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


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

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bulletISSUE #22 - 5th January 2003
bulletISSUE #23 - 12th January 2003
bulletIssue #24 - 19th January 2003
bulletIssue #25 - 26th January 2003

ISSUE #25 - 26th January 2003 [61]

bulletIraq's "Apparatus of Lies"
bulletMaterial Breach
bulletPalestinians Campaign for Likud
bulletSimDesk - Houston Replaces Microsoft Office
bulletMunster and Tough Rugby
bulletFlt Lt Henry Botterell, 1896-2003

Iraq's Apparatus of Lies 

Yet another Iraq dossier - the fourth - has just been issued, this time by America.  It's called "Apparatus of Lies" and sets out in a dozen pages Saddam Hussein's disinformation and propaganda over the period 1990 to 2003.  With an extensive bibliography and 31 references (most of them non-Governmental) it makes for convincing reading.  The dossier divides the behaviour of Saddam and his regime into four categories.  

bulletCrafting Tragedy: Civilians are placed close to military equipment, facilities and troops; military men and materiel are placed next to or inside mosques and ancient cultural treasures.  This is to deter attack, yet in the event of attack, plenty of civilian casualties and damage to the mosques and treasures will provide propaganda points for the regime.   
bulletExploiting Suffering: For this, Saddam blames starvation and medical crises – often of his own making – on the United Nations or the United States and its allies. This includes 
bullet blaming cancer and birth defects caused by Iraqi use of chemical weapons at Halajba on the US's depleted uranium shells from the Gulf War; 
bulletblaming malnutrition and lack of medical facilities on sanctions whereas there is plenty of money from the UN oil-for-food program were it not diverted for new palaces ($2bn) and armaments; 
bulletmost shockingly, dead babies are stored until sufficient are available to stage mass funerals blaming the deaths on UN sanctions.   
bulletExploiting Islam: Despite being utterly non-religious, Saddam adopts expressions of faith in his public pronouncements, and the Iraqi propaganda apparatus erects billboards and distributes images showing him praying or in other acts of piety.  All the while, the regime prevents pilgrims from making the Hajj or extorts money from them for the privilege. 
bulletCorrupting the Public Record: To corrupt the public record, the regime uses a combination of on-the-record lies, covert placements of false news accounts, self-inflicted damage, forgeries, and fake interviews.

Worth reading for the details.  

And if you haven't already studied them or read my earlier piece and you have the stomach for it, the other three dossiers are : 

bulletTony Blair's 55-page assessment (427 kb) of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) issued in September 2002,  
bulletHis 12-page report (197 kb) on Saddam’s “crimes and human rights abuses” issued in December 2002, and
bulletSaddam's massive dossier comprising 529 megabytes, 11,900 pages issued in December 2002 in response to a demand of UN Resolution 1441.  

But be quick, there's another one coming.  Today's Sunday Telegraph leads with : “Blair demands new dossier to drum up support for Iraq war”.   

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Material Breach

While we're on the subject, do you think the following amount to a material breach of said UN Resolution 1441 ?  

bulletThe UN inspectors have found 16 (albeit empty) chemical warheads that were undeclared by Iraq.  Meanwhile Iraq is silent about the other 29,984 from the 30,000 identified by the Inspectors in 1998
bulletOther unaccounted-for materiel identified by the UN Inspectors in 1998 includes : 
bullet550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas
bullet400 biological weapons-capable aerial bombs 
bullet26,000 litres of anthrax 
bulletBotulinum, VX, and Sarin gas
bulletNew documents have been uncovered about Iraq's nuclear and missile programs
bulletScientists are refusing to be interviewed without an Iraqi minder

The inspectors are not in the country on a scavenger hunt for weapons. They are there to confirm that Iraq has destroyed and dismantled the weapons that the UN knows exist.  In the absence of evidence that it has done so, are we safe to assume that they have all disappeared ?

Certainly sounds like a material breach to me.  

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Palestinians Campaign for Likud

Do the Palestinians have rocks in their heads or do they not want their war with Israel to be replaced with a peace settlement ?  

Israel's last four governments, each democratically elected, have alternated between soft” and “hard.  

bulletLabour (1995-96) under Shimon Peres and dominated by so-called doves, eager to give the Oslo peace process of 1993 a chance.  
bulletLikud (1996-99) under hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu, elected to teach the Palestinians a lesson for their obduracy (as perceived by Israelis) over Oslo.  
bulletLabour (1999-2001) under Ehud Barak who under President Clinton's admirable sponsorship and cajoling offered Yasser Arafat no less than 97% of the land he was demanding for a Palestinian State, but Mr Arafat stalked off without a single counter-proposal.  
bulletLikud (2001 to the present) under ultra tough guy Ariel Sharon in response to the Intifada and suicide bombings that Yasser Arafat launched with weeks of walking out of Camp David.  

Regardless of whether you support them, it is to Israel's considerable credit that it has a powerful democratic system which, when confronted with failure, allows different approaches and different leaders to be given a chance.  Would that the Palestinians were given such opportunity.  

