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#93 - 30th January 2005
Abdul Ameer Kadhum : A True Iraqi Hero
The uncle of Iraqi policeman Abdul Ameer Kadhum looks at his photograph
during the officer's funeral ceremony in Baghdad on 31st January 2005. Abdul was
killed when he jumped on a suicide bomber to protect voters waiting
outside a polling station the previous day, when Iraq held its historic
©AP From the (subscription-only) Irish
for Democracy in Africa
Britain's Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are in a
competition to see who is the more caring about global warming and third world
(read, African) poverty and disease. Mr Blair keeps trying to trump Mr Brown's
efforts, whether by scheduling a
press conference to coincide with a Brown speech, or, more recently, inserting
himself ahead of
Mr Brown at the Davos World Economic Forum.
In the latter case, his argument for anti-global
warming measures such as Kyoto centres around a growing consensus that
climate change is being caused by man's activity and therefore man should
take action. But he makes no case that Kyoto, or any other measure,
represents the optimal use of money if the welfare of humans is your
primary concern. Kyoto , as I've often noted, is hugely expensive
for a negligible benefit, so most certainly represents bad value for
(other people's) money.
Aided and abetted by Bono the Clown, he makes a better fist of African poverty and AIDS, calling
for the doubling of international aid and 100% debt relief. But he
also goes one about partnering with African governments while helping
them build democratic institutions and defeat corruption.
I must say, that's where he loses me. Doubling
aid and partnering (most) African governments is a familiar recipe for the
evaporation of money. No CEO would hand over budget money to a
department head without confidence that he will not deliberately squander
or sequester it. So why should aid money be treated with any more
The underlying cause of poverty in Africa is not lack of inherent ability
to create wealth; it is corruption at the top.
If you doubt this, why would you think Britain,
France and co were so keen to colonise Africa in the nineteenth
century? For fun? To civilise
the natives? To introduce Christianity?
Well there might have been elements of all those
things. But the primary reason was simply to get rich. Africa
was - and remains - immensely wealthy in both natural resources and human
resources. Put the two together, get organized and fat profits were -
and still are - to be made. This observation is no endorsement of the ethics of
colonialism. Yet it is undeniable that Africa's downward economic
slide nevertheless began with the
departure of the colonialists in the 1960s and their replacement with
local leaders, such as the likes of Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seku
of Zaire, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar Bashir of Sudan, who made/make it their business not to govern wisely but
to steal as much money as possible for themselves, their families and their
And sadly, with some noble exceptions such as South
Africa, Madagascar and Botswana, this style of leadership is still
the norm in Africa today. As a result, any aid channelled through such
governments is going to be siphoned off. The only question is the
smallness of the percentage that will remain.
I do a bit of teaching on how to manage safety, and
perhaps the strongest point I make is the power of management
commitment. In any organization, people watch and copy what the top
man is doing. So if he demonstrates his commitment to something
good, be it safety or financial integrity, this message will be picked up
As will the converse. And thus, when the top
man is corrupt, as was for instance Nigeria's erstwhile President Sani
Abacha (or, closer to home Ireland's 1980s Prime Minister Charles Haughey),
everyone, not just within the government but within the populace at large,
sees corruption as a more normal way of conducting everyday life.
Corruption quickly gets embedded. And in Africa it continues to this
day to suck the lifeblood out of most of its nations, not only by diverting
money away from productive uses, but in deterring the local and foreign
investment that could otherwise let the continent soar.
It is encouraging that 62 major corporations - such
as ABB, Petrobras, Rio Tinto - committed themselves at the
just-concluded World Economic Forum in Davos to a Zero-Tolerance Policy to Combat Corruption and
This is certainly laudable, but is aimed at fighting corruption amongst
and by businesses themselves (eg paying kickbacks for contracts).
But unless and until a country's top politician, ie its executive
president, commits himself to eliminating corruption, the actions of
well-meaning, honest businesses will never be enough. They are not
high enough in the pyramid.
So in my view, the aid-giving, debt-forgiving
countries of the west should pipe in their well-meaning bounty to Africa
in either or both of two ways.
Channel it directly to the end users, effectively
bypassing the governments. This is what NGOs do all the time
with admirable success, though it doesn't do much to improve
Or dispense the bounty via the sitting
governments, but only piecemeal and only in exchange for demonstrable
improvements in governance structures, aimed at leading ultimately
(and rapidly) to full democratisation. This is a proven business
technique, where a department wanting to expand has to earn
incremental budget increases by first improving its, say, productivity,
step by step.
For the ultimate defense against corruption is
democracy. A fully functioning democratic system is able to detect
and expose the corrupt rascals and constrain or replace them. Which
is why that same now-elderly Mr Haughey is living out an unhappy
retirement in disgrace and Ray Burke, one of his corrupt ministers, went to jail
for tax fraud last week. Without democracy, the corrupt rule happily on and on
until they die in bed (like Malawi's Hastings Banda) or are deposed (Mobutu).
Democracy is indeed the panacea of all the world's
ills (just watch how Iraq progresses in the next
couple of years). Messrs Blair and Brown would do well to get over their little
tiff and reflect on this before
they start spraying Africa with their taxpayers' hard-earned
They and other Western leaders should adopt a slogan
Aid for Democracy in Africa.
to List of Contents
Last week, large swathes of the world remembered and
prayed for the souls of the victims of Nazi extermination in
Auschwitz. I cannot add to what has been said and shown in the
media. But I came across the handwritten confession statement of
Rudolf Hoess, the camp commandant, explaining in dispassionate detail
precisely what happened in that death-camp. After the war, Hoess was
deservedly hanged at, appropriately, Auschwitz itself, no doubt largely on
the evidence of this signed document.
