I've become a newspaper columnist with the
(subscription-only) Irish Times. My first column appears on 27th
sign an EU contract you can't even understand”.
The Lisbon Treaty is unintelligible and for that reason alone should
be rejected. For PDF version click on the image below.
Has any one actually read this 272-page tome
from cover to cover, I wonder? Or even tried to?
I've calculated, using Adobe's Read-Out-Loud function (timed
at three minutes per page), that it would take you nearly thirteen hours to
plough your way through it just the once. And because the prose is so impenetrable, you
will not understand it properly until you've carefully gone through it three
or four times. I would challenge anyone to deny, therefore, that not a
single one of the 54 esteemed signatories has read it even a single time.
What prime minister or foreign minister can set aside thirteen hours for
study? If he/she did, it would probably be half-an-hour at a time
snatched before going to sleep at the end of the day, which means not
finishing the wretched document for a month.
Former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is the
progenitor of this oeuvre. He chaired the committee that drafted its
Establishing A Constitution For
or TEACoFEe as I
once described it - a “tea-coffee-or-whatever-you're-having-yourself”
mishmash designed to please and annoy everyone in equal measure. The
TEACoFEewas then thankfully rejected in the French and Dutch
referendums. He had earlier (June 2005) advised president Jacque
Chirac against a referendum because the
TEACoFEe was too long and complicated for
ignorant French plebs to understand, but he was ignored.
Perhaps the mighty
Jean-Claude Juncker, long the prime Minster of the Colossus that is
Luxembourg, was right after all when he famously
said, in relation to those pesky referendums,
“If it's a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’,
if it's a No we will say ‘we
The Lisbon Reform Treaty is a slightly modified version of
the TEACoFEe - still 90% the same
Irish Taoiseach (prime minister)
Bertie Ahern, or
very, very near to it. A few provisions have been changed, largely cosmetic things like removing the EU anthem, but the
phraseology and architecture have also deliberately been made much more
difficult to comprehend. Astute as ever, Mr d'Estaing now
“Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing
it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly ... All the
earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and
disguised in some way ... What was [already] difficult to
understand will become utterly incomprehensible, but the substance has
been retained … Why not have a single text? The only reason is that this
would look too much like the constitutional treaty. Making cosmetic
changes would make the text more easy to swallow.”
Karel de Gucht, Belgian Foreign Minister helpfully
“The aim of this treaty is to be unreadable … The
Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear.
It is a success.”
It's certainly that. To achieve unreadability a very
simple technique has been used. At the beginning of the treaty after seven
sheets of pompous signatures it states
“AMENDMENTS TO THE TREATY ON EUROPEAN UNION
AND TO THE TREATY ESTABLISHING THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY”
Thereafter, it goes on, page after page, beginning each
clause with phrases such
“Article x shall be amended as follows”,
after which you are instructed to delete,
insert, modify and/or renumber
Article x, which apparently appears in one or both of the previous two treaties mentioned.
Consequently, you can't possibly understand the import of the particular amendment
unless you have the other two treaties open in front of you at the specific article in
question. This couple of treaties, by the way, usually go by the more familiar
names of the
and the Treaty of
Rome (1957) respectively, though to put you off the scent the Lisbon
Treaty doesn't tell you this or even mention the names of those proud cities.
Even the proposed new 2½-year
“President of the EU Council”
doesn't get his own clause in the treaty: he (or she) is introduced via the
of a new Article 9B into those previous treaties. Same with the new
qualified majority rules designed to reduce national vetoes: Article 17
tells us to stick in a new Article 9C. How does this mesh with the
rest of the mysterious Article 9? Who knows.
Lisbon is thus an abomination that no serious business would
ever contemplate writing or signing. If it really was a
treaty, it would have
replaced the two prior treaties in their entirety and incorporated all the
amendments into a single, unambiguous easy to comprehend document.
But then it wouldn't have met Mr de Gucht's demanding
standard of unreadability.
And, frankly, that's the single
biggest reason for any compos mentis person to vote NO. Would you sign a
contract for, say, employment or to buy a house, if you didn't understand a
word it said? Yet the threat of a NO is of course precisely why no-one (but
the Irish) is being permitted a referendum this time around.
As a result, the constitutionally unavoidable Irish
referendum is going to become a huge battleground, where NO and YES camps
across the length and breadth of Europe are going to be slugging it out via
proxies within Ireland. For only Ireland can stop, or at least further
slow, Mr Juncker's relentless march.
