This archive, organized into months, contains all issues
prior to the current week and the three preceding weeks, which are published
the main Tallrite Blog (www.tallrite.com/blog.htm).
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July 2002
You can write to blog-at-tallrite-dot-com
#65 - 25th January 2004
Depravity of Suicide-Bombing
You see on the news such a
succession of suicide bombers, be it in Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir,
Moscow, Chechnya, Sri Lanka that to some extent, unless you are personally involved in some
way, you can become inured to the horror of it.
Call it Suicide-Bomber Fatigue.
But sometimes one of these
outrages is so shocking that you are confronted anew with the utter
depravity of the enterprise.
was brought home to me, once more, by the appalling suicide-bombing
on 14th January of Reem al-Rayashi at Erez, which is a military
checkpoint on the main
crossing between Gaza and Israel.
Reem came from one of the most wealthy families in the Gaza Strip, owners of
the region's biggest car-battery factory whose main market is
Israel. There was none of the despair and grief that have prompted
other suicide bombers.
She was a woman of just 22, married to Ziyad
Awad, five years
and they had an eighteen-month old daughter and
a son of three. Yet coldly and deliberately, she got herself trained
up, and then went out and blew herself to pieces solely in order to kill
and injure others. Knowingly and avoidably she left behind two innocent,
It is hard to imagine a more evil perverted deed.
totality and context of the act are indeed even more evil and perverted.
Firstly, suicide-bombing is glorified amongst
in high regard;
most Muslim clerics teach that Islam
permits suicide-bombing and that bombers are martyrs;
Sheikh Ahmed Yassim, wheelchair-ridden spiritual leader of
gave his personal blessing
to Reem's attack (for which Israel will assassinate
leaders such as the current Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia refuse
to condemn such attacks;
schools worship the practice so much that
martyrdom has become an ambition for Palestinian children;
until the overthrow of Saddam, his $25,000 payment to each bomber's
family was a cynical ploy to generate ever more
Even non-Muslims sometimes join in the glorification from the
safety of the West.
Sweden recently hosted a genocide
conference which included an exhibit called Snow
White and the Madness of Truth.
With a bootleg
recording of Bach's Cantata Nbr 199 (Mein Herze
schwimmt im Blut) playing in the background , this comprised a large basin filled with
red fluid denoting Israeli blood, on which floated a boat carrying a
of a smiling Hanadi Jaradat, another female suicide bomber who
killed 21 people in a Haifa restaurant last October.
British MP Jenny Tonge last week excused
suicide bombers, blaming their acts on provocation, and added that she might become one herself if she were a
Palestinian (yeh, right. And why not do it anyway - she
doesn't need to be a Palestinian). Even the PM's wife Cherie
Blair has voiced
Secondly, this glorification is focused very precisely and cynically
at youngsters - teenagers and twenty-somethings. For they, the seedcorn of a
future Palestine, are expected by their elders to provide the suicide-bombers of today.
As I've argued previously,
there is never a suggestion that, for example, a pensioner, who has
lived a fulfilling life and is now past his working prime and becoming
an economic burden, should abandon his grandchildren for an explosives
In similar vein, those pro-suicide sheikhs and leaders
never send out their own children.
No, this is a glory reserved
strictly for youngsters from the lower orders.
How badly must
you hate them.
Thirdly, training for
suicide-bombers bears a lot of similarity to the behaviours of
fanatical semi-religious cults such as scientology or the Moonies.
As trainees you are
separated from friends,
you are taught new
words, phrases and patterns of thought,
you are shown non-stop videos
of Muslims dying,
your sleep is deprived,
you are told
continually that your family and friends are trying to hurt you.
As with cults, the process gradually transforms you through five
phases - deceit, dependency, debilitation, dread and
All designed to increase
your hatred of and callousness towards not just your targets, but the
world at large.
Fourthly, the vast majority of suicide victims are not Israeli
soldiers or politicians (they are too well protected) but ordinary
civilians - men, women and children, Jews, Muslims, Christians.
example, Reem's bombing may have killed four military Israelis, but it
more Muslim and Jewish civilians
If you're a bomber, you are an
Fifthly, Hamas selected the main Gaza/Israel crossing point for
attack because thousands of Palestinians living in Gaza pour through
each day to work in Israel. This makes it one of the few symbols of
peaceful co-existence in the area, a beacon of hope for the
future. So Hamas
want to force Israel to close it.
Cutting off access to
those jobs will increase Palestinian unemployment and so foment
further misery and discontent, while boosting grass-roots support for Hamas and
other militant movements.
How badly must you hate your own
But that's not all.
For further evil and perversion, there's the wretched Reem herself and her
husband actually dropped
her off on her mission. She had told
him that when he too blew himself
up at some later date, as he had assured her he would, she would be
waiting to welcome him to Paradise
as one of the seventy houris,
or nymphs, that
the Hadith holy book awards to each (male) martyr. She
was evidently unaware of the irony of departing this life as his sole wife only to
stand up there in the heavenly clouds amongst 69 other nubile competitors for his
But this romantic little vignette does not tell the whole sordid story, for
other thoroughly distasteful factors, some say rumours, have emerged which may have played a
part. The excellent Not
a Fish blog first alerted me.
It's said Reem's husband Ziad, a Hamas activitist, was in fact getting
tired of her. So when she suggested martyrdom in the hope he
would dissuade her, to her dismay he in fact encouraged her.
Moreover, according to an Arab radio
station, she was five months pregnant by her husbands cousin
(another Hamas activist), so knew she was going be murdered anyway to
honour. Better to go out in style.
The Hebrew-language Yediot Ahronot weekly then reported
that the cousin had been in on the deal - that it was he who recruited her and
armed her with the explosives belt.
Yet out of this, there is some dignity. Like others
before them, the
four parents of the couple are appalled and outraged by what Reem has
done, in no way condone it, are refusing condolences and hold husband Ziad primarily responsible. And
of course the two small children are blameless victims as much as those
whom their mother's explosives, nails and and body-parts killed, injured
some Palestinian journalists are beginning to protest
against the nihilism of suicide-bombing.
I blame Reem 100% for her depraved act. No excuses, no
dilution. Ziad and cousin are also to be condemned for their
wickedness and chicanery, but they didn't detonate the bomb. She did.
suicide-bombing atmosphere that prevails among Palestinians and other
Muslim groups and even some Christians is like a stinking rotting
festering carcass surrounded by bluebottles. But that is to
Every individual has certain responsibilities in this life, and these
have a strict hierarchy.
First, look after yourself, ensure you are no burden on anybody else.
Second, look after your dependents, ensure they are no burden on
Third, and only third, see what you can do to improve the lot of
others in society.
No-one has the slightest right to attempt the third unless and until
the first and second are properly fulfilled. By abandoning her
toddlers, the further sin of the depraved Reem
was to do just that.
May she not rest in peace.
When you buy a car, what do you look for?
One whose value drops like a stone in its first three years or one
which holds a lot of its value compared to other cars?
Obviously you want the one which holds its value.
Well, wrong for some.
all depends on which stage of the cars life cycle you choose to buy at.
We know that a brand new car loses maybe 15% of its value the
moment you drive it from the showroom.
