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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
time and alphabet, contains all issues since inception, including the current week.

You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com
(Clumsy form of my address to thwart spamming software that scans for e-mail addresses)

July 2004
bulletISSUE #81 - 4th July 2004
bulletISSUE #82 - 11th July 2004
bulletISSUE #83 - 25th July 2004

ISSUE #83 - 25th July 2004 [150+180=330]

bulletSack Scarlett
bulletThe EU Constitutional Treaty and Smuggling
bulletJohn Kerry as Commander-in-Chief ?
bulletFive Top Email Scams
bulletClive Sinclair Strikes Again
bulletBlind Dentists ?
bulletQuotes of the Week

Sack Scarlett

Lord Butler's 200-page review of WMD intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war zooms in on Tony Blair's dossier of September 2002 entitled, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction - The Assessment of the British Government” (pdf, 427 kb).  This was, of course, the (in)famous dodgy dossier” which claims, no fewer than four times, that some Iraqi WMD were deployable within 45 minutes.  

Riddled with repetition, Lord Butler's report asserts that

bulletthe dossier was an exposé of Iraqi threats but was not intended to make the case for war; 
bulletwhile it was technically correct, it was misleading in the way it implied greater certainty about its findings than was warranted;   
bulletsome human intelligence about Iraq's WMD was seriously flawed and open to doubt
bulletOver-cautious or worst case estimates, shorn of their caveats, tended to become the prevailing wisdom; 
bulletthe most egregious example was the 45-minute claim, because although it applied only to forward-deployed munitions, not to all WMD and not to ballistic weapons, the dossier failed to make this distinction clear; 
bulletyet there was no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence or of political distortion.
bullet

Theownership and responsibility for the report rest solely with the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and in particular its Chairman Sir John Scarlett, whom Mr Blair has since nominated to be the new head of MI6, ie the Secret Intelligence Service.  (Interestingly, the weapons expert Dr David Kelly, who killed himself a year ago and who allegedly wrote 60% of the dossier, gets not a mention.)  

Lord Butler then concludes that “making public that the JIC had authorship of the dossier was a mistaken judgement ...[which] had the result that more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear.”  

This is a non sequitur.  Why does revealing authorship do this ?  Surely the mistakes reside in the content ?  Revealing authorship makes the content neither more nor less flawed.  It just shows that the fault lies with the authors rather than somewhere else.  

Butler's underlying assumption seems to be that the JIC is incompetent to write up its own intelligence.  This incompetence relates to over egging the pudding and leaving out caveats that it would have included had it been for internal consumption.  In other words, the authors of the dossier deliberately  misled their public readership.  

Let's be quite clear about the situation.  

Lord Butler tells us that the intelligence produced by the JIC under Scarlett was flawed.  Mr Blair accepted this intelligence and used it as a basis to go to war.  

If Mr Blair knew the intelligence was flawed, he is accountable and should go.  Yet Lord Butler indicates that he acted in good faith, ie he didn't know it was flawed.  

Therefore the person responsible for the producing flawed intelligence should go.  According to Lord Butler, that was Mr Scarlett.  Yet the review says he shouldn't be sacked, for the simple reason that Lord Butler and his team have a high regard for his abilities and his record.  Not only that, but they endorse the proposed promotion to head of MI6.  A man who has shown he cannot even be trusted to string together a reliable 55-page report for public consumption !  He'll be a laughing stock in and outside of MI6.  No wonder many people believe that Military Intelligence is an oxymoron.  

Some say that Mr Scarlett was leaned on to produce a suitable dossier.  This, even if true (which Lord Butler says isn't), is no excuse.  He was Chairman of the JIC.  He should not have buckled.  If he couldn't stand the pressure, he should have resigned, preferably publicly.  Big-shot bosses don't have the excuses of minions.  

Guys like John Scarlett are happy to accept the top jobs, take the big pay and perks, bask in the glory of seniority and respect.  And who can blame them ?  But the flip side is that they are personally responsible for serious flaws in their organisations, whether or not they personally participated (as Mr Scarlett did) in those flaws.  Thus, 

bulletThe UK's Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington honourably resigned after General Galtieri, Argentina's dictator, invaded the Falklands/Malvinas Islands in 1982.  
bulletMore recently, the BBC ejected its Chairman Gavin Davies, Director General Greg Dyke and reporter Andrew Gilligan for falsely claiming on air that the Government had sexed up Mr Blair's September 2002 dossier.  (As we now know, it was Mr Scarlett who did this).  
bulletEnron executives are looking at lengthy jail sentences in America; some will not emerge alive.  
bullet Shell fired its supremo Phil Watts and number two Walter van der Vijver when major mistakes in reserves bookings came to light.  
bulletPiers Morgan was frogmarched out of his job as Editor of the Daily Mirror after it published fake photographs of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.  
bulletGeorge Tenet, the CIA's boss of eight years, resigned just before a congressional committee uncovered major deficiencies in the CIA's intelligence over Iraq.  

What's so hard to understand ?  You're the boss, your organization screws up, you're history.  You take the gain, you take the pain.  It's not a question of I did my best, but that your best wasn't good enough and so you're no longer to be trusted.  

John Scarlett should resign or be sacked.  Good riddance.  

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The EU Constitutional Treaty and Smuggling

I've been opposed to the EU's new Constitutional Treaty for some time, ever since I learnt that it was a device not merely for tidying up existing treaties - an excellent idea - but for smuggling in countless other provisions that wouldn't stand on their own legs.  For example, the 2½-year appointed president, the new foreign minister, the charter of human rights, the redistribution of voting rights, the elimination of many national vetos.  This and more are all designed to inch the EU towards becoming a federal superstate, with existing countries relegated to the status of local parishes (subliminal plot - to poke a stick in America's eye).  