Apart from the unreadability aspect, the principal YES arguments
you hear don't seem to really stack up.
Apparently the main raison d'être for the treaty is to make the running of
the EU smoother and
more stable with the advent of the recently joined members. But, as various
studies and publications, notably the (subscription-only)
Economist, have pointed out, decision-making has actually become more
not less slick since the last dozen members joined, with new rules and
regulations being adopted 25% faster than before enlargement.
People sometimes come up with little details for voting YES,
such as that Lisbon mentions
Well, yes it does, but only parenthetically and only to add via Clause 143
the magic words “in particular combating climate change”
to an existing article, 174, about
“deal[ing] with regional or worldwide environmental problems”.
This hardly embraces Al Gore's absurd
climate changeology cult.
But the main argument advanced by the YES camp is not really
that the Treaty serves any specific purpose. Rather, that it is part
of the mighty locomotive that is the EU, which is always advancing towards
some mythical nirvana in a never-attainable future, and you either get on
board or get left behind at the station. Therefore, to vote NO is
to vote against the
to choose to
remain at the station,
to abhor the
very existence of the EU.
Some have even suggested it is almost
treasonous. A common theme in the UK, shared by many EUrocrats and
specifically by Mr d'Estaing, is that if the
British were to
vote against the Lisbon Treaty, in the promised referendum which prime
Brown is now denying them, this should be interpreted as a vote to leave the
EU altogether. Actually, many British think it should be rejected with
precisely this ulterior objective.
The same arguments were trotted out after the Irish voted
down the Nice Treaty in 2001 and had to cajoled, bribed and frightened to
vote again with a YES a year later, so as not to be ejected from or
villified by or left behind by the EU.
Yet such a notion is nonsense.
The EU is not the plaything of EUrocrats, MEPs,
Commissioners and other Brussels bigwigs, even though they number in the
tens of thousands and often behave as if it is. It is above all a club
of the citizens of the 27 constituent countries, and they add up to
490 million (an astonishing
60% more than America's population). So if some of them decide
they want something different from the Brussels bunch, and are able under
Club rules to achieve this, the EU remains just as much the EU as it ever
was. Your golf club doesn't stop being your golf club just because,
for example, members vote to admit women even though the Committee happens
to oppose it.
So no thinking citizen could possibly vote to support the
It is un-understandable for ordinary people, and
therefore you simply cannot know what it is you would be voting for.
The evidence is that it is not needed to improve the
smooth running of the enlarged EU, which after all was the excuse for
the (eventually ratified) Nice Treaty.
It is not an integral, unavoidable part of the EU unless
ratified, and not ratifying it is no act of disloyalty. Quite the
converse in fact, because it would probably avoid a slew of negative
Of course the 26 countries who will (or have) put the treaty
to their parliaments for ratification are guaranteed to pass it, because the
respective ruling parliamentary coalitions are the very ones who have signed
I look forward, therefore, to a vigorous debate within the
only country that will give its citizens the chance to vote, as well as the
proxy war as wealthy foreign antagonists from both sides try (covertly) to
influence Irish voters.
For Ireland represents the EU's last chance for sanity over
this execrable treaty, whose only
is a negative one.
Late Notes (7th March 2008):
In February, the distinguished Irish
journalist Vincent Browne
explained how he was unsuccessful when he tried to procure the
unexpurgated Lisbon Treaty texts from EU offices in Dublin. He
concludes, as I do, that
“the only responsible, sensible, reasonable, intelligent course
of action to adopt is to vote No to this treaty on the grounds that we
don’t know - and can’t know - what it means.”
This remarkable picture appeared on the
page of the Irish Times last week which wonderfully illustrates the
contorted view many journalists and others hold of the Palestinian/Israeli
conflict. According to the caption, It shows
“thousands of Palestinians pour[ing] through dozens of holes in the
wall, rushing to buy items that are in short supply due to an Israeli
blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza”.
Unfortunately, the photo has since been removed
by the Irish Times
as part of a pay-to-view policy.
It seems the perfidious, vengeful Israelis, with their
“illegal” “apartheid wall” and military-controlled “checkpoints”
have turned innocent Gazans into prisoners. And when they closed off the
entryways last week, merely because the Hamas government was firing deadly
Qassam rockets and mortars
into southern Israel at a rate of 50 per day, this became a blockade
resulting in loss of electric power, children starving, babies dying in
hospital, blah, blah, blah.
