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

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JULY 2002
bulletISSUE #1- 14th July 2002 
bulletISSUE #2 - 21st July 2002                               Index of All Articles in the Archive
bulletISSUE #3 - 28th July 2002

ISSUE #3 - 28th July 2002

bulletStock Market Jitters, Booms & Busts
bulletNice Treaty; Ireland's Referendum Nbr 2
bulletClassical Music, Composers and Instruments
bulletReform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Stock Market Jitters, Booms & Busts 

The stock market crash of 2000/2002 has taken everyone totally by surprise, as such crashes always have done since the South Sea Bubble in 1720.


I started thinking about the mechanism of these crashes when I spotted this chart in The Economist.   The accompanying article talked about how the Asian economies have recovered since their crises began with the collapse of the Thai baht in 1997.  What I found interesting from this chart is that growth has not only recovered from its low of 1998 but by 2001 appears to have got back onto a similar growth path as if the slump had never occurred. 

So I wondered about the stock market crash of 1929, the crash of 1987, the current crash ...

I am no chartist but when I looked at those and other 20th century crashes, it appeared that each follows a similar pattern :

bulletafter a period of steady growth, a boom appears;
bulletthis boom eventually crashes, creating a bust;
bulletthe bust is followed by a steady recovery;
bulleteventually the steady recovery brings the market back onto the original growth path that was being followed prior to the boom.

Look at four charts below for examples of boom and bust as evidenced by movements of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the charts having been constructed using data from the Dow Jones Indexes website. (Though the Dow Jones tracks US companies only, the US economy is so dominant that what happens there is pretty much representative of what happens to the world economy.)









First, look at the circumstances of the boom that ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s.  The chart above shows that for the first 15 years of the Dow Jones Industrial Index since it was created in 1895, it hovered at around 75.  Then, around 1910 it began its first steady upwards trend.  (Click on above chart and the two below to get a larger images; click your back button to return to this page)

But in 1924 this turned into a boom nearly quadrulping from 105 to a peak of 381 in five years.  The crash that began in 1929 did not reach its nadir of 41, a massive drop of 89%, until 1932.  The scale of this shock meant It took a further 15 years to effectively recover.  And then, lo and behold, the index resumed the same growth path that it had in 1924, just as if nothing had been happening for the previous 23 years. 

Coincidence?   Then look at the same pattern in the boom sparked by World War 2 and the bust that followed. 

This was a much shorter cycle, only three years, and the crash at only 26%  peak-to-
trough was less severe.  However the pattern is the same and by 1947, as shown by the red line in the chart, the growth trend reverted to the same as it had been in 1944 prior to the boom. 

Same with the crash of 1987, still so fresh in many minds.  Over the three years of 1985-1987, the market boomed then busted, dropping 36% from 2750 to 1750 in 1987.  

The recovery was particularly quick so that the Dow Jones Index was back on trend almost immediately after the bust. 



So what can all this tell us about what is happening now in 2002? 

Firstly, that we are well and truly beyond the longest uninterrupted growth period, lasting 107 months, in the history of the world.  

As the chart above shows, the trend departed from the post-1987 path in 1995, and screamed upwards from 4000 to its peak of 11,800 in early 2000, when the first technology stocks began to wobble.  The market has been tumbling ever since and is currently (end July) at around 8,200, a drop of some 30 %. 

Secondly, if, based on the evidence of the previous charts, as summarised in the table on the left, we assume that growth will eventually stabilise at the pre-boom trend (ie the post 1987 trend that ended in 1995) as has happened with every other boom/bust for the past century, you can extrapolate the red line in the chart to get an idea when this will happen. 

 The final chart, below, shows that the deeper the fall the sooner we reach the red line and get back “on trend”. 

If, for example, we say that the market will drop in total -

bulletby around 45%, ie to a trough of around 6,500, my guess is that we would be back on trend by about 2004/5 - as per the blue dotted line on the chart; or if
bulletby around 40%, ie to a trough of around 7,000, I think we would be back on trend by about 2009 - as per the green dotted line on the chart.

These scenarios each represent massive cycles of 10 and 15 years respectively, second only to the Great Depression.

So, more pain to come before it gets better.  Meanwhile, stick to cash not equities, at least until the market approaches the red line, after bottoming out at (my guess) around 7,000 in a couple of years time or so. 

Of course, the Dow Jones is an index showing movements of the US stock market as a whole, not the performance of individual companies. In the midst of those booms, and especially the busts, there are -  


a purge of failing companies, 


a resurgence of successfully restructured companies, 


a rash of mergers & acquisitions, 


an advent of new companies, and 


other companies that have just plodded through the whole show as if nothing much has happened.  

The trick, when you go back to equity investing, is to avoid investing in those companies that are getting purged.  

At least that's how I see it !

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Nice Treaty; Ireland's Referendum Nbr 2

Good letter from a Jason Fitzharris, who argues that Nice will strengthen not weaken the influence of the smaller states :

The anti-Europeans are advocating a rejection of the Nice Treaty because it will give more power to the larger states. As in many other areas, the anti-Europeans have got their facts wrong.

From 1958 to 1973 the EU had only six member-states, three of which were large. Since then each new country that has joined has diminished the power of the larger states.

Currently in the Council of Ministers the five largest states have 48 of the 87 votes, representing 55 per cent of the vote. However, in an enlarged union of 27 states they will have 143 votes out of 345, representing 41 per cent of the vote.

Currently in the European Commission the five largest states have two Commissioners while everyone else has only one. But post-Nice they will lose their second Commissioner, putting them on a par with everyone else.

In the European Parliament the five largest states currently have 424 MEPs out of 626, or 67 per cent of the seats. In an enlarged union of 27 states they will only have 365 MEPs out of 732, or 50 per cent of the seats.

In view of these very simple numbers could the anti-Europeans possibly explain how more power is going to the larger states when their percentage control is going down as each new member-state joins?

It's the only piece I've seen that might make me waver in my opposition to Nice. 

On balance, however, I am still of the view that Nice would give too much power to central bureaucrats with the objective of making decision-making easier for them when the EU enlarges.  Personally, with the single market and the common currency now in place, I am not inclined to make things easier for the bureaucrats.  If they have good ideas for improving the EU in the future, let them work harder to convince all the members, including the new ones. 

And the statement that rejecting Nice will prevent enlargement is a canard.  The Amsterdam Treaty already provides for the admission of six further members, and the additional four can be admitted by individual negotiated treaties.  Even Romano Prodi, the Commission President, has said so. 

Moreover, it will be no bad thing for the ten applicants to compete among each other to be among the first six !  Competition always raises quality and lowers cost. 

The Governments (not the people) of all EU states but Ireland have now ratified Nice, which is due to be implemented in January 2003.  Ireland will vote on ratification in a second referendum in October 2002, having already voted No last year.  Thus whether Nice stands or falls now depends solely on the whim of Ireland's three million voters, who constitute just 1% of the EU's population.  There are those who say that this is a ridiculous distortion of the democratic process.  Others say the populations of much of the rest of the EU (Germany ? UK ? France ?), who were not consulted about ratification, are depending on Ireland's 1% to save them from the decisions of their own venal politicians. 

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Classical Music, Composers and Instruments

I was recently invited to a concert at Ireland's National Concert Hall, which happens to have been my former university.  The graduation hall, where I received my graduation papers, was several years ago converted into a magnificent auditorium, the finest in the country.  

As I listened to the National Concert Hall play Tchaikovsky's Concerto Nbr 1 in B flat minor (Opus 23) and Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony Nbr 3 in E Flat (Opus 55), it struck me how what we term as classical music was written over a period of some 200 years, 1700-1900, by a small cabal of perhaps 100 composers, all of them white European males, mostly Germanic, Latin or Slav, and nearly all of them now dead for 100 years or more.  Think of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Wagner, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky.  Why is it that no thrilling classical music has ever been written by somewhat who's not a dead white male ?  Some say that they wrote all the wonderful music that there is to be written.  Yet would anyone suggest that had the titans lived longer they would not have kept creating their magical symphonies ?  

The other thing that struck me was the musical instruments - the piano, the strings, the oboe, clarinet, flute, trumpet, bassoon, trombone.  Each of them was invented at least 200 years ago. How is it that nobody has invented a musical instrument of note in all that time ?  Yes, I know, there've been the harmonica, the steel bands, the saxophone.  But with the possible exception of the latter, none come anywhere close to the majesty of the classical instruments.  When you think back on what was invented in the industrial revolution and the marvellous technical creations since, is it not quite extraordinary that no-one has come up with something as simple and evocative as, say, the violin ?  

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Reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Franz Fischler, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, is making a brave attempt to overhaul the biggest obscenity of the European Union, the Common Agricultural Policy or CAP.  If you want to single out one project designed to attack the poorest people in European society and in the Third World and to make and keep them poorer, the CAP is it.  Period.  

The production-based subsidies to European farmers provide an incentive for them to produce more and more farm goods that no-one will buy without the subsidies because the farmers are totally uncompetitive.  Farmers are so uncompetitive that they get 1/3rd of their income from these subsidies, which eat up €40 billion a year - half of the EU's budget.  Yet farmers constitute only 5% of the EU's population.  Taxpayers provide this mega-subsidy and then, due to the EU's protective tariffs designed to keep out lower-cost produce, end up paying 15-20% higher than market prices for the food they buy in the shops.  Who suffers most ?  The EU's poorest, since they can least afford to fritter their meagre money on subsidies for loss-makers.  

But that's not all.  Thanks to the subsidies, more is produced in the EU than can be sold to the EU.  So the excess is exported at subsidised prices to the Third World (disguised as charity), thereby undercutting and ruining the Third World farmers who - remember - are themselves thwarted from exporting to the EU by those protective tariffs.  

According to Comhlámh, an Irish organisation which furthers international development co-operation, blocked opportunities such as these for trade deny developing countries 14 times what they receive in aid. If Africa were allowed to increase its share of world exports by just 1 per cent, it would earn for itself five times what it currently receives in aid.  But the CAP massively undermines EU aid programmes. For example, the EU spent €3.75 million as aid to develop Namibia's livestock sector. Yet in 1997 alone Namibia lost €62 million through the dumping in South Africa of subsidised beef. 

And who is gaining out of all this CAP largesse ?  Why EU farmers, or course, and how they love it.  As I would if the EU bureaucrats kindly added 50% as a no-strings-attached gift to my income.  In fact, these gifts are so generous that they have become a business driver in themselves to create ever-bigger farms, so that 80% of the subsidies now go not to single, struggling EU peasants of the land, but to multinational farming combines.  

Franz Fischler, bless him, is not asking to stop the subsidies - only to decouple them from production and attach them to environmental performance instead.  The farmers would get the same money, but at least would have no further incentive to produce expensive unwanted food, but to care for the land, something they are notoriously not interested in.  (In Ireland, for example, farmers are furious at a recent report, Making Ireland's Development Sustainable that identifies farmers as the principal culprits of Ireland's most serious environmental pollution problem, the eutrophication (over-enrichment) of rivers and lakes.)

Of course the EU farmers smell a rat - decoupling would make it easier to reduce the subsidies in the future, which must of course be the ultimate objective.  

His proposals will be vigorously and cynically opposed by those countries that gain most cash from the CAP, being those net leeches of the EU - France, Spain, Greece and Ireland.  However the net contributors such as Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden will back the reforms to the hilt, and thanks to the majority voting rules that apply to this issue, they will be likely to prevail.  

Courage, Herr Fischler.   

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ISSUE #2 - 21st July 2002

bulletStadium Capacity
bulletIRA Apology
bulletCatholic Church & Sexual Abuse
bulletJohn PIlger on Afghanistan, Iraq etc
bulletSpain & Perejil
Stadium Capacity

After seeing those wonderful stadia in Korea and Japan during the soccer World Cup, I wonder who knows what is the biggest stadium in UK and Ireland ? 

No, not the magnificent Millenium Stadium in Cardiff which seats 74,300, nor Old Trafford (67,600), nor Elland Road (40,200), nor Celtic's Parkhead (60,500) the biggest soccer stadium in Scotland, nor Murrayfield (67,500).  Wembley stadium used to accommodate 80,000 but has been closed down. The biggest stadium is in fact the recently enlarged Croke Park in Dublin, which housed 75,000 for a Gaelic Football final last Sunday 14th July, and has plans to go up to 82,000.

But here's the rub. Owned by the fiercely nationalistic Gaelic Athletic Assocation (GAA), only Gaelic games (football, hurling, camogie) may be played there, and definitely no "foreign" games such as rugby or soccer.  This means, bizarrely, that it cannot be included in the joint Scotland/Ireland bid to host the 2008 European soccer Championships. Instead the Irish Government is contemplating building a new stadium at a cost of over GBP 1 billion, included in which is £100 million to be paid to the GAA to persuade (bribe ?) it to stage some if its games there instead of Croke Park. Curiouser and curiouser.

By the way, if you're interested,   provides info on all the major soccer stadia in England and Wales.

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IRA apology

The IRA's recent sincere apologies and condolencesfor inflicting non-combatant, ie civilian, deaths over the past 30 years can only be welcomed as a step - albeit a small one - in the right and moral direction, even if they are only words with no hint of follow-up action such as declaring the war over, desisting from its ongoing gangsterism or offering reparation. The Unionist response, churlishly dismissing the apology as a cynical ploy, is disappointing, but typical of both sides. The relative restraint showed by the Orange order during its recent marches similarly received no kudos from republicans.

If each side of the divide would at least recognise, with some graciousness, when the other makes a positive move, it would suggest they do indeed want to find ways to live in an atmosphere of mutual acceptance and respect. But it seems they don't really. 

There are in fact three sides to this conflict - the republican side, the Unionist side and the general public being the vast majority.  Unfortunately, unfairly, undemocratically, though, it's the first two who drive the peace process agenda and they are both of the "all or nothing" persuasion, which invariably results in achieving the nothing.  

Late note : Lo and behold - David Trimble has just (21st July), and contrary to his remarks earlier in the week, said that he now welcomes the apology.  Well done !

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Catholic Church & Sexual Abuse

...... legal agreement signed between the outgoing Minister for Education and certain religious orders within the Irish Catholic Church in the dying days of the last Government granting immunity from potential lawsuits taken by victims of child abuse in residential institutions beggars belief.  The tone of this recent letter to a newspaper is typical of the rage felt by many many people when it comes to the sexual abuse that took place within religious institutions during the last century. 

The Roman Catholic religious orders are getting an awful amount of flak for what was perpetrated by a handful of their members upon children in their care in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ireland, and for the way in which this was covered up by the hierarchy.   There are many who believe punitive pecuniary sanctions and compensation should now be levied that would, in effect, bankrupt the Church.  Others are outraged that some countries, notably Ireland (see quote above), have placed caps on the amount of money the Church should be liable for, with the State - ie the taxpayer - taking up the excess liability.     For Ireland, the cap is 128 million Euros, which is about 25% of the total expected claims. 

The abuse and the coverups were of course utterly inexcusable, and the tardy manner in which the Church even today is recognizing its scandal is deplorable.   However, a few things need to be taken into account to gain a proper perspective. 

bulletThe individual members of religious orders who committed the abuse were in the order of 2-3 %.  That means 97% were innocent. 
bulletMost of the abuse occurred in religious institutes (schools, homes, hospitals, asylums) set up to provide help to society's rejects, such as orphans, unwanted children, disabled people, unmarried mothers.  And it was the State that consigned most of these individuals to the institutions.  Therefore, the State must also accept a big share of responsibility for its failure to check and ensure proper care was being administered on its behalf.
bulletAnd, most significantly, the religious who manned these institutes were paid no wages.  Zero.   For their entire working lives.  They did their skilled and unpopular work, that society was only too pleased to avail of, in exchange for no more than food and shelter and the belief that they were obeying the call of God.  

Now do the sums.  Assume a minimum wage in real terms of £5 sterling per hour, paid from age 30 years (taking of final vows) to 70 (retirement).  Multiply by a 40-hour week and 50-week year and you get £400,000 in foregone wages per individual.  Or £1 million per person over the century.  And how many of these religious persons were there on average in the country?  In Ireland, probably 10,000. 

So how about a counter-claim by the Church against the State to the tune of 10,000 x £1m = £10 billion in unpaid wages for vital services performed at the request of the State ?   And that's just for a tiny country like Ireland.   

Taxpayers should therefore be very cautious in deciding how aggressive they want to be in pursuit of financial claims against the Church.  They need to recognize the enormous free ride they have obtained at the expense of the 97% of priests, nuns and brothers who selflessly and blamelessly devoted their lives to the Word of God and the betterment of society's rejects.   

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John PIlger on Afghanistan, Iraq etc

I am reading an intriguing management book at the moment entitled, Weird Ideas That Work by Robert I Sutton.  Number 8 of the 11½ ideas presented is to innovate by thinking and doing ridiculous and impractical things and by way of example suggests that you brainstorm a list of absurd things to do, reverse the ideas, and talk about why you should or shouldn't do these things.  This is an excellent approach to take towards some of the more off-the-wall left-wing journalists. 

Last Sunday 14th July, John Pilger ranted on in The Observer about the USA's reaction to the September 11th attacks, its plans to attack Iraq and various other evils that lie at the heart of America.  A couple of examples :

bulletMore than 5,000 civilians have been bombed to death in stricken Afghanistan.  However, the proven Afghan civilians accidentally killed is in the hundreds not thousands; and because of the ejection of the Taliban, Afghanistan is no longer stricken. 
bulletShould anyone need reminding, Iraq is a nation held hostage to an American-led embargo every bit as barbaric as the dictatorship over which Iraqis have no control. The embargo regime is specifically designed to allow Iraq to use oil export revenues for the importation of food and revenues, yet people are hungry, hospitals are without drugs, the well-paid armed forces bristle with weapons and Saddam pays $25m to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.  Who is the barabaric hostage-holder ?    

The article makes excellent reading when you adopt thee Robert Sutton approach : take Pilger's absurd arguments, reverse his ideas and talk about them.   Most sane and humane people will draw the conclusion that America was right to remove the Taliban from Afghanistan, is right to continue to pursue Al Qaeda and is right to plan to dislodge Saddam Hussain before he starts nuking, gassing, poisoning, diseasing.  

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Spain & Perejil

There is a sweet irony and whiff of hypocrisy about Spain's spat with Morocco over the latter's invasion earlier in July of the island of Perejil ("Parsley") just off the Moroccan coast, and its long running spat with Britain over Gibraltar. 

bullet Perejil :
bulletbelongs to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco,
bulletwhich, under some duress, Morocco ceded, along with the nearby enclave of Melilla, in perpetuity to Spain in 1956 when Morocco gained independence from Spain;
bulletthe enclaves are internationally recognized as Spanish;
bulletMorocco wants them back;
bulletSpain wants to keep them;
bulletthe enclaves' inhabitants unanimously don't want to be given away. 
bulletGibraltar :
bulletis an enclave on the Mediterranean coast of Spain,
bulletwhich, under some duress, Spain ceded in perpetuity to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713;
bulletthe enclave is internationally recognized as British;
bulletSpain wants it back;
bulletBritain wants to get rid of it;
bulletthe inhabitants unanimously don't want to be given away.

Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1731)  said that War is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means.  Does Spain's use of military force to eject the Moroccans from Persijl signal that that this is now their preferred mode of politics for solving the Gibraltar issue ?   Or simply that smart people like to get physical, but only with those weaker than themselves ? 

Have a look at the take of the 
Irish Times' cartoonist, Martyn Turner

(with apologies) ...........

perejil.jpg (107581 bytes)
Click to enlarge

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ISSUE #1- Sunday 14th July 2002 

bulletOrganic Food
bulletNice Treaty Referendum
bulletThe Football Association of Ireland and Sky Television
bulletKyoto Protocol
bulletIs The Economist Anti-Semitic
Organic Food

Under the heading, Letting us eat organic cake, the Sunday Times published this letter on 14th July, but edited out some words as indicated :

I was much encouraged by one of your headlines Organic food prices plunge (News, July 7th) because it suggested that, at last, the benefits of organic food are becoming accessible to those unable to afford the premium they have hitherto commanded, only to read that the plunge in prices is actually bad news because a handful of organic farmers, including Prince Charles, are whinging.

Then John Humphrys in his weekly column rabbits on upon the same theme - that the organic farmers are more important than the organic eaters, and preposterously suggests that the organic revolution is about to peter out. Where is the logic ? Organic foods have become so popular that supermarkets are stocking them, prices are falling and more and more people are eating them and presumably the health of the nation is benefiting. And this is supposed to be bad news ?

Tony Allwright, Killiney, Co Dublin

I am remarking on the absence of logic rather than supporting organic food per se, which I believe is pretty much a con-trick with no measurable health benefits and which eats up much more farmland than conventional growing methods.  I do however support giving animals a reasonable life style, but for their sakes not ours. 

You can access the letter here, but unfortunately you have to subscribe at £39.99 per year, or here for a scanned version.  

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Nice Treaty Referendum

There is huge debate in Ireland at the moment about the Nice Treaty.  All countries but Ireland have ratified it via their parliaments.  However Ireland's constitution requires it to be put to the people in a referendum.  Which it was in November 2001.  But after a lacklustre Yes campaign by the Government and main Opposition, and a vigorous one by the naysayers, Ireland voted No by a small margin with a low turnout.  

The Taoiseach, most of his cabinet and all of their European counterparts, were horrified by the No result. It caused embarrassment for the Irish ministers and enormous irritation to the rest.  So the Taoiseach quickly promised a second referendum, which will be held in October 2002.  A red herring has been put about that the only reason for the No was fear that Nice would mean diminution of Ireland's neutrality (it won't), and for this reason an irrelevant assurance on neutrality will be included with the second Nice referendum. 

However, Ireland will undoubtedly vote No again, with a bigger turnout and by a wider margin.  All the publicity will galvanise more people to vote, and the reason for the second No is that the Nice Treaty  contains so many elements, actual or perceived, that people might object to, for example :

bulletEU Interference with Ireland's budgeting
bulletFear of tax harmonisation
bulletIncrease of majority voting
bulletFormation of an EU Army
bulletAffect on Irish neutrality (now perhaps neutralised !)
bulletEU money diverted from Ireland to new members
bulletLow cost competition from new members
bulletExpansion itself
bulletReduction of CAP payments.
bulletLoss of the Irish commissioner
bulletOverall complexity of the treaty ("if you don't know, vote no!")

You only have to disagree with one element to vote No, but you have to agree with   everything to vote Yes.

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The Football Association of Ireland 
and Sky Television

A couple of weeks after the World Cup, the FAI suddenly announced it had sold TV rights to the next four years of Ireland's international soccer matches to Sky TV for 7 million Euro, plus another 500,000 Euro to the Irish independent station TV3 to broadcast the games one hour after the final whistle.  The losing competitor was the national broadcaster RTÉ which offered only 1 million Euro in what appears to have been a pretty inept negotiation.  

There has been uproar in Ireland at the thought that to watch these games on TV people will now either have to subscribe to Sky or suffer the indignity of watching the recording on TV3 one hour later.  How dare the  FAI, hitherto excoriated for its bumbling lack of business acumen, turn around and accept 7½ million Euro instead of 1, and thereby have for the first time the means to put resources back into the game. 

People now expect the Government to designate certain sports games, ie force them to be shown live and free.  Ministers in turn are wailing at Brussels to dig up some obscure EU legislation that will allow them to do this, because they can't figure out how do so under Irish law. 

But the howls of outrage from the millions of self-declared devoted soccer fans are riddled with hypocrisy.  For there are devoted fans who go to matches and pay the entry fees, and they are unaffected by Sky's new deal. 

And there are devoted fans who currently watch the games for free, but hate the thought of paying something to support their beloved sport.  And asking them to watch the game an hour later is seen as an affront. 

How devoted is that ?

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Kyoto Protocol

Ireland, along with other EU members, recently  ratified the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, and in New York no less. That was certainly one in the eye for Kyoto-shy President George W Bush.

But hang on.

The experts, according to their publications, (as do even  groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth) agree that implementing Kyoto world-wide will have negligible impact. It will merely defer global warming by six years in a century's time, ie without Kyoto the temperature will rise by 1.9 deg C in 2094, with Kyoto it will not rise by this amount until 2100 [Refs 1, 2, 3].

Experts also inform us that the global cost of reducing CO2 emissions to achieve this derisory benefit will be in the order of US$ 100 billion per annum between now and 2094, or 2% of World GDP [Ref 4]. (Of course Kyoto is just the first step, the advocates say. But it's also the cheapest - that's why it's the first - so you can make your own guesses about how many trillions are needed before the impact on global warming becomes significant. )

And whom is the prevention of global warming supposed to help ? The rich first-world that can well afford air-conditioning and other mitigating comforts and whose agriculture will probably be better off in a warmer climate ?  Or impoverished people in the destitute third-world already sweltering in jungles and deserts ?  If the latter, then surely there is a better use of US$ 100 billion per annum than something that will give them marginal relief in a hundred years time.

For example, Kofi Annan and the World Bank tell us that US$ 200 billion, ie just two year's "subscription" to Kyoto, is sufficient to provide all humanity with clean drinking water and sanitation and thereby avoid 2 million deaths per year in the third world [Refs 5, 6].

Maybe we should hesitate before congratulating ourselves for ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.


bulletRef 1 : T M Wigley, 1998, "The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4 and Climate Implications", Geophysical Research Letters 25(13):2, 285-8
bulletRef 2 : Richard Benedick, 1998, "How workable is the Kyoto Protocol ?", Weathervane,
bulletRef 3 : Science magazine, 19 Dec 1997, Section 1, p10
bulletRef 4 : John Weyant and Jennifer Hill, 1999, "Introduction and Overview", The Energy Journal, Kyoto Special Issue : xxxiii-xxxiv, BEA 2001b-c
bulletRef 5 : Kofi Annan, 2000, "Progress Made in Providing Safe Water Supply and Sanitation for all During the 1990s – Report of the Secretary-General", p5, UN Economic and Social Council, Commission on Sustainable Development, 8th session;
bulletRef 6 : World Bank, 1994, "World Development Report 1994 – Investing in Health", Oxford University Press

Late Note - See Sunday Times Letter published 18th August 2002

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Is The Economist Anti-Semitic ?

There is a real ding-dong going on between The Economist and the Jerusalem Post, which has made a powerful claim that The Economist has been anti-semitic in its reporting on the Israel/Palestine conflict.  Read the original charge, The Economist's riposte and the riposte to the riposte.  I must say, though, that compared with the aggression of the Jerusalem Post, The Economist's riposte is pretty feeble, so there may be some truth in the charge.  The Economist is not noted for feebleness.  Does it have a guilty conscience ?

My own observation is that the Economist has in general been pretty even-handed in laying out the facts.  Those times when it might seem to favour one side or the other, it nevertheless presents sufficient information for you to easily make up your own mind.   Just after September 11th, they produced a particularly well-researched and balanced piece about whether America is paying for the crimes of Israel, which I found fascinating.   See what you think.   

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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review


Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

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

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

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

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

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

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


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


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


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


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

More details on my blog here.


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

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

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

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

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


part of a death march to Thailand,


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


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


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


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

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


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


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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


Other books here

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