Nevertheless, the Palestinians are playing, as they always have done and whether they like it or not, a crucial rôle in influencing Israel's next choice of party and leader. 

bulletThey can continue to send suicide bombers and other attackers to kill Israeli citizens.  This will ensure that another Likud hardliner will be elected - probably a re-run of Mr Sharon or Mr Natanyahu.  With such a renewed mandate, he will undoubtedly continue responding with heavy military force to every attack, convinced that a crushing military defeat is the only way to end further bloodshed.  
bulletThey can stop their attacks, which will result in a dove-ish leader from Labour being elected.  The consequence will be renewed attempts to settle their differences through negotiation again rather than guns.  

And which of the two parties are the Palestinians backing ?  

The continuing attacks over the past two weeks show they are voting convincingly for the hardline Likud party.  

At the same time the Palestinians are distracting attention away from corruption scandals involving Mr Sharon's son Omri and other party members.  They can't believe their luck.  

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SimDesk - Houston Replaces Microsoft Office

The US Department of Justice spent years dragging Microsoft through the courts to prove it is a wicked monopolist and should therefore be broken up.  Although most of us might have thought the case was obvious, Microsoft with its army of lawyers managed to slide out of it all with little more than a slap on the wrist and the promise of better behaviour in the future.  

But if the DoJ were unable to tweak the tail of one of America's mightiest corporations, the City of Houston in Texas has.  

It all started after Microsoft threatened to audit Houston for allegedly having more copies of Microsoft Office than they have licences for, unless Houston signed a new three-year $12 million contract.  

This bully-boy approach has backfired badly.  According to USA Today, it galvanised Houston to think of alternatives to Microsoft Office.  As a result of a chance meeting on an aircraft, Houston has  awarded a five-year $9½m contract to an obscure, unproven competitor called SimDesk, to replace Microsoft Office on the desks of some 6,500 city workers and, eventually, up to three million city residents.

It is true that SimDesk does not possess all the glorious (and about 90% unused) functionality of Microsoft Office, but it is apparently perfectly adequate for the word processing and spreadsheeting that most people require, and is easy to learn and use.  

Meanwhile, not only is SimDesk way cheaper to buy, but It operates from a central server rather than being installed on every PC.  This means Houston don't have to upgrade their existing computers.  Had they stuck to Microsoft, they would, in addition to that $12m contract, have had to replace thousands of computers to enable them to run Office XP.  

Microsoft, known by many as the evil empire”, are whinging but seem powerless.   Few are shedding tears.  

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Munster and Tough Rugby

Saturday night a week ago, 18th January, the city of Limerick in the Munster province of Ireland erupted in an all-night orgy of revelry.  Limerick is the heart of rugby in Ireland, and the Munster rugby team, in their crummy home ground of Thomond Park, had just pulled off an utterly impossible win against the (hitherto) all-conquering English club, Gloucester in the annual Heineken European Rugby Cup competition.  

Having played in the semi-finals and/or finals of this prestigious competition for the past three years, yet never won, Munster were on the verge of being booted unceremoniously out of the competition.  Their only chance was to defeat Gloucester (who three months earlier had trounced them 35-16) by no fewer than four tries and 27 points.  

In an extraordinary match, that for Munstermen is equalled only by the classic 12-0 defeat in 1978 of New Zealand's All Blacks that has spawned an award-winning stage play, Alone It Stands, Munster defeated Gloucester by the required margin, with the winning two points coming only in the last seconds of injury time.  The final score was 33-6 in front of a frenetic crowd of 14,000.  Gloucester just didn't know what had happened to them.  

Then over the next couple of days, a curious story emerged.  

Limerick taxi-driver and avid Munster fan Tom O'Donnell will tell you he is small, fat, bald, 52 and now the toast of Limerick, and considering launching himself on the after-dinner speaking circuit.  

The day before the match, he happened to carry in his taxi an official of the Gloucester contingent, who committed the fatal mistake of leaving behind in the car Gloucester's top-secret game-plan.  

Tom realised what it was, but at first no-one would listen to him.  It was only with great difficulty that he managed to deliver it to the Munster squad on the morning of the match.  Thus it was that Munster knew in advance 

bulletwhat Gloucester planned to do, 
bulletwhat their lineout calls were, 
bulletwhat were their plans of attack against Munster.  

This undoubtedly helped towards the win, though they will never admit it.  

In one of the many radio interviews that followed after the story broke, Tom was asked whether he considered giving the game-plan back to Gloucester rather than passing it to the opposition.  A stunned silence followed - he simply did not understand the question.  It was like expecting the British to return the Enigma machine to the Nazis.  

Gloucester have considered taking some kind of legal action, but, frankly, they are just too embarrassed by everything to do with their disastrous weekend in Limerick.  

So that's the story of why Tom O'Donnell is the toast of Limerick !

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Flt Lt Henry Botterell, 1896-2003

Henry Botterell died in Toronto earlier this month at the massive age of 106, the last surviving fighter pilot of World War I.  

Flying his Sopwith Camel biplane, his one "kill" was to shoot down a German observation balloon in Northern France in 1918, as illustrated in this painting.  By then he had crashed three planes, nearly annihilating himself in the process.  

As well as countless bombing raids (tossing bombs by hand out of the cockpit) over the course of the four year war, he also participated in seven dogfights, clocked up 251 combat hours and claimed he had also killed an enemy observer.  Every dogfight ended with bullet holes and flak damage to his plane.  

In those days, planes were made of wood and canvas and I am reminded of how my own grandfather, eight years his senior, escaped from the trenches and all the horror that they entailed.  He was an upholsterer by trade, and his possession of curved needles (seen as a novelty) coupled with his skill in wielding them found him a ready home in the Royal Flying Corps.  He spent the rest of the war sewing up aircraft battle-damaged like Flight Lieutenant Botterell's.  

I wonder did they ever meet.  

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ISSUE #24 - 19th January 2003 [60]

bulletNorth Korea and Iraq
bulletMisdirected Anti-War Protests
bulletChild Pornography and Sentencing
bulletAfrican Financial Scams
bulletSuch Is Youth
bulletComputer Hardware Problem

North Korea and Iraq

America and Britain are in the final stages of launching their war against the Iraqi regime (with or without another UN resolution, with or without further allies).  Lots of people - besides Saddam - object to this, though none ever come up with a coherent alternative strategy for dealing with 

bulletthis master despot, 
bullethis weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and 
bulletthe need to neutralize the threat to the world that this combination entails.  

Many whatabouters” say 

bullet why pick on Iraq which (as far as we know) doesn't yet have nuclear weapons, 
bullet and yet practice diplomacy with North Korea which does ?
bullet Moreover, neither of them are making deals with Al Qaeda.  

It doesn't make sense, they claim.  

In fact it makes chillingly good sense.  This table compares some of the nasty qualities of Kim Jong Il's North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.  


N Korea


Possesses Nuclear WMD ?


Possesses Chemical and Biological WMD ?

Has used WMD ?


Terrorises own people ?

Has invaded and/or threatened neighbours ?

Sells weapons to other states ?


Has known terrorist connections ?



See how similar they are to each other.  But a couple of key contrasts and conclusions stand out.  

bulletIraq has used his WMD with gusto (chemical attacks killing some 4,000 of his own people at Halajba in the 1980s) but doesn't yet have the bomb.  North Korea's position is the exact reverse.  
bulletHaving seen the effectiveness of chemical weapons, it would be very odd 
bullet if Saddam didn't hanker after a bomb of his own, or 
bullet if Kim Jong Il were to rule out the use of his own WMD - including his bomb.  
bulletThough neither has links to international terrorists at present, impoverished North Korea has been selling its weapons for years (they're its only significant foreign currency earner).  Only last month it was caught sending a clandestine shipment of Scud missiles to Yemen.  
bulletAnd if Kim Jong Il is so eager to sell his weapons, why would he - and for that matter Saddam - refuse sales to international terrorists such as Al Qaeda who have demonstrated their zeal for mass murder ?  

North Korea thus provides the very reason to attack and disarm Saddam.  And NOW while it's still possible, before he gets his bomb and starts using or selling it.  

North Korea, because of its nuclear arsenal, is essentially non-attackable.  

But Kim Jong Il cannot help but notice and be influenced by a swift and successful action to disarm Iraq, and thus to be more inclined to negotiate a reasonable and verifiable stand-off arrangement with the rest of the world.  

In the early 1980s, the UK tried in vain to get China - then as now a merciless communist dictatorship - to negotiate seriously about the future of the British colony of Hong Kong whose lease would expire in 1997.  China was dismissive and said the Red Army would simply march in and take over, and might not even wait until 1997.  

Then in April 1982 the Argentine dictator General Galtieri (who died a few days ago) invaded the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, another British colony.  Margaret Thatcher, then the British Prime Minister, was having none of it and sent a huge naval task force.  After a short war, it evicted the Argentines ignominiously.  The war destroyed Galtieri's career and paved the way to the restoration of democracy in Argentina.  

Meantime, China, never itself under any military threat from Britain, took note of Mrs Thatcher's determined military action.  It concluded that it would be wiser to start being sensible over Hong Kong, because you never knew what that mad woman might do next.  The result was a negotiated and peaceful settlement under Deng Xiaoping’s one country two systems philosophy.  

So it will be with Kim Jong Il after Saddam has been disarmed and eliminated.  He will start being sensible.  

The effect on other dictatorships in Arabia will likewise be benign.  

A reader with strong dissenting views writes There are a dozen countries in Africa with regimes far worse than Mr. Sadam's but nobody is talking about sorting them out cause there's nothing in it for anybody apart from doing the MORAL thing.

It's no coincidence that a huge lump of the US arms industry is located in Texas.  War is GOOD for business
.  Read the full letter on the Letters page, together with a little song.  

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Misdirected Anti-War Protests

Meanwhile, over the past few days we've seen anti-war protests in New York, Washington, Bahrein, Berlin, Cairo, Christchurch, Goteburg, Karachi, London, Moscow, Paris, Shannon, Tokyo, and God knows where else.  

But if the protesters don't want war, why are they massing outside US embassies and other US institutions ?

For it is not the USA but Iraq, under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, who for more than a decade has been violating binding UN resolutions - including agreements he specifically signed up to as a condition of ending the 1991 Gulf War.  The upcoming Second Gulf War is the direct consequence if his violatory actions and his alone.  

