. But then again I don't believe in peace and non-violence. I believe in western victory.

You don't often hear such a blunt defense of violence.  In similar vein, he fillets every pro-peace argument that the IPS advances.  Read the whole exchange, and other posts.  They're nothing if not entertaining, as well as thought-provoking.  

That's why I've added Mark to my blogroll.

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Baa Baa, Two Bags Full

Last November, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated (subscription-only) wrote the article below, titled War Games”, detailing his experiences when given the opportunity to fly in a F-14 Tomcat.  Thanks, Eileen, for alerting me.  

Now this message is for America's most famous athletes: Someday you may be invited to fly in the back-seat of one of your country's most powerful fighter jets.  Many of you already have ...  John Elway, John Stockton, Tiger Woods to name a few.  If you get this opportunity, let me urge you, with the greatest sincerity... 


Move to Guam.


Change your name. 


Fake your own death!


Whatever you do ... 


Do Not Go!!!

I know.  The U.S.  Navy invited me to try it.  I was thrilled.  I was pumped.  I was toast! I should've known when they told me my pilot would be Chip (Biff) King of Fighter Squadron 213 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. 

Whatever you're thinking a Top Gun named Chip (Biff) King looks like, triple it.  He's about six-foot, tan, ice-blue eyes, wavy surfer hair, finger-crippling handshake -- the kind of man who wrestles dyspeptic alligators in his leisure time.  If you see this man, run the other way.  Fast. 

Biff King was born to fly.  His father, Jack King, was for years the voice of NASA missions.  (“T-minus 15 seconds and counting ...” Remember?) Chip would charge neighborhood kids a quarter each to hear his dad.  Jack would wake up from naps surrounded by nine-year-olds waiting for him to say, “We have a liftoff.”

Biff was to fly me in an F-14D Tomcat, a ridiculously powerful $60 million weapon with nearly as much thrust as weight, not unlike Colin Montgomerie.  I was worried about getting airsick, so the night before the flight I asked Biff if there was something I should eat the next morning. 

Bananas,” he said. 

For the potassium?” I asked. 

No,” Biff said, “because they taste about the same coming up as they do going down.”

The next morning, out on the tarmac, I had on my flight suit with my name sewn over the left breast.  (No call sign -- like Crash or Sticky or Leadfoot ....  but, still, very cool.) I carried my helmet in the crook of my arm, as Biff had instructed.  If ever in my life I had a chance to nail Nicole Kidman, this was it. 

A fighter pilot named Psycho gave me a safety briefing and then fastened me into my ejection seat, which, when employed, would “egress” me out of the plane at such a velocity that I would be immediately knocked unconscious. 

Just as I was thinking about aborting the flight, the canopy closed over me, and Biff gave the ground crew a thumbs-up.  In minutes we were firing nose up at 600 mph.  We leveled out and then canopy-rolled over another F-14. 

Those twenty minutes were the rush of my life.  Unfortunately, the ride lasted eighty.  It was like being on the roller coaster at Six Flags Over Hell.  Only without rails.  We did barrel rolls, sap rolls, loops, yanks and banks.  We dived, rose and dived again, sometimes with a vertical velocity of 10,000 feet per minute.  We chased another F-14, and it chased us. 

We broke the speed of sound.  Sea was sky and sky was sea.  Flying at 200 feet we did 90-degree turns at 550 mph, creating a G-force of 6.5, which is to say I felt as if 6.5 times my body weight was smashing against me, thereby approximating life as Mrs Colin Montgomerie. 

And I egressed the bananas.  Baa.  I egressed the pizza from the night before.  Baa. 

And the lunch before that.  I egressed a box of Milk Duds from the sixth grade.  I made Linda Blair look polite.  Because of the Gs, I was egressing stuff that did not even want to be egressed.  I went through not one airsick bag, but two. 

Biff said I passed out.  Twice.  I was coated in sweat.  At one point, as we were coming in upside down in a banked curve on a mock bombing target and the Gs were flattening me like a tortilla and I was in and out of consciousness, I realized I was the first person in history to throw down. 

I used to know cool.  Cool was Elway throwing a touchdown pass, or Norman making a five-iron bite.  But now I really know cool.  Cool is guys like Biff, men with cast-iron stomachs and freon nerves.  I wouldn't go up there again for Derek Jeter's black book, but I'm glad Biff does every day, and for less a year than a rookie reliever makes in a home stand. 

A week later, when the spins finally stopped, Biff called.  He said he and the fighters had the perfect call sign for me.  Said he'd send it on a patch for my flight suit. 

What is it?” I asked. 

Two Bags.” Full. 

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Strange Body Movements

Two items for idle people.  


While sitting at your desk or behind your PC, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.  Now, while doing this, draw the number 6 a couple of times in the air with your right hand.  

Your foot will change direction and there's nothing you can do about it.


Now check out the liquid man

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “We know full well that these are difficult decisions but those single states which until now have enjoyed total sovereignty must learn to relinquish a part of that sovereignty . . . They must learn to take into account European interests rather than selfish national ones.”

Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy, 
advancing a novel concept, 
that national interests should take second place to EU interests, 
in order to persuade Spain and Poland 
to reduce their voting rights 
by agreeing the baleful EU Constitutional Treaty.

He actually means that Spain's and Poland's interests 
should take second place to Germany's and France's

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ISSUE #66 - 1st February 2004 [236]

bulletHuman Rights Watch and its Obfuscations
bulletEuropean Immigration and Repopulation
bulletHerbal Cigarettes
bulletGerhard Schroeder Standing Tall
bulletQueen of Clubs
bulletQuote of the Week

Human Rights Watch and its Obfuscations

I am getting a little weary of ploughing through weighty tomes or listening to worthy lectures by seemingly benevolent organizations that are the pillars of society, only to find them misleading or untruthful or - to coin a topical phrase - sexing up their message to ensure it fits with their ideology.  

I've written before about 

bulletthe corruption-loving Irish charities Trócaire and Concern, 
bulletthe UN’s dissembling Food and Agriculture Organization which claims hunger is getting worse when its own figures show the opposite
bulletthe worthless (and poverty-prolonging) Kyoto protocol so beloved by deluded environmentalists;  
bulletAmnesty International's reluctance to condemn Saddam's human rights abuses, lest it encourage military action and lead to fewer donations; also it's embrace of communist ideology for children

This time it's the New York-based Human Rights Watch in its latest 407-page Annual, titled World Report 2004: Human Rights and Armed Conflict(pdf, 1.6 Mb).  Broken into fifteen essays, its central message is that Messrs Bush and Blair should not try to justify the Iraq war retrospectively as an effort to save human life. 

Kenneth Roth, HRW's executive director has written the keynote essay, called “War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention”. It’s a long (5,700 word) rambling, turgid, piece riddled with repetition, generous with distortion and innuendo.  

And it seethes with spite for US Republicans.  All America's sins are committed in the 1980s and early 90s and during the War on Terror.  Curiously, none happened between 1992 and 2000.  

It’s heavy going believe me.  

The essay boils down to propounding six conditions which must be met to justify humanitarian intervention using military force, and then showing that these went unmet.  All but one make sense, but it is fascinating how Roth bends and shapes the evidence to prove his foregone conclusion.  

Let's look at them. 

Condition One :Only large-scale murder can justify the death, destruction, and disorder that so often are inherent in war and its aftermath.”  


As examples that meet this condition, Roth quotes the recent interventions in Congo, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, all led of course by France, backed by the UN and supported by the invaded Governments.  However he says the American participation in Liberia was so small it “had little effect” (tell that to the Liberians who begged them to intervene and whose arrival finally brought the fighting to a close).  

As for Iraq, he says the killings in 1988 (Kurdish genocide) and 1991 (suppression of the post-Gulf War Shi’ite rebellion) would have justified military intervention but it was not forthcoming (the Americans can get nothing right).  

By contrast, the killing rate in March 2003 was insufficient for HRW to warrant action – it  wants a peak of killing, not just a steady pre-war annual death rate of 30,000.  30,000 is the accepted number, and it comprises judicial and death-squad killings as well as avoidable deaths due to starvation, malnutrition and disease caused because Saddam hijacked the copious oil-for-food money.  

Imagine.  30,000 unnatural deaths a year - 82 daily - are too few to intervene.  

Condition Two : “Military action must be the last reasonable option to halt or prevent slaughter.”



Roth’s solution” is 

to apply public, diplomatic and economic pressure on Iraq (has he not  heard of 12 years of UN sanctions ?), and – wait for it – 


to indict Saddam at some international court.  


This would eventually have undermined Saddam and caused his downfall.  For evidence of success, he cites the fall of Serbia’s Slobodon Milosovic and Liberia’s Charles Taylor, while conveniently forgetting that bombs on Serbia and Western soldiers in Monrovia may have played just a miniscule role in destroying their respective power bases.  

In other words, the patent illogic of Roth's own ridiculous solution leads to the conclusion that military action was the last reasonable option.  

Condition Three : “Intervention must be guided primarily by a humanitarian purpose



The perceived threat of WMD, not humanitarianism, was undoubtedly the primary purpose of the war.   This of course gets rubbished by Roth in light of current knowledge, but at the time absolutely everyone believed those weapons were there.  Even, as we also now know, Saddam’s own generals. 


But Roth makes out that humanitarianism was only a “minor” factor, which is not true.  Look again at Tony Blair’s December 2002 dossier (pdf, 197 kb) on Saddam’s “crimes and human rights abuses”, whose sole purpose was to make the humanitarian case.  Unlike his other two dossiers, this was neither “sexed up” nor plagiarised from the internet, though Amnesty International hypocritically objected to the use of some of their data.  

However, I would maintain that Condition Three is in any case wrong-footed.  If the humanitarian purpose is strong, why does it also have to be primary ?  Another purpose may be even stronger, but that doesn't make the humanitarian one any weaker.  

Condition Four : “Intervention must itself respect international human rights and humanitarian law.“ 



I doubt there is ever a war that never contravenes this condition, yet there is no doubt that the US went to exceptional lengths to minimise civilian casualties.  Indeed, Roth can come up with only two examples, one questionable, the other relatively minor under the circumstances.

America used cluster bombs in populated areas (this is a fair complaint, though I am not sure if it's correct - I remember both accusations and denials). 


America bombed a few houses where it believed Saddam was hiding and in so doing killed innocent civilians.  True, but had the missions been successful, Iraq might have crumbled even faster with even fewer casualties.  


Condition Five : Intervention must do more good than harm



Roth is really miserable here, because even he cannot claim that Iraqis are worse off now than in Saddam’s time.  Therefore he’s reduced to saying, ever hopefully, that 

chaos or abusive civil war might well become even deadlier, and it is too early to say whether such violence might still emerge in Iraq”.  


And anyway, “that one factor, in light of the failure to meet the other criteria, does not make the intervention humanitarian”t 

So there !

Condition Six : “Intervention should be endorsed by the UN Security Council or other significant multilateral authority.”  


Even here, Roth won’t face the truth.  The unanimously adopted UN Security Council UN Resolution 1441 of November 2002 required Iraq, under pain of “serious consequences”, to prove it was no longer in material breach of umpteen prior disarmament resolutions - which it failed to do.  Other than the Iraqi ambassador, nobody at the UN debate at which it was passed suggested that serious consequences meant other than military action.  

It’s of course correct that a further (and legally unnecessary) UN resolution was not passed and that France, Germany and Russia backtracked furiously when they realised their threat of serious consequences was about to be delivered. 

But that’s all history.  What’s been shown is that UN endorsement is in fact not needed at all, as it wasn’t when President Clinton bombed Serbia.  It's a nice-to-have but not a must.  

To summarise.  

The US went to war first for fear of WMD and second to rescue the Iraqi people.  Subsequent events have shown that the abuses on the Iraqis were considerably worse than envisaged whereas the WMD are considerably less.  

Human Rights Watch want to deny the humanitarian part of this finding and wish the Iraqis had not been freed of Saddam if it means making the a US Republican administration look good.  

Finally, it’s worth recounting the rather thin gruel that is the best Roth can come up with about America’s dastardly support of Saddam during the (Republican) reigns of Reagan and Bush Snr. The US provided : 


intelligence information to Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war, 


commodity credits and import loan guarantees, and 


permission for Iraq to use its helicopters to suppress the 1991 Shi’ite uprising.  

Compare this with Saddam’s arms suppliers. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, over the period 1973-2002, Iraq spent 82 times as much on weapons bought from peaceniks Russia/USSR, France and China, compared with weapons from the warmongering US, Britain and Australia. 

No a word from Roth on this.  

So, on the basis of this dishonest essay, Human Rights Watch is another do-gooder organization that is added to my list of the banned. 

Why must they misrepresent, mislead and obfuscate, whilst pretending to be benevolent ?

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European Immigration and Repopulation

Immigration is a terribly touchy subject in European countries, because it gets tied up with colonialism, racism, freeloading, birthrates, culture clashes, all of which to varying degrees are forbidden subjects for discourse.  

Lack of discussion leads to woolly thinking which makes sensible discussion even harder.  

So it is worthwhile sometimes to go back to basics; to personalise things.  For in the end what is society is but a collection of persons, with the family as the basic unit of organization ?  

As a fundamental principle, I am entitled to invite into my home anyone I want, for as long as I want (though whether he/she wants to enter is another matter !), and not invite those I don't .  Moreover if someone is, say, being flayed alive on my front doorstep, I have a moral obligation to bring him in and provide refuge even if he is no friend of mine.  

Second principle.  Once I have invited someone in, I am obliged to treat him as respectfully as everyone else in the house for as long as he is with me.  He/she is my guest, not a freeloader and not a slave.  

Whether my household is improved or disimproved by these arrangements is my responsibility, no-one else's.  I must live with the results.  

And so it should be with countries.  Countries can open their doors to whomever they like, keep out whomever they don't like and not apologise to anyone for their decisions.  Yet they too must be prepared to take the consequences, including any flak from criticisers.  

Under such principles, Australia had every right to run a whites-only immigration policy up to the 1970s, just as today it has every right to allow only young, wealthy, educated people to immigrate.  Both are discriminatory but so what, it's their country.  

Australia's whites-only policy crumbled under international pressure, which it eventually felt was doing more harm than the policy was supposedly doing good, but the policy itself was not morally wrong.  What was morally wrong was when they treated their aborigines poorly, grabbing their land, snatching their children.  Wrong because the abos were its own residents and worthy to be treated with the same respect as other residents. 

Japan is another country which to this day lets in almost no-one who is not ethnically Japanese (which is why Peru's erstwhile crooked president Alberto Fujimori is able to hide out there).  But they are wrong to treat, for example, their few Korean residents, many descended from slaves, as second class citizens.  

Similarly, all countries are entitled to set whatever immigration standards they want.  And when you look at civil conflicts around the world, it is notable that warring parties nearly all divide along ethnic, tribal or religious lines.  

bullet Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Nigeria, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Israel/Palestine and especially Rwanda to name but a few.  
bullet And even when civil war is absent, there is usually civil tension between groupings - in America, most Latin American countries, Malaysia, England.  

By contrast, you never hear of civil conflict or tension within (almost) ethnically-pure Japan or South Korea, or for that matter predominantly white Catholic southern Ireland.  

Why then, if you have a choice, would you not want your immigrants to be 

bulletas similar to your indigenous population as possible, and 
bulletable to fill shortages in your own workforce and population, 

so as to maximise the chances of smooth and complete integration within a generation or two ?  

Accepting foreigners is always difficult in any culture.  Where is the virtue in making this more difficult by encouraging immigrants of different race or beliefs, when there are less alien alternatives around ?  Of course, a country doesn't always have a choice - it may have to look further afield to find immigrants able and willing to take up the jobs (whether skilled or unskilled) that it has to offer, or consider time-limited work permits, in which case that's what it should do.  

But its immigration policy should not be driven by an ideology that says being different is no grounds for refusal.  In an open, democratic society, immigration policy should be unapologetically tailored to the short- and long-term benefit of the indigenous population not the immigrants.  Naturally, once an immigrant has immigrated, he/she becomes a de-facto indigene and should thereafter be treated as such - and should make every effort to behave as such.  The grave responsibility of immigrants to integrate themselves into their host society is often ignored, in favour of praising immigrant ghettos for their differences and multicultural diversity.  

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a recent speech to the EU parliament, notes that Europe, Japan, Russia and South Korea are all running short of people, and encourages them to open their doors to immigrants - Migrants are part of the solution, not part of the problem”. But even he remarks that it is the sovereign right of all states to decide which voluntary migrants they will accept, and on what terms”, though the tone of the speech suggests the opposite.

But surely the smoothest solution of all is to produce more babies ?  Yet just as you will never hear a politician say that immigrants should be as similar as possible to the natives, you will also never hear him propounding policies that encourage higher birthrates.  