Of course, the EU only recently engaged in a huge piece of successful skulduggery.  Without considerable sleight of hand, Germany's Helmut Kohl and France's François Mitterand would never have been able to trick their peoples into accepting the €uro.  What German would have agreed to swap his mighty Deutschmark, saviour and backbone of his economy since WW2, for a currency to be shared with (in their view) the flaky Italians, Greeks and Portuguese ?  So it was all done quietly, behind closed doors with no debate at all.  The new currency was smuggled in, and the electorate were eventually informed of the fait accompli as some kind of afterthought.  

And as it happens, it is now the Germans and French who are economically flaky, unable/unwilling to stick to the Growth and Stability Pact, and the Mediterranean countries who are robust.  

Although the 25 prime ministers surprisingly agreed the Constitutional Treaty last month, the ratification process will involve referenda in at least ten countries, including Eurosceptic Britain, Poland, the post-Fortuyn Netherlands and even France.  So, happily, ratification is more than likely going to fail. 

There are some who say a country which fails to ratify should leave the EU because it is excluding itself from the new rules of the club.   Indeed, some say that the referendum campaigns should be conducted on this basis, ie ratify or get out.  

This approach doesn't make sense to me.  The club will be deciding whether to adopt new rules, and under its existing rules 100% of member state must ratify the change.  Therefore, if the result is no, then the old rules simply stay in place.  The club is still the club.  

Of course, if 24 vote yes and only one member state votes no, its prime minister is going to be pretty unpopular.  But the others can't make him leave and why should they ?  Moreover, he is paid handsomely to look after the interests and wishes of his own country's electorate, not to be Mr Popularity at EU summits and photo-opportunities.  

But he'll certainly need a thick neck !

However my bet is that nearly all the ten referendum states will vote no.  That will thankfully kill the Constitutional Treaty stone dead, and result in an EU that its 350 million people can continue to feel reasonably happy about.  

Then, perhaps after a year for over-eager EU politicians to lick their wounds, a more modest treaty whose sole purpose is to tidy up existing treaties and agreements, will emerge and be quickly ratified.  

After that, further changes will have to be negotiated above-board and on their own merits.  

No more smuggling.  

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John Kerry as Commander-in-Chief ?

Last February, I wrote about John Kerry's accidental heroics in Vietnam, whence he Kerry in combat in Vietnam emerged after active service in command of a Swift (Shallow Water Inshore Fast Tactical) boat.  He had earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and for being battle-wounded three times three Purple Hearts.  The third injury qualified him  for early repatriation, which he grasped, after just four months combat service.  My point was that since he didn't seek combat, so much as end up facing it despite astute efforts to avoid it, he was an accidental hero.   

I had a niggling feeling about the three wounds.  If they were serious enough to merit purple hearts and an early discharge, why don't we know more about them ?  He's always telling everyone about his military prowess - it's a cornerstone of his campaign - so why isn't be bragging about his wounds ?  John McCain certainly did.

Kerry and his medals - joke !  CLICK to enlargeAccording to columnist Jack Kelly, all three wounds were just minor cuts from shrapnel, which caused him to miss just two days of duty in all.  He is also scathing about the Silver Star because it was awarded, based only on Kerry's own uncorroborated action-report, for having killed a wounded Viet Cong who was running away.  That doesn't sound very brave (but I'm not a military man so I wouldn't know).  

The bronze star came from rescuing a man overboard whilst under fire - though some say it was Kerry's bad driving that caused him to fall off the Swift boat in the first place.  

The army doctor who treated the first of his injuries says he simply removed a metal fragment 1cm x 3mm embedded 4mm in Kerry's arm, and then stuck on a band-aid.  The fragment didn't look like a bullet.  Moreover, Kerry's shipmates said it was caused not by enemy fire but a ricochet when Kerry mortared some riverside rocks.  

His other two wounds, one to the leg and another to the arm, seem to have been similarly superficial, and there is no record of any follow-up treatment.  

You can expect Kerry's enemies to denigrate his heroism in this kind of way, just as you can expect his supporters to defend it.  

However, it adds a certain credibility when those who are denigrating him loudest seem to be drawn from his own wartime colleagues and shipmates, his so-called band of brothers.  You would think they would be delighted that one of their own might end up as President.  Instead they question his fitness to become commander-in-chief, based not only on his anti-war activities, which amounted to cheering for the enemy, but also on his brief period of active service.  

A new website, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, tells us that only two of his nineteen fellow Swift officers support his presidential bid.  As well as questioning his heroics, the site says that his early discharge was prompted not, as claimed, at his own request, but by the desire of Tom Wright, his senior officer, to get rid of him because he had a lot of trouble getting him to follow orders.  

But their main objections are to his anti-war stance once he got back stateside.  Not only did he oppose the war, which in itself was not dishonourable, but in 1971 he accused his fellow soldiers or systematic war crimes backed up by no evidence other than that of stooges engaged for the purpose.  It is significant that no-one was ever prosecuted for these so-called war crimes. 

His anti-war antics and consistent support of North Vietnamese negotiation positions certainly, in retrospect, came close to siding with the enemy in wartime.  

John Kerry meeting with Comrade Do Muoi, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, in Vietnam, July 15-18, 1993. Photo taken in the War Remnants Museum (formerly the "War Crimes Museum") in Saigon in May 2004.And indeed that's how the North Vietnamese Communists viewed it, which is why to this day Kerry is honoured with a photograph in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), which shows him meeting the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam.  

So it would seem that John Kerry, despite his determination not to release his complete military records, should be very cautious about how he parades his war hero status.  

Surely it is only a matter of time before he is going to have to publicly confront what the veterans who knew him are saying about him.  

He will have to defend his fitness to become Commander-in-Chief.  His erstwhile comrades believe he is not fit.  

Late Note (7th August) : Lots more on this issue has emerged in the couple of weeks since this post was published.  John Kerry objects strongly to the unflattering versions of events put about by, among others, his erstwhile colleagues at Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, whom I linked to above.  But his objections are amply refuted here.  

The last two paragraphs of my post are coming true.  

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Five Top Email Scams

Speaking as someone bombarded daily with irresistible offers, I think Motley Fool's recent advice is worth repeating : 

Fraudsters must be having an absolute ball thinking up the next email scam. Mass-mailings that get sent out to millions of people at a time will invariably find their way to Inboxes belonging to the greedy, the naive or the desperate. Such people make for easy pickings - just make sure you're not one of them.