To quote just two chilling sentences from the google
[arrived at] Auschwitz by 1 December 1943 and estimate that at least
2,500,000 victims were executed there and exterminated by gasification
and burning; at least one further half million died by hunger and
illness, which constitutes a total number of approximately 3,000,000
dead ones ... We knew if humans were dead [after gassing them] because
their [cries] stopped.
Click below to see the entire horrifying
translation, of which I recommend you read all 850 words.
to List of Contents
Are Palestinian Refugees Still Refugees?
I first came across Raymond Deane,
chairman of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity
Campaign, a year ago and wrote a post
about a presentation of his that I attended. Since then I've had a
number of frosty exchanges with him in newspaper letters pages, for
him to name any non-Israel Middle Eastern state with any democratic legitimacy whatsoever, from universal suffrage to a free press to an independent supreme court.
(He hasn't done
so, though arguably Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq now
The spat continued last week in the (subscription-only) Irish Times. Amongst other half-truths, he
repeated the now-familiar meme that Jewish people returned to
Palestine after almost 2,000
years, to a country that happens to be inhabited by another people.
In other words they grabbed the land from the Palestinian natives and
is untrue, which my published
reply to him spelled out in these terms.
The Jews have lived continuously throughout the Middle
East, and in the Palestine/Israel land mass in particular, for more than
3,000 years. Their history of defeat, persecution and pogroms by,
successively, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders and Arabs
attests to this.
Thus their right to continued settlement is at least equal to that of
As for the 750,000 Palestinian refugees who fled or were pushed out in
the 1947/48 war launched and lost by the Arabs, why are they and their
descendents still refugees? A similar number of Jews fled or were pushed
out of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and other Arab countries as a result
of the same conflict, not to mention the millions fleeing from Europe.
Every single one was absorbed by fellow Jews, mainly in Israel, and
Why have the Palestinians never been absorbed by their fellow Arabs?
How many Palestinians hold Saudi passports?
The Palestinian refugee problem exists only because of:
(a) Israel's refusal to massacre them in 1948, as it could have (who
doubts that the Jews would have been massacred had they lost?)
(b) the disdain of fellow Arabs for Palestinians ever since.
Meanwhile, the recent election of Mahmoud Abbas, who promotes a
combination of toughness and non-violence towards Israel, gives the
Palestinians the first chance of a peaceful resolution to their piteous
situation in a generation.
My letter elicited some fury, manifested in strange anonymous phone
calls, the first time this has happened. A particular source of ire
is my remark that the Arabs would have massacred the Jews if they had won
the 1947/48 war. The remark is based
Up to now, no-one has refuted the facts as presented in
my evidently controversial letter, inconvenient as they may
be for some.
for the record, according to the universally-respected (Jewish) historian Benny
Morris, between 1880 and 1930 the Jews actually bought
most of the barely-populated land that is
now Israel; they didn't steal it. The eager sellers were mainly absentee landlords and
real-estate speculators living in Beirut and Damascus, who
couldn't believe their luck at getting hard cash for worthless, near-empty
scrubland and desert.
refugees didn't have to be consigned to refugee camps for the next almost
sixty years. Other
examples of refugees being absorbed and integrated into other countries
Asians expelled by Idi Amin to UK from Uganda in 1972;
ethnic Turks flung
out of Bulgaria in 1989 in the direction of Turkey;
boat-people fleeing Viet Cong rule in the 1970s and 80s, and
ending up all over the world;
refugees breaking out of Mao Tse-Tung's China to get across the
border to the
freedoms of Hong Kong in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, increasing the population from one
to four million;
steady stream of asylum-seekers and refugees from numerous countries
(including many Palestinians), the genuine
cases amongst whom gain residency rights within the West, to this day.
long as the the Arab world continues to duck the question Why
are Palestinian refugees still refugees?,
their situation will remain miserable. Even if - as Israel's then
Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed at Camp David in 2000 - they are paid
compensation in lieu of returning to Israel, most of them will remain
stateless unless other Arabs show them compassion.
Note: Blogger Toirtop
(motto “Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial
reasons - Bertrand Russell”)
makes a furious
reply to my letter,
and even quotes that old charlatan Noam
Presumably he sent it to the Irish Times but they declined to
to List of Contents
Some things you feel guilty about calling fun.
That goes for the arresting ad for a Volkswagen Polo that hit the internet
last week, and also some news bulletins. It depicts a suicide-bomber
in an Arafat-style kefiyah who drives his Polo to a London restaurant,
stops outside it and then
detonates himself. Only thing - the small
but tough Polo is able to contain the explosion so no-one except the
bomber is harmed - and presumably the interior decor and inbuilt CD
player. The closed
windows don't even crack, the car doesn't even rock.
the ad turned out to be bogus, made by a couple of anonymous individuals
known only as Lee
and Dan, for either £400
depending on whom you believe.
Volkswagen. They seemed torn by
on the one hand the
high quality of the
ad and the flattering, on-message message it contains about the toughness of their product and
on the other by the implication that they are involving themselves in the debate on
terrorism and indeed capitalising on it.
the spoilsports decided to sue the elusive Lee
and Dan ... if only they could first locate them.
energies might be better spent marketing the small
but tough Polo to beleaguered American troops in
to List of Contents
Paper and a Bogus Bog
Ah the wonders of the Freedom of
Information Act. Thanks to
it, we have recently learnt
that a major source of, er, irritation in British embassies across the
dying embers of the British Empire was the crispiness of the ambassadorial
toilet paper when vigorously applied against the diplomatic extremity.