This is a mystery.  For confront any citizen with the following alternatives for increasing the population : 

  1. more native babies, 
  2. more immigrants similar to natives, or 
  3. more immigrants dissimilar to natives, 

and it will be very hard to find anyone who wants to prioritise the list differently.  

Therefore, in open democratic societies, why does this not form the basis of population policy ?  

Asylum is a separate issue of humanitarianism, unrelated to the need for repopulation.  

People being unjustly persecuted in their country are entitled to expect asylum in another.   But equally, the receiving country is entitled to take any necessary, humane steps to determine whether the asylum-seeker is genuine or not.  There is therefore nothing wrong with placing asylum claimants in (well appointed) detention centres while ascertaining their genuineness, and then throwing out the frauds - having charged them for board and lodging.  Indeed it is hard to imagine genuine asylum-seekers objecting to temporary detention if they are truly in fear of their lives back home.  

Meanwhile, however, the bad-tempered debate rumbles on about open borders, migrant freeloaders, multiculturism, racism etc.  

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Herbal Cigarettes

Ireland is on the point of introducing a ban on smoking in the workplace, which includes pubs.  (Before Christmas, this blog hosted some in-depth discussion about the science and merits of this.) 

I was astonished to learn recently of the existence of herbal cigarettes.  These are apparently not covered by the ban because they contain no tobacco, and are therefore to be touted as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes, to be loaded into cigarette machines in pubs and bars.  

They sound disgusting and I cannot imagine any hardened nicotine addict persevering for long with puffing on the fumes of chamomile, parsley, thyme, lavender etc.  

Nevertheless, the health industry has been quick to condemn herbal cigs.  The Irish Cancer Society tells us that 

Smoking herbal cigarettes is not a safe alternative, as these 'pseudo cigarettes' contain tar which is a carcinogen and other harmful substances such as carbon monoxide”.  

Spoil sports.  

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Gerhard Schroeder Standing Tall

Gerhard Schroeder, esteemed Chancellor of Germany, is nothing if not genuine.  And he would like you to know he's a macho but modest kind of guy.  

That's why he objected when in April 2002 Stern magazine ran a cover with him pictured paunchy and nude, his propriety protected only by a large (of course) fig leaf in the colours of his ruling coalition.  

It's why around the same time he sued Germany's DDP news agency for claiming that he dyed his hair - quel horreur.  

Extraordinarily, he won, though the judge failed to rule on whether Mr Schroeder's hair was actually dyed or not.  (I guess no-one plucked a sample.)

Let's hope the intrepid Chancellor is not equally successful should he choose to sue David Kaspar or the photographer (or perhaps this blog) for suggesting that the little pixie augments his height.  

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Queen of Clubs

First we had the would-be Queen of Hearts, though she never made it past Princess.  

Now it's the Queen of Clubs after Queen Elizabeth was photographed switching off a pheasant's lights with several thwacks of her walking stick after shotguns wounded but didn't kill it.  

Perhaps we should try to build up another pack of cards, like those three Saddam-inspired decks : 

  1. The US Military's Iraq's Most Wanted deck, with Saddam himself as the King of Spades; 
  2. The Deck of Weasels, with one card for each of 54 leaders and celebrities who opposed America over the war, and 
  3. The Deck of Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, the term invented by Hilary Clinton for those who didn't feel her husband made a worthy president. 

Who would be in the Windsor deck besides the said Queen of Clubs and Queen of Hearts ?

bulletCharles - with his knavish disdain of Diana and love of rural pursuits and earthy things/women, could be the Knave of Spades, pending promotion to King of Spades.  
bullet The eternally bejewelled late queen mother would have to be Queen of Diamonds.  
bulletLover-boy Andrew, the Knave of Hearts, 
bulletAnne with her nose like an inverted 7 and her unruly dogs, the seven of clubs.  
bulletWilliam, the Joker.   
bulletDozy Edward, the - well - two of ... nothing ?  

I could go on, but you'll be glad to hear I won't.  

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Quote of the Week

Quote : It is just flipping unbelievable. He is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet. He is barely human in his elusiveness. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall

Conservative MP and columnist, 
the colourful blond bomber Boris Johnson, 
marvelling at the British prime minister's political resilience 
after he was cleared of wrongdoing by the Hutton enquiry.

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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

Rugby World Cup 7s, Dubai 2009
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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  
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to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics

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