So if the peaceniks don't want war, it is to Iraqi embassies and institutions that they should direct their rage.  Otherwise, it means they support Saddam's violations and regime.  Not to mention his human rights abuses so eloquently articulated in Tony Blair's graphic and compelling dossier (197 kb) 

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Child Pornography and Sentencing

On 8th September 1999, the FBI raided the home of Thomas and Janice Reedy in Fort Worth, Texas and found that the couple were providing child pornography to some 35,000 subscribers in the US.  On further investigation under the code name Operation Avalanche, it emerged that they were in fact 


operating a global network of 5,700 sites 


with an astonishing 250,000 subscribers and  


grossing some $1.4m per month.  

The FBI set about identifying the US and foreign subscribers from their credit card details, which they then passed to police forces in the subscribers' countries of residence.  These included 7,000 in the UK and some hundreds in Ireland.  

In Ireland, over 100 homes were raided simultaneously last May, including those of a barrister, a choirmaster, a solicitor, a health authority official, a teacher, a circuit court judge and a celebrity TV chef.

The first two trials were set for last week, and out of a possible 100 defendants it is odd that two high-profile individuals were selected, the judge and the chef.  

The circuit court judge obtained a three month deferment on the grounds of ill-health (though was later spotted drinking a pint in a pub).  

The celebrity TV chef, Tim Allen, is widely known throughout the country, as are his mother and his wife both also celebrity TV chefs.  He pleaded guilty to possession of 92 child pornography images and was convicted.  

However his non-custodial sentence of a €40,000 donation to charity and 240 hours of community service has provoked outrage due to the leniency and the perceived ability of the wealthy to buy themselves out of trouble.  

But more pernicious is the precedent it sets for the future prosecutions.  Because when a man of lesser means is threatened with jail, he is bound to plead that this is only due to his lack of wealth and fame.  Moreover, if a millionaire is fined  €40,000, his own fine should be proportionately less.  

The mismanagement of the Tim Allen case may thus, in Ireland, devalue the severity of child pornography into a mere misdemeanour.  

The Americans understand the gravity of this foulest of crimes far better.  Thomas Reedy is currently serving a prison sentence of 1,335 years.  

Not days.  Years.  

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African Financial Scams

In common, I imagine, with most of you, I receive on a weekly basis one or more e-mails from a stranger saying he (or sometimes she) is a Nigerian or Cameroonian or Ghanaian or Angolan or Congolese or from some other African country.  He is either a senior functionary in the Finance Ministry or else the close relative of a departed despot (such as Sani Abacha or Laurent Kabila).  He has gained access to a huge sum of money (up to $60m) and would I please provide a safe haven for it in return for 30%.  All I have to do is provide my bank details.  

This is known as the 419 Fraud, after the relevant section of the Nigerian Criminal Code.  

If you don't want your bank account plundered or Nigerian arrest warrants issued or countless other interesting developments in your life, the only response is to hit the Delete button - pronto.   

Have a look at this excellent fraud alert issued by London's Metropolitan Police Force, which provides full details about the 419.   

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Such Is Youth

What did you do when you were 16 years old and for the next five years ?  

bulletDid you, for example, run away from home, then change bank-code numbers so that people's bank-deposits went into your account instead of theirs ?  
bulletDid you dress up as an airline pilot so as to fly free on the jump seat, pull the chicks and stay free in hotels ?  
bulletDid you forge credentials so as to relieve people of money by posing as a senior lawyer, a professor, a doctor ?  
bulletDid you cash counterfeit cheques across the US, France and Sweden and become notorious in 26 countries ?
bulletDid you in the process accumulate ill-gotten gains of $2.5m by the time you were 21 ?

No, nor did I.  I was a pretty boring youth compared with handsome, charismatic Frank Abagnale from New York.  

Sadly, the law eventually caught up with him and he was sentenced to twelve years in the slammer.  

But after only five years he struck his cleverest deal of all.  The FBI, realising his expertise in embezzlement and swindling, freed him in return for help to catch other con-men.  And he wrote his life-story, Catch Me If You Can, suitably embellished (as you would expect) to make it even more dashing and glamorous.   

From there he went on to become a suave consultant assisting major companies to thwart all kinds of fraud.  

A pillar of society, Frank is now a 54-year-old family man, and professes to be embarrassed that Hollywood have made a movie of his life (though being played by that girlie Leonardo di Caprio is enough to embarrass anyone).  

A role model for all.  

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Computer Hardware Problem

The phone rings: 

bulletTech Support: “Hello, Computer Tech Support here.
bulletCustomer: “Hello.  My computer was making a strange hissing noise last night and this morning when I turned it on there was a crackling noise and some smoke then nothing.  If I bring it in can you fix it ?

Take a look at the pictures ..... you won't believe it.  

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ISSUE #23 - 12th January 2003 [58]

bulletAfghanistan One Year On
bulletIreland - Europe's Refugee Haven
bulletBush's Undemocratic Election
bulletBBC and the Virgin Mary
bulletCargo Handling at Italian Airports
Afghanistan One Year On


The new transitional Afghan government under the charismatic, English-speaking President Karzai has been in power for scarcely a year.  It was inaugurated via a “Loya Jirga”, which is a traditional Afghan consultative assembly in which all shades of opinion (bar the ousted Talibans’ !) was heard.  Short of the pan-Afghanistan elections planned for late 2003 the assembly represents the closest thing to democracy the country has ever seen. 


No longer hitting every day’s headlines, the country has quietly  been undergoing an encouraging transformation and reconstruction, thanks to the financial and other support of some sixty nations, with the US as the biggest single donor.  In a dramatic vote of confidence in the future, over two million Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan to remake their lives. 


It’s worth recounting some of the achievements.   


Last month, Afghanistan and six neighbouring countries signed the “Kabul Declaration on Good Neighborly Relations”.  This is a pledge to respect Afghanistan’s independence and territorial integrity, to offer co-operation, non-interference and goodwill – vital pre-conditions for future domestic security.   


Meanwhile, there have been :



6,100 water projects completed


72 health clinics, birth centres and hospitals rebuilt, 


four mountain passes re-opened, including (for $5½m) the Salang Tunnel which is vital for north-south commerce during the winter,


31 bridges reconstructed,  


4,000 kilometers of road rebuilt,


142 schools, daycare centers and vocational schools rebuilt, 


an 843,000-ton increase (82%) in the harvest, 


200 small-scale reconstruction projects completed, such as 

a girls school in Mazar-e-Sharif,  


the heating system for one of the ministries 


hospital generators in Kandahar in one of the big hospitals that had no heat and no electricity.


In the 15 months since the 9/11 atrocity, the UNHCR has spent $848m on on humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, including $100m in food aid and $140m for resettling the 2m returning refugees.  


This information comes from a press release last month by Philip Reeker of the US State Department and a press conference with Andrew Natsios of USAID.  


Not only is all this extremely encouraging in its own right, but it give the lie to those who said war against the Taliban in Afghanistan would ravage the country for decades.  The reverse is true.  It is the war that has liberated the Afghan people and enabled reconstruction to race ahead.  


The same naysayers are making the same claims in respect of the coming war to remove the Saddam regime from the Iraq it has systematically tortured, devasted and disgraced over the past 20 years.  They will similarly be proved wrong.  


As will their underlying preference to leave Saddam in place to do his worst rather than remove him.    

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Ireland - Europe's Refugee Haven

The Geneva Convention states that a refugee is someone with a well-founded fear of persecution. However, Ireland's asylum-seekers all arrive after departing from mainland Europe or Britain, where there is no persecution.  They are therefore not refugees; they are illegal immigrants. 

Further, Rudd Lubber, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, advocates one refugee per 1,000 citizens for the host country, which he believes would eliminate Europe's refugee problem.  In 2002 Ireland had four asylum-seekers per 1,000 citizens, compared with only 1.2 in Britain.  Just two years ago, the figures were 0.7 and 2.9 respectively, demonstrating how popular Ireland has become.  

Meanwhile, to support illegal immigrants who should not be there, Ireland is spending €300 million per annum.  This is being paid not by society's wealthy, but by those being deprived of its use - the homeless and thousands on housing waiting lists.  Ireland's homelessness problem would be solved with just €40 million given to the charity groups established for that purpose.  That would still leave €260 million, enough to build 2,000 social houses per annum.

A significant indirect cost, among many, is the way rents have grown due to the increased demand from illegal immigrants who are are competing with the poorest in society for the available space.

Why do these illegal immigrants leave France, Germany, Holland, Britain, etc, and come to a wet windswept island on the western fringe of Europe, in unprecedented numbers ?  

Simply, because it is by far the best deal in Europe.  

Ireland contributes to the problem by having no coherent strategy for managing legal immigration.  What it badly needs is a joined-up immigration policy, that 

bulletrecognizes the country's need for immigrants to fill particular jobs, both at the high and the low ends of the scale, 
bulletassesses the desirability of admitting particular individuals to fill these jobs (like, for example, Australia and Canada do) and
bulletimplements a process for issuing work and residence permits (US green card equivalents) which welcome them to move here legally for pre-agreed periods.  

But meanwhile, at least there is no tunnel under the Irish Sea for them to pour through.  

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Bush's Undemocratic Election

As we all well remember, Republican George W Bush became the US's 43rd president only after a nail-biting election.  The count was so close in the crucial swing state of Florida, that it took six weeks before the US Supreme Court forbade further recounts and declared W as the winner.  The favourite, Democrat Vice President Al Gore, had lost.   

The final tally was 

bulletBush 50.4m votes, 49.4%
bulletGore 51.0m votes, 50.4%

Democrats were understandably outraged, since Gore won more votes than W.  To this day, many of them still complain that Bush is an illegitimate leader.  They are joined by left-liberals in the US and abroad who abhor Bush's policy (and success) in tackling world terrorism, some even saying that his elevation to power is as undemocratic as Saddam's.  

But this is to misunderstand the underlying philosophy of the American presidential election system.  It uses an electoral college (EC) whereby each US State has a certain number of electoral college votes depending on its geographical size, population, history and other factors.  For example, 



Electoral College Votes

EC Votes per thousand





New York




















Total USA




Whichever candidate wins a majority of popular votes within a particular State is awarded all the electoral college votes of that State.  Whoever wins more than half the nation's 538 electoral college votes becomes president.  

To ensure that heavily populated States like California do not submerge and make irrelevant the preferences of tiny States like Hawaii or empty ones like Alaska, voters in the latter two carry twice the weight of the average American (as the above table shows).  The system is deliberately designed this way.   

A key effect is that it makes it possible for the presidential candidate with most popular votes to be be defeated if he doesn't also have the most electoral college votes, as happened to Al Gore.  

It not only makes this possible.  The electoral college system exists for no other purpose than to enable such an outcome.  If every US president were elected with a plurality of the popular vote, the electoral college system would have failed.  

So those who say that Bush's election was undemocratic are really saying that the views of the less populated states should be ridden over roughshod.  A valid view, perhaps, but the focus of attack should then be not Bush but the electoral college system.  

And for that matter the Senate as well, since each State appoints the same number of senators - two - regardless of size.  

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BBC and the Virgin Mary

Readers will recall my piece about the anti-Christian pogrom in Nigeria by Muslims who were outraged because a newspaper journalist had suggested that the Prophet Mohammed might have liked to marry one of the Miss World contestants.  220 people were killed, over 20 churches burned down, the offices of the newspaper destroyed, and the journalist had to flee to the USA.  

Three days before the Christmas, BBC TV ran a programme about Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ whose birth Christmas commemorates and venerates.  

The programme speculated, among other things, that contrary to the fervent belief of Catholics (and many other Christians), Mary was not a virgin.  Moreover, that her pregnancy resulted not from divine intervention but as a result of her having been raped by a Roman soldier.  

This is pretty much about as offensive to Catholics as it is possible to get, and I would think more insulting than the Miss World comment.  


bulletno riots, 
bullet no burning down of the BBC's headquarters in London, 
bullet no hounding of the programme-makers.  

Just some genteel words of dismay from a number of church members.  

Does that mean Catholics are civilised or spineless ?

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Cargo Handling at Italian Airports

Pat Cox, the president of the EU Parliament, visited the Pope over the New Year break and invited him to address the EU Parliament.  

But on arrival at Rome's Fiumicino airport, his suitcase was missing from the carousel.  When it eventually caught up with him, a valuable pair of diamond-studded cufflinks had been removed.  

This seems to be an Italy thing.  

Only last August, the BBC reported the arrest of 36 baggage-handlers at Milan's Malpensa international airport following the discovery of €25,000 worth of stolen goods during police raids on their homes.

Closed-circuit TV evidence revealed that the men routinely broke into suitcases in the airport's cargo area, stealing anything from jewellery to snowboards.

Furthermore, the TV footage also showed the baggage-handlers getting together in their locker room for an impromptu auction at the end of the day when they bartered the spoils of their labours.

One enterprising handler, named as Roberto C, had apparently been recorded breaking into and stealing from up to 50 suitcases during his 5½-hour shift.

Happy New Year from the ever-active cargo department.  

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ISSUE #22 - 5th January 2003 [29]
bulletCyprus and the EU
bulletIrish Reunification ? Forget It !
bulletCut-Price Airline Triopoly  
bulletWhere Do African Elephants Die ?
bulletRael Return of the Tallrite Blog

Cyprus and the EU

On 14th December in Copenhagen, the EU agreed to admit, as from July 2004 ten new member states.  

Cyprus was one of  these, however since it was invaded by Turkey in 1974, it has been divided and ethnically cleansed into a UN-unrecognized Turkish-Cyprus in the north and a legitimate Greek-Cyprus in the south, with UN troops monitoring the sealed border.  Turkey-proper maintains 35,000 soldiers in the north.  

Because the north, comprising 37% of the landmass, is not recognized, foreign investment has gone almost exclusively to the south which has prospered mightily (GDP = $16,000 per head) while the north has languished in relative poverty (GDP = $5,300 per head) Nevertheless, by all accounts, 

bullet most Turkish-Cypriots have been very happy to be part of a separate entity where at least they are not a disparaged minority, whereas 
bullet the Greek-Cypriots feel highly aggrieved, not least because they have lost a lot of property in the north. 

In almost thirty years, despite huge efforts by the UN, the two sides have signally failed to reach a settlement.  Indeed, thoughout this period, they have had virtually the same leaders - Rauf Denktash (now 79 years old) for the Turkish half, Glafcos Clerides (83) for the Greek half.  This obdurate duo have made their careers out of never-ending bad-tempered negotiations, each bolstered in their intransigence by their respective sponsors, Turkey and Greece.   

Turkey and Greece have nurtured their own mutual ill-will for many years, dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire when Greece was effectively a Turkish colony.  Until relations softened after they each generously helped each other out with dreadful earthquakes in 1999, they were hardly on speaking terms, despite both being members of NATO. 

The UN recently proposed yet another peace/reunification plan for Cyprus, which would involve creating a loose federation comprising two largely autonomous cantons, linked by a weak central administration. 

Mr Denktash has once again dismissed this, no doubt to the delight of his partner Mr Clerides, especially since the previous government of Turkey-proper (with an eye on its own EU application) loosely endorsed it. 

But the prospect of Cyprus's EU membership has changed the whole equation, since the Turkish half will be admitted only if there is a settlement. The deadline for this is 28th February because the die will be cast in March when the Greek Cypriots hold a referendum to accept the EU’s invitation to join.  

If the Greek-Cypriots join without their Turkish-Cypriot compatriots, they will thereafter, as full members of the EU, be in a position to veto Turkish-Cypriot membership – and indeed that of Turkey proper – for ever.  Or at least until they have secured a settlement that favours the Greek-Cypriots much more than the current one on offer does.  

Hence for the first time ever, the Turkish Cypriot population is panicking, holding demos and hunger strikes demanding that Mr Denktash and his government accept the UN reunification plan.   

And across the water, Turkey's newly elected prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a major departure from Ankara's 30 year old Cyprus policy, has twice called for the reunification of the island as per the UN plan.  He asserts that Mr Denktash will not be permitted to block progress in negotiations with the Greek Cypriots.  

An eleventh-hour settlement therefore now looks very likely.  If indeed it comes to pass, it will be thanks to EU geopolitics and the lure of future economic prosperity.  A vivid (and perhaps rare) demonstration of the EU’s power to do good in the world.  

Meanwhile, it is high time those two old dinosaurs, Messrs Denktash and Clerides, were put out to pasture.  They're in the way.  Their time has passed.  

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Irish Reunification ? Forget It !


Another count has recently been made in Northern Ireland of those saying they are Protestants (53%) or Catholic (43%).  The remaining 4% (a remarkably low figure) are atheists, refuseniks, Muslims, Bhuddists, Hindus etc.  


When in 1921 Irish voters agreed in an all-Ireland referendum to be partitioned (yes, they did !), only 30% of Northern Irish were Catholics. 

The change in percentages since then reflects 

bullet the Catholics’ higher birthrates resulting from being forbidden to use contraception and 
bullet the greater rate of emigration and indeed death amongst Protestants.  

Click on the thumbnail to view the trend

Over the years much has been made of the demographic swing towards the Catholics, with an expectation that before very long, perhaps in 2030, the Catholics will finally outnumber the Protestants.  Overnight, it is said, Ireland will be reunited.  


Such extrapolations however, and in particular the reunification conclusion that some draw, are fatally flawed.  



Firstly, with the falling influence of the Catholic Church, Catholic birthrates are now dropping down to similar levels to Protestants’.  Likewise, the differences in death rates and emigration between the two communities are disappearing.  


Secondly, while there are very few Protestants that will vote to join the Republic, it by no means follows that Catholics will universally vote for a united Ireland.  Recent studies, for example the so-called European Values Study of 2000, have indicated that anywhere between 35% and 50% of Catholics want to remain in the UK.  This is largely because of two factors : 


the huge subsidies paid by the English taxpayer to support the penurious Northern Ireland economy, which amounts to a massive £2,500 per inhabitant per year.  Leaving the UK means risking goodbye to most or all of this.  


The significantly higher cost of living in the South compared to the North (and Northern Catholics are particularly aware of this since they travel south so often).  



Thirdly, even if a referendum in the North did result in a majority favouring reunification, there is no guarantee that voters in the Republic would agree to accept the diseased carbuncle that is Northern Ireland.  With a population addicted to state subsidies for everything, teeming with a resentful, unwilling and partly violent Protestant minority, it is hardly an attractive package to take on.  If Ireland were to take over the English subsidies it would cost £2,000 in extra taxes per person in the Republic; if it didn’t, social disruption would be inevitable.  


It all adds up to an unavoidable conclusion.  Forget any notion of Irish reunification in the foreseeable future.  It will never happen.  


One day soon, both communities in Northern Ireland need to come to this realisation - and their leaders need the courage to say as much.  


So they all better get on with implementing the Good Friday Agreement, and recognize it for what it is.  


It is not a transitional arrangement, but 


the permanent way for them to live and work together in mutual respect.  

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Cut-Price Airline Triopoly

The cut-price airlines of Europe, notably 

bullet Ireland’s Ryanair (now in share capital terms even bigger than British Airways), 
bullet Britain’s Easyjet and 
bullet Holland’s Buzz  

have revolutionised travel within Europe.  With a streamlined, radical and superior business model, they have drastically undercut the national carriers such as BA, Air France, KLM, Iberia, TAP, Lufthansa, Aer Lingus - behemoths and minnows alike.  

bulletNot only have they lured away huge chunks of business from these largely state-owned airlines, but 
bullettheir low prices have greatly enlarged the overall European air travel market, as well as 
bulletspawning whole new markets such as the purchase by Britons and Irish of now cheaply-accessible holiday homes in the Continental sun.  

Meanwhile, it sometimes feels as if their CEOs - particularly Michael O’Leary of Ryanair and Easyjet’s Stelios Haji-Ioannou - are never off the air aggressively proclaiming 

bulletthe merits of their business model, 
bullettheir belief in competition and open skies, 
bullettheir derision of the plodding traditional carriers.  

These flourishing airlines are handsomely rewarding their shareholders, yet they also attract a great deal of bad publicity,  particularly in relation to how they deal with customer complaints.  

It appears they just don’t care whether they annoy their passengers, which seems strange for a highly successful, expanding consumer business engaging in vigorous competition.  

Until you look closer at what they really mean by competition.  

Complainers in a supermarket can march out and buy their groceries at another supermarket.  Therefore supermarkets take them seriously and deal with them courteously, as well as keeping prices down.  

But if you want, for example, to fly from London to Málaga, it’s either Easyjet or take one of the costly major carriers like Iberia or BA.  There’s no other cheap option for that route, and that’s not just by happenstance.  

In aggregate, Ryanair, Easyjet and Buzz fly to and from no fewer than 102 airports in fifteen European countries.  But only seventeen of these destinations are serviced by two of the airlines, and only one – London’s Stanstead – by all three.  See this tabulation for the details.  

And not a single route is duplicated, much less triplicated.  

In other words, the three low-cost airlines, that trumpet so loudly the virtues of free markets and competition, make utterly sure they never ever compete against each other.  Their open market message is directed at the national carriers only, safe in the knowledge that the changes required for them to operate on a shoestring are so extreme as to be almost impossible to achieve.  BA tried, failed, then created GO as an independent low-cost subsidiary, found it too difficult and sold it off at a loss to rival Easyjet.  

I would never allege that the three management teams collude to share out Europe in the way that the Great Powers divided up the Middle East in the 19th century in what Rudyard Kipling called the Great Game.  

Collusion to carve up a business market on such a scale would breach a slew of anti-monopoly laws and expose the senior managers to prison terms.  

What might otherwise look like non-competing behaviour among Ryanair, Easyjet and Buzz must in fact merely be the result of a series of coincidences.  

I suppose.  

Nevertheless, the day will come when one of them cracks and begins to compete with the other two - or indeed a fourth upstart will muscle in on their routes.  That can result only in better service as well as even lower fares for us their passengers.  

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Where Do African Elephants Die ?

Ivory was one of the abundant treasures that lured Europeans to invade and colonise Africa.  To this day, Côte d'Ivoire (the scene of current revolutionary turmoil) takes its name from this trade.  

The Portuguese were among the earliest ivory seekers and they would buy tusks from Africans who would hunt down the elephants.  It is no mean feat to pursue and kill an elephant when you're on foot and armed only with spears.  The usual method was to chase the unfortunate beast into a hole they had previously dug.  

But the Portuguese were intrigued why there was so little ivory around.  After all, 

bulletelephants were plentiful, 
bulletthey have no natural predators other than man and 
bullettusks are very long lasting.  

Why were there no corpses lying around of elephants who had died just of natural causes, so you could simply help yourself to the immensely valuable ivory ?  Where were their bodies, their skeletons ?

For many years it was the Africans' closely guarded secret.  The elephant is sacred, so is his death, and such mysteries are not to be divulged, especially to the white man.  

Even today, the explanation is not widely known.  

If man does not intervene, death due to old age usually occurs at dusk, when the elephants come to the water. They stand at the edge of a lake or river, reach out far with their trunks, and drink.  

Aged elephant reaches out with his trunk to drinkBut the day eventually comes when a tired old elephant can no longer raise his trunk.  So to drink clear water he has to walk farther and farther out into the lake.  His legs sink into the muck, deeper and deeper. The lake pulls him into its cavernous interior. He fights for a time, thrashing about, trying to extricate himself from the bog and get back to the shore.  But his own weight is so great, and the pull of the lake's bottom so paralysing, that finally the animal loses his balance, falls over, and vanishes under the water forever.

There, on the bottoms of African lakes and rivers, are the age-old elephant cemeteries.      

This fascinating anecdote comes from Ryszard Kapuscinski's “The Shadow of the Sun”, an endearing, inciteful and very readable analysis of Africa.  

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Rael Return of the Tallrite Blog

Shortly before the Christmas of 1973, Frenchman Claude Vorilhon, a sportswriter and race car driver, was motoring near an extinct volcano  called Puy de Lassolas, which is near Clermont-Ferand in the beautiful Auvergne region of central France.  

There, to his surprise, a bell-shaped a flying saucer 23 feet in diameter flew into sight and came to a standstill hovering 30 feet above him.  

Out of it, down a retractable stairway, emerged, exuding harmony and humour,  a four-foot-tall green alien, with long dark hair, a trim little beard and almond-shaped eyes.  In perfect French, he explained that he was from the Elohim people in a faraway planet and that this was not their first visit to Earth.  For, went on the little fellow, a mere 25,000 years ago they had used DNA technology to create the first human being in an Elohim laboratory back home, and then planted the new species on the earth, leaving it to grow and multiply.  The rest, as they say, is history, and there are now more than 6.3 billion of us.  

By the way, I am not making this up !  

The strange chap further elucidated that, having created all life on earth (not just us humans) and originated all religions, he would much appreciate if an embassy could kindly be set up for future official contact, preferably in Jerusalem, that sea of tranquility.  On the subject of religion, it was none other than the Elohim who chose and educated Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.  

Well, Claude was so taken aback by these startling revelations, that he did what any of us would have done.  He immediately changed his name to Rael and set up a new sect called the Raelians (notice how it rhymes with aliens) to promote free love, cloning and the return of aliens to Earth.  The Raelian organization now boasts 55,000 members in 84 countries.  Oh, and Claude kindly asks CNN and the rest of us to address him as His Holiness.  

Having educated Buddha etc, the Elohim now seem to have trained today's Raelian scientists in their DNA laboratory arts of 25,000 years ago.  For, with virtually no warning or fanfare and a minimal budget, they have trumped the world’s scientists in the field of cloning.  A cloned human baby was born in the USA last month just 29 years after that fateful Auvergne meeting, another in Holland in January, and we are told several more are on the way.  DNA analysis will apparently provide confirmation.  

This, of course, paves the way for our own immortality.  

When I die, I will therefore leave instructions and funds in my will for my immediate cloning, so that I re-appear as a bonnie infant a year or so later.  

I will resume the Tallrite Blog as soon as possible thereafter.  You have been warned. 

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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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