Here are the top five scams currently doing the rounds:

419

This is probably the most well-known of all the email scams and invariably comes from someone related to a dead Nigerian dictator who desperately needs your help in smuggling the family's millions out of the country. They'll need some financial help from you up front and will need access to your bank account to receive the money but, as a reward, you'll get a percentage of the lot.

Phishing

An email purporting to be from your bank asks you to click on a link to confirm your bank and password details - usually as part of an alleged security update. You'll be directed to a very realistic looking website which looks exactly like that of your bank. You innocently key in your personal details and the conman goes on a spending spree with your money.

Lottery Emails

Lucky you. An email tells informs you that you have won a foreign Lottery via the random selection of your email address. In order to claim your prize you'll have to pay some money up front to cover supposed handling charges, tax exemptions, anti-money laundering certificates.

Hot Penny Shares

Company XYZ - a small but real company - is about to announce a major breakthrough (in pharmaceuticals/life sciences/genomics/whatever) and the share price will go through the roof. Buy now and you'll make an absolute mint. These emails will be from someone who already has shares in the company and is hoping that enough gullible people will rush to buy some themselves pushing the share price will go up. They'll cash in before you realise the company's a dud.

Cheap Software

A super-dooper online store is selling expensive software at bargain prices. You have a lovely time buying all those computer games you've been hankering for and hand over your credit card details at the checkout. The store doesn't exist - the website is simply a front for getting hold of your personal bank details.

You may have encountered some or all of the above scams already. If not, you can be sure they'll be coming your way soon. Press the delete button.

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Clive Sinclair Strikes Again

Nutty inventor Clive Sinclair's latest brainchildSir Clive Sinclair, inveterate inventor of strange if intriguing devices that lose money, has just come out with another one, the world's smallest, lightest, weirdest foldable bicycle.  

His new A-Bike”   weighs just 12lb and folds away into a package that can be stored under a desk or in a bag. Singapore was chosen for the launch because it's affluent but also because, like the bike, it's small and compact. Retailing at around £170, it will go on sale there shortly, followed next year by the UK, the US and Japan. 

It takes only twenty seconds to unfold or to fold away into a package of just 1.1 cubic feet  This makes it only slightly more cumbersome to carry than an umbrella or a laptop. It's made mainly of plastic and lightweight aluminium, used in aerospace technology.  

Can't wait to buy mine for wobbling home from the pub on a Saturday night.  

Late Note: It's April 2007, almost four years after I wrote this post. 
And I've just bought my A-Bike. 
Lots of fun - up to a point. 
But riders are not supposed to exceed 1.85m (6 ft) and 85 kg (185 lb). 
I'm 1.97m and 110 kg so am well over the limit. 
I fell off on my backside the first time I used it. 
It's also hard work going up hills because there are no gears.
But it folds up small and light in a very ingenious fashion. 
I have given it to a nephew, who better fits the physical design, for his 21st birthday.
 

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Blind Dentists ?

From "Dental Practice", May 2004

From Dental Practice, May 2004 (not available online)

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : I don't understand why Britain and the United States are systematically increasing pressure against us and not operating through the United Nations.  This pressure closely resembles the increased pressure that was put on Iraq [before the war] ... We don't need any [UN] resolutions. Any resolutions from the Security Council will complicate things.”  

Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, 
objecting because foreign meddlers want to put a stop to 
the racist massacre of more-black Sudanese Muslims 
by less-black Sudanese Muslims who are backed by his Government.

The Minister should pay heed to the effect of this pressure 
on Saddam and his erstwhile ministers, 
most of whom are now in custody or dead

______________

Quote : “There are magnificent things that exist in the US as well as some fairly horrific things. I hate their arrogance, I hate their unilateralism.” 

EU Commission President-designate José Manuel Barroso 
begins to “go native” in an address to 
the socialist MEPs in Brussels.  
He seems to have forgotten that as Portuguese prime minister 
he personally hosted the pre-war summit in the Azores between 
George Bush, Tony Blair and Spain's José Maria Aznar, 
and that Portugal was all along part of the 
 multilateral Coalition of the Willing.  

If he thinks this is US unilateralism, 
his fluency in English is not all it's cracked up to be.  

But if he means that the US should not take military action 
without French permission, he should say so unambiguously.

______________

Quote : [Ireland's current finance minister and newly appointed EU Commissioner Charlie] McCreevy is one of the most right-wing finance ministers in Europe ... he gives incentives to the rich – and he has incentivised the poor by giving them a kick in the arse.  You [MEPs] should not allow Charlie McCreevy to get behind the economic levers of the European Union.”  

Ireland's Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa 
compliments Mr McCreevy's politics, but
panics at the thought that right wing economic policies 
might put a brake on the EU gravy train 
so beloved of his fellow wealth-destroying socialists

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

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It was my Second Blogiversary on 14th July.  
I celebrated by not publishing on 18th July.  

ISSUE #82 - 11th July 2004 [180+117=297]

bullet Palestinians Deserve Regime Change
bulletNew Zealand Quashes Cruise Missile Development
bulletProtect Workers, Not the Public, from Smoke
bulletGolf Clubs and the Ladies
bulletBlue and White
bulletQuotes of the Week

Palestinians Deserve Regime Change

I've sometimes asked myself where my feelings truly lie in the Palestine/Israel conflict.  

I'm pretty much pro-Israel because I believe it, like all other countries, has a right to exist and prosper in peace within secure boundaries.  Moreover it's a vigorous democracy, governed by the rule of (independent) law, which periodically changes its government as its people change their views on how to deal with problems.  

But I am also pro the Palestinian people; I believe they also have rights to peaceful existence and the the pursuit of prosperity, and that they are entitled to a second Palestinian state (the first being Jordan).  

What I am strongly opposed to is the Palestinian leadership under the thug Yasser Arafat.  It is 

bullet fascist, 
bullet belligerent, 
bullet corrupt, 
bullet committed to the (hopeless) elimination of Israel and 
bullet has absolutely no interest in the day-to-day or long-term welfare of Palestinians.   

Above all it is illegitimate; it has no mandate from the Palestinian people whom it claims to represent.  Arafat claims to have been elected to his current position as President of the Palestinian Authority in January 1996 (he's been PLO Chairman since 1969).  But he has never been fairly elected the leader of anything, let alone the Palestinian people.  The elections of 1996 for PA president and the 88-seat Palestinian National Council, were a sham where, under threat of violence (often delivered), 

bullet only candidates approved by Arafat could stand and 
bullet only the pro-Arafat candidates were covered by the media.  

Arafat himself was opposed only by a token 72-year-old woman.  Yet, despite remaining virtually invisible throughout the campaign, she still garnered 9% of the vote, which tells you something.  

There has been no further voting by Palestinians in the past eight years and there are no plans for any.  So what the leadership says and does cannot in any meaningful sense be said to represent what the Palestinian people want.  (It would be very depressing if it did).  

Contrast this with Israel, where through free elections over the same period, governments have shifted leftward (Peres), rightward (Netanyahu), leftward (Barak) and rightward (Sharon).   Love them or hate them, the Israeli leadership is undoubtedly representative of the majority of Israelis.  

Last February I wrote in some despair of the Palestinian's lack of a true leader, meaning someone with 

bulletsome sort of democratic legitimacy, 
bulleta genuine desire for a solution and 
bulletan ability to think, perhaps like the short-lived previous prime minister Abu Mazen

When Mr Arafat (reluctantly) appointed Abu Mazen as Prime Minister in March 2003, I viewed him as a great new hope for Palestinians.  Not only had he earned a great deal of credibility by a long and honourable association with the Palestinian cause as well as by having Mr Arafat's ear (ugh), but he utterly rejected the use of military force to advance the Palestinian cause.  This was for purely pragmatic reasons -   

bulletthe use of arms was/is going nowhere, 
bulletit plays to Israel's strength, and
bulletthe Palestinians can never overcome by military means a country that can defeat the entire Arab nation at once if it so chooses (as it did in 1967).  

We must be statesmen in order to obtain achievements diplomatically that we cannot obtain militarily” he had lectured Fatah officials and commanders.  They didn't like it but they listened.  

And to other states he said, “Many Arab and Islamic countries want to fight Israel through us, or, as they say, they want to fight Israel to the last Palestinian, and through us achieve what their armies could not.”  

Palestinians had never had a leader of remotely his calibre.  Yet after only 129 days he resigned.  Why ?  He was sick of Messrs Bush, Sharon and Arafat, reckoning they'd all betrayed him by their unfulfilled promises.  

But there was another, more sinister, more brutal reason for departing.  Mr Arafat, jealous of Mr Mazen's influence and wary of his desire to act without Mr Arafat's interference, wanted to kill him.  Newsweek recently interviewed him (hat-tip, Not a Fish)

Newsweek : Some might say that a national leader must be able to withstand criticism and incitement.
Mazen : That's true. But when they try to kill — I felt that someone was going to kill.

N : To kill you ?
M : Yeah. Or to cause bloodshed within Fatah itself.

N : How many of these things were instigated by Chairman Arafat ?
M : I wouldn't want to mention anyone by name. But I'll give you something to understand: I don't have any relationship with the chairman from the resignation to this day.

N : When you're in Ramallah, you don't meet with him ?
M : I live in Ramallah and he's 100 meters away. I don't go to him, I don't meet with him, I don't have any relations with him.

N : In what circumstances would you be willing to return to this position [ie prime minister] ?
M : No circumstances whatsoever. I will not go back.

So once more, the Palestinian people were left captainless and rudderless, as they are to this day.  Their self-appointed leadership junta has over the years turned down offers of a state three times - in 1948, 1967 and 2000.  

So in the absence of anyone to talk business with, Israel just ploughs ahead and makes its own decisions for the future.  

bulletIt will withdraw from Gaza, 
bulletconsolidate in the West Bank, and 
bulletis building a 600 km security fence/wall as and where it wants. 

Whatever's inside the wall/fence, including disputed territory, will become de-facto part of Israel, right or wrong.  

Whatever's left outside will be a de-facto state for Palestinians to make what they will of.  

The International Court of Justice in The Hague may scream all it likes about the illegality of Israel's construction.  But as long it - still only 30% complete - is already reducing successful suicide attacks by 75% and the Palestinian side shows no interest in serious negotiation, the project will continue regardless, following a route that suits Israel, constrained only by its own supreme court.  And who can blame them.  

Moreover there is even an upside for the Palestinians.  The fewer successful terrorist attacks in Israel, the less the need for Israeli retaliatory and defensive operations. Lower Israeli casualties will translate into lower Palestinian casualties.  Not that the Arafatish leadership cares.  

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that an injustice is being perpetrated on the Palestinian people.  It's just that the prime perpetrators are not the Israelis but the Palestinian thugocracy that rules and oppresses and deceives them.  

This is the very regime that most pro-Palestinian groups and charitiesin the West support, which is why they deserve nothing but disdain.  

Personally, I support the Palestinian people as well as the people and and democratic government of Israel, and these are not incompatible views.  

But Palestinian regime change is the only long-term hope for the Palestinian populace, and the sooner the better.  For the sake of the Palestinian people, Mr Arafat's demise is to be fervently desired.  As Mark Humphries has often remarked, all dictatorships should be ended, to be replaced by democracy.  

Iraq is beginning, let us hope, to set an example.  

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New Zealand Quashes Cruise Missile Development

A year ago, I wrote about the curious project of Bruce Simpson, a model aircraft enthusiast in New Zealand.  He had started to build his own cruise missile capable of delivering a 10 kg warhead for just $5,000, using information, materials, electronics, and components freely available in the public domain.  Among his early purchases were a GPS system, flight attitude control system and radio control flight pack that he simply bought on e-bay and had mailed out to him.  

He calls it his Low Cost Cruise Missile, or LCCM.  He wanted to demonstrate that if he could build such a weapon in his garage at such low cost, then so could terrorists also.  So the West better be aware of the threat.  

What added spice to the project was that he vowed to keep an online project diary where he would explain what he was doing, why and how, complete with photographs, drawings, video clips, etc.  More detailed plans would be available to subscribers.   

Last week, I thought it was time to check progress.  

Bruce Simpson with his creationTechnically, the project has certainly advanced.  Mr Simpson has built 1½ missiles, but of his fifteen project phases, he has unfortunately documented only four, albeit with astonishing clarity.  The completed LCCM has not however been test-flown yet, and in fact has been put into hiding for the time being.  

For he has meanwhile run into an entirely non-technical problem that has almost ruined him personally.  The publicity his project attracted brought it to the attention of the New Zealand and US governments.  Though the project has broken no laws, they found it embarrassing and apparently the US has persuaded NZ to close it down.  

bulletThe NZ government first managed to spike a licensing agreement between Mr Simpson and a US manufacturer of his personally-designed jet engine.  
bulletIt then bankrupted him by abrogating a previous deal with the tax authorities that allowed him to pay overdue taxes according to an agreed schedule of installments, of which none had been missed and only nine months remained.  

As a result, he's had to sell his six-bedroom luxury house and move his family to run-down rented accommodation. 

Though he is continuing with the project as best he can, he is also putting himself on the market to anyone outside NZ, other than a terrorist, who wants a personal missile (or UAV or RPV) designed, built and tested.  

Unless he can soon find a foreign sponsor or employer, it looks like the sad end of a fascinating project and a creative man.  

But if nothing else, he has demonstrated that, if free and private enterprise is allowed full rein, you don't necessarily need to spend the billions on aerial systems that the Pentagon's defense contractors have become accustomed to over the past sixty years.  

Another illustration of this is that just two weeks ago in California, the first-ever non-government manned space flight took place for something over $20 million - mere small change as far as NASA is concerned.  A private investor put up the money (Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen), civilian engineers built the craft and a 59- year-old civilian pilot flew it.  

These two examples may portend a major change in the way aerospace development is conducted in the future.  A privately run, Ryanair-style no-frills, fit-for-purpose approach could have the same galvanising effect on the traditional, bloated aerospace contracting industry as the low-cost airlines have had on the traditional state-owned behemoths of the air.  This will drive costs down and quality up.  

The aerospace establishment must be feeling a little queasy.  

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Protect Workers, Not the Public, from Smoke

Legislators in Britain and Northern Ireland, inspired by the Republic of Ireland, are getting worked up about possibly introducing a ban on smoking in public places.  The subliminal object is to eliminate cigarettes from pubs.  Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has decided to ban ciggies in all government offices as from 2005 and close all smoking rooms.  

But these efforts won't succeed and won't capture the public imagination because their approach is wrong-footed in one vital respect.  Their stated purpose is to protect people from the potential ill-health/death caused by environmental tobacco smoke, ETS.  However admirable the intent, however, governments have no business regulating people's personal, voluntary, if dangerous behaviour.  This applies equally to riding motorbikes, climbing mountains, eating MacDonalds, smoking cigarettes or walking into smoky atmospheres.  And it's not as if smoking costs money.  It doesn't.  Tobacco taxes and early deaths well exceed the cost of extra medical care for sufferers.  

The Irish approach has been much cannier.  Its smoking ban applies not to public places (ie pubs) but to work places (which happen to include pubs).   The vital distinction is that the protection is focused on the humble workers who have no choice but to be where they are and no control over their workplace environment.  Unlike customers, who sit in a pub, smoky or otherwise, entirely voluntarily.  The fact that the ban also protects customers from ETS is a bonus but not the target.  

Last week a Galway pub, with the delightful name Fibber Magees, defied the ban by reintroducing ashtrays to boost trade.  Ronan Lawless, the owner, got very little sympathy from the general public and within days backed down when a judge said she would otherwise immediately withdraw his late-night liquor licences in another of the five other pubs he owns .  His defence, that he was trying to give customers the freedom to smoke, was trumped by the ETS he was forcing his bar staff to inhale.  

The UK should take a similar approach if they are serious about tackling ETS.  Protect the workers not the public.  

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Golf Clubs and the Ladies

In Ireland, Portmarnock Golf Club has been in trouble because it does not allow women to become full members.  It reckons that a private club can choose whoever it wants to be a member or not a member.  Such a right is, the club believes, protected by the freedom of association provision in the Irish constitution.  

But a (female) judge has ruled that the club's stance breaches an anti-discrimination law and has threatened to suspend its liquor licence, which would be the kiss of death.  For who would play eighteen holes if there were no nineteenth ?  The club has appealed and the case rumbles on to the autumn.  (Note how withdrawal of a liquor licence is the ultimate sanction in Irish society.)

Elsewhere, the Southern Trace Country Club, a golf club in Shreveport, Louisiana is also in trouble over women members, but for a slightly different reason.  

Of its three restaurants, the Men's Grill” is reserved for men only.  Not only that, but the dress code for the boys, “casual but appropriate attire”, is often interpreted as, er, nil.  That's right, they like nothing better than sitting down together for Sunday Lunch stark naked.  So rather than offend the ladies by letting them observe this proliferation of manhood and whatever frolics go on under the lunch table, they ban them.  The guys just don't want their privacy violated.  

The judge doesn't agree.  He thinks it's archaic to stop women from enjoying “the sights and sounds of a locker room environment” and so the club better let the girls in or else.  

So the club has said it will comply.  And as the new arrivals walk in the door, dutifully observing the dress code, no doubt the gallant male members will, ahem, rise.  Let us hope that everyone then enters into the full spirit of Sunday Lunch.  

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Blue and White

Last week Manolis Andropoulos, a Greek tourist, Greece shirt at Euro 2004wrote effusively to the Irish Times of his recent visit to Ireland when, after his country had defeated the Czechs 1-0 in the Euro 2004 semifinal, he found the road from Youghal to New Ross gloriously festooned with the blue and white colours of Greece”.  It brought tears to his eyes.  He had no idea the Irish were so enthusiastic about his homeland.  

The next day, Martin Ryan brought him cruelly to earth in the same pages.  Mr Andropoulis had been driving in County Waterford, whose hurlers have been electrifying the annual all-Ireland championship.  Their county colours ?  Blue and white of course.  And to add insult to injury, he suggests that many of the teams in Portugal could have done with the aerial prowess and ruthless finishing of Waterford's star player, big Dan Shanahan.  

Though not, of course, the eventual victors Greece.   Or will it be Waterford ?

Czech shirt at Euro 2004Footnote : Had Mr Andropoulos been driving through counties Derry, Louth, Tyrone and Cork, he would have been alarmed to note that the bunting was fluttering in the Czechs' red and white, colours beloved also of these proud hurling areas, who nickname them “blood and bandages”.   

But then, had he kept zig-zagging across the nation, the other blue-and-white counties of Monaghan, Cavan and Laois would have cheered him up again.  

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : The CIA must not be risk averse.  I can think of nothing that would be more effective in generating aversion to risk than to hold an individual personally accountable for a mistake that might have been made by hundreds of people around the world.

CIA Deputy Director John E McLaughlin, 
when asked if anyone at the agency would be fired over 
the CIA's appalling intelligence failure on Iraq, 
demonstrates that he has no idea what the word risk means.
Particularly the risk of 
a well-paid high-status boss such as himself 
being forced to take responsibility for the consequences 
of his subordinates' poor performance.  

Quote : We're here to build a strong military and lead strong alliances, so that our military is never overextended and young Americans are never put in harm's way because we decided to go it alone” 

Would-be US president John Kerry, 
making clear he will not embark 
upon American military action 
without the permission of Old Europe. 
He seems to have forgotten that American did not go it alone 
into Iraq - it was joined by Britain, Italy, Spain, Poland ...

Quote : We cannot depend on the security system of Saddam Hussein. In the name of law [the security forces] performed criminal actions. Before, security meant the security of the dictator, now, it means the security of the people. We must have another concept, another definition of security, a new system. We have to start from zero. We have to start with a small number [of soldiers]. We need people of quality not quantity”  

Dr Ibrahim Jaafari, one of Iraq's two new vice presidents, 
talking about building security in the new Iraq 

Quote : We swear to Allah that we have started preparing ... to capture [Zarqawi] and his allies or kill them and present them as gift to our people... This is the last warning. If you don't stop, ... we will do to you what the coalition forces have failed to do.”  

A shadowy vigilante group making clear 
that it wants democracy to succeed in Iraq, 
and is prepared to fight the 
IslamoNazi resisters to achieve it

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Irish bloggers held their first ever meet-up in Dublin's 
Market Bar on Saturday 10th July as from 6 pm.

ISSUE #81 - 4th July 2004 [163]

bulletReparations for American Slavery
bullet Saudi Oil Industry Immune to Terrorist Attack
bulletSaddam on a High
bulletInventing Conflict in Presidential Interviews
bulletEarly Iraqi Handover Prompt Early US Election
bulletQuotes of the Week

Reparations for American Slavery 

Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago are enacting legislation that requires companies seeking municipal contracts to disclose any profits they received from slavery as a pre-requisite for being awarded municipal contracts.

The purpose of this ordinance is to set the groundwork for [slavery] reparations. First, you have to get the information and show the companies that benefited from the slave trade.  

So said Detroit City Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins, a black lawyer and former Democratic congresswoman from Michigan.  

The concept of reparations for the undoubted evils of American slavery raises some interesting points, but with no clear answers, at least none that point towards the case for reparations.  

Firstly, there are the firms, who either themselves profited from slavery, or whose antecedents did.  It is one thing to uncover a link that shows that a company engaged in slavery 200 years ago, such as uncovering a receipt for the purchase of slaves.  It is quite another to objectively determine a figure that reasonably represents the extra profit earned by the company as a result of slavery.  Indeed, it is probably as easy and arbitrary to calculate that a company

bulletlost money due to its inefficient slave labour, 
as that it 
bulletgained money due to its cheap slave labour.  

Establishing that a company has benefited from slavery, and then quantifying by how much, are almost impossible tasks, no matter how just it may feel to make them pay reparations.  

Secondly, there is the undoubted pain, distress and hardship suffered by the slaves during their (usually all too short) lives.  They deserve untold compensation; no amount would suffice to right the wrong.  However, this is not straightforward either.  

If someone close to you undergoes suffering, you and his/her other loved ones also suffer, if only in empathy at what you see.  And though all the original suffering comes to an end with death, the empathetic suffering continues in some form until all the loved ones have also departed.  

The last American slaves were freed back in 1865 with the Thirteenth Amendment (Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States ...).  Thus they are all long dead; but so are their friends, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  There is no-one left alive who has suffered in any degree the anguish of slavery.  Therefore, there is no-one who deserves compensation.  Brutal but true.  

Thirdly, there are the material damages.  Slaves lived out their miserable existence working for food and shelter, of whatever rudimentary sort, and no payment whatsoever.  

bulletYou can make a rough calculation of the wages that were wickedly denied them.  In the 1860s, city workmen received around $2 for a ten-hour day; women 30-50% of this.  On this basis, it is reasonable to guess that the going rate for a disadvantaged, black, rural cotton-picker would have been around 10¢ per hour.  Thus lifetime wages foregone by a slave would have been something like 10¢/hr x 12 hr/day x 365 day/yr x 25 years = $11,000 in 1865 money.  Inflate this to 2004 money and it becomes $121,000.  Add a bit of real-terms interest and you could get to $½m or more.  

So is this what the descendants of slaves should be able to claim ?  

bulletNot necessarily.  Because the true loss suffered by the slave descendants is not what those foregone wages might buy today had they been handed down the generations, but the difference between the actual wealth of the descendants and what it would have been had their forebears not been captured and enslaved.  For that you have to look to West Africa, say Nigeria, where GDP per head is $800 per person, compared to $37,800 in America.  Looked at this way, the dislocation and suffering of slaves paved the way for the accumulation of huge wealth for their descendants, almost fifty times greater than had they remained in place.  

And had the cotton field owners had to pay the going rate of 10¢/hr, why would they have bothered to look so far afield as Africa for their workforce ?

Fourthly, even if reparation money is to be paid over, to whom is it to be paid ?  Some people may be able to trace their ancestry back to slaves, but one of the many indignities of slavery was the poor or absent record-keeping of slaves' births, marriages and deaths.  Most Blacks in America simply cannot prove they are descended from slaves, and indeed many are not.  So the choice would be to give money to those few lucky enough to have the right documentary evidence of ancestry, or to every black (how black is black ? does it include Tiger Woods, Colin Powell, Halle Berry ?), or to black-centred organizations and charities, or some combination.  There is no easy, or fair, answer.  

So whichever way you look at it, the case for reparations seems to me to be hollow, and the actions of Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago no more than symbolic.  

bulletYou can't demonstrate that companies profited from slavery;
bulletno-one alive today suffered from it; 
bulletyou can't say that descendents are worse off (more likely the converse); 
bulletyou can't calculate how much to pay and 
bulletyou don't know whom to give reparations to anyway.   

Of course, none of the above addresses the ethical and emotional issue.  As I said, It feels right to make companies who have used slaves in the past pay something to their descendants.  But there just isn't the business case.  

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Saudi Oil Industry Immune to Terrorist Attack

Guest-Blogged by 
an Anonymous Irish Expatriate

Many people have speculated that the Saudi oil industry is vulnerable to significant disruption due to a terrorist attack, with consequential effects on world oil supply and prices.  In my view this speculation 

bullet

is founded on ignorance, 

bullet

is totally disconnected with reality and 

bullet

exaggerates the risk to a fantastic degree.  

Put more simply in basic engineer-speak, they haven't a clue what they're talking about. However if it becomes the accepted conventional wisdom, then even a minor incident could could have a wildly disproportionate impact on the oil market.

To evaluate of the vulnerability of the Saudi oil industry to terrorist attack you have to appreciate the size and extent of the industry.  It’s mainly spread in an arc from Khafji just south of Kuwait to Abqaiq/Udhaliah/Hofuf south of Dammam/Al-Khobar.  Follow the little green oil rigs on this map.  The arc covers 

bullet

tens of thousands of square kilometres, 

bullet

thousands of oil and gas wells, 

bullet

many thousands of kilometres of pipelines, 

bullet

countless gas/oil separation plants, pumpstations, refineries, distribution depots, offshore platforms, etc.  

The investment in the Saudi oil infrastructure over the past 30 years is $100-150 billion, and includes a lot of spare capacity and built-in redundancy. In addition, as you can infer from the map, there is a major downstream petrochemical industry. Responsibility for protecting this vast infrastructure is shared by Saudi Aramco security and several Saudi Government paramilitary forces.

Given the geographic extent of the industry and the fact that 100% security everywhere every time, 24/7/365, is simply not possible, the realistic expectation is that sooner or later the terrorists will succeed. The question therefore is 

bullet

not whether or not the terrorists can successfully attack, 

bullet

but whether such an attack could reasonably be expected to have a significant effect on oil operations and production.

Because the product is intrinsically hazardous and processed at high temperatures and pressures, the design and layout of oil facilities pay a great deal of attention to safety and fire protection and emergency shutdown systems.  As a result, catastrophic incidents that destroy all or a substantial portion of an oil facility are very rare. (The only total losses I recall in the past twenty years or so are Unocal in Illinois in 1984 and a refinery in India in 1996/97.)

To destroy a facility would require multiple bombs placed at specific key points throughout it.  A terrorist attack could not cause the total destruction of a facility without the services of 

bullet

an experienced process engineer with detailed knowledge of the facility, 

bullet

an explosives expert with highly specific and advanced demolition training and 

bullet

plenty of time to plant the charges.  

This combination of talent and opportunity is very unlikely.

But even if they get lucky and manage to destroy a facility, any given facility represents a tiny proportion of the overall infrastructure.  There is so much redundancy built into the system that even a total loss of any one facility would have little effect on production.  Liken it to the internet, where the loss of a server or line is seamlessly compensated by use of other servers/lines. 

I have worked in several oil facilities that have been attacked by terrorists.  On each occasion, though the big flames and huge clouds of black smoke were spectacular, the damage was relatively minor and the resulting fire quickly either extinguished or allowed to burn out as appropriate.  The worst attacks each started a fire in a single storage tank.  Other attacks did little more than scorch pipes.  Readers may recall the accidental explosion at an oil pier in Staten Island, New York in February 2003.  Very spectacular for a while, but it was quickly controlled, had caused no more significant  effect than to put that single facility out of service until repairs could be made. 

Dublin Port Fire in June 2004 Similarly, a fire at Dublin Port on 27 June (right) created a large cloud of black smoke but the damage was confined.

The limited damage caused by most such incidents is borne out by reports conducted by the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation.  In my experience, the typical maximum impact of a terrorist attack on an oil facility is equivalent to that of a serious industrial incident.  It is not catastrophic. 

In conclusion, while 

bullet

the probability of an attack on a Saudi oil facility is reasonably high

bullet

the probability of such an attack having a significant effect on oil supplies is very small.  

As such, the Saudi oil industry is pretty much immune to terrorist attack.  

However, the impact of such an attack on the markets is anyone's guess.  Hysteria is often a more powerful driver in the short term than logic, so I would expect a brief spike followed by a return to normal as reason sets in.

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Saddam on a High

It was interesting to see Saddam last week at his arraignment in a Baghdad court.  He was neat, trim, disciplined, articulate and angry, pounding his fist, pointing his finger.  Just like the good old Saddam of yesteryear.  He's also lost quite a bit of weight which makes him seem even more self-possessed.  

The last time we saw him, he had just been dragged from his spider hole, looking like a dirty dishevelled tramp or ageing hippy, and was meekly submitting to a humiliating American medical check for lice in his hair, poison capsules in his teeth, and having a DNA swab taken from his mouth.  All in front of the cameras.  The Iraqis cheered.  

Remember the story of his arrest last December ?  He was told to surrender immediately, otherwise a hand grenade would be lobbed into his spider hole.  So out he abjectly crawled to give himself up.  To the disgust of many of his citizens, he had not preserved his honour by shooting himself; at least his two boys had died fighting.  He was, it seemed, a broken man.  

Yet within days, Donald Rumsfeld was complaining that Saddam was not co-operating; he was sullen and sarcastic.  The old Saddam seemed to have returned

Why was he so docile at his arrest ?  At the time, we thought maybe his months on the run, squalid diet, abandonment by friends and family, and the death of his sons might have deranged him.  Yet from his arraignment, we can see he is now in full control of his faculties.  

The most likely explanation is that the US Special Forces did indeed lob a hand grenade into the spider hole.  But instead of explosives it contained drugged gas.  Saddam turned into putty, and in his spaced-out condition he happily submitted to any humiliation the Americans chose.  

Compare these three photographs.  Tell me the guy in the centre is not away on a trip.  

 As 
president

 Pulled from 
his spider hole

 At his 
arraignment

Saddam Hussein Smug on his Presidential Throne

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Inventing Conflict in Presidential Interviews

There has been a minor kerfuffle in the last couple of weeks about two TV interviews with American presidents by cheeky Europeans.  

bulletFirst, there was the BBC's David Dimbleby, a national icon, who interviewed Bill Clinton to help publicise his autobiography.  

Clinton rages against Dimbleby in Panorama confrontation over Lewinsky” raged the venerable Daily Telegraph, a few days in advance.  The president is “seen to lose his temper publicly” when questioned about Monika Lewinsky.  

All poppycock.  

When the interview was broadcast on 22nd June, it failed to live up to the Telegraph's hyperbole.  Mr Clinton took a couple of questions about Lewinsky and answered them cleverly.  But after a further question, he asked Mr Dimbleby why he was using valuable time concentrating on this issue, which merely feeds the right wing agenda, at the expense of more important matters such as ex-Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland etc. Mr Dimbleby, like a good poodle, immediately did as he was told and dropped the Lewinsky line of questioning in favour of Bosnia and Kosovo.  

And that's all there was.  I had stayed up late for nothing.  

bulletThen, just a few days later, it was the turn of Carole Coleman, Washington correspondent of the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ, who interviewed George Bush just before he flew off to Ireland.  Broadcast on 24th June, it was the first time RTÉ had interviewed an American president in twenty years, so was quite a scoop.   

But Ms Coleman caused a furore because she was apparently too aggressive and rude, and rattled the president by interrupting him all the time.  The White House was said to have lodged a complaint and the Irish Government to have apologised.  The Irish newspapers and talk-shows were full of the story, with most people saying they though Mr Bush got what he deserved from a plucky Ms Coleman.  

Again it's all rubbish.  

You can watch the eleven-minute interview on this Real Player link (thanks to Gavin's Blog).  You'll see there's absolutely nothing to get worked up about.  Coleman and Bush were both courteous to each other throughout.  Coleman's interruptions were decidedly not rude (especially compared to someone like the BBC's Jeremy Paxman), and she desisted whenever Bush politely asked her to.  He was able to complete all his answers, parts of which were more impressive than others ...   

It was not, in any sense, an aggressive interview, but it was quite an interesting one.  

It seems to me that some people (journalists ?) are always just itching for a juicy conflict story, and if they can't find one, they'll simply make it up.  Then everyone else climbs on the bandwagon.  

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Early Iraqi Handover Prompts Early US Election

Element of Surprise Cited As Bush Romps to Victory

Inspired by the early handover of sovereignty in Iraq,  President George W Bush has just employed the element of surprise once more,  holding the US presidential election four months early.

The election, about which only top Bush administration officials were notified,  went exceedingly well for the president, who carried all fifty states and garnered approximately 100% of the vote.

Mr Bush's victory speech, which he had originally scheduled for 11 pm last night,  was at the last minute rescheduled to 9 pm, once again capitalizing on the element of surprise.

In his speech, Mr Bush admitted that he might have had a more difficult time getting re-elected if the American people had actually been notified about the time and date of the voting,  but added,  A win's a win,  right ?”  Mr Bush's second inauguration is slated to take place on 20th January 2005,  but administration officials acknowledged that it could happen at any time.  

For all I know it has already happened, one aide said.

While the stealth presidential election seems to have cemented the Bush administration's reputation for secrecy and effectiveness,  one aide said that some secrets were harder to keep than others.  For example,  everyone knows how Paul Wolfowitz gets his hair to look so great.  

White House officials praised the performance of the controversial new Diebold electronic voting machines, which successfully tabulated final results from Florida before a single vote was cast.  The unpopular Irish Government, which recently had to shelve its own plans for electronic voting, has dispatched a fact-finding mission.  

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : This is all theater, the real criminal is Bush.” 

Saddam Hussein, during his arraignment on 1st July, 
does his bit to ensure George Bush's re-election

QuoteIt really gets me when the critics say I haven't done enough for the economy.  I mean look what I've done for the book publishing industry.  You've heard some of the titles. 

bullet

Big Lies’, 

bullet

‘The Lies of George W Bush’, 

bullet

‘The Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them’.  

I'd like to tell you that I've read each of these books, but that'd be a lie.

President George W Bush amuses the hacks 
at a dinner for the White House Correspondents Association

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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:

bullet

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

bullet

the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

bullet

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,

bullet

part of a death march to Thailand,

bullet

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

bullet

regularly beaten and tortured,

bullet

racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

bullet

a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

bullet

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

bullet

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

bullet

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:

bullet

Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

bullet

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

bullet

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

bullet

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

bullet

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

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Why does asparagus come from Peru?

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Why are pandas so useless?

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

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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:

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

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Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

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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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After 48 crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are, deservedly,
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