Nevertheless, we would want it to lose as little of
its value as possible in its early years.
the other hand, if, for example, youre buying a three year old vehicle,
you will want it to have lost as much of its new value as
possible so you can get it cheaply (provided it doesnt continue to
plummet after you have made your purchase).
Alliance and Leicester insurance group have just published a very
interesting study of car prices and depreciation over one and three years.
It uses figures from the UK market (from What Car?
magazine) but the findings are likely to be applicable anywhere in Europe.
tells you the best cars to buy new, after one year and after three years.
Also when it is the best time to sell particular cars (after one or
three years) so as to minimise your loss.
is a summary of the main findings identifying best buys.
In brackets is each cars change in value expressed as that
percentage which means most to your pocket, ie you want your car to retain
a high value, but if buying secondhand you want one that has
depreciated by a high amount.
is these percentages that provide the rankings.
In all cases you want the quoted % figure to be high.
(value retained after three years, %)
when 1 year old; sell when 3 years old
(value retained %)
3 years old
(% price reduction compared to new)
outstanding overall winner, in terms of preserving value, is the Land
Rover Freelander. Horrible as the car itself is, provided
you buy it when it's one year old and sell it two years later, you will be
out of pocket only to the tune of a paltry 4%.
worth downloading and reading the whole
(PDF file of 205
Here's a salutary tale about
two young pranksters, one on each side of the Atlantic, with the same joke
but quite different outcomes.
Not long after a Delta
Airlines Boeing 767-300 took off from Frankfurt on 18th January bound for
Atlanta, a message was found in the toilet saying there was a bomb on
board. Wisely, the Captain, telling his passengers there was a
medical emergency, made an unscheduled landing in Shannon, in Ireland.
There the Irish
police searched the plane and confirmed there was no bomb. They
also interviewed and fingerprinted all 147 passengers and crew for six
hours, which identified an unnamed 19-year-old German student as the
likely culprit. They arrested him for
endangering an aircraft
(which carries a life sentence), questioned him for 12 hours, but
then simply let him go without even being charged.
Wasting no time, he checked out of his
hotel (not prison cell) and instead of continuing his journey to
America, preferred for some reason to scuttle back home to
Germany. The police just seem glad he has gone away.
Meanwhile around the same
time but on the other side of the Atlantic another joker, 21-year-old
Polish/British student Samantha Morrison, was having her bags checked
at Miami airport before flying back to the UK.
careful, I have three bombs in here.
Three times she said it to the security personnel.
Well, no-one joined in the merriment. Instead she sparked
a full-scale security alert and was immediately arrested, handcuffed
and thrown into Miami-Dade County Jail for four nights, charged with
making a false bomb report (maximum penalty fifteen
years). Within hours she found herself before a judge who
set bail at $5,000 and 6th February to enter her
Conviction and punishment look certain.
Moral of the story: If you're going to play these silly games, better do them in wishy-washy
Europe. Compared to our American cousins, penalties may be tougher but
enforcement's a joke.
On the other hand of course, if you want
to carry bombs on board aircraft you'll also find that easier in
wishy-washy Europe (which is what miscreants seemed to think when only BA
and Air France aircraft in Europe were grounded over Christmas due to
Just don't mess with the guys in
the cowboy boots.
of Math Instruction
More on airport security ...
By Guest-Bloggers Murat and Zeynap
At New York's Kennedy airport the other day, an individual
later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to
board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare,
a slide rule, and a calculator.
At a morning press conference, Attorney general John
Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-Gebra
movement. He is being charged
by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.
Al-Gebra is a fearsome cult, Ashcroft
said. They desire
average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents
in a search of absolute value. They
use secret code names like x and y and refer to
themselves as unknowns, but we have determined they
a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every
As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say,
there are three sides to every triangle.
Taking time out from his War on Tourism, President
Bush when asked to comment on the arrest said, If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math
instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes.
I am gratified that our government has given us
a sine that it is intent on protracting us from these math-dogs who are
willing to disintegrate us with calculus disregard.
Murky statisticians love to inflict plane on every sphere of
influence, the President said, adding: Under the
circumferences, we must differentiate their root, make our point, and draw
the line. Rest assured we will hunt down every foreign tourist.
President Bush warned, These weapons of math
instruction have the potential to decimal everything in their math on a
scalene never before seen unless we become exponents of a Higher Power and
begin to factor-in random facts of vertex.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, fresh from
receiving his Foot-in-Mouth
award from the Plain English
Campaign commented, As
our Great Leader would say, read my ellipse.
Here is one principle he is uncertainty of. Though they continue to multiply, their days are numbered as
the hypotenuse tightens around their necks.
Are You Happy?
Now that you've gone out
yourself that new car, are you happy? How joyous are you really? What are your strengths? How satisfied are you with your work-life balance? What
about your positives and negatives?
The answers to these and
other aspects about your character are revealed in a series of simple questionnaires at a website called Authentic
Happiness. Try it. It's quite clever. You have to
register, but it's free.
Quotes of the Week
Quote: "Sheikh [Ahmed} Yassin [spiritual leader of Hamas] is marked for
death, and he should hide himself deep underground where he won't know the
difference between day and night"
Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim,
on learning that the Sheikh personally blessed and ordered the
attack at the Erez crossing point between Israel and Gaza,
which was Hamas's first female suicide bombing
Refer to this week's leading story
Quote: Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be
internationalized. This particular criticism is
hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea,
the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary,
Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the
17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq ... There is a difference
however between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the
objections of a few ... America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security
of our country.
George W Bush in his 2004 State of the Union address,
referring to calls from Democratic candidates
for US action in Iraq to
THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
#64 - 18th January 2004
Voyage from China to Polynesia
Last August I promised
to explain how it was that the tiny native population of tiny Nauru, one
of the Polynesian islands in the Pacific, is descended from native
In 1947, Thor Heyerdal, a Norwegian anthropologist and adventurer, undertook an epic voyage of 6,500 km in a flimsy, primitive
raft made of balsa-wood and bamboo. It was named Kon-Tiki after the
Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki”
was said to be an old name.
He and his five companions
sailed and drifted westward from Callao, near Lima in Peru on
the west coast of South America, to the Tuamotu Islands in Polynesia on the
other side of the Pacific Ocean. The purpose of his gruelling,
hazardous 14-week voyage
was to prove the feasibility of the theory that the Pacific islands were
populated by people, ie Peruvian Indians, whose ancestors had made a
similar trip a millennium earlier.
In 1950, he wrote a hugely
popular book about the experience, the Kon-Tiki
Expedition, and the theory was widely accepted as fact. He died
in 2002 aged 87.
Late Note (Feb 2012)
In 2012, a Norwegian historical drama
movie was made which was nominated for several awards.
The islanders themselves are somewhat oriental in appearance, as are the Peruvian
Indians from whom they are supposedly descended. And the latter look
oriental because, so the complementary theory goes, the original
Peruvians' forefathers had trekked up what is now the Eastern coast of
China and Russia, across what was then a land-bridge linking Russia to
Alaska (today's Bering Straits), and then down the West coast of the American continent till they
reached Peru, and indeed continued further to Chile.
