There is no better way to destroy a wicked state than through
There is a country somewhere with some remarkable attributes.
Let's call it Country N.
Splendid meticulously maintained
highways, from four to ten lanes, radiate out from the capital,
which sports the museums, high-rise
thousand-room hotels, massive monuments, football stadia
world's biggest, seating 150,000) etc that one would would
expect from such a city.
The capital also sports a magnificent if small underground railway
system built over four decades ago. At an average depth of 110
metres, it is the world's
deepest. Each of its seventeen stations is an extravagant
work of art
festooned with mosaics, bronze plaques, victory arches,
It also has some remarkable technical achievements to its name which
lead to lucrative export earnings. It is among world leaders
in nuclear weapons technology, rocket technology, tunnelling
Country N is a strong defender of its sovereignty, fortified by a
huge military - the world's fourth biggest, with
1.1 million personnel (5% of its population) under arms.
Of course this comes at a price: 25% of its GNP. So there is not much left for the general
populace, which anyway earns a mere $2½ per day per person.
This is how A compares with other major military countries,
including one we'll call U.
N and U share one mighty characteristic. They spend a huge chunk,
25% and 16%, of their citizens' income on the military.
Thanks to these enormous, handsomely funded armies, navies and air
forces, comprising millions
of men under arms and countless weapons systems including nuclear ones,
N and U
make themselves virtually impregnable. So what can possibly go
Well eventually, they can suffer an colossal economic
implosion due to the endless spending which leaves almost nothing
for anything or anyone else. And then, without even a (Tunisian/Egyptian
style) popular uprising by the masses
who have been systematically pauperised over many decades, such a
country can disappear altogether.
That is precisely the calamity that befell Country U in 1991, which
was of course the malign, murderous, incompetent Soviet Union,
with its railways, roads, airports monuments, hotels, skyscapers,
industries and all the trappings of modernity. Ronald Reagan
cunningly helped it on its downward vicious spiral by steadily increasing
America's military expenditure throughout the 1980s. The
“% of GNP” column in the above table shows it could
well afford this. But when the Soviets tried to keep up, they
couldn't remotely manage to because the wider economy had long been
ruined thanks to their socialist policies - the vast percentage of
GNP going to the military (16%) was unsustainable. As Mrs Thatcher had sagely
observed way back in 1976,
“Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial
mess. They always run out of other people's money”.
And then you die, she could have added.
So the Soviet Union died - and without a shot being fired.
I lived through the long years when a
nuclear war with the Soviets looked inevitable. No-one in those
days could envisage an outcome that did not involve
either total surrender by the West followed by the
already suffered within the Soviet Empire,
or else a Pyrrhic victory achieved at the cost of
hydrogen and neutron bombs obliterating major cities and people in
their millions -
suffered by both sides of the conflict.
Yet by the end of 1991, hundreds of millions of oppressed people had
been rapidly liberated
across Russia and in the states formerly shackled to it as part of
its sinister Soviet empire, from Vladivostok to the Black Sea to Berlin to
the Baltic. The Cold War stopped dead in its tracks, handing
resounding victory to
America and the West, while creating countless new
countries with strange names (Kyrgyzstan?) that few Westerners had
ever heard of. Incredible to imagine at the time, but
true. Truly a
So what about Country N? Can we expect the same? What is
Country N? You probably guessed that it's North Korea.
Chun Yung-woo is South Korea's chief presidential adviser on
national security and foreign affairs and was once the South's top
negotiator on the now-stalled six-nation talks on the North's
nuclear weapons programme. He recently
think they will come to the point where they can no longer sustain
the burden of military expenditure
... their obsession with their military capabilities, especially
weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons, chemical weapons
... would be a short-cut to their demise”.
When you see how, despite the impoverishment of
its people, each making just $2.50 a day, from which the diabolical dynastic
Kim Jong Il (progeny of state founder Kim Il Sung, thankfully dead
since 1994 but
president for all eternity) then confiscates 62 cents for his army, navy and air
force, you have to wonder for how long this will be sustainable.
In recent years North Korea has had to cope with natural disasters
and famine in the 1990s, botched currency reform in 2009 and massive
flooding last year, all of this misery massively amplified if not
caused by a ruling élite distinguished by its stunning ineptitude
and endemic corruption.