It all started in 1963 when John
Hunt, a Harley Street doctor, wrote to his friend Dr Cornelius
Medvei, describing statesmanly piles suffered by one his patients, an
ambassador, who blamed the shiny toilet paper issued by Her Majesty.
Dr Medvei was medical adviser to the Treasury, so probably not the best
man to approach.
Nevertheless, long years of unrelieved research with
copious bumf followed, which concluded that that the crackly stuff should
be retained. Not only was
soft paper distinctly more pervious [yuk] to infections such
as dysentery , but more to the point it was quadruple the cost.
Undaunted, the ladies in the typing pool then joined the chorus for
softer, puppy-dog material, citing damage to our delicate parts,
and so did the unions and even the British Standards Institute (which, one
would have thought, was devoid of delicate parts).
So at last, many further years later, HMs
Stationery Office the same which provides the distinctly hard and
uncomfortable headed and embossed parchment so beloved of other parts of
the diplomatic corps was softened up enough to relent.
But only because by 1981 the squishy stuff had become cheaper than
No doubt had last weeks bogside row in a Dublin
pub occurred in the British Foreign Office, another eighteen years of
research and protests would have ensued.
It seems that to conform with the law that disabled
people should be properly catered for, the Mezz bar installed a disabled
toilet, featuring a red door with a gold wheelchair sign. Only thing, the door always seemed to be locked, supposedly
for renovations. But when
eventually unlocked it revealed
brick wall. There was no
privy at all, disabled or otherwise, nothing at all.
Peter Wickham the manager, keeping an admirably
straight face, said he had no idea about the bogus bog and blamed the
owner. But should wheelchair users be caught short, he said there
was a genuine disabled toilet at the bottom of the stairs.
So thats all right then.
we come (thanks to Eileen) to
the final item on this week's lavatorial theme - which evidently interests
you or you wouldn't have read this far. View this
video clip to learn how elephants actually use flushing porcelain in
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
can we please change the subject.
to List of Contents
Quotes of Week 93
Quote : To finance research into a vaccine, develop
prevention campaigns and remove the remaining obstacles to access to care
for HIV/AIDS, we need to mobilise at least ten billion dollars per year,
instead of six, as is the case at present ... Alternative
possibilities for raising the necessary revenue include an extra tax on
airline and shipping fuel and a small levy on all airline tickets sold
throughout the world.
President, Jacques Chiraq,
at the World Economic Forum in Davos,
explaining how people other than he
should pay taxes to finance the fight against AIDS.
He of course never has to pay for his airline tickets or shipping
: They gave to their children an irrational hatred of Jews,
in the same way that people in Northern Ireland transmitted to their
children an irrational and outrageous hatred for example of Catholics, in
the same way people give to their children an outrageous and irrational
hatred of those who are of a different colour.
President Mary McAleese,
Catholic from Northern Ireland,
infuriates Northern Ireland Protestants by likening them to Nazis,
whilst neglecting that Catholics also transmitted to their own children
an irrational and outrageous hatred for Protestants and/or
and that in neither case were such transmittals
in any way universal in the way she implies.
At her second attempt two days later,
: In the case of [Deputy] Ray Burke, I see a much more
sinister development: the persistent hounding of an honourable man to
resign his important position on the basis of innuendo and unproven
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in 1997,
his friend and colleague whom he had appointed
as Minister for Foreign Affairs just four months earlier.
Mr Burke resigned due to allegations
that he received £80,000 from a property developer.
He was subsequently shown to be corrupt and
last week jailed for six months for tax evasion
Quote : No
I do not [think the
murder of Jean McConville was a crime].
McLaughlin, president of Sinn Fein,
in answer to a direct question by Michael McDowell,
Ireland's Minister of Justice,
on RTÉ's Question & Answers TV programme.
widowed mother of ten young children in Belfast,
Mrs McConville was abducted, shot
and secretly buried by the IRA in 1972, apparently for once comforting a
wounded British soldier.
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the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
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#92 - 16th January 2005 [238+190=428]
Mummy to the Rescue
over Guinea Foul
With one plea-bargain, he was
Sir Mark Thatcher, possessed of
an unearned hereditary baronetcy which his mother with an eye to her
son had engineered for his father Denis, the first such hereditary
honour awarded in some some 60 years**, pleaded guilty to involvement in that Equatorial Guinea coup
attempt. In so doing, he was fined the equivalent of 385,000
(small change since hes in the hundreds of millions league, though
theyre of questionable provenance) and
sentenced to four years, conveniently suspended. And crucially he was
allowed to flee South Africa which he did within hours and to
escape not only extradition to Equatorial Guinea but even friendly
interrogation by its investigators.
Now had you and I, as
foreigners, been guilty of helping organize an aborted coup against a
friendly fellow-African country, do you think we would have escaped so
lightly? Not likely!
most recent previous recipient of a baronetcy that I can trace was
Leonard Ropner (1895-1977), 1st Baronet Ropner, of Thorp Perrow,
Our sentence would not have been suspended and we would even now
been helping some robust EQ interrogators with their enquiries within the confines of
its notorious Evinayong prison where Sir Mark's erstwhile
co-conspirator South African Marc du Toit is serving 34 miserable years.
Or perhaps we would have found ourselves in Zimbabwe's Chikurubi
maximum-security prison keeping company with Sir Marks pal Simon Mann (whom he implicated further),
currently serving seven years. How we would be
longing to exchange our EQ interviews for bit of American torture at Abu
So how come Sir Mark got off so
One word. Mummy.
The enormous respect and awe
which she commands is global. Nobody
(outside the UK, that is) wants to ignore her or wish her ill or cause her
distress. And so no-one is
going to lay a hand on her golden boy.
The result of this motherly immunity is that he has become a titled, multi-millionaire
convicted criminal, due solely to the combination of his incompetence and
her background string-pulling.
But what about the ethics of the
hung from a third-storey window opposite the Cape Town court
which freed Sir Mark
have laws which prohibit private citizens from plotting the overthrow of
foreign regimes. But does
this make such actions intrinsically wrong?
I would say a coup détat is intrinsically wrong only if the
regime in question is legitimate.
as in put in place by the free will of the people,
not legitimate as in
recognized by the UN and international community.
President Teodoro Obian Nguem Mbasogo presides over Equatorial
Guinea solely due to a coup of his own in 1979. His people
dont support him and never have.
His primary political agenda is to sequester EQs new-found oil
wealth for the benefit of himself, his family and his cronies, thus ensuring any
benefit to his half-million people is kept to a minimum.
As a result, though on paper EQ's economy is the world's fastest,
growing at 65% pa, and its per-capita income exceeds Saudi Arabia's,
are actually among the Earth's poorest.
Thus, he has no legitimacy whatsoever and in my opinion, from an
ethical point of view, is fair game for any tin-pot mercenary (like Mr du
Toit or Sir Mark) who wants to chance his arm.
The result, at worse, is to replace one thoroughly illegitimate
kleptocractic thugocracy with another.
it might equally result in a regime more in tune with the native population and
thus turn out to be a net positive.
a coup will have no downside but very real potential for some upside.
The real reason a country - any country - ensures it has strong
anti-foreign-coup legislation is not because it cares about protecting foreign
regimes. Its because it
wants to suppress any inklings of a coup mentality either at home or
abroad lest horror such urges one day be deployed against itself.
Theres not much chance of this happening in established
democracies like New Zealand, but the less legitimate a countrys
government the more likely a coup, if thats the only way you can get rid
of the incumbent rascals.
(The BBC, among others, have labelled Equatorial Guinea as being ripe
for a coup.)
So coups arent necessarily wrong.
But what is wrong is to let prominent people escape the laws of
their democratic country of residence just because of Mummy.
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By common consent, if not
reason, several legitimate industries are often scornfully labelled as unethical,
such as those of oil, arms, drink, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, because their
products can result in environmental damage and/or death (or, in the case
of pharmaceuticals, lack of avoidance of death).
Some, such as fast-food which can be ruinous to health, are
regarded as marginal. Strangely,
manufacturers of things like motorbikes, kitchen knives, baseball bats and
gas-ovens are exempt despite the injuries and deaths caused by such
products. Equally strangely,
those who freely purchase and use the products of the unethical
industries are not so labelled themselves.
Those who consider certain
products to be harmful, and thus their producers unethical, put a lot of
effort and brainpower into presenting their case and encouraging others to
support them. Organizations,
such as Greenpeace,
evolve around promoting specific goals, in their case environmentalism.
Some become multinational businesses in their own right, with large
staff and offices, dependent on continuing donations to fund their
existence, further growth and employee pension plans.
At the other end of the scale are looser arrangements of
well-meaning, committed individuals who do not however make their cause
into a full-time occupation.
In parallel, the unethical
industries have had to find ways to defend themselves, their products,
their markets. They have done
this both by putting up direct public defences, typically through
advertising campaigns and direct approaches to their distributors and
end-users, but also by funding outside groups, often formed by their
retailers and customers, who put out favourable viewpoints.
The industries have, of course, also responded to the critics by
making improvements to their products, practices and openness, driven by
This kind of debate and the
action it fosters are very healthy in a democratic society.
However there is an
unwritten undertone which is not so healthy.
And it is that the unethical industries, because
they are pre-judged as unethical, are simply furthering their lack of
ethics by defending the indefensible, that anything they say is
unreliable if not untrue because their motive is to defend their
profits. Indeed their only
motivation is protection and enlargement of shareholders profits
and certainly not the betterment of the human race or the world. Therefore you shouldnt believe a word they or their
Their opponents, on the
other hand, are the reciprocal of all this.
They are beyond reproach because their motives are pure, driven
solely by altruism untainted by filthy lucre or other non-virtuous
Both attitudes are hogwash in
their simplicity and dishonest in the behaviour they induce.
As Ive often remarked,
motivations in human (as distinct from religious) life are irrelevant; we
should direct our gaze and our judgements not at intent but at actions and
So, science put out by the unethical
industries, or proposals to improve the behaviour of themselves or their
customers, should be scrutinized solely on the basis of merit, not
dismissed because of the interests of the industry.
But this is often not done.
Shell was disparaged by the environmental industry and forced to
reverse its thoroughly researched plan to dispose of its Brent Spar
storage and loading platform by sinking it in the mid-Atlantic.
Only later did the environmentalists admit that Shell had done its
science properly and that any environmental harm resulting from the
mid-Atlantic option was minimal.
It is similarly vilified for unethical behaviour in
Nigeria, allegedly including
wanton oil spillage
impoverishment of local
connivance with armed forces
to commit massacres,
collusion in the execution
of protester and writer Ken Saro Wiwa.
The instantly-dismissed truth,
however, from my own personal experience, is very different (disclosure
I worked 30 years for Shell, seven of them in Nigeria, whilst the
supposed misbehaviour was taking place). Ill write about it in a future blog.
But just as the defences of the
unethical industries should be examined solely on their
merits, so the assertions of the anti-unethical-industry groups should be
subjected to the same dispassionate scrutiny.
There are countless examples of misleading statements put out by,
for instance, environmental lobbies.
Perhaps the biggest is that the Kyoto Protocol will (at a ginormous
cost proponents prefer not to talk about) cause a significant reduction in
global warming, when the accepted science says it will only defer it by
six years in a centurys time (see last week's post).
Moreover, the antis themselves
constitute an industry in their own right.
They organize themselves into groups, strive to have
highly-motivated participants, generally have a hierarchical structure
(someones got to be in charge), have a central cause (a product),
spend money to promote that cause, collect funds and/or free (volunteer)
labour, seek constant growth in size and spread, and put together budgets.
effect you have two sets of industries battling it out, each with its own
motivation and objectives, each tempted to distort the truth to suit its
debate in Ireland on how to deal with excess and binge drinking, I was
reminded of all this recently by a letter to the Irish Times from an
eminent psychiatrist attacking a pro-drinks organization called MEAS
(Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society). In trying to parry moves to
impose draconian anti-drinks measures such as a total ban on advertising,
MEAS proposes instead that, amongst other things a message about drinking
in moderation should be pushed out.
The doctors response was that since MEAS receives funding from
drinks companies, its ideas are not even to be listened to and so he
simply ignores their arguments. But
he gives the game away by advertising himself as chairman of a substance
misuse faculty and consultant addiction psychiatrist.
He is clearly a member of the anti-drinks industry, and good luck
But if he wont even
address MEASs suggestions, why should anything he says be taken at face
value anyway? You can find
his letter and my (published) response here.
Make up your own mind.
Whats the mystery about
debating actual issues rather than which industry or anti-industry pays
To answer Irish
Eagle's comment ...
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At least Russias
Vladimir Putin had a reason for destroying and renationalising the huge
oil company Yukos : he wants to increase his own financial powerbase while
restraining the pesky political ambitions of Yukos erstwhile CEO Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, whom hes had jailed.
Here in Ireland, the Prime
Ministers Bertie Ahern is destroying the state airline Aer Lingus, but for no
Back in 2001,
Aer Lingus was losing 140
million per year, smitten by 9/11, SARS,
competition from Ryanair and other factors.
A new CEO was appointed Willie Walsh, a young, dynamic
ex-pilot, well liked and respected within the organization with a
mandate to turn the company round. (Incidentally,
his contract contained no provision to prevent him competing against AL
within any specified period of future departure, an early sign of
He at once instituted radical
changes, in the teeth of union opposition and with but the faintest
support from his Government shareholder.
cut staff by 4,000 through
eliminated free catering,
improved airport turnaround
introduced new routes
streamlined online booking,
and, crucially, cut fares
drastically so as to present a real challenge to Ryanair and other
Passenger numbers and
load-factors soared and by 2003/04, ALs deficit had become a profit of 69m
(2003) and 83m
But he had not finished.
Either AL must continue to improve its overall performance or it
will slip back again and be submerged by its competitors.
He reckoned AL was still well
behind Ryanair in terms of unit costs and thus wanted to make another
1,300 staff redundant and implement other cuts.
He also wanted to introduce
Ryanair-style low-fare routes across the Atlantic, for which there is
virtually no competition and for which AL already has the infrastructure.
And ALs ageing fleet needs to
be replaced with modern, fuel-efficient aircraft, which needs a thumping 1
billion of new investment.
As a means of raising the cash,
he proposed that AL be privatised, in whole or part, and indicated that he
would be willing to mount a management buyout.
At this point complacency and
horror and hypocrisy rose up.
Union horror because of
further job-losses (albeit voluntary); government horror at the
thought of dilution of control, and a general how dare he
Complacency, because AL was
now in profit (for which unions and Government claimed all credit), so
because both claim
they are protecting the passengers and that Ireland is an island (the third
richest per capita in Europe and enjoying the best
quality of life in the world) which without a state airline would
Mr Walsh was told his plan was
unacceptable (especially the MBO bit) and that building
hospitals was more important than buying planes.
Once he realised that he could therefore not fulfil his original
mandate, he and two of his fellow directors resigned with six months
notice, to be effective in May 2005.
When it then emerged this month
that the three men planned to start their own low-cost trans-Atlantic
airline, implementing the very plan that the government had rejected for
AL, Bertie Ahern had them peremptorily kicked out of their jobs in
two weeks, without up to then having even advertised for replacements.
So the stage has now been set
for the new WillieWalshair to upstage AL. It will
not only steal
its Atlantic passengers, but also no doubt many of its better managers, flight
crew and cabin staff - those who are more interested in joining a feisty new airline
with a future rather than remaining with a deadbeat, state-run,
union-dominated, no-longer-competitive minilith.
Meanwhile, what competent
executive is going to want the poisoned AL chalice given its continuing
sabotage by the state ? And,
to misquote Groucho Marx, does AL really want to hire anyone who would want such a
The coming auto-destruction of
Aer Lingus is entirely the result of Berties laziness, fear of the
unions, lack of vision and general disinterest in the airline.
Nobody ever accused President Putin of disinterest in Yukos
quite the reverse.
And if you ever get a chance to
invest in WillieWalshair, I suggest you grab it.
to List of Contents
Traveling Bra Salesmans Lesson
Every year, Shell and the Economist get together and offer
a prize for an essay around a topical theme :
2004s theme was Import workers or export jobs?.
It was won by Claudia O'Keefe from Frankford, West
Virginia, USA, with her thoughtful, intriguingly-titled submission, The
Traveling Bra Salesmans Lesson. Having
suffered from successive economic downturn, the author seems to be
almost penniless so the prize of $20,000 will no doubt be very welcome.
on personal experience, she muses on the disappearance of well-paid jobs
in America as they migrate overseas to people who get paid a fraction, and
the fate of the American workers left behind, invariably to do lower-paid
jobs than before. This is happening amid fierce political debates on
outsourcing and immigration and raging frustration on the part of the
displaced American workers, many of whom are highly skilled yet in areas
(such as bra salesmanship) for which there is no longer a home market.
concludes that it
is not The American Dream we should seek, but The Global Dream.
Let go the past and re-invent a new future.
well worth reading the six-page essay. You can access it here
(pdf, 29 kb). Don't bother with the
I could get away with plagiarising it as a post of my own making!)
to List of Contents
Quotes of Week 92
is nothing that you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe.
Chancellor Gordon Brown to
prime minister Tony Blair,
as quoted by Robert Peston in his new biography,Brown's
currently serialised in the Sunday Telegraph.
Mr Blair said
flatly that Mr Brown never said this to him,
a day after the chancellor conspicuously
refused to deny it categorically.
IRA are not criminals, never were criminals, and in my opinion never will
Feins Martin McGuinness,
expressing republicans anger
at the Irish governments attempt to criminalise them,
in the wake of the £26½m Northern Bank heist.
also Bertie Ahern's quote of last week.
(subscription only) : Sunday's
election was a sham, aided and abetted by Western diplomacy. As with
apartheid, Western citizens must, by imposing a popular boycott on Israel,
lead our governments to a better policy.
Bowen, a university professor in Cork
and co-ordinator of the Cork Ireland Palestine Solidarity
the Left hates elections when they are free and fair.
The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign much preferred
the bogus election of Yasser
Arafat in 1996,
and they mourn his democratic replacement
by an anti-violence pragmatist like Abu Mazen.
: There is no doubt that the number of customers is down. In some
pubs they are down by a third and in others by a quarter. Instead of
investing their money in sensible things like nights out and drinking,
they are squandering [it] on mortgages and childrens education.
Boyle, owner of Harrys Bar in Dublin,
laments the marked drop in customer numbers
since Ireland introduced a smoking ban in March 2004
to List of Contents
Tsunami Victim -
you recognize this little girl (click thumbnail to
A victim of the Indian Ocean tsunami, she is in
hospital in Phuket, Thailand, and does not remember anything or know who
she is. Therefore, her family cannot be contacted.
If you think you know her, please
If you know others who you think might be able to help in the search,
please give them the
of this post.
to List of Contents
the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
to Top of Page
#91 - 9th January 2005 
Lip Service and Inaction for
The Kyoto Protocol, having obtained ratification from the required 123
countries and emitters of 55% of the world's greenhouse gases, will come into force
February 2005. It will require participants (which exclude all
developing countries including mega-polluters China, India and Indonesia)
to reduce their emissions by around
8% relative to what they were in 1990, with a deadline of 2012.
With the Protocol having been signed and ratified largely under the philosophy of
act now, think
later, a number of governments
have recently begun to realise that it is going to cause them some pain.
Many countries are exceeding their carbons emission limits and will
continue to do so unless they take action. That action includes
things like :
closing down profitable plants that emit a lot of carbon,
introducing a carbon tax to discourage carbon consumption,
buying CO2 credits from the few that are well below their
planting trees to offset the excess emissions,
paying fines for not meeting the targets.
Whichever way you look at it, Kyoto is going to be very unpopular
politically, because it will cost a great deal of
money, as well as jobs (both the discontinued factories and other
businesses killed by the carbon tax).
The (subscription-only) Irish Times tells
us that little Ireland expects to be
spending around 200 million per year just on buying CO2
credits. The international experts estimate that the global cost of
compliance will be a recurring US$100 billion per year [Ref 1].
The public debate about Kyoto is all to do with three assumptions about
global warming :
that global warming actually exists, for its existence
is indeed supported by some scientific evidence,
evidence indicates that current temperature changes are simply part of a natural
that it is caused by release of greenhouse gases,
particularly carbon dioxide, but for this the evidence is mainly based
on the weak science of correlation - ie emissions and temperatures are
both rising, therefore emissions cause the warming
(which is like saying Ireland's binge-drinking is increasing,
tigers in the
wild are decreasing, hence binge-drinking kills wild tigers);
that man can significantly reduce global warming by
cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, for which the scientific
evidence is particularly scant, and indeed even Greenpeace
of the Earth admit that Kyoto will have but a marginal effect.
As I pointed out in the very
first issue of my blog, that marginal effect is that Kyoto will merely defer a 1.9ºC
global temperature rise from the year 2094 to the year 2100 [Ref
To help close off discussion of inconvenient facts like this,
frequently cite their anger at the hated George Bush's refusal to ratify
Kyoto, conveniently forgetting that his predecessor and the Senate unanimously
rejected it as well. The reason they did so was simply the Protocol's cost
and ineffectiveness, and this hasn't changed.
Indeed, even if the science under A and B above were rock-solid, which
it isn't, a
scheme that absorbs $100 billion a year for almost a century in exchange
for a piffling six-year deferral is an outrageous misappropriation of
money. Were such vast sums are waiting to be disbursed, there is a
huge array of uses for it more beneficial to humanity. For instance,
Kofi Annan and the World Bank have said that
$200 billion would provide every human being on earth with clean drinking
water and sanitation, which would avoid two million third-world deaths a
year [Refs 5,
Ask a subsistence farmer whether he wants clean water today or the
promise of a six-year global-warming deferral for his great-grandchildren,
and you already know his answer.
The thing about Kyoto is that it is designed more to make rich people
feel good about themselves than to solve an actual problem. This
phenomenon is not new.
After the Madrid bombings, the Spaniards held a huge parade in the
capital to demonstrate their solidarity with the slaughtered and their
families. It made the paraders feel warm, but achieved precisely
nothing in terms of preventing repetitions. By contrast, after
nine-eleven, there were no vigils but America launched two wars to
defeat terrorism (and is still waging them).
Following the devastating south-Asia tsunami, countries across
Europe held a three-minutes silence on 5th January. Again, this
achieved zero for the victims, whereas the massive global aid and
military effort is doing much to deal with the tragedy and its
aftermath. I agree with Boris Johnson who suggested on Radio
4 that the three minutes would have been better spent had
EUrocrats in Brussels used them to tear down those EU tariff barriers
(of up to 40%) that wickedly impede Asian exports to Europe, such as
agriculture and textiles. That would truly help the unfortunates
to rebuild their lives and their countries (as well as improving EU
economies though cost savings).
As I've argued
previously, people and their actions should be judged not on their
intentions (which are irrelevant) but their outcomes.
On this basis, Kyoto should be shot down at once.
But since of course, the rich world is simply not going to cough up an
endless $100 billion a year or anything like it, for Kyoto or anything
else, in the end, Kyoto is doomed anyway. Common sense,
commerce and the desire of politicians to remain in office are what will
But we can expect in the meantime an awful lot of hubris, hot air,
wonderful intentions, lip-service and inaction.
to List of Contents
The Gates/Bono Proposals for 2005
Microsoft's Bill Gates and U2's Bono got an interesting article
published in several newspapers in the first few days of January, aimed at
galvanising a step-change improvement in the prospects of the world's poor
at a time when our TV screens were full of images of suffering in south
Asia. Such a change, for which the technology and money now
indubitably exist, would be comparable with the abolition of slavery
(in most of the world), the defeat of Soviet Communism and the end of
South African apartheid.
For what they're worth, here are my comments on their four-point
First: Double the amount of effective foreign
assistance; full immunisation of children would alone save five
millions of their lives.
As long as mechanisms are in place to ensure the money is spent
properly and not squandered, it's hard to argue with this one
Second: Cancel all poor country debt.
This is attractive on the surface but valueless - even
counter-productive - unless and until the governments who will in
the first instance be the recipients of the sudden largesse can
demonstrate their honesty. It will be a long wait, I
Third: Change unfair trade rules, to create a pathway for poor
countries to reach self-reliance.
Assuming this means eliminating all trade barriers everywhere,
starting with the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and America's equivalent,
I thoroughly support this one; and it would benefit rich countries
as well as the poor.
However, the proposal smells as if Messrs Gates and Bono mean
rigging markets to force Western buyers to pay over the odds for
poor-world imports, which would of course eventually stifle those
imports. The proven path to prosperity is to provide
things customers want at the best available prices, without
interference or distortion by governments.
Fourth: provide funding for the Global HIV Vaccine
Enterprise, which is a new consortium being established to provide
aggressive and co-ordinated approach to developing a vaccine.
With 40 million sufferers, HIV/AIDS is a plague that even when
halted will take two generations to recover from. It's
probably the single greatest economic threat faced by poor countries
because, apart from the human misery, it exclusively snatches
people during the most productive period of their lives. The
new consortium is only to be welcomed, as is the endorsement given
to it by the G-8
and by George
But developing a successful vaccine is not sufficient. It
needs to be accompanied by a less-glamorous but equally aggressive,
ongoing education campaign so that, as in most of the West, people
know how to avoid HIV/AID. Avoidance is always preferable to
That said, the authors are good at getting the attention
of world leaders, and (much as I can't stand Bono) they should be lauded
for their efforts to make 2005 a transformative year of action for the
to List of Contents
Have Reason for Hope
It is ironic that the only three entities in the Middle
East that are holding free elections are those under foreign, non-Islamic
domination. Afghanistan and Iraq under the American occupation, the
Palestinians under, effectively, the Israelis. Nevertheless, that
they're happening at all, notwithstanding the security issues, is a sign
for hope in the future.
The ballot that astonishes me the most is the upcoming one
for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. It's two in the eye
for the late unlamented Yasser Arafat.
Firstly, that it's taking place at all after Arafat
spent a lifetime ensuring that nothing like a free election would ever be allowed to threaten his position.
Secondly, because the front runner is Abu Mazen, his erstwhile
friend-turned-enemy whom he recently tried
to kill, and who after his ill-fated four-month spell in 2003 as
Prime Minister under Arafat swore he would never seek office
Abu Mazen, born in 1935 as Mahmoud Abbas, is an undoubted
Palestinian nationalist, who wants the Jews out, who wants a second
Palestinian state (after Jordan) and who has a track record of virulent
anti-Israelism. Yet he is hugely different from most other
Palestinian leaders in one vital respect. He uses his
And his brain long ago told him some basic, if
That Palestinians can never ever inflict military
defeat on Israel, a country perfectly capable, without even using its
nuclear weapons, of vanquishing all Arab countries simultaneously, as
it did in just six days in 1967.
That the Jews, who have lived in the Palestine/Israel
area continuously for thousands of years, are never going to leave or
be ejected, so there will be no Palestinian state without some sort of
compromise. Their heartfelt post-Holocaust mantra, Never
again, is for them much more than a trite motto or
launching attacks on Israel weakens and punishes the Palestinians
themselves more than the Israelis, in terms not only of casualties and
economics, but in providing Israel with cover
to not negotiate seriously and to expand its settlements.
means that if he is elected, as seems likely, and if he is able to
restrain the madmen addicted to suicide bombs, AK-47s and mortars
regardless of effect, he will be a formidable foe indeed. For by
using exclusively diplomatic channels, negotiation and international
public opinion to advance the Palestinian cause, he will effectively
disarm Ariel Sharon and force or embarrass him into negotiating on an equal
footing, egged on by his allies in America and elsewhere. Israel
will not fight militarily if not attacked, and if not attacked it can no
longer assume the moral high ground. Nevertheless, though they don't
like him they can see that Abu Masen is a man you can do business with,
just as Margaret Thatcher famously recognised similar qualities in the
Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev.
if Abu Mazen's brain is still functioning, he will be smart enough to
recognize a good deal when he sees one and to grab it, even though it
undoubtedly will involve much unpalatable compromise.
is in complete contrast to his vainglorious predecessor at Camp David in
2000, whose only concern was to remain an icon and a war-leader, however
disastrous for his people. For this reason, Arafat never concluded
the excellent deal that was available.
months ago, I called Abu Mazen the Palestinians' Great
Hope, then had to retract. Can he become so again? Time will
there is an election to win, which involves a kind of dance
Abu Mazen is using suitable belligerent phraseology such as Zionist
which Israel obliges by labelling
his statements as very militant . . . and the likes of which we
haven't heard in a long time, and always being careful to say
nothing nice about him.
Maybe Abu Mazen will indeed be able to deliver to the Palestinians a
future which allows them to devote all their energies to making money and
looking after their families. He is once more their great
Late Note (10th January) : Abu
Mahzen has indeed won
the PA presidency, and with between 66% and 70% of the vote. This
impressive margin gives him a strong mandate with which to negotiate with
to List of Contents
Defending the British Empire
It's so rare these days for anyone to dare defend imperialism that it
is most refreshing and thought-provoking when it is done
Last week in a BBC interview, historian Andrew Roberts defended the British Empire as an unmitigated force for good, adding for
spice that this was in marked contrast to the German, French and Belgian
Empires. In delicious political incorrectness, he pointed out how the British
introduced peace and justice,
put a stop to inter-tribal massacres (such as those in Sudan today),
provided the benefits of civilisation that whites had enjoyed for
He said that Africa had enjoyed its longest period in its history of
peace and justice during the British Empire period than it had seen before
The interview was in held in response to South African President Thabo Mbeki's
New Year's Day castigation
in Sudan of Winston Churchill, calling him a racist who ravaged
Africa and blighted its post-colonial development.
Mr Roberts retorts that
Churchill did indeed view coloured people as being on a lower hierarchical
(nice euphemism!), as did all other whites at the time, but that this prompted the
British imperialists to increase not decrease their efforts to improve the
Moreover, Mr Mbeki should in fact be thanking Churchill for stoutly
resisting, during the Boer War, the very boers/Afrikaners who later created apartheid.
The sneers of the BBC interviewer makes the three-minute discussion all the more
entertaining, whether you agree with Mr Roberts' arguments or not. Listen to it
to List of Contents
Prejudice in 2004/5
I knew I shouldn't have done it, but this time last year
I made a few
predictions, based, as I said at the time, on ignorance
Ah well, here to give you a laugh is my scorecard, with a total mark of
just 31%. The main thing I got right was the i+p.
So I'm laying off the predictions business for 2005. But I can
promise continued i+p, both ill-informed and objectionable.
out of 3
There will be bloodless revolution in Iran that
will overthrow the ruling mullahs.
Absolutely wrong; the mullahs have gained in
Assad Jr, the optician, will also fall.
Wrong (but I still think his days in power
Kim Jong Il will not fall, but he will wobble.
Absolutely wrong, didnt wobble in the
Bush will be re-elected in a landslide.
Convincingly re-elected, but not in a
Yarafat will die (from illness not
to be replaced by a hardline pragmatist who who
will want to negotiate seriously ...
but with a by-then disinterested Israel,
Right about the demise;
Abu Mazen's election probably
makes this about right;
but probably wrong about a disinterested Israel
Israel will complete its security fence and
then look for ways ...
to start expelling Israeli Arabs in the
interests of Jewish demography.
Fence three-quarters completed
No move to expel Israeli Arabs
/18 = 31%
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: I think this is the worst holiday I have ever had, and
hopefully ever will have.
British girl Alexa Cole,
concluding her handwritten account
of the tsunami in Thailand's Khao Lak
that hospitalised her and her famiy,
using heartfelt phraseology
that only an innocent child could utter
without sounding facetious.
: . If
nations are poor, if they don't see hope, if they're riddled by disease,
if no one is helping them, then radicalism takes over. They lose faith in democracy, and they start turning in other
directions. This is an investment not only in the welfare of
these people, which in and of itself is a good thing to do; it's an
investment in our own national security.
Secretry of State Colin Powell,
commenting on the south Asia tsunami,
makes plain that there is a security
as well as a humanitarian rationale
for helping poor people in distress
: Demand a better deal for the poor of the world in 2005.
Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and
co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,
and Bono, lead singer of pop group U2 and
co-founder of DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa),
in an article published on 3rd January in several newspapers.
See here for my post above on
: We had 14 years of independence, but now ... we are free.
... The era of Kuchma, Medvedchuk and Kuchma is history. ... Today it is
fashionable, stylish and beautiful to be a Ukrainian
Victorious Victor Yuschenko, 52%:44% winner of the second
of Ukraine's presidential election,
following annulment of the first for vote-rigging
(audio interview, minute 12-17, this quote being at minute 16)
: Let's be
honest, everybody knows that in an investigation, the Chief
Constable doesn't start putting out the
evidence day by day. I mean, what kind of eejit do people take us for?
Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister,
explaining why the Police Service of Northern Ireland
is not revealing the evidence on which it bases its declaration
that the IRA were responsible for the £ 26½ million heist
of the Northern Bank in Belfast on 20th December.
also Sinn Fein's denial in Issue #92.
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the Archive and Blogroll 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