And why then did they choose to sail across the Pacific? Well,
so the theory goes,
they didn't choose, but that was the way the winds and currents flow, from West
to East. It was postulated, therefore, that over time fishing boats
were inadvertently blown out to sea, and that those that did not sink
ended up stranded on Pacific islands many thousands of kilometres
away. So were new settlements born in Polynesia. Artifacts and
flora in Polynesia link the area to both South America and Asia, providing
further support for the two migration theories.
Except that Thor Heyerdahl's theory of East-to-West migration is balderdash.
First, think about it.
Fishermen drifting out to sea and ending up in Tahiti or Nauru? If it was accidental, then how come they had women, livestock
and seeds on board that allowed them to establish a population and way
of life, using these non-Polynesian resources? Not many
fishermen bring such items along on an average fishing
Did they perhaps, then, migrate on purpose? Again,
inconceivable. The nearest island, San Feliz, is a thousand
kilometres off the South American coast and it's another two thousand
to reach the edge of Polynesia. A millennium ago, no
Peruvian/Chilean would have known those islands were there, nor could have seen
them. So he would have been sailing away with his precious family
on board into unknown blankness, with no means of returning home
(because of those prevailing winds and currents) should something go
awry. His wife and mother-in-law would surely have had something to
say about that!
But then there's recent scientific evidence that now proves beyond doubt that
Polynesia was populated by immigrants not from the American West but from the Oriental East. And, incidentally, that Orientals did indeed make a separate
east and south, overland from China to Peru and Chile.
Bryan Sykes is a geneticist in Oxford University who has made a study
of mitochondrial DNA, or mDNA. This is a tiny component of your DNA,
which serves no known function, yet is passed down the female line of
animals, mother to
daughter, virtually unchanged. Unlike the rest of DNA, which mutates
regularly down the generations giving rise to Darwin's theory of
mutations in mDNA are so rare that they can be used as a time-marker for
One mDNA mutation occurs only every 10,000 years, so for example
three mutations means 30,000 years have passed.
Thus if two people
have mDNA that is identical but for one difference, you know they are
cousins descended from the same mother between 10,000 and 20,000 years
In the 1990s, Prof Sykes began collecting blood samples from native
Polynesians, and to his astonishment concluded that regardless of which
island they live on, they are all descended from only a handful of
mothers. This is extraordinary when you consider that the Polynesian
islands occupy a box in the Pacific of about 5,000 km square. Some
incredible maritime feats must have been conducted for so few family lines
to have spread so far.
But he also analysed the mDNA of natives of New Guinea,
Borneo, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, as well as of Peru and Chile, and
compared this with the Polynesian mDNA. This uncovered a clear lineage from Polynesia tracing back
through the Western Pacific into Eastern China and Taiwan, a lineage that in at
least one instance (a family line through New Guinea) was 40,000 years
But when he searched for family lines linking Polynesians to native Peruvians and
Chileans, none could be found. Nevertheless, mDNA analysis of native
populations along the postulated northern overland migration route did
confirm that that's how Peru and Chile were first
These remarkable findings proved conclusively, for the first time, that
today's native Polynesians are immigrants from East Asia, who arrived via
a series of steps and stops at different islands, big and small, after a journey
lasting in some cases 40,000 years.
They did not come from South America. Thor Heyerdahl was
The remaining question is how did they do it, sailing into the wind
into the unknown.
The answer is through courage, skill, technology, navigation and
luck. One can only guess they were driven by economic necessity, or
perhaps simply a desire for adventure. And though many must have
lost their lives in the
attempt, we can at least be sure they did not migrate by accident, not when
the prevailing winds were pushing them back to shore.
The great advantage of sailing against the wind, is that if you have a
problem, or simply lose heart, you still have a good chance of getting
back home simply by riding the downwind. Without
it seems most unlikely those canny womenfolk would have been persuaded
to come aboard.
The south-western rim of the Pacific contains a series of mountainous
islands close enough to sail between on visuals, the largest being New
Guinea. This permitted those early mariners to navigate fairly
safely eastward, one island at a time, as far as the Solomon Islands, over
a period of
some 40 millennia. Archaeological evidence indicates, however, that
they did not venture further east until perhaps only three thousand years
That is because the next island, Santa Cruz, was 300 km from the
Solomons, far beyond the
horizon, and the others further away still.
The last series of voyages, therefore, had to wait until about 1000 BC
by when boat technology and navigational skills had advanced
sufficiently. Then, over a period of some 2,000 years (as dated by
archaeological artefacts), the rest of the Polynesian Islands were
systematically colonised. The migrants sailed in large, eminently
seaworthy, double-hulled canoes up to ten metres long with a prow at each
end. This enabled the mariners to tack across the wind and reverse without the hazard of turning round in a high sea.
They navigated by keeping a rising or setting star in the same position
relative to the canoe, which would maintain a constant latitude. But
they also used other clues to detect an island over the horizon -
formations that gather above distant mountains,
the flight direction of birds known to
nest on land,
floating debris which would indicate there was land upwind and
of the ocean swell as subtle reflections ripple back from some beach 150
kilometres away, a phenomenon that experienced seamen and anglers sense to this day.
A continuing mystery, however, is how some of those migrants managed to
turn right and sail southeastward, crossing lines of latitude, to find and
settle in New Zealand. We know they did, because the mDNA of the
Maoris shows indubitably that they too are descended from the same group of
mothers as the native Polynesians and those ancient coastal Chinese and
(the even more ancient) Taiwanese.
But it's all a fascinating story, a confluence of ancient
with state-of-the-art forensic investigation. One of the
outcomes is that those Naurans are indeed descended from Taiwanese.
But there is an aspect of the evidence of man's extreme longevity on this earth
that always troubles me. Why did it take Jesus Christ, the son of God, at
least 40,000 years to come on earth and seek propitiation for man's sins? Perhaps it means mankind has a further 40,000 years to go and
Jesus therefore chose to arrive at the midpoint of his
existence. If not it suggests a certain, er, negligence with
regard to the 1,000 to 2,000 generations of the human race that preceded
the Christian era.
Late Note (July 2010)
The Economist carries a wonderfully enlightening
obituary for Pius Mau Piailug who was Micronesia's last
master-navigator. He learned his complex Polynesian art from
childhood at the feet of his grandfather, which included the
memorisation of the name, colour, light and trajectories of more than a
Mau famously demonstrated his abilities in 1976 by
navigating a canoe across 2,500 kilometres of open Pacific Ocean from
Hawaii to Tahiti without compass, sextant or charts. As the
would point his canoe into the right slant of wind, and then
along a path between a rising star and an opposite, setting one.
his departure star astern and his destination star ahead,
he could keep to his course.
day he was guided by the rising and setting sun but also
by the ocean herself, the mother of life.
could read how far he was from shore, and its direction,
by the feel of the swell against the hull.
could detect shallower water by colour, and see the light
of invisible lagoons reflected in the undersides of clouds.
fish meant rivers in the offing.
of birds, homing in the evening, showed him where
These are precisely the techniques that those ancient
mariners deployed as, with incredible courage and confidence, they
migrated Eastward in open canoes with their families, animals, seeds and
other possessions into the great unknown.
Osama Still Not Alive
Once again, a speech on a scratchy audio tape has emerged on Al Jazeera TV, which
purports to be Osama Bin Laden exhorting further jihad. The speech
must have been recorded only recently because it refers to Saddam's capture.