Yes, its nuclear arsenal is terrifying, the
more so because of the lunacy of its dictator and the uncertainty
about the timing and nature of his succession (believed to be to a
sour-looking son, Kim Jong Un). Kim Jong Il could at any time
obliterate Seoul, the capital of his mortal enemy South Korea, in a
matter of hours, after which God knows what direction the inevitable
war and response would take. Moreover, until that happens or
the North Korean regime falls by other means, it will continue to
export its nuclear technology to terror states such as Syria, Iran
and Burma, which in turn encourages other states in those
neighbourhoods to counter this by building their own nuclear
arsenals in the interests of defence. Where that leaves the
world in terms of its security is anyone's guess, but none of the
guesses is going to be healthy.
To me the fear and helplessness that many today
feel at this kind of Armageddon scenario is eerily reminiscent of
the mood during the 1980s. Then, as indicated above, the terror that permeated the
world was of a sudden nuclear conflict triggered by the MADness (“mutually
of the Soviet Union and its opponent the United States, both of them
armed with enough such weapons to destroy everything and everyone on
planet several times over.
But if that threat were suddenly defused by simple economics - the
inability of one adversary to continue functioning simply because it
had no more money - then there is hope that North Korea will
similarly crumble for the same reason. For dire as the
finances of the USSR were, the table above illustrates that North
Korea's are worse by an order of magnitude.
This therefore represents a message of hope. Diplomatic and
economic sanctions, and indeed any measures that will require the
regime to spend money, pursued doggedly, will eventually squeeze the
illegitimate regime of Kim Jong Il and his odious family until
finally the pips squeak and they're gone - deposed, imprisoned,
exiled, killed, or all four. Who cares so long as the regime
Economic and migratory mayhem will doubtless follow for a while, as
the two Koreas reunite like two geological continents. But if
the Germans can manage such a transition without gunfire, then with
the goodwill and assistance of the rest of the world, the Koreans
We have seen in recent history how a vicious spiral can turn into a
virtuous one. We - and more importantly the Koreans - have
therefore reason to be sanguine.
BP's blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was the inevitable consequence
long ago I was invited to place a review of this book on Amazon's
website by its publisher McGraw-Hill, who kindly sent me a copy.
I received no payment (regrettably).
is my full review, which I sent to them with the request it be
forwarded to the author. I doubt they enjoyed it very much -
truth hurts. I have now submitted a somewhat shorter version
Amazon, the only review there that so far appears.
is one of the first books published that examines in detail
the events leading up to BP's Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in
April 2010. Extremely well structured and argued, it grabs the reader’s attention in the first few paragraphs
and holds it for the succeeding 285 pages.
The author builds up a convincing
picture of a major company, one of the fabled “Seven
Sisters”, which in 1995, eight years after privatisation by Mrs Thatcher, acquired
an ambitious and energetic CEO John Browne. Mr (now Lord) Browne
expanded BP and its reserves by buying Amoco and Arco, two mid-level US
companies, and embarking on ever more ambitious offshore exploration
Meanwhile, he improved profitability
by instigating a massive, relentless and never-ending cost-reduction
drive. His mistake, however, was to make it clear – though without
actually saying so – that cost-cutting trumped everything else including
safety. As a result maintenance was slashed, skilled and experienced
older engineers were fired, key technical expertise and activities were
outsourced, safety issues were neglected – especially if money was
involved. These were all steps for which the negative effects do not
become fully apparent for some years, whereas the dollar savings are
Moreover, Browne’s practice of
grooming and broadening his bright young protégés (whom he called his “turtles”)
by shifting them from job to job with only a few months or years in each,
meant that not only did they fail to pick up the necessary technical
skills normally obtained through long hard grafting, but they didn’t
stick around long enough to suffer the problems their inexperience and
incompetence often engendered.
In such a climate, mistakes
accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines
and offshore operations, giving BP the worst safety record – by far – of
all the US oil industry. It also contributed to the business disaster
that befell BP when Russia virtually commandeered its operations in that
country and BP's local managing director Bob Dudley (now BP's CEO) had to flee for his life.
The Macondo blowout was, therefore,
not a freak, unlucky event, but merely the inevitable outcome of all
this. Yes, appalling technical errors were committed by the staff both
offshore and more pertinently onshore. But the people, systems and
organisation involved were the product of the poisonous corporate
culture that Browne, and Tony Hayward, the turtle who replaced him,
engendered and fostered.
The author develops this central
argument very effectively and convincingly, and it is undoubtedly
sound. Indeed it is supported by the
findings in January 2011 of the Oil Spill Commission appointed by
the White House.
What a pity, therefore, that the book
is rife with technical errors, mistaken terminology and even silly
arithmetic mistakes and typos. Indeed the very first page of the
Preface contains a typo: “the
America”. With just a little bit more effort and proper
technical editing, the book would have offered so much more. For
It would have benefited hugely from a few simplified line
drawings and charts to illustrate some of the complex technical
issues described (often wrongly) by the author.
And a few photographs would have further enlivened the volume.
Furthermore, while the book is well annotated at the back with a
per-chapter listing, it is annoying that the chapter numbers in the
listing do not contain the chapter titles, while the chapter titles
in the header of each page do not include the chapter numbers. This
makes cross checking the annotations clumsy and irritating.
The most schoolboyish arithmetical
mistakes surround the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker that ran aground in
Alaska in 1989 spewing its entire load of heavy viscous crude onto the
cold, pristine shoreline and wildlife.
In 1969 a blowout in Santa Barbara California spilled 200,000
gallons (ca 50,000 barrels);
the author says on p183 that the Valdez spill was 50 times
greater, implying its load was 2,500,000 barrels.
On the next page he says that at 30,000 barrels per day, the Macondo
blowout would exceed the that of the Valdez in two weeks –
which would mean the Valdez spill was around 420,000 barrels.
The page after that, a different Macondo estimate, of 70,000 barrels
a day, would apparently take four days to exceed that of the Valdez,
ie the Valdez contained 280,000 barrels.
So how much oil did the Valdez spill,
Mr Steffy? 2½ million barrels? 400,000? 280,000? Answer: between
260,000 to 750,000 barrels, as any quick
internet search reveals. The issue is further confused by the
author’s bothersome habit of switching units between barrels and gallons
and not defining whether the latter are US gallons (42 to the barrel) or
Imperial gallons (35). Moreover, the author neglects to
explain that, in the absence of any means to take quantitative
measurements, all the Macondo flow rates provided are mere guesstimates
- mostly made by eyeballing oil flowing from a pipe at seabed as viewed
on a TV monitor filmed by a robot submarine.
The technical errors are so pervasive
in those areas where I happen to possess expertise (deep-water
high-pressure drilling operations), that I would have to assume a
similar degree of technical blunders in areas where my expertise is more
limited (refineries, Arctic pipelines, Russian petropolitics).
Moreover, it is clear from the nature
of the errors that the author believes – and is able to convince others
who are similarly uninformed – that he in fact knows what he is talking
about. (Listen to him, for example, in this recent
interview with the Daily Telegraph). Therefore he has not sought
specialist advice and editing. But his confidence is unfounded, and his
lack of technical knowledge seems to lie in the realm of Donald
Rumsfeld’s much derided “unknown unknowns”. That can be the only
reason he failed to seek expert input to what would otherwise be the
defining book of the Macondo blowout.
The book is in bad need of technical
editing before the second edition is issued (naturally I have offered my
I have listed the forty or so errors
that I found on just a first reading, on a separate page entitled
in Oily Mistakes”.
My overall conclusion: unless you are relaxed about all
the errors (which in fairness do not materially impinge on the reasoning
and overall conclusions), it would be better to wait for the second
edition before buying. By then, however, the subject matter could
have become old hat.
As far as BP is concerned, only a wholesale rebuilding
of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such
tragedies and the eventual destruction of a mighty corporation with a
long and generally honourable history.
+ + + + +
I wrote my own analysis of the actual blowout in two posts and two
related newspaper articles last year. I have seen no data
since then that would disprove what I concluded then:
Moving criminals around allows them to continue creating
I came across two criminal stories recently that occured in Ireland.
One appeared in the national press. The other did not but I
heard about it from someone who was closely involved with the
The second story first:
In an expensive nursing home, €47,000
over a six month period from elderly woman by an employee who had stolen
her credit card and talked her out of revealing her PIN number.