But look again at that photo. That's a wall
between Gaza and Egypt which, notwithstanding the well-known secret tunnels
under it that bring in bombs and other matériel, is there to keep
Palestinians out of Egypt, especially those of an Hamas-Islamicist hue. Apart from the fact that Egypt is not under
attack from Gaza, why is this not described as an
“illegal” “apartheid wall” with (a single)
military-controlled “checkpoint” at Rafah, to be condemned by the world's bien-pensants? Why
is this wall not blamed for the blockade, since without it there could be no
There is of course only one answer. Egyptians
are not Jews. Therefore you don't have to automatically hate and condemn
everything they do, whether it is imprisoning Gazans, or
wounding 90 would-be escapees, or oppressing fellow Egyptians under a decades-long dictatorship. For they, or course,
are not part of any vast and sinister conspiracy that malignantly controls
the Western world's governments
everywhere. Not like certain other hook-nosed pigs and apes.
I am always embarrassed to admit I watch one of the world's longest running TV
soap operas, Coronation Street,
but I do. I despise the characters but it is compelling nonetheless,
and I wouldn't miss it.
An interesting observation is how what might be termed morality is dealt
with, so I constructed this little table of what's OK and what's not.
Acceptable/Lauded/Encouraged Central theme of many storylines,
with no untoward consequences
Unacceptable/Taboo/Non-existent Will usually not be permitted to even happen
in the storyline
Sex before marriage
Shacking up with boyfriend/girlfriend
Sex with someone else's boy/girlfriend
Adoption of unwanted babies
Unkind words towards gays
Drug-taking, even in moderation
Even noticing racial difference - and
this in northern England!
Existence of Islam or Muslims
Not illegal = moral =
Illegal = immoral =
Personal moral judgements
right and wrong
Parental guidance on personal
Absence of ambition or any
effort at self-improvement
Improving one's own life
Leaving the community in
order to take up a better lifestyle or job
colour-coding is meant to indicate -
what most people would consider to be immoral;
Green = what most people would not think to
See how the left hand column is mostly
red, the right column
From this, it is interesting to note that the soap opera's moral universe
seems to be, roughly speaking, a slippery inverse of what you would expect in real
I have been particularly affronted by the casual treatment of paedophilia
- adult men having sex with underage schoolgirls is just good fun, it seems.
In the past few years, there have been at least two storylines with this
theme, featuring 16-year-olds -
Katie with a grandfather (2003),
Rosie with her schoolteacher (2007).
But does any of this matter? Since it's only entertainment, perhaps
not much. On the other hand, you would have to wonder whether the
encouragement of freewheeling
lack of any personal moral
judgement or parental guidance (only the law counts) and
a complete and prevailing
lack of personal ambition among everyone, young and old
also foster similar behaviour in real life among younger, more
impressionable viewers, from small children upwards.
The series clearly places an extra burden on conscientious parents, if
only to remind their kids that it's only
“only a show”.
is the Italian for
and refers to a particular vocal technique which originated in Italy during
the late seventeenth century, reaching its pinnacle in opera of the early
1800s. The Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35) was a major
exponent, and one of his best-known Belcanto works is
about love betrayed. Its
title role is regarded as the most taxing ever written for a soprano, which
is why Maria Callas made it her own in the 1950s and 60s.
“Casta Diva”is undoubtedly the opera’s
most gorgeous aria and and to get a more modernised flavour, listen to this
interpretation by the elfin Filippa Giordano - why not play it as
you read on.
One of the world's most beautiful opera houses may be
on the Andrássy Boulevard, named after
Andrássy de Csíkszentkirály et Krasznahorka, a Hungarian hero of the
nineteenth century. Nearby is a smaller opera house (the
and a number of other theatres.
And right around the corner is the Belcanto
restaurant, whose purpose in life is to continue the opera sensation well
after the respective theatres have kicked you out. Exquisitely
appointed, as you can see from the photo, there is an interesting menu.
But its prime attraction are wonderful singers - two beautiful young
sopranos and a barrel-chested baritone, and the small orchestra of four that
accompanies them, as indeed so do all the waiters and waitresses from time
to time. While you eat and drink, they will regale you with
wonderfully delivered renditions of renowned and lesser known hits from
opera and other classics masterpieces, and will play requests. I was
entranced at how they played my own request, Albinoni's haunting Adagio in
G-minor for strings and organ, which you can hear
No doubt each of Belcanto's vocalists and instrumentalists is performing
his/her heart out each evening, in the hope of being discovered by a hungry
roving scout from the adjacent opera houses - and if it were up to me they
Savour the music, it's fabulous, because you won't enjoy the food, even
if it is irrelevant to the evening's experience.
