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TALLRITE BLOG 
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Ill-informed and Objectionable
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February 2007

Next blog, #147, came out on 8th April 2007; nothing in March

 


 Time in Ireland 

  

 

ISSUE #146 - 18th February 2007 [391+4170=4561]

When Weakness Is Strength

In contests, strong people defeat weak people, right?  Usually yes, but paradoxically weakness can sometimes be a strength. 

A chain is only as strong as the weakest link.  If you are that weakest link it can give you disproportionate strength in negotiating with the other links since their survival depends on you. 

This happens all the time in coalition governments where the dominant party needs just a few more votes to gain a majority and there is a tiny party waiting in the wings and willing to provide them.  In return, however, the small party expects goodies - like juicy ministerial positions - that are out of kilter with the few votes they bring to the table, yet the strong dominant party has no option but to agree.  Coalition policies thus end up disproportionately driven by the ideology of the tiny party.   

  • A (parochial) case in point is Ireland, where the huge Fianna Fail party, which sports no fewer than 215 legislators are in a ruling coalition with the tiny (and not much liked - latest poll: 1%) Progressive Democrats, with just thirteen.  Yet the PDs hold two of the eight heavy-weight ministerial positions, which effectively means 25% of the power for 6% of the seats (and that 1% in popularity). 

Banks also know all about the strength of weakness.  They have a saying to the effect that if you owe them a thousand €uro/Pounds/Dollars they have you by the throat, but if you owe them a million then the grip changes hands because you then have them by the throat.  The bank dare not countenance default on a major loan.  Maybe its millions vs billions, but you get the point. 

The much derided President George W Bush is finding himself in the middle of a similar paradox.  For the more unpopular he becomes, whether in Congress, in the Senate, among Democrats and even with his own Republicans, the less people approve of him across the country, the stronger he actually becomes.  It's not pleasant being hated by nearly everyone, but for him it does have some distinct advantages, particularly since he faces no further election.  Ever.  It's unrealistic to suppose - no matter what he does - that he can ever regain the approval ratings anywhere close to the dizzy 90s that immediately followed 9/11, and pointless to try. 

Various ratings throughout Bush's two terms.  Click for latest update.

On the other hand, his approval is now so dismal (in the 20s) it is unlikely to go much lower, and even if it does so what?  It won't increase the pain; that's already at maximum. 

This gives him extraordinary freedom of action.  For, notwithstanding his apparent lame-duck status arising out of his supreme unpopularity, Mr Bush is still the president of the United States and still the commander-in-chief.  He can still do stuff.  And from his point of view, and to quote the song, things can only get better when he does that stuff.  He has nothing to lose (though it's true his party and successor do). 

The Iraq Study Group, populated by various revered figures, recommended that the way for Mr Bush to solve the Iraq problem was to grovel to Syria and Iran while running away from Iraq.  Mr Bush went to some length to tell everyone how much he truly valued the work of the ISG, and then ignored it. 

He came up instead with his plan for a military surge to subdue Baghdad, involving much closer integration with Iraqi forces, while making clear that inadequate participation in the plan on the part of the Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki would not be tolerated.  Displaying a ruthless streak rarely seen he got rid of the previous commanders in Iraq, Generals Abizaid and Casey, replacing them with General Petraeus, who was the main author of the surge plan. 

The surge plan itself has drawn howls of protest, mainly from Democrats - both the politicians and ordinary people - but also from very many Republicans.  Indeed so loud has been the wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that you can't help feeling they betoken a great fear that the plan might actually succeed.   

So why don't they stop lame duck Bush in his tracks?  For despite the objectors' distinct majorities in both Congress and the Senate they haven't. 

Firstly, the Senate voted unanimously to approve the appointment of Gen Petraeus whose specific mission is to deliver the surge that they say they so strongly disapprove of. 

Then it was Congress's turn.  With its Democratic majority, enlarged by turncoat Republicans, it passed a motion disapproving the surge of which the commander had just been approved.  But it made the motion non-binding, so essentially pointless.  Oh, and at the same time, the Congressmen and women included a sentence saying how much they support the troops, a contradictory and equally vacuous term, which will give little comfort to Gen Petraus and his men and women in the armed forces in Iraq. 

However next month, they will be voting again.  This time to consider the $100 bn requested by Mr Bush to pay for the surge of which they disapprove.  Yet - extraordinarily - hardly any of them intends to vote it down, for fear of being blamed for future military failures or excessive American casualties. 

How we enjoyed it when Senator John Kerry the flip-flopper earnestly told the world in 2003, I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for the Iraq invasion] before I voted against it.  Well, the rest of his party and many Republicans seem to have caught a similar disease. 

But what on earth are the disapproving legislators playing at?  I don't think even they know.  All they can observe is that the lone lame duck moron, at the weakest that any American president has been in a generation, is somehow turning out to be stronger than their combined might of 435 Congressmen/women plus 100 Senators. 

Mr Bush, for better or for worse (and I think for better) is getting his way.  The American/Iraqi onslaught prompted by the surge is happening, and though it's still early days, the results are already encouraging. 

  • The Iraqis have reported that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (killed last year) as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, has been wounded, his aide Abu Abdullah al-Majemaai captured and his second in command, Abu Adawa al-Majahami killed;

  • Muqtada al Sadr and the heads of his Mahdi Army militia have fled to Iran, and

  • as a result the security situation in Baghdad appears to be calming, with a dramatic reduction in sectarian killings, from 40-50 per night to just ten. 

  • The Iraqi prime minister is calling the surge a dazzling success”. 

Only time will tell whether this is a temporary or permanent improvement.  But the outcome for the moron is straightforward: things either get better (good for him) or get worse (no change for him).  He can't lose.  His weakness is his strength. 

And this strength, viewed through an adversary's telescope, can be enlarged further by the adversary's imagination.  People can become intoxicated with the exercise of power, but they can also be regarded by others as intoxicated without actually being intoxicated. 

Remember how Mrs Thatcher, against all expectation and to considerable consternation around the world, re-took the Falkland Islands from Argentina?  From then on, many regarded this middle-aged house-wife prime minister of a clapped-out medium-sized country as a heavily-armed madwoman drunk on power, who must be approached with extreme caution.  In particular, the Chinese Communists who run China suddenly started taking her seriously in the negotiations over the future of Hong Kong, a colony they had long proclaimed their willingness to march in and seize at any time.  You could never tell what that madwoman might do if provoked too far.  Britain and Hong Kong were no match for China in any confrontation, yet the madwoman reputation turned their weakness into negotiating strength.  As a result of the subsequent negotiations between Britain and China, Hong Kong was given a fighting chance at a democratic future that it would never otherwise have had. 

Well, Mr Bush has earned a bit of a madman reputation of his own (all that Bushitler guff).  Combining this with his strength-through-weakness will also serve him well if he has the courage and will to confront the other great existential challenge of our times.

Iran. 

Few but the most obtuse can doubt the ingrained malevolence of the theocratic regime that runs Iran.  Since it first invaded American sovereign territory in 1979 (the US Embassy in Teheran) and suffered no adverse consequences, it has been inflicting on Western targets a steady dose of outrages, always with virtual impunity. 

Iran created Hezbollah in 1982 as its militant arm to do its dirty work abroad (including, last summer, in Lebanon).  In turn Hezbollah also sports its own militant arm, Islamic Jihad. 

Over the years, Hezbollah has been very busy and very effective.  Professor Victor Davis Hensen reckons that before 9/11 it had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group in the world.

In his usual methodical style, Mark Humphrys lists and links its murderous antics.  I have incorporated some more from Camera (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America). 

Amongst some 30 Westerners whom Hezbollah kidnapped though eventually freed were

And then there is the still-valid death fatwa (with bounty) imposed by that late, unlamented paedophile Ayatollah Ruholla Khomenei on Salman Rushdie in 1989 for writing the Satanic Verse, because it is irreverent towards the prophet Muhammad.  It has not (yet) been carried out, though a number of publishing staff have been killed or injured. 

Meanwhile, in case we are still slow-learners, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has told us that Israel must be wiped off the map, and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani would like to use nuclear weapons to do so.  And he's not bothered about retaliation because Iran is so big he thinks it can absorb it. 

This is today's Iran under its depraved theocratic dictatorship.  Given this utterly amoral track record, if its openly-expressed nuclear ambitions do not constitute a threat to Western civilisation (not just Israel), I don't know what does.  If there is one thing we should have learnt since 9/11 (indeed since Karl Marx's Das Kapital and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf), it is that when totalitarians threaten bad things, you cannot afford not to believe them.  It's the one area where they don't tell lies (unlike many democratic politicians issuing empty threats!). 

Some say Iran is bluffing, that it is nowhere as near to completing its bomb as many in the west fear.  If so, it is playing a very dangerous game.  For it was Saddam's subterfuge in allowing the west to believe, wrongly, that he had WMD ready for immediate deployment,  which triggered the invasion of Iraq, his ousting, the violent death of his only sons and eventually his own execution. 

So back to George Bush, the weakest president any of us can remember. 

He has said in the past that he feels he should not leave the Iran problem to his successor.  Just this month he observed, It’s an important issue whether or not Iran ends up with nuclear weapons.  People are going to look back and say, you know, how come they couldn’t see the impending danger? What happened to them?” 

If you think about it, his is a very moral position to take, because it is unthinkable that in America's new anti-war climate the next president will ever be in a position to attack Iran.  Good, some might say.  But it also means he will never be able to use the threat of force in his negotiations, which will make him far less effective than otherwise.  (Or her, if it's Hilary.)

A recent EU report, written by the staff of Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, leads analysts to suggest that Iran may need only two more years to produce its first crude nuclear bomb, which happens to be the time remaining to Mr Bush.   It's no good waiting until Iran drops such a bomb on Israel to be convinced of its capabilities plus malign intent. 

So Mr Bush is tightening up the rhetoric and screws on Iran. 

  • He claims that roadside bombs used by Shi'ites in Iraq come from Iran;

  • Iranian diplomats/agents in Iraq have been captured who turned out to be Iranian special forces (Al Quds) operatives;

  • some suspect America behind two recent bombings within Iran;

  • the latest (rather flawed) agreement constraining North Korea's nuclear programme takes it off the table as a potential nuclear ally for Iran.  

Whether activities such as these are mere bluster to frighten the Iranians into making a no-nukes deal or preparation for some kind of military strike against Iran no-one except Mr Bush knows.  

However, it must be plain to all - and especially the Iranians - that attacking Iran, whether to destroy its nuclear facilities or simply to take out the current theocratic regime, is well within Mr Bush's capability, and if push comes to shove he will certainly do it.  Whether his craziness is real or imagined, they cannot afford to dismiss it. 

It is his very weakness that gives him strength. 

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Ségolène Royal campaigningGorgeous but Irresponsible
Ségolène Royal

Isn't Ségolène Royal gorgeous?

I know she is the socialist candidate, but I have been secretly hoping she would win the French presidential election, just to brighten the world of international politics.  I was not in the least put off by her various recent gaffes, which to me just added to her charm. 

  • So some Canadian prankster fooled her into thinking she was chatting on the phone with the premier of Quebec;

  • she needlessly praised the speediness of the Chinese Communists' justice system;

  • she doesn't know how many nuclear submarines France has. 

Big deal.  Why, a few years back, didn't a certain presidential candidate of a (OK, the) major world power not even know who was leading India or Pakistan, yet went on to win eight years of power? 

But then Ms Royal got serious and earlier this month delivered her first manifesto speech. 

Prior to this, her staff had held 6,500 thematic debates across France; some 2.7 million people allegedly visited her website; 135,000 sent in written contributions.  Seventy moderators sorted and stirred all this stuff to produce a grand synthesis of notebooks of hope”, which a team of no fewer than twenty then used to construct her two-hour speech.  A presidential pact, she called it, with a 100-point programme.  Whew!

So with such intensity of research and manpower, there was no chance of gaffes or slips of the tongue.  Every word deadly serious. 

She delivered her speech in a packed hall near Paris.  A fairer France would be a stronger France, she declared, to delirious applause. 

But what did those words actually say?  Well they provided a blueprint guaranteed to drag poor France further down the wealth-destroying spiral it's already locked in.  Here's a sample. 

She intends to raise the minimum monthly wage to €1,500, which is a recipe for job destruction where joblessness has long been stuck at over 9%.  

  • With a 35-hour week, this translates to about €10/hour, or 20% more than Ireland's. 

  • Yet Ireland boasts a GDP per head 45% higher than France's, with half its unemployment rate. 

She'll raise taxes for companies with the temerity to distribute profits to shareholders rather than reinvesting them. 

She'll create a hundred new state agencies, with funds and spending programmes, whose remit will include

  • establishing a national agency for re-industrialisationto stop outsourcing;

  • guaranteed purchasing power and lifelong housing to all (yes, all)

  • raising of pensions and disability benefits;

  • building of 120,000 low income housing units every year;

  • requiring every town to build emergency housing for a thousand homeless people;

  • paying deposits for tenants who could not otherwise rent apartments;

  • requisitioning housing left vacant for more than two years;

  • a diploma and a first job given to all young people (yes, given, yes to all);

  • creation of half a million trampoline jobs for them;

  • Payment of an autonomy allowance and a loan of €10,000 to every young person entering active life” (yes, every);

  • Raising unemployment pay to 90% of the last salary for the first year;

  • Giving free medical care to everyone under the age of 16;

  • Providing contraception free to all females under 25;

  • creating 100,000 jobs by committing France to environmental excellence (whatever that is);

  • reorientation of the Common Agricultural Policy aid towards rural development (reorientation towards disappearance would make more sense);

  • fighting  unfair competition and outsourcing, by establishing minimum levels of (ie raising) corporation tax.

Yet not a whisper about costs.  And apart from that last little hint about raising corporation tax and the earlier one about taxing companies which don't reinvest, not a word about where the money for all this largesse is going to come from, other than a hopeful reform of government bureaucracy.  Yeh, right!

Nonetheless, she assures everyone, this would reconcile the French with business to get France out of deficit-spending and achieve social progress

Dear oh dear.  If only the delectable “Ségo” as she is affectionately known could just stick to blunders about submarines, she would be far less irresponsible and threatening. 

I think I've just fallen out of love with her. 

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Saint Valentine: From Clubs to Chocolate  
or tinyurl.ie/luv

Saint Valentine, a martyr for marriage

In this past week of roses, chocolates and pink champagne, it is interesting to learn something about Saint Valentine who started it all, as largely recounted by Rory Egan

A martyr for the cause of matrimony and patron saint of love, his remains lie buried in a casket in a Carmelite church in central Dublin.  People from all over the world come to his shrine to get their wedding rings blessed or just to say a prayer to this most interesting of saints.

The Catholic church actually recognises three St Valentines. One, a little-known saint, died in Africa. But the two that lived in Italy, one in Rome and the other in Terni, could have been the same person. It is this Roman St Valentine (Valentinus) that we have venerated all these years.

In the 3rd century AD, Claudius II, or Claudius the Cruel as he was known, ruled Rome. Claudius banned marriage, on pain of death, saying it distracted his soldiers and made them less likely to leave their wives to go off and fight. He had a point. 

The Christians of Rome, however, thought it a terrible suggestion and still sought to get married. So their priests, one of whom was Valentine, married the sweethearts in secret.

Claudius learnt of Valentine's disobedience and sentenced him to death by clubbing, stoning and then decapitation.

A prison guard friendly to Valentine asked him to help him with his blind daughter, Julia. So Valentine taught Julia to appreciate things with her other senses and to regard her blindness as a gift, another way of seeing things. The night before Valentine was to receive his fatal clubbing, he wrote a note to Julia, urging her to stay close to God, enclosed a flower and signed it From your Valentine. He was executed the following day, 14th February 269 AD, near a gate that was later named Porta Valentini (now Porta del Popolo).  When Julia opened the note she could see the bright yellow crocus inside. Her blindness was cured and the miracle was attributed to St Valentine; which sent him on the road to sainthood. That is why Valentine cards are traditionally signed From your Valentine”. 

In the time of Valentine, 14th February happened to be a holiday to honour Juno - the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. It had long been a tradition that young men and women - normally strictly segregated - would draw names out of a jar and then spend the day together, which sometimes led to love and marriage.

This is a story to stir all good husbands, fiancés, boyfriends and stalkers to organise, in good time, a card, a few goodies and a night out on the town. 

How come St Valentine reposes in Dublin?

Casket containing the remains of St ValentineIn 1865 a young Irish Carmelite priest, Fr John Spratt, so impressed Pope Gregory XVI with his sermons and work with the poor, that he gave him the casket containing the (clubbed) remains of St Valentine, which Fr Spratt brought back to his home church in Dublin.

Now that was a Valentine goodie with a difference, and a bit better than chocolates.  Yet those who take their sweethearts out, er, clubbing on St Valentine's day are celebrating his martyrdom in a way they mightn't have imagined.


or tinyurl.ie/luv

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Week 146's Letters to the Press

Two letters this week.  To my surprise the one on Iraq was published but not the one about an attempted food price cartel; I would have expected it to be the other way round. 

  • Food Price Rise Warnings
    Madam, - Ibec's Food and Drink Industry Ireland group and the grocers' federation Rgdata warn us of impending food price rises.  How very thoughtful, but it sounds awfully like a cartel is kicking in to soften up consumers prior to co-ordinated price increases, in order to swell its members' profits ...   

  • Krauthammer's View of Iraq P!
    Because Charles Krauthammer supports the freeing of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, Alan Barwise asks, "why does The Irish Times persist in publishing Mr Krauthammer's articles?".  For the same reason that it publishes a letter from Mr Barwise who patronisingly believes Iraqis are not ready for freedom and deserve only authoritarian rule ... 

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Quotes of Week 146

- - - - - I R A Q   S U R G E - - - - -

Quote: I can say with certainty that the Quds force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops. And I'd like to repeat: I do not know whether or not the Quds force was ordered from the top echelons of government.

George Bush cranks up the rhetoric against Iran. 

About time

Quote: Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq ... [but] Congress disapproves of the decision . . . to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq.

US Democrat resolution saying that
Congress supports all its troops except the last 20,000. 

What ever is that supposed to mean?
Especially since the Democrats plan to approve
the $100 bn needed for the surge.

It is redolent of John Kerry's famous words in 2003,
I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for the Iraq invasion]
before I voted against it
.

Quote: I do believe that if you really believe that this is doomed to failure and is going to cost American lives, then you should do what's necessary to prevent it from happening rather than a vote of disapproval ... This is a vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops who are going over there.”

Senator John McCain (R) comments on
the Democratic efforts to table a Senate debate
which would censure George Bush's planned surge or 21,500 troops in Iraq,
but not deny the $100 bn needed to implement it

- - - - - U S   P R E S I D E N T I A L   E L E C T I O N - - - - -

Quote: I've never seen our country as much as of an international pariah ... as it is today.

Would-be repeat presidential candidate
John Kerry, his treasonous foot once again in his mouth,
as he addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,
where he wills defeat and humiliation on America and its armed forces,
just as he did after his Vietnam service

Quote: I don't have any plans to run for president, but I appreciate the request.

Al  Gore, hedging his bets. 
I think he's lying.  No doubt he has not yet made a decision,
but it is inconceivable that he actually has made no plans at all.

- - - - - J I H A D - - - - -

Quote: Yes, I do recognise these books, of course. We have these books in our school ... the books should not be scrapped ... we don't teach hatred towards Judaism or Christianity - on the contrary.

Dr Sumaya Alyusuf, headmistress of the
King Fahd Academy in Acton (London),
 which is owned and funded by Saudi Arabia.

She was defending school textbooks which describe
Jews as apes and Christians as pigs
”.

- - - - - O T H E R - - - - -

Quote: [Britain's] Channel 4 is a supposedly independent public-service channel: in fact, it is long since a cheap, debased network, being to the ideals of public service what dysentery is to freshly-laundered underwear.

Columnist Kevin Myers,
on C4's Big Brother episode when
nobody-celebrities Jane Goody and other young harridans
harangued Bollywood star Silpa Shetty.

Headline: Hooker Hits New Heights On Borrowed Pole

Disappointingly, the story beneath this salacious headline is simply that
pole-vaulter Steve Hooker lost his pole so had to borrow someone else's

Hattip: Tony in Doha and Graham in Perth 

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ISSUE #145 - 4th February 2007 [821+415=1236]

Noam Chomsky's Imperial Ambitions

Imperial AmbitionsImperial Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World  was published in 2005.  I was given it by someone who felt I needed a bit of re-education out of my right-wing neocon views.  I welcomed the gift because I had never studied Noam Chomsky's work in any depth yet wouldn't like to line his pockets by buying it; moreover it is always wise to know your enemy.  I last wrote about him a year ago when he visited Ireland, in a post entitled Noam Chomsky Rants in Dublin” (from which you can guess at my bias). 

Imperial Ambitions is an easy book to read of just 200 small pages, with well written sentences.  But it's a lazy, rambling production which randomly jumps all over the world from topic to topic, because it is simply a series of interviews with the great man by a fawning radio broadcaster, David Barsamian, who has produced a dozen such books.  Mr Barsamian lobs up the easy balls and Mr Chomsky whacks them.  In the process, this American Jew makes it abundantly clear that he despises Americans and Jews, well Israel anyway. 

In one sense Mr Chomsky is admirable.  Not only is he extremely articulate and clear in what he says, but he has an absolutely phenomenal memory for facts, figures, names, places, dates. 

But he is a seething mass of hatred and resentment at the world he is lucky enough to find himself in, that is to the say the western, democratic, capitalistic part of the world which he thinks intolerable and - yes - undemocratic. 

On the other hand, he has extraordinary tolerance for things like

  • racism by non-whites,

  • including India's pernicious caste system (perhaps mankind's most sophisticated racist ideology) (see page 48 of his book),

  • brutality perpetrated by non-Americans (p47),

  • flouted UN resolutions such as the infamous 1441 with its threat of serious consequences(p77) should Saddam fail to demonstrate disarmament,

  • Soviet tyranny (p89)

  • the Vietnamese Communist tyranny that followed America's defeat and flight, a dictatorship which he thinks makes the countryindependent (p121). 

He is also perfectly relaxed about peddling patent untruths provided they denigrate America.  For example, he tells us that the US doesn't want a democratic Iraq (p80), Halliburton is out to control Iraq's oil (p81), the US wants to attack everyone (p87), and its major enemy is - wait for it - its own domestic population (p103), though Europe and Asia are also it enemies (p112). 

Iraq

Iraq, as you might expect from a fervent anti-warrior (translation: an ABAwho wants Anyone But America to win), gets a lot of attention, some of it bizarre, some Marxist, much of the rest simply dishonest. 

Iraq is guilty of limiting tax to 15% and trying to encourage foreign investment (p81) - which is far too capitalistic and wealth-creating for Mr Chomsky's Marxist taste.  Indeed, his meandering case for an American welfare state (only government systems, it seems, can be highly efficient) devoid of personal responsibility for anyone, and how this utopia is impossible unless you get rid of free capital movement and investment (p145-7) only underline his commitment to Communist principles.  No wonder he loves dictatorships. 

Bizarrely, he criticises America for using both too much and too little force in Fallujah (p102), yet dishonestly gives the murder and mutilation of the four American soldiers that triggered the battles not even a mention.  On the other hand, the moderate damage inflicted on Fallujah with hundreds of fatalities is likened to Grozny (p123), the capital of Chechnya utterly flattened by the Russians with thousands killed. 

He makes clear he fears a sovereign, democratic Iraq because this would legitimise the Iraqi leaders, police and army and thus prevent him from likening them to the Vichy government in Nazi-occupied France (p140).  He goes on to say it is unimaginable” and “inconceivable that the US will ever permit one to emerge (p148-9), though subsequent events demonstrate it has done everything in its power to create precisely that.  How disappointed he must be. 

America

As far as America is concerned, he supports a view that an attack by America is justified only when planes are already flying across the Atlantic to bomb the US (p135), which most non-nutty people might think is a bit late, especially if they are nuclear bombs. 

Thus Bill Clinton is in trouble for bombing that pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (p108), thinking it was an Al Qaeda munitions dump, because he apparently killed tens of thousands of people through lack of medicines.  Of course Mr Chomsky fails to note that the attack was in (relatively mild) retaliation for Al Qaeda's bombing of two US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 257 innocents, nor that the Sudan dictatorship was harbouring Al Qaeda. 

Britain, as America's ally, gets a lot of opprobrium.  A subtle device he often uses is to call it England”, especially when being critical.  I don't know why, but I imagine it is because “England” sounds more Anglo-Saxon-Protestant which seems to be one of his most hated racial stereotypes.  One example is his excoriation of the Hutton Report, an independent investigation into the BBC's allegation that the British government had “sexed up” the case for invading Iraq.  He reckons this shows “the very low commitment to freedom of speech in England” (p151).  Apart from the extraordinary non-sequitur of his conclusion, presumably everything is fine in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Israel

Anyone can prove anything by selecting only facts and references that support the desired conclusion.  Mr Chomsky is a master at this.  He castigates the Washington Post for telling children (no reference provided) that the root of the Palestine/Israel conflict is the Palestinians' desire under Arafat for part of Israel”.  This, he tells us, is “disgraceful indoctrination” because it infers that the so-called “Occupied Territories” are part of Israel (p154). 

In fact, he should be outraged because the newspaper did not make clear that the Arafat wanted not part but all of Israel, as the Palestinians' current Hamas leaders still openly do. 

Japan

It is interesting - but not surprising - to deduce that Japan bore no responsibility for the two atomic bombs dropped on them - it was of course the sole fault of those American imperialists, who didn't care about the suffering they caused (p182).  Though Mr Chomsky is careful to note that 100,000 Japanese died, he fails to mention how quickly the war then ended and how many Allied servicemen's lives the bombs saved by avoiding a ground invasion of Japan.  (My fully alert, 91-year-old, ex-RAF father is in no doubt that for this reason dropping those bombs was the right thing to do.)

Dodgy References

A major drawback of the book, which can only be deliberate, is that, out of the 202 references at the back of the book, just three provide URLs and are thus easily checkable.  All serious books in this internet age provide web links to their references wherever possible.  Why would they not?

But Mr Chomsky's other 199 non-URL references refer the unfortunate reader

  • either to books and publications not available online or subscription-only, so difficult for most people to verify,

  • or to articles which are freely on line (such as newspaper reports from the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Washington Post) but he makes it hard by requiring you to do your own hunting. 

Oh, and a significant number of references are to the writings of ... Mr Chomsky himself, as if that makes them true. 

There can be only one reason for all this: the author provides copious references to convince readers that what he says is trustworthy, but strongly discourages them from doing their own authenticating.  So you have to conclude that he knows much of what he says cannot be backed up.  Bullshit baffles brains”, as someone once said. 

Parody

Sometimes he goes beyond parody: like when he quotes, approvingly, John Steinbruner and Nancy Gallagher in Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  They hope that a coalition of peace-loving states led by China [sic] will coalesce to counter US militarism and aggressiveness”.  So, he concludes, “let's hope China will rescue us [benighted Americans]”.  No doubt just as it “rescuedTibet in 1950 and is itching to “rescue” Taiwan.  A search of the journal's website however turns up no such phraseology.  Did he make it up?

But America is, of course, a failed state”, mainly because [sic] it lacks a National Health Service (p198), and also a “frightened” one (p186).  In the absence of “rescue” by China, it would, it seems, do better to emulate Brazil and Haiti (p200). 

As I said, beyond parody. 

Action and Imperial Ambition

Finally, Mr Chomsky talks endlessly about the need for people to take action to redress the wrongs he enunciates, but you have to wonder why in that case he has never sought public office so that he himself can make a real difference.  You have to deduce that he knows that his following, while enthusiastic, is small, that he would be unsuccessful, and that he fears real opposition. 

Indeed he is noted for ensuring that his adoring audiences are never infiltrated with those who might pose awkward or embarrassing questions; heavies always screen out undesirables.  And he won't accept TV or radio network invitations if an opposition personality will be there to challenge his ideas - he is apparently too easy to take apart. 

Nevertheless his ambition is clearly to live within his own imperium, dispensing his version of wisdom to the less enlightened masses, undisturbed and unchallenged by dissent. 

This post tells you all you need to know about this rather silly book.  Don't waste your money buying it or your time reading it.  

Back to List of Contents

Sell Off Every Hospital and School

For the past several years, not a week has gone by in Ireland or Britain when the papers and TV have not been full of stories about the respective health services, and they're all rather similar and nearly all negative. 

  • Hospitals can't keep up with demand

    • hence trolleys in corridors, operations postponed

  • Hospitals are dirty

    • hence people get infected with MRSA or the winter vomiting bug or septicemia or whatever;

    • and why aren't offices and hotels also dirty?

  • Food is unpalatable

    • what's the mystery if restaurants can do it?

  • Staff are demoralised

    • hence reduced quality of care for patients

  • Money is short (despite massive infusions)

    • so insufficient equipment is available and buildings crumble

  • No-one is in charge

    • hence reform can easily be sabotaged and consultants can ignore hospital managers. 

Yet I recently brought my wife for a state sponsored check-up in the local facility and I found absolutely no evidence for any of the above.  Having made an appointment (online, without fuss), patients were seen with the minimum of waiting, the buildings and equipment were new and spotless, everyone was cheerful, specialists checked different aspects and at the end a comprehensive report was provided which set out everything that had been done, what had been measured and how the measurements compared with safe norms.  It was literally, a clean bill of health.  The facility is busy night and day, never without patients, yet never overwhelmed. 

So why is it so different from the norm?  What's so special about its patients that they are treated so well yet others are only good enough to languish untended on trolleys? 

Well, the difference is between metal and meat. 

It was in fact not my wife but her car I took to the facility, for its biennialNational Car Test”, and it cost me €49.  It is a legal necessity and organized entirely by the state, which however periodically tenders for a contractor to carry out the actual work.  If the contractor's performance is unsatisfactory, it can be terminated and replaced by another.  If the state were also to pay my €49, the car-test facility would be operating exactly like a public hospital - the only difference would be its efficiency. 

It is a scandal that the state is able to organize excellent service for a car but not for a human being, yet the reason is obvious. 

A hospital (or a school) is first and foremost a business, even when its care is free of charge to  its patients.  Simply put,

  • it provides a service,

  • it receives revenue,

  • it pays its staff, its operating costs and its depreciation,

  • it reinvests money and

  • anything left over (as if) reverts to its shareholder, the state.  

The fact that the revenue comes from the state, the staff are state employees and the assets are owned by the state does not alter the business nature of the enterprise one whit.  It's still as much as a business as Microsoft, a corner shop or, indeed, a car-test facility. 

The reason state-owned hospitals struggle so much is therefore pretty straightforward.  There is not a government on earth that is good at running businesses.  None.  Politicians as a group have a completely different skill set and simply don't possess the necessary competences - or incentives - to run a business, just as businessmen rarely become effective politicians (Italy's Silvio Berlusconi might be an exception). 

This is not to denigrate politicians; they have wonderful abilities that I for one could never hope to emulate, not to mention (in democracies) the courage to put their jobs and livelihood on the line every few years, and countries couldn't function without them.  But as a group they're institutionally unable to run businesses properly. 

Thus in cases where governments get out of, or don't venture into, the business of running a business, the businesses provide incomparably better service, and a profit to boot.  The car-test facility is but one example of this, but the wave of privatisations begun by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and copied all over the world to this day, provide overwhelming evidence. 

A great misunderstanding that seems to grip most politicians, however, especially those of socialist leaning, is that if you are going to provide a service to the population, particularly if it's to be free of charge, you also have to run the service.  Thus when health and education, in particular, are provided free, the state nearly always

  • owns the hospitals and schools,

  • directly employees the doctors, nurses, teachers and other staff, and

  • takes on the day-to-day management. 

So of course they don't work. 

Why?  There is no justification for this.  If the hospitals and schools were entirely private, the state could just as easily buy the services required and then provide them free to the sick and young according to its political philosophy. 

Such a model is, in fact, the answer to the débâcle that passes for public services in Ireland and UK.  Think about it.  You auction off all the existing hospitals and schools in the country (in the process adding a tidy sum to the Exchequer which might facilitate tax cuts), and the buyer takes on the existing workforce as part of the deal.  You then go to tender to purchase the health and education services you need.  Tenderers must bid their prices for, say, educating a student, for a hip replacement, for cancer therapy, for long-term hospital care.  The government then awards contracts according to the most attractive offers. 

Thereafter it is merely a matter of managing the contracts, settling the invoices and enforcing quality standards, using payments and termination for this as required, and rebidding the contracts every few years to keep the competition sharp.  This is a far simpler job than running the businesses - professional managers would do that. 

Such restructuring could readily be extended beyond hospitals and schools.  Prisons, garbage collection, public transport are all obvious candidates, though in fairness some of this is already carried out by private contractors. 

The inevitable result of such radical reform and the vigorous competition it entails is quality up, staff morale up, costs down, profit up. 

It's time to sell off every hospital and school and start providing world-class medical care and education.  It's not rocket science. 

But does any politician care enough for the wellbeing of the citizens he/she represents to do so?

Back to List of Contents

Billy Joel, the Piano Man

Every November/December, I put together an eclectic selection of music I have been collecting during the year - classical, light, amusing, instrumental, vocal, old, new - and produce a CD with commentaries and a nice cover, which then goes in with the Christmas cards. 

The latest CD (Selection for 2007”) includes Billy Joel's fabulous hit “Piano Man from 1972, describing life as seen by a piano player in a bar (ie himself). 

Good as it is on the CD, it is even better in this marvellous six-minute video clip. 

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Week 145's Letter to the Press

Two little ones this time, but neither made it on to the hallowed printed page. 

  • Make Those SUV Gas Guzzlers Pay
    Here's a novel idea to make all those thoughtless owners of gas-guzzling SUVs pay their proper share of the cost of the pollution their trucks produce. Slap a hefty tax on every litre of fuel they buy, so that the more they consume, the more they pollute, the more they pay, while people with smaller cars pay proportionately less.

Oh wait, we already have that. So where's the problem?

  • Harry Belafonte
    You shouldn't sanitise Harry Belafonte's views. He didn't just call Condoleeza Rice a
    house slave.  He referred to both her and Colin Powell as house niggers because he reckoned they were too close to George Bush for his liking.

Back to List of Contents

Quotes of Week 145

- - - - - - - - - - I S L A M - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: “The Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland would like to say that it believes that the rule of civil law, the democratic system of representation in government, the protection of the rights of women and minorities and the freedom of thought and belief - under all of which we live here in Ireland - are not only compatible with Islamic values but are closer to the ethos and spirit of tolerance, pluralism and peace in Islam and better serve the Irish Muslim community than the undemocratic regimes and the draconian judicial systems found in some predominately Muslim countries today.

Mohammed Alkabour,
Secretary-General of the Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland

I have never seen such a pro-democracy statement
from a national leader of Muslims. 

He was, admirably, responding to and distancing Ireland's Muslims from
a report by the British Conservatives which states
that
 
the Muslim Council of Britain's claim
to foster good community relations and work for the good of society as a whole is hard to reconcile with some of the positions it's taken ... [and] "a significant number" [of Muslim groups were] keener to promote ideology than the totality of the communities they claim to represent

- - - - - - - - - - I R A N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: “We have to recognise it: negotiations have failed. Time is not on our side ... The only response is to isolate them [the Iranians] internationally as well as politically and economically. In the long term, in the - I hope not very long term - the only real solution is regime change.” 

John Bolton, the straight-talking, hard-hitting US Ambassador to the UN,
until the new Democratic Congress and Senate got rid of him

- - - - - - - - - - U S A - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: I mean, you got [in Barak Obama] the the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man.

Senator Joseph Biden (64),
who is competing with Barak Obama for the Democratic nomination,
endears himself to the other mainstream African-American politicians by
letting them know he thinks they are all
inarticulate and dim and dirty and nasty-looking guys.

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

Quote: If anything like ... rape, attacks on the elderly, car theft, and killings and injuries caused by so-called joyriders ... happens then what Sinn Féin will be doing will be asking people, urging people, encouraging people to work, to co-operate with the police in taking these people off the streets.

Laudably, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams pledges support
to the police in Northern Ireland following a historic vote.

However he mentions only people-related crime.  His silence on property crime (eg the IRA's favourites of bank-robbery, diesel-laundering, disk-piracy)
suggests equivocation. 

Also, no mention of co-operation with the police over past crimes such as the Northern Bank robbery and the mob murder of Robert McCartney.

Time only will tell what will actually be delivered.

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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

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

  • the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

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

More details on my blog here.

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

  • part of a death march to Thailand,

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

  • regularly beaten and tortured,

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

  • a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

  • Why does asparagus come from Peru?

  • Why are pandas so useless?

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

  • Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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

+++++

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