But is it genuine?
intelligence team has analyzed it to determine whether it is authentic or
not, and they have determined that it is likely that the voice on the tape
is bin Laden's
White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
assessments says this is the voice of Osama bin Laden
adds Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
Technical experts, linguists and translators at the CIA and National
Security Agency have compared
the latest message to previous recordings of bin Laden and say they are as
certain as they can be that it is genuine.
But they present no evidence.
I'm sorry, but I just don't buy this guff. For reasons discussed earlier,
he is either dead or so badly injured and disfigured he dare not show his
face lest it demoralise his supporters and cheer up his enemies.
As for that tape, I'm sure there are plenty of Rory
Bremners and other impersonators out there in the Al Qaeda world
who are well able to replicate bin Laden's linguistics (speech
patterns, accent, intonation etc).
As for science, voiceprint
identification is the principal technology available, where spectrographs
of voice recordings are compared, on the basis that no two people
produce the same spectrographic curve. Accuracy of less than 1%
is claimed, which sounds low. But it means that if you have, say, just a
thousand volunteers you should be able to find a few duplicates that
the machine cannot distinguish between. By comparison, the
accuracy of DNA measurement is so great that the chance of two people having
the same measured DNA is in the hundreds of millions.
And why else
is the latest audio tape, as were the previous ones, of such a scratchy
quality, if not to make voice identification more difficult?
If Osama were alive and well, you can be sure he would be using the
media to put out regular stirring and defiant messages - and making them
believable. That means, at the least, using good quality video that
leaves viewers - friend and foe alike - in no doubt whatsoever about the
identity of the speaker. Imagine the effect that would have in
encouraging his followers and depressing the West.
But it's very hard to do from an unknown grave deep in the Afghan
Blogger of 2003
Blogger of the Year was recently awarded by a panel to
Joshua Micah Marshall for his left-leaning blog, Talking
He calls himself an opinion journalist, but is also
an accomplished professional reporter. But he says Im much more invested in my
[blog] than in any of those other things that pay me. He is
also one of the few bloggers to attract advertising. Why? Because
blogs are where the influential reach the influential. They matter.
More about this and other year-end blog awards here.
(None for yours-truly.)
villagers from Curugsewu in Java, Indonesia, recently captured a python
that is almost 49 feet long and weighs nearly 990 pounds. As such,
it is the largest snake ever
kept in captivity.
Reticulated pythons are the worlds longest
snakes. They are capable of eating animals as large as sheep, and have
been known to attack and consume
This particular specimen is being fed on three or
four dogs a month.
(Are you still listening, Dottie?)
Unscientific Beer Mat
a drink in the pub last week, I had a look at my beer mat, on the
Now I know that beer mats are not the first thing you
consult when you want to do some scientific analysis. However this
one tells me that in order to taste my Carlsberg, I must tilt my bottle to
almost 73º. I happened to have a sexton in my pocket (the way one
does), so I tried this. But to my surprise no beer poured
It was only when the tilt angle reached 91º that I was
able to begin slaking my thirst.
I have therefore written to Carlsberg to demand an
explanation for their unforgivable obeisance to the laws of gravity,
despite the promise on their beer mat to the contrary.
Also to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Maybe I need to get out less.
Recovering from Christmas
According to the Daily
Mirror, online auction exchanges such as E-Bay experienced a huge New
Year surge in business as customers scrambled to get rid of their
unwanted Christmas presents. It's apparently all down to the hugely decreased
likelihood of getting caught.
those who didn't like what they were given over the festive season with a
week-long Get What You Really Wanted
There's still time for you to
offload those ghastly scarves, socks and floral
jumpers. Or to do bargain shopping for next Christmas.
Quotes of the Week
Quote: Disqualifying those who do not qualify to serve as the
nation's representatives is not a violation of people's rights - it
safeguards their rights
Conservative MPs in Iran,
where the hardline Guardian
has barred liberal politicians from standing for election.
is getting a reputation as the hate capital of Europe.
Davey Carlin, of the Anti-Racist Network,
referring not to the historic hatred
of Protestants for Catholics and vice-versa
that has caused 30 years of civil warfare and 3,000 deaths,
but to hatred of non-white immigrants.
Hence the curious phrase is
THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
ISSUE #63 - 11th January 2004 
Multiple Mass Killers
- also linked as
It's actually quite hard to be a multiple-mass-killer, someone
who kills lots of people, over and over again. You need
either a lot of money or to run a country or (usually) both.
People usually regard MMKs with revulsion, but not all of the time
and not all of them.
For example, Saddam, always an MMK, was for most of his career not
viewed with revulsion. Today's revulsion is a fairly new phenomenon, since 9/11,
since the discovery of his mass graves, since he was captured.
Also, people's revulsion seems often to be dictated not by the magnitude
of the MMK's crime, but by his intention or even his political
leaning. Killing, when that is not your direct intention, or when
perpetrated by left-wingers, seems for many to be less heinous, though the
victims are just as dead.
Hitler made moral judgement easy. A right wing fascist, he has
been reviled for the past sixty years for intentionally slaughtering six
Mao and Stalin, on the other hand, were MMKs of Communist hue, whose
killings (whether by famine, deportation, forced industrialisation, Gulag,
execution) were merely byproducts of policies that were supposedly aimed at the
long-term wellbeing of the working man. So throughout their tenures,
and even to this
day, excuses were/are made in the West and blind eyes
turned, even though their death rates exceeded Hitler's by a factor of
Mao is so unreviled that there are even restaurants
named after him (though I refuse to provide the publicity of a link).
Can you imagine a restaurant called Hitler?
Everyone hates the right-wing, business-friendly General Pinochet for
his killings and repression (though he certainly perked up the Chilean
But great swathes of Western opinion support Castro despite his
continuing killings, repression and economic destruction, simply because he
dresses to the left and says he's on the side of the
I was reminded of all this by BBC journalist Michael
Buerk, who, living up
to his name, recently wrote an ill-argued article
in the (subscription-only) Sunday Times comparing Ethiopia, famine-ridden twenty years
ago, with today when it is once again ravaged by famine. It was he who, most commendably, first broke the
story of the Ethiopian famine, that captured the imagination of Bob Geldof
and the world.
In the article, he recounts his 1983 visit, the horrors of starvation he witnessed,
as well as some inspiring visions among aid-workers and
But he then contrasts Ethiopia today with how it was at that time, and draws the
conclusion that the current rulers, under Meles Zenawi, are
the 1980s regime of Mengistu,
for 17 years Ethiopia's MMK.
he remarks that the poor
are getting poorer
and recites a stream of statistics which I have summarised/embellished
essence, famine and drought are causing at least as much misery today as they
did twenty years ago.
Then and Now
Dictator in Charge
Years in power
10 so far
Control of land
Entirely by Govt
Entirely by Govt
Foreigners banned from
All business enterprises
All business enterprises
Average annual income
Food production per
Doubled, to 68m
in 20 yrs
Top soil lost
Number hit by drought
Number fed by outside
Deaths caused by starvation caused by incompetent state policies surely
qualify as MMKs.