The thief made daily cash
withdrawals from ATMs and also purchases, until the bank alerted the
woman's relatives about the atypical pattern of her account
activities. The culprit was quickly identified and apprehended
and sentenced to
16 years. However, since the culprit was a foreigner, five
years were suspended on the condition that the person left Ireland.
Now the other story:
In 2009, Rebecca French, a mother
of two, had been beaten to death with
golf clubs and her body hidden in the boot (trunk) of a car
which was then set
alight. Two Lithuanians, a Pole
and an Irishman were apprehended for this heinous crime, but managed
to escape a murder charge through a technicality. They were
however convicted of hindering the murder investigation and
of hiding the victim's body in the car, for which they were
sentenced to ten years each. However the three foreigners had
the final 2½ years suspended provided they agreed to
This raises the following question.
What exactly is the qualitative difference between prematurely
moving these known criminals to other jurisdictions to continue
plying their nefarious trade and shifting known paedophile priests
from one parish to another?
The Catholic Church has been rightly vilified for a practice which
placed the public reputation of the Church and its clergy above that
of abused children, and
which moreover facilitated the abusers to find new victims and so
continue their evil perversions unabated if they so wished.
But isn't this precisely what the Irish judiciary are now openly
doing? Copying one of the most iniquitous past practices of the
Known criminals are being released early with the express
instruction that they go somewhere else where they can create
further victims if they so wish.
Unless such wrongdoing can be linked to the Catholic Church,
however, no-one seems to care. So the Irish judiciary will no doubt
continue doing it.
Readers of the blog will know I am
fan of Lord Christopher Monckton, at least insofar as he
repeatedly and eloquently demolishes the arguments and lies of the
global warm-mongering brigade.
He visited Ireland last month, but unfortunately I found out so late
I was unable to attend any of the functions where he was speaking.
I did, however, record a rambunctious ten-minute debate with him on
Irish radio (Today
FM). His adversary was John Gibbons, a tiresome
environmental activist and polemicist who swallows whole anything
that comes from Green Orthodoxy and runs two sites,
Think or Swim.
Everyone who ever came across him misses the hilarious TV comedian
Ronnie Barker who died in 2005. Of all the work he left
behind, his most enduring legacy was probably
The Two Ronnies, a double act with the diminutive
Ronnie Corbett, that ran for 16 years in the 1970s and 80s and
is still regular re-run on our TV screens.
It is rather poignant, therefore, that a now elderly Mr Corbett
(born 1930) has recently launched a new TV series,
The One Ronnie. But as you will see from this sketch, he
has lost none of his wit and delivery, and nor have the script
Gender-neutral language Letter to the Irish Times Ted Mooney
“had hoped that the new
missal would show a willingness to espouse inclusiveness in relation to
women — a fond hope, the third person singular is invariably male
He displays ignorance of English grammar. In the absence of
gender-neutral nouns and singular pronouns, the use of male terms —
etc has always ...
Micheál Martin, Hamas &
Letter to the Irish Times
Now that [Ireland's ex-Foreign Minister] Micheál Martin is no
longer running Ireland's foreign affairs, can we take it that there will
be an end to this country's kowtowing to the dictatorships of Hamas and
of the Castro brothers?
Did bankers breach
anti-monopoly legislation? Letter to the Irish Daily Mail Jason O'Toole's exclusive interview with Anglo's ex-CEO David Drumm is
both fascinating and incredible. He describes how as Anglo CEO he
visited the executives of AIB and of the Bank of Ireland, three publicly
quoted corporations, to get them (unsuccessfully) to invest in Anglo. As
such, these men seem to have been meeting in private to conspire against
Time to take the tough decisions on oil and gas Comment on an Irish Times article
This is probably Fintan O'Toole's most ignorant article! The posts of
the evidently erudite
demonstrate this with great clarity. I would only add that the enormous
delays and cost overruns of Corrib caused by the carry-on of a handful
of locals with spurious
“safety” concerns has only added to the political risk
Suit youP! Letter published in the Sunday Times You describe how UBS, a prominent Swiss bank, has issued
guidelines for its staff to smarten themselves up, because the way you look is
the first impression you convey to others. You create the second impression
the moment you open your mouth, fairly or not. Therefore one would hope
speech guidelines on pronunciation and grammar ...
Inflated bonuses rushed through as bailout loomed
Comment to an Irish Times article An excellent exposé of nefarious goings-on at AIB. If this happened,
you can be sure that other dubious shifts of money also occurred that we
don't (yet) know about, and at all of the bailed-out Irish banks, not
just AIB. Keep digging, Fintan!
Specifics Needed from BOTH Sides Letter to the Irish Times “Specifics now, Mr Netanyahu”,
you conclude in your editorial of 14th December calling for Israel to
present proposals for Middle East peace. Yet Israel has repeatedly
“set out its stall”
over the past decades. Comprehensive compromises and proposals were put
to Yasser Arafat in 2000 ...
Cries from that nice
Egyptian pro-democracy crowd in Tahrir Square
as a couple of hundred of them dragged off CBS's chief foreign correspondent
Lara Logan (young, blonde, pretty) and subjected her
to a brutal and sustained
and gang-rape, and beating.
“This kind of
documentary is ideal fodder for the EDL [English Defence League].
Channel 4 is putting the safety of children at risk by criticising a school
which is doing its job properly.”
John Hemming, a
Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham, objects to the
exposure by Channel 4 of a Birmingham madrassa, which has been secretly filmed beating young children and indoctrinating them in hatred of infidels,
favourable reports from Ofsted, Britain's school inspectorate.
He thinks such abuses (ie a
its job properly”)
should be kept secret.
“I support and want abortion on demand in Ireland
Bernard Cantillon, chairman of the Equality Committee of Ireland's Labour
plain that Labour is the pro-abortion party,
“If [farting] was not there during the time of
dictatorship because people were afraid of the consequences. Now because of
multipartism or freedom, people would like to fart anywhere ... nature can
George Chaponda, Malawi's
minister for justice and constitutional affairs
defends a bill before parliament to outlaw the breaking of wind in public.
The law will state that
“Any person who voluntarily vitiates the atmosphere in any place
so as to make it noxious to the health of persons in general dwelling
or carrying on business in the neighbourhood
or passing along a public way,
shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.”
breathing in other people's tobacco smoke,
I am sure this must also give you cancer.
those Egyptians rioting in favour of
should be careful what they wish for.
billboard, with a surprising observation, goes up across Ireland.
The slogan references a
recent WHO/UNICEF Report on Maternal Mortality
this one, which records for Ireland
a maternal mortality rate in 2008 of 30 deaths per million live births.
(Actually, the figure is inconveniently lower in Greece, which permits
The safest country for
pregnant women in South America is Chile,
(with 260 deaths per million putting it 57th out of 172 in the world);
Chile is the only country besides Ireland whose constitution forbids
“You might as well wander
down Grafton Street and see if you can meet a couple of good looking
women and say: ‘Would you ever mind coming up for the photograph’.”
Justice spokesman for Ireland's Labour Party,
gets into trouble for accusing Micheál Martin,
leader of the ruling Fianna Fáil party,
of elevating to his front bench
a pair of non-parliamentary women
solely in order to show his feminist credentials.
was accused of having an “Andy
Gray approach to women”
The cry of Uganda's tabloid Rolling Stone,
as it prints the names, photographs and addresses
of a hundred Ugandan homosexuals in October 2010.
Just legible if you click and print it out
In January 2011 David Kato, on the left on the
above front page,
who was the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda,
beaten to death in his Kampala home,
just weeks after winning a court case against the paper.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda,
and a bill was introduced in October 2009 that would
impose life imprisonment or even the death penalty
for some homosexual acts.
Citizens are evidently taking at face value
the trenchant advice of their newspapers and lawmakers
Controversial billboard in
Colorado demanding that
Barack Obama provide conclusive evidence
that he was born in America and is thus eligible to be president.
He has spent thousands of
dollars on lawyers
to prevent the release of original documents
that would put this constitutional issue beyond doubt.
- - - - - U K - - - - -
“We have to get our head out of the sand. They [the
Iranian regime] disagree fundamentally with our way of life and
will carry on unless met with determination and, if necessary, force.”
Tony Blair tells the Chilcot Enquiry (into the
some uncomfortable present day realities,
particularly regarding Iran's efforts to build nuclear weapons in order to
annihilate Israel and dominate the rest of the Middle East.
girls are being passed around and used like meat.” [Halal meat?]
Alan Edwards, a
Detective Chief Inspector with the West Mercia Police,
that Muslim gangs are systematically
recruiting, grooming and gang-raping young white girls.
This is believed to have been going on for over ten years
in, among other places,
the West Midlands,
East London and Slough.
Last year, Scotland Yard
estimated that 5,000 British-born children
were under the control of sex-slave gangs across the UK.
At least ten towns on both sides of the Pennines face the problem.
Yet this seems to be the first time it has really been
Up to now the authorities have pathetically preferred
that the paedophilia continue rather than face accusations of
Mark Pritchard, Deputy Chairman of the Tory
backbench 1922 Committee,
objects when Speaker John Bercow demands
that he stand aside to let the Speaker and his entourage
proceed down a corridor in Westminster,
in accordance with usual protocol.
Apparently, T-shirts with the phrase
“You are not f**king royalty, Mr Speaker!”
have already been printed.
Your Truncheon In Your Pockets”
Told Me The Handcuffs Were Kinky”
Slogans by female protestors outside Scotland
outraged that some of their ilk had been hoodwinked
into sleeping with undercover police spies.
They want to call it rape.
How outrageous that a man should tell fibs
as a ruse to get into bed with a woman.
This has never happened in history before.
- - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - -
“There are occasions when the
imperative of serving the national interest transcend other concerns,
including party political and personal concerns”.
Brian Cowen, Ireland's
(soon to be ex-)Taoiseach
proudly explains (last November) that it is solely in the national interest
that he wants to push through a budget and then call an election.
But his mask has also
For he has proclaimed
that the national interest
usually comes third behind party interest and personal(!)
And this from a serving Taoiseach,
oblivious to the explosive meaning of his words!
It explains a lot, and
not just how the lining of pockets and protecting of cronies,
which have evidently been guiding principles in his ruling Fianna Fáil
have led the country to ruin.
It also explains the
thievery of his predecessors
Bertie Ahern, Charlie Haughey and party founder Eamon de Valera.
For them, personal interest clearly took a high place on their official
Quote (Minute 1:50):
“Let me tell you: the problems of Ireland were created by
the irresponsible financial behaviour of some Irish institutions and
by the lack of supervision in the Irish market.”
José Manuel Barroso, one of the EU's multiple
shouts at Irish MEP Joe Higgins about why Ireland has a financial crisis.
Of course, like any slippery EUrocrat, he tells only half the truth.
He conveniently forgets that for every irresponsible Irish borrower
there is an equally irresponsible lender, and most of them are in
Thus Ireland's problem is inescapably also the EU's and the €uro's.
“But they cannot continue to say ‘come and help us’
while keeping a tax on company profits that is half [that of
President Nicolas Sarkozy sets his sights on
Ireland's long-standing 12½% Corporation
If he were really
concerned about the discrepancy,
he would of course advocate that all the other EU states lower their tax
including France's 33%.
That's the way
competition works in a capitalist system
with the open markets that are supposed to be a core value of the EU.
But this would be
just too painful for him.
Quote: “The lads have all turned off their mobile phones in
case they might be offered a Cabinet post.”
A former Irish Minister points out that
a Cabinet post is now viewed as a poisoned chalice
[Taoiseach] Brian Cowen rings me,
f***ing answering the phone”.
One of those “lads”, an unnamed backbencher
from the ruling and
thoroughly despised Fianna Fáil party,
reluctance to accept a Cabinet job and Mercedes
“De Burgh’s set list ... doubtless included such favourites
Don’t Pay The Ferryman (Germany Will Pay Instead),
Nation in Red,
An IMF Man Came Travelling, and
Patricia the Asset Stripper.”
Lord of the Irish Times speculates
on what Ireland's crooner and Miss World progenitor
Chris de Burgh might, as guest of honour at the
Christmas party of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union,
have sung to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
- - - - - S W E D E N - - - - -
Quote: “I came to Sweden as a refugee publisher
involved with an extraordinary publishing fight with the Pentagon,
where people were being detained and there is an attempt to
prosecute me for espionage ...So I am unhappy and disappointed with
how the Swedish justice system has been abused.”
Strange ramblings from Julian Assange,
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
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
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
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
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
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.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible 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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
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.
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
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