The menu looks enticing - who could resist, for example,
“Crispy goose leg with cabbage and champagne, onion potato
Actually I could. I don't like my poultry desiccated from long hours
in an oven, distinctly uncrisp and skin removed, cabbage riddled in vinegar,
champagne undetectable, potatoes converted to rubber. And this was one
of the more delectable dishes. The food is, frankly, ghastly, without
exception. I imagine the “chef” is no more than a couple of
teenagers with a microwave.
Yet believe me, you pay handsomely for the privilege
- my group forked out €80 per person for a main course each and a shared
desert, plus mediocre wine and some bottles of beer (no draft!).
So don't go there for the food and drink. The
music is the thing, but you really would need to start off with a
performance at one of the theatres to put you in the mood. Otherwise
you might concentrate too much on what the singing waiters put in front of
My overall score as a percentage?
90% for the
music and service,
10% for the
Belcanto is located at number 8
Street, Budapest 1061. If you have a GPS or want to have a look via
Google Earth, it's at Latitude 47°30'8.69"N by Longitude 19°
3'28.84"E. You can phone for a reservation on +36-1-269.2786, and they
speak good English.
Just the one letter, and it went unpublished. No other
letter in similar vein appeared which might have displaced mine. I
find this disappointing because it's about time the media abandoned the
canard of the
How can Israel alone be held accountable for such a thing if one wall is
maintained by Egypt?
Gaza/Egypt Apartheid Wall - to the Irish Times What an extraordinary
photo on the front page of the Irish Times (January
24th). I had never realised that the infamous apartheid wall,
declared illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice,
which imprisons Gazan inhabitants in their ghetto and was a key element
of the recent blockade in response to sustained Hamas rocket attacks,
was in fact built in order to keep Palestinians out of Egypt ...
“I absolutely publicly apologise to the families in
Omagh. I am desperately sorry that we have not at this point brought
people to justice for that dreadful attack ... I publicly apologise
to all those families and all those victims, to all those who were
injured, without reservation
... Of course, as chief constable, I have to take
responsibility for the shortcomings that the judge [who presided
over the acquittal of the only suspect] highlighted.”
Sir Ronnie Flanagan,
Northern Ireland's former Chief Constable
apologises for deficiencies, under his watch, in the police investigation
into the 1998
This is an extraordinary
Back in 2001, the new
police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan
issued a report highly critical of Sir Ronnie's Omagh investigation
flawed ... defective leadership,
poor judgement and a lack of urgency”).
But he considered her investigation to be neither
“fair, thorough or rigorous ...
[with] an erroneous conclusion.”
Moreover, he then declared,
“I would not only resign, I would publicly
if I felt this report to be fair.”
It's to his credit that he has now at last
accepted his responsibility,
though he doesn't need to carry out his bizarre threat.
Headline in the New York Post
accompanying a photo
of Bill Clinton asleep during
a service to honour
the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr
Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our
apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the
incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we
incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret
that our original regrets were unacceptable and we apologize to Mr.
Steyn for any distress caused by our previous apology.”
The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News apologise for
No, I don't understand either.
week, following some exemplary police work involving intelligence,
informers and surveillance, the Irish Gardaí
seized a massive 32-kg haul of heroin worth €6½
million on the street, and in the process captured, virtually
red-handed, one of Dublin's most notorious drug traffickers, believed to
be a 35-year-old called
Congratulations all round are therefore in order. That is 32 kg
that will not be injected into anyone's veins, and a drug dealer taken
off the streets who will therefore not be pushing deadly chemicals for
the next several years.
Surely, a major fillip for society.
Except it's not. Not by any measure whatsoever.
The whole drug-busting success is a total waste of taxpayers' money.
Not a single heroin user
will go without his/her fix.
And for as long as that
scummy individual is locked up, others will immediately step forward
to take his place and keep the criminal drug supply chain humming as
smoothly as it always does.
This is the utter fallacy of the much-touted war on drugs, vigorously
pursued by well-meaning jurisdictions and police forces all over the
world, and with equal lack of beneficial impact whatsoever. The
only spin-off might be a slight rise in the price of drugs to compensate
for the inconvenience of being harassed by the boys in blue, which might
marginally deter a few marginal users.
Surely some of the more sophisticated and richer states are having
some success? Nope. Not one. Not even the much-vaunted
The reason is a simple one: they are aiming at the wrong target, all
It is drug-peddlers who are the common object of attack, and they
have been duly - and rightly - vilified and placed beneath contempt in
societies everywhere, from Capitalist America to Authoritarian Russia to
Socialist Venezuela to Communist Cuba to Islamist Iran. Thoroughly
antipathetic to each other, such countries make strange bedfellows when
it comes to drugs, and do little to co-operate with each other in their
fights against the common enemy, the drug dealing industry.
The secondary mis-targeted target, not pursued so eagerly as the
pushers, are the drug growers, those wondrously industrious and
inventive developing-world farmers of such places as Afghanistan,
Columbia, Laos. In the quest of feeding their families, these
hardy men find ever better ways of growing poppies, coca, cannabis and
other nefarious plants. This is despite the attentions of
international drug-busters who want to
ruin their harvests while vainly tempting them to take up less
You have to marvel at how stone-age
tillers of the soil, in a desperately poor, war-torn, gun-happy,
terrorist-ridden country, are nevertheless by far the world's foremost
producers of heroin-grade opium-poppies.
Indeed, according to the
UN and the CIA, those rugged Afghanis currently meet
over 90% of the world's demand for heroin and other opiates.
I can think of no other single country that produces - and, don't
forget, also exports - 90% of the world's anything, let alone a
land-locked nation almost devoid of infrastructure and beset with every
kind of problem known to mankind, whose people sport an average annual
barely $2 a day.
The growers and the the pushers are the wrong targets for enforcement
because they are not the source of the world's drug problem.
That dubious honour belongs of course to the customers. For it
is they, and they alone, who create the demand and provide the
money, without which there would be no drugs industry, criminal or
There is only one way to stop or suppress the drugs industry, and
that is to mount relentless, merciless pressure on drug users
themselves. So long as they are prepared to continue buying, no
amount of napalming of crops or putting traffickers under lock and key
is going to halt the production and trade. New farmers and new
traffickers will spring up to meet the demand while welcoming
the (temporary) reduction in competition.
If drugs are to remain illegal, any drive against users needs to make
two distinctly different attacks.
Firstly, users themselves need to be
down in their thousands and punished. With the right will,
this would be relatively easy on a one-by-one basis, although the
vast numbers involved would put huge strain on judicial systems
Moreover, it would soon become supremely unpopular, because vast
numbers of users are not so easily vilified as handfuls of dealers.
Drug-takers are regularly portrayed as
Or else they are pillars of society, or celebrities (of
sport), or just ordinary, regular,
tax-paying, law-abiding guys and gals - not to say, voters - enjoying
a night out or a private dinner party.
A concerted crackdown will quickly look like bullying and
overkill and will particularly upset influential people who are
caught or whose offspring are. And without robust leadership
from politicians who don't mind losing their seats as a result, it
could quickly become as desultory as random breath-testing often is,
where ambushes of pubs, clubs and restaurants at closing time are
assiduously side-stepped, as are blackspots where the drink-drive
accidents actually happen.
Nevertheless, such a crackdown would at once start cutting demand
and thus, in turn, production and trafficking, a feat which no other
“war on drugs”
has come close to achieving. It would immediately criminalise
thousands and cause uproar among the people (ie voters), as they see
their friends and relations carted off by the law.
The second approach should aim to cut
people's desire for drugs in the first place. Certainly,
widespread TV advertising about the dangers would help, just as ads
about the horrific effects of alcohol-fuelled car-accidents help to
But a wholesale change in the drug-taking culture will not happen
unless it targets people when they are so young they are only
beginning to form their own views of the world. Just as is
beginning to happen over things such as global warming, nature
conservation and bad driving, that means starting anti-drugs
education at primary school, if not kindergarten level. And
keeping it going, relentlessly, throughout children's educational
process, so that when they hit the adult road, drug-taking seems as
ridiculous to them as driving without a seat-belt or leaving all the
Such social brainwashing of the very young and upwards has over
millennia proven to yield huge dividends throughout a person's life,
whether for good or ill.
Indoctrinating generations of Ireland's kids in the Catholic
Catechism is a case in point, leading to the ludicrous situation
that Éamon de Valera, the then leader, felt obliged to let the
Vatican view the already heavily Catholicised Irish Constitution
before promulgating it in 1937. It is only in the past
couple of decades that the Catholic stranglehold on perceived
morality in Ireland has been eased.