Why then does Mr Buerk call the current rulers saints?
because the Zenawi government is ideologically,
even romantically, focused on the peasants ... It genuinely wants them to
have a better life. So he thinks Ethiopians should
be grateful for the good intentions of Zenawi even though their lives are
even worse than under Mengistu.
is a saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Actually, the reverse is true because God values intentions more than
results. If I try to shoot you but miss, in God's eyes I am more
culpable, because of my evil intent, than someone who tries to miss you
but ends up killing you. Under man-made laws however, I will get a lighter
sentence than the other guy, who will be banged up for
In the world of man, results are what should count. Nothing
else. He who kills more is worse, he who improves the lot of others
is better. Mr Buerk's notion of a saint as someone who means well
but continues to cause untold death and misery should be condemned for the pernicious
leftwing claptrap that it is.
In 1983/4, he contributed wonderfully to the solution. In 2003/4 his apologia for an evil Marxist regime
that is tantamount to an MMK makes him part of the problem.
Late Note (early on 12th Jan): I've just seen Michael Buerk's
TV programme on which his article is based. Most of it is an
incredibly moving account, wonderfully produced, of the 1983/4 famine
and how the world, shocked by Buerk's images and galvanised by Bob
Geldof, rose up and stopped the starvation in its tracks.
But Buerk's soft and sympathetic treatment of the current government,
which is prevented only by more foreign aid from reproducing a famine
twice as bad, is shameful. The sight of the fat, smug Prime
Minister Meles Zenawi
declaring, after ten years of economic destruction, that the
peasants must be chained to the land and of course his policies mean
that Ethiopia is going to grow and develop was especially
- also linked as
Alternative link for this post:
Whilst we're still on Africa, Internet Commentator last week ran a
on Nigeria and its tribal difficulties, prompted by a longer post
at a blog called Foreign Dispatches.
Both articles make the point that when the European colonisers
arbitrarily drew the borders of Nigeria and other African ex-colonies,
without regard to tribal/ethnic differences, they guaranteed discontent
both within and between national boundaries, that continues to his day. For Africans pay
fealty to their family and tribe first. Everything else is far
Of course, on the divide-and-conquer theory, these haphazard borders
made them easier to rule and administer as colonies. So perhaps
those draughtsmen did not work arbitrarily at all.
But those borders are what makes the countries especially hard to
self-govern because the State does not command a high level of loyalty
from its citizens, compared to family and tribe.
In Nigeria, however, the contribution of ethnicity to its woes is
correct only up to a point, for this misses a crucial element.
The big divide in Nigeria is North-South. In the map below,
that's roughly a horizontal line running between Abuja and Ilorin.
If you will allow this white man, who lived there for seven years, some
political incorrectness and generalisation, I will explain.
The North is largely desert, with poor agriculture, not much rain
and very little in the way of natural resources. Broadly speaking, its
dour people come from relatively few tribes (Hausa, Fulani and
others), have a culture of trading, are predominantly Muslim, and
paler in skin than Southerners (skin colour is far more important in
Africa than Europe/America). They are also smarter, more unified and
better organized than those in the South, whom they disdain.
The South has plenty of resources good soil, buckets of rain,
abundant oil and gas, a long coastline, a mighty river, and a
hard-working, cheerful, energetic population. But they are divided
into literally hundreds of tribes each with its own language, belong
to various Christian and animist sects and are unable to work together
as a single body (or small number of bodies). Not as streetwise as
their Northern compatriots, and conscious of their blacker (ie
inferior) skins, they dont play the political game well.
As a result, the Northerners have been able to seize and hold the
levers of power throughout most of Nigerias independence, and they
dominate the South.
This done, their single-minded objective has been to exploit the
Souths resources for the benefit of
first the personal pockets of leaders,
then the infrastructure in the North,
leaving but a pittance for those from whom the resources have been
Just one example. In the 1980s a new capital city, Abuja, was
created from nothing, in the centre of the country but part of the
Northern constituency. Land was acquired and magnificent ministries,
hotels, roads, houses and airport were built, unmatched anywhere in the
country. Ministries, embassies and businesses were forced to relocate to Abuja
away from Lagos the previous capital (and still today the centre of
While the population continued to scratch a living, this huge
extravagant project got top priority, funded by oil money.
Thus were many (more) billions of dollars siphoned off from the South to
Lumping North and South into a single country was the single
biggest mistake of the British diplomat Frederick Lugard who drafted the boundaries
(and whose name is preserved by a Lugard Street in Lagos). The dichotomy in resources means there can never be a
Czechoslovakia-style velvet divorce. The North would never agree.
The civil war of 1967-70 that killed a million people was all about
the attempt of Biafra, in the South-East
with Port Harcourt as its capital, to become
independent (complete with its own currency - click on the
thumbnail). Biafra, you see, held all of Nigeria's oil at that
time. There was no way it was
going to be allowed to walk away.
So Nigeria is just going to have to muddle along. With education,
communication (TV, radio, internet) and global trends towards respect for
human rights, in time those different tribes and religions will find a way
to work together, as they come to realise that is where the best interests
of their children lie. Its transition from a series of military
dictatorships to the kind-of presidential democracy in place today is a
step in such a direction.
But how long will the whole process take? Certainly not
years. Decades perhaps? A century?
Incidentally, the story behind the civil war in Sudan is not that much
different, except that there the black Christian/animist South has fewer
resources for the resource-barren paler Muslim North to expropriate.
But enough to drive southerners from their land so as to present an empty
landscape for oil companies to explore.
Foreign Dispatches, by the way, describes as ludicrous
the contents of the above post, as indicated by this discussion
thread hosted by Internet Commentator.
Readers might be interested in my previous post on Nigeria, entitled Fuel
Shortage in a Land of Oil.
Alternative link for this post:
No WMDs in Iraq
So it's almost official. There are no nuclear, chemical or
biological weapons of mass destruction to speak of in Iraq. The 1,400-man Iraq
Survey Group that's been in Iraq for the past six
months has come up pretty much empty-handed and is being quietly withdrawn or
Does this turn Bush and Blair into liars? After all, the threat
of Iraqi WMDs was a central justification for going to war.
A liar is someone who deliberately tells an untruth. It is not
someone who tells an untruth believing it to be a truth.
Before the war, there was hardly a person who did not believe Saddam
After all, he had deployed them against both Iran and his own Kurds;
the TV pictures went around the world.
Since the 1991 Gulf War, whose agreed peace terms required Saddam to
lay down his WMDs, the UN issued several further resolutions to the
Yet Saddam never provided any evidence that he had got rid of
His two cousins-turned-sons-in-laws, Hussein Hamal and Kamel
after they defected to Jordan in 1995, revealed
to US Intelligence his biological weapons programme - which Hussein
Hamal had headed
up. Saddam did not deny this, and took his revenge by luring
both men back to Iraq and then having them murdered.
In the build-up to the Iraq war, not even the anti-war movement claimed
that WMDs did not exist.
It appears that Saddam even duped
his own generals into believing he had WMDs - that each was told it
was a different general who was in charge of them.
The Coalition forces expected to encounter WMDs. That's why
they went in to battle equipped with WMD protection gear; indeed there
were complaints by some British troops of inadequate anti-WMD
Even Libya's Gaddafi, a less sinister tyrant, had as we all now
know, his own WMD ambitions, even nuclear ones. One can guess
that the US and UK intelligence services had known this - and would have
drawn similar conclusions about Saddam.
It seems inconceivable, therefore, that Bush and Blair would
either have believed
or if they had, that they would have hammered on about the WMDs
knowing they would be shown to have been wrong once the war was won.
It just doesn't make sense to tell blatant porkies when being
found out is a virtual certainty.
Another aspect should be noted. The Americans have had ample
opportunity to plant evidence of WMDs for the inspectors to find. This
would have saved considerable embarrassment. That they didn't do so
is further attestation to the generally honest behaviour of the Bush/Blair
It is entirely plausible, however, that they would have stretched the
evidence to help make the WMD point, as the Carnegie Institute claims in
this (583 kb PDF) slide
presentation. It's understandable, though not
However, such distortion is plausible only with a full expectation of finding WMDs.
For this would have provided an opportunity to say, well the WMDs were there, there just weren't so many as we had
thought. But you can't say that if there are none at all.
My conclusion is therefore that the lack of WMDs does not amount to
going to war on a lying prospectus.
The secondary reason for the war, the liberation of the Iraqi people
from a homicidal tyrant, stands utterly vindicated - by the mass graves,
the personal horror stories, the horde of documentary evidence.
Saddam used to murder 30,000 of his citizens per year. The casualties
of the Iraq war were well below this and the current killing rate but a
It is a constant mystery to me why the so-called peace-loving anti-war movement
would wish this had not happened. Do they love death so much?
Yes to Armed Sky Marshals
European airline pilots are getting exercised about America's new requirement
that some aircraft flying to or over the US carry armed sky
marshals. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Portugal are strongly opposed.
As EU president, Ireland is therefore arranging a summit of EU aviation officials to
discuss the issue.
It seems to me that any country is perfectly entitled to make any
demands it want, however unreasonable, in respect of visitors, whether
overflying, touristing, doing business or immigrating. It must of
course accept the consequences of its actions, both good and bad, and
tourists and businessmen staying away in droves could be one
So if you don't like armed sky marshals perhaps you should go to
Switzerland or Antarctica instead.
The airline pilots have three principle objections. None hold
They want to ensure there is a clear command structure on board and communication
between the captain and the sky marshal.
Totally reasonable; the Americans would demand
exactly the same. (It doesn't really matter who is
in charge so long as it's only one person and everyone
knows who that is and there is a reliable means of communcation
between the captain and the
They are also concerned that guns if fired might depressurise the
Apparently this fear has also been resolved - the
marshals will use low-velocity ammunition specially
designed to penetrate the skin of humans but not
of the aircraft.
They believe the whole idea is fraught with unknown or uncontrollable
This might be true if armed sky marshals were
something new. They aren't. US airlines are already
them on their flights. Israel's El Al and
Jordan's Alia have
been doing so for at least twenty
years; possibly other airlines also. Yet not a single
adverse incident has ever been
Personally, I would be very happy to know there was an armed guard on
board my flight. I would much rather have him shooting, than see
people setting fire to their shoes or cutting throats with box
Kilroy's Not Here
Robert Kilroy-Silk hosts a long-running chat show on BBC TV every
weekday morning and writes a column for Britain's Sunday Express.
With vaguely left-leaning sympathies, he is a former Labour MP who once
(rather laughably) aspired to be Prime Minister.
In April 2003 he wrote a column in response to the views of opponents
to the war in Iraq that Arab States loathe the West.
We're told that the Arabs loathe us. Really? ... What do they
think we feel about them? That we adore them for the way they murdered
more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 ... That we admire them for the
cold-blooded killings in Mombasa, Yemen and elsewhere? That we admire them
for being suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women-repressors? ... The Arab
world has not exactly earned our respect, has it? Iran is a vile,
terrorist-supporting regime - part of the axis of evil. So is the Saddam
Hussein-supporting Syria. So is Libya. Indeed, most of them chant support
These are pretty objectionable words, even if, as Mr Kilroy claims, they are supposed to be
targeted at Arab States rather than Arabs. For it blames all Arabs
for the crimes of some; it also displays ignorance in thinking Iranians
However, the remarks went largely unnoticed
Then, on 4th January, the Sunday Express reprinted the column under the
heading We Owe Arabs Nothing and all hell let
Within three days, the Muslim Council of Britain wrote
an angry letter to the newspaper demanding a right to reply, another
to the BBC and a third to the UK's Press Complaints
A couple of days later the Commission on Racial Equality requested
the police to mount a prosecution for inciting racial hatred,
remarking If its deemed not to be a breach of the laws on
racial hatred, we will have to have a pretty good look at those laws.
The Muslim media within
the UK understandably expressed their anger.
The blogosphere has its own share of fury, with many chat-threads
along the lines of Kilroy
is an evil bigoted fascist
On 9th January, Kilroy apologised saying, I greatly regret the
offence which has been caused by the article published in last weekends
Then at last, once it was clear that everyone else was against him, the
BBC showed leadership by, er, following the crowd and suspended
his show from the air pending an investigation.
The Sunday Express however are not so faint-hearted and continue to stand
by their man.
It's not the first time Kilroy has written articles deemed racist, but
people did not get especially worked up.
In 1995 he said Muslims
everywhere behave with equal savagery.
In 1992, he described Ireland's then EU Commissioner Ray MacSharry
as a redundant second-rate politician from a country peopled by
peasants, priests and pixies. You can't argue with the
first part, but the second is a bit insulting.
So the man is probably finished other than as an occasional
commentator, which is a shame because his chat-show, modelled on
Oprah's, is actually quite good and not bigoted at all.
Kilroy was here - but he's not any longer.
Google carried out no fewer than 55 billion searches in
Here are some of the most popular, from its annual review of such
things, called the 2003
Year-End Google Zeitgeist.
It's worth a
Top Searches in 2003
out of 55 billion
1 Britney Spears
2 Harry Potter
5 David Beckham
6 50 Cent
8 Lord of the Rings
9 Kobe Bryant
10 Tour de France
1 Prince Charles
3 Winnie the Pooh
4 Jonny Wilkinson
6 David Beckham
7 Michael Jackson
8 Two Fast Two Furious
9 Paris Hilton
10 The Simpsons
Apart from the top tens from various countries, of particular interest
is how searches suddenly focus in and peak when special events
occur, such as the start of the Iraq war, Mardi Gras, the outbreak of SARS,
a new movie, a big sporting event.
Canada's Visible Yet Hidden
Peter T Katzmarzyk is a member of the Community Health and
Epidemiology department in Ontario's Queen's University. Last month
in the Canadian Medical Journal no less, an imaginative way for Canada to
help meet its obligations under the (in my
opinion worthless and pernicious) Kyoto Protocol that requires Western
states to reduce their CO2 emissions.
He has calculated that the army of overweight and obese Canadians carry
within their bodies an average 8.3 kg of excess fat each. This adds
up to a national total of 8,855 tonnes of quivering material, equivalent
to 29 terajoules of stored energy. Or, if you prefer, 5,100
barrels of crude oil.
This is sufficient to power all of Canada's 11.7 million homes for five
hours. Or, if you prefer, 6,678 homes all year round.
However, should fat Canadians, in a fit of health-consciousness, resort
to physical activity, other than running on treadmills that generate
electricity for the national grid, this valuable energy resource will be
depleted, thus increasing Canada's reliance on fossil fuels that many
believe contribute to global warming.
But Dr Katzmarzyk concludes on a hopeful note. Our
children have learned by example, and appear to be even more
diligent than adults in conserving energy in the form of body
Quote of the Week
can't stop Europe. And there [will come] some day the moment in which
somebody ... must give [the] example [of how] to go on, because Europe
cannot always [move] to the speed of a very, very slow wagon.
European Commission President Romano Prodi,
strong advocate of the draft EU constitution,
speaking in Dublin after a meeting with the
new Irish EU Presidency,
following the (thankful)
of the constitutional summit in Brussels in December
Bertie Ahern, Ireland's PM and thus the EU's
then reproved him for advocating a two-speed Europe
THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
#62 - 4th January 2004
Bam Earthquake - A Threat to Iran’s Dictators?
Nothing can help a Westerner,
living in the warmth and comfort of his home several thousand miles west of Iran, to
appreciate the enormity of the calamity that befell the people of Bam in
the early hours of Friday 26th December.
Reports of deaths began at 3,000 in the first hours, in a few days
ramped up to 70,000 and currently seems to be in the 40-50,000 range.
Whatever. Out of a
population of just 200,000, this is catastrophic by any reckoning.
In the geologically unstable
fault line that runs east-to-west through the Bam area, the construction substance
of choice is/was thick, heavy bricks of dried mud and straw, with clay
applied as cement. These bricks were used to erect not just the walls
of houses but their ceilings and roofs as well, whilst additional storeys
were added at will without any building controls.
It is hard to imagine a material and planning process less suited
to a known earthquake zone. As
the earth shuddered, walls just crumbled, and those weighty ceilings came
crashing down on sleeping occupants, leaving few or no air-spaces for
of the towns buildings were reduced to rubble.
Bams earthquake measured
6.3 on the Richter scale. Contrast
it with the earthquake of similar magnitude (6.5) that struck
the San Simeon area in California just four days earlier but killed only
two people, though the population
is similar to Bams. The
principle difference so many survived was the lightweight,
earthquake-sensitive architecture of the buildings, which only swayed but
did not collapse.
For the mullahs who run Iran
as a theocratic dictatorship, the devastation of Bam will
cause repercussions in a number of ways.
Certainly, they must bear
some of the blame for making no attempt to improve building standards.
However this should be tempered by the reality that Iran is a developing country with widespread poverty, where people
such as those in Bam have to make do with what they can get.
Many simply dont have the money to hire engineers and
architects to design their homes and to use expensive alternative
But of course if the
mullahs stole less of Iran's vast oil money, poverty would not be so
widespread, so they must take their share of blame for that too.
should also be blamed for the pitiful dearth of in-country resources
to deal with this kind of emergency, given that Iran has suffered
other grievous earthquakes in recent years and should have learnt from
Nevertheless, when disaster
strikes, it is usually the immediate response to it that sticks longest and loudest
in the minds of victims and observers alike.
Russia probably holds bottom place for the calamitous and
heartless way it handled the submarine Kursk affair
in 2000, when the sub was crippled by its own torpedoes and sank
to the bottom with the crew
President Putin didnt want
the crisis to interrupt his sunny holiday on the Black Sea, while his
military leaders preferred to see the 118-man crew die a slow, horrible
death in icy blackness rather than suffer the humiliation of allowing
foreign experts to help. So die they all
At least at Bam, the
authorities, recognizing the limitations of their own emergency response
equipment and manpower, not least that the citys two hospitals had both
been rendered unusable, immediately appealed for international assistance.
Then they quickly opened up borders to a horde of foreign helpers and waived
visa and customs requirements. Other
than a sour and callous refusal
to allow a willing Israel to help, this was highly commendable behaviour.
Perhaps portending a (much-denied) easing of diplomatic cold-shouldering, America,
the Great Satan, was among those who leapt to Bams aid, sending in
government aircraft for the first time
since the Iranian hostage crisis ended in 1981.
How will ordinary Iranians view events in and around Bam
and how might this now impact on the Iranian leadership?
In one obvious way, and in another more subtle way, neither of which will make
those mullahs feel more secure.
reaction is the popular fury
that is already mounting at the poor building regulations, the unnecessary
poverty in an oil-rich country, the dreadful emergency-response resources
and the extra loss of life incurred by rejecting Israels help. This
fury is directed unmistakably at the mullahs.
But the overwhelming
international response is also showing local people not just foreign expertise
unmatched by their own authorities, but an open-hearted willingness on the
part of foreigners to help Iranians, without any expectation of reward.
Foreigners have come from all parts of the world, from France,
Germany, Switzerland, but also from Japan, Korea and China. And in particular,
America, Britain and other members of the Coalition of the Willing have
waded in to help.
This is not going
unnoticed by people whose media have for decades swamped them with
propaganda about the evil, libertine West. For the first time, they
can see for themselves that such foreigners bring only goodwill and professionalism
and that what they have been told all those years is plainly
false. Indeed, according to Sky News last Friday 2nd January, the imam at
still-standing mosque paid tribute
to the foreign helpers and commended the warm and gracious reception given
by the locals.
The Bam tragedy will thus not
only increase Iranians disdain for their own corrupt leadership, but
will also certainly increase their understanding and amity of the foreigners
- for so
by Iran's leaders.
This undermining of the
mullahs authority and trust will be a significant further step towards
the welcome disintegration of the regime.
When coupled with
the fall of murderous
dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq,
the taming of the one in
the continuing American
pressure on Iran to democratise, denuclearise and open up,
the Iranian dictators will not
see in another New Year. They will fall to a popular, relatively
bloodless Georgia/Serbia-style uprising. The Iranian military, still hardened to defense
of external borders by the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, will not turn their
guns on their own people.
Save for those from Bam and
the theocrats themselves, it
must be a hopeful time to be an Iranian, with the prospect of liberation
(Other 2004 predictions below.)
They say a picture is
worth a thousand words. The reverse is also true.
Maria Cronin, director of EU affairs at IBEC
(Irish Business and Employers Confederation) recently wrote 1,120
words in the (subscription-only) Irish Times bewailing the
uncompetitiveness of the EU compared with America and Asia, and urging
Ireland to fix this now that it holds the six-monthly EU presidency.
I have boiled down a thousand of her words to the simple facts and figures illustrated in the
You can see how for every metric the EU is on the Bad
side of its competitors. For an overview of the EUs problem, no more needs be
said. No need to read the article.
Saddams Capture - A Cruel Blow
The Irish Times carried this
letter on 2nd January. But since the newspaper is
subscription-only, I transcribe it below. For Ireland,
you can read Old
or something equivalent.
Wish Id written it myself.
The capture of the genocidal ex-tyrant Saddam Hussein has struck a
cruel blow to the hopes and dreams of many within Irelands political
and media establishment whose meal ticket is the peddling of
anti-American hatred, in print and public speech.
It seems their great white hope threw in the towel without a shot
being fired. For shame. With his straggly beard and badly dyed hair,
Saddam seems less like the proud Arab strong man they told us he was,
and more like an elderly tramp fished from a park bench. But even a
tramp has some friends. Saddams praetorian guard, the thousands who
swore to die for him, melted away and left him to his fate down a hole
in the desert. Hannah Arendts observation about the banality of evil
rings ever true.
President Bush, the cowboy in the White House, has also disappointed
the anti-American nomenklatura. The courage and tenacity of his
leadership in the war on terror has only highlighted the gross
inadequacies of our own ruling caste, a circus of sleazy opportunists
and embittered soixante-huitards whose recent attempts to bully the
weaker nations of Europe into ratifying their constitution ended in
acrimony. President Bush remains undaunted as he cleans out the Augean
stables of the Middle East; I hope the New Year gives him the electoral
success needed to finish the job.
No doubt in the coming weeks we will read much about the foolishness
of the Americans in humiliating this former champion. It will only make
the Arab street more angry, the experts will insist! Maybe.
Or maybe the people of the Muslim world will tire of placing their
faith in the murderous psychopaths,
who through their epic misgovernance dragged an
backwards into medieval poverty;
who blamed the resultant misery of their people
on the global
conspiracy between Yankee and Jew,
ably assisted in this blood libel by their apologists
in the Parliaments and newsrooms of Europe,
the very cradle of civilisation;
who have hijacked a world religion and profaned it
in their demented crusade against the West and all its decadent works,
bringing chaos and death to
New York, Bali, Buenos Aries, Kenya, Israel, Istanbul,
Tunisia, Egypt, Moscow, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
In the meantime the deluded and delusional of Irelands anti-war
movement will gather in Dublin, placards aloft, to protest Saddams
human rights, while his erstwhile victims in Baghdad will gather to
celebrate the downfall of their tormentor.
You couldnt make it up.
Monopoly in Iraq
As we all know, US Vice
President Dick Cheneys previous employer, the oilfield services company Halliburton,
has a huge ($1.6-2.0
billion) contract with the US administration via the Military to provide
services in oilfields and other areas.
Sceptics argue that this
is part of a George Bush strategy to reward his business and energy friends in order to buy his re-election.
However blogger Robin
Burk clearly explains, in a three-part review (Part
I, Part II
and - especially - Part
III), the US Militarys procurement process and how this, quite legitimately, resulted
in the present contract. It is a clumsy process full of checks
and balances, under which it would be quite impossible to rig major
contract awards in the manner suggested.
But lack of corruption
does not mean that contracts get awarded in the most beneficial
What many people, and the
media, seem to assume
is that Halliburton is the only company able to take on the task. It
is not; there are three of these behemoths who compete fiercely with each
other across the globe. As anyone familiar with the upstream oil and
gas sector knows, Halliburton is actually number two in energy services, in the USA and in
Schlumberger operates just as globally but is bigger in terms of market
capitalisation and revenue. Moreover, though it was
founded in France and is incorporated in the Netherlands Antilles, it is,
to all intents and purposes, a US corporation (like Halliburton), which files the same
public filings as other US public companies and is not treated as a foreign
under US securities laws. Coming in third place is Baker
All three are
publicly-owned multinationals whose stockholders are mainly US based,
bulk of their assets and revenues lie beyond Americas
A few vital statistics,
from their respective websites and Motley
1924 in France
1919 in USA
So the mystery, to me, is
why is the US administration giving a monopoly of its Iraq work to one
company, Halliburton, instead of generating healthy competition by
spreading it among all three rivals? This would result in
lower prices and higher quality, and thus more reconstruction for the same
quantum of US taxpayers money.
Of Corgis and the Regina Monologues
Royal dogs have been in the news recently.
First, Princess Annes
ugly bull terrier Dottie tucked into a pair
of recalcitrant children back in November, for which Princess Anne was
fined £1,128 and told to re-train
Dottie. This makes her (Anne, that is, not Dottie) the first member of the royal family to hold
a criminal conviction.
Then two days after Christmas, she (Dottie, that is, not Anne) chewed
to death Pharos, the Queens favourite corgi, who had foolishly
bounded up to the car in welcome. In England, there is an unwritten rule
that every dog is allowed one bite the second bite (forgetting, for
the moment, that savaging two children equals two bites) merits capital
punishment, which the RSPCA is now demanding.
So on reflection, several days later, Anne suddenly remembered that
Dottie wasnt the murderess after all, it was Flo her mother (Dotties, that is, not
Annes). This spared Dottie, though perhaps as
punishment Anne stopped feeding her.
For within a week, our ever-hungry Dottie, or was it Flo, removed
another tasty morsel of fresh meat, this time from the leg of one of her
(Annes, that is not, Dotties) maid.
As I write, Anne is furiously trying to find a third bull terrier to
blame for this latest capital-punishment offence. And is
sending Flo on an aggression-management course (I'm not making this
Meanwhile, Tony Blair has suffered from his own corgi scandal.
Later this month, he is starring in a TV drama production called The
Regina Monologues (dont ask).
it, he greets the Simpson family on holiday from the US, gives them some
tourism tips in London (his famous war on tourism), and true to form
gratefully accepts a $1 bribe.
The original script called for Homer Simpson to present him with a
corgi, but Tony thinks
viewers will think the corgi is a poodle of Tony and therefore Tony is a
poodle of GWB. No I dont follow the logic either. So the
corgi was banned in favour of the $1 bribe.
Anyway, since he has been singularly unsuccessful in banning hunting
with hounds, he has at least shown moral leadership by banning cartooning
with corgis. Tough on dogs, tough on the causes of dogs.
Get the message, Dottie?
there is a report
that in a bizarre veterinary
accident, Princess Anne has been put down instead of her dog ...
Tots for Money
So, two months ago, your two-year-old
son Konrad is rushing around the local playground when he accidentally
crashes into the railings and cuts his head. You pick him up, plonk your
hankie on his head and take him home to get cleaned up, and the hospital
to get sewn up.
End of story?
Not if you live in Greenwich,
Connecticut, because youve got some more cleaning up and sewing up to
do in the courts, where you sue
the council for painting the railings an environmentally-friendly green
and thus rendering them difficult to spot against the surrounding
shrubbery. Oh, and by the way, your son is a model and actor, and so
youre claiming loss of earnings whilst his head heals, as well as for
pain and suffering.
Graham in Abu Dhabi, who kindly alerted me to this,
is speechless. So am I.
Predictions for 2004
To provide you with an
opportunity to poke fun at me in a years time, here, based on ignorance
and prejudice, are the Tallrite predictions for 2004.
there will be bloodless revolution in Iran that will overthrow the
Assad Jr, the optician, will also fall.
Kim Jong Il will not, but he will
Bush will be reelected in
Yarafat will die (from
illness not assassination) to be
replaced by a hardline pragmatist who who will want to negotiate
seriously ... but with a by-then disinterested Israel,
Israel will complete its
and then look for ways
to start expelling Israeli Arabs in the interests of Jewish
Quotes of the Week
is a bit disappointing
Colin Pillinger of the UKs
on the loss of his £35m Mars probe, Beagle 2
laughed when I said I was going to be a comedian. Well, theyre not
Trademark self-deprecating gag of
comedian and game-show host Bob Monkhouse,
who died on 29 December 2003 after a 50 year career
THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
to Top of Page
to Tallrite Blog
Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
Click for details
Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“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.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
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
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
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics