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February 2006
bulletISSUE #116 - 5th February 2006
bulletISSUE #117 - 12th February 2006
bulletISSUE #118 - 19th February 2006


They deserve 
our support

ISSUE #118 - 19th February 2006 [206+406=615]

bulletPresidential Glorification of Terrorism
bulletFake Cartoons
bulletChico Simone Stairs No More
bulletWeek 118's Letters to the Press
bulletQuotes of Week 118

Presidential Glorification of Terrorism

Did Ireland's President MacAleese break 
Britain's new terror glorification law 
with her 1916 speech?

At the end of January, Mary McAleese, the British-born president of Ireland for these past eight years, made a presentation about Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising.  

In April of that year, in the depths of World War One, a handful for Irishmen, led by Pádraig Pearse, mounted an armed protest against British rule in the streets of Dublin and proclaimed an independent Irish Republic.  By the time the British Army had put this insurgency down, some 500 Irish civilians, the vast majority of them unarmed and non-participants in the drama, lay dead.  

Ireland at that time was an integral member - albeit a largely unwilling one - of the United Kingdom with its own parliamentary representatives in Westminster, not unlike Scotland today.  As such, whilst not an independent country neither was its rule without a significant measure of democratic legitimacy, and a lot more than any of the further flung dominions of the British Empire.  Moreover, Parliament had recently passed a Home Rule for Ireland law whose implementation awaited only the end of the war.  So post-war independence of a united Ireland was virtually assured.    

The insurgents however were impatient.  Moreover they completely ignored any concept of democracy, being entirely self-appointed, and were deeply unpopular among the Irish.  But this changed when Pearse and his fifteen fellow leaders of what mythology now calls The Rising were executed by the British for terrorism during a time of war.  For many, they suddenly became martyred heroes, and as such they provided the inspiration for the IRA (and Sinn Féin) through countless terrorist campaigns over the next nine decades.  Yet their proclamation is also seen as the founding moment of the 26-county republic which came into being six years later, detaching from the six counties (Ulster), which remain part of the UK to this day (and whose assimilation into the republic is the Sinn Féin/IRA casus belli).  The Home Rule law, by comparison, envisaged no such partition.  

Nevertheless, whether by the standards of 1916 or those of today, those insurgents would be seen as terrorists.  With no mandate whatsoever, they burst on to the streets of the capital, guns ablazing, unmindful of how many citizens they killed, in an attempt to overthrow the sitting government by force of arms.  Try that in Washington DC, and after you've shot 500 people see how long it takes you to get to Guantanamo Bay, via rendition camps in Morocco.  If you're not yourself dead first.  

90 years later, Ulsterwoman Mary McAleese, who has held Ireland's top job for these past eight years, gave her speech at a university conference titled The Long Revolution: The 1916 Rising in context.  

In it, she spoke eloquently, at length and without reservation, of the heroes of the Rising”.  Much of what she said was nonsense (eg that Pearse & co were committed to inclusiveness and non-sectarianism, when his brand of nationalism forced more than 50,000 Protestants to flee the Republic following independence), and she deftly skipped over the moral hazard posed by those inconvenient 500 nameless and innocent dead.  Yet there was no doubting the high regard in which she personally held the Pádraig Pearse Sixteen, terrorists by any other measure.  She finished by saying,  

That small band inhabited a sea of death, an unspeakable time of the most profligate world-wide waste of human life. Yet their deaths rise far above the clamour - their voices, insistent still.

That was last month.  

Last week another significant event occurred across the water. 

After several months of battling, Tony Blair successfully pushed through a vote in the House of Commons last week approving his Terrorism Bill, whose central objective is to criminalise the glorification of terror, with a penalty of up to seven years in jail plus a fine.  

To précis the meat of its opening few paragraphs, 


A person commits an offence if he publishes a statement ... [which] glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of [terrorist] acts;” 


and the public could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified is being glorified as conduct that should be emulated in existing circumstances.

Now line these words up along side those of President McAleese.  Do hers not exactly fit the characterisation of glorification as described - and proscribed - in Tony Blair's new Bill?  

And being born in Northern Ireland is she not technically British and subject to British jurisdiction, at least within the UK?  (She is surely one of the world's very few foreign-born presidents).  

But if she continues to glorify terrorism once the new Bill becomes law, she better watch her step when she visits her family in Ulster or cavorts in Buckingham Palace with her UK counterpart.  

Actually, over the past year, ever since she likened Protestant Unionists in her homeland to Nazis, the President has repeatedly put her foot in her mouth, her January speech being but a recent example.  Three further ones in quick succession are - 


her attendance last week at a conference in Saudi Arabia (the Jeddah Economic Forum 2006) despite the exclusion of fellow-EU member state Denmark over those cartoons (see next post)


her false and unsubstantiated claim that the Irish abhorred the publication of the cartoons, when they plainly do not,  


her condemnation of the cartoons, but not of the violence, embassy-burnings and killings that followed.

I wonder whether she is losing her marbles; also she doesn't look especially healthy any more.  Eight years is a long time to be President.  She has six more to go, heaven help us!

But hey, allowing for remission for good behaviour, that's about the same penalty as a conviction for glorifying (1916) terrorism.  

Back to List of Contents

Fake Cartoons

Back in August 2005, Jacques Barrot, a Frenchman with a grey beard, straps on a pig's snout and big piggy ears and enters the annual French Pig-Squealing Championships in Trie-sur-Baise.  Someone from Associated Press photographs him in colour; the photo is widely published in a jokey news item about the competition (which Mr Barrot sadly does not win).  

So far so normal about weird happenings in the heart of pig territory in France's deep South.  

But then someone faxes the photo so that it comes out in blurred black and white.  Then a notorious and fiery Danish imam, Ahmad Abu Laban, declares that this is yet another Mohammed cartoon from infidel Denmark, far more offensive than the others, because it depicts the prophet as a pig.  He adds to it  


another blurry one depicting the prophet as a paedophile (in fact his ninth-century chronicler Sahih Bukhari Koran tells us that Mohammed did take six-year-old Aisha as his tenth wife though thoughtfully waited until the little girl was nine to consummate the union), and 


one of a dog raping a Muslim at prayer, 

neither of them the work of Danish cartoonists nor published in the Jyllands-Posten.  

Abu Laban, who is leader of the Islamic Society of Denmark (which claims that all Muslims in Denmark are members whether they want to or know it or not), then prepares a write-up and sets off with it on a tour of Muslim countries to stir up fury at the Danish cartoons, citing as his most egregious examples, his own three faked ones.  Indeed without them, it really is hard to find any source of deep insult in the original twelve cartoons (A bomb in a hat?  Very funny.  Very offensive.  Not.)  

The fake cartoon story amounts to yet more news - not to mention more images - not published by the conventional Western print and TV media because they are afraid of showing up Muslims in a bad light. Actually they are just afraid, period.  Once again, cowardice, appeasement and dishonesty.  

But thank goodness the blogosphere ensures we can know about such things and thus understand better what is going on in the world about us.  

In that ancient pre-Internet universe (where I spent most of my life), how much of this covering-up and self-censorship went on that we ordinary people had no idea about?  We sometimes hear snippets of cover-ups of old, where scandalous stories were widely known by journalists who however honoured omerta - such as 


the crookery of former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey; 


the promiscuous gaydom of Cary Grant, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando and other Hollywood stars;


the rampant womanising of President John F Kennedy.   

But not much.  

By the way, in the interests of fair play, go here to find a selection of cartoons where Jews are the butt of the jokes rather than Muslims.  Can't understand why those spineless Jews don't burn down a few embassies.  (Hattip Backseat Drivers)

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Chico Simone Stairs No More

Who was this Chico Simone who stares out at us in this picture?  

He was an accomplished Sicilian musician born in Boston, a concert pianist who also directed Taormina's Plectrum Orchestra in Italy for nearly 30 years.  Along the way he collected five wives and several children. 

But that is not what he is remembered for.  He is remembered and revered as the athlete that always came last.  

For sixteen years in a row, he entered and completed the Empire State Building Run-Up, an annual race up the edifice's 86 flights of stairs, or 1,576 steps (or 783 if you take them two at a time as the serious racers do).   On every occasion, Mr Simone was both the oldest and last to finish (of over 100 finishers).  It's a gruelling race for anyone, as fellow-competitor Barbara Hummel painfully describes.  

Mr Simone's most recent time, in 2005, was 49 minutes 28 seconds (four times the winning time).  Sadly he missed the 2006 event a couple of weeks ago because he had passed away last April, aged 93, two months after his finale appearance.   

He will climb stairs no more, except perhaps to Heaven.  

To honour his memory, the Empire State Building, in a most gracious gesture, lit itself up in red, white and green - the colors of the Italian flag.  

Interestingly, since the destruction of the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, built in Depression-laden 1931, is once again New York's tallest, at 381 metres.  

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Week 118's Letters to the Press

Two letters last week, one published, one not.   

bullet Iraqi Kurdish Refugees 
Why is Ireland taking in 200 Iraqi Kurd refugees, camped for the last three years between Iraq and Jordan, when their home country, Iraq, is now a constitutional democracy ...
bullet Random Breath-Testing and Civil Liberties 
Tom Cooney makes an eloquent case against breath testing motorists on an utterly random, or "dragnet" basis, both in terms of civil liberties and of low catchment rates in other jurisdictions (eg one per 144,000 in Tennessee).  But he is disingenuous ...

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Quotes of Week 118 

Quote: “The decision was taken to express solidarity with the feelings of anger sweeping the Muslim world as a result of slandering Prophet Mohammed in Danish newspapers.”  

Faycal Batawil, Director General of Public Relations 
at Jeddah's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 
proudly explains (on 7th Feb) the decision 
to withdraw invitations to two Danish delegates 
to attend Saudi Arabia's 
Jeddah Economic Forum 2006 

Cherie Blair, Ireland's President Mary McAleese, 
Al Gore, Steve Forbes, Gerhard Schroeder 
and other prominent Western leaders 
nevertheless did attend, 
always eager to appease a terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship 
rather than support a mild Scandinavian democracy

The two Danish speakers that were invited to speak apologised sincerely for not attending the forum. Their invitations were not revoked.” 

Amr Hassan Enany, Chairman of the Jeddah Economic Forum 2006, 
comes up with a completely different, completely implausible story 
three days later.

Blair, McAleese, Gore, Forbes, and Schroeder 
breathe a grateful sigh of relief.
The two Danes remain diplomatically silent - and alive


Quote: “[Kofi Annan is] just flat wrong ... We shouldn't close Guantanamo.  We have several hundred terrorists, bad people, people who if they went back out on the field would try to kill Americans.  To close that place and pretend there's no problem just isn't realistic.” 

US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, 
in typical robust fashion, 
rebuts Mr Annan's call for closure of Guantanamo 
as demanded in a UN Human Rights Commission report



Click on this 
bumper-sticker to buy it 
for just $3.49.

Quote: I'd rather be Rula Lenska's pussy cat than George Bush's poodle” 

George Galloway, MP and excruciating ex Big Brother contestant, 
talking on BBC Northern Ireland's “Let's Talk”  programme.

He plagiarised this from 13-year-old Lucian George 
speaking in a school debate

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See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #117 - 12th February 2006 [204]

bulletIndustrial Accidents and Root Causes
bulletShi'ites Abuse Their Children
bulletThose Cartoonish Protests Reinforce Anti-Islam Prejudices
bulletEU Security Levels
bulletWeek 117's Letters to the Press
bulletQuotes of Week 117

Industrial Accidents and Root Causes

It is now fifteen years since five men lost their lives in an industrial accident in West Africa, fifteen years since a slapdash investigation failed to dig out root causes and key learning points, fifteen years that the five families have had to struggle both in their bereavement and without their principal breadwinners.  

Too often, the lessons of an accident are too difficult to dig out or too painful to acknowledge or too hard to apply. But failure to do these things leads inevitably to further accidents.  I have written before about accidents whose cause gets attributed to, outrageously, human error”, especially when the particular “human” has been obliging enough to have died.  A few egregious examples.  


In 1994, an RAF chinook helicopter crash killed 29 of Britain's top intelligence and security officials.  Yet the RAF - with no witnesses, no radio calls, no radar and (extraordinarily) no black boxes to provide evidence - blamed the two deceased pilots and entirely exonerated the RAF management system that set up the flight and put the two in charge.   


In 2003, two trains on a single-track stretch crashed head-on in Albacete, south-eastern Spain, killing 22.  Miguel Corsini, president of Renfe (Spanish Rail) immediately blamed human error on the part of the chief of rail traffic.  This provided an instant, easy and popular “solution: fire the chief of rail traffic. But it left dozens of unanswered questions, concerning organization, people, training, supervision and audit, which all point to the (mis)management of Renfe, rather than a mistake by one individual.  


To this day, blame for the Exxon Valdez, which ran aground in 1989 in Prince William Sound off Alaska spilling 232,000 barrels of oil, is placed squarely on the drunk captain. Yet he was such a known and habitual drunkard that the local police in Alaska had confiscated his car driving licence. Even so, Exxon had put him in charge of a supertanker. Does this not reek of extraordinarily incompetent, negligent management?

Preponderancy to jump to the first convenient conclusion and failure to seek out root causes mean that lessons will not be learnt, and more catastrophes of a similar or related manner will occur.   It is essential to look beyond the obvious.  For example, what is this a picture of? Don't trust your original judgement.  Think.  Look again.  

Here is the true story of that other fatal accident from which the true lessons were never drawn because of the slipshod, blame human error nature of the investigation.  Names and dates have been changed to protect the guilty; the facts are correct.  

Sunshine was a huge offshore drilling rig, almost half the size of a football pitch, and the pride of its Arab owners. No expense had been spared in its construction which cost a record $85m.  It was a jack-up rig whose modus operandi was to be towed floating on its hull to a drilling location, where it would jack down its three legs until they touched the seabed, and then continue jacking until the hull was raised up above wave levels, as in the photo. The derrick would then slide out on a cantilever to enable the well to be drilled.  


Sunshine had worked only a few months in Arabia when it won a major contract in West Africa.  Two days after arrival, having hired African crews from local villages, and in water depth of 80 metres and 100 km out to sea, it began to drill an exploration well.  

36 hours later, in the middle of the night, disaster struck.  At a depth of only about 200 metres, the rig drilled into a pocket of so-called shallow gas, a phenomenon that was rare for the area and which had not been planned for.  Special procedures had nevertheless recently been written for dealing safely with just such an eventuality.   

Within minutes, gas blew up through the derrick and caught fire (probably due to a spark).  Flames soared up through the derrick, where the derrickman” stood, two-thirds of the way up, whose job was to help manhandle the drilling pipes from above.  The unfortunate man was killed instantly in the conflagration, burnt to a crisp.  

Meanwhile, down on deck, panic ensued everywhere as people tried to evacuate into the safety boat that was standing in readiness nearby, 24 hours a day, in case of any emergency.  In the chaos and flames, no-one was able to launch the rig's own lifeboats.  

People climbed down the scramble nets hanging down the side of the hull, so that they could jump into the water, but others were climbing back up again out of fear of the leap into darkness.  The two groups obstructed each other and many fell haplessly into the water.  Some simply jumped off the deck with their life jackets on - and two of these broke their necks when they hit the water, as their lifejackets snapped back up under their chins. 

Many in the water couldn't swim and so, in their panicky efforts to get to the rescue boat, clambered over each other and pushed other people underwater.  Two more drowned in this pandemonium.

The Sunshine burnt down and collapsed onto the seabed, a total write-off.  In all, five unfortunates lost their lives. 


Big bosses flew in from Europe and Arabia to conduct the investigation, and concluded that the drilling supervisor (equivalent to the captain of a ship) was to blame for the disaster.  He was fired.  They then flew home.  

Yet they had completely missed the three massive learning points that cost those five men their lives, lessons that if not learnt were to jeopardise more lives.  


It turned out that the geologists - who had chosen the location at which to drill - knew that there was a high likelihood of encountering shallow gas there.  But they never told the drillers, and the drillers didn’t ask. This was part of a long-term institutionalised feud between the two groups of specialists in which each despised the other, leading to many other breakdowns of communication.  In this instance, it meant that the drillers had under-designed the well to withstand shallow gas. 

Lesson One: 


Those with knowledge must push that knowledge.


Those needing knowledge must pull that knowledge.


No-one should assume the whole story has been transmitted without checking and rechecking.


Only through integrated teamwork can you ensure that knowledge 
is fully communicated and shared.  It is not only amongst Mafia 
families that feuds can led to death.  


An excellent shallow gas procedure had been written just two months earlier.  The scale of the tragedy would have been avoided had it simply been observed.  But it was merely mailed to recipients - with no roadshow, no training, no assurance that it was being put into practice.  As a result, it just collected dust on a shelf, unread, unstudied, unapplied.

Lesson Two


A procedure, no matter how wonderful, is of zero use unless it is

actively “injected” into the targeted user community;


verified that it is known, understood, applied. 


Mere distribution is never enough


Crews, drilling rig, support services – all were new.  Yet no survival (or other) training/exercises whatsoever had been conducted.  

For example, no-one was taught anything about evacuation, launching of lifeboats, use of life-jackets, how to safely jump into the water, swimming, joint manoeuvres between rig and safety boat.  

As a direct consequence, all was fear, pandemonium and death in the middle of a black night.  

Lesson Three


In any operation, everyone must be trained to deal with the 
hazards he/she may encounter (in this case, how to keep a well 
under control, how to evacuate the rig, how to swim).  


This needs to be backed up with checks, drills and exercises to ensure that people really have learnt what they need to know.  


Everyone must participate.  That includes

all operational players (eg subcontractors, contractors, client, safety-boat crews, office staff),


any third parties (eg emergency services, logistics), 

so that they also know what expect and what to do.  



These and similar such lessons are not rocket science.  In fact they are so blindingly obvious that it should not take five fatalities to learn them (yet again).  


Yet in heavy industry they are what often make the difference between whether a worker lives or dies.  


Communication, Procedures, Training - and of course Supervision.  It is rare indeed that a serious accident is not the direct result of failures in one or all of these areas, areas which are strictly and exclusively the responsibility of management.  


You can be sure that the dreadful Titanic-scale sinking of the Al Salam 98 in the Red Sea earlier this month is no exception.  

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Shi'ites Abuse Their Children

When I saw this picture in an article about Muslim protests against those cartoons, I assumed the child had been injured in the chaos.  Wrong.  He is ritually cutting his own head with a cut-throat razor held in his right hand, which an adult will have given him.  

He is taking part in Ashura, the Shi'ites' annual commemoration of the death of their most revered personage, Imam Hussein, who was the grandson of the prophet Mohammed.  He was killed in the Battle of Karbala in AD 680. 

Ashura involves a parade in which men cut and beat themselves until the blood flows.  However as illustrated in the photo, they also encourage their sons to do the same.  And for the even smaller children, and even tots, the cutting is done for them, despite the screams, as depicted in this gruesome video (which is not for the faint-hearted).  

Other faiths also have blood-letting ceremonies.  For example in the Philippines on Good Friday, certain devout Catholics have themselves nailed to a cross to commemorate Christ's crucifixion, some of them year after year.  Self-flagellation is also popular.  Hindus also have bloody ceremonies.  

As far as I'm concerned, adults can do what they like to themselves - they own their own bodies.  

But can you imagine a more overt and depraved form of abusing children than what the Shi'ites do to theirs during Ashurah?  Yet it is done in public and proudly and in front of cameras.  


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Those Cartoonish Protests Reinforce Anti-Islam Prejudices

Over the past week, the TV, print media and bloggers have been almost as busy propounding various ideas about those notorious cartoons as the protestors have been burning down embassies.  The cause of Islam has been enhanced not a whit.  

A number of issues caught my eye.  

Why Now?

Last week I was one of many who asked, what took the objectors so long?”, since the cartoons had been originally published back in September.  I came across two plausible-sounding explanations, which may however be no more than idle speculation.  


The first is that the high dudgeon was fomented by the Saudi government to distract outrage over this year's annual Hajj death toll (346 pilgrims), attributed once again to the regime's organizational incompetence.  


The second puts the blame on Iran.  It is about to be reported to the UN Security Council for trying to build (and hide) a nuclear bomb, and Denmark is, conveniently, a member worth trying to intimidate.  It will chair the UNSC in June.  

Have there been any more cartoons?

Not as far as I am aware, but there has been an outbreak of jokes about cartoons,  and cartoons about cartoons, and all of them a lot wittier than the originals.  But none of them depict or satirise Mohammed.  

Did you know that “the Danes don't do insults, but if they did they would probably be the best insults in the world”?

Want to see about a hundred cartoons about cartoons? Click on the one below.  

Cartoons lampooning cartoons

Who has published the cartoons?

The original Danish cartoons have been published by a select few (very few) media outlets in Australia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Fiji, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the United States, Ukraine and Yemen.  

More interesting, however, is the weasely words used by the majority Western publications that have chosen not only not to publish the (puerile) unfunny images, but not even to tell readers where they can find them.  Their explanations switch between 


expressing respect” for Islam and Muslims, and 


not wanting to add fuel to the flames.  

But not one has expressed the true reason for the reticence.  As Mark Steyn pithily puts it, what these publications are really respecting is the Muslim wild men's “ability to locate the executive vice president's home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage”.  In other words it is cowardice and appeasement that keep them silent - and dishonesty in trying to hide this explanation.  Nothing else can explain why they keep under wraps the central issue of a huge global story.  I can forgive them the cowardice and perhaps the appeasement, but not the dishonesty.  

Those who don't have access to the internet generally have no idea what the fuss is about.  Not even the protesting Muslims.   

Whom do the protestors represent? 

With a few moderate exceptions, the media have reported on only the more vocal, visible, radical and violent Muslims demonstrating, placarding, desecrating, burning and in some cases killing.  

Though the protestors give the impression that they are acting out the feelings of Islam in general, are they?  Is there perhaps a silent majority that utterly deplores the reaction?  Certainly, and creditably, some Muslims have mounted peaceful demonstrations within the West, deploring the violence.  

But finding out what the majority of Muslims want or feel is, of course, something scrupulously suppressed by every regime in the Middle East - bar Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.  This is for the simple reason that the respective dictatorships do not want confirmed what they already know: that they are thoroughly hated by their people.  

So actually no-one has any idea how representative the protestors are.  Thus we should not rule out the possibility that the moderates in fact predominate.  

Does Islam really forbid imagery and humour?

The demonstrators and their spokesmen are claiming, long and loud, that it is against Islamic principles to represent by imagery not only Muhammad but all the prophets of Islam; and that the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion.  This has been said so vehemently and loudly that it has become the accepted wisdom, at least among great swathes of ignorant infidels such as myself.  

But is it true?

Amir Taheri, learned columnist of the Wall Street Journal, Tech Central Station and others, says it is not.  

The apparent injunction against images dates from the invasion in the eighth and ninth centuries of Muslim Arabs into Christian Levant, where they encountered Christian images in abundance.  As part of their Islamisation campaign, Muslim theologians therefore issued a fatwa against any depiction of the Godhead, but as an act of politics and war, not of religion.  You will find no such injunction in the Koran, which is why pictures of Mohammed have appeared in countless Islamic documents through history.  

As for laughing at Islam, this has also never been proscribed, and has been commonplace.  Indeed, Muhammad himself apparently pardoned a famous Meccan poet who had lampooned him.   

Moreover, says Mr Taheri, Islam rejects guilt by association. Just as Muslims should not blame all Westerners for the poor taste of a cartoonist who wanted to be offensive, those horrified by the spectacle of rent-a-mob sackings of embassies in the name of Islam should not blame all Muslims for what is an outburst of fascist energy.

Muslims take the word of infidels

Robert McHenry, a columnist with Tech Central Station, makes a couple of interesting points.  

Firstly, the outraged Muslim world believes that the cartoons are depictions of Mohammed only because the cartoonists say they are, and based on no evidence whatsoever.  In other words, Muslims are freely and inexplicably choosing to swallow claims concerning their religion, as made by a dozen infidel Danes.  

Secondly, the taking of insult - and the magnitude of that insult - are actually free choices by the insulted.  Their choice may bear no, some or a strong correlation with the intent of the insulter, and indeed the insulted often may have no idea of the original intent.  But taking insult puts the insulted in a morally superior position, at least in his/her own view.  

In other words, the protests are entirely a matter of choice that bears little or no relevance to the actual cartoons.  The protesting Muslims are actively going out and wanting to be insulted, so that they have something to protest about.  


One thing that has arisen out of these events is the confirmation and reinforcement, in the eyes of the non-Muslim world, fairly or unfairly, of all the worst prejudices that they may have held about Islam, its followers and apologists.  Moderate Muslims have been drowned out in the cacophony.  

The protestors have done their universal image and the cause of Islam no good whatsoever.  

In the West, they have strengthened immeasurably the hand of those who would 


restrict Muslim immigration into the West, 


impose tighter controls on existing foreign Muslims, and 


reject Muslim Turkey's application to join the EU.  

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EU Security Levels

As you would expect in a unified European Union, its members each have their own stereotypical and totally different version of what constitutes a security threat and the appropriate response level.  Gone are the good old traffic-light days of green-yellow-red.  

The British are feeling the pinch in relation to recent bombings and have raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross.” Londoners have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have  been re-categorised from “Tiresome” to a “Bloody Nuisance”.  The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was during the great fire of 1666. 

Also, the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide.” The only two higher levels in France are “Surrender” and “Collaborate”.  The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability. 

It's not only the English and French that are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout Loudly and Excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing”.  Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides”.  

The Germans also increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs”.  They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose.”

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

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Week 117's Letters to the Press

Here are the past week's two letters, one of which was published, and a forgotten one from January.   

bullet Religion vs Race - 9th February 2006
The cartoons are racist declares David Manning.  Perhaps he would care to state what
race he is talking about ...
bullet Racist Offense to Europeans and Danes - 6th February 2006
Is it not curious that newspapers such as the Irish Times decline to publish those notorious Danish cartoons out of sensitivity of offending Muslims, yet don't hesitate to publish photos of placards saying Europe is the cancer, Islam is the answer or photographs showing Danish flags being desecrated by burning or stamping? ...  
bullet Left free to harass - 19th January 2006
Left free to harass in Ireland blared Mary Raftery's headline on Thursday.   How true, I thought.  Hardly anyone wants to challenge the Left's ideological nonsense ... 

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Quotes of Week 117

Quote:  “The cartoons [are] a scandal, particularly as they came from those who champion civilisation and free expression [and are] part of a conspiracy by Zionists who were angry because of the victory of Hamas.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Iran's democratically unmandated 
supreme leader shows supreme ignorance of logic



Copts are not driving Muslim communities from their ancient homelands in Egypt. 


Christians are not forcibly converting Muslims in Sudan. 


Jewish suicide bombers are not wandering into Palestinian cafés on the West Bank. 


London is not hosting anti-Islamic marches, in which demonstrators declare that those who insult St Paul must be beheaded.


Buddhists are not decapitating Muslim schoolgirls in Thailand. 


Dutch secularists are not ritualistically murdering Muslim artists they disapprove of. 


American Southern Baptists are not flying airliners into Arab skyscrapers. 


Methodist zealots are not blowing up worshippers at Finsbury Park mosque. 


The Israeli President has not said he intends to wipe Iran off the map. 


Hindus in Bali are not massacring the faithful as they gather to pray towards Mecca. 


Spanish Catholics are not leaving bombs to slaughter Muslim commuters. 


And the entire non-Muslim world is not burning Saudi embassies in capitals everywhere because of the racist and sectarian filth that is promulgated about Christians and Jews in the madrassas answerable to the royal house of Saud.

Columnist Kevin Myers in the (subscription-only) Irish Times 
illustrates that claims of global Islamaphobia are rubbish


Quote: “I recently found your bottle while taking a scenic walk on the beach by Poole Harbour. While you may consider this some profound experiment on the path and speed of oceanic currents, I have another name for it, litter. You Americans don't seem to be happy unless you are mucking about somewhere.

Henry Biggelsworth writes back to Harvey Bennett 
after finding on a beach in Dorset UK 
a message in a bottle launched by Mr Bennett 
off Long Island, USA five months earlier.

I have always thrown bottles in the sea. In the age of e-mails and satellite phones, I think it is such a wonderful way to communicate.”  

Harvey Bennett, a US Coastguard, responds

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ISSUE #116 - 5th February 2006 [254]

bulletHating Anti Religious Hatred
bulletTerrorising People to Liberate Animals
bulletWhen the State Fails to Deliver Violence
bulletPre-mortem, Demand a Post-Mortem
bulletWeek 116's Unpublished Letters to the Press
bulletQuotes of Week 116

Hating Anti Religious Hatred

I hate anti-religious hatred.  By that I mean I hate the behaviour of those who allow their hatred of religious hatred to boil over into violence. 

But there is a God/Allah/Jehovah after all, and His sense of humour and skin are robust enough to withstand plenty more jokes and ridicule at His expense, at least in Britain.  

I have been a great supporter of Tony Blair over the years, but have felt contempt for most of his Labour Party (top of my C-list being that shallow prima donna soon-to-be one-term prime minister Gordon Brown).  

For once though, my sympathies are the other way round.  Last week, Mr Blair proposed to overturn brakes that the House of Lords put on his new religious hatred law, but was narrowly defeated in the Commons - by his own party.  So cheers for the party (and the Lords) and boos for Mr Blair.

Thus Christ-insulting “Life of Brian DVDs can continue to appear in Amazon and 
British rental stores with impunity, and anti-Allah Danish cartoons published at will ... (unlike in say France where the France Soir editor was sacked for reprinting them).   And notwithstanding craven self-censorship which seems to be the British (and Irish) media's approach.  

Don't moan, Mohammed, 
we're all being caricatured here

Buddah, Jehovah, Mohammed and God, all seated together on a cloud. (Click to enlarge into a new window)

Just two days after that British vote, Nick Griffin of the (fascist-leaning) British National Party got off the hook for allegedly having incited religious hatred.  A principal piece of prosecutorial evidence was that he had dared to suggest, 14 months before it actually happened, that sooner or later there’s going to be Islamic terrorists letting off bombs in major cities ... and ... the perpetrators will be asylum-seekers or second-generation Pakistanis living in somewhere like Bradford”.  He's not out of the woods yet, though, because they now want to re-try him for calling immigrants “cockroaches” and Islam a “wicked, vicious faith”.  

Nevertheless, these two episodes do suggest that British public opinion may once more be leaning in the direction of free - rather than politically correct - speech.  

And if anything will confirm that free speech is a precious commodity that the West must cherish, it is surely the huge global kerfuffle over those twelve Islamically offensive cartoons that the Danes put out back in September (what took the objectors so long?).  

Under Britain's newly watered-down law, publishing them is no offence unless there is a deliberate intention to stir up religious hatred.  But it's OK to deliberately stir up religious ridicule, rather than hatred.  Indeed, I would argue that, as a general principle, religious ridicule is to be encouraged because it forces believers to question and challenge their own beliefs.  

And when you really think about religion ...

For example, the Islamic religion, with Allah as the top being, is a ludicrous concept, invented based on no evidence by some weird guy a lot of centuries ago, which today has a completely irrational global following, convinced they are the sole possessors of the truth .  


Wait a minute, wasn't that Christianity and God?  


No, of course not, it was Buddhism and Siddhārtha Gautama.  


Sorry, Judaism and Jehovah.  


Wrong again, it was Hinduism and Brahman.  

You have to laugh.  Billions of people in awe of abstract unproven notions that drive them in their daily lives.  What a joke.  What a con job.  It invites satire and contempt.  Except for my religion, of course, which contains the one and only true truth.  Yours on the other hand is just make-believe bunkum.  As for those atheists, words fail me.  

Everyone religiously offended now?

The riots and violence over a dozen lampooning cartoons are only likely to strengthen that libertarian feeling re-emerging in the West Including - to their credit - Old Europe countries such as France and Germany.  This of course is the opposite of what the protestors want, as succinctly enunciated by Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, who declared that the cartoons showed there should be a limit to press freedom” (which will not help his EU application). 

Many people say that the religions of others should be respected.  

But why?  


If someone else's religion teaches things that others regard as deeply immoral (eg slay them wherever you find them), why on earth should that be respected?  It should not.  It should be decried for its intrinsic inhumanity and if ridicule adds to the offense, so much the better.    


Northern Ireland's veteran Protestant politician, the Reverend” “Doctor” Ian Paisley, far from showing respect, has regularly and gratuitously poured scorn on Catholic beliefs, notably the transubstantiation.  This amuses Protestants no end whilst greatly offending Catholics.  But it does make you ask in your heart, “What if the old devil is right, and it's all a fraud?” - just like his own fake qualifications. 

If my religious faith can't withstand a strong dose of such lampooning, maybe it's time to switch to a different one I feel more confident about, or none at all.  (Or will that consign me to hell?)

Of course racial ridicule is quite a different matter, for the simple reason that whilst we can pick and choose and chop and change our religious beliefs, each of us is stuck with his/her race, ethnicity, DNA (except for Michael Jackson, obviously).  

Therefore, it is singularly dishonourable and timid that the vast majority of American, UK and Irish media (newspapers, TV) have been too chicken, despite the acres of newsprint and hours of airtime they have been devoting to those Danish cartoons, to actually reproduce them so their customers know what they're talking about.  Obviously they fear offending Muslims or - to be more precise - their violent reaction, which is understandable if craven.  

Palestinians members of the Fatah movement burn the Danish national flag  to protest caricatures in a Danish newspaper that they deemed insulting to Islam's Prophet MuhammadHowever, these same media have had no qualms about publishing photographs of Muslims desecrating, in a distinctly racist fashion, the Danish flag, without a care for the grievous offence caused to Danes, and with the clear objective of stirring up racial hatred against Danes.  The media, of course, have no fear that their staffers will be killed by Danes as a result.  But what abject moral relativism, that even a trashy jingoistic tabloid such as Britain's Sun has signed up to.  Headline stories all about a dozen cartoons, yet no-one is allowed to see them.  

Thank God/Allah/Gautama/Jehovah/Brahman for the internet.  (Or should that be thank Microsoft/Google?)  

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Terrorising People to Liberate Animals

Rodney Hobson, of the investment adviser Hemscott, has written a most thoughtful piece about terrorism as practiced to deter animal experimentation.  Since it will only appear on Hemscott's site for a few more days, here is a transcript.  

The attack this week on the home of a director of Britain’s biggest pharmaceutical company should be taken seriously – either by the police or by investors. It is impossible to say how many hard core animal rights activists are out there but they exist in sufficient numbers to pose a serious threat even to a company the size of GlaxoSmithKline.

One can argue the rights and wrongs of testing drugs on animals. Apart from the ethical issue of whether we have the right to inflict potential suffering on helpless creatures, opinion is divided on whether humans respond to drugs in the way that animals do. Those involved are adamant that human lives are ultimately saved while opponents point out that drugs used successfully on animals still have to be tested on humans to see if they work for us.

I do not propose to get drawn into an inevitably complex argument on whether the experiments should continue. What is relevant to the investment community is whether the more extreme activists can inflict serious damage on large companies. Do not be in any doubt. They can.

GSK is a target because it uses Huntingdon Life Sciences, which carries out tests on live animals. We have already seen at Huntingdon that the attacks are well coordinated and can be sustained indefinitely. We have also seen that those who hold animals in such high regard have no such consideration for humans.

The latest incident happened at the weekend. Simon Bicknell, GSK’s company secretary, had a threatening message painted on the garage door at his home and the website of the Animal Liberation Front promised to return with something more than wet paint unless GSK stops using Huntingdon.

This is not the first time that activists have targeted a GSK director. A device containing fuel was left on the porch of corporate controller Paul Blackburn in September, causing minor damage. Although he was abroad, his wife and daughter were in the house.

At the same time, the campaign against Oxford University has been resumed in retaliation for the resumption of the building of a new laboratory there. A boathouse belonging to the university was burnt down last year and a sports pavilion was attacked with rather less serious consequences on Saturday.

GSK has spent heavily on trying to protect its senior staff, money, it says, that could have been spent on research. That will surely serve only to encourage the extremists in their terror campaign, since their aim is to stop that part of the research that is carried out on animals.

In an case, GSK cannot protect everyone who works for it, or buys its products, or supplies items ranging from packaging to the canteen milk. Huntingdon discovered that everyone was considered fair game, however tenuous the connection, and that elderly relatives and babies could not expect immunity.

What is more, the animal rights movement has no doubt managed to infiltrate GSK while the police have failed to infiltrate the animal rights movement. It will have plenty of information on those involved in the operations of GSK. The threat should not be underestimated. Nor should the potential cost to even such a large company.

Moreover, these people are terrorists.  It doesn't matter if they are mostly white Christians.  The State should treated them with the same hostility and aggression as any terrorists.  

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When the State Fails to Deliver Violence

In January 2005, an engineering student called Wayne O'Donohue put his next-door neighbour eleven-year-old Robert Holohan in an armlock that killed him.  Wayne and Robert were good friends despite the age difference, but it seems that on this occasion Robert was throwing stones at Wayne's car, and Wayne put his arm around the boy's throat to restrain him, though never meaning to harm him.  In his panic, Wayne hid the body in a field, and then took part in the major search which ensued.  It was eight days before Robert was found, after Wayne had confessed.  

Two weeks ago, Wayne was convicted of manslaughter, not murder, and was jailed for four years.  Just before sentencing, the boy's mother made a series of startling allegations, that were protected by court privilege but were not presented as evidence, and which changed the whole tone of the proceedings.  She said that 


semen had been found on her son's body, 


he had been in the killer's bedroom at 7.30 am on the morning of the crime, 


the body had been shoeless despite testimony that he had been riding a bike just before his death, 


photos had been deleted from his phone, 


the phone had been wiped clean of fingerprints, 


a 999 emergency call from the phone on the day of his death had been ignored,


there was no evidence of stones having been thrown at Wayne's car.  

The boy's parents shouted paedophileas the convicted man was led from court, and a predictable media frenzy followed.  

The essence of this was a perception that justice hadn't been fully served.  Perhaps manslaughter was the correct verdict, perhaps even a sentence of only four years was justifiable.  However there seemed to be a lot more to the story than what had been aired in court, or than was now ever going to be aired.  

Media now delivering ‘justice’” was a typical headline from columnists complaining about the publicity that the mother's unproven allegations provoked.  They are right of course, but missing the point.  

For we should not forget that in most countries, the State has an unwritten pact with the citizens.  Under this pact, 


we the citizens forgo the use of violence, 


because if and when it is needed the State will deliver it on our behalf, 

using the police/justice/prison system against 
domestic offenders, and 


the army/navy/airforce against foreign offenders.  

But when the State fails to deliver its side of the bargain, the citizens, quite reasonably, start thinking about similarly breaking their side.  

In respect of the Holohan case, it was the perceived failure of the Irish justice system to deliver appropriate justice which encouraged the media - egged on by the citizenry - to deliver it instead, in the form of blackening Wayne's name for life and putting him in peril as a “paedophile” from fellow inmates in his prison.  

The justice system could quite easily have brought paedophile charges against Wayne, which would have lain the matter to rest.  This would have allowed all the evidence to come out in the open and be challenged, in a just manner that would have resulted in an acquittal or conviction.  But it chose not to do so.  

This is a grave error.  It not only encourages rough justice by the people as in this case, but by undermining faith in the system will foster more rough justice in the future.  

The more the State chooses not to deliver violence when required, the more its citizens will take over that duty, leading eventually to a breakdown in civic order.  

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Pre-mortem, Demand a Post-Mortem

The post-mortem examination is an essential tool not only in determining the cause of death, but in the furtherance of medical knowledge generally.  However the detail is not very pleasant to contemplate, either for the dying patient or his/her relatives: taking a knife and cutting chunks and bits out of your loved one, juices squirting out of tubes, everyone peering into the gore for a better look.  

So, understandably, many doctors prefer to gloss over that aspect when seeking permission from the bereaved, although arguably such sanitization is not quite honest.   

However Donald Weir, a doctor in a large Dublin hospital, proposes an entirely different approach.  He believes that post-mortems are very much in the best interests of patients themselves. 

If you have the misfortune to have to be admitted to hospital, he advises that you should sign a document which requests that, if you happen to die, you want to have a post-mortem examination carried out, and you want the results to be discussed at the hospital's monthly so-called death conference-grandround.  

Dr Weir assures us that there are few things as nerve-racking for your consultant and his/her staff as having the details of their management of your illness and demise discussed and dissected by their peers in front of all the hospital personnel and students.  

There is no better way of ensuring that you will get the very best of attention from your medical staff. 

In short, at pre-mortem time, demand a post-mortem.  

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Week 116's Unpublished Letters to the Press

Here are the past week's unpublished letters, including one that was published but minus the concluding sentence with insulted a former Irish Taoiseach/Prime Minister, Garret FitzGerald.      

bullet Tariq Ali - 3rd February 2006
Dear oh dear, there is that tired old Trotskyite Tariq Ali, almost forgotten remnant of the swinging protesting Sixties, popping up in your pages and apparently about to grace us with his presence as a guest of the misnamed Peace And Neutrality Alliance ... 
bullet Hamas's "Iranian Agenda" and EU Aid - 31st January 2006
Your editorial of January 31st states that for the EU to close the door [ie cease annual payments of €500m to the Palestinian government] so quickly would almost certainly propel the new administration to embrace the Iranian agenda towards Israel, which as we know from President Ahmadeinejad is that Israel should be wiped from the map ...
bullet Spread of Nuclear Arms - 29th January 2006
The nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the brainchild of Frank Aitken, has since been ignored by Israel, India, Pakistan and, most recently, North Korea, all of which have developed such weapons, thunders Garret FitzGerald. But Israel, India and Pakistan have never signed the treaty, so why shouldn't they ignore it?  ... 

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Quotes of Week 116




7/7 is on its way” 


Kill the one who insults the Prophet” 


Europe will pay, your extermination is on its way” 


Behead those who insult Islam” 


Europe is the cancer, Islam is the answer” 

Various slogans in the UK in response to 
the publication of a dozen cartoons lampooning Mohammed

Quote: “Palestine means Palestine in its entirety - from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River, from Ras Al-Naqura to Rafah. We cannot give up a single inch of it. Therefore, we will not recognize the Israeli enemy's [right] to a single inch.” 

Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar, 
interviewed on Al-Manar TV on 25th January

Not much evidence of Hamas renouncing 
its destroy Israel ” policy

Quote: “We will teach them [Palestinians] how we can have an industry that is independent of the Israeli enemy. We will gradually get all the laborers back [from Israel], after supplying them with job opportunities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where they will work in small and very small factories which will be independent of the Israeli enemy.” 

The same Mahmoud Al-Zahar demonstrates his 
economic ignorance in believing jobs and wealth 
can be created by Hamas fiat


Quote: “In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honor in retreat” 

President George Bush 
in his State of the Union address last week

Quote: “Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.” 

President Bush, in his 2006 State of the Union speech, 
appears to set a tough goal.  

Except that oil from the Middle East accounts 
for only 20% of US oil imports, 
so that the replacement is only 15% and 
does not require reduced consumption at all

Quote: “In this world full of culturally charged issues I think we should make it clear that Senator McCain and I are not married.” 

Bill Clinton at the Davos World Economic Forum, 
when the organizer noted that the next US president 
might either be married to Clinton 
or listening in the audience.


Quote: “Four years for a paedophile? That’s all you are, you are a disgrace, boy ... He’s a paedophile. We’ll appeal, we’ll appeal.” 

Mark and Majella Holohan, parents of Robert Holohan, 
shout at 21-year-old Wayne O'Donoghue, 
as he is led away to begin a four year sentence 
for the manslaughter of his “friend” 11-year-old Robert

Quote: “I think it's, with respect, bullshit of the highest order.” 

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin's chief negotiator, in response to
the claim by the International Monitoring Committee
that the IRA has retained a significant number of its weapons,
notwithstanding its decommissioning in September 2005.

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning,
headed by the Canadian General John de Chastelain,
agrees with Mr McGuinness


Quote: “People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.

Eric Hoffer, an American intellectual.
This is apropros of nothing, I just like the quote 

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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


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


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


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

More details on my blog here.


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

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

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

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

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


part of a death march to Thailand,


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


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


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


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

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


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


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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


Other books here

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