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TALLRITE BLOG 
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January 2008
 



 
Time and date in Westernmost Europe

ISSUE #169 - 27th January 2008 [500+105=505]

Click here for PDF Version of Issue #169 (175kb)

I've become a newspaper columnist with the (subscription-only) Irish Times.  My first column appears on 27th February, titled Don't 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.

 Click for PDF version (180 kb)

The expanded version follows. 

Execrable Lisbon “Reform” Treaty

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 forerunner, the would-be Treaty Establishing A Constitution For Europe, 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 TEACoFEe was 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, and
if it's a No we will say
we continue’”.  

The Lisbon Reform Treaty is a slightly modified version of the TEACoFEe - still 90% the same according to 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 proclaims that

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 adds,

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 as

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 Maastricht Treaty (1992) 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 insertion 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 reform 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 climate change.  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 train,

  • 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 minister Gordon 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 Lisbon Treaty:

  • 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 consequences. 

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 it. 

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 reform 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.

Watch this amusing video clip,
put out by a body called the European Referendum Campaign

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That Illegal Apartheid Wall Round Gaza

Palestinians from Gaza cross the Rafah border into Egypt over a barrier destroyed overnight

This remarkable picture appeared on the front 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 blockade? 

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. 

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Soapy, Slippery Morality

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
  • Adultery
  • Shacking up with boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Paedophilia
  • Abortion
  • Gay sex
  • Sex with someone else's boy/girlfriend
  • Adoption of unwanted babies
  • Unkind words towards gays


     
  • Excessive drinking/alcoholism
     

 

  • Drug-taking, even in moderation
  • Underage drinking
  • Underage driving
  • Drink-driving
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Inhaling cigarettes
 
  • Racism
  • Even noticing racial difference - and this in northern England!
  • Existence of Islam or Muslims
  • Not illegal = moral = acceptable
  • Illegal = immoral = unacceptable
  • Personal moral judgements
    of right and wrong
  • Parental guidance on personal morality
  • Absence of ambition or any effort at self-improvement
  • Improving one's own life position
  • Leaving the community in order to take up a better lifestyle or job

The Red-Green colour-coding is meant to indicate -

  • Red = what most people would consider to be immoral;
  • Green = what most people would not think to be immoral.

See how the left hand column is mostly red, the right column green.  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 life. 

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 on-screen

  • encouragement of freewheeling consequentless sex,

  • 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”. 

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Belcanto, Budapest - A Restaurant Review

Belcanto is the Italian for beautiful singing 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 Norma, 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 utterly delightful 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 found in Budapest, on the Andrássy Boulevard, named after Count Gyula Andrássy de Csíkszentkirály et Krasznahorka, a Hungarian hero of the nineteenth century.   Nearby is a smaller opera house (the Operettszinhaz) 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 here

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 would be. 

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 soufflé”?  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 you. 

My overall score as a percentage?

  • 90% for the music and service,

  • 10% for the food. 

  • So 40% overall. 

Belcanto is located at number 8 Dalszínház 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. 

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Want to know how to deal with cold-callers who ring you up out of the blue and try to sell you stuff you don't want, and won't get off the line? 
 
Tom Mabe has the solution.  Watch this.

 

Issue 169's Letter to the Press

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 Israeli blockade.  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 ... 

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Quotes for Issue 169

Quote: 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 Omagh bombing.

This is an extraordinary turnaround.

Back in 2001, the new police ombudsman Nuala O'Loan
issued a report highly critical of Sir Ronnie's Omagh investigation
(
seriously 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 commit suicide
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.

Quote: You're a corrupt little crook.

John O'Shea, boss of the (reputable) Irish charity GOAL,
whispers, undiplomatically, in the ear of
President Fredrick Chiluba of Zambia
at a formal reception during a recent visit to Dublin. 

Mr Chiluba was subsequently charged with
stealing $46 million from his own people,
75% of whom survive on less than one dollar a day
.

Mr O'Shea is champion of giving aid directly to the people who need it,
rather than channelling it through despotic governments
who routinely cream off more than three-quarters.

Quote: I know you think it's crazy, but I kind of like to see Barack and Hillary fight.

Former US president Bill Clinton, as tensions grow between his wife
and rival Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

Of course he loves it,
because Mr Clinton is the main subject of their acrimony.

Bill Clinton relishes his dreamQuote:
Bill has a dream.

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

Quote: The 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 something. 
No, I don't understand either.

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See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #168 - 22nd January 2008 [535-153=382]

Click here for PDF Version of Issue #168 (286kb)

The (subscription-only) Irish Times published a column by me on 12th March 2003, entitled Time for war on  drugs to target users, which is based on this post.

Declare Drug-War on Users and Kids

Last week, following some exemplary police work involving intelligence, informers and surveillance, the 32 kg of heroin seized, worth €6.5mIrish 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 Michael Byrne

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 United States. 

The reason is a simple one: they are aiming at the wrong target, all of them. 

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 lucrative crops. 

You have to marvel at how stone-age Afghan 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 GDP of 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 otherwise. 

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 hunted 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 everywhere. 

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 victims, addicts, prostitutes.  Or else they are pillars of society, or celebrities (of movies, TV, music, modelling, even 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 reduce drink-driving. 

    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 lights on. 

    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.  Rule Britannia 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
        and Nationalists, or

      • the current violence pitting Kikuyu against Luo in Kenya.

    • 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 sayGive 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

  • today 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 human mind. 

This means declaring drug-war on both users and kids. 

  • 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. 

But that's an argument for another day. 

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Should the State Sanction Gay Marriage?

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, Should the State sanction gay marriage?.  This was prompted by my post last November, Recognizing Non-Marital Unions”, 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. 

I have transcribed the debate here, 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 radio debate 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 own 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. 

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Tribunal Bertiisms

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 described Bertie as the 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. 

Typical trendy Finance  Minister of the 1990s - yellow hair, nose rings and no bank account (ex Sunday Times)

Quote: There's nothing in the law or the constitution that says 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 should.

It was, apparently, perfectlynormal 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 in (untraceable) cash.

Back in those halcyon days, being a bankaccountless Finance Minister was, it would seem, no different from sporting yellow hair and a few nose rings.

Quote: Be Jesus, I’m some fella.”

Bertie responds to a suggestion that the origin of a particular bank lodgement was other than pure. 

Quote: The sun could crash into the moon but, I mean, it didn't happen.

What didn't happenwas 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 received it. 

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.

Quote: 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 him the highest paid government chief in the OECD - ahead of George Bush, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Stephen Harper. 

Typically, nobody knows what smoke and 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

Quotes:

Throwing white elephants and red herrings at each other.

I never condemn wrongdoing in any area.

I'm not answering what I got for my Holy Communion money, my Confirmation money, what I got for my birthday, what I got for anything else.  I'm not into that.

I will add to these gems as more Bertiisms get uttered.  I'm looking forward to a fresh crop when he is to be hauled back to testify before the Tribunal in February. 

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Blue Tomato - A Restaurant Review

From time, I will write a brief review of a restaurant I've visited.

 The Blue Tomato, Budapest

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. 

My overall score as a percentage? - 80%

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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 Jupiter 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....  
 
 

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Issue 168's Letters to the Press

Here are my Letters statistics for the past two years. 

  2006 2007 2008 (so far)
 Letters Submitted 75  68  3
 Letters Published 24  17  2
 Success Rate 32%  25%  67%

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 CEOs P!
    - to the Irish Times
    So, chief executives of commercial State bodies are to get
    significant increases 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 Misplaced P!
    - to the Sunday Times
    It is not the Labour party that requires the
    courage 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 reader Joe:
      Isn't it hypocritical to support abortion
      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' teeth.  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
    Viva Fidel!.  If she is so fond of the Communist prison-state and a dictator whose regime has killed over

  • Aid and 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
    The canoeing minister - click to enlarge- 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 ...

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Quotes for Issue 168

- - - - - - - - - - H O L Y   L A N D - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: I was shocked and saddened at the sight of the wall. It is with bridges, not walls, that you build peace.

Cardinal Seán Brady after a visit to the Holy Land. 

In this instance he is wrong:
that infamous wall has reduced suicide bomb attacks on Israelis by 95%,
which is a significant advance in peace for those non-dead Jews. 

- - - - - - - - - - P A K I S T A N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: My mother always said: ‘Democracy is the best revenge’.”

Bilawal Zardari, 19-year-old bereaved son and political heir
of assassinated Benazir Bhutto

Quote: 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 - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: 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 - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: 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 mixture
are richer than what's already there,
and that is by no means a given

- - - - - - - - - - K E N Y A - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: 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 Understanding,
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 presidential campaign,
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 Christian,
albeit of the nutcase neo-racist
Trinity United Church of Christ”,
and currently a leading contender for the US Democrats' presidential nomination,
is a
close friend
of fellow-Luo Mr Odinga.

Curiouser and curiouser. 

Is his eagerness to pull American troops out of the Middle East related?
Or just standard Democrat boilerplate surrender-monkeying?

- - - - - - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: We need to be as comfortable with words like prosperity and economic opportunity as we are with equality and independence’.”

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams acknowledges reality
following his party's disastrous performance
in Ireland's May 2007 general election. 

- - - - - - - - - - R U G B Y - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Happy 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 Gavin Rich
is catty about having won the 2007 World Cup,
Peter de Villierswhereas favourites New Zealand were ejected
at the quarter-finals

 

Of course, now that in the interests of
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 - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: It's been a black eye for our town, a stigma ... We're good Christian people.

Scott Walker, the mayor of Reeves, Louisiana,
announcing that the town will be allowed to change its telephone prefix from 666. 

Residents say that the 666, associated in Christianity with the Devil,
because of the Bible's
Book of Revelation 13:18
where it is referred to as the number 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 - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Would I go topless like Vladimir Putin?  Why not?  Touch my muscle(s).”

Venezuela's madpcap president Hugo Chavez,
flirts with supermodel Naomi Campbell

Quote: Ladies, the odds are good, but the goods are odd.

A tour guide, commenting on the high male-to-female ratio in Alaska

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review

+++++

Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
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 technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
in
May, June, and July 2010

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

  • how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,

  • the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

  • Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.

+++++

Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,

  • part of a death march to Thailand,

  • a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),

  • regularly beaten and tortured,

  • racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

  • a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

  • shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,

  • torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,

  • a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.

+++++

Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.

+++++

Superfreakonomics
This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:

  • Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

  • People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.

  • Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.

  • Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 

  • Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.

++++++

False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

  • Why does asparagus come from Peru?

  • Why are pandas so useless?

  • Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?

  • Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:

  • Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)

  • Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

  • The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 

+++++

Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.

+++++

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