Other examples include
instilling a huge sense of personal knowledge and pride in
one's own nation, history and - dare I say it - race, a concept
that helped create and fuel countless empires over the
centuries, for better or for worse.
and all that.
Or, witness the tribal loyalties and hatreds, systematically
inculcated from the cradle, that lead to conflicts such as
the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis by Hutu, or
Northern Ireland's 30-year war between Unionists
the current violence pitting Kikuyu against Luo in
To this day, innumerable madrassas across the world (heavily
funded by Saudi Arabia) teach Muslim children the wickedness of
Jew-pigs and the virtues of suicide-homicide. So whole
generations are now growing up with such notions hard-wired into
their brains, and
hot for jihad.
So it's a long-proven formula. Get 'em young. Or, as
the Jesuits used to
say “Give me a child of seven, and I will show you the man”
(meaning “I will turn him into the man I think he should be,
whether you like it or not”).
Brainwashing kids with anti-drug ideas will thus certainly succeed in
reducing the number of adults with a yen to snort or inject. But
though not especially expensive,
it is unglamorous, difficult to implement in a widespread manner, pretty
boring and will take twenty years to yield results. Compared to
the fun of routing out dealers and poisoning poppy fields, it provides
few kudos for politicians and law-enforcers charged with tackling society's drug problems.
Yet no battle against drugs can ever be ultimately successful until
it confronts the true culprits, ie those who imbue the stuff, both
in fact (ie the adults) and
tomorrow in all likelihood (children).
For both groups of citizens, the solution is the same: to conquer and
bend that most powerful of mankind's attributes - the attitude of the
This means declaring drug-war on both users
But will any politician
ever dare court the unpopularity that will inevitably follow when
current users start getting seriously harassed?
Nevertheless, society everywhere should recognizes that
efforts over the past several decades have been no more than a money-wasting sham, and should simply refuse
to countenance their continuance.
There is of course another alternative, even more radical yet by
comparison cheap and easy. Drugs could simply be legalised,
decriminalised, regulated and taxed. They could be treated no
differently than those two other dangerous drugs tobacco and alcohol.
Every Monday, the (subscription-only) Irish Times hosts what it calls
a Head2Head debate, where two antagonists set out their respective cases
over a selected, topical question. Readers are then invited to go
online to add comments and vote. Recent subjects have included:
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted out of the blue by the
newspaper asking whether I would like to contribute to the NO
side of the question,
the State sanction gay marriage?”.
This was prompted by my post last November,
which an Irish Times editor had spotted.
So I trimmed it down by half, and sent it in.
The YES part was written by
Eloise McInerney of
LGBT Noise, which is a recently formed pro-gay-marriage group, and
in my view she argued her case rather well.
transcribed the debate
along with the (furious) letters and some 300 comments it provoked and my responses to
some of them. I also took part in a 24-minute
that you can
listen to or download as an MP3.
The final poll gave 73% to Ms
McInerney and 27% to me. A resounding, well-earned defeat for my
non-PC side of the argument. But you have to think about the kind
of people who would be motivated to vote online on such a subject.
I suspect that many of my supporters couldn't be bothered. That's
my story anyway.
Non-Irish readers may not be aware of the many ways in which Ireland's
current Taoiseach (prime minister), Bertie Ahern, brings joy and hilarity to the nation.
The acolyte of an illustrious predecessor, Charlie Haughey, renowned for
systematically plundering the state coffers over many decades, he has spent
the past few years dodging and weaving to avoid the ministrations of a
Tribunal he himself set up to investigate corruption in the building
planning process. Haughey, the master, famously
most skilful, the most devious, the most cunning of them all”.
He is having to use all of these talents, and a few more, to explain how he
mysteriously obtained large sums of money when - according to himself - he
was a penniless, separated,
homeless, senior minister in the 1990s, without even a bank account.
A master of the turn of phrase, relish these recent
contributions in relation to the Tribunal.
“There's nothing in the law or the constitution that
I have to have a bank account. Some people dye their hair yellow or
put rings in their noses, I decided I wasn't going to open an
account. Put it the other way round - there was no reason that I
It was, apparently, perfectly
that, whilst “friends”
were giving him large sums of money when he was Minister of Labour
in the late 1980s and later Minister of Finance,
he had no bank account for six years and dealt solely
Back in those halcyon days, being a bankaccountless
was, it would seem, no different
from sporting yellow hair and a few nose rings.
Bertie responds to a suggestion that the origin of a
particular bank lodgement was other than pure.
“The sun could crash into the moon but, I mean, it didn't happen.”
was that he had received a gift of IR£22,500 on a particular
date, which was earlier than the date he had previously testified he had
Quote: “Now, if years later Mr O'Connor wants to disown me and
he doesn't know me well that's his bloody business.”
Bertie, on being told that the - by his account - “close, personal friend”
Padraic O'Connor who had given him
a personal gift of IR£5,000, had in fact
testified that he was not a friend of Bertie's at all and the money was
for the party not the Minister.
“But that is
really only playing smoke and daggers with it.”
This is, apparently, a killer argument in
favour of awarding himself a €38,000 (15.6%) pay rise, which makes
highest paid government chief in the OECD - ahead of George
Bush, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Stephen Harper.
Typically, nobody knows what
daggers” is supposed to mean; not even Bertie.
Here are a few more classics, but I can't
figure out or remember what they refer to
From time, I will write a brief review of a restaurant I've visited.
In the Pest part of Budapest, Hungary, close to the eastern bank of
the Danube you can
find the Blue Tomato, about a hundred metres behind the
magnificent Vigzinhaz, or Comedy Theatre. It has a menu pages
long, in English as well as Hungarian, but is outstanding for just a few
items. Having been there several times over the last couple of
years and sampled much of the
fare, I can attest that you should just stick to these three dishes -
preferably on a bitter winter's day.
Bean soup (€3½),
a to-die-for broth, thick with smoked knuckle of pork and luscious beans.
Their goulash (also €3½),
a Hungarian soup/casserole specialty of beef, tomatoes and paprika, is
seldom bettered in any other restaurant, and then there's their
spicy chicken wings (€6),
of extraordinary succulence in a batter you'd sell your grandmother for, and a huge
platter of them.
Wash this down with plenty of cold beer (€3.75 per pint) and/or
Hungarian wines (€10-15 a bottle).
The Blue Tomato is on Pannónia utca 3-7, District 13, phone
+3-6-2-339.8099. If you have a GPS, go to Latitude
47°30'49.22"N by Longitude 19° 3'7.18"E.
The staff are cheerful and all speak reasonable English, but
though there's a
website, it's largely in Hungarian. But you'll find much of
the menu contents there.
The Columbian lady, Anna Julia Torres in this video-clip, had found a lion cub in a forest,
who was on his last legs. She took the little fellow home, named him Jupiter and nursed
him back to good health. Later when
grew too big, she found a good home for him at a zoo. Then after a while she went
to visit him. Watch the reaction of the king of the jungle when he sees
his favourite lady....
Here are my Letters statistics for the past two years.
2008 (so far)
So no trends there, then.
In the seven long weeks since the last issue of this blog,
I've submitted a further half-dozen letters, but only two of them made it
into print, which is roughly in line with the past couple of years.
Pay Increase for State CEOsP! - to the Irish Times
So, chief executives of commercial State bodies are to
because a consultant says their pay is 14-20 per cent behind the average
in the private sector (Salary rises approved for heads of commercial
State firms, January 9th). But this observation is valueless
unless accompanied by statistics showing
Courage MisplacedP! - to the Sunday Times It is not the Labour party that requires the
to table a private members' bill in favour of abortions, so much as the
unborn children who need the courage to face the resultant abortions.
Bumper sticker spotted by
“Isn't it hypocritical to support
when you've already been born?”
Fluoridation and Water Pollution - to the Irish Times My elderly dentist father, now retired but an international pioneer
of fluoridation in his time, remarked when he read Mary Hilary's letter
moaning about fluoridation,
“bloody dentists blamed
for ruining the environment; bloody fluoromoans trying to ruin kids'
That about sums it up.
Why Cuba Beats Caredoc - to the Irish Times Dervla Murphy describes how the efficient Cuban medical system
thankfully saved her from dying of hyperexia (heat stroke), but concludes
with the appalling cry
If she is so fond of the Communist prison-state and a dictator whose
regime has killed over
Corruption in Africa - to the Irish Times It is understandable that Joe Manning, as Sierra
Leone's Honorary Consul to Ireland, should want the flow of Irish taxpayers'
aid-money to continue to flow into the coffers of the governments of Sierra
Leone and elsewhere. However, he speaks in contradiction.
“The main cause of
poverty in Africa is bad government and ...
That Missing Canoeist - to the Irish Times Everyone has been wondering where John Darwin, the canoeist missing from
Hartlepool, has been hiding out for the past five years. The
authorities needed look no further than westward across the water. As
photographs makes abundantly clear, he merely changed his ...
- - - - - - - - - - H O L Y L A N D
- - - - - - - - - -
“I was shocked and saddened at the sight of the
wall. It is with bridges, not walls, that you build peace.”
Seán Brady after a visit to the
In this instance he is wrong:
that infamous wall has reduced suicide bomb attacks on Israelis by
which is a significant advance in peace for those non-dead Jews.
- - - - - - - - - -
P A K I S T A N - - - - - - - - - -
“My mother always said: ‘Democracy is the best
Bilawal Zardari, 19-year-old bereaved son and
of assassinated Benazir Bhutto
“Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be
with you to take the revenge for her death. Don't feel alone.
I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers.”
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif,
long term opponent and bitter enemy of Ms Bhutto,
his eyes at times welling up with (crocodile?) tears.
They were both Prime Minister twice,
both dismissed, both times for corruption
- - - - - - - - - - I R A N - - - - - - - - - -
“It was in fact a declaration of surrender ... It
was a positive action by the U.S. administration to change their
attitude and it was a correct move.”
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
on America's latest intelligence report which says
Iran ceased developing a nuclear weapon in 2003
(presumably in fright at what happened to Saddam)
- - - - - - - - - - S W E D E N - - - - - - - -
“To welcome changes and to let the mix of cultures and
experiences enrich our lives and our society is the only road ahead.”
The king of Sweden, Carl Gustaf, in his
Christmas address to his subjects.
But lives can only be
enriched by a mix of cultures
if the cultures being added to the
are richer than what's already there,
and that is by no means
- - - - - - - - - - K E N Y A - - - - - - - - -
“While freedom of worship will be upheld ... the Council of
Islamic leaders shall be permitted to have an oversight role to
monitor the activities of ALL other religions and any applications
for religious activities and institutions will require their
approval. They shall have the right to deny approval to cults
and other evil practices.”
Article (v) a) of a Memorandum of
signed in Kenya on 29th August 2007,
between Raila Odinga and the National Muslim Leaders Forum.
In exchange for the NMLF's support for his
Mr Odinga undertook if elected to introduce
Sharia law and other Islamic restrictions
to Muslim-majority areas of Kenya
(Muslims form 10% of Kenya's total population).
It turns out that Barak Hussein Obama,
son of a Luo Muslim, a one time Madrassa student, yet a
albeit of the nutcase neo-racist
United Church of Christ”,
and currently a leading contender for the US Democrats' presidential
of fellow-Luo Mr Odinga.
Curiouser and curiouser.
eagerness to pull American troops out of the Middle East
Or just standard Democrat boilerplate surrender-monkeying?
- - - - - - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - - -
- - -
“We need to be as comfortable with words like
as we are with
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams acknowledges
following his party's disastrous performance
in Ireland's May 2007 general election.
- - - - - - - - - - R U G B Y - - - - - - - - -
New Year everyone and congratulations to the Kiwis, who by my
calculations celebrated the start of 2008 a full twelve hours before
we South Africans did. It must be a nice feeling for New Zealanders
to be first at something for a change.”
South African rugby pundit
is catty about having won the 2007 World Cup, whereas favourites New Zealand were ejected at
Of course, now that in the
promoting racism in South Africa,
a new coach has been appointed
not because he is the best candidate
but because he is black,
it is unlikely South Africa will win the next World Cup in 2011.
When it comes to colour-blindness
in rugby, New Zealand leads the field
Hattip: Graham in Perth
- - - - - - - - - - D E V I L - - - - - - - - -
“It's been a black eye for our town, a stigma
... We're good Christian people.”
Scott Walker, the mayor of
announcing that the town will be allowed to change its telephone prefix from
Residents say that the
666, associated in Christianity with the Devil,
because of the Bible's Book of
where it is referred to as the
of the beast”,
has harmed Reeves' reputation.
You should know that fear of the number 666
is, of course, known as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.
- - - - - - - - - - S E X E S - - - - - - - - -
“Would I go topless like Vladimir Putin? Why
not? Touch my muscle(s).”
Venezuela's madpcap president Hugo Chavez,
flirts with supermodel Naomi Campbell
“Ladies, the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
A tour guide, commenting on the high
male-to-female ratio